Sheffield Shield 2021-22 (Images: @TasmanianTigers/@qldcricket/@VicStateCricket Twitter)

Despite being COVID-19 interrupted, the Sheffield Shield has managed to persevere with outstanding domestic cricket on display.

Despite being COVID-19 interrupted, the 2021-22 Sheffield Shield season has persevered through the challenges and allowed fans of the longer cricket format to enjoy some high quality performances from all states.

The season, so far, is still very much wide open and the championship is there for the taking for any team. The top four is so even, it looks as though whoever can grab momentum will steal it.

15 individual players have managed to score centuries, with just a third of that amount being able to do it twice this season.

Only 11 bowlers, so far, have been able to raise the ball in celebration of a five-wicket haul, with just Queensland’s left-arm, off-spinner in Matthew Kuhnemann the only player to have done it more than once, raising the ball three times in five matches.

Check out how each state has performed overall this season to date, and who they’re best performers have been below.

New South Wales

Ladder Position: 6th
Played: 3, Won: 0, Lost: 2, Drawn: 1
Total Points: 3.93

COVID-19 outbreaks have forced New South Wales and Victoria to exclusively play against each other, playing just the three matches resulting in two losses and a draw for the Blues. It’s clear that they’ve been up against a stronger squad in the Victorians, however, they haven’t just rolled over and allowed easy results.

The positive to take so far for New South Wales is that they’ve improved their scores each game, without the likes of their star players that are away on international duty. Each match has shown glimpses of the type of performances that the Blues will want to expect moving forward.

The bulk of the improvement has been in the batting, going from scoring a total of 285 runs in the first match, to 387 runs in the second before totalling 518 (including a declaration) in the third.

However, there are still questions needing to be asked of their bowling attack, obviously with the likes of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazelwood and Mitchell Starc coming off the back of winning the T20 world cup and before being added to the Ashes squad. The Blues would’ve wanted more out of Nathan Lyon in his two matches before joining up with the Australian squad, with the off-spinner only taking a total of four wickets.

Current MVP: Currently batting at an average of 48.80 from six innings’, opener Dan Hughes is in vintage form and is certainly the pick for the Blues. After being relatively quiet in the first match, Hughes has piled three half centuries out of four from the second and third matches, doing his bit to keep New South Wales in the hunt.

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Ladder Position: 2nd
Played: 5, Won: 2, Lost: 1, Drawn: 2
Total Points: 20.77

Last season’s champions will be slightly disappointing they’re not the ladder leaders at the moment. Inconsistent is perhaps the best way to describe their start to the season, however, the Bulls have been fortunate enough to rely on their star studded batting lineup to carry them to second spot.

Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Jimmy Peirson and Bryce Street have all added centuries to the first-class tallies and make up what has become a reliable batting order for Queensland.

Queensland’s start to the season began with back-to-back draws against Tasmania and South Australia with the former being the more frustrating of the two. Khawaja declared Queensland’s first innings despite still being 145 runs behind the Tigers in order to try and force a result whilst Tasmania was content to bat out the rest of the match on what was a very difficult pitch for bowlers.

The Bulls’ bowling attack has been forced to make changes regularly with Michael Neser initially out for the arrival of his first child, before suffering a hamstring injury on his return to the lineup. Mark Steketee, who has led the Bulls’ pace attack primarily so far, missed one match also through injury. The absences has seen opportunities being given out to Connor Sully and James Bazely.

Matthew Kuhnemann is having a breakout season as the Queenslands regular spin choice in Mitch Swepson has been with the Australian T20 World Cup squad and now the Ashes squad. The 25-year-old is, to the surprise of many, currently leading the tally for most wickets in the competition. Kuhnemann has taken 25 wickets at an average 26.56.

Current MVP: Despite Kuhnemann’s tremendous efforts, Usman Khawaja’s return to form has been pivotal in Queensland’s current standing on the table. The veteran is currently 7 runs behind competition leader, Tim Ward, for most runs, currently sitting on 460 at an average of 65.71, including two centuries. A standout innings for Khawaja, was the 70 runs he scored against Western Australia, the next highest score for a Queensland batter that innings was the 13 scored by bowler Gurinder Sandhu. Mark Steketee’s 21 wickets at an average 17.76, sitting him third in the most wickets tally, also deserves special mention.

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South Australia

Ladder Position: 5th
Played: 5, Won: 0, Lost: 2, Drawn: 3
Total Points: 9.12

It’s been a frustrating time for Travis Head’s South Australian side – three draws and two losses has not been an ideal start for the Redbacks. Unless they’re able change something, South Australia will face a fifth straight, last placed table finish in the 2021-22 season.

Dominant individual performances have been sporadic, however, pace bowler Nathan McAndrew has been able to discover some consistency as he leads the South Australian attack with 18 wickets, placing him fourth in the most wickets leaderboard.

Despite some big scores that have seen him return to the Australian test squad, Travis Head has struggled for consistency with a series of low scores to go with his two centuries. Alex Carey is a popular choice to replace Tim Paine as Australia’s wicketkeeper this summer despite have a difficult series to date, only recording one half-century, and is currently on a streak of five scores less than 10.

Reliable players under-performing seems to be the trend for the Redbacks this season as opener Jake Weatherald hasn’t managed to reach 50 runs from seven attempts.

Current MVP: The improvement shown from opener Henry Hunt is something South Australian fans can be excited about. The 24-year-old has added two centuries to his tally this season and is batting at an average of 48.88. The effort made to create a breakout season has been rewarded in selection for the Australia A squad that will play the England Lions on the December 9th.

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Ladder Position: 3rd
Played: 5, Won: 2, Lost: 1, Drawn: 2
Total Points: 20.08

The Tigers have been the excitement machine thus far in the 2021/22 season. Winning two matches from five so far humbling the current ladder leaders in Western Australia on both occasions.

This season has seen growth in the Tigers squad, especially from the likes of Tim Ward and Lawrence Neil-Smith, the latter of which has had an unusual batting role, becoming a very reliable nightwatchman for Tasmania. Neil-Smith has recorded 212 runs but has managed to face 562 deliveries, the most of any pure bowler this season by a fair amount.

The major positives for Tasmania has been the amount of high quality performances being put on display from their batters. Three Tasmanian’s currently sit in the top six most run scorers in the competition. Caleb Jewell is playing his best cricket in his career to date, whilst Jordan Silk is also thriving off some newfound confidence from the Tasmanian camp, currently crowned with the highest batting average in the competition with 70. In fact, the best positive that Tasmania can take is that every member of their top 5 batters are currently batting above the career first-class average.

Peter Siddle is the pick of the bowlers, showing that he can still compete at the level as well as provide leadership to a relatively young squad.

Current MVP: The breakout season from Tim Ward has burst new life into the Tasmanian Tigers, currently sitting as the leading run scorer in the competition as well as having the most balls faced with an enormous 1112, with no other player having even faced 900. The 23-year-old is showing poise and temperament at the top of the order beyond his years. The Tasmanian Tigers have struck gold with Ward.

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Ladder Position: 4th
Played: 3, Won: 2, Lost: 0, Drawn: 1
Total Points: 17.66

Stuck in the same situation as New South Wales in terms of being affected by COVID-19, the Victorians have made the most of their three matches against the Blues. Victoria have made it clear that they’re a better squad than the Blues and will continue to prove their competitiveness against the rest of the country when they get their chance.

The Victorian bowlers have tormented the Blues in their matches, only allowing them score more than a total of 250 runs in an innings on one occasion. Scott Boland and James Pattinson have taken leadership of the attack, guiding through the younger generation of Victorian pace bowlers in Mitchell Perry (21 years old), Will Sutherland (22) and Xavier Crone (23).

The runs have been evenly distributed amongst the batters, with centuries coming to Marcus Harris, Travis Dean, Nic Maddinson, Peter Handscombe and James Seymour so far. Maddinson’s average of 83.33 from four innings’ is particularly impressive and sees him in the Australia A squad.

However, the Victorians will want to find more consistency as a cohort in order to put on some bigger totals, rather than relying on one or two batters to do the bulk of the scoring each innings.

Current MVP: It shouldn’t be a surprise to many that Scott Boland is once again dominating the Sheffield Shield. Boland has 15 wickets in the competition so far and is sitting fifth on the most wickets leaderboard, despite playing half the amount of innings’ than the players placed higher.

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Western Australia

Ladder Position: 1st
Played: 5, Won: 2, Lost: 2, Drawn: 1
Total Points: 22.24

Western Australia are the team to beat at the moment, with high quality performances being displayed by both the batting and the bowling cohorts. The West Australian’s have shown that they want to win matches and set themselves the challenge of breakout a drought that has seen them without a Sheffield Shield winning season in over 20 seasons.

Western Australian have shown off an incredible squad, currently being led by Sam Whiteman since the all time leading run scorer for the state in Shaun Marsh suffered a calf strain during a match against Queensland. However, leadership has stepped across the lineup from Hilton Cartwright, Cameron Bancroft, Cam Green and Josh Phillipe with the bat and the likes of Jhye Richardson, Joel Paris and Lance Morris with the ball.

Despite remaining top of the table, Western Australia will still be disappointed with their two losses at the hands of Tasmania. The Tigers batters were allowed to make good starts that turned into winning totals which would have frustrated the Western Australian bowlers. However the second loss was more respectable than the first, having declared in both of their batting innings’, Western Australia risked an inevitable loss in order to try and get the win, showing the amount of ambition the state has this season.

Current MVP: After battling injury throughout previous seasons, Jhye Richardson is back and in the form of his life, earning a recall to the Australian test squad. Richardson is currently sitting second in the most wickets leader board but with a bowling average of 13.43, he is the standout bowler in the competition to date.

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