After winning three of the past four Sheffield Shield titles, Victoria already has a firm grip on its status as the country’s premier domestic men’s cricket state but victory in this week’s final over New South Wales will give it an indisputable claim.
It has been 16 years since a state won both the Shield and the one-day cup in the same year. Victoria will do just that if it triumphs over NSW, which was coincidentally the last team to do it back in 2002-03 under Steve Waugh.
Coached by Andrew McDonald and captained by Travis Dean, Victoria has every right to feel confident heading into the five-day affair at Junction Oval and broadcast live on Fox Cricket.
Victoria won the toss and is 5-212 after 69 overs, with Marcus Harris (114) and James Pattinson (2) at the crease.
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Victoria: Travis Dean (c), Marcus Harris, Will Pucovski, Cameron White, Matt Short, Seb Gotch (wk), James Pattinson, Chris Tremain, Peter Siddle, Scott Boland, Jon Holland
NSW: Nick Larkin, Daniel Hughes, Kurtis Patterson, Moises Henriques, Jason Sangha, Jack Edwards, Peter Nevill (c/wk), Trent Copeland, Sean Abbott, Stephen O’Keefe, Harry Conway
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Harris and Travis Dean (23) started well, putting on 63 runs for the opening partnership until the latter nicked off in the 23rd over to Conway.
That brought Will Pucovski to the crease who survived some close calls on his way to 17 before he was trapped in front by Trent Copeland just after lunch.
The day’s most controversial moment then stuck, as Copeland picked up his second in dubious circumstances.
He overstepped his crease when Seb Gotch (2) was caught in the slips but the umpire didn’t notice and failed to call no-ball.
The mini-collapse after lunch continued when veteran Cam White (7) drove on the up to Sean Abbott and was caught in the covers. That wicket saw Victoria lose 3-21.
Alongside boasting the experience that comes with a hat-trick of Shield titles between 2014 and 2017, Victoria also start the match as firm favourites after dominating the regular season. The Victorians finished the season with a healthy 11.26-point lead over second-placed NSW, and registered two of their six wins over the same opponents.
Their lone first-class defeat for the summer came at the hands of Queensland at the Gabba. In other words, they are unbeaten at home.
However, that spotless record is not as great a concern as it once would have been for NSW. For this summer at least, a draw will not be enough for Victoria to be crowned champions, with the match to be decided by bonus points if it does not reach a natural conclusion and at least 270 overs are played.
Under the system a team is awarded 0.01 bonus points for every run it scores above 200 in the first 100 overs of its first innings with the bat, and 0.1 points for each wicket it takes in the first 100 overs of its first innings with the ball.
Both captains will leave crucial selection decisions until after a pitch inspection on the opening morning of the final.
The table-topping Vics suffered a blow with in-form batsman Nic Maddinson ruled out with a fractured thumb suffered in last week’s win over South Australia. Cameron White, Sam Harper and Eamonn Vines were added to a 14-man squad, with White appearing the logical replacement.
Dean admitted to some concern over his own form before he struck his first half- century since Christmas against the Redbacks.
“I’ve been lean on runs, to get runs any time is great especially when you’re down as much as I have been,” Dean told reporters on Wednesday. “Any time you get runs leading into a big game it’s a good confidence booster. “Everybody has got a few nerves leading in, so to get some runs and back myself in is good for me.”
A replacement for Maddinson isn’t the only consideration for Victoria, who have experimented with four quicks and spinner Jon Holland as well as playing an extra batsman at the expense of one of the seamers in recent games.
Despite two defeats against the Vics in the season, Nevill said his side will enter the contest full of confidence after a strong finish.
Nevill, who missed last week’s win over Tasmania to be at the birth of his first child, and spinner Stephen O’Keefe were added to the extended squad. Nevill will take the gloves from Baxter Holt, while O’Keefe’s recovery from a hamstring injury will force a further rethink on the line-up.
“It’s been a very eventful week but the timing has worked out very well,” Nevill said of the birth of his daughter.
“I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee and sleeping on a little fold-out mattress in the hospital, but I’m feeling really good.
“I had a good hit on (Tuesday) in Sydney so I’m feeling well prepared.”