The opening rounds of this year’s Sheffield Shield presents an opportunity to make an immediate Test case.
The opening rounds of this year’s Sheffield Shield presents an opportunity to make an immediate Test case.

Test cases: 15 players Sheffield Shield to watch

State teams begin Sheffield Shield action this week with the usual local honours at stake, but also with a raft of players knowing that a strong showing in the early rounds could force their case for Test inclusion next month.

Australia host Pakistan and New Zealand across five home Tests with a number of question marks over the first XI, particularly in the batting stocks, after an uneven showing by the top and middle order in the drawn Ashes series.

For some players hanging on to their places, a decent opening to the Shield season can stave off the axe, while those on the outer have a glorious chance to convince selectors of their worth.

 

VICTORIA

 

MARCUS HARRIS, 27

A nightmare Ashes series for the aggressive opener, who failed to reach 20 runs from any of his six knocks against the swinging Dukes ball. Will need to thrash some big Sheffield Shield scores to stay in the frame as David Warner's opening partner. Still hunting his maiden Test ton.

 

Marcus Harris failed to impress when given his chance midway through the Ashes series.
Marcus Harris failed to impress when given his chance midway through the Ashes series.

 

JAMES PATTINSON, 29

Strike bowler was left on the bench for three Ashes Tests with Australia desperate to protect him. The burning question is can Patto and Mitchell Starc play in the same attack? They didn't in England, with a fit Pattinson surprised he was left out of the fifth Test at The Oval. Starc's airspeed is perfectly suited to home conditions and so it'll be intriguing which way selectors go.

 

WILL PUCOVSKI, 21

One of world cricket's most talented up-and-comers is struggling in the domestic one-day tournament, but you get the feeling the runs will flow once the red ball returns. The Aussies are keen to blood the bloke who hit the second-highest score last summer - 243 - although he might have to settle for squad selection early on. Models his game on eloquent Test skippers Kane Williamson and Joe Root, and it shows.

 

Will Pucovski has long been viewed as a test quality batsmen in the making.
Will Pucovski has long been viewed as a test quality batsmen in the making.

 

QUEENSLAND

USMAN KHAWAJA, 32

Australia's batting enigma will probably prove in the opening Sheffield Shield rounds what Australia already knows - that is a formidable force in Australia but less assured when the ball is swinging, seaming or spinning overseas.

Failed on the Ashes tour and Australia will be reluctant to keep picking him for major off-shore work but that may not stop them picking him at home.

 

MARK STEKETEE, 25

Under-rated fast man who took 42 wickets at 20 in last season's Sheffield Shield at the competition's best strike rate without attracting great publicity.

Big hearted country boy and a former Australian under-19 player who his quietly working his way into national contention.

 

Mark Steketee has a number of bowlers to get past to make the national team but has talent to burn.
Mark Steketee has a number of bowlers to get past to make the national team but has talent to burn.

 

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

JAKE WEATHERALD, 24

Weatherald is rated the gifted batsman on South Australia's list and genuine prospect opening for Australia in limited overs cricket. Weatherald destroyed a Jofra Archer-led Hobart Hurricanes attack with a match-winning ton in the 2017-18 BBL final and boasts a fine list A average of 46 including four tons.

The left-hander has been targeted around the wicket by paceman and lacked consistency at first-class level but underlined his potential with three half centuries in two Sheffield Shield finals.

 

South Australia’s Jake Lehmann is traditionally a strong starter in Shield seasons.
South Australia’s Jake Lehmann is traditionally a strong starter in Shield seasons.

 

JAKE LEHMANN, 27

Jake Lehmann's blazing starts to summer since debuting in 2015 has had the left-hander enter fringe Test calculations before tapering from contention.

Last season saw Lehmann record a one-day average of 51 then post a ton against Queensland (126) before a move to No. 3 saw his first-class aggregate restricted to 572 runs at 31. Lehmann has emerged as a fine leader of men, captaining in Travis Head's absence and has the defence and maturity to find another gear this season.

 

TASMANIA

MATTHEW WADE, 31

Bookended the Ashes series with centuries on his return from the Test wilderness to finish as the only Australian batsman other than Steve Smith to reach triple figures.

His second innings 117 at the Oval all but locked his spot for the start of the local summer after a lean patch mid-series in England, and a big score early in the Shield campaign will cement his position in the middle order.

 

Down the pecking order in the pace bowling ranks, Jackson Bird nonetheless has Test pedigree.
Down the pecking order in the pace bowling ranks, Jackson Bird nonetheless has Test pedigree.

 

JACKSON BIRD, 32

Narrowly missed a spot in the Ashes squad - he was overlooked for Michael Neser - and has perhaps slipped down the pecking order with the country's pace arsenal at full health. However Bird, who has been on the fringe of the national set up for several years, is a proven wicket taker and any injuries to the frontline quicks could open the door for his name to again be discussed.

 

NEW SOUTH WALES

KURTIS PATTERSON, 26

Not many cricketers averaging 144 in Test matches, sit outside the national team, but that's Patterson.

He made a brilliant hundred in just his second game against Sri Lanka last summer, before being left out for the Ashes. Patterson fell out of form at the wrong time and failed to make the runs he needed for Australia A in the UK. But now has a huge chance to break back in.

A string of scores could have him back in the mix, but there is one problem - he is out of the first round of Shield with a quad injury. Patterson is expected back for next week's home match at the SCG against Tasmania.

 

Daniel Hughes could be a surprise beneficiary of Australia’s recent batting malaise.
Daniel Hughes could be a surprise beneficiary of Australia’s recent batting malaise.

 

DANIEL HUGHES, 30

Might be a smokey for the first Test, but after the failures of all Australia's opening batsmen in England the field is wide open again. Hughes has a deceptively strong record in domestic cricket.

Fresh from massive back-to-back hundreds in the one-day competition, Hughes also averages a very acceptable 38 in the four-day format of the game. Incumbent Marcus Harris averages 37 at first-class level with 12 hundreds from over 80 matches. Hughes has played less than half that amount and has five first-class tons.

Would need a couple of hundreds for NSW against the red ball to emerge as a serious candidate. But a couple of summers ago it was clear selectors did have him on their radar after Ed Cowan was dropped from the NSW side to accommodate him.

 

MITCHELL STARC, 29

Unfamiliar territory for the superstar quick, but for the first time in many years he starts the Sheffield Shield season in a fight for his position after missing four of the five Ashes Tests. However, expect Starc to play a key role this summer.

He will be vital in the two day-night Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand and there is a sense he's in for a big one after his controversial sidelining.

Usually terrorises Sheffield Shield batsmen.

 

 

DAVID WARNER, 32

Under pressure after a struggling Ashes campaign but can be comforted by an outstanding record on Australian soil.

Warner will be playing the first Test regardless of how many runs he makes in the Shield, but a big score would boost his confidence levels. Fellow players believe that without Stuart Broad bearing down on him, Warner can make a fresh start at the Gabba and dominate like he has so many summers previous.

 

WESTERN AUSTRALIA

CAMERON BANCROFT, 26

Bancroft was a surprise pick for the first Ashes Test of the series, the justification being his excellent form while captaining Durham in the early part of the County Championship season and Justin Langer's belief in his fellow Western Australian.

The third member of the sandpapergate trio, his position was far from secure when his nine-month ban interrupted his Test career.

The four failures at Edgbaston and Lord's, where he looked scratchy and unsure of himself, means he will need to build up a weight of performances again in domestic cricket to force a third coming to the international arena.

It isn't beyond him.

 

Cameron Bancroft failed to capitalise on his surprise call up to the first XI at Edgbaston.
Cameron Bancroft failed to capitalise on his surprise call up to the first XI at Edgbaston.

 

ASHTON AGAR, 25

After his remarkable debut as at Trent Bridge in 2013 - when he struck 98 at No. 11 and became the first Australian teenager to take a wicket via spin when he bagged the scalp of no lesser light than Alistair Cook - Agar's national appearances have been sporadic across the formats, though he did take seven wickets in two Tests in Bangladesh back in 2017, as well as contributing a handy 65 runs there.

With Australia likely to rely on a single spinner in home conditions, and Nathan Lyon a lock, Agar nevertheless has more reason than most to perform this home summer as it ends with a two match series back in Bangladesh.

With Steve O'Keefe out of the Test picture and Jon Holland seemingly untrusted, the second spinner spot for that tour is Agar's to grab with a strong season for WA.