By Niall Seewang
A SUPERB Tom Cooper innings, two incredible catches and a vintage Muthiah Muralidaran spell has inspired the Melbourne Renegades to victory against the Adelaide Strikers on Wednesday night.
The Renegades rebounded from their first defeat of theBBL|02, against Perth, in the best possible fashion at Etihad Stadium, proving too good in all three facets of the game against the Strikers.
The 48-run victory was an important result after the loss to the Scorchers, and lifted the Renegades back to the top of the table.
The cornerstones of the win were Cooper's mature innings of 59 from only 46 deliveries, jaw-dropping catches from Aaron O'Brien and Will Sheridan, and a dominant all-round bowling display, led by Muralidaran (3/18).
Renegades coach Simon Helmot again praised his slow bowlers after the dominant performance.
"They (the spin trio) are certainly a strength of ours- we have three players in our spinning arsenal who we can go to, without even counting Finchy, who's taken a wicket every time he's bowled," the ecstatic coach said.
Helmot said the recruitment of Muralidaran and Marlon Samuels had played a huge part in the Renegades' ability to rebound after an ordinary first BBL season.
"We were always in the position to go for an overseas spinner and when we got 'Murali 'we were obviously pleased … he's been outstanding," he said
"He turned the game, in partnership with Will Sheridan … that was the momentum we needed to put run rate pressure on the Strikers.
"I've seen him (Samuels) in World Cups, I've seen him for the Pune Warriors, and we know he's a confident and capable bowler.
"He would've liked to make more runs but he changed the momentum tonight with that four, six and four … but he was really pleased to get those wickets."
Earlier, the Strikers won the toss and bowled, meaning the Renegades - undefeated at home this season - would bat first for the first time this tournament.
And after a slow start, Cooper ensured the home team was able to compile 6-155, which proved to be more than enough for the red-hot Renegades.
After being sent in, opener Michael Hill – who was given his first chance in the BBL|02 at the expense of veteran Dan Harris – fell for just three as the Renegades' troubles at the top of the order continued.
That brought Samuels to the crease.
The West Indian T20 World Cup hero had performed brilliantly with the ball since joining the Renegades – he would end up taking 3-16 against the Strikers - but he has struggled with the willow.
When he latched onto left-arm spinner Brad Young, smashing 14 in three balls, it looked like Samuels was ready to produce something special.
But his exciting cameo (16) only lasted nine balls and when Aaron Finch slog-swept his rival captain Johan Botha straight to deep mid-wicket for just 13 (14), Ben Rohrer and Cooper were given the task of steadying the ship.
It took an extraordinary catch to break the partnership.
Unfortunately for the Renegades, Rohrer was stopped in his tracks when Kieron Pollard took an audacious one-handed caught and bowled, running back with the flight of the ball.
Rohrer had batted intelligently to score 35 off 27 balls, lifting him to sixth on the BBL|02 run scoring table.
With the big guns back in the sheds, Cooper (59 off 46) grasped the opportunity to showcase his talent.
Cooper, who has represented the Netherlands (due to his Dutch mother) and Australia A, started slowly but soon started laying into the visitors.
His smart and powerful batting, with some excellent help late from Will Sheridan (15 not out off 12 balls) helped lift the Renegades to a total of 6-155 – just two more runs than the average bat-first total at Etihad Stadium in the BBL.
However, with the Strikers averaging 167 runs per innings, the Renegades' bowlers had to hold up their end of the bargain.
They did so with impressive authority.
Needing quick wickets early, the home side was boosted when O'Brien took one of the best catches this season – with both his feet off the ground, he somehow held onto a fierce leg-side smash from Tim Ludeman off Nathan Rimmington.
The amazing grab, which almost took O'Brien's head clean off his shoulders, sent the dangerous keeper-batsman on his way for six off eight.
Sheridan almost trumped his teammate not long after, diving forward athletically to claim the key wicket of Michael Klinger (24 off 18) at mid-off, with Rimmington again the bowler.
The two inspirational catches were further proof of just how important fielding is in the shortest format of the game.
After the Strikers limped to 4-50 off 10 overs, Muthiah Muralidaran then killed off any hope of an Adelaide turnaround, trapping Pollard in front for a duck, and then snaring Theo Doropoulos first ball.
The crowd of 14, 174 rose as one in hope of a hat-trick, and although it wasn't to be, the star Sri Lankan had changed the course of the match in his team's favour.
The victory sets up a mouth-watering, top-of-the-table derby against the Melbourne Stars on Sunday night, and the Renegades will no doubt be confident of notching their second straight win against their cross-town rivals.