Race for Sheffield Shield final set for grandstand finish after Victoria collapse

Australia

Western Australia 244 and 119 for 6 (Inglis 45, Bancroft 42*, O’Neill 3-30) lead Victoria 144 (Short 53, Gannon 5-42) by 219 runs

Victoria’s attack hit back against Western Australia late on a dramatic day two as the fight for a spot in the Sheffield Shield final intensified.

In what has been a see-saw contest with so much at stake, 15 wickets fell in the day’s play in tough batting conditions at Junction Oval.

After dismissing Victoria for 144 to gain a 100-run lead, WA’s top-order fell apart to slump to 31 for 4 before Cameron Bancroft and Josh Inglis provided a steadying 75-run partnership.

Inglis fell for 45 near the close, but Bancroft held firm with a gutsy unbeaten 42 off 151 balls to stretch WA’s lead to 219 runs.

With top-placed Tasmania in a major battle against South Australia in the concurrent fixture, WA could leapfrog them with victory and clinch a home final starting on March 21.

Tasmania have already secured a place in the five-day decider and they will play either Victoria or WA, who only need a draw to get through.

Victoria fought back well after their batting order wilted to be bowled out in 43 overs as their bid for a third straight final’s appearance nosedived.

Having overlooked spinning allrounder Ashton Agar, who has been unable to squeeze into the Shield line-up this season, WA were vindicated with their quartet of seamers menacing on a green-tinged surface marked by widening divots.

After searing heat on day one, conditions cooled considerably as per Melbourne’s notoriously fickle weather. Cameron Gannon and Joel Paris relished the overcast skies as Victoria lost three wickets in the opening 30 minutes to slump to 21 for 4 in reply to WA’s first innings of 244.

WA were ignited by a spectacular one-handed catch from wicketkeeper Inglis, who dove low to his left to remove Marcus Harris for 17. Paris then took over with the wickets of Campbell Kellaway and Peter Handscomb in successive overs.

An onlooker to the flurry of wickets, Mitchell Perry dug in to continue his knack of producing indefatigable knocks as a nightwatcher against WA. He combined in a steadying 90-run partnership with Matthew Short, who scored runs quickly in a counterattack.

Short raced to his half-century, but gifted his wicket after holing out to left-arm quick Liam Haskett on what was the last ball before lunch. It triggered a collapse after the interval with Victoria losing 5 for 33 as a number of their batters provided catching practice to WA’s outfielders.

Skipper Will Sutherland tried to play aggressively, but fell into an awkward position to miss-hit a short-pitched Haskett delivery to fine-leg. Perry’s 95-ball rearguard ended tamely when he hit Haskett straight to square leg as Victoria’s lower-order offered little resistance.

Without injured frontline quicks Jhye Richardson, Lance Morris and Matt Kelly, WA’s deep pace stocks have been underlined by the strong performances of Gannon and Haskett, who combined for eight wickets.

Victoria desperately needed early wickets and Fergus O’Neill stood up with a terrific new-ball spell to dismiss opener Sam Whiteman before claiming the wickets of Jayden Goodwin and Hilton Cartwright on successive deliveries.

WA’s collapse continued when Perry had Aaron Hardie caught at second slip with a cracking delivery that bounced sharply and shaped away. But Inglis came out firing after tea with his best shot being a belligerent pull shot to whack a short delivery from Scott Boland for six.

WA appeared to have regained a stranglehold until offspinner Todd Murphy provided a late twist by having Inglis edging to Short at slip. He then had Charlie Stobo stumped in his next over as this crucial contest is fittingly headed for a grandstand finish.

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