Five questions for crucial Shield round | cricketnetwork.com

Five questions for crucial Shield round

12 November 2017

We address the major talking points ahead of the last round of Sheffield Shield games before the Test summer

Domestic players will have one final chance to put their names forward for the Magellan Ashes opener when the third JLT Sheffield Shield round begins on Monday.

Amid one of the most dissected starts to the domestic cricket season in recent memory, uncertainty still lingers over the complexion of Australia's XI for the first Test against England, starting on November 23 in Brisbane.

Shield wrap: How Australia's Test hopefuls fared

The fast-bowling trio of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, in addition to presumed back-up quick Jackson Bird, have all been withdrawn from this week's Shield action in a telling signal to the likely make-up of Australia's bowling attack for the Gabba.

But questions over who will fill the No.6 and wicketkeeping spots remain.

And while selectors surely have players pencilled in for those two positions, leading contenders and potential bolters alike could put themselves squarely in the frame with standout efforts for their states this week.

Below, we've previewed the major talking points ahead of this all-important Shield round.

CRICKET NETWORK WILL LIVE STREAM EVERY MATCH OF THE JLT SHEFFIELD SHIELD ON cricket.com.au AND THE CA LIVE APP

Will Peter Nevill or Matthew Wade deliver a decisive performance, or will a bolter emerge?

Since Brad Haddin played his final Test more than two years ago, Australia have had a lack of runs from their wicketkeepers and that trend has been replicated in the opening two Shield rounds. Neither Nevill nor Wade – the two main contenders – nor potential left-field option Alex Carey have managed a score of more than 36.

And there isn't much pressure coming from the next tier of glovemen; the seven Shield 'keepers used across the country this season have managed 413 runs at 20.65. That mark drops to 12.55 when part-timer Cameron Bancroft's returns of 76 not out and 86 (in his second-ever full Shield game with the gloves on) are excluded.

Bancroft bolts into sudden Ashes contention

The fact reluctant long-form 'keeper Peter Handscomb was seriously considered as an option behind the stumps for Australia's most recent Test in Bangladesh, and Bancroft's name has even been thrown up as a candidate despite his lack of experience as a first-class 'keeper underlines the lack of standout options with the gloves.

Given the lack of runs from stumpers, Nevill has been touted by some as the frontrunner given the near-universal perception of him as the country's best pure gloveman.

Selectors will be dearly hoping either he or the incumbent Wade can give them something to consider ahead of the biggest series in Australian cricket.

Who is Australia's answer at No.6?

Team performance boss Pat Howard called it a wide-open race, limited-overs selector Mark Waugh said there's a list of contenders as long as his arm; put it however you like, the No.6 spot is open to the highest bidder and the only accepted currency is runs.

But, as with the 'keeping spot, few of the contenders have advanced their case in recent weeks.

Glenn Maxwell and Hilton Cartwright, who batted at No.5 and No.6 respectively in Australia's most recent Test in Bangladesh, are the presumed frontrunners. The former struck two half-centuries in Victoria's draw with SA last week while the latter had a forgetful outing against a star-studded NSW outfit by making a pair.

Maxwell finds touch before strange wicket

There's little else for selectors to ponder given there have been just five Shield centuries struck (two of which were scored by first Test certainties Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja) so far this season.

It means it isn't too late for Redbacks second-round century-makers Callum Ferguson (who was axed after a single Test in the No.6 spot last summer) and Jake Lehmann, or potentially other fringe candidates like Marcus Stoinis, Moises Henriques, Joe Burns, Nic Maddinson and Travis Head to push their case this week. 

Are there concerns about Matthew Renshaw?

An inspired pick by the selection panel last summer after he'd played just 11 first-class matches, the Queenslander has been unable to pass 50 in four hits this Shield season, leaving some to question whether he's guaranteed a spot for the series opener.

Despite his lack of output with the bat, Renshaw did face more than 100 balls in the Bulls' second innings against Tasmania last week (albeit for only 19 runs) to see out a tough period and put the visitors on course for victory.

While he'd love some runs to dispel any doubts over his spot, Renshaw has shown he's capable of stepping his game up a notch at the highest level.

Where have all the spinners gone?

As laid out by cricket.com.au last week, fit Australian spin bowlers (star offie Nathan Lyon excluded) are currently as hard to find as grass on a fifth-day Indian pitch.

Last year's leading Shield tweaker Jon Holland is again absent from Victoria's Shield side to play the Tigers this week, while Stephen O'Keefe and Ashton Agar, the other two spinners to have been used alongside Lyon at Test level over the past five years, remain on the sidelines.

It doesn't bode well if 'The Goat', Australia's most prolific finger spinner who's never missed a Test through injury, is felled or needs some spin-bowling back-up at any stage this summer.

Leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed has stood in admirably for Holland in Victoria's first two Shield games, while Mitchell Swepson was in Australia's squad for their Qantas Tours of Bangladesh and India earlier this year.

But it'd be a bold move to throw in an uncapped wrist-spinner in the heat of an Ashes series and selectors will be sweating on Lyon getting through NSW’s match against the Bulls this week unscathed.

What is the fast bowling pecking order?

Australia look likely to field a Starc-Cummins-Hazlewood pace trio at the Gabba alongside Lyon, with Bird on standby as the back-up quick. With those four seamers on ice for the coming Shield round, the next rung of fast bowlers have the chance to show why they should be the next man in should Australia require some extra fast-bowling artillery across the course of the five Tests.

And with speedsters Nathan Coulter-Nile and James Pattinson both suffering untimely injuries in the lead-in to the series, there's no clear standout.

Victorian Peter Siddle played all five Tests of the last Ashes series in Australia and although he has picked up only three wickets in the first two Shield rounds, the right-armer looms as a dependable option.

Tall left-armer Jason Behrendorff is back in WA's squad to face SA at the WACA Ground this week and made a terrific start to his international career in Australia's T20 series in India last month, while Chadd Sayers has 62 Shield scalps to his name from last summer and has kicked down the national selection door over the past couple of seasons.

Outside those names and the expected Test attack, Chris Tremain, Scott Boland and Michael Neser (12 wickets apiece), along with Jhye Richardson and Luke Feldman (10 wickets each) have been the other leading Shield bowlers so far this summer.


About the Writer

 @LouisDBCameron
@LouisDBCameron

A Victorian fast bowler who has played Shield cricket, Louis joined the cricket.com.au team with assistance from the Australian Cricketers' Association's Internship Program