Sydney Sixers skipper Moises Henriques has given a surprise take on the furore around the SCG pitch, in the wake of his side's disappointing BBL finals exit at the hands of Brisbane Heat on Thursday night. The Heat set up showdown against the Scorchers in Saturday's decider in Perth, after overcoming the tricky conditions in Sydney to seal a four-wicket win.
Brisbane quick Michael Neser was the star for the visitors, belting 48 not out as the Heat bounced back from being 3-10 and then 5-56, to chase down the Sixers' paltry 9-116. Aussie Test batter Steve Smith was missing for the hosts but the Heat were also missing India-bound Test stars Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne and Matt Renshaw, as Neser guided his side to victory with 10 balls to spare.
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Neser was the only batter who looked remotely comfortable on an SCG deck that has come under fire for much of the season. Melbourne Renegades captain Nic Maddinson referred to the slow, bowler-friendly Sydney wicket as "pretty s**t" after his team lost to the Sixers in December.
“I thought it was one of the worst T20 wickets I’ve seen for a while, and it’s been a little bit like that all competition where we’ve had some pretty tricky wickets," Maddinson said at the time. Many would have perhaps expected Henriques to offer a similar sentiment after watching his team struggle with the bat on Thursday night.
Speaking after his side's BBL finals campaign came to an end, the Sixers skipper instead defended the much-maligned pitch. Henriques argued that it was good for the game to have pitches of all different types, offering contrasting challenges for both batter and bowler, rather than simply producing wickets that are a batter's dream.
“It’s really good to play on these types of wickets. The best way to get well-rounded cricketers is to be challenged in different conditions,” Henriques said after the match. “You see at Adelaide Oval and some other grounds like at the Gabba that it’s an absolute bowler’s graveyard, so it’s nice to tip the scales into the bowlers’ favour for a change and see which batters can use their brains to figure out a tough situation.
“These wickets are maybe not too dissimilar to what you might face in India or something like that with how low and slow it was, and possibly taking a little more spin. When you get these unique conditions, it sometimes makes for really fun cricket to play because it’s so different to what we’re used to.
“You do have to be flexible and be able to adapt to what we’ve got. I think it’d be boring if they just rolled out the same wicket every week wherever you went. Typically in years gone by at the SCG in Shield cricket, it’s been a bit of a spinning wicket so it’d be nice to get back to that heritage where when you go around Australia, you (get some variety).”
While Henriques did his best to talk up the pitch, many viewers were of the opinion that the slow wicket contributed to a dour BBL finals match. Social media was inundated with messages from angry fans claiming the pitch ruined what should have been a more exciting contest - particularly in terms of batting.
My criticisms of the SCG pitch is normally reserved for the Test Matches (where it is horrendous), but it’s been a pretty ordinary Big Bash for the SCG pitch as well this year, culminating in this shit heap tonight. pic.twitter.com/gUESvJGSQs
— Tom O'Neil (@thomasjameoneil) February 2, 2023
pitch curators should be fired, SCG has had terrible pitches all summer
— J 🇦🇺 (@weepjng) February 2, 2023
— Patrick Malone 🤎💛 (@pattymalone2000) February 2, 2023
Fantastic pitch put out by the @scg
Slow as a wet Sydney week, no bounce and lifeless.
Would be difficult for the Australian top order to score, but don’t worry they aren’t even playing #BBLFinals #farcical
— Shane Donoghue (@shanedonoghue) February 2, 2023
Nothing like an SCG pitch to ruin a T20 match 🤣
— Chris Bradbury (@ChrisBradbury29) February 2, 2023
The nature of the SCG pitch was perhaps perfectly summed up by the fact Daniel Hughes was the top-scorer for the home side with just 23 runs on Thursday night. Heat tweaker Matthew Kuhnemann (3-17) had the Sixers in a spin after catching Sydney's opener Kurtis Patterson (19), before removing out-of-sorts opener Josh Philippe (16) and Henriques (four) in the space of two overs.
Michael Neser stars in Brisbane Heat's upset win
Neser made a mockery of any concerns around the wicket though after steering his team home superbly, after the Heat's horror start to their run chase. The Brisbane quick belted seven boundaries in his match-winning knock that sets up a showdown against Perth in Saturday's BBL decider.
"I was just fortunate that that came off," Neser told reporters. "I normally am quite nervous but it was potentially the last game of the season, so I just thought, it's all or nothing really."
With the game on an even keel late on, Neser hit Hayden Kerr for four consecutive boundaries in one finals-defining over. It helped seal one of the great BBL upsets as the Heat got home with 10 balls to spare. "We just seemed to take wickets at the right time and their batters didn't seem to get a roll on," Neser added.
The Heat found the boundary more easily than the Sixers early on, announcing their intention when Josh Brown hit Steve O'Keefe for six on consecutive deliveries. One of three replacements for the Heat's missing Test stars, Sam Heazlett tried to sneak a single on a misfield but found himself run out to trigger a collapse.
In the space of 21 balls, the Heat also lost Brown (20) and Nathan McSweeney (five), both caught behind by Philippe. Losing more scalps was the only thing that could thwart the Heat when a run a ball was all that was required and Max Bryant, another of the reinforcements, forged a game-high 30-run partnership with Neser.
Just as they were beginning to pull ahead with the largest partnership of the night, Bryant (11) sent the ball skyward in the power surge and was caught. However, Neser's 16-run burst from four balls shifted the momentum once again, before a slog past long-on brought up the biggest score of the paceman's BBL career and sent Heat into Saturday's final.
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