Forgotten paceman roars into Ashes debate
THE Sheffield Shield has finally resumed, sparking a mad dash for runs and wickets before the season is out and Australia's Ashes squad is named.
And after two months of no domestic red-ball cricket, it was the big names who put in the big performances when the Dukes balls were rolled out to end the mid-season hiatus.
Ashes selections are no clearer, but it's a healthy headache national selectors now have.
Here are five things we learned from round seven of the Sheffield Shield.
JACKSON BIRD'S ASHES REMINDER
Tasmanian tall-timber Jackson Bird has given selectors a firm reminder of just why he should be considered for this year's Ashes campaign.
Having spent most of 2017 as Australia's reserve Test paceman, Bird has not come close to selection since a fruitless performance (0-108) on a lifeless MCG pitch against England. Since then he has slid behind Western Australia rookie Jhye Richardson and Test veteran Peter Siddle in the pecking order.
Against South Australia, Bird catapulted himself back into the selection debate with a game-turning performance with the Dukes ball. Having taken 4-53 in South Australia's first innings, the right-armer tore through the Redbacks in their second dig, picking up 7-59 as he accounted for five of their top six.
While Bird considers his Ashes race run, saying he would "very surprised" if he got a call-up, Test captain Tim Paine says the door is not shut.
"When Jackson bowls the right length with a Dukes ball he is an absolute nightmare, can swing the ball both ways and nip it around," Paine said of Bird after the Tigers' six-wicket win.
"If he keeps going like that I am sure he is right in the frame (for the Ashes)."
KURTIS PATTERSON IS IN THE FORM OF HIS LIFE
New South Wales left-hander Kurtis Patterson is doing everything he can to make sure he is on the plane to England, notching yet another red-ball century.
Patterson piled on 134 runs in NSW's innings and 51 run victory over Western Australia at Bankstown Oval, picking up 15 fours and two sixes along the way.
It was Patterson's second red-ball century in as many innings after his unbeaten 114 in the second Test against Sri Lanka, and continues his red hot form.
Once upon a time, the biggest hole in the 25-year-old's game was an inability to turn 50s into hundreds - he has eight first-class tons from 34 50+ scores - but it seems he has buffed out that chink in his armour.
Across his seven innings this year - including two in grade cricket - he has scored five centuries.
Speaking on Fox Cricket's Follow-On podcast earlier this year, NSW coach Phil Jaques pinned the improved conversion rate on a change in how the first-drop trains - batting longer in training so he could bat longer in the middle.
"So he gets used to batting time and not over-think things when he's in the middle, making sure that he's just really in the moment," Jaques said. "He's worked really hard on that mental side of the game."
NO GLOVES, NO WORRIES FOR WADE
Matthew Wade's push for a Test recall continues to go from strength to strength despite a long red-ball hiatus.
He was told by national selectors in January he wasn't considered for the Sri Lanka series because he was coming in for Tasmania at No.6 as a wicketkeeper-batsman, instead of up the order as a batting specialist.
And so with Tim Paine off Australia duty and available for state selection, Wade took the opportunity to hand him the gloves and bat at No.4.
It wasn't his most outstanding performance of the season, but his first innings 77 runs off 130 balls against South Australia certainly did his case no harm.
The half-century was his sixth of the season and helped solidify his spot among the top three scorers for the season.
His second innings 15 was a blip on the card, but it came late on day four as Tasmania chased down 110 runs within the final session.
Wade now has 663 runs at 60.27 this season - numbers he looks comfortable to build on from up the order to add to the Ashes selection headache.
OPENERS STRIKING FORM AT THE RIGHT TIME
The only way Australia's Test opening positions could be more uncertain would be if Justin Langer pulled himself out of retirement and announced himself as a candidate.
Australia went from having almost no suitable openers to pick from at the start of the summer to being inundated with Shield runs from hopefuls and incumbents alike.
Marcus Harris, Joe Burns and Cameron Bancroft plundered runs in round seven to throw down the challenge to one another, as well as the returning David Warner.
Harris made the most runs, backing his first innings 95 against Queensland up with 174 off 197 balls in the second.
Bancroft's efforts against NSW in his first Shield match in almost 12 months arguably raised more eyebrows, though. He carried his bat in the first innings with 138 runs off 358 balls, before it took NSW another 263 balls to dismiss him for 86 in the second.
Burns' display against Victoria went somewhat under the radar, but the Queensland opener made scores of 60 and 80 to continue his good form on from the Sri Lanka series. There was also a second innings 150 from South Australia's Jake Weatherald.
Who opens the batting in the first Test at Edgbaston is anyone's guess, but the good news for Australians is the options appear to be multiplying.
MADDINSON LOVING LIFE AT VICTORIA
NSW discard Nic Maddinson is loving life at his new state Victoria, striking a rich vein of Shield form.
After a lean Big Bash League campaign, Maddinson made it two Shield centuries in as many matches when he top-scored for Victoria with 108 on Monday, backing up the 162 he made in their last outing against WA in early December.
In between the two centuries came a broken arm which he suffered in the second innings against WA after being struck by seamer Jhye Richardson.
Now a 10cm metal bar is temporarily in his arm but it's done nothing to stop him picking up where he left off in the Shield.
In his two matches this season, he has 309 runs at 103.00.
The 27-year-old, who admitted he wasn't expecting to play any first-class cricket this summer, believes his impressive formline has been helped by the change in scenery.
"I love it, it's great," Maddinson said when asked what he thought of the environment at Victoria.
"I think they worry about the important things rather than the little micromanaging - it doesn't seem to occur here - so that's something I think I've enjoyed."