WESTERN Australia will play its first Sheffield Shield final in 15 years despite losing a thriller on the last day to New South Wales.
The Blues will host the final in Canberra after beating WA by three wickets. Queensland’s failure to beat Victoria – thanks mainly to Rob Quiney’s unbeaten 143 — meant they missed out altogether, despite starting the day’s play with a chance of hosting the final.
New South Wales started the day in a strong position, needing 110 runs with eight wickets in hand to score an outright victory. Steve Smith was guiding the team home when he was out for 89 but Stephen O’Keefe finished the job with 31 not out.
The match looked all but over until Two-Test tweaker Ashton Agar jagged the key wicket of NSW skipper Smith on the stroke of lunch to keep WA in the hunt.
The key dismissal reduced NSW to 7-188, leaving their tailenders with the nerve-wracking task of scraping together 24 runs on a tricky fourth day pitch.
Smith was on track to see his side all the way to victory in the Manuka Oval nailbiter before holing out to Jason Behrendorff at long-on from the bowling of Agar (2-64) on the third last ball before lunch.
The Test hero had been viciously attacking Agar, and had hit a big six down the ground off his bowling the previous over.
Earlier in the day, the Warriors got off to the best possible start, dismissing both Ben Rohrer (15) and Kurtis Patterson (1) cheaply.
Warriors part-time spinner Marcus North (3-61) was getting great purchase on the fourth day deck, dismissing all-rounder Sean Abbott (4) not long after wicketkeeper Peter Nevill (3) was sent packing.
And while Smith found a reliable partner in O’Keefe, the temptation to finish the game quickly off Agar, who took a five-wicket haul in the first innings, almost came back to bite the Blues.
But O’Keefe and Australian Test spinner Nathan Lyon (8) held their nerve, chasing down the remainder of the 212-run total just seven overs after lunch.
In Melbourne, Victoria ended at 2-314 to snuff out Queensland’s hopes after the visitors led by 273 on the first innings.
Check out how the day unfolded in our live blog.