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Redbacks confirm Travis Head as skipper

The 21-year-old prodigy takes the reins at South Australia after Johan Botha stands down

Former Australia Under-19 skipper Travis Head has been handed the task of leading South Australia into a new era having been appointed as the Redbacks' new captain in the wake of Johan Botha's decision to stand down.

Botha, the South African international who was recruited in 2012 to instil some character and steel into the under-achieving Redbacks, had earlier informed SA Cricket Association officials that this season – his third in Adelaide – would be his last at the helm.

In seeking to install a long-term leader who will galvanise a new generation of local talent around him, the SACA has banked heavily on 21-year-old Head's undoubted potential by making him the youngest captain in the state's 122-year first-class history.

While Head has led SA at under-17 and under-19 level in addition to his national leadership honour, there are some who believe he has been elevated prematurely given he is in just his fourth senior season and his 1388 runs at less than 30 do not include a first-class century.

The left-hander's appointment was confirmed by the SACA this morning and his first game in charge will be the West End Redbacks' Bupa Sheffield Shield match against the Alcohol.Think Again Western Warriors in Perth beginning on Saturday.

But SACA Chief Executive Keith Bradshaw, who himself was just 23 when appointed to captain Tasmania for a Sheffield Shield match in 1987, claimed that the promising young batsman deserved his promotion ahead of more established teammates such as Callum Ferguson and Tom Cooper.

The decision follows a period of turmoil for SA cricket which saw former national selector Jamie Cox sacked from his role as High Performance Manager for breaching Cricket Australia's recruiting regulations relating to the KFC T20 Big Bash League.

Six months later, the game was rocked when Redbacks batsman Phillip Hughes was struck while batting in a Shield match against NSW in Sydney and died in hospital two days later without regaining consciousness.

And last week, it was revealed coach Darren Berry had been granted an unspecified period of leave by the SACA to deal with personal issues.

"Travis's appointment demonstrates a long-term focus for our young Redbacks team," Bradshaw said in formalising Head's appointment today.

"This is a long-term decision with long-term success in mind.

"Travis has demonstrated an ability to show resilience under pressure on the field in his short time playing for South Australia.

"Off-field, Travis is already well respected by the entire cricket community both in South Australia and around the country.

"We are excited to appoint a young, capable leader who we believe can achieve higher honours in his cricketing career."

The move is designed to usher in a new era for the Redbacks following the strong-willed partnership between Berry and Botha that was built with the aim of bringing cultural change to an organisation that has won a solitary Shield title and two domestic one-day crowns in the past 30 years.

In addition, SA has produced just two home-grown batsmen (Greg Blewett and Darren Lehmann) and as few bowlers (Tim May and Jason Gillespie) who have won selection for more than a handful of Tests each in that time.

Incumbent Test fast bowler Ryan Harris honed his skills in Adelaide and attended the same northern suburbs secondary as Head, but earned his Baggy Green cap after moving to Queensland when the SACA declined to offer him more than a single-year contract.

Renowned for his ultra-competitive character, Botha last season carried SA to the cusp of their first Sheffield Shield final since their 1995-96 victory but is understood to have decided during the recent hiatus in the Shield competition that now was the right time to step aside.

"Johan has been working with the West End Redbacks to set up succession planning for the leadership of the team," Bradshaw said today.

"After considering the options during the Bupa Sheffield Shield break, he approached us to explain his position and propose a change of leadership.

"We began a commitment with Johan to strengthen our young squad and develop leadership opportunities; his influence on the playing group on and off the field has been outstanding."

While 32-year-old off-spinner Botha would continue to provide valuable tutelage for SA's greenhorn skipper, his decision to stand aside also paves the way for another promising (albeit New South Wales-born) spin bowler Adam Zampa to fill that role in the Redbacks' Shield line-up.

Head, who led SA to their first national under-19 championship in a decade and a half in 2012-13 and was named player of the championships in that campaign, will be his State's youngest leader but not the youngest to be granted that honour in the Australian first-class game.

Cameron White was aged 20 years 76 days when appointed to take over the Victorian captaincy in November 2003 and, like Head, did not boast a Shield century to his name at the time he was elevated to the leadership.

Indeed, his career record at that stage – 397 runs at a tailender's average of 18.9 with a top score of 91 from 16 matches – was boosted only by dint of the fact White was considered an all-rounder whose leg-spin had earned him 30 wickets at 31.85.

He has since gone on to overtake Bill Lawry as Victoria's most capped Sheffield Shield skipper, having led the Commonwealth Bank Bushrangers 69 times with the prospect of several more seasons to come.

Gary Cosier, the former hard-hitting Test batsman who currently stands as the youngest player to captain South Australia at Shield level and was 23 years 201 days when he took on the job in the season prior to the World Series Cricket split.

However, Cosier and opener Ashley Woodcock only served as stand-ins for regular skipper Ian Chappell and Cosier's captaincy reign was limited to two games.

Batting prodigy Clem Hill remains the youngest to be formally appointed SA captain in his own right, gaining the nod from the SACA to become the long-term successor to Joe Darling in January 1902 at the age of 24 years and 298 days.

Hill led his State until his retirement from the first-class game in 1923, a month shy of his 46th birthday having also captained Australia in 10 Tests between 1910 and 1912.

SA's previous attempt to install a cleanskin as captain ended in disaster when 29-year-old Nathan Adcock was handed the leadership after the SACA – under the guidance of then high performance manager Rod Marsh – decided to move on Lehmann in 2007.

Despite not having previously been able to nail down a permanent place in SA's Shield XI, Adcock was seen as a fresh start but was axed from the team midway through his first season as skipper and never played first-class cricket again.

He now serves as a member of the SACA Board that ratified Head's appointment.

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