They were given next to no chance of winning a game this series, but somehow, Queensland have once again earned bragging rights in the traditional interstate showdown.
Aah, spring. The weather’s warming up and the footy seasons are coming to a close. Time then for willow fanciers around the country to stock up the fridge, make sure the couch is still comfy and get ready for the upcoming cricket season.
With Test series against the top-ranked South Africans and the always competitive Sri Lankans coming – not to mention the home-and-away Ashes series soon after – this season’s Sheffield Shield is the time for many players to shine.
The Australian batting line-up hasn’t looked this unsettled since the 1980s, while the bowlers keep dropping like flies: perform well in the Shield and you could be pulling on the baggy green.
But who’s expected to do well – and who do we look out for? Let’s have a look at New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia.
NEW SOUTH WALES BLUES (5th last year)
OUT: Beau Casson (retired); Stuart Clark (retired); Nathan Hauritz (Queensland); Phillip Hughes (SA); Phil Jaques (retired); Simon Katich (retired); Usman Khawaja (Queensland); Timm van der Gugten (TAS)
Wow. Fifth last year and with seven Test players either retiring or moving interstate. Just looking at that you’d think NSW would struggle to win anything for a long time.
First impressions can be misleading though. Of those departing Test players only Katich (483 runs at 43.90) had anything approaching good form last year.
Hughes, Khawaja and Jaques all averaged in the 20s with the bat, while Hauritz only took three wickets in two matches. Clark was only listed as an emergency, while a recurrence of a congenital heart condition sadly forced Casson to retire at the age of 29.
Of those left, many are reaping the rewards of the September start with Australian captain Michael Clarke leading the side for the first two matches. While players like Clarke, Shane Watson and David Warner will be away most of the season, former Test players Doug Bollinger and Trent Copeland will lead the attack, while there will be plenty of attention on all-rounders Steve O’Keefe, Moises Henriques and Steven Smith as they slowly progress.
And that’s without NSW’s uncanny knack of producing good batsmen: keep an eye out on Nic Maddison and Peter Nevill.
Prediction: third or fourth.
QUEENSLAND BULLS (1st)
IN: Nathan Hauritz (NSW); Usman Khawaja (NSW); Luke Pomersbach (WA)
OUT: Ben Dunk (TAS); Steve Magoffin (Sussex); Chris Swan (retired)
Last year’s champions did it in time-honoured Queensland fashion: strong fast bowling; a great wicket-keeper; and some very brittle batting.
Only two Queensland batsmen (Peter Forrest and Joe Burns) averaged over 40 last season, while no less than seven bowlers averaged under 30, with four (Alister McDermott, Magoffin, Ryan Harris and Ben Cutting) averaging under 20 runs per wicket.
Indeed, it’s an interesting fact that of the 78 players to make their Test debuts after a certain S.K. Warne, only three of them have been Queenslander specialist batsmen (Matthew Hayden, Stuart Law and Martin Love), with two all-rounders (Shane Watson and Andrew Symonds).
This compares with seven specialist bowlers picked during the same period (Michael Kasprowicz, Andy Bichel, Adam Dale, Scott Muller, Nathan Hauritz, Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris).
To that end Queensland have recruited wisely: Khawaja and Pomersbach were once two of the more highly rated young batsmen going around. Both come with their own personal baggage they hope coach Darren Lehmann can help them get rid of; while it will be interesting to see if Hauritz can flourish in his return to his home state after being ‘blowtorched’ by Queensland in the past.
Both Hauritz and leg-spinner Cameron Boyce have been named in the Bulls’ squad for their opening match against South Australia, something very much against the mould of Queensland all-pace attacks. Look out for McDermott and Cutting again this year as they aim for any openings in the Test team.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA REDBACKS (6th)
IN: Johan Botha (South Africa); Phillip Hughes (NSW)
OUT: Aiden Blizzard (TAS)
For the last couple of years South Australian coach Darren Berry has been slowly building his side: Big Bash winners 2010/11; Ryobi Cup winners 2011/12. Next step is to try and lift their Shield results after last year’s desperately disappointing effort of just two points for the whole year.
The team’s problems aren’t with runs. The Adelaide Oval is renown as being a batsman’s paradise, with Dan Christian, Michael Klinger and Tom Cooper all averaging over 40 last season. Hughes’ recruitment will add more runs to that, although whether it’s in his best interests to be playing home games on a flat wicket with short square boundaries is another thing.
No, the problem for South Australia is taking wickets. Just four bowlers (Gary Putland, Joe Mennie, Peter George and Christian) took more than 10 wickets last season, with former Test bowler George scalping at an average of 37 and Christian taking his 10 at nearly 50.
To that end new captain Botha will give them something while Test spinner Nathan Lyon is away, but you can’t help but feel the team are still one bowler short of consistently getting 20 wickets a game.