Gabba Thriller Unpacked

The Marsh Sheffield Shield game at the Gabba this week resulted in one of the closest finishes in Australian First Class cricket history with South Australia overcoming Queensland on the final afternoon. senior writer ADAM BURNETT was on the spot to record the extraordinary events.

A lion-hearted nine-wicket performance from Nathan McAndrew has led South Australia to a stunning three-run victory against Queensland in the Marsh Sheffield Shield at the Gabba.

Seemingly cruising at 2-179 in the final session in pursuit of 273, the hosts imploded to lose their final eight wickets for 90 as McAndrew and his bowling cohort – with a little help from the part-time off-spin of Nathan McSweeney – orchestrated a remarkable comeback.

It was just the fifth time in Shield history that a winning margin has been three runs or fewer and the first since NSW beat Western Australia by two runs in Newcastle in January 2003. It equalled Queensland's previous smallest losing margin, which dates back to 1993-94.

After South Australia added what would prove to be a crucial 20 runs for their final two wickets to begin the day, Queensland lost both their openers cheaply before experienced duo Usman Khawaja (114) and Joe Burns (91) joined forces.

Khawaja missed the Bulls' past two Marsh Sheffield Shield matches due to a workload management directive from Cricket Australia but the 36-year-old barely missed a beat against the South Australians, coming to the crease at 2-11 in pursuit of 273 and dropping anchor for the next six hours.

For much of that time he was accompanied by the in-form Burns, as the two veterans sized up the scale of their task and patiently began accumulating runs.

It was Khawaja who had the early running before Burns found his groove, driving straight and through cover off the South Australian pace trio of McAndrew, Harry Conway and Jordan Buckingham and lofting a straight six from off-spinner Ben Manenti.

The partnership remained unbroken through the middle session, adding 91 as both batters moved towards their hundreds, but the South Australians, led by the tireless McAndrew, refused to let the run rate climb.

"They went in with three quicks, and for our game plan knowing that we wanted to take them deep into the game," said Queensland coach Wade Seccombe. "But McAndrew kept coming at us. He was the one. He looks like he's got a pretty big motor."

Queensland entered the final session needing 115 and with their two most senior batters looking very much in control. Burns passed his childhood hero Mark Waugh's Shield runs mark of 7,232 but when McAndrew had him edging behind for 91 to end a fine 168-run stand, the complexion of the match changed swiftly.

After Manenti trapped Jack Clayton lbw for five, fellow off-spinner McSweeney conjured up two wickets in five balls, removing the dangerous middle-order pair of Jimmy Peirson (13) and Michael Neser (0).

Jack Wildermuth (21) briefly halted the momentum and inched Queensland closer to their target but that man McAndrew again struck for the ninth time in the match, and then the energetic Buckingham chimed in twice in four balls to claim the wickets of Gurinder Sandhu (0) and Mark Steketee (4).

All the while, Khawaja stood watching on, at one point having faced just 23 balls amid an 18-over stretch. Yet with Mitch Swepson his final partner, he took control of the strike and the contest, reaching his hundred as the runs required crept under 30, then unleashed a stunning cut shot behind point off McAndrew for four.

Moments later he survived a huge lbw appeal from the same bowler, then picked up a pair of twos off Buckingham to bring his side to within single digits of victory.

His glided four through the slips off McAndrew, and then a single tucked behind square brought the target to within a boundary, but it was Buckingham who had the final say, cramping the left-hander for room and knocking him over to trigger delirious celebrations from the South Australians.

"Certainly the best game of cricket I've ever been involved in," the 23-year-old right armer said. "That's an outstanding win, we were almost dead and buried there so that's huge.

"I just tried to run in and bowl as fast as I could, to be honest. It's an amazing feeling."

Added Seccombe: "They're definitely a team that is on the move at the minute. They're getting a little bit of fight about them, and I say that respectfully, but it's something that probably hasn't been there in previous years." 

The Bulls now turn their focus to the battle with Victoria at the MCG next week, a crucial clash heading into the BBL hiatus next month.


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