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Ferguson seeks happy ending to rollercoaster

Callum Ferguson: "I've no doubt Cricket Australia felt like big, sweeping changes needed to be made and you leave yourself vulnerable whenever you don't have an impact in a game" Getty Images

Returning to Hobart for the Sheffield Shield game South Australia had to win to make the competition final, Callum Ferguson chanced a mention of November's Bellerive Oval Test to Joe Mennie, with whom he had shared a baggy green cap presentation and debut appearance.

"I brought it up at one stage," Ferguson said, "and Joe was like 'I don't even want to talk about it'!"

No wonder.

Australia's innings defeat was their fifth in a row. It handed the series to South Africa, led to the resignation of the selection chairman Rod Marsh and forced a philosophical shift in how the Test team was being chosen. Ferguson and Mennie were thrown out as quickly as they had been thrust in; when the new squad assembled in Adelaide 10 days later, the pair put on brave faces in their Redbacks clobber, but disillusionment lurked beneath the smiling surface.

"I went into that Test match just thinking I've made it this far, let's try to have an impact to help turn the fortunes around because it had been a tough period for the Australian team," Ferguson said. "Obviously things didn't go to plan down there, and it was really surprising to be left out after one Test.

"At the same time I've no doubt Cricket Australia felt like big, sweeping changes needed to be made and you leave yourself vulnerable whenever you don't have an impact in a game and you don't make the runs that were needed. Unfortunately the change of selection panel and all that sort of stuff meant it was almost the perfect storm."

The clouds took a long time to clear from Ferguson's mind. He admits now that the Big Bash League and time in Melbourne with the Renegades served as something of a breather from an episode of which he struggled to make any sense. Time and tide have now allowed him to rationalise it somewhat - much as he had previously the two serious knee injuries that cost him a permanent place in Australia's ODI team, and then a chance to play in last year's Shield decider at Glenelg Oval.

"It just all happened pretty quickly and to an extent your head is spinning a little bit," Ferguson said. "It was a really tough month or two at the back end of that selection, playing the Test and then getting sent back to Shield cricket. It was a whirlwind period of the season and my whole career. Things didn't settle down for me until the BBL came around and I was able to take a bit of a breath with the Renegades and change speed for a minute.

"You have good timing and bad timing with everything. I've had my fair share of good timing where opportunities have come my way and the rub of the green's gone my way. But you're going to have periods where things don't go to plan or go your way. I've been around a long time so I'm well aware of that and I'm at peace with all of that. One thing it has done though is make me really hungry to get back there and really keen to pile on as many runs as I can."

Initially, however, the runs refused to come. Having made a century early in the season to be called into the Test side, Ferguson did not pass 50 for 20 innings across the Hobart match, Shield games for SA and the BBL with the Renegades, the worst dry spell of his career. Juicy pitches and Dukes balls post-Christmas made the task still harder, as the Redbacks slipped from the top of the Shield table to be in the pack with New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland entering the final two rounds.

It was at the SCG that Ferguson finally managed to right the ship with a meritorious double of 75 and 103 in the same match where Pat Cummins bowled with enough fire to book a ticket to India. A second innings of 90 in Hobart helped lift SA to a position from which Mennie could help the Redbacks' strong seam attack seal victory and squeak into the final. Having been through such a difficult passage, Ferguson feels his team have run into form at just the right time.

"If you look at the runs scored by the top five across any of the sides who've played at Adelaide Oval or Glenelg after the Big Bash, there hasn't been an abundance of runs," he said. "They've been quite tricky batting wickets, and playing three games at home in a row on what have been bowler-friendly wickets it's not a surprise to see there hasn't been a huge number of runs.

"It was concerning, because you want to make as many runs as you can, but it wasn't a surprise that some of the top order weren't making the runs they did before Christmas. We were working twice as hard on our games to get on top of those conditions. Sometimes we did, other times we didn't, but it's been good to have some impact running into the final. Timing's everything and I feel like we've run into a rich vein of form going into the final now."

As for the chance to finally play in a Shield final, some 13 years after his state debut, Ferguson sees this as a chance to end a challenging and at times confusing summer in a way that would make all the aforementioned struggles seem worthwhile. "It's been a season so far of highs and lows," he said, "but more highs than low.

"I'm really pleased the season's got to where it has now to play in a Shield final with all the Redbacks boys. That's really allowed me to think that it's a journey that's led to something pretty special. If we could win the Shield final it would just ice it off and I could look back at everything that's happened - good, bad or ugly - and be glad I've been on that rollercoaster."