To the undoubted concern of opponents, and the occasional discomfort of his new ‘old’ teammates, Shaun Tait will once more unleash his unpredictably uninhibited thunderbolts for South Australia when the Matador One-Day Cup gets underway on the weekend.
Tait, who retired his battle-weary body from 50-over cricket following Australia’s unsuccessful 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup campaign in India, has been named in the West End Redbacks squad for the domestic one-day competition despite being an uncontracted player.
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When the 31-year-old who was once rated the world’s fastest bowler announced earlier this year he wanted to help deliver some overdue silverware for the Redbacks, coach Darren Berry was not sure of the level of commitment the raw-boned paceman would bring.
After all, Tait all but gave away cricket following an unhappy, injury-marred third and final match of his brief Test career against India in Perth more than six years ago that led to him taking nine months out of the game as he overcame physical and mental exhaustion.
But despite the absence of a playing contract and even though Tait’s days as a globetrotting T20 player had dwindled to appearances with the Adelaide Strikers in last year’s KFC T20 Big Bash League, Berry was impressed with what he saw.
“I want him in the side,” Berry said on the eve of today’s announcement of the Redbacks’ squad that begins its Matador Cup campaign against the New South Wales Blues in Brisbane on Saturday.
“He’s bowling fast and straight, he’s had a pre-season at home (in Adelaide) and done all the work, he’s been so impressive.
“I’ll be perfectly honest – I don’t mind saying this now - I said to him ‘mate, you come along (to training) when you want to come along because you’re not contracted.
“But he hasn’t missed a session, he’s been a role model for our players and I’m delighted to have him back and involved.”
The reappearance of Tait, who during the 2005 Ashes tour of England when he made his Test debut admitted he had little idea where the ball was bound when he released it at furious pace, is not such great news for those who have to face him in the practice nets.
And even more daunting for opposition opening batsmen called on to take guard against him when he has a rock-hard, new white ball in his hand.
Former Australian and current Redbacks batsman Callum Ferguson conceded it was exciting to have Tait back in the South Australian colours, for most of the time anyway.
“It’s not great when you’re batting in the nets and he’s whizzing them around your ears,” Ferguson said.
“He’s bowling fast at the moment, which is fantastic for us.
“We played a two-day game recently which was his first real hit-out in the longer form, and he got three or four spells of three-to-four overs out at good pace.
“So to have big Taity back is a huge bonus for us.”
Even at the height of his international career, which peaked during Australia’s undefeated 2007 World Cup campaign when he was the tournament’s third-highest wicket-taker with 23 scalps, Tait was used in short, explosive bursts due to the high-stress nature of his bowling action.
Those spells could become even briefer in the opening rounds of the Matador Cup, with the Redbacks facing a hectic start to their program and Berry already pondering if that will require some creative management of his pace bowling stocks.
“Hopefully, not too much because I would like the best side to be the side (we keep putting on the field),” Berry said .
“But we kick off with three games in five days so we might have to be a bit careful with the fast bowlers.
“From a batting point of view the best players will be named in the first side and then it’s up to them to give their spot away, and I hope that none of them will.
“So we want to put out our best side in game one, and then stay with that for the seven matches through to the final stage.”
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In addition to Tait, the other notable inclusion in the South Australian line-up for the season opening competition is former Tasmanian batsman Mark Cosgrove who has returned home to Adelaide after four seasons with the Tigers.
The 14-man squad also includes Jake Lehmann, the 22-year-old son of Australian coach Darren Lehmann who has impressed the State’s selectors with his form in the Redbacks’ recent pre-season matches in Darwin.
The squad is: Johan Botha (c), Mark Cosgrove, Tom Cooper, Callum Ferguson, Travis Head, Trent Lawford, Jake Lehmann, Tim Ludeman, Gary Putland, Alex Ross, Chadd Sayers, Shaun Tait, Nick Winter, Adam Zampa.