Pura Cup Final: Queensland v Tasmania at Brisbane, 22-26 Mar 2002|
Queensland 1st innings:
SYMONDS, LAW MEDDLE WITH TASMANIANS' SPIRITS|
An old ghost returned to haunt Tasmania, and two of Queensland's most seasoned campaigners reversed the trend of previously mediocre seasons, as déjà vu and a break with custom were delicately intertwined on the opening day of the 2001-02 Pura Cup Final here in Brisbane.
By their own high standards, Andrew Symonds (91*) and Stuart Law (62*) have weathered frustrating summers. Symonds was axed from the national one-day team last month, Law has experienced the frustration of a recurring break in a finger on his right hand, and neither had scored in excess of 200 Pura Cup runs for the season before today.
Between them, they had scrounged a total of only two half centuries from 18 first-class matches.
Quite a time, then, for them to produce an outstanding, unbroken 155-run stand for the fifth wicket that extricated the Bulls from trouble at 4/98, carried them to relative safety at 4/253 by stumps, and defined the hard-fought, opening passages of the most important domestic match of them all.
Symonds was more restrained than normal, largely abandoning his characteristically aggressive mindset to play an innings that matched hard work with discipline. His defence was solid, his cutting (even though the ball often seemed too close to the body for the shot to be played with comfort) was particularly accomplished, and his driving down the ground was just as significant a feature.
Law's batting was also impressive in a display which offered no sign of lasting duress from his injured digit, and which underscored his regular capacity to frustrate rival teams in finals matches. His pre-match verbal assault on the Tasmanians (which had included everything from a suggestion that a total of 300 might be enough for Queensland to win by an innings to an inference that summer temperatures in Tasmania rarely exceed 15 degrees) spilled over into an innings that was full of snarling defiance.
Yet the day also hinged on umpire Steve Davis' controversial rejection in mid-afternoon of an imploring lbw appeal from Shane Jurgensen (3/64) and 10 other equally convinced Tasmanians as Symonds faced the very first delivery of his innings.
Jurgensen, in the midst of a superb post-lunch spell that had already netted two wickets and given the visitors a clear early edge, trapped Symonds on the back foot with a ball that appeared to pitch on or just outside the line of off stump and straighten.
But deafening cries met with a mute response from the man in white.
And it was impossible not to overlook the eerie similarity with an incident in a match between the same teams in Brisbane two years ago.
Then as now, a first-ball reprieve for Symonds set the scene for a crucial partnership that restored health to Queensland 's cause after potential crisis had threatened. And, then as now, Queensland wriggled expertly off the hook and into a position of command by day's end.
"The guy's 90 not out, that's how critical it was. But that's part of the game, isn't it?" mused Tasmanian captain Jamie Cox.
"It could have been a different day, and it could be a different day tomorrow. Maybe we had our luck early today.
"It's something we have to be good enough to overcome."
Tasmania's frustration, in the closing half of a day that had featured a spate of lbw and caught behind appeals (many optimistic, but a handful eminently reasonable), was also fuelled by the absence from the field of injured left arm spinner Daniel Marsh.
Marsh damaged his right knee in a freak accident that added insults from the 'Gabba outer to a serious injury and a dropped catch at first slip. Opener Daniel Payne (17) cut off a top edge at Jurgensen and the ball travelled at waist-height to the normally sure-handed Marsh. Two bites at the catch on shifting turf were required and his right leg buckled awkwardly underneath him in the process.
Later examinations revealed a strained medial ligament, guaranteeing that the Tasmanian vice-captain is unlikely to field again in the match and that he will probably need to bat with the aid of a runner.
When Gerard Denton (1/55) forced Payne into shovelling a catch to square leg with only five further runs against the batsman's name, and Jurgensen lured Brendan Nash (12) into thick edging to wicketkeeper Sean Clingeleffer, compelled Lee Carseldine (29) into directing an outswinger to third slip, and trapped Martin Love (34) on his crease, it appeared that the Tasmanians may have been able to overcome the blow.
But, by the end of the day, the sudden lack of variation in their attack had clearly conspired against them.
Two fine batsmen, a rarely misbehaving pitch, and the ghosts of seasons past also had major roles to play.
In-form paceman Shane Jurgensen (3/44) appeared to have tipped the scales slightly in Tasmania's favour with two crucial strikes in the hour after lunch, but disciplined batting in a half-century union between the fifth wicket pair has guided the Bulls to a mark of 4/153 by tea.
Also important was the rejection of two beseeching lbw appeals against Symonds (33*) before his score had passed 3.
The Tasmanians seethed two seasons ago when the aggressive right hander escaped similarly beseeching lbw verdicts before producing a match winning century in a game between the sides in Brisbane. And now they had cause to rue their fortune again as Jurgensen was unable to convince umpire Steve Davis of the merits of a desperately close decision from the very first ball of Symonds' innings and then again a few minutes later with the batsman's score advanced by only three runs.
This was after Jurgensen had already upset Queensland's early progress by removing Martin Love (34) and Lee Carseldine (29) in an excellent spell after lunch.
Carseldine succumbed to a catch at third slip as he drove off a thick outside edge, while Love was not as fortunate as teammate Symonds when it came to surviving a lbw decision at the Vulture Street End.
Bounce, pace and notable evidence of movement off the seam have made batting difficult throughout the day. And a very slow outfield has also mitigated against quick scoring.
But the Bulls' slow progress to their mark at the interval has had most of its origins in disciplined line and length bowling from the visitors.
Jurgensen, backing up an 11-wicket haul in his most recent Pura Cup appearance, was the main architect of Tasmania's solid early position with trademark control governing both his line and his length.
It was to the immense credit of both Symonds and Law (21*) that the Tasmanians' momentum was not sustained in the wicketless hour that preceded tea.
By lunch - after being invited to bat first by the Tigers and being forced to endure an attritional early battle - Queensland had reached a score of 2/61.
In overcast and humid conditions which assisted seam and swing movement, the Tasmanians' victory at the toss was potentially a significant one. But too many loose deliveries flowed in the opening half hour as the Tigers portrayed the odd hint of nerves amid the pressure-cooker atmosphere of their first first-class finals match in four seasons.
Jurgensen (1/27) and David Saker (0/10) took the new ball and, though they beat the bat at times in their early overs, they struggled to pose too many problems for opening batsmen Daniel Payne (17) and Brendan Nash (12).
While the Bulls' rate of scoring progress was almost as slow as the pace of balls travelling across a lush outfield at the 'Gabba, anxiety only confronted the pair fleetingly as they built a measured stand that realised 29 runs.
Tasmania's best early shot at a wicket arrived as Scott Kremerskothen nearly inspired the run out of Payne with an outstanding piece of fielding from square leg, and it duly took the visitors just under an hour to sever the association. Jurgensen was the successful bowler, conquering Nash with a ball of impeccable length that seamed away marginally, compelled him to play, and drew a thick outside edge on its way through to wicketkeeper Sean Clingeleffer.
The tall right arm paceman should have had another wicket to add to his swelling collection minutes later when Payne - on 13 - cut errantly at a shorter and wider offering.
But first slip fieldsman Daniel Marsh - fresh from six catches in his team's resounding victory over New South Wales last week - missed a golden opportunity to remove the young right hander, grassing a waist high attempt after the ball had flown quickly to him off the top edge of the bat.
Marsh's woes were compounded when his right knee buckled underneath the weight of his second grab at the catch. He flexed his leg in obvious agony for the remainder of Jurgensen's over before leaving the field in forlorn style upon its completion.
Denton (1/8) ensured that the miss did not become an expensive one, though, in luring Payne into shovelling a regulation catch to Marsh's replacement fieldsman - twelfth man Shannon Tubb - at square leg as he played across the line of a ball of good length.
Though Martin Love (17*) decorated the period with several typically elegant attacking strokes, Denton then joined with fellow right arm paceman Damien Wright (0/11) to keep the shackles on the Queensland scoring rate in the half hour that led up to lunch. Only one run was scored from 39 balls at one stage as both teams indicated a willingness to turn their battle into an arm wrestle.
Captain Jamie Cox won a toss for only the third time this season in the process and it might well be his most important victory of all in that it will offer the visitors' bowlers the first opportunity to exploit any life that might exist in the 'Gabba pitch.
The Tasmanians' morale was given a further boost this morning when new ball bowler Damien Wright - at the end of a week in which he has waged a furious battle with a persistent thigh strain - was finally passed fit to take his place in the match. Shannon Tubb has been named the Tigers' twelfth man, while pace bowler Andrew Downton and Xavier Doherty are the other two members of the squad to miss out on a game.
Queensland captain Stuart Law meanwhile confirmed that he would have also chosen to bowl upon winning the toss. But he expressed particular confidence in the ability of inexperienced opening batting pair Brendan Nash and Daniel Payne to survive the baptism of fire that might be awaiting them when play commences.
The Bulls named a predictable twelve, omitting spinner Matthew Anderson from the eleven and - like Tasmania - opting instead for four specialist pace bowlers.
One of the paradoxes of sporting finals is that they arrive at the end of the season and yet normally convey a sense that the teams involved are setting off on a great adventure. That is particularly true of this match, given that it offers both teams the opportunity to carve a special niche in history. Either a victory or a draw would give Queensland a third successive title (for the first time in the domestic arena), while a win would give Tasmania its long-cherished maiden first-class crown.
Date-stamped : 22 Mar2002 - 18:48