When he won the toss and elected to bowl first, Matthew Wade become a fairly low chance of being the batter to face the greatest number of balls in the day’s play. If not one of the Victorians, who boasted Marcus Harris, Will Pucovski, Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson, all past, present or emerging Test cricketers, then perhaps one of his own top three, later revealed to be Beau Webster, Alex Doolan and Charlie Wakim, would do so. But it was to be the Tasmanian captain who faced 120 balls, 52 more than any player on either side, and who is in a position to add to that tally on day two.
Earlier, Travis Dean and Marcus Harris had withstood Gabe Bell’s opening spell from the River End and had finally hit runs off consecutive balls for the first time in the innings (overs 12.6 and 13.1) when Bell’s replacement in the attack, Alex Pyecroft, induced an edge from Harris to third slip, where Doolan made no mistake. 13 balls passed from Pyecroft and Jackson Bird before another run was scored although there were 14 approaches to the crease by the bowlers in that time, Dean pulling away because of a bird before Bird could bowl the second ball of the 15th over. Drinks came, and Bird was replaced by Riley Meredith at the Church Street End. The Victorians survived that over without loss but Pyecroft struck gold again as soon as he resumed from the River End, trapping Dean on the crease, plumb LBW.
This brought the Victorian captain to the crease, and Handscomb immediately showed a more aggressive approach than his subordinates had shown all morning. Pyecroft is the sort of quick bowler that can be charged at this level, and Handscomb decided to inflict that indignation as soon as he arrived at the crease, managing to drive the ball down the ground for three.
Naturally, the next ball was a bouncer.
Pucovski played out the rest of that over without further score, meaning that Handscomb was on strike to Meredith at the start of the next over. He immediately drove Meredith for four through the covers, despite the best chasing efforts of Wakim, and then two balls later pulled Meredith for another boundary. This caused the Tasmanians to place two men on the fence for that shot. This did not dissuade Handscomb, which turned out to be much to the delight of his opponents as his effort to repeat the shot two balls later presented a catch to Bell at fine leg.
Two overs later, Meredith found another short ball to dismiss Pucovski, who could only fend to Caleb Jewell at short leg. 4-37, with the Tasmanians loudly confident of another appeal for LBW against the new batsman, Matthew Short, being upheld. It was not to be. Indeed, from this point in the innings, only Short’s partner, Nic Maddinson, would fall in any way other than caught behind or, as Shaun Tait once put it, “caught keeper.”
Maddinson’s dismissal was still a ways off, however, and in the meantime he and Short saw off Pyecroft and Meredith before disaster struck, Bird dismissing Short in the third-last over before lunch and ensuring a two-ball early lunch by picking up Sam Harper to leave Victoria on 6-55.
Bird and Bell resumed after the break and it wasn’t long before Bell, who had bowled tidily up to that point but also like the only bowler used in the morning session not to claim a wicket, joined in on the action. When he dismissed Chris Tremain and Peter Siddle, Victoria was staring at the likelihood of a sub-100 score at 8-66. That they then exceeded that limit was thanks entirely to Nic Maddinson, who treated the Bellerive crowd to some fantastic hitting as he tried desperately to give his new batting partner, Scott Boland, and the rest of his attack something to defend. The tough catch that Maddinson provided at the start of his partnership with Boland was quickly followed with boundary after boundary, particularly facing Bird and then Meredith at the Church Street End. As a left-hander swinging to the on-side, Maddinson had the advantage of the shortest boundary at the ground as they are using the pitch on the square closest to the hill, but the sixes he hit, all six of them were clearing it quite comfortably. Bird was hit for 16 off one over at the Church Street End, then he was swung around to the River End, where he was still hit for seven, primarily due to an upper cut for six straight after Tasmania had taken the third man out. Meanwhile, Meredith copped even worse treatment from the Church Street End. The young quick had been given a commission to bowl short at Maddinson pretty much throughout his innings but that length worked against him here, as Maddinson sat deep in his crease and kept swinging. The by-product of having express pace is that sometimes you can haemorrhage runs and Meredith did in that spell, with luck as well as skill going Maddinson’s way, an astonishing 30 runs coming from just two overs.
His hand forced, Wade turned to Pyecroft for the next over at the Church Street End instead of Webster’s off spin and it paid almost immediate dividends, Maddinson held out to Caleb Jewell at deep third man as he attempted another upper cut. An entertaining innings had come to an end: long before a total that Victoria would have been happy with at the start of the day but long after the realistic worse case scenario when Boland had joined him. That batsman did not last very long in his absence, nicking off to Bird in the next over for six as Victoria were bowled out for 127.
In reply, Tasmania were soon in their own world of trouble. Webster, who had gone from No. 3 to opening the batting in the absence of the injured Jordan Silk, could only last three balls, while Wakim could only last eleven more balls than that, leaving Doolan with the score at 2-9. In tandem with his captain, the Tasmanian opener made it through to tea, but the break was a brief respite. Tremain had been taken off before tea after dismissing Wakim while bowling at the River End, but the break led to a change of ends, and taking over from Siddle at the Church Street End led to another wicket, this time of Doolan, bowled for 15. With 15 overs bowled, the score now stood at 3-31 as the recalled George Bailey came to the crease. The game hung in the balance, with Victoria still 94 runs to the good, Shield cricket at its best.
For the next 16 overs, all three quicks challenged both edges of the bat, but Wade and Bailey were equal to the task as they built the first really good, equitable partnership of the day. When Handscomb turned to Holland for the first over of spin of the day after 31 overs had been bowled, it was a victory for the hosts, not because Holland is a bad bowler but because they had resisted what had been the main challenge of the day. Tasmania was now 3-74, and runs were starting to come by a little easier. Another 26 runs from the next six overs was added before Bailey fell, against the run of play, popping up a simple return catch to almost-surprised looking Holland for 41 off 67. With that wicket came the clamps on the scoring, and a mere five runs had been added to the score before Jewell was sent back where he came from, LBW to Boland for three.
It was, however, the next ball, more than any other, symbolised how it was Tasmania’s day. Not very much happened with it; Wade defended it into the off side off Holland for no run. But it was his 100th ball of the innings, and as he was only on 33 at the time it definitely counted as a Cowan. For Tasmania, it was the ball that ensured, unless there was a wicket off an illegal delivery and wickets off every legal ball until all ten had been taken, that their first innings would go longer than Victoria’s. 41.1 overs had now been bowled, and Victoria had been bowled out after 41.5 overs.
When stumps were taken seven overs later, Tasmania were in the same position that they had been in all day: still behind on the scoreboard but in front in the game. The four overs that could have provided the ten runs necessary to have a first innings lead could be played another day.