Uncapped paceman Jhye Richardson and batsmen Cameron Bancroft and Peter Handscomb will be among the members of Australia's Test squad who will have the opportunity to tune-up for the South Africa series when the JLT Sheffield Shield resumes on Thursday.
The trio have been named for Australia’s four-Test tour, which starts with a warm-up fixture from February 22 ahead of the opening Test in Durban from March 1.
Skipper Steve Smith (rested) and stand-in T20I captain David Warner will miss NSW's match in Perth, as will pace trio Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, while wicketkeeper Tim Paine has been rested for Tasmania's match in Brisbane.
Elsewhere, South Australia opener Jake Weatherald will be looking to continue his superb form after a player-of-the-match performance for the Adelaide Strikers in the KFC Big Bash League final, while Redbacks paceman Chadd Sayers will be searching for wickets in his side’s clash against Victoria at Adelaide Oval after being left out of the touring party for South Africa.
As was the case last summer, Dukes balls will be used in the second half of the Shield season to assist the country’s batsmen who are selected for the 2019 Ashes series, with Australia not winning an Ashes series overseas since 2001.
Here are five players to watch in the coming round of Shield fixtures, with less than 12 points separating first-placed NSW and last-placed Victoria with five rounds to go before the final at the end of March.
Cameron Bancroft (Western Australia)
Bancroft has the chance to gain a confidence boost before leaving for South Africa, with debate over his place in Australia’s Test side raging during the Magellan Ashes series. Champion batsman Mike Hussey was among those called for Bancroft to be retained in the Test side after he notched 179 runs at 25.57 in his maiden series, highlighted by an unbeaten 82 in the second innings in Brisbane before a lean run heaped pressure on the 25-year-old’s position. Bancroft earned his promotion on the back of 442 runs from three matches to start the Shield season at an average of 110.5, highlighted by an unbeaten 228 against South Australia in November. Bancroft has experience against the pink ball, having represented Gloucestershire and Somerset in England.
Jhye Richardson (Western Australia)
The whippy right-armer has enjoyed a summer to remember, having made his ODI debut for Australia in the Gillette series against England and returning two wickets in his sole appearance before securing a spot in Australia’s touring party for South Africa. The pacey Richardson also impressed for Perth Scorchers during the BBL and bagged 17 wickets from his first four Shield games of the season to turn heads. While Richardson gained notoriety through his stellar efforts for the Scorchers, he is a top prospect in the longer format, with his pace a key reason why he got the nod for the four-Test series.
Peter Handscomb (Victoria)
Like Bancroft, Handscomb will be looking to rebound from a lean Ashes series after playing just two matches and returning 62 from runs at 20.66. The axe marked the first low point of Handscomb’s 12-Test career (his average stands at 47.35 and he has two Test tons), but his replacement Mitchell Marsh grabbed his opportunity with two centuries in three Tests against England, meaning the Victoria skipper is likely, barring injury, to enter the South Africa tour as a back-up batsman. Handscomb scored 441 runs at 33.92 for Yorkshire in county cricket against the Dukes ball last year.
Jake Weatherald (South Australia)
The South Australia opener will be looking to continue his red-hot form after blazing a match-winning century in Adelaide Strikers’ BBL triumph over Hobart Hurricanes. While the 23-year-old had a slow start to the BBL, he showcased his power with four half-centuries in the last five games to turn heads. However, while Weatherald has not played a four-day fixture since the start of December, he started 2017-18 in superb touch, blasting 457 runs and logging two centuries for the Redbacks from his first five games.
Chadd Sayers (South Australia)
Perhaps the most controversial omission from Australia’s squad for the four-Test series, with national selectors preferring Tasmania’s Jackson Bird. Sayers has been the dominant fast bowler in Shield cricket in recent years and collected 62 wickers last season. Having been close to a Test debut in Adelaide the past two seasons, Sayers was overlooked in favour of Starc,Hazlewood and Cummins, with Bird and Richardson the back-up options. Sayers is enjoying another strong shield season with 17 wickets from four games and will tackle Victoria at Adelaide Oval – a venue where he has dismantled opposition batting line-ups. Sayers snared 25 wickets from five matches in the second half of last season with the Dukes ball.