October 15, 2000

Blues claim maximum points to overpower Bushrangers

The New South Wales Blues easily overpowered the Victorian Bushrangers in their Mercantile Mutual Cup match at North Sydney Oval today. In front of 11,409 spectators, the Blues won by eight wickets with more than fourteen overs to spare.

Tight bowling and sharp fielding early in the day, followed by some aggressive batting from the top order, saw New South Wales become the first team in Mercantile Mutual Cup competition to win a bonus competition point for scoring at a run rate more than 1.25 times better than that of their opposition.

Blues wicketkeeper, Brad Haddin, was named man of the match for a blistering innings of 69, scored off 52 deliveries.

Once Steve Waugh, leading NSW in a Mercantile Mutual Cup game for the very first time, sent the Vics into bat, the Blues immediately imposed the pressure through new ball pair Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.

With just 30 runs coming in the first nine overs, Matthew Mott (12) attempted a quick single in the tenth, but could not beat the direct throw from Mark Higgs.

Graeme Vimpani had an eventful innings, being dropped by Shane Lee in second slip when on 11, and then hit on the helmet by Brett Lee a short while later. It was the elder Lee brother, Shane, who had the last laugh when he took a sharp return catch off the Victorian right-hander. Vimpani made 17.

After fifteen overs Victoria were 2/52. The third wicket fell in the following over when Ian Harvey (11) chipped Nathan Bracken to short fine leg where Stuart MacGill took the catch.

Shaun Craig (8), having survived a third umpire's call on a run out, fell to a brilliant diving outfield catch by Corey Richards to become Bracken's second victim of the day. Michael Klinger joined Brad Hodge at the crease with the score 4/78.

Victoria's woes deepened when Stuart MacGill struck twice in the 29th over of the day. Klinger (1 from 15 balls) charged down the wicket, the ball deflecting off his pads to Haddin who effected an easy stumping. Five balls later, Shane Warne, playing his first game since minor knee surgery, hit a full-toss straight back into MacGill's outstretched hands. Warne also made 1.

Darren Berry became the third Victorian batsman dismissed for a single when he fell victim to Higgs' second direct-hit runout of the morning.

Hodge was joined by Victorian captain Paul Reiffel. The two started playing some attractive shot-making, especially off Glenn McGrath, when Reiffel (17) fell to a soft dismissal, chipping a slower ball from Shane Lee to Bracken at mid-on. The previous ball saw Shane Lee no-balled by umpire David Brandon for bowling a bouncer at Reiffel, only for the umpire to reverse the call when reminded that bowlers are permitted one bouncer per over. Victoria were now 8/136.

Earlier, Hodge brought up his half-century from 61 deliveries, which included eight boundaries. Ben Oliver, currently on a scholarship at the Australian Cricket Academy, came in at number ten to join Hodge, and together the pair began to lift the run rate against the twin attack of the Lee brothers. At the end of forty overs Victoria were 8/156, a score that seemed highly unlikely ten overs earlier.

The Blues had lost some of their sharpness in the field in the latter overs with a few chances going down, including a simple chance by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, dropping Oliver off Brett Lee. Hodge appeared set for his third Mercantile Mutual Cup century when on 87 he was deceived by an overpitched yorker from Nathan Bracken, playing the ball straight to Shane Lee at mid-wicket. Lee held two catches today, but dropped at least as many more. Hodge had faced 92 deliveries and hit thirteen boundaries when he departed in the 47th over with the score on 9/183.

With 200 well within sight, the Victorian innings came to end on 193 when Damien Fleming (4) spooned a simple catch to Corey Richards at mid-on to give Bracken (4/36 from 9.5 overs) his fourth wicket of the day. Oliver remained not out on 24.

Shane Lee took 2/33 and Stuart MacGill 2/40, however the fast pair of Glenn McGrath (0/48) and Brett Lee (0/34) went wicketless from their ten-over stints. Both, however, were responsible for maintaining the pressure on the Victorian top order earlier in the day. McGrath's figures for his last two matches - including Australia's game against India last week - do not make quite such happy reading: 19-1-109-0.

Chasing 194 to win in 50 overs (or 40 overs to claim the bonus point), Michael Slater and Brad Haddin began the innings in quite subdued fashion, taking just two runs off the first three overs bowled by Damien Fleming and Paul Reiffel. And then the strokes started coming. In the seventh over of the innings, Haddin smashed the first six of the day, lofting Fleming over cover.

The Blues' 50 came up at the start of the tenth over as Haddin smashed his seventh boundary of the innings. Slater greeted Shane Warne's first ball of the day by punching it straight to the boundary fence one over later. Shortly afterwards, Slater reinforced the message to his leg-spinner Australian team-mate by smashing him over long-on for six.

Haddin brought up his personal half-century from forty deliveries (eight fours, one six), and added to Warne's misery by striking him for two more sixes in his fourth over of the day - one hitting the roof of the grandstand at mid on, the other flying over mid wicket.

The opening partnership came to an end at 107 with Haddin on 69, advancing down the wicket to Ben Oliver attempting to hit him out of the ground, only to find Paul Reiffel waiting a deep mid-off. Haddin faced 52 deliveries for his 69, and hit 8 fours and 3 sixes.

The game was all but over in the 21st over of the Blues innings. With the score on 1/109, Shane Warne bowled to Michael Slater, who smashed the over for 4, 6, 2, 0, 4, 2. Warne's bowling stint was duly brought to a close, his figures 0/47 from six overs. The boundary off the fifth ball of that over gave Slater his half-century, scored from 70 deliveries (5 fours, 2 sixes).

Slater was finally dismissed for 61 when Darren Berry took a stumping to give Ben Oliver his second wicket of the innings. Oliver's day was tarnished only slightly when Michael Bevan and Steve Waugh combined to take 16 runs, including a six and two fours, off his eighth and final over of the day.

By this time there was little doubt, either that the Blues would win the game, or that they would win it inside the 40-over target required for them to earn their bonus point. With two of the country's most consummate one-day batsmen of all time, Michael Bevan and Steve Waugh, at the crease, it just became a matter of exactly when the victory would come. And it arrived in the 5th ball of the 36th over, with Bevan smashing Michael Lewis to the mid-wicket fence, for the Blues to end the game with a score of 2/197. Bevan finished unbeaten on 31 (43 balls) to take his career Australian domestic one-day batting average over 60. Steve Waugh was 27 not out (42 balls) at the close.

The win takes the Blues straight to the outright lead of the Mercantile Mutual Cup ladder with 5 competition points - other teams with one victory (Queensland and South Australia) only have 4. The Blues' next game in the competition is against the Queensland Bulls at Bankstown Oval next Sunday, while the Bushrangers have to wait another week for their next appearance... and that is the return bout against the Blues, at Punt Road, Richmond.