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As Western Australia captain Sam Whiteman stepped up for the media conference on Wednesday ahead of the Sheffield Shield final, he undoubtedly knew the barrage of questions headed his way.

A bombshell broke late on Tuesday that WA opener Cameron Bancroft was ruled out of the final against Tasmania after a bike accident left him concussed. It continued a season of adversity for WA, who are striving for their first hat-trick of titles since the late 1980s.

Not even the iconic WA team of the 1990s, filled with a slew of players who ended up being Test greats, managed the feat. Only Victoria from 2015-17 have won three in a row during the past 20 years.

It’s obviously something rare and very difficult to achieve as WA can attest to in an injury-hit season. Frontline quicks Jhye Richardson, Lance Morris and Matt Kelly have only played five Shield matches between them and none of them will be available for the final.

Having rejuvenated his red-ball career with a century in last season’s final, Ashton Turner has not been available since knee surgery in December.

Cameron Green played only two matches, while Mitchell Marsh did not feature in domestic cricket at all this season given his heavy international workload across the formats.

WA have often looked worn down and below their best – echoes of Perth Scorchers’ disappointing BBL season – but they found a way to overcome the obstacles and finished the season in peak form with a mishmash of players, unexpectedly clinching a home final with a victory over Victoria at the Junction Oval last week.

“It’s been a challenge to get to this year’s final. Last year was pretty much in a straight line, but this year it’s been do or die the last three weeks,” Whiteman said on Wednesday.

There’s a gag going around social media that a WA second XI might be the next-best team in the Shield. Of course, that can never be proven, but WA’s depth of talent and their fringe players stepping in seamlessly have 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 role for the team,” Whiteman said. “You need to get a whole squad to win a Shield. I think that’s the strength of this group.”

While WA broke a 23-year title drought in 2022, a triumph here would be the “most satisfying” for Whiteman, who is on the brink of becoming a three-time Shield-winning captain. WA would also become the first team to win a hat-trick of titles in the Shield and Marsh Cup concurrently.

“If we get the job done this week, it’s something we can look back on and be really proud of, ” he said. “Leaves a really strong legacy for this group.”

Before the media conference started at King’s Park, a popular place for tourists to take photos of Perth’s picturesque surroundings, the burly Shield trophy was already in position for the cameras. Those walking by barely gave it a second glance apart from a person purportedly the relative of a former Test player, who wandered by to take a photo of the trophy.

Amid a cool morning breeze, a nod to the changing of seasons in Perth, it was a reminder that the final will be played in relative anonymity in the AFL-mad city.

But in Tasmania interest in the match should be high as the Tigers look to end an 11-year drought. George Bailey and Ricky Ponting were their talismen the last time they lifted the trophy, but their star with the bat was Jordan Silk, who as a 20-year-old frustrated Queensland with 108 off 358 balls as Tasmania secured the draw needed at home to clinch their third title.

“I just reflected on it myself. It was really special,” said Silk, who is the only member of that XI playing in this final. “I was really only in the team for a couple of weeks and found myself winning.

“So it certainly means a lot more if we win this week because of the journey that I’ve been on and also for a lot of our guys who have been around for quite a while.”

With few international players in their squad, Tasmania have enjoyed continuity and were in the box seat of a home final until a final-round slip-up against South Australia at Bellerive Oval.

It seemed a costly defeat, with Tasmania faced with the daunting task of the long journey to Perth and confronting WA, who have only lost three matches at the WACA since the start of 2021-22.

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

“We’re really confident in our ability at the moment. I think we’ve strung together a really solid first-class season. The guys should take belief out of that,” Silk said. “We’ve beaten teams on the road this year, and we’ve got 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 might be able to ride the wave of a sports frenzy bubbling away in 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 really good week for Tassie sports,” Silk said. “Hopefully we can add a little bit to that this week. That will be really special.”

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth



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