The finalists have been decided in this year’s domestic four-day competition, with Queensland and New South Wales set to play each other again from April 15th, after the two sides finished first and second on the ladder, respectively.
Although the result of the final is a tough one to pick, the final round of action in the Sheffield Shield across the country provided some key indicators on how Australia’s current top long-form players are travelling.
1. Nathan Lyon has still got it
The celebrated GOAT of Australian off-spin put in an incredibly stubborn performance in Wollongong over the last few days, claiming man of the match honours in the Blues’ draw against the Bulls. In Queensland’s only innings, he took 6-128 off 48 overs, showing that he’s not only remembered how to take wickets after a relatively lacklustre summer, but that his stamina isn’t waning.
It’s a performance that Ravichandran Ashwin would have been proud of, no doubt. Of course, his opposition in this instance weren’t called Washington Sundar, Rishabh Pant or Shubman Gill, but he still had some top quality players to contend with in Marnus Labuschagne and Usman Khawaja.
He did manage to dismiss the latter, who remains one of the Shield’s top batsmen.
2. There are other spin options
Finally, Mitchell Swepson is starting to fulfil all that Shane Warne hype. The (no longer) young Queenslander picked up four wickets in the final innings of the match against the Blues, including a raging turner that bowled Daniel Hughes after pitching well outside his off-stump.
Were it not for rain in Wollongong, the match could have got very interesting at the end. In post-match comments, he said that he’s ready to step up to Test duties – fair enough.
Before that, he should prove a challenge to NSW’s on again-off again batting lineup in the final.
Meanwhile, in the game between South Australia and Victoria, another spinner picked up man of the match honours too: good ol’ Jon Holland. The slow left-arm spinner picked up nine wickets in the match to take him to 27 wickets for the season – Lyon, Holland and Swepson are all among the top five wicket-takers this campaign.
Whether it will be enough to get “Dutchy” called back into the Australian side in the future seems unlikely though.
3. Cameron Green isn’t the finished product
The towering West Australian has actually had a hell of a Sheffield Shield season, ranking first in the season batting aggregates, after that golden run that saw him score three centuries within a couple of weeks.
Unfortunately, the Test incumbent has finished his final month in domestic one-day cricket without a 50. With his prop forward technique, he does seem like a player the opposition could work out easily enough.
Still, at the ripe old age of 21, it seems he’s bypassed the seasons of Shield cricket that many are forced to go through and jumped into the Australian side for a while at least – but I’m not convinced.
There are plenty of established players like Travis Head, Matthew Wade and – dare I say it – Shaun Marsh who continue to score strongly at Shield level and have done so this season again.
4. Mitchell Starc’s form slump is real
While one fast bowler hung up his boots this round (South Australia’s likeable veteran, Chadd Sayers) another was desperately trying to re-find some form. I’m talking about Mitchell Starc, who I have lauded on this venerable website before for his impact on games with the new ball and his ability to clean up the tail.
Despite all that praise, it’s time for a little time off for Starc though, who seems to really be going through a form slump at the moment. On a few key occasions this summer he’s failed to get a breakthrough when his team needed it most.
On the final day of the Gabba Test match against India he went wicketless, and it happened in Wollongong again too. Sadly, it matches a general decrease in wickets for Starc this summer.
After taking just 11 wickets against India, he has taken 15 Sheffield Shield scalps in six games at an average of 47.
While his results haven’t fallen off a cliff, I think his automatic selection in the Aussie side has to be coming into question.
Undoubtedly, the new COVID regulations around ball shining and the reduced use of saliva are having an adverse effect on Starc’s ability to swing the ball, which massively reduces his wicket-taking threat.
5. Sheffield Shield can produce strong cricket
If the right players are involved, then this competition can still produce strong, challenging long-form competition.
Due to a number of top players passing up the opportunities of the IPL this year (partly because they weren’t selected, also because they needed a break from bubble life), there were current or recent national team representatives in every side in this final round and it really showed.
When sides are this strong, the competition functions as it should: keeping international players sharp, while giving the few youngsters that make the grade a chance to really test themselves.
Yes, we would probably be well served by a few more turning wickets that crumble into Indian-like conditions on the final day, but you can’t have everything. Perhaps something that can be worked on for next year.