Australia news February 2, 2016

Sheffield Shield crosses the Tasman


The Bert Sutcliffe Oval - the venue for the Sheffield Shied game © Martin Hunter-IDI

Back in October, the New Zealand touring team was hosted for a tour match at Blacktown Oval to Sydney's west - if "hosted" is the right word. The ground staff had been unable to grow grass after the football season, leaving a pitch of rolled mud that was at first a road before growing progressively more treacherous.

Fearing injuries to their batsmen before the first Test, New Zealand pressed successfully for the match to be abandoned, and made a speedy exit to Brisbane. The absurdity of the episode was only enhanced by the fact that Cricket Australia had scheduled a Sheffield Shield match to be held at New Zealand Cricket's high performance centre in Lincoln by way of preparation for the return trip, and that the centre's curator was at Blacktown that week discussing facilities with Cricket NSW.

Four months on, and there will be no "get square" on the outskirts of Christchurch. The pitch for the Shield fixture between NSW and Western Australia will not suffer for lack of grass coverage, and nor will it force an early abandonment. The flexibility of New Zealand to allow an event without precedent in cricket history - a domestic match played on the shores of an imminent Test match opponent - is rare in an age of administrators protecting hometown results, and may yet have other flow-on benefits for the nation across the Tasman.

The concept was first discussed as New Zealand and Australia pieced together a new bilateral agreement in the afterglow of last year's World Cup. Cricket Australia argued there was insufficient time amid a looming World Twenty20 for the originally scheduled three Tests and a warm-up match, and New Zealand countered that a revival of the dormant Chappell-Hadlee ODI series would be advantageous. The Sheffield Shield match was tossed up as a compromise for cricketers not part of the 50-over series.

"The scheduling is a significant jigsaw puzzle at the best of times," CA head of operations Sean Cary told ESPNcricinfo. "But with the lead-up to the World Twenty20 and Australia needing to play India at home, New Zealand in New Zealand, South Africa away before the T20 World Cup, we had to jockey between the three countries to alter the FTP slightly to fit everything in.

"The New Zealand tour match came about because we'd changed the original schedule for a three-Test tour to two Tests with ODIs in a shorter space of time. That meant we didn't really have enough time to play a fully-fledged tour match before the Test series, so in part of the negotiations around additional matches for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy series we floated with NZC the idea of playing a Shield match in New Zealand in lieu of the tour match.

"We chose a NSW home match v WA because a large proportion of the current Test squad comes from those two states."

As it has turned out, only Peter Nevill, Nathan Lyon and Adam Voges will be taking part among members of the Test side, while Joe Burns, Jackson Bird, James Pattinson, Peter Sidle and Chadd Sayers must be content with a Shield match for Queensland on the eastern seaboard. The likes of Steven Smith, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh and Usman Khawaja are part of the ODI series.

Even so, the fixture is providing a chance for further cross-pollination between the administrations of the two countries. "Essentially its a NSW home match, so they operationally take their structure from Sydney to Christchurch," Cary said. "NZC have supported in that they are match managing the contest. There are some little bits and pieces to fine tune like online scoring and that side of it, we need to do a bit of work ourselves with NZC to make sure everything looks and feels as if it's being played in Australia … but essentially it's a NSW home game.

The pitch in Blacktown, where New Zealand's tour game was abandoned on their tour of Australia © Getty Images

"NZC are responsible for the wicket. In our pre-tour visit I met the curator, I went out to the ground, he showed me which wicket is being used, it's right in the centre of the block. They've not played any cricket on it this summer until that Shield match so it's going to be in pristine condition, and the curators these days have a lot of pride in their work. They'll produce as best quality wicket they possibly can."

As for the Blacktown episode, Cary said there was a strong degree of understanding among the New Zealand ground staff for the problems faced at by those responsible for the ground at the time. He also conceded it had been CA's error to have the tour game played in Sydney rather than in Brisbane, where Allan Border Field sat unused at the same time the Blacktown match was called off.

"There'll be no tit-for-tat there," Cary said. "We're first to acknowledge unfortunately we didn't make the right decision in terms of venue selection for that Blacktown game. We apologised profusely and gave the best possible solution for New Zealand after that. Funnily enough the curator at Lincoln was actually at Blacktown at that time because they'd been invited over to see what NSW had done with their indoor centre and training set-up and providing their own information.

"He saw the situation and was very much feeling sorry for the curator because he knew he didn't have much to play with in terms of a four-day wicket. They were sharing knowledge about the indoor nets for all seasons that New Zealand cricket are starting to prepare, and they were sharing that knowledge with Cricket NSW."

What is clear about this fixture and its lead-up is that relationships are building between the two countries that may be useful in future. The concept of New Zealand-based Big Bash League teams has been touted in recent times, and such a possibility will be more realistic for all the information sharing that has gone on over the past year or so.

"Because of the relationship the curators built up through the World Cup being hosted in both countries, we had the New Zealand curator group here and our curator group went to New Zealand over the two years leading into the World Cup," Cary said. "They've built relationships, they share knowledge and everyone gets along well.

"From a high performance perspective it gives guys opportunities to get a taste for international cricket, they travel to another country, they have to go through all the rigmarole of customs and getting acclimatised and all those things. So it helps our developing cricketers, and also shows we can share knowledge and experience in an operational sense and hopefully learn from each other and be better at putting on cricket in our respective countries."

Lincoln's quiet surrounds will feel a long way from the hustle and bustle of the BBL, but it will also be very distant from those chaotic scenes at Blacktown. New Zealand's generosity to Australia in this case should not be forgotten.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dan on February 3, 2016, 6:28 GMT

    I made a mistake, the top end league would be played in the southern hemisphere winter, the tropical dry season.

    The dry season in the Southern Hemisphere winter is from March to September, the top end league would only take 12 weeks to play.

    Another benefit is the Southern Hemisphere winter runs at exactly the same time as the northern hemisphere summer which means players will be in form all year round

  • dan on February 3, 2016, 6:02 GMT

    The top end league would have 4 day first class cricket and 20/20 over cricket.

    Hopefully the 20/20 could be shown on tv whilst the football season is on.

    Players will be playing cricket all year which means they will be in form when tour the northern hemisphere.

    Sunlight in the tropics in winter still gets 12 hours of sunlight, Alice Springs has shorter winter days which means you have to start the game early or play the game over 4.5-5 days.

    The players would love it it's like a working holiday.

    Cairns would be green with bounce and would swing

    Broome would have bounce and a hard pitch with a breeze and would probably reverse swing

    Darwin would be green with bounce

    Alice Springs would mimic an Indian pitch a dust bowl rank turner, being in the desert.

    You could also play winter test matches in the top end making cricket a 12 month a year sport,

    Only having 4 teams the standard would be very strong, and players would get valuable experience in different conditions

  • dan on February 3, 2016, 5:48 GMT

    @ Carl white

    I thought about creating a dust bowl here in Australia.

    My idea is to create a dust bowl in Alice springs.

    It's great everyone is talking about more games with New Zealand, some post want kiwi teams in the BBL, other post are calling for more first class cricket between Australia and New Zealand others want more test.

    Some post are talking about Australians getting experience on green tops of New Zealand. Australia vs New Zealand is the biggest rivalry in New Zealand sport.

    Back to dust bowls.

    I have been proposing for 10 years about a top end league, the teams are Cairns, Broome, Darwin and Alice Springs to be played in the australian winter the dry season in tropical northern summer.

    It would be for players who cannot get IPL contracts or English domestic cricket.

    I would get aeroplane companies and tourism companies to pay the players.

    I would have free admission for children and free coaching clinics to encourage cricket playing for indigenous communities

  • Ian on February 3, 2016, 4:03 GMT

    This is ridiculous. The administrators need to stand up and refuse to play some of these series so that sensible schedules can be arranged. How do we end up with only two Tests? The minimum should be three and there should be time before and during for players to find form or force their way into the team. Why should we have to suffer series after series where the touring side only starts to perform after the first couple of Tests. The current administrators are too greedy and/or too useless.

  • Rohan on February 3, 2016, 3:13 GMT

    Cannot believe Khawaja isn't playing at all! If he isn't going to be picked to play ODI, why isn't he playing the Shield game?? The selectors have lost their mind. If Marsh is going to play instead, then surely he has to take Khawajas spot in the tests, which is crazy of course. This is lunacy, a preparation so lacking in logic and direction for an important series. At worst this is downright disrespectful to an opponent the selectors and administrators clearly don't rate. It's rubbish it's only a two test match series as well. Kiwi fans, these shrubs do not represent what Aussie fans want. We want more cricket v. NZ, and would be perfectly happy to play much less against arrogant Kohli and his gang of flat track bullies!

  •   Jarrod Gibson on February 3, 2016, 3:04 GMT

    "Joe Burns, Jackson Bird, James Pattinson, Peter Sidle and Chadd Sayers must be content with a Shield match for Queensland". Close, 20% accuracy, Joe Burns is playing for Queensland, Sayers for SA against QLD, while Pattinson and Siddle will be representing VIC against Tasmania, including Jackson Bird. Good article other than that :) I certainly like the idea of a North Island and South Island team into the Big Bash.

  • Lucus on February 3, 2016, 0:45 GMT

    Sounds great, NZ and AUS need to get over their grudges, playing each other more will only improve both nations. Have the champs of each countries first class leagues play more etc...

  • Garry on February 2, 2016, 19:57 GMT

    Nah I disagree with all the comments here, I would rather our players continue to play domestic cricket in New Zealand and not pick up bad habits like not being able to play a moving ball or not being able to keep your mouthshut as they would if they played week in and week out in Australia.

  • Jay on February 2, 2016, 19:29 GMT

    @CarlWhyte: Some fair points there. I think cricket boards from all over the world should do just that. One of the major reasons why I feel test cricket is boring is because of how much home advantage teams enjoy. I mean, Australia are pretty good at home, India are nearly unbeatable in their spin paradise, NZ paralyze visiting teams with swinging pitches etc. If the ICC can experiment with nations importing/exporting soil type among each other for the creation of near perfect neutral conditions, then test cricket will be so much worth watching. Imagine a spinning paradise in Australia, a bouncy pitch in Mumbai etc. We can only dream.

  • Jay on February 2, 2016, 18:58 GMT

    I think this is reckless. What next ? English county games to be played in SA ? Or Ranji Trophy to be contested in SL ? Those competitions are called 'domestic' cricket for a reason. Instead, Australia could have sent two teams - A and B. Played a series of games among themselves to acclimatize. Or, have one of those teams to play a NZCB president's XI or Prime Minister's XI before the 1st test.

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