With the Sheffield Shield having kicked off this week, I have analysed the prospects of each State.
As part of this I have predicted where each side will finish at the end of the grand old competition, who will be the key player for each team and who will be the wildcards.
Tasmania – first
The Tigers are the most rounded side in the competition. They have a spread of contributors with the bat, a dependable and incisive pace attack and perhaps the most pronounced home ground advantage.
Key player: Luke Butterworth
The veteran bowling all-rounder will take on even greater responsibility this season with his sidekick James Faulkner likely to miss many matches.
Faulkner is in contention to play in this summer’s Ashes and is a probable inclusion for Australia’s tour of South Africa starting in February, which would see him miss the entire second half of the Shield campaign.
Butterworth’s miserly medium pace and languid lower order batting may be perennially overlooked by the national selectors but the Tigers are acutely aware of his value.
One to watch: Jordan Silk
The 21-year-old opening batsman made such an impression in his first three Shield games last year that he earned an Australia A berth on the tour of Europe just months later.
Silk played a crucial role in helping Tasmania win last year’s Shield title, despite his late inclusion in the team.
He made 52 and 127 runs in a must-win match against Victoria before batting for six hours in the final as he compiled 108 in the first innings.
His classical technique and considerable patience are perfectly suited to the longest form of the game.
Queensland – second
The Bulls look set to benefit from having just one player – Ryan Harris – regularly missing from their full strength line-up due to international responsibilities.
Ben Cutting, James Hopes and Nathan Hauritz form the nucleus of a solid attack, Usman Khawaja and Joe Burns provide class with the bat, and Chris Hartley is a rock behind the stumps.
Key player: Ben Cutting
The tall paceman was hugely influential in leading the Bulls to victory in the recent Ryobi Cup final.
His ability to consistently snare wickets as a first change quick have made him an invaluable member of Queensland’s Shield side.
In recent times his wicket-taking has been complemented by blossoming skill with the blade.
When Cutting gets runs he makes them very quickly, changing the momentum of the game.
One to watch: Chris Lynn
Lynn marked himself as a future Test player with a sparkling start to his Shield career in the 2010-11 season when, as a 20-year-old, he carved 641 runs at an average of 53.
He endured a painful second summer, making only 256 runs in 14 innings. That disappointing return saw him lose his place in the Bulls line-up and he is yet to regain it.
The right-handed strokemaker, who hit the winning six for Queensland in the Ryobi Cup final, is entering a pivotal season of his brief career.
New South Wales – third
Unlike Queensland, the Blues are routinely stripped of a clutch of leading players across the summer.
Michael Clarke, David Warner, Shane Watson, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin and Nathan Lyon all have significant roles to play for Australia in the coming months.
However, enough talent remains behind in the form of quicks Doug Bollinger, Trent Copeland, Gurinder Sandhu and Josh Hazlewood, spinner Stephen O’Keefe, ‘keeper Peter Nevill, all-rounder Moises Henriques, and batsman Nic Maddinson.
Key player: Trent Copeland
Similar to Butterworth and Cutting, Copeland’s value extends beyond his nagging efforts with the ball.
In addition to taking 30 wickets at 27 in the Shield last season, the lanky quick also scored 382 runs at 35 as he played a string of influential late-order innings.
Copeland’s success with the cherry in hand is built on his capacity to choke the run rate.
One to watch: Gurinder Sandhu
The 20-year-old paceman’s impact was so immediate after debuting for NSW in January that he earned the Steve Waugh medal as the State’s player of the season despite his limited appearances.
By August, Sandhu was playing for Australia A and he has a slim chance of featuring in this summer’s Ashes given injuries to several of Australia’s leading quicks.
Victoria – fourth
Victoria possess enough gifted cricketers to challenge for the title in what is shaping as an even Shield competition this summer.
Veterans David Hussey, Cameron White and Rob Quiney give them potency with the bat, as do all-rounders Glenn Maxwell and Dan Christian.
Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade looks likely to spend most of the summer in the Shield, further bolstering their strength with the blade.
Victoria’s bowling is multi-faceted with Clint McKay and John Hastings providing pace firepower, and Fawad Ahmed and Jon Holland potent spin options.
Key player: Matthew Wade
Having suffered the anguish of watching Brad Haddin pinch his spot in the Test side for the recent Ashes, the wicketkeeper-batsman will be determined to mark his mark on this Shield campaign.
Wade is a proven run scorer at Shield level and showed great touch during the Ryobi Cup, racking up 316 runs at 45.
However his glovework must improve if he is to become a quality Test player.
One to watch: Dan Christian
Can the versatile 30-year-old reignite his international career after a forgettable season with South Australia last summer?
In a matter of months, poor displays on and off the field saw him relinquish his status as a key member of the ODI side and a potential Test player.
The departure of veteran all-rounder Andrew McDonald means Christian will have important roles to play with blade and ball.
South Australia – fifth
The Redbacks will hope the likes of Tom Cooper and Callum Ferguson finally realise their talent with the blade to aid the efforts of veteran Michael Klinger.
Chadd Sayers, Joe Mennie and Peter George offer South Australia an incisive pace attack.
Key player: Michael Klinger
Klinger will be well aware that this summer is probably his last chance to push for a Test debut.
He will also be cognisant of the fact that he let down the Redbacks last summer when he averaged just 19 and made only one half century in 18 innings.
If South Australia are to compete for a berth in the final Klinger will need to regain the form which saw him score 3270 Shield runs at 51 between 2008-09 and 2011-12.
One to watch: Joe Mennie
In an era where State batsmen are touted as potential Test players off the back of mediocre seasons, some well-performed bowlers have contrastingly escaped notice due to the glut of pace options in Australian ranks.
The 24-year-old quick has reaped 56 Shield wickets at 24 but is rarely mentioned as a potential Test player.
His returns are even more commendable when you consider that he is based on the most batsman-friendly wicket in the country, the Adelaide Oval.
Western Australia – sixth
The Warriors batting was simply was comical at times last season.
There is no shortage of talent within their batting line-up thanks to the likes of Adam Voges, Shaun Marsh, Marcus North and Mitchell Marsh.
The question is whether they can produce scores solid enough to be defended by their able attack.
Key player: Adam Voges
Having established his place in the middle order in Australia’s ODI side, Voges’ next challenge is to make himself a genuine option for the Test side by dominating Shield cricket.
The 33-year-old had a terribly disappointing Shield campaign last summer, along with fellow veterans North and Shaun Marsh.
As State captain, Voges must lead by example to try to prevent Western Australia from yet another disastrous seson.
One to watch: Ashton Agar
The prodigiously-gifted 20-year-old has indicated that, despite his stunning 98 on Test debut, his focus remains on becoming the country’s leading spinner.
However, given how highly his batting is regarded by WA coach Justin Langer, it would be no surprise to see Agar offered opportunities to bat as high as at six in the Shield.