"Oh dear," remarked one spectator. "This could be terrible."
Almost one year ago to the day, the Melbourne Stars (the men), humiliated their local rivals the Melbourne Renegades, executing a record 112-run win after bowling their cross-town rivals out for just 69.
Today, however, with the Stars (the women) at 2-8 in the third over, it looked as though the Renegades were exacting revenge for their male counterparts.
Three balls on and the Stars really were playing out a living nightmare, having collapsed to 4-8.
Watch: Strano the destroyer with five-fer
Already thoughts were turning to the television coverage, the scheduling issues an early first innings finish might cause, and crucially, the reception a low-scoring women’s match might receive.
They needn’t have worried. While we’ve heard about Lanning’s form with the bat early in the tournament, Grace Harris’ 52-ball century and the elegance and timing of Jess Jonassen’s drives, we’ve yet to hear of prolific bowling performances in the Rebel Women’s Big Bash League. That is, until today.
The low-scoring encounter also treated fans to a nail-biting finish settled with just one ball to spare, in front of the 12,901 people who had gathered at the MCG by the time Renegades import Danielle Wyatt struck the winning run.
"Enjoying the bowling clinic on display!" tweeted one spectator watching the match on Channel Ten. He was right - it was a bowling clinic. Shabnim Ismail, the South African international who flew in just days ago as a replacement for New Zealand international Rachel Priest found little trouble adjusting to Australian conditions.
She’s a diminutive figure but don’t let that fool you – this woman bowls quick.
Full and straight – it’s a simple game. Ismail’s second over was a double-wicket maiden, the tournament’s first. She bowled England international Natalie Sciver with the perfect yorker. The following ball it appeared a television glitch was showing a replay. It wasn’t, as the Stars’ wicketkeeper-batter Emma Inglis departed in identical fashion.
Watch: Pacy Ismail tears through Stars' top order
Ismail finished with figures of 3-10, quite a debut by any standards. Remarkably, however, she was overshadowed. Molly Strano, the leading wicket-taker in last season’s state T20 competition but yet to make an impact in the WBBL after recovering from a stress-fracture earlier in the season, picked up the tournament’s first 5-for.
Unafraid to flight the ball up, Strano’s lengths probed with every ball bowled as batter after batter failed to adapt. If there was ever any doubt before, there isn’t anymore – Strano is back in town.
It was a flying start for the Melbourne Renegades, the weaker team on paper and on early tournament form, with only one win from their first five matches. For the Stars however, it looked as though they were set to continue an unwelcome correlation – when captain Lanning doesn’t score runs, the Stars lose.
However a low score in games such as these can be dangerous, especially as it’s been the batting that’s let the Renegades down so far. Add to that the cavernous boundaries of the MCG and an unseemly slow outfield, and all of a sudden the stubborn knock of 36 off 48 from the Stars’ South African Mignon du Preez was looking more majestic with every ball.
Earlier, speaking into her on-field microphone, Danni Wyatt had said emphatically that the Renegades would approach the run-chase with intent and aggression. The way things materialised, however, proved just the opposite.
Time and again a slow start with the bat has stifled the Renegades’ batting innings; today they were in danger of doing the same.
While the first powerplay had seen the Stars collapse to 4-15, a stoic knock by du Preez had allowed them to recover, rotate the strike and post a semi-competitive total, despite their first boundary only coming in the 11th over.
At the same mark the Renegades were on 1-17 and just as with the Stars, had faced out 25 dot deliveries. After ten overs they were 2-31. Sophie Molineux, the young Renegades left-hander promoted to opener in the absence of Priest, was playing cautiously – perhaps too cautiously.
Just as the Renegades had done before them, the Stars’ bowlers kept their lines and lengths tight. Sciver went for just four runs in three overs. Gemma Triscari just 17 off her four.
What was lacking, however, was the wickets, and that proved the Stars' downfall. No Stars bowler could pick up more than one to their name and despite a few nerves, an anchoring innings by Wyatt (23no) was enough to guide her side over the line with just one ball to spare.
Struck on the back of the helmet by fellow batter Sophie Molineux early on, Wyatt took a little time to compose herself as she was checked over by medical staff before continuing her innings.
Watch: Wyatt cops a bad blow
Once recovered, she held her nerve, stroking two crucial boundaries and darting between the wickets for a series of ambitious runs to ensure the Renegades stayed in touch with the target.
With six runs needed from the final over, Wyatt's international experience shone through as she steered the Renegades home with one ball and five wickets to spare, thrilling the 12,000-strong MCG crowd.