OPINION

Make Sheffield Shield competition a top priority

The Sheffield Shield should be at the top of Cricket Australia's key considerations in its decision making and not just an after-thought. Photo: Mark Brake/Getty Images
The Sheffield Shield should be at the top of Cricket Australia's key considerations in its decision making and not just an after-thought. Photo: Mark Brake/Getty Images

Australia's Test series loss to India this summer underlined the need for a comprehensive review of cricket's scheduling and operations.

As galling as that defeat was, it might have been a blessing in disguise. Traditionally the Sheffield Shield has been essentially a developmental competition in which players were prepared for the elite level, but in recent years its importance and relevance has been downgraded.

For many seasons the Sheffield Shield has run at a financial loss and these days the competition runs a distant second to the much-hyped Big Bash League, which attracts bigger crowds and greater interest for families over the holiday period.

As with all sports in the past year, cricket faced big challenges because of COVID-19. Schedules had to be adjusted, forcing the Sheffield Shield season to be put on hold for three months as extra time was allowed to give players a break from hubs.

This week's BBL finals series culminates a 61-game season, with Sheffield Shield matches played at either end of the domestic T20 competition.

That generated much-needed cash for Cricket Australia and suited broadcasters, but left Test selectors in a difficult position - either use BBL form as a guide or stick with the squad chosen after the early Sheffield Shield games.

With no four-day cricket being played, it was impossible for potential replacements to mount a case for selection, hence the decisions to select out-of-form opener Joe Burns, stick with a struggling Matthew Wade and include Marcus Harris in the fourth Test at the Gabba despite not having played for a month.

While having the advantage of a much larger population to attract elite players, India has invested heavily in its development program and it is paying dividends.

CA must decide on its priorities. The national selectors and administrators should liaise with their state counterparts to ensure the next generation of Test players are provided with enough time and opportunities to progress to the top level.

The Sheffield Shield should be at the head of CA's key considerations in its decision making and not just an after-thought if Australia is to remain a powerful force at Test level.

Ruckman Ben McEvoy will lead Hawthorn for the 2021 season. Photo: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Ruckman Ben McEvoy will lead Hawthorn for the 2021 season. Photo: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Ruckmen lead the way again

Ruckmen such as AFL captains are back in favour, with Hawthorn's Ben McEvoy joining Melbourne's Max Gawn at the helm of their respective clubs.

In a bygone era, ruckmen were often considered the most suitable candidates for the top job, but recently clubs have looked elsewhere.

While McEvoy's appointment last week was regarded as a huge surprise by most outside of Hawthorn, he has exuded admirable leadership qualities in the past few years.

Last season, it was noticeable that 'Big Boy' often addressed his teammates during the breaks as former skipper Ben Stratton watched on and listened intently.

Although in the twilight of a successful AFL career as a dual premiership player, McEvoy, 31, has excellent communication skills and is ideal for the short term as others such as Jaeger O'Meara and James Worpel develop under his tutelage.

MORE HOWARD KOTTON:

McEvoy's ascension to the captaincy raises an interesting question - where will he play this season?

Coach Alastair Clarkson used him as a key defender to shore up the Hawks' backline last season, but he has made his name in the ruck and the team always looked better when he was employed in the role.

While McEvoy celebrated his new role, his former St Kilda teammate Jarryn Geary was not so fortunate.

In a major setback for him and the Saints, Geary has broken his left leg again, this time at a training mishap. Hopefully, he isn't on the sidelines too long because his presence and leadership is so vital for St Kilda.

AFLW heading in right direction

AFLW has come a long way since its inception in 2017, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

The competition has enabled young women to fulfil lifelong dreams and this has been reflected in massive growth in female registrations and participation levels.

But to take the next step, AFLW needs to attract more genuine footballers and fewer "converts" from other sports.

This is already happening gradually with Madison Prespakis, Karen Paxman and Daisy Pearce rising to prominence and displaying their considerable skills and eventually the competition will be of a much higher standard.

Women are as fierce at the contest as their male counterparts, but they have to improve their kicking skills and learn how to be better at bracing themselves for contact, particularly in tackling contests.

The AFLW season kicked off impressively last week, with plenty of enthusiasm on and off the field.

With fans particularly in Victoria denied the privilege of attending live games for so long, it will be interesting to see attendance figures.

The decision to charge adults $10 after admission was free for the first four seasons will provide a more accurate gauge of the competition's popularity.

The seven games in the opening round attracted almost 21,000 fans and the TV ratings were healthy.

Email: howardkotton11@gmail.com; Twitter: @HPKotton59

  • This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas