March 23, 2016

The Shield says goodbye to its top bowlers

Four of the top five wicket-takers of the last decade retire this season. Only one of them played Test cricket for Australia
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The leading Shield wicket-taker of the last decade played 84 ODIs for Australia as an allrounder between 2005 and 2010 © Getty Images

Here's a challenge for Australian cricket fans. Take a stab at the top five Sheffield Shield wicket-takers of the past decade. Thinking caps on? Right, make your mental list now.

How's it going? Remember, this goes back to March 24, 2006.

Want a clue? Only two of the five ever reached Test level.

Got your list?

Scroll down to see how you did.

Down a bit further.

If you're astute, you gained one point simply from seeing the photo at the top of this page.

The leading Sheffield Shield wicket-taker of the past decade is James Hopes, with 240 at 23.68.

Second on the list is Doug Bollinger, with 236 at 23.34.

Third comes Ben Hilfenhaus, with 223 at 29.32.

In equal fourth position is Luke Butterworth, with 221 at 24.61.

And sharing fourth spot and rounding out the top five is Michael Hogan, with 221 at 27.09.

Notice a theme? Four of the five on this list retired from Australian first-class cricket this season. Hopes and Hogan ended their Shield careers last week at the Gabba, where Hogan's Western Australia defeated Hopes' Queensland. Hilfenhaus bid a teary farewell last month. His Tasmania team-mate Butterworth called time in January. Bollinger is suddenly the last man standing, the old man of Shield bowling at 34.

Michael Hogan finishes eighth on Western Australia's Sheffield Shield wicket-taking chart © Getty Images

This has been a season of change in state cricket. A number of new young batsmen have emerged: Matt Renshaw at Queensland with 738 Shield runs at 43.41, his team-mate Sam Heazlett with 649 at 40.56, Victoria's Travis Dean with 642 at 40.12, Jake Lehmann at South Australia with 609 at 50.75. Other batsmen, less new but still young, have continued to take strides this season: Travis Head, Cameron Bancroft and Kurtis Patterson among them.

There are some impressive young bowlers emerging too. Joel Paris took 35 wickets for Western Australia at 19.57 and debuted in ODIs; South Australia's Daniel Worrall claimed 37 at 26.86; Chris Tremain took 32 for Victoria at 19.68; Queensland allrounder Jack Wildermuth picked up 25 at 22.96 - and scored his maiden hundred. Jason Behrendorff and Billy Stanlake were affected by injuries but have great expectations on them.

All of those men, the batsmen and the bowlers, are aged 25 or under. But after the retirements of Chris Rogers and David Hussey last year, the rest of the Shield's older batting generation remains largely in place. The same cannot now be said of the bowlers. The collective loss of Hopes, Hogan, Hilfenhaus and Butterworth takes nearly 1000 career wickets out of the Sheffield Shield competition since the start of this year.

And so it seems fitting to look back on the careers of these four retirees, all giants of Sheffield Shield cricket, who were understated and often underappreciated. Hilfenhaus was the only one who won a baggy green. Hopes played ODIs and T20s for Australia but was never seriously considered for Test cricket. Hogan arrived late, already 28 when he debuted. And Butterworth was one of the most effective yet undervalued Shield players of his generation.

Tasmania's Ben Hilfenhaus took 99 wickets in 27 Tests for Australia © AFP

Let's start with Hopes, the longest-serving member of our quartet. There are those who will remember Hopes mostly as a one-day international cricketer, an allrounder who was something of a fixture in Australia's side from 2006 to 2010. A removable fixture, though, if that is not too much of an oxymoron. Despite playing 84 ODIs, he was left out of the 2007 World Cup squad and was ditched before the 2011 World Cup.

Hopes was the kind of player any captain would love to have in the side: adaptable and hard-working. He opened the batting a handful of times in ODIs, though he was more typically in at No. 7 or 8. As a bowler, what he lacked in pace he made up for in other ways. At his peak, in late 2009, he was No. 2 on the ICC's rankings for ODI allrounders, and No. 8 on the bowling rankings. A year later he was axed for good.

Everything about Hopes was unfashionable, even down to his haircut. But fashions come and go. Hopes didn't - at state level, at least. His Sheffield Shield debut came in 2001, a shared debut with Mitchell Johnson. Hopes not only stuck around until 2016, when he was 37, but continued to be one of the competition's most effective bowlers. Over the past three years he has taken 102 wickets, more than any other Shield bowler.

His tally of 301 first-class wickets at 26.66 is impressive, but what is especially notable is that they came almost entirely for Queensland. Only five of those wickets came for anyone else, and that was Australia A. Not for Hopes the idea of switching states, or seeking a handsome county deal. He was a Bull through and through, and as captain led Queensland to back-to-back Shield finals in 2012 and 2013, winning one.

"I was never a person who walked into a contract meeting and started negotiating," Hopes told the Courier-Mail in an interview last week. "Whatever was put in front of me I signed and told them I would see them at pre-season... I have never felt comfortable being in the spotlight. I would rather be that hard-working person in the background."

That he certainly was. As Hopes said in the hours after his final Shield appearance last week: "I had to train my ring off. Guys like Andy Flintoff, who can genuinely bat at six and take the new ball, they are rare. I strived my whole career to be in that bracket."

The final hours of Hopes' Shield career were shared with Hogan, a man who could wander the street in almost any Australian city without being recognised. And yet this is a bowler with more than 400 first-class wickets, and the leading Shield wicket-taker of the past five years. You have to wonder what Hogan might have achieved had he found a way into state cricket earlier.

Luke Butterworth holds Tasmania's first Shield trophy after scoring 66 and 106 and taking 4 for 33 in the 2006-07 final © Getty Images

Hogan played grade cricket in Sydney in his mid-20s before returning to his home city of Newcastle, and that could easily have been where his cricket career was played out. But he had another crack with Northern District in Sydney in 2008-09, and that led to an unexpected phone call from Western Australia coach Tom Moody, inviting him to a trial in Perth. "Within the space of four days, I'd signed my first contract," Hogan told Perth's Sunday Times this month.

He made his Shield debut at 28, and has never looked back. Now 34, Hogan retires from Australian first-class cricket at No. 8 on the list of Shield wicket-takers for Western Australia, having moved one wicket ahead of Moody on the side's all-time Shield list. However, Hogan will add to his first-class tally, with three years yet to run on his contract with Glamorgan, where he plays as a local thanks to British ancestry through his mother.

More recognisable than Hogan is Hilfenhaus, largely due to the fact that he played 27 Tests. But you never got the feeling that fame sat all that comfortably with Hilfenhaus. The son of a plumber from Ulverstone in northern Tasmania, Hilfenhaus worked as a labourer for a bricklayer when he first moved to Hobart. Ahead of his Test debut in South Africa in 2009, he told ESPNcricinfo: "I still see myself as pretty laid-back, I don't like to over-analyse anything".

His greatest weapon was swing, and at his best he swung the ball late enough to cause chaos for batsmen. But his career tally of 99 Test wickets at 28.50 suggests he was something of a nearly man at international level, though injuries played their part in curtailing his career. Upon Hilfenhaus' retirement, Tasmania coach Dan Marsh declared him "our best ever Tasmanian-produced bowler and certainly one of the finest ever cricketers that Tasmania has produced".

No arguments there. But in his own way, Butterworth was also one of Tasmania's finest. When he retired in January at the age of 32, it was with little fanfare, given that he had not played a Shield game in nearly a year due in part to a persistent back injury. But he is a man who deserves to have his feats recognised.

On stats alone - 223 first-class wickets at 24.68 and 2762 runs at 27.89 - you would think Butterworth would at some point have been considered for a Test tour. Not picked, necessarily, for Australia have had plenty of good fast bowlers and allrounders in recent years, but at least considered. But not only did he never play for Australia, he only ever played one first-class game for Australia A.

Butterworth was a big-game player. He will go down in history as Man of the Match in the 2006-07 Pura Cup final, a historic moment as Tasmania won the state title for the first time. It was just Butterworth's fifth first-class game, yet he showed remarkable maturity to score 66 and 106, as well as collecting 4 for 33 in the first innings. Then in the 2010-11 final he made 88 in a Tasmania win, and scored 86 in their final win in 2012-13.

All the while, his bowling was consistently effective, hence his place on this list of the top five wicket-takers of the past decade. In 2010-11, he was equal top of the Shield wicket tally with 45; Trent Copeland shared top spot and won a baggy green on the tour of Sri Lanka later that year. All Butterworth got out of it was an Australia A tour of Zimbabwe.

So there you have it. Hopes, Hogan, Hilfenhaus, Butterworth, all gone by the end of this Sheffield Shield season, but all deserving of having their achievements recognised. Nearly 1000 Shield wickets between them. It is indeed a changing of the guard.

And then there was one. And then there was Doug.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rohan on March 25, 2016, 5:50 GMT

    I'm staggered by those stats of Hopes. I knew he'd been a prolific wicket taker the last few years but remembering him from those ODIs, never took him seriously as a frontliner. As with the other guys in the list, maybe sometimes too many players are underestimated. We also have known for a long time that the Australian team is a boys club, and some players, no matter their stats, don't fit in unfortunately, and that sux! Then again, plenty of great first class players can't make the step up to international standard either, they've already reached their peak level. These guys will be missed though. Congrats all.

  • Craig on March 25, 2016, 3:22 GMT

    I just loved the attitude with which James hopes played his cricket. Not a shabby record as well. 5400 FC runs @ 32 plus 301 wkts @26..no not too shabby at all. He also played 80 odd ODI for Australia scoring 1300 runs and taking 62 wickets. He was the sort of player any coach and captain would want with you when the chips were down. He somehow would conjure a wicket or hit handy runs when most needed. Would make an ideal coach imho.

  • Nick on March 25, 2016, 3:11 GMT

    I always feel for guys in this bracket. They are obviously on the list because they never got picked for Australia (or didn't get a sustained run due to form, injury, etc).

    If these guys were picked by selectors, this article would probably be about Siddle or Mitchell Johnson.

    The reality is there will always be good (perhaps elite) cricketers not picked who probably would have made an impact on the international stage.

    It may be that the perception was that they weren't up to it. Alternatively, they were not as marketable as others. Or they peaked at the wrong time where there was no opening.

    Yes there are world class players keeping them out. But often (perhaps too often) selectors pick players on a short term flurry of form at shield level or a perceived 'X-factor' rather than sustained performance over a period of time.

    It is not hard to make a long list of guys picked for Australia who never really made it at shield level.

  • wayne on March 24, 2016, 14:36 GMT

    Putting on my parochial hat here (Tasmanian), but it is a damn shame Butterworth never played for Australia. I suspect perhaps his bowling just wasn't quick enough, or maybe his best seasons in Shield came at the wrong time for him to move to the front of the queue - but I always felt that at any stage of his career, if the selectors took a punt, he would have repaid their faith in spades. Still, he can be proud to have been one of the key players of the golden era of Tassie cricket under Dan Marsh and Tim Coyle, and for a fine career.

  • wayne on March 24, 2016, 14:13 GMT

    JAMES C BIRBECK DAR, I'd never heard of Franklyn Stephenson, then reading his profile found out his first class debut was - puzzlingly - with Tasmania! Looks like he was indeed a fine bowler and a handy bat.

  • Craig on March 24, 2016, 14:00 GMT

    Expecting Dougie to play one more year for the Blues. Well played to the other four. Hopes was the man you would want in your trench. Never say die cricketer. Butts should have played for Australia. Hogan was a warhorse who deserved a baggy green as well. Hilfers was under rated in my view. One of our best ever swing bowlers. A nice bloke to boot.

  • Stevan on March 24, 2016, 13:43 GMT

    if being good at state / county level always translated into international form then Hichk& Smith for England would be world beaters..................

    Bolly & Hilfy both had their chances at International level, I recall some excellent performances from both of them

  • Kendal on March 24, 2016, 13:33 GMT

    @James C Birbeck Dar: Ironically for a country that was still in the grip of apartheid, those chaps you mentioned are perhaps best remembered (other than in the WI) in South Africa for their participation in rebel tours and domestic cricket. My old man speaks of Clarke and co. with wide eyes. Remember Stephenson playing for the "Orange Free State" (Knights theses days). Same with Eldine Baptiste, who plied his trade here in Port Elizabeth in a very successful EP team under Wessels. He only played 10 Tests or so and was a superb bowler.

  • David on March 24, 2016, 11:02 GMT

    I wish there were a way to make second XI's more important in the greater scheme of things. If a countrys second team could be ranked above other test teams, then why not?

  • Steve on March 24, 2016, 10:41 GMT

    Got to agree with Yorkshire-86 on this one. All these players were very good domestic players but lacked something or had someone better that kept them out of international level. For the average mug critic sitting on the couch at home you could pour over the stats to find some reason why they never went on to be a household name but gee a couple of them, Hopes and Hogan in particular would be first picked in my backyard team. Good luck to all of them and lets hope they all pass on something of what they have learned to players coming through the ranks.

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