Late last Sunday afternoon XXXX Gold Queensland Bulls sat at the bottom of the Bupa Sheffield Shield table. A couple of hours later they had qualified to play in this season’s final.
Leading into the last round of the competition their opponent the Tasmanian Tigers were, at best, an outside chance of playing in the final; now they find themselves hosting it.
Rarely in the history of the competition has every state been a chance to host the final before the first ball of the last round has been bowled. For four days every player, every team and every state association was sitting on the edge of their seats waiting on the results of the other two games.
First it was West End Redbacks who fell at the final hurdle and, as a result, the New South Wales SpeedBlitz Blues sat at the top of the table for a day and a half.
Then the favourites, the Commonwealth Bank Victoria Bushrangers, lost in a thrilling game of cricket on the last day of their match in Tasmania, which left New South Wales to watch from afar as Tasmania took the honours.
On Sunday morning Queensland were six wickets down and only 50 runs ahead. Twenty minutes later Joe Burns, a promising young batsman, was walking back to the WACA pavilion. From the outside it looked like the WA Warriors were destined to host the Bupa Sheffield Shield Final, but Burns' teammates had different ideas.
When you get used to winning you tend to find a way to continue that trend. With the Bulls having won the RYOBI Cup Final this season and the Brisbane Heat taking out the KFC T20 Big Bash League (BBL), Queensland understands what it takes to win. As last year’s Shield champions, they had no intention of rolling over.
With their backs against the wall, their tail-enders and a young all-rounder named Michael Neser counter attacked. Rather than chasing 100 or 150, Western Australia needed 270 to win in the last two sessions of play. Victory meant a home final, a loss added up to a season of broken ambitions. Led by two guys you would take into the trenches with you any day of the week - James Hopes and Ryan Harris - Queensland humbled the Western Australian batting order. By 5pm, Queensland were drinking the sweet nectar of success and planning for an assault on a clean sweep of the season, meanwhile Western Australian were pondering what could have been.
One of the highlights of last weekend’s epic round of games was the contribution of the old professionals and young aspirants. Ricky Ponting, James Hopes, George Bailey, Ryan Harris and the Hussey brothers (Mike and David) are brilliant for our domestic competition. When young players like Jordan Silk, Marcus Stoinis, Michael Neser, James Faulkner, Ashton Agar and Nic Maddinson are able to compete and/or play with these seasoned warriors, we can be sure that our domestic competition is healthy and productive.
This year’s final will see a pool of talent that showcases the competition we have been proud of for so long. Queensland's winning habits will make them tough to beat, but Tasmania's scars from last season's defeat could act as a catalyst for a home victory.
Tim Coyle, Tasmania's popular head coach, will oversee his last game for his beloved state and, if you believe in destiny and fairytale endings, then Tassie might also have their nose in front. Along with Coyle, Ricky Ponting will be hungry to win the Bupa Sheffield Shield. There are few boxes he hasn't ticked in his illustrious career. Queensland will be desperate to remove him early as once he gets in he will be belligerent and steely in his resolve and may be the one that holds the key to this match.
On the other side of the world the Australian men’s team face another challenge. Delhi is sure to spin; there is no surprise there. It will be exciting to see if Australia can put into practice the lessons they have learned throughout this tough tour of India.
Much effort must be put into rebuilding trust and respect for each other. Often the best place to do this is when you are standing shoulder to shoulder with your mates when the pressure is on. Playing cricket in India is a cauldron like no other. This fourth Test provides an opportunity for the eleven selected players, the sideline players and the support staff to stand together and face the challenge front on. All the talk and meetings in the world can't replace the respect and trust earned by fighting with each other against a tough and confident opponent.
There is no tougher opponent than India in India and the Australian side has found that out the hard way that. It is nearly impossible to knock them down with a fractured outfit so it is time for solidarity and selflessness. Without these, we can expect more of the same. With these, this fourth Test might act as the tonic required to build the necessary foundation for the future.
New father Shane Watson's presence will be a welcome addition to the team. He will be determined to put the past behind him. The only way to do this is with the bat and with his body language. Like Ricky Ponting in the Bupa Sheffield Shield final, this fourth Test will be more than just a game of cricket for Watson.
A lot rides on this weekend's cricket. Whether in the cool and calm of Hobart or the hustle and bustle of Dehli, there are a lot of eyes on Australian cricket and Australian cricketers. Last weekend was an awesome showcase for our domestic game; India has been a good wake-up call, and the next five days is a chance to enjoy the end of what has been another interesting summer of cricket.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia