The Sheffield Shield is one of the most iconic sporting tournaments in Australia and the history of this great competition is fascinating. The Shield is currently on display at the International Cricket Hall of Fame, the first time it has been on display at the Museum and the first time it has been on display to the public in NSW other than at a sporting fixture. It’s a piece of Australian sporting history and the chance to view it is a rare treat.
“The Sheffield Shield is such an important part of Australian Cricket history and it’s a great chance for fans of the game to see the incredible detailed silver-work of the trophy up close and in person, many people don’t realise how beautiful the trophy is.” Rina Hore, Bradman Foundation Executive Director.
The history of the Sheffield Shield dates back to the English tour of Australia in 1891, when many in cricket circles began to question the financial motives of the English team and the adverse affect this was having on the local competition. In response, the Earl of Sheffield known as a fairly eccentric ‘anti-snob’ but who was also the promoter of the English Team, donated 150 pounds to the NSW Cricket Association to fund a trophy for an annual tournament of inter-colonial cricket. The new tournament commenced in the season of 1892/93 with the three colonies of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia playing each other. Queensland was admitted to the Shield in 1926/27, Western Australia was admitted immediately after WWII while Tasmania had to wait until 1977/78 to enter the competition.
Even before his generous donation, Australians held Lord Sheffield in very high esteem; “His Lordship is genial, jovial, hearty and thorough sportsman, cricket being his especial hobby. He cares little for vanity of wearing apparel, but dresses himself for comfort and in a style all his own…when he made a tour of the ground the crowd cheered him, recognising a true sportsman and fine old English gentleman…who had always been the first to welcome ‘our boys’ on English soil.” ‘Ixion’ of the Australasian when Lord Sheffield appeared at the MCG in 1891.
The 1892 tender for the design of the trophy was won by polish immigrant Phillip Blashki, who crafted the intricate 43 x 40 inch silver trophy from gold, silver and copper. Blashki was primarily a silversmith and had a stall at Melbourne’s Great Exhibition of 1888, he was also an optician, watch repairer, jeweler and maker of Masonic regalia. He produced many important public items including the Sheffield Shield and the Horden Shield. Blashki was a successful businessman, magistrate, JP and held many positions of public responsibility and his company P. Blashki & Sons of Melbourne still operates to this day.
“The shield is of silver, the centre-plate representing the Sheffield Park Cricket ground where so many Australian teams have played. On either hand is a bowler and a batsman in action. In the centre-piece the men are shown in the field and the wickets, bat and ball will be of gold as well as some sixteen little tablets which are to bear the names of the winning teams. The Australian arms and the Sheffield Arms will be correctly enameled in colours and rest on the shoulders of the shield.” The Australasian, 1892.
By the late 90’s the Shield had fallen into such a state of disrepair that it could no longer be displayed in public, having been knocked around by various jubilant teams for over 100 years. In 2008 Hardy Brothers Jewellers in Brisbane donated some 300 hours of repairs over five months with a value of over $20,000 to restore the Shield. The trophy was dismantled into 150 pieces and so intricate was the work they consider the Shield more a piece of jewellery than a trophy.
The dismantling of nearly a century’s worth of hastily applied velvet and paint from the front and back of the trophy also revealed the graffiti of various winning teams including “Kim Hughes for PM” and “QLD never to win the shield!”
Unsurprisingly, there are several links between Sir Donald Bradman and the Sheffield Shield.
Sir Donald reaching the scoring peak of his career in a Sheffield Shield match between NSW and QLD at the SCG in January 1930, breaking the world’s batting record for the highest score in first-class cricket with 452 not out in just 415 minutes. Just five years later Bradman lead his adopted SA team to their first Sheffield Shield victory in a decade and Bradman still holds the Sheffield Shield record for the highest batting average with 110.19.
Following it’s stay at the Bradman Museum, Cricket Australia plans to return the Sheffield Shield trophy to South Australia for permanent display, more than a century since it first appeared at the Adelaide Oval. South Australia became the inaugural winner of the interstate cricket competition in 1892, winning again in 1893-94 shortly before the shield’s creation.
The Sheffield Shield will be on display at the International Cricket Hall of Fame until December 15, 2011. Tasmania is the current holder of the Shield.