Only the hardcore cricket fan would have watched the 2011/12 Sheffield Shield final closely. For those that didn’t, here are five things to take away from the game.
Selectors made the right call in axing Ricky Ponting as captain
Don’t get me wrong, I love Ricky. But his captaincy lurches from average to poor. In the first innings, with the Bulls at Tasmania’s mercy, Ponting devoted more time and energy to moaning about a ball change. Sure, the ball was wet, but with a side a 5/80, it would have been more pertinent to concentrate on taking wicket six.
Similarly, when Hopes was going, Ponting should have eased up on the throttle. A little restraint, an extra man in the covers, telling the bowlers to drop their length back slightly to stem the tide would have been an adequate response.
Ponting’s plans also were in need of serious examination. Indeed, aside from his bowlers conjuring a wicket, Ponting’s only plan appeared to be to bounce the opposing batsmen out. The one time this tactic would have been useful was when Steve Magoffin came out to bat in the second innings.
Throughout the second innings, Ponting appeared to play catch-up, placing fielders wherever the previous ball went. Granted, Hopes did this himself at some points, but that does not excuse the fact that Ponting had no clear strategy to dismiss the batsmen.
One cannot help but wonder about the result if Bailey was in charge.
Every team needs a stodgy player, preferably an opener
It would be quite easy for the selectors to get carried away with the idea of Warner and Watson opening in Test cricket. Certainly, a good session from these two would take the game away from any opposing side.
But the Shield final clearly highlighted the need for a stodgy opener, a batsman whose role is to blunt the attack and allow others to bat around him. It is no surprise that out of the four innings, three stodgy openers ground out the highest scores.
Four and five day cricket is a game of patience, and even if you have a limited technique (looking at you Mr Cazzulino), occupying the crease will always bring runs eventually. More importantly, other batsmen can build around you, and bowlers will waste energy, both through bowling too many overs and sheer frustration.
Bowlers have worked it out, batsmen haven’t
Last season, medium pace bowlers (high 120s to low 130s) dominated the domestic scene. Copeland, Butterworth, Faulkner and WA’s Ryan Duffield all were at the top of the wicket taking tree, simply through swinging the ball and putting it into the ‘right areas’. Granted, last summer was a wet one that was helpful to seam bowlers, but given that sides had seen what bowlers would offer, the balance should have been righted this summer in favour of the batsmen.
Not so. While both sides had very good attacks, clearly Australian batsmen have not worked out how to bat in unfriendly conditions. Our international batsmen were exposed against swing, and it is clear that the trend continues domestically. Playing in adverse conditions is tough, but with the advent of patience, it is not impossible.
Chris Hartley defied the most successful bowling unit of the past two seasons through a seemingly revolutionary technique of leaving the ball outside off, playing late with soft hands, decisive but late footwork, and punishing loose bowling. How novel! Cowan played his second innings in much the same manner. James Hopes opted for a belligerent approach, but this was aided in the first innings by a ball that wasn’t deviating and bad bowling.
For all their camps, Australian batsmen, both domestic and international, would do well to spend some time in England over the winter to play against a moving ball. Maybe learning through experience will see these batsmen develop soft hands, an idea of where their off stump is, and how to move decisively both forward and back.
Our bowlers have clearly learnt that pitching the ball up and letting it talk will get the results.
Cameron Boyce can play for Australia
On a first day ‘Gabba wicket, a Cameron Boyce delivery spat off the pitch and dismissed Test opener Ed Cowan, something his more illustrious teammates failed to do. In short, the raw materials are there for Cameron Boyce. His leg-break turns considerably, and he also achieves some drift.
His bowling could use more flight, but most importantly he continues to improve. It is not far-fetched to claim that he has the best leg-break in Australia. If he continues on his upward curve, Nathan Lyon should feel less secure about his spot in the future.
The way Queensland have handled Boyce should also be commended. Even on unfavourable pitches, Queensland have been willing to give Boyce an opportunity. While his stats aren’t mind blowing, there is enough there to suggest he will be a match winner.
The domestic game still produces wonderful cricket
Until tea on the first day, it was Tasmania’s game. By lunch the next day, it had swung towards Queensland, and back to Tasmania by the end of the day. The third day was definitely Queensland, but the second session of the last day was all Tasmania. In the end, Queensland won.
Granted, there were times where the game was a grind, but a better preparation for Test cricket you will not find. The game never clearly belonged to either side, and what it did result in was a tense, arm wrestle of a game that had an exciting conclusion.
The quality of the cricket was good, and hopefully, a sign of a still healthy Australian domestic scene.