Another year of the Sheffield Shield is done and dusted with the men from the west taking their first title since 1998-99, grinding Victoria into submission with a batting display of substance.
To put that in perspective, their previous win was achieved via the all-round talents of Damien Martyn, who took four first-innings wickets at the Gabba (what?), before sharing a 182-run partnership with Simon Katich.
WA went on to bowl out a Queensland team with a top five of Matthew Hayden, Jimmy Maher, Martin Love, Stuart Law and Andrew Symonds for just 129.
That WA Shield final team also included captain Tom Moody, Mike Hussey, Jo Angel, Brendon Julian and Adam Gilchrist.
Fast forward 22 years and we have Sam Whiteman, Hilton Cartwright and Cameron Bancroft all enjoying 500-run seasons with two centuries each and Joel Paris, Jhye Richardson (from just four matches!) and Lance Morris all taking more than 20 wickets.
Western Australia had all the ingredients for a successful season this year.
Serious bowling depth with Richardson being the stand out, but Paris, Morris, and Aaron Hardie were able support.
There was a core of experienced professionals. Whiteman is 30 now with over 70 first-class matches under his belt. Bancroft, Cartwright, Josh Philippe, Paris and veteran Shaun Marsh round out a roster in their prime. Unlike recent years, there was not as much pressure on Marsh to be the major contributor.
Season 2022 had its share of COVID challenges to deal with, with teams being short-handed at times and the draw ending up a little uneven in terms of equal matches played and who each team encountered.
Even so, the season was pretty even. No team achieved more than three victories and only 5.5 points separated first and fourth. Spare a thought for Tasmania, who won as many matches as the two finalists and earned more points than Victoria, only to miss out having played an extra fixture.
Best performers – batting
Victoria’s Peter Handscomb topped the run tally with 697 at 49.78, followed by Sam Whiteman and Hilton Cartwright.
South Australia’s Henry Hunt had a break-out season with 601 runs, and was the only player to score three centuries for the season. Tasmania’s Tim Ward rounded out the top five, scoring 552 runs in his first full season at first-class level.
With a minimum of five matches played, it was Usman Khawaja who topped the averages with 58.77, just touching out Whiteman with 58.27. They were followed by Tasmanian Jordan Silk, Marnus Labuschagne and Victoria’s Nic Maddinson.
Somewhat surprisingly, there were no double centuries this season and only five scores over 150. The stand-out must be young Aaron Hardie from WA scoring 174 not out in the final in just his tenth first-class match to put the game well beyond doubt.
Others who went big included Sam Whiteman, Usman Khawaja, Beau Webster and Travis Head.
Best performers – bowling
Queensland’s Mark Steketee showed why he has started coming to the national selectors’ attention with 32 wickets from just six matches to top the wicket tally, including 7-44 in Adelaide on the way to ten wickets for the match, which is no mean feat for a seam bowler.
He was followed by South Australia’s Nathan McAndrew and everybody’s hero, Scott Boland. The most wickets for a spinner were taken by Queensland left-armer Matthew Kuhnemann, who enjoyed three five-wicket hauls and one ten-wicket match early in the season to finish with 25 wickets.
The stand-out bowling performance of the season surely had to be Tasmanian Sam Rainbird’s scarcely believable 13 wickets for just 44 runs to bundle Queensland out of Shield contention in their last fixture.
Rainbird only played three matches this season, so the best bowling average with a minimum of five goes to the veteran Chris Tremain.
It’s still odd to see him in New South Wales colours, but he has not forgotten how to bowl, taking 24 wickets at 15.95 across five matches.
Others to shine included Jhye Richardson (unplayable but only for four matches), Boland, Steketee and Gurinder Sandhu, enjoying the conditions at the Gabba.
Best performers – fielding
Josh Philippe effected 37 dismissals across 12 innings, to be by far the stand-out keeper. All 37 were caught at an average over three per innings.
Victoria’s Sam Harper, Tasmanian Jake Doran, Queensland’s Jimmy Peirson and South Australia’s Alex Carey all took over 25 scalps. Sam Harper’s five stumpings was a stand-out.
Peter Handscomb nearly matched the keepers this season, with a whopping 27 catches in the field, 12 clear of anyone else.
As befits the toughest domestic competition on the planet, some players just couldn’t get going this year, including the following.
For New South Wales, Kurtis Patterson averaged only 28.1 and that included a century. At 28 he should be reaching his prime, but his single Test now seems a long time ago.
The Queensland trio of Matt Renshaw, Joe Burns and Bryce Street all averaged under 30. Renshaw still gets talked about when national vacancies arise, but is a fair way from that level.
Burns should be providing dominance but a single score over 50 means it might be time for more youth, and Bryce Street fell apart as the season progressed.
South Australia continue to invest in Lloyd Pope, but he continues to buy wickets at too high a price, with an average over 48 and an economy rate of nearly 4.5. NSW’s Tanveer Sangha looks a likelier prospect at this stage, although Pope is still a baby at just 22.
Tasmania enjoyed an excellent season. If I was to nit-pick, I’d say Jake Doran’s batting fell off a cliff while he donned the gloves, averaging only 21.4. A career average under 29 after more than 50 first-class matches suggests the early promise will not be repaid any time soon.
Victoria don’t have much to complain about – they just need to get Will Pucovski on the park. Jake Fraser-McGurk has yet to match the wraps put on him, but at only 19 it’s all a learning curve for now.
It would be churlish to put up any disappointments for the champions, so I won’t.
The season started with a trio of draws. The highlight of these was Queensland coming within four wickets of an unlikely victory over South Australia in Adelaide after being shot out for 152 by Brendan Doggett and Daniel Worrall and conceding a 128-run first-innings lead.
Usman Khawaja showed the form that has seen him return as a fixture in the national side, in the company of a very impressive Jimmy Peirson, who scored centuries in his first two matches.
Despite Mark Steketee’s ten for the match, South Australia survived thanks to Alex Carey. This draw effectively was the difference between a season of success and failure for Queensland.
Tasmania can argue the moral victory after pulling off a tight three-wicket win away in Perth against the eventual champions.
In a low-scoring contest, it was 22-year-old all-rounder Lawrence Neil-Smith who was pretty much the difference, ripping out the WA middle order with five first-innings wickets, before top scoring with 60 for the narrowest of leads then being subbed out with concussion.
Western Australia got their campaign moving with a six-wicket victory over South Australia, but it was their subsequent seven-wicket beating of Queensland at the Gabba that set the competition on notice.
Queensland were destroyed for just 129 in a bowling performance of all-round excellence on a juicy pitch. Khawaja top scored with a fine 70, the next highest being 13.
Keeper Josh Philippe then showed his white-ball talents can transfer very nicely to the longer form with a sparkling knock, matching the entire Queensland score on his own.
Jhye Richardson then ended the contest by dismissing Street, Burns and Labuschagne before the deficit could be wiped off. Twenty-two overs, five wickets for 23 runs meant a trip around the country with the national squad.
Tasmania cemented their moral win for the season with a second tight victory over WA, this time by four wickets in Hobart.
Sam Whiteman scored 176 and remained not out after coming in at 1-5. This was the highest score for the competition this season.
Tasmania got within 100 of the first-innings total and then WA showed the positive intent that probably won them the comp with a sporting declaration, leaving Tasmania a target of 315. Jordan Silk hammered 83 not out to get the Taswegians over the line, despite three wickets from Richardson.
A severely undermanned NSW team were the next to expose Queensland’s batting weakness, sneaking a two-wicket win in a low-scoring thriller at the Gabba.
Neither team managed 200 in an innings, with Khawaja again exposing the techniques of his teammates. The performance of the match was from NSW opener Daniel Hughes, who carried his bat for 86 out of 186 in the first innings to get within seven of Queensland’s total.
Chris Tremain had Khawaja caught behind cheaply in the second innings, which ensured another embarrassing batting performance by the Queenslanders.
Even so, NSW only fell over the line by two wickets, as Michael Neser, Steketee and Jake Wildermuth nearly pulled the game out of the fire.
Tasmania’s Shield aspirations were destroyed in a virtual winner-takes-all stoush with Victoria in Melbourne. Tasmania started well enough, with Ben McDermott contributing 94 to a first-innings total of 355.
Travis Dean and Sam Harper got Victoria to parity and Peter Handscomb daringly declared while still behind, putting faith in his young bowling attack.
He was repaid by the pair of 21-year-olds Mitchell Perry and Todd Murphy, who combined for seven wickets as Tasmania fell for just over 200.
The same two youngsters then combined for a gutsy 47-run stand for the ninth wicket against the likes of Jackson Bird and Peter Siddle to snatch victory in possibly the best win of the season.
That may have been the best win of the season, but the champion WA put the Victorians firmly in their place in the final round to ensure a home final and effectively seal the championship.
The WA bowling attack of Joel Paris, Aaron Hardie, Matthew Kelly and Lance Morris produced the perfect bowling performance in Perth to destroy Victoria for just 114.
This was a Victorian batting line-up of Travis Dean, Pucovski, Handscomb and Maddinson and all four were gone with just 31 on the scoreboard, three to the impressive Hardie, another from the WA fast bowling production line.
Whiteman, Bancroft and Marsh wiped out the deficit, before Hilton Cartwright hammered home the advantage with 109.
The WA bowling attack then repeated the dose, with the same four bowlers sharing all ten wickets as Victoria folded for just 172 to lose by an innings.
And that was the season. WA were worthy champions, with a stable top four giving them the opportunity to showcase their great bowling depth.
Bancroft and Whiteman enjoyed a 188-run opening stand in the final to ensure there would be no early stumbles.
Victoria could not get on top of the WA attack, with their scoring rate in the first innings of just 2.9 letting them down when they needed to push the game along. Aaron Hardie dismissed three of the top four to never allow Victoria to get ahead in the game.
An 80-run first-innings lead suddenly looked a little skinny when WA tumbled to 5-110. At this point Victorian hopes may have been high, despite Sam Whiteman holding up an end, playing safety-first cricket.
Enter Aaron Hardie with his second first-class century, a mighty 174 not out, to bring the Shield over to the west for the first time in over 20 years.
With a first-class batting average over 44 and a bowling average under 25, Cameron Green might already be looking over his shoulder.