Red-Back On Track: The Time Is Now

The Redbacks hope to rebound this summer. Picture: ESPNcricinfo.com

The South Australian Redbacks have endured a horrific three-year period, and it’s possible Test great Michael Hussey has just handed the state the golden keys to fulfil a much-starved success.

That is, however, only if we see action.

The announcement today of incoming head coach Jason Gillespie will see widespread rejoice, knowing he is unequivocally the right man for the job, but it must be noted that the work certainly does not stop there for the SACA.

Much like his batting at the top level, Hussey did not miss when announcing the widespread issues which had permeated the South Australian cricketing environment over recent years.

There was no dancing around the matter, saying in his executive summary of the report “if the SACA wants to move forward then there must be change.”

Hussey highlighted multiple areas that need work, ranging from systems to high performance, but most unfortunately shared strong views on how evidently the Redbacks’ environment had induced a long-standing “culture of mediocrity.”

And it’s easy to understand why – the team has finished last more times than any other position on the Sheffield Shield table ever since it became a six-team competition in 1977.

Just as alarming, 23 out of the past 43 seasons SA has finished in the bottom two.

Upon the release of the report on July 16, SACA stated they were “determined to act on these recommendations,” and in the same breath, shared the State Cricketing Board had immediately enacted on one of the 13 recommendations – removing two previous members from the Redbacks Selection Panel.

Those two members were Talent Pathways Manager, Graham Manou and High Performance Manager, Tim Nielsen.

Nielsen took over as High Performance Manager in 2014, and has been spotlighted in Hussey’s review as one of the protagonists of South Australia’s deterioration.

One notion put forward by Hussey was that the Redbacks’ selection process needed independence, and that “full-time executives in the high performance programme” have been “seen as conflicted,” ultimately nullifying the selection services of the former national coach.

Nielsen’s involvement in the High Performance role also included spearheading the SA’s ‘Pathways Programme’.

This program turned out to be yet another area which the review pinpointed as a need of improvement – suggesting a “sense of entitlement” by players had developed inside the program and needed to be scrapped.

Saying it had “proven to be unsuccessful”,  Hussey wants to see “less reliance on Pathway Programmes” in the future and in place rebuild the relationship between each step of the cricket pathway in South Australia (from schools, to juniors, to Premier Cricket, then to state level).

This is South Australia’s biggest roadblock to success.

Now more than ever, there will be a strong focus on Nielsen and the relationship of his High Performance program with the Premier Cricket competition.

After spiralling from two consecutive Shield finals in 2016 and 2017, it’s become clear the appropriate focus at district level is not being applied, and the need to fix this in the next two years will be critical.

Teams will be reduced, the focus on coaching and developing players will be heightened, and the need to associate itself with state cricket as a true stepping stone competition is a must.

And with a new head coach marking the start of a new era for the Redbacks, only time will tell how much of this review has been truly considered. 

Jason Gillespie may be the perfect appointment for the top coaching role, but it won’t be all one man’s doing if the SACA hopes to turn this anchored ship around.

The review is complete, the solutions are on paper, now the action of change begins.

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