New summer but Redbacks face familiar issues
Each season South Australia start with the same questions over Shaun Tait's fitness, Mark Cosgrove's shape and the development of those two young spinners. The answers vary from year to year but nothing is definitive.
Tait begins the summer as a limited-overs bowler only, Cosgrove is in favour after a strong stint with Glamorgan and the tussle for first-choice opportunities between Dan Cullen and Cullen Bailey continues. Bailey won the first round by being picked in the 13-man squad for the opening Shield game against Tasmania from Tuesday.
Tait's problems are with his body and his desire, but while he picked up a virus on the squad's pre-season camp in Queensland, he showed his captain Graham Manou he was in a positive mood. "At the moment for us, we just hope he's happy and wants to play cricket, for a start," Manou said. "He certainly does at the moment. From a physical point of view, that's going to be in the shorter format of the game."
If those appearances go well Tait, who was a match-to-match proposition for state and country last summer, may consider some Sheffield Shield action. "He certainly hasn't ruled that out yet," Manou said. "He needs a bit of confidence in his body to want to get out there and stay out there."
Cosgrove, 25, returned from England late in September having scored 780 county runs at 60 and signed off with 175. Issues over Cosgrove's weight and attitude have followed him since he was dropped in 2005 and his body will never be sculpted like his team-mates. Manou said Cosgrove was in good "cricket shape" and won't be bothered about his size as long as he is getting runs.
Last summer Cosgrove wasn't picked until the final three games and he quickly raised two centuries. "The perception around the place was there would have been other issues," Manou said, "but Mark gets judged on how many runs he scores or doesn't, and at the time he wasn't making those big hundreds that other guys were." In this campaign Manou also wants Cosgrove to contribute with his medium pace.
While Manou is sure about Cosgrove's role, he is uncertain about what will happen with the spin situation over the summer. Cullen, the offie, and Bailey, the leggie, were the most exciting slow-bowling prospects in the country four years ago but over the past two seasons have been unable to hold regular places in the state team. The arrival of Aaron O'Brien, the batsman and left-arm orthodox, from New South Wales further complicates the situation for the two specialists.
Cullen, 25, has played a Test and five ODIs but finished last season out of the side as Bailey, 24, returned with eight wickets in two games. "There's only so long that [potential] label will last," Manou said. "Like all of us, with our main skills, we've got to try to perform and maintain the level of performance. I have high hopes for both of them, so fingers crossed that when one or two of them get their opportunity they fulfil a role for us."
However, another problem for the slow men is the building schedule for the Adelaide Oval redevelopment, which means the Redbacks will play four of their five home first-class contests before Christmas. "I wouldn't imagine the wickets would be huge turners early in Adelaide, so that could potentially put both of them behind the eight ball," Manou said. "That will come back to the selectors."
South Australia squad Daniel Harris, James Smith, Michael Klinger, Tom Cooper, Mark Cosgrove, Graham Manou (capt, wk), Aaron O'Brien, Dan Christian, Mark Cleary, Jake Haberfield, Peter George, Chris Duval, Cullen Bailey.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo