Aaron Finch scored a nerveless 93 off 60 balls as pre-tournament favourites Victoria overcame a spirited effort by Central Districts, to chase 166 with two balls to spare. Central Districts punched above their weight for a large part of the match, with their captain Jamie How scoring an equally memorable 77, but their bowlers wilted against Finch's assault, which was aggressive and measured in equal parts.
Central Districts had finished their innings on a high, How turning around a lacklustre beginning with a flurry of boundaries at the end. The pressure was on Victoria, desperate to live up to their pre-tournament billing. Their reply ran into rough weather early, Rob Quiney and Matthew Wade perishing before they could get off the blocks, raising visions of the failed chase against Warriors in their tournament opener. Finch, however, was reading from a different script.
While David Hussey struggled to connect with the big hits, Finch kept Victoria ticking with some aggressive running and the odd four. Without taking risks, he stole four of the five boundaries that came in the six overs following Wade's dismissal. A punch off George Worker through extra-cover in the 12th was followed by a mow off Kieran Noema-Barnett through midwicket to bring up his fifty in the 13th over, off 40 balls. Hussey's fall in the next over once again gave Central Districts the upper hand, but Finch carried on as if nothing had happened.
Fifty-seven were required off the last five, not your regular walk in the park, but Finch wore an air of calmness that belied the pressure of the situation. Worker was heaved over square-leg in the 16th over; Michael Mason was top-edged to fine-leg in the 17th. Andrew McDonald joined in the fun, cross-batting Mason over long off to reduce the equation to 36 off 18.
Central Districts' limitations were exposed towards the end, as Seth Rance struggled to land his yorkers. Finch tucked in with two boundaries towards fine-leg, before carting Mason inside-out for six more. Brad Patton dropped McDonald off the last ball of the 19th, more importantly conceding two runs and leaving Victoria needing 12 off the last over. The force was clearly with Victoria, and Finch sealed the deal, edging Doug Bracewell through third man before launching him out of the park to end the game.
If Finch's innings was an exercise in maintaining the momentum and staying in touch from start to finish, How's knock showcased how to get used to the pace before exploding. Victoria had begun well, Peter Siddle striking twice in his opening over, coming back after seven-and-a-half months. Mathew Sinclair and Worker fell by the wayside after getting off to starts, leaving the innings rudderless at 83 for 4 in the 14th over.
Luckily for them, How had managed to see off the attritional period and was primed for a late assault. He top-edged Siddle over third-man in the 15th over and followed it up next ball with a gorgeous pull into the midwicket stands. Bryce McGain was smashed down the ground for six more, and Dirk Nannes paddled to fine-leg as How warmed up for the final flourish.
Brendon Diamanti set the tone, lofting the first ball of the 18th over over the long-off boundary before turning the strike to his captain. What followed was an exhibition of immaculate stroke-making as How picked his spots with precision. He drove the next two balls down the ground, and followed it up with a paddle-sweep and a tickle to third-man, all for fours. The last of those was above waist height and had to be rebowled. How cashed in, drilling the length offering over Hastings' head as 28 came off the over.
At that point it seemed Central Districts had done enough for their first win in the tournament. Finch, however did not flinch; even in the 17th over of the chase, when he was beaten outside the off stump, with the asking rate mounting out of control, he kept his cool. No wild, desperate swishes of the bat either - he simply popped a bubble in the gum he was chewing, and carried on. On this day, he could do no wrong. And he knew it.