The New South Wales Blues have been declared Sheffield Shield champions for 2019-20 after Cricket Australia cancelled the final and all other organised cricket as part of its response to coronavirus.
All eyes will be on Australia’s long list of opening candidates when the Sheffield Shield begins around the country on Thursday, and Steve Smith has backed David Warner to bounce back from his Ashes struggles as the race for Test spots begins in earnest.
Warner and Smith will both headline the opening round of the Sheffield Shield, playing their first first-class games on Australian soil since the ball-tampering scandal.
Smith will enter the summer like he’s never spent a year out of the game, after emerging from one of the most dominant Ashes campaigns in memory.
The story however is much different for Warner.
He averaged just 9.5 in the five Tests and became the first player in history to have eight single-figure failures in one series.
It has left him with pressure on his spot coming into a home summer for the first time since his debut in 2011, with chief selector Trevor Hohns refusing to guarantee his spot for this summer.
But Smith said he saw no reason why Warner wouldn’t find form again back at home, where he averages just shy of 60 in Test cricket.
“Obviously Davey had a pretty tough time of it over in England,” Smith said.
“Opening the batting over there can be pretty tough – particularly being a left-hander. He’s obviously a quality player, we know that.
“He has played lot of cricket and he knows you can go through those periods and come out the other side.
“He’s got an exceptional record in Australia and he will obviously be looking to get some runs under his belt in the next few weeks.”
Warner wasn’t alone in his struggles with the bat in England.
Only Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and Matthew Wade did enough to lock themselves in for the November 21 Test at the Gabba, leaving the opening four Shield rounds crucial for other batsmen.
Queenslanders Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja could both be options to open, with the former’s chances likely enhanced by not being on the Ashes tour.
Matt Renshaw would need massive runs for Queensland to join the battle, which will also likely include Victorian Marcus Harris and West Australian Cameron Bancroft.
Harris had a poor Ashes but could come back into the reckoning if he repeats last year’s home form where he was the leading run scorer in the Shield for champions Victoria.
They come up against South Australia at the MCG this week, where Redbacks captain Travis Head will also be looking for runs after being dropped for the last Test of the Ashes.
Meanwhile quick Jhye Richardson will make his return from a dislocated shoulder for Western Australia against Tasmania at the WACA.
But after being one of Australia’s three quicks when he was last fit, he has now likely fallen to fifth pick as Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson battle to join Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood at the Gabba.