How the motley Tigers surged to unexpected Shield final

After losing a host of key players, Tasmania surprised even themselves with their run to the decider

Across a handful of rounds on the Royal Hobart golf course last winter, among a tight foursome of teammates, the seeds for Tasmania's 2023-24 Sheffield Shield title charge were sown.

It was an unlikely quartet. Jordan Silk. Beau Webster. Caleb Jewell. Charlie Wakim. Zero stars among them, nor an international cap to speak of. But there was no ego either.

"And the beauty of it is, they're three guys I'm really close with off the field," says Silk, who to that point had been captain for a year, "and they bring all sorts of different things to the table as well."

Silk had taken some time with head coach Jeff Vaughan to view the broader Tigers landscape at the end of the season prior. The change he knew was coming had arrived. Jackson Bird, Peter Siddle and Ben McDermott were returning to their home states. Tim Paine had retired.

"We'd lost a lot of personnel, and a lot of experience within our rooms," he says. "And it did feel like a new wave at the start of this year."

Silk's first summer as captain had been one long learning experience. Tasmania finished fifth and sixth in the Shield and Marsh Cup respectively. Those results meant that in the 10 summers since lifting a trophy (the 2012-13 Shield), they had finished in the bottom three on eight occasions in each competition.

Yet the rookie skipper refused to be cowed by either the prominent departures or the poor track record.

"I'm a pretty optimistic person," he says. "So I genuinely believed that by giving opportunities, and given the right circumstances, we had a lot of guys who could do great things at Sheffield Shield level."

At times during the 2022-23 campaign, Silk had, as he puts it, "let it get a bit lonely at times" as captain. In years gone by, his failure to share his feelings or concerns had hurt him to the point that he had taken time out of the game to work on his mental health.

Armed with that knowledge, and given the inexperience of the new-look Tigers, he deemed the most effective way to navigate a path forward would be to form a leadership group – a set-up they had done away with several years earlier. And so alongside Silk, the players voted in Webster, Jewell and Wakim.

According to the captain, the experienced Webster, who hails from the country town of Snug in the state's south, is the "super passionate Tasmanian" of the group who "wants to win every single moment". He brackets himself with Wakim, labelling them "fairly patient sort of characters and quite reserved at times", while 26-year-old Jewell is "the deep thinker who won't say too much, but usually when he's got something to contribute, it's been well thought out and he articulates it really well to me".

"It's a really good mix," Silk says. "I've leaned on those guys a lot through the season tactically, whether it's reviewing a day's play or setting up a day's play. They've been really good voices within our rooms, and it's awesome for me because I don't feel like I always have to talk – I've got great guys around me who read the game really well. And just being able to bounce off them, and have that extra bit of support around and share what I'm feeling at times, they've certainly been a big part in what we've been able to create.

Silk celebrates the wicket of NSW's Blake Macdonald with Wakim (left) and Webster (right) // Getty

"All we really wanted to do was create an environment where we felt like people could be themselves and really thrive and be the cricketer they want to be. We've tried to embrace everyone's unique abilities, and get the best out of them that way.

"And it's not just the four of us. Our coaching staff … have been big parts in the shift to where we are right now and how guys feel within our changeroom, compared to how they've maybe felt in the past.

"That's not saying it was ever bad, but it does feel like there's a new feeling in our rooms."

* * *

Gabe Bell didn't actually know if he was in the team for Tasmania's first Sheffield Shield match of the season, an away game against South Australia in October, until the day before it got underway.

As one of only three frontline seamers in a 13-man squad to play on what had previously been a notoriously lifeless Karen Rolton Oval surface, Bell might ordinarily have been more confident of getting the nod. But it had been 18 months since the 28-year-old had played for Tasmania, having not appeared in a single match the previous season due to his perceived similarity to the star duo of Siddle and Bird. Under-bowled and itching for a game, Bell spent the winter in the UK helping Stoke club side Hem Heath to the premiership.

"It had been pretty clear messaging from the higher ups that this is all part of a bigger picture, and I was just unlucky to miss, because those two blokes (Siddle and Bird), we all sort of play the same role," Bell says.

Bell celebrates the wicket of SA skipper Jake Lehmann in the first game of the season // Getty

"They were really clear with me that this isn't going to be forever and they really see me as part of the long-term future of the side."

In Adelaide, that future had arrived, though in a way, Webster says, "that not many people would have expected."

With Nathan Ellis, Riley Meredith, Billy Stanlake and Tom Rogers (all fast bowlers with Australia or Australia A experience) all unavailable, Bell was the new leader of an attack featuring just one other specialist quick (Lawrence Neil-Smith), three seam-bowling allrounders (Webster, Brad Hope and Mitch Owen) and off-spinner Jarrod Freeman. Their most experienced bowler, Sam Rainbird, was left out.

It was a rag-tag group and even senior Tigers players weren't sure if the gamble would pay off.

"Our two most experienced bowlers hit the road, so it was a little bit of unknown what kind of team we were going to play and how we were going to go," says Matthew Wade, the oldest member of the Tasmanian playing group.

Against SA in that first match, Webster gave a taste of his extraordinary individual season to come. After a first-innings knock of 62, he ran through the Redbacks with four victims out of the match-turning SA collapse of 5-47. He caught the other one.

The Tigers won comfortably and if Silk and co were not immediately convinced their left-field approach might have merit, the vindication came three weeks later back on their home turf.

'We got a lot of confidence out of it': Hope, Freeman iced a record chase of 432 // Getty

Fresh off a draw in Perth where Western Australia had largely outplayed them, the Tigers were once again being dictated to when they were rolled for 150 on the third morning of the game, 229 short of Queensland's 379. Hours later, they were batting again, pursuing an implausible 432 to win. After Wade (105), Webster (70) and Wakim (56) broke the back of the chase, Hope (48no) and Freeman (47) iced the match with 10 balls remaining via a remarkable 75-run eighth-wicket stand. It was the biggest fourth-innings chase in Tasmania's history.

"Going in, we weren't 100 per cent sure how it was going to look with the team we were playing," says Wade. "To chase that down, we got a lot of confidence out of it."


Still, this was not the final evolution for the Tigers.

A key change in the approach of their new leadership group began in the second week of November, between rounds four and five of the Shield season. The team returned home from a draw with Victoria at Junction Oval, and a week out from a home clash with New South Wales, the quartet of Silk, Webster, Jewell and Wakim made their way to Vaughan's office, where they presented him with an idea.

"We said, 'How do you feel about us taking charge this week?'" Silk says. "And he was so on board. He was like, 'That's exactly what we want from you guys'.

"As leaders, we wanted to take more ownership of what was happening during games, and since that moment, it's only really been us that have been communicating in and around game days. We're the ones reviewing a day's play, speaking before the game ... and for us we felt for our leadership to develop, we needed that opportunity to really do it – to potentially get it wrong a few times, but to really lead this team.

Silk speaks to his team ahead of day one of their clash with Victoria at Blundstone Arena // Getty

"And since that moment, it's certainly felt like it's been our team, and it's quite player driven now. That's where I credit Jeff and his team. They want us to grow, and they understand that the players' voices are incredibly powerful. They've allowed us that space, and they've helped create a great atmosphere within our group."


Tasmania won three of their next five Shield games either side of the KFC BBL break to sew up a first appearance in the competition decider in six years. Only a final round slip-up to South Australia and a fast-finishing WA side prevented them from hosting it.

For Silk, the sheer number of different contributors to their transformation has been one of its most pleasing aspects. Webster has of course been a standout, scoring 914 runs and taking 26 wickets in one of the greatest all-round campaigns in the competition's history. But with fleeting contributions from Tim Ward (dropped in February after making three consecutive ducks), new recruit Jake Weatherald (who has played just one match after crossing from SA), as well as Meredith and Stanlake (limited to three games between them due to injury), it has been their lesser lights who have truly tipped the Tigers over the edge.


In that first match after the leadership group's meeting with Vaughan, Hope scored his maiden century and added two wickets in a player-of-the-match performance that clinched an innings win over NSW. Neil-Smith and Bell took their maiden 10-wicket hauls in successive games, the latter spearheading another comeback win over Queensland, this time at the Gabba. Iain Carlisle stepped in late in the season with 12 wickets in three games after Owen's promising season was interrupted due to injury. Freeman, although not a prolific wicket taker, has been a rock with ball and bat. Bell aside, all of those players are yet to turn 25.

"The beauty of what we've been able to do this year is we haven't solely relied on the same XI to get us through, it's been a real squad mentality," Silk says. "It's been reliant on 16, 17, 18 guys."

Adds Wade: "That was kind of the thinking going into the season; let's find out about a couple of our younger players and we can go from there."

"We started in Adelaide, and found a way to take 20 wickets, so we just rolled on from there."


After Webster, Bell may be the next most crucial ingredient in Tasmania's unexpected surge in 2023-24.

The catalyst for the George Town product's 39-wicket campaign had in fact come from former Tigers coach Adam Griffith. Bell broke on to the domestic scene in 2017, snaring 31 wickets in his first seven first-class games before a foot injury knocked him out of featuring in the 2017-18 Shield final. But the arrival of Siddle to the island, and the perception Bell was too similar to him and Bird, meant his opportunities became increasingly restricted to home games on green wickets. In the 14 Shield matches he played between November 2018 and February 2021, only three were not at Blundstone Arena. Griffith told him his inability to maintain his pace through a match was an issue.

Every wicket: Bell embraces lead role in bumper Shield season

"I remember him sitting me down and showing me some numbers," Bell recalls, "and it was a pretty clear trend of falling away throughout the day.

"He said, 'You can't get away with that, especially when the wickets are flatter'.

"I'm never going to be a 140kph bowler, but it's just about finding what works for me."

A refocused effort on improving his strength, while also honing his technique to become a more robust contributor at any stage of a match, meant Bell was hungry and more capable than ever when he was finally entrusted with the responsibility of leading the Tigers attack.

"He's probably not going under the radar now, but he may have done so for the first half of the year," Silk says of Bell.

"I stand at mid-off and watch him bowl, and I'm just in awe at the moment of how good his control is.

"The same goes for Lawrence Neil-Smith in the first half of the year. Just very proud of those guys, and how they've been able to step into some of the biggest shoes that we've had to fill in my time here in Tassie.

Beau's brilliant summer in the Shield

"They've been massive in our charge from those bottom positions of Shield ladders in the past to where we are right now."

Tasmania will start underdogs when this week's Shield final gets underway at the WACA Ground, where WA have won the last two titles and are now gunning for a rare three-peat.

The prospect of claiming Tasmania's first Shield trophy in over a decade, and fourth overall, was enough for Wade to put off taking up his lucrative contract in the Indian Premier League to play his farewell red-ball match.

Wade has opened alongside Caleb Jewell since his return to the Tigers side late in the season // Getty

And, in one sense, it's fitting that Tasmania will once again need to defy expectations to lift the trophy. It's what they have been doing all season.

"The biggest thing that we've done really well this year, and I have to credit Jeff and the coaching staff, and (high performance boss) Salliann Beams as well, they've been super brave, and they've been willing to be different," Silk says.

"Whether that's with team makeup, or how we view the game, and we've been really bold with some selections.

"Whilst people probably questioned it at the start of the year, there was total commitment from the coaching staff.

"It took a few games to get used to but then as soon as we stacked up a couple of wins, there's just been this growing belief within the group that it doesn't really matter who takes the field for us.

"We believe that what we've got out there is generally good enough to compete with the rest of the competition.

"It certainly surprised a few of us. I'd be lying if I said it hadn't surprised me."

The Marsh Sheffield Shield final will be broadcast live on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports, as well as live streamed free on and the CA Live app.

Sheffield Shield 2023-24 standings

Matches played
No results
Batting Bonus
Bowling Bonus
Total points
1 Western Australia Men Western Australia Men WA 10 5 2 3 0 0 5.53 9.4 47.93
2 Tasmanian Tigers Men Tasmanian Tigers Men TAS 10 5 2 3 0 0 6.06 8.3 47.36
3 NSW Men NSW Men NSW 10 4 3 3 0 0 6.31 9 42.31
4 Victoria Men Victoria Men VIC 10 4 4 2 0 0 4.74 8.2 38.94
5 South Australia Men South Australia Men SA 10 3 6 1 0 0 5.19 9.3 33.49
6 Queensland Bulls Queensland Bulls QLD 10 2 6 2 0 0 3.54 8.3 25.84

M: Matches played

W: Wins

L: Losses

D: Drawn

N/R: No results

Ded.: Deductions

Bat: Batting Bonus

Bowl: Bowling Bonus

PTS: Total points