Chance to shine: Fawad Ahmed. Photo: Getty Images
Leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed's faltering bid for an Ashes berth could get a much-needed jolt if he is able to lead Victoria to a Sheffield Shield heist over South Australia.
The Bushrangers will begin the final day of their match at the MCG at 8-353, with a lead of 128. Only three times at the MCG have teams defending a score below 150 gone on to win the match, most recently in 2001-02 when the home team was bowled out 98 chasing 136 against Western Australia.
Victoria, which has only eight points approaching the end of five rounds, will be desperate for specialist spinners Ahmed and Jon Holland to emphatically show why they were selected together in the shield for the first time.
''This is why we batted first on a good wicket,'' said Bushrangers batsman Aaron Finch, who enjoyed a long-awaited return to red-ball form with 97. ''If we get our lead above 150 we're confident we can bowl them out.''
Holland has already made an unexpectedly influential contribution with the bat, swatting an unbeaten 32 from 30 balls at No. 10 to ensure SA would chase more than a double-figure target on Monday.
That the match has extended well into the fourth day was arguably influenced by SA's curious decision to wait 29 overs to use the second new ball.
Captain Johan Botha's initial reluctance was explicable by the movement his pacemen Gary Putland and Kane Richardson were generating with the old ball. But when home captain Matthew Wade departed in the last over before tea, with his team only just overcoming its 225-run deficit, the scenario begged for the new ball to be taken at or soon after the start of the final session. Instead the Redbacks waited another 20 overs. In that time Glenn Maxwell led a half-century partnership with Daniel Christian.
When the new ball was finally taken in the 110th over both batsmen were removed within four overs, Maxwell for 89, the third innings victim of the again-impressive Putland, and Christian for 15.
Finch fell three runs short of his second shield century, although given his conspicuously poor form since that milestone - he had averaged 23.47 in his preceding 46 innings - it was vital to buttress his spot in the team.
The 27-year-old said he was particularly pleased to have faced a career-best 248 balls to demonstrate he had the capacity to withstand bowling with more swing and seam movement than in limited-overs matches.
"When you start doubting yourself over and over . . . it does build up on you and you start to question your whole game and everyone else is questioning it as well, [so] it's nice to get a couple of runs," Finch said. "To be able to bat that many balls [was a confidence-booster] because I haven't been able to do that in the past. It's really pleasing that I've been able to play that kind of innings, as opposed to the attacking one that most people are probably accustomed to me playing."
Finch predicted Ahmed would be particularly threatening if given an opportunity against the Redbacks tailenders on the final day, increasing the importance for Victoria to remove the visitors' most reliable batsmen, Phillip Hughes and Michael Klinger, early and cheaply.