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Defeat 'still bloody hurts' in Victoria's unexpected final but future bright

Young batters Ashley Chandrasinghe and Campbell Kellaway face a winter of developing their skills

Will Sutherland capped an outstanding season with a standout performance in the final  •  Getty Images

Will Sutherland capped an outstanding season with a standout performance in the final  •  Getty Images

On the resumption of the Sheffield Shield season last month, an inexperienced Victoria didn't set outlandish goals or plot a barnstorming title run.
Boasting just one win from their first six matches, Victoria were content with backing youth in a bid to mould together a talented core who could help build a foundation for sustained success.
"When we came back after the BBL we spoke about how we're on a journey. We didn't talk about playing in the Shield final," Victoria coach Chris Rogers said.
Surprising their own modest expectations, with skipper Peter Handscomb and frontline spinner Todd Murphy on Australia's Test tour of India, Victoria led by 23-year-old stand-in captain Will Sutherland got on a roll.
They won four straight matches to leapfrog into second-place and book a spot in the final against defending champions Western Australia.
In a rematch of last year's decider at the WACA, Victoria had their moments in a see-saw but couldn't quite get the job done in an eventual nine-wicket defeat.
Rather than be battle-scarred, they are hoping to take heed of the adversity experienced amid the cauldron as Victoria aims to chip away at WA's stranglehold of the domestic competition.
"The challenge is to reach the top of the mountain and get past WA. That's the challenge for everyone," Rogers said. "With a bit more experience...[we] might have been able to hang in a bit longer. It's a young group and I think they'll learn a lot out of it."
As Victoria stared down the barrel heading into day four, Rogers had a frank conversation with 20-year-old batter Campbell Kellaway who had helped spark Victoria's season turnaround with a half-century against New South Wales in a comeback 69-run victory.
His breakout season has him on the radar of the national selectors with Kellaway selected in the Australia A tour of New Zealand next month. But promoted to No.3 in the final, Kellaway was particularly scratchy on a green-tinged surface against WA's strong attack as he mustered 6 off 23 balls in the first innings before looking somewhat overwhelmed late on day three in a painstaking 7 off 63 balls.
"I spent a good 45 minutes with him, talking about these experiences," Rogers said. "He's figuring out answers to questions. He tried too hard this game. He was fighting so hard that he wasn't giving himself a chance to score. He's going to be a really important player for us for a number of years."
In similar fashion to Kellaway, 21-year-old opener Ashley Chandrasinghe carried his bat in the first innings in a remarkable 280-ball stonewall worth 46 runs.
It was a rearguard that polarised the public but made more meritorious with Chandrasinghe, in his Shield debut season, only making the line-up after veteran opener Travis Dean suffered an injury on the day before the match.
Chandrasinghe received little support from his more senior players and also copped mocking applause from the typically rowdy WACA faithful. But he remained unruffled to produce an indefatigable batting effort that he can build on in the off-season.
"There's room for improvement in his game," Rogers said. "He doesn't want to play that style of cricket, he wants to be scoring runs.
"It's a measure of the man that he can bat a whole day. It's an extraordinary effort and he's got attributes to build on. That determination and to never quit is something in-built. I'm so proud of him."
A gallant Victoria remained in the contest largely due to a lionhearted allround performance from Sutherland, who further enhanced his growing reputation with a five-wicket haul and an aggressive 83 in the second innings. But it ultimately wasn't enough although there is the sense that something is percolating within this emerging team.
"It still bloody hurts we lost another final. I don't want that to be a habit but we're heading in the right direction," Rogers said. "To win five games on the bounce is quite exceptional. They've played with discipline beyond their years and they had a lot of fun doing it. We are going to get better."

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth