Prolific Voges key in Shield final
The World Cup might be dominating the cricket landscape in Australia right now, but another much older trophy is also up for grabs over the coming week. The Sheffield Shield final begins on Saturday at Bellerive Oval in Hobart, but without a Tasmania player in sight. This is, remarkably, a home match for Victoria against Western Australia, the MCG being unavailable due to its World Cup duties.
The Junction Oval will be upgraded over the coming years, but for the time being Victoria are without first-class venues besides the MCG. Alice Springs and Glenelg became de facto homes for the Bushrangers late in the summer, but now they have chosen Bellerive to host the final. Naturally, Western Australia hoped the WACA would be used, but Victoria's preferred option was approved.
So, venue controversy aside, on to the cricket. As the visiting team, Western Australia must win the five-day match to claim the Shield, whereas Victoria need only a draw. The Warriors enter the match with the form batsman of the tournament, captain Adam Voges, who already has 1215 runs this season. That is a Western Australia state record, and puts him eighth - so far - on the all-time list.
Voges has scored five centuries this Sheffield Shield season and two of those came last time he played Victoria, although his twin tons were not enough to prevent a Victoria win. He has plenty of support: Michael Klinger is second on this summer's Shield tally, Cameron Bancroft is fifth and Shaun Marsh is also in the top ten. The final will also be Voges' 100th Sheffield Shield match.
"I am very proud of the record," Voges said of becoming his state's most prolific scorer in a season. "I think I've beaten Chris Rogers as well, so I might mention that to him when we get down there during the week. It's something that I'm very proud of and hopefully there's still a few more to come."
It has been a remarkable season for cricket in the west. The Warriors won the Matador Cup at the start of the summer, then the Perth Scorchers claimed the Big Bash title. Now there is a chance that all three trophies could reside in Western Australia. It is also the second successive summer in which the Warriors have reached the Shield final.
"They have a good mix between experience and youth," Victoria veteran David Hussey told ESPNcricinfo. "They're chock full of talent. They've had a very good consistent year. It's up to us to take early wickets and put a lot of pressure on Adam Voges. He's had a great year, he's setting all types of records. It's fantastic for good people to do well. I don't mind if he gets a hundred in each innings as long as Victoria win."
At 35, Voges no doubt still dreams of playing Test cricket, a goal that has eluded Hussey over the course of his long career. Hussey is 37 and this year balanced playing for Victoria with coaching the state's young batsmen; in six Shield matches he has scored two centuries and averages 66, and although he knows a title would be the perfect way to sign off, he is unsure what his future holds.
"I like competing with these young kids and that's my motivation of keeping going," Hussey said. "I think I'd be a pretty decent batting coach and I really enjoy working with our young kids at Victoria. The landscape is changing in cricket, so I'm pretty excited about the future, but I still enjoy playing at the same time, so it's a difficult one to answer."
Victoria's leading batsman this summer is Marcus Stoinis, who has 730 runs at 52.14 and nine times has passed fifty, but has not made a century. Solid performances from men like Peter Handscomb and captain Matthew Wade have ensured some big totals, but surprisingly the former captain Cameron White has been squeezed out of the side late in the summer.
White is part of Victoria's 14-man squad for the final but it remains to be seen whether he will find his way into the XI. His best chance might be if Rogers is ruled out after injuring his glute in the previous match, but this is likely to be the last Sheffield Shield match of Rogers' career, and the lure of going out as a Shield winner is likely to mean he plays.
Victoria have also named James Pattinson, who is coming back from a hamstring injury, and their attack looks potent with Pattinson, Peter Siddle, and the Shield's leading wicket taker Fawad Ahmed in the side. Ahmed has 40 wickets this Shield campaign, a tally that only Chuck Fleetwood-Smith and Jack Iverson have previously reached among Victoria spinners.
Western Australia's attack, by comparison, has been badly hit by injury. Michael Hogan has been ruled out of the final due to a hamstring injury, while Jason Behrendorff has been missing for a while due to stress fractures in his back. Nathan Rimmington will be expected to lead the attack in their absence.
Should the Warriors win, it will be the end of a long drought: their last Shield title came in 1998-99. Victoria's last title came in 2009-10, and they have been more frequent finalists than the Warriors in recent years, despite finishing last in 2014-15. This will be Hussey's sixth Shield final, his first having been the drought-breaking triumph of 2003-04.
"I didn't really understand what the final meant, I'm pretty certain I know what it means to win a Sheffield Shield final now," Hussey said. "It's been a long time but I've really enjoyed my time. It's everything - it's the highest possible level I can play at at the moment. For me to maybe go out on top as a winner would be fantastic."
Victoria squad Matthew Wade (capt), Fawad Ahmed, Scott Boland, Daniel Christian, Peter Handscomb, John Hastings, Jon Holland, David Hussey, Rob Quiney, James Pattinson, Chris Rogers, Peter Siddle, Marcus Stoinis, Cameron White.
Western Australia squad Adam Voges (capt), Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Tom Beaton, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Marcus Harris, Michael Klinger, Simon Mackin, Shaun Marsh, David Moody, Nathan Rimmington, Andrew Tye, Sam Whiteman (wk).
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale