A CHRIS Gayle-inspired Sydney Thunder was the banana skin the Melbourne Stars feared it would be. Fortunately for the Melbourne team's Big Bash League hopes, however, in the battle for ineptitude, the winless Thunder was again peerless and the Stars won by 13 runs to seal a semi-final spot.
The Stars, the BBL's glamour team, looked destined for an embarrassing exit from the competition after making only 8-145 batting first at the MCG and allowing Gayle to blast his way to the season's fastest half-century in response.
The Thunder needed only a run a ball in the last eight overs with eight wickets in hand before it imploded even worse than the Stars had earlier in the evening. Out of nowhere, the Thunder slumped from its lofty position as gun left-handers, Gayle (65 off 43) and Usman Khawaja (23 off 18) holed out in successive overs chasing boundaries that were not needed.
Big shot: Chris Gayle of the Sydney Thunder lashes out on the way to 65 off 43 balls at the MCG. Photo: Getty Images
The limitations of the Thunder's woefully unbalanced squad was exposed, losing 8-41 as none of its remaining batsmen were a match for the intelligent bowling of Clint Mckay (1-21 off four overs) and Dimi Mascarenhas (2-27 off four).
The Thunder eventually was dismissed in the final over for 132.
Earlier, former Victorian Dirk Nannes (1-18 off four overs) was again outstanding for the Thunder as the Stars were held to what seemed to be a substandard total in front of a crowd of 13,680, even against the league's worst team.
The Stars' best period, unsurprisingly, came when Twenty20 stalwarts Brad Hodge (39 off 26) and David Hussey (32 off 28) were at the crease.
Hussey struggled for boundaries - he hit his first from his 24th delivery - but rotated the strike well enough for he and Hodge to bring up a half-century partnership from 36 deliveries.
Nannes' scalp of Hodge, was the turning point of the innings and was worthy of just as much credit as his conceding of only 18 runs from four overs.
It triggered a period where the home side was unable, barring a flighty Glenn Maxwell cameo of 17 off 12, to achieve any continuity.
When the chase began, the outcome rested largely of how long Gayle remained at the crease, as even with his recent sluggish scoring, a stay of 15 overs of more would surely have been fatal for the Stars (he lasted 13). Early danger signs progressed to signs of imminent crisis when Gayle plundered 19 runs from the fourth over.
Gayle was resigned to his dismissal for 34 from the very next delivery when he skied Mascarenhas high to just beyond the fielding circle to a man boasting the surest catching hands in his team if not Australia, Cameron White. The stand-in captain somehow backed away too far from cover and only barely got a touch on the ball as it dropped to the ground. As tortured as White's batting has been over the past two BBL seasons, there can have been few worse moments for him than that.
But thanks to the Thunder's collapse, the Stars prevailed, which also means regular captain Shane Warne - after his one-game suspension - is available for at least one more match this season.
R QUINEY c Khawaja b Abbott 22
L WRIGHT run out (Gayle) 6
B HODGE b Nannes 39
D HUSSEY c Cosgrove b Sandhu 32
G MAXWELL c Abbott b Sandhu 17
C WHITE b Keen 5
J FAULKNER not out 11
J HASTINGS b Gayle 4
D MASCARENHAS c Khawaja b Gayle 1
C McKAY not out 0
Sundries (1b, 2lb, 4w, 1nb) 8
Total (8 wkts - 20 overs) 145
Fall of wickets: 17 (Wright), 36 (Quiney), 94 (Hodge), 108 (Hussey), 127 (Maxwell), 133 (White), 141 (Hastings), 143 (Mascarenhas)
Bowling: L Doran 2-0-13-0, G Sandhu 4-0-33-2 (2w), D Nannes 4-0-18-1, S Abbott 4-0-31-1 (2w), A Zampa 2-0-14-0, S Keen 3-0-28-1 (1nb), C Gayle 1-0-5-2
C GAYLE c Maxwell b Mascarenhas 65
S KEEN c White b Faulkner 4
M PRIOR c Bird b McKay 7
U KHAWAJA c Hodge b Bird 23
S ABBOTT c Bird b Maxwell 3
M COSGROVE run out (Maxwell) 8
R CARTERS c Hussey b Mascarenhas 2
A ZAMPA c Hodge b Hastings 8
G SANDHU c Quiney b Faulkner 6
L DORAN c Mascarenhas b Faulkner 4
D NANNES not out 0
Sundries (1b, 1lb) 2
Total (all out - 19.4 overs) 132
Fall of wickets: 19 (Keen), 62 (Prior), 91 (Gayle), 100 (Khawaja), 106 (Abbott), 110 (Carters), 118 (Cosgrove), 122 (Zampa), 132 (Doran), 132 (Sandhu)
Bowling: J Faulkner 3.4-0-24-3, J Bird 4-0-20-1, J Hastings 3-0-33-1, D Mascarenhas 4-0-27-2, C McKay 4-0-21-1, G Maxwell 1-0-5-1
Result: Stars won by 13 runs
Man of the Match: Chris Gayle