Sheffield Shield final bid helps Bancroft press Ashes claims


Cameron Bancroft‘s stubbornness at the batting crease will not only be a cornerstone of Western Australia’s bid to leap past New South Wales and claim a Sheffield Shield final berth against Victoria – he also has the chance to press even harder for a return to Australia’s Test team calculations by demonstrating his ability to blunt the swerving Dukes ball.

The three rounds of the Shield season since resumption after the Big Bash League have tossed up some thought-provoking numbers, not least in the context of the ball being used for the third time in as many seasons to provide preparation for the kinds of moving ball challenges expected in England.

While the low scoring affairs at the Gabba and Drummoyne Oval in round nine attracted plenty of interest and also caused Ian Chappell to question the quality of the stocks beneath the Australian team currently in the UAE by dint of their failures in those games, the wider picture presents a few examples of batsmen performing in the face of a challenge rather different to that commonly offered by the Kookaburra ball.

In terms of runs, Marcus Harris (442 runs at 73.66) and Matthew Wade (351 at 58.5) have not allowed the change of ball to affect their standing as the two standout players in the season overall, sitting first and third respectively on the aggregates over three games. They are split by Nic Maddinson‘s 391 at 65.66, demonstrating his happiness in Victoria, his liking for the Dukes ball first glimpsed for Australia A in England in 2013, and the fact he is the only player in the competition to have notched more than a single century against the change of ball.

While these three batsmen have scored at quite a clip, Bancroft, sitting fourth with 336 runs at 67.20, has soaked up no fewer than 830 balls in his first three Shield games since the end of his Newlands ban, fully 199 clear of the next man in Harris, the incumbent Test opener.

At the time of his ban, Bancroft spoke of his anguish at giving away his spot in the Test side for free. The resolve inherent in facing so many balls, knowing full well that the selectors will be looking for the right combination with the proactive, aggressive David Warner upon his own return from the Newlands bans, will only strengthen in the knowledge that a win over Queensland at home, with a little help from Tasmania against NSW, will propel the Warriors into their first Shield final since 2014.

Intriguingly, the Queensland trio of Joe Burns, Matt Renshaw and Marnus Labuschagne are all averaging in the 20s after their three matches, leaving each man exceedingly keen to find a big score at the WACA Ground – something for the selectors to remember them by when they choose the Australia A and ultimately Ashes squads.

Among the bowlers, in the absence of Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc with injury, there are plenty of performers worth noting also. Another key absentee is South Australia’s Daniel Worrall, widely considered a strong operator with the Dukes ball and suited to England, as he continues to convalesce with hamstring trouble that has followed a back complaint.

Into the breach charged Harry Conway last round, scooping nine Victorian victims at Drummoyne while gaining late swing and steep bounce that would challenge any player. In the same match James Pattinson‘s pace and fire reaped his own five-for, leaving the coach Andrew McDonald to choose between him, Peter Siddle and Scott Boland for someone to make way for the rested Chris Tremain.

Jackson Bird, an Ashes tourist in 2013 and then a spectator in England in 2015, has underlined his own ability to wobble the Dukes disconcertingly in scooping 19 wickets at 20.21 across three matches, trailed by the spin of Jon Holland (15 at 20.73) and the swing and seam of Luke Feldman (14 at 15.0) who at the age of 34 is playing his last season for Queensland. Feldman’s style of bowling has always looked suited to English conditions, but he appears, like Damien Fleming, never to bowl a Test delivery in the UK.

Another man near the exit is Cameron White, dropped by Victoria for their final match in Adelaide against bottom-placed South Australia. It is a fixture that Siddle suggested needed to be carefully managed by the title frontrunners.

“That’s disappointing, he’s been a great servant and he’s been playing some good cricket for us this season,” Siddle told RSN Radio in response to White’s omission. “I don’t think it has anything to do with the final, we’ve been able to manage the group over the past few weeks and I’m sure this is just another process of it and his name will definitely be right up there for selection comes that final.

“You want to be playing good cricket and having good momentum going into that final. We’ve been fortunate over the past couple of weeks; I had a rest two games ago, Chris Tremain had a rest last game, so having that depth has been good for us being able to rest a few players leading in.

“This week it will be a pretty strong side put out and we’ve got to go out there and perform our skills. You don’t want to be going into a final putting in a bad performance the game before. We’ll just approach this as we normally would and hopefully get a good result.”

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