Marsh Sheffield Shield 2020-21
Sheffield Shield preview: Test stars to lead NSW title defence
Some of their biggest names may be absent for the opening rounds of the Marsh Sheffield Shield but the NSW Blues continue to be stacked with talent across the board
9 October 2020, 12:31 PM AEST
All pre-season long, NSW Blues coach Phil Jaques has implored his players to remain resilient, adaptable and ready for change at the drop of the hat.
Just like they were yesterday, when with less than 24 hours' notice they packed up and boarded a plane for the Adelaide Shield hub as New South Wales discovered fresh cases of COIVID-19 that threatened to impact community safety and their passage into South Australia.
At that point, the Blues were on pre-season Plan E, which is now Plan F, and with the possibilities of Plans G, H and beyond, as they bunker down in Adelaide ahead of their opening Shield match against Victoria on October 22.
The disrupted pre-season had Jaques concerned his squad might get complacent given the challenges the coronavirus pandemic posed and their success last season in winning their state it's 47th Sheffield Shield.
Which is why the coach clearly outlined the main objectives during the Blues' time in the nets, the gym and during their intra-squad games.
"The focus has been on being really adaptable and also making sure we're constantly looking to improve. They’ve been the big things," Jaques told cricket.com.au.
"We had a really good season last year because we played solid, disciplined cricket with bat and ball and consistently built and absorbed pressure when we batted and bowled.
"We'll be doing more of the same but trying to take it to another level this year."
It is hard to change a winning team and that is why NSW retained most of its squad from last summer while adding international-calibre bowlers Chris Tremain and Adam Zampa.
Zampa is unavailable for selection due to his IPL commitments, like several of his national teammates, but they did spend time with the Blues in the pre-season to keep their skills sharp and share their experiences.
Jason Sangha picked the brain of Steve Smith. Jack Edwards was in David Warner's batting group. Harry Conway mixed it with Mitch Starc and Pat Cummins. Nathan Lyon worked with the spinners.
"It's always great when we have those guys back," Jaques said.
"We don't see them as much as we would like and we love having them around the group when we do.
"Their wealth of knowledge is there to be tapped into by all the young players and all the players in the squad."
A full-strength Blues XI rivals most national teams, but even without their international players, NSW has one of the strongest line-ups in the competition.
Senior heads Moises Henriques, Kurtis Patterson and Daniel Hughes lead the batting group, while Trent Copeland, Conway and Tremain form a formidable pace attack.
And that's without including Lyon, Starc and Sean Abbott, who are set to feature in the first four rounds of the Shield competition this summer as they prepare to face Virat Kohli's touring Indian side.
Add into the mix youngsters like Matthew Gilkes, fresh from a double century in NSW Premier Cricket, 18-year-old leg-spinner Tanveer Sangha and allrounder Jack Edwards and the Blues have the much-coveted blend of youth and experience.
If NSW can take their game to a new level, it's hard to see them not featuring at the business end of the tournament.
Squad: Peter Nevill (c), Daniel Hughes, Nick Larkin, Kurtis Patterson, Moises Henriques, Daniel Solway, Jason Sangha, Matthew Gilkes, Sean Abbott, Trent Copeland, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain, Nathan Lyon, Liam Hatcher, Harry Conway, Jack Edwards, Tanveer Sangha
Possible best XI: Daniel Hughes, Daniel Solway, Kurtis Patterson, Moises Henriques, Nick Larkin, Jason Sangha/Matthew Gilkes, Peter Nevill (c,wk), Mitch Starc, Sean Abbott, Nathan Lyon, Harry Conway
Last year's Shield result: First
October 22-25: v Victoria, Adelaide Oval No.2
October 30-November 2: v Western Australia, Karen Rolton Oval
November 8-11: v South Australia, ACH Group Stadium Glenelg
November 17-20: v Victoria, TBC
The inside word with Phil Jaques
"The boys have been excellent. We talk about being adaptable to whatever's coming and really get on with things as best as we possibly can regardless of anything that happens externally, making sure every time we train we do it with an intensity and a purpose. I've been really impressed by how much guys have just got on with things this pre-season. It could have easily been one of those off-seasons that got the better of us and got underneath our skins but the attitude of the guys to get better has been really impressive."
"Our roster is pretty healthy. Mickey Edwards is the only one with a back issue but outside of that we've pretty much got a full squad except the Australian guys in the IPL (Steve Smith, David Warner, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Adam Zampa). We don't expect to have them around, we cater for not having them and when we do it's a bonus. With Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon and Sean Abbott coming back into the frame there will be really good competition for spots within our bowling ranks. That's only going to make guys hungrier and better for it.
"Guys like Jason Sangha, Jack Edwards and Matthew Gilkes have already had a taste of Shield cricket with some success and we'd like to see them go to another level and we think they will. We've got good young players across the board. There are some good young prospects who aren't in your squad, guys like Ollie Davies and Lachy Hearne, our two rookie batters. All the young players are very, very good and are putting the pressure on putting some big numbers on the board in club cricket, which is really good to see."
Most important player(s)
"Everyone's got their particular role to play in the team. I don't think you can survive with one or two guys doing well, I think it has to be a team effort and over a course of a season a squad effort. We had a lot of players play last year because NSW is like no other – we have a lot of players coming in and out from the national set-up so there is constant change.
"We've got some seasoned campaigners who are knocking on the door of Australian selection and our expectation is that those guys will take the next step. Dan Hughes and Moises Henriques had great seasons last year and we've got Kurtis Patterson returning, who was injured a lot last year. Having those guys firing and the young guys stepping up, it bodes well for a good season."
Biggest challenge in the hub
"It's going to be very different to what we're used to – flying in and out, getting a week or two at home with our loved ones and our family. But in the hub we're pretty much going to be three matches on the bounce all living together and spending a lot more time together.
"I see it as an advantage if we can be a really tight-knit group and enjoy each other's cricket through that period. It will have its challenges, not seeing the families unless they're coming away. That will be our biggest challenge – staying focused, staying up for the games and enjoying each other's success.
Most dangerous team (that isn't your own)
"It's such a tight competition you look at all the sides and they're all evenly matched. That's the beauty of Sheffield Shield cricket; there's always six teams that can win it from any period and the second you take your eye off any of them, someone comes from nowhere and makes the final and are in the hunt for the title. We'll be preparing for every team as if we'll be meeting them in the final and trying to get a mental edge over them in the round game, so if we do meet them in the final they've got a few scars."