Phil Jaques: Dukes ball helped stretch Sheffield Shield players
The NSW coach enjoyed the variety of challenges on offer
New South Wales coach Phil Jaques believes splitting the Sheffield Season between two types of balls was a good way of challenging the players to improve.
Since 2016-17, the second half of the season played after the Big Bash had used a variation of the Dukes as part of Cricket Australia's plans to give players more exposure to that type of ball ahead of last year's Ashes where the urn was retained in England for the first time since 2001.
Now the season will again be played with the Kookaburra throughout although the manufacturer has made some small tweaks and the feedback from the altered version which was trialled last season was positive.
"I think it's created some good competition among the manufactures, and from a skills perspective for the players, it's a good thing to have exposure to different things," Jaques told ESPNcricinfo. "It's been a really worthwhile experiment. CA have made the decision to go to one ball which will give the players some continuity but from a coach's perspective, I thought the contest with the Dukes was also good and brought different skillset.
"I didn't mind having a slightly different ball for half a season, it's good to keep stretching your players. But we've gone with the Kookaburra and the improvements they've made this year with the feedback they had has put them in good stead to be a better contest as well."
One of the reasons given for the return to the Kookaburra throughout the season is an attempt to bring more spin back into the Sheffield Shield although their numbers with the Dukes overall were marginally better than with the Kookaburra but the volume of overs had become an issue. The broader theme emerging about how to boost spin bowling is that it will come down to the nature of the surfaces. At the moment, only the Shield pitches used in Sydney offer much encouragement to spinners.
"I'm sure the spinners around the country would like to play a greater role, from a development perspective it's important that they do," Jaques said. "I think it's important that the New South Wales wickets always spin because otherwise there will be no wickets that really turn and when we do go to the subcontinent or anywhere else where it spins, the players don't have the exposure to it. I'd personally like to see a bit more exposure to spinning wickets around the country but the make-up at the moment it's how it is."
New South Wales' spin department, which includes Nathan Lyon when not on Australia duty, will have a new look this season with the retired Steve O'Keefe replaced by Adam Zampa after his move from South Australia while offspinner Arjun Nair has a rookie contract along with 18-year-old legspinner Tanveer Sangha.
Zampa has spoken about a major part of the move being to revitalise his first-class career to push for a Test cap but there won't be an open door to the starting XI. "We had an informal chat about where he wants to head and how he sees himself," Jaques said. "From my perspective, there're certainly opportunities for him to achieve what he wants to. He's come to state on no promises, like everyone else he'll have to earn his position and Adam's very much up for that and wants to progress his game."
New South Wales secured the Sheffield Shield in strange circumstances back in March when the season was curtailed due to Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown meant there was no squad celebration.
"We are planning to do something. We'll certainly celebrate it," Jaques said. "You don't get the opportunity to win a Sheffield Shield that often so think it's important that we recognize it then we work really hard towards building a sustainable, successful team."
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo