At last, the Sheffield Shield resides in Brisbane, 1996

Miracle in Queensland (somewhat belated)

Gideon Haigh

It behoves the young players of the present day to prove themselves throughout the cricket struggles that are ahead of them, to be worthy in every way of the honour conferred on their association by the conference of the Sheffield Shield States in the year 1926.- E. H. Hutcheon, Queensland cricketer and historian.

It took 68 years and nearly 500 matches before Queensland cricketers proved equal to their behoving: at 3.52 p.m. precisely, Tuesday March 28, 1995, was transformed into VQ Day, when the state beat South Australia by an innings and 101 runs and finally took custody of Australia's symbol of interstate cricket supremacy.

To make himself audible above the celebratory din of his Banana Army of supporters, and to adjust to the sensation of victory, captain Stuart Law enunciated his post-match remarks carefully: "We have won the Shield. It does sound strange saying it. It's just a fantastic feeling to finally have that thing in our room, to hold it up above our heads and feel really proud. It's been the longest week ever. We've won it. Now we can get on with enjoying life again."

Law's team was still encircled by 1,000 revellers at midnight. Nobody the next day would have passed a fitness test. Given the 14 occasions the state have been runners-up in the Shield, Queensland have always been wary of the Ides of March. They have traditionally been sombre and self-recriminatory times: Where did we go wrong this time? Whom should we sack this time? Is our state cursed? Should the captain/coach/groundsman/Premier go?

The last time Queensland were in possession of the Shield was before their opening match in 1926, when it was borrowed from New South Wales for a shop window display. In the meantime, the nearest they had come was winning the Bougainvelle Sheffield Shield, contested by Australian soldiers in the South Pacific who were awaiting repatriation after VJ Day. This Shield was actually the casing of a military shell.

In 1995, however, the real Shield arrived. The players took it on a three day tour in a Government plane round the state's vast hinterland. There was a ticket-tape parade in Brisbane itself, a vintage car cavalcade in MacKay, an escort by Harley-Davidson bikers in Mount Isa, and a quick trip to Kynuna (population: 25). It was all such a novelty that in one town they left it behind.

Fortune toyed with Queensland from their admission to join New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia in the Shield in 1926-27. Set 400 to win in their first match by NSW's Alan Kippax, local captain Leo O'Connor was run out by debutant Gordon Amos for 196, only 19 short of victory, and he saw his side lose by a paltry eight runs. O'Connor was presented with engraved gold cufflinks in honour of his resistance, but there were precious few other spoils before the Second World War: Queensland won only a dozen Shield matches and lost 53.

Having established a tradition of wretched defeat for Queensland, it was fitting that Amos should establish another: he crossed the border to play for Queensland in 1927-28. (Poignantly, Amos died, aged 90, ten days after the final.) In that first match, ten of the Queensland team had been born in the state. But an amazing squad could be assembled from Queensland's VIPs (Very Imported Players): extra-colonials Colin McCool, Ray Lindwall, Greg Chappell, Jeff Thomson, Dirk Wellham, Ian Davis, Ray Phillips, Allan Border and Paul Jackson; extra-continentals Kepler Wessels, Majid Khan, Vivian Richards, Tom Graveney, Graeme Hick, Alvin Kallicharran, Rusi Surti, Ian Botham and Wes Hall.

It is a squad to beat the world, but not the rest of Australia. While a few gave their all, others gave only some and at least a handful provided precious little. Queensland seemed in some seasons likelier to win the FA Cup than the Sheffield Shield. And that the most consciously patriotic and occasionally separatist Australian state should acquire such a dependency struck many as eccentric. The Olympic swimming coach Laurie Lawrence wrote, after Queensland crumbled again a couple of years ago: "Imports are not the answer, or at least they are not the answer that will give any Queenslander any satisfaction."

Year after year, John Morton, the sports editor of the now defunct Brisbane Telegraph, used to run the same headline at the start of the season: "This is the Year". And people were intoning the words this time. But otherwise Queensland's 1994-95 campaign drew an altogether different feel, from its investment in homespun talent. Law's squad were, if not native, at least long resident in the state: Border's career with NSW and left-arm spinner Jackson's prior duties in Victoria are now some yellow books back.

Blown in from such outposts as Toowoomba, Wondai, Bileola, Kingaroy, Innisfail and Mundubberra, and mingling the born-again Border and the indestructible Carl Rackemann with the supple skills of tyros like Martin Love, Jim Maher, Wade Seccombe and Andrew Symonds, they played with resource and without regret.

The Gabba was being refurbished and the schedule proved too inflexible to allow the Sir Leslie Wilson Stand a few days' grace for the final, though spectators enlisted the debris in their visions of victory. The Brisbane bard, Rupert McCall - a modern-day Albert Craig - wrote this pre-match doggerel for the Brisbane Courier-Mail:

Let's get out there and win 'cos we're the best team in the land,

Let's demolish South Australia like the Leslie Wilson Stand.

Which Queensland did. Their 664 was more than enough to overwhelm South Australia and, since a draw was going to be enough anyway, locals were able to savour the prospect of victory for at least three days before its arrival. Grown men - as they do in all the best sports stories - wept. John Maclean, chairman of the Queensland Cricket Association, greeted century-maker and player-of-the-season Trevor Barsby with tears of joy running down his face saying: "You don't know what you've done." He probably didn't. And that may have been why he and his team-mates were able to do it.

Gideon Haigh is an Australian author and freelance journalist.

© John Wisden & Co