After the year we’ve endured, it’s entirely forgivable to forget where cricket left off just over 200 days ago.
On March 15, Cricket Australia determined the final round of the Sheffield Shield season unplayable given the rise of COVID-19 health risks around the country, cancelling the last three games plus the final.
Deservingly, New South Wales were awarded the crown for finishing a distant first, and captain Peter Nevill celebrated the achievement in the most 2020 way possible – in isolation, on his couch.
So after such an anti-climatic finish to last season, there’s no wonder cricket fans have an unmatched desperation for this Saturday to arrive.
Eleven Shield games are set to be staged in an Adelaide hub, with each matchup giving us all a reason to watch with an eager eye, regardless of who you follow.
For South Australians, it’s a new hope. An external review completed, and the acquisition of new head coach Jason Gillespie provides starving Redbacks fans with a renewed hunger and fresh aspirations for success.
The loss of two key spinners Adam Zampa and Tom Andrews leaves a timely platform for young prodigy Lloyd Pope to play a whole summer with the red ball, keen to prove his ability long-term.
Meanwhile their ageing leaders in Cooper, Ferguson and Sayers will be combined with talented youth – Wes Agar, Will Bosisto, Daniel Drew and the Kelly brothers – a mix that will be treated as a breath of fresh air.
And if 149 unbeaten runs from Brad Davis in an internal trial suggests any extra promise, SA’s depth of talent is growing exponentially.
For Victorians, it’s redemption. Early this year they stormed into second position on the table with some crushing form late, and were in the box seat to play in the Shield Final to defend their crown.
New coach Chris Rogers will bring a reinvigorated mood into the determined camp, but fascination surrounds whether two months in Stage 4 lockdown will weaken this group’s first few punches this summer.
The Vics are hunting their fifth flag in seven seasons, a dominance not felt for two decades, since Queensland won five titles between 1995-2002.
For Tasmanians, it’s all about wickets. Jackson Bird has a new sparring partner in Peter Siddle, only increasing the difficulty for opponents to score runs in the traditionally bowler-friendly Apple Isle.
Two of Australia’s top first class bowlers joining forces on a typically green wicket with overcast skies will compliment national veterans Matthew Wade and Tim Paine, bringing a wealth of experience to a team who will enter their first season since 2001 without George Bailey.
For Queenslanders, it’s time to cash in. You only need to look at the top five batsmen to know – Joe Burns, Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne.
Combine four Test batsmen with typical hard pitches, plus one of the top swing bowlers in the land Michael Neser and the Shane Warne-mentored Mitch Swepson, there isn’t much more the Bulls should need to inflict severe damage on the competition.
For Western Australians, it’s an exciting reset. The recruitment of the competition’s leading wicket taker last season, Cameron Gannon from the sunshine state is a massive coup.
It comes after the WACA made the bold decision over winter to axe Nathan Coulter-Nile and Andrew Tye from their contract list, making way for a replenished bowling unit.
It will be overhauled by youth as their experienced trio of Mitch Marsh, Jason Behrendorff and Jhye Richardson will all miss the opening month due to injury.
But it’s the rise of Cameron Green that is most exciting to watch. With three tons and 28 wickets already under his belt after just 15 matches at the level, this 21 year old is the real deal, already demanding respect.
And finally for New South Wales, it’s time to finish the job.
They may have claimed the silverware and the deserved title back in March, but there will be an underlying feeling among the playing group that they never truly fulfilled their appetite for complete glory.
Their list has only strengthened in 2020, welcoming back star paceman Chris Tremain, as well as talented leg-spinner Adam Zampa, both returning to their home state.
Zampa will replace the outgoing Stephen O’Keefe, who was unexpectedly axed during the off-season, and will bowl alongside Nathan Lyon in the most daunting spin combination in the country.
Shield regulars Copeland, Abbott, Patterson and Hughes will continue to compliment the array of national talent featuring Smith, Cummins, Warner, Hazlewood and Starc.
This season is destined to be unlike any other, and to begin, all state teams will congregate in Adelaide for a 4-week hub, starting this Saturday (October 10).
And while clouds of doubt continue to surround the possibility of an international summer, one thing is certain; this nation’s cricketing focus will be heavily glued to the Sheffield Shield over the next month.
All matches can been seen across the Cricket Network on cricket.com.au