The Sheffield Shield returns on Friday after the BBL break. There are four rounds remaining with all six sides still a mathematical possibility to play in the final, with all rounds set to be played with Dukes balls. Australia's Test side is currently very settled after five consecutive wins but there is always a chance to make the selectors take notice. Here are six players for who it could be an important few weeks.
The Queensland legspinner arguably has the most to gain over the last part of the season. He was added to the Test squad for the Sydney Test against New Zealand and is the frontrunner to be part of the squad to tour Bangladesh in support of Nathan Lyon. Australia played three spinners in one Test on the last tour of Bangladesh in 2017 but Swepson wasn't one of them despite being in the touring party. Swepson's biggest challenge will be getting enough bowling for Queensland. Three of their four matches will be at the Gabba and the WACA with the quicks likely to do the bulk of the bowling with Dukes balls. He will miss one of those matches to play for Australia A against the England Lions at the MCG, which will also be a day-night pink ball fixture. Swepson only played four of the six games prior to the BBL, partly due to conditions, and took 12 wickets at 26.58 including a hat-trick against Victoria. But he and Steve O'Keefe are the only two spinners in the top 25 wicket-takers in the Shield this season.
Australia's Test squad is still yearning for an allrounder and Henriques has a golden chance to put himself in a position to return to Test cricket while Mitchell Marsh heads to South Africa for the limited-overs tour. Henriques has had an outstanding season with the bat so far making 453 runs at 56.62 and scoring two centuries. He led the Sydney Sixers to the BBL title and as a result, has been rewarded with the captaincy of the Australia A side to face the England Lions. Henriques has been spoken about for the Bangladesh tour and has experience on the sub-continent having played all four of his Tests in India and Sri Lanka, including two Test half-centuries on debut in Chennai. But the selectors want him bowling more and he only sent down 20 overs in the first six Shield matches of the season, taking two wickets, partly because of the dominance of the New South Wales attack but he has also been a reluctant bowler in recent years.
The allrounder is out of favour with the Australian selectors at the moment but a big finish to the Shield season could make him too hard to ignore. He produced the most prolific BBL in history scoring 705 runs including a century and six fifties but the fact that he was opening and only bowled two overs for the tournament gave the selectors cause to leave him out of the South Africa limited-overs squads even when a replacement was needed for Glenn Maxwell. He had a very solid first half of the Shield season, without being spectacular, averaging 35.77 with the bat including four half-centuries in 10 innings but was lacking a big score. He averaged 27 with the ball taking 12 wickets from 121 overs in six games. He has been included in the Australia A team and if he can convert a couple of half-centuries into big hundreds and continue to contribute with the ball for Western Australia and Australia A then he could force the selectors' hands.
The elegant left-hander has become the forgotten man of Australian cricket since he made a Test century against Sri Lanka late last summer. His season-to-date has been ruined by a quad injury that he suffered in the first Shield game of the season. Since then he managed only a club game in Perth and three BBL games for the Perth Scorchers, but he returned to red-ball cricket last week in a 2nd XI game for New South Wales Metro against Tasmania and made 81 in the fourth innings to help his side in a successful chase of 204 in Tasmania. He has also been included in the Australia A side to face the England Lions but will have three Shield matches either side of that plus a potential Shield final to try and put pressure on the selectors to find a place for him in the middle order.
Australia's opening pairing of David Warner and Joe Burns looks settled for the moment but Burns appears to constantly be looking over his shoulder given his selection history and some missed opportunities to make big scores during the Test summer. Harris knows he can put pressure on if he can convert his regular starts into bigger tallies. He made a century and two half-centuries from six Shield innings prior to the BBL but failed to really kick on as he did last summer and has been told by the selectors in no uncertain terms that he needs to do so to get back into the frame. He has been selected for Australia A to face the England Lions as he was earlier in the summer against Pakistan. Big scores in that pink ball day-night game, as well as big runs against the Dukes ball in Shield cricket, will certainly capture the selectors' attention.
The 20-year-old allrounder is a watching brief for the remainder of the summer. He is unable to bowl for the rest of the season due to another hot spot in his lower back. He will play as a specialist batsman for Western Australia after his stunning first half of the Shield season where he made two centuries and a half-century and tallied 401 runs at 66.83. Such was his burst of form there were calls from some former Test greats for his immediate elevation to international cricket but both Green and the Australian selectors calmed the excitement claiming such calls were very premature. The selectors want him back bowling before they elevate him and Green knows he needs more time to develop his body and his game in all facets. However, if he added two more centuries in the last four games, plus a potential final, he would become the first 20-year-old to score four centuries in a Sheffield Shield season since Steve Smith in 2009-10. Such a feat would give the selectors something to think about.