Sydney AFL coach John Longmire wants more discussion about a drop-in cricket pitch for the SCG, but any change seems unlikely in the short term.
The Sheffield Shield final, with bonus points available for the first time in an attempt to stop negative, boring cricket, will see Victoria and New South Wales square off at the Junction Oval in St Kilda.
It’ll be a different sort of Shield final to the ones of previous years, where the onus was on the lower-placed team to force the game.
The last few days could still take a boring turn given one team will effectively be halfway to the victory after the first innings if the game were to be drawn, but we should expect a lively pitch in Victoria, giving us a genuine game of cricket where both teams are out to win.
Victoria comes into the contest as the minor premiers, and deservedly so, having been the best team throughout the regular season in what was an undeniable fact.
They finally managed to get some results at home after going from draw to draw on a lifeless MCG pitch over the last few years, and with an incredibly strong bowling attack, it made all the difference for the team formerly known as the Bushrangers.
The home side finished their season with a commanding seven-wicket win over South Australia in Adelaide, but it was their victory at Drummoyne over New South Wales which not only secured them a home final, but makes everyone sit up and take notice.
Their bowling attack was at its fearsome best throughout the contest, and while it was low scoring all the way, Peter Siddle and James Pattinson took a combined 8 for 59 off 26 overs in the second innings.
New South Wales, while losing that game, hit back strongly in their final game of the season to ensure they would play in the biggest domestic cricket match on the Australian calendar by beating Tasmania.
The victory over the men from the Apple Aisle also saw their bowling attack the heroes of the day, as Tasmania were reduced to scores 255 and 120.
Sean Abbott led the way in that contest, taking 7 for 45 in the second innings.
While there are plenty of good batsmen across the two sides, this is seemingly shaping up as a battle of the two bowling attacks, and particularly if the pitch has some life in it, there are absolutely no guarantees the match will go five days.
1. Travis Dean (c)
2. Marcus Harris
3. Will Pucovski
4. Cameron White
5. Seb Gotch
6. Matt Short
7. James Pattinson
8. Chris Tremain
9. Peter Siddle
10. Jon Holland
11. Scott Boland
Rest of squad – Andrew Fekete, Sam Harper, Eamonn Vines
While we talk about bowlers being the order of the day in this contest, there isn’t a whole lot wrong with the Victorian batting. Unlike their opponents, there shouldn’t be a great deal of pressure lumped on a select few individuals.
Even though Marcus Harris is going to be the big name at the top of the order as he continues the fight for his spot in the Australian team when the Ashes roll around in a few months time, there is plenty of other talent.
In saying that though, Harris has 1024 runs at 68.26 for the year, and does so aggressively, scoring his runs at a strike rate of 62.93.
Travis Dean is the skipper of this side for a reason, while Will Pucovski has 581 runs (although 243 of those were in a single innings). Cameron White also brings a wealth of experience to the equation, although has been in and out of the side a little bit this summer.
Victoria will however miss Nic Maddinson in the biggest game of the season. The man who was moved at the last minute from New South Wales and didn’t look like he would have a state contract has scored a stunning 563 runs in just five matches, averaging 80 with the stick.
Seb Gotch and Matt Short are good cricketers, but don’t have the hitting power or form of the injured Maddinson.
Their bowlers have been outstanding. Scott Boland will be back for the final, having taken 45 wickets (the second most in the competition) this season, while Jon Holland has also been consistent bowling his spin.
With the experience of Peter Siddle and recent form of James Pattinson, it’s a fearsome bowling attack, and one to be reckoned with.
New South Wales
1. Daniel Hughes
2. Nick Larkin
3. Kurtis Patterson
4. Moises Henriques
5. Jason Sangha
6. Peter Nevill (c/wk)
7. Jack Edwards
8. Steve O’Keefe
9. Trent Copeland
10. Sean Abbott
11. Henry Conway
Rest of squad – Nick Bertus, Greg West
This Blues side has some questions, but if all of their key players step it up in the crucial moments, there is no reason why they can’t claim the Sheffield Shield as the away team here.
Again, a lot of it could come down to the first innings – and in particular their batting.
Danie Hughes has had an outstanding season, scoring 699 runs at the top of the order for the Blues, and going past 50 once every three innings, while Nick Larkin has also been a steady performer, particularly given his spot may have been a little uncertain at the start of the season.
Kurtis Patterson is the man who will need to go big at number three though. He has scored 629 runs this season, but has one of the cleanest techniques in Australian cricket and needs to show it here against an outstanding bowling attack.
Moises Henriques has surprised many with his form this year, hitting almost 600 runs for the season, but from there, things do drop away. Youngsters Jason Sangha and Jack Edwards, as well as wicketkeeper Peter Nevill are all good for a score, but whether they can do it under pressure is anyone’s guess.
Where the Blues do excel is in their bowling attack, with names like Trent Copeland, Sean Abbott and Steve O’Keefe. The experienced trio have plenty to do if they are going to get through the Victorian top order, while the raw pace of Conway could add a little bit.
How does the bonus points system effect the game?
In short, a lot.
Victoria can no longer come out and play for the draw, and as a result, it may actually be preferable to bowl first.
While 100 overs is a long time to bat and anything can happen in said period of time, the idea may well be to bat second in an attempt to time the innings and ensure you can end up ahead on bonus points at the end of it, should the game eventually be heading for a draw.
That being said, there has to be more result-driven cricket than we may have seen in the past. It wouldn’t at all surprise me to see the team batting first play a normal brand of cricket, then get uber aggressive in the ten overs leading up to the bonus points cut off mark.
It probably suits the Blues more than the Victorians, but then again, if one teams is able to take ten wickets within 100 overs, and the other can’t quite get there, it could flip things on its head.
Of course, if there is an outright result, and there probably should be if the two teams go about it in a new light, bonus points won’t matter in the slightest.
How do the Blues stop Marcus Harris?
This is all about mind games, tactics and a display of patience. We know for a fact Marcus Harris has a tendency to try and score boundaries, and play aggressive cricket.
His strike rate this Shield season is a testament to that fact.
But can the Blues get it right and force him to try and reign it in, which has brought about his undoing more often than not?
It’s going to take time for the Blues. They must bowl in the right spots, with the odd ball tempting Harris into a shot, and if they are to go for a risky boundary or two, then so be it. They can’t get involved in changing plans too early, because even when set, Harris has proven he is a candidate to get out with a rush of blood.
Still, if Harris gets going he is going to be the key to Victoria’s performance, and that’s saying something when their bowling attack is considered in the same breath.
Which Blues batsmen outside of the usual suspects will stand up?
It’s all good and well to say Kurtis Patterson and Daniel Hughes will score runs – and let’s face it, one of them probably will – but someone else needs to put their hand up and score big for the Blues.
Nick Larkin is probably the best of the candidates, and this could be his chance for a breakout innings in front of the spotlights at the top of the order against an international calibre attack.
Outside of Larkin and Henriques below him, it’s Jason Sangha and Jack Edwards who the Blues will want to see some performances out of, and depending on the situation of the game and timing of when they arrive at the crease, they could have crucial roles to play.
Sangha was phenomenal earlier this year in the Big Bash, but in the four Shield games he has played since – he has only gone past 30 once and hasn’t received a huge amount of opportunity with the ball.
Jack Edwards is batting further down the order and in some low-scoring games, has found himself under pressure more than once, but like Sangha has struggled for runs.
One of these three though, you feel must stand up if the Blues are to take home the trophy.
Scott Boland has a huge role to play for the hosts
For those not following the Shield on a regular basis, it may surprise you to hear Scott Boland has been named player of the year.
It’s hardly a surprise to those who have followed along though, with the former limited overs Australian representative taking 45 wickets for the season.
He has been excellent moving the ball around, getting lots of shape and putting top orders on notice. His line, length and consistency, areas he previously struggled with (as recently as the JLT Cup this year) have all been fantastic, and if he can replicate that in the final and remove some key NSW batsmen, then Victoria will be a giant step closer to picking up the victory.
While it’s not as if he isn’t good bowling after the new ball, he has been vicious with it, and the Blues need to get through that early period and try to wear down Queensland’s strong bowling attack, also featuring James Pattinson and Peter Siddle.
Dates: Thursday, March 28 – Monday, April 1
First ball: 10:30am (AEDT)
Expected daily finish time: 5:30pm (AEDT)
Venue: Junction Oval, St Kilda, Melbourne
TV: Live, Fox Cricket 501
Online: Live, Foxtel app, Foxtel now, Kayo Sports
Betting: Victoria $1.54, New South Wales $2.44
Umpires: Sam Nogajski, Paul Wilson
|Start (AEDT)||Finish (AEDT)|
*Times may be adjusted each day due to weather, over rates or other unforseen circumstances. Play may start half an hour early on Days 2, 3, 4 and 5 due to rain on previous days. Play may be extended by up to an hour on each day due to weather. Play may be extended by a further half an hour due to slow over rates.
This could go either way, but like when they played a couple of weeks ago, the attacks are very close to being even. You would be splitting hairs to try and pick one way or the other there, so you have to go with the stronger batting attack, home ground advantage, and momentum of Victoria.
They should win this instalment of the Sheffield Shield, but there won’t be much in it by the time it’s all said and done at the end of the weekend.
Victoria in a close one.
Don’t forget to keep it locked to The Roar throughout the match for coverage and highlights of all the action.