After a spectacular end to a thrilling BBL season, there is a quick turnaround in Australian domestic cricket with the resumption of the Sheffield Shield. The Shield paused in early December after six rounds, and teams have a further four matches left before the final starts on March 23. Here is a look at how the six teams stack up before the competition restarts on Thursday.
Western Australia (32 points)
Riding high after Perth Scorchers' successful BBL defence, Western Australia will be hoping the momentum continues in the longer format which they dominated before the break. With four wins and 11 points clear on top, defending champions WA are almost certain to host the Shield final for the second straight season.
Underling the wealth of talent in WA cricket, there are a number of selection dilemmas, as skipper Shaun Marsh is set for his first game of this Shield season, against South Australia on Thursday. Such is WA's depth that wicketkeeper-batter Josh Philippe might be left out, while Scorchers captain Ashton Turner remains on the outer in four-day cricket but Marcus Stoinis is in the line to play his first first-class match since March 2020.
Meanwhile, spearhead Jhye Richardson will be missing the match against South Australia as he continues to battle a hamstring injury, which had sidelined him for the second half of the BBL.
WA will also be without tearaway Lance Morris, who is on Australia's tour of India. He is the Shield's leading wicket-taker this season with 27 wickets at 18.4. Spin-bowling allrounder Ashton Agar is also in India, but has only played one Shield match in the past two seasons.
Queensland (21 points)
Much like WA, Queensland have to bounce back quickly after Brisbane Heat's emotionally-draining finals campaign. Queensland are joint second on points with Tasmania, as their campaign resumes against Victoria at the MCG on Thursday.
Veteran opener Joe Burns has recovered from a hamstring injury sustained in the BBL season opener in a boost for the Bulls, who will be without Test batters Marnus Labuschagne, Usman Khawaja and Matthew Renshaw. Legspinner Mitchell Swepson is also touring with the national side, although his 12 wickets have cost 39.66 each in five Shield matches this season.
Six Heat players who experienced the agony of the BBL final are set to line up against Victoria.
Tasmania (21 points)
Tasmania have a great opportunity to start strongly when they play bottom-placed NSW at the SCG starting Saturday. They will hope to secure victory because what follows are back-to-back matches against WA, which could make things become more difficult for them.
Tasmania looked a formidable side before the break, as 24-year-old Tim Ward was the standout of a solid batting order with 421 runs to be the third-highest run-scorer this season. Their attack is also led by veteran seamers Jackson Bird and Peter Siddle, who have combined for 44 wickets this season.
Victoria (16 points)
Victoria will be lacking batting firepower as they eye a lift up the ladder. Regular skipper Peter Handscomb is in India, and Glenn Maxwell remains on the path back from a broken leg sustained last November.
Nic Maddinson will also be missing the rest of the domestic season having suffered a serious knee injury during the BBL, while Will Pucovski, who has made his return from personal leave only in Melbourne grade cricket, won't be playing against Queensland.
Victoria's attack will be without seamer Scott Boland and spinner Todd Murphy who too are in India. Thus, there will be more burden on emerging allrounder Will Sutherland, who has bagged 23 wickets this season and taken over the captaincy reins from Handscomb.
South Australia (15 points)
Redbacks face a tough test first up against WA, as they look to avoid a sixth straight bottom-placed finish. They are without Test players Travis Head and Alex Carey, with the onus on captain Henry Hunt, who is seen as a future opener for Australia.
After top-scoring for Heat in the BBL final, Nathan McSweeney looms as key for Redbacks, and he had batted impressively before the break as well. Their lead quick Wes Agar will hope to continue after his strong first half of the season, where took 23 wickets.
New South Wales (7 points)
Blues are hoping to move on from a disastrous start to the season, where they were winless from six matches, and are staring down the barrel of finishing last for the first time in 14 years.
Coach Phil Jaques was a casualty, with Sydney Sixers mastermind Greg Shipperd taking over in the interim.
There is little room for error for Blues, who will rely on experienced campaigners Kurtis Patterson, Moises Henriques and Sean Abbott to get them out of the doldrums.