Marsh Sheffield Shield 2019-20
Shield final in doubt after final round cancelled
Coronavirus fears prompt Cricket Australia to abandon final round of first-class competition but final may still go ahead if pandemic situation improves
15 March 2020, 09:33 AM AEST
The final round of the Marsh Sheffield Shield has been cancelled, but a decision on whether to press ahead with the final in 12 days' time has yet to be made, Cricket Australia announced today.
The tenth and final round of this summer's Shield competition is the latest impact on cricket from the spreading COVID-19 pandemic that has seen a slew of sports either cancelled, suspended with uncertain returns, or moved behind closed doors as the planet grapples with the public health implications.
The decision to call off the final round of Shield matches was sparked by a desire to reduce travel for players, support staff and officials, CA said.
However, New Zealand Cricket has cancelled the last two rounds of their domestic first-class competition, the Plunket Shield. The Wellington Firebirds, who are 26 points clear of second place on the competition points table, have been awarded the 2019-20 title.
In matches scheduled to begin Tuesday, South Australia were due to host Queensland at Karen Rolton Oval in Adelaide and the ladder-leading NSW Blues were due to travel to Perth to play Western Australia.
Victoria were set to host Tasmania at Junction Oval from Thursday. All venues had already announced that fans would be barred from attending.
CA has held off making a firm decision about the Shield final that is scheduled to be played from March 27 given the rapidly evolving pandemic situation.
Marsh Sheffield Shield ladder
NSW Blues P 9 | W 6 | D 1 | L 2 | Bonus 13.76 | Total 50.76
Victoria P 9 | W 3 | D 2 | L 3 | Bonus 15.53 | Total 38.53
Queensland P 9 | W 4 | D 2 | L 3 | Bonus 10.91 | Total 36.91
Tasmania P 9 | W 3 | D 2 | L 4 | Bonus 12.29 | Total 32.29
Western Australia P 9 | W 2 | D 3 | L 1 | Bonus 13.37 | Total 31.37
South Australia P 9 | W 2 | D 2 | L 5 | Bonus 14.54 | Total 28.54
The NSW Blues currently sit atop the Shield ladder with six wins from the nine games, and hold a 12.23-point gap over second-placed Victoria.
No decision on who would contest the Shield final, if it were to proceed, has been made.
Victoria have stormed into second position with three wins from as many games since the resumption of the competition following the KFC BBL break – their only wins in the 2019-20 season after three losses and two draws and an abandoned match at the MCG due to an unsafe pitch before the Christmas period.
Victoria hold a narrow edge of just 1.62 points over Queensland, who have had one win over Tasmania, one loss – to Victoria – and a draw against Western Australia since the BBL break.
If the public health situation improves and the Shield final does proceed, NSW could potentially field a side featuring a host of international stars.
Australia fast bowler Josh Hazlewood had already been expected to return to the Blues for the final following the conclusion of the now-cancelled ODI series against New Zealand.
With Australia's T20 tour of New Zealand also cancelled, it is unclear if other international stars such as David Warner, Steve Smith, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc would be available to play for the Blues if the Shield final goes ahead.
The cancellation is the first round of Shield cricket to be abandoned since the tragic death of Phillip Hughes in November 2014, which saw matches already in progress halted.
CA today also postponed an Australia U19 women's tour of South Africa and an U19 Indigenous team's T20 tour of New Zealand.
On Saturday the Gillette ODI Series against New Zealand was cancelled after the Black Caps were forced to return home due to increased travel restrictions and border control implemented by the New Zealand government.
The first match – won by Australia – had been played in front of empty stands on Friday in the first such instance of an international sporting event to go ahead without fans.
The second match of that three-game series had been expected to be played today in Sydney, but the bulk of the New Zealand squad flew out on Saturday night, with the remainder leaving this morning.
The New Zealand government's travel restrictions also forced the cancellation of the Australian men's T20 series that was to be played across the Tasman following the third ODI in Hobart on Friday.
CA and New Zealand Cricket have said they will work together to identify a future opportunity to play both series.
Australia's women's tour of South Africa had also been postponed indefinitely – they were originally scheduled to fly out today – while a host of international series have also been cancelled, including England's Test tour of Sri Lanka and India's limited-overs series with South Africa.
The Indian Premier League – due to feature 17 Australians – has had its original March 29 start date pushed back until at least April 15, while India has also suspended play in all its domestic competitions until further notice.