In Jason Gillespie’s maiden pre-season at the helm, Adelaide Oval’s ivy-covered walls are watching with interest as members of a new-look playing squad and support staff slowly imprint their unique personalities on an increasingly positive environment.

A wonderful example of this is Jordan Buckingham, a 21-year-old, right-arm pace bowler from Western Victoria entering his maiden summer as a professional cricketer.

On a day delivering wildly contrasting conditions, Buckingham lowers himself onto a park bench, keeping one eye on the practice match playing out to his right. Beautiful sunshine pairs with an aggressive wind, creating a perfect metaphor for the recent journey Buckingham has experienced chasing his sporting dream. Somehow both frenetic and calm.

Radiating gratitude, it could be easy to assume everything has simply gone Buckingham’s way since agreeing to join the Redbacks. But as he begins to tell his story, it is immediately clear that it would not be possible without persistence and positivity.

Three years ago, Buckingham joined Footscray Cricket Club with sights set on the First Grade. A trio of First XI appearances came that first season, followed by a winter of hard work that earned quick reward. Buckingham played almost every game the next year, taking regular wickets and earning new ball duties for the 2020/21 season, as well as a spot in the Cricket Victoria Emerging Performance Squad.

The young pace prospect didn’t know it, but South Australian cricket had been watching, and an unexpected phone call from SACA General Manager of High Performance Tim Nielsen confirmed their interest. The former Australian Head Coach was offering a chance to call Adelaide Oval home; an offer that Buckingham was eager to accept.

A perfectly timed family holiday to Queensland followed, but while in the northern state, an all-too familiar hurdle presented itself. The family were caught off guard by Covid-19 cases in Melbourne and another lockdown and border closure on the cards.

The outbreak would cause the close-knit family to separate, with Buckingham remaining in Queensland alone while his family raced home to beat the now well-oiled gates on the Victorian border.

“The plan was to stay for an extra five days so that I had been out of Victoria for two weeks. I was on my own, but it meant that I could come straight to South Australia without having to quarantine. It was a difficult situation, but to not have to begin life in Adelaide with two weeks isolation was handy.

I had to get my cricket kit and boxes of clothes sent down, which wasn’t ideal. I’m still to this day getting bits and pieces sent down. My cricket kit was the first thing, and then I got my Redbacks kit, which I needed because I got here Saturday and we started on Monday with a time trial. It was straight into it.

It worked really well actually because I was by myself in Queensland and was doing plenty of running. I went on a strict fitness regime during that time. When you’re sitting in a hotel by yourself, you can go one of two ways. You can sit on the Playstation and lay around, or you can get out there and work hard.

I took it as a chance to go for a couple of runs a day and get in the gym, really make the most of a little mini pre-season.”

Buckingham has not seen his mother Jodie, father Steve or brother Zac in person since, with various pandemic lockdowns conspiring against attempts to visit. Living out of home for the first time, there can be no doubt that the experience has presented difficult moments for Buckingham, especially given his closeness with his immediate family, but he continues to take it all in stride.

“I’m really close with my brother. He’s only 16 months younger and so we competed in all sports growing up. The backyard got a little fiery at some times but that was always great.

“My family have always been massive supporters of me and they know it’s always been a dream and they were stoked for me. They just said wherever you’ve got to go, whatever you’ve got to do to live out your dream is the way to go.

“It was tough, but they are staying as positive as possible and so am I. Obviously just moving out of home and straight here, it was a little bit of a shock, but the Redbacks guys have been awesome. They helped me settle in instantly by getting around me, inviting me everywhere… its been great. The culture is awesome, it feels like everyone is best mates, it’s like hanging out with your family.”

When his time is not spent working to improve an already consistent line and length or deftly negotiating global pandemics, Buckingham continues a turf management apprenticeship, now in its third year. A skilled junior footballer and improving golfer, Buckingham’s passion for sport extends beyond the cricket pitch, evolving into a fascination of behind-the-scenes preparations.

As part of his studies, Buckingham has been working with Karen Rolton Oval ground staff on a regular basis. Given the Redbacks have been training at the picturesque parklands location often this pre-season, Buckingham can claim the rare distinction of occasionally preparing his own playing surface.

“The apprenticeship is great. I’ve got a bit of catching up to do after this pre-season, but it’s going well; SACA have been awesome helping me out. It’s all online through Melbourne Polytechnic and they have been really good supporters, working around my schedule and everything.

“I love my cricket obviously, but it’s also footy with cutting the grounds, line-marking and those sorts of things and I’ve got some golf course work as well. There is a heap that goes into it. I’m doing a day a week with Grounds Manager Trent Kelly and the staff here and it’s the best. I’ve been helping cut the grass and we’re doing some renovations so diving into that as well. It’s a new venue for me so it’s a great opportunity to learn and build my skills.”

Despite the challenges of being separated from family and setting up fresh in a new city, Buckingham has embraced every opportunity presented to him as life as a Redback begins. Containing so many new faces, the squad and network of support staff have placed a priority on supporting one another and growing existing and emerging relationships this offseason.

In addition to the recent Kangaroo Island Connection Camp, the group have regular catch-ups with South Australian cricketing greats such as Neil Dansie, Nugget Rees and Wayne Phillips as well as several other team-building events, and it just takes a moment amongst the team to feel the effect the new initiatives are nurturing.

“I am absolutely loving it. Every week Dizzy and the coaches take the time to check in and make sure I’m all good. In the end, to be able to do what you love every day as a job, there is just nothing better. It has always been a dream. I love going to work. How good is that.”

When it comes to pushing for selection, Buckingham is both realistic and ambitious.

“I understand that it doesn’t happen overnight, but I am definitely keen to shake it up and see how I go.”