Nostalgia eh? It’s pretty strange stuff. We’re not ones to have too much truck with saccharine rubbish like that (unless it happens to involve the fact that the cartoons of yesteryear are miles ahead of the crap you see today), but there is no denying its effectiveness. Some flash new group comes along, garnering all the praise in the world. The kids love them. Every billboard, every bus that drives past bears their likeness. And with all the plaudits comes the money. My god the money. Absolutely rolling in it they are. By now all you are seeing is a nauseating superficiality, something which you are convinced your peers of past times could never lay claim to. Sure, we never appreciated them at the time, but compared to this new mob, suddenly those old figures seem to assume a much greater sense of gravitas. What once seemed boring and taciturn, now appears to speak of a humility and inner turmoil that would put a Raskolnikov to shame. These new flavours of the week wouldn’t know the meaning of humility, and probably think Raskolnikov is a type of machine gun you can use in Call of Duty. But with the money they are raking in, they would never need to know better either. Makes us sick.
The Sheffield Shield is like that. Nobody liked it back it in the day – it was thought boring, pointless, something to go out of your way to avoid having anything to do with. But with Australian cricket in the state that is in now, a wave of nostalgia has swept over the land. The Shield was so much better back in the day because of….reasons. Buggered if anyone really knows what those reasons are, but everyone is convinced they exist nonetheless. Because it’s clear that the Shield isn’t producing any good new young players anymore. Except for good new young players like Steven Peter Devereux Smith and James Faulkner. And those players that it does produce tend to be self-entitled wankers of the highest order. Until everyone realizes that they aren’t wankers of the highest order, just ambitious and highly competitive. Like Steven Peter Devereux Smith and James Faulkner.
It’s so easy to hate on Australian domestic cricket these days it’s equally easy to simply ignore everything positive about it too. No, there aren’t enough good young players coming through (Cricket Australia wouldn’t bother chasing that Robson bloke otherwise), but that’s sometimes how things go. But it’s not as if it’s not producing any young talent at all, rather those which do appear never get the recognition they deserve. The fact that Devereux was, until about six months ago, one of the most hated players in Australian cricket, is a damning indictment of the intelligence of your typical Australian cricket fan.
This season will be not about finding the saviour of Australian cricket. One doesn’t exist. Instead the Shield this year will be about the revival of some of the older heads. Stories about guys like Mitchell Johnson, Michael Klinger and Mark Cosgrove have dominated the lead up to this year’s competition. As Cosgrove is the youngest of the three at 29, it’s clear that there is no new wave ready to sweep aside everything in their path just yet. Instead there is a bunch of older guys who have actually been playing quite well of late. You know, scoring runs, taking wickets, that sort of stuff. The sort of thing most Aussie fans don’t seem to actually care about that much. They would rather someone bold and new and exciting. Someone who could flog ten thousand framed lithographs on reputation alone. Nobody is going to buy a Michael Klinger lithograph. Especially not at $599 including postage and handling.
That the competition is still capable of resuscitating international careers suggests that it’s not completely worthless. Chris Rogers walking into the Test team with barely a hitch speaks well of its credentials as a proving ground. At least, to an extent. That Phil Hughes was plundering attacks for fun last season is worrying, even if it was mostly on the highway that is the Adelaide Oval pitch, and, even more worryingly, the “Cameron White for Australia” bandwagon is starting up again. It is still incapable of producing any spinners of real quality either. Nathan Lyon will no doubt get smacked around the place, bowling on unhelpful decks, before taking his spot in the Test team, bereft of all confidence. As usual. As for who will win the whole thing: literally no-one gives a shit. Well, the players might. Maybe the coaches as well, but the importance of the Shield Final in the Australian sporting calendar has plummeted in recent years to now sit a little above the Group 6 NSW Country Rugby League Grand Final (last season taken out by Picton in a thrilling win over traditional rivals Mittagong).
But then the Shield hasn’t been sexy since the 70’s. Most of the big names barely bother to play in it, and when they do they often find it a chastening experience. In fact you could probably link the problems players like Shane Watson and David Warner are experiencing directly to their lack of Shield cricket over the years (and no, Warner’s current run of colossal scores in the Ryobi Cup don’t solve anything). Sure, it’s not exactly producing world beaters at the moment either, but then what domestic competition has ever consistently done so? Aside from the obvious issues, like some states (*cough* Tasmania *cough*) taking the absolute piss with the pitches they prepare, there is not a lot wrong with what the Shield does. If anything, what it needs now most of all is protecting from an administration that probably dreams of ditching it all together in favour of a five month long Big Bash season.