On the Premier stage…

Panthers player-coach Scott Clark shone with the willow in his side’s first foray into the WGCA’s Premier division.

By Russell Bennett

WGCA PREMIER DIVISION
REVIEW – ROUND 1

 

Pakenham v Devon Meadows

The bulk of the attention on the WGCA’s Premier division was focussed on two games in particular on Saturday, with Pakenham, Devon Meadows, Clyde and Tooradin all attracting plenty of intrigue.

The Lions have welcomed back favourite sons Ben Maroney and Jack Ryan, but lost inspirational leader Dom Paynter to a knee injury sustained during the footy season.

In his place is star recruit Dale Tormey, who took no time settling into his new side and new competition.

The Panthers, meanwhile, have plenty to prove since winning their way up to the Premier division for the first time.

On Saturday, it was the Lions who emerged victorious – amassing 7/237 from their 40 overs thanks to sparkling knocks from Maroney (93) and Tormey (77).

The Panthers showed plenty of spirit in their reply – led by player-coach Scott Clark with 70 in the middle order – but ultimately fell short, restricted to 9/186.

Clark has only recently returned to Australian shores after a stint playing in England, and he hit the new WGCA season in immediate form.

A number of his team mates got starts, but struggled to capitalise against an experienced Pakenham attack.

Pakenham skipper Rob Elston was pleased with his side’s first-up hitout to open the season, admitting they’d played ‘October cricket’ – a nod to the improvement they’re capable of making between now and March.

“The way that Ben and Dale batted was exceptional – they didn’t do anything extraordinary or out of the box, they just hit the loose balls and rotated the strike really well,” Elston said.

“I think we missed a bit of a trick in the last 10 overs maybe trying to be too aggressive.

“But to get 237 on the board in a one-dayer you put yourself in a good position.”

Elston spoke about the inclusions of Tormey and Maroney into the side, and the added dimensions they provide with the willow.

“In the past two years we haven’t batted as well as we did the first year when I came in,” he admitted.

“We wanted to go and get better – if you don’t, you’re going backwards – and that was getting Dale in; a good player, and a good person.

“Ben really fell into our lap. The appeal to come back and finish his career at Pakenham was big for him. Putting him back at the top of the order, it’s not all on him. There are other players to take some pressure off – he can play his natural game and be aggressive. The only thing he didn’t do was go on and get the three figures.”

Maroney is one of the WGCA’s most iconic figures, and the same applies to his standing at Pakenham. To say the Lions are pleased to have him back in their colours is a hell of an understatement.

“He’s a cricket nerd and loves the game and loves the competition, and that’s why he still plays – he can show he’s still good enough,” Elston said.

“When he’s at his best, he’s still one of the best players in the competition – there’s no doubt about that.”

Elston is also excited about the effect that the inclusion of the experienced Maroney and Tormey can have on his group.

“There are no two better players to learn off than Ben or Dale in terms of how to prepare, build an innings, and bat to make big scores,” he said.

“Dale will come in and if a bowler bowls a bad ball to him, he’ll put it to the fence.

“It’ll be great for our guys to bat around him – he’s just a class player.

“And the fact that we’ve got a good core that can bat with him means that he can just go in and bat with freedom.”

Returning left-arm speedster Jack Ryan is another key inclusion for the Lions.

“He’s one of those unique characters you just love to have around your club,” Elston said.

“He comes across as this hard-nosed bloke but he just loves his cricket – he dead-set loves it – and it’s great to see him back.

“He brings a great spirit to our team, and he knows much more about the game than people realise.”

Overall, Elston said he was pleased with his group’s start to the season – given how much improvement is left to come.

“We probably missed a trick in the last 10 overs with our batting,” he said of Saturday’s performance.

“We probably should have scored another 10-15 runs at least. We lost two set batsmen at the same time, and guys who came in looked to be a bit aggressive.

“With the ball we couldn’t quite get it in the same spot six balls in a row.

“We didn’t quite build the pressure we normally would with enough dot balls.

“They’ll (Devon Meadows) work themselves into the season too, and be playing a much better standard (at the business end).

“I think the season will be a hugely challenging one for all teams.

“Even Merinda Park has pushed Cardinia, who has a couple of nice recruits.

“If you don’t come prepared to play this year there’ll be a lot more upsets than there has been in the past couple of years.”

Elston knows the potential that lies within the Devon Meadows lineup, with a host of experienced names intertwined with some rising stars.

“If they (the Panthers) can bat and hit boundaries, they’ll rattle up big scores and if their bowlers can find a rhythm too, they’ll bowl teams out,” he said.

“They’ll be around the mark.

“It was good to get them early – they might not be up and running yet. I was very wary about them because I wasn’t sure how we’d come out, but I was hoping we’d get them on a day they were not quite cherry ripe.”

 

Clyde v Tooradin

Meanwhile at Clyde, the Cougars seemed to mount a particularly competitive total batting first at home – reaching 8/195 from their 40 overs.

Keeper-batsman Kiefer Peries, the skipper of the side in his first year back at the club, led the way with the willow with a composed, patient 63 but wickets continued to fall around him just as batsman got started. Just as Elston and the Lions felt they’d left some runs out there in their clash with the Panthers, the same could be said of the Cougars who couldn’t capitalise as much as they’d have liked through the middle overs.

They were 2/41 from their first 10 overs and were sitting on 3/78 at drinks. But after being 5/136 with 10 overs remaining they went at a run a ball from that point on – thanks in no small part to some invaluable tail-end hitting from Nick Sadler (28 not out) and Pat Lawson (16 not out).

Tooradin’s bowlers struggled for consistency in their line and length through the opening stages of the Clyde innings, but two bowlers in particular stood tall – Brayden Browne (2/29 off six), and the economical Bailey Lownds (1/25 from his eight) – who coach Brenton Adams credited, more than anyone, with limiting the Cougars’ score on such a lightning-fast deck.

But it was the Seagulls’ reply that really made onlookers stand up and take notice. After losing opener Andrew Proctor in the opening over at 1/1, Russell Lehman (98 not out) and Cal O’Hare (90 not out) were simply sensational in their match-winning 198-run, second wicket stand. The pair would have given a couple of combined chances at the very most as they dispatched the ball to all parts, including some towering sixes off the bat of O’Hare – one of which landed on the roof of the clubrooms.

Clyde’s bowlers seemed powerless to stop the pair as they chased the Cougars’ total down inside 37 overs.

But, like with the Devon Meadows lineup, Clyde’s upside with both bat and ball is enormous. None of their key figures outside of Peries really fired a shot with bat or ball, indicating just what they’re capable of once they hit a rhythm.

Adams missed the clash following a procedure on his knee, and could be out for the next few weeks. But he had to be particularly pleased with the Gulls’ performance.

O’Hare is battling his own knee complaint, which was initially feared to be a torn ACL until scans cleared him of serious damage.

Though he didn’t bowl on Saturday, that seemed to be more of a precautionary move.

At the drinks break of the first innings, Adams and his men estimated that around 200 was a par score on such a fast ground.

“When we first turned up to the ground you’d underarm a ball from both sides of the wicket and it could have gone for a boundary,” he said.

“We bowled ok at the start of the innings but we dropped a few chances – we dropped Peries second ball – so we could have bowled them out for 150.”

Adams said Clyde’s batsmen struggled to turn the strike over from overs 20 to 30 quickly enough, and that the spin of Lownds was a key part of restricting their total.

Coming away with a nine-wicket win, Tooradin still has plenty to improve on – particularly with the ball. But they must be buoyed in the knowledge that despite losing champion keeper-batsman Tom Hussey over the off-season, they’ve got so much all-around talent to combine to replace his output.

Now the focus turns to their Round 2 blockbuster at home against Pakenham.

But that’s the thing. As important as the game is in the opening stages of the season, it’s ‘only’ Round 2.

“One thing we won’t do is build it up into something it’s not, it’s just Round 2,” Adams said.

“If we play the way we want to play, that’s our measuring stick.”

 

Merinda Park v Cardinia

The improved depth of the Premier division was clear for all to see on the weekend, as the Bulls survived a few early hiccups in their chase to ultimately defeat the Cobras by two wickets with around 10 overs to spare.

Batting first at Donnelly Reserve, Merinda Park was rolled for just 100 in the 33rd over with star opener Daniel McCalman (24) the only one to pass 20 as new Bulls recruit James Giertz snared 4/25 from his eight overs and spinner Ryan Little took 3/16.

But the Bulls lost a host of early wickets in their chase, including skipper Alex Nooy (3), Giertz (0), Ben Parrott (10), and another of their new recruits, AJ Walker (13). Chasing a seemingly modest total, they were suddenly 4/41 and then 5/58 before the middle order steadied – thanks in large part to Ricky Campbell’s 36.

Finally out of danger with Matt Welsh’s dismissal at 6/98, the Bulls chased the Cobras’ total down in the 31st over.

 

Kooweerup v Upper Beaconsfield

Reigning premier Kooweerup got its season off to an ideal start with a commanding performance at Denhams Road against Upper Beaconsfield.

Batting first, the Demons reached 8/216 from their 40 overs with new recruit and former Officer young gun Tyler Clark making an immediate impact with a sparkling 85. Chris Bright (62) also impressed, scoring his own half-century from the middle order against a young Maroons attack. Upper Beaconsfield’s lineup included the likes of youngsters Cooper Shipp, Billy Kett, and Jack Sharlassian; while recruit Nithi Mahendrakumar also made his first appearance in the WGCA’s top flight.

Harry Sharlassian (3/55), meanwhile, claimed three Demon scalps along with the returning Daniel Brennan (3/37).

But the Maroons never tested the Demons in their reply and were ultimately dismissed for just 117 in the 36th over as Kooweerup’s Catani recruit Lauchlan Gregson snared 4/28 from his eight overs.

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