JLT Sheffield Shield 2018-19
Raising their Dukes: Leading bats revealed
An analysis of JLT Sheffield Shield performances against the English Dukes ball produces some interesting food for thought
20 February 2019, 11:12 AM AEST
With this year's Ashes looming ever larger on the horizon, a handful of discarded Test batsmen who have thrived in the JLT Sheffield Shield experiment designed to better prepare players for English conditions could further advance their cases for recalls over the coming weeks.
As it stands, Matthew Renshaw, Hilton Cartwright and Moises Henriques would all appear a step behind the batting frontrunners jostling for an Ashes berth.
But a statistical analysis of the leading batsmen against the Dukes ball, which has been used in the second half of the past two Sheffield Shield seasons, reveals the trio might well be worth due consideration by national selectors.
While Cartwright struggled in the pre-Big Bash period this season with just one fifty in six Shield games and an average of 25, the Western Australian leads all-comers on aggregate against the English-manufactured ball with 932 runs at 58.
The 27-year-old sits well clear atop the list of the most prolific active batsmen against the Dukes, with Henriques – who has 801 runs at 57 – coming in next.
Arguably the most impressive of the trio though is Renshaw, who didn't feature in the first season of the trial due to Test duties, but last season plundered 654 runs at 73 – the highest batting average among the leading 20 run-scorers.
The only batter to come close to Renshaw is former Australia and NSW opener Ed Cowan, who retired at the end of last summer after racking up 908 runs at 70 in two seasons against the Dukes ball.
Renshaw's case is further advanced by the 513 runs he posted in a six-game stint in the top flight of England's County Championship with Somerset last year.
On the back of his dominant Shield form and in the wake of the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal, the Queenslander was whisked into the Test team to play the fourth Test against South Africa last year.
But he's since been overlooked, with Aaron Finch, Marcus Harris and Joe Burns all preferred at the top of Australia's order in David Warner's absence.
Cartwright has played two one-off Tests – his debut in the 2017 New Year's Test against Pakistan and then in Chittagong against Bangladesh later that year – while Henriques played the last of his four Tests in Sri Lanka in 2016.
Finch, who was dropped this summer after five Tests at the top of the order, and Burns, the man who replaced him, are the other batters among the top 20 run-scorers to average above 50.
The returns of the rest of Australia's incumbent top six against the Dukes ball in the Shield range from middling to encouraging to non-existent.
Opener Marcus Harris will be eager to show his wares in the coming weeks having averaged just 33, though he did score a century in the first Shield final played with the English ball in 2017.
Kurtis Patterson has 698 runs at 46.5, Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head both average around the 40-mark, while Burns is the best performed of this bunch with 637 runs at 53.
None of Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith or Warner have played a Shield game that’s used the Dukes ball, while wicketkeeper-captain Tim Paine has had just five Shield innings against it, managing 130 runs at 26.
The Dukes ball has received mixed reviews since CA introduced it in a bid to give domestic players further exposure to it having lost four straight Ashes series abroad.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon has been among those to voice his disapproval but the likes of Mitchell Johnson and George Bailey have backed it, with Bailey suggesting it's a better overall cricket ball.
Speaking Tuesday, Patterson said the Dukes does behave differently to its Kookaburra counterpart.
"The wickets over there (in the UK) are generally a bit slower and (have) a bit more tennis-ball bounce," Patterson explained. "Over here the Dukes ball can actually be quite nice to face if you do get on a flat wicket.
"In previous years we've found when you do go to grounds when they've left a bit more grass on the wicket, it's a better game with the Dukes ball otherwise it gets a bit too easy (to bat).
"It reacts well on grassy wickets, it doesn't seam as much as a Kookaburra but it obviously swings all day."
The final four rounds and final of this season's JLT Sheffield Shield will see the Dukes balls used. All six sides are back in action after the KFC Big Bash break from Saturday.
Top JLT Sheffield Shield runs v Dukes ball
Hilton Cartwright (WA) 932 runs at 58.3
Ed Cowan (NSW) 908 runs at 69.8
Moises Henriques (NSW) 801 runs at 57.2
Travis Dean (Vic) 717 runs at 37.7
Marnus Labuschagne (Qld) 707 runs at 39.3