Gillespie lauds South Australia pace depth as best in the country

He has also backed Lloyd Pope despite the legspinner not playing a first-team game last season

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Pace race: Spencer Johnson, Wes Agar, Nathan McAndrew and Jordan Buckingham  •  Getty Images

Pace race: Spencer Johnson, Wes Agar, Nathan McAndrew and Jordan Buckingham  •  Getty Images

Head coach Jason Gillespie believes that South Australia have put together the strongest group of fast bowlers in state cricket amid signs of a rejuvenation in the team's fortunes.
Wes Agar, Jordan Buckingham and left-armer Spencer Johnson - the latter recently signing a contract after a breakout 2022-23 season - were all part of last month's Australia A tour of New Zealand while Agar and Buckingham have since joined Nathan McAndrew in county cricket.
Johnson finished the season with six and seven-wicket hauls in the Sheffield Shield and Buckingham, who is currently playing for Northamptonshire, claimed 6 for 78 on his Australia A debut. Meanwhile, McAndrew has taken two five-wicket hauls in three matches for Sussex but has had to make away for Steve Smith's arrival.
Alongside those quicks, South Australia also have Brendan Doggett and Harry Conway among their squad for the 2023-24 season which was confirmed on Friday.
Having not been able to bowl a side out twice in the previous two seasons, South Australia claimed 20 wickets on three occasions last summer - two of those bringing victories against Tasmania and Western Australia either side of the BBL break. They also reached the final of the Marsh One-Day Cup.
"We've really worked hard to get some depth in our bowling," Gillespie told reporters in Adelaide. "We had three bowlers over with Australia A in New Zealand at the end of the Shield season [and] we've got three fast bowlers playing county cricket at the moment.
"Not sure how many other states have got three fast bowlers playing in the County Championship so that's a real feather in our cap here and a real credit to those individuals and being recognised for the work they do for South Australia which is great.
"Being able to take 20 wickets consistently in Shield cricket, that's what contributes to Shield wins. To have that bowling depth is fantastic and I think we've got the best depth of fast bowling in the country so really excited about that."
The two new additions to the South Australia men's list for next season have come in the batting with the recruitment of Jake Fraser-McGurk from Victoria and the return of Kelvin Smith who was first contracted back in 2014 before falling out of the state system. Gillespie hopes to be able to unlock the potential of 21-year-old Fraser-McGurk who made his first-class debut at 17 and brought what remains his one half-century.
"There's a talented cricketer there," Gillespie said. "He's a fine you batsman and an absolute jet in the field. We are excited to afford him an opportunity and certainly believe he's got the skills to play a significant role."
Smith made a return to South Australia colours with a last-minute comeback in the Marsh Cup final then the last Shield game of the season and will be in contention to fill the opening role created by Jake Weatherald's move to Tasmania.
"Kelvin is a great story having got exposure at a young age then lost that opportunity," Gillespie said. "[He] continued to score runs at premier level, went over to another state [WA] and continued to score runs, didn't quite get the opportunity there, came back and continued to score runs then an opportunity presented itself. We should all celebrate that as a fantastic cricket story."
Gillespie also called for continued patience in the development of legspinner Lloyd Pope who was among the players to sign a contract extension despite not playing a first-team game last season. Pope was the leading wicket-taker in the 2nd XI competition with 37 in five matches but could not force his way into the Shield or Marsh Cup sides, partly due to Ben Manenti's success.
"I felt this last season was Lloyd's best season," Gillespie said. "I know people go 'that's a bit weird, he hasn't played a game', but he's continually developing his bowling. He's making the improvements that he and the coaches identified. There's no reason why Lloyd can't play in the same side as Ben Manenti, just depending on circumstance and conditions.
"Lloyd did nothing wrong, he was bowling beautifully and just has to be patient. We have to remember with Lloyd Pope, he's 22 years old, he's a young man and he's in a craft that is notoriously one of the most challenging in our sport and think he's progressing wonderfully well. We have a lot of faith and belief in Lloyd Pope and what he can bring to the table, not just in the next year but long term."
South Australia men's contracts 2023-24 Wes Agar, Kyle Brazell (R), Jordan Buckingham, Aidan Cahill (R), Jake Carder, Alex Carey (CA), Harry Conway, Brendan Doggett, Daniel Drew, Jake Fraser-McGurk, David Grant, Travis Head (CA), Isaac Higgins (R), Henry Hunt, Thomas Kelly, Jake Lehmann, Ben Manenti, Harry Matthias (R), Nathan McAndrew, Nathan McSweeney, Harry Nielsen, Lloyd Pope, Liam Scott, Henry Thornton, Spencer Johnson, Kelvin Smith
CA = Cricket Australia contract, R = Rookie contract

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo