Match Report:


Silk's smooth transition a double win for Tassie

Former opener Jordan Silk makes hay after middle-order switch brings a century before Tasmania removed Marnus Labuschagne and Joe Burns cheaply on a flat track

Freed from the circumspection that necessarily characterises first-class openers, Jordan Silk channelled his formidable T20 skills to take a sparkling unbeaten hundred off Queensland's foot-weary bowlers in a bat-dominated Marsh Sheffield Shield match.

Since Silk made his first-class debut against the Bulls in 2013, Tasmania have recorded just two Shield wins over the reigning titleholders, the most recent coming three years ago as Queensland have stacked up 13 victories from the teams' past 14 encounters.

But in piling on their highest first innings total against their nemesis since 1986-87 and snaring the key wickets of Test-capped pair Joe Burns (26) and Marnus Labuschagne (32) in today's final session which Queensland ended 2-122, they have rarely held a better chance of ending that dominance.

Silk shines in middle-order move with opening ton

The obstructions most obviously in their path are the rain showers forecast for tomorrow afternoon and Sunday morning, the lack of menace in the Karen Rolton Oval pitch and Queensland's resuming pair Bryce Street (49no) and Usman Khawaja (12no), with Test-capped Matthew Renshaw next in.

Labuschagne had begun his first Shield innings of the summer in sublime touch, stroking five boundaries from the first 18 balls he faced and seemingly in a hurry to erase Tasmania's lead.

But in attempting to glide a delivery from seamer Lawrence Neil-Smith to third man an hour before stumps, he edged the ball on to his stumps and stood for a second or two in disbelief before trudging off.

Silk's eighth Shield century – which coincided with Tasmania's declaration at a formidable 6-500 in the over prior to tea on day two – came in his new role at number six and was his first batting anywhere other than the top of the order.

Indeed, the 29-year-old has filled a middle-order role just once in his previous 120 Shield innings stretching back nine summers, and that was when Tasmania elevated Ben Dunk to open in his place as they chased a last-day win over New South Wales at Blacktown in 2013-14.

On that day, Silk's contribution in the unfamiliar position was a 12-ball duck, but his move at the start of this summer proved a double-win for the Tigers with newly installed opener Tim Ward completing a career-best 144 before his senior teammate belted 100no from 131 balls.

Wonderful Ward begins season with maiden Shield ton

Silk had also been used at No.3 for eight innings earlier in his career, but he's now eyeing a new niche in the Tigers' set-up thanks following discussions with regular captain Matthew Wade who is absent from this game as he prepares for the impending T20 World Cup.

"It's been brewing for a little while now," Silk said at day's end.

"I've definitely had some chats with Matthew Wade about it over the last season in particular, and he identified that as an area I could potentially play a more senior role in that middle-order later in my career.

"So with the likes of Tim Ward and Caleb Jewell, who he sees as potential long-term openers for Tassie, now is probably the right time to pull the trigger on that.

"I'm definitely not saying my opening days are done but that's just where he felt the holes needed to be plugged in the short-term."

Silk was listed to bat at five, but the deployment of nightwatchman Neil Smith last night meant he didn't enter the game until the 117th over of Tasmania's epic innings when the total was 4-333 and the pitch at Rolton Oval had flattened out even more than day one, if possible.

But his proficiency in short-form cricket – he boasts a T20 strike rate of almost 125 per 100 balls faced in seven years with the Sydney Sixers in the KFC BBL, as opposed to 41 as a Shield opener – enabled him to markedly lift Tasmania's scoring rate with a deft mix of sweet timing and innovative flair.

That was despite him feeling surprisingly anxious, and forced into the unusual role of spectator while his teammates batted throughout day one.

"Even in Big Bash cricket I get a bit itchy down there (in middle-order)," he said.

"It was tough yesterday, and then there was a nightwatchman sent out so there was even more stress and nerves, I don't know why I was so nervous.

Tigers top order dominates day one

"It was just good to get out there and get a few away, and hopefully the floodgates can open from there and I can kick on."

Unused to waiting around with pads on at first-class level, Silk went to the wicket midway through the morning session just as the Tigers were looking to lift their scoring rate.

They had taken a cautious approach in the opening hour when day one century maker Ward and his interim partner Neil-Smith added just 27 runs from 15 disciplined over by the Bulls' bowlers.

But the tempo demonstrably changed after the first drinks break when Ward laced a textbook cover drive between two fielders purposely placed for that stroke, and Neil-Smith clubbed six and four from consecutive balls from left-arm spinner Matt Kuhnemann.

In the absence of leg spinner Mitchell Swepson, Queensland's leading wicket-taker in last summer's successful Shield campaign who is currently preparing for the T20 World Cup in the UAE and Oman, Kuhnemann sent down 51.2 overs for his 1-151.

Image Id: EF958806F441469287D429808574CDFA Image Caption: Left-arm finger spinner Matt Kuhnemann bowled 51.2 overs for Queensland // Getty

Given the 25-year-old had bowled a total of 80 overs in his first-class career prior to this game, it was a huge ask in his fourth match, and the most deliveries (309) bowled by a Queenslander in the first innings of a Shield match since Ken 'Slasher' McKay's 40 eight-ball overs against NSW in Sydney in the first days of 1964.

So lacking in spiciness is the wicket block that has already hosted seven Shield centuries across four innings this season (at an average of 56 runs per wicket), Tasmania turned to the off-spin of Jarrod Freeman with the ball just six overs old this evening.

And it was with his 14th delivery – the ball after Burns had spanked an off-drive to the boundary – that he lured the deposed Test opener down the track only to slap a thigh-high catch to Neil-Smith set deep at mid-off.

Freeman might have added a second victim had he held a sharp caught and bowled chance off Street (on 47) in the shadow of stumps.

Image Id: DA5EAAD8ABFE48AFA03C54452D3D79E2 Image Caption: Bryce Street snared a maiden first-class wicket with his part-time mediums // Getty

Burns and Labuschagne both looked understandably rueful as they headed to the pavilion this evening, doubtless recognising they are unlikely to encounter more favourable batting conditions for the remainder of the summer.

The most graphic illustration of the task confronting bowlers came in the opening hour today when Ashes aspirant Michael Neser (2-60) was bowling at nightwatchman Neil-Smith (career batting average 23) with a ball barely 30 overs old.

Despite a blustering westerly breeze offering ideal conditions for outswing bowler to a right-hander, Neser employed just one catcher behind the wicket who was the gully fielder essentially saving a single.

By the time Kuhnemann was called back to the crease to begin his 50th over, the Bulls had six men on the boundary but were still unable to elicit a false stroke from Silk and his batting partner Mac Wright (25no from 22 balls).

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