Victoria’s poor campaign continued against lowly New South Wales at home in December, just before the Sheffield Shield’s mid-season break, and coach Chris Rogers’ grim realization began to set in.

“I believed we were staring down the barrel of a wooden spoon.”

After splitting the first three games, Victoria’s season was in jeopardy after losing two consecutive matches. Rogers feared the worst after the defending champions’ second innings collapse against NSW, in which they were reduced to 6 for 131 with a 57-run advantage.

Victoria’s season was turned around when 20-year-old hitter Campbell Kellaway blasted an 81-run home run to ignite a 69-run comeback triumph.

Four consecutive victories since the season’s restart have propelled a young Victoria to a replay of last year’s showdown with reigning champions Western Australia at the WACA on Thursday.

Although Rogers had begun to lose faith, Victoria’s players always thought that a turnaround was imminent.

“Wooden spoon…a that’s little severe. After that, I’ll be speaking with Buck [Rogers],” laughed Victoria captain Peter Handscomb in Perth on Wednesday.

“The indicators were there. Simply those small occasions we were unable to overcome early in the season. We’re finally prevailing at the crucial times.”

Victoria’s ascent up the rankings has been supported by a formidable bowling assault led by Mitchell Perry and Fergus O’Neill, who have taken 55 wickets between them.

Due to Handscomb’s participation in Australia’s tour of India, veteran Test opener Marcus Harris and in-form Matthew Short have led the batting order magnificently.

Handscomb, who recently returned from India, has joined a highly confident team and is optimistic about their prospects of thwarting Western Australia’s pursuit for a second consecutive domestic triple.

“Generally speaking, as a Victorian squad, we’ve always had a certain amount of confidence, and these young players are no exception,” he added. “It’s great to be back, and I haven’t had to say anything. These men are only putting on a show.

Bullish Victoria will destroy WA's bid for back-to-back championships 2023 2

Handscomb and Murphy provide selection difficulties.

Victoria will have a slightly different lineup from the one that defeated a depleted Western Australia at the WACA last week to overtake Queensland in second position on the ladder.

Handscomb will replace either the experienced opener Travis Dean or the up-and-coming hitter Ashley Chandrashehe.

The experienced left-arm spinner Jon Holland and the off-spinner Todd Murphy, who is fresh off his impressive exploits in India, provide a formidable selection conundrum.

In seven matches this season, Holland has taken 12 wickets at a rate of 28.75, including 3 for 15 in WA’s first innings of 122 last week.

Murphy seems set to receive the nod, although he has never played at the spinner-hostile WACA, a venue notoriously unforgiving to fast bowlers.

“Todd Murphy had never played a game in India, yet he was still selected and performed well there,” Handscomb explained. “We do not care if a player has played here before or not. Our team possesses a wealth of talent.

“It will be difficult for those who have been playing but are left out.”

Considering their speed depth, further bolstered by Test fast Scott Boland’s eight wickets against WA in his comeback, and the reputation of the stadium, Victoria is unlikely to play both Holland and Murphy in the five-day final, although the surface is expected to be more docile.

Just two of the five matches played at the WACA this season have completed day four, both of which concluded prior to lunch, due to the pitch’s greenish hue and the unusually hot circumstances.

WA prepared to release Lance Morris

Yet, similar to last year’s final, in which WA won on first-innings bonus points after a tie, there should be greater parity between bat and ball.

WA captain Sam Whiteman stated, “It appears a bit more conducive to batting than the rest of the season, [but] we’ll support our bowlers to take 20 wickets.”

WA will be bolstered by the expected returns of quicks Lance Morris, Joel Paris, and Matt Kelly following a defeat to Victoria in which they looked to go through the motions having already clinched a home final.

Morris has not played since the BBL in late January; his last red-ball match was against Queensland in early December; he was snubbed for selection in India.

Whiteman stated, “I had the pleasure of facing [Morris] in the nets yesterday and emerged unhurt.” After a month of bowling in the nets, he is eager to bowl in a game.

While Handscomb stated that thwarting Western Australia’s golden run was “additional incentive,” Whiteman opted to follow the organization’s script by not giving anything away in public.

He stated, “There is absolutely no talk of capturing all three crowns this season.” “I do not believe that any internal pressures exist. This year, we’ve played excellent cricket and have earned the opportunity to play at home.

“They have full steam ahead. It is going to be a fantastic game.”