Pura Cup final preview March 17, 2007

Di Venuto hopes it's fourth time lucky

Michael Di Venuto has enjoyed his most productive Pura Cup season at the age of 33 © Getty Images

Michael Di Venuto might next week take the unwanted honour of being the only man to play in all of Tasmania's four Pura Cup final losses. However, he knows the past three disappointments could make a maiden win in 2006-07 all the more special.

The Tigers must like their chances as it is their first time hosting the final and they beat their opposition, New South Wales, on the same ground a week ago. Away teams have won only five times in 24 years of deciders, but it has happened twice in the last four seasons - and both times the Blues created the upset.

Di Venuto said Tasmania realised the importance of not being complacent in the match starting at Hobart on Monday. "It's an awesome feeling and great that we've finally got to host one," he told Cricinfo. "It's only an advantage if you play well.

"They get some quality players back in [Simon] Katich and [Matthew] Nicholson so they won't be the same opposition we played last week. With the game going over five days, anything can happen and you still have to play good cricket to win."

Good cricket in a final is something Di Venuto has seen plenty of, but much of it has come from his opponents. In 1993-94, Michael Bevan and Brad McNamara devastated Tasmania in their first attempt; in 1997-98 Di Venuto's 189 was insufficient as three Warriors made centuries; and in 2001-02 Michael Kasprowicz had the Tigers out of the game in a flash.

"The first one was a massive achievement for Tasmanian cricket," Di Venuto said. "It was like we'd played our final before we ever got to Sydney and we got whitewashed. But to come from nowhere to suddenly be in the final was amazing.

"In the lead-up to the second one, we had just won six in a row so we were confident going into it but we got outplayed. In the third our batting let us down and we were over-run by an under-strength Queensland side."

Five of Tasmania's likely starting 11 have final experience and so do eight Blues. Di Venuto said the ability of the young Tigers line-up to handle the pressure would be crucial. "It's not just another game," he said. "There's a lot more media interest, it's going live on telly. There's a lot more nerves and it wouldn't be right if there weren't."

Di Venuto has proved he can perform under pressure and his form indicates he could be ready for a big innings. After a couple of average years Di Venuto, 33, has fought back to finish fourth on the competition's run tally in 2006-07. His 873 runs are the most he has compiled in an Australian domestic season.

He and Ben Hilfenhaus have been the two stars this year in a Tasmania squad that has shared the spoils. Hilfenhaus tops the Pura Cup wicket list with 53 and will be a key component on his familiar hunting ground at Hobart.

Ed Cowan, who with Phil Jaques will have to survive Hilfenhaus' new-ball swing, said playing the Tigers again at Bellerive Oval was a bonus - even though they were skittled for a first-innings 53. "I think they've shown their hand a bit in how they are going to bowl to us," Cowan said. "Particularly to me I think they'll bowl a bit straight."

Ed Cowan is pleased to be playing the Pura Cup final after an injury-plagued 2005-06 © Getty Images

The Blues were lucky to reach the decider after recording their lowest total in 115 years. Only losses to Western Australia and Victoria saved New South Wales. "It would have been a sad way for us to bow out, to leave our worst performance until last," Cowan said. "Now we've been able to regroup and refocus. It was an aberration - the way we saw it the whole top six was in good form."

For Cowan, being part of that top six for the whole season has been an achievement in itself after he missed almost all of 2005-06 due to a toe reconstruction. He and Jaques have made a good opening team and Cowan has raised his first two Pura Cup centuries - including one against Tasmania in January.

Cowan said regaining Katich and Nicholson was "huge". Katich, like several other New South Wales batsmen, has struck form at the right time and the Blues look capable of posting a big total.

However, they must be careful not to risk a draw, which would hand the cup to Tasmania. A result does seem likely, though - only five of the 24 finals have been drawn - and should the Blues bat first much could depend on Stuart MacGill's efforts on a fourth- or fifth-day pitch.

New South Wales have the background and know-how to pull off another away upset but Tasmania deserve to be favourites. Their home-ground advantage, settled line-up and the return of two experienced players - Dan Marsh and Adam Griffith - should ensure their quarter-of-a-century drought ends next week.

Tasmania squad Michael Di Venuto, Tim Paine, Michael Dighton, George Bailey, Travis Birt, Dan Marsh (capt), Sean Clingeleffer (wk), Jason Krejza, Damien Wright, Luke Butterworth, Adam Griffith, Brendan Drew, Ben Hilfenhaus.

New South Wales squad Phil Jaques, Ed Cowan, Simon Katich (capt), Dominic Thornely, Ben Rohrer, Peter Forrest, Daniel Smith (wk), Grant Lambert, Moises Henriques, Nathan Hauritz, Matthew Nicholson, Doug Bollinger, Stuart MacGill.

Brydon Coverdale is an editorial assistant of Cricinfo