Australia’s selectors will sit down next week as the first stage of the Sheffield Shield season concludes to pick the Test squad to face India.
The enlarged group is expected to number around 17 – “give or take,” national selector Trevor Hohns said – so if it’s assumed that the 12 players used last season (James Pattinson for the injured Josh Hazlewood was the only change) are locked in. That potentially leaves five spots up for the grabs to provide cover for all positions and options for various conditions.
It has been a fascinating Shield season so far – both in terms of the quality of the cricket and those making an impression – but who could be closest to joining the established players?
Innings 1; Runs 255
He has been close before – in the 2018-19 summer against Sri Lanka – but could this be the season for his highly-anticipated Test debut? His start, delayed by Victoria’s quarantine-hit build-up, could not have gone any better with a career-best unbeaten 255 against South Australia as part of the record Sheffield Shield stand of 486. It was the first time he had opened in first-class cricket and while he will face more demanding conditions, his concentration and hunger for runs stood out (not to mention some of the strokeplay). He would also bring the advantage of providing cover for any position in the top six.
Innings 1; Runs 239
The other half of that record stand, Harris’ 239 was an early reward for the hard work he has put in during pre-season to make some small technical adjustments following his first stint as a Test opener – the latter part of which ended after a poor Ashes tour. As with Pucovski, it was an almost faultless display against the Redbacks and big hundreds tend to stand out for the selectors. However, if Pucovski and the player next on this list earn spots, then there may not be room for another batsman.
Innings 5; Runs 307; Avg 76.75 | Overs 12; Wickets 1
The allrounder has been the centre of a lot of discussions already this season – he made a superb career-best 197 against New South Wales – and earned his maiden call-up to the limited-overs squad a couple of weeks ago. And his figures in those formats, albeit from a small number of matches, are paled by his first-class numbers with bat and ball. He returned to the bowling crease in the previous match for the first time in a year and sent down 12 overs across four spells. The feeling is, though, that such is his batting pedigree the selectors are keen to get him in regardless.
Innings 3; Runs 145; Avg 48.33 | Overs 68.1; Wickets 7; Avg 20.71
Neser knows all about carrying the drinks for the Test side. It has been a case of so near yet so far in terms of that first Test cap for the Queensland allrounder. It remains hard to see him getting past the big four quicks unless for injury although four Tests in a month means that reserves will need to be ready. He made a tremendous start to the season with a five-wicket haul followed by a maiden first-class century against Western Australia while his run out in the closing moments of the thrilling match against New South Wales was another reminder of his all-round commitment.
Innings 3; Runs 144; Avg 144.00 | Overs 58.4; Wickets 10; Avg 16.80
He has had two impressive matches for New South Wales to push himself into Test contention. His nippy seam bowling has earned ten wickets while he has a brace of half-centuries – he is better than a career batting average of 19.81 – included top-scoring in the first innings against Queensland then holding his nerve to seal victory. A similar cricketer to Neser in a lot of ways, but whether he gets in may depend on how many extra pace bowlers are needed.
Overs 124.2; Wickets 15; Avg 20.33
The legspinner is the leading wicket-taker in the early stages of the Shield having played a central role in Queensland’s first two games. He helped secure victory against Tasmania – bowling 45.2 overs in the second innings – and a career-best match haul of 10 for 171 came close to snatching a win against New South Wales. He was in the squad for the SCG Test against New Zealand in January and that would probably be his chance in this series barring an injury to Nathan Lyon.
Innings 4; Runs 144; Avg 48.00 | Overs 155; Wickets 10; Avg 39.70
In terms of bowling, Agar does not match Swepson in the spin stakes – although did take a five-wicket haul against South Australia – but he provides a more multi-dimensional option as shown by his century at No. 6 in the opening game. While the allrounder talk is centred around Green, Agar would be potentially another way for Australia to balance their side if they wanted two spinners at any stage.
And a few others…
Shaun Marsh has been in fantastic form but, at 37, surely his time has gone. Team-mate Sam Whiteman has made two centuries to show his opening credentials while Cameron Bancroft appears to be recovering from an awful 2019-20 season. Moises Henriques has earned a limited-overs recall and made 167 in his first Shield innings of the season.
With Matthew Wade in the Test set-up, he may be sufficient wicketkeeping back-up for Tim Paine, but if another one is required Alex Carey, who has been at the IPL, would be favourite although Josh Inglis is averaging an eye-catching 114.50 this season.