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Opinion

Four takeaways from Round 2 of the Sheffield Shield

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22nd October, 2020
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The second foursome of teams completed their matches yesterday and we were left with a pair of draws.

Both South Australia vs Tasmania and Western Australia vs New South Wales played out as fairly harmless stalemates. What can we learn from this relatively quiet set of mid-week matches?

What is Green may be golden
Cameron Green made the clearest statement yet that he belongs in the baggy cap that befits his name. Against a fairly strong NSW attack headlined by Nathan Lyon, Green made an excellent 197 and allowed Western Australia to claim first-innings points in response to the Blues’ well-made 6/443d.

When I watch Green, what immediately strikes me is his stillness at the crease. This stillness grants him tremendous control in his defensive strokes and I think he already has the defensive game to be viable at the Test level.

There are still things to work on in his attacking game. Green suffers from the common complaint of the tall batsman in that he can reach-out a little too far away from his head and lose control of his front-foot strokes. However, his tremendous stillness mitigates that issue.

It is clear that he already has the mindset to succeed as well. Making a century is hard enough, but making a big century is even harder. So many players get out not long after scoring a century because it is natural to want to celebrate an achievement and relax.

It requires real strength of will to refocus and push on. Both of Green’s last two centuries have been converted into scores over 150. This indicates a mental maturity well beyond his 21 years of age.

When Green first burst onto the scene, he was viewed as Australia’s next all-rounder. As was hinted in my article last week about Ashton Agar, an all-rounder can be code for someone who is quite good at both batting and bowling, but without being brilliant at either.

Green is no such bits-and-pieces player. He is already good enough as a batsman and could be picked purely on his quality with the blade.

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Three’s a crowd for middle-order spots
In addition to Green’s brilliant century, the other star batsman was Travis Head who made 171* on the final day against Tasmania’s solid bowling attack. What was most impressive about Head’s innings was the way he blended attack with defence.

South Australia had no chance of winning the game and were batting mainly to survive.

Travis Head.

(William West/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite the game situation, Head hit 23 boundaries which were more than the other six SA batsmen’ combined. He also finished his innings with a strike rate of 65. The next best was Jake Weatherald with 36.

Head’s attacking game was not the result of any risky aggression, he simply played good shots with timing and skill.

For the three spots in Australia’s middle-order (4, 5, 6), one of those is already set in stone for Steve Smith. There is a bit more uncertainty as to who should play at 5 and 6.

Matthew Wade and Head occupied those positions against New Zealand and were a mixed bag. Head did make one good century in Melbourne while Wade looked frequently uncomfortable against Neil Wagner and struggled.

Green is probably the next batter to come into the team. Green may be young, but it is arguable that he is already producing at a level which Wade and Head have never been able to match.

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Green already averages 52 at first-class level, which is better than his two competitors have ever achieved and his new high-score of 197 is higher than Wade and Head’s best.

With both Green and Head batting so well in this match, the pressure is well and truly on Wade’s spot against India. Wade is expected to return for Tasmania’s next match against Victoria and will want to show that he is still the best option for the remaining middle-order spots.

Tasmania and South Australia really needed to win
Whilst it is early in the season, it is not too early to say that neither South Australia or Tasmania are likely to be threatening the top of the table.

Both teams came into this season with clear weaknesses. Both teams have a lack of first-class quality batsmen. South Australia can rely upon Head, Callum Ferguson and perhaps Jake Weatherald but otherwise are relying on unproven young players who are yet to truly impress.

Tasmania’s batting line-up is probably the worst in Australia. Their most-talented player is Ben McDermott, but he only averages 31 at first-class level.

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Both have solid seam-bowling attacks, but they heavily rely on older seam bowlers who offer good control but limited wicket-taking ability. Neither Tasmania or SA have a reliable strike bowler.

In their first matches, both teams lost their matches by massive margins. Tasmania lost to Queensland by an innings, and SA lost to Western Australia by 205 runs. While both those games made it into the final session, I think that is more a result of very batter-friendly pitches rather than the defensive quality of either side.

Knowing all of that, both teams really could have used a win. Both for their confidence, and because the best chance that Tasmania and South Australia have to win is probably against each other. Instead, it was a tame draw.

Tasmania did start well as they demolished SA’s fragile batting line-up and then piled on a big score themselves. However, the Tigers only took three wickets on the final day in a punchless performance.

Both teams had positives in their play yet ultimately this game should feel like a missed opportunity for two states who will need every point they can get.

Dull pitches lead to dull games
For a long time, the Adelaide Oval wicket was where bowling went to die. In the ’80s, there was a period where there were six drawn Test matches in a row as batting line-ups piled up the runs on a wicket that was close to a road.

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Over time Adelaide’s curating team, led by Les Burdett, focused on producing a pitch that had more life early on and provided more assistance to the spinners as the game went on. Adelaide was still a good batting wicket but became more even and we now see more results there. Since 2000 there have only been three draws in 20 Tests.

The curators of Karen Rolton Oval and Park 25 could take a lesson from this. In the first two rounds, the pitches have been too beneficial for batting. In the first round, we still got results but I think that was due to the weaknesses of SA and Tasmania’s batting rather than the quality of the pitches.

In this round, there were two more evenly matched games and they were both uncompetitive draws as all four teams made big totals.

Neither pitch had much life early on, and there was only a small amount of wear for the spinners. Outside of a couple of footmarks, the ball didn’t spin appreciably and didn’t offer much seam or bounce for the quicker bowlers.

All of this isn’t all the curators’ fault. Due to the soil conditions in Adelaide, it’s going to be difficult to create a wicket which assists bowlers. However, more must be done to balance out the games.

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With the current state of international cricket, this is a rare chance to focus upon the Sheffield Shield and it would be a shame if that focus is wasted upon flat pitches that lead to poor games.