Fawad defies Finch to spin Vics to miracle win
THE 700 balls Fawad Ahmed sent down on his own at the MCG nets last week paid huge dividends in a miracle Victorian win at the Junction Oval which has kept dreams of a fourth straight Sheffield Shield title alive.
Staring down the barrel of a demoralising defeat with NSW 6-274 chasing 309 to win, quick bowler Chris Tremain broke through to dismiss Steve O'Keefe before Ahmed defied his captain Aaron Finch's orders and ripped through the visitor's tail.
Ahmed went for "old school" leg spin and took three wickets in two incredible overs.
NSW lost 3-5 and the Bushrangers scored a 24 run win which kept them in second place on the table and one game away from a place in a fourth-straight final.
"It was really hard when you were searching for wickets. I stuck with my plan in the last two or three overs, I went against the captain's decision and I bowled slower and tried to rip the ball and it spun quite nicely," a delighted Ahmed said.
"At that time they were going really defensive, and anything that was a bit short because it was a slow wicket they were nudging it around and taking twos and threes.
"(Finch) was right as well at that point, but being a leg-spinner, I like the old school stuff. I want to go over the eye level, try to drift it and drop it and spin big. That's what I am trying to do all the time.
"You have to bowl like that and have faith and believe in your skills and back yourself."
Jubilant Victorian captain Aaron Finch said it was "astonishing" that Fawad did so much work on his own at the MCG last week after being left of the team which beat Western Australia.
But after the former Pakistani refugee bowled the Bushrangers to a victory, Finch said 35-year-old Ahmed, who took eight wickets for the match, was only getting "better with age".
"The way he has kept bamboozling guys with a leg-spinner and a googly that guys are still struggling to pick after he has played for five, six years now is extraordinary," Finch said moments after Ahmed had NSW skipper Peter Nevill stumped to secure the win.
"He's such a huge asset, and he's bowling beautifully at the moment. He was probably just off it in the game before he played (against Queensland at the MCG) … but he has worked hard, and it's good to see him get the rewards."
Victoria moved more than eight points clear of third-placed NSW on the Sheffield Shield table after the win with just one match of the regular season remaining.
The Vics will tackle Tasmania in Hobart from next Wednesday knowing a third straight win will propel them to a fourth-straight final.
And it could yet be a home final, with other results in games still being played, then the final round, to determine the final make-up of the ladder in one of the tightest seasons in recent memory.
Finch's men have found form at the right time too and not only Ahmed who struggled for impact on the "flat" MCG wicket this year and conceded he was under pressure after missing the win over WA at the WACA.
Travis Dean also scored a second straight century in the second innings at the Junction Oval, while his opening partner Marcus Harris made 109 out of a team total of just 199 in tough conditions in the first dig.
And with the extra "carrot" of a fourth-straight final on offer, Finch said the first half of the season, when the Vics didn't win and endured four draws, was a distant memory.
"If you deny other teams points it still gives you a chance that when the time comes you can pull together some wins and play your best cricket. I think we are really starting to play some better cricket," Finch said.
"I think it is has just been simple plans, really hard graft from our players, guys are getting hundreds, Marcus Harris is in as good a form as anyone in the country, Travis Dean is back to his best the last couple of games too.
"It's an exciting time."