29/05/2024

Will Pucovski and Marcus Harris will be tasked with leading Victoria's batting stocks (Photo - Cricket Victoria).

Victoria may have had a lacklustre 2020/21 Shield campaign, but they'll be relying on a core bunch of national players this season.

Following a delayed start, Victoria’s mix of the young and the experienced will yet again look to bounce back up the Sheffield Shield table this summer. Having been a historically powerful state, the Bushrangers take on New South Wales in their opening clash.

Peter Handscomb will once again lead the Vics into battle this season, while former Aussie opening batter Chris Rogers has the job of coaching the state back into Sheffield Shield contention.

Last Season

After many years of recent Shield dominance, it was a disappointing year for the Victorians.

The Vics golden era was bound to finally come to an end with a bunch of retirements and relocations changing the fracture of the side that won multiple Sheffield Shields in the past decade.

But the end came quickly for that dynasty, with the state left to turn to emerging prospects and back them in against the nation’s best.

For their efforts, the Victorians ended up coming second last, with the one shock four-wicket win over a stocked New South Wales side avoiding the miseries of a winless campaign. Yet the Victorians weren’t completely out of their depth – they only lost the one match and recorded six draws in what was a season that drew out often.

Opener Marcus Harris led the way for the Victorians with 695 runs for the season, averaging a tick over 63 to propel his way back into the national side. Experienced pair Scott Boland (30 wickets) and Jon Holland (27) held up the bowling end for the side as they ground their way out to a disappointing season.

Team Strengths

When fully fit and not riddled by international selection, Victoria’s batting line-up is still as imposing as ever.

If Will Pucovski is cleared of his consistent concussion issues and can play some Shield cricket, he’ll form an intimidating top order when joined by incumbent Aussie opener Marcus Harris and the in-form Nic Maddinson. Add in skipper Peter Handscomb and the top four for the Vics could be a game-winner if they all find form.

With Matt Short and Sam Harper both providing handy support in the middle order, the Victorians have a batting line-up that is stable enough to keep them in every game they play this season.

If the Victorians are forced to play on flat pitches, such as South Australia’s Karen Rolton Oval or their home Junction Oval, they shouldn’t lose too many matches. With Harris whipping up knocks such as his marathon 239 last season, they have the quality to score heavily against any bowling attack and match it with the best.

Key Players

There are many well-known names who must fire for the Vics to get anywhere near a return to finals action in this year’s Shield.

Nic Maddinson, Peter Handscomb, and Marcus Harris all need to fire at the top of the order if the state is to bounce back from a dispirited 2020/21 campaign.

But the main keys for Victoria are some little known names who will be entrusted with plenty of responsibility.

Will Sutherland has become a feature of the state’s side as the main all-rounder, with his tight bowling giving him plenty of credit in recent seasons. But his batting has always been an untapped resource, giving him the opportunity to lead Victoria onto greater heights.

Sam Harper looks to have a clear run at the keeping line-up with his main rival Seb Gotch ruled out indefinitely with a career-threatening finger injury. Always a massive talent in the shorter formats of the game, Harper has a golden opportunity to seize the role and become a dynamic game-changer down the order.

He may not be the main spinner in the state’s squad, but young leggie Wil Parker is one Victoria is hoping will evolve and take further steps this season. Showing plenty of promise in his rare opportunities over the past season, Parker has the ability to destroy line-ups and is the next big Victorian spinner waiting to break out this season.

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Who’s in for national selection?

There are some obvious candidates in the batting order who will be pushing for higher honours, none more so than openers Marcus Harris and Will Pucovski. Both featured in the last summer of cricket in Australia’s top order, and they’ll be in direct competition with each other for the opening gig alongside David Warner come the first Ashes test.

With James Pattinson officially retiring from test cricket, the only other players from Victoria angling for international selection are batters Peter Handscomb and Nic Maddinson. Although their return to the Aussie side is unlikely, they will still be holding out hope of a purple patch of form that’ll give them a shot of playing international cricket once more.

Season predictions

It’s hard to tell what Chris Rogers has got his side working on in their interrupted pre-season, but they have the advantage of seeing the other teams begin their campaigns and adapting.

That said, they should improve the more games they get into their new crop of state players. With James Pattinson channelling his full energy into the state side, and the likes of Pucovski and Harris being available for selection in at least the early and latter parts of the season, they have the firepower to improve on last season and get closer to the top of the table.

Expect Victoria to become more competitive with both the bat and ball, as they should be able to capitalise on dominant periods and win more games than the solitary victory they registered in 2020/21.

But it’s difficult to see the Vics constantly beating the best sides and finishing in the top two, as the Victorians will be intent on getting closer to the top of the mountain yet again.

Full Squad

Squad: Peter Handscomb, Scott Boland, Sam Elliott, Zak Evans, Jake Fraser-McGurk, Sam Harper, Marcus Harris, Jon Holland, Nic Maddinson, Jonathan Merlo, Wil Parker, Mitch Perry, James Seymour, Matt Short, Will Sutherland.

Predicted XI (for Round 1)

  1. Marcus Harris
  2. Nic Maddinson
  3. James Seymour
  4. Peter Handscomb (Captain)
  5. Matt Short
  6. Sam Harper
  7. Will Sutherland
  8. Scott Boland
  9. Mitch Perry
  10. Wil Parker
  11. John Holland

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