The score: Sydney Thunder 5-197 (Hales 60, Khawaja 54, Ferguson 33) defeated the Hobart Hurricanes 140 (Short 37; Cook 4-21, Morris 3-27) by 57 runs at Blundstone Arena.
The reunion of D’Arcy Short and Matthew Wade had sent tremors through the BBL, but it was the Thunder’s opening duo of Alex Hales and Usman Khawaja that turned out to be Thursday night’s main attraction.
One of the cleanest hitters in world cricket, Hales (60 off 37 balls) has gone under-the-radar in this BBL campaign but there was no overlooking the star opener as he hit the ball to all parts of, and out of, Blundstone Arena.
Khawaja, meanwhile, was without a fifty in his preceding nine innings but fulfilled the popular prediction that he would deliver a big innings when it mattered most in posting a typically eye-catching 34-ball 54.
Their 103-run opening stand proved the difference in the match.
A 54-run Powerplay saw Khawaja initially out-score his partner as he audaciously ramped James Faulkner for back-to-back boundaries before hitting Scott Boland for three fours in a row, though Hales had the night’s most memorable moment with an enormous 112-metre six (more on that below).
The pair then smashed 47 off the three overs immediately after the field restrictions were relaxed, before Khawaja was trapped lbw shortly after bringing up a 30-ball half-century.
Boland extracted a slice of revenge when he had Hales caught on the boundary, but not before the right-hander had soared to second on the BBL’s run-scoring charts and became the second batsman to clear the 500-run mark this season.
More importantly, the partnership put the Thunder on track for a match-winning total.
The support cast
In his first 10 deliveries, Jono Cook, the 30-year-old who had only previously taken multiple wickets in three of his previous 18 BBL games, delivered the game’s knockout blows with the scalps of the Hurricanes’ star opening pair.
The leg-spinner is not a prodigious turner of the ball but has carved out an unusual role as a leg-spinning new-ball specialist, duly removing Short and Wade inside the first seven overs.
The pair have been in sublime form having put on a Hurricanes’ record 203-run partnership in their final regular-season game against the Strikers, but Cook had both mis-hitting balls to have them caught in the infield for 14 (Wade) and 37 (Short).
He later found himself on a hat-trick when he removed Simon Milenko and Clive Rose in successive deliveries to finish with superb figures of 4-21 from his four overs.
The consolation act
The kids don’t flood through the gates to watch excellent death bowling, but the 11,031-strong Hobart crowd appreciated every ball of a flawless Nathan Ellis T20 bowling masterclass that proved the only performance worth cheering for the hosts.
The Hurricanes would have been chasing a far greater total had it not been for Ellis’ four overs that cost just 18 runs, saving his finest performance of the season for the biggest game.
The 25-year-old, who had no professional contract at the start of the summer in any format, ensured just eight runs came from his two Power Play overs as his teammates went all around the park.
He then conceded just 10 more from his final two overs, the 18th and 20th of the innings, and picked up the wicket of dangerman Chris Morris.
The right-armer finished with the rare distinction of not allowing a single boundary during his spell.
It confirms his status as the find of BBL09, making cricket.com.au’s team of the tournament this week having finished the regular season with the best economy rate during the final five overs of an innings (minimum 61 balls).
‘Enormous’ does not quite cut it as a description for the mammoth Alex Hales’ six off Scott Boland that nearly cleared the Ricky Ponting Stand.
The English right-hander waited back in his crease and picked the length perfectly, uncoiling a monster blow over the leg-side that made a colossal sound as it landed on the stand’s roof.
The only person who enjoyed it more than Hales? His partner Usman Khawaja.
For the second time in six days Hobart fans said goodbye to George Bailey, so unlikely had another game at Blundstone Arena appeared last week when the Hurricanes played their final regular-season home game.
There was no fairytale farewell for the former Australia limited-overs, caught for 13 after a trio of boundaries to end a nearly two-decade long playing career.
Bailey will not be lost to the game, however, as he immediately take up his new post as a national selector.
The Hurricanes stormed into fourth spot and a home final by winning their final three regular-season games batting first, including a comprehensive win last week against the Thunder in Hobart.
So when captain Callum Ferguson inserted the hosts after winning the bat flip, it was likely done to throw Hobart off their well-established routine of batting first, batting big and backing their bowlers to defend an imposing total.
It proved shrewd as the Hurricanes faltered in the face of an imposing total
The next stop
There’s no time to rest for the Thunder, who fly straight to Adelaide on Friday before another do-or-die clash with the Strikers on Saturday evening.
The defeat spells the end of the Hurricanes season, losing their first final for the second season on the trot.
Hurricanes XI: D’Arcy Short, Matthew Wade (c), Mac Wright, Ben McDermott (wk), George Bailey, Simon Milenko, James Faulkner, Clive Rose, Nathan Ellis, Qais Ahmad, Scott Boland
Thunder XI: Alex Hales, Usman Khawaja, Callum Ferguson (c), Alex Ross, Arjun Nair, Chris Morris, Daniel Sams, Jay Lenton (wk), Chris Tremain, Jono Cook, Brendan Doggett