As the Shield season begins, the race for Ashes spots hots up

Giri Subramanian Roar Guru

By , Giri Subramanian is a Roar Guru

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    The major Ashes talking point over the last couple of months for Australia has been the No.6 position and the wicketleeper’s spot.

    Glenn Maxwell, who had occupied the six role in the recent subcontinent tours, has been patchy of late, and he must make the most of the three first-class games ahead of the series.

    The other six candidate is Hilton Cartwright, who made his debut against Bangladesh about a month ago. He had a brilliant Shield season last year, scoring 861 runs at 53.81, and offers an additional bowling option.

    The other batsman who might be of interest is Joe Burns, who may be an opener for his state side, but he made his Test debut in the middle order, and also had a good Shield season last year, scoring 724 runs at 40.

    Others who might also get a look in include George Bailey (839 runs at 59.92) and Moises Henriques (775 runs at 64). Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis will also be in the selectors’ minds as bowling all-rounders, but neither had a good first-class season last year.

    As for the wicketkeeping spot, Matthew Wade has been poor enough to be dropped for the Ashes, with the prime replacements being Peter Nevill and Alex Carey.

    Nevill had a decent Test season at home last summer and was unfortunate to lose his place, while Carey provides a younger option who could serve for a long time.

    Nevill had a stellar first-class season last year, scoring 625 runs at 56, with three hundreds, while Carey scored 594 runs at 33, meaning Nevill has his nose slightly ahead.

    Elsewhere, Matt Renshaw and Usman Khawaja will likely feature in the first Test, but they could be upstaged if any of the aforementioned players put in great performances in the first-class games preceding the Ashes.

    The Australian bowling attack is pretty settled, with Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood all expected to be fit. The backup seamer spot is still up for grabs though, with both Jackson Bird and James Pattinson unavailable for selection with injuries.

    The prime candidates for that position are Chadd Sayers (62 wickets at 19 last season), Jason Behrendorff (37 wickets at 17.59), Peter Siddle (played 62 Tests for Australia for 211 wickets) and Chris Tremain (42 wickets at 18.9).

    Siddle provides Australia with years of experience, but he missed the entire 2016-17 Shield season, so the next three games will be very important if he’s to stake his claim for the Ashes.

    The backup spinner spot also suffered a setback, with Steve O’Keefe injured, making Ashton Agar – who was picked for the Bangladesh tour – the top candidate for that spot.

    With so many combinations possible, the start of the Shield season gives aspirants an audition and the regulars a chance to get much-needed practice.

    The Ashes are here! After all the build-up, follow all the first Test action between Australia and England with our Ashes live scores and blog.