Usman Khawaja, take a bow. Then take another bow and keep bowing for another hour or so while Australia stands and applauds the sublime form that delivered Sydney Thunder their first Big Bash title at the MCG on Sunday night.
Khawaja made a polished 70 off 40 balls, and while he departed a little earlier than Thunder fans would have liked in pursuit of a challenging Melbourne Stars total of 176, the 29-year-old leftie did more than enough to set the chase up for his teammates, who scraped their way home despite no other batsman reaching 30.
At the start of this BBL season, the Sydney Thunder looked good on paper. But then, they'd looked good on paper the last few seasons too, only to finish last most years. Indeed, the Thunder had won just five matches in five seasons of cricket before the 2015/16 Big Bash. Would this year really be any different.?
Wins in their first three matches suggested that yep, it would be. But the Thunder then lost four in a row and you thought OK, they've just deferred their inevitable slump by a few matches this year. But they hung tough, won their last pool game, snuck into the finals and then something unexpected happened.
The Sydney Thunder started playing ruthlessly. All that on-paper talent became genuine on-field talent. All those "one days" became todays.
THUNDER WIN THE BBL!!!!!!— Sydney Thunder (@ThunderBBL) January 24, 2016
Usman Khawaja made four scores of 50 in succession, including two centuries, in the brief period in which he was available between injury and Australia Test duty. It made all the difference.
Mike Hussey, in his final season of professional cricket, was also crucial, as was Andre Russell, the West Indian all-rounder with the rapper nickname "Dre Russ" emblazoned on his shoes.
Dre Russ hit a six off his first ball tonight, then got out soon afterwards. Hussey played a decent little cameo too, and under-rated veteran Ben Rohrer -- who played one T20 international for Australia in his career --- hit a six with three balls to go to seal victory in a very Big Bash kind of way.
None of them dominated. But they all chipped in enough on the back of Khawaja's knock to get the job done. There was also a special moment in the Stars' innings when Thunder all-rounder Chris Green caught a ball that seemed destined to be a six. Those six runs saved turned out to be crucial.
But it was Usman Khawaja who made the difference tonight. Kevin Pietersen actually topscored on the night with his brutal 74 off 39 for the Stars, but there was just something so assured about Khawaja's knock that you somehow felt the match belonged to the Thunder long before the end.
It was a Thunder double at the MCG on Sunday night with the women's team beating the Sydney Sixers to win the inaugural WBBL. This was also a match that came down to the last over. The Thunder stuttered their way to a fairly small total of 116 but got there thanks to some messy fielding at the end which allowed the winning runs to come via overthrows.
WATCH | The final over of the Thunder's #WBBLFinal win.January 24, 2016
All told, this has been a fantastically successful season for both the women's and men's leagues. The men's BBL has attracted over a million fans to 35 games. That's around 30,000 people per game.
Meanwhile the women's league had a standalone sponsor -- Rebel Sport -- in its first season, and matches regularly rated over 250,000 on Channel Ten at a nothing time of day. Here's hoping they get more evening slots next season. They deserve it.
No matter who you support, Sunday's finals left a good taste in everyone's mouth. Twenty20 cricket has fast become the sporting wallpaper of summer. Children and adults alike are relishing it. All we need now is a healthy sponsor for the men's game.
Meanwhile, purists who think that the success of Twenty20 is a sign of the apocalypse and the death of "real" cricket should note that Test players were among the standouts in the competition this year. Would the Thunder have won the men's BBL without Test cricket legends Jacques Kallis and Mike Hussey -- or without current star Test batsman Usman Khawaja? They would not.
The one sour note this year came courtesy of self-proclaimed "Universe Boss" Chris Gayle, who proved to be more tosser than boss in that infamous interview with Mel McLaughlin, and in his defiant conduct afterwards.
But that's an asterisk now. The most hopeless team in Australian cricket are now champions. Meanwhile, fans of the player-of-the-tournament, big hitting Brisbane Heat skipper Chris Lynn, can look forward to watching him play for Australia in this week's T20 internationals against India. The wallpaper's still on the walls. It just has a different colour now.Suggest a correction