Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne
Melbourne Stars needed 53 runs from 43 deliveries with 10 wickets in hand to win the BBL title.
They lost. Would you call that a choke? "Your words not mine," a shattered Melbourne Stars captain Glenn Maxwell said.
Cricketers hate labels, Maxwell especially. But in their deep dark quiet moments they are mostly honest creatures. The Stars should know.
So how did it happen?
The Stars were 0 for 93 through 12.5 overs chasing 146. Marcus Stoinis was 39 not out from 37 balls and Ben Dunk was 52 from 40 at the other end. Stoinis tried to launch Cameron Boyce down the ground as he had done four overs earlier and was cleaned bowled.
Maxwell wondered in the aftermath whether his openers should have been more aggressive earlier.
"I think with the way the game was going, the way they were throwing the ball into the ground, getting the ball soft it was going to be harder for a new batter to start," Maxwell said. "You could sort of feel that on the boundary, we probably needed to kill the game earlier. Go a bit harder at the start while the ball was hard and just get ahead of the rate.
"They bowled pretty well and kept us around 7.5 an over and as soon as you lose a wicket that can really sky-rocket. That's probably the way we would have gone about it bowling. We wouldn't have been too concerned with a team being none down. Especially as we didn't really get away at any stage.
"I think those 10 overs, we batted beautifully but I think we probably could have gone a bit harder knowing what we had behind us. You can kill the game in the Powerplay when you're only chasing 145. None for 36 is great, we had 10 wickets in hand but you probably needed to go a bit harder. That's all in hindsight. It's nice to know now. It would have been nice to know before."
Renegades captain Aaron Finch was almost ready to throw in the towel. "I was really close I must admit, it was probably one over away from them really almost breaking our heart I think," he said.
What happened next was astonishing. Finch squeezed the field in hope.
"You just put fielders where you think they want to hit it," Finch said. "Mid-on and mid-off up for quite a bit of that, try to get them to take a risk from a back of a length ball on a low wicket, it was always our plan and they played well for the first 12 overs. You just need one opening on a wicket like this, on a slow pretty low wicket to create some pressure, to create some doubt in their mind.
Peter Handscomb was out when he ran down the pitch to Chris Tremain and skied his second ball. The Stars still only needed 52 off 41 balls with nine wickets in hand.
"When they set straight fields and bowled back of a length, it's not as easy to knock it around for singles," Maxwell said. "It's hard to score off every ball, when they bowl back of a length, the ball's keeping low, it's like hitting a tennis ball, they've got cover and midwicket really close, you actually can't do much as a batter, you've got to try and make the pace. Petey Handscomb probably had the right idea, it was just probably a bit early in his innings. They executed really well under pressure."
The Renegades had engineered their attack for this surface and this scenario. Coach Andrew McDonald, his assistants and his analysts had handpicked an attack for this moment.
"We've got a fantastic bowling attack for this wicket," Man of the Match Dan Christian said. "We've got a couple of good spinners, all of our bowlers take the pace off the ball.
"Being a day game the wicket got quite abrasive so the ball got a bit chewed up and it got a pretty soft. So we knew that we were trying to take all the pace off and try and make them hit the ball hard and try and make them hit the ball straight down the ground. It's quite a big ground here and that was the plan here and we were lucky it worked."
When Maxwell walked out the Stars needed 52 from 39 with eight wickets in hand. In the semi-final against Hobart Hurricanes the Stars needed 49 from 40 balls with six wickets in hand. It was a much slower surface and a slower outfield compared to the belter at Bellerive Oval, but Ben Dunk was 54 not out at the other end.
Maxwell faced three dots, got dropped by Cameron White at cover and then nearly holed out to deep point before Dunk found long-on off Boyce's last ball of his spell. "Once we got Ben Dunk we thought, oh here we go, we might be a chance here," Christian said.
"For Boycey to get the two openers out was outstanding to be able to do that and really create pressure and squeeze and get that run-rate going up was crucial," Finch said.
Panic set in for the Stars. They lost 7 for 19 in 30 balls.
"Unfortunately, we just couldn't have a batter come in and do the job," Maxwell said. "It seemed like every time we had a person come out and take a risk they got out and as I said that can happen."
Christian has seen almost everything there is to see in T20 cricket but even he couldn't recall a collapse like that. "Definitely not like that in a final," he said.
Whatever you want to call it, it was scarcely believable.
Renegades vs Stars
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