Steve Smith is in a form trough ahead of Ashes

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

 , , ,

158 Have your say

    The opening round of the Sheffield Shield only added to the intrigue surrounding Australia’s Ashes line-up.

    Test incumbent Glenn Maxwell failed twice against Queensland while his key rival for the number six spot, Hilton Cartwright, had a good game against Tasmania, scoring 61 and 38.

    Usman Khawaja ended any conjecture about his Ashes spot with a sensational double of 40 and 122 against the very-strong Victorian attack on a tricky pitch at the Gabba.

    Test opener David Warner also looked in fine nick as he made 83 and 32 for NSW in a low-scoring match against South Australia.

    Jackson Bird and Chadd Sayers kept themselves in the minds of the Test selectors with fine bowling performances, each taking six wickets. Here are some of the other key talking points from the Shield.

    Steve Smith is in a form trough
    Since the start of the Test tour of Bangladesh, the Australian captain has made 328 runs at an average of 27 from a dozen innings across 50-over and first-class cricket.

    Smith failed twice for NSW this week against South Australia, out LBW to Chadd Sayers for three in the first innings and caught behind off Daniel Worrall for nine in the second dig.

    His form has been so extraordinary over the past four years that many pundits and fans have wondered just when he would finally encounter a rough patch. Is this it? Is Smith finally out of form?

    His return of 119 runs at 30 in Bangladesh was the first time in four years Smith had averaged less than 40 in a Test series. During that period, Australia’s batting line-up has relied heavily on the 28-year-old’s phenomenal consistency.

    Smith’s double failure in the Shield this week was particularly notable given the way he has destroyed State attacks in recent years, having churned out 717 runs at 90 in his previous five Shield matches.

    Australian captain Steve Smith leaves the field

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Nevill, Wade and Carey struggled
    It was an awful round for the three contenders for Australia’s Test keeping berth. Incumbent Matt Wade, former Test gloveman Peter Nevill and rising star Alex Carey all failed to press their cases for selection.

    Nevill grafted his way to 20 off 67 balls against SA in his only knock for the round, but had a poor match behind the stumps, missing two catches.

    The second of those chances was an absolute dolly, with Nevill turfing a regulation edge from the blade of Callum Ferguson off the bowling of Pat Cummins. Earlier Nevill had failed to take a nick from the bat of Jake Weatherald, with the ball fortunately lobbing off his left glove to Steve Smith at first slip.

    Wade had an even worse match for Tasmania against WA, with scores of one and six. As the dark horse for the Test keeping spot, Carey needed to have an eye-catching start to the Shield season but instead he made only 12 and four.

    Although, to be fair, Carey’s first innings dismissal was the result of being forced to slog because SA were nine down, with bunny Chadd Sayers at the other end.

    The Australian selectors will have gleaned very little from the performances of these three players, except perhaps confirmation that Wade is truly out of touch.

    Chris Tremain is ready for Test cricket
    Over the past three Sheffield Shield seasons, no one has had a better bowling average than Tremain’s 19.6 (minimum 50 wickets). Tremain has grabbed 82 wickets from 20 matches during that period at a remarkable strike rate of 41.

    The Victorian paceman has an enviable range of attributes – he’s tall (193cm), he’s accurate, he swings the ball late and consistently, and he’s quick, having been clocked at up to 148kmh in an ODI for Australia.

    Tremain rarely is mentioned as a Test prospect because of the amazing depth of Australia’s pace stocks. After the so-called Big Four – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson – there’s also the likes of Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Peter Siddle.

    Quite incredibly, Tremain might be behind all of those guys in the Test pecking order, putting him way back in 10th place. Yet I think the 26-year-old is well and truly ready for Test cricket and would acquit himself well should get an opportunity at the highest level.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

    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.