While he flirted with making the cheeky suggestion to Peter Handscomb that he should keep the captaincy for this week’s Marsh Sheffield Shield final, Victorian allrounder Will Sutherland hopes his leadership tenure is far from over.
Handscomb has taken back the reins for this week’s final after returning from Australia’s tour of India where he played all four Border-Gavaskar Tests with Sutherland having gone undefeated during that period to lead the side into the season decider with four straight outright wins after the KFC BBL|12 break.
With Victoria boasting a youthful side, the 23-year-old was preferred as Handscomb’s replacement over more experienced teammates in Marcus Harris and Travis Dean due to his ability to connect with group’s younger players.
The right-arm fast bowling allrounder told cricket.com.au’s Unplayable Podcast ahead of the Shield final against Western Australia at the WACA that while it was ‘Handscomb’s team’, he hopes the Victorian hierarchy have him earmarked as a future full-time captain of the state.
“It’s something I’d love to do one day full-time,” said Sutherland from Perth.
“So very honoured that they looked to me to do it, they could have gone with Marcus Harris but took a chance with me and (I’m) very grateful, I loved the experience.”
Sutherland’s captaincy credentials prior to his stand-in appointment in February entailed leading his school and representative teams as a junior, but little else at senior level.
Based on his experience this summer, he now believes captaining Victoria’s Sheffield Shield team is potentially easier than those underage teams he’d led previously.
“Captaining senior cricket you’re surrounded by quality players, you don’t have to tell them as much what to do, they all know their game so well,” said Sutherland.
“And you’ve got players like Marcus Harris, Trav Dean and Jon Holland to lean on out in the middle, so I think my role was made pretty easy.”
It was also the low expectations that came with a side languishing in the bottom half of the table that Sutherland believes worked in their favour, but he admits it’s “caught (him) a bit by surprise” to be challenging WA for the title in the season decider.
Starting with their victory over NSW in their round six match immediately prior to the Big Bash hiatus, Victoria won their last five games of the regular season – including a seven-wicket victory over title-holders WA at the WACA last week – to surge into second spot and secure a place in the final.
“We had nothing to lose after the Big Bash when I took the reins,” said Sutherland.
“We’ve just played with a lot of freedom and built a lot of good momentum with nothing to lose and all of a sudden we’ve found ourselves in a great position.
“The bowling attack has probably led us.
“A couple of guys were going OK before the Big Bash, but three in particular have hit their straps. Fergus O’Neill and Mitch Perry have both found form, they can’t miss those two at the moment.
“And Jon Holland as well was one that started bowling really well. So when you’ve got a bowling attack where pretty much every bowler is just in a good place, it gives the opposition no respite.
“Matt Short as well was another one that was potentially a missing piece, he’s hit great form and back-to-back hundreds, it’s hard to lose games when he’s batting like that.”
It’s also been somewhat of a breakout Shield campaign for Sutherland, who after claiming a five-wicket haul in last season’s decider, flagged that his batting output was the area of his game that needed to improve in 2022-23 to be considered a genuine allrounder.
While satisfied with career-best Shield seasons with both bat (383 runs including a maiden first-class century in the opening game of the summer) and ball (36 wickets at 20.61), he concedes there is still room for improvement.
“Overall, I’d have to be happy,” he said.
“Given I made a hundred in the first game, potentially I would have liked a few bigger scores in there.
“I’m lucky to be batting at six at the moment so I probably need to make a few more runs to properly lock down that spot.
“But the batting was the main thing that needed to improve and proud of the way I was able to do that … it’s a step in the right direction so hopefully I can continue trending upwards.”
After the Shield final Sutherland will link up with former Victoria bowling coach Mick Lewis at Essex to fulfill an ambition of playing a season in the UK, but also with the knowledge he could be in the right place at the right time should the Australian squad need an injury replacement during a busy northern summer featuring World Test Championship final and five-Test Ashes series.
Like fellow in-form state teammate Short, Sutherland has also had contact from men’s national selection chair George Bailey over the summer and would likely have been part of the Australia A tour of New Zealand next month to be played with Dukes balls designed to replicate English conditions had his county deal not come to fruition.
Handscomb has also secured a two-month county deal to play with Leicestershire to press his WTC final and Ashes case after the 31-year-old impressed in extreme batting conditions in the first two Border-Gavaskar Tests last month.
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