Victoria 399 and 2 for 95 (Dean 54) need 98 runs to beat South Australia 340 and 251 (Weatherald 96, Ross 71, Holland 5-76)
Jake Weatherald scored 96, but South Australia lost regular wickets after his exit © Getty Images
No matter what happens on the final day, South Australia will know they had enough opportunities to emerge victorious in their first Sheffield Shield final for 20 years. Instead it is Victoria who hold a position of strength with one day remaining, having been the beneficiaries of spurned chances and the Redbacks’ misfortune with bat and ball.
Older and wiser, the Bushrangers have taken advantage of South Australia’s naivety at times, never more so than when the young opener Jake Weatherald was on the brink of what would have been a terrific hundred. The visiting captain Matthew Wade had held Fawad Ahmed out of the attack until Weatherald was close, and the temptation to crack a boundary became too much for the left-hander, resulting in a skied catch and the day’s most pivotal wicket.
Until that point, Weatherald and Alex Ross had been in complete control of proceedings, but the left-hander’s exit was to be swiftly followed by that of wicketkeeper Alex Carey, who attacked Jon Holland injudiciously to be dismissed for a duck in the very next over. Holland’s wiles were to be justly rewarded with five wickets, while the Bushrangers’ target of 193 was appreciably less than it might have been.
To add to that, South Australia’s missed chances in the field made their task of defending a small total all the trickier. Travis Dean survived one difficult dropped catch by Joe Mennie at wide mid on, Marcus Stoinis was turfed by Sam Raphael in the gully and by Weatherald at short leg, and Peter Handscomb edged Daniel Worrall at a perfectly catchable height into a gap where second slip might easily have been.
These misses contrasted with the fact that Victoria have dropped only one catch in the match, while at the same time winning the little moments that can later look like big ones. At 8 for 345 on the third afternoon, the Bushrangers led by only five runs, but a 54-run stand between Cameron White and Holland created an advantage that became critical when the left-arm spinner struck thrice after tea.
They have also prospered through durability and selection – a full complement of bowlers has remained intact throughout the match, with Holland and Fawad offering priceless variety to Wade. By contrast, the hosts have been hit by the sight of a hobbling Chadd Sayers, clearly restricted when he batted at No. 11 and unable to bowl after the second day of the match.
Nevertheless, South Australia’s efforts have remained persistent and dogged, epitomised by the unflagging spells of Worrall and Mennie in particular. Up until his ill-fated swing for the fence, Weatherald batted with enormous promise, while Ross’ pair of 70s showed considerable composure and a sound technique.
When the Bushrangers commenced their chase, Worrall and Mennie found plenty of useful movement in the air and off the seam, testing Dean and Rob Quiney at some length. Quiney completed a quiet match when Worrall straightened one down the line to pin the former Test opener lbw, and Stoinis’ defence was soon being challenged in equal measure.
Dean meanwhile pushed along impressively, following up his first innings hundred with more smart strokes and sound defence. The pull shot that scorched through Mennie’s fingers was very well struck, and it was a surprise when the same man gained another lbw verdict nearing stumps.
In addition to the missed chances, South Australia have had an enormous number of deliveries beat the bat, suggesting either they have been a fraction too short for the conditions or that the luck they were looking for to win a first Shield tittle since 1996 is not with them just yet. The match, of course, is not quite done, but it is very much Victoria’s to lose.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo