Marcus Harris' success epitomises Victoria's run to Sheffield Shield final

Marcus Harris works off his pads Getty Images

The debate over whether a team of individuals would be more successful than a uniform team is age-old. But as Victoria set themselves to host the Sheffield Shield final, and potentially win a second title for the season, their formula of allowing individuals to prepare themselves and express themselves is holding sway in the debate.

No two players embody that better than Marcus Harris and Nic Maddinson.

Harris enters as one of the headline acts. He became the first man in four Shield seasons to pass the much-vaunted 1000-run mark last week, just hours before Tasmania captain Matthew Wade matched him.

Maddinson's absence from the final through injury is an injustice. A broken thumb will keep him out of a game he richly deserves to play in. But his three centuries in just five games for his new state were pivotal in helping Victoria finish top of the table and host the final against his former state New South Wales.

Yet, it wasn't long ago both men were in very different places. The pair played in the same Shield final in 2014, when New South Wales hosted Western Australia in Canberra, and contributed just 14 runs between them for the match for their respective states.

Harris left WA in the winter of 2016, leaving Justin Langer to famously, and as both acknowledge, accurately state, "he was mediocre with flashes of brilliance." He has now become the most consistent opener in Australian domestic cricket and a Test match player.

Maddinson was let go by New South Wales at the end of last season. Although he won't play this week, his career-best form in red-ball cricket for Victoria has ensured the Blues have to become just the fifth team in history to win a Shield final away from home.

Harris feels that Maddinson has benefitted from a change of environment in the same way he did.

"It sort of feels a bit similar to what I did coming over from WA," Harris said."Just when you come somewhere different, and a new experience somewhere different it frees you up a little bit. You can just tell by the way that he plays and Maddo's personality and the way that he bats, I think being free and expressing himself, I think everyone has seen how good he can be. I think he might have unlocked that a little bit by coming down here. People just let him do his own thing and that's probably shown in his cricket."

Harris gives great credit to his coach Andrew McDonald, who has created an environment that allows for such freedom.

"I think just how he understands all the players and gives us the freedom to play how we want to play and express ourselves," Harris said. "He understands the battles of cricket and how everything works. And he's a great tactician. He works really hard behind the scenes. People probably wouldn't realise but he looks back through all the games and he plans pretty well."

Harris has been one of McDonald's shining lights. The sheer consistency and volume of runs he has scored has been testament to that. But McDonald does not wish to take much of the credit for Harris' outstanding 1000-run seasonm saying the timing of his move from Western Australia made for the perfect marriage.

"He was starting [already] to mature," McDonald told ESPNcricinfo."He had 40-odd Shield games before he had ventured across. That's a lot of learning that's gone on over in the West.

"Our environment gives guys space. I think he's enjoyed that extra space to go about his work and potentially not to be told what to do or intervened too often around what he does. I think he's been a nice fit for the group. I think one thing to take into consideration is that he's been just as good for our group as what we've been to him."

McDonald's philosophy, in conjunction with his assistant coaches, is based around putting the responsibility in the hands of the players themselves.

"Sometimes when you break that chain of learning down and you intervene too quickly as a coach you stall the individual's ability to problem solve themselves," McDonald said. "And that's one of the great things that we always talk about is the ability for players to problem solve in the middle on their own under extreme pressure. We try to coach that way. We don't want to try and break that opportunity down for the player too soon.

"We do like to give the players space and the ability to go away and think about it and problem solve themselves and come back and share some ideas and share some options with each other as opposed to really thinking as a coach that we know best."

Harris credits a discussion about goal-setting and execution with Australian Olympic 400 metre champion Cathy Freeman during the pre-season as a clarifying moment of self-discovery and maturity for his game. Harris sought Freeman's help completely independent of the Victoria programme.

Likewise, Maddinson spoke glowingly of the fact he was not being "micromanaged" in Victoria immediately after scoring a century against Queensland, having been allowed to get away from training for a few days in the lead-up following a lean BBL campaign.

"We'd never had him coming out of a Big Bash campaign coming into a Shield game," McDonald said."He said I wouldn't mind some time away. We said no problems, we think that's a good thing. He had limited hits leading into that Shield game. He knew that's what he needed and he got the reward for that as well. And that's sometimes the conversation the coach needs to have with the player. It's not one size fits all and Maddo was given time away while some of the group wanted some time in the nets and needed that as part of their preparation.

"Cutting through all of it, I think it's that individual approach to each player I think that may have helped Maddo and Marcus."

McDonald was at pains to point out that both men had come to Victoria with years of first-class experience under their belts, almost ready to mature and ripen after the learning foundations had been put in place. However, Victoria's results speak for themselves. This will be their fourth Shield final in five years with an ever-changing squad.

"It's validation that it's working for this group," McDonald said."That's not to say that it will work for another group or at a different point in time, and the group may evolve. But at the moment we feel as though if we can continue to manage players with that individual mindset and prepare them individually the best we can and then collectively come together for the game, then everyone is prepared and everyone knows where we're heading and hopefully the results take care of themselves. And touch wood we hope that unfolds during the week ahead."