Not only was day one of Canberra's first Sheffield Shield final a pleasingly twisting contest between New South Wales and Western Australia, it was also a neat encapsulation of the new skills being honed by the shift away from seaming pitches
New South Wales 6 for 242 (Smith 75, Carters 72, Behrendorff 3-41) v Western Australia Scorecard
Not only was day one of Canberra's first Sheffield Shield final a pleasingly twisting contest between New South Wales and Western Australia, it was also a neat encapsulation of the new skills being honed by the competition's shift away from seaming pitches this summer.
Where once WA would have eagerly grasped the new ball, here they gained most from the old one. Where once the Blues batsmen would have been nervous about negotiating the early hours as the ball whizzed about, this time they prospered early before stumbling later.
By cajoling groundsmen to shave some grass from their domestic strips, Cricket Australia's intention had been to foster the habits becoming of successful Test players, an effort that looks increasingly to have been fruitful. Steven Smith and Ryan Carters seemed to have set the day's course when they settled in for a responsible three-hour stand of 121 against bowling that was diligent rather than threatening.
But the emergence of reverse swing in the lead-up to tea signalled a change in the narrative, as Michael Hogan and Jason Behrendorff hastened a slide of 5 for 25. Behrendorff's post-tea spell included a sequence of 3 for 0 in 16 balls, forcing Moises Henriques and Steve O'Keefe to scrap mightily in order to reach stumps. They will need plenty of runs tomorrow in order to make the most of the start the Blues had been offered.
Though they had lost Doug Bollinger to Australian duty, the Blues still had one difficult selection decision around their bowling attack, and they elected to choose Trent Copeland's steady seam and experience ahead of the more explosive offerings of the younger Sean Abbott. Henriques returned to bolster the middle order.
WA were able to include Mitchell Marsh after his recovery from a side strain, though his capacity to bowl is limited. The toss went the way of the Blues, leaving WA to take the new ball on a surface not expected to offer much in the way of seam movement. Reverse swing and spin was more likely to emerge, but none of this was evident in the early exchanges.
The Blues progressed serenely enough in the first hour, Carters eluding one caught behind appeal by Hogan though looking more comfortable than a crease-bound Nic Maddinson. Seemingly fighting his natural tendencies to attack, Maddinson was pinned in front of the stumps by Ryan Duffield, bringing Smith to the middle on the stroke of morning drinks.
Alongside Carters, Smith set about building the kind of innings he has shown an increasing knack for, adapting to the prevailing conditions while using decisive footwork and full use of the crease to give the bowlers little chance. Some of his driving was a sight to behold, while the introduction of spin drew meaty cuts and twinkle-toed flicks through midwicket.
Carters was more circumspect, maintaining the steady vein of form that has made him the most prolific Blues batsman this summer, and grinding his side to a position of great strength near tea. Hogan had been the most unstinting WA paceman, and began to find a hint of old-ball swing as the afternoon session drew to a close.
In its final over, Carters was tempted to drive at a wide delivery moving wider, the faint edge held by Sam Whiteman behind the stumps. That wicket opened up an end, and when play resumed Ben Rohrer soon followed, snicking Hogan's well-pitched ball behind as it swerved towards the slips.
WA captain Adam Voges called on Behrendorff to replace Hogan, and when he hung on to the sharpest of return chances offered by Smith the visitors could sense the day turning their way. Kurtis Patterson could not make much of Behrendroff either, bowled on the back foot by a delivery bending back at him.
Peter Nevill was similarly befuddled, fending, ducking and weaving at three bouncers before edging his fourth ball, of fuller length and curling away. Only a millimetre or two separated O'Keefe from a near identical fate, walking into a drive and beaten by Behrendorff's angle.
With the Blues at 6 for 189, WA commanded the field, but their efforts to add another wicket were to be frustrated by Henriques and O'Keefe. Neither man looked entirely comfortable, but survival was their primary concern, with there being hope that the second new ball would offer greater scoring opportunities - another reminder of how much the rhythm of the Shield has changed on this season's drier pitches.