Victoria snap out of Twenty20 mindset
Three days is hardly the ideal pre-season build-up for the defending Sheffield Shield champions. But that's how long Victoria have been given to adjust from Twenty20 to four-day cricket after their off-season was dominated by preparations for the multi-million dollar Champions League Twenty20 in India.
The Twenty20 squad members flew out from India last Friday, weighed down by healthy prize-money for reaching the semi-finals but also the disappointment of being comprehensively knocked out by New South Wales. Then came a couple of precious days at home, the start of four-day training on Tuesday, and a flight to Adelaide for this Friday's Sheffield Shield clash with South Australia.
"It's a super challenge for our players to switch mindsets and the physical challenges are enormously different as well," the coach Greg Shipperd said. "Instead of bowling four overs in a day they'll have to bowl 20, 25 overs.
"There's no doubt we're not as fresh as we have been in the past and across the season now our whole season has been concertinaed into a shorter space of time. So, less rest between games and our management and rotation of our players is going to be extremely important."
Eight of the players in Victoria's 12-man squad for their Shield opener were in the Twenty20 unit in India, as was Dirk Nannes, who was representing Delhi Daredevils. Only Chris Rogers, Nick Jewell and Lloyd Mash have been at home throughout October, playing grade cricket and itching for their domestic season to kick off.
The players need look only as far as their team-mate Aaron Finch for proof that quick adjustment is possible. Finch was part of the Champions League squad and arrived home on Friday, then a few hours later was in Geelong playing grade cricket and posted a healthy 138 from 143 balls.
There are others who, like Finch, had little to do in India but run drinks and train in the nets. Among them was Bryce McGain, who seven months ago was making his Test debut in Cape Town and now finds himself fighting with Jon Holland for the role of Victoria's No. 1 spinner.
Holland is in India with Australia's one-day team but will be back in Melbourne in time for Victoria's second Sheffield Shield game. It means that McGain, 37, is under pressure to deliver this weekend in Adelaide to show that he deserves to retain his state position throughout the summer.
"Bryce is champing at the bit to play. This is a huge game for him to again give himself some confidence that those skills are still there," Shipperd said. "We are really confident that they're still there and we believe that if he is not the best spinner in the country, then he is a close second to whoever the other person may be.
"Bryce is very keen to make the most of these first three or four [Shield and FR Cup] games while Jon is away and then we have got some selection headaches. That will help to put the pressure on the Victorian selectors to think long and hard about who's the best for which situation, which form of the game we're playing. We'll need to delicately balance that as the season unfolds."
While Cameron White is with the ODI team, Victoria will be captained by David Hussey, who will be charged with giving the side a positive start after they reached all three finals in 2008-09. They did the same in 2007-08 but have only that year's Twenty20 title and last season's Sheffield Shield to show for the six final appearances.
Unlike several other states Victoria have retained a settled squad this summer, losing only the limited-overs wicketkeeper Adam Crosthwaite during the off-season. But with men like Brad Hodge, Shane Harwood, McGain and Damien Wright in their mid to late 30s, the window for winning more silverware with this group will begin to close.
Harwood, 35, is already having his workload managed and has been rested from Friday's Sheffield Shield opener and will join the squad for the FR Cup game that follows. The next couple of months will be hectic for the Bushrangers, who must squeeze in five Sheffield Shield games and seven one-dayers before Christmas.
Victoria squad Chris Rogers, Nick Jewell, Lloyd Mash, Brad Hodge, David Hussey (capt), Andrew McDonald, Rob Quiney, Matthew Wade (wk), John Hastings, Clint McKay, Bryce McGain, Dirk Nannes.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo