Victoria's experienced core handed another lesson to Queensland's emerging players to secure a place in the rich Champions League Twenty20. In the most valuable domestic game of the year - the winner of the tournament in India collects US$2.5m - the Bushrangers repeated their preliminary final success of last summer when David Hussey's cool finish guided them to a six-wicket win.
The visiting bowlers were superb as they restricted the Bulls to 5 for 149, but the game was evenly poised until Hussey forced the result with 60 off 39 balls. Victoria's second prize was a spot in the final against South Australia in Adelaide on Saturday, when they will aim for their fourth Big Bash title in five years.
There were some Victorian doubts when Brad Hodge's departure for 30 left them at 3 for 68, but Hussey, who was helped by Cameron White's 17 and Andrew McDonald's 12, ended those concerns and sealed the win in strange circumstances with seven balls remaining. With one run to win Hussey mishit to mid-on and was walking off thinking he would be out, but the ball dropped between the confused pair of James Hopes and Chris Simpson. Hussey altered his direction to amble a single before raising his arms in triumph.
Victoria had changed gears in the 13th over when Hussey went down the pitch for a straight four off Hopes and White followed up with a six to long-on in an over costing 13. Hussey soon backed up with a fierce straight six off Ben Cutting, who then picked up White with a catch to Andrew Symonds at cover.
A second Hussey clearance, this time off Simpson, cut the target to 36 off 26 balls, and he made the assignment even easier with another six down the ground off Cutting. When Hussey backed up with a boundary in the same over the target was a run a ball.
"The boys were pretty good tonight, although we could have been better in the field," White said. "But we did enough to win, which was pleasing."
The second innings did not begin well for the Bulls, with Nathan Rimmington dropping Aaron Finch twice at short fine leg, and he was relieved when he picked him up for 22 thanks to a sharp catch at mid-on by Cutting. Cutting was involved again when he trapped Ross Taylor, the dangerous New Zealand import, for 4, but the Bushrangers had too many senior players to rely on.
"It was a pretty slow start again, but we played some good cricket to get into position," Simpson said. "It's a bit of a shame to end the way we did, but that's cricket."
Queensland were out-played at the same stage last year when they batted first and scratched to 112 and were heading the same way at 5 for 54. The experience of the well-qualified Victorian bowlers overwhelmed the hosts until Hopes and Ben Dunk came together in a vital, but ultimately fruitless, stand of 95 in 11.5 overs to finish the innings.
The pair consolidated for a couple of overs and then Dunk lifted the pace with a trio of boundaries behind square leg off Clint McKay, Hussey and John Hastings. Dunk, the 22-year-old wicketkeeping understudy, got his start in the competition with an injury to Chris Hartley and brought up his maiden half-century in the second last over. A six to long on followed and the penultimate ball also cleared the fence to ice his collection, which finished on 70 off 40.
At the other end Hopes struggled after avoiding the early collapse, with his best shots going to fielders and lots of squirted singles. His unplanned anchor role resulted in him carrying his bat with 44 off 55 and the contribution was valuable at the time, even though the innings lacked the muscle expected by the crowd of 11,801. Dunk's clearances were the only two of the innings and the Bulls were held back by the precise yorkers of the Bushrangers.
Victoria started to grab control in the sixth over when Symonds (1) went playing an ugly swipe to Hastings, who accepted an easy catch to have the hosts 3 for 47. Things got much worse when Glen Batticciotto backed up too far and was beaten by Hodge's underarm and Craig Philipson edged McDonald to Taylor at first slip from his opening delivery.
The opener Simpson sped to 17 off seven balls after winning the toss, but his spark went out in the third over when bowled trying to heave Dirk Nannes. Nannes also rushed a short ball through Lee Carseldine (7) on the way to 2 for 26 off four overs. McDonald had 1 for 22 - his immaculate figures were ruined by 15 from the final over - and Hussey allowed only 21 from his four. The fine contributions were responsible for setting up a trip to the Champions League, where Victoria will aim to improve on their semi-final spot in last year's event.