The 2018 JLT Cup has reached the final with Tasmania and Victoria set to lock horns for the trophy on Wednesday at the Junction Oval in Melbourne. Almost certainly not the contenders that we expected, but such is the nature of this fast-paced tournament, anything is possible!
Somehow Victoria find themselves in the final after winning just three of seven scheduled matches in the tournament. With all teams qualifying for the finals, Victoria finished the preliminary games in fourth place with just two wins from their first five matches. Incredibly, they finished ahead of NSW by a net run rate margin of just 0.02 – effectively one run - and that would prove important when their qualifying final was washed out without a ball being bowled. Victoria would progress to the semis, while NSW would rue falling one run short of a higher net run rate.
If there were doubts over Victoria’s merit, that was put to rest in the semi-final with their best performance of the season against the red-hot tournament favourites, Western Australia. After going through the preliminary games undefeated, many expected the WACA’s to roll on, but it wasn’t to be as Victoria amassed a very healthy total of 332 which Western Australia couldn’t chase down.
Marcus Harris was at his destructive best at the top of the order with 73 from just 49 balls with 13 fours and 2 sixes. If he gets off the leash early, then his strike rate will setup the chance at another massive total. Cameron White and Glenn Maxwell missed out in the semi, but Peter Handscomb continued his good form with his fourth consecutive half-century, while Nic Maddinson and Matt Short helped to stretch the total over 300. They form an impressive batting lineup on paper, and they will need to stand up again in the final.
One of the key ingredients in the Victorian’s success is the return of Fawad Ahmed to the lineup. He was once again one of their best bowlers in the semi, and he’ll be the key in the final. If Tasmania can’t handle his magic, then it could be the difference. Ahmed will be supported by Chris Tremain and youngster Jackson Coleman.
One weakness for the Vics is their fifth bowling option. They got away with Nic Maddinson picking up four wickets in the semi, but he will have to share ten overs with Glenn Maxwell and Matt Short, so that opens the door for the Tasmanians to attack.
By contrast, Tasmania has had a great season, finishing in second spot and easily getting past Queensland in the semi-final. Their no frills bowling attack were able to restrict the dynamic Queensland batting lineup to just 177, which they chased down for the loss of just four wickets. The bowling honours were shared, but Jackson Bird and Gabe Bell on debut were both good early, before Gurinder Sandhu picked up two wickets while conceding just 14 runs from 9 overs. With six genuine bowling options, including the under-rated spin of Clive Rose, Tassie have a solid, disciplined bowling outfit.
Their batting has been reliant on their top order with Ben McDermott and Matthew Wade arguably the most dangerous opening combination in the country. If they get away, then Tasmania will feel confident of chasing down any total. Jordan Silk has been good in the middle order, and George Bailey is a great man to have coming in at number five. Their lineup does look a batsman short with Simon Milenko effectively playing as a batsman at number six, but he has been contributing well, and picked up another fifty in the semi-final. Tom Rogers and Clive Rose have also chipped in with the bat when required.
When the two teams met early in the season, Tasmania amassed 321 thanks to a cracking century from Matthew Wade. Plenty of the Vics made starts, but no one could find a big score as they were bundled out for 256.
The final is shaping as a really good contest. On paper, Victoria probably have more star power but they haven’t quite hit their straps. Perhaps it will all come together for the final, but I think that the discipline of Tasmania across the board can’t be ignored. They are a well-drilled team, with plenty of options with the ball, and multiple match-winners with the bat, so I think it will be George Bailey lifting the trophy on Wednesday afternoon.
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