Marsh One-Day Cup 2021-22
Star recruit to miss season opener as SA look to rebuild
South Australia coach Jason Gillespie previews the domestic season as the Redbacks look to respond to their winless campaign last summer
20 September 2021, 10:41 AM AEST
Given their bottom-of-the-ladder finishes in both the Marsh Sheffield Shield and One Day Cup competitions last summer, it's not unreasonable to expect South Australia coach Jason Gillespie might have cracked the whip at his charges during the off-season.
But Gillespie, in his first full year at the helm after engineering success in the KFC BBL and UK county championship, understands the rebuilding job at Adelaide Oval demands a careful use of both carrot and stick.
So, in recognising the unique demands of a COVID-affected summer and the turnover in playing personnel that followed it, the Redbacks' contracted players were granted an additional month or more of leave before being required to front up for pre-season training in early July.
And while Gillespie points out they were expected to map out their own fitness programs and report for training in "ship shape" after the squad's three-day community camp on Kangaroo Island in late June, the extent to which they pushed themselves during the off-season was left to each individual.
"Last summer was a big one in terms of all the stuff we were dealing with outside of cricket – quarantining and biosecurity bubbles and all that, so we just felt the lads could probably do with a bit of an extra break and I think they appreciated that," Gillespie told cricket.com.au.
"They all came back in the best pre-season shape they've been, so I'm really proud that they took that on and did the work without being supervised too much."
Whether that infusion of 'player power' yields improved on-field results for an outfit that last won the Shield in 1995-96 (when Gillespie was playing) and the domestic one-day trophy only once during that same period (in 2011-12) will become clearer when they begin their next campaigns this week.
What is already obvious is SA's willingness to act on last year's Hussey Review into the shortcomings of the state's men's program, as shown by the Redbacks' active recruiting over winter.
It was a mission with two clear priorities.
The first reflected the reality that since Ian Chappell in 1975-76, only four SA players have averaged more than 55 in a season filling the pivotal No.3 batting berth – Michael Klinger (twice), Greg Blewett, Darren Lehmann and Paul Nobes.
The second is more immediate, and even more stark.
In their winless Shield season of 2020-21, it took SA's bowlers until the final match of the summer (against Victoria in Melbourne) to claim all 10 opposition wickets in a single innings.
"If you look at our numbers from last year, it's pretty grim reading," Gillespie said.
"We struggled with the ball, and it doesn't matter how many guys you've got scoring a thousand runs in a season, unless you take 20 wickets you're not winning many games.
"Our batting showed signs of progression, but if you look at how we recruited, we targeted guys who could push for positions in the top order.
"We seem to have a lot of middle-order players or players vying for middle-order spots, but we don't have as many that are vying for the top three positions.
"If you look back over the history of South Australian cricket, it's not a position we've had a lot of success in recent times."
To fill the first need, SA have secured Queensland and ex-Australia Test squad quick Brendan Doggett to lead the attack, although the 27-year-old's delayed arrival in Adelaide due to border restrictions means he'll miss this week's opening Shield and Marsh Cup matches against WA.
Fellow quick Nathan McAndrew has also impressed since arriving, as has rookie-listed Jordan Buckingham (from Melbourne Premier Cricket) who will add to SA's surfeit of seamers with Dan Worrall, Kane Richardson, Wes Agar, Nick Winter, David Grant, Tim Oakley and Joe Mennie (returned from UK).
The No.3 batting conundrum remains unresolved, although WA recruit Jake Carder is favoured to start in that role after the experiment of playing budding allrounder Liam Scott at first-drop in the back half of last summer failed to bring meaningful results.
"He was excited by the opportunity, but it didn't quite go as well as we'd hoped," Gillespie said of Scott, who will also miss this week's season openers due to a hamstring injury.
"It's a big ask for somebody to be fourth seamer and batting three, so we'll look at things.
"I think we'll probably lean towards Travis (Head, SA captain) batting four but we've got new recruits and there's guys like Alex Carey, could he bat at number three?
"I'm not sure that will happen, but who knows."
Gillespie maintains a similarly open mind to the debate over spin-bowling duties, after leg-spinner Lloyd Pope carried the burden of sole specialist spinner in last year's squad.
The emergence of batting allrounder Sam Kerber at the end of last summer – he scored a half-century and snared three wickets with his left-arm spin in his Shield debut against Victoria – presents another option for SA's selectors.
But after Pope grabbed seven wickets on the last day of SA's final internal trial match last week, expectations surrounding the mercurial youngster have once again risen.
"He's had a couple of successful innings, and he's had some poor returns as well, but that's a young wrist spinner who's tackling the hardest art in our sport," Gillespie said of the 21-year-old.
"We feel he's progressing but we've got to be really patient. Most leg-spinners really don't fully learn their craft until they're a lot older.
"We've invested a lot of time in him, and we'll continue to invest time into him and give him the opportunities when they arise whether it's Shield cricket, second XI cricket or one-day cricket."
After a wretched recent run – SA has finished bottom of the Shield ladder for the past four seasons after reaching consecutive Shield finals – it's not just playing personnel that's received a make-over.
Under Gillespie, the pre-season has featured dedicated fielding sessions that included drills whereby players must complete catches one-handed, and a focus on scoring in the middle-overs of one-day games where new batting coach Steve Stubbings has challenged his charges to find '30 extra runs in 30 overs'.
Off the field, Gillespie has organised regular gatherings at which the current group hears from former players (such as Neil Dansie, Peter Sleep, Wayne Phillips, Peter McIntyre and Mark Cosgrove) to glean more of the Redbacks back story.
And in addition to the range of skill improvements he's targeted for improvement across the group, the coach introduced what he labelled 'classroom sessions' but subsequently demystified as "basically we all get together and talk about cricket".
"There was a bit of structure about it, but essentially it was learning about the game – how do bowlers analyse a batsman by looking at footage as well as statistics, that sort of thing," Gillespie said.
"We just threw around these ideas and a lot of senior players offered some really good insights from their experiences, whether playing at the highest level or in franchise cricket around the world or with other states.
"We had all this information and just shared it, and the lads really enjoyed just talking cricket.
"In this era when people are forever buried in their phones or on their tablets, it's almost as if the art of simple conversation has become a bit lost.
"So it's been a very productive winter."
Squad: Wes Agar, Alex Carey, Jake Carder, Brendan Doggett, Daniel Drew, Ryan Gibson, David Grant, Travis Head, Henry Hunt, Samuel Kerber, Jake Lehmann, Nathan McAndrew, Nathan McSweeney, Joe Mennie, Harry Nielsen, Tim Oakley, Lloyd Pope, Kane Richardson, Liam Scott, Jake Weatherald, Nick Winter, Daniel Worrall.
Possible best XI: Jake Weatherald, Henry Hunt, Jake Carder, Travis Head, Alex Carey, Harry Nielsen, Liam Scott, Sam Kerber, Dan Worall, Wes Agar, Brendan Doggett.
Sheffield Shield: Sixth
One Day Cup: Sixth
Fixtures (to date)
One Day Cup: v Western Australia (Karen Rolton Oval, Sept 22)
Sheffield Shield: v Western Australia (Karen Rolton Oval, Sept 24-27)
The inside word with … coach Jason Gillespie
"From a skills point of view, you can see in our recruitment we identified that our bowling really needed to improve.
"We've now developed some real depth in our seam bowling which is fantastic, and I'm really excited about that.
"(Bowling coach) Luke Butterworth has also done a lot of work with bowlers around the idea of 'can we continue to develop another skill' to add to each individual's toolkit.
"And our new batting coach Steve Stubbings has come in and brought some fresh ideas with a focus on how we can find some more runs in the middle overs of one-day games.
"We also identified that we need to be able to take chances in the field when they come, so we've had a lot of standalone fielding sessions as opposed to sessions being tacked on to the end of a nets program."
"Kane Richardson heads off soon for the T20 World Cup.
"When Brendan Doggett will play, we're not sure because he's just come off quarantining. He's been late arriving (into SA) and has had various things that we've managed during the off-season, so we'll just build him up and unleash him at some point.
"Liam Scott's had a hamstring so he's unavailable for selection for the first round of matches.
"And Joe Mennie hasn't played any cricket for 18 months – last week was the first time he'd bowled outdoors under match conditions since March 2020 – so he's a long way back.
"We just need to allow him to get fitness to the required level and get some bowling under his belt, but we've got some depth with our bowling."
"I don't want to single out any individuals because our rookies – Jordan Buckingham, Kyle Brazell, Bailey Capel, Corey Kelly, Thomas Kelly and Ryan King – have all been terrific.
"I've been thrilled by their development, they're showing real signs of improvement and what's exciting is their names will come up in discussions for selection at some point.
"They're not just making up the numbers in our squad, they're here to compete and challenge for spots in the team.
"Their progression has been awesome, their attitudes have been fantastic and we've had senior players notice it and say 'our rookies have only been here for a month or so but they're already setting the standard'."
"If I had to pick one I'd say our leader, Travis (Head). I guess he's got a bit to prove after he lost his (Cricket Australia) contract at the end of last season.
"But he's in a good place, he's really desperate to perform and to lead this team and that's the exciting thing.
"Even when he was away with Sussex during the winter, he'd dial into our team chats and just recently while he was doing quarantine after coming back he was part of our planning and review sessions. He's really invested and engaged, which is brilliant.
"He's been a great leader."
Teams to beat
"They're all good teams, but you probably measure yourself against the best in the competition.
"So in the Sheffield Shield, that would be Queensland because they won it last year. And in the One Day Cup, it would be New South Wales for the same reason."