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Captaincy dilemma on eve of Sheffield Shield Final

There was a dilemma in Victorian cricket this week.

Victoria will get two players back when the Australian contingent line up for the Sheffield Shield final at the WACA Ground this week.

India revelation Todd Murphy is an automatic replacement for former Test spinner Jon Holland who bowled superbly last week on an under-prepared WACA track but will become the victim of the national pecking order.

And Peter Handscomb will also return – probably at the expense of 21-year-old Ashley Chandrasinghe who has managed just 152 runs at 12 since scoring a century on debut at the start of the season.

But was Handscomb an automatic selection as captain?

When the right-hander headed off to India, and his occasional replacement Nic Maddinson was unavailable after rupturing an ACL during the BBL, the Vics turned to Will Sutherland as an unheralded and almost unheard-of leader.

Four matches and four wins later, with the team producing the sort of energised and focused cricket that speaks volumes for the impact of its new skipper, Sutherland might be the best captain available for the Vics.

It is nearly 80 years since a new shield captain started with four straight wins.

That captain was Lindsay Hassett, who went on the lead Australia 24 times and nearly matched his predecessor Don Bradman with 14 Test wins. Bradman had 15 from his 24 Tests in charge.

The others who started with four shield wins were Jack Worrall, Hans Ebeling, Warren Bardsley and Monty Noble, all substantial figures in Australian cricket and sport.

It is far too premature to suggest the 23-year-old Sutherland will match their impact in the game, though his father James blazed a significant trail during nearly two decades as Cricket Australia CEO, but there is a legitimate case to be made that he should lead Victoria this week.

Victoria have played spirited cricket in his time in charge, a credit to coach Chris Rogers as well, of course, while Matt Short has maintained his breakout BBL campaign into shield ranks.

And fringe Test players Marcus Harris and Scott Boland, who are both likely Ashes tourists, have plenty of personal ambition to power their performances.

Yet Sutherland’s message has resonated with emerging quicks Mitch Perry and Fergus O’Neill whose impact in the past month has been critical to the team’s success.

Handscomb is the senior figure in the team.

Given the conservatism that exists in Australian cricket, the reluctance to rock the boat from players, coaches and administrators at every level and the potential disruption caused by a David Hookesian left-field decision to replace him as captain, it was little surprise that he was retained.

Yet one principle that should drive all decision-making is to ask what would the opposition least like you to do.

From WA’s point of view, it might be to face a Victorian team fired by Sutherland’s inclusive and inspirational captaincy.

Player watch.

You might not have heard of 16-year-old Lincoln Hobbs but his name will become more recognisable as his career unfolds.

A student at Christ Church Grammar School, where next week he is poised to help them secure consecutive Darlot Cup trophies, and member of the WA under-17 team, he is also playing lower grades at Fremantle while he waits for senior opportunities.

They could come very quickly next season.

Hobbs played for Christ Church in their annual match against cricket charity Lord’s Taverners last week.

He walked to the middle with his team 3-15 and chasing a challenging 166 in 30 overs.

An hour later, after facing an attack comprising a handful of first and second-graders, he hit his seventh six to win the game and walked off with 106 not out from 42 balls.

Most of them were struck in the V with orthodox but powerful drives, a few were cut with great precision and timing and a handful were dispatched into the trees.

It was an eye-opening display, and made even more so through the absence of reverse sweeps and other novelties.



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