Victoria have sealed their place in Sheffield Shield history by becoming just the fifth team in 124 years to claim three consecutive titles on the final day of the competition decider in Alice Springs.
Needing only a draw to claim their 31st Shield crown, Bushrangers’ captain Cameron White and his South Australia counterpart Travis Head, who was unbeaten on 137, agreed to call the game off in the final session with the Redbacks 6-236 in their second innings, still trailing Victoria by 287.
Victoria dominated the match in their adopted outback home at Traeger Park, gradually wearing down a brave Redbacks outfit in searing temperatures over the course of the five-day showpiece fixture, with captain Head's fighting century the only thing standing between the Vics and victory.
The Bushrangers’ domestic dominance is made all the more impressive considering each of their last three titles have been won with different coaches at the helm. Greg Shipperd led them to glory in 2015, before David Saker replaced him for their successful 2016 season, while Andrew McDonald took over the reins at the start of this summer.
They’ve also managed their three final wins at three different venues outside their own borders; Victoria’s 2015 win came in Hobart and last year’s victory was in Glenelg after the Redbacks had earned hosting rights.
Stand-in skipper White, who declared this is likely to be his final game in charge of Victoria after the match, was ecstatic with the win and admitted being the higher-ranked team had helped their cause in the final.
"Of course it is," he said when asked if the Victorian 'three-peat' gave the victory extra significance. "We knew we were (going to get) pretty close there after Christmas. We (were) on top of the table and we knew if we were able to play well enough, we’d give ourselves a chance to host the final (and) be a really good chance to get three in a row.
"Having played in away and home (finals), I know the importance of being the home team.
"I knew that was going to be a very important factor in winning three in a row. We played well enough to come out with the Shield.
"It’s a very good feeling, three in a row."
While Head posted a terrific fourth-innings century on a wearing track, the result spells heartbreak for South Australia for a second straight year, having again been denied their first title since 1996 to the same opponents in last year’s Shield final.
The 23-year-old nonetheless said he was proud of how his charges had not given in but conceded Victoria were deserved winners.
"We battled hard for the five days but Victoria batted extremely well in the first innings," Head said.
"Coming in (to bat) on day three … was always a tough ask. (I'm) proud of the guys for holding on for the draw and not giving them the satisfaction of the win.
"We’ve been pretty good this year but Victoria, with seven wins coming into it, they’ve been the standout all season.
"They play these conditions pretty well have played pretty well so it always going to be a tough ask.
"It was a long week."
Having been forced to field for at least part of every day of the match, the Redbacks' valiant pace-attack was largely neutralised by an unresponsive surface.
Even so, the Redbacks will no doubt be ruing a seven-over period on day one that saw three catches go down as Victoria openers Travis Dean and Marcus Harris piled on Shield final-record 224-run opening stand.
Accordingly, not even the most optimistic Redbacks fan would have given their side a chance of victory coming into the fifth day of the final, with the Bushrangers resuming at 6-254 in their second-innings holding a 454-run advantage.
Seb Gotch and Dan Christian had rarely deviated from defence as they batted for the entirety of the final session on day four, but Christian brought his 192-ball vigil to an end when he lashed out to Joe Mennie and was caught on the square-leg boundary for 58.
Gotch, a dashing right-hander and part-time wicketkeeper who only made his first-class debut last month, was trapped lbw for 48 soon after to Head (2-31). The 23-year-old faced 346 balls for the match, comfortably more than other player in this game.
Jon Holland, Victoria’s bowling hero from day three and a fitting player of the match, got big cheers when he struck a six off Head, before falling for 17 off nine balls when he tried to repeat the shot in the off-spinner’s next over.
Quick Single: Finch shelves his attacking instincts
Fawad Ahmed (eight) gave Head a second scalp when he missed a wild slog, as Victoria were bowled out for 323, leaving the Redbacks 524 to win off 69 overs, a required run-rate in excess of 7.5.
South Australia’s misery was compounded James Pattinson removed both Jake Weatherald (for two, his first score in a Shield final not above 50) and Callum Ferguson (also for two) inside his first two overs.
With the result now far beyond doubt, both sides continued to fight out a contest that’s been one-sided but never uncompetitive.
Having been unimpressed with his first-innings dismissal, adjudged lbw to Holland for a duck, Head racked up a fine century against a bowling attack undoubtedly pressing as hard as they have at any stage of this match.
He lost opener John Dalton for 32, he too coming off a first-innings globe, when leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed picked up his first wicket of the match with a peach to bowl the right-hander from around the wicket.
Head’s brisk scoring rate had more to do with the attacking fields set by his opponents with no concern for runs conceded, but the left-hander nonetheless salvaged some pride with an impressive knock.
Fawad, one of three players along with Christian and Rob Quiney to have played in all three finals in Victoria’s three-peat, got a second scalp just before the break when Jake Lehmann (one) advanced and Gotch completed a tidy bit of glovework to complete the stumping.
The Pakistan-born wrist-spinner went wicketless in South Australia’s first-innings but posed a greater threat on the final-day pitch, finding huge amounts of turn out of the footmarks.
He removed Cooper for 10 after tea after a testing spell of bowling in partnership with Pattinson, who got the Dukes ball to start noticeably reverse-swinging for the first time in the match.
Head resisted, the reigning Sheffield Shield player of the year bringing up his second century of the season off just 125 balls.
And on agreeing to call the game off in the final session, his opponents eyed the silverware with ‘Victoria’ to be etched onto that mighty plaque once again.
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