Marsh Sheffield Shield 2020-21
Peaceful park prepares to host Test stars
A closer look at the humble surrounds of Park 25, which will play host to some of Australia's leading cricketers for the start of the season
4 October 2020, 07:44 AM AEST
On any regular spring day, Gladys Elphick Park on Adelaide's western fringe would be the domain of commuting tertiary students and healthcare workers, city dwellers walking their dogs and joggers snatching a lunchtime fitness fix.
Come next weekend however, visitors to the park – known also as Narnugga ('native pine place' in indigenous Kaurna lexicon) or simply Park 25 – will find the sprawling playing fields occupied by some of Australia's foremost men's cricketers.
The grounds that historically host amateur football during winter and club cricket teams of varying standards across summer will, for the coming month at least, parade recognised Test stars the likes of Tim Paine, Marnus Labuschagne, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Peter Siddle.
Cricket Australia announced last month that, due to the ongoing coronavirus restrictions, the Marsh Sheffield Shield's first four rounds will be played in Adelaide.
With Adelaide Oval (where 98 per cent of Shield fixtures in SA have been held since 1892) unavailable due to football finals, auxiliary venues Karen Rolton Oval and ACH Group Stadium (Glenelg) will be employed along with two grounds – Adelaide Oval No. 2 and Park 25 – that have not previously seen first-class matches.
Usually, crowds descending on Park 25 are confined to the flocks of rainbow lorikeets that swarm and scream or the squadrons of sulphur-crested cockatoos that fly low at full squawk and settle on the smooth boughs of the park's brooding gum trees.
And background noise emanates either from commuter trains and the occasional Melbourne-bound freight behemoth lumbering along tracks to the immediate west, and the sharp-dull crack of rotor blades as emergency choppers land and flee the Royal Adelaide Hospital helipad across the road.
But those activities have been overshadowed this week by the transformation of the council-administered park lands, barely 2km from Adelaide's GPO, into a fully functioning cricket ground through the installation of portable buildings and temporary infrastructure.
While South Australia's men's team conducted a three-day internal trial match on Park 25 No. 1's centre wicket, a fleet of trucks and cranes and folks in hi-vis vests ensured there was even greater activity unfolding beyond the boundary rope.
Porta-cabins providing dressing room facilities for the players, a sheltered viewing area for competing teams and office accommodation for match officials were put in place, in keeping with the strict health guidelines that govern public events in the age of COVID19.
On the ground's eastern flank, between Park 25 No. 1 and the adjacent Karen Rolton Oval that will host four concurrent Shield matches, a huge marquee redolent of an al fresco wedding reception is being installed as a dining hall for players from both venues.
Scissor lifts will arrive to act as gantries for cameras feeding out live streams of matches, and a temporary fence comprised of white aluminium pickets will ring the playing field to lend it a slightly-more-stadium feel (and prevent fielders having to chase scorching drives across neighbouring Park 25 Nos. 2 and 3).
In addition, the erection of covered perimeter fencing will not only assist the enforcement of bio-security requirements but also reduce the risk of lusty pull shots and lofted cover drives finding their way through the existing metallic grille barrier on the western boundary.
Any ball that clears that barricade and eludes the overhanging eucalyptus trees will invariably land on the busy section of railway tracks from where it cannot be safely recovered.
Given the dimensions of Park 25 No. 1 are not dissimilar to other suburban grounds utilised for Shield fixtures around Australia – with its square boundaries reportedly broader than Adelaide Oval's – it is likely the lost ball issue will be minimal.
Even without the perimeter fence in place, it was rarely a factor during SA’s recent trial game despite enterprising innings from left-handers Harry Nielsen (71 and 70no) and Travis Head (38 and 55) as well as hefty hitting by allrounder Cameron Valente (40 off 43 balls) and Daniel Drew (56 off 69).
Of greater significance was the character of the pitch, historically regarded as 'true' among Premier Cricket clubs.
The surface displayed greater pace and bounce as the three-day game – which began in wet and windy weather on Wednesday and ended in a burst of 30C summer yesterday (Fri) – played out.
Batters on day one found it tough going with the ball not 'coming on' amid the grey and damp, with Nielsen the only player to reach 50 as seamers Valente (3-37), Luke Robins (3-48) and Tom Pinson (5-42) dominated the game's first phase.
Pinson, the towering right-armer, has relocated to Adelaide from Steve Smith's Sutherland grade club in Sydney (via ACT second XI and the Northern Territory league) in the hope of securing a first-class contract.
The 26-year-old claimed the wickets of Shield top-order batting aspirants Conor McInerney (12), Jake Lehmann (18) and Tom Cooper (27) in the Lehmann XI's first innings suggesting height and speed might be telling attributes on the early season Adelaide suburban pitches.
Test-capped swing bowler Chadd Sayers completed his first competitive hit out since undergoing minor surgery to his troublesome right knee during winter, claiming 1-30 from 16 over in the Head's XI's first innings.
He then followed up with the wickets of openers Jake Weatherald (5) and Henry Hunt (who fell for a duck to Sayers in both innings) and is eyeing the Redbacks’ Shield opener against Western Australia starting next Saturday.
"Chadd pulled up well and he's on track for the start of the season," Redbacks assistant coach Luke Butterworth said at game's end after SA's spearhead finished with 3-43 from his 20 overs across two innings.
"We know what he can do, we certainly don't need to push him hard in a trial game and he showed he's able to come back for second and third spells and across a couple of days which was what we wanted to see."
Sayers' regular new-ball partner Daniel Worrall did not take part in the trial having suffered a calf injury that seems likely to sideline him from the first match or two of the coming Shield season.
Left-arm seamer Nick Winter was also an absentee from the three-day practice match due to hamstring tightness but Butterworth declared he should be fit for consideration in SA's initial 15-man squad expected to be named early next week.
While seamers bowled a bulk of the overs and shared most of the wickets, leg spinner Lloyd Pope finished with 2-91 from 18 overs on the final day while spin-bowling all-rounder Will Bosisto claimed 2-106 from 25 over across both innings.