Shield cricket deserves place in the sun

IT'S A structure that’s stood the test of time: first-grade, Sheffield Shield and then Test cricket.

It’s the structure that Australia’s success has been built on since Adam and Sir Don Bradman were lads.

Or was.

This is the time of Twenty20 cricket: huge TV ratings, huge crowds, giving the people what they want.

Well, true cricket lovers might want something more; a return to the structure the cricket trumps have dismantled. The Sheffield Shield is returning after an almost two-month hiatus that has allowed for the money-making hit and wiggle. The lack of continuity for what is supposed to the premier domestic competition,and how it might affect players? Shield out of action for weeks, out of mind.

Not out of everyone’s minds, as the controversy over the Phil Hughes non-selection for the South African tour, despite his prolific Shield run-scoring, demonstrated. Hughes got his belated tour when the Shield non-scorer Shaun Marsh was withdrawn through injury, of course. The Marsh first-Test century doesn’t disprove the principle.

Doug Bollinger wasn’t so lucky. He took 17 wickets at 25 in four Shield matches before the break, was on standby for the Perth Ashes Test, and later didn’t rate a mention for the South African tour.

Is there a way of restoring the structure? Yes, and Western Australia’s Craig Simmons has shown how. Simmons has been the batting hit of the Twenty/20 summer, with two centuries. He made his Sheffield Shield debut in 2003, has played just seven games and averaged 15. Kids’ stuff compared with the cauldron, the Twenty20.

So here’s a solution. There are plenty of first-grade batsmen who can hit big sixes on reduced areas, but who like Simmons, won’t ever make it in the Shield. Let them combine with the old timers like Simon Katich and Brett Lee, earning their superannuation, and the overseas imports.

Plenty of slather, whack and sixes to satisfy the TV audience, and an uninterrupted Shield can be played all summer and the Test players can have a rest.  The hottest cricket in more than 100 summers and only the greedy and lawyers would complain about restraint of trade.

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COOL heads might pray media hottie Luke Brooks is given a rest. On the strength of one NRL game for the Wests Tigers last season, Brooks is seemingly a combination of Benji Marshall, Andrew Johns, Peter Sterling, Johnathon Thurston and Nelson Mandela. He’s had double- page newspaper spreads and virtually every minute of his life recalled. The ghosted autobiography can’t be far away. It’s a burden no footballer should be asked to bear, let alone one 18-year-old tyro. Whatever he and the Tigers do, Brooks can’t win.

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THE LATE Ray Connelly may have been shaking his head from on high as Anthony Mundine continued his march to immortality, infinity and beyond in Brisbane recently.

Mundine scored a unanimous points win over a name on nobody’s lips, brave but outclassed Gunnar ’Stunna’ Jackson, called in as a replacement at seven days’ notice. When’s he’s not fighting, Jackson lays drains in his native New Zealand.

 No such day job for Mundine, the name on every boxing aficionado’s lips worldwide. But as befits a giant of his stature, he needs a better monicker than the prosaic The Man. He deserves the sort of pre-bout introduction the late and loved Connelly would have provided.

Something like ’Ladeez and gentleman, introducing a two-fisted puncher, the fighter with the greatest evasive skills since Young Griffo, the best right cross since Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis, the best jab since Ali, the fistic furioso with the most front since Sugar Ray Robinson and Jessie, the best left hook since Joe Frazier, the most dangerous rip since Bondi’s....the sweet scientist also known as the legend, the supericon, the deadset freak and worldbeater; who had he had stayed in basketball would have been the midget Michael Jordan; who would have been the greatest batsman since Bradman had he played cricket; who as a footballer was a combination of Eric Weissel, Jimmy Craig, Vic Hey, Pat Devery, Frank Stanmore, Bobby Banks, Poppa Clay, Earl Harrison, Bobby Fulton, Wally Lewis, Brett Kenny, Laurie Daley, Brad Fittler and Jonathan Thurston.

Here he is: SuperM.

Now Mundine has reverted against type: saying he wants to be the strong, silent type. After his comment that Blake Ferguson shouldn’t play rugby league again until he clears his name in court, Mundine should have stuck to the new him. Ferguson clear his name how and of what?

  Mundine is indeed a gifted sportsman, whose natural gifts have made him a high-profile footballer and boxer, and those gifts probably would have made him a success in other sports too. His tragedy is that in choosing to make himself a lucrative caricature, he has left it too late to know if his ability matched his pugilistic ambition.

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