Michael Neser and Brisbane Heat teammate Spencer Johnson have grabbed the headlines after superb displays helped their side beat Sydney Sixers in the Big Bash final at the SCG on Wednesday night. The Heat clinched their first BBL title in 11 years after a 54-run win that signalled a sad end to the career of retiring Sixers spinner, Steve O'Keefe.
A half century (53 runs off 38 balls) to Josh Brown helped set the Heat on their way at the SCG, with the visitors reaching a respectable 8-166 off their 20 overs. That lay the platform for Johnson to star with the ball and the Heat quick took player-of-the-match honours courtesy of the best ever figures in a BBL final.
POSITIVE SIGNS: Will Pucovski avoids concussion after latest scary scenes
'THIS IS CRAZY': Cricket world stunned by never-before-seen feat in BBL
Johnson's superb spell of 4-26 wiped out any hope the Sixers had of chasing down the target, as the career of Sixers veteran O'Keefe came to a sad end. Xavier Bartlett dismissed O’Keefe to wrap up the convincing win for the visitors, with Johnson immediately going over to congratulate the spinner on his career, before joining the rest of his team to celebrate the victory.
Fans praised Johnson for the classy gesture towards his retiring rival, with the Heat star revealing after the match what he said to O'Keefe. “I went and spoke to ‘Sokky’ – he’s had an unbelievable career. He’s owned this stadium, so went to him first,” Johnson said. "Now we’re going to enjoy this one tonight.”
Spencer Johnson all class. Immediately goes to shake the hand of Steve O’Keefe in his last game before celebrating with his teammates.
Brisbane Heat are very deserving Big Bash champions. #BBL13 pic.twitter.com/cGz8gZdZK1
— Lachlan McKirdy (@LMcKirdy7) January 24, 2024
Steve O'Keefe retires one wicket shy of 100
O'Keefe needed two scalps on Wednesday night to finish his career with 100 wickets in the BBL, but ultimately fell one short in another sad moment for the veteran. The 39-year-old did claim the prized scalp of Brown, however, trapping him LBW after another fine display with the bat for the Heat opener.
Brown hit just three runs from his first 10 deliveries but exploded after the powerplay to bring up his 50 in 32 balls. The right-hander hit three sixes off Hayden Kerr, with two dispatched over long on and another over backward square and allowed Max Bryant (29 off 19) and Matt Renshaw (40 from 22) to finish strong for the visitors.
Johnson stole most of the limelight with the ball for the Heat, however, breaking the back of the Sixers early in their chase when he bowled Jack Edwards for 16 after the hosts took 13 runs from the first five balls of the over. He also bagged the key wicket of Josh Philippe for 22 when the right-hander was caught at mid wicket, before returning to remove Ben Dwarshuis and Hayden Kerr with his pace and bounce.
The Brisbane paceman's wickets stunted any hope the Sixers had of chasing down the target, with COVID-battling captain Moises Henriques the only batter to reach 25. Mitchell Swepson (2-19) also sent down the best ball of the game, beating Jordan Silk with flight and turn to have him stumped for a fourth-ball duck.
Michael Neser act leaves cricket fans gobsmacked
With the result all but assured for his side, Neser grabbed some of the headlines with another extraordinary piece of fielding on the boundary rope. Neser is renowned for highlight plays in the outfield and he didn't disappoint in the final, catching a high shot from Sean Abbott that was close to clearing the boundary, before contorting his body and flicking the ball to teammate Paul Walter, before any part of his body touched or crossed the boundary rope.
I saw it live, saw the replays, and still cant believe it, ridiculous Neser!
— wulth (@wulth_) January 24, 2024
Best catch ever🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆
— Crony Capitalism (@stormbreezer__) January 24, 2024
“I was pretty certain I hadn’t touched the rope,” Neser said post-match. I knew I was close when I caught the ball and then I looked down and I was like ‘bugger, I was closer than I thought’. Luckily Tall Paul (Walter) is about seven foot so I saw him out the corner of my eye so I gave him a little footy flick and sure enough it got to him.”
The Heat's win comes after they were beaten in the final over of last year's final, while the Sixers remain stuck on three titles from seven appearances in deciders. "It's a bit disappointing," vice-captain Daniel Hughes said. "We had a great year, so we can't we can't be too upset with how we played this year. We just didn't get it right tonight."
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.