The Sheffield Shield will look different this season, at least for the first part of the competition, as it’s being played entirely in an Adelaide hub for the initial four rounds. Justin Langer, the Australia head coach, has said it’s unlikely there will be many changes to the Test squad when India arrive, but a larger group of players will be needed due to various Covid-19 restrictions. So who could nudge their way into contention?
Last season: Matches 7; Innings 10; Runs 780; Average 86.66
The left-hander, who played three Tests against South Africa and Pakistan in 2016, has been one of the most prolific Shield batsmen across the last two seasons after his move back to Victoria. In just 12 matches, he has piled up 1343 runs at 83.93 and towards the end of last season his form was enough to earn an Australia A call-up where he made a half-century against England Lions. If he can start strongly in the Adelaide hub, he could be in the frame as a middle-order reserve. He is one of a group of Victoria batsmen – including Marcus Harris, Will Pucovski, Peter Handscomb – who could press their claims.
Last season: Matches 8; Innings 15; Runs 699; Average 63.54 | Wickets 3; Average 38.66
Allrounder Green is one of the most talked about talents in Australian cricket and it feels just a matter of time before he gets a call-up although coach Justin Langer has been keen to temper expectations and wants to see Green’s output over a longer time frame. Still, in these unusual times, a few eye-catching weeks for Western Australia, especially if Mitchell Marsh doesn’t recover from his ankle injury, could fast-track a promotion. With a first-class batting average of 43.84 and bowling return of 21.53, the talent is clear. The key for Green will be bowling at full tilt and remaining fit after battling stress fractures of the back.
Last season: Matches 6; Wickets 14; Average 31.50
There will have to be at least one reserve spinner in the squad due to the inability to quickly fly players in and legspinner Swepson probably has the spot locked down already. He was called into the Test squad for the SCG match against New Zealand in January and would surely have gone on the tour to Bangladesh in June. The shift to the Adelaide hub could work in his favour with conditions on the outgrounds being used perhaps more conducive to spin that the Gabba often is early in a Shield season.
Last season: Matches 7; Innings 11; Runs 202; Average 18.36
It may be a tricky summer to blood young players, so if Australia want a batsman with a wealth of experience who could fill a number of roles at short notice, Khawaja, who has not been part of the set-up since midway through last year’s Ashes, could fit the bill. He has previously opened in Test cricket with a stunning average of 96.80 and could also bat at No. 3 or 4. After being pushed out of the one-day set-up by the squeeze for top-order slots and the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne, Khawaja admitted he was angry but conversations with Langer have helped him refocus after a poor 2019-2020 season. “I still feel like there’s a lot left for me on the horizon… I feel like I’m really close there,” he told cricket.com.au last month.
Last season: Matches 3; Innings 5; Runs 130; Average 32.50
Patterson’s 2019-2020 was severely interrupted by a quad injured suffered in pre-season which he then exacerbated during a match against Tasmania. He would only play three matches in the campaign, although earned Australia A selection to face England Lions and made an unbeaten 94 in the second innings. Australia’s top-order looks pretty settled, but a strong start to the Shield – plus the fact he has a Test century under his belt – could put Patterson among the best of the rest and he has shown good form during New South Wales’ inter-squad pre-season matches.
Last season: Matches 5; Wickets 20; Average 28.35
Australia’s pace attack picks itself with the main three followed by James Pattinson and probably the perennial 12th-man Michael Neser. However, if more than five quicks are needed there is an opening for someone outside of the established pack to make a case. Meredith remains on the raw side, but his pace has caught the selectors’ eye in white-ball cricket and he was part of the recent England tour. Before injury curtailed his last season, he had produced encouraging numbers.
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