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The Queensland Bulls will look to put their minor premiership and home ground advantage to good use when they take on the Tasmania Tigers in the 2017-18 Sheffield Shield final, which gets underway on Friday.
The fixture will be played at the Allan Border Field in Brisbane with the Gabba (as with many grounds around the country) being out of action for cricket thanks to the beginning of the AFL season.
The Sheffield Shield final has often been shrouded in controversy, with home teams regularly employing negative tactics. The right of finishing top of the table means the team – the Bulls in this case – only need a draw to take out Australia’s premier domestic competition.
Of course, the match is played over five days instead of the regular four, but there have only been three visiting teams to win the final this century.
Victoria were the last in 2015-16 when they beat South Australia in Glenelg by seven wickets. The other two home matches lost were both by Queensland against New South Wales, with the Blues winning in 2003 and 2005 on green tops at the Gabba.
So while the home team winning by grinding out a big first innings has been the norm, Queensland doesn’t have the greatest memories of hosting the big game.
Queensland have, however, won the competition five times this century, the last of those in 2012 when they, you guessed it, beat Tasmania by three wickets.
Tasmania, on the other hand, have won the Sheffield Shield three times since 2000, grabbing it in 2007, 2011 and 2013.
Two of their victories came against New South Wales, while the last in 2012 saw them draw against Queensland at the Bellerive Oval. They batted a staggering 173.4 overs in their first innings on that occasions, taking Queensland right out of the game.
They will have to do differently this time of course, and that’s not beyond them. After sneaking into the final with a convincing win over Victoria in their last fixture, the Tigers will be full of confidence.
The Sheffield Shield was such a closely run competition in 2018 that the two most in-form teams made the final. It’s as simple as that – with three rounds to go, all six teams were still in the hunt with just a handful of points separating the field.
That form for Tasmania has seen them win three of their last four matches, beating Western Australia, South Australia and the aforementioned match against the Bushrangers, while they also drew with New South Wales on a lifeless deck at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The Tigers run to the final can be attributed to their bowling attack, which has been in stunning form. Maybe the only problem heading into the finals is having a four-man pace attack – if a road is prepared at AB field, then there is every chance not having a spin bowler will come back to hurt the Tigers.
But with Tom Rogers, Andrew Fekete, Sam Rainbird and former Australian quick Jackson Bird all being amongst the wickets during their last four games, the pressure is going to be on the Bulls from ball one.
Bird’s record speaks for itself and while he is the leader of the attack, Rogers and Fekete have stood up recenty. Fekete claimed ten wickets across the two innings against the Bushrangers, while the Canberra-born Rogers has taken 17 wickets at 16.4 in the last four rounds.
Rogers had a wow of a Big Bash season leading into the post-Christmas rounds of the Shield, and his form has been a big part of the reason Tasmania have been able to climb into the final.
While the bowling attack will be able to hold their own, Tasmania need to find a way to score enough runs. One man earmarked for a big future is Jake Doran, with the Fairfield-Liverpool junior moving to Tasmania and struggling during his initial stint.
He has turned that run on its head though, posing a century and five half-centuries in his last seven matches. While he hasn’t managed to turn them into big scores, Doran has been a consistent force for the Tigers and will need to be again, batting around experience.
Alex Doolan and George Bailey – both former Test batsmen – need to lead the charge for Tasmania. Playing away in a Shield final means aggression is neccessary at some point, and if the trio mentioned can build a solid platform, it should allow the likes of Matthew Wade and Simon Milenko to make plenty of runs down the order.
While the synopsis on the Tasmanian team is a positive one, they are going to need to be perfect to beat a Queensland team who are re-invigorated with a former Australian combination at the top of the order.
Even though the Bulls struggled in their first innings against the Blues in Round 10 of the Shield last week, they picked up a tough win and still bring very good form into the final.
After being skittled in their first innings last week, first drop Marnus Labuschagne led the way with a big century as Queensland racked up 9 for 438 delcared in their second innings, trying to set up a win.
With that sort of form and runs being scored, plus not having the pressure of trying to set up a result, Queensland are in an ideal position to grind out a big first innings total whether batting first or second.
Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw have both previously shown their ability to spend long periods of time at the crease and if the Tigers’ attack can’t get rid of them early, things could go downhill very quickly.
Both Burns and Renshaw are naturally defensive players who take time to get into their innings. A Shield final plays right into the pair’s hands, with neither forced to bat outside their comfort zone at any point.
While they won’t have to play out of their comfort zone, there is a little bit of pressure on the top three. Charlie Hemphrey is likely to win the No.4 spot ahead of Lachlan Pfeffer, but a career batting average of 31.79 across 21 first-class matches isn’t going to fill anyone with great confidence.
He did score a century against the Warriors in Round 9, but if there’s a rot of wickets at the top, the Bulls won’t want to be relying on their middle order. Sam Heazlett, Jack Wildermuth and Jimmy Pierson are all in solid enough form and have been part of a team winning three and drawing three of their last six, but none have been standouts.
That role has been reserved for Renshaw, who has made three centuries over the second half of the Shield season.
Along with Renshaw, the bowling attack have been firing on all cylinders and working as a unit. Michael Neser has led the way for the most part, grabbing 22 wickets in the last five rounds.
The rest have been shared around, although it’s unclear if Luke Feldman or Brendan Doggett will get the final spot – Doggett has taken nine wickets in three games since Christmas, while Feldman has also been in and out of the side, not pulling quite the same numbers.
The real difference maker should Queensland be put under pressure will be Mitchell Swepson. Playing five days instead of four gives the pitch an extra day to deteriorate, and the leg-spinner, who has been included in previous Australian squads has picked up 15 wickets in the final five rounds of Shield action.
If he can continue that, the Tasmanian batting line-up may well be in all sorts.
Queensland won both matches between the two sides during the regular season and convincingly so. The first saw them win by seven wickets in Hobart, before the Tasmanian order crumbled twice during Round 6 at the Gabba, with the Bulls winning that one by 206 runs.
Dates: Friday March 23 – Tuesday March 27
First ball: 11am (AEDT) – 10am (local)
Venue: Allan Border Field, Brisbane
Online: Live, Cricket Australia website
Betting: Bulls $1.57, Tigers $2.40
Umpires: Gerard Abood and Sam Nogajski
1. Joe Burns
2. Matthew Renshaw
3. Marnus Labuschagne
4. Charlie Hemphrey
5. Sam Heazlett
6. Jack Wildermuth
7. Jimmy Pierson
8. Michael Neser
9. Mark Steketee
10. Mitchell Swepson
11. Brendan Doggett
Rest of squad – Lachlan Pfeffer, Luke Feldman
1. Jordan Silk
2. Alex Doolan
3. Beau Webster
4. Jake Doran
5. George Bailey (c)
6. Matthew Wade (wk)
7. Simon Milenko
8. Tom Rogers
9. Sam Rainbird
10. Jackson Bird
11. Andrew Fekete
Rest of squad – Hamish Kingston, Riley Meredith, Ben McDermott
|Start (AEDT)||Finish (AEDT)||Start (local)||Finish (local)|
|First session||11:00 AM||1:00 PM||10:00 AM||12:00 PM|
|Lunch||1:00 PM||1:40 PM||12:00 PM||12:40 PM|
|Second session||1:40 PM||3:40 PM||12:40 PM||2:40 PM|
|Tea||3:40 PM||4:00 PM||2:40 PM||3:00 PM|
|Third session||4:00 PM||6:00 PM||3:00 PM||5:00 PM|
Home ground advantage in a Sheffield Shield final is so, so important. Queensland have finished the season with a bang and having Renshaw and Burns at the top of the order gives them a big advantage.
The Tasmanian attack have been in great form and it set up the final spot with a win over Victoria in Hobart, but they will struggle to do so should the pitch be one prepared as expected.
If it’s prepared with plenty of grass and Tasmania make a good start, they will be a chance. Otherwise, Queensland should get the job done.
Queensland to win the title.