Shield match delivers first class experience
COFFS Harbour turned on perfect North Coast weather and the hospitality was equally first class for the Sheffield Shield clash between New South Wales and South Australia at C.Ex International Stadium.
On day two on Friday an official luncheon was held with the entire Cricket NSW board in attendance along with cricket officials representing all parts of the north of the state and local dignitaries.
Cricket NSW CEO Andrew Jones was thrilled with proceedings on and off the field at the halfway stage of the four-day match.
"We held a Futures League match here in November to test out the facilities and the centre wicket and the feedback on that game was outstanding," Mr Jones said.
"Dan Hughes got a triple century in that game so it was obviously a pretty decent pitch. We just tweaked a couple of things and here we are. It's been absolutely excellent so far.
"There's probably been a few too many wickets for my taste this morning, but it's not the wicket's fault."
The home side had slumped to 6 for 97 at lunch, but a revival led by wicket keeper Ryan Carters (54) and 17-year-old debutant Arjun Nair (37) saw the Blues finish on 211 in front of the appreciative crowd of 1710 in attendance, still 87 behind the Redbacks on first innings.
The major reason the match was initially scheduled to be played at the venue was in honour of Phillip Hughes, who was fatally struck in the corresponding match between the two teams last season at the SCG in November, 2014.
Hughes was from nearby Macksville in the Nambucca Shire, whose mayor Rhonda Hoban said the match was a fitting tribute to his memory.
"Phillip came up through the ranks at Macksville Cricket Club and a lot of local people were friends with Phillip or grew up with his parents Greg and Virginia," Cr Hoban said.
"I expect there will be a lot of people turning up from the Nambucca Valley throughout the four days of the match, some because they love cricket and some as a mark of respect to Phillip Hughes."
Mr Jones said the organisation of the match had been a smooth process since Coffs Harbour Council first approached Cricket NSW to stage the match 12 months ago.
"It's been a very smooth process and the local council has been outstanding to deal with," he said.
"They wrote to us in February last year suggesting a match in Coffs with the notion of making it a Phillip Hughes tribute match. We scheduled a teleconference and did the deal in about 20 minutes."
The 'deal' is a three-year arrangement, with the current shield match this season, a Sydney Sixers trial match ahead of the Big Bash League next season and a youth pathway tournament featuring eight representative sides from throughout the state in the 2017/18 season.
"Cricket NSW has a very deliberate strategy to bring shield matches and other content to regional NSW," Mr Jones said.
"We've played in Wagga, Newcastle and Coffs Harbour in the last 12 months.
"The match in New Zealand earlier this month was a slightly difference case, as it was used as a warm up for the Test series in New Zealand. But it was a good chance for our players to experience overseas conditions and learn to adapt to different conditions around the world."