Marsh Sheffield Shield 2019-20
Shield final in limbo as domestic season reaches unique conclusion
While the final round of the Marsh Sheffield Shield has been cancelled, the door remains open for a winner to be crowned before the domestic season comes to a close
15 March 2020, 04:55 PM AEST
The Marsh Sheffield Shield title could yet be awarded to the NSW Blues, or be declared vacant for the first time since the second World War as cricket grapples with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cricket Australia today cancelled the tenth and final round of the 2019-20 Shield competition, a decision that chief executive Kevin Roberts said he hoped would "contribute to the global effort to slow, and eventually stop, the spread of coronavirus".
CA has deferred a decision on the final, scheduled to be played from March 27, given the rapidly evolving pandemic situation.
"At times like this, cricket must take a back seat for the greater good," said Roberts.
"We have been in consultation with relevant government agencies, our own medical team and an infectious diseases expert for quite some time now, and we have taken all their advice into account in making these decisions.
"In recent days, it has become evident that we must play our part in helping limit the spread of the virus by reducing person-to-person contact wherever possible. These measures reflect that.
"The decisions made this week are not something we are accustomed to in cricket. But by making them, we hope we can contribute to the global effort to slow, and eventually stop, the spread of coronavirus."
Spectators had already been banned from the three matches due to be played this week at the WACA in Perth, Karen Rolton Oval in Adelaide and Melbourne's Junction Oval.
CA said the Shield round had been banned "in an effort to reduce travel".
In matches due to begin Tuesday, South Australia were due to host Queensland while NSW were due to travel to Perth to play Western Australia. Victoria were set to host Tasmania from Thursday.
The NSW Blues currently sit atop the Shield ladder with six wins from the nine completed games and hold a 12.23-point gap over second-placed Victoria.
Victoria hold a narrow edge of just 1.62 points over Queensland, who would have fancied their chances of a positive result against the bottom-placed South Australian side that last week parted ways with head coach Jamie Siddons.
It's understood there were no objections from any of the states about the decision to cancel the final round.
The Bulls have had one win from their three games since the resumption of the Shield season with the Dukes ball after the KFC BBL break: defeating Tasmania while losing to Victoria and drawing against Western Australia in Perth last week.
Victoria have stormed into second position with three wins from as many games since the resumption of the competition– their only wins in the 2019-20 season after three losses, two draws and an abandoned match at the MCG due to an unsafe pitch before the Christmas period.
One option being considered by CA is awarding the NSW Blues the title if the final cannot be played.
If that happens, it would be the state's 47th Shield title, and first since the 2013-14 summer.
If the public health situation improves in the next week, the final may proceed as planned with Victoria likely to be the Blues' opponents.
Victoria, the defending champions, have won four of the past five Shield titles, including beating NSW in last year's decider in Melbourne.
If the Shield final is given the green light, 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, joining Test spinner Nathan Lyon in the squad.
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.
Hazlewood, Smith and Lyon all played in NSW's triumph in the 2013-14 summer, where Hazlewood claimed 6-50 and Smith struck 75 and an unbeaten 103.
Cummins and Warner played in NSW's beaten Shield finalists in the 2010-11 season when Tasmania lifted the shield with a seven-wicket win in a match at Hobart.Glenn Maxwell had targeted the New Zealand T20 series for his return to international cricket following elbow surgery earlier this year, but it is currently unclear if he would be an option for the first-class fixture.