Glenn Maxwell lands a punch in the battle for six

Scott Pryde Roar Guru

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    Australian incumbent No.6 Glenn Maxwell has landed his first punch of the summer in the battle for the most widely debated position ahead of the Ashes.

    It’s been thought by most that Maxwell needed at least one good innings if he was a chance to retain the spot he held in the team during Australia’s recent tours of India and Bangladesh.

    The pressure told on him during the day-night round which opened the Sheffield Shield last week as he failed to put up a score, but batting on the Melbourne Cricket Ground, he seemed to return to something resembling form.

    Batting at first drop and being overshadowed by a superb Marcus Harris century, the ‘Big Show’ scored a patient 60 from 113 balls. That came against a strong Redbacks attack featuring a couple of bowlers in the race for Australia’s back-up pace position in Chadd Sayers and Joe Mennie.

    It was an incredibly important knock for Maxwell, particularly after Shaun Marsh and Hilton Cartwright both hit runs in challenging conditions at the W.A.C.A during the first round.

    Maxwell’s innings featured eight boundaries and a six, and while it’s not where he is going to bat for Australia, scoring runs against a seaming ball at the top of the order is an important step forward for the incumbent.

    The runs for Maxwell couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. With the squad for the first Test being announced in the not too distant future, success alluded the Western Australian trio most likely to be in competition for his spot.

    While Shaun Marsh, Mitch Marsh and Hilton Cartwright all made runs last round, they went with two, and a pair of ducks this time around, all to the bowling of Test quick Josh Hazlewood, who made his return to form.

    Australian batsman Shaun Marsh

    (AFP PHOTO / William WEST)

    While there’s no argument the Blues attack, featuring Mitchell Starc, Patrick Cummins, Nathan Lyon and Hazlewood is the best in the Shield, it was a fantastic opportunity for the Warriors’ trio to put runs on the board.

    With all three failing though, it will make them question whether they can handle the heat of the Ashes, even if conditions at Hurstville weren’t conducive to run scoring.

    Cameron Bancroft, who has had his name thrown up at different points went to stumps on 41 not out, while Ashton Turner made a half-century, so runs can be scored.

    It’s hard to make a judgement on who is going to play at No.6. Maxwell has done his chances no harm yesterday, but Cartwright made runs in the first game and has been touted as a better option in Australian conditions – and also possibly a more safe option than the Victorian, who has thrown his innings away more than once.

    In the battle for the wicket-keeper spot, it was Matthew Wade finally cracking double figures. Despite Alex Carey making 30 on Day 1 for the Redbacks and Peter Nevill doing similar, not adding to his overnight score, it doesn’t look like enough at this stage.

    Tasmania’s batting performances so far in the Shield have been well below par, but sitting on 9 for 150 at stumps, Matthew Wade’s patient 17 from 44 balls doesn’t look so bad.

    It’s not enough to suggest he is in anything approaching form, with scores of 3, 6, 9 and now 17 to start the summer, his challengers simply aren’t doing enough to reef the gloves away from the Tigers recruit.

    While Carey was already out, the Blues keeper Nevill squandered a huge chance to go on with things while batting with the tail today. Instead, he was caught behind to the bowling of Kane Richardson, departing for 32.

    It’s worth giving Wade some credit for his improving glove-work, but it’s still not at the standards of Nevill or Carey, and you have to wonder if the selectors might take a punt for the start of the summer – but for that option to be entertained, runs must be scored.

    The other position starting to come under pressure is that of Matt Renshaw. He has had three ordinary innings to start his summer, not racking up a score yet, but on surface value at least, it appears he hasn’t lost any ground today.

    Australian batsman Matt Renshaw

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Shaun Marsh looks to be his closest challenger, but just two yesterday isn’t going to help his cause. Locating another opener outside of Joe Burns, who is in similarly poor form, is like finding a needle in a haystack, and even without runs, Renshaw may also be safe in the side.

    The role of the backup bowling spot, despite in the favouritism of Jack Bird also looks far from settled. Chadd Sayers picked up another three wickets yesterday, coming off his best ever season and must surely be giving the Tasmanian a run for his money, despite the fact he picked up three for 41 from 17 economical overs.

    In other news from yesterday’s Shield action up and down the east coast, Hazlewood’s three wickets were backed up by superb economy rates and tight bowling from Starc and Cummins.

    Peter Handscomb started to hit out some of the cobwebs with a decent 43, which was overshadowed of course by the century to Harris and a half-century for Aaron Finch.

    While Hazlewood picked up three wickets, it’s hard to assess his workload off a very small sample space thanks to the weather. The fitness of he, Starc and Cummins after what could be a full day in the field if things don’t go to plan will be intriguing to monitor.

    Most of Australia’s top order batsmen – Renshaw, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith and Peter Nevill are expected back at the crease sometime over the next 48 hours as we aim to get a better understanding on who might be picked for November 23.

    Meanwhile, in Perth, the English attack struggled against a mainly no-name Western Australian XI. James Anderson led the way with four wickets, however, Stuart Broad (1/60) and Chris Woakes (0/53) struggled. Craig Overton (2/70) and Mason Crane (2/75) both picked up a couple of wickets though as they fight for inclusion in the first Test.

    With that match now over, England winning by just seven runs, they now turn their attention to more important fixtures with the next being a four-day, day-night fixture against a Cricket Australia XI side in Adelaide.

    The second round of Sheffield Shield action will continue to unravel Australia’s selection puzzle from 10am (AEDT) today in Hobart, Melbourne and Hurstville.

    Scott Pryde
    Scott Pryde

    One of the mainstays of The Roar, Scott Pryde has written over 1,100 articles covering everything from rugby league to basketball, from tennis to cricket. You can follow him on Twitter @sk_pryde.

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