Steve Smith vs Pat Cummins, David Warner vs James Pattinson, Matt Wade vs Mitchell Starc, Alex Carey vs Nathan Lyon, Joe Burns vs Josh Hazlewood – there are so many tantalising match ups in tomorrow’s Australia v Australia clash.
This is the first time in modern history that Australia’s best 24 cricketers have faced off in a four-day match in this manner. The absence of most Test stars from the Sheffield Shield these days means we rarely get to see them go head to head.
Rewind back to 1997 and we had an early season Shield match between NSW and Victoria where Shane Warne was trying to skittle the Waugh brothers, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater and Michael Bevan. Meanwhile, Glenn McGrath and Stuart MacGill were battling Dean Jones and Matthew Elliott.
Or in November 2006 when a WA vs Queensland match bulged with the talents of Matt Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Justin Langer, Mike Hussey, Damien Martyn, Shane Watson, Andrew Symonds, Chris Rogers, Mitch Johnson and Andy Bichel.
As an Australian cricket nerd, watching such Shield contests was even more fascinating in many ways than seeing the same players compete in Tests.
I knew Warne could boss every Test batsman in the world, bar Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, but could he get the best of the Waughs? Gilchrist was a great player of pace but could Johnson rough him up?
In more recent times I’ve often wondered in the same way about the current Test players. Having become an elite Test spinner, how would Lyon fare against Warner? Would Starc’s pace and late swing be able to rattle Smith? Could Wade’s rampant form continue against the likes of Cummins, Hazlewood and Siddle?
Wade is fortunate to have been pitted against the stronger of the two attacks in this match, as are Burns and Bancroft.
Those three batsmen are playing for the Graeme Hick XII, while on the Brad Haddin XII are four of Australia’s likely five quicks to feature in the Ashes in Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood and Siddle.
With all due respect to the Hick XII pace attack of Michael Neser, Chris Tremain, Jackson Bird and Pattinson, I imagine the selectors would give a heavier weighting to runs against the other group of quicks.
Wade has been gleefully hoarding runs across all three formats in the past year. Doing that against elite Test quicks is a whole other thing. If he can dominate The Big Three he’ll very likely play in the first Ashes Test.
The same goes for Burns and Bancroft. My gut tells me Marcus Harris is ahead of both of those batsmen in the race to partner Warner in the Ashes opener. That could change very quickly, though, if Harris fails against the likes of Neser, Bird and Tremain while one of Burns or Bancroft tons up against Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood and Siddle.
The fact that both teams have five specialist bowlers means the pressure on the batsmen will be relentless. They will be facing fresh, elite bowler after fresh, elite bowler, each of whom will be armed with the hooping, seaming Dukes ball.
For the batsmen, in particular, it should be the closest possible simulation to a Test match. The added pressure of Ashes spots being on the line should further increase the intensity.
Of the 24 players involved in this match, I think only six are certain to play the first Test – Warner, Smith, Paine, Starc, Lyon and Cummins.
Quite incredibly, I think all of the other 18 players (bar spinner Jon Holland) are some kind of chance of vaulting into the XI for the first Test by producing something remarkable in this match.
Tremain, Neser and Bird, for example, look to be well behind the likes of Hazlewood, Pattinson and Siddle in the queue to fill the third Test pace spot.
Yet, should any of that former trio absolutely run amok in this match then, who knows, maybe they could launch themselves into the first Test?
The same goes for the likes of Handscomb, Pucovski and Carey, who seem to be at long odds to feature in Australia’s top six at Edgbaston on August 1.
Should they score a stunning ton in this match that could change. I cannot remember the last time a non-international red ball match was this fascinating.
Graeme Hick XII
Joe Burns, Cameron Bancroft, Steve Smith, Peter Handscomb, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (c), Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird, Chris Tremain, Nathan Lyon.
Brad Haddin XII
David Warner, Marcus Harris, Kurtis Patterson, Travis Head (c), Marnus Labuschagne, Will Pucovski, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Peter Siddle, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland.