Bushrangers leader Aaron Finch has declared he has never seen James Pattinson bowl better as the paceman prepares to play a key role in Victoria's quest for a hat-trick of Sheffield Shield titles.
Pattinson, 26, has gradually regained his groove since returning to the Shield side in February after injury, claiming 20 wickets in four matches. He was particularly brilliant in the innings-and-11-runs win over Queensland at Allan Border Field last week, grabbing 5-7 in the second innings.
The former Test spearhead will hope that form continues in the Shield final against South Australia in Alice Springs from Sunday, when the Bushrangers will seek to become the first team since Queensland in 2002 to snare three straight titles.
Finch, who has rediscovered his touch in the red-ball format with a pair of half-centuries at No.4, says Pattinson is back to his intimidating best after back and leg issues.
"Absolutely. I don't know if I have seen him bowl better than this at the moment," Finch said on Tuesday.
"I think that he is really comfortable where his action is at and where his body is at. Not being a fast bowler, I can't imagine the mental toughness that it takes to get through injury after injury, doing all your rehab, getting back, then being back in the gym doing your rehab again. The confidence levels in his body are sky high and he is bowling nicely."
While the flat Traeger Park deck does not offer fast bowlers a great deal of encouragement, Pattinson recently took 5-58 against the Warriors there to lead the Bushrangers to victory.
"When he (Pattinson) gets his tail up, and the ball is shifting in the air slightly, it's a different ball game," Finch said.
"And he is someone who, obviously, has got pace. It took him a couple of games to find his rhythm back again. He was probably, by his own admission, a little off the mark in his first couple of Shield games back but that second innings spell against WA up in Alice, to knock them over when they were starting to build a nice lead, was unbelievable, and then he just kept that going in Brisbane.
"It looks like he is bowling within himself but still fast and with a lot of control. He is, obviously, very passionate and when he gets his tail up he can be hard to stop."
Pattinson is set to seek a county cricket contract this year to help him reclaim his spot in the national team, perhaps in time for the slated tour of Bangladesh in August.
The Bushrangers enjoy their home away from home in Alice Springs, having won four matches and drawn one in five games in the past two years.
An intriguing final round of the regular season culminated in the Redbacks defeating Tasmania to make the final, ensuring they have a chance for redemption after losing to the Bushrangers last season.
The Bushrangers also won both of their meetings this season, by five wickets and 124 runs, and there is a strong rivalry between the sides, fuelled by Victorian bowling coach Mick Lewis being fined for ball tampering in last year's final, and the Redbacks' decision to not allow Victoria to use a concussion substitute after wicketkeeper Sam Harper was hospitalised in February.
"There are two teams that are passionate and two teams that are desperate to win," Finch said.
"You always get a bit of fire. I wasn't there last year during the final ... but the Sam Harper thing was a freak accident. There is definitely some rivalry there."
Finch, who has missed the previous two finals because of international commitments, said victory, thereby securing a three-peat of titles, would be "huge".
"Obviously, it's never been done in the history of Victorian cricket (but) you can't afford to focus too much on that," he said.