Sheffield Shield 2015-16 March 24, 2016

Saker rings wagons around Shield final

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David Saker - "If you take away the Sheffield Shield final you're taking importance away from the game of Sheffield Shield cricket" © Getty Images

Victoria's coach David Saker has mounted an impassioned defence of the Sheffield Shield final, saying he would be "shattered" if Cricket Australia excised the pinnacle of a domestic competition he rates comfortably ahead of the County Championship after his years as an assistant coach with England.

The Bushrangers flew into Adelaide on Thursday ahead of a meeting with South Australia that reflects the increasingly marginalised state of the Shield decider - played at Glenelg rather than Adelaide Oval, clashing with the opening round of the AFL season and broadcast only through a streaming service by CA's website.

Saker, however, argued the Shield final should be cherished as an Australian strength relative to the English game, in that a leaner domestic tournament was taken to an even higher pitch of intensity and therefore learning by staging a play-off match.

"It is very important to Australian cricket," Saker told ESPNcricinfo. "If you take away the Sheffield Shield final you're taking importance away from the game of Sheffield Shield cricket and if you ask any of the players what they think about it and what they strive to do it is to play in a Sheffield Shield final.

"It's as close to a Test match as some of them will ever get, and the day they scrap that would be a poor day for Australian cricket in my opinion. The people making those decisions are more qualified than me, but I've been in the first-class system for a long time and I'd be shattered if that was the case, if we lost the Shield final."

There is a sense of ambivalence at CA about the final, summed up by the former chairman Wally Edwards at last year's AGM: "I don't think it plays any real part in our season. When I played Shield cricket, we didn't have a Shield final. The Shield final, over many years, has proved itself to be a bit of a non-event, to be honest."

The chief executive James Sutherland has said the final could make way for an expanded Big Bash League schedule. Neither Sutherland, nor Edwards' successor David Peever, will be present for this year's final, as they will be in India for meetings around the World Twenty20 tournament.

More broadly, Saker judged the Shield to be the superior competition to the County Championship, pointing to the number of dead fixtures played out over the lengthy English season. The high volume of matches has been a valuable tool for many players learning their craft, but Saker said the greater intensity of Shield contests was his preference.

"I still think the Shield system is as good as you get," he said. "It's so competitive and that's been shown again this year in the last three or four weeks of the competition, so tight and so hard to compete. That's the one thing we've got over the English system with so many dead games in the County system. Since it's become first and second division it has got better, but the Sheffield Shield is still the pinnacle of first-class cricket in the world."

At the end of his first season back in Victoria after a largely successful stint as mentor to England's pace bowlers, Saker reflected on a role that has occasionally brought him into conflict with CA. Most notably, he was rebuked by the national team coach Darren Lehmann for taking issue with the handling of James Pattinson at the start of the summer, an experience that left Saker somewhat chastened. He counselled the game's custodians against hubris.

"It has had some hiccups because obviously I've said some things in the press that maybe I shouldn't have said," Saker said. "Most of the time I'm just trying to support the players in my team and what I think is best for the Victorian team. Not at any stage have I said things to downgrade the Australian team or the system. I think it's a good system, I think they still need to tinker with some things to a degree.

"What you have to be aware of no matter what organisation you're in, you should never think your organisation does it better than someone else. I think you should always be open-minded to how others do things, and that's not just in cricket, that's in life and business. You've got to be open-minded enough to take some ideas from other teams and countries and use them, and make sure you're not blinkered."

A source of tension in recent times has been the introduction of a strategy for CA and the states called One Team, which takes the view that all should be moving in the same direction with the same goals. While Saker agreed with the overall concept, he argued that states should still be allowed to develop their own coaching philosophies and approaches in a truly competitive environment, rather than turning the Shield into a mere greenhouse for emerging talent.

"I'm all for this One Team idea, but I also think we should be trying to have our own ideas from our states, so if we want to have our own coaching philosophies or ways of going about it that should be encouraged," Saker said. "If you have six teams coached in the same way and trying to coach the same way, I can't see that being a good thing.

"One of the beauties of the Shield system is it is usually coaches having control of the team and coming up with their own ideas of how to coach and how to train. Sometimes in my brief time so far back in Australia we're getting taught how to coach, instead of letting the coaches coach. Of course we want to come together and share our ideas, but in the Shield system and the way we've produced players across all the states, they should get a free rein on how they run their system.

"I'm sure they [CA] understand that, and I think we'll eventually get to that stage, but it's just in its infancy at the moment with One Team so I'm sure it'll get to that."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • andrew-schulz on March 26, 2016, 11:21 GMT

    Here we go again. Runout49 joins the masses who panAustralia's performances away from home. Australia have easily the best away win percentage over the last ten years. About as in tune with the facts as was Wally Edwards when he said there had only been about 4 worthwhile shield finals. In reality, the first 4 were absolutely brilliant, and since then the majority have been good games.

  •   Graham Graham on March 25, 2016, 9:03 GMT

    My only problem with the Shield final is that one team can play for a draw and win the title, due to finishing first after the home and away matches.

    My solution would be to make the Shield final a timeless match, but that will never happen.

  •   Jon Eastgate on March 25, 2016, 7:27 GMT

    Sad that CA has so little confidence in its product, to use the marketing-speak that has taken over cricket lately. If they managed, scheduled and promoted the Shield properly, instead of hiding it away in the football season and putting all the resources into T20 and international cricket, crowds and interest would improve. Same with the Matador Cup. What other sport is so careless with its domestic competitions?

  • Ironman_cricket on March 25, 2016, 5:17 GMT

    I agree it would be a tragedy losing the Sheffield Shield Final but by playing it on suburban grounds also does nothing to enhance it's prestige. As far a scheduling goes, I understand that the major grounds chase a buck and with the AFL/NRL seasons starting in March crowds are going to be a lot bigger and the revenue return is enormous compared to the shield final. Surely scheduling the shield final before the footy at all the major grounds should be a priority to show the games importance here in Australia. This match was going to be played at Coffs Harbour if NSW won, Alice Springs with a Vic's win or now at Glenelg in South Australia. Should always be SCG, MCG, Adelaide Oval.

  • baggygreenmania on March 25, 2016, 2:53 GMT

    Congrats Travis Head being named Shield Player of the Year. This kid is still only 22, is, as I understand it, the Redback's youngest ever captain and looks to have a bright future in the Baggy Green.

  • baggygreenmania on March 25, 2016, 2:49 GMT

    Totally agree Saker. A Shield final means we purists get another red ball game to watch before a plethora of white ball cricket for the next several months. My only grievance is why is Nine not televising it? I have a name for them but am forbidden to use it on this forum.

  • nothirdman on March 25, 2016, 2:30 GMT

    Sack Sutherland and appoint Saker. He's got heart, and he's absolutely right. The Final gives point to the second half of the Shield season. This year four of the six teams were in contention until the last days. Yes we need to get the media properly to respect it, so do that. Wally Edwards' comments only show how far out of touch he is from the present day player. "Never had a final in my day." So what? Never had T20 either. How many State players have proven their mettle in a Shield final? Plenty, I'd reckon, and I hope Travis Head is the next to do so.

  • GD66 on March 25, 2016, 0:28 GMT

    Yes, there should be Shield final, but CA have made it more than evident that they couldn't care less about one. Shield crowds during the season can never have been smaller, so the opportunity to showcase even one event should have some appeal as a challenge to their marketing dept. The situation a couple of years back where Vic topped the table but couldn't provide a ground, with the match being played at Bellerive, was as bad as I've seen : surely NO loyal spectator would go to see two out-of-state teams unless there was the prospect of a cracker of a match...yet, the suspiciously and predictably dull, flat pitch provided us with yet another draw where WA needed to win outright and Vic needed only to draw, a situation seen too often before and surely a major factor in the demise of a Shield final. Just because "we didn't play one in my day" doesn't stack up. Come on, CA.

  • runout49 on March 24, 2016, 22:59 GMT

    CA treats the Sheffield Shield with increasing distain. It gets rid of half of it as quickly as possible before the almighty Big Ba$h and condemns the rest of it to the tail end of the season. Potential test players have little chance to make an impression and that's reflected in how poorly Australia plays away from home these days.

  •   Jono Makim on March 24, 2016, 14:03 GMT

    Perhaps an idea would be to have the top team host the second placed side, as is the case now, and if there is no result then perhaps they could play a second decider with the 2nd placed team hosting. It would surely put the onus on the first place getter to try and get a result first time around. If they play out two draws then they could share the trophy, the second place getter would have earned it and you'd have had two very meaningful games of cricket in the process.

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