Victoria have batted themselves into a formidable position on the opening day of the Sheffield Shield final thanks to a record opening partnership and an opportune century from Marcus Harris in Alice Springs.
Harris notched his sixth first-class hundred and his second in his first season for the Bushrangers, eventually falling for 120, while South Australia were made to toil in the field in searing temperatures, putting down four catches.
Veteran duo Rob Quiney (44) and skipper Cameron White (seven) were the unbeaten batsmen at the close of play, with Victoria finishing at 3-322.
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After White won the toss and opted to bat on a dry Traeger Park pitch, Harris and his opening partner Travis Dean (94) made South Australia pay to the tune of a 224-run first-wicket stand.
It was the biggest opening partnership ever in a Sheffield Shield final (beating Martin Love and Ryan Broad’s 199-run effort for Queensland in 2009) and the fifth-highest for any wicket in the history of the five-day competition decider.
After comfortably negotiating the new Dukes ball, the pair benefited from three missed chances, all behind the wicket, in a frenetic seven-over period after lunch that could be the defining moment of the five-day fixture.
Joe Mennie created the first opportunity of the day when Harris, on 54, edged to Daniel Worrall at first slip but the resting paceman failed to hang on to the straight-forward chance.
Callum Ferguson put down a tougher opportunity at gully off Chadd Sayers the following over, before SA’s pain was compounded when Jake Lehmann gave Harris, this time on 59, another life when he offered just one hand in the gully to a miscued drive.
Sayers would likely have had a scampering Dean run-out at mid-on with a direct hit soon after, while Travis Head also missed the stumps when Harris took a suicidal single.
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The left-hander was again lucky to survive when a top-edged pull landed just shy of John Dalton running back from mid-wicket.
Putting his good fortune aside, Harris looked fluent at the crease. He worked Sayers either side of the teams’ viewing areas for the first two boundaries of the day and attacked Adam Zampa with a couple of lofted straight sixes.
It showed an attacking Victoria outfit aren’t likely to be content with dead-batting out a draw that would still see them hoist the silverware and claim their third-straight title.
The 24-year-old brought up triple figures before tea off 167 balls, celebrating with a dancing jig to the laughter of his Bushrangers teammates and the scattering of spectators braving the 40 degree heat.
Harris, who scored a ton for his native Western Australia against some of his current teammates in the 2015 Shield final, was the more adventurous of the Bushrangers’ stocky opening duo early on, but Dean looked increasingly at ease after being put down on 32.
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Quite content with waiting for the bowlers to err in line to pick off his favoured cut-shot, Dean accelerated in the second session with Zampa (1-127) and part-time off-spinner Head (1-28) not gaining a great deal of assistance from the surface.
Giving his leg-breaks noticeably more air than he does for Australia in the limited-overs formats, Zampa was finally rewarded for his toil when Dean, with a century of his own in sight, was bowled with the right-hander deceived by flight more so than turn.
It was a small reward for leggie, who struggled to contain Victoria’s batsmen in his 28 overs.
When Harris departed the next over when Mennie hung on to a sharp chance in the gully off pace-partner Sayers, the Redbacks had taken 2-0 and looked to have a shot at running through their ‘hosts’ late in the day.
However, Quiney and Finch were on hand to right the proverbial ship, not that the desert-surrounded Alice Springs would likely have seen such a vessel before.
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Finch (38 off 52 balls) in particular was in no mood to rein in his aggressive instincts, crashing Zampa for a couple of straight sixes before the tireless Sayers (2-50 off 19 overs) ended his brisk knock with the first delivery of the second new ball.
Ferguson put down another catch in the final session, fumbling a simple chance off Quiney, whose concentration lapsed when he bunted a Head full toss to mid-wicket to continue a miserable day in the field for the Redbacks.
And while the Bushrangers were faced with some testing spells from Sayers and swing-bowler Worrall as the temperatures eased under much-appreciated cloud cover as stumps neared, South Australia face an uphill battle to claim the sturdy Shield plaque for the first time in more than two decades.
Victoria XI: White (c), Dean, Harris, Quiney, Finch, Christian, Gotch, Pattinson, Tremain, Holland, Ahmed #ShieldFinal— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) March 25, 2017
South Australia: Head (c), Dalton, Weatherald, Ferguson, Lehmann, Cooper, Carey, Mennie, Sayers, Zampa, Worrall #ShieldFinal— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) March 25, 2017