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Opinion

Nathan Lyon finally finds form, but Victoria's fringe players make Sheffield Shield statement

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19th February, 2021
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Sporting scripts were made to be not followed, and Victoria upheld that line as they triumphed over the stacked New South Wales team at the Sydney Cricket Ground during the re-launch of the Sheffield Shield.

And while the Australian selectors would have been more than happy to see Nathan Lyon taking bags of wickets throughout the game, even his performance wasn’t enough to drag the competition favourites over the line against a plucky Victorian team with plenty of players who might be on the selection radar themselves next summer.

When you cast an eye over the Victorian side, there is plenty of talent, but not a heap of international exposure, potentially in the red-ball game.

Sure, James Pattinson, Jon Holland, Marcus Harris and Peter Handscomb are all in the side, as is Nic Maddinson, but they should have been out-matched by the Blues, and on paper, they certainly were.

Marcus Harris of Victoria bats.

(Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

But the Bushrangers bought into the idea that cricket isn’t played on paper, putting together a miraculous performance, despite the heroics of Lyon, who took match figures of 10-78 off 44.1 overs in what was an excellent display of bowling from start to finish.

The big-name pace attack failed to back him up though. Victoria shared the wickets around in the first innings, with young quick Mitchell Perry and Jon Holland both picking up three, while James Pattinson also ripped in with a couple himself.

It was then Nic Maddinson who once again put his name into the spotlight as he top-scored for the Bushrangers in their first dig, successfully thwarting Lyon on a turning pitch by scoring 77 of the Victorians’ 200. To put that into perspective, Matt Short was the next highest scorer with 30.

That puts Maddinson’s innings in excellent light, and given the runs he has been able to dish up at different points over the last 24 months in red-ball cricket, he may not be a million miles away from selection at the start of next summer.

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Nic Maddinson of Victoria.

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

In saying that, Marcus Harris will be concerned by his form, scoring only 24 and 14 in the match while rival Joe Burns made plenty in Hobart (but more on that shortly).

Scott Boland then led the attack for the Bushrangers in the second dig, while James Pattinson picked up another two. He may not have been economical, but he was unlucky in many ways and suffered the brunt of a Sean Abbott onslaught in the lower order.

Without that, Pattinson’s figures would have looked far healthier, and given the struggles of Mitchell Starc this summer, he – along with players like Chadd Sayers and Mark Steketee – will be monitored closely in the closing of this Shield season, and the beginning of the next one before the international summer gets rolling.

Maddinson then led the way again as Victoria closed out a successful run chase, making another 44. It’s not just the volume of runs for Maddinson, but the way he scored them that says he is in great form and has excellent control of his own game.

It’d be easy to get overawed against a virtually all-international attack, but he refused to do so, and with Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood unable to bowl Australia to victory against the Indians this summer, more questions will be asked of them given they couldn’t do so at state level in the return.

Nathan Lyon

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Playing at Bankstown next week won’t be all that friendly to them either. Runs normally flow at the suburban ground, with small boundaries and often a pitch that doesn’t do a great deal for the bowlers.

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One man who will be looking to capitalise on that is Steve Smith, who struggled big time at the SCG, scoring only seven and 13. His form all summer was somewhat of a worry, and while he peeled off a century in the white-ball game earlier in the week, he will be looking to recapture his weight of runs next time out.

But it was the Victorian players flying under the radar who had it all their own way at the SCG.

Speaking of players flying under the radar, Mark Steketee had an excellent second innings against Tasmania, picking up three wickets, while Joe Burns whacked 171 out of 275 in Queensland’s first dig, while he sits not out overnight in the fourth-innings run chase on a somewhat difficult wicket.

Runs will be everything in this second half of the Shield season for Burns after an incredibly rough summer in the national colours, and runs in a run chase would be even more important.

With an Ashes series on the horizon and who knows what other catch-up cricket (remember, there are series against Bangladesh and South Africa to be slotted in somewhere), Burns would have been thinking his Test career was over, but he will be looking to make an insurmountable case through a weight of runs.

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All eyes will be on Hobart today as Queensland pursue a big target to take crucial Sheffield Shield points at the resumption of the season.

But for now, the competition has been thrown on its head by Victoria getting one over Lyon and the Blues, with the two teams preparing for another match now at Bankstown next match. In a shortened season where every game will be vital, that one could all but ruin the Blues with another loss.

They will be relying on the stars to hit back, as Victoria go at them again with a side full of potential.