Hodge books Victoria's Champions League spot
Victoria 4 for 113 (Hodge 59*, Crosthwaite 40*) beat Queensland 6 for 112 (Carseldine 52) by six wickets
A hamstring injury couldn't prevent Brad Hodge from carrying an under-strength Victoria into the Champions League in India with a half-century that put their small chase back on track after early wobbles. Hodge finished unbeaten on 59 and had strong support from Adam Crosthwaite as they eased past Queensland's sub-par 6 for 112 with two overs to spare.
Officially the preliminary final was to determine who would take on New South Wales in the Big Bash decider on Saturday in Sydney, where the Bushrangers now have the chance to win their fourth straight Twenty20 title. The real prize was a place at the Champions League later this year, where the two finalists will take on domestic teams from around the world for multi-million dollar rewards.
Victoria and Western Australia qualified for last year's event, which was postponed after the terror attacks in Mumbai, and the Warriors had already lost their spot for this year's tournament by finishing on the bottom of the table. Victoria were desperate not to follow their lead but without Cameron White and David Hussey, who were with the ODI squad, they were robbed of significant batting power.
It didn't look like that would matter when Victoria's bowlers, led by Dirk Nannes, kept the Bulls to such a small total. But another man who has spent time with the Australia squad recently, Ryan Harris, gave Queensland the perfect start as Victoria stumbled to 3 for 7 in the third over.
Harris bowled fast and straight and picked up Rob Quiney, who was caught at slip, and Aaron Finch, who was lbw, within three deliveries. Aiden Blizzard had already driven Nathan Rimmington to cover point and Victoria were having flashbacks of their previous match, when they failed to overhaul New South Wales' 128.
The concerns increased when Andrew McDonald slashed to third man for 10 and at 4 for 30, and with the wicketkeeper Crosthwaite the next man in, the pressure was squarely on Hodge. He was batting with a runner having hurt his hamstring taking a quick single on 2, from a delivery that was dropped by a diving Ben Laughlin at backward point.
The run-rate was not an issue but wickets were, so Hodge and Crosthwaite spent much of their time pushing singles and giving the Queensland captain Chris Simpson headaches over how to plug the gaps in the field. Hodge guided the chase superbly from the crease, finding the boundary with minimal risk, and Crosthwaite finished the task with three consecutive fours over the leg side off Alister McDermott to end up with 40.
Restricting Victoria was always going to be a tough ask for the Bulls after they struggled to the lowest first-innings total in the competition this season. Again Lee Carseldine was left to shoulder the burden for the Queensland top order and he did the job well with 52. The problem was he had little support.
The Bulls had wobbled to 5 for 51 and despite a late partnership between Carseldine and Chris Hartley (27 not out) they never quite got out of second gear. At one point Queensland went 11 overs without a boundary - almost unheard of in Twenty20 cricket - and they struck only seven fours for the innings.
The early pressure came from Nannes, who rattled Simpson's stumps with a quick ball in the first over and finished with 2 for 20. All the bowlers played a part and in his second match back from shoulder surgery, Bryce McGain was pleased to strike with his first ball when he enticed an edge behind from Glen Batticciotto.
Damien Wright and Shane Harwood were tight and dangerous and Victoria's bowling will be crucial in Saturday's final as their batting line-up will retain an air of inexperience. That will be particularly so if Hodge's injury keeps him out - they would also need to find a new captain - but the main prize of a trip to India for the Champions League has already been won.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo