The Sheffield Shield – A Faded Glory

by JJ Leahy

Many years ago, there were summers when no visiting cricket team toured Australia and no Australian team ventured offshore. The Sheffield Shield was the pinnacle of the sporting summer. The Test players turned out for their sides including the greats Bradman, Miller, Grimmet, O’Reilly, Benaud, etc. Big crowds attended the matches, media coverage was extensive, and it was a prime topic of conversation in the pubs and the street.

Shield game continued to be well attended and followed until somewhere around the mid-eighties when the number of the nations playing at the international level and the growth of the 50 over form of the game drew interest away. In Queensland, it was a bit different. We had never won the Shield.

My personal relationship with the Shield began in the late ’50s when I would avidly read the paper and listen to the ABC. Wally Grout and Ken “Slasher” Mackay were my favourites because they played for the local club, Toombul, and would sometimes play at the home ground, Oxenham Park at Nundah. Then, there was big burly Peter Burge who could really thump a ball. The enduring player was “Slamming” Sam Trimble. He played for Queensland for years, made piles of runs, and never got a Baggy Green. If only, he had turned out for NSW or the Vics. There were many lean years for Queensland, but Sam still made runs. The now defunct afternoon paper, The Telegraph, would carry the scores in each afternoon edition. A poster in a wire frame would tout the headline of the leading story. These would be placed outside corner shops, newsagents, and next to the paper sellers on inner-city street corners. The regular headline was “QLD BATS CRASH”. I think they printed a large batch of them in the early thirties, and trotted them out as required for the next 40 years.

After the West Indies tour of 1960-61, Queensland obtained the services of Wes Hall. He was magnificent, but South Australia had Garfield Sobers, and Western Australia had Rohan Khanai. Then we tried Indian allrounder Rusi Surti, and the Pakistani batsman Majid Khan. We went for the former English batsman Tom Graveney. He had toured in the 1958-59, but this was the ’70s, and he could not even cut it any more in the English County game. Then we poached Greg Chappell from South Australia and Jeff Thompson from New South Wales. This was followed by Viv Richards. In the ’80s, we secured Ian Botham. He is best remembered for depleting the cellars of the fine dining establishments of the city.

Then came the glorious summer of 1993-94. Alan Border played a season after stepping down as Australian Captain. The old warhorse, Carl Rackemann, charged in and slung down. The youngsters Martin Love, Matthew Hayden and Jimmy Maher made runs. Finally, the Shield was ours. The spell was broken. Tears flowed. Old men could die happy. The Shield was transported the length and breadth of the State. If you went to a function, the Shield was there. It even turned up at a local school fete in my district. In August ’94, it was prominently displayed at the Brisbane Show, the Ekka. Queensland had some good sides and went on to win it several times. Each time, the interest and the passion waned a little.

Once upon a time, games started on a Friday. We used to start work early and leave early to get there for the last session of the first day’s play. There was excitement in the air. Beers were downed faster then runs were scored. At stumps, it was across the road to the Gabba Pub, long gone. You played for your team on Saturday, and then fronted up again on Sunday at the Gabba.

I walked into the Queensland Cricketers Club five minutes before the first ball was due to be bowled in the start of the 2011-12 Shield season. Games are now played from Tuesday to Thursday. There were five other spectators in the Club to see the start of play. I am almost 62, and I was the youngest by a decade. Others drifted in during the day. There seemed to be fewer than 200 in the crowd.

The Vics won the toss and sent Queensland in to bat. They have a bowling attack that includes three players who have represented Australia in various forms of the game. They also have James Pattinson who is supposed to be one of the next big things. He is not. The Queensland top six in the batting line up have never represented the country, and never will. The going was slow. Close to lunch, I commented to a gentleman who was sitting close enough to be heard that no one had bowled a bouncer. After all, this is the Gabba where Lillee, Thompson and a hoard of West Indian quicks have terrified batsman. He replied dryly: “Perhaps they can’t.” Queensland batsman got a start and got themselves out. It was uninspiring stuff. The crowd was muted. Siddle toiled away. He is a limited bowler who does not do much with the ball, but you admire his determination. The rest of the bowling was pedestrian. Robinson got to the 70s. Reardon through away his wicket on 49 trying to hit yet another spinner to come out of Victoria out of the ground. Late in the day, the keeper Hartley and pace bowler Cutting got the score board ticking against a tiring attack.

The crowd was quiet and polite. They were sober. No one raised a voice to rile the Vics in the way that captains like Lawry and Yallop copped it  No one in the crowd took it to them in the way they used to rib Joslin, Hibbert, Hurst (you know who they are, just add the names ito the list n your mind) and all those unworthies who got a Baggy Green because of where they came from.

I grieve for what the Shield has become – a faded glory.


  1. John Butler says:

    JJ, in hindsight it seems remarkable that Queensland took so long to win a Shield. One of the quirks of sport.

    As for now, with so much cricket being played, the Shield was always going to suffer a decline in interest. But the game’s authorities have accelerated that by very obviously treating it as a 3rd, then 4th order priority.

    Still, there is a strange fascination in going to an almost empty MCG for a shield game and wandering around at your leisure. An experience you don’t get otherwise.


  2. Greg Mallory says:

    good article JJ. It’s very sad what has happened. I remember being at the Gabba on a Monday afternoon after work when ‘Slamming’ Sam & Greg Chappel had to get 180 in quick time. They proceeded to belt the ball all over the ground. People stopped off from work & the crowd swelled to thousands. I can’t see the ‘big bash’ (20-20) ever reproducing this basic tribalism

  3. Greg Mallory says:

    I fear international Rugby League could go down a similar path if not checked. It’s certainly being relegated to a 3rd level after State of Origin & club football. A good example was that on the Footy Show a few weeks ago, Darren Lockyer (Australian captain) & Benji Marshall (NZ captain) were on a panel, there was no mention that they were the respective captains of their countries, no mention of the upcoming Test & 4-nations tournament, only club football. Fatty & the boys even had the hide to say that their season was over missing the fact that both players had 4 or 5 Test matches ahead of them.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Jj spot on as a South Aussie yep used to rush to ad oval after work to see Hooksy , Boof etc went to a shield game 3 yrs ago and there were 12 people watching and I knew every 1 of them I decided I had a tragic life !

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