WA batsman, Shaun Marsh, Sheffield Shield final, day three, at Manuka Oval between NSW and WA, March 2014. Photo: Graham TidySOME of cricket’s best talent will play Sheffield Shield matches in various regional towns over coming weeks.

Last Saturday’s start to the two-month World Cup cricket tournament in Australia and New Zealand means Sheffield Shield fixtures have been moved away from traditional metropolitan first-class and international venues.

NSW’s match against Victoria at Robertson Oval in Wagga Wagga started on Sunday.

On February 25, NSW will host top of the ladder Western Australia at the No. 1 sportsground at Newcastle, while Victoria will take on Queensland at Traeger Park, Alice Springs, in another round eight fixture starting the same day.

On March 13 – the final round of the Sheffield Shield season – Victoria is due to play Tasmania in another match at Traeger Park, Alice Springs.

The Wagga Wagga contest features Australian opening batsman Chris Rogers, fast-bowler Peter Siddle, keeper-batsman Matthew Wade, bowling all-rounder Daniel Christian and batting all-rounder Cameron White all playing for Victoria.

The NSW side also contains a strong international presence featuring Test off-spinner Nathan Lyon, fast bowler Doug Bollinger, all-rounders Moises Henriques and Stephen O’Keefe and pace-bowler Gurinder Sandhu, who recently made his one-day international debut for Australia.

Siddle hails from Traralgon in Victoria’s Gippsland region and has taken 192 wickets in 56 Tests for Australia since making his debut in 2008.

The 27-year-old Lyon also has a strong country background and will relish the chance to play right near his birthplace of Young, NSW, about 150 kilometres from Wagga Wagga.

World Cup’s country champsCountry cricketers also played a starring role in Australia’s 111-run win over England at the MCG on Saturday in the World Cup opener.

Opening batsman Aaron Finch scored a match-winning 135. He originates from Colac in Victoria’s agricultural-rich western district, about 150km south-west of Melbourne.

Australia’s 24-year-old opening bowler Josh Hazelwood is from Tamworth in country NSW.

WA all-rounder Mitchell Marsh also played an integral part in Australia’s victory, taking five wickets for 33 runs off nine overs.

He is the son of former Australian opening batsman Geoff Marsh, who hails from WA’s wheatbelt region and was a key member of Australia’s World Cup winning team in India in 1987.

Marsh Snr was coach when Australia won the World cup in England in 1999 and spoke to the Australian team ahead of this latest tournament about handling expectations as one of the host nations, given his involvement as a player when the World Cup was last played in Australia in 1992.

‘Fairytale’ not to beHowever, another high profile player with a strong country background – Brad Hogg – has been ruled out of making a return to Shield cricket following his consistent high performances in WA’s winning Twenty20 side.

WA has claimed the past two Big Bash League (BBL) titles with Hogg’s left-arm wrist spin one of the key features of his team’s winning form.

That has sparked natural speculation of his elevation to the four-day format, boosted by a recent eight-wicket haul for his club side Willetton in Perth grade cricket.

But WA coach Justin Langer said Hogg’s comeback to first-class ranks isn’t going to happen – meaning he won’t appear before the Newcastle crowd in the match starting on February 25.

Langer said he spoke to Hogg about his possible Shield return, on the back of his “unbelievable” form in the BBL.

“He got eight wickets for Willetton on Saturday and we talk about rewarding performance,” he said.

“Hoggy and I go back a long way.

“We had an honest conversation.

“He just felt at his age, he can get through 20-over cricket but not four-day cricket.

“It would’ve been another fairytale story for Hoggy but it’s not going to happen.”

Cricket vision commendedRiverina Nationals MP Michael McCormack said a healthy crowd of country cricket lovers gathered at Robertson Oval to watch the opening day’s play of the match between NSW and Victoria.

Mr McCormack said in the past, Wagga Wagga had produced cricketers who were not just household names in Australia but internationally, like Michael Slater, Mark Taylor and Geoff Lawson.

“I commend Cricket Australia and Cricket NSW for having the vision to do this,” he said.

“We had the BBL final in Canberra a few weeks ago and that was also very well received and now they’re taking Shield matches out to cricket loving people in the country.

“People have been drawn from far and wide to watch the game in Wagga, including those from Victoria who normally wouldn’t travel to the MCG to watch Shield cricket.

“Nathan Lyon is obviously a drawcard but 10 Test players past and current are on show and the people of Wagga wouldn’t normally get the benefit of seeing them play.

“It’s also free entry and the young girls and boys who came to watch the game are the future of cricket.

“And who knows – the next Michael Slater or Henry Lawson could be in the crowd being inspired by watching the best players in action.”

Mr McCormack said cricket authorities should be looking at playing more games at country venues in future, providing the facilities are up to scratch.

“And the facilities at Robertson Oval in Wagga are certainly up to scratch,” he said.

“It’s a world class pitch – I’d certainly love to bat on it – and the outfield is as good as the MCG or SCG.”

Mr McCormack said Robertson Oval curator – Stephen Stapleton – had also produced “a cracker of a pitch”.

He said a new practice wicket facility was also opened to coincide with the match which was named after Warren Smith who was the batting coach behind Slater’s rise to prominence as an international opening batsman.

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