Has Victorian cricket ever been in a better place? RON REED, who has been an observer for the best part of 50 years, doesn’t think so:
VICTORIA has completed its fourth Sheffield Shield win in five years and the celebrations were not confined merely to the moment at hand when the last NSW wicket fell late on day four at the Junction Oval, 177 runs adrift of what was always an unlikely ask.
This is now a dynasty, one of the most impressive periods of dominance since the war. NSW won nine Shields in a row between 1953-54 and 61-62 and more recently Queensland five in eight years between 94-95 and 01-02, but not four from five.
So the team formerly known as the Bushrangers is now setting a cracking pace as the kings of domestic cricket.
Victorian cricket – the men’s version – has possibly never been in a better place. It is the capital city of the Australian cricket world, perhaps of the cricket world in general, if that’s not getting carried away.
That is still the case when you consider that the declared mission statement has always been to not only win silverware but to contribute to the strength of the national team.
The one-day team that has just completed hugely impressive campaigns against India and Pakistan is captained by a Victorian, Aaron Finch, and contains two others, Peter Handscomb and Glenn Maxwell. Finch and Handscomb played Tests during the summer, as did Marcus Harris, and veteran quick Peter Siddle and spinner Jon Holland did so in the series before that, against Pakistan in October.
Emerging star Will Pucovski made it into the dressing room but not quite onto the field, although he certainly will before he is much older.
It is not a minor point to make that the three current tourists are all born-and-bred Victorians, as are nine of the 11 in the team that has just re-acquired Lord Sheffield’s over-sized ornament.
The exceptions are Harris from WA and Tremain from NSW, while the unfortunate Nic Maddinson, also a Sydneysider, would have played if he had not been injured for the second time in his first season south of the border.
Among those who will applaud this productive promotion of local talent is one-time star fast bowler Ian Callen, who formally protested in writing to the Cricket Victoria administration a couple of years ago that far too much emphasis was being placed on importing players.
“Mad Dog,” an experienced coach at various levels of club cricket, didn’t get a response, but nor did his loud voice go entirely unheard, so perhaps the current dynamic vindicates his passionate campaign to a significant extent.
About the same time as Callen was rattling cages, one senior Premier club was also demanding answers from the Jolimont HQ about a range of administrative and financial matters. Not much of that ever became public , which might be a pointer to where domestic cricket sits in the media consciousness, but it is fair to suggest that if the same rumblings were occurring within the AFL you would have been reading about it for weeks.
That might not have entirely dissipated but it has receded well into the background now, perhaps because certain key power-brokers have moved on, perhaps because there seems to be very little about which to quibble with the way the organisation is performing on and off the field now.
Indeed, it is leading the way with Victoria’s Earl Eddings now chairman of Cricket Australia and overseeing the much discussed cultural transition at the top levels of the game.
The task, he told me last week, is providing him with pleasure and satisfaction, and is progressing well. From the outside looking in, he is correct – the game’s image is improving quickly and well.
The Victorians, meanwhile, aren’t putting a foot wrong – on field, at least.
They won the domestic one-day competition, beating NSW by 100-plus runs in the final, were assured of top spot on the Shield ladder with a round to play, and two Melbourne teams played off in the Big Bash final.
Both the State teams and the BBL winners, the Renegades, are coached by another home-grown talent, Andrew McDonald, who is still a relatively low profile work in progress but seen as a candidate to do the same job at international level – in Australia or elsewhere – in due course.
And after a frustrating period of having no real home to call their own the Victorians are settled into the refurbished Junction Oval, where the facilities are luxurious.
The Melbourne CRICKET Ground is now only an occasional privilege for cricketers but of course it is still the venue for the biggest showpiece match of the calendar by far, the Boxing Day Test, and that is unlikely ever to change.
The Junction has just hosted its first Shield final and it has done so with a sense of occasion befitting the most important match of what is, after all – or should be – a competition of weighty importance to real cricket fans.
The crowds have been modest but fully engaged, it’s been on live TV and there have been numerous sub-plots to do with the events still to come in England during the winter.
And, happily, although the final margin was decisive it did not peter out to an anti-climax which was a distinct possibility after the Victorians led by a hefty 168 in the first innings.
Set 388 to win, the visitors fought hard for a while, reaching 1/132 with the two Pattos – NSW’s recent Test debutant Kurtis Patterson engaging in a high quality contest with fast bowler James Pattinson that kept the contest ticking over – until the indefatigable Peter Siddle saw off the only real threat.
Harris’s 141 in the first innings won him the man of the match award and that’s difficult to dispute, but in my humble opinion the real star was Pattinson, whose figures of 3-30 and 4-41, good as they are, do not fully convey the class and menace with which he bowled from start to finish.
Nobody now doubts he will be an integral part of the coming Ashes campaign. Stand by to hear much more about him.