After a season of squandered success in both the Twenty20 and one-day competitions, Victoria is desperate to all but guarantee a Sheffield Shield final berth with victory against arch rival NSW.
The Bushrangers lead the shield ladder with two rounds remaining, although their recent record could make such a position a liability, given they lost the one-day Cup final they hosted, and their Big Bash League affiliates – the first-placed Victorian Renegades and third-placed Victorian Stars – were both eliminated in the semi-finals.
Victoria has the smoothest run to the shield final.
It boasts a four-point buffer and its last two opponents – NSW and Tasmania – occupy the bottom two rungs.
An outright win against the Blues in the match starting at the MCG on Thursday would mean the only way it could miss the final would be if South Australia and Queensland, ranked second and third respectively, each win their last two matches outright and the Bushrangers do not get any points against Tasmania.
Furthermore, the Bushrangers go into the match against NSW with the most formidable head-to-head home record in the shield over the past 20 years. NSW has only won once at the MCG in that period, in 1995-96.
But Victorian coach Greg Shipperd said he was wary of the “strong rivalry” between the teams. “The game is very important for us to take points out of it to secure a final position, which may give us some breathing space going into the back-end of the season,” he said.
“We certainly want to build on our outright win of last game [against Queensland]. We thought that was a really positive response after the two games against South Australia.”
The Bushrangers go into the match with a squad of 13, recalling all-rounder John Hastings after Australia A duty and preferring fit-again paceman Jayde Herrick to Scott Boland.
The Blues have been bolstered by the return of Ben Rohrer and Josh Hazlewood, also from Australia A duty, as replacements for Tim Cruickshank and Chris Tremain.
They will also feature a new captain, with the respected Rohrer leading in place of Steve O’Keefe, who cited a desire to focus on an international recall as the trigger for his resignation.
VICTORIA (from): White (c), Ahmed, Handscomb, Hastings, Herrick, Hill, D Hussey, Mckay, Quiney, Rogers, Rose, Sheridan, Stoinis.
NSW (from): Rohrer (c), Bollinger, Copeland, Dawson, Haddin, Hazlewood, Henry, Maddinson, Nevill, O’Keefe, Sandhu, Zampa.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.