With just two rounds remaining in the 2017-18 Sheffield Shield, the Queensland Bulls appear to be in the driver’s seat for a spot in the final after a commanding win over South Australia. These are all my key points from Round 8.
Queensland Bulls are looking good, but do they have what it takes to win the competition?
The Bulls have rocketed to the top of the table. They currently lead the competition by eight points and just one win from the final two games will more or less secure their spot in the big dance.
Of course, the pressure will remain on to an extent because of the Shield’s bonus points system, but the Bulls are in an incredibly good position given how close the rest of the competition is.
Their win over the struggling Redbacks by 115 runs indicates their form is at the top and with no real losses to the Australian tour of South Africa – bar Usman Khawaja – they are almost at full strength.
The question of whether they have what it takes to win remains though. An in-form Matt Renshaw is a key at the top of the order, especially if they were to get home ground advantage and only need a draw to take hom the Shield.
Talent is littered right throughout their order though. Marnus Labuschange has produced plenty at first drop including a solid 62 in the game just completed, while Sam Heazlett and Jimmy Pierson among others add depth to their order.
The bowling attack, led recently by Brendan Doggett and Luke Feldman have done their job, with the spin of Australian hopefull Mitchell Swepson adding plenty.
There is a youthful exubrance about this Bulls team. Whether they have enough experience to win the Shield is anyone’s guess, but they didn’t put a foot wrong against the Redbacks.
Victoria move away from the ‘G and find a way to win
As I discussed after Round 7, playing home games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground has crueled Victoria this season. A lifeless deck means not a single result has been forced on the famous ground, but the Bushrangers have done enough on the road and after a huge 255 run win over Western Australia – including a stack of bonus points – they are back to second.
To go from last to second in one round illustrates how close the competition is, but the Bushrangers, with games ahead at the Junction Oval and in Hobart will be confident of two results.
The make-up of the final is likely to come down to bonus points, but the Vics seem like a team who are likely to win their remaining two games against an understrength Blues outfit and Tasmania.
With Glenn Maxwell, Aaron Finch, Cameron White, Daniel Christian and Peter Siddle leading the way, they are experienced and know how to win under pressure. Don’t be surprised to see them finish in the top two.
Matthew Wade and Matt Renshaw fire… again
In Round 7, former Australian wicketkeeper Matthew Wade and opening batsman Matt Renshaw both blasted centuries, making their return to some sort of form.
It was reminiscent of the form which saw them rise to the national team in the first place, and what had been missing from both of their games for the majority of the summer.
Renshaw was on an upward trend anyway with a couple of half-centuries, but he continues to put the pressure on Cameron Bancroft to perform in South Africa, scoring another against the Redbacks. This time, it was an impressive 112 in Queensland’s first innings which virtually set the match up for the visitors.
He made almost a third of their first innings runs, with the Redbacks then proving exactly what the pitch was doing by capitulating for just 162.
From there, the result of the match was a mere formality and with Renshaw making back-to-back centuries, he will look to continue that form for two, maybe three more matches and then take it to county cricket in England with an eye of breaking back into the national set up.
Wade meanwhile all but admitted his Test career was over shortly after being dropped for this summer, replaced by fellow Tigers’ keeper Tim Paine.
While Paine’s form was superb over the summer and there is no chance of him losing his spot anytime soon, Wade is putting the pressure back on with two straight centuries. This one has to be taken with a grain of salt given the road which was presented at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but there can be no doubting Wade is looking good at the crease – something like his former self.
Tasmanian youngsters continue rise
Tasmania might have been involved in one of the more boring draws you are every likely to see with New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground, but that didn’t stop 23-year-old quick Tom Rogers and 21-year-old batsman Jake Doran from making their mark.
With final match scores reading 8 for 449 and 4 for 489, Rogers was the absolute pick of the bowlers as he took 4 for 88 in 20.5 overs. It continues an impressive run of form for the young quick, after he took combined match figures of 7 for 55 last round in Tasmania’s innings rout of Western Australia.
After an impressive Big Bash and good performances on either side, Rogers is a name to monitor over the next couple of years.
Doran, on the other hand, moved from New South Wales and until a this season has never looked himself in the apple isle.
He cracked his maiden century in November and hasn’t looked back, making runs in all but one of his last five Shield innings, including a solid 97 against New South Wales. Like Wade’s score, it has to be taken with some reluctance because of the nature of the wicket, but Doran is on the rise.
With age on his side and a keeping ability to go with it – although that’s not getting much of a run in Tasmania – he is still someone who should be firmly in the future of Australian cricket.
What to make of New South Wales?
It’s difficult to know how to judge the Blues at the moment. The pitch and weather ruined their game against Tasmania, but it means they have had two draws and three losses in their last five matches with the side not looking like winning since their Test players moved away from the side.
With players like Peter Nevill, Nic Maddinson, Moises Henriques, Daniel Hughes and Steve O’Keefe, there is no excuse for them not to be matching it with other States in the Shield.
All five of those players have Test aspirations – to play for Australia – and if they can’t dominate, or at least be winning half of their matches against those other states, then questions have to be asked.
Their performances under pressure have been anything but fantastic, and the Blues at this stage are looking a long way from a finals berth. Even though it’s only two points on the ladder and could swing in a round, they must find a way to beat Victoria and limit the advantage they gain in the next round if they are to make the final.
At the moment though, that looks like a pipe dream for New South Wales. The team don’t know how to win and without their Australian players, it doesn’t look likely to change.
Here is a reminder of where the competition stands with two rounds to go.
Round 8 full results
New South Wales drew Tasmania at SCG
Victoria defeat Western Australia by 255 runs at WACA
Queensland defeat South Australia by 118 runs at Adelaide Oval
As it stands, this is the Sheffield Shield ladder.
These are the remaining fixtures for the season.
March 3 – March 6: Victoria vs New South Wales at Junction Oval, St Kilda
March 5 – March 8: Tasmania vs South Australia at Blundstone Oval, Hobart
March 6 – March 9: Queensland vs Western Australia at The Gabba, Brisbane
March 14 – Match 17: Tasmania vs Victoria at Blundstone Oval, Hobart
March 14 – Match 17: New South Wales vs Queensland at North Dalton Park, Wollongong
March 14 – Match 17: South Australia vs Western Australia at Gliderol Stadium, Glenelg
Roarers, what did you make of Round 8 in the Sheffield Shield? Drop a comment below and let us know.