A number of contenders for test batting spots on the upcoming Ashes tour have found form against the swinging Duke ball in the Sheffield Shield – at exactly the right time. While Australia’s short form specialists are away on a tour in India, those who were left behind are taking their chance to boost their first-class averages and get themselves onto the tour.
Kurtis Patterson, Cameron Bancroft and Marcus Harris all made centuries in the last round, while Joe Burns and Travis Head also got 50’s in each of their innings, and Marnus Labuschagne also chipped in with 50. The overlooked Matthew Wade scored 77 in his first dig, but failed in the second.
Even Matt Renshaw shows signs of getting back into form just in time, coming up with 29 in the first innings and 47 in the second for Queensland. He noticeably lifted his strike rate in the second dig, getting to 47 in only 5 more balls than it took to score 29 in the first. His combination with Burns looks like it will be a valuable one for Queensland in the second half of the season, with the pair of them able to occupy the crease and blunt the new ball consistently.
Harris, however, was the standout opener (and batsman) of the round, absolutely plundering the Queensland attack to score 95 in the first innings and 174 in the second to carry Victoria to victory. The big century was particularly impressive given how much pressure Harris was under at the time, coming in chasing 304 for victory and with his opener partner Travis Dean out for a duck.
Bancroft was also very impressive, scoring 138 and carrying his bat in his first red ball innings since the ball tampering saga in South Africa last year. With 86 in his second innings, Bancroft’s average for the season is currently 224. He was also under plenty of pressure and was the only one preventing a total collapse for Western Australia, with the next highest scores after his digs being 66 and 22.
Patterson carried on his hot run of form in the same match to lead NSW to an innings victory, with Bancroft (who scored more than half of his team’s runs) unable to save his team despite his heroics. Patterson scored 134, while NSW captain and wicketkeeper (and former test wicketkeeper) Peter Neville was unbeaten on 101 when he declared.
The run of form by Australia’s batsmen will give the selectors an unfamiliar headache – they suddenly have too many in form players to choose from, rather than not enough! Some bowlers may have also forced their way into contention, led by Jackson Bird who took 11 wickets for 112 runs at an economy rate of about 2.5 per over.