The New South Wales Blues have fallen excruciatingly short of a historic victory over Victoria losing by 23 runs at Junction Oval in round nine of the Sheffield Shield.
NSW lost its last four wickets for just 11 runs in pursuit of 309 to win the match with Victorian and Sydney Thunder leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed (5-94) bowling the hosts to a famous victory.
The loss was made even more devastating for the Blues by the fact that it effectively ruled out any aspirations of making the Sheffield Shield final.
The pressure was palpable all afternoon at Junction Oval and it reached a crescendo when NSW No. 11 Harry Conway strode to the middle to try and help Blues captain Peter Nevill get the visitors over the line.
However, the task was too great. Nevill (26) was beaten in flight by an astute delivery from Ahmed and stumped by Seb Gotch to end the match. NSW was bowled out for 285.
Blues left-arm orthodox spinner Steve O’Keefe was named man of the match for his figures of 10-152 across both innings.
NSW resumed on the fourth day 2/150 requiring another 159 runs to claim victory with the bonus of two set batsmen in the middle.
Daniel Hughes (59 not out) and Kurtis Patterson (34 not out) were both unbeaten on the third evening, but unfortunately for Hughes he could not add to his overnight score.
In his attempt to take off for a run from the bowling of Peter Siddle (2-56), the opener inadvertently trod on his stumps.
Despite the early loss of Hughes, Patterson continued to build a very good innings until catastrophe struck again.
A sharp piece of fielding by one of the most dangerous fielders in world cricket, Glenn Maxwell, ran out Patterson on 53.
The Blues quickly found themselves in a precarious position at 5/199 when Sheffield Shield debutant, Param Uppal (5), was bowled by Chris Tremain (2-54).
The departure of the young all-rounder brought Nevill to the crease and he combined with Moises Henriques for an important 42-run partnership which reduced the deficit to just 67 runs.
The precision of Siddle then removed Henriques one short of his half century lbw and the game was on a knife’s edge.
O’Keefe was the next man in for NSW and he refused to waiver from his natural game on the difficult Junction Oval pitch.
He made a typically positive 23 from 33 balls before he was caught on the hook to a bouncer from Tremain.
Nevill remained the cornerstone as the Blues edged ever closer to a momentous victory, but he was fast running out of partners.
Copeland (3) was next to depart as a spinning delivery from Ahmed caught the edge and was caught behind. The Blues needed 29 to win with just two wickets remaining.
However, Sean Abbott (4) lasted just four balls and misjudged a wrong’un from Ahmed which cannoned into off stump.
Nevill was the last remaining hope, but that was dashed when he was deceived by Ahmed as he advanced down the pitch.
The Blues captain said the loss was hard to take given NSW position at the start of the day.
“It’s just very unfortunate really,” Nevill said.
Like many of its recent matches, Nevill said it was frustrating that the Blues were managing to lose from winning positions.
“It’s just really key moments in the game that we’re not able to capitalise on and it’s costing us.”
Nevill said the goal is now to restore some pride against Queensland in the final match of the season at North Dalton Park, Wollongong, starting on 14 March.