North hopes to lead Warriors out of drought
When Marcus North made his Western Australia debut in late 1999, he joined a squad that had become accustomed to success. They had won the past two Sheffield Shield titles and had made it to four consecutive finals. They had collected 14 Shield titles in 32 years, making them easily the best-performed state since the late 1960s. And then came the drought.
They have not made a Shield final in North's time. There have been a couple of one-day titles, but the last was in 2003-04. Their eight years without any form of silverware is the longest current drought of any state, now that South Australia have picked up Twenty20 and one-day cups in the past two years. It is a situation North hopes can be redressed during his time as Western Australia's captain.
Their chance to do so begins on Sunday when the Warriors host New South Wales in a Ryobi Cup match at the WACA, followed by a Shield game next week. It is the earliest start the Australian domestic season has ever had. Cricket is unlikely to earn any headlines in Perth with the AFL finals series in full swing and West Coast and Fremantle both still in the race for the premiership.
All the same, these home games will provide Western Australia with a chance to start the season on a high. They narrowly missed the Shield final last summer when they finished with five victories from their ten matches, and North believes the winning culture that was such a part of Western Australian cricket for so many years might just have started to seep back in to his squad.
"We all know there are expectations for us to get in Shield finals and win Shield finals," North told ESPNcricinfo. "It's been a long time for WA cricket. Last year was certainly encouraging. Last year the thing I identified compared to previous years is that we were going out not just hoping to win or hoping to compete, there was actually a confidence within that we were good enough and we were going out expecting to win.
"It's having the belief and the confidence that you can compete against any side in any conditions, confidence that we're good enough to win. That's something that over the past five or six years has probably been debatable, whereas last year was quite obvious that we had that. That's what encourages me moving forward. Yes it's been a long time and that's frustrating for all involved, but we can only look forward and we've got a really good talented squad."
Importantly, it's a squad with a mix of youth and experience. The veterans North and Adam Voges will again be key men in the middle order, but there are others who have shown they can stand up. The opener Liam Davis had a breakthrough season in 2011-12 with three centuries, including a triple-hundred, and the Warriors need another big summer from him.
Davis was one of two Warriors who made his Australia A debut in England this year, along with the fast bowler Nathan Coulter-Nile, who at 24 seems ready for his breakout summer after encouraging efforts last season. He should enjoy working with Mitchell Johnson, who is likely to trouble Shield batsmen for most of the summer with a Test recall unlikely. The former Tasmania wicketkeeper Tom Triffitt, 21, has been brought in after Luke Ronchi's departure to New Zealand and will start the season as the No.1 gloveman.
And then of course there's Mitchell Marsh, who at 20 has already played for Australia, but had limited impact in the Shield and the Ryobi Cup last season and did not score a half-century in either format. His winter was spent at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane until, already on a last warning, he was sent home for being unfit to train after a night out. Marsh will be given opportunities at No.5 or 6 this summer, while his bowling workload will be carefully monitored.
"I think the danger with a bloke like Mitch Marsh is that it's so obvious how talented he is and what an exciting player he is, bowls well and can hit the ball hard, you automatically earmark him as someone who is going to be an international player," North said. "He probably is, but you've got to realise he's only a young kid and he's still got to learn his craft and learn how to play first-class cricket with consistency.
"I think there are times you expect a bit too much too quickly from players like him. He's been working extremely hard on his game. I know he worked very hard up in Queensland, even though it could have finished in a better way with him being sent home. But he has come back and his attitude has been outstanding back here in WA.
"We gave him a few opportunities up the top last year in one-day cricket but I think if we can keep him settled in both formats batting at five or six, it will give him some sort of consistency. And we've got to be mindful of his workload as a bowler. His history has shown that he has had a lot of injuries and that's from his bowling. But he's always taking wickets and is such a key player that it's hard to hold him back, but we've got to make sure we're doing the right thing by him and giving him the best chance to be staying on the field and fit."
That begins on Sunday against New South Wales in the Ryobi Cup, a competition in which the Warriors finished last with only one win last season. At least from the bottom of the table, the only way is up.
Western Australia Ryobi Cup squad Liam Davis, Shaun Marsh, Adam Voges, Marcus North (capt), Sam Whiteman, Mitchell Marsh, Tom Triffitt (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Rimmington, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Michael Hogan, Michael Beer.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here