NSW top Shield table ahead of BBL break in 'shocking' air conditions
New South Wales shrugged off bushfire-smoke-filled air to record a nine-wicket victory over Queensland at the SCG
New South Wales 375 (Henriques 116, Nevill 88*, Abbott 86, Neser 4-60) and 1 for 42 (Hughes 27, Swepson 1-27) beat Queensland 240 and 176 (Khawaja 54, O'Keefe 3-28) by nine wickets
New South Wales shrugged off appalling air conditions in Sydney to record a nine-wicket victory over Queensland at the SCG and go to the Big-Bash-League break at the top of the Sheffield Shield table with five wins and a draw after six matches.
On a day when NSW health authorities held an afternoon press conference advising all caught in the bushfire-smoke-filled air around Sydney to stay indoors and the harbour's ferry service was suspended due to low visibility, the Blues and Bulls played out the final act of their contest after Dr John Orchard assessed conditions with match officials and concluded it was safe to play.
Not only was the air a concern on a breathing level, the smoke was so thick that visibility also looked to be an issue for players on both sides - reminiscent of some of the worst smog-induced conditions seen at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi from time to time.
NSW spinner Steve O'Keefe described conditions as "shocking" and "far worse than India". "The one thing they need to look at is the air-quality policy," O'Keefe told reporters after the match. "That was shocking. I don't have kids, but if I did they'd be locked up inside, and if I was at home I wouldn't be training or playing in it. I tip my hat to Queensland because when you're behind in the game you've got a reason to whinge, but they got on with it.
"That air quality was shocking. The doctor was all over it and speaking to us about it, and the fact the game wasn't going to go all day was considered, but in the future they need to look at it because it's not healthy - it's toxic. That was far worse than [India]. It got to the stage we weren't going to come off for quality, it was more about visibility. It was getting hard to pick the ball up. I'm sure they'll address it. It's a bit left field to have something as severe as this."
Queensland captain Usman Khawaja said he was surprised the NSW bowlers were able to persist for so long in the conditions. "When we arrived here this morning it reminded me of playing in India," he said. "It was just hard to breathe, there was a lot of smoke. I was only out there for about five overs but it just got stuck in your throat. I was actually surprised the bowlers were bowling for that long, I thought they would have taken out of it. It was bad but it wasn't unplayable."
Khawaja added that he had spoken with the players' association about conditions and also revealed that air quality index readings had indicated the quality of the air had not slipped beyond the 300 rating considered dangerous.
"I spoke to the ACA about it yesterday, just making sure I knew what was going on. There was limitations set, the doc knew about it," he said. "I talked to the doc about it this morning, and yeah there was limitations there. If it got really bad - they're obviously using a measuring device and they have numbers up there. I think 300 was the number, if it got to there then we probably would have come off.
"But it never got to there, I think the highest it got to was 180s or 200s or whatever. So we just let them do what they need to do."
On Friday, Cricket NSW had advised club and community cricket organisations to consider cancelling weekend matches amidst similar conditions emanating from the bushfires that have engulfed the east coast of Australia in recent weeks.
The Shield game, though, went on, and resuming at 5 for 111, still needing another 25 runs to make NSW bat again, Queensland suffered arguably the decisive blow in the first half an hour when Trent Copeland coaxed an outside edge from Usman Khawaja from around the wicket.
Michael Neser and Mitchell Swepson kept the Bulls' wicketkeeper Jimmy Peirson company for long enough to allow the visitors to forge a lead, but when Peirson was last out, shortly before lunch, they had left the Blues needing just 42. This was enough to allow Swepson the wicket of Daniel Hughes, but with only another four runs required.
The allrounder Moises Henriques was named Player of the Match for his match-shaping first-innings century.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig