Sheffield Shield ultimate guide: Test spots up for grabs
PUT the coloured kits away - for the moment at least - and break out the whites, because the Sheffield Shield is back.
Victoria will be aiming to win an impressive fourth straight Shield title but, in the early rounds at least, all eyes will be on individual honours.
Because for a dozen Ashes prospects, the first three weeks of competition will give them a golden chance to lay their cards on the table ahead of the Ashes-opening Gabba Test.
With the Test No.6 and wicketkeeping roles wide open, there's never been more to play for.
South Australian young gun Alex Carey will get a chance to show his wares against a Test-quality attack when NSW come to town, with key rival for the role - Peter Nevill - also in the Blues line-up.
Further west, in Perth, Matthew Wade will be desperate to kick off his summer with some runs in a bid to hang onto the gloves for the Ashes when he makes a Shield return for Tasmania against Western Australia at the WACA.
Curiously, another name tossed up in recent weeks - that of Tim Paine - will feature alongside Wade on the Tasmanian teamsheet.
There's no shortage of names lobbing up to fill the No.6 spot - starting with Glenn Maxwell, for whom a single century might be enough to ensure he holds onto the spot he took over halfway through Australia's tour of India in March.
"It's a great little preparation for the international guys, three Shield games before the first Test hasn't happened for a long time," Australia and NSW captain Steve Smith said on Tuesday.
"It's also a good opportunity for a few guys to stand up, knowing there might be a few positions up for grabs, it puts a little bit of pressure on.
"We like seeing guys perform under pressure, so hopefully a few guys step up."
Here's everything you need to know about the 2017-18 Sheffield Shield season!
The action gets underway from Thursday, with three hugely important day-night fixtures-- all boasting Test candidates-- taking place.
There will be five rounds played up until early December, before the competition goes on a break while the Big Bash is played.
The Shield will resume on February 8, and the final is set to begin on March 23 between the top two placed states.
Round 1 - October 26-30
Queensland v Victoria, Gabba, 2pm (AEDT)
Western Australia v Tasmania, WACA, 5pm (AEDT)
South Australia v NSW, Adelaide Oval, 2.30pm (AEDT)
All Shield games will be streamed on the Cricket Australia website.
SQUADS FOR ROUND ONE
Steve Smith (capt), Sean Abbott, Trent Copeland, Pat Cummins, Moises Henriques, Daniel Hughes, Nathan Lyon, Nic Maddinson, Peter Nevill, Kurtis Patterson, Mitchell Starc, David Warner. 12th man to be named.
One to watch: Nic Maddinson had a difficult summer last year. A Test debut should've been seen as a high point, but in reality it came too soon and Maddinson suffered from the hasty elevation. He's back in the frame, and is being tipped for a big summer.
Biggest chance of Test push: Peter Nevill is firmly in theselectorss' minds already-- and may even be considered the favourite to earn a Test recall at this stage. Certainly, runs will be his currency in the opening three rounds: a big score and he can write his way into the Gabba team.
Usman Khawaja (capt), Joe Burns, Brendan Doggett, Luke Feldman, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, James Peirson, Matt Renshaw, Mark Steketee, Mitchell Swepson, Sam Truloff, Jack Wildermuth
One to watch: Brendan Doggett is in line to make his first class debut this summer, and there are plenty excited about that development. The towering paceman has enjoyed an off-season working with the National Performance Squad and, having played eight List A games, it is hoped he can be the latest fast-bowling talent to emerge from Queensland.
Biggest chance of Test push: Joe Burns is a forgotten man in many ways. The former Test opener is just 28 and still has plenty to offer the national team-- either at the top of the order, or as a specialist batsman coming in at No.6. With a Test average not far below 40 from his 13 Tests, runs at the right time could nudge Burns back into the spotlight.
Peter Handscomb (capt), Fawad Ahmed, Scott Boland, Dan Christian, Travis Dean, Aaron Finch, Marcus Harris, Sam Harper, Glenn Maxwell, Peter Siddle, Chris Tremain, Cameron White
One to watch: At just 20, Sam Harper is a hugely impressive young keeper who has won the right to take over the gloves, following the departure of Matthew Wade to Tasmania. Had a horror time last summer when he was accidentally felled by a bat and missed the remainder of the season with concussion, but is primed for a big year.
Biggest chance of Test push: Glenn Maxwell is the incumbent Test No.6, but is in an absolute dogfight to hold onto his place in what would be a first Test on home soil. Needs a score to silence the doubters and save his bacon. Will bat in the top four.
George Bailey (capt), Gabe Bell, Jackson Bird, Alex Doolan, Jake Doran, Andrew Fekete, Ben McDermott, Tim Paine, Sam Rainbird, Tom Rogers, Jordan Silk, Matthew Wade, Beau Webster
One to watch: There are highly respected figures who believe young paceman Riley Meredith-- who has endured a tough run with injuries-- is on the cusp of a breakout year. The youngster took five wickets and was a rare shining light in a tough JLT One Day Cup campaign for Tasmania.
Biggest chance of Test push: Less of a Test push and more of a retention, but Matthew Wade needs runs like Shane Warne needed baked beans on every subcontinental tour. A sloppy start to the summer against the red-- and pink-- ball could put an end to his Test career. Runs-- and sharp glovework-- could save it.
Travis Head (capt), Callum Ferguson, Alex Carey, Tom Cooper, John Dalton, Jake Lehmann, Joe Mennie, Kane Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Jake Weatherald, Daniel Worrall, Adam Zampa.
One to watch: Jake Weatherald is one of the most damaging openers in Australia-- and we are a nation who loves explosive batsmen at the top of the order. At 22, a future in the national colours beckons-- it appears to be a matter of when, not if.
Biggest chance of Test push: Alex Carey is a genuine bolter for the Gabba Test. His silky glovework has good judges excited. His batting numbers haven't yet reached the same high-levels as his work behind the stumps, but if he can reel off some good scores he will give selectors lots to think about.
Round one squad to come
One to watch: One of Australia's most exciting young quicks to emerge last season was 21-year-old Jhye Richardson. The skinny paceman made his T20 international debut against Sri Lanka, but watch out for him in the first class arena this year. In his only Shield match last season, he took 4-93 against Queensland. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
Biggest chance of Test push: There's no shortage of fringe Test options in the Warriors squad, with both Marsh brothers and seam-bowling all-rounder Hilton Cartwright in the mix for the No.6 spot.
TALE OF THE TAPE
2016-17 champion: Victoria
Most titles: NSW (46)