The one thousand or so spectators scattered around Adelaide Oval last night were treated to a dramatic final session that’s left the Sheffield Shield finals race wide open.
Needing six wickets to win, the Redbacks grabbed five and went oh so close to getting the vital sixth to give it an outright win.
Catches went within inches of outstretched hands, the pink ball inside-edged its way between bat and stump and fervent appeals were turned down.
NSW’s last three batsmen – Steve O’Keefe, Josh Hazlewood and Doug Bollinger – surrounded by a catching cordon of 10 – survived the last 17 overs to force a draw.
The Blues had been on the ropes at 8-173 with 17 overs remaining.
But for 50 tense minutes, O’Keefe and Hazlewood grimly defied SA, who perched most fielders within touching distance of the batsmen.
O’Keefe made 34 to cap a brilliant individual match – he took five wickets in the first innings and 6-70 in the second dig – but he was dismissed with five overs remaining.
In the next over, SA were convinced they had claimed the last wicket when Hazlewood appeared to nick to the wicketkeeper, only for it to be given not out.
And with just four balls remaining, SA again celebrated, believing Bollinger was caught at bat-pad, but their appeals were again rejected.
When stumps were drawn at 10 minutes past nine, the die hard cricket fans were left wondering whether the drop-in pitches at Adelaide Oval would ever deliver a four-day result – it was the fifth draw this season.
The Blues finished 9-207, with SA captain Johan Botha taking 4-51.
The draw means SA, NSW and WA are locked on 26 points on the Shield table, with Queensland on 22 points.
With one round remaining, all four states can reach the final. And all but Queensland can still earn hosting rights.
From next Tuesday, NSW meet WA in Canberra, the Redbacks travel to play Tasmania and Victoria host Queensland.
SA will have to revive themselves after this week’s lost opportunity – they fell four runs short of a first innings lead and one wicket shy of an outright.
Here’s what stands between a 20th season of disappointment and hosting a final:
- Western Australia (26 points, four outright wins). Will host the final if they beat NSW.
- South Australia (26 points, three outright wins). Will reach the final if they beat Tasmania. Can host.
- NSW (26 points, three outright wins): Will reach the final if they beat WA. Can host, depending on SA result.
- Queensland (22 points, three outright wins): Need to beat Victoria. Can host, if no outright wins in other games.
- Tasmania (16 points): No chance. Victoria (8 points): Wooden-spooners.
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