ACT Comets excited for the future after return to national competition

A decade since the ACT Comets last played as a standalone entity in the Toyota National Second XI competition, their return for the 2023/2024 season brought about a great sense of excitement amongst the local Canberra cricket community.

The Comets return made for a development stepping stone for local players to compete at a national level, an opportunity that motivated many local players who had been toiling away in the ACT competition without reward.

“It’s great that we’re in this position to recognise ACT Premier Cricket talent while also adding another step in our development pathways,” Comets Head Coach Jono Dean said ahead of the Comets first game against Western Australia.

The return of the Comets also hit home for Dean, who had a decorated career for the Comets from 2007 to 2018 and famously hitting the second highest individual score in ACT Premier Cricket history of 300* for Queanbeyan back in 2013.

“I’m really looking forward to sinking my teeth into the Comets space, obviously being a past player. What a fantastic opportunity this year is with the Comets back in the Second XI competition, we’ve got a jam-packed schedule and we can’t wait to play cricket,” Dean said in the pre-season.

In what was always going to be a tricky transition from grade cricket to the national scene, Dean placed emphasis on the Comets return to the Second XI competition as a season for learning and exposure for a young group of players with limited experience of playing four-day cricket.

“In the longer format game, you have to trust your defence and leave a bit more, absorbing pressure and applying pressure at different times throughout the game. From a bowling point of view, are we physically able to get through big loads, for a few of our bowlers it’s twenty overs on the bounce, two days in a row,” Dean said.

The Comets historic return came against a strong Western Australia outfit, and saw seven players on Second XI debut, with Nic Broes, Hanno Jacobs, Benji Floros and Sam Skelly the only players with longer format experience.

It was a tough introduction for many in the end, the Comets going down by an innings and 188 runs and simply outclassed in the unfamiliar conditions of the WACA. The experience served as an early reality check for the squad, that they were now competing against state contracted players and some of the country’s best talent.

“The message at the end of the match was we were not the first and certainly not the last team to go the WACA and get sucked into playing cricket the way you would normally play on different wickets. It’s a very different surface over there, with the ball you have to be on the fuller side, and we were just too short,” Dean said.

“I think a few of them woke up that this is not Canberra grade cricket anymore.”

The squad bounced back following the loss in Perth, with a string of home games at Phillip Oval, beginning with South Australia. Sam Skelly took 5-68 and Jack Sanson, Scott Murn and Hanno Jacobs all made fifties. SA set a target and then turned up the heat on the Comets bats late on the last day, bowling them for 213, but just ten minutes away from what would have been a fighting draw and giving the squad invaluable belief that they could really push opposing teams.

After a New Year break to rest up and recuperate, the Comets hosted Tasmania at Phillip Oval, where twin tons from Queanbeyan duo, Tyler Van Luin (114) and Mikey McNamara (116) led the ACT beyond 300 for the first time, to force the game deep into the final day.

Tyler van Luin raises the bat with a century v TAS, season 2023/24

A virtual Tasmanian Sheffield Shield side would prevail to record a six-wicket win, but once again, the squad were buoyed by their capacity to compete, with the Tigers admitting to being pushed a lot further than they expected.

The final match against NSW demonstrated the squad’s genuine development from their first game against WA.

A batting masterclass from Scott Murn (141*) saw the Comets declare at 9/394 at Blacktown, before Hanno Jacobs took 4-72 to bowl NSW out for 339. Only Sydney’s weather could knock the Comets out of the driver’s seat in this match, with the final day completely washed out and leaving the match drawn.

“The main difference between the beginning and the start of the year was that we able to make better decisions for longer with bat and ball,” Dean said.

“We started to hit our lengths more often than in the earlier games, and then with the bat, we learned that fifties don’t get the job done we needed someone scoring hundreds every game.

“We saw that against Tasmania with Tyler Van Luin and Mikey McNamara, and against NSW with Scott Murn going big.”

Dean had the opportunity to blood young players throughout the season and handed out debut caps for seven players under the age of twenty, a testament to the success of the ACT development pathways and an insight into the future of the Comets.

“Obviously the younger players have the skillsets, in a way with development athletes you’re always guessing a little bit as whether they can make the transition to that next level,” Dean said.

“Guys like 20-year-old Mikey McNamara showed that a young keeper coming straight out of 19s last year looked at home for the most part, scoring a big hundred against Tassie and ‘keeping really well throughout the year.

“Kai Brunker, an 18-year-old leg spinner, probably the hardest skillset in cricket, got tapped a bit in Perth but always competed. He is a really good competitor, and I think that kind of trait for him is going to translate to the next level.”

With the development of the younger squad members, heading into next season, Dean is excited at the opportunity for the Comets to advance from just competing, to being in a position to win games.

“The transition we want to make is going from being hard to beat, because we’re inexperienced, we don’t have a lot of firepower and we’re learning, to next year better understanding how we want to play and expecting better performances across the board.”

Article by UC Sports Media student Oliver Nguyen

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