Australia have just completed a remarkable resurgence, transforming from a struggling ODI side to beat the highly-ranked Indian team, after trailing 0-2 in a five-match series.
This victory was even more remarkable for the fact that India were playing at home and Australia were missing four of their top players — two from suspension and an injured pair. Australia’s spirited revival, plus the imminent return of star players now has them on an equal footing with India and England as joint favourites to win the World Cup.
That sounds like a team on the up but the story at home is one of a different hue.
For many years, the Sheffield Shield competition was recognised by players — Sir Garfield Sobers among them — as the toughest cricket outside the Test arena. A glance at the recently completed Sheffield Shield round suggests that accolade is well and truly out of date.
In two of the three games played — New South Wales v Victoria and Queensland v South Australia — there were eight completed innings, none of which reached a total of two hundred.
To further cloud a bleak outlook, only one of those innings passed 150 and Victoria (106 & 194) was the only one of the four teams to amass three hundred for the match. The batting carnage ensued with the bowlers using the English Dukes ball; so much for preparing possible Australian team candidates for the Ashes series.
The adage used to be “When NSW cricket is strong so is Australia.”
That saying evolved when NSW batsmen with the likes of Victor Trumper, later Don Bradman and many other players of slightly lesser quality dominating. However, it was still applicable when Mark Taylor, Michael Slater and the Waugh twins headed up a productive NSW lineup in the nineties.
And Australia used to rely heavily on NSW for its wrist-spin quotient, with exponents such as Arthur Mailey, Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly and Richie Benaud leading the way. Australia’s inability to unearth another top-class Test wrist-spinner following the retirement of the magical Shane Warne has in part been because of the failure of NSW to produce leggies in the numbers they have in the past.
Until recently, NSW used to adequately supply not only their own requirements but also a fair number of the SA and Tasmanian combatants. Their current batting line-up features a number of tyros, along with Kurtis Patterson as the sole Test match player.
That’s a far cry from the first NSW lineup I came up against that featured Test players from 1 to 10 in the batting order. These were not just average Test players; the list included Bob Simpson, Neil Harvey, Norm O’Neill, Brian Booth and then stationed at seven and eight respectively were allrounders Benaud and Alan Davidson. Incidentally SA actually won that encounter but it did include a nine-wicket match haul and a second innings of 251 from the irrepressible Sobers.
Sobers’ innings on its own would’ve won the recent match for SA; Queensland gained outright points with a paltry match total of 245.
It might be argued that it’s not a fair comparison as not only is NSW currently missing the presence of Steve Smith and David Warner through suspension but also Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood because of injury. However it’s also relevant to point out that in the 1959-60 season with the NSW Test players unavailable, Ray Flockton made 264 not out against SA.
That was during a dominant NSW period where they won nine Shields in a row and Benaud was captaining a flourishing Australian side. Australia appears to be emerging from a dark period engulfed by scandal and poor results to a position where they can now feel positive about the upcoming World Cup and the Ashes. However if something isn’t done to ensure that talented batting prospects are forthcoming in the future, then the renaissance just experienced in India might be short-lived.
Mar 17, 2019 10:21 IST