rebel WBBL|01

Thunder claim the first WBBL title

Captain Blackwell leads run chase before late Sixers fightback makes for dramatic finish

Isabelle Westbury, at the MCG

24 January 2016, 05:06 PM

Highlights: Thunder win WBBL|01 in thriller

“What would have happened if they’d taken all their chances?”

The Thunder would have won by a country mile, that’s what. Instead they left it until they had just three balls, and three wickets, in hand. 

Dramatic and scrappy, with moments of brilliance punctuating moments of sincere mediocrity - it's what finals are made of. 

Watch: The dramatic last ball

The question above was one posed by former Southern Star Melanie Jones in the Network Ten commentary box, when chance after chance went begging for the Sydney Thunder.

Perhaps it was all a ploy, to take the game to the wire. In the end the thrill of the chase and the small margin of the win was enough to create a spectacle in itself. In truth however, on the greatest stage of all, this was probably the worst fielding seen all tournament.

Watch: Osborne stars with three wickets

Appropriate therefore, that a wide and a missed run-out got the win, in the end, for the Thunder. It was closer than it should have been but the Sydney Thunder are champions of the inaugural Rebel Women’s Big Bash League.

It was a bizarre match; with every missed chance in the field, another soon followed for the lime-green outfit. Tight bowling and isolated moments of brilliance restricted the Sixers to just 7-115.

“I think you always want 140 on this ground,” remarked Thunder captain Alex Blackwell, on the on-field mic. The Sixers’ total looked short. It was, just.

For the Thunder, their performance today was a mirror image of their semi-final triumph over the Perth Scorchers. Chances were missed, but the bowling provided compensation enough. It was a poor start in the field, but they made amends later on. The seamers stemmed the runs, before the spinners got the wickets. The opening batters started well, but not brilliantly, and skipper Alex Blackwell finished things off, or almost did on this occasion. It could have been a copy and paste job, the only difference that the Thunder on this occasion were fielding first.

"From a spectacle point of view there were a  few errors in the field today," said Blackwell. "That wasn’t pretty to watch, but at the end of the day it was a really exciting contest. A low total - sometimes it can be some of the most interesting cricket. We got that today."

"It was a great final to be a part of. You hope that it goes the full 40 overs and it’s a real battle for that entire time.

"I'm pretty exhausted now after a busy schedule, but there's one more game for the Thunder, and that’s the boys. It would be great to celebrate with them."

Seamer Rene Farrell (2-22), the silent assassin of the tournament so far, was once again key to the Thunder’s efforts. A disciplined opening over combined with death bowling straight out of the instruction manual, and the important wickets of Ellyse Perry (8) and Sara McGlashan (20), set things up perfectly. She’s not the fastest, but she’s pin-point accurate and ducks the ball in late – a potent combination.

Watch: McGlashan's mix-up

Farrell’s efforts, in combination with the economy of young left-arm seamer Lauren Cheatle (0-15), set the stage for the Thunder’s spinners. Leg-spinner Maisy Gibson (2-21), a revelation of the tournament, was introduced in the seventh over, bowling in tandem with experienced off-spinner Erin Osborne (3-21), who won player of the match.

The spinners wrapped up the Sixers’ top order, claiming five wickets between them. 

"My best bowlers I believe have been Rene (Farrell), Lauren (Cheatle) and Nic Carey throughout the entire season," said Blackwell. "My spinners have really come good right at the end for me. So I’m very confident with my group. 

"Even when we had 114 or so in the semi, I was quite calm. I prefer being out in the field, because I’ve got a bit more control over what’s happening.

"We lost the toss again today and to have to bowl first, I wasn’t too disappointed because of how strong our bowlers have been, and how comfortable I feel leading that group.

Osborne in particular has a knack for performing when it counts; she picked up a five-for in last year’s women’s T20 domestic final, ripping through the VicSpirit batting line-up for New South Wales in the season before this year’s inaugural WBBL. Osborne is a big game player. 

“She really is. I’m just so proud of her,” said Blackwell. “She has had a bit of a tough BBL. She really lost her confidence early on with the ball, and then she split her webbing.

“Since then she missed out on Australian selection and I think now, in the last few pressure cooker matches, she’s stood up.”

“That’s exciting from a T20 World Cup point of view. We are in India and we may need to look at some other spinners, and I think Erin has put her hand up.”

As for the chances not taken today, as in the semis the Thunder won despite, not because of their fielding. The Sixers, like the Scorchers before them, gave so many chances that those that weren’t taken, promptly were on the second time of asking, which usually followed pretty swiftly.

Perry should have been run-out on seven. She departed instead on eight, falling to a low catch at backward point from Rachel Haynes.

Watch: Perry perishes early

Ashleigh Gardner was dropped first ball, Haynes unable to hold on to her second in two balls, and then again on 15. She soon went for 20 however, keeper Claire Koski making amends for the missed run-out of Perry with a lightning quick stumping this time around.

Watch: Koski's quick-fire stumping

Sarah Aley survived a sharp caught-behind on nought, but was dismissed for seven. The chances came and went, and then came again.

Perhaps it was the enormity of the occasion - the novelty of being on camera and in front of crowds in the thousands, not the tens, which did it. For whatever reason, the Thunder, as a unit, looked a shadow of the fielding team they can be. Even the Sixers, normally so athletic in the field, succumbed to fumbles, errant throws and a drop here and there. Perhaps this is simply a reflection of the amateur nature of women’s domestic cricket, because that is, on the whole, what it still is.

Watch: Perry turns drop into run-out

Still, the fielding could have and has, in the past, been better. It almost cost the Thunder the match. A mature, well-paced run-chase ensured it didn’t. Just.

"I was pretty confident we’d scrap through," said Blackwell. "We still had a couple of wickets in hand and that was the key. I know we started slowly but we had minimal loss of wickets."

Both Thunder openers, Rachel Haynes (37) and Stafanie Taylor (27), are experienced internationals and two of the most powerful timers of the ball. Today however, they started nervously, and were on just 19 runs after the first five overs. But they survived until the tenth over, when Taylor fell for 27 with the score on 54, almost half-way there. The longevity, not the explosivity, was the key to their success today.

For Blackwell, who made 30 from 23, it was simple.

"At the end of the day we performed well under pressure," she said, shrugging her shoulders. The key ingredient? "We were slightly better than the opposition."

There you have it. The Sydney Thunder are the first ever champions of the Rebel Women's Big Bash League. Tonight they'll celebrate, cheering hard for their male counterparts to double up at the MCG. Odds-on that they will.

For Sydney Thunder women, the deed is done; the way they got there matters not, for it's their name on the cup.