Take what excels, is decent, respectable, and typical of the true essence of rugby league. Then double it. For 15 years we’ve been privileged to follow the parallel careers of Brett and Josh Morris.
In the past six seasons, the one-day cup in Australia has been dominated by New South Wales and Western Australia.
With the 2021-22 Marsh Cup starting next week, I wanted to look at the past three one-day titles NSW have won. First up, the 2015 Matador Cup.
After Australia’s tour of Bangladesh was called off due to security concerns, many members of the Australian Test squad ended up playing in the 2015 Matador One-Day Cup.
For NSW, that meant Steve Smith, Mitch Starc, Steve O’Keefe, Nathan Lyon and Peter Nevill played in the tournament while Josh Hazlewood, who was not in the Test squad, would be eligible for NSW selection in the latter stages of the tournament.
In the Blues’ first match, they took on a Cricket Australia XI.
NSW versus CA XI, Bankstown Oval
Before a ball had been bowled, NSW were already on the front foot having won the toss and electing to bat first. Despite Ed Cowan (21) being dismissed in the power play, centuries from Nic Maddinson (108) and Steve Smith (143 not out) powered the Blues to 3-338.
Mitch Starc ran through the CA XI, taking 6-25 en route to CA XI being bowled out for 59 with Alex Gregory (23 not out) being the only batsman scoring double figures. NSW had a great start and came into their game against South Australia full of confidence.
NSW versus South Australia, North Sydney Oval
South Australia were coming into this clash with a truckload of confidence, having chased down 351 against Western Australia thanks to 202 from Travis Head.
NSW made one change to their XI, with Shane Watson coming in for Ryan Carters. Ed Cowan and Moises Henriques both got starts but got out in the 30s, with skipper Steve Smith scoring 72 to take the Blues to 9-266.
On your average North Sydney wicket, this would be under par. But the pitch was holding up and on the slower side. Maybe the Blues had enough runs on the board.
Mitchell Starc and Gurinder Sandhu were outstanding in the power play, reducing the Redbacks to 3-16 in the fifth over. South Australia struggled for the rest of their innings with the Blues bowlers offering no breathing space.
Tom Cooper top scored with 28 as SA were bowled out for 110, losing by 156 runs. The Blues sent a warning shot to everyone else that their bowling attack could defend any total their batsmen put up comfortably.
NSW versus Western Australia, Blacktown International Sportspark
In a day-night clash against WA, NSW won the toss and elected to bat first on a two-paced Blacktown wicket. The Blues struggled to score at first, taking over 14 overs to cross 40 runs. But openers Nic Maddinson and Ed Cowan stuck it out, as the pair put on 133 for the opening stand before Maddinson departed for 74.
Steve Smith and Shane Watson failed to capitalise on the Blues’ start before Moises Henriques (43 not out) gave some support to Cowan, who scored a gritty 100. The Blues scored a late flurry of runs in the final overs, finishing at 5-264 after their 50 overs.
Starc and Sandhu once again fired in the power play as WA were reeling at 4-18. A half century from Michael Klinger (51) and 45 from Sam Whiteman brought WA with a chance, but both were dismissed by the 31st over.
WA’s lower order chipped in with some runs, but they were ultimately bowled out for 189 in the 45th over. The Blues were firing on all cylinders and it took a special performance from their opposition to beat them during the tournament.
NSW versus Tasmania, Hurstville Oval
In what was a first for NSW, they were bowling first for the first time during the tournament. Despite helpful contributions from Dominic Michael (54), George Bailey (48) and James Faulkner (51), Tasmania collapsed from 4-186 to 217 all out.
A century from Nic Maddinson (118 not out) saw the Blues at 2-193, chasing down the reduced target of 193 in 43 allotted overs with 25 balls to spare.
NSW versus Queensland, Drummoyne Oval
In cricket’s version of State of Origin, the Blues welcomed back Josh Hazlewood into the XI, resting Mitch Starc. But all was not smooth sailing in the NSW batting camp, as they fell to 3-83 in the 18th over and Usman Khawaja’s Queensland sniffed blood.
But NSW had Steve Smith. They could not collapse as long as he remained at the crease. Smith (136 not out) and Moises Henriques (89) put on 181 runs for the fourth wicket, frustrating the Queensland bowlers en route to the Blues posting 6-304.
NSW choked the Queensland batsmen, with only Joe Burns (77) and Luke Feldman (32) passing 30 as the Bulls were bowled out for 158 in the 40th over. The Blues kept on steamrolling their opposition and booked a place in the final.
NSW versus Victoria, North Sydney Oval
As the Blues attempted to go six from six, they would have to do it without skipper Steve Smith, who was missing the clash due to knee soreness.
Electing to bowl first, Moises Henriques had seemed to pay off as the Victorians struggled at first with the bat. Despite a counter-attacking 79 from Rob Quiney, Victoria were in deep trouble at 6-142.
But a quality half century from Matthew Wade (63 not out) and some handy contributions from John Hastings (16) and James Pattinson (18) saw the Victorians bowled out for 244 in the 47th over.
The NSW top four all got starts with Shane Watson (64) converting his start into a half century. The Blues were steamrolling at 2-159 in the 33rd over and required 86 runs at a required run rate around five when all went downhill.
John Hastings bowled a breathtaking spell, which saw the Blues go down to 6-172 after 37 overs. Steve O’Keefe (32) and Peter Nevill (15) kept NSW in the game but their dismissals spelt doom for the Blues as they were rolled over for 223.
The Victorians got one over a star-studded Blues team and proved to the rest of the competition that even a champion NSW team were not invincible. NSW had already progressed to the final, so the Blues had a week’s break between games to see who they would face in the final.
NSW versus South Australia, Matador Cup final, North Sydney Oval
After the Redbacks thrashed Victoria in the elimination final, they would have to play the game of their lives to beat NSW in the final.
Shane Watson was ruled out of the final due to a calf injury, which meant Steve Smith came back into the XI and skippered the Blues in the final. In front of a packed house at North Sydney, the Blues elected to bowl.
NSW started brilliantly with Mitch Starc and Josh Hazlewood reducing the Redbacks to 2-12 in the sixth over. South Australia’s experienced duo of Callum Ferguson and Tom Cooper weathered the storm before slowly upping the ante.
With the pair putting on 154 for the third wicket before Ferguson departed for a well made 61, South Australia were on track to post 270. Cooper (105) reached his century in the 40th over and at 3-191, things were looking ominous for NSW.
But a caught and bowled by Sean Abbott to dismiss Alex Ross (18) began a monumental collapse. South Australia struggled to gain any sort of momentum after Ross’ dismissal, as they were bowled out for 222.
The Blues wrestled things back at the right time and ensured SA were at least 50 runs short on a good batting wicket.
To ensure there were no hiccups in the run chase, Nic Maddinson took the aggressive route from ball one, scoring a 29-ball 44 before being caught in the seventh over. After Maddinson’s onslaught, Ed Cowan and Steve Smith took their time before they released the shackles.
As victory looked closer per over, both batsmen played more aggressively. With the pair both reaching their 80s quite comfortably, Smith hit the winning runs as New South Wales won by nine wickets with 121 balls to spare.
In what was the Blues most complete performance in all aspects, they saved their best performance for last.
Bar Ryan Carters (who had played for Australia A), every other player who was used by New South Wales during the tournament had represented Australia in at least one format. The depth in the Blues’ squad was so good that not even Doug Bollinger was able to get a game during the tournament.
Even with David Warner absent from the squad, the NSW openers were outstanding, while Steve Smith and Mitch Starc topped the run-scoring and wicket-taking charts.
Bar a collapse against Victoria, NSW were a clear cut above the rest of the competition. In the history of List A cricket, there has probably never been a side so strong throughout a tournament than the XIs NSW had during the 2015 Matador Cup.