Infotainment Factory: The six players battling for Ashes spots

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Friday, 22 February 2019

The six players battling for Ashes spots


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The Test matches are done, the BBL is finished and all eyes turn to the football codes. Right? Well not exactly. The high profile games might be over, but the Sheffield Shield action resumes today and with it, the opportunity to push for spots in the Australian team for the upcoming Ashes series.

With four rounds left before the final, and the Test squad far from settled, the remaining matches will be fascinating viewing as a host of players jockey for spots on the plane.

Adding to the interest, and continuing a pattern that began three seasons ago, the usual Kookaburra balls make way for the English-made Dukes balls, with the aim of producing players able to adapt more readily to different conditions.

“If I was a selector, right now I’d be thinking there’s plenty of spots still up for grabs,” former Australian captain Mark Taylor told Wide World of Sports.

“The performances against Sri Lanka have to be put into perspective because the standard of the opposition wasn’t great.

“In my mind these four rounds of Shield matches will be just as important as that series when the side is selected.

“It’s a great opportunity to illustrate the importance of Shield cricket.”

As Australia seeks its first Ashes series win in England since 2001, Wide World of Sports looks at those players who will be looking for performances to catch the eyes of Trevor Hohns.

Matthew Wade

He’s the leading runscorer in the Sheffield Shield competition so far this season, with 571 runs at 63.44. Furthermore, Justin Langer has demanded players start scoring centuries if they want to be considered for national selection, and Wade’s four Shield centuries since the start of the 2017-18 season is more than any other player in the same period.

But nobody divides opinions like the Tasmanian. For every pundit advocating his selection, you can find one who thinks the 31-year-old shouldn’t be anywhere near the Australian side.

Both Mark Waugh and Ian Chappell have pointed to Wade’s unflattering Test record – an average of 28 from 22 matches – as evidence that he doesn’t have a future in the Test side as a specialist batsman.

https://twitter.com/juniorwaugh349/status/1098125489414189057

What will be fascinating is the selection of a second keeper for the Ashes series, traditionally the only tour where Australian has selected a reserve gloveman.

Do the selectors go with Wade, or South Australia’s Alex Carey, who’s already the vice-captain in the white-ball format? Certainly Wade has the edge with the bat, but Carey has previously been endorsed by no less an authority than Ian Healy as the second best keeper in the country.

Matthew-Wade

Marcus Harris

Performed adequately in his six Test matches over the home summer, without ever producing the big innings that would secure his spot in the side. With the return of David Warner imminent, and centuries to both Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja in Australia’s most recent Test match against Sri Lanka, Harris may be the player left standing when the music stops.

If that happens he’ll have nobody to blame but himself. He was Australia’s leading runscorer in his debut series against India, but 258 runs at 36.86 from four matches earns him nothing more than a pass mark. While others cashed in against the pedestrian Sri Lankan attack in Canberra, Harris was watching on from the pavilion, having once again been dismissed by a catch in the point region.

The Victorian’s Shield form before Christmas hardly does anything to dispel the theory that Harris doesn’t convert enough of his starts into big scores. Apart from a monster 250* against New South Wales at the MCG, his next best scores are 67, 65 and 62, a worrying trend for a player once described by Justin Langer as “mediocre with flashes of brilliance.” 

Marcus Harris

Marnus Labuschagne

Must be wondering exactly what role he’s expected to play for Australia. He’s batted eight times in his five Test matches, but already he’s filled every position in the batting order from three to seven. His three Tests over the summer highlighted his predicament, after batting at number three against India in Sydney, he was immediately demoted to number five for the first Test against Sri Lanka in Brisbane, then moved again to number four in Canberra.

On top of this, he was expected to contribute with his part-time legspinners that have already brought him a useful nine Test wickets at 27.11, although Tim Paine wouldn’t be anticipating too many overs from him in English conditions.

The return of Steve Smith in the middle order could make things difficult for Labuschagne, who will likely find himself battling with Kurtis Patterson for the number six spot. Patterson made an unbeaten 114 in his only innings in Canberra, while Labuschagne left himself vulnerable with scores of six and four. 

Australian batsman Marnus Labuschagne

Will Pucovski

Was called into the Test squad during the Sri Lankan series without getting a start, confirming the widely held suspicion that Pucovski has the potential to be a star of the Australian team through the 2020s.

He celebrated his 21st birthday earlier this month, but it’s worth noting the right hander has only played six Shield matches. Pucovski’s nine trips to the crease include 188 against Queensland in just his second match, while earlier this season his 243 against Western Australia made him just the third player in the last 50 years – after Darren Lehmann and Ricky Ponting – to make a Shield double century before turning 21.

But despite not playing against Sri Lanka, Pucovski probably slipped a little down the pecking order, with both Travis Head and Kurtis Patterson making their maiden Test centuries. Throw in Steve Smith’s return, and at best Pucovski is probably battling for the reserve batsman’s spot in the Ashes party. 

Will Pucovski

Scott Boland

While the batting line-up has been the focus of attention over the summer, the selection of the fast-bowling backup for the “big three” of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins will be fascinating.

With Starc and Hazlewood currently sidelined with injuries, and the five Ashes Tests immediately following a World Cup campaign of up to 11 games, the chances are high that some pace bowling backup will be required.

Jhye Richardson went to the front of the queue with a promising debut series against Sri Lanka, but at least one other bowler will make up the squad.

Boland’s 36 wickets in the opening six matches of the Shield season have him at the top of the wicket taking list, and with injury clouds hanging over both Chadd Sayers and Daniel Worrall, Boland is very much in the frame.

A consistent performer during a golden period for Victoria – his 161 wickets in the last five summers have come at 24.19, and he’s passed 25 wickets in each of those five seasons – Boland has already played 17 times for Australia in the white ball formats.  

Chris Tremain

When you mention Victoria’s recent run of success – they won three straight titles from 2014-2017 – Chris Tremain is a name you can’t overlook. The leading wicket taker over the last five seasons with 173 wickets at 22.94, Tremain was a part of the Test squad in the early part of the summer without getting a look in. The Victorian says he wasn’t “too bitter and too grumpy” about missing out, given the obvious pecking order that had Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins at the top.

But Tremain’s performances are even better when you consider how lifeless the MCG pitch has been in recent years. His 59 Shield wickets at the MCG have cost him just 24.39 apiece – a record that wouldn’t see him out of place in a baggy green come August.

Chris Tremain

The Test matches are done, the BBL is finished and all eyes turn to the football codes. Right? Well not exactly. The high profile games might be over, but the Sheffield Shield action resumes today and with it, the opportunity to push for spots in the Australian team for the upcoming Ashes series.

With four rounds left before the final, and the Test squad far from settled, the remaining matches will be fascinating viewing as a host of players jockey for spots on the plane.

Adding to the interest, and continuing a pattern that began three seasons ago, the usual Kookaburra balls make way for the English-made Dukes balls, with the aim of producing players able to adapt more readily to different conditions.

“If I was a selector, right now I’d be thinking there’s plenty of spots still up for grabs,” former Australian captain Mark Taylor told Wide World of Sports.

“The performances against Sri Lanka have to be put into perspective because the standard of the opposition wasn’t great.

“In my mind these four rounds of Shield matches will be just as important as that series when the side is selected.

“It’s a great opportunity to illustrate the importance of Shield cricket.”

As Australia seeks its first Ashes series win in England since 2001, Wide World of Sports looks at those players who will be looking for performances to catch the eyes of Trevor Hohns.

Matthew Wade

He’s the leading runscorer in the Sheffield Shield competition so far this season, with 571 runs at 63.44. Furthermore, Justin Langer has demanded players start scoring centuries if they want to be considered for national selection, and Wade’s four Shield centuries since the start of the 2017-18 season is more than any other player in the same period.

But nobody divides opinions like the Tasmanian. For every pundit advocating his selection, you can find one who thinks the 31-year-old shouldn’t be anywhere near the Australian side.

Both Mark Waugh and Ian Chappell have pointed to Wade’s unflattering Test record – an average of 28 from 22 matches – as evidence that he doesn’t have a future in the Test side as a specialist batsman.

https://twitter.com/juniorwaugh349/status/1098125489414189057

What will be fascinating is the selection of a second keeper for the Ashes series, traditionally the only tour where Australian has selected a reserve gloveman.

Do the selectors go with Wade, or South Australia’s Alex Carey, who’s already the vice-captain in the white-ball format? Certainly Wade has the edge with the bat, but Carey has previously been endorsed by no less an authority than Ian Healy as the second best keeper in the country.

Matthew-Wade

Marcus Harris

Performed adequately in his six Test matches over the home summer, without ever producing the big innings that would secure his spot in the side. With the return of David Warner imminent, and centuries to both Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja in Australia’s most recent Test match against Sri Lanka, Harris may be the player left standing when the music stops.

If that happens he’ll have nobody to blame but himself. He was Australia’s leading runscorer in his debut series against India, but 258 runs at 36.86 from four matches earns him nothing more than a pass mark. While others cashed in against the pedestrian Sri Lankan attack in Canberra, Harris was watching on from the pavilion, having once again been dismissed by a catch in the point region.

The Victorian’s Shield form before Christmas hardly does anything to dispel the theory that Harris doesn’t convert enough of his starts into big scores. Apart from a monster 250* against New South Wales at the MCG, his next best scores are 67, 65 and 62, a worrying trend for a player once described by Justin Langer as “mediocre with flashes of brilliance.” 

Marcus Harris

Marnus Labuschagne

Must be wondering exactly what role he’s expected to play for Australia. He’s batted eight times in his five Test matches, but already he’s filled every position in the batting order from three to seven. His three Tests over the summer highlighted his predicament, after batting at number three against India in Sydney, he was immediately demoted to number five for the first Test against Sri Lanka in Brisbane, then moved again to number four in Canberra.

On top of this, he was expected to contribute with his part-time legspinners that have already brought him a useful nine Test wickets at 27.11, although Tim Paine wouldn’t be anticipating too many overs from him in English conditions.

The return of Steve Smith in the middle order could make things difficult for Labuschagne, who will likely find himself battling with Kurtis Patterson for the number six spot. Patterson made an unbeaten 114 in his only innings in Canberra, while Labuschagne left himself vulnerable with scores of six and four. 

Australian batsman Marnus Labuschagne

Will Pucovski

Was called into the Test squad during the Sri Lankan series without getting a start, confirming the widely held suspicion that Pucovski has the potential to be a star of the Australian team through the 2020s.

He celebrated his 21st birthday earlier this month, but it’s worth noting the right hander has only played six Shield matches. Pucovski’s nine trips to the crease include 188 against Queensland in just his second match, while earlier this season his 243 against Western Australia made him just the third player in the last 50 years – after Darren Lehmann and Ricky Ponting – to make a Shield double century before turning 21.

But despite not playing against Sri Lanka, Pucovski probably slipped a little down the pecking order, with both Travis Head and Kurtis Patterson making their maiden Test centuries. Throw in Steve Smith’s return, and at best Pucovski is probably battling for the reserve batsman’s spot in the Ashes party. 

Will Pucovski

Scott Boland

While the batting line-up has been the focus of attention over the summer, the selection of the fast-bowling backup for the “big three” of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins will be fascinating.

With Starc and Hazlewood currently sidelined with injuries, and the five Ashes Tests immediately following a World Cup campaign of up to 11 games, the chances are high that some pace bowling backup will be required.

Jhye Richardson went to the front of the queue with a promising debut series against Sri Lanka, but at least one other bowler will make up the squad.

Boland’s 36 wickets in the opening six matches of the Shield season have him at the top of the wicket taking list, and with injury clouds hanging over both Chadd Sayers and Daniel Worrall, Boland is very much in the frame.

A consistent performer during a golden period for Victoria – his 161 wickets in the last five summers have come at 24.19, and he’s passed 25 wickets in each of those five seasons – Boland has already played 17 times for Australia in the white ball formats.  

Chris Tremain

When you mention Victoria’s recent run of success – they won three straight titles from 2014-2017 – Chris Tremain is a name you can’t overlook. The leading wicket taker over the last five seasons with 173 wickets at 22.94, Tremain was a part of the Test squad in the early part of the summer without getting a look in. The Victorian says he wasn’t “too bitter and too grumpy” about missing out, given the obvious pecking order that had Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins at the top.

But Tremain’s performances are even better when you consider how lifeless the MCG pitch has been in recent years. His 59 Shield wickets at the MCG have cost him just 24.39 apiece – a record that wouldn’t see him out of place in a baggy green come August.

Chris Tremain https://ift.tt/2E6Yfer
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