By Russell Bennett
WGCA PREMIER DIVISION
REVIEW – ROUND 7 (DAY ONE)
For years now, Kooweerup and Pakenham have set the standard at the top of the West Gippsland Cricket Association’s Premier tier.
The Demons – in particular – have constantly been able to rise to the biggest of occasions, and absorbed pressure like arguably no other side before them. There just doesn’t seem to be such a thing as an ‘unwinnable position’ where they’re concerned.
Those Demons are proven big stage performers, as are the Lions.
But arguably the biggest thing they have in common is their ability to spread the load.
While most other sides seem too heavily reliant on their star performers, the Lions and Demons are consistently able to find contributions from elsewhere. They’ve absolutely got the star-power, but their line-ups are also stacked with players who lift when they’re called upon.
On Saturday at Toomuc Reserve, the Lions amassed 8/300 from their 80 overs on day one despite star batsmen Dale Tormey (16) and Ben Maroney (2) providing just 18 runs combined.
Chris Smith – one of the competition’s most prodigiously talented batsmen and proven run-scorers in his own right – delivered a stark reminder of his capabilities with a vital 65.
But it was his opening partner Jack Anning who made an even bigger impact. Anning, who is rated extremely highly at Pakenham for what he provides to the Lions’ first XI, top-scored with 82 as he and Smith put on 101 for the first wicket to have their side well on the path to victory against a super-talented Clyde opposition.
Smith looked in excellent touch and seemed set before finding Jason Hameeteman in the outfield off Daniel Lever (2/113).
“It was great to see Smithy get some runs,” Lions skipper Rob Elston told the Gazette in the wake of day one against the Cougars.
“He’s been hitting the ball really well without getting the rewards of a big score and he had that determination to get amongst the runs and got us off to the best start of the season.
“Smith sets such a high standard of himself and expects to bat perfectly every time he goes out there. The fact that he cashed in on the start he got could be ominous for the rest of the season.”
Elston praised his players for their ability to build partnerships throughout the Lions’ day one innings, but saved arguably his biggest praise for Anning.
“It was a fantastic reward for Jack for all the hard work he’s put in on an ongoing basis in the search to improve every session to achieve the results he wants,” Elston said of his innings.
“He played smartly – attacking when the balls presented, rotating the strike excellently, and forming the backbone of our innings.
“The conditions weren’t ideal for everyone with the high humidity and he batted for close to 60 overs, showing the patience and concentration he’s got.
“He’s a hugely important player for the side and our club, and provides a huge amount of energy, leadership, and under-rated skills in playing his role perfectly.”
In addition to Anning’s and Smith’s half-centuries, the Lions also got valuable contributions with the willow on Saturday from the likes of Zac Chaplin (30), Troy McDermott (39), and Elston, himself, with an unbeaten 26.
The Cougars have it all to do this Saturday if they’re to continue their charge towards the top four, but Elston praised the “power of work” put in with the ball on day one by Lever and Liam Bennett (4/83), who bowled a combined 57 overs in what he described as “pretty oppressive conditions”.
The Demons, meanwhile, had never faced Devon Meadows at Glover Reserve in the Premier tier prior to Saturday.
The Panthers, the newcomers to the WGCA’s top grade, had plenty to prove against the perennial powerhouse but learned a lesson in discipline and persistence with the ball as they were dismissed for 172 inside 55 overs despite five of their batsmen reaching 20.
Demons captain-coach Mark Cooper acknowledged he wasn’t sure what he was going to do if he won the toss on Saturday.
The Panthers took that call out of his hands by winning it, and got off to a strong, aggressive start.
Cooper admitted his side was “under the pump” in the early going, particularly with the boundaries flowing from the bats of Kyle Salerno (29) and Brad Miles (28).
But after drinks the wickets really started to fall, and constantly.
The most notable of those was Ryan O’Connor, who was dismissed ‘obstructed field’ for a duck.
Cooper said he’d never seen anything like it in a game he’d played in.
After O’Connor moved to play a forward defence off Cooper’s bowling, the ball bounced up and was headed back on to the stumps before he hit it away with his hand. Realising exactly what he’d done, he walked off the ground.
Jess Mathers (2/36) and Cooper (4/52) again bowled the bulk of the overs for Kooweerup, with 19 apiece, while Tiron Fernando also finished with 2/29.
Then, with more than 20 overs still remaining in the day’s play, Kooweerup finished on 1/69 following another strong opening stand between Cooper (46 not out) and Chris O’Hara (21).
“With their 170-odd it actually felt like they were on top for a long period, just because you can score quite fast on that ground and at times they were scoring 10 an over,” Cooper explained of the Panthers’ innings.
“It wasn’t like we were on top and rolled them easily. There were times where we were really under the pump.”
But the Kooweerup bowlers stuck to the task at hand and remained focussed, and – even by Cooper’s own admission – were gifted some easy wickets.
That’s the difference to the District division – the top sides in Premier consistently put the ball on a spot and are able to back it up in the field. It’s not the quality of the play, necessary, it’s the ability to maintain it for longer.
With a little over a hundred runs still to get for victory this week, Cooper said it was important for his men to stay the course – to bat how they would normally, and keep wickets in hand.
“They’ll bowl tight and pick up some wickets – it’s how we handle that pressure, and how well we can bat in partnerships,” he said.
“They’ll come out with different game plans, but good teams chase it down – they don’t have excuses.
“Whenever you chase, it’s always a testament to where your team’s at.”
Cardinia’s clash with Upper Beaconsfield, meanwhile, has advanced at a rapid rate of knots after the Maroons were rolled for just 62 inside 20 overs of their first innings. The Bulls only used two bowlers, with James Giertz claiming 3/33 and Josh Browne – in his first game of the Premier season – a brilliant 6/25.
But Cardinia only batted through 34 overs in its reply – rolled for 109 with Ryan Little top-scoring from the lower order with 35.
Super-talented Maroons seamer Kyle Gibbs snared 5/44 while Harry Sharlassian claimed 3/22.
But the Bulls are still on track to potentially claim outright points. The Maroons closed out day one on 2/29 after 19 overs in their second innings, with gun opener Imesh Jayasekara already dismissed without scoring.
In the final game of the round, Tooradin missed an opportunity to well and truly bat Merinda Park out of their clash. The Gulls were ultimately dismissed for 211 in the 79th over, with keeper-batsman Brody Harbinson top-scoring with a quickfire 54 – following on from his 88 in Round 6 against Upper Beaconsfield.
Mathew Campbell continued his impressive season so far with the ball for the Cobras, snaring 3/38 in a shade under 23 overs – taking his season tally to this point to 16 wickets.