After Australia’s tour of South Africa was scrapped earlier this year, a more entertaining and high-profile back-end of the Sheffield Shield season had been forecast.
With a host of international players seemingly available — a rarity within packed modern schedules — hopes were high for the Shield’s second half.
But sadly, that hasn’t eventuated.
Flat wickets, rain and a sporadic selection of Test players has meant Australia’s cricketing summer post-January has been decidedly flat. This week’s clash between Queensland and Victoria was called off after just 76 overs were bowled in four days, as poor old Marcus Harris couldn’t add to his well-compiled 113.
Rain also prevented the Vics from pushing for victory in their last match against Tasmania.
But the weather gods are only partially to blame for the humdrum Shield season.
In recent weeks, the Gabba and WACA curators decided to serve up distinctly flat tracks that offered little for the bowlers.
Perpetually poor South Australia, who have won just four games in the last four seasons, managed to surpass 500 on the WACA surface, perhaps underlining just how uneven the contest was between bat and ball.
All six states have played six games apiece, but just two (Queensland and NSW) have won more than one game.
Less than half of the season’s matches have seen a result — in fact, there have been five draws in the last six fixtures.
It’s not an inspiring statistic.
Finally, the lack of Australian representation (for various reasons) has also been somewhat disappointing from a viewer/follower’s perspective. Will Pucovski was ruled out due to shoulder surgery, while the likes of Steve Smith (elbow injury), David Warner, Pat Cummins and Tim Paine have all played just one Shield match.
Granted, the Australian domestic season rarely garners widespread interest, and even if all the above points were reversed, the Shield would not be commanding back page news.
But for rusted-on fans, it’s been a steep drop-off this summer from the highs of the India Test series and a very competitive Big Bash season.
The Shield season, however, hasn’t been completely void of highlights.
Topping the list is Cameron Green, who has been in sparkling touch since his debut Test series earlier this summer.
A double ton at grade level was quickly followed by 168 not-out against South Australia, before a maiden one-day ton (144) and the pièce de résistance, a 251 at the Gabba (flat pitch notwithstanding).
What has (quite obviously) stood out is his thirst for runs and an ability to concentrate for extended periods at the crease. We’ve known about Green’s stroke-making ability for some time, but his risk mitigation at the crease is as impressive.
As we saw throughout the India series, he is more than willing to soak up balls early in an innings before slowly pushing through the gears as he feels more comfortable at the crease. It’s a priceless quality that makes Greg Chappell’s “best since Ponting” call seem less overstated each century he peels off.
Another player to impress in this back-half of the season is Travis Head, who has done exactly what has been asked of him since being dropped from the Test side. Head’s style differs significantly from Green’s and he plays far more aggressively much earlier in his innings.
But he can’t be accused of throwing his wicket away — back-to-back big innings (223 and 142) against Western Australia were reflective of that.
Peter Handscomb, too, has shown the form that had Australian cricket insiders so excited when he first rose to prominence in the Test team. The Victorian skipper looks a far more balanced player at the crease of late — a series of on-drives against Tasmania revealing the improvements he has made.
Handscomb must continue his upward trajectory to launch himself back into international contention. But just like for Glenn Maxwell and Ashton Agar, three potential 2022 series in Asia may very well work in his favour.