Recently, the tenth anniversary of Tasmania’s 2010/11 Sheffield Shield Final win over New South Wales was passed. The victory was the second of three first-class titles won by the State under legendary coach, Tim Coyle.
To celebrate the occasion, The Inner Sanctum caught up with some of the key figures of the time to tell the story of the famed Tasmanian side.
When recognizing any championship side from any sport regardless of the level, it is important to acknowledge the journey to get to the pinnacle.
Thus, any attempts to tell the story of the 2010/11 Tasmanian Sheffield Shield title cannot leave out the influence of Nick Kruger’s magical month of March.
The word magic is itself misleading, however. In an attempt at transparency and honesty, I will admit that I did attempt to try to catch your eye there. To share with you a tale of a special period in Tasmania’s short, but proud first-class cricketing history.
You see, Nick Kruger did not simply cast a spell over opposition attacks in any sense. Rather, he had to earn everything he achieved the hard way.
If this was not already evident for the talented left-hand opening batsman, it sure was explained in no uncertain terms at the end of the 2009/10 domestic season.
Heading To Tasmania
To many a cricket pundit, a fighting 93 in a late-season Shield game (against Tasmania at Bellerive funnily enough), would be a more than adequate sign of ability at State level. Queensland’s powers-that-be were playing with a different deck of cards, though.
“I remember arriving for my end-of-season meeting thinking I was going to be contracted for the following year’, Kruger told The Inner Sanctum.
“When I walked in and sat down, I read the room and the body language of a few people and knew what was coming. I have later found out that the then-coach prior to me entering the room had stated that he was expecting fireworks and rubbed his hands together with joy.
“However, I took my medicine and thanked them for the opportunity to represent the State and kindly ended the meeting.”
Without a contract anywhere in his sights, Kruger had a decision to make. He knew he had more to offer at the level. The question though was centered on taking the risk and daring to be great.
Enter, North Hobart Cricket Club. A proud entity that keeps Tasmania’s cricketing spirit alight as the tenants of Hobart’s famed TCA ground.
Through every era of Tasmanian cricket – from the post-war feats of Ray Stokes and Rex Garwood to the first Sheffield Shield sides where Jack Simmons and Roger Woolley plied their trade, and even in the years that David Boon became a household name across the country – anyone who has aspired to be anyone in Tasmania has had to do so at the TCA ground.
Kruger would have to be no exception.
“I spent numerous hours talking to my best mate Michael Dudgeon and now wife Kate and I remember two distinct messages from both of them.
“Michael said he would never forgive me if I didn’t give it a go and Kate basically said ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen? We move back after a year. So be it.’
“I was extremely fortunate that North Hobart Cricket Club looked after me very well and made the transition very easy. I enjoyed not having a contract as it made me concentrate at club level”, Kruger said, giving an insight into the decision-making process.
Despite the enjoyment he attained from playing at club level, the aim did not change in the slightest.
“My goal was to play for Tasmania.”
Doing so would be a task in itself, however. Tasmania had compiled a strong squad with a decent balance of home-grown talents, such as Alex Doolan, George Bailey, James Faulkner, and Xavier Doherty who mixed well with some targeted Interstate recruits like Ed Cowan, Mark Cosgrove, and Adam Maher.
Slotting into the side and establishing any longevity would be a test. Any chance earned was going to have to be a chance taken.
This is where the telling of the journey towards the Sheffield Shield final begins. A story that can be told vicariously through the performances of Nick Kruger – the batsman that took his chance and subsequently applied the magic of hard work and determination.
By the time Christmas of 2010 rolled around, not everything was festive for Tasmania in a cricket sense.
A 10 wicket victory over Western Australia just before the holiday break was offset by the shadow cast by the earlier defeat to South Australia at home.
After bowling The Redbacks out for 55 and with a lead of 196 runs, Tasmania enforced the follow-on. Set only 220 to win, the side suffered a batting collapse in the second innings to be bowled out for 177.
To compound this, first-choice wicketkeeper and current Australian captain, Tim Paine had suffered the first of many finger injuries that would plague the middle years of his career.
The strong Sheffield Shield squad on paper was trading wins and losses with a record of 3-2 with one washout by the break. With this came openings as the side looked to settle itself moving into the business end of the season.
Tasmania had trialled a number of batsmen to face the new ball with star opener Ed Cowan. Players such as Steve Cazzulino and Jon Wells each came and went without much success. Other avenues needed exploring and eyes turned to club level. The glistening form of Nick Kruger caught most of them.
Building a Partnership
In 15 innings for the North Hobart Cricket Club, Kruger amassed 693 runs (3 centuries, 2 fifties) at an average of 46.20 as an opener. If there was a need for a candidate to knock on the door, he was kicking it down.
“I thought there was still no real concrete partnership at the top of the order so there was an opportunity to be taken if it came up.”
The first game after the break saw Victoria travel to Hobart to resume the season. On the back of the strong form, Kruger was rewarded with his first cap for his adopted State.
“I would like to think I earned my cap for Tasmania the blue-collar way through club performances.”
There are no guarantees for future opportunities in cricket though, a game defined ultimately by form.
Tasmania had to keep winning and Nick Kruger had to make runs. There was no mutual exclusion. A void had to be filled effectively for the side to go from hopeful to contender.
After a modest start against Victoria, the new opening partnership with Cowan started gathering momentum against Western Australia. In the innings and 29 run win. Tasmania’s opening stand of 137 (Kruger 68, Cowan 81) was an encouraging start to the new venture.
Confidence was growing at the other end of the pitch and back in the sheds, too.
In his diary of the 2010/11 season, In the Firing Line, Ed Cowan described Kruger in glowing terms – as a bullying batsman and as a calming influence on the side.
“The best approach for me was to take my time early and play the ball late. This gave me the best platform to launch and I always knew I could catch the run rate up once my eye was in.
“This also gave number 3 and 4 batters some confidence that they weren’t going in against the new ball.”
What followed were two incredibly important matches. More specifically, two amazing individual performances by Kruger that defined a season and title triumph.
Getting to the Final
Three wins in a row meant that Tasmania had tied a powerful but compromised, New South Wales side to head the points table by 3 March and a top of the table clash ensued.
Missing a plethora of first-choice players in Phil Jacques, Stuart Clark, and Captain Simon Katich, The Blues travelled to Hobart to take on a Tasmanian side that started to recognize that something special was around the corner.
The match played out accordingly.
Batting first, New South Wales could only manage 74. The opportunity was there to take the match by the scruff of the neck.
Kruger did so without hassle, belting 150 (242) in an innings and 70 run victory. For his effort, he was awarded man of the match honours.
The innings was made all the more special by the fact that no other batsman passed 50 in the match.
The win also wrapped up a spot in the final. The results of the last round matches – Tasmania v South Australia in Adelaide, New South Wales v Western Australia in Sydney – would determine who hosted the final. Tasmania had to win to keep top spot.
Fortunes had seriously changed since South Australia came back from following-on against Tasmania earlier in the season. It was the high point in a lowly Redback season. In fact, it was their only win.
Tasmania had clearly gone from strength to strength.
Cricket, of all sports is the greatest leveller however.
After posting 298, South Australia took firm control by skittling Tasmania for 124 in reply.
Although a poor second innings, where the hosts could only manage 198, they still set a monumental task: 373 runs required to seal the home final with a day and half to achieve the total.
Something seriously special was going to be required, a point that was made loud and clear when Tasmania lost Ed Cowan for 0 on the fifth ball of the innings.
The nerves of Tasmanian stakeholders were offset though by Kruger and number three batsman Alex Doolan. The magic of hard work was again cast over the ground.
Hard work to the point of exhaustion, really. By stumps on day three, the second wicket pairing had wrestled ascendency back for Tasmania to be 1/134 at the close of play (Kruger 55*, Doolan 78*).
“I remember batting late on the third day and talking with Alex mid pitch. It was stinking hot and we were out on out feet.”
“I remember saying let’s get this done and come back tomorrow. He said yes and then I walked back to face up and Graham Manou said ‘what is he doing?’
“I turned around and said to Dools who was next to me ‘what the f*** are you doing?’ and he said ‘my legs brought me here’ to which we all had a good laugh at.
“That night I decided to walk back to the hotel but only got as far as the front gate where I cramped up to the enjoyment of team mates and a wedding party arriving for their function. It was that bad that they had to get a car to drive me back to the change room.”
By the time both batsmen were dismissed on day four, Tasmania only required 86 more for victory and had more than enough fire power to get the runs in Bailey, Cosgrove and Faulkner.
It was a partnership that not only steered the course of a match, but that of a season.
It also had the added perk of re-writing Tasmanian cricket records. The 258 run stand still holds the mantle of second highest second wicket partnership and twelfth highest overall partnership in the State’s Sheffield Shield history.
Hard work still took preference though. The reality of how special the partnership was did not sink in for Kruger until the innings was well established.
“The last morning of the game I remember Tim and Michael Farrell talking about the total and how it would make history. That was probably the first time when I took time to think about how significant it would be.”
When the winning runs were hit early in the last session of the match in Adelaide, Tasmania had truly seen the fruits of their labour. A grueling season that started of shaky was steered straight by a dogged work ethic and determination to succeed.
“There was a confidence in that group that was so strong we all believed we could get the job done.”
Succeed the Tigers did, capturing their second Sheffield Shield under Coach Tim Coyle, a leader that always seemed to find the balance of talent, hard work, and fighting every game out.
Though his scores were modest in the Final (1, 31), winning the title is understandably special in the eyes of Nick Kruger. He had dived into the unchartered waters and swam through unscathed.
Moreover, he had achieved all the goals put in front of him at an individual and team level. Tasmania kept winning, Nick Kruger kept scoring runs. Blue-collar cricket at its most exposed core.
“That game will always have a place in my heart. The players that played in that match now that you look back on were of a very high calibre. It was extremely intense the entire 5 days.”
Though success should not just be measured by on-field achievement. The move had also created a level of life education too.
As a qualified teacher trying to make his way through the difficult challenges associated with the career, Kruger was opened up to the diverse nature of Hobart’s schools and education structure.
“(the move) made me find teaching work which was a real eye opener in schools around the area.”
The memories of a remarkable period of cricket live on though, described by Nick as “the pinnacle of my career for sure. That period of my life was incredible.”
Though if age ever wearies his ability to recall his amazing performances, Kruger will not need to trawl through the records and scorebooks. A mirror will suffice.
“I have a scar on my right butt cheek as a daily reminder after a champagne flute incident after the final which ended in two very funny trips to the hospital. What happens on tour stays on tour, I guess!” he jokingly concluded.