South Australia’s last crack at the WNCL finals came in 2008-2009, where they were runners up to New South Wales in a washout game. The team, the mentality, and the performances have improved out of sight since then.
Scorpions skipper Lauren Ebsary has lead her charges through the highs and lows of 2014/2015, and has had the full support of the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) in a season of records, achievements and players beginning to show their stripes.
In October, before the start of the women’s season, Ebsary’s goal was for the Scorpions to go much further, and improve on the platform in 2013/2014.
“We’re pretty keen to play finals; we narrowly missed out on the WNCL final last year. We’re hoping to achieve a finals berth in both (competitions); we’ve got a couple more internationals that will join us soon to bolster last year’s outfit. We were a young team last year, so we weren’t expecting major things, but we finished off last season pretty well.”
That first expectation has been achieved; the Scorpions will play the Queensland Fire on the 23rd of January, with the winner booking a place in the WNCL final.
Ebsary says this year’s achievements are the result of long-term planning, and the platform put in place a few years ago has helped the Scorpions to where they are today.
“It’s been a pretty demanding build up for two or three years, since I’ve come back from the Western Fury. We’ve had to close that gap between us and the top tier teams, but our win against New South Wales (in the last round), it really consolidated our spot. It pushed us up to make sure we had a chance against Queensland.”
While the first around against the Victoria Spirit in Melbourne proved to be a disappointment, Ebsary says the quality of the opposition didn’t detract from her hopes for the season.
“There’s always the thought and the hope to get to the finals…last year (at the start) we were up against one of the best teams in the competition, and that was a real tough ask. I knew we were definitely capable, but there is ups and downs along the way. We’re not quite perfecting an all-round performance, but we’ve pulled it together to make sure we get to these finals.”
Queensland had a big seven wicket against the Scorpions before Christmas in the WNCL, which saw the South Australians fall back in the chase a little bit. This time around, the stakes are higher, and so is the mentality, says Ebsary.
“We certainly know we won’t be putting on another performance like that one (against Queensland), so we were pretty confident that the only way from there was up. In our second chance, which we’re lucky to have we get to put our A-Game on the park.”
With the knowledge gained playing the Fire earlier in the season, Ebsary believes there is a noticeable change in the dynamic in the way the Scorpions will tackle the Fire, and will serve them well in the semi-finals.
“We learn from every round we play against them, and individuals play differently in each match. We’ll be looking to push their leaders; they rely on Holly Ferling (pace bowler) to get them off to a good start. If we can put the senior cricketers under pressure, we know we’re in with a chance.”
Stars of the Scorpions’ season might just go to the imports, Sarah Taylor and Sophie Devine. With more than 400 runs across the WT20 and WNCL seasons under her belt, Taylor has proved to be an instrumental asset throughout the season.
“We’ve been very lucky to have Sarah behind the stumps, with an injury to our (main) wicketkeeper, Tegan McPharlin. Her ability to be able to stand up to the stumps to the quick bowlers, and the spinners is fantastic. She’s proven with the gloves and goes about her cricket with maturity.”
On the opposite end of the scale is 18-year-old wrist-spinner Amanda Wellington. Her control over the ball, and 12 WNCL wickets at an average of less than 20 for the season, along with her “raw talent” makes her one of the best leg-spinners going around, Ebsary says.
“I’d love to say I’ve taught her everything she knows, but definitely not from me. She’s definitely going to have a bright future, and there’s not many girls that continuously turn the ball like Amanda. We open with her from time to time, and she’s really stepped up this year.”
The knowledge that there is a position up for grabs in the WNCL Final if the semi-final is won on Friday sits very much at the forefront of the player’s minds. That being said, the “one week at a time” mentality is Ebsary’s motto, for her and her troops.
“We’re keeping a lid on it this week, but making sure we’re up and about at the same time. It might be more nerve-wracking for us, but we have a really calm, cool, and collected group, and they come through on the big occasions. We’ll talk about the final if we get over Queensland first.”
Much of the hard work comes from behind the scenes, and SACA Chief Executive Keith Bradshaw has had plenty of masterstrokes. The signing of air-conditioning company Seeley International during the season for the Scorpions has had a positive impact on the general profile of the club, which continues to move forward in all departments.
“Keith has been driving our women’s program and game so hard, staff are coming out to watch our games, and the focus has just been fantastic. We’ve had a lot of extra resources go into our program compared to six months ago, and that change is a huge credit to Keith.”
The shift in coach Andrea McCauley’s role has given greater access to all the players to improve their game, and Ebsary says those studying at university have greatly benefited from the change.
“Having her flexibility allows them to come in and have one or two-hour sessions with her, which never happened before. She also sits on the high-performance team, so she has mentors now which can get her the best coaching advice.”
The cricket world was rocked to the core by the passing of Phillip Hughes in November, with the impact being felt heavily in his adopted home town of Adelaide, but Ebsary believes that playing a day after his passing was the right way to honour his spirit.
“It was one of the toughest games I’ve had to lead in…it was a big ask for us to play, but I’m really glad we got back out there, and showed the best place to heal is sometimes back on the field doing something you love. We definitely knew we wanted to have a big game, and take a moment to remember out mate Phil.”
If the confidence heading into the finals is anything to go by, the Scorpions have a fair chance of knocking off Queensland to book a spot in the WNCL final – and cap off a season of success not seen for a while.