The curtain recently came down very quietly on what was one of the most bewildering Sheffield Shield seasons in its over one hundred years of existence. The final was such a non-event it seems fairly certain the concept will be done away with in future, and the winner will revert to being whoever tops the table at the end of the season. The new points system may or may not have been a success. Honestly, we haven’t a clue, as we still have no bloody idea how it works. And then there was the fact that most of the season was overshadowed, firstly by the success of the Big Bash and then the World Cup, which saw Victoria finish its season by playing home games in Alice Springs, of all places.
None of which, of course, even comes close to what occurred back in round four, when Phil Hughes was felled by a bouncer and died in hospital two days later. The outpouring of grief that accompanied that tragic incident seems almost hard to believe now. An incident that occurred just some four months ago today feels impossibly distant. And yet, it goes without saying that Hughes’ passing cast a shadow over the entire competition. Whatever else, this season will always be remembered for Hughes.
On the field this season was important for the same reasons that the past few Shield seasons have been important: there are still a wealth of spots up for grabs in the Australian Test team and whoever put their hands up here was in for a good chance of grabbing a ticket to England in a few months. Where they will probably enjoy the privilege of packing Shane Watson’s kitbag for him. In the current Australian setup there is need of a new opener, to ultimately replace Rodgers, a new backup ‘keeper (and chief ‘sender-offerer’) to replace Haddin, potentially another middle order batsman, depending on where the selectors go with Shaun Marsh and Joe Burns, and a second string spinner to provide competition for Lyon’s position.
Rumour has it that the squad picked for the upcoming tour of the West Indies will also be the one taken to England, since the two series are back to back, and two names in particular should be on that list. The first is Adam Voges, who scored 1,358 runs at an average of 104.46 for the season, and Fawad Ahmed, who took 48 wickets at 24.48. Voges, now 35, has been exceptionally unlucky to have not played more international cricket. An ODI batting overage of 45 after 31 games would be enough to have him in most teams. But not Australia’s obviously. And given the way they won the World Cup you have to suspect the selectors might have got that call right. But he deserves a crack at the Test team at last.
Ahmed is, despite his impressive numbers, less sure of a spot in the touring squad, if only because the Australian selectors will be doing everything possible to try and squeeze Glenn Maxwell back into the Test team somewhere. Although probably not as a first drop batsman this time around. Or an opening bowler. Even if nobody is sure exactly what Maxwell will bring to the team, the consensus seems to be he needs to be given the chance to do whatever it is he does. Which is probably bad news for Ahmed, who will likely reprise his role from the last tour of England as a fringe squad member who will be talked about a lot, but never actually get a game.
Ed Cowan’s blistering return to form rather ran out of steam and his season ended on a damp squib, whilst Joe Burns and Cam Ferguson all posted solid, if unremarkable, numbers. There is no clear replacement for Rodgers as of yet, and with Clarke to slot back into the Test team somewhere (below Devereux hopefully) the remaining position at number six will be filled by one of Shaun Marsh (who also had a strong domestic season), Adam Voges or Glenn Maxwell, with Mitchell Marsh probably some way further back in the pecking order. And most likely still drunk after the World Cup celebrations.
Otherwise there were few standouts. Peter Nevill now is a shoe-in to replace Haddin behind the stumps, but that will probably have to wait till after the Ashes are over, while James Pattinson’s return from injury didn’t go terribly well after he, in a new surprising twist to his career, immediately broke down with injury again. Peter Siddle grabbed a decent haul of wickets too, but overall there weren’t any performances that you would think would dissuade the selectors from having another crack at trying to turn Mitchell Starc into a proper Test bowler at last. Ashton Agar’s name popped up from time to time, but we’re going to go out on a limb and suggest it’s not yet his time to make a miraculous Devereux-esque return to international cricket as a swashbuckling middle order batsman and all round hero to the masses.
We honestly don’t expect to see wholesale changes ahead of the West Indies tour and the Ashes that follows. Shane Watson will still be there, stinking the place out and looking thoroughly unconvincing at number three and the rest of the team pretty much picks itself. The main questions will, as always, be around Clarke’s back and whether or not Mitchell Starc remembers to bring the right visa with him this time. The most pressing issue for Australia is probably over whoever gets to sit next to Devereux on the long haul flights to the West Indies and England. All we know is that whoever that turns out to be, we are already insanely jealous of them.