Sheffield Shield previews: Victoria and New South Wales
Last season Champions (League stage: 6 wins, 1 defeats, 3 draws)
Captain Peter Handscomb
Coach Andrew McDonald
The defending champions are well placed to go back-to-back. Last season's success was built on the phenomenal run-scoring of Marcus Harris at the top of the order and a deep and well-balanced battery of fast bowlers. Harris, who became the first player to pass 1000 runs in a Shield season since 2014-15 and was Player of the Match in the final, did cover an inconsistent top order, but their batting will only be strengthened this season. Will Pucovski is a year older and a year wiser. Nic Maddinson scored three centuries last season despite only batting eight times due to a broken arm and broken finger, and missed the final. Victoria will have some selection headaches with Peter Handscomb, Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell set to be available for at least five of the first six games, barring being called to the Test squad. Victoria are also planning to regularly rotate their bevy of quicks, in Scott Boland, Chris Tremain, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Andrew Fekete, as they did last season. But they will also potentially look to introduce young quicks Will Sutherland and Xavier Crone into the rotation. Jon Holland remains a key cog with his left-arm spin while Seb Gotch and Sam Harper will be battling for the wicketkeeping duties. Gotch was excellent last season but Harper has shown tremendous potential in short-form cricket and will push for opportunities.
Player to watch
Peter Handscomb will be an intriguing player to follow this season. He was in and out of the Test line-up summer due to form and questions about his batting method before becoming a mainstay of the ODI side. He was then squeezed out of the World Cup squad only to be called up to play the semi-final against England on limited preparation. He remains in Australia's limited-overs plans but his Test prospects should not be discounted. He has two Test hundreds and has been a consistent performer at Shield level for many seasons. Matthew Wade's reinvention as a Test player on the back of dominating domestic cricket should give Handscomb hope if he piles up scores for Victoria.
All eyes will be on Will Pucovski in the early part of the season as Australia search for some top-order Test players. The question is rather when, not if, he should be introduced to the Test side. He has all the makings of a Test batsman and joined an illustrious group of Australia greats in scoring a Shield double century before his 21st birthday last year, a group that included Don Bradman and Ricky Ponting. Managing his mental health saw him miss chunks of last season, but he got a taste of the Test squad in February before taking time away. The Australia A tour seemed to go smoothly for him. Much is expected of him this summer.
New South Wales
Last season Runners up (League stage: 5 wins, 2 defeats, 3 draws)
Captain Peter Nevill
Coach Phil Jaques
A first-innings collapse in the final against Victoria cost them the chance of the title in a summer where both their regular-season defeats had also come at the hands of the eventual champions. A run of four victories in five matches either side of the BBL showed some of their best four-day cricket, harnessed around a potent bowling attack including Trent Copeland, Sean Abbott, Harry Conway and Steve O'Keefe. Some of them will move aside when the Test stars are available, although the full pack of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon may only line up once before the Tests start with Cummins and Hazlewood having an extended rest. However, New South Wales could get a useful number of matches out of David Warner and Steven Smith, who missed last year's domestic season as part of their bans, will which build a formidable top order. Can they make it count? Last year only one batsman (Kurtis Patterson) averaged over 40 and when the batting failed, notably against Victoria, it tended to do so collectively so they ideally need greater output from one or two others as well as hoping Warner and Smith fill their boots. There is another interesting factor in the New South Wales' home campaign this summer with more matches scheduled at the SCG. The nature of the wicket will be important when it comes to the chances of forcing results.
Player to watch
It didn't turn into the off-season Kurtis Patterson would have hoped for after scoring his maiden Test century against Sri Lanka. He missed the cut for the Ashes squad having not stood out on the Australia A tour so starts this season again needing a strong run to restate a claim to the middle order. A string of form similar to his mid-season high last year, which brought four centuries in five innings during January and February, would certainly make an impression on the selectors.
Jason Sangha is still only 19 so has plenty of time on his side. There was a lot of chatter when he scored his maiden Sheffield Shield hundred against Tasmania (in the same innings as fellow teenage Jack Edwards) but he couldn't build on that and didn't pass fifty again, finishing with an average of 21.44 having played all 11 matches. Has been working on his legspin in the off-season which will add to his all-round package.