By Russell Bennett
WGCA PREMIER DIVISION
REVIEW – ROUND 1
While the season-opening game at Toomuc Reserve on Saturday between the reining premier Lions and the title aspirant Seagulls was hardly by the textbook, it showcased just how much upside is in both groups for the season ahead.
A distinctly new-look Pakenham, featuring a combination of returning premiership players from last season and youngsters eager to prove their worth, was pipped in a fascinating contest by a Tooradin side that looms as a genuine title premiership threat in this campaign.
Neither group played anywhere near its best in the close encounter, and that’s exactly why both should be bullish about the rounds ahead.
After winning the toss and batting, the Gulls slid to 2/12 with the early departures of Kade Burns (3) and skipper Cal O’Hare (0) – both to returning Lions captain Dom Paynter.
Opening the bowling with exciting young prospect Mitch Tielen, Paynter looked as though he’d lost none of the brilliant all-around ability that he’d built his name on over such a long period as one of the standout players of the WGCA.
He went on to claim 4/29 from his eight overs but the Gulls mounted an impressive fightback through the middle order to finish their 40 overs on 8/174.
The rear-guard started through a vital 43-run third-wicket stand between star opener Russ Lehman (40) and new Seagull Matt Cox (24).
Cox should need no introduction to local cricket followers, having had significant playing and leadership roles at a number of clubs across the south east – including at Heinz Southern Districts in the DDCA’s Turf 1 competition.
More recently, as the Gulls’ then marquee Twenty20 player, he flayed a composite Gembrook-Aura Vale attack to all parts of the Narre Warren East reserve on the way to an absurd 176 not out last November.
He’s wearing Tooradin colours full-time from this season, and his experience, leadership, and positive stroke-play are all bound to be huge assets to his new side.
But on Saturday , both Lehman and Cox fell just as they looked set – and both within 13 runs of each other.
But from 4/78, the Gulls rose again. It was the story of their innings – important partnerships at just the right time, albeit ones that were cut short much to their own frustration.
But the positive signs were obvious. Another player particularly well known in south-east cricketing circles, Neil Peake, in his first game for his new club, composed a vital 43, while former skipper Aaron Avery displayed his impressive array of strokes in his 37-run cameo. Their 74-run partnership ultimately proved to be the match-winning one, with their par standing up right when their side needed them.
Still, a stream of wickets – starting with Avery’s run out – had the Lions well and truly still in the contest.
They started superbly in their chase, with veteran opener Ben Maroney playing the leading hand in a 59-run opening partnership with Jack Anning.
Maroney belted half a dozen fours and a six in his all-too-brief innings of 45, before Anning fell soon after on 11.
But, unlike the Seagulls, the Lions couldn’t mount enough significant middle-order partnerships with a string of players falling for sub-20 scores.
They were ultimately dismissed for 169 in the 37th over with Burns (3/23), Peake (3/39), and Lehman (3/19) all claiming three scalps apiece.
Interestingly, Lehman bowled later than usual in the innings – not coming on until the 26th over. His first wicket was that of Paynter, adjudged leg-before after a full-toss wrapped him on the pads.
The stunning leg-before to dismiss Sean Gramc (16), also off Lehman, was just as big in the scheme of the contest.
In the wake of the clash, O’Hare said he and his players weren’t particularly happy with how they performed, but were obviously happy to get the win.
He acknowledged that a number of his bowlers were “underdone” for the season-opener and couldn’t quite execute as they’d planned.
But he was quick to praise the performance of Russ Lehman with the bat, adding that he thought the Lions bowled particularly well.
O’Hare also praised the positivity of his great mate Avery’s batting.
“It was great to see him play his natural (positive) game a bit more,” he said.
“In the past couple of years he’s had to be a bit more of an anchor in the middle order but it was great to see him play his shots.”
The flexibility of the Gulls’ middle order is one of the side’s real assets, but O’Hare acknowledged he wasn’t certain if Saturday’s order would be the ongoing one.
“I won’t say it was a great performance with the bat – we kept losing wickets every time we were about to launch – so we’ve still got a bit to work on,” O’Hare said.
“But we’re definitely hungry. The guys we’ve brought in are all mature, experienced guys and it’s great having 14 or 15 blokes who can go through the ones – it makes everyone accountable to put in the work at training.
“We definitely didn’t play our best cricket (on the weekend), but I don’t think Pakenham did either.”
The Lions hosted a special afternoon tea at Toomuc Reserve on Saturday for the wives and partners of the Premier grade players – acknowledging and recognising the great job they do to support the players during the season.
Elsewhere on Saturday, one of the biggest talking points of Premier’s opening round was a game that never got underway despite ideal weather for cricket – the fixtured clash between Cranbourne Meadows and Cardinia at Lawson Poole Reserve.
WGCA Umpires Association president Trevor Martin was one of the two umpires – along with Graham Davey – who turned up to the ground to officiate the clash only to find a substandard surface on the main ground.
He told the Gazette that shire capital works had been undertaken at Lawson Poole less than three weeks before the fixtured opening round.
He added that, late last week, a contractor aerated the surface and made it unplayable.
Both sides were then given the option of playing on the second, much smaller ground at Lawson Poole, but unsurprisingly couldn’t come to an agreement.
There is a meeting planned for tonight (Wednesday) to decide the outcome of Saturday’s events.
Just up the road at Donnelly Reserve, a powerhouse Kooweerup lineup – albeit one missing a couple of its best batsmen – dominated the new-look Cobras.
Batting first, the visiting Demons amassed 5/245 from their 40 overs with Jess Mathers in ominous touch against his former side. The powerful all-rounder belted an unbeaten 85, while captain-coach Mark Cooper added 75 and Luke McMaster 32.
The Cobras were no match in reply, dismissed for just 116 with Daniel McCalman top-scoring – as he so often does – with 36 from the top of the order. Matt Bright was the star of the innings with the ball for Koowee, snaring 4/16 from his eight overs.
It was a similar one-sided story in the remaining game of the round, with Clyde dominating the hometown Panthers at Glover Reserve.
Batting first, the Cougars amassed 8/201 from their 40 overs with Shamil Samarasinghe and Jason Hameeteman (71) leading the way.
In reply, Devon Meadows was rolled for just 100 inside 34 overs with Kyle Salerno (44) and Trent Delaney (28) the only two batsmen to reach double figures.
Matt Aslett (3/19) and Liam Bennett (3/35) claimed three wickets apiece for the Cougars, while Brett Reid finished with 2/13.