Standby Ashes bowler could ruin Sayers’ Test debut chance
AFTER a BBL-enforced hiatus, the Sheffield Shield returned last week and eight of Australia's 14-man Test squad were in action.
Australia departs for its tour of South Africa on Thursday, but the make-up of the squad has been muddied by a late injury to Jackson Bird.
Ahead of the squad's departure, we take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from round six of the Sheffield Shield season.
The most worrying thing to come out of the Sheffield Shield round was Jackson Bird (0-44 and 1-41) breaking down mid run-up at the Gabba.
It is unclear how bad Bird's hamstring injury is. The seamer had two inconclusive scans in Brisbane and is set for further scans in Melbourne, according to AAP.
If Bird is ruled out, the man most heavily favoured to replace him is Chadd Sayers (0-85 and 0-50).
The South Australian swing king was a shock omission from Australia's original Test squad, overlooked for Jhye Richardson despite a stellar first-class record (246 wickets at 24.11).
Worryingly for Australia, Sayers' form has dipped this summer. The 30-year-old went wicketless against Victoria and had has a middling Shield season thus far (17 at 32.82).
Australia coach Darren Lehmann confirmed Sayers as the frontrunner to replace Bird if necessary, but added that the selection panel would sit down to consider all option.
"Jackson's being assessed by the medical staff today so we'll make a call on that in the next 24 hours and see how he goes," Lehmann told Cricket Australia's website.
"We'll replace him if required. The logical (replacement) is probably Chadd Sayers, but we'll sit as a selection panel and work that out.
"We'd like a fully fit squad to go into a tough tour. So if he is to tour, we want him playing the tour game."
Former fast bowler Geoff Lawson has thrown his weight behind Sayers but believes Victorian quick Chris Tremain could also be in the mix, claiming that he was on standby for Mitchell Starc this summer.
Tremain has taken 28 wickets at 22.11 in the Sheffield Shield this season, and is second only to Victorian teammatee Scott Boland (29 at 22.10).
"If we wind the clock back to the first Test in Brisbane, a certain Chris Tremain was on standby for that Test when Mitchell Starc had a little niggle," Lawson told the Big Sports Breakfast on Monday.
"Tremain was on standby for that one - maybe going to South Africa they might be thinking the same? They've already got young Jhye Richardson in the squad.
"If we look at what's been happening in South Africa, against India the pitches did plenty and Vernon Philander was just about unplayable.
"Chadd Sayers is that kind of bowler, bowls maximum 130k but he swings the ball, he's at the batsman all the time and that's exactly what Vernon Philander does."
If selectors are really stumped for fast-bowling options, then there's always Matthew Wade - no, not really. The dumped Test keeper took off the gloves to take career best figures of 3-13 after Tasmania lost Bird and Gabe Bell (broken foot) to injury.
Peter Handscomb (0 and 114 v SA) has found form just in time for the Test tour of South Africa. Handscomb scored his first century of the summer to guide Victoria to its first Sheffield Shield win of the season against South Australia.
Handscomb made an unbeaten 114 in a chase of 252, passing 50 for only the second time in the first-class season. He also took seven catches for the match. He is the sixth man to do so in Sheffield Shield history and no one has ever taken more.
The hundred is a welcome return to form for Handscomb and bolsters his hopes of a return to Australia's middle order in South Africa.
The right-hander went from being the future of the Australian Test team to riding the pine in alarming speed this summer. One of the heroes of Australia's series-levelling Test win in Bangladesh, Handscomb was dropped just two Tests later. At that stage he was averaging 24.33 in first-class cricket for the summer.
While Mitchell Marsh (8 and 14, 4-50 and 0-34) was imperious with the bat in the Ashes (320 at 106.66), he was a passenger with the ball. Marsh had only recently returned to bowling duty for Western Australia after spending most of the season recovering from shoulder surgery.
In the first round of the Sheffield Shield, Marsh the bowler finally re-emerged. Having touched the 140km/h mark in last month's one-day international series, Marsh put in his most impressive display with the ball in an age for Western Australia against New South Wales.
On top of getting through 26 overs for the match, Marsh took 4-50 in NSW's first innings. The WA captain made the most of the swinging Dukes ball - which will be used throughout the second half of the Shield season - knocking over the entirety of the Blues' top four.
Despite four wickets for the match from Nathan Lyon (3-59 and 1-15), NSW still went down by four wickets.
Encouragingly for Australia, a number of batsmen from the next generation stepped up. Young wicketkeeper Harry Nielsen, scored a century on Shield debut for South Australia against Victoria. He was ably supported by Jake Lehmann (83) in SA's first innings.
Up at the Gabba, 21-year-old Jake Doran continued his breakout season with a second-innings 95 - the highest score in a match where ball dominated bat. Dumped Test opener Matt Renshaw also found some semblance of form with scores of 56 and 32, while WA all-rounder Hilton Cartwright posted scores of 78 and 32.
A surprise call-up for the tour of South Africa, Jhye Richardson (1-30 and 0-55) failed to leave his mark against NSW. In a match where most of the quicks had the ball singing, the whippy 21-year-old only picked up one wicket across his 36.2 overs. WA still went on to win the match and it would be harsh to read too much into his numbers.
Victorian spinner Jon Holland (0-79 and 1-57) found things even tougher against South Australia. The left-arm finger-spinner only took one wicket from his 32 overs and was particularly expensive in the first innings, going for 79 runs in just 15 overs.
It was a tough outing for all three of WA's Test batsmen. Mitchell Marsh (8 and 14, 4-50 and 0-34) failed to fire in both innings, though both Shaun Marsh (29 and 39) and Cameron Bancroft (38 and 13) did have valuable hit outs.
HOW AUSTRALIA'S TEST MEMBERS FARED
Steve Smith - rested
David Warner - on Twenty20 duty
Cameron Bancroft - 38 and 13 v NSW
Jackson Bird - 0-44 and 1-41 v Queensland
Pat Cummins - Rested
Peter Handscomb - 0 and 114 not out v South Australia
Josh Hazlewood - rested
Jon Holland - 0-79 and 1-57 v South Australia
Usman Khawaja - Out with a thumb injury
Nathan Lyon - 3-59 and 1-15
Mitchell Marsh - 8 and 14, 4-50 and 0-34
Shaun Marsh - 29 and 39
Tim Paine - rested
Jhye Richardson - 1-30 and 0-55
Mitchell Starc - rested