Sydney Thunder were not primed to win the Women's Big Bash League final. They weren't expected to win the semi-finals either. But on the big day at the North Sydney Oval, the Thunder roared against Meg Lanning's side, Melbourne Stars.
Lanning isn't used to teams dominating her. She is the Australian captain, her team Stars, on her return to the franchise, bulldozed through teams in the group stages of the competition this year. The Melbourne Stars were favourites to clinch the title and probably even deserved to do so against Sydney Thunder.
Yet, on the day, Lanning decided to bat first when she's known to be someone who prefers chasing. The Stars haven't won the toss and opted to bat first the entire season. Lanning last chose to do so as skipper in the second edition of the WBBL! On the day of the finals, with her batters in form, Lanning decided to bat first which some of the Sydney Thunder bowlers later stated pleased them.
They had a reason to be happy. The Thunder outfit had a rollercoaster ride in the sixth edition of the WBBL. But the lows were mostly due to their batsmen not stepping up. The bowlers were clinical right through the season, led by the leading wicket-taker in the season Sammy-Jo Johnson.
Three of the five highest wicket-takers in the season were from Thunder. Johnson finished as the highest wicket-taker with 22 wickets. Powerplay spinner and handy left-arm orthodox bowler Sam Bates took 18 wickets and finished joined-third in the wicket-takers list. Hannah Darlington, the 18-year old who won the Player of the Match award in the semi-finals against Brisbane Heat, took 19 and finished joint-second in the wicket-takers list.
But it was none of these three who killed the Stars' hopes on the day of the finals. It was the South African bowling star, Shabnim Ismail. The Sydney Thunder pacer had a "sleepless night" before the finals, by her own admission, thinking how to dismiss Meg Lanning.
"We spoke (after) the semi-finals that we wanted to take wickets in the Powerplay," Ismail said.
"Last night I was just laying in bed thinking, ‘How am I gonna get Meg Lanning out?’ She’s a key wicket for the Stars. And I thought I’d just come out today and bowl heat and I changed a few things. I bowled fuller and faster."
In the very first over, with Lanning on nought, Ismail had her making a mistake by Tammy Beaumont let go of a regulation chance much to the dismay of the Thunder girls.
"You don’t want to be dropping big players like that, they can haunt you … but after that I said, 'let me stick to my guns and bowl what I think is key in the game'," Ismail said after the game.
The dropped chance did not deter Ismail. She dismissed Elyse Villani off her first ball next over and had Lanning in all sorts of trouble with her bounce, nearly having her caught out in the deep. She was frustrated, but she was on top and she knew it.
At the end of the powerplay, Ismail had bowled three overs on the trot, conceding just 10 runs, but hadn't dismissed Lanning. She wanted a fourth and off her first ball in the final over, she sent back the Stars skipper with a peach that moved off the seam.
With figures of 4-0-12-2, Ismail had delivered the telling blow that decided the contest effectively. She was rightly adjudged the Player of the Match too. Ismail finished with 14 wickets in the season, but was the fourth-highest wicket-taker in her side.
It shows the bowling depth Thunder boasts of. They had four bowlers with 12 wickets or more in the season heading into the finals and just two batters - Rachael Haynes and Heather Knight - with half-centuries. Their fifth bowler, Heather Knight, finished with 10 wickets in the season. Five Thunder bowlers had wicket tallies in double digits. That, in effect, won them the title and in hindsight, it was as well deserved as it would have been for the Stars.
Feature image courtesy: Twitter / @WBBL