Zampa defends 11 off the final over as Stars hold nerve in thriller against Sydney Thunder
Melbourne Stars 4 for 165 (Larkin 52*, Cartwright 42, Tanveer Sangha 2-29) beat Sydney Thunder 5 for 161 (Gilkes 56, Billings 43, Coulter-Nile 2-27) by four runs
Thunder were on track chasing 166, but Zampa held his nerve and conceded just six runs in the last over, when the opposition needed 11 for a win, as Stars rebounded after a record BBL defeat by two-time defending champions Sydney Sixers in the season-opener.
Stars welcomed the inclusions of Russell, Marcus Stoinis, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Pakistani spinner Qais Ahmad, but were pushed to the brink by Thunder, whose bid for consecutive wins to start the season fell short.
Thunder rue late stutter as Zampa keeps his cool
Their momentum was halted when Billings fell to a brilliant outfield catch from Glenn Maxwell and Thunder then fell in a hole leaving Alex Ross and Ben Cutting a lot of work to do in the final overs.
The pair were up for it as they smashed 12 runs in the penultimate over from a rusty-looking Russell. In a manic final over, where a nervous Stars fumbled in the field marked by a rare dropped catch from Maxwell, a composed Zampa thwarted Cutting’s attempts at a match-winning, result-sealing six by bowling a dot ball.
Zampa wins blockbuster battle with Hales
Zampa’s heroics started in the second over when he had the tough task of bowling to Alex Hales in the powerplay.
The English dynamo drew first blood with a beautiful drive to the boundary to overtake compatriot Luke Wright as the leading overseas run scorer in BBL history. An inventive Hales sought to rattle Zampa and it did the trick on the fourth ball of the over when he went down on one knee and swatted a boundary to backward point.
As we’ve seen plenty of times before, Zampa kept calm and he promptly outwitted Hales on the last ball of the over with a faster delivery that trapped the opener in front.
It kick-started a memorable night for the T20 World Cup champion.
Stoinis’ return ends comically
After being bowled out for a record low of 61 against Sixers, Stars desperately needed batting reinforcements and Marcus Stoinis, obviously, fitted the bill. He missed the season-opener due to a side stain sustained during his starring role at the T20 World Cup.
Stoinis was watchful early, but it wasn’t long before he displayed his trademark pyrotechnics with consecutive boundaries off Daniel Sams in the fourth over. There was an air of anticipation when Stoinis and fellow T20 World Cup winner Glenn Maxwell combined in the middle.
It was an anti-climax, however, with Stoinis run out after a disastrous mix up resulted in both batters stranded at the same end. Maxwell didn’t last much longer, undone by sharp turn from impressive young legspinner Tanveer Sangha after attempting a switch hit.
The Stars had at least passed the ignominy of Sunday’s collapse, but were shakily positioned at 3 for 62 at the midpoint. .
Russell provides cameo under strict protocols
There was excitement over the BBL return of Russell, a prized late signing having last played in the tournament in 2017 after three seasons with, coincidentally, Thunder and Melbourne Renegades.
They took advantage of an increasingly sloppy Thunder who fell apart through dropped catches and wickets off no balls.
Russell finally entered the fray in the 18th over and, predictably, swung for the fences. His timing was off but he still clubbed two boundaries and spooked Sams in the final over, who bowled consecutive wides down the leg side on the final delivery.
Russell finished with an unbeaten 17 off 9 balls in a sign of what’s ahead during his five-match stint as he capped off his BBL return with a thrilling victory.
Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth and writes on sports for the Guardian and mailerreport