Champion allrounder Sophie Devine inspired a stunning eight-wicket rebel WBBL|05 semi-final win against Perth Scorchers on Saturday at Allan Border Field in Brisbane.
Devine pummeled an unbeaten 65 from just 46 balls and it was fitting she hit the winning runs - a power-packed straight hit for four from Heather Graham - the Strikers home with 11 balls to spare. Now, on Sunday at 2.10pm South Australian time, the Strikers will slug it out against Brisbane for a historic WBBL crown.
A stunning 2/14 from four overs to swing bowler Megan Schutt, along with two wickets to Devine in a strong allround bowling and fielding performance, restricted the Scorchers to 7/126.
Then Devine continued her rampaging form, taking her season runs tally to a staggering 764 at an average of 84.9 - just 13 runs behind the record set last year by Sydney Sixers and Australian superstar Ellyse Perry.
But, after skipper Suzie Bates was run out for just one, Devine needed help - and she gained plenty from up-and-coming stars Tahlia McGrath (36) and Bridget Patterson (an unbeaten 16).
Devine, crowned Player of the Tournament during the week, has won plenty of awards and personal accolades and she again was player of the match in the semi-final but what she wants to get her hands on is the Big Bash trophy. Now her - and her teammates’ - dream is just one win away.
“We probably haven’t thought about the grand final, we thought one job at a time, so it’s really nice to tick that off,” Devine said immediately after the impressive semi-final win. “We’ll recover really well and probably discuss options for tomorrow but, at the end of the day, we know our game plan and if we can execute, we will go all right.”
Devine praised the performances of McGrath and Patterson, saying it was typical of the way different Strikers had made an impact when needed as they charged from missing finals last season to reaching the championship decider.
“They’ve all stepped up at different times in different situations,” Devine said, admiring the character displayed by McGrath and Patterson under pressure. “They are such quality players as well ... Tahlia today was fantastic and Bridget did a really important job to finish the game off. It’s great for our local players to come up and be able to perform like that.”
McGrath moments after the Strikers’ stunning win was still coming to terms with the idea of playing off in a grand final. “It’s crazy,” she said. “It hasn’t really quite sunk in yet but we’re really looking forward to tomorrow and hopefully we’ve got one more big game left in us.”
And what’s it like batting with Devine, with whom McGrath shared a critical 79-run second-wicket stand? “She’s a freak - I’m certainly glad she’s on my team,” McGrath said.
Bates won the bat flip and would have been happy to bowl first, the wicket likely to have something in it early and the Strikers feeling comfortable chasing down a target on Allan Border Field.
Schutt, the world’s No. 1-ranked T20 bowler, was as miserly as they come in the regular season, conceding just 5.7 per over, and she was straight into it, swinging the first ball away from star left-handed opener Nicole Bolton, who played and missed. In her opening over there also was a strong appeal for lbw against Australian captain, matchwinning Meg Lanning but the ball was swinging a long way in.
Devine then had a line-ball lbw appeal turned down against Lanning but the Kiwi superstar struck a huge blow for the Strikers. Lanning sliced an outswinger to gully, where Alex Price held on to a crucial catch. Lanning, in red-hot form after scoring a 67-ball century against Hobart Hurricanes, was gone for just one. Devine continued to be a huge danger as she swung one back between Bolton’s bat and pad, almost bowling her.
Devine and Schutt were bang on target and looking threatening, giving Bolton a torrid testing as she played and missed and skied a couple of mistimed shots. Schutt, continually building the pressure, had some well-deserved success when she flashed into the game with wickets from successive balls in her third over. Chloe Piparo (six) tried to take up the attack but didn’t get enough of it and was caught at mid-off by Sarah Coyte. And Schutt backed that up as Bolton (12 from 17 balls) flashed a cut straight to Annie O’Neil at point. After the power play, the Strikers, whose plans and field placings were spot-on, bowling varied and hitting the right areas and fielding maintaining enormous pressure, had the Scorchers in deep trouble at 3/26.
Left-handers Georgia Redmayne and Jemma Barsby fought hard, hanging in there in hot and humid conditions before Redmayne took up the attack against Coyte in the 14th over. She crashed the in-form medium-pacer over mid-wicket for a huge six, then another four, before leg-glancing a boundary to bring up a half-century stand from 54 balls. The Scorchers were suddenly accelerating, having added 30 from just 15 balls when Barsby reverse swept leg-spinner Amanda-Jade Wellington for four.
Barsby, who made 31 from 37 balls battling the heat - she was wearing an ice vest, necessary because she has MS - was bowled by a slower ball from Devine, who finished with an important 2/23 from her four overs. Apart from being the leading runscorer in the competition, she also was fourth-ranked bowler for the campaign with 18 wickets, the same as Coyte.
Redmayne, a doctor when she’s not playing cricket, reached a crucial half-century with a single from Schutt’s hat-trick ball - delivered almost an hour after she had claimed the key scalp of Bolton. But, in a telling blow, Redmayne was run out by Price for 51 from 42 balls. Schutt, selected in the WBBL Team of the Tournament along with Devine, continued to keep scoring to the bare minimum as she claimed 2/14 from her outstanding four overs. And Coyte - as she has done so often this year - finished the innings well, following a run out of Graham (six) by clean bowling Mathilda Carmichael for a golden duck with the last ball of the innings. Carmichael, who has been a member of Australia’s Hockeyroos squad, was given her chance in the semi-final with English stars Amy Jones and Natalie Sciver unavailable because of international duty.
But the Strikers were not going to have it all their own way. Bates, tied down by a maiden from Taneale Peschel in the second over, tried to steal a last-ball single, was sent back and run out by just centimetres by Bolton in the gully. The Strikers skipper had made one from nine balls.
McGrath got off the mark first ball with an uppish cut four a boundary from Irish pace bowler Kim Garth before an edge was dropped by diving keeper Redmayne. Devine showed how it was done with a superb cut for four.
McGrath, who scored a matchwinning unbeaten 65 against the Scorchers at Allan Border Field early in the season, continued to have a slice of luck as, having reached 19 she drove medium-pacer Graham straight to Bolton at long-on but she put down the chance. Devine was changing up through the gears as she straight drove, then pulled Graham for successive boundaries and at the halfway point the Strikers were 1/59.
McGrath doesn’t enjoy the heat but she was turning up the heat on the Scorchers as she used her feet to get to former Strikers medium-pacer Sam Betts, plundering a huge six a long way over long-on Bolton’s head. But, having made 36 in a 79-run stand with Devine, McGrath pulled Garth straight to Barsby at mid-wicket and this time she was gone.
It looked like it was game-on with the Strikers needing 40 from 30 balls as Devine upped the ante. She cut Peschel for four but, in attempting to do it again, slashed the next ball in the air through point to Bolton, who could not hold on to a tough chance.
Devine was continuing her Zinc Challenge, this weekend raising money for Red Cross to assist with bushfire relief, and superstar Australian wicketkeeper-batter Alyssa Healy and French Open tennis champion and former WBBL star Ash Barty were among those getting on board for the finals matches. There simply is no stopping Devine - off or on the field.
She reached her ninth 50 for an unforgettable campaign from 39 balls and celebrated by thumping Bolton for a straight six.
Patterson, who made a major contribution in the regular season with 291 runs at 26.5 and a greatly improved strikerate of 119, cut Bolton for four, then lofted Garth over mid-off for a boundary. It was time to start celebrating - well, for a few minutes anyway. There is still a job to be done. The Strikers are within striking distance of WBBL history.