Match Preview – West Aust vs Tasmania, Sheffield Shield 2023/24, Final

When West Australian captain Sam Whiteman stepped into Wednesday's media conference ahead of the Sheffield Shield final, he was no doubt aware of a barrage of questions coming his way.

There was a bombshell late on Tuesday that WA opener Cameron Bancroft had been ruled out of the final against Tasmania following a crash. It continued a tumultuous season for WA, who were aiming for their first hat-trick of titles since the late 1980s.

Even the iconic WA team of the 1990s, filled with many players who went on to become Test greats, did not manage this feat. Only Victoria has won three in a row in the last 20 years from 2015-17.

It's obviously a rare and very difficult one, as WA can attest to in an injury-plagued season. Leading players Jay Richardson, Lance Morris and Matt Kelly have only played in five Shield matches between them, none of them making the finals.

Having revived his red-ball career with a century in last season's final, Ashton Turner has been unavailable since knee surgery in December.

Cameron Green has only played two matches, while Mitchell Marsh has not featured in domestic cricket this season, with his heavy international workload across formats.

Echoes of the Perth Scorchers' disappointing BBL season – WA often looked worn and down. over Victoria at Junction Oval last week.

„It's been a challenge going into the finals this year. Last year it was straight, but this year it's been do or die for the last three weeks,” Whiteman said Wednesday.

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There is a buzz on social media that WA Second XI could be the next best team in the Shield. Of course, it can never be proven, but WA's depth of talent and their fringe players stepping in seamlessly puts them on the cusp of another title.

„We've used 22 players this year and I think every one of those players has done their part for the team,” Whiteman said. „You have to get the whole team to win the Shield. I think that's the strength of this group.”

A win here would be „very satisfying” for Whiteman, who is on the brink of becoming a three-time Shield-winning captain even if WA ends a 23-year title drought in 2022. WA will also become the first team to win a hat-trick of titles in both the Shield and the Marsh Cup at the same time.

„If we get the job this week, we can look back on it and be really proud,” he said. „Leaves a very strong legacy for this group.”

Before the media conference began at King's Park, a popular spot for tourists to take photos of Perth's picturesque surroundings, the Burley Shield trophy was already on the stage for the cameras. Passers-by did not give the trophy a second glance, except for one man, said to be a relative of the former Test player, who wandered in to take a photo.

Amidst the chilly morning air, Perth was reminded of the changing seasons and the finals will be played in relative anonymity in the AFL-mad city.

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But interest in the match should be high as the Tigers end an 11-year drought in Tasmania. George Bailey and Ricky Ponting were their talismans the last time they lifted the trophy, but their bat was Jordan Silk, who frustrated the 20-year-old Queenslander with 108 off 358 balls. They won the third title.

„I reflected on it myself. It's very special,” said Silk, the only member of that XI to play in this final. „I've only really been on the team for two weeks and I've won.

„So if we win this week, it definitely means a lot because of the journey I've been on and a lot of our guys that have been around for a while.”

With few internationals in their squad, Tasmania enjoyed continuity and were on the box seat for the home final until their final round slip-up against South Australia at Bellerive Oval.

Having lost just three matches at the WACA since the start of 2021-22, Tasmania faced the daunting task of a long trip to Perth and faced WA in what looked like a costly defeat.

But one of those losses was to Tasmania, who drew a high-scoring match earlier this season on an uncharacteristically flat WACA surface. The pitch for the final is expected to be bowler-friendly, though not as spicy as that seen at the WACA after the Tasmania match in October.

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„We're really confident in our ability at the moment. I think we've put together a very solid first-class season. The guys have to believe that,” Silk said. „We've beaten teams on the road this year and we've had a good record in Perth, so we take a lot of confidence from that.”

Tasmania will also have the added motivation of Matthew Wade's red-ball retirement, while they can ride the wave of sporting frenzy bubbling over the island state. The Jackjumpers, their basketball team, are in the NBL Grand Final, while Tasmania's first AFL team was launched earlier in the week.

„It's been a good week for the Tassie game,” Silk said. „Hopefully we can add to that a little bit this week. It's going to be really special.”

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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