James Pattinson may get the chance to showcase his all-round skills at No. 7 as Victoria ponder five bowlers for the Sheffield Shield final against New South Wales, on what looks likely to be a docile Junction Oval pitch for the competition decider, starting Thursday.
A fractured thumb, requiring surgery, has ruled out Nic Maddinson, leaving the hosts with the option of recalling the vastly experienced Cameron White or promoting Pattinson and playing him alongside Peter Siddle, Chris Tremain, Scott Boland and the spinner Jon Holland. Pattinson had batted at No. 6 in Victoria's final regular-season game against South Australia after Maddinson's injury.
Changed competition rules for the final, where the team gaining the most first-innings bonus points is declared the winner in the event of a draw, places more emphasis on the need for Victoria to have an edge to their bowling attack, rather than simply playing out the full five days and collecting the trophy, as has happened at times in the past. Pattinson, who, in the eyes of many is pressing for a berth on the Ashes tour this year after litany of injuries, expected an unsympathetic surface for bowlers at Victoria's headquarters.
"It has been [batsman friendly] at the Junction,. We played the first two games there after the Big Bash [League] and there were some pretty high scores, so it'll be interesting too with the game going five days instead of four," Pattinson told RSN Radio. "So an extra day there for a result and they've changed the rules with the points if it's a draw, whoever gets the most points in the first innings will win the final. That'll change tactics a little bit as well. The wicket has been pretty flat there, so it'll be interesting to see how they go about it with the rule changes and the points system."
The Dukes ball will be another character in the drama, offering more consistent movement through the air than its Kookaburra equivalent, and also posing challenges for bowlers commonly used to hitting the seam rather than bending the ball before it pitches. "I was saying to a few of the bowlers sometimes it's harder work [with the Dukes] than the Kookaburra because you have to get it exactly right for it to swing," Pattinson said.
"Some balls - if you're a bit off - it swings own the leg side, so the thing with the Dukes, throughout the 80 overs it is a ball that offers you something. You might be 60 overs in and it is still swinging. As a batter, you've still got to concentrate, and as a bowler you're still in the game, where sometimes when the wicket's flatter, you've just got to contain for a while and try to contain the runs until the new ball comes.
"With the Dukes I just feel like you're in the game throughout the 80 overs, but it is difficult to bowl sometimes if it's swinging too much and a few of the bowlers have said 'how do we stop the ball from swinging too much because I can't get it in the spot I want?'. So that's a challenge it throws up, but all in all the bowlers do enjoy bowling with it. A lot of the bowlers enjoy the Kookaburra too; it's just another challenge for the batters, so it's good for cricket."
Since his return from a side strain that interrupted a longer-term rehabilitation from a major back surgery, Pattinson admitted there had been times when he wondered whether desperate measures to prolong his career would rob him of the high pace that characterised his most striking moments for Australia in his fleeting appearances since 2011.
"When you go to a decision to have such a big surgery like I did with my back, it's one of the things where you think, 'will that hamper my pace.' So that was the one thing where going into it I thought 'am I going to lose some of my pace by doing this' and is that a big risk," he said. "For me to still have a bit of pace and to come through with rhythm and feel pretty natural - it's a big tick and something that when you go in and have a big decision like that, you risk losing. But for me it's great I've still got that and I've had a lot of help along the way.
"When you first come back to playing cricket or any sport it's just about finding that rhythm first and not trying too hard. I've found that quicker than I probably have in the past and that's come from a bit of experience and coming back from injuries before. I'm just pleased with how fast I've found my rhythm now and I'm not searching too hard for it, which is good, so I've come in at the right time, the boys have done all the hard work getting there, so it's good to be back playing.
"I feel like I'm bowling with good pace and it feels pretty easy at the moment. Hopefully it can stay like that. We've got some tremendous bowlers in the team, I'd say we've probably got the best bowling line-up in Sheffield Shield cricket at the moment: Trem and Boland who've taken so many wickets this year and everyone knows what Sidds can do, so it's pretty great to be able to bowl with blokes like that."
Victoria squad: Travis Dean (capt), Scott Boland, Andrew Fekete, Seb Gotch, Sam Harper, Marcus Harris, Jon Holland, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Matt Short, Peter Siddle, Chris Tremain, Cameron White, Eamonn Vines
New South Wales squad: Peter Nevill (capt), Sean Abbott, Nick Bertus, Harry Conway, Trent Copeland, Jack Edwards, Moises Henriques, Daniel Hughes, Nick Larkin, Steve O'Keefe, Kurtis Patterson, Jason Sangha, Greg West