Skipper Suzie Bates and allrounder Tahlia McGrath had sensational weekends as the Strikers claimed back-to-back wins against last year’s finalists the Scorchers in the Red Centre, joining Sydney Thunder on seven wins at the head of the WBBL table, firmly on target to win a semi-final berth for the first time.
The Strikers, after successive wins against Melbourne Stars, showed strong inner-belief and plenty of fighting qualities to snare the crucial wins, giving themselves “some breathing space” in second spot of a fiercely-fought and remarkably congested WBBL ladder.
Sydney Thunder is on top with a 7-2 win-loss record, with the Strikers on 7-3 – with a slightly inferior net run-rate – Brisbane Heat is 6-4, last year’s champions Sydney Sixers and Melbourne Renegades have five wins and four losses, Perth Scorchers are now on 5-5, while Melbourne Stars are still an outside semi-final shot on 3-7.
After sneaking home with just one ball to spare with six wickets in hand on Saturday, the Strikers’ second win against the Scorchers was much more comfortable. But it was in some doubt after Adelaide had been forced to battle its way to 7/107. A power-packed bowling and fielding performance, however, made short work of the Scorchers, bowling them out for a measly 76, including picking up the last five wickets for just 15.
Bates, who overcame the hot conditions on Saturday, playing every minute of the game, was inspirational, winning player of the match honours on both days. She scored 49 not out and 27 and claimed 1/9 and 2/6. But McGrath must have come close to winning the award on at least one of the days, snaring 3/17 and 2/17 and scoring 14 and 34.
Bates was concerned the Strikers’ 7/107 may have been “a bit short” of par – especially the way McGrath had batted in hitting five boundaries in her 34 – but said, “I thought on that wicket we were going to be in the game with any score over 100”.
“The way we bowled and fielded was outstanding,” she said.
While Adelaide’s talent and tenacity is making it a genuine WBBL contender, there is still plenty of work to be done. It doesn’t get any easier from here as the Strikers face up to another road trip, heading to Wagga Wagga to tackle pacesetter Sydney Thunder in critical back-to-back clashes on 20 and 21 January. And last year’s champions Sydney Sixers loom in two clashes in Sydney on 27 and 28 January.
But Bates admitted there was a belief building among her side. Having come to the side from the Scorchers, Bates had thought the Strikers were “a really talented team who had perhaps underperformed”.
But “those close wins against the Renegades off the last ball and against the Stars – with a little bit of luck – have given us a lot of confidence as a group”.
After such a productive weekend, Bates is delighted the Strikers have some “breathing space for the next four games against two really good Sydney sides – we’re going to have to play well”.
Luckily that’s what the Strikers have been doing – with Bates leading the way. She continued to put a high price on her wicket as she battled hard on a testing pitch but in much milder conditions after such a tough day at the office on Saturday. Bates cut off-spinner Nicole Bolton for four in the second over but boundaries were hard to come by.
Bates had been on the field for every ball of Saturday’s thriller in stifling hot and humid conditions. The Kiwi superstar claimed the key wicket of Bolton and snared a run out before holding firm for a matchwinning unbeaten 49 from 47 balls in a game in which no other player reached 20.
It was not such a good weekend for England Test batter Tammy Beaumont who, after being trapped lbw by England pace bowler Katherine Brunt for a first-ball duck on Saturday, was run out by a direct hit from Lauren Ebsary for two.
Bates and fellow Kiwi Sophie Devine are matchwinners and their partnership shaped as a key one for the Strikers. Devine looked scratchy early but launched into the fourth ball she faced to dispatch Heather Graham over mid-wicket for six, then survived a close lbw shout before crunching her behind square-leg for four.
Bates and Devine took the score to 1/42 from 10 overs before Devine decided to take the attack to Emma King, using her feet to loft her over mid-wicket for four, then off-driving a powerful six. Trying to repeat the dose she hit the ball too close to Natalie Sciver, who ran and dived to pick up a sensational outfield catch.
Devine had scored 29 from 33 balls and she and Bates had added 45 in 8.5 overs. Bates battled hard for 27 from 38 balls before trying to force the pace and being bowled by Brunt in the 16th over.
McGrath, who had returned to her best form with a fine allround performance on Saturday, quickly made her mark, using her feet to thump Bolton over mid-wicket for four, driving King through the off-side for successive boundaries in the following over, then sweeping Bolton behind square-leg for another four.
Usually a classical batter, McGrath pulled out some reverse sweeps and ramp shots, the pick of them a ramp for four from the dangerous Brunt. Batting the full 360 degrees and finding the gaps, McGrath kept the scoreboard ticking over.
McGrath, who on Saturday took three wickets, snared two catches and pulled off a sensational run out before sharing a critical 31-run stand with Bates, made her highest score this campaign with 34 from 28 balls. She was finally caught at deep mid-wicket off Graham in the 19th over.
The Strikers’ score seemingly slipped below par as the Scorchers claimed 4/11 in the last three overs. But as McGrath said on Saturday, the Strikers “seem to find a way to get over the line”.
They did it in style in bowling Perth out for just 76. Star opener Bolton and skipper Elyse Villani had put on 16 in four overs before Bates again decided to take matters into her own hands. She trapped Villani lbw for five and, in her second over, clean bowled Sciver for a duck.
Bates’ second over was an incredibly rare Twenty20 maiden and she had the stunning figures of 2/3 off two overs. Adelaide’s match-turner had turned the game in the Strikers’ favour – and there was no turning back.
Bridget Patterson pulled off a stunning run out with a direct hit to send Ebsary packing, then leg-spinner Amanda-Jade Wellington beat Brunt in flight to have her caught by Tabatha Saville in the covers. Fiji-born Saville, who was raised in Alice Springs, was given a huge ovation by her adoring home fans.
Off-spinner Alex Price picked up the key wicket of Bolton when she was trapped in front trying a reverse sweep, after reaching 30 from 38 balls and the Scorchers were scorched at 5/47. Swing bowler Megan Schutt then swung into the action to dismiss Graham and Chloe Piparo in successive balls.
When Price (2/4) clean bowled wicketkeeper Emily Smith for a duck, the Strikers were home by a comfortable 31 runs. And their belief continuing to build.