October 10, 1999

Elliott, Vimpani steer Victoria to MMC victory

Victorian opening batsmen Matthew Elliott and Graeme Vimpani combined to lead the Bushrangers to a comfortable seven-wicket victory over the New South Wales Blues in the opening match of the Mercantile Mutual Cup season at North Sydney Oval today.

Elliott (103) and Vimpani (93) added 194 for the first wicket as Victoria successfully pursued a New South Wales total of 6 for 240 which never seemed adequate. The Bushrangers were in cruise mode when they secured the win with thirteen balls to spare.

NSW captain Michael Bevan won the toss and elected to bat in warm, sunny conditions. The Blues lost two early wickets, Rodney Davison (7) and Brad Haddin (8 in his NSW debut), before Bevan and Corey Richards combined for a 99-run partnership in 23 overs. The scoring rarely exceeded four an over until after the halfway mark of the innings. Bevan was dismissed in the 29th over after top-edging to Vimpani at mid-off. He had scored 41 from 81 deliveries, including the first six of the tournament.

Richards was finally dismissed for a impressive 75, supported by Graeme Rummans (45). The Blues scored seventy runs in the last ten overs, with late rallies from Shane Lee (19) and Mark Higgs (14*), the latter lofting the ball onto the roof of the O'Reilly stand past the mid-wicket boundary.

New South Wales completed their fifty overs on 6/240, a total which on the small North Sydney Oval ground was probably twenty or thirty runs less than they would have liked. Ian Harvey (2/43) was the most successful of the Victorian bowlers. Victoria gave up thirty extras including nine wides and nine no-balls and the outfielding often lacked accuracy.

With Victoria chasing 241 for victory, Bevan pulled a surprise by not giving his star fast bowler Brett Lee the new ball. The decision backfired as Victorian openers Elliott and Vimpani raced to 31 in the first five overs. Lee was brought into the attack in the eleventh over and immediately produced a maiden, but he too was to succumb to the Bushranger batsmen who found conditions much to their liking, the NSW quicks toiling in humid 33-degree afternoon heat.

Though the Blues were sharper in the outfield than their Victorian counterparts, a number of difficult chances were put down. The 100 partnership was raised by Elliott and Vimpani in the 24th over.

With the threat of afternoon thunderstorms looming, Victoria stayed well ahead of their target under the Duckworth/Lewis system, in use for the first time in Australia. Bevan shuffled his bowlers with desparation searching for that first wicket, bringing himself on to bowl in the 28th over, his two-over spell conceding 21 runs.

It seemed strange that all-rounder Shawn Bradstreet was not given the ball until over number 31 and when six other bowlers had use of it before him. Nonetheless, he to (3-0-21-0) was unable to stop the free-flowing Victorian pair.

The belated breakthrough came for the Blues in the 39th over. Brett Lee, in the first over of his second spell, broke through Vimpani's defences, bowling the Victorian for 93. Vimpani had faced 110 deliveries and hit 12 fours and 2 sixes. His wicket fell during a lull in the scoring when it took Victoria four overs to advance from 190 to 200.

Though the Bushrangers went into the final ten overs requiring four and a half runs per over for victory, the wealth of wickets in hand meant that there was never any doubt of the win. Though the threatening storms never arrived, the last half-hour of the game was played in semi-darkness on a ground without cricket-strength floodlighting.

Elliott entered the nervous nineties in the 37th over and left them in the 44th over, cracking a boundary to mid-wicket to bring up his first Mercantile Mutual Cup hundred in 133 deliveries. He fell shortly afterwards for 103 when wicketkeeper Brad Haddin removed the bails with the former Australian batsman out of his ground. Gavin Robertson was the wicket-taker.

The match ended from the fifth ball of the 48th over when Laurie Harper took a single off Robertson. Victoria made 3 for 241, Matthew Elliott named man-of-the-match. Brett Lee was most successful of the eight NSW bowlers used with 2/43 from his ten overs, including the wickets of Vimpani and Hodge (12).

Paul Reiffel marked his debut as Victorian captain with a win. Michael Bevan's captaincy was disappointing in this game and his slow innings at the crease helped to leave the Blues with an insufficient total to defend. He will be with the Australian team in Zimbabwe for NSW's next Cup game against Queensland in two weeks captain, a stand-in captain yet to be announced.

The official attendance at the traditional North Sydney Oval season opener was a disappointing 5304, this fixture regularly attracting crowds of 10-15,000 in recent years.