With the resumption of the Sheffield Shield this week, after what seemed like an indeterminably long break to accommodate the expanded Big Bash League, attention has inevitably turned toward the upcoming Ashes series.
- Cameron Bancroft scored 138 not out and 86 for Western Australia on his return to first-class cricket
- Kurtis Patterson scored a second consecutive first-class hundred for New South Wales
- Incumbent Test opener Marcus Harris made 95 and 174 in Victoria’s win over Queensland
The Test hopefuls now have just four first-class matches on home soil in which to take their claim for inclusion this winter as Sheffield Shield cricket resumed this week.
Adding to the importance of scoring runs in this Shield stint, players will be using a Duke ball for the remainder of the Shield season, the same type of ball that will be used during the Ashes in England in August.
The Duke ball is known to behave differently than the Kookaburra ball that is usually used in Australian cricket, meaning perhaps that these runs might be considered more favourably than those in 2018.
With a number of big names playing in Australia’s limited overs tour of India, those that remain have a golden chance to assert themselves in the minds of the selectors — and the majority did not disappoint.
Sometimes, the best thing to do after a significant dose of controversy is to put your head down and let your craft do the talking.
Cameron Bancroft has not done that in the most traditional sense, his much-criticised tell-all interview on Fox Sports during the Boxing Day Test a case in point.
Cameron Bancroft is playing in his first Sheffield Shield game of the season. (AAP: Steve Christo )
However, the former — and perhaps future — Test opener responded in the best possible way on the field as well.
Selected Sheffield Shield Averages
Source: ESPN CricInfo
“As far as what is in my control, it’s these four Shield games for Western Australia,” Bancroft said in an interview on ABC Grandstand during the first day of play at Bankstown Oval, when asked whether he would be in contention for a Test recall.
If he continues in this vein of form, a spot in the troublesome position at the top of the order may well be handed straight back to him.
Bancroft let his bat do the talking at Bankstown, carrying his bat in the first innings of the Warriors’ match against New South Wales for an undefeated 138 from a stoic 358 deliveries to help his side to a total of 279.
He then backed that score up with a equally measured 86 from 263 balls on the fourth day, but his dismissal proved the beginning of the end for Western Australia, who lost by an innings and 51 runs.
At the conclusion of the Shield season, Bancroft will head north to the County Championship, where he will continue his Duke-ball practice at the Riverside.
“I’ve committed to playing county cricket with Durham County Cricket Club in the winter as well,” Bancroft said.
“So as far as I’m concerned they are the things that I can control and look forward to and put my energy into.”
Who else stood up?
In that match between Western Australia and New South Wales at Bankstown, the hosts made short work of the Western Australia first-innings total, thanks in no small part to a solid 134 off 229 from Test incumbent Kurtis Patterson.
Kurtis Patterson scored 114 against Sri Lanka in the historic Test at Manuka Oval. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
Patterson, who scored a maiden Test century in just his second match in the Canberra Test against Sri Lanka, was ably assisted by an unbeaten 101 from captain and wicketkeeper Peter Nevill in a score of 8-477 declared.
At the Adelaide Oval, Travis Head notched a round half-century in both the first and second innings for South Australia in the match against Tasmania.
However, that was eclipsed by the competition’s one-time leading run scorer, Matthew Wade, who made another decent total of 77 in his first innings from an elevated position of number four, as the veteran of 22 Test matches responded to calls from selector Trevor Hohns to bat higher up the order for his state.
Wade — who was controversially overlooked for either of the Test squads this season despite his glittering domestic form — does not ‘keep for Tasmania in Shield cricket, leaving that to Test skipper Tim Paine, who managed just 14.
Matthew Wade leads the run-scoring charts in the Shield this season with 648 at 64.80. (AAP: David Mariuz)
At Junction Oval in the game between Queensland and Victoria, Joe Burns made 60 and 80 as an opener to back up his 180 from Canberra in the second Test, whilst teammate Marnus Labuschagne made a gritty 59 in the first innings at number three.
Meanwhile, opener Marcus Harris — who scored just two half-centuries in an underwhelming Test summer — made a welcome return to form with a fine 95 at the top of the order in Victoria’s first innings.
He then backed up with 174, getting his side in sight of victory as Victoria successfully chased down a target of 300. His brilliant performance sent him past Wade to become the new top run-scorer in Shield cricket this season.
Who still needs work?
A player who was seen by many as the answer to Australia’s problems at the top of the order this summer has not had a good run of things in red ball cricket of late.
The Queensland opener scored 29 and 47 at Junction Oval, which is a marked improvement on his previous red-ball scores, when he made just 7 and 10 for a Cricket Australia XI in the Test warm-up match against Sri Lanka.
Even Seb Gotch (right) is surprised by Matt Renshaw’s lack of runs. (AAP: George Salpigtidis)
The 22-year-old has averaged just 22.91 this season, with just one fifty to his name from 12 domestic first-class innings.
The Queenslander does have time to re-find his groove though, and will play at Kent for the opening two County Championship matches for more red-ball practice after a successful stint with Somerset last season.
Another to miss out was Will Pucovski.
The young Victorian has been battling mental health issues this season, and was released from the Test squad after initially being included for the Sri Lanka series to help him manage his wellbeing.
The recently-turned 20-year-old scored 22 and 11 at Junction Oval.