The 2015 Matador Cup — in review

The 2015 Matador Cup was historic for a number of reasons. The three-week tournament held in Sydney was headlined by the triumph of New South Wales, who won their first series in 10 years and their ninth overall with the aid of Australian captain Steve Smith and spearhead Mitch Starc, who both had phenomenal tournaments.

The cup was underlined by the introduction of the Cricket Australia XI as a unique and ground-breaking addition to the cricket landscape. With the influx of Australian representatives thanks to the cancellation of the Test team’s tour in Bangladesh alongside the baby-faced CA XI, the addition of quality and quantity to the 2015 Matador Cup helped reinvigorate the tournament, and created a competition that broke records and constantly excited cricket fans.

The new kids on the block

The 2015 Matador Cup differed from those previous in that it featured a brand new team: the Cricket Australia XI. Not since the short-lived Canberra Comets, which lasted from the 1997–98 season to the 1999–2000 season, had the domestic competition featured a team outside the original six states. The Cricket Australia XI was introduced “to provide an extra level of exposure and opportunity to the country’s next generation of cricketers” on a two-year trial, featuring many players not currently receiving an opportunity at their home state. This meant talented players had an early taste of the competition at the highest level and against some world class batsmen and bowlers. However, this resulted in a squad of a significantly younger, less experienced demographic — their average squad age was over four years younger than the next youngest team, South Australia, and 10 of the youngest 18 players to feature throughout the competition represented the CA XI.

The Cricket Australia XI featured a younger, less experienced squad relative to their counterparts.

Captained by Will Bosisto, a 22-year-old Western Australian batsman with just three first-class games to his name, the team was widely expected not to win a game. This was reinforced by two thrashings by New South Wales and Victoria to start their campaign, losing by 279 runs and nine wickets respectively, but this was thrown out with a surprise victory over Tasmania. The CA XI posted a respectable 241 batting first and held a Tasmanian side featuring big names and Australian representatives such as George Bailey, James Faulkner, Tim Paine and Ben Dunk to 238 from their 50 overs. Competitive games against Queensland and South Australia followed, suggesting this victory wasn’t an anomaly. While they finished on the bottom of the table, the valuable and competitive time in the middle bodes well for these future stars, and the likes of Marcus Harris, Hilton Cartwright and Jack Wildermuth will leave their respective states pleased.

Cricket Australia XI’s Hilton Cartwright hits a six against Victoria. (Source: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Starc raving mad

Mitchell Starc celebrating yet another wicket for New South Wales. (Source: Mark Nolan/Getty Images AsiaPac)

12 months ago, Mitchell Starc’s promising international career had hit a roadblock. A disapponting Test match against India saw cricketing legend Shane Warne suggest he was ‘soft’ and ‘lacking presence’. With the ability to swing the ball late and at a high pace, Starc always looked a threatening, international-standard bowler, but his career had hit a lull. As such, he was dropped from the Test side.

Starc responded with aplomb in the Big Bash for the Sydney Sixers, running in harder and hitting the crease faster, bowling with vigour and rediscovering his late swing. The speed gun was topping 150 km/h. Whether Warne’s comments had influenced Starc or not, something had clicked, and his bowling had started to tear through batting line-ups like it always promised. Starc was picked for the 2015 World Cup and went one better, being named man of the tournament with 22 wickets at an average of 10.18. Starc had gone from someone who coasted through his overs to the most dangerous bowler in the world in a matter of months.

But even then, perhaps elements of Starc’s devastation throughout the domestic competition were unexpected. His 2015 Matador Cup comprises 26 wickets from six games, an average of 8.11, a strike rate of 12.2 and, again, a man of the tournament award. As good a player as he is, such form is still beyond belief.

26 wickets is the most ever taken in a domestic one-day season in Australia. His bowling average is so low it’s more commonly seen in under 10s. He has taken five four-wicket hauls for the competition — three more than the next best. 17 of his wickets have been bowled. If Starc is a worrying prospect at international level he’s frightening at domestic level, bowling with a ferocity, velocity and brutality scarcely seen at this level. NSW has a strong list all the way through but it is Starc who has propelled this team to a triumphant Matador Cup.

Mitch Starc’s wicket-taking ability put all other bowlers to shame, taking 11 more wickets than Kane Richardson’s 15.

The love of the chase?

In contrast with previous editions of the Matador Cup, in which we saw regular high scores, centuries and records broken, this year has featured a closer contest between bat and ball. Gone are the games played on pitches resembling concrete with runs aplenty — these wickets often allow the bowlers to have the last laugh.

The degradation in the pitches has been obvious. In 14 games in which a team has won the toss and elected to bat first, they’ve won 13 — the only outlier when the Cricket Australia XI was bowled out for 79 against Victoria. This is a blatant disparity and shows it is crucial to bat first to win, as these wickets are created to degrade more over the course of the day, becoming harder and harder to bat on as the day grows old. Aside from the aforementioned CA XI/Victoria game, 11 of the 14 teams chasing in the second innings have been bowled out.

The summer of Smudge, take two

Steve Smith celebrates yet another century. (Source: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Steve Smith’s 2014–15 season was nothing short of extraordinary. The once-heir to Shane Warne as Australia’s leg-spinner was long gone as ‘Smudge’ established himself as by far and away Australia’s best batsman. Smith scored four centuries in four Tests against India and was the leading run-scorer among Australians in the 2015 World Cup with 402 runs at an average of 67. With an unorthodox, uncanny technique, an incredible eye and a devastating combination of power and timing, Smith suddenly became the number one ranked Test batsman in the world. He was unstoppable.

If the 2015 Matador Cup showed anything, it’s that Smith was more of immense quality than immense form. In six matches Smith scored more runs than anyone else (435), only being dismissed three times for an average of 145 — the next best average for the tournament was Shaun Marsh with 65 — including two centuries, two 50s and, funnily enough, two ducks. Smith also launched 14 sixes, more than anyone else. While the domestic 50-over competition pales in comparison to the World Cup or the Ashes the depth of Australian bowlers must be noted; Smith scored his runs against quality bowling attacks, and it sets him up superbly to lead Australia throughout the summer.