In the end it became a match within a match.
And while Tasmania won the battle, they lost the war as NSW narrowly denied the Tigers the additional bonus point they required in the domestic one-day cup match at Blacktown in Sydney.
Tasmania cantered to a five-wicket win claiming one bonus point but were still 13 runs short of passing NSW’s modest score of 172 inside 25 overs, an achievement which would have secured the Tigers two points and kept their finals ambitions alive.
The result means NSW finish in third-place to earn a berth in Friday’s preliminary final, with Queensland and Western Australia to battle for top spot in the final round-robin match on Wednesday where automatic passage to Sunday’s final at the SCG is on the line.
After NSW were bowled out in the final over – slumping to their lowest score of the season in the process – attention turned to Tasmania’s attempts to run down the total inside the halfway mark.
Tasmania’s aggressive reply started brightly with Ben Dunk (42) and Tim Paine (69) putting on 103 off just 17 overs, just three days after the pair set a domestic limited-overs record for the opening wicket.
Evan Gulbis continued the onslaught with 25 off 20, but Tasmania lost a host of wickets in quick succession as they hunted quick runs.
“I was really pleased with how quickly we adjusted with bat and ball, given what the circumstances were for us to try and reach the final,” said Tasmania captain George Bailey.
“The only way we were going to do it (win inside 25 overs) was to have a great start, which we did which gave us the chance. We just needed one of those really big overs, which on this ground is really hard to manufacture.”
NSW’s hitherto in-form batting line-up struggled from the outset, losing four early wickets for just 39.
Middle-order batsman Ryan Carters hit 38 for the Blues, and No.8 Pat Cummins rescued the innings from complete disaster with the same score, before being the last man to go.
After conceding a record 3-402 against Queensland on Saturday, Tasmania bowled to a disciplined line and length to have the Blues on the back foot from the get go.
Andrew Fekete was the pick of the bowlers with 3-36 while Tigers teammate and former Australian spinner Xavier Doherty grabbed 2-25.
“It was a disappointing loss, we didn’t make enough runs, and our top four didn’t perform well enough with the bat,” said NSW captain Peter Nevill.
“I think the wicket was quite good, I think it just boiled down to poor shot selection.
“On the bright side we are playing in the preliminary final on Friday, we are still in the competition and we can still win the tournament.”