For Indian cricket fans like me, Ashes cricket had been a low-priority event for a long time.
With Australia’s tour of South Africa in 2021 called off for Covid related concerns, many of Australia’s big names were available to play the majority of the 2021 Marsh Cup.
Alongside having Steve Smith and David Warner available, New South Wales would have Pat Cummins skipper the NSW team during the group stages. First up for the Blues, a grudge match against rivals Victoria.
NSW versus Victoria, North Sydney Oval
Sent in to bat by Peter Handscomb, NSW were in strife at 4-74 as the Victorian bowlers made use of the overhead conditions. But the Blues had Steve Smith at the crease and as long as he was there, Victoria could not get complacent.
Debutant Oliver Davies came at number six and started counterattacking the Victorian bowlers before holding out for 57. Smith slowly began to up the ante after the 30th over, scoring 127 while contributions from Sean Abbott (31 off 27) and Pat Cummins (49 off 30) saw NSW post 9-318.
Skipper Cummins led from the front with the ball, taking two wickets in the powerplay. Fighting half centuries from Matthew Short (67) and James Pattinson (54) would end in vain for the young Victorian team, bowled out for 259. Like many times, Steve Smith stepped up for NSW under pressure with the bat before the NSW bowlers defended 318 without many hiccups.
South Australia versus NSW, Adelaide Oval
In the Blues second game of the Marsh Cup, they would encounter a South Australian team short of confidence after collapsing to a loss against Western Australia. Ben Dwarshuis and Pat Cummins fired with the ball, reducing the Redbacks to 2-11. Despite an outstanding half century from Alex Carey (99 off 114), NSW kept on chipping away with wickets at crucial stages, bowling out the Redbacks for 205.
David Warner (87 off 74) killed the chase off within the powerplay before departing with victory not so far away. Manly-Warringah duo Oliver Davies (40 not out) and Jack Edwards (14 not out) finished off the run chase as the Blues won by six wickets and 125 balls to spare. With two commanding victories for the Blues where their senior players stepped up, NSW showed that they were the favourites to win the 2021 Marsh Cup.
Tasmania versus NSW, Bellerive Oval
With rain washing out the Blues clash against WA, they would travel to Hobart to face a rampaging Tasmania in a top two clash. Having won the toss and fielding first, Pat Cummins’ decision seemed to have backfired at first. Tasmania openers Caleb Jewell (70 off 51) and Ben McDermott (68 off 70) took the NSW bowlers to the cleaners with the Tassie Tigers at 0-138 in the 20th over and en route to 350+.
But crucial breakthroughs from Ben Dwarshuis saw Tasmania collapse to 6-178 after 33 overs. Lower order runs from Nathan Ellis (31) and Jackson Bird (28 not out) ensured the Tigers posted a par score of 9-258 in their 50 overs.
David Warner (108 off 115) led the way once again with another century while the NSW top five gave him good support. But Warner’s departure saw the Blues at 6-225 after 43 overs and a tricky period remaining for the NSW lower order. But the calm heads of Sean Abbott (12) and Pat Cummins (19 not out) ensured NSW survived a nervy end to their chase of 259, winning by three wickets in the 49th over.
NSW versus Queensland, North Sydney Oval
For this clash, NSW had their bowling attack at full strength while having a top four of Warner, Dan Hughes, Steve Smith and Moises Henriques. Queensland won the toss and elected to bat first. Queensland’s overaggression with the bat went awry as the Bulls found themselves 6-104 at one stage. Jimmy Peirson (59) and Michael Neser (31) steadied the ship, but Queensland were bowled out for a mere 203.
Despite losing an early wicket, Dan Hughes (101) and Steve Smith (86 not out) ensured the Blues won by eight wickets with 100 balls to spare. With a dominant victory at North Sydney Oval, NSW had booked a home final for the 2021 Marsh Cup. But they would have to wait over a week to know their opponents for the final at Bankstown Oval.
NSW versus Western Australia, Bankstown Oval
With quarantine protocols in the IPL forcing many of NSW’s big names to miss out on playing in the Marsh Cup final, Western Australia headed into the final as slight favourites despite Bankstown Oval suiting the NSW bowlers more. Winning the toss, NSW elected to bat first.
Openers Dan Hughes and Matt Gilkes got the Blues off to a flyer at the beginning of the powerplay. Bust Gilkes was run out for 28 and soon after, the Blues were 3-50, with their inexperienced middle order exposed early. Jack Edwards and Hughes soaked up the pressure as the pair were willing to play maidens if required during the rebuilding phase. The pair put on 118 for the fourth wicket before Hughes was stumped for 58 in the 38th over.
After Hughes’ dismissal, Edwards took charge of the NSW innings – scoring 108 off 122 balls as NSW posted 8-251.
Mitchell Starc dismissed Sam Whiteman for a golden duck in the opening over as Western Australia were on the back foot early. After seeing off the new ball pair of Starc and Josh Hazlewood, Western Australia thought they had some breathing space with the first and second change bowlers coming on. Boy, were they wrong.
Sean Abbott provided NSW with key breakthroughs as his four wicket haul had the West Australians reeling at 6-119. Cameron Green (36) fought as hard as he could but the NSW bowlers were too good as Western Australia fell to 149 all out – losing by 102 runs.
Throughout the 2021 Marsh Cup group stages, it was the senior statesmen of the NSW squad who stood up when required. But come the final when the NSW young middle order was asked to step up, a youngster in Jack Edwards did. And he showed everyone that he can bat in 50 over cricket, whether it be opening or in the middle order.
This NSW squad was not as strong as the NSW 2015 Matador Cup squad, but they sure did dominate the tournament with only Tasmania going toe to toe with the Blues in any match during the 2021 Marsh Cup.