It is undoubtedly a little sad to spend hours of your life sitting at your computer staring at footage of a cricket pitch. Occasionally seeing the bowler trundle in, and the batsmen run back and forth. Every now and then everyone will simultaneously run off camera, leading you to wonder if a wicket has fallen, or it’s stumps, or if the field has simply come under attack by some unknown assailant. But if you’re a Sheffield Shield aficionado, that has been your lot these past few weeks. And in a way, there is something communal about the experience. The knowledge that you are just one of perhaps dozens all sharing that same experience with you.
The final round of the Shield was something of a marketer’s dream. If only the competition had any marketers. Or a potential market beyond dweebs like us. Four teams were still not only in contention for the final, but all still theoretically in contention to host it. In the mix were New South Wales and Western Australia, equal on points on top of the table; in third sat South Australia and in fourth Queensland. NSW and Western Australia would fight it out in Canberra (because there’s a baseball game scheduled for the SCG, either that or they are still cleaning up the mess Piers Morgan left in the practice nets), while Victoria hosted Queensland and South Australia were in Tasmania.
South Australia were the first to fall. Needing a victory to secure their first finals appearance in nearly a decade, they instead handed Tasmania their highest ever winning margin: an innings and 316 runs. South Australia wouldn’t even have been in the position of needing to win if they had beaten NSW in the previous round (the first, incidentally, to be played under lights as Cricket Australia trialed the new pink ball). But a last innings partnership between Josh Hazlewood and Doug Bollinger (of all people) denied them an outright result.
In Tasmania they were bundled out for 212 (being at one stage 39-5), with Jackson Bird taking two wickets in his first over in First Class cricket for six months, and finishing with six for the innings. In reply Tasmania amassed 651, largely the result of Evan Gulbis hitting 229 from number eight (the second highest score in history from a number eight). South Australia were then dismissed for 123 in their second innings to be sent home blubbing.
Queensland needed to beat Victoria outright to qualify for the final. They began rather well, rolling Victoria for 210, and posting 483/8 in return. If they could bowl Victoria out again they would be in the final, and if rain washed out play in the NSW vs. WA fixture, they would even host it. Sadly for them, the rain stayed away, and Victoria stubbornly decided to bat properly for once. They were 314/2 in their second innings before Queensland finally gave up and went home.
That left the match between NSW and WA, which turned out to be a straight shoot out for final hosting privileges. Which is a big deal when you consider a drawn result hands victory to the home side. In a common theme for the round, WA were knocked over in short order in the first innings, 82 runs being all they could muster. In return NSW managed 186. In their second innings WA did a little better, hitting 316, most of which came from the bat of Shaun Marsh, who scored 113 after being dismissed for a duck in the first innings (which made it three in a row if you go back to the second Test in South Africa).
NSW therefore needed 213 to win and, not surprisingly, most of them came from Steven Peter Devereux Smith who, along with being the NSW captain and stunningly handsome to boot, top scored in both innings with 48 and 89. His dismissal in the second innings nearly undid all the good work though, holing out to long on in the last over before lunch against the bowling of Ashton Agar (remember him?), leaving NSW precariously placed at 188/7. They needn’t have worried though, as a man who averaged 39.5 in Test cricket over the 2013/14 season was next in. Suffice to say Nathan Lyon (with a little help from Stephen O’Keefe) saw them home.
All of which means NSW will host WA in Canberra in the Shield Final. It should, at least, not exist within the media vacuum that this round largely resided in. Even if purely for the reason that Michael Clarke announced he would be playing, and then subsequently withdrew on account of a busted fingernail or something. Not that we care, as it means Devereux will now captain NSW. Given that NSW have the two best spinners in the country (O’Keeffe and Lyon) and the best player of spin in the country (Devereux) a flat dusty surface can be expected. Especially now that apple-headed Doug Bollinger has been called up to the T20 World Cup.
We’ll write more about the Shield season once the final is wrapped it (unless people beg us not to), but it’ll be nice seeing the national media at least give some attention to the game. Cricket Australia did their best to whip up interest in the final round, but unless you devotedly follow their website and twitter account, you probably can be excused for having missed it entirely. That the ABC didn’t cover any of the games is disappointing but also, as we have pointed out before, entirely understandable. Until Cricket Australia can give the ABC some incentive to get involved, like they did with Channel Nine and the Ryobi Cup competition, there really isn’t any reason for them to do so. Particularly not now the Aussie Rules and Rugby League seasons have started up again. As it stands, a seven over contest in South Africa received far more attention than this round of Shield cricket did.
But at least the ABC will be there to cover to the final. We wish we’d also be allowed to see more of the action than just the playing strip alone, but are more inclined to just count our blessings at this stage. As for the final itself, it ought to be a tight affair if the last round fixture between the two sides is anything to go by. And it would be a fitting conclusion to this most extraordinary of Australian domestic seasons to have its future Test captain raise the most prestigious trophy in the land at the end of it. We are guessing even West Australians might be grudgingly inclined to agree. Maybe.