Sixty Six Sigma: The Optimal Sheffield Shield Starting with Victoria

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A new series of articles from Ben Roberts and Matt Wood look to explore how State cricket can help Australia to be a force on the world stage yet again. Ben Roberts explains the premise of the series…

The Argus Review into the performance of the Australian cricket team came to the conclusion that Australian Test performance would be best suited by having the best 66 cricketers consistently playing First Class cricket. Why did it take us this long to work this one out?

The report was clear to highlight that despite being a feeder competition for the national team, the primary focus of the Sheffield Shield had become anything but. Too many run-of-the-mill players now hold up the progress those with true potential for the world stage.

In order to hopefully foster a competitive league with more players deserving elevation to higher honours, it was recommended that the competition be liberated somewhat through the institution of a loan system. This would allow short term transfers of talent between states. We saw in the the recent English summer that when England skipper Andrew Strauss would not get the first-class practice prior to the first Test against India, he was loaned from home county Middlesex across to Somerset to face the tourists in a single match.

The premise of this series of articles will be to attempt to name the best XI for each state team. Once finalised we will analyse the resulting players missing out on a place in their contracted state and propose loans that could be made at the outset to hopefully have the 66 best Australian cricketers playing in the Sheffield Shield at one time.

Sixty Six Sigma: An Optimum Victoria

by Ben Roberts and Matthew Wood

Openers: Aaron Finch & Robert Quiney;

Finch has had a breakout couple of years, more notably in the coloured clothing where he gained international honours. He also showed last year that he was valuable in the longer form. He recently toured Zimbabwe with the ‘A’ team and in the only first-class match he played in, he made a century. He needs to calm down but could be very valuable for the Victorians in 2011/12.

Neither Michael Hill or Ryan Carters, two highly-rated young players with opening pedigrees took enough advantage of Chris Rogers absence through injury last season to be easy starters. Father Time is catching Rogers and after his injury last year he has not been as prolific during the English Summer as in years past. Rob Quiney has emerged from some wilderness time a better batsman, head-wise.
After his flirtation with the Australian team a couple of years ago, the publicity went to his head and he lost form dramatically. He is one of the most versatile batsmen in Australia, batting as required up or down the order. Last year in a poor batting lineup he averaged 42 and earned back some respect.

No. 3: David Hussey

No-one in the Victorian squad deserves the number three position in the team. This selection is based purely on the fact that despite Glenn Maxwell being one of the best batsmen in the state, he needs some protection and is not naturally suited to a higher order position. Call either of the Hussey brothers old at your peril, but it is unlikely that younger brother will play test cricket except in the direst of emergency.

This is disappointing as he has been one of the Shield’s great runmakers since making the trip East a decade ago, but selection for the national team is often as much luck as it is skill – just look at David Warner. Despite a below-average season last year, where he averaged just 40, he still deserves to be named among the best cricketers in Australia and (can) serves a purpose at number three for this side.

Middle Order: Cameron White & Glenn Maxwell

There weren’t many positives that came from of a season where Victoria’s captain was elevated to skipper Australia’s T20 team and vice their and 50-over squad. How wrong were the voices that bleated prior to the season that White should be given another go in the Test side as a batsman. By seasons end White had been dropped from the 50-over team for poor form, and in the only three shield matches he played he averaged just 28 with the bat. He did lead the Australia ‘A’ team against the English astutely, making a century, but is back in the pecking order for Australian batsmen, and probably holds onto his Victorian spot by the ‘skin’ of his captaincy credentials.

Maxwell is an exciting prospect. He showed that he can play shots with some daring that pushes his case beyond that of Hill and Carters who seemed to seize up at the crease. He will need to temper his approach, but given time and some protection down the order he could be a great batsman for the state. From five innings in the shield last season he made two half centuries and one century.

All-Rounder: Andrew McDonald

Easily Victoria’s spine upon which they need to build around. He was the best batsman in the state last year by a significant margin, with an average of 76 and three centuries struck at a rate of 84 runs per 100 balls. Couple this with his medium pace bowling that gets lost behind the front line talent at Victoria’s disposal and you have one hell of a player.

Wicket-Keeper: Matthew Wade

The former Tasmanian made further advancement as one of his adopted state’s key players, so much so that he has now been selected for higher honours behind Tim Paine and Brad Haddin. Of all the keepers completing every match in the Sheffield Shield last year, Wade was one of only three averaging greater than 30 with the bat. His wicket-keeping is of the highest order, making him unlikely to be replaced very soon.

Spinner: John Holland

At a time in Australia’s cricket history where one only has to have rolled their fingers over a cricket ball to receive Test honours, it’s amazing that Holland hasn’t entered wider discussions over the past 18 months. Although injured at an inopportune time, he still played 7 matches last year and took 19 wickets at 42, as good as any finger spinner in Australia.

Pacemen: Peter Siddle, James Pattinson & Clint McKay

This is Victoria’s strongest suit. The ability to team these three internationally honoured bowlers together will be probably something unlikely to happen this summer, but it does make the mouth water.
Siddle is an established member of the Australian team, and his hustling style is known to batsman as a difficult prospect particularly when conditions favour him. Both McKay and Pattinson are probably the two more naturally talented members of this trio, but had their season wrecked by injury last year. Both, who have received a small taste of international cricket, did perform in limited matches for Victoria. McKay captured 11 wickets in three matches; Pattinson seven in two.

Who’s likely locked in for Victoria?

Andrew McDonald, with his record with both bat and ball, is guaranteed a place in the Victorian side. Although in his best use now may be more a shepherd’s role at number three and despite a poorer year last year, David Hussey still is one of Australia’s best batsmen. Wade as wicket-keeper/batsman and the three paceman are irreplaceable with the likely talent available for loan from other states.

What’s disappointing for Victoria?

Well the top order batting, plenty of talent and potential, but a glut of good cricketers elsewhere could see anyone of White, Finch, Quiney, and Maxwell replaced if we are looking for the best 66 cricketers in the country at the moment.

The biggest disappointment is that bowling all-rounder John Hastings has no spot. His bowling is similar in nature to that of McDonald, and shades McDonald for effectiveness, it is not enough to dislodge McDonald who’s batting was the best for the state last year. Therefore in this exercise, Limited over international representative ‘The Duke’ Hastings will be a prime candidate for being loaned to another state.

Of particular concern for Victoria should be their inability to convert centuries into really big scores. Only Andrew McDonald showed this last year, making 163. All others who scored hundreds topped out with David Hussey’s 122.

Who’s next up – or alternatively, who’s loan bait?

Hastings (Allround), Darren Pattinson (RFM), Rogers (LHB), Hill (RHB), Carters (RHB).

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