By Russell Bennett
WGCA PREMIER – 2017/18 TEAM OF THE YEAR
If last year’s Team of the Year in the Premier division spoke volumes of the all-around talent in the top tier of the competition, then this year’s turns that volume up to 100.
From top to bottom, this side is left wanting for nothing – elite batting, bowling, and fielding throughout.
Like last year’s version, this 2017/18 batting lineup features astonishing depth.
Tom Hussey, Mark Cooper, Daniel McCalman, Imesh Jayasekara, and Russell Lehman are all openers in their own right, but none could possibly be left out of this side.
Again, like in last year’s lineup, these batsmen have the ability, and flexibility, to bat anywhere through the recognised positions.
Mark Cooper has again led the Demons superbly – taking them once again to a grand final in just his second season at the helm. Since returning to the WGCA prior to last season’s campaign, he’s been simply brilliant – both with the bat (this season scoring 556 runs at nearly 62 so far) and, as impressively, with the ball (24 wickets at 16).
He would again have to be one of the favourites for the Terry Stephenson Medal, which he claimed last season.
His opening partner in this side, Hussey, would be a massive chance of the award too.
The Seagulls star has led by example like no other at Tooradin this year, into yet another finals campaign before the side came unstuck at the hands of Dom Paynter’s Pakenham.
While Paynter’s numbers with the willow in 2017/18 don’t leap off the page – in part due to the stages at which he strides to the crease in the middle order – it’s his bowling that’s been particularly impressive.
Paynter, along with Cooper, is undoubtedly one of the competition’s most impressive leaders – and he does it in all facets; with the ball in hand, with the willow, and in the field.
There’s no role he won’t fulfil for his side.
His Lions team mate Zac Chaplin also thoroughly deserves his place in this year’s lineup following a breakthrough campaign.
The young gun’s talent has long been obvious to anyone who’s seen him play, but this season he’s converted that to serious runs – 483 of them, to be exact.
A shoulder injury has prevented Chaplin from making more of a mark with the ball this season, particularly after Christmas, but he’s been one of the most reliable performers of any batsman in his own right and his brutally powerful drives from mid-on to mid-off are his trademark.
The fact that Daniel McCalman is the competition’s leading run-scorer in a side that finished seventh out of eight is nothing short of staggering.
Unheralded for far too long, he’s rightfully received real acclaim this season, and from many of the competition’s most respected figures. He absolutely deserves the premier number three batting position in this side.
Upper Beaconsfield’s Imesh Jayasekara was a virtual unknown prior to this season, but that’s changed now following his brilliant campaign for the Maroons. His selection is a no-brainer too.
While on the topic of no-brainers – Russell Lehman and Jess Mathers were two of the first picked for this season, and they too would be huge chances of winning the league medal.
Mathers might just be the outright favourite following his at-times blistering season with the willow, but more crucially, his eye-popping campaign with the new ball.
His speed and powers of intimidation are matched only by his seemingly un-ending consistency.
Lehman, meanwhile, has just added yet another chapter to a career that by now would have to be one of the best in the history of the WGCA. Surely no greater praise could be bestowed upon him, but he absolutely deserves it, given the power of work he puts in with both bat and ball.
It’s the bowling brigade that may raise the most eyebrows of any section of this Team of the Year, but the evergreen Shane White was the key to the Cougars fighting it out for a potential finals berth as long as they did; Dwayne Doig remained the leading spinner in the competition in his final season of first XI cricket and continued to bamboozle with his combination of flight and changes of pace; and Bulls pace bowler Kallan Braid-Ball was instrumental for a side that was crying out for a reliable seamer in the absence of Neil Barfuss, and the often-injured or unavailable Te Ahu Davis. Braid-Ball admirably pushed through injury for much of Cardinia’s campaign, often bowling seriously long spells in the process.
Maroons skipper Bathiya Perera earned his place in the squad and was only named 12th man due to the strength of the batting lineup in the first XI. Tom Tyrrell (Pakenham) and Clinton Marsh (Emerald) were two of the others at the top of the shortlist of players also seriously considered for this side.