Hughes and Katich put Blues on top
New South Wales 281 & 5 for 352 (Hughes 116, Katich 92, Clarke 64) lead Victoria 216 by 417 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Phillip Hughes and Simon Katich both entered the record-books as they guided New South Wales to an almost unbeatable position on the third day of the Pura Cup final in Sydney. Hughes underlined his potential as a future Test player with 116 before Katich and Michael Clarke combined to all but bat Victoria out of the match.
The Bushrangers began the day hoping to dismiss the Blues and pursue a target of under 300; they finished facing a 400-plus chase on a pitch that will assist Stuart MacGill. New South Wales ended the day at 5 for 352 with Dominic Thornely on 19 and Beau Casson on 12. As has been the case all summer, one of the key architects of their success was Katich, who made 92 and became the all-time highest run scorer in a Pura Cup season.
Katich passed Michael Bevan's record of 1464 set at Tasmania in 2004-05 and he received a standing ovation from the SCG crowd when he achieved the milestone with a single turned behind square leg off Bryce McGain. Katich ended up with 1506 runs at 94.12, although he was denied a sixth century when he was run out attempting a quick single at the call of his partner Clarke.
The other important contribution came from Hughes, the most inexperienced man in a New South Wales side overflowing with international expertise. At 19, Hughes became the youngest player to score a century in a Pura Cup final, beating the previous most junior centurion, Martin Love, who was nearly 21 when he achieved the feat in 1994-95.
Although Victoria picked up a few late wickets with the new ball - they grabbed 3 for 22 in four overs - they looked destined to finish the season with only a Twenty20 title having reached the deciders in all three competitions. Their problem was a lack of wickets in the first session. McGain and the part-time offspinner Brad Hodge both looked dangerous and McGain was extracting big turn out of the footmarks but despite some nervy moments Hughes survived, first with Phil Jaques and then with Katich.
Runs came quickly in the morning as Victoria strained for wickets and Hughes was lucky to escape when he edged Dirk Nannes just over the slips for a boundary when he was on 14. The stroke was sandwiched between two poor Nannes full tosses that Hughes also put away for fours, and that gave the batsman confidence. He drove Peter Siddle's half-volleys effectively and brought up his half-century from only 39 deliveries with a cover-driven four off McGain.
The rate slowed after Jaques departed lbw for 23 to a vicious McGain legbreak that zipped out of the rough and stayed so low it struck the batsman's ankle. Their 75-run opening stand had already frustrated Victoria, and the 145-run partnership between Hughes and Katich that followed was even more irritating for the visitors.
Hughes eased his rate but not his concentration, reaching triple-figures for the first time in only seven first-class games. His hundred came from 153 deliveries and he fought off McGain, who finished with 1 for 72 and was disappointed not to make more of the SCG pitch. It was Victoria's secondary legspinner, Cameron White, who finally removed Hughes for 116. An attempted slog-sweep was top-edged to point, where McGain took the chance but must have been annoyed after Hughes struck him for six with a similar stroke two overs earlier.
Katich was typically obdurate and only hit five fours, instead working the ball to all parts of the ground. He said before the match he had not even thought about breaking Bevan's record and was solely focused on securing the title for his state; there might turn out to be a strong correlation in the two aims. His century did not eventuate as Andrew McDonald at cover threw down the stumps at the striker's end to find Katich well short.
Clarke, seemingly reacting to his costly call, vented his frustration in the next over with three boundaries off Siddle, including a perfectly clean aerial drive over the bowler's head. Siddle's revenge came quickly, however, when Clarke was caught behind for 64 backing away and attempting a cut. Brad Haddin followed when he too tried to slog Siddle and played on, but the lead was already approaching 400.
Victoria believed they had a chance to win if they could dismiss New South Wales before the close of the third day, which they failed to achieve. Over the past few years they have been better than most teams at chasing huge targets, however with two days to play on a wearing SCG pitch against a Test-quality attack, it will take a miraculous effort for the Bushrangers to stop the Blues securing the last Pura Cup before the competition changes its name.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo