It was all good news for Adelaide Strikers on Saturday at Hurstville Oval in Sydney as they thumped the Sixers by eight wickets with 29 balls to spare in a sensational allround rebel WBBL|05 performance.
The Strikers are on top of the ladder leading into Sunday’s final regular season games, with 10 wins and three losses, ahead of reigning champion Brisbane Heat, which has a 9-4 win-loss record. The team finishing on top will host the two semi-finals and grand final on December 7-8, so there’s plenty on the line on Sunday when the Strikers tackle the Sixers, who need a win to stay in the hunt for a finals place. The Heat faces bottom side Melbourne Stars in Melbourne.
The Strikers had not beaten the Sydney Sixers in the previous four WBBL seasons but they quickly showed this was a hoodoo they were desperate to end. They meant business from the start, bowling with accuracy and hard-to-hit change-ups, their fields well placed and fielding exceptional. Medium-pacer Sarah Coyte led the way with a stunning 3/9 from her four pin-point overs, while Megan Schutt snared 2/12 and Tahlia McGrath 2/19 as the Strikers restricted the Sixers to a meagre 9/93 from their 20 overs.
Coyte snared the player-of-the-match award for her efforts but was more pleased with the way the team had shared the load and come away with a crucial win. “To play the way we did and to beat the Sixers when they were in a position that they needed to win was really great for us,” Coyte said.
Sophie Devine took charge as the Strikers overhauled the Sixers’ tally in the 16th over, only missing her chance for a seventh half-century in eight innings because the target had been chased down. Devine was unbeaten on 46 from 43 balls, with three fours and two sixes. She finished the job with Bridget Patterson (11 not out from 10) after Tahlia McGrath (30) had shared in a 71-run second-wicket partnership. Devine now leads the WBBL runscoring with 639 this campaign at 79.9 per innings, 17 runs ahead of the Heat’s Beth Mooney.
Superstar Sixers allrounder Ellyse Perry had been ruled out with a shoulder injury she suffered while fielding a fortnight earlier and the high-profile side slipped out of the top four half-an-hour before the clash with Adelaide. Melbourne Renegades grabbed fourth spot when they edged out Melbourne Stars with one ball remaining, leaving the Sixers under enormous pressure to claim their expected finals berth.
In the previous three clashes with the Strikers at Hurstville Oval free-scoring Aussie wicketkeeper-batter Alyssa Healy had plundered 106, 63 and 112 not out in Sixers wins, so she clearly was a major danger. But opening bowler Schutt sorted her out right away. She started with four dot balls, keeping Healy on the back foot with accurate inswing and leg-cutters. Healy pulled at a slightly shorter ball and hit it flat and straight to deep square-leg to Devine, who made it look easy despite having to make sure her feet didn’t touch the rope, snaring the ball that would have gone for six. Schutt made an early statement with a wicket maiden.
A great start became greater when a big Schutt inswinger ripped through Ashleigh Gardner’s defence, the hard-hitter bowled for one.
Coyte was bang on target when she came on in the final over of the power play, tying down Perry’s injury replacement Hollie Armitage (11 from 13 balls). Armitage tried to force the issue by moving across her stumps, looking to heave the ball into the leg-side but Coyte knocked back her leg-stump. Like Schutt, Coyte had started with a wicket maiden.
The well-drilled Adelaide attack was on the money and impressive fielding was maintaining enormous pressure on the Sixers. The Strikers had tied down Erin Burns (11 from 20 balls) and when she tried to pull a McGrath ball that wasn’t short enough she also was clean bowled.
South African Marizanne Kapp held the key to the Sixers making a reasonable score, working her way to 20 from 20 balls. But Coyte was bang on target, Kapp trying to drive only to be yorked - the fourth Sixer in a row clean bowled by the accurate Strikers.
Skipper Suzie Bates, pulling all the right strings, brought herself on and had Dane van Niekerk caught by Devine at mid-off for 19. The Strikers were on a roll as McGrath deflected a Lauren Smith drive onto the stumps to run out Jodie Hicks at the bowler’s end, then Coyte held on to a catch at long-on from Smith off McGrath. Coyte cleaned up Hayley Silver-Holmes with another yorker and the Strikers had kept the Sixers to just 9/93.
There was an early hiccup when Bates was bowled off her pads by Sixers strike weapon Kapp for one but McGrath got off the mark with a four through mid-wicket off Stella Campbell then unleashed a savage pull shot for a huge six over square-leg.
Devine was again building her innings but thundered van Niekerk straight for four, then McGrath used her feet to the leg-spinner to hit a stunning cover drive for four. Devine reminded everyone of her power when she drove Sarah Aley over mid-off for a massive six. She was just winding up, clubbing Aley for four through mid-wicket in her next over, then straight driving her for another six.
McGrath and Devine lifted the Strikers to within 20 runs of victory before McGrath pulled young pace bowler Silver-Holmes straight to Burns at square-leg. She had made 30 from 35 balls to complete a productive allround performance.
The Strikers, after reaching a semi-final for the first time in 2017-18, finished sixth with five wins and eight losses last season, so their improvement has been huge. While Devine has continued to star with bat and ball, other players have stepped up as the side, brilliantly led from the front by Bates, shares the load and continues to string together wins.
Patterson has made her mark with some key scores while McGrath has scored runs at key times and taken wickets and restricted opposition scoring when it has counted. When it comes to keeping runs down, there’s none better in the business than Schutt, who has an economy rate of 5.4 - to go along with 12 wickets. The inswinger is one of five Strikers to have claimed 10 or more wickets for the campaign. Coyte, who bowled a couple of critical final overs - and last balls - in the previous weekend’s wins against the Hurricanes and Thunder, has now snared 15 wickets at an average of 21, Devine has claimed 15 scalps and Amanda-Jade Wellington 16. Leg-spinner Wellington produced two stunning performances the previous weekend with a combined 6/40 from eight overs, then came up with a matchwinning super over that went for just six. And McGrath now has 10 wickets.
Coach Luke Williams has stepped up in an outstanding first season in charge, thoroughly planning and preparing and helping instil a sense of calm and confidence in his talented playing group, whose self-belief has helped them to some crucial close wins. “There is a really good vibe around the group,” Coyte said. “We are not too worried about what’s happening with other teams - we are just focussing on what we can control and bringing our best to the game each and every time.”