The pair of Aussie bolters who have screamed into Ashes contention

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    Cameron Bancroft and Jake Lehmann have emerged as dark horses for the Ashes, thanks to brilliant performances in the second round of the Sheffield Shield.

    Australia’s number six and wicketkeeping positions remained wide open yesterday, with Hilton Cartwright and Glenn Maxwell yet to produce a ton this Shield season, and keepers Matt Wade, Peter Nevill and Alex Carey all underwhelming so far.

    Lehmann has now bolted in contention for the six spot with a fantastic double of 103 and 93 against a strong Victorian attack, featuring Peter Siddle, Chris Tremain, Scott Boland and Fawad Ahmed.

    Bancroft, meanwhile, did not miss a chance or even concede a single bye behind the stumps, and was also extremely impressive with the blade, putting him in contention to steal the Test positions of either opener Matt Renshaw or Wade.

    Batting against Australia’s full Test attack on a lively pitch, Bancroft carried his bat through Western Australia’s first innings to make 76* from 186 balls, before backing that up with 86 in the second innings. He has now churned out 521 runs at 87 from his past four first-class matches.

    I recently flagged Bancroft as a contender for Australia’s ODI side after he shone in the One Day competition, averaging 47 with the bat at a strike rate of 110 to go with tidy keeping displays.

    But he was a shock selection to take the gloves in this second round of the Shield, having only kept once previously in his Shield career.

    This unexpected move required WA to dump Josh Inglis, who is a fantastic gloveman and had a good Shield campaign with the bat last summer, averaging 38 from his five matches. This makes me wonder whether Cricket Australia had a say in the Bancroft move, given they are believed to have influenced several other domestic selections this year.

    With Wade, Nevill and Carey all struggling in Round 1, if CA decided to widen the field by asking WA to hand Bancroft the gloves, he could have done no more to exploit the opportunity.

    His keeping was unobtrusive, as it was during the recent domestic one dayers. That is all it needs to be to earn Test selection, as Australia clearly are more swayed by ability with the blade, and Bancroft is a quality young batsman.

    He was set to make his Test debut as an opener in Bangladesh two years ago before that tour was cancelled due to security concerns. While Bancroft struggled last Shield season, averaging 28, he made 206* in English county cricket two months ago, batted beautifully in the One Day cup and, most importantly, dominated NSW’s amazing attack.

    As the WA team collapsed around him in the first dig, Bancroft showcased his tight technique and admirable patience. In the second innings, the match situation required him to display greater aggression and he did that with ease.

    Performing so well against Australia’s Test attack in front of the national captain and vice captain, Steve Smith and David Warner, will have given Bancroft an outside chance of securing an unlikely Ashes debut.

    Cameron Bancroft

    AAP Image/Will Russell

    It would be a controversial decision to hand him the gloves considering Bancroft’s huge lack of experience behind the stumps in first-class cricket. But he did enter the domestic system as a wicketkeeper, has done well with the gloves for WA in one day cricket, and made his international debut as a keeper in a Twenty20 against India last year.

    Less controversial would be the choice to elevate Lehmann, who has an excellent first-class record of 2068 runs at 44, including six tons from 29 matches. At 3-18, South Australia looked like being blown away by the Victorian bowlers on day one of this Shield match before Lehmann took command.

    In the space of 20 minutes, the assertive left-hander changed the momentum of the match, cracking five boundaries to race to 25 from 14 balls. Then he settled into a more sustainable rhythm and guided South Australia to a solid first innings score of 322. The Redbacks were again in trouble at 3-59 when Lehmann came out in the second dig and cruised to 93 from 143 balls.

    In both innings he was in total control against pace, pulling and cutting with authority, while also confidently combating the leg spin threat posed by Ahmed.

    In terms of batting style, Lehmann has more flair and tendency to be unorthodox than Cartwright, but is less cavalier and unpredictable than Maxwell. Lehmann’s aggression at six would be balanced nicely by the dourness of Bancroft at seven.

    That is a combination which seemed extremely unlikely to appear in the Ashes just a few days ago, but one which is now a genuine possibility.

    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