Match Preview – West Aust vs Victoria, Sheffield Shield 2021/22, Final

As Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb posed for the cameras, the iconic Sheffield Shield nestled between the skippers made for a magnificent sight in front of the WACA’s famous scoreboard.

After a 23-year drought, the burly trophy was back on Western Australian turf but not yet in the WACA’s possession, reinforced by a Cricket Australia official whisking the Shield away when the media event on Wednesday ended.

A desperate Western Australia will be aiming to end their curse when they host Victoria in the five-day Sheffield Shield final starting on Thursday. Perhaps no one has endured the drought more than 38-year-old Marsh, who made his first-class debut for Western Australia in 2000-01 – just two seasons after Tom Moody held aloft the Shield at the Gabba after repeating as champions.

Ever since those glory days – that 1998-99 winning team featured Adam Gilchrist, Mike Hussey, Simon Katich and Damien Martyn – Western Australia have mostly been mired near the bottom of the Shield competition. Even Justin Langer, who helped fuel the Perth Scorchers into a BBL powerhouse, was unable to deliver a title with Western Australia falling short in consecutive Shield finals in 2013-14 and 2014-15 during his coaching tenure.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been a curse,” Marsh said. “It’s been a long time between drinks. Probably three years ago when I knew my Australian days were over, I made a real conscious effort to come back here and try to be part of something like tomorrow.”

Western Australia enter as warm favourites after securing their first home final since 1997-98 with a thumping innings and 51 run victory over Victoria at the WACA last week. They have a good blend of youth and experience with batter Hilton Cartwright in aggressive form, while their pace attack is varied and boasts left-arm quick Joel Paris and speedster Lance Morris who combined for 10 wickets as Victoria crumbled for 114 and 172.

Marsh said their final eleven hadn’t been confirmed but hinted at it remaining unchanged meaning 17-year-old Teague Wyllie, who starred at the recent Under-19 World Cup, would hold his place after making 42 in the middle order in his first-class debut.

“He’s pretty lucky, I’ve waited 20 years to play in a home Shield final and he’s playing one in his second game,” Marsh said. “It’s a great story. He’s played so well over the last 18 months and thoroughly deserves his opportunity and I’m really excited for him.”

While Marsh remained unsure if this would be the swansong of his long first-class cricket, which netted six tons in 38 Tests, he remained focused on Western Australia’s bid for a trifecta of titles after winning the Marsh Cup and Scorchers triumphed in the BBL.

“This would certainly cap it off but there is a lot of hard work and we are looking forward to giving it a big shake in front of family, friends and fans,” he said.

While anticipation is building internally, the final is a relatively low-key affair in Perth amid Australian football season heightened by the suffocating build-up of the marquee local AFL fixture between crosstown rivals West Coast and Fremantle. Even so, Marsh hoped for a strong turnout at the WACA.

“Hopefully we get a big crowd and the supporters can get right behind us,” he said.

Hoping to spoil the party, Victoria – who last won the Shield in 2018-19 – boast a strong top order through newly joint player of the season Travis Dean, Will Pucovski, Nic Maddinson and Handscomb.

But they’ve been left shorthanded with opener Marcus Harris forced out due to testing positive to Covid-19 on his return from the Test tour of Pakistan. Harris joins veteran James Pattinson on the sidelines after the former Test quick was ruled out with a calf injury.

Victoria, however, received a much-needed boost with the inclusion of Ashes hero Scott Boland, who will return to the field after being unused during the Pakistan Test series.

“I’m sure (Boland) has trained the house down in Pakistan and done all the workloads,” Handscomb said. “Scotty knows his body well and what he needs to do, so he’ll be ready tomorrow.”

With the final set to be played in humid and overcast conditions throughout, Boland looms as a major handful on the WACA surface although Handscomb preferred sticking with Victoria’s underdog tag. “The conditions are probably going to suit WA because it’s their home ground,” he said.

“We had a good run last week so we have an understanding of what we are going to get. Hopefully we will learn from that and be better for it.”

Western Australia (possible): 1 Cameron Bancroft, 2 Sam Whiteman, 3 Shaun Marsh (capt), 4 Hilton Cartwright, 5 Teague Wyllie, 6 Josh Philippe (wk), 7 Aaron Hardie, 8 Joel Paris, 9 Matthew Kelly, 10 Corey Rocchiccioli, 11 Lance Morris

Victoria (possible): 1 Will Pucovski, 2 Travis Dean, 3 Peter Handscomb (capt), 4 Nic Maddinson, 5 Matt Short, 6 Jono Merlo, 7 Sam Harper (wk), 8 Will Sutherland, 9 Scott Boland, 10 Mitch Perry, 11 Jon Holland

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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