Rauf hat-trick, Maxwell magic take Stars to the top

Monitoring Desk

SYDNEY: Haris Rauf plucked a hat-trick and Glenn Maxwell smashed it with the bat for Melbourne Stars to regain their place at the top of the Big Bash League table. Sydney Thunder were beaten by six wickets at the MCG, on a day they learned of Chris Green’s tournament ban for an illegal bowling action.

The Thunder were never able to build enough momentum for a big total when batting first, despite preserving plenty of wickets in hand, and then had their last over plans overturned by Haris’ sheer precision.

Marcus Stoinis, having escaped a ban for abusive language during the Stars’ previous match, then settled into his innings to start the Stars’ chase, before Maxwell clouted 59 from 35 balls, including 37 runs from his last 16 balls.

Thunder played a controlled innings in which they kept wickets in hand but could never quite find the momentum to break free. Usman Khawaja and Alex Hales had their moments in an opening stand worth 56, but lingering beyond the eighth over did not help do the sort of damage two such sweet timers of the ball would have hoped for.

Maxwell’s ability to bowl three unchanged overs for 19 runs at the start would have delighted the Stars’ planners.

Callum Ferguson, the captain, and Matt Gilkes, the wicketkeeper, then put together a sensible partnership that threatened, at various stages, to provide the acceleration required. But once again the Stars were able to restrict the flow of boundaries enough to ensure that by the time the final over of the innings began, the Thunder were still looking for a big over to take them from mediocrity into better territory in the region of 160 and beyond.

Outstanding as he has been with his high pace and unrelenting attack on the stumps, Haris has had to share billing with Dale Steyn for much of the BBL so far.

But Steyn’s departure has secured Haris’ spot for the remainder of the season, and here he showcased another element of his ability – variations that were nearly impossible for flailing batsmen to counter in their desperate final efforts to reach or clear the boundary.

First, Gilkes skied a slower ball to fine leg, where Sandeep Lamichhane just managed to hold onto a steepling chance as the batsmen crossed.

Next, Ferguson was almost comically defeated by another off cutter, well through his shot to drag it onto the stumps. And finally Daniel Sams was beaten for pace, as Haris was given an lbw verdict.

The wicket was in many ways reminiscent of those collected by Terry Alderman in the 1980s – having seen so many balls hitting the stumps or in line with them, umpires are more likely to believe that leg stump will be hit. After Rashid Khan’s heroics earlier in the day for Adelaide Strikers, Haris had made it a double memorable day.

Hamstrung in part by the continuing struggles of Ben Dunk, the Stars have been trying to find the right top order combination of stability, power and strike rotation.

Stoinis provides plenty of power and can keep the good ones out, but Nic Maddinson has struggled. This time around he was to be run out in what was at least a gesture towards more hustle between the wickets, and next the Stars promoted Nathan Coulter-Nile in what might once have been called the “pinch-hitter” role.

While Coulter-Nile’s stay was brief, he clumped a six and a four in his six balls in the middle, providing just enough of a kickstart to the innings to allow Stoinis to carry on at his own pace.

This meant that Maxwell was not unduly under pressure to make something from nothing with every ball he faced.

Even on a slowish surface, the required rate was never going beyond seven per over – a situation exacerbated for the Thunder by the absence of Green.

Maxwell leads his men home Stoinis was unable to endure to the end, skying Jono Cook’s leg break to Chris Morris, having earlier been fortunate to survive a concerted lbw appeal by Chris Tremain when on just seven.

Peter Handscomb’s early deliveries hardly inspired confidence as Tremain twice beat the bat, but when he found a way to get to the other end, Maxwell took control.

First he shovelled Tremain straight down the ground with plenty of power, and when that full toss was ruled to be above waist height, Maxwell crushed the subsequent free hit for six over point .

That reduced the requirement to 27 from the final five overs, and from there it became a case of Maxwell entertaining the MCG crowd while freeing his arms. Chris Morris’ next over went for 16, and with 24 balls left to collect the remaining 11 runs, Maxwell gallivanted to 50 from just 29 balls. The Stars have stretched their lead at the top, despite still trying to find the ideal balance at the top of the order. (ESPNCricinfo)