JLT Sheffield Shield 2017-18

Winter flying flag for generation next

A long road to Shield success has taught this Redbacks quick some life lessons along the way

Andrew Ramsey

24 February 2018, 10:36 AM AEST

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and is the author of The Wrong Line.

As an imminent graduate in international studies and politics, Nick Winter doubtless recognises he could readily become a global poster boy for the all-too-often maligned demographic to which he belongs.

Generation Y-ers are routinely characterised for a reticence to forego the creature comforts of their parents' home, yet Winter had barely outgrown his teens when he farewelled friends and family in Canberra to pursue the fraught ambition of a professional athlete in an unfamiliar city.

That cohort who were born between the demise of the Walkman and the dawn of the iPhone also purportedly flock to the quick fix and the next new gimmick, but having earned his start amid the glittering riches of the KFC Big Bash League, Winter came to realise he is best suited to the old-fashioned, red-ball game.

And while so many of his contemporaries have grown up through the 'every player wins a ribbon' culture that eschews competitive realities lest they bruise self-esteem, the 24-year-old's response when his aspirations seemed prematurely thwarted shows that resilience has not yet fallen victim to evolution.

But perhaps the most upliftingly atypical quality that has accompanied Winter from the low point of losing his South Australia playing contract in 2016 to setting rare benchmarks in his maiden pair of JLT Sheffield Shield matches this month is an abiding sense of loyalty.

To the West End Redbacks, who had taken a punt on the raw teenager by offering him a series of rookie contracts from 2013-14 and included the left-arm swing bowler in their senior squad training sessions last year even though he was not formally on their books.

And to the ACT, where his potential at Eastlake Cricket Club was noticed by SA Cricket Association higher performance manager (and former Australia men's team coach) Tim Nielsen who also oversees the issuing and revocation of Redbacks' contracts.

"When you go through barriers like that you're obviously very disappointed, but I don't think you ever want to give it away," Winter said this week as he reflected on whether having his livelihood stripped virtually overnight had led him to consider abandoning his cricket dream.

"Coming from Canberra, I had the backing of the city and the whole system was designed to push out one or two athletes a year to a major team.

"So I felt almost responsible, as one of those guys being pushed out, that I owed it back to the ACT system and that I stuck with it.

"I don't think I considered moving, but if South Australia didn't want me I think there would have to be a choice.

"You have to almost treat yourself as a bit of a business at some stage.

Winter in red-hot form with five

"But I'm really happy in South Australia, they gave me an opportunity when I was 19 and they were the only ones to put their hands up and take a risk on an ACT player.

"So I owe them some faith as well.

"I fully understood when they had to cut me and I saw the logic to it, and two years later I'm happy I've stuck it out and they've rewarded me for my performances.

"It was a tough little period, but I'm sure every athlete has setbacks along the way and I'm glad that's been and gone and I think I've learned a lot."

Nielsen admits that balancing available talent and on-field requirements against the need to promote young talent as well as reward consistent performance, all within a finite budget, can be as brutal as it is intuitive.

Without the luxury of any SA player among the 20 on central Cricket Australia contracts come the end of the 2015-16 summer, the need to retain proven quicks Chadd Sayers, Joe Mennie, Daniel Worrall and Kane Richardson (along with rookies David Grant and Wes Agar) meant Winter was cut adrift.

His cause wasn't helped by the only significant injury episode of his playing days thus far.

Winter comes to SCG with five-wicket haul

Having occupied the Redbacks' reserves bench for the entirety of their 2015-16 one-day cup campaign, Winter threw himself back into Premier Cricket with Tea Tree Gully and promptly tore a side muscle in sending down a bouncer.

A further two months out of cricket meant time was running short to prove he was ready to resume for his BBL franchise Melbourne Renegades, where he had played three matches the previous summer, and with his first ball back in Adelaide's grade ranks he re-injured his side.

Which meant in the four-and-a-half months that preceded the loss of his SA contract, he had barely given a yelp.

Except in pain.

Not only did the loss of his playing deal after three years mean he would need to formulate and implement his own fitness, training and skills development regimen, it also compelled the university student to find paid employment that allowed him to resurrect his cricket aspiration.

Through the Australian Cricketers' Association internship program, Winter undertook a stint within the SACA's media and communications department which provided not only a source of revenue but a perspective of the game from the other side of Adelaide Oval's picket fence.

"A lot of people get angry, or they just snap and go somewhere else because they feel that they've been hard done by," Nielsen told cricket.com.au this week.

"There's a whole lot of reactions that can come from being left off a contract list, but I reckon what Nick's shown is that he copped it on the chin.

"I'm sure he didn't necessarily agree with the decision, but he just used it to work harder and learn more about himself, and he's come back better.

"Maybe there's a bit to the fact that he went off and did some work, and he had to look at different ways to earn his money and to manage his time and to prioritise how he went about his grade cricket.

"All those different things, and instead of having a program where you're full-time and it's all organised and supported for you, you have to manage things yourself.

"He learned that he could probably bowl more in the nets than he would have in the past and he wasn't going to get hurt.

"By doing that, he developed his skills and got better at what he did, he got fitter and stronger and now he's back in the system full-time with a much better awareness of how he wants to go about it."

Five more wickets for Redbacks quick

Winter's route back to a playing contract and a baggy red SA Shield cap, in which he has claimed 15 wickets in his first two matches including three five-wicket hauls, began with Plumtree in Nottinghamshire's Premier League competition where he played during 2016.

There he honed his swing-bowling craft with the famously helpful Dukes ball, a skill that he unveiled on his return to Australia where the Dukes have been used in the second half of this and the previous southern summer.

Winter finished last season's Toyota Futures League competition as leading wicket taker with 25 at 20.44 from his five matches, and also secured the bowling average trophy in Adelaide's Premier League competition with 30 wickets at 15.90 from nine appearances with University.

It's his capacity to swing the ball both ways at reasonable pace – he claims he's regularly around low-130kph bowling speeds, with the hope of ultimately pushing 140kph at top pace – that has yielded returns of 5-85, 5-48 and 5-61 against highly-credentialed Victoria and New South Wales batting line-ups.

Making him the first SA bowler since George Giffen, whose bronze statue stands in the western atrium outside the Redbacks' dressing room entrance at Adelaide Oval, to capture three five-fors in his first two Sheffield Shield matches.

Although Giffen was scarcely a novice, having 20 times represented Australia in Tests before the Shield competition was formally introduced in 1892-93.

As Nielsen, who took over as national coach from John Buchanan in 2007 after serving as his assistant for five years, is keenly aware any bowler who can habitually swing the new and old ball both ways will be an essential commodity in a game increasingly dominated by power hitters and flat pitches.

And more so as a left-armer who poses a constant threat to right-hand batters unsure if the ball is being angled across them or will swerve back towards their stumps.

"I back my ability to swing the ball both ways as a bit of an x-factor in the longer form," said Winter who was part of the Adelaide Strikers' title-winning squad in BBL|07 even though he has not played a game in the 20-over competition since his debut season for the Renegades.

"I actually did quite well (in those three appearances) and it was probably the changes of head coaches at the Renegades – we had three different coaches in three years – that might have cost me.

"Every time I worked some faith up with a coach I almost had to start again, and when you're a rookie player that puts you in a tough position.

"But I would say the way I swing the ball it's probably favoured to the longer format because in white-ball cricket you only get one or two overs of good swing bowling, and then you pretty much just try and stop getting hit for six."

Having maximised his 'gap year' to broaden his skills set as well as his world view, Winter has a clearer idea of where he'd like to see the future take him.

Even though his fellow students at Adelaide University, where he has a single subject to complete in his undergraduate degree, resume their academic year on Monday at the same time as SA will be tackling Shield leader Queensland at Adelaide Oval, he is already eyeing post-graduate studies.

With an honours parchment "somewhere" in years to come potentially leading to an after-cricket career in international security (his father is a serving member of the Australia Federal Police in Canberra), given he has already been given a chilling glimpse of sporting mortality.

"Losing all my Canberra connections and family and friends left me a little bit vulnerable, so I made sure I had something to fall back on if cricket didn't work out," Winter said of his decision to take on a degree that spans such lofty topics as geopolitical history and the spread of globalisation.

But he concedes there is considerably less grandeur when it comes to filling his own cricket canvas.

"A long way away," Winter laughs when asked how close he feels he might be from a possible Australia call-up.

"Everyone has that dream and that passion, and that's why we play.

"But I'm keeping my feet well and truly on the ground.

"I just want to play a couple of seasons for South Australia and cement that spot.

"I put pressure on myself to do well, but that's what every athlete does and I've still got a lot of learning to do.

"I know deep down that I'm new to this level and there are guys out there (in Shield cricket) who have been playing for five to 10 years.

"So I need to respect that fact and not get too far ahead of myself."