Sheffield Shield 2015-16
Proud Redbacks looking for more
After losing the Sheffield Shield final to Victoria, South Australia are aiming to go one better next year with their young side
30 March 2016, 06:26 PM AEST
Proud, but not satisfied.
That was the succinct assessment of South Australia's season from rookie skipper Travis Head on Wednesday as he reflected on a summer that has seen his young side exceed all expectations, yet still leave with a hollow feeling after runner-up finishes in both the one-day and first-class competitions.
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Perennial under-achievers in recent years, the Redbacks began their 2015-16 campaign with a new captain, a new coach in former skipper Jamie Siddons and a new fitness guru in former Australian Rules football player Stephen Schwerdt.
After Schwerdt lay the platform for a long season with the most challenging winter training block in memory, the youthful Redbacks side stunned their more fancied rivals - who had been boosted by their Test stars following the postponement of the tour to Bangladesh - during October's Matador BBQs One-Day Cup.
Losing finalists to a star-studded NSW Blues in the 50-over tournament, Head's side then produced a remarkable late surge to finish top of the Sheffield Shield table and secure hosting rights for the final for the first time in two decades.
Another tough loss to a more experienced side in the decider - defending champions Victoria on this occasion - could not take the gloss off a breakthrough summer for one of the most exciting young sides in Australian cricket.
But it has left their ambitious and highly-rated skipper wanting more.
"Last year we won one Matador game and we went nowhere in the Shield," Head said.
"This year to play the brand of cricket we did in the Matador, I think we played a beautiful brand of cricket in the Matador Cup and I thought throughout the Shield season - in moments - I thought we played the best brand of cricket in the season.
"I think we got the most bonus points, which shows that we played the right way. Moving forward, if we get more consistent and play that way, I think we can be pretty scary.
"It's a three year work in progress with Jamie, he's come in year one and we’ve played in two finals.
"If we look at it honestly and play more consistently that way, it's going to be scary because we've got ourselves in two finals and there are probably a few blokes in the change rooms who are really disappointed with their seasons."
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SA's success has been built on the rapid improvement of their fast-bowlers, particularly the Shield's leading wicket-taker Joe Mennie and Melbourne-born Daniel Worrall.
The likes of Head, Jake Lehmann and Alex Ross have also had their best ever seasons while rookies Jake Weatherald, Elliott Opie and Alex Carey looked at home when given the chance at first-class level.
While the Redbacks fell short of adding to their trophy cabinet, it was the emergence of these talented youngsters throughout the season that offered an exciting glimpse into the future of both South Australian and Australian cricket.
Seven of their 11 players in the Shield final were aged 24 and under - Mark Cosgrove (31) was the only one over 30 - and the squad's depth has been tested more than in recent years with experienced players like Callum Ferguson (injury), Kane Richardson (international duty and injury), Chadd Sayers (Test duty), Adam Zampa (international duty), Tom Cooper and Tim Ludeman (both dropped) missing significant chunks of the season.
The courage of Siddons and the selectors to dump misfiring established players like Cooper and Ludeman midway through the season paid off handsomely, and the competition for spots is sure to be fierce at the start of their 2015-16 campaign.
"The young blokes that came in have stepped up and that's what we looked for," Head said.
"I think in the past we probably haven't had the depth and there's been six batters rotate through the season and you know that your spot is pretty safe.
"At the moment we've got blokes in grade cricket who are making a lot of runs and they're coming in and they're performing. It's fantastic to see."
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Siddons, like his skipper, is far from satisfied despite a better-than-expected first season in charge, identifying the Bushrangers and the Blues as providing the benchmark they want to reach.
And the state's push to once again produce players for Australia on a regular basis brings its own problems, with the likes of Zampa and Head in particular certain to play more at international level in the short term and thus need replacing in the state side.
"I think we talked a little bit about pride and respect and we think we've gained a little, but not a lot," Siddons said looking back on the season.
"So we need to back that up and you only get respect by doing it over and over like Victoria do.
"We want to become something like what they are and what New South Wales are. We have to be at the top of our game to compete with those guys.
"The hard part is now we have players performing well enough to lose them to Australia, which the is the No.1 goal; not winning games out here but getting players playing for Australia and touring like Travis Head is about to and Adam Zampa, who has just come back from one.
"We want to win Shields on the back of that. We've got a few more players now who Australia will be looking at very closely at.
"The No.1 goal now is to get something underneath that so we keep winning and stay on top like New South Wales and Victoria do."