As Brad Smith walked to the wicket on Saturday afternoon, he noticed that not-out batsman Tyler Van Luin was wearing in a Queanbeyan Cricket Club helmet.
Smith, a former Goulburn resident, also plays for Queanbeyan, and seeing his teammate rocking their local kit helped ease the enormous pressure on his shoulders.
He walked in with the score at 9-204. Van Luin, unbeaten in the 70s, had engineered a miraculous run chase against Greater Illawarra from what had seemed an impossible situation, but there were still 17 runs left to get with less than five overs remaining.
"I was nervous, but if you let nerves defeat you, you're going to let everyone down," Smith said.
"The way Tyler was batting, I was pretty confident if I could stay out there and get him on strike as much as possible, we'd be in a pretty good place."
The day had begun when Greater Illawarra won the toss and elected to bat first at Goulburn' Seiffert Oval.
It was the second round of the NSW Country Championships, and ACT Southern Districts was still looking for its first win after a close loss to Riverina on Friday.
Illawarra began cautiously, and thanks to a gritty knock of 62 from Brynley Richards, compiled a score of 7-220 from its 50 overs. Richards was ably supported by Kerrod White (37) and Mitchell Hearn (34).
Lewis Evans (3-32) and Finlay McGurk (2-32) were the standout bowlers for ACTSD, which began its run chase on a flattening deck in good spirits.
However, those spirits quickly dissipated when the top order collapsed to 5-35.
ACTSD faltered under examination from Ilawarra's opening bowlers, Rhys Voysey (2-32) and Eric Denhartog (2-33), whose combination of pace, swing, and bounce proved too much.
The fall of the fifth wicket brought Van Luin to the crease, who was eager to take on the challenge of rescuing the innings.
"I had the belief in the group, we bat pretty deep," Van Luin said.
"I definitely knew if I hung around that we were a pretty good chance. The run rate never really played in my mind at all, and we were going at five an over anyway, so I was just hoping someone could hang around."
Despite Van Luin's knack for producing his best when his back is to the wall, the mood in the dressing room was grim when he strode to the wicket.
Silence reigned over the players, and even as Van Luin and Brad Thomas (43) began mounting a rearguard, hope still seemed faint.
It wasn't until Van Luin hit two sixes in three balls off Illawarra spinner Xavier McDevitt that his ACTSD teammates started to believe victory was possible.
Even so, wickets fell consistently at the other end after Thomas was dismissed, and it wasn't until McGurk joined Van Luin at the fall of the eighth wicket that another stable partnership began.
63 runs later, McGurk was dismissed for an enterprising 25, which brought Smith to the crease.
The run rate slowed somewhat as Smith looked only to keep the ball out, which left ACTSD in need of 11 runs from the last two overs.
As the pressure built, Van Luin slapped an authoritative four over cover in the penultimate over. Then, with two left to win and four balls remaining, he thundered a towering six back over bowler Kerrod White's head to end the match.
When the final ball left Van Luin's bat, celebrations erupted from his teammates, and the Illawarra fielders wearily acknowledged his stunning 94 not out, which had saved ACTSD's campaign.
"Tyler played a very similar inning last year in a one-day semi-final," Smith said.
"He came in at 4-6 and got 120 and we made 230. He's that sort of player, tends to bat best when the chips are down."
ACTSD play Wests today at Seiffert Oval in round three of the NSW Country Championships. The match will begin from 9.30am.
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