Queensland skipper Usman Khawaja admits he was left “disappointed” and “rattled” by Tasmania’s decision to effectively kill their season-opening Marsh Sheffield Shield match before the game started on the final day.
The match was aborted by mutual agreement half an hour before tea this afternoon, with Khawaja adding an appropriate sardonic exclamation point to the procedure by bowling a single over where he tried to emulate Pakistani spinners Saeed Ajmal and Saqlain Mushtaq.
Despite dominating with bats for three of the four days, Tasmania ended the match with marginally fewer bonus points than the Bulls, who were clearly confused by their opponents’ reluctance to risk losing the match by pushing for an unlikely direct win on a flat track.
Khawaja believes he had taken the sporting stance by declaring his team’s first innings closed 145 runs late on day three, but was stunned when Tasmania sent night watchman Lawrence Neil-Smith shortly before stumps yesterday.
“I was actually quite surprised because their openers came out with a pretty good intention (Saturday night) and I thought ‘okay, they will make some quick runs and then send us in tomorrow’,” Khawaja said at the end of the match.
“So when they sent the night in, I was really rattled.
“From my end, I can not really say more.
“We declared and put the ball on their court.
“I had moral rights, I could keep beating if I wanted to.
“I felt like they were hitting for a session too long on the second day, I thought they might have pressured the game to expect that they would declare them around lunch (Friday).
“I am just a little disappointed.
“It would always be hard to get lots of wickets on it (track), so it had to be a sporting statement and get them to put us a total, and we try to chase it down.
“It simply came to our notice then.
“But they obviously didn’t want to play that way, so that’s just the way it was.”
A no-result was inevitable as Neil-Smith soaked up 36 balls before scoring his first run this morning as he and opener Tim Ward defiantly defended by adding 83 runs without losses from 28 overs before lunch.
Ward later confirmed that Tasmania had decided to put Queensland on a final day goal before the game resumes this morning, with the Tigers 1-59 and 204 runs ahead.
“The decision was made just to go out there and keep hitting and make sure we didn’t lose this one,” said Ward, who was named the game’s player in just his second Shield appearance.
“It was made at the beginning of the day.
“We thought it would be too hard to take ten wickets and it was our job to go out there and take as much time out of the game as possible.”
The stalemates of stalemate overshadowed the performance of Neil-Smith, who followed up on his stint as stand-in number five in Tasmania’s first innings with a first-class maiden half-century in the second.
His 71 No. of 201 balls today represented the longest innings of a true night watchman in the Shield competition since Victoria fast bowler Scott Boland hung around 213 balls to score 51 against Tasmania in 2013-14.
When the 22-year-old sailor reached his milestone with a sharply struck on-drive to the limit from a full throw from Marnus Labuschagne this afternoon, his return of seven fours and a six in his first score of 50 would have made any specialized stroke proud.
But his solid stone wall at the start of his innings meant his milestone was met with tightly folded arms and crooked smiles from all but one of his Queensland rivals.
Neil-Smith made a 91-run stand with the second wicket with Ward following his maiden first-century (144 from 343 balls) in the first innings with another patient, polishing 81 from 130 today.
The 23-year-old left-hander appeared on track to become the first opener to score hundreds in every innings in a Shield match so early in a career since Victoria’s Travis Dean achieved the feat on debut (also against Queensland) six years ago.
But in the second half after lunch, he was surprised by a pass from left-arm spinner Matt Kuhnemann (3-61) who spun viciously out of foot marks and Ward could only divert the ball to the bottom of the bone stump.
He was replaced by Tasmania’s regular number three Charlie Wakim, who channeled Neil-Smith’s former go-slow by scoring a single from the first 47 balls he faced before hitting a catch to the silly mid-off to become rejected for three (off 61).
Tiger’s tactics were made even more confusing by the fact that Neil-Smith effectively protected team-mates Ben McDermott and Jordan Silk, two of the purest ball-criminals in domestic cricket who might have enjoyed the chance to put Queensland on target.
And if Tasmania simply decided to use the last day of a game (which seemed certain to draw from the moment Queensland were only able to take three wickets on day one) as an early season center-wicket practice, it certainly would have been more valuable to give that time to top-order batteries.
That’s unless Neil-Smith sees a role as a night watch specialist as he filled the role in the Tiger’s first innings as he chiseled 28 out of 64 balls that included a cautious start to day two as he and Ward added 27 runs from 15 overs during opening hours.
In the wake of his blowing 100no from 131 balls later that day, Silk revealed he was eager to go to the fold when McDermott was fired late on the first day, but it was decided to deploy the night watchman instead.
While the pitch at the Rolton Oval for this game has garnered criticism, it was not surprising that only 14 wickets fell across nearly 11 sessions averaging 75 runs each, but it was the result of limited preparation and seasonal factors.
Due to the recent reshuffle of the Queensland-Tasmania game in Brisbane last month, curator Trent Kelly was given barely 10 days notice to prepare a pitch for a four-day match that previously had expected Rolton Oval to be host limited matches for the near future.
In addition, Adelaide has endured an unusually cool start to the spring, which has dampened hopes of growing grass in a venue that also hosts regular Australian football matches throughout the winter.
“It was a bit dead to wicket,” Khawaja said tonight.
“To be honest, it’s a tough time of year to talk to the curator to prepare wickets because you do not get as many fractures (in the surface) because it is not so hot at the moment.
“He left a lot more grass on it in the last match between WA and SA, and it turned out fair, so at least this wicket turned around.
“It was just hard for the tempo bowlers to get enough out of it.”
Queensland’s next Shield match is against SA at the Adelaide Oval starting Friday after a Marsh One Day Cup match between the two teams on Wednesday at the Rolton Oval, while Tasmania travels to Perth later this week for a One Day Cup and Shield double mod WA.
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