South Australia  

Since the time of the state's stirring Sheffield Shield triumph of 1995-96, returns from South Australian teams have remained modest. There have been fleeting appearances in limited-overs semi-finals but little more than that to write home about in the way of challenging for titles.

There's naturally a chance to redress that record as another season begins, but the Redbacks know as well as anyone that there's a significant amount of work to do before success can be achieved. Particularly at first-class level.

Coach Greg Chappell, for one, remains under no illusions as to the extent of improvement required, having already spoken publicly of the need for the team to gain far more for itself in the way of respect.

And, if they're being honest with themselves, many of the batsmen in the squad must realise that the challenge rings especially true for them. Darren Lehmann and Greg Blewett continue to have far too much of the responsibility for making big totals thrust upon their shoulders.

Lehmann and Blewett have carried such a burden over recent years, in fact, that it has not been hard to foresee the result on those occasions when they've failed. They are a brilliant duo and each remains capable of winning matches single-handedly. But the reality is that, for South Australia to succeed on a more consistent basis, it needs more of its batsmen firing - not merely the same ones as usual.

Nonetheless, the Redbacks do still have a few things running in their favour as they approach this new campaign.

Unlike any of the other states, they will start the season with as few as two of their players on the wrong side of the age of 30. And even one of them is only 31.

The South Australians have also suffered over recent years from the unusually high rate of attrition caused by a series of untimely injuries. Last season was particularly unfortunate in this respect. Spinner Brad Young was absent for virtually the entirety of the season; Paul Wilson missed a number of matches near the end; and exciting batsman Chris Davies was lost to the side from February onwards just by way of example.

Though Davies and all-rounder Mick Miller will start the season on the sidelines, the same bad luck is probably unlikely to blight the squad quite so grievously again.

And they certainly shape as having one of the better balanced limited-overs squads in the country. It's in this arena that they would appear to have their best chance of doing themselves justice in 2001-02.

Even in Jason Gillespie's absence, the South Australians have one of the best one-day bowling line-ups in the land: Wilson and Brett Swain form a tight, economical new ball unit and generally receive fine support.

On song, there are also very few limited-overs batsmen in the country as capable as Lehmann. Jointly named the Player of the Series last season, his runs came at the sublime average of 131.00. And his destruction of a full-strength New South Wales team in difficult conditions was a fitting testament in itself to the fact that he is often near-impossible to contain.

The Redbacks clearly gained increasing confidence from their one-day form during the 2000-01 season and they finished the preliminary round with a spectacular triumph in a high scoring game against Victoria. It will be particularly interesting to see how they build upon that recollection this summer.

The key player: Darren Lehmann. Who else? The process of identifying South Australia's most valuable player has become a near-monotonous exercise for some time now. But, given that the skipper's exceptional prowess with the bat shows very little signs of waning, there's still no compulsion to look elsewhere. Has just come away from another brilliant season with Yorkshire - where he was the chief architect of the county's first first-class title triumph in 33 years. Less than 500 runs away from becoming the most prolific scorer in the history of first-class cricket between the states, he is again poised to create a big name for himself at home too.

The up-and-comer: Paul Rofe. Only 20 years old but Paul Rofe has been gaining in stature steadily over the past few years. He's not all that well known outside South Australia as yet but it's not hard to imagine that he soon will be. Very much in the Glenn McGrath mould, he is tall and bowls an excellent, disciplined line on and just outside off stump. Will be one of the mainstays of the Redbacks' attack for years to come, and this might well be the season in which his interstate career genuinely kicks off.

The draw: Not a bad draw for the South Australians, with a nicely alternating balance of home and away matches scheduled. Possibly a little unfortunate in the sense that they have to travel to remote venues at Launceston and Coffs Harbour inside the space of seven days in early January but otherwise there should be no obvious quibbles. Given their recent history, better performances undoubtedly need to come from the Redbacks in matches at away venues this season. So the fact that two of their closing Pura Cup games are at arguably the most daunting of all in the 'Gabba and the WACA should provide a stern and very important challenge.

Predicted Pura Cup finishing position: 6th

Predicted ING Cup finishing position: 2nd

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Date-stamped : 07 Oct2001 - 02:24