Round six of the Sheffield Shield gets underway on Wednesday and will see the traditional Kookaburra balls replaced by British-made Dukes balls for the very first time in the 124-year history of the competition.
Cricket Australia will trial the balls for the rest of the Shield season in a bid to better prepare Australian players for overseas tours where the Dukes balls are more commonly used.
While most of Australia's leading Test and one-day players are unavailable due to international duty, several big guns will return to first-class cricket this week as the Shield competition heats up.
Victoria v NSW at the MCG, Melbourne
Fresh from a standout KFC Big Bash League season, NSW allrounder Sean Abbott will return to the longer form of the game this week for the first time in nearly 12 months.
After missing the first half of the Shield season and the Matador Cup because of a broken ankle suffered playing for Australia A in August, the 24-year-old rebounded spectacularly in the KFC Big Bash League to finish as the competition's leading wicket-taker with 20 at an average of 16.50 in 10 games for runners-up the Sydney Sixers.
"I'm taking wickets, which is nice," Abbott said.
"I'd been having a bit of luck come my way with the ball for the majority of the Big Bash.
"I'm hoping some of that luck and some of that form can transfer into red-ball cricket because we need to win most of our last five games to qualify for the finals so we need to play our best cricket."
Abbott has not turned out for the NSW Shield side since March last year.
He has been added to the Blues' squad along with Moises Henriques, Trent Copeland, Will Somerville and Nick Larkin, the latter having received a call-up following back-to-back double centuries for the NSW Futures League side.
Nathan Lyon and Steve O'Keefe will be unavailable for the Blues, having departed for Dubai on Monday night to begin preparations for Australia’s four-Test series in India.
The Blues (fourth with two wins) require a win over the unbeaten Bushrangers to stay in finals contention.
Veteran Cameron White will captain a depleted Victoria side with their depth severely tested by injury and international duties.
The Bushrangers sit atop the Shield ladder with four wins and a draw but regular skipper Matthew Wade, Peter Handscomb, Aaron Finch, Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell are all with Australia's ODI team in New Zealand, while seamers Peter Siddle and James Pattinson remain unavailable through injury.
"The amount of depth we have in the squad is an example of why we have been so successful over the last few years and secured back-to-back Sheffield Shield titles," Victorian chairman of selectors Andrew Lynch said.
"Despite some injuries and other players being on international duty, we've named a strong squad featuring some young, up and coming talent like Will Pucovski, combined with veterans like Rob Quiney.
"With the strong position we put ourselves in before the BBL break, I'm sure the team can come together and pick up where we left off, and press for a third straight title."
No timeframe has been set for Siddle's return after he suffered a flare up of a stress-related back injury in November. He returned to match bowling in Ricky Ponting’s charity match in Launceston last week, and hit two sixes from the final two balls to win the match for the North Melbourne Kangaroos.
Pattinson overcame shin and back injuries to play for the Melbourne Renegades in the BBL, but is still not ready for the rigours of four-day cricket. He scored his second century of the Victorian Premier Cricket season last weekend and has amassed more than 500 runs with the bat so far.
NSW: Moises Henriques (c), Sean Abbott, Doug Bollinger, Harry Conway, Trent Copeland, Ed Cowan, Daniel Hughes, Nick Larkin, Nic Maddinson, Peter Nevill, Kurtis Patterson, Will Somerville.
Victoria: Cameron White (c), Fawad Ahmed, Scott Boland, Dan Christian, Travis Dean, Evan Gulbis, Sam Harper, Marcus Harris, Jon Holland, Will Pucovski, Rob Quiney, Jake Reed, Matthew Short, Chris Tremain.
South Australia v Western Australia at Gliderol Stadium, Adelaide
Test paceman Joe Mennie will be missing from the South Australia side to take on WA as he continues recovery from a head injury.
Mennie suffered bleeding on the brain and a skull fracture when he was hit by a ball during training for his BBL franchise the Sydney Sixers on January 23.
The Redbacks, second on the Shield ladder, also will be without paceman Daniel Worrall, who is expected to be sidelined for at least another three weeks because of a lower back problem.
But fellow quick Kane Richardson will return from a back injury that had kept him out of the second half of the BBL tournament.
Callum Ferguson will captain the West End Redbacks in the absence of regular skipper Travis Head, who with SA teammate Adam Zampa is with Australia’s ODI squad in New Zealand.
The Warriors will be without both Shaun and Mitchell Marsh as well as Ashton Agar due to international duty, while wicketkeeper-batsman Sam Whiteman will also miss the match with a broken finger.
Josh Inglis will debut in place of Whiteman while leg-spinner Liam O'Connor is also in line to make his first-class debut.
South Australia: Callum Ferguson (c), Thomas Andrews, Alex Carey, Tom Cooper, David Grant, Jake Lehmann, Sam Raphael, Kane Richardson, Alex Ross, Chadd Sayers, Cameron Valente, Jake Weatherald.
Western Australia: Adam Voges (c), Cameron Bancroft, Jonathan Wells, Michael Klinger, Hilton Cartwright, Ashton Turner, D’Arcy Short, Josh Inglis, Josh Nicholas, Simon Mackin, David Moody, Ryan Duffield, Liam O’Connor
Queensland v Tasmania at the Gabba, Brisbane
Queensland captain Chris Hartley will have history in his sights when he makes a long-awaited return from injury against Tasmania.
The Bulls gloveman missed Sydney Thunder's KFC Big Bash League campaign due to a broken finger, but will begin this week's match just two dismissals away from breaking Darren Berry's record of 546 Shield scalps for a wicketkeeper.
Hartley claimed five victims in his last Shield clash against Western Australia and looks certain to surpass Berry at the top of the charts.
The Bulls will be without legspinner Mitch Swepson as well as batsmen Matt Renshaw and Usman Khawaja, who have already departed for Dubai where they will begin their preparations for Australia’s four-Test series in India.
Australian one-day bolter Sam Heazlett, who scored four in his maiden ODI innings in Auckland on Monday, will also miss out while Big Bash sensation Chris Lynn is still sidelined with a neck injury.
Quick Cameron Gannon has been named in the Bulls' Shield squad for the first time this season.
Tasmania's squad looks set to feature four ex-Bulls - Cameron Boyce, Simon Milenko, Dom Michael and Ben McDermott - while the Tigers will be without axed former Queenslander Ben Dunk, the leading run-scorer in the BBL.
Batting veterans George Bailey and Alex Doolan both return to the side.
Queensland: Chris Hartley (c), Joe Burns, Jason Floros, Peter Forrest, Cameron Gannon, Peter George, Charlie Hemphrey, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Mark Steketee, Sam Truloff, Jack Wildermuth.
Tasmania: George Bailey (c), Cameron Boyce, Alex Doolan, Jake Doran, Jake Hancock, Ben McDermott, Dom Michael, Simon Milenko, Andrew Perrin, Sam Rainbird, Jordan Silk, Cameron Stevenson, Beau Webster