JLT Sheffield Shield 2017-18
Ball in Bulls' court in Shield final race
Queensland are close to securing a first home Shield final six years, and say the mid-season switch to the Dukes has helped
1 March 2018, 12:45 PM AEST
Queensland coach Wade Seccombe claims his ladder-leading team is not yet talking aloud about the prospect of hosting the JLT Sheffield Shield final, but has no such reservation in identifying the role the Dukes ball will have played should they get there.
In the wake of their 118-run victory over South Australia at Adelaide Oval Wednesday that took the myFootDr Queensland Bulls more than eight points clear with two Shield rounds to play, Seccombe acknowledged that the England-made Dukes ball suited their game strategy.
A blueprint that is built around a four-man seam bowling attack of which the latest stand-out was highly rated rookie Brendan Doggett, who snared 5-77 yesterday in just his fifth first-class appearance.
And having seen his top-order batters capitulate to Queensland's quicks in both innings – after Michael Neser collected 4-32 two days earlier – West End Redbacks coach Jamie Siddons noted that the use of the Dukes ball in the second half of the Shield season has fundamentally changed the way the game is played and coached.
Queensland is now favoured to host the Shield final (scheduled from March 23-28) for the first time since they last lifted the trophy in 2011-12.
And even though that game would be played at Allan Border Field, with the Gabba unavailable due to football commitments, Seccombe believes the combination of a Bulls' seam attack armed with the Dukes ball plus home conditions would hold them in good stead.
"It suits our style of play," he said of the England-made ball that was introduced into Australia's domestic first-class competition last year in a bid to help batters cope better in conditions that are conducive to swing bowling.
"Playing at the Gabba where you've got a bit of bounce, and the Dukes ball swings and stays hard for longer.
"So the way that you bowl and the way you bat (with the Dukes ball) suits the way we like to set up at the Gabba.
"I think it is to our advantage a bit, playing with that ball."
The decision by Cricket Australia to introduce the darker, slightly smaller English ball for the second half of the Shield season stemmed from Australia's fourth consecutive Ashes loss on UK soil in 2015, and what was seen as a need to make batters more adept against swing ahead of the next Test tour there in 2019.
But Siddons claims the fact that the Dukes ball continues to swing for a full 80 overs means batters who have grown up on the locally made Kookaburra, which traditionally deviates when brand new but then offers little to bowlers as it scuffs and softens, must embrace a new technique.
And he added that the accepted yardstick for individual scores and team totals might need to be re-calibrated downwards in matches where the Dukes ball is employed.
"Coaches are now scratching their heads thinking, 'What are we going to do different to teach (batters) to face this ball'," Siddons said after the loss that sees the finalist of the past two Shield summers now slump to the bottom of the table.
"It never stops swinging, that's the hardest part.
"You've definitely got to play later, step straighter – you can't be stepping across to the ball like you've been taught with Kookaburras your whole life – and watch the ball harder because you can never relax.
"Blokes can get to 50 or 60, or like our blokes they're facing 60 balls, and they still get out.
"That doesn't happen with the Kookaburra, where there's an easy period of 40 overs when you can go from 30 to 80, and they're not getting that because these things just don't stop swinging.
"Our players are starting to relax when they get through that first 20 to 30 (balls) which is when you tend to relax with the Kookaburra, and then they get out.
"So we've just got to keep getting better and maybe not look at scores of 450 or 500 like we did with the Kookaburra.
"Instead we're looking at 250-350, and perhaps sometimes being happy with someone getting 80 like Travis (Head, Redbacks captain) did today."
Victoria paceman Peter Siddle, a veteran of three Ashes tours who will return to the UK this year to play with a third county side, noted recently that the type of movement achieved with the Dukes ball in Australia differs to that in England.
And while he said bowlers being able to feel the smaller Dukes in their hands is "a good thing", he stopped short of saying the change in ball midway through the Shield season was helping to better prepare Australian batsmen to play in UK conditions.
"The Dukes we use here swings, while in England it's more seam," he told cricket.com.au recently. "Wickets play the bigger part (in English conditions) than actually swinging.
"Yes, there's movement, which I guess is going to help in a way, even though it's different movement. It's going to be moving and shifting in front of the batter's eyes a little bit."
Siddons also noted the irony that while the Dukes ball was introduced to help prepare Test players for countries where the ball swings significantly, the playing schedule means international batters are rarely available for the back half of the Shield season when the Dukes ball is being used.
And he added that bowlers who wreak havoc against domestic opponents with the Dukes ball at Shield level will face the challenge of doing the same with the Kookaburra ball should they earn Test selection in Australia, where the locally made product remains the official ball.
Given the need for teams below Queensland on the ladder to secure maximum points in the final rounds of the season, Siddons is expecting conditions will suit swing and seam bowling when SA meet Tasmania at Blundstone Arena next week.
Which makes it likely that Redbacks quick Kane Richardson will return to the starting XI at the expense of his Australia T20 teammate, leg-spinner Adam Zampa.
The only foreseen change to the Bulls' line-up in coming weeks is the return of former Test opener Joe Burns, provided the groin that he injured in a training mishap during the KFC Big Bash League holds up during his return to action in the Toyota Futures League match starting next Monday.
Seccombe admitted he would like the luxury of having fast-bowling sensation Billy Stanlake available for selection, but accepts that the star of Adelaide Strikers' recent BBL|07 title win has been advised to forego first-class cricket for the remainder of the summer due to his history of stress fractures.
"Of course we want Billy playing for us, and hopefully next year we get more of him," Seccombe said today, with a smile.
"It almost seems like we spend a lot of time getting Billy up and ready and the Adelaide Strikers' benefit, and then we manage him and Adelaide Strikers benefit again.
"But that's the nature of the game too."