Shield round to shape enlarged Test squad

Rob Forsaith
·2-min read

Joe Burns and a handful of batsmen stalking his spot in Australia's Test side have one more Sheffield Shield game to impress national selectors before India arrive.

Chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns noted last week the Test side is stable and he does not envisage "too much pressure being exerted on any of the incumbents" before the first Test against India, which starts on December 17.

But there will nonetheless be some headaches for Hohns, coach Justin Langer and fellow selector George Bailey - who this weekend will piece together an enlarged squad for the four-Test series.

Hohns indicated his panel is likely to select approximately 17 players in the Test squad because of COVID-19 protocols.

It means allrounder Cameron Green, who last week was described as the best batting talent that Greg Chappell had seen since Ricky Ponting, and Will Pucovski are both well placed to make the cut.

Breaking into the Test XI will be harder.

Matthew Wade and Travis Head both enjoyed productive stints at the crease during the Shield round that concluded on Monday, with the latter scoring 151 to ensure South Australia salvaged a draw against Victoria.

Burns has been the outlier among Australia's top six playing Shield cricket, logging scores of seven, 29 and zero.

Marcus Harris, who opened alongside David Warner during last year's Ashes before he made way for Burns, started the season with a knock of 239 against SA.

Pucovski, who has been promoted to open for Victoria this season, finished 255 not out in a 486-run partnership with Harris that broke several records.

"He (Pucovski) is just a class player and he's got a big future, but I think he's going to have to show this for a little while," Victoria coach Chris Rogers told cricket.com.au, also praising Harris.

"If the opportunity did come then good luck to him, but equally it would be good to see him just make it his position in the team."

The Shield will next week enter its mid-season hiatus.

Langer has long yearned for fierce competition for places, which was the norm throughout his 105-Test career, and the opening rounds of the first-class competition would have brought a smile to his face.

Pucovski is one of 15 players to have scored at least one century in the Adelaide hub.

Queensland paceman Michael Neser, a perennial member of the Test squad in recent years, is one of eight bowlers to have claimed a five-wicket haul in the early Shield rounds.

Queensland legspinner Mitchell Swepson tops the wicket-taking table after a prolific start to the season, having snared 15 wickets at 20.33 to suggest he will likely be in the box seat for a Test debut whenever selectors next opt for two spinners.

Swepson claimed 14 wickets at 31.5 from six games during the 2019-20 season, underlining his off-season improvement.