by Ian Hauser
Late last year on 9th October, son Liam and I went to the Gabba to watch the Queensland Bulls take on the Victorian Bushrangers in a Ryobi Cup one-dayer. We were treated to a decidedly underwhelming match which the Bulls won without being in the least convincing. We agreed that the Bulls were in for a long season and our expectations were modest, to say the least.
Ten weeks later, Queensland went to the mid-season break with five successive outright wins to their credit and a whopping lead in the Shield competition. A team of comparative no-names was on a roll. Pretty good judges, weren’t we?
Then, just like the old days, the post-Christmas decline set in. A one wicket loss that should have been a win and another draw that should have been a tie cost nine competition points and an easy ticket to a home final. With one round of matches to go, we had to win the last game outright and have other results go our way to even get to the final. Thankfully they did, even better than hoped, and we won the right to host the final against defending champions Tasmania.
So we got to last Friday with our supposed no-names up against a Tassie side boasting Test legend Ponting and current Test opener Cowan. Overcast, showery conditions forecast for the duration meant that this would be a low-scoring scrap to test even the best.
Tassie opened well and got to about 1/130 before McDermott Jnr presented his credentials, eventually claiming six wickets to restrict the visitors to 241. Astute observers said that 250 was about the mark. Queensland struggled to 5/55 before Hopes and Hartley settled things down. Then the unlikely Magoffin helped Hartley add 97 to give the Bulls a lead of 35 – hardly match-winning but far better than it might have been. The unsung Hartley was last man out for 111, a statement to the Aussie selectors who seem to have forgotten about this vastly underrated keeper.
Talking about underrated players, Tassie was yet again well served by Luke Butterworth, an unfashionable but dependable all-rounder who never seems to get the credit he deserves. He’s been around for years but never seems to get a mention when higher honours are discussed.
In their second dig, Tassie was in strife from the outset and were almost out of it at 4/36 with Ponting back in the pavilion. But Cowan isn’t a Test player for nothing and, with Butterworth, scratched the lead out beyond 100 before Hopes (a canny captain) led from the front to limit the overall lead to 132. I’m sure the Tigers would have preferred about 150.
133 to get – one of those totals that mess with your mind. It should be a shoo-in for any self-respecting team. But how many sides, experienced sides, Test sides, have fallen short over the years? What price the no-names playing in a final in difficult conditions?
At 2/83 it looked ever so simple. But cricket has a habit of throwing up curly situations that fascinate us and rip away at our nerves. Within minutes, the Bulls suddenly found themselves at 7/88. The victory total looked a long, long way away. Just a snail-paced Hartley and the bowlers left.
Enter Magoffin, again. Back from WA as a cast-off; a season badly interrupted by injury; his Shield final a constant battle against back spasms; “journeyman” just about fits the bloke to a “t”. With a bit of luck, a touch of aggression, patience and a stubborn Hartley at the other end, the score crept to 7/126 when rain drove the players off the field to a forced tea break. Given the late showers of recent days, the prospect of no play until Day 5 was a distinct possibility. Aarrgghh, the nerves!
Thankfully play resumed after the tea and the remaining 7 runs were accumulated, not without the excitement of a difficult dropped catch to shred the nerves a bit more. Hartley and Magoffin frustrated the Tigers for the second time in the match and clawed the Bulls to a 3 wicket win. Sheer relief!
Who said Shield cricket is dead? Ponting said the match had Test-like intensity; fortunes fluctuated throughout; the promised low-scoring scrap turned out to be just that; both sides had their chances to win; even the best players struggled in the conditions. This is cricket!
So the Queensland Bulls have several new legends led by the combative Hartley (thoroughly deserved Man of the Match) and the unlikely Magoffin (potentially a cult hero in the making). Hopes deserves credit for his finger-on-the-pulse captaincy as well as his contributions with bat and ball. McDermott Jnr showed he is not out of place in this company and has Shield-winning bragging rights on Dad. But don’t forget Bulls coach Boof Lehmann who turned a spiritless collection of individuals into a Shield-winning team in very short time.
Five months after that October night, the domestic season ends with the best performed team throughout the summer (6 outright wins) taking the major prize. Who’d have thought it?