Almanac Cricket – Sheffield Shield final: A great sight for cricket

Lately the media has had plenty to harp on about. First it was Barnaby Joyce, then Matt Lodge and then the ball-tampering saga in South Africa. Each time a lot of mud seems to have stuck and I wonder when any of it will die down.

 

Meanwhile the Sheffield Shield final has also taken place: an event that has attracted my attention ever since I began following cricket. Because of my age, I didn’t have to wait too long to see Queensland win its maiden Shield title. I was in grade 8 and got home just in time to see Carl Rackemann take that famous catch at 3.52pm on March 28, 1995, to break Queensland’s 68-year drought.

 

The Bulls have been fairly consistent in 2017-18, losing just one match to NSW. In the last round the Bulls turned the tables after trailing the Blues by 159 runs on the first innings. I saw a few days of Shield cricket at the Gabba in February and was impressed that the games were played in a good spirit. They were competitive but without ball-tampering, sledging or other untoward behaviour that has marred the international scene all too often.

 

The Tasmanian Tigers secured a berth in the final for the first time since 2013 when they won the Shield via a draw against Queensland in Hobart. I’ve always had plenty of respect for Tasmania in cricket because they have had plenty of hard-working, honest players such as Jamie Cox, Mike Di Venuto, Mark Atkinson, Shaun Young, Damien Wright and Luke Butterworth. They well and truly earned my respect with their work ethic and results even if not always reaping the deserved rewards.

 

The Shield decider took place at Allan Border Field since the Gabba was out of action due to AFL commitments. This decision has not been without controversy as some (including myself) claim that priority at the Gabba should have gone to the Bulls. After all, the Gabba is the home of Queensland Cricket and surely should be used for a final.

 

I attended Day 1 with my Dad. While warm and overcast conditions dominated the day, the pitch remained covered. Super-soppers crisscrossed the ground repeatedly as recent rain had saturated the outfield, however ineffective drainage at this venue meant the field wouldn’t be dry anytime soon. The Gabba would have been a very different story. Ultimately, at 3pm, it was announced that play was abandoned for the day. Considering the weather was fine, it’s understandable that Bulls coach Wade Seccombe said it “wasn’t a good look” that no play eventuated.

 

Off the field, however, there was plenty to keep me occupied. I’ve written two books on Test cricket and managed to secure the signatures of George Bailey, Jackson Bird, Matthew Wade and Joe Burns, having already secured Matt Renshaw’s signature earlier in the season.

 

There’s always interesting conversation in the stands. Sitting nearby was former Australian Test cricketer Geoff Dymock who also captained Queensland. It was very interesting to converse with Geoff, now a well-preserved 72 years of age. He played a bit before my time but Dad remembered him well. Geoff said Doug Walters described him as the best Queenslander he ever toured with – because he was the only Queenslander Doug ever toured with! Geoff also recalled being in a bowling line-up that included Jeff Thomson and Tony Dell at state level. Although renowned as a left-arm pace bowler, Geoff scored one first class century and deemed that it was a career highlight, even more than taking wickets.

 

He recalled being dropped from the Australian team after going wicketless in an Ashes Test, yet one can only wonder what might have been. He had Derek Randall plumb lbw for 3 but the decision was not out, and Randall went on to make 150 to turn the Ashes series in England’s favour. Meeting the very down-to-earth and quick-witted Geoff Dymock made Day 1 memorable despite no action on the field, and I secured another autograph: Andy Bichel. If someone told me at the start of the day that I’d get 6 signatures of Test cricketers as well as chat with Geoff Dymock, I’d have thought it would be a good day. Conversely, if someone told me there wouldn’t be a ball bowled, I’d have stayed at home!

 

DAY 2

 

Play was scheduled to start an hour earlier for the remaining days in order to make up for as much lost time as possible. On arrival, I walked past Matt Renshaw’s dad. He said just one word: “Bowling.”

 

Tasmania lost an early wicket but batted solidly thereafter. Opener Jordan Silk played many attractive strokes, while George Bailey and Matthew Wade also boosted the scoring. Luke Feldman took a brilliant diving catch to remove Silk, and Michael Neser produced a brilliant run-out to send Bailey packing. But a crucial catch was spilled when Wade was on 33 and the score 4-203 and I wondered how costly it would be. Ex-Bull Simon Milenko made an impressive half-century before another dropped catch late in the day – this time to reprieve Tom Rogers – was something the Bulls didn’t need. The Tigers finished the day at 6-360, with honours relatively even as 3 days remained.

 

Off the field, I secured the autograph of former Test player Alex Doolan, while I again secured Andy Bichel’s autograph as I brought along a copy of his autobiography No Bull. I had a chat with Simon Milenko’s dad Alex, whom I had met at the Gabba during a Shield match the previous month, and also met Jackson Bird’s mum, Jen.

 

 

DAY 3

 

Overnight, the cricketing world was rocked with news of ball-tampering by the Australians in South Africa. Suffice to say, this dominated conversation at AB Field. Nobody had anything positive to say. Everything was damning and scathing. Personally, I think the sledging, bullying and degrading of opposition players has been a disgusting eyesore for the Australian cricket team for decades, yet the ball-tampering saga seems to be considered the worst thing in the history of Australian cricket. The turmoil in international cricket is in stark contrast to what I’ve seen on the domestic scene. I thoroughly enjoy watching the Sheffield Shield because it’s competitive but played in the right spirit with no silly niggling rubbish or untoward conduct.

 

My Mum joined me to watch day 3 of the contest. Queensland struck early without the addition of a run, but the Tasmanian tail wasn’t about to surrender. Some wayward bowling helped their cause. A hard-hitting 57 from number 9 Sam Rainbird, and an undefeated 25 from number 11 Andrew Fekete, took Tasmania’s total to an imposing 477.

 

In Jackson Bird’s first over to Matt Renshaw, there were no fewer than 4 unsuccessful appeals. Not long after, Renshaw twice flicked Bird over the legside rope for six. I went for a walk during the break and came across Renshaw’s dad. “Two nice legside flicks,” I remarked. His response: “Much better than the first over.” I also came across a piece of memorabilia which featured a scoreboard from the 1995 Shield final when Queensland first won the competition. A few blokes looked at it and noticed a couple of errors in the Queensland bowling figures in South Australia’s first innings. It’s clear that some Queensland cricket fans have strong memories when it comes to failed attempts at winning the Shield before 1995.

 

One such occasion was 1985 when NSW beat Queensland by 1 wicket in a cliff-hanger at the Sydney Cricket Ground. NSW’s saviour was future Queensland player Peter Clifford, while the player who hit the winning runs was Dave Gilbert, who later came to Queensland as a cricket administrator. As I went for a walk, I spoke to a long-time Queensland supporter who recalled being at the SCG for the 1985 decider. He said Clifford had French-cut a boundary that missed the stumps by barely two inches.

 

I’m often nervous when watching Queensland bat, and a Shield final is no exception. Queensland began solidly but lost Renshaw with the total at 59, reached 1-128 before a shower of rain interrupted play, then lost Joe Burns immediately on resumption for 49. Marnus Labuschagne was bowled barely two overs later and Tasmania could sense an opening as 1-128 quickly became 3-133. Charlie Hemphrey and Sam Heazlett put on an unbroken century stand to take Queensland through to stumps with the match still evenly poised.

 

DAY 4

 

Queensland lost Heazlett while still more than 200 runs in arrears before Hemphrey went on to score a solid 77. Impressively, all of the Bulls batsmen made double figures in a total of 516. Michael Neser scored a decent 58 at number 8, number 10 Brendan Doggett played 3 copybook drives to the fence in his innings of 15 and Luke Feldman slogged a 6 in his 11 not out. Tasmania faced 5 overs before stumps and ended the day 29 runs in arrears with all wickets intact. I was confident that the game would be drawn, enough for Queensland to win the Shield.

 

Off the field, I was intrigued to hear that Ben Cutting and Shane Watson were the scoreboard attendants at AB Field 18 years previously when Queensland hosted a decider at AB Field. Meanwhile I added 3 more signatures in my history of Test cricket book: Peter George, Nathan Hauritz and James Faulkner.

 

Late in the day I sat near a bloke named John who said his surname was Rowell. He felt that he was surrounded by cricket tragics. He said he had a sibling who played for Australia and asked who it would be. Knowing that Greg Rowell played for Australia A but not Australia, I knew that Greg Rowell wouldn’t be the answer. I remembered reading that there was a women’s cricketer named Ailsa Rowell, but I wasn’t sure if she had played for Australia. I paused for a moment and then said “Ailsa?” It was an educated guess, but I wasn’t sure. A disbelieving John replied: “You’re unbelievable, you are a nut…you are a tragic.” He wondered how I knew. I remember seeing her name in the 1990 Australian Cricket Almanac. John said he’d have to tell Ailsa that someone had correctly identified her as the answer to the question instead of Greg. As John revealed, he is not related to Greg.

 

DAY 5

 

The last day of the match was played under heavily overcast skies. Queensland’s attack bowled rubbish in the first session with 9 fielders on the boundary at times as the Tasmanian openers chased quick runs. One over featured 2 sixes, 2 fours and a wicket! Tasmania reached 1-166 in 26 overs when rain set in and it appeared that the match might end on this note.

 

During a 4-hour delay, and I saw the chance to get another signature in my Test cricket book when I spotted Ryan Harris chatting with Renshaw’s dad. Luke Feldman came into the stand to talk with his dad. After Luke left, I chatted with his Feldman senior. He told me that Luke, at 11 years of age, saw Queensland win its first Shield. At the time, Luke’s granddad told him that out of Luke, his dad and granddad, Luke would be the only one to see Queensland win its second Shield title as it would take another 70-odd years for that to happen. Twenty-three years on, Luke was on the verge of being a Shield winner as part of Queensland’s eighth Shield title.

 

When play resumed at 3.15pm, Tasmania declared to set Queensland 128 runs in 32 overs as the Tigers needed 10 wickets. Renshaw squirted the first ball unconvincingly behind point for 2 and played a few more similar shots while Burns edged a couple of fours through the cordon early on. The edges weren’t going to hand. Burns played some attacking shots as he raced to 36. Then it was Renshaw’s turn to take control. He played several lofted legside flicks and attractive drives, some shots that I’d expect more often in limited overs matches than first-class contests. Tasmania needed a flood of wickets but there was no sign of that. Victory was in sight when Burns lofted a catch, and the crowd roared when Renshaw cut the winning boundary to race to 81 not out in the 23rd over.

 

Matthew Wade was named player of the final for his first-innings century. Tigers skipper George Bailey was all class in his speech. He didn’t blame the weather even though it had hurt Tasmania’s chances considerably. Bailey said that the Shield final was a very important contest in Australian cricket. That was just what I wanted to hear, considering the turmoil that had scarred the international game. Bailey spoke well of the young players who had come through and paid credit to the Bulls and their passionate fans. He enjoyed playing against Queensland but hated losing to them. Fair enough.

 

Bulls captain Jimmy Peirson deserves full credit for his response. Captaining Queensland to Shield glory in his first full season of first-class cricket, Peirson spoke of the rollercoaster ride during the previous 12 months. Credit was given to former Bulls Shield-winning players Wade Seccombe, Andy Bichel, Martin Love and James Hopes, all of whom were on the staff. The ground staff was also commended for their tireless work in difficult circumstances over several days. In the post-match media scrum, Renshaw was the centre of attention in the light to his call-up for the South African tour.

 

Despite the horrors of the ball-tampering issue, I was left feeling happy not only because Queensland had won the Sheffield Shield for the eighth time but also because this was what cricket was meant to be: competitive and well fought but with integrity and no unnecessary silly garbage. I remarked to those nearby: “This is what we came to see: Queensland win the Shield, and cricket played the way it’s meant to be played. Forget the ball-tampering.”

 

No-one seemed to disagree.

Comments

  1. Day 1 and not a ball bowled but still a great day with two highlights to make the 250kms round trip worthwhile: firstly, the genuine camaraderie between players from the two teams, mingling freely with each other as they (along with the healthy crowd) waited and waited in the hope of getting play started; secondly, Geoff Dymock, 72 years young, a twinkle in his eyes, a country boy through and through, no tabs on himself, just the genuine article and full of stories – what a pleasure to meet him! This was cricket the way I was brought up to appreciate, enjoy and respect. Good sports all round!

  2. Luke Reynolds says:

    Great work Liam, really enjoyed this piece, great to see a Shield Final article on the Almanac.
    I caught some of this game on the CA app, what a pity the first day was a write off.
    Sadly I missed seeing my Bushrangers win the last three Shields as they were all played interstate for various reasons.
    Well done with the autograph hunting!

  3. Nice read Liam.

    Interesting reading about Geoff Dymock. He made his test debut in 73-74, played the final test in 74-75 getting carted for many then scoring a pair. Off to the wilderness he went, returning to the baggy green in he second summer of the WSC schism. He bowled well. The Randall LBW was in the fourth test in Sydney where he lots despite a 142 run first innings lead. Ouch, it hurts being reminded of it.

    He played a few more tests in the 79-80 summer taking his spot in few matches alongside the WSC returnees. Did he then tour Pakistan ?

    If the old memory is correct he made his ton V South Australia in Adelaide, scoring 100 NO, then 0 NO in that match.

    Glen!

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Liam love to hear from a fellow,Shield lover great stuff and totally agree that the game should have been at the gabba

  5. E.regnans says:

    Well played, Liam.
    Well played Queensland and Tasmania.

  6. A great win by our team! The weather certainly didn’t help, and Tassie could have been in a far better position had the rain not come again on Day 5. I also wish it had been at the Gabba.

    Have been fortunate to be there for both our wins, in 1995 (that was magnificent) and 2013, when we flew up from Sydney for that one, also against Tassie.

    Watched this one in on the Cricket Aust app on my computer, wishing I could have been there once again!

    Hopefully we’ll be successful again next year.

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