Melbourne Stars batter Elyse Villani has become the latest addition to the 100 WBBL games club and was the most damaging factor in her side’s innings, top-scoring with 84 runs.
Opening the batting with Stars captain Meg Lanning, Villani was hellbent on making sure her milestone game was one to remember, however, much more was at stake also with the side aiming to improve their record and enter the top four heading into the last day of the season.
While it wasn’t to be for the Stars, losing to the Perth Scorchers on the final ball of the match through an errant throw from Kim Garth at mid-on allowing the opposition to register the single needed for the win, Villani was her brilliant best with the bat in hand.
Things began slow for the Stars in the first innings, held to a total of five runs from the first three overs – including a maiden over from the Scorchers’ Taneale Peschel.
Villani would face the first 12 deliveries of the game, taking three runs – each from the first over. It was a case of much of the same throughout the early stages, Villani holding much of the strike, but with dot balls and singles the only outcome from the deliveries by the Scorchers bowling unit.
Five wides in four consecutive balls from Scorchers captain Sophie Devine allowed the Stars score to move ahead, a moment that Villani cashed in on, targeting the down bowler, smashing the first boundary of the day – a four past deep backward square leg.
While there was still the occasional over where low scores came off them, Villani was just gaining momentum and beginning to become destructive, punishing Peschel for 12 runs – including two fours – in the sixth over to end the powerplay.
Lanning departed for four runs off 12 balls but it didn’t deter Villani from striking the ball well, hitting another four, this time a reverse sweep to the deep fine leg boundary. She would dominate Samantha Betts’ first over, scoring nine runs off her medium pace, that again included a couple of boundaries.
In the middle parts of the innings, it was Villani’s turn to take a lengthy spot at the non-strikers end, as Annabel Sutherland (nine off 14), Maia Bouchier (two off six) and Garth (three off eight) took most of the strike. However, with taking longer than usual to get into the game, wickets came, which saw the run-scoring dry up.
Still, Villani was in the middle and through a 52-run partnership – despite baring much of that herself – with Tess Flintoff, the Stars remained confident that this display of hitting from Villani was handy enough nearing the end of the contest as she brought up her half century in the 15th over with a single.
Villani would again target first-year player Betts in the 17th over, taking advantage of a first-ball no ball and the ensuing free hit that came with it, slogging a six over the fence at long off. The next delivery was also pushed through the gap past point, putting another four runs onto her total.
In the penultimate over of the match, the Stars having just ticked over 100 runs, Villani was keen to see the score climb higher, hitting Devine for two fours and six within five deliveries, targeting the offside of the field.
Villani would fall to Heather Graham with the second ball of the final over after shuffling across her crease and trying to hit over the square leg boundary, but instead found Alana King who took the catch, walking back to the dugout having scored 84 off 66 balls.
The rest of the over saw Anna Lanning (zero off one) and Flintoff (five off 12) each departed in consecutive balls as the final score from the Stars was 7/122, setting the Scorchers a target of 123 for victory.
Villani would be the only batter on the Stars lineup to have a strikerate above 100, such was the way she was hitting, but also exemplified how difficult it was for others to get going in setting a total. After Villani, the next-best score for the Stars was Annabel Sutherland’s nine, a reflection of how difficult it was to get an eye in with the swing and turn of the Scorchers lineup of bowlers.
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Needing to defend a below-par total, the Stars were feeling upbeat about dismissing opening Scorchers pair Devine and Mooney inside the first four overs of the second innings. First off, Mooney was gone as a result of some quick work and reaction from Nicole Faltum behind the stumps, getting a stumping, before Devine was bowled by Flintoff.
Although the remaining batters formed crucial partnerships and contributed handy scores to have the run chase going down the wire, the Stars seemed to always find a way to halt the momentum ever-so-slightly with Annabel Sutherland (2/20 off four) damaging, claiming the wickets of Heather Graham and Chloe Piparo.
First-year orthodox spinner Linsey Smith (1/15 off four) also impressed in her 11th WBBL game, getting the wicket of the most damaging Scorchers batter, Mathilda Carmichael in the second-last over the game. At the time of that wicket, the Scorchers needed 11 runs off 11 balls but the 26-year-old would hold her nerve for the rest of the over, bowling four consecutive dot balls to new batter King before conceding two runs on the final ball.
The final over saw tensions rise with Sutherland handed the ball, keeping tight until a top-edge from King went for four runs at third man. Needing two off two, King was run out in a close call trying to go for the two winning runs, before Peschel hit the winning run, scampering to the other end, in a tense finish amid frantic scenes at Adelaide Oval.
Speaking to Channel 7 throughout the broadcast, Villani said that knowing and understanding the conditions early on, and while out in the middle allowed her to get an eye in and control her game and shots to build a big score for herself, and the team.
“I sort of thought heading in [that] we might have a bat first but [I] always knew it would be tough early, it was swinging and it was just about being proactive and being really positive,” she told the commentary team.
“After the first ball that sorta did me with a little bit of movement, I said to Meg [Lanning], ‘I’m just gonna be a sitting duck here if I don’t start being proactive’ so it’s something I’ve been practicing in the nets and just trying to go with the swing knowing that she’s swinging it away from me so still going with the line of the ball and just giving myself a little bit of room.”
With this loss, the Stars won’t be able to continue their form from last season, being the WBBL|06 runners-up, a disappointing result and thought for Villani, but a season that they’ll be looking back upon to find positives in a young group moving forward.
“[It’s a] bit devastating to be honest cause that means we’re probably no chance of making finals now which is disappointing but I think we had some really great moments in that game,” she said.
“Kimmy will be devastated in that last moment but there was plenty more moments in that game that we needed to own and it didn’t just come down to that last moment. We nearly robbed another team of victory but, very close and just not to be which is bit sort of, our season has been pretty up-and-down to be honest.”
“I think to be honest, it’s more the casual conversations and let the emotion come out of the game first and then probably regroup as a unit a little bit later once everyone sort of [is] feeling like the sun will come up again tomorrow. I think it’s important to reflect on those moments in the game that we could’ve owned more and things could’ve gone our way.
“T20 is about momentum and when you’ve got it you’ve really got to hold onto it and when you don’t have it, once an opportunity comes up, you’ve really got to take it so it’s a little bit disappointing but [I’m] extremely proud of the way those girls are coming along [in] leaps and bounds.
“We’ve got a really young squad and I thought the way that Flinny (Tess Flintoff) started off with the new ball was excellent and that ball that she bowled to Soph Devine was outstanding so there’s still plenty to be proud of but I think it’s probably going to take a little bit of time to work out that that’s the case.”
Tomorrow’s game doesn’t just mark the final one of the WBBL|07 season for the Melbourne Stars. It will also be 32-year-old Erin Osborne’s final game after announcing her retirement yesterday, a decision that Villani knew about, but was still saddened to hear.
“She’s been an amazing servant to cricket and she told me at the start of the season when she was in Hobart that she was hanging up the boots. I’ve played a lot of cricket with Ossy (Erin Oborne) over the years and I was actually really sad when she told me,” she reflected.
The Melbourne Stars finish their WBBL|07 season in the final game of the regular season, against the Adelaide Strikers at Adelaide Oval from 1:10pm local time tomorrow.
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