New South Wales has confirmed its standing as Australia's dominant women's cricket state with a thrilling four wicket win over Victoria in match two of the National Women's Cricket League finals series here in Sydney today.
The victory, which arrived with a nail-gnawing two deliveries to spare at the Bankstown Oval, handed New South Wales an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the best-of-three finals series. It also guaranteed the state its sixth successive national women's crown.
Central to the Blues' victory was the batting of Lisa Sthalekar (68), whose solidity at the top of the order enabled her team to produce a controlled start in reply to Victoria's 9/186.
The chase began well as Sthalekar joined with Lisa Keightley (35), Michelle Goszko (15) and Martha Winch (7) to pilot the Blues to a mark of 2/112 at one point. But the early trickle of wickets showed signs of developing into a flood as Sthalekar was run out by a direct hit in attempting a single to mid off and as Julie Hayes (0) drove a low catch to mid wicket with victory still more than 40 runs away.
New South Wales' task became complex as the Spirit forced them to notch 39 runs from the last 36 deliveries to win; 34 from the last 30; and even 31 from the closing 24.
Victorian captain Belinda Clark's leadership was typically astute all the while, with her rotation of the bowlers matched for quality by her expertise in setting fields.
Three fielders were even set back on the straight boundaries to the hard hitting of Shannon Cunneen (28) in the dying stages as Clark continued to explore methods of building and maintaining pressure on her former team.
But Cunneen and Alex Blackwell (12*) - and the concession of wides at untimely moments - joined to help their team surge back toward the winning post. Played out to an alternating chorus of gasps and roars from a captivated crowd of a few hundred spectators, the game was duly blessed by a breathless finish.
"We had to fight for it really hard today; it genuinely came down to the wire," said delighted New South Wales captain Hayes after the game.
"The close ones are always nice to win; it definitely gets the excitement levels rising. Everyone's just rapt in the win; this is the sixth one that I've won in a row but it feels just like the first.
"It's been a great team effort all year; we had a new coach, a new captain and some new players. But we've gone through undefeated which has been a wonderful achievement."
As events transpired, Victoria's fate wasn't genuinely sealed until desperate pleas for the run out of Therese McGregor (1*) two balls from the end were met only by the confusing reply of a signal of a wide at the bowler's end and a no ball at square leg.
McGregor nervelessly stabbed the next Cathryn Fitzpatrick (0/38) delivery - aimed at middle and leg - expertly toward mid wicket, set off with the stroke, and prompted the crowd to respond with a crescendo of acclamation.
But it was desperately close. And a gallant Victoria could consider itself unlucky that it was unable to interrupt a streak of wins for the Blues that now stands at 16.
Melanie Jones (77) had earlier been the shining light for the Victorians after they had been asked to bat first for the second successive day, playing with fluency and building important partnerships with Fitzpatrick (29) and Stephanie Theodore (19*) to see her side most of the way to its final tally.
Jones had walked to the crease in the midst of a collapse of 4/17 that caused the visitors to wobble to an overall scoreline of 4/56 after a measured start. But, around fine bowling from McGregor (3/40) and Sthalekar (2/22) she held her nerve brilliantly to rectify the position.
Later, she also played a starring role in the field with several fine saves and a direct hit run out from side-on to remove Cunneen in the midst of the fateful final over of the match.