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The history of Australian domestic limited-overs cricket: Part 1

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Roar Guru
18th January, 2023

Australia has been running a domestic 50-over competition for 54 seasons since the summer of 1969-70 – well, sort of.

The inaugural tournament was won by none other than Australia’s most eastern state, New Zealand. In fact the Kiwis won the competition twice more in the early 1970s, resulting in them being kicked out after 1974-75 for rising above their station.

The competition has also sometimes been only sort of 50 overs. It actually started off with 40 eight-ball overs per side – 320 balls – until the 1978-79 season.

Unlike the Sheffield Shield competition, the West Australians have been part of the domestic 50-over set-up since day one and are the most successful team, having won 15 titles.

Given their historical dominance of the Sheffield Shield first-class competition, you would expect New South Wales to have also taken a stranglehold on the 50-over competition, but in fact they had to wait 16 long seasons until 1984-85 to raise the cup for the first time.

The Blues have gone on to win a total of 12 domestic 50-over competitions, most recently in 2020-21. This puts them in second place behind Western Australia. New South Wales’ wins come in clumps – they are the only team to win three titles in a row, and they have managed that twice. Ironically they are also the only team to run last for three years straight, between 2006-07 and 2008-09. They actually finished last four times in five years during that period. Oddly, they won the competition in the only year they didn’t come last.

Victoria are the unlucky team. They have been runners-up ten times, including four times in a row between 2006-07 and 2009-10 (losing twice each to Queensland and Tasmania) before finally taking the title in 2010-11.

Here is a table of each state’s historical results (to 2021-22):

StateTitlesRunners-upMan of the match awardsMost recent titleWooden spoonsPlayers of the series
(since 1998-89)
Western Australia15111712021-222.52
South Australia361302011-1213.56
New Zealand3271974-750
Cricket Australia XI0053

Looking at team winning percentages, Western Australia are on top here as well, with just under 60 per cent of matches won. Queensland and New South Wales are the only others with a positive lifetime winning percentage, both around 55 per cent, excluding New Zealand who played only ten matches and won seven). The worst states have been Tasmania (just over 40 per cent) and South Australia (around 42.5 per cent).

That first title won by New South Wales in 1984-85 was for the McDonald’s Cup. Unlike the Sheffield Shield, which has retained its identity – apart from a short ill-advised period as a milk commercial – the domestic 50-over competition has had no fewer than 12 different names to date. Well done if you can remember all of them.

  • Vehicle and General Australasian Knock-out Competition (two seasons)
  • Coca-Cola Australasian Knock-out Competition (two seasons)
  • Gillette Cup (six seasons)
  • McDonald’s Cup (nine seasons)
  • FAI Cup (four seasons)
  • Mercantile Mutual Cup (nine seasons)
  • ING Cup (five seasons)
  • Ford Ranger Cup (four seasons)
  • Ryobi One-Day Cup (four seasons)
  • Matador BBQs One-Day Cup (three seasons)
  • JLT One-Day Cup (two seasons)
  • The Marsh Cup (four seasons and counting)

That multiple personality syndrome has also been reflected in rules and ‘innovations’ which have sprouted through the years, including:

  • matches of 40 eight-ball overs, 50 six-ball overs and 45 six-ball overs;
  • various fielding restrictions, powerplays and ‘power surges’;
  • bowlers being allowed ten, then 12, then 13, and then back to ten overs each per innings;
  • 50 overs split into alternating 25-over innings;
  • tactical substitutes; and
  • various competition formats, including:
    • knockout, including years where the previous year’s finalists received a bye into the second round;
    • partial round robin;
    • full round robin with either one or two full rounds;
    • semi-finals;
    • elimination finals between second and third on the ladder, with the ladder leader going straight through to a final;
    • a straight final between the top two; and
    • one memorable series where all six teams played in the finals series.

Despite Australia neither adding nor losing any state or territory that I’m aware of, the number of games per season in the 50-over competition has changed no fewer than 14 times. Games have also been played in blocks, at the start and end of seasons, as a fifth-day add-on to Sheffield Shield games and so on.

Over this and another few articles I will take a stroll through the history of the competition, looking at the different eras, the standout players and the performances of this often ignored competition that helped set up Australia as the dominant ODI team on the planet.

Let’s start from the very beginning.

The pre-Packer years: 1969-70 to 1978-79

On 22 November 1969 teams from Victoria and Tasmania faced off at the MCG in the first match of the inaugural domestic limited-overs competition in Australia. I suspect neither side really knew what to expect. Certainly the Tasmanians did not show the sense of urgency of more recent times, loitering aimlessly to 9-130 from their 320 balls. Victoria chased down the less-than-challenging target in just 21 overs for the loss of two wickets.

Despite Victoria’s Graeme Watson taking 3-32 from his eight overs and Ken Eastwood smacking 69 in just 81 minutes to ace the chase, the man of the match award was given to Tasmania’s Stephen Howard for an unbeaten 39 scored in over an hour. I cannot explain this at all.

Given the competition was played as a knockout during this period, Tasmania had a whole year off to work out how to play this strange new game.


The second match was a much more riveting affair, with Western Australia chasing down South Australia’s score of 187 with only two wickets and one ball to spare. West Australian all-rounder Ian Brayshaw was built for the new format, taking 3-28 from eight overs plus top scoring with an unbeaten 58 to guide the chase home. In the third knockout game New South Wales scored the highest total of the entire series, a whopping 227 at the equivalent of 4.3 runs per over. A gallant Queensland side were never a realistic chance of chasing down such a monster target.

For the first six seasons New Zealand were invited into the tournament at the semi-final stage alongside the three preliminary matchwinners. Despite Australia not having bothered to play their cousins in a Test since 1946, the Kiwis took out New South Wales in their semi-final, with Hedley Howarth taking 5-22 before easily dispatching Victoria in the final – Howarth took another three wickets – to snatch the inaugural limited-overs title.

Generic white cricket ball

(Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The average innings score across the tournament was just 153.

New Zealand played in the next five series, winning a further two titles. Bevan Congdon became the first player to win a player-of-the-match award in two grand finals, in 1969-70 and 1972-73. In the first he scored 69, with the next best being 34. In 1972-73 he scored 75, with the next best being just 23. Only one other player in history has been player of the match in a grand final twice – Queensland’s Jimmy Maher in 1999-2000 and 2004-05. Incidentally, Maher was on the losing side in both of those finals despite scoring centuries in each match.

Western Australia were New Zealand’s closest rivals during this period, winning two titles and finishing runners-up once as well. In 1970-71 John Inverarity was named player of the match in their semi-final win over New Zealand and backed it up with another best-on-ground performance in the final, scoring 90 out of meagre total of 170. The MCG must have been a challenge that day, as Queensland responded with 79 all out, Garth McKenzie taking 4-13 in seven overs.

It took until 1972 for the competition’s first century to be scored. It was achieved to win a first title for Victoria by the most unlikely limited-overs player, Bill Lawry. His 108 not out chasing down 192 ensured an easy victory over South Australia in that season’s final.


New Zealand left the competition after signing off with a third title in 1974-75, and Western Australia dominated the remainder of the decade. Between 1973-74 and 1978-79 they appeared in six consecutive grand finals, winning three. With players perfectly suited to the format, like Rod Marsh, Ian Brayshaw, Mick Malone and Dennis Lillee, they were rarely beaten, although Queensland and Tasmania managed to grab one title each. Even after the cream of Australian cricket left for World Series Cricket, the West Australians continued to dominate the format.

By the end of the decade only South Australia and, surprisingly, New South Wales had failed to win a title. In fact New South Wales had not even made a final.

The format proved to be a hit with fans, highlighted by a crowd of nearly 33,000 turning up to the MCG to see Western Australia win the 1976-77 title over Victoria, which I believe is still the record for a domestic 50-over final. When Cricket Australia and Kerry Packer made their peace, the popularity of the ‘pyjamas game’ of World Series Cricket meant a greater emphasis on the limited-overs format and the competition was revamped, doubling matches from five per season to ten.

MCG generic

(Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Team of the decade

Western Australia was the best side of this era with their four titles and two second-place finishes. However, New Zealand can consider themselves unlucky, with three wins and a second from only six years in the competition.

Stand-out performances of the era


Victoria’s Graeme Watson topped the competition wickets tally in 1969-70 and the runs tally in 1971-72. His 5-20 in a losing cause against Western Australia in 1969-70 stood as the competition’s best bowling figures until 1978-79, when Queensland’s Jeff Thomson took 6-18 from ten overs to pulverise South Australia for 101.

England’s Tom Graveney had a cameo for Queensland in 1970-71 and in their semi-final against South Australia scored 98 from 112 balls to chase down what was then a mammoth total of 261 with an over to spare, trumping South African import Barry Richards, who scored 89. In that same year, South Australia’s Ian Chappell topped the competition runs tally from just two matches, scoring 93 not out and 83. Obviously the players were starting to understand the format and push up scoring rates, although the season average score was still just 178.

The competition’s second century was scored by New South Wales batsman Ron Crippin (112) in their 1973-74 semi-final against Western Australia. Unfortunately he was outshone by dynamic keeper batsman Rod Marsh, who was a standout in this format in his younger years. Marsh scored 99 not out featuring nine fours and three sixes as Western Australia chased down 261 with 21 balls to spare before going on to defeat New Zealand in the final. The following year Marsh scored 74 from just 59 balls in another semi-final victory.

Earlier in that 1973-74 season Pakistan’s Majid Khan played a grand total of one match for Queensland and made the competition’s highest score to date with 115 from 112 balls. Unfortunately for him and the team, Greg Chappell scored 70 but no-one else passed 18, and their 230 all out was chased down by South Australia. Majid’s mark stood as the highest individual score for the competition until 1981-82, when Rick McCosker scored 164 at the SCG for New South Wales against South Australia – when you have David Hookes opening the bowling you know you are in for a long day.

Graeme Watson (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In the 1975-76 final the West Australian machine was halted single-handedly by Queensland captain Greg Chappell, who scored 61 from 63 balls and then took 3-38 in seven overs as they defended a total of 236 to win by just four runs. Chappell’s wickets were Nos. 7, 8 and 9 as he instigated a late Western Australia collapse. He fittingly also took the final catch from Jeff Thomson to remove Mick Malone and win Queensland’s first title. Chappell topped both the competition’s runs and wickets that year, a feat achieved only once more in the competition’s 50-plus-year history, by Steve Waugh in 1991-92.

Mick Malone had his redemption the following year when he was named man of the match in WA’s nailbiting one-wicket final victory over Victoria. Malone took 2-24 as Victoria scored just 164. He then remained 47 not out from No. 9 as he and No. 11 Wayne Clark put on 26 runs to crawl over the line with three balls to spare.


In 1977-78, with the World Series Cricket players unavailable, WA’s Graeme Wood became the second player to score a century in a final, remaining 108 not out as they defeated Tasmania by seven wickets.

Tasmania did well while the World Series players were away, returning the following season to win their first title. Captain Jack Simmons top scored with 55 not out to drag his side to a competitive 180 after they had been 6-84 – from 50 six-ball overs; this was the year of change. He then removed four of WA’s top five batsmen – John Inverarity, Kim Hughes, Tony Mann and Craig Serjeant – taking for just 17 runs from ten overs. Incidentally, the other batsman in WA’s top five was Graeme Wood. To the surprise of nobody, he was run out.

Western Australia folded to lose by 47 runs. After four titles in the decade, I guess it was time to let someone have a chance.

Earlier in the season Jeff Thomson set a bowling record that would stand for a decade, taking 6-18 runs in ten overs against the overmatched South Australians. Thommo terrorized the tail, sending SA from 5-82 to 9-92 in the blink of an eye and the crush of a sandshoe.