Sheffield Shield: Round 10 and both final slots are up for grabs

It has been a funny old Sheffield Shield season with a massive gap right in the middle of it. The final round of the first class summer in Australia begins on Tuesday and there are four teams vying for a finals berth.

The points table, at the end of the 9th round of play, looks like this:

Teams Mat Won Lost Tied Draw Aban Pts Quotient For Against
Western Australia 9 4 2 0 3 0 26 1.052 4646/142 4758/153
South Australia 9 3 1 0 5 0 26 1.148 5071/133 5013/151
New South Wales 9 3 3 0 3 0 26 1.050 4715/148 4549/150
Queensland 9 3 2 0 4 0 22 1.124 4555/125 5185/160
Tasmania 9 2 4 0 3 0 16 0.878 4774/166 4552/139
Victoria 9 1 4 0 4 0 10 0.794 4976/154 4680/115

Obviously, Tasmania and Victoria are out of the running for the final. Each of the other four teams are all in with a shot of being in the final and even Queensland could host the final if results go their way.

These are the fixture kicking off on Tuesday:

· New South Wales v Western Australia at Canberra

· Tasmania v South Australia at Hobart

· Victoria v Queensland at Melbourne

The big game of the round is the fixture coming out of Canberra with a finals spot obviously up for grabs for the winner. If the game ends in a draw then the winner of first innings points will go to 28 points and that ought be enough to make the finals. For both teams, if they lose on first innings then they will still have a chance given that there are 6 points available for an outright win. New South Wales though will be hoping that Queensland do not win outright because if they win first innings points and then draw the game and Queensland win outright Queensland will go through to the final as they will have won more games outright.

South Australia will secure a finals spot if they get first innings points and Queensland fail to win outright or, again, even if they lose on first innings, if they procure an outright victory. Obviously, a win on first innings and outright gets them into the final without the need for count back.

For Queensland to figure in the finals they must win against Victoria on the first innings as well as outright to secure 6 points and jump to 28 points. Then they must rely on South Australia only winning on the first innings or not gaining points and one of New South Wales or Western Australia not getting any points from their encounter.

Looking at the games:

· Queensland have been assisted by the selection of the Australian T20 team as the Bushrangers will be without Daniel Christian, Aaron Finch, Cameron White and Glenn Maxwell. Maxwell, in particular had been in excellent form for the Vics so he will be a big loss. Conversely, Queensland will be basically at full strength and come into the game off the back of a massive win against the leaders of the competition, Western Australia. They will be looking at making it a season worthwhile for captain James Hopes who has been playing with stress fractures since the first round of the season and has 32 wickets to show for it.

· South Australia have been rocked by the suspension of their captain Johan Botha as a result of his poor conduct in their Round 9 fixture. He is also the second highest wicket taker in the competition with 36. They will be looking to Tom Cooper, who is the top scorer in the competition with 858 runs to lead the charge with the willow. The defending champion Tasmanians have a great record at home and will, no doubt, put out a pitch that seams which will play right into their hands.

· Western Australia and New South Wales are playing a semi final of sorts in this game. The Warriors possess two of the most consistent batters in the first class game in Marcus North and Adam Voges and it is no surprise that they lacked quality runs in their last game against Queensland which WA lost terribly. The New South Welshmen possess the leading wicket taker in the competition on Steve O’Keefe with 38 wickets at an average of 20.05 and one expects he will bowl “big” overs for them again in Canberra.

An exciting end to a strange season awaits on Tuesday. This is going to be epic!

Sheffield Shield Round 2 and Australia “A”: players to watch

6 November 2013 represents the start of four first class games which represent the last chance for Australian cricketers to press their case for national honours with the first test match team for the Gabba test set to be named on 12 November. I have been overt in my view that the first test team has already been names internally at Cricket Australia Towers however an injury to Shane Watson and question marks over the captain’s fitness mean that this round of fixtures take on a, possible, new meaning. Also, given that CA has played its hand around fast bowler management in its decision to rest Josh Hazlewood from all cricket this week it is also important to keep an eye on the fast bowling stocks around the country.

All that said: here are my players to watch for this round of first class cricket:

Alex Doolan:

Seemingly already coronated as the replacement for Shane Watson, certainly so if you read the News Limited press, Doolan is off to a flying start to the season with a hundred and fifty in round 1 of the Sheffield Shield. This time last year scored a big hundred against South Africa in the same game and will again need big runs in this game to: a. mask his first class average of less than 40 and b. prove to everyone he is worthy of the “next best” slot.

Usman Khawaja:

Was in the test team in England and failed to grasp his opportunity with both hands. Now is seemingly on the outer (again principally with the News Limited press) and did not do anything to impress the selectors in round 1 of the Sheffield Shield. Is behind Doolan in the pecking order on form but has the advantage of test match experience which could be useful at the selection table. Needs to bat for a long time in this game but, in doing so, needs to show that when he plays spinners he can rotate the strike which he failed to do in England.

Phil Hughes:

Can Hughes make another push for the number 3 slot in the test team that many believe to be rightfully his? His attempt to do so commences in Perth where he will, one expects, open for the Sandgropers. Coming off a nothing tour of India he will need big runs in this game to get his name to the front of the queue. It must be noted that this is precisely the situation he found himself in last season when, via weight of first class runs, he charged into the test frame. The big question mark is whether one game is enough.

Moises Henriques:

Captaining the Australia A team is the first taste of first class cricket Henriques will have this season given that he has been mixing the cordials in India and missed the 1st round of the Sheffield Shield. A tour to India under his belt that can only be described as a disaster means he has test match experience and if he can perform against the English in Hobart he may be the man to replace Shane Watson if the NSP decide to replace an allrounder with another allrounder.

Ben Cutting:

The man of the series in the Ryobi Cup in the eyes of everyone but for Channel 9’s biased commentators, Cutting struggled with illness in the first round of the Sheffield Shield. Has match turning power with the willow and is one of the swiftest bowlers in domestic cricket on his day. Missed out on selection two years ago at the Gabba when the NSP went for hair gel (Pattinson) over substance. The only way he will get in the test team is if he takes that many wickets even John Inverarity can not ignore him and this game against the English is the first step on that path.

John Holland:

Holland is in the frame for a possible test birth for one reason and only one reason: Kevin Pietersen has a problem with left arm orthodox spin. Massive question mark for me is the fact that he has not played first class cricket in 13 months. Second question mark for me is a bowling average of 39.18 at the top level also does not inspire confidence. That said: if he gets KP out twice in the two innings he bowls at him in Hobart watch for the push for him to selected for the Gabba (again particularly in the News Limited press which has a problem with Nathan Lyon).

I am sure there are other players in the frame however these are the players I think the selectors will be looking at closely, whether they should be or not!

All eyes also will be on the MCG for the Victoria v New South Wales game and whether the captain’s rickety back can stand back to back first class games.