By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
TWO crucial dropped catches by New South Wales robbed the Blues of any real chance of victory in Saturday's ING Cup clash with Victoria.
Defending a small total of 187, NSW had made a promising start to to the defence of the total by claiming two early wickets but as the chances to grab the scalps of the Bushrangers' batting guns Brad Hodge and David Hussey early slipped through the fieldsman's fingers, so too did the Blues chances of extending their lead at the top of the ING table.
Hussey was on 10 when he was given a life by Aaron O'Brien at deep mid wicket while Hodge had amassed 22 when Doug Bollinger grassed a lofted drive at deep mid-off.
Both batsman punished the Blues for their errors and put together a match-winning partnership of 86.
Hussey went on to compile a man of the match winning 74 off 78 balls that included seven boundaries and three sixes.
At 3-160, Victoria were cruising towards an easy victory and a bonus point before Stuart MacGill caused uneasy tension in the Bushrangers camp by taking 5-4 in a mesmerising spell of 17 deliveries.
Off his bowling, MacGill had a catch dropped and a stumping missed but it wasn't the dent to his bowling figures that he was most disappointed with after the match but more the fact that the Blues only just came up short.
"Not so much that it was off my bowling I just think really it's a disappointing aspect of the game when we only need two wickets at the end," he said.
"If we caught David Hussey and Brad Hodge at the first opportunity, the game's finished."
Despite claiming the bonus point, there were some nervous moments for Victorian skipper Cameron White as MacGill routed the middle order but he believes the luck his batsman received was merely a change in fortunes from the last time these two state's met in an ING Cup match.
"I think in Wangaratta it was probably totally the opposite with the luck, I think they probably had the luck last match and we seemed to have it this week so I guess that's a part of cricket," he explained.
"You've got to take your luck and ride it in this game and the boy's did today."
Even though luck was on his team's side, White still admitted that towards the end his fingernails were copping a workout.
"We definitely got a little bit worried there at the end," he said.
"You never like to see it get that tight especially with Stuey who was bowling well in his second spell on a turning wicket so it was a great effort by the boys to get the points, and get the five points more importantly so I'm really happy with the result."
The win was set up earlier in the day when momentum created by a strong start from NSW openers Phil Jaques and Craig Simmons was halted and turned around when they lost four wickets in only 13 minutes.
White was happy with the way his team continued to apply the pressure when a couple could've been forgiven for dropping their heads.
"I think after the first few overs the boys came back well and bowled really well as a group," he said.
"In the field is something we've been working on.
"In Wangaratta we struggled a little bit in the field especially in the latter overs, this week we were a lot better and that's probably come from the 20/20s to be honest, it helped with our fielding a little bit and lifted our intensity so I'm pretty happy with the way the guys went about it in the field."
Man of the match Hussey says that Victoria have one of the best bowling attacks going around and he thought it was only a matter of time before the slow start was turned around.
"I thought we were a bit unlucky at the start to be honest," he said.
"We bowled reasonably well early, they just hit some pretty good balls, I thought Craig Simmons played particularly well.
"I guess our luck had to change and it did and we happened to take our chances and all of a sudden we had them on the back foot and we had the momentum and carried on and that's what we look for in one-day cricket."
At the end of the day, Victoria's win wasn't pretty but they got the job done in a top of the table clash and got a bonus point to boot.
Don't think for a minute that the Bushrangers' camp wasn't aware of the importance of the win as their team song was belted out and echoing from within the bowels of the Stadium grandstand.
"It's a huge result for us, it does put us five points clear which is almost two games clear of the chasing pack," Hussey added.
"It's very handy and we're definitely happy to come away with a bonus point against New South Wales because they're such a talented team."
For Blues' fans it's just a shame that the talent wasn't shown to it's fullest in the field.
Taking catches wins you matches and the exact opposite is just as true, dropping them will lose matches as well.