Picking a Sheffield Shield team of the season is never an easy task and deciding on the best XI for the 2015-16 competition has proven to be especially so.
Some interesting trends from the season have resulted in a less-than-traditional team structure, with no frontline spinner and no allrounder selected in our final side.
The absence of a spinner comes down to the simple fact that this was a season dominated by the fast men.
The leading slow bowler was Victoria's Fawad Ahmed, who finished the regular season with 24 wickets at 35 from 10 matches to be 14th on the list of the leading wicket-takers.
NSW left-armer Steve O'Keefe and Queensland leggie Mitchell Swepson (both with 17 wickets) were the only other spinners to finish with more than 15 wickets for the season, underlining the dominance of the speedsters.
This is a dramatic change from last season when five slow bowlers – Fawad (48), Ashton Agar (30), O'Keefe (28), Nathan Lyon (23) and Adam Zampa (21) – finished with more than 20 wickets.
The lack of an allrounder in our team of the year also comes down to the fact that no-one impressed enough in both disciplines to warrant selection.
The likes of Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Beau Webster and Agar all had solid years with the bat but a limited impact with the ball – due to both a lack of overs and penetration – while exciting young Queenslander Jake Wildermuth trod the opposite path, impressing with 25 wickets at 23 but averaging less than 20 with the bat.
Departing Bulls veteran James Hopes was by far the leading allrounder for the season with 28 wickets and 438 runs and while it wasn't quite enough to squeeze into the final XI, he's our 12th man.
There was also a dramatic drop in the output of wicketkeeper-batsmen this season; there were nine instances of a gloveman posting a century last summer compared to zero this season. Bulls skipper Chris Hartley, who was again a model of consistency, gets the nod this year.
Ben Dunk (Tasmania)
Comfortably the leading run-scorer of the competition, this was a breakout season for the Queensland-born left-hander. Without the responsibility of keeping wickets, Dunk started the season in style with centuries in three of his first four matches and while his output tailed off in the second half of the season – he posted double figures just twice from nine innings after Christmas – one of the exceptions in that stretch was a superb 190 in a match-of-the-match performance against Victoria.
Cameron Bancroft (Western Australia)
While the likes of Travis Dean and particularly Matt Renshaw came close after performing brilliantly in their first full seasons at Shield level, Bancroft gets the nod after a consistent season that saw him finish with an average of more than 50 in matches when he didn't have to balance opening the batting with keeping wickets. Having admitted the speculation about his possible elevation into the Test side weighed on his mind early in the summer, the right-hander responded with a stellar second half of the season in which he passed 40 in four of his five innings he played as a batsman only, including two big hundreds.
Travis Head (c) (South Australia)
Having posted his long-awaited maiden century for South Australia during the Matador Cup, Head went on to score match-winning hundreds in no less than three games during the Shield season as he guided his young side to the final. The left-hander twice bludgeoned a fourth-innings ton against Western Australia in a thrilling one-wicket win while his sensational 192 from just 176 balls in a low-scoring game against Tasmania propelled SA to the top of the table. In a side with no frontline spinner or allrounder, Head's off-spin (which yielded nine wickets in 10 matches) is a handy addition as well and we may as well give him the captaincy too – it's simply been that sort of summer for the 22-year-old.
George Bailey (Tasmania)
Bailey, like state teammate Dunk, started the season in style with two centuries, two fifties and just one single figure score in five matches before Christmas. The skipper followed the fortunes of his team in the second half of the season, tailing off slightly but still managing another hundred and a half-century to finish as the second-leading run-scorer with 761 at 47.56. While the 33-year-old is nearer the end of his career than the beginning, more performances likes this will have Bailey in contention to add to his five Tests.
Jake Lehmann (South Australia)
A Big Bash League hero in just one stroke, Lehmann was even more impressive in the red-ball game and finished the summer with an average of more than 50. The left-hander showed plenty of the aggression that was the hallmark of his famous father, finding the boundary 33 times in a breakthrough double-century against Tasmania in November and then posting attacking hundreds against Queensland and New South Wales after Christmas. Lehmann will look back on this campaign as the season when he came out of his old man's shadow.
Kurtis Patterson (New South Wales)
Having burst onto the scene with a record-breaking century on debut as an 18-year-old way back in 2011, this was Patterson's most consistent season to date. Solid but not spectacular in the first half of the campaign, Patterson may well have benefited from playing just one match during the BBL season as he returned to red-ball cricket in fine form, posting two hundreds and two half-centuries in five matches after Christmas.
Chris Hartley (wk) (Queensland)
While he didn't reach the heights of last summer, it was another excellent campaign from the Bulls veteran with both bat and gloves. The inspirational skipper, who led his exciting young side to within one win of hosting the Shield final, finished the year with 529 runs from 10 matches, including two unbeaten half-centuries in the second half of the season that turned tense matches in his side's favour. And he made history with the gloves as well, becoming the first wicketkeeper to top 500 Sheffield Shield catches on his way to a competition-high 35 for the season.
Scott Boland (Victoria)
It was a breakthrough summer for the man known as 'Barrel', who bagged 31 wickets for the season to storm into Australia's Test squad and make his international debut over the summer. The highlight of his campaign was a seven-wicket haul on a spicy WACA Ground pitch in November, which convinced selectors to call him into the Test squad as cover, while he also took a match haul of eight against SA in February in his return from international duty. And he contributed some vital runs with the bat late in the season, most notably an 82-ball innings of 34 in a match-saving partnership with Cameron White in Alice Springs to secure a spot in the final.
Joe Mennie (South Australia)
The leading wicket-taker this season with 48 from 10 matches, Mennie led a potent group of fast men who guided the Redbacks into their first Shield final for two decades. Originally from the mid-north coast of NSW, Mennie has been a consistent performer in his five seasons in South Australia, but this was easily his best campaign. An uncomplicated bowler who relies on consistency and accuracy, he amazingly did not take a five-wicket haul all summer but went wicketless just once in the 19 innings in which he bowled.
Joel Paris (Western Australia)
Having finally made his long-awaited first-class debut in November, Paris delivered on his enormous potential with 35 wickets in six matches at an average of less than 20. The left-armer picked up a match haul of six on debut and then destroyed Tasmania with 6-23 in a match-winning display just before the mid-season break. He then grabbed 4-78 in a thrilling victory over Queensland before another five-wicket haul against South Australia a week later, although he wasn't quite able to secure the win on that occasion.
Jackson Bird (Tasmania)
A Shield campaign that secured Bird's return to Australia's Test side ultimately yielded 40 wickets from eight matches, career-best figures and the milestone of 200 career first-class wickets. After a solid first half of the season, Bird returned to a struggling side late in the campaign emboldened by his impressive return to the Test arena, rounding out the season with 15 wickets from just two matches, including a match haul of 10-92 against NSW in Hobart.
James Hopes (Queensland)
In his final season with Queensland, Hopes did what he's done in 13 previous seasons at first-class level - he scored runs, he took wickets and he contributed to many a win for the Bulls. As he's done throughout his career, Hopes was solid and consistent in both disciplines and occasionally would produce a crucial innings or spell that changed the course of the match. He went wicketless just five times in the 17 innings in which he bowled, while with the bat he managed at least double figures in 11 of his 16 innings. The highlight of his final season was a match-haul of eight wickets and a vital 57 with the bat in the big win against South Australia in November.