Thunder and Monsoons Book Gabba Final
The 2021 Bulls Masters Country Challenge was one of the tightest tournaments we’ve ever had and the semi-finalists weren’t known until after the final group game was played. Ultimately it was the Far North Fusion, Darling Downs Suns, North Queensland Monsoons and the Gold Coast Thunder that snuck through, but some teams that missed out can count themselves a little bit unlucky.
The Country Challenge began with the host side, Wide Bay Flames taking on a strong Far North Fusion side. Wide Bay looked to have blown their chance to start the competition with a win after limping to 102. But the old saying, “Never judge a pitch until both sides have batted on it” was never truer. Far North struggled and after Paul Nasser was bowled for 40 in the last over, the Fusion needed four runs to win from three balls and the result was in the balance. But Wade Matthews squeezed one through the infield and Far North survived.
Other teams to start the tournament strongly were the Central Queensland Seamers who dominated their first two games, and the Darling Downs Suns who looked like the team to beat after winning all of their group games easily. Perennial contenders, North Queensland and Gold Coast both lost games and needed to win in the final round to give themselves a chance to make the semi-finals. Gold Coast had to overcome the previously undefeated Central Queensland side. They achieved that win in devastating fashion, restricting the Seamers to just 9/106 and chasing down the runs in just 12 overs. North Queensland had to beat the South East Queensland Stormers who had struggled in the Country Challenge and were down on confidence. It proved to be a big win for the Monsoons who jumped up to first in Group B, with Gold Coast knocking out the Seamers due to a better net-run-rate.
Mackay/Whitsundays Nitros needed to beat the Darling Downs Suns in the final round to give themselves a chance to make the semis and gave themselves every chance when they set 9/147, but the Suns got the runs easily in the end.
So 1st in Group A Darling Downs Suns took on 2nd in Group B, Gold Coast Thunder in semi-final 1. Gold Coast batted first and punished the Suns bowlers who saved their worst game for last. The Thunder set them 5/195 to make their second straight Gabba final but the Suns were never in the hunt getting rolled for 100.
The 2nd semi-final was a different story. 2nd in Group A, Far North Fusion batted first against North Queensland Monsoons and opening batsman, Jake Roach set them up for a win with a magnificent 96 runs (67). The Monsoons were chasing 163 to make the Gabba final and always looked in trouble, especially when McElligott was out for 47 (40) to leave his side at 5/113. But some big hitting from Burton and Heuir got them into the last over, needing seven to win. It came down to the final ball and a missed run-out meant that the Monsoons won. Wide Bay Flames mentor, Nathan Reardon described the game as one of the best he’d ever see.
Far North Fusion opening batsman, Jake Roach was awarded the Dirk Tazelaar Medal for Player of the Tournament. He scored 106* (63) against the Nitros to go with his 96 in the semi-final to finish with 217 runs at an average of 72.33 and a strike rate of 155. He also took 3 wickets and a couple of great catches to be a worthy winner.
Gold Coast will take on North Queensland at the Gabba after a Brisbane Heat Big Bash game in January to decide the 2021 champion.