Sheffield Shield: Round 10 and both final slots are up for grabs

It has been a funny old Sheffield Shield season with a massive gap right in the middle of it. The final round of the first class summer in Australia begins on Tuesday and there are four teams vying for a finals berth.

The points table, at the end of the 9th round of play, looks like this:

Teams Mat Won Lost Tied Draw Aban Pts Quotient For Against
Western Australia 9 4 2 0 3 0 26 1.052 4646/142 4758/153
South Australia 9 3 1 0 5 0 26 1.148 5071/133 5013/151
New South Wales 9 3 3 0 3 0 26 1.050 4715/148 4549/150
Queensland 9 3 2 0 4 0 22 1.124 4555/125 5185/160
Tasmania 9 2 4 0 3 0 16 0.878 4774/166 4552/139
Victoria 9 1 4 0 4 0 10 0.794 4976/154 4680/115

Obviously, Tasmania and Victoria are out of the running for the final. Each of the other four teams are all in with a shot of being in the final and even Queensland could host the final if results go their way.

These are the fixture kicking off on Tuesday:

· New South Wales v Western Australia at Canberra

· Tasmania v South Australia at Hobart

· Victoria v Queensland at Melbourne

The big game of the round is the fixture coming out of Canberra with a finals spot obviously up for grabs for the winner. If the game ends in a draw then the winner of first innings points will go to 28 points and that ought be enough to make the finals. For both teams, if they lose on first innings then they will still have a chance given that there are 6 points available for an outright win. New South Wales though will be hoping that Queensland do not win outright because if they win first innings points and then draw the game and Queensland win outright Queensland will go through to the final as they will have won more games outright.

South Australia will secure a finals spot if they get first innings points and Queensland fail to win outright or, again, even if they lose on first innings, if they procure an outright victory. Obviously, a win on first innings and outright gets them into the final without the need for count back.

For Queensland to figure in the finals they must win against Victoria on the first innings as well as outright to secure 6 points and jump to 28 points. Then they must rely on South Australia only winning on the first innings or not gaining points and one of New South Wales or Western Australia not getting any points from their encounter.

Looking at the games:

· Queensland have been assisted by the selection of the Australian T20 team as the Bushrangers will be without Daniel Christian, Aaron Finch, Cameron White and Glenn Maxwell. Maxwell, in particular had been in excellent form for the Vics so he will be a big loss. Conversely, Queensland will be basically at full strength and come into the game off the back of a massive win against the leaders of the competition, Western Australia. They will be looking at making it a season worthwhile for captain James Hopes who has been playing with stress fractures since the first round of the season and has 32 wickets to show for it.

· South Australia have been rocked by the suspension of their captain Johan Botha as a result of his poor conduct in their Round 9 fixture. He is also the second highest wicket taker in the competition with 36. They will be looking to Tom Cooper, who is the top scorer in the competition with 858 runs to lead the charge with the willow. The defending champion Tasmanians have a great record at home and will, no doubt, put out a pitch that seams which will play right into their hands.

· Western Australia and New South Wales are playing a semi final of sorts in this game. The Warriors possess two of the most consistent batters in the first class game in Marcus North and Adam Voges and it is no surprise that they lacked quality runs in their last game against Queensland which WA lost terribly. The New South Welshmen possess the leading wicket taker in the competition on Steve O’Keefe with 38 wickets at an average of 20.05 and one expects he will bowl “big” overs for them again in Canberra.

An exciting end to a strange season awaits on Tuesday. This is going to be epic!

Australia names it squad for South Africa and Sheffield Shield form counted for nothing!

I wrote this morning about the selection of the Australian Squad to travel to South Africa for the test series commencing on 12 February 2014.

George Bailey has been dropped from the squad.  The new batsmen selected are Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan.  The reserve bowlers selected are James Pattinson and Jackson Bird.

As I noted in the post this morning and reaffirm in the title to this post: form in Australia’s first class competition, the Sheffield Shield, has counted for nothing at the selection table. The top run getters in the domestic game in this country have not been selected. Rather, this series of scores has seen Shaun Marsh return to the test squad:

  • 6 and 47
  • 4 and 13
  • 127 not out
  • 42 and 4
  • 1 and 4

How does one regain a place in the national team when scoring only 248 runs in 5 matches at an average of 31.00? Is scoring two half centuries against a mediocre English bowling attack at the end of a shattering season really enough? That is all that Shaun Marsh has done this season.

On the side of the bowlers: am I alone in being completely lost by the strategy of the NSP here? Jackson Bird has not played in a first class game, test matches included, since he played for Australia in August at Chester-le-Street.  His season thus far has consisted of T20 games and one List A fixture for Australia A.  James Pattinson has not played the longest form of the game since he was injured at Lords in July.  He too has played some T20 games and has now appeared for Australia in an ODI.  How can either player be match fit and, more importantly, match hardened if they are called on in South Africa?  With Ryan Harris’ knee a match by match proposition, isn’t it too much to expect the replacement fast bowlers to step in and bowl, potentially 25 overs a day, with only very limited limited overs cricket under their belts?  I just don’t get the thinking!

Cricket Australia needs to have a significant look at the Sheffield Shield competition in this country if the best that is coming from it is a player who averages 31.00 and no one with the ball.  That is really what the NSP is saying with this team isn’t it: no bowler in first class cricket is good enough to be in the squad so we will select two players who have not played in the long form for over six months instead.  Or am I missing something?

Sheffield Shield Round 2 and Australia “A”: players to watch

6 November 2013 represents the start of four first class games which represent the last chance for Australian cricketers to press their case for national honours with the first test match team for the Gabba test set to be named on 12 November. I have been overt in my view that the first test team has already been names internally at Cricket Australia Towers however an injury to Shane Watson and question marks over the captain’s fitness mean that this round of fixtures take on a, possible, new meaning. Also, given that CA has played its hand around fast bowler management in its decision to rest Josh Hazlewood from all cricket this week it is also important to keep an eye on the fast bowling stocks around the country.

All that said: here are my players to watch for this round of first class cricket:

Alex Doolan:

Seemingly already coronated as the replacement for Shane Watson, certainly so if you read the News Limited press, Doolan is off to a flying start to the season with a hundred and fifty in round 1 of the Sheffield Shield. This time last year scored a big hundred against South Africa in the same game and will again need big runs in this game to: a. mask his first class average of less than 40 and b. prove to everyone he is worthy of the “next best” slot.

Usman Khawaja:

Was in the test team in England and failed to grasp his opportunity with both hands. Now is seemingly on the outer (again principally with the News Limited press) and did not do anything to impress the selectors in round 1 of the Sheffield Shield. Is behind Doolan in the pecking order on form but has the advantage of test match experience which could be useful at the selection table. Needs to bat for a long time in this game but, in doing so, needs to show that when he plays spinners he can rotate the strike which he failed to do in England.

Phil Hughes:

Can Hughes make another push for the number 3 slot in the test team that many believe to be rightfully his? His attempt to do so commences in Perth where he will, one expects, open for the Sandgropers. Coming off a nothing tour of India he will need big runs in this game to get his name to the front of the queue. It must be noted that this is precisely the situation he found himself in last season when, via weight of first class runs, he charged into the test frame. The big question mark is whether one game is enough.

Moises Henriques:

Captaining the Australia A team is the first taste of first class cricket Henriques will have this season given that he has been mixing the cordials in India and missed the 1st round of the Sheffield Shield. A tour to India under his belt that can only be described as a disaster means he has test match experience and if he can perform against the English in Hobart he may be the man to replace Shane Watson if the NSP decide to replace an allrounder with another allrounder.

Ben Cutting:

The man of the series in the Ryobi Cup in the eyes of everyone but for Channel 9’s biased commentators, Cutting struggled with illness in the first round of the Sheffield Shield. Has match turning power with the willow and is one of the swiftest bowlers in domestic cricket on his day. Missed out on selection two years ago at the Gabba when the NSP went for hair gel (Pattinson) over substance. The only way he will get in the test team is if he takes that many wickets even John Inverarity can not ignore him and this game against the English is the first step on that path.

John Holland:

Holland is in the frame for a possible test birth for one reason and only one reason: Kevin Pietersen has a problem with left arm orthodox spin. Massive question mark for me is the fact that he has not played first class cricket in 13 months. Second question mark for me is a bowling average of 39.18 at the top level also does not inspire confidence. That said: if he gets KP out twice in the two innings he bowls at him in Hobart watch for the push for him to selected for the Gabba (again particularly in the News Limited press which has a problem with Nathan Lyon).

I am sure there are other players in the frame however these are the players I think the selectors will be looking at closely, whether they should be or not!

All eyes also will be on the MCG for the Victoria v New South Wales game and whether the captain’s rickety back can stand back to back first class games.

Cricket Australia and Radio Rights: the quest to destroy domestic cricket continues

It is rare that a piece of news makes me so angry that I can not bring myself to write about it. That happened yesterday though when I read about Cricket Australia’s changes to its media rights deal for radio. Having reflected on it overnight, my anger remains but I am also left with an empty feeling. That feeling has its genesis in the realization that what I thought might be true is coming to reality: Cricket Australia is killing the domestic game in this country.

For those who missed it amongst the all of the focus on Michael Clarke’s back and Buddy Franklin’s contract, here is a potted summary of the new arrangements that will be in place henceforth for the broadcast of cricket by radio in Australia:

1. A commercial radio group will have joint rights with the ABC to broadcast Test Matches.
2. All internet streaming of cricket in Australia will be controlled by Cricket Australia.
3. The BBL will be broadcast on an FM network.
4. The Sheffield Shield and Ryobi Cup will NOT be broadcast by anyone.

Taking the first three points first: I still have the option to listen to the ABC for the test matches so I am not all that bothered by these changes. I will never listen to a BBL broadcast on the radio because frankly I have better things to do and why would I stream the cricket when I have a perfectly good radio?

It is the fourth point above that both angers and saddens me. Gone, it would seem, are the days of the ABC broadcasting Sheffield Shield cricket. Are you kidding me Cricket Australia? Actually that is a hyperbolic question because we all know that you are not. After all, broadcasting the Sheffield Shield on the ABC, indeed any cricket on the ABC for that matter, makes you no money because the ABC is banned from advertising on its broadcasts. Once again the dollars lining the pockets of Cricket Australia has trumped what is good for the game.

Why though is the broadcast on the radio of the Sheffield Shield so important you ask? It is simple: short of going to the ground (or watching the live stream without commentary on the Cricket Australia website) there is no other way of engaging with the domestic game in this country. I, for one, was introduced to the game at the top level as a child by listening to Grandstand while working in the yard with my Dad or by listening to the coverage whilst nervously waiting to bat myself at the grounds around Ipswich.

This year, all of those kids that love cricket out there will get from their governing body at a domestic level is hit and giggle nonsense. More to the point if you were a playing of first class cricket in this country at the moment would you not be feeling more than a bit like the metaphorical ugly bloke with bad acne and body odour standing alone in the corner at a school dance? First the Ryobi Cup competition is made into a regional cricket carnival that no one can attend and now the pinnacle of the domestic game, the Sheffield Shield, has essentially been made inaccessible to the fans.

I am all for a business operating profitably. I am all for making money: hell I work in insolvency so I am more than aware of the importance of cash flow. However, is it not the case that Cricket Australia is the steward of the game in this country first and a profit centre second??? This decision is just another example of how that position has flipped.

A final point: it strikes me that it is now time for the fans of cricket in this country to rise up and regain control of the game that we love from those in control at Cricket Australia Towers. The only way to do that is to vote with our wallets and feet and turn the wave of profitability into a mill pond. So I pledge here and now that I will not spend another cent (I have already paid for my Ashes tickets) on anything Cricket Australia related until we see institutional change at the top of Cricket Australia. Now you may scoff at that gesture but having spent close to $2,500 on my obsession with cricket in this country in the last calendar year (I added it up and you should too: tickets, travel, merchandise, food etc adds up) if I could get 10,000 fans to sign up to this campaign that would leave a $25 Million hole in the pot of gold at the end of the Cricket Australia rainbow. That is something that might make them think don’t you think?

Ashes 2013/14 Countdown Day 75: First Class Schedule announced

I have been calling for some time for Cricket Australia announce its first class schedule for the 2013/14 season principally because I am more than a bit concerned about Australia’s preparation for the first test at the Gabba kicking off on 21 November.

I wrote earlier today on my current worries about the Australian teams preparation. Now that Cricket Australia has announced the schedule, I have to say my worries have not been sated.

Based on the schedule released, there will be 3 rounds of Sheffield Shield cricket before the first test. Those rounds will take place on:

30 October – 2 November
6 November – 9 November
13 November – 16 November

I have two problems with this schedule:

1. There are not enough first class games. The domestic season starts on 29 September in Australia with the Ryobi Cup 4 week tournament during which there will be no first class cricket. I can not understand why Cricket Australia would not make more games available for players who might be involved in the test match to gain form in the long form of the game.

2. The players participating in the India ODI tour will only get one first class game before the first test. If you are in the ODI squad going to India and you are a test player or you are on the fringe of the test team then you will only, realistically be able to play in the final round of the Sheffield Shield before the first test given that the last game of the India tour is on 2 November and they will need to travel back to Australia and get over jet lag.

I remain of the view that Cricket Australia should be doing everything possible to prepare the Australian team for the home ashes series. This first class schedule coupled with the Indian ODI tour is a long way from doing that!