NSW thump Tasmania on sluggish surface
New South Wales 9 for 178 (Smith 70, Laughlin 3-23) beat Tasmania 97 (Henriques 4-17) by 81 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
At the New South Wales season launch a few days before this match, Michael Clarke spoke at some length about how Australian cricket's revival would begin at domestic level with the preparation of better pitches. Fairer surfaces, Clarke reckoned, would encourage batsmen to play their shots and build their confidence, while forcing bowlers to redouble their skill and stamina in order to earn wickets.
This was all fair enough in theory, but Clarke's enthusiastic promise that pitches for 2013-14 would be better did not appear to have reached Bankstown Oval in time for the start of the domestic limited-overs tournament. The turf proved to be more pudding than pitch, slow, low and variable enough to prevent any batsman from trusting it for long. Only an innings of patience, poise and the occasional flourish by the rapidly maturing Steve Smith allowed NSW to scramble as many as 178. But that would prove far too many for Tasmania, their struggles epitomised by Ed Cowan, who spent 50 painstaking balls over 25 before slicing the miserly mediums of Moises Henriques to David Warner at point amid a collapse of 4 for 6.
Smith felt no need to express any fondness for the surface despite his tidy score and the Blues' victory, while the Tasmania captain George Bailey argued the strip had prevented two strong teams from demonstrating their capabilities to each other, and to those watching the first match of the domestic season.
"It's certainly no excuse for the way we played," Bailey said. "But when you've got two teams of the calibre we do today and some of the shot-making of Smith, Warner, Doolan and you've got four of the best fast bowlers in the country, two of the best spinners in the country, you'd probably like a wicket that gives a little more chance for both teams to show their skills. That's what you get and full credit to NSW, they adapted well, particularly Smithy … that was a really smart innings on that wicket."
It was the kind of strip made for Henriques' niggardly art, and, for the Tigers, Ben Laughlin was similarly fruitful in pursuing a tight line, punctuated by changes of pace. With apologies to both men, theirs is not a skill to set pulses racing. While the Blues will be happy to begin their season as winners under the captaincy of Brad Haddin and the management of Trevor Bayliss, both reinstated to roles they previously held, it was a drab way to begin the domestic season. That it was the first domestic fixture televised on a free-to-air network for seven years only enhanced the sense of opportunity missed.
Not that the coverage afforded by Channel Nine, in a deal with Cricket Australia that has the governing body covering outside broadcast costs, was comprehensively thorough. The usual Nine gizmos were absent, while only rudimentary replays were available, contributing to the wicket of Ben Rohrer when no evidence could be found to contradict the on-field umpires' notion that he had touched a full Laughlin ball behind. Rohrer walked off shaking his head; 819 spectators and numerous television viewers doubtless did the same.
Warner, who had holidayed in Las Vegas prior to the fixture while ruminating on his loss of an Australia ODI place, looked far from settled in his brief stay, peering suspiciously at the pitch before snicking the debutant left-armer Sam Rainbird to second slip. Though delivered on the right line, the ball did precious little in the air or off the pitch. Wickets fell regularly from that point, leaving Smith to hold the innings together with a display that maintained the upward trend he established in India and England earlier in the year.
There were moments of dash, whether a front-foot pull shot from Rainbird or a flicked six off Xavier Doherty, but also a healthy sense of what could not be attempted in the prevailing conditions. It was a surprise when he misjudged Doherty from over the wicket and was bowled behind his pads by a full ball the spun fractionally out of the footmarks. Nonetheless, Smith's innings would be the largest of the match by a distance, and the most decisive.
Tasmania's pursuit began shakily when Mark Cosgrove punched Josh Hazlewood to Warner, but Cowan and Alex Doolan briefly gave the impression of a serious pursuit while adding a careful 47. However they were separated when Doolan ran with his straight drive only to be sent back by Cowan, leaving Nathan Lyon to fire in a return to Brad Haddin over the stumps on his Blues debut after moving from South Australia. Bailey punched a return catch to Gurinder Sandhu, and Cowan was regrettably involved in another run out when the alert Warner threw down the stumps to evict Jon Wells.
Three runs later Cowan was himself dismissed, setting the Tigers on the path to ruin. Lyon dropped onto a length and spun the ball as NSW completed mopping up operations, his offbreak through the gate of Ben Hilfenhaus good enough to have dismissed a far more accomplished batsman.
Henriques completed the win by claiming his fourth victim, leaving the visitors to glare at a pitch they are likely to battle again on Tuesday, when they return to Bankstown to face Victoria.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here