JLT Sheffield Shield 2017-18
Take a close look at the new Junction Oval
Bushrangers to host Blues on Saturday following a $40m redevelopment of historic Melbourne venue
2 March 2018, 02:07 PM AEST
Victoria's long wait for a home away from the MCG is finally over with the renovated Junction Oval set to host Sheffield Shield cricket for the first time almost in a decade.
Following a two-year, $40 million redevelopment, the new Victorian Cricket and Community Centre in St Kilda will see the Bushrangers host NSW in their penultimate round JLT Sheffield Shield clash beginning Saturday.
The Junction Oval hasn't hosted a first-class game since the 2009 Shield final and the ground's upgrade, which has seen state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor training facilities and new administrative offices installed, gives Victoria an alternative playing venue away from the MCG.
The Bushrangers had been forced to 'host' Shield matches, including last year's final, in Alice Springs in recent years due to the MCG being unavailable due to the start of the AFL season and the pre-renovation Junction Oval being deemed unfit for first-class cricket.
"It's beautiful," Victoria skipper Aaron Finch noted as his team undertook their first training session at the refurbished venue today. "Everything from the changerooms, the gym and pool set-up, the indoor centre, it's all pretty amazing.
"It's been a long time in the making, when I first came into the squad maybe 10 or 11 years ago there was talk about a centre getting up and going, so I thought it was never going to happen while I was playing.
"But it's brilliant to see it finally happen."
The match looms as a key battle in shaping the Shield ladder ahead of the final.
Top-placed Queensland (40.34 points) are in pole position to earn hosting rights for the decider, but both reigning champions Victoria (32.11) and NSW (30.79) remain in the hunt to grab top spot. Less than five points separate bottom-placed South Australia (27.16) and the second-placed Bushrangers.
It's unclear whether the Junction Oval will be able to host this year's Shield final, scheduled to begin on March 23, given its proximity to the Grand Prix which begins on the same weekend in nearby Albert Park.
But with such a log-jam for the right to play in the final, Finch is hoping that a shift away from the MCG - where all first-class matches played so far this summer have yielded draws – might also bring a change of outcomes.
"We'll wait and see what this one plays like, it looks like it's going to be a very good wicket," he said today.
"The MCG hasn't yielded a result really in any game longer than a T20, so it's exciting to get here and test out the new facilities but time will tell about the wicket.
"I think it's just something that's happened this year, with the way that the (MCG) wickets have been a bit drier and a bit flatter.
"Drop-ins that have been there for the best part of 10 or 15 years are just so compact that it's hard to get any break-up from them, so maybe it's a good thing that we're here.
"If you've got great facilities like this, why not use them?"
NSW youngster Param Uppal is in line to make his first-class debut, with the 19-year-old allrounder named in a 13-player Blues squad after scoring 133 against South Australia in the Toyota Futures League last week. Fast bowler Sean Abbott also returns for NSW.
Victoria have named Seb Gotch and Fawad Ahmed in an extended squad after they defeated Western Australia in Perth last week.
Blues allrounder Moises Henriques said the Blues are looking forward to seeing what the redeveloped Junction Oval has to offer.
"I've never played at this ground before," said Henriques. "It will be exciting to be the first game of cricket at the renovated stadium and looking forward to seeing what the wicket is (like)."
Tasmania host South Australia at Blundstone Arena from Monday and Queensland face Western Australia at the Gabba from Tuesday in the other two round nine Sheffield Shield games.
- With Andrew Ramsey
Images courtesy Cricket Victoria