Australia may have a drought of international fixtures this year but domestic cricket lovers will experience a buffet over the next two months thanks to the concurrent Sheffield Shield and Marsh Cup competitions.
The cancellation of Australia’s Test tour of South Africa next month means these domestic tournaments are greatly strengthened by the presence of international stars like Steve Smith, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.
Not only will that boost the standard of cricket, but it will also greatly increase the attention paid to these typically low-profile competitions.
As a result, this second half of the domestic season represents a brilliant platform for young cricketers or fringe international players. Here are four players to monitor over the next two months.
Bryce Street (QLD) (23 years old)
Australia’s Test opening stocks are grim after a summer in which Joe Burns and Marcus Harris flopped, David Warner laboured and Will Pucovski impressed but also continued his shocking run with injury.
Outside of that group, the obvious alternatives (aside from the tried and failed Cameron Bancroft) are Sam Whiteman and Bryce Street.
Whiteman is a former wicketkeeper currently transforming into an opener. Street, meanwhile, seems to have been born for this role.
The Queenslander’s old-school, bat-for-time style may well appeal to the Aussie selectors more than ever due to how successfully Cheteshwar Pujara has stonewalled against Australia in the recent past.
So far in his 11-match first-class career, Street has faced a whopping 117 balls per dismissal. No one in Shield cricket is harder to dislodge.
If Street can churn out a ton or two in the upcoming Shield matches, particularly against a NSW side potentially featuring the entire Australian Test attack, he could vault into Test contention.
Nathan Ellis (TAS) (26 years old)
The 2023 World Cup is still two years and eight months away. Age means there are no guarantees of participation in that tournament for any of the quicks Australia took to the 2019 World Cup, aside from Pat Cummins.
All of the other Aussie pacemen that featured in that tournament will be between 32 and 36 years old when the next event rolls around.
Due to that, Australia will likely look to give opportunities to younger quicks in white ball cricket over the next two years.
Ellis shapes as one of those potential pace project players, along with the likes of Jhye Richardson, Wes Agar, Riley Meredith, Billy Stanlake and Daniel Sams.
Ellis is a well-rounded fast bowler who looks equally at ease in all three formats.
He has the stamina, patience and precision required of a first class quick, as well as the composure and variety needed to be effective in T20s.
Roll all of that together and you have the makings of a versatile 50-over bowler. Ellis has played just seven List A matches so far, with 12 wickets at 22.
But a standout effort in this summer’s Marsh One Day Cup, against international stars, could see him become a serious ODI contender.
Oliver Davies (NSW) (20 years old)
In one sense, Glenn Maxwell is Australia’s most irreplaceable ODI cricketer. Not because he’s the best, but because he’s the most unique.
There’s no batsman in the country who comes close to replicating the sprinting style of Maxwell, whose incredible ODI strike rate of 125 makes him the only current Aussie that strikes at more than 100.
This is an early call, a very early call, in fact. But 20-year-old Davies reminds me of a young Maxwell.
In his domestic one-day debut on Monday, Davies came to the crease with NSW in trouble at 4-73 against a Victorian attack featuring international cricketers James Pattinson and Jon Holland.
Rather than go into his shell, as most young batsmen would do in such circumstances, Davies cut loose.
The youngster drove beautifully, cut with authority, swept impressively and murdered the pull shot as he bolted to 57 from 41 balls. His daring innings changed the tone and tempo of the NSW innings, putting pressure back on to Victoria and allowing Smith to just cruise along at the other end.
Like Maxwell, Davies appeared to be batting on pure instinct. Like Maxwell, when the bowler strayed ever so slightly, he punished them.
Like Maxwell, Davies scored at a scorching rate without having to resort to rank slogging. Granted, Davies has played just one solitary List A match. But it was some performance.
Kurtis Patterson (NSW) (27 years old)
Cameron Green, Travis Head, Maxwell and Patterson are Australia’s four best middle order Test options. The latter may be in the Test line-up right now if not for some tough luck with selections and injuries.
After making 30 and 114* in his solitary Test, against Sri Lanka two years ago, Patterson was unfortunate to be overlooked for the 2019 Ashes tour of England.
Then a serious quad injury restricted him to just six Shield matches since the start of last summer. Patterson averaged only 25 in those matches to fall further back in the Test pecking order behind the likes of Green, Head and Matt Wade.
I have little doubt, though, that Patterson will soon press his Test claims once more. He has an uncomplicated technique, a good temperament, a fine first-class record and, at 27 years old, should just be approaching his peak as a batsman.