Lee stirs as team of champions starts to surge
New South Wales 281 (Katich 86, Haddin 63, Jaques 53, Siddle 5-66) & 0 for 23 lead Victoria 216 (Hodge 84, Lee 4-72) by 88 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
None of New South Wales' big stars were able to dominate individually until Brett Lee's burst at the tail, but their collective brilliance proved too much for Victoria on the second day of the Pura Cup final. The Bushrangers, who trail by 88 after the Blues reached 0 for 23 in their second innings, promised they would not be over-awed by the talent in the opposition and they did a reasonable job until Brad Hodge departed for a well-crafted 84.
From that moment Stuart MacGill started to look like Shane Warne and the appearance of Peter Siddle turned Lee into a fast-bowling monster. The men fielding in blue caps could have been wearing baggy green as Victoria lost 7 for 50 to be dismissed for 216. In a team with seven current internationals it has been hard for any of them to rise above their mates and excel. Instead they have come at the Bushrangers in waves.
The initial surges were repelled but slowly, surely, the visitors took on too much water. Hodge held firm for the longest and, like Simon Katich on day one, seemed to be operating on a true surface instead of one full of challenges. That all changed when Hodge started to apply a pad-first technique to MacGill, making the batsman look like a baffled Englishman facing Warne.
Coming around the wicket, MacGill was aiming for the footmarks in an effort to slow Hodge's scoring. Hodge, the only Test player in Victoria's side, was the key, but his lapse was not to let his bat follow his leg forward to a big-turning delivery. The ball missed Hodge's pad but not off stump.
MacGill, showing his wrist injury is no longer a concern, is hoping to get a trip to the West Indies with Australia in May, and he also helped his cause by catching Adam Crosthwaite's edge behind. Victoria had tripped from the relative safety of 3 for 166 when Hodge and Cameron White were together to 6 for 188. Worse was to come.
The sight of Siddle, who was sensational in grabbing 5 for 66 as New South Wales were shut down for 281, stirred Lee, who remembered the short pummeling he received late on the first day. Siddle had an aching mouth caused by an infected tooth when he bowled and Lee added two sore shoulders with frightening bouncers for a flat pitch. He was unlucky to be judged caught behind for 0 and will have a bruise at the top of his right arm as proof.
Lee's roughing up of the tail continued and was scary enough to have Bryce McGain, the No. 9, stepping away, which is not a good look for a potential international. McGain's off stump cartwheeled soon after, Shane Harwood took a hit on the body before guiding Lee to Beau Casson at gully and Dirk Nannes was lbw to end the damage. Lee walked off with 4 for 76 and MacGill had 2 for 36.
There was no relief for Victoria from the moment Lee and a slightly distracted Stuart Clark accepted the new ball. Defending 281, they did not worry when the early breakthroughs did not come immediately and the bowlers were rotated calmly and unconventionally by Katich.
Michael Clarke was used ahead of MacGill and Casson in the second session and the risk was successful, although David Hussey deserved to be upset when ruled to have edged to Katich at first slip. Hussey's high-energy 59-run partnership with Hodge was over and the Bushrangers were never as comfortable again.
While his team-mates struggled against the tight attack, Hodge looked at ease. The variable bounce did not stop him from pulling successfully and the productive shot was responsible for raising his half-century in 92 deliveries. Two offside drives in an over from Lee and a couple of boundaries wide of mid-on off Clark also showed his class and Victoria will wonder what could have happened without the MacGill misjudgment.
Whenever a bowling change was called there was danger. Nathan Bracken did not take the new ball, but removed Lloyd Mash for 20 shortly before lunch when the batsman flirted at an off-cutter. Clark was tight and finally gained a reward with his reverse-swinging full ball bowling White for 19, the same score as the unbeaten Andrew McDonald.
There was some room for New South Wales' rank-and-file members to do things, but not much. Dominic Thornely's under-armed run-out of Nick Jewell (26) made it 2 for 68, ending an innings of near misses. Jewell was not convinced by a caught-behind appeal off Clark, prompting MacGill, who was standing at mid-on, to chip in with: "Stop shaking your head, Jewelly, there are two umpires out here and you're neither of them. You bat."
MacGill's mood improved later in the day, but Casson, the wrist spinner, was left without an over. As the footmarks deepen on a surface that looks more like day four than two, he has a greater chance for employment. Unfortunately - for Casson and Victoria - the A-list provided the bulk of the entertainment. After two days the star quality is dominating this final.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo