THE NSW Blues will have to reel in a tricky fourth-innings target to topple Victoria, featuring Nowra's Nic Maddinson, in their Sheffield Shield clash after another bowler-dominated day at Drummoyne Oval.
Victoria, the competition frontrunners, finished play on 7-159 in their second innings; a lead of 130 runs, thanks to a patient half-century from No.6 Matt Short on a day of multiple rain delays.
Wet weather is forecast for Sydney over the coming days and could affect the Blues’ chances of claiming an outright result but the fact 27 wickets have fallen in the opening two days plays into their favour.
"I'd say it's pretty evenly balanced," NSW spinner Stephen O'Keefe said.
"It's going to be a big hour or two in the morning. If we can get nab a couple of wickets and keep that lead under 200 then I think it's very achievable on that wicket but with their line-up, it's going to be hard work.
"It's one of those wickets where if a bloke has missed one it's tended to LBW. It's a good cricket wicket and result wicket."
Resuming play with a nine-run deficit, the Blues edged their way ahead of Victoria’s first innings total of 106 but could only manage a 29-run lead.
Captain Peter Nevill (33 not out) dug in admirably but ran out of partners.
O’Keefe, who moved down the order to No.11 due to a minor hamstring complaint suffered while bowling in the first innings, was dismissed in comical circumstances when he forgot he had a runner at his disposal.
After knocking a ball into the leg-side, O’Keefe set off for a single but had to quickly get back to the wicketkeeper’s end given that an injured batsman is supposed to stay in their crease.
He almost made it back for two but an accurate throw from Jon Holland over the bails resulted in O’Keefe being run out for a duck to end the innings.
"Calamity, wasn't it," O'Keefe said.
"When you're out there the wheels start spinning and you get into game mode. I completely forgot. Very, very embarrassing and something that I've been well reminded of by both my teammates and the opposition, which is fair enough."
Light drizzle and a hooping Dukes ball provided a sturdy test for Victoria’s top order and in particular Marcus Harris and Will Pucovski, who are both in with a chance – one likely and one unlikely – of getting a start in Australia’s Ashes XI.
Once again, Pucovski was suffocated by the unwavering accuracy of O’Keefe, who trapped the 21-year-old in front for five off 36 balls.
An over later, Greg West caught the shoulder of Harris’ bat and had the left-handed opener trudging back to the pavilion for 29.
If there was someone capable of taking the game by the scruff of the neck, it was Nic Maddinson, the former blue bagger.
At one point, out of nowhere, there was an LBW shout after Maddinson tried to tonk Trent Copeland across the line and onto the hill at Drummoyne.
However, after getting another start, Maddinson perished for 33, caught down the leg side in a lucky break for the Blues, who found a knack of taking wickets at regular intervals.
Harry Conway was the best of the NSW bowlers, taking 3-29, including Cameron White for a golden duck, to record his best ever first-class match figures of 8-43.
"I think he's unlocked something in his own bowling," O'Keefe said.
"To see a bloke take 'five-fa' in the first innings it's easy to say your job is done but the most impressive thing is he's getting the ball a lot fuller now and that complements his bounce and swing."