New South Wales 7 for 296 (Phelps 136, O'Brien 49*) beat South Australia 9 for 288 (Cameron 66, Lehmann 63) by 8 runs
Darren Lehmann, after having his customary nerve-settling cigarette in front of the Drummoyne Oval grandstand before going out to bat, kickstarted the most important week of his career today with a half-century for South Australia in the ING Cup match against NSW.
Lehmann's smooth 63 from as many balls wasn't enough to give the Redbacks a win, though. With his team needing 12 runs from seven balls for victory in reply to NSW's 7 for 296, and with four wickets in hand, Lehmann pulled a long hop from Stuart MacGill down the throat of Dominic Thornely on the square-leg fence to allow the Blues to sneak home by eight runs.
"It was 50-50 at that stage," said NSW captain Steve Waugh. "We only needed one wicket, really - Darren Lehmann was the key. It was the crucial ball of the match, it was either going to be six or out. That was really the turning point. We were going to win or lose it with Stuey because they were going to try to hit him for six. That was the gamble I took and it came off."
Australia's Test squad to tour Sri Lanka will be named on Friday and Lehmann desperately needs a string of eye-catching scores this week in back-to-back games against the Blues to book a seat on the plane. Otherwise, his Test career is most likely over.
He was furious with himself when he fell to MacGill at such a crucial moment. "If I'd hit that half-tracker for six, we win the game so it's pretty disappointing," said Lehmann, whose team had earlier needed only 27 runs from five overs to win. "It just spun and bounced a bit."
SA and the Blues start a Pura Cup game at the SCG on Tuesday, when national selectors will be keeping a close eye on Lehmann, who hasn't played a Test since early October because of a left Achilles tendon injury. He's undoubtedly in the twilight of his career but with Australia playing crucial Test series in spin-friendly Sri Lanka and India this year, Lehmann remains an invaluable commodity because, alongside Simon Katich, he's still the best player of the turning ball in the country.
Earlier today, the unheralded Matthew Phelps ended his run-scoring drought for the Blues, broke Greg Blewett's finger and left Lehmann with a bruised foot to set up a bittersweet triumph. It was bitter because the Blues entered the game already out of the running for this year's Cup final, which they won last year, but sweet because any win is a good win - especially with Steve and Mark Waugh counting down the days to their retirements.
Queensland's thumping of Western Australia last Friday night ended any chance the Blues had of making the final. A perennial fringe player, Phelps blasted 136 from 140 balls to be the only NSW batsman to register a half-century. Phil Jaques (43), Steve Waugh (14) and Mark Waugh (20) all made premature exits before youngster Aaron O'Brien smacked a late 49 not out from 55 balls.