New South Wales rolled the dice several times on Day 1 of the Sheffield Shield final, but it was Queensland’s consistent execution that came up trumps.
The Blues were rolled for just 143 on a surprisingly sporting Allan Border Field pitch before Queensland cut the deficit to double figures with nine wickets still in the sheds.
It was a series of gambles by NSW that failed to materialise on Day 1 that has left them in a difficult position.
First they opted to favour ball over bat at the selection table, a move that backfired considerably.
In picking a five-man bowling attack the Blues were forced to bat all-rounder Sean Abbott at No. 6.
Abbott has had a fine season with the bat, but he is not a top-six player.
The move might have been viable had the experienced Peter Nevill been batting behind him at No. 7, but he wasn’t.
Instead it was third-gamer Baxter Holt who was thrown into the deep end.
That move inadvertently heaped pressure on Jack Edwards and Jason Sangha at Nos. 4 and 5, who weren’t up to the task.
Sangha himself rolled the dice and similarly failed.
Having watched Daniel Hughes and Kurtis Patterson bogged down early – both took 40-plus deliveries to move beyond five – Sangha opted to counter punch.
He drove from the outset and the aggression forced Usman Khawaja to push the field back.
But Sangha had yet to gather a feel for the tacky surface and spooned an easy caught-and-bowled after attacking his first short ball from the excellent Michael Neser (5-27).
This was a crucial moment in the match and triggered a collapse of 8-67.
He wasn’t the only one to gamble and fail.
Senior statesman Mitchell Starc, so often the contributor of valuable lower-order runs for Australia, opted for aggression when caution was needed.
Starc holed out to long-on at a similarly crucial time, with the Blues at 6-123.
This was a period when 200-plus was still on the cards — a total that might’ve amounted to par given their star-studded bowling outfit.
“I tell you what, I’d be disappointed with Mitchell Starc if I was Abbott,” Symonds said on Fox Cricket immediately after the dismissal.
“I’d be just thinking, ‘Mate, I just need you to play. I didn’t need you to take the game on like that — it’s not that sort of wicket’. I’d be disappointed in the way he’s gone about that.”
The Blues’ 143 was the second-lowest total in the first match innings of a Sheffield Shield final.
Queensland’s 102 in 2004-05 is the lowest.
But while NSW can be criticised for their decision-making on Day 1, credit should be heaped Queensland’s way — in particular a bowling outfit that, as Neser put it at tea, had “bought in” to a plan.
Neser and Jack Wildermuth (4-21) took the spoils, but it was an all-round seamers’ effort that pushed their side into a commanding position.
Brendan Doggett (1-38 off 15) and Xavier Bartlett (0-24 off 12) maintained the pressure and nagging length that overall drew six edges through to the keeper and slips cordon.
Despite Queensland’s Day 1 dominance, NSW are still in the match given their Test-quality attack.
Nathan Lyon drew huge turn on his very first delivery late on Thursday and showed that fourth-innings batting at Allan Border field will be tough.
He also caused early issues to the left-handed Bryce Street (14 not out off 69) – good signs with Usman Khawaja and Matthew Renshaw, two more lefties, to come.
Unsurprisingly, it was Marnus Labuschagne (23 not out off 48) who looked a class above in the centre.
A hundred from the world’s No. 3 Test batter on Friday would ensure Queensland has one hand on the 2020-21 Sheffield Shield.