Hungry Weatherald makes a certainty of it

Jake Weatherald lays on a heap of confetti CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Two years ago, in his fourth first-class match, Jake Weatherald opened the batting for South Australia in a Sheffield Shield final and looked right at home. So much so, in fact, that he made it to 66 and 96 before throwing his hands away with a pair of shots that might best be described as presumptuous. In the second innings his skied slog at Fawad Ahmed, after a brief scoreless period, ushered the collapse that won a more composed Victoria the title in an away decider at Glenelg Oval.

These memories were at the forefront of the mind of Adelaide Strikers captain Travis Head as he batted in the slipstream of Weatherald on another day when he looked in control - the Big Bash League final in front of more than 40,000 spectators at Adelaide Oval. At 24, Head has already captained his state for three seasons and the Strikers for this tournament, and he made sure he was in the ear of Weatherald who, at 23, is one of the richer batting talents in the Australian system.

Unlike the four-day game, Weatherald has been slower to find his range in T20 matches, but it has been a combination of persistence by the Strikers and evolution on the young left-hander's part that led him to Sunday's innings. With Head in his ear to keep him focused, he surged to the first-ever century in a BBL final, underpinning a total of 202 that was ultimately far too much for even the redoubtable Hobart Hurricanes to chase, and enough for the Strikers to defend without the speed of Billy Stanlake and the wrist-spinning wiles of Rashid Khan.

"It just comes down to experience, he got those scores in the Shield games and he had the foot on the throat and didn't capitalise. Today I just kept reminding him, just kept telling him to capitalise," Head said of Weatherald. "He didn't slog, he played great cricket shots, he was very calm, selective on who he targeted and that just comes from experience.

"He's a mature man now, he's played a lot of cricket, he's played in big games, a lot of our big games for South Australia and today he's gone out and shown he's learned from experience and a few opportunities he's had in the past and really put his foot down and made sure it was a match-winning performance. Last year and the start of the year, he probably didn't give himself much of an opportunity, and we knew how good he was in the sheds, so we backed him in.

"We gave him every game, we said we weren't going to change that, him and Kez [Alex Carey] were going to open the whole time and gave him full confidence to go out there and back his skill and ability. We knew how good he was but he probably wasn't giving himself the opportunity he would've liked, and at the back end he showed he's given himself a chance and had some crucial innings for us."

The innings Weatherald conjured on Sunday arrived at the end of a period in which he had been trending ominously upwards. Scores of 65, 3, 56 and then 57 in the semi-final thriller against Melbourne Renegades on Friday night indicated that Weatherald was ready to step up from handy to substantial, and he was helped by some less than precise Hurricanes bowling in doing so. Their captain George Bailey said that Weatherald's strengths square of the wicket were well known, particularly on a ground like Adelaide, but that his attack had offered too many deliveries in his strong zones.

"I reckon he hit a lot of balls where we talked about not letting him hit balls," Bailey said, his typical smile more of a grimace. "Like most of these young blokes they're beautiful strikers of the ball, so you want to make them hit the ball where they don't like to or they're not as strong as they are [elsewhere]. He's very strong square of the wicket and I reckon he hit too many pull shots and cuts shots today."

Having blazed eight sixes and nine fours Weatherald, too, agreed he had been offered the chance to play the square-of-the-wicket shots with which he is most comfortable, following a long tradition of South Australian left-handers from Clem Hill and David Hookes to Darren Lehmann. "I wanted to stick to my strengths and thankfully they bowled to them today," he said. "Throughout the tournament I haven't been overly successful, but thankfully they bowled where I wanted and I was able to hit to the boundary

"I felt like I was hitting the ball really well throughout the tournament, I said that to anyone who asked me, I felt I was close to getting a big score and everyone around me was so supportive and saying the same thing, which was probably why they stuck with me. It's really good to perform when I and the team really needed it.

"The support staff have been so great throughout the tournament, letting me know my spot's secure and backing me in to perform at some point. It was great they were so supportive throughout, all the players were supportive too, we've got such a great group, and that's why we've been so successful."

Much like the Strikers themselves, Weatherald has taken time to find his best ways of succeeding in the shortest format, often seeming in too much of a hurry for one so capable of striking the ball cleanly once he has had a few sighters. But the ball-striking talent he possesses has been gradually honed through the faith of the captain Head, the coach Jason Gillespie, and the parallel state set-up led by Jamie Siddons. Tim Nielsen, the former Australia coach, serves as the high performance link between the two.

"To be honest I found T20 cricket the hardest of all formats," Weatherald said. "You obviously don't have as much time, and I hadn't really played too much T20 cricket before I played Big Bash, so it was a massive learning curve, the first 14 games I really found it quite hard to play, but just having good support staff around, Greg Blewett, "Dizzy" Gillespie and Jamie Siddons my Shield coach has been amazing. They've got around me and said 'just bat the way you normally bat and you'll make runs in T20 cricket'. My game's evolved to hopefully perform in all formats, which is slowly coming together."

It is in finding the aforementioned adaptability that a link can be drawn from the Weatherald of the 2016 Shield final and the Weatherald of the 2018 BBL finale. For Head, there is satisfaction in knowing that several players have now come through the experience of losing three finals for their state - also the 2016 limited-overs decider and the 2017 Shield final, this time in Alice Springs - to be part of a dominant team on the most high-profile stage in Australian domestic cricket.

"It was nice to take a back seat to Weathers today, he was exceptional, a match winner," Head said. "That's what we asked for Friday night and asked for that today, you want to step up in big games, be a match winner, he's probably gone a bit unnoticed earlier in the tournament, probably teased us a little bit, been in really good form, but it's fantastic that he's gone out and played an unbelievable innings and won us the game.

"It was nice to get it off the back I guess and nice for a lot of the guys who've played in them to celebrate winning a final and hopefully we can build something really special with this group of guys. Looking at it from the SACA perspective there's a lot of guys in there that are playing Shield cricket for us and it's great for South Australia but it's also great for the Strikers. I'm sure this team will roll out the same next year and we expect nothing less than to win. We've set the example now."

That does not just bode well for the Strikers and South Australia, but for the national team at the top of the Australian pyramid.