Sheffield Shield 2021-22
Fifth ton puts Henry well in the hunt for Ashes squad
The young Redbacks batter is the most prolific opener in the Sheffield Shield since the start of last season with another century pushing his case for an Ashes berth
Andrew Ramsey Senior Writer
12 November 2021, 11:55 AM AEST
At the start of both the previous men's Ashes series, Australia's selectors have made a change to the top of the batting order and installed an opener the opposite of David Warner in almost every sense.
Not only did Cameron Bancroft – who replaced Matthew Renshaw as Warner's partner in 2017-18 and then regained his place after suspension at the outset of the 2019 UK campaign – complete a left-hand/right-hand combination, he was seen as the slow-cook to Warner's sizzle.
And the quiet, contemplative contrast to the former vice-captain's combative enthusiasm.
With debate ongoing as to the line-up Australia will take into the opening Vodafone Ashes Test on December 8, and Bancroft's recent form suggesting a third call-up is unlikely, a new candidate has emerged to fill that straight-guy role in the form of South Australia's Henry Hunt.
A former NSW country representative who began his senior cricket in the ACT, Hunt today completed his second century in as many Marsh Sheffield Shield innings to push his case for inclusion in the expanded Ashes squad expected to be named next week.
His recent run of form comes after two seasons of consistent results for the Redbacks since moving to Adelaide, and is the end result of a productive off-season in which Hunt says he worked hard on the foundation of his game.
"I was just trying to really focus my game around my defence, and I guess knowing exactly where my third and fourth stump is, just trying to make sure my defence is as good as it can be and then everything else just falls around it," he said at day's end in assessing his 134 out of SA's total of 220.
"It's probably one of my better ones (hundreds) in terms of the conditions played in.
"It's been one of the more difficult wickets, especially with the new ball both yesterday and this morning.
"Any first-class hundred is a hard hundred to be honest, but these ones are nice when you grind and then the patience pays off at the back end when you do cash in."
Not only is the 24-year-old right-hander the most prolific opener since the start of the previous Shield season, but he has also faced more deliveries (2187) during that period than Marcus Harris (1958), Bryce Street (1873) and Bancroft (1714), the others in contention with Will Pucovski still sidelined due to concussion.
And while Harris (842 runs at 49.52) boasts a slightly higher average than Hunt's 953 at 47.65, the uncapped South Australian can point to more Shield centuries (four) than his Victorian rival (three) over the past 13 months and can also lay claim to an existing rapport with Warner.
While the pair's paths have crossed just once on-field at first-class level – the SA-NSW Shield game at Adelaide Oval last March – they were opening partners in two matches for City Cyclones in Northern Territory's T20 Strike League competition in 2018 when Warner was serving his 12-month ban.
They put together opening stands of 76 and 28 before Warner headed to the Caribbean Premier League.
The following season, Hunt starred for ACT/NSW Country in the Toyota Second XI competition as top scorer with 737 runs at 46 and a highest score of 208 against WA in a team that featured current Test regulars Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood who were returning from back injuries.
He had previously been named alongside Test-capped quick Jhye Richardson and current SA teammates Wes Agar and David Grant in the squad for the 2016 under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, before Australia pulled out of the tournament for security reasons.
Hunt, who grew up on his family's sheep farm near Grenfell almost 400km west of Sydney and whose father (James) made one first-grade rugby league appearance for Canberra Raiders in 1992, signed a rookie contract with SA for the 2019-20 season on the back of his Second XI performances.
He made his Shield debut in SA's first game of that summer, scoring 75 in three and half hours against a Victoria pace attack of James Pattinson, Chris Tremain and Scott Boland, and posted his maiden century a month later with 132 against Tasmania at Adelaide Oval.
That match also yielded a 293-run opening stand with Jake Weatherald, a record for SA in almost 130 years of Shield competition and ensured Hunt has played every Shield match for his adopted state since earning his first baggy red cap.
Over that period, only three batters – WA pair Cameron Green and Shaun Marsh, as well as Hunt's SA captain Travis Head – have scored more Shield runs than the young opener's 1440 (at an average of 39).
And no other Shield opener can match the five hundreds Hunt has posted since October, 2019.
One of the deciding factors in Bancroft's elevation to Test cricket at the start of the 2017-18 Ashes summer was his proven capacity to bat for long periods, a skill Hunt has shown while scoring at a similar rate (around 42 per 100 balls faced) to the Western Australian.
However, Hunt can also readily shift gears when needed as he displayed today upon reaching his hundred at Blundstone Arena.
In damp conditions – where ball dominated bat to the extent he was the only SA batter to post 50 and one of only three to reach double figures – he reached his century from 217 balls, shortly before his team lost their ninth wicket at which point he took to the Tasmania bowling.
Hunt plundered 28 from the final 12 deliveries he faced including consecutive pull shots for six off Lawrence Neil-Smith, suggesting selectors might have erred by never naming him for a domestic one-day fixture nor including him in any squad for the KFC BBL.
In addition to his T20 union with Warner in Darwin, prior to his move to Adelaide, Hunt posted the fastest hundred in Sydney's T20 Cup competition with a 45-ball century for Eastern Suburbs against University of NSW.
And last month he clubbed 110 from just 63 balls as an opener for his Adelaide Premier Cricket outfit Kensington in a 20-over game against Head's Tea Tree Gully.
On top of his batting, Hunt is a stand-out in the field whether patrolling the point-cover region for the Redbacks or as a boundary rider with safe hands and a strong throwing arm.
What he's not is an extrovert, conceding that his rural upbringing that saw him hone his game in a practice net his dad erected in the family's bucolic backyard means his preference is to shy away from any limelight.
But that may be about to change.
Vodafone Men's Ashes v England
Nov 23-25: England v England Lions, Brisbane
Nov 30 – Dec 3: England v England Lions, Brisbane
Dec 1-3: Australian intra-squad match, Brisbane
Dec 9-12: Australia A v England Lions, Brisbane
First Test: December 8-12, The Gabba
Second Test: December 16-20, Adelaide Oval
Third Test: December 26-30, MCG
Fourth Test: January 5-9, SCG
Fifth Test: January 14-18, Perth Stadium