The Strikers slipped from top spot with a loss to Sydney Sixers on Sunday, while reigning champion Brisbane Heat leapt to the head of the table - earning the right to play home finals - with a win against Melbourne Stars in the wet in Melbourne.
Aussie superstar Alyssa Healy plundered a breathtaking 84 as the Sixers stunned Adelaide by 13 runs at Hurstville Oval in Sydney. The Strikers, aiming for a seventh successive rebel WBBL|05 win, were up against it when the Sixers put together an imposing 7/177. In-form allrounder Sophie Devine gave Adelaide a shot at a successful run chase with a sensational 60 but, despite admirable cameos from Bridget Patterson (30), Amanda-Jade Wellington (22) and Lauren Winfield (20), the target proved tantalisingly out of reach.
The Strikers, who on Saturday had overwhelmed the Sixers by eight wickets to grab top spot, were left waiting on the result of the rain-hit Heat-Stars clash to see if they would be hosting the finals. But the Heat won the match, reduced to 10 overs-a-side, by eight wickets with eight balls to spare, again inspired by opener Beth Mooney, who made an unbeaten 50.
The Strikers ended the regular season with a highly-impressive 10 wins and four losses, the same record as Brisbane. But the Heat had a better net run-rate - 0.723 to the Strikers’ 0.601 - to reclaim top place and the advantage of home finals.
Adelaide skipper Suzie Bates was unconcerned with a loss before the finals, saying she was pleased with the way the Strikers pulled the Sixers back in the back 10 overs, keeping them under 180 to give themselves a chance. And the run chase came close, a couple of stunning Sixers catches and a little luck here or there proving the difference.
“Alyssa Healy took the game away from us a little but the pleasing thing is we got close and played some really good cricket,” Bates said.
The superstar opener said, despite the hiccup against the Sixers, the Strikers would be looking forward to finals next weekend with confidence.
“Sometimes it’s a good thing to have a loss and you reassess some of your bowling plans and the batters get a bit hungrier,” she said. “It’s anyone’s ball game next weekend wherever it’s played. Anyone who makes the top four is in with as good a chance as anyone.”
The Hurstville Oval game had plenty on the line for the Strikers as they chased top spot but the Sixers suddenly didn’t have as much to play for. The Sixers - in the biggest surprise of the season - were out of the finals race when Melbourne Renegades beat Sydney Thunder by 29 runs in Melbourne on Sunday morning. The Renegades booked their semi-final spot as they moved two wins ahead of the Sixers, meaning the glamour Sydney side’s last game of the regular season also would be their last game of the season. The Sixers, hit hard by a shoulder injury that sidelined superstar allrounder Ellyse Perry for the last fortnight of their campaign, had made the grand final in each of the first four seasons of the competition, winning the championship twice.
The Strikers, looking to the finals when they will be without England international Lauren Winfield, selected 20-year-old batter Annie O'Neil for her first WBBL game. O’Neil, who has a highest score of 242 not out for Sturt, also bowls handy leg-spin. Off-spinner Alex Price was left out of the line-up.
Healy, dismissed for a duck by opening bowler Megan Schutt in the first over on Saturday, gave a hot chance again in Schutt’s opening over when Sarah Coyte couldn’t hang on to a difficult overhead chance from a big off-drive that went for four.
The Sixers charged to 0/18 from the first two overs before Schutt struck, a big inswinger ripping through Erin Burns and bowling her for two.
Healy was on the attack as she on-drove Schutt for a big four, then flayed her through the off-side for another boundary, bringing back memories of her run of scores of 106, 63 and 112 not out against the Strikers at Hurstville Oval in the previous two seasons.
Ashleigh Gardner joined the party as she crunched Devine through the covers for a couple of boundaries. Healy thumped sixes over cover from Coyte and Tahlia McGrath and after the power play, the Strikers were looking at a big chase, the Sixers right on top at 1/56.
McGrath ended a whirlwind 65-run partnership from just 6.2 overs when Gardner (23 from 22 balls) tried to crash one over mid-wicket but all that was crashing was her stumps.
Healy, having hammered leg-side sixes off Schutt and Suzie Bates, reached her 50 from just 26 balls with an edge through the vacant slips for a boundary off Devine. One of the most destructive hitters in world cricket, Healy thundered successive sixes from leg-spinner Wellington. She had plundered a breathtaking 84 before Bates stepped up and bowled the star Aussie keeper-batter. Healy had scored her runs from just 38 balls with seven sixes and seven fours.
Coyte ended the Sixers’ innings in style with back-to-back wickets, having Marizanne Kapp (24 from 21 balls) caught behind square-leg by McGrath and yorking Jodie Hicks for a golden duck. Coyte finished with a solid 2/27 and McGrath claimed 2/32 but the Sixers had reached a formidable 7/177.
Bates was unlucky to be dismissed by young pace bowler Stella Campbell for a duck when she slashed a short ball into the covers powerfully but not quite wide enough of Erin Burns, who threw herself to the left to pull off a stunning catch. With McGrath gone for six, Devine and Patterson set about putting the Strikers back on track, sharing a 65-run stand. Patterson pulled Sarah Aley for a huge six on her way to a run-a-ball 30 but was caught trying to force the pace.
Devine, who on Saturday became the first Striker to reach the 2000-run Big Bash milestone, held the key to Adelaide’s hopes of snatching a miracle win. And she started to unleash as she charged down the wicket to off-spinner Gardner and hammered her into the sightscreen. Looking dangerous, she thumped Burns for a couple of leg-side sixes and she had reached 60 from 37 balls when she swept Burns hard again. But Jodie Hicks, a GWS Giants footballer, threw herself into the air to haul in a spectacular overhead mark. Devine couldn’t believe it but the Kiwi superstar heads this season’s WBBL runscoring with 699 at 77.7 per innings, including a remarkable eight half-centuries.
Wellington (22 from 12 balls) and Winfield (20 from 20) refused to go down without a fight in a quickfire 30-run stand, Wellington thumping Kapp over cover for a six before being run out attempting to force an unlikely two. It was so near, yet so far for the Strikers. But, after their outstanding campaign, they have every reason to look forward to finals with confidence.