With a place in the final up for grabs it was the home side who took the early advantage
New South Wales 4 for 299 (Sangha 81*, Hughes 74, Gilkes 66) vs Queensland
Back in November 2017, an 18-year-old Jason Sangha cuffed an attractive century against the England touring team in only his second first-class appearance. Having represented Australia at Under-19 level and been written up as a batting talent of infinite promise, he appeared ready for a breakout prior to his 20th birthday.
The intervening three summers brought glimpses but largely indifference. His one full season of Sheffield Shield matches for New South Wales reaped one more century but very little else besides.
It’s clear the early expectations weighed heavily on Sangha, while opponents delighted in the chance to take a bright young talent down a peg or two in domestic ranks.
But a sun-kissed April day in Wollongong brought a return of runs for Sangha after the team’s 32 all out in the previous round and a pessimistic assessment of the batting stocks of Australia’s largest state by no less a judge than the former Test captain Mark Taylor.
The likes of Daniel Solway and Nick Larkin made way for youth that also included the free-scoring debutant Lachlan Hearne, but it was to be Sangha who shone brightest.
Granted a platform by Daniel Hughes and Matthew Gilkes after the Blues were sent in by Queensland’s captain Usman Khawaja, Sangha showed plentiful evidence that his hard early lessons are being well learned. A composed but also proactive unbeaten 81 took Sangha to the outskirts of a third first-class century, and set NSW on the path to a substantial first innings tally.
Gilkes enjoyed plenty of good fortune on his way to 66, an innings ended when he missed a short ball from the fit-again wrist spinner Mitchell Swepson and was lbw, but he had fewer reasons to quibble with his exit than Hughes, seemingly caught behind off his thigh, and Kurtis Patterson as victim to an lbw decision where the ball kept low but might also have pitched outside leg stump.
Those wickets after the biggest NSW opening stand of the summer might have given the Bulls a way back into the day. But Sangha built a sturdy platform in the company of Jack Edwards, who showed some nimble footwork and precise judgment of length to punish even marginal errors from Swepson, before laying back to cut the part-timers of Marnus Labuschagne and being defeated by a little extra bounce and turn – Jimmy Peirson’s catch was a good one.
Hearne, though, showed very few nerves on his first appearance, and if anything aided Sangha’s sense of positivity as they added a chanceless 81 in the last 19 overs of the day. Hearne showed a terrific range of strokes, dealing comfortably with the new ball in the hands of Xavier Bartlett and Michael Neser, while one of Sangha’s few nervy moments arrived when he snicked Neser past the cordon to go past 50.
By day’s end the NSW innings was in exceedingly good shape as they chase the points they need to ensure a spot in the Shield final, and Sangha could dream of a century on the ‘morrow.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig