The Sheffield Shield season will begin on Saturday with the first four rounds to be played in an Adelaide-based hub to enable to the tournament to take place amid Covid-19. New South Wales are the defending champions having been awarded the title when last season was cut short. There will be a number of young players looking to make their mark and members of Australia's Test squad, including captain Tim Paine, will be hoping to find form ahead of the series against India in December. Here is a team-by-team guide of how the states stack up for this season.
New South Wales
Captain Peter Nevill
Coach Phil Jaques
Squad Peter Nevill, Daniel Hughes, Nick Larkin, Kurtis Patterson, Moises Henriques, Daniel Solway, Jason Sangha, Matthew Gilkes, Sean Abbott, Trent Copeland, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain, Nathan Lyon, Liam Hatcher, Harry Conway, Jack Edwards, Tanveer Sangha
October 22-25: Victoria, Adelaide Oval No. 2
October 30-November 2: Western Australia, Karen Rolton Oval
November 8-11: South Australia, Glenelg
November 17-20: Victoria, TBC
Adam Zampa has joined from South Australia with a view to reviving his first-class career although the nature of the season will likely keep that on hold until after the Big Bash - if not next season. Chris Tremain has also made the move from Victoria which will further bolster some enviable pace resources. Steve O'Keefe was told early on he would not get a new deal and announced his retirement.
New South Wales had all-but secured the ultimately cancelled home final with a pre-BBL surge which saw them collect five victories in their first six matches. They were rather less consistent when the tournament resumed but were worthy champions when the season was curtailed. The ever-consistent Daniel Hughes was the leading run-scorer with 665 at 44.33 while there was a breakout first season for Daniel Solway (498 runs at 55.33). Harry Conway and Trent Copeland topped the wicket-taking with 25 apiece.
Player to watch
Given that, at times, this hasn't been the richest of batting eras in Australian cricket, it could be that Daniel Hughes goes down as one of the unluckier players not to have earned a chance. Across the last two summers he has been in the top five leading run-scorers and last season scored twin hundreds in a match against South Australia. If a specialist reserve opener is needed for the Test squad he probably has to leapfrog Marcus Harris, but runs on the board could make for an interesting discussion.
New South Wales provide Australia's entire first-choice bowling attack and more than half the Test XI. Outside of the usual suspects, the need for enlarged international squads could open the door for Hughes and Kurtis Patterson while Sean Abbott was part of the recent tour to England.
Captain Usman Khawaja
Coach Wade Seccombe
Squad Usman Khawaja, Xavier Bartlett, Joe Burns, Blake Edwards, Benji Floros, Matthew Kuhnemann, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Jimmy Peirson, Lachy Pfeffer, Matt Renshaw, Mark Steketee, Bryce Street, Mitchell Swepson, Jack Wildermuth.
October 10-13: Tasmania, Park 25
October 19-22: Western Australia, Park 25
October 30-November 2: South Australia, Glenelg
November 8-11: Victoria, Karen Rolton Oval
The major loss has been Cameron Gannon who was Queensland's leading wicket-taker last season with 38 wickets at 20.92 and has moved to Western Australia.
Queensland kept themselves in contention throughout and could have secured a spot in the final had the season run its natural course. There was improvement in the batting although still only four individual centuries (up from one in 2018-19) with two of those coming from breakout batting star Bryce Street who impressed with his occupation of the crease. Alongside Gannon, Michael Neser (33 wickets at 17.30) was superbly consistent when not on 12th-man duties for Australia while allrounder Jack Wildermuth (268 runs and 14 wickets) and legspinner Mitchell Swepson (14 wickets) showed some promising returns.
Player to watch
Matt Renshaw has had a difficult couple of seasons in the Shield, average 21 and 20 respectively in the last two summers, and has drifted well down the pecking order of potential Australia batsmen. However, he is only 24 and there is plenty of time for him to come again. He took some time away from the game after the BBL last season (a format where he has enjoyed more success and has how moved to the Adelaide Strikers) and this season is set to be competing for a middle-order spot. However, he is determined not to overburden himself. "I know the more I put pressure on myself, the harder it is going to be for me," he told SEN radio.
Joe Burns and Marnus Labuschagne are locked into the Test top order while Neser and Swepson will have a good chance of being involved in an expanded squad. Usman Khawaja will be looking to put a poor 2019-2020 behind him and rekindle his Test ambitions.
Captain Travis Head
Coach Jason Gillespie
Squad Travis Head, Wes Agar, Tom Cooper, Brad Davis, Callum Ferguson, Henry Hunt, Conor McInerney, Harry Nielsen, Lloyd Pope, Luke Robins, Chadd Sayers, Liam Scott, Cameron Valente, Jake Weatherald, Nick Winter
October 10-13: v Queensland, Park 25
October 19-22: v South Australia, Karen Rolton Oval
October 30-November 2: v Queensland, Glenelg
November 8-11: v New South Wales, Glenelg
Spin bowlers Zampa and Tom Andrews both departed in search of better opportunities in New South Wales and Tasmania, leaving Lloyd Pope as the solitary twirler on the Redbacks' contract list. While contracted, Jake Lehmann was missing from the trimmed down SA squad for the first four Shield games. Joe Mennie is unavailable for at least the early part of the season while remaining with his family in the UK, and Daniel Worrall has a calf strain, keeping him out of at least the first round.
Two outright wins, as opposed to zero in 2018-19, were not enough to lift South Australia off the bottom of the Shield table for the third consecutive season, having reached the competition final in both 2016 and 2017. The coach Jamie Siddons departed, eventually replaced by the Adelaide Strikers coach Jason Gillespie, following a comprehensive review of SA cricket by Michael Hussey that recommended closer alignment of the Shield and BBL teams, among a raft of other measures such as a reduction in the number of grade clubs.
Player to watch
In terms of averages, Jake Weatherald had his best season since his first last summer, and at the age of 25 has now served a decent apprenticeship. At his best he is a destructive opening batsman with a touch of the highest class, the sort of player the national selectors are ardently hoping will take the next step up to deepen the ranks of batting contenders for the national side. A chance to play four rounds of the Shield in the familiar surrounds of Adelaide looms as a major chance for him to go to another level.
Travis Head is around the Test team, Alex Carey a fixture in the ODI and T20 sides, and Kane Richardson a part of the white-ball squad also. Wes Agar, after a breakout season with the ball, will be eager to follow up and add his name to the ranks of Australia's pace bowling reserves.
Captain Matthew Wade (Tim Paine for first two rounds)
Coach Jeff Vaughan
Squad Tom Andrews, Gabe Bell, Jackson Bird, Alex Doolan, Jake Doran, Ben McDermott, Riley Meredith, Nathan Ellis, Tim Paine, Sam Rainbird, Peter Siddle, Jordan Silk, Matthew Wade*, Charlie Wakim, Tim Ward, Beau Webster, Mac Wright
*Wade to join squad ahead of round three
October 10-13: Queensland, Park 25
October 19-22: South Australia, Karen Rolton Oval
October 30-November 2: Victoria, Park 25
November 8-11: Western Australia, Park 25
Peter Siddle was the big acquisition during the winter as the former Australia quick was lured from Victoria bringing wealth of experience. Allrounder Tom Andrews has also joined from South Australia and will provide another spin-bowling option. James Faulkner no longer has a state contract
Just one win before Christmas left them struggling to make an impression but in the final few weeks of the season they secured back-to-back victories against Western Australia and runaway leaders New South Wales - an impressive response to being bowled out for 78 by Queensland - which kept them mathematically in the hunt before Covid-19. Nobody passed 600 runs with Alex Doolan the best making 575 at 35.93 while only Matthew Wade, in four appearances, averaged over 40. Tim Paine's second first-class century was a notable moment. The pace-bowling held up well with Jackson Bird, Gabe Bell and Riley Meredith providing solid returns but spin bowling was almost a forgotten art.
Player to watch
Having made his name in the previous two seasons of the BBL, the skiddy pace bowler Nathan Ellis burst onto the Sheffield Shield scene with 18 wickets in his first two matches including hauls of 6 for 86 and 6 for 43, playing a major role in Tasmania's back-to-back victories. With well-stocked pace resources - even more so with the arrival of Siddle - it will be interesting to see whether Ellis maintains a regular starting berth.
Paine, who will captain the side for the first two matches with Wade given a break from hub life, will have the job of marshalling the Test side through a strange season while Wade will join him in the line-up. Meredith could come up for discussion if extra pace bowlers are needed while his consistency and reliability could keep Bird in the frame as a back-up.
Captain Peter Handscomb
Coach Chris Rogers
Squad Peter Handscomb, Scott Boland, Xavier Crone, Travis Dean, Zak Evans, Jake Fraser-McGurk, Seb Gotch, Sam Harper, Marcus Harris, Jon Holland, Nic Maddinson, Simon Mackin, Todd Murphy, Jono Merlo, Mitch Perry, Will Pucovski, Matt Short, Will Sutherland
October 22-25: v NSW, Adelaide Oval No. 2
October 30-November 2: v Tasmania, Park 25
November 8-11: v Queensland, Karen Rolton Oval
November 17-20: v NSW, TBC
Victoria's leading wicket-taker last season, Siddle, trekked south to Tasmania for a hybrid playing and mentoring role and Tremain returned home to New South Wales, leaving Victoria to bolster their squad for the first four rounds by calling in the former West Australian beanpole Simon Mackin. The replacement of Andrew McDonald as head coach by Chris Rogers, after McDonald accepted a post with the national team, made for an interesting switch: Rogers, having worked in the Cricket Australia high performance system, is acutely aware of the need for the Shield to be a greenhouse to nurture new talent, rather than simply to win trophies.
Winless in the first six rounds, Victoria were staring at an ignominious end to their recent run of Shield success before rebounding strongly in the post-Christmas rounds to win three games in a row outright to sit second behind champions New South Wales when the competition was brought to an early end. Nic Maddinson was outstanding, on pace for a 1000-run season had he played 10 matches, while Marcus Harris' returns were creditable. Will Sutherland proved an effective seamer when available and will look to play a full season this time.
Player to watch
Jake Fraser-McGurk made some eye-catching runs in his first two appearances for the state, and it will be fascinating to see how quickly he is able to develop his obvious natural talents now leavened by the technical and tactical wisdom Rogers can impart in terms of how to build long-form innings. Victoria remain keenly aware of how few top-class batsmen the state has produced at Test match level over the past 50 years.
Will Pucovski's enormous ability should keep him in discussions so far as batting options for the national team are concerned, provided he can put a sequence of scores together after missing the second half of the Shield in 2019-20. The captain Peter Handscomb also retains international ambitions, while Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell and James Pattinson are all likely to figure for Austrlaia at some point during the season
Captain Mitchell Marsh (currently injured)
Coach Adam Voges
Squad Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Hilton Cartwright, Cameron Gannon, Cameron Green, Liam Guthrie, Aaron Hardie, Josh Inglis, Matthew Kelly, Shaun Marsh, David Moody, Lance Morris, Joel Paris, Corey Rocchiccioli, D'Arcy Short, Ashton Turner, Sam Whiteman
October 10-13: South Australia, Karen Rolton Oval
October 19-22: Queensland, Park 25
October 30-November 2: New South Wales, Karen Rolton Oval
November 8-11: Tasmania, Park 25
A freshening up of the pace attack was key among Adam Voges' off-season plans as he focused on reviving WA's four-day fortunes in an attempt to end 20 years without a Shield title. AJ Tye and Nathan Coulter-Nile have dropped off the list while Cameron Gannon has been brought in from Queensland. Simon Mackin has also moved on.
Two wins in the first five matches kept Western Australia in touch early season but they were then involved in the match at the MCG that was abandoned due to a dangerous pitch. When the competition resumed after the BBL defeats against South Australia and Tasmania severely hurt their chances before the season was aborted. The evergreen Shaun Marsh (724 runs at 48.26) led the scoring while Matthew Kelly (27 wickets at 28.48) shouldered a heavy burden in the bowling attack.
Player to watch
It would be easy to say Cameron Green - who will be held back from bowling at the start of the competition - but it will be interesting to see how Cameron Bancroft responds to a very difficult 2019-2020 where his technique was dissected to the extent he was repeatedly caught at leg gully. His highest first-class score of the season came for Australia A, when he made 49 against Pakistan in Perth, and he surprisingly found a spot as a reserve batsman in the Test squad but was dropped from the Shield squad before the end of the season.
Mitchell Marsh is recovering from the ankle injury he picked up at the IPL but is hopeful of being available for the latter part of the Shield hub. Jhye Richardson is aiming to return from shoulder reconstruction in time for the BBL. Marcus Stoinis and Josh Philippe are both at the IPL and can expect to be involved in the white-ball cricket against India as can Ashton Agar.