The Sheffield Shield Final was played this week. Yes, this week. It was played in Alice Springs. Yes, Alice Springs. The match was between Victoria and South Australia. Yes, the Bushrangers and the Redbacks. One of Australian sport’s biggest and oldest rivalries. Would you know? Probably not. And that is plain sad. The question that this leads to though is whether in today’s busy sporting world, the Sheffield Shield needs a final at all. Are we better off awarding the Shield to the team that finishes top after the regular season? Then there is the bigger picture question of the future of the Shield competition and where it goes from here?
Last weekend seemed like the perfect weekend to finish off the Sheffield Shield season for 2017. There was no AFL, no Australian Formula One Grand Prix, no AFL Women’s Grand Final. There was just a little bit of clear air. We saw a game between Western Australia and New South Wales go down to the wire to decide who would earn a place in the final. While this would not have been as exciting last weekend without the final to play for, there is no reason why scenarios like this could not play out for top spot. How good would that be?! It would be reminiscent of the last day of the Premier League title race. Just as important too for the other end of the table and avoiding a wooden spoon.
The final this week was played in Alice Springs because Victoria had finished top and there was no suitable venue in Victoria at which to play. While Alice Springs should be included on the Shield calendar somewhere throughout the season, the final is not the time. If a final were to be played in 2018 and Victoria make it again, surely there is somewhere in that state where a game of cricket could be held. Victoria is the sporting capital of the world, it is farcical that there is not an appropriate venue. The Bushrangers have a great record when playing in Alice Springs, but that is hardly the point. What would have happened had Queensland earned hosting rights given the state of the Gabba after the Adele concert? In South Australia the game would have been played at Gliderol Stadium at Glenelg, not the Adelaide Oval, while the SCG would also have been ruled out due to AFL commitments. Playing finals at regional venues just does not feel right and it makes the competition look a little tacky and disrespected. As does playing a final over five days where every other game during the regular season is played over four. Yes, that encourages a result, but when a team only has to draw to win the Shield anyway, results are not always front of mind.
What does the future of Sheffield Shield Cricket look like? In 2018, the Big Bash League is set to have more games, which means any chance of moving a Shield Final forward is unlikely in an already busy Summer that includes an Ashes Series. If the Hobart Test against South Africa late last year taught us anything, it is that in coming years Shield cricket must be given more respect in order to nurture future Australian Test players. The current Australian squad features a few players who have shown recent solid form at Shield level including Peter Handscomb and Matthew Renshaw. They were subsequenelly picked for Test matches and the positive results have followed for these two players and in turn the Australian Test team. This proves that there needs to be a solid block of four-day cricket prior to any Australian Test Series beginning and certainly before it goes on hiatus for the Big Bash League. The Matador One Day Cup may need to be moved as a result. It is the other end of the schedule that needs to be tinkered with. There really is not much point playing Shield cricket in late March. The bottom line is that Sheffield Shield has to be played to support Test cricket first and foremost.
On another note, kudos to Cricket Australia’s social media team and the live streaming of Sheffield Shield games. This has been an excellent addition to the competition over the last few years. There have been a lot of cracking finishes this seasons, which have been great to watch. The ability to watch this on phones, tablets and computers really is great. I have viewed far more Sheffield Shield cricket than I would have, had this not been available. The social media of all six teams is also at a high standard, with score updates, feature stories, match reports and injury news all reported sufficiently across various social media platforms. This has been a great initiative from Cricket Australia and one for which they should be applauded.
As cricket wraps up for another season, there is plenty to ponder. Changes need to be made ahead of next season to ensure Australian cricket remains healthy at all levels of the game and fights off the looming battle with other summer codes.
Picture – cricket.com.au