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Cowan in the cold with Test stars in Shield

Last season's leading Sheffield Shield run-scorer dumped by NSW as a bevy of Test talent returns

Ed Cowan, the leading run-scorer from last season's first-class competition, has been dumped by his state side for the opening round of the JLT Sheffield Shield.

Cowan has been axed from the NSW Blues squad with a host of Australia stars included in the line-up for the first of three of the biggest rounds of Shield cricket in recent history.

There are at least two positions up for grabs in the Australia playing XI playing for the opening Magellan Ashes Test at the Gabba from November 23.

Test captain Steve Smith and his deputy David Warner will line up for the Blues in their Shield opener, with nine current or former Test players in the 12-man squad to face South Australia under lights at the Adelaide Oval from Friday.

The wealth of talent in the Blues squad vying for Ashes spots meant there was no place for Cowan, the 35-year-old who scored 959 runs at 73.76 last season to earn the Steve Waugh Medal as the Blues' best.

Cowan's season tally was 98 more runs than Hilton Cartwright, the Shield's second-leading scorer, who earned a Test call-up in the middle order for last summer's Boxing Day Test against Pakistan.

NSW are set to play Nic Maddinson as Warner's opening partner, the former Test No.6 having been in sensational form at the top of the order for the Blues in the JLT One-Day Cup with 398 runs at 66.33 in six games, including two centuries.

Maddinson's 50-over opening partner Daniel Hughes was also in fine touch, with 379 runs at 63.16 in the JLT Cup, and Hughes will claim a middle-order berth in the Shield side alongside Kurtis Patterson and allrounder Moises Henriques.

Hughes – who scored an unbeaten 203 for Mosman in Premier Cricket last weekend – and Patterson are the only two players in the likely Blues playing XI that have yet to represent Australia at senior international level and all three could be in contention for the vacant No.6 spot in the Test side. Allrounder Sean Abbott has played limited-overs cricket for Australia.

Blues coach Trent Johnston described the decision to overlook Cowan, 35, as the toughest of his coaching tenure.

"NSW is fortunate that we have a wealth of talent available for our first game," Johnston said.

"It was always going to be a tough decision. We had to weight up past form with current form. Ed has been outstanding during the Sheffield Shield over the past two seasons and has an excellent record against the pink ball.

"Daniel Hughes has been in terrific form during the JLT Cup so there were lengthy discussions. Finally we decided to go with Dan in that last batting spot. It wasn't easy. There were a lot of things we had to weigh up and consider."

Peter Nevill, who crashed a century in Premier Cricket action on the weekend, will keep wicket for the Blues with the Ashes gloveman berth also wide open ahead for the Ashes.

With Josh Hazlewood missing the pink-ball opening round, Test locks Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon will be joined by Doug Bollinger in the opening round.

Hazlewood remains on track to play for NSW in the second and third rounds of the Shield competition.

The West End Redbacks will enter the Shield season looking to bounce back from their hiding in the JLT Cup final at the hands of Western Australia, and are not expected to lock in their Shield squad until later this week.

Redbacks captain Travis Head is another pushing for Test selection, while Callum Ferguson remains a chance of adding to his sole appearance in the Baggy Green if he can translate his JLT Cup form into red-ball runs.

NSW Blues squad: David Warner, Nic Maddinson, Steve Smith (c), Kurtis Patterson, Daniel Hughes, Moises Henriques, Peter Nevill (wk), Sean Abbott, Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, Trent Copeland (12th to be named at toss).