JLT Sheffield Shield 2018-19
Baggy Green bat-off: Round three
Who pushed their case for Test selection in the early exchanges of Round Three of the JLT Sheffield Shield
Dave Middleton and Jonathan Healy
4 November 2018, 07:29 PM AEST
The Australian men's cricket team returned to action Sunday with the first ODI against South Africa, but there's still 32 days until the first Test against Virat Kohli's India.
That leaves plenty of time for Baggy Green hopefuls to press their case in the JLT Sheffield Shield cricket following coach Justin Langer's declaration it is open season on batting spots in the Test team.
Round Three of the Shield started on Saturday with two matches – NSW v Tasmania begins Monday – so let's take a closer look at which batsmen made strides on the first two days of action.
If there was ever a ever a timely century to be made, then Peter Handscomb's superb knock against South Australia at the MCG on Sunday was it. Just as Australia's batting lineup was faltering in the ODI against South Africa in Perth, Handscomb was crafting a century that oozed patience and class. Handscomb wasn't considered for Australia's tour to the UAE against Pakistan and Langer wanted the Victoria captain to go back to state cricket and score tons. He didn't quite manage to do that during the JLT One-Day Cup, with the 27-year-old scoring four consecutive half-centuries to at least show he was on the right track. But his unbeaten 123 at the MCG will certainly grab the attention of national selectors and could pave the way for a Test recall against India next month.
The in-form Victorian opener Marcus Harris was once again among the runs for his state, although he will probably be a little bit peeved he didn't go on with his good start and register a second big hundred. A cautious Harris was unbeaten on 16 after the opening day of play, but really opened his shoulders on the second morning as he scored heavily, particularly through the covers. Harris was on 65 and seemed on track to back up last round's double ton until he nicked a good delivery from Nick Winter and was caught at first slip.
Was this the innings that cemented Matthew Renshaw's long-awaited return to Baggy Green? A winter spent piling up runs in county cricket was derailed by some untimely injuries that saw him left out of Australia's Test XI against Pakistan due to a lack of match fitness. It was a fluid 89 for Renshaw that got the Bulls off to a solid start on the opening day of their match against Western Australia in Brisbane. He started slowly, seeing off the new ball against a quality attack, before cashing in on a flat deck at Allan Border Field. He took particular toll on WA's leg-spinner Usman Qadir, son of Pakistan legend Abdul, belting him for a trio of fours in one over. One monster straight six off Will Bosisto ended up in the adjacent Albion Park racecourse, and a replacement ball was needed. But he will rue not getting to triple figures to really lock down that Test spot, given out leg before to Matt Kelly on a ball that kept very low.
A similar story for Renshaw's state teammate and fellow opener, Joe Burns. The Queensland veteran was in good touch on Saturday and moved patiently along to 49 with few problems against Western Australia until he edged behind off lively Jhye Richardson. The Queenslander's name has long been in the conversation for Test selection, and was parachuted in for April's Johannesburg Test, but has not managed to cement his spot. Highly regarded for his ability to bat anywhere in the order – he made his Test debut as No.6 before moving up the order where he has three Test tons – if he can continue to put together a string of scores he could be in the mix to sure up Australia's middle order.
The younger of the Test-playing brothers, Mitchell Marsh managed just 30 runs from four knocks for Australia against Pakistan in the UAE, but he looked to be in good touch on return to state duties with Western Australia on Sunday. Marsh came to the crease with the Warriors in a bit of trouble at 2-37 on a flat AB Field pitch and immediately set the tone by smashing a boundary early. The 27-year-old is at his best when he plays his natural attacking game and this was prevalent with the first ball after the tea break when he smashed Mark Steketee over the square leg boundary for six. Marsh was a tad more circumspect after this as he combined with Ashton Turner - another quality talent on the fringes of the national radar - for a partnership of 112 that displayed some maturity and this feature to his game won't be lost on national selectors.
It probably wasn't ideal for Callum Ferguson to stride to the crease with South Australia at 1-10 in the third over with a fired up Peter Siddle charging in, Chris Tremain his usual self at the other end and returning paceman James Pattinson chomping at the bit and waiting for his chance with the ball. But that's the kind of hostile environment you would have to expect in Test match cricket, so it could have been the perfect opportunity for Ferguson to show his wares. The experienced right-hander got off to a solid start as he worked Tremain away for two runs, but was trapped in front by the Victorian the very next ball. It was a confident appeal, but Ferguson trudged off the ground shaking his head and may have had a case with replays suggesting an inside edge.
Test incumbent Marnus Labuschagne sat through the entire first session at AB Field with his pads on watching Renshaw and Burns get Queensland off to a good start and he will be ruing the fact he couldn't get among the runs. He got off the mark with a cheeky late cut over gully and then drove Usman Qadir for a well-timed boundary through cover-point shortly after. But that was about as good as it got for Labuschagne, with the South African-born batter on his way when he was caught in the gully when attempting to force one away on the off side on the back foot. That means Labuschagne now has just 42 runs from three Shield knocks since returning from Australia duties in the UAE.
Marnus Labuschagne falls for 11 for Queensland in their Shield clash against WA. Watch Live: #QLDvWA: https://t.co/0NUwm4EYCS pic.twitter.com/uPqFV9Wp1k— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) November 3, 2018
Meanwhile, on the west coast
A day to forget for Australia's one-day international side as they suffered a six-wicket reverse to South Africa, becoming the first Australian ODI team ever to lose seven matches on the bounce. In a match that saw the home side bundled out for 152 in 38.1 overs, there was little joy for the Test incumbents as you'd expect. Test No.4 Travis Head was the first wicket to fall, victim of a lack of footwork against Dale Steyn and made just one. Fellow Dubai Test debutant Aaron Finch was left to rue not reviewing his LBW decision with replayings showing it would have gone over the top as he exited for five. Test hopeful Glenn Maxwell failed to capitalise on his opportunity, and was filthy as he exited having chipped to mid-on to depart for 11.