The second round of the Sheffield Shield concluded on Monday and some new names have been thrown into Australia’s Ashes selection mix.
There were few performances which stood out more than that of 24-year-old Cameron Bancroft. The wicketkeeping spot was seen as a battle between Peter Nevill, Matthew Wade and Alex Carey, but Bancroft might have put himself into contention with a pair of brilliant batting performances.
Bancroft being an opener for Western Australia gives him an edge over the others and with Matt Renshaw struggling for runs, his chances suddenly look bright.
The fact he scored runs against Australia’s Test attack makes it all the more impressive.
The other young player who impressed was Jake Lehmann. Lehmann scored both a century and a fifty to make things interesting. Callum Ferguson also got an unbeaten 182 to put himself in contention.
Glenn Maxwell will breathe a sigh of relief as he finally found some form. He scored back-to-back fifties, while Shaun Marsh also continued some good form to keep his chances alive.
Australian captain Steve Smith scored a hundred and a fifty, while first drop Usman Khawaja did well enough to remain one of the top run-scorers in the competition.
The team management will also be happy to see Peter Handscomb scoring runs as he is an important member of the middle order. The biggest disappointment of the first two rounds was the performance of young opener Matt Renshaw.
Renshaw came into the competition needing runs after going through a tough period with the bat. With four failures in a row, his chances of making the Ashes squad look bleak.
The Australian bowlers looked in fine form though, with Mitchell Starc topping the bowling charts. He became the first bowler to claim two hat-tricks in a first-class match in Australia. Meanwhile, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon all looked in fine touch with the ball.
Chadd Sayers and Jake Ball both had a good game and have been among the wickets in the first two rounds. It will be interesting to see if New South Wales will rest Starc and Cummins for Round 3 with the first Test approaching.
Undoubtedly the biggest winners from Round 2 were Bancroft and Lehmann. The performance of Bancroft, in particular, puts pressure on the selectors to pick him ahead of Renshaw.
Bancroft also has a double hundred in county cricket as an opener just a couple of months ago and he has been safe behind the stumps as well. He surely has emerged as the dark horse for the Ashes selection, given playing him as an opener also means Australia can play an extra batsman or a bowler at No.7.
Lehmann played with great freedom in both the innings with the bat and scored runs freely. He puts his name up for selection and the No.6 spot might not be an as easy decision as it was thought before the start of the Shield season.
The spot, which was seen as a toss-up between Hilton Cartwright and Glenn Maxwell, doesn’t seem straightforward. With young Lehmann showing tremendous form with the bat and Shaun Marsh also in contention, things are very interesting indeed in the lead-up to the Ashes.