The Brisbane Heat will chase a 117-run target for victory over the Sydney Sixers in Thursday evening’s Challenger, with a place in Saturday’s Final against the Scorchers up for grabs.
The men in magenta mustered 9-116 from their 20 overs, with paceman Spencer Johnson and spinner Matt Kuhnemann each snaring three wickets the slow SCG deck.
In response, the Heat are 6-103 after 16 overs.
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Sixers opener Kurtis Patterson was off to a fast start, picking off Heat quicks Michael Neser and dispatching Xavier Bartlett during the Powerplay, while wicketkeeper Josh Philippe rotated the strike at the other end.
But Patterson’s luck changed against Johnson in the fourth over, holing out into the deep for 19 (14).
Former Australian batter Mark Waugh lamented another start for Patterson that he couldn’t go on with.
“(Johnson) gets onto the batsmen a bit quicker than they think,” he said.
“That’s been the story of his season so far – another start for him.”
Philippe’s innings came to an end in bizarre circumstances — after botching a sweep shot against spinner Matt Kuhnemann in the seventh over, the Heat called for a review, which suggested the ball had scraped his glove on the way through to wicketkeeper Jimmy Peirson.
But there was confusion in the middle after third umpire Paul Wilson handed down a not out verdict, which left Gilchrist “baffled”.
After Wilson reviewed the footage once again, Philippe was finally given out caught behind for 16 (16).
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Sixers captain Moises Henriques joined his teammates in the dugout a couple of overs later, trapped on the pads by a Kuhnemann delivery that didn’t turn.
“That is as plumb as you’ll ever see,” Waugh said.
“That is absolutely dead.”
Heat all-rounder Nathan McSweeney claimed his first Big Bash wicket after the drinks break, with Jordan Silk scooping a low catch towards backward point and departing for 10 (14).
Kuhnemann’s demolition continued in the 13th over when he got a delivery to keep low and crash into Daniel Hughes’ stumps, bowled for 23 (24).
Johnson returned to the attack and immediately found success, bowling veteran all-rounder Daniel Christian for 7 (12) with an absolute seed. Christian, playing his last Big Bash match at the SCG, received a standing ovation from the Sydney crowd as he returned to the sheds.
Ben Dwarshuis couldn’t take advantage of the Power Surge, swatting at a length Neser delivery that was caught at deep square leg, gone for 4 (5).
Johnson snared his third victim the following over, with Hayden Kerr chipping a regulation catch back to the tall left-armer, who finished with figures of 3-28 from four overs.
The run chase got off to a nervy start for the Sixers, with Sean Abbott gifting overthrows on the first delivery of the innings.
In the third over, Josh Brown plundered back-to-back sixes over the long-on rope to become the first player to clear the boundary during the match.
Drama erupted in the fourth over when Silk missed a run out at the non-striker’s end, with Heat opener Sam Heazlett looking to scamper through for a cheeky single on the overthrow — only to be run out on the second attempt.
Abbott offered Heazlett some words of advice as the Sixers celebrated the breakthrough.
“That was such a waste,” Waugh said, describing Heazlett’s dismissal as a “rush of blood to the head”.
Brown’s entertaining cameo came to an end on 20 (18), edging behind to give Dwarshuis his first wicket of the evening.
A couple of deliveries, Afghan spinner Izharulhaq Naveed managed to flick the off stumps without dislodging the bails, but McSweeney couldn’t take advantage of the reprieve, edging behind later that over for 5 (8).
The match was suddenly in the balance when O’Keefe dismissed rival captain Peirson for 7 (9) with a delivery that gripped and caught the leading edge.
And momentum swung firmly in the Sixers’ favour when Naveed claimed a stunning return catch to send Sam Hain back to the sheds for 8 (11) and leaving the Heat reeling at 5-56.
Neser and Max Bryant combined for 30-run partnership for sixth wicket to steady the ship before Abbott struck in the 15th over, dismissing the latter for 11 (8).
But Neser was the hero for the Heat, slapping four consecutive boundaries off Kerr to put the visitors within touching distance of the target.
Both sides are without a host of Test stars, with the Sixers missing Steve Smith and the Heat losing captain Usman Khawaja, Matt Renshaw, Marnus Labuschagne and Mitch Swepson.
But Khawaja told his teammates it ‘wasn’t just the Test blokes’ who got them to this position.
“The blokes coming in have performed throughout the tournament,” BBL team-of-the-year quick Michael Neser said after beating the Renegades on Sunday.
“’Uzzy’ (Khawaja) did leave us with a little nugget at the end when he mentioned that it wasn’t just the Test blokes that have performed this tournament, we’ve all performed.
“The one thing that we’ve done lately is somebody has always put up their hand to win the match.”
Neser already has 24 wickets in his best BBL season so far, putting him just three short of 100 career BBL wickets – a mark he’ll be desperate to reach on Thursday night.
But a former Australian selector has also earmarked a left-arm pace spearhead for a key role in the Challenger.
Spencer Johnson has been sending down 145km/h and tormenting batters for the Heat this season, a huge reason for the Heat’s late-season success.
And Andy Bichel – a 19-cap Test quick and former selector – has tipped Johnson to be an ‘ideal replacement’ for Mitch Starc should the superstar opt to retire from T20 internationals.
“Mitch (Starc) has murmured recently about what formats are important to him and if he decided he did not want to play T20 cricket Spencer would be an ideal replacement,’’ Bichel told News Corp.
“That is how I see him making it. He has got the skills for that. He could be a like for like replacement in that (like Starc) he can come around the wicket and bowl those yorkers.’’
“The English talk it out it all the time – bowlers who are in eye-line and out of eye line. He is out of eye line.’’
Host of stars missing for Heat | 00:55
The Heat are boosted by the return of injured English import Ross Whiteley, but were forced into sweeping changes to their squad after losing their Test quartet.
All-rounder Nathan McSweeney returns to the team as a Local Replacement Player, having played three matches early in the season. And batsman Sam Heazlett makes the starting XI for his first match of the season.
For the Sixers, veteran batter Daniel Hughes replaces Steve Smith in what will be his first match in a month. Hughes, a key player for the Sixers last season, has managed just three matches this season.
‘Bloody oath there’s nerves’: Sixers gun’s brutal task to replace Smith
Heat XI: Sam Heazlett, Josh Brown, Nathan McSweeney, Sam Hain, Jimmy Peirson (c, wk), Max Bryant, James Bazley, Michael Neser, Xavier Bartlett, Spencer Johnson, Matthew Kuhnemann
Sixers XI: Josh Philippe (wk), Kurtis Patterson, Daniel Hughes, Moises Henriques (c), Jordan Silk, Hayden Kerr, Dan Christian, Ben Dwarshuis, Sean Abbott, Stephen O’Keefe, Izharulhaq Naveed
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