JLT Sheffield Shield 2017-18
Victoria face Tasmania in Shield 'semi-final'
Three-time defending champions to meet resurgent Sheffield Shield stragglers in virtual semi-final in Hobart
13 March 2018, 07:37 PM AEST
They've had contrasting Sheffield Shield fortunes in recent years but both Victorian and Tasmanian camps say this season's title would hold some significant extra meaning.
The rivals meet at Blundstone Arena from Wednesday in a virtual a semi-final to determine who plays Queensland in what promises to be an epic clash.
That Victoria are in a position to contend for a fourth straight Shield crown at all is remarkable given they were winless and last on the ladder at the Christmas break.
But the Bushrangers have won three matches since the KFC Big Bash League interval and drawn the other, with stand-in captain Aaron Finch suggesting the opportunity to create history has been a major factor in their resurgence.
"It has been spoken about a little bit," Finch said of the potential 'four-peat' on radio station RSN.
"It's just written on the (white) board that we've got a chance to do something special – that no other Victorian team has ever done.
"(We) enjoy that challenge and enjoy the pressure of everyone chasing you and wanting to beat you. We do tend to play our best cricket in the big games.
"Winning three in a row is extraordinary in itself but to be still be in the hunt with one round to go to win four just shows the maturity and the skill of our group."
The Tigers on the other hand have endured a miserable run in recent years, having failed to finish higher than fifth in the past four seasons. Their last Shield title came in 2012-13, which coincided with Ricky Ponting’s final summer playing for his native state.
Former Test batsmen Mike Hussey led a wholesale review of Tasmanian cricket over the winter and their Shield side has seen a major improvement in results under new coach Adam Griffith.
"It would be a massive deal for the state," allrounder Beau Webster told cricket.com.au of a potential Tasmania Shield triumph.
"Us and (BBL club Hobart) Hurricanes are the only professional sports team in the state so all the locals are quite supportive.
"It's good to repay a bit of faith after five or so years in the wilderness where we haven't even come close to making the final.
"It's almost like a semi-final this week against Victoria, whoever wins this is a shoo-in to make the final. It's going to be a good game, that's for sure."
The Bushrangers beat NSW in a thriller at the redeveloped Junction Oval last round, while Tasmania also prevailed in a nail-biter, beating South Australia in Hobart.
Former Australia quick Peter Siddle said the Victorians were keen to keep their winning run in the second-half of the season going and create a winning legacy for the Bushrangers.
"We want to go down there with the mindset of winning the game, and lead into the final with some good momentum," Siddle said Monday.
"Our form after Christmas has been outstanding.
"Even though I've been with Victoria for 13, 14 years, I haven't actually been part of a lot of Shield finals. Personally it'd be good to get in one.
"But from a Victorian point of view, to be able to try and push for that four in a row, it's massive for the group of guys here now, but also for the group over the last couple of years … a little bit of a legacy."
Victoria have made one change to their squad with Eamonn Vines coming in for Will Pucovski, while Tasmania have included batsman Ben McDermott and fast bowler Hamish Kingston in their 14-player squad.
Pucovski was substituted out last round following his latest concussion blow and remains under medical supervision with no return date for play scheduled. It appears unlikely he would be considered to feature in the Shield final, should Victoria make it.
The match will take on special poignancy for Tasmania, who will be sporting black armbands in honour of former state cricketer Tony Benneworth, who drowned in a boating accident over the weekend.
Benneworth played in Tasmania's inaugural Sheffield Shield win in 1977-78 and was part of the side that won Tasmania's first domestic one-day competition, with 3-14 in the final.
Tasmania Tigers: George Bailey (c), Jackson Bird, Alex Doolan, Jake Doran, Andrew Fekete, Hamish Kingston, Ben McDermott, Riley Meredith, Simon Milenko, Sam Rainbird, Tom Rogers, Jordan Silk, Matthew Wade (wk), Beau Webster
Victoria Bushrangers: Aaron Finch (c), Fawad Ahmed, Scott Boland, Dan Christian, Jackson Coleman, Travis Dean, Seb Gotch, Marcus Harris, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Siddle, Chris Tremain, Eamonn Vines, Cameron White.
The match will be live streamed on cricket.com.au and the CA Live app.