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March 25, 2014
New South Wales 447 (Henriques 140, Smith 75, Carters 72, Behrendorff 4-95) and 4 for 197 (Smith 103*, Patterson 52) drew with Western Australia 180 (Marsh 92, Hazlewood 6-50)
If the Sheffield Shield final petered out inevitably to a dull draw in front of a small gathering of spectators at Manuka Oval, then there was no fizz lacking in the celebrations of a New South Wales team toasting their first domestic title since 2008.
Led ably by the increasingly mature Steven Smith, the Blues were not in much danger of defeat from the time the Man of the Match Moises Henriques shepherded the tail well beyond 400. Rain on day four settled the issue after Western Australia's reply had been throttled by Josh Hazlewood's pace and movement.
But it was highly appropriate that the final day had a Smith hundred as its centrepiece, for his batting and leadership has been arguably the most promising single theme of the summer for Australian cricket. The redemptive narrative of Test match success against England and South Africa has been accompanied by the emergence of Smith as a young leader and top class batsman, rather vindicating the national coach Darren Lehmann's assertion at the outset of the summer that the country's next captain "will find us".
Looking back on a summer of enormous riches, Smith confessed to living out a hatful of his dreams in the space of six months. That he had not taken part in a Shield final before only underlined how thick and fast Smith's wishes have been fulfilled over the course of the season.
"It's very special, this is the first Shield final I've been a part of and to win the Shield it's just been an amazing 12 months for me and the whole thing's still kind of a blur," he said. "Everything's been so amazing, dreams have come true. To win an Ashes series, win an away series with Australia and then to back it up with the Sheffield Shield it's very, very special."
Smith's front foot play was cause for plenty of admiration from the national selector John Inverarity, who watched the 24-year-old split the WA field repeatedly and make light work of a slow and now ageing pitch that made scoring a difficult task throughout.
The trio of strokes that took Smith from 89 to three figures summed up much about his talent. He lofted an audacious drive for six down the ground, danced into a flick to the straight midwicket boundary, then glanced deftly fine to register his fifth hundred of the season. In receipt of this punishment was Ashton Agar, who could do worse than look at Smith's career arc as inspiration for how to move beyond a precocious beginning into a pattern of sustained performance.
Australia's tradition of ending the Shield with a competition final stretches back to 1983 when these two sides met in a fractious encounter at the WACA Ground. It is a concept open to some exploitation, particularly that of the home side needing only a draw to win the title. But as the ICC found so vexing in their failed attempts to schedule a World Test Championship, one-off fixtures will always have certain pitfalls.
"I think you should have an advantage for coming first if you're going to have a final," Smith said of a match that was called off by the mutual agreement of the captains at 1.50pm on the final afternoon. "If they go down that road I think that's the best way to do it."
Henriques was even more adamant about keeping the show-piece match, which he had termed the most important of his career. Asked about the "hollow" conclusion, he offered a passionate retort. "I don't know where you're describing this hollow feeling from because it doesn't feel hollow within me," he said.
"It's very special, it's not just about the final. We earned this home final and played the way we did, we dictated the whole game, we outplayed them every day of this fixture, so there's no hollow feelings here. I can't put it down in words to be completely honest, I'm still quite speechless and haven't even had a beer touch my lips yet, so I'm verymuch looking forward to getting in the change rooms."
With no option but to play things out until Smith offered his hand in consolation, the Warriors were left forlorn, their own 15-year wait for another Shield title destined to go on. Only Marcus North's dismissal of Kurtis Patterson drew brief smiles from the WA collective, while the wicketkeeper Sam Whiteman grimaced when a rare failure to glove the ball cleanly stung his fingers.
Their captain Adam Voges observed the scene with a heavy heart, as all the strides made by WA this season under the tutelage of Justin Langer came to nothing. But he also retained some measure of hope, exhorting his men to use these memories next summer "We've worked our guts out to get here, unfortunately it hasn't been the five days we hoped for," he said. "But we'll use that to drive us, and make sure we're back better next season."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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