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Season of records and innovation comes to a close

After yet another season of innovation and record-breaking performances, the ING Cup reaches its climax on Sunday 29 February when the XXXX Queensland Bulls host the Retravision Warriors at the Gabba

In one of the closest finishes to a regular season in recent times, the Bulls secured top spot and the right to host the final after a string of imposing late-season victories, including a record-breaking win over the Warriors at the WACA.

Queensland's score of 405 was the highest Australian domestic limited-overs total in 35 years of competition, while Jimmy Maher's adventurous innings of 187 off 129 balls was the highest individual score in domestic one-dayers.

The 207-run victory also ensured the Bulls became the first team in the ING Cup to gain two bonus points for doubling an opponent's total.

The bonus point rule was one of a number of changes introduced to the competition at the start of the 2003-04 season, alongside a free-hit for the batsman following a front foot no-ball, while both field umpires were "miked-up" during televised games for the first time.

In a year highlighted by the fall of several long-standing records, the performance of South Australian quick Shaun Tait against the Cascade Tasmanian Tigers at the Adelaide Oval in January was most memorable.

Tait's 8-43 was the best bowling return in Australian domestic limited-overs competition since Carl Rackemann's 7-34 against South Australia in 1988-89.

The 20-year-old claimed 18 wickets for the season, and was subsequently named as the ING Cup's Best New Talent to go alongside the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year award he won at the Allan Border Medal earlier this month.

Queensland's Stuart Law, who will farewell Australian domestic cricket on Sunday, broke the record for the fastest ING Cup century, with the milestone arriving off just 69 balls. His effort beat the previous record of 74 balls he held alongside Justin Langer and Brad Haddin.

The popular Hit the Sign competition returned for the 2003-04 season, with a record number of four players claiming the $50,000 prize. More than $855,000 has now been issued since the competition's inception in 1996.

A record number of 148,000 people attended ING Cup games this season, with a highest crowd of 26,000 people witnessing the match between the SpeedBlitz Blues and the Bulls at Telstra Stadium in Western Sydney. The Western Australian Cricket Association also drew an impressive crowd of close to 17,000 people for the Warriors' home match against the Blues in January earlier this year.

Season 2003-04 also saw ING Cup games taken further into regional Australia, with a match being played at Bradman Oval, Bowral, for the first time, while games were also played at North Sydney Oval, Drummoyne Oval, and in Launceston, Tasmania.

Cricket Australia Chief Executive Officer James Sutherland said the 2003-04 season will be remembered as one of the most successful and exciting years on record.

"The ING Cup has undergone a series of important and progressive changes throughout the last few years as part of our broader commitment to advancing domestic cricket in this country," Mr Sutherland said.

"We have again introduced a variety of rule changes and innovations which have proved both successful and entertaining, while the standard of competition has never been better.

"Of course, this competition wouldn't be possible without the tremendous support of our major partner ING, who for 12 years now, have played a central role in the development of domestic cricket in Australia.

"Cricket Australia would like to wish both teams the best of luck on Sunday and we look forward to yet another successful season in 2004-05."

The ING Cup final at the Gabba will begin at 0900, with gates open from 0800.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for children and pensioners, and $20 for a family of two adults and two children.

Tickets can be purchased from Ticketmaster7 by calling 1300 136 122 or at www.ticketmaster7.com.au.