Lee's 97 puts Blues on the brink
Victoria 216 & 2 for 96 need another 533 runs to beat New South Wales 281 & 8 for 563 dec (Hughes 116, Lee 97, Katich 92, Casson 89, Clarke 64, Siddle 4-101)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Brett Lee narrowly missed his maiden first-class century but New South Wales made securing the Pura Cup a formality after four days at the SCG. The Blues completely dominated the day, batting Victoria out of the contest by achieving a 628-run first-innings lead that set up what will become a celebratory fifth day for the home side.
Lee and Beau Casson spent more than four hours frustrating Victoria with a 176-run seventh-wicket stand before Stuart MacGill capped off proceedings with two late strikes as Victoria reached 2 for 96 at stumps. Nick Jewell was on 44 and David Hussey, who will never die wondering, raced to 31 from 28 balls.
Hussey was in Twenty20 mode and hammered consecutive sixes straight and over long-on against MacGill, which was even more remarkable considering MacGill was on a hat-trick when Hussey came to the crease. MacGill's first ball bowled Lloyd Mash, the next was flicked by Brad Hodge to midwicket where Phillip Hughes juggled a catch, before Hussey drove the hat-trick delivery confidently to mid on.
MacGill threw his hand-towel on the turf in disgust at his inability to collect three in a row, an action that would have been more justified coming Bryce McGain than from a man who had 2 for 6 from one over. If there was any doubt over who was Australia's No. 1 spinner it was squashed on day four as MacGill succeeded where McGain had struggled - the Victorian picked up 2 for 107 from 38 overs.
The demoralising innings provided a familiar feeling for Victoria, who two years ago toiled for 242 overs as Queensland posted 6 for 900 in the decider at the Gabba. This time they were only made to bowl for 165.3 overs - Simon Katich declared at 8 for 563 when Lee fell three runs short of triple-figures - but they will again be denied the title by a prolific batting display from the hosts.
The day began with New South Wales well on top with a 417-run advantage, although the Bushrangers retained a glimmer of hope. They might have considered themselves a chance of chasing less than 450 and when Peter Siddle bowled Dominic Thornely in the second over of the morning their faces brightened. However, that brought Lee and Casson together and the partnership they formed extinguished any thought of a famous Victoria fightback.
They combined for a record seventh-wicket stand for New South Wales against Victoria at the SCG, and both men looked a chance of registering their initial first-class hundreds. Any thoughts that Katich might declare in an effort to secure the trophy with a victory - the Blues need only draw to win the Pura Cup - were put on hold as twin lower-order centuries loomed.
Casson, who had made 99 in the Blues' previous match, again came agonisingly close when he fell ten minutes before tea for 89. He missed a big-turning McGain legspinner and was bowled around his legs, although Victoria's celebrations were understandably muted after they had toiled against the No. 7 and No. 8 batsmen for 57 wicketless overs.
Casson was in no hurry and his 202-ball innings was more about grinding towards a desired milestone than belting Victoria into submission. He was strong outside off stump, cutting and cover-driving boundaries that showed why he has made 485 runs at 60.62 this summer.
Lee began more briskly and beat Casson to his half-century despite giving him a 14-over head-start. He looked comfortable batting at state level after a Test season in which his contributions with the bat were slightly disappointing, and he clipped through the leg side with the skill of a specialist. However, as he passed his previous best first-class score, 79, and it dawned on him that a century was up for grabs, Lee became uncharacteristically cautious.
He batted for 220 deliveries and struck only eight fours, the last of which took him to 97 when his outside edge off Siddle flew at catchable height between Adam Crosthwaite and the first slip Cameron White. Siddle's frustration turned to relief the next ball when Lee drove a slower delivery back at the bowler, who stuck out his right hand and grabbed a return catch to finish with 4 for 101 and nine wickets for the match.
Katich's immediate declaration gave the Bushrangers an unrealistic target of 629 from just under four sessions, and it also meant the exhausted Lee was forced straight into new-ball action. His first delivery was more like Nathan Bracken than Lee - it clocked 129kph - but MacGill's strikes ensured the afternoon was a productive one for the Blues in the field.
The fifth day should be an even more pleasing one for New South Wales as they set out to secure their third Pura Cup of the past decade and the last before the prize changes names from next season. Hussey might provide some early-morning entertainment - after stumps he joked the Bushrangers would probably "come up a little bit short" needing 533 in a day - but Victoria will have to settle for only a Twenty20 title despite reaching the finals in all three domestic competitions in 2007-08.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo