Ashes hopefuls lodge late claims in Shield final

A handful of players in the Sheffield Shield final reminded selectors of their claims for a spot on the Ashes tour

With Western Australia's emphatic title win drawing the curtain on another summer of first-class cricket, so too has the formal audition space for berths on this winter's Ashes tour to the UK come to a close. 

But a handful of players involved in the ultimate men's domestic game of 2022-23 grasped their chance to remind national selectors why they might come under consideration when the touring party to take on England, and be part of the World Test Championship final against India, is chosen later this year. 

WA opener Cameron Bancroft's season-high return of 945 runs at an average of 59.06 (with four centuries) was not only almost 300 runs clear of the next-best performed batter (South Australia's Daniel Drew), it brought a benchmark that precedent suggests warrants Ashes inclusion. 

No batter has proved more prolific in a Shield season since Victoria opener Marcus Harris (1188 at 69.88) and Tasmania's Matthew Wade (1021 at 60.06) in the summer of 2018-19, with both players rewarded for their productivity with inclusion in Australia's squad for the Ashes tour that followed. 

Bancroft revealed in the wake of hitting the winning runs in WA's nine-wicket win yesterday he has signed for "a short stint in county cricket" prior to the Tests starting in June, which explains why he was not included in the Australia A squad for next month's two-match tour to New Zealand

And his WA coach Adam Voges believes the right-hander, who played the most recent of his 10 Tests at Lord's four years ago, is in career-best form across all formats having worked closely with WA coach Beau Casson and former Australia opener and coach Justin Langer in recent months. 

"I'm clearly biased, but he should be a monty in my opinion," Voges told cricket.com.au prior to the Shield final about Bancroft's Ashes prospects. 

"I think he's been the best batter in Shield cricket throughout the season, from what I've seen. 

Bancroft seals back-to-back WA titles glorious lofted drive

"We've played on some tricky wickets at the WACA Ground, and he's been able to navigate them as well as play really nicely over east. 

"He's had a tremendous 12 months and I think he should be rewarded with a seat on the plane to England in the winter." 

Left-arm swing bowler Joel Paris is another of his players Voges believes could play a significant role in Australia's bid to win their first Test series against England on their home turf since 2001. 

Paris was crucial to WA's Shield final victory with match figures of 5-89 from 40 overs which lifted his season tally to 27 wickets at an average of 17.37, and the lowest economy rate (2.11) of any bowler to claim more than 20 wickets across the summer. 

The 30-year-old's effectiveness is even more emphatically underlined by his career Shield record that shows 134 wickets at 21.11 from 35 matches, the lowest average of any WA bowler to have taken 100 or more Shield scalps and a better strike rate (47.8) than all-but fellow left-armer Jason Behrendorff (44.34).

WA romp to nine-wicket win to seal 17th Shield title

In addition to his laser-like accuracy and ability to swing the new and old ball, Paris is an accomplished lower-middle order batter with a first-class average of 24.48 that includes an unbeaten century against Victoria two years ago and an invaluable 31 (in almost three hours) last Saturday.

The 30-year-old, who has battled injuries throughout his decade-long career and required injections to relieve back pain prior to the Shield final, hasn't played for Australia since his pair of ODIs in 2016 but has been named in the Australia A squad for the New Zealand series.

It is understood Paris is also looking at a short-term county deal prior to the Ashes that would ensure he is in the UK should opportunities arise during the coming northern summer, and admits he enjoys bowling with the Dukes-brand balls used in England and also on the upcoming A-tour to NZ.

"I've never really focused on long-term goals, but I think being an England Ashes year and Dukes balls, plus being a left-armer as well there's an option to go down there," he said yesterday when asked about his Ashes ambitions.

"I've really just focused on playing great cricket for WA this year and then if opportunities come up and the right timing happens, we'll see what happens from there.

"But that (international cricket) is something I've always strived to get back to.

"It's been a while since I represented Australia and if that opportunity arises, I'll take it with both hands."

Australia's national selection panel have the luxury of a several all-round options to consider for the Ashes, with incumbent Cameron Green fresh from scoring his maiden Test century on the recent Qantas Tour of India and Mitchell Marsh in brutal batting form albeit in white-ball formats.

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However, should they be looking to bolster the stocks of seam-bowling all-rounders who might add value to Australia's Ashes planning they might consider Shield final opponents Aaron Hardie (WA) and Will Sutherland (Victoria). 

England-born Hardie's stocks continue to rise after a summer in which he claimed 17 Shield wickets at 31 from his 10 matches this summer where used mainly as a second-change seam option, and won elevation to the top five in WA's powerful batting order. 

The 24-year-old's dual capability was underscored in the Shield final where he was WA's most threatening bowler in the first session of the opening day, and a day later altered the game's complexion in a counter-punching fifth-wicket stand of 86 (from 22 overs) with Ashton Turner.

"We're all pretty impressed with what Aaron's done to date, and I've got no doubt that at some point higher honours will come," Voges said in the wake of that innings.

"Anyone who can bat in your top six and offer the quality of overs that Aaron can, they're going to balance any team they play in.

"He's had to wait a little while, he's been behind Cameron Green and Mitch Marsh and Marcus Stoinis to an extent (in the WA line-up) but he's making the most of his time at the moment.

"He's batting at five … and he's worked his way up.

"He was eight a couple of years ago and he was seven in the final last year, so there's been a natural progression for him to get up the order.

"But I don't think he's a batter, I think he's a genuine all-rounder."

Sutherland finished the season as leading Shield wicket-taker with 41 at 19.92, ahead of player of the year and another Ashes aspirant Michael Neser (40 at 16.67). 

But Sutherland furthered his claim by also posting 467 runs at 29.18, which included a maiden first-class century in the opening Shield round against South Australia and a defiant 83 in the second innings of the final. 

Sutherland’s counterpunching knock keeps Vics alive

The 23-year-old was also appointed Victoria's stand-in captain with Nic Maddinson sidelined due to a knee injury and Peter Handscomb on Test duties in India, and under his leadership the team reversed its early season form to claim five consecutive victories and storm into the Shield finale. 

Sutherland will also be in England for the upcoming northern summer having signed with county outfit Essex where he will work with former Victoria bowling coach Mick Lewis. 

Despite the powerfully built right-armer being troubled by back soreness prior to the Shield final, he claimed 5-75 from 28 overs in WA's first innings but was unable to take the field immediately after his brutal batting effort which meant he was absent from the bowling crease during WA's victory chase. 

Victoria coach Chris Rogers heaped praise on Sutherland's physical resilience as well as the maturity he has shown with bat and ball across his breakthrough Shield season. 

"He's played the most amount of days for us this year as well, and he's doing that as a 23-year-old," Rogers said. 

"It goes to show his durability, and I've seen it a couple of times -  he's a physical beast and he's showing it now out on the cricket field. 

"He just keeps coming back and back, and he's carried the side on his back a little bit at different times, particularly with the ball. 

"There was a couple of games leading into Christmas we wouldn’t have been anywhere without him, he's been phenomenal. 

"I'm not sure he believed he could have got an 80 on the WACA even 12 months ago, so he's really trending in the right direction."