It says plenty about the extent to which the Big Bash League has forced its way to the heart of the Australian summer that a crowd of 71,162 for the Melbourne derby at the MCG might even rank as a disappointment, given the 80,883 that flooded through the gates a year ago, and the 24,547 in the ground for the Women’s BBL curtain-raiser in the afternoon – the highest in the competition’s history.
There was, though, nothing disappointing about the Melbourne Renegades, who bounced back from their loss to the Perth Scorchers with an impressive seven-run win (D/L method) that was not quite as tight as it sounds.
On a slow pitch, Cameron White anchored their innings with a classy 64, then the Renegades spinners, Brad Hogg and Sunil Narine, turned the screws on the Melbourne Stars, who were left with a revised target of 159 after two overs were lost to rain.
The Renegades spring a Narine-shaped surprise
There has been some debate as to how the Renegades would replace their key man and only allrounder, Dwayne Bravo, who was ruled out of the tournament after a hamstring injury in the match against the Scorchers. For now, the Renegades don’t have another match until the second Melbourne derby on January 7 and so have plenty of time to find an overseas replacement. As a short-term fix against the Stars, they hauled in the burly bruiser Trent Lawford to provide some lower-order ballast and right-arm trickery, but they had another ace up their sleeve: an unlikely batting promotion for Narine.
And it rather worked. Narine slashed and dashed his way to 21, striking cleanly enough to just evade fielders, and outscoring Aaron Finch in the process. There was a crack down the ground for four and a stunning flick behind square for six, and it took a magical catch from Kevin Pietersen, sprinting back from mid-on, to dismiss him. Later, Narine confirmed his newfound allrounder status with an outstanding, virtually-unhittable bowling performance: he conceded just one boundary and 24 runs. The last of his overs (the innings’ penultimate one) had the class to deny Marcus Stoinis a boundary, and brought three – yes, three – shambolic runs-outs as his partners tried to hare back for a second run.
Renegades pace themselves, Stars don’t
To accommodate Narine at the top, Marcus Harris and White dropped a place each. The former struggled, but White – having been booed, as a former Star, on his way to the crease – shone. He ended up batting through with a composed 64. He ran hard – not least in the slog overs, in the company of Lawford – and was typically strong on the drive through the off side. He picked his targets, going after Scott Boland, and, after two quick wickets, shared a resourceful 72 with Tom Cooper, who also batted with brains over brawn.
The Stars did not heed the lessons taught by White and Cooper. A target of 172 looked about par (indeed, the average successful BBL chase at the MCG is 172), but it proved plenty more. Stars’ batting line-up looks top heavy, so Cooper was charged with the first over. He dismissed Glenn Maxwell off the fourth ball. When Kevin Pietersen, who looked in fine touch, was dismissed in the Powerplay, the Stars always looked up against it.
The strangest over ever?
Chris Tremain’s first two overs, in the Powerplay, went for 11 each. After Aaron Finch tightened things up by getting spinners to take the pace off the ball, Tremain returned for the 14th over, with the game in the balance. Wright and Faulkner were both set, rain was coming down and more than 10 runs were required per over. Tremain proceeded to bowl an 11-ball over, with four wides, a no-ball (and thus free hit, which proved to be a dot-ball), but conceded only eight runs. Vitally, he took the key wicket of Faulkner, who bunted a rare legal delivery straight down Finch’s throat at long-off.
The whole Hogg
This is why the Renegades signed Hogg. His first over began right after the rain delay and, with his third ball, he bowled David Hussey, who had been purring along. After two wicketless, but also boundary-less, overs, he completed his allocation immediately after Tremain’s peculiar over. He built pressure on Wright, who had kept the Stars in the chase but struggled for fluency in his 45, then bowled him with a flatter, sharper ball. He finished his spell by trapping Sam Harper – who was not even born when Hogg made his international debut – plumb in front. Hogg’s 3 for 22 put the outcome beyond doubt.