Shield shock: Axe looming in surprise final shake-up
VICTORIA is weighing up a shock selection move ahead of Thursday's Sheffield Shield final against NSW with the the last spot in their XI shaping as a battle between wicketkeeper Sam Harper and veteran quick Peter Siddle.
The selection panel of Andrew Lynch, Mark Ridgeway, Ray Bright and Andrew McDonald remains tight-lipped on the final make-up but it is believed James Pattinson's rich vein of bowling form has Harper marginally in front of Siddle for the last position.
Harper has not played a Shield game since early December, when he filled in for injured wicketkeeper Seb Gotch, while leaving Siddle out would send shockwaves through the national system ahead of Ashes tour to England this winter.
The pace bowler has taken 214 Test wickets from 64 matches and played for Australia as recently as October in the United Arab Emirates.
A draw is not necessarily enough for Victoria to earn their fifth crown in six seasons. In the event of a draw after five days, the winner will be determined by the team that claims the most first innings bonus points.
The adjustment in format for the final this season weighs heavily on Victoria's selection plans.
If all the home team needed was a dour draw, an extra batsman (Harper) would be the logical choice. But on a Junction Oval wicket that is expected to be dry and favour batsmen, there is a possibility the Victorians could play four specialist quicks and Jon Holland.
In this scenario, Pattinson would bat at number seven, while Gotch - who has a minor hand injury - would take the gloves and bat in the middle order.
If Harper plays what would be his first game at any level for almost three weeks, he would take the gloves and Gotch would play as a specialist batsman.
Cameron White has been recalled after missing selection against South Australia and he will replace injured run machine Nic Maddinson in the middle order.
The potential demotion of Siddle to 12th man duties for the second time this Shield season is seen as a real possibility largely because the other three fast bowlers have near bulletproof selection cases.
Pattinson is the form bowler of the competition and claimed a match-winning five-wicket haul against NSW in the penultimate Shield outing of the regular season.
Chris Tremain has been Victoria's best bowler for the past three seasons, while on Wednesday Scott Boland was named the 2018/19 Sheffield Shield player of the season.
He also has more Shield victims (45) than any other bowler playing in the upcoming final.
This leaves Siddle, who has 20 Shield wickets at 27.80 this summer but no five-wicket hauls.
The 34-year-old is widely expected to be on the plane to England this winter as a back-up for the Ashes or an Australia A option, but Victoria has already demonstrated it is willing to leave him out of Shield action this season and will make their own call, rather than one for the betterment of the national team.
If Siddle is left out, it will be a decision that is likely to further highlights the tense relationship between state associations and Cricket Australia.
NSW will welcome back spinner Steve O'Keefe and captain/keeper Peter Nevill for the final, which will be telecast on Fox Cricket from 10.15am from Thursday.
Play begins at 10.30am and Darren Lehmann, Andrew Symonds, Ian Healy and Mel Jones headline the commentary team.
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