Brisbane Heat beat the Strikers on Sunday by six wickets in the WBBL|05 Final to complete back-to-back titles at sold-out Allan Border Field in Brisbane.
For the second season in a row champion Heat opener Beth Mooney guided Brisbane home in the Final, batting through the innings for an unbeaten half-century with victory secured with 11 balls to spare.
The Strikers finished the regular season with 10 wins and four losses, the same as Brisbane, but conceded home-ground finals advantage because of the Heat’s superior net run-rate. And, having overpowered Perth Scorchers in Saturday’s semi-final, they continued to give the defending champion a huge fight right to the end.
Spin ace Amanda-Jade Wellington stood tall when it counted most by scoring her first half-century in her 71st WBBL match for the Strikers, thumping a critical 55 from just 33 balls.
Having lost Player of the Tournament Sophie Devine for five in the second over of the day and slipping to 5/93 in the 13th, the Strikers’ first WBBL Final was on the brink of spiralling out of control before Wellington led a sensational late charge to lift her side to a competitive 7/161.
The highly-successful standalone WBBL season didn’t end in the way Adelaide and Suzie Bates would have wanted but the Strikers’ inspirational skipper rightly was hugely proud of her talented line-up. “They have been one of the easiest teams to captain,” Bates said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group, with such a good vibe. We gave it our all and hopefully we’ll be back stronger for this.”
Adelaide’s captain paid tribute to Devine’s phenomenal campaign, the Kiwi superstar scoring 769 runs at an average of 76.9 - just eight runs short of a WBBL record - and claiming 19 wickets at 20.7. “Sophie has been absolutely outstanding - she has been inspirational for us,” Bates said, while also praising Wellington for stepping up after Devine’s dismissal “with a really brave performance to give us a chance against a very good Heat side”.
But Player of the Final Mooney kept her cool the whole way through the Heat’s innings for an unbeaten 56 from 45 balls, after the home side had been given matchwinning impetus by a cameo 27 from pace bowler Sammy-Jo Johnson that featured four huge sixes off Devine.
Victorious Heat captain Kirby Short paid tribute to Bates, first-year coach Luke Williams and the Strikers outfit, noting “there are so many positive things said about that team in blue”, congratulating them on an outstanding season and their deserved place in the championship showpiece.
But the game hadn’t gone to plan from the early stages. Devine started with an edge through the vacant slips for four from Delissa Kimmince. She had reached five - just eight short of Sydney Sixers superstar Ellyse Perry’s record 777 runs for a season - when pace bowler Georgia Prestwidge pulled off the unthinkable. Devine, who had scored eight half-centuries and an unbeaten 46 in her previous 10 WBBL innings, was gone. Prestwidge hurled one down short and wide of off-stump and Devine slashed hard and high but straight to Maddy Green in the deep. The Heat’s surprise plan had worked a treat, the Strikers immediately on the back foot.
But No. 3 Tahlia McGrath was straight onto the front foot, thumping a free hit from a Prestwidge no-ball over square-leg for six and pulling boundaries from Grace Harris and Johnson, in the process bringing up her 1000th WBBL run for the Strikers.
Bates was getting into the swing of it as well, cutting Harris for four and powering left-arm spinner Jess Jonassen over mid-on for a huge six. The Strikers were on the move, reaching 1/54 in the power play.
New Zealand superstar Bates thumped 19-year-old Kiwi leg-spinner Amelia Kerr to mid-on for four while McGrath was playing fearlessly, the pair taking the game away from the Heat. But McGrath tried to hit experienced Johnson over mid-off, only managing to sky it to Mikayla Hinkley, gone for 33 from 20 balls. And suddenly the Strikers were in deep trouble when Kerr grabbed the key wicket of her compatriot, Bates (27 from 24 balls) slicing one to backward point where Jonassen held a good catch.
Katie Mack (six) was brilliantly stumped by Mooney off Jonassen and Patterson (12 from 13 balls) hit Prestwidge straight to Kimmince at deep mid-wicket and the championship dream was slipping away.
Wellington, who has always showed ability with the bat to go with her outstanding leg-spin, had her chance to prove she could be a top-level allrounder and first ball she cover drove Johnson for four. She showed how much ability she has with the bat with an inside-out drive over mid-off for four from Kimmince and next ball she swatted a boundary to the same spot.
Tegan McPharlin, a team leader from behind the stumps and key veteran of 62 WBBL games, made the most of a rare chance with the bat, showing she meant business with a slash over gully for four from Kimmince and planting Johnson over mid-off for a boundary. And Wellington continued on the attack by hitting the experienced pace bowler over cover for another boundary.
Wellington became joint top-scorer with a brilliantly-executed reverse sweep from Jonassen, then hit her down the ground for fours to make it a hat-trick of boundaries. She and McPharlin brought up their 50 partnership from just 31 balls before the Strikers keeper, looking for quick runs, was bowled by Jonassen for a crucial 18 from 14 balls.
After reverse sweeping Kimmince for four, Wellington brought up her first WBBL half-century from 31 balls, celebrating by sweeping another boundary before sacrificing herself when run out from the final ball. Wellington’s 55, from 33 balls with 10 boundaries, had given Adelaide a shot at it, the Strikers crunching 56 off the last five overs.
The early battle between Schutt and Mooney looked critical and it was on in earnest when the opening batter hit two first-over fours - but in between the Australian pace ace had her playing and missing at a superb outswinger. Things were going the Heat’s ways with Green surviving a couple of skied balls and a possible run out as the score reached 0/27 from three overs. But McGrath came on and claimed the scalp of Green (11), chipping the ball to an ecstatic Bates at mid-wicket.
Johnson was promoted to No. 3 with the aim of hitting some quick runs - and didn’t she produce the goods for Brisbane? Devine, who hit a record five successive sixes against Melbourne Stars, well-and-truly got a taste of her own medicine as the Heat pace bowler hammered her for four huge sixes over the leg-side in five balls. Devine ended it all by having her caught-and-bowled from the final ball of the eventful over but Johnson’s 27 from 11 balls had well-and-truly swung the Final’s momentum.
Mooney, whose 65 guided the Heat to last season’s Final win against Sydney Sixers, shared a 67-run partnership with Jonassen, the pair cutting the required run-rate to below a run-a-ball before Coyte gave the Strikers a sniff by having Jonassen caught at deep mid-wicket by Patterson for 33.
McGrath’s successful finals campaign continued when her slower off-cutter bowled dangerous hitter Grace Harris for two but Harris’s sister Laura hit three boundaries from four balls to again take the game away from the Strikers, who seemed to be missing out on the close calls and weren’t making the most of any half-chances in the field.
Mooney was determined to see it through, reaching her ninth half-century of a remarkable campaign which ended with a sensational 743 runs at 74.3, just 26 behind Devine’s huge tally.
The season ended short but with so many positives. Devine simply was outstanding. McGrath (327 runs and 14 wickets) and Patterson (319 runs and 10 catches as an outstanding outfielder) stepped up, while the attack was the best in the league, five Strikers bowlers taking 14 wickets or more - Devine and Coyte (19 each), Wellington (16), Schutt (15) and McGrath (14). Schutt was peerless as a hard-to-score-from power play superstar, Wellington’s huge improvement showed her absence from Australia’s top team may not last too much longer - a half-century in a grand final won’t hurt that either - and Coyte consistently performed at the death.
Coach Williams helped pull together a side that was a deserved grand finalist in a remarkable first season in charge, the Strikers having previously made the semi-finals just once, two years ago. “He’s been brilliant,” Bates said, describing Williams as “so calm and so positive throughout”.
Experienced skipper Bates continued to lead from the front, also exuding calmness no matter how tense the situation and continually pulling the right strings and backing her players in. Handing the super over against Sydney Thunder to Wellington was a courageous and inspired move and the leg-spinner rewarded her skipper by bowling the Strikers to the key win.
It was one of many highlights of a sensational year that finished so near, yet so far.