By Russell Bennett
WGCA PREMIER DIVISION
REVIEW – ROUND 2
Powerhouse WGCA Premier outfit Kooweerup is showing no signs of regression, and – in many respects – seem to be getting stronger.
The Demons easily, and somewhat startlingly for neutral observers, brushed aside the Seagulls in their one-dayer at Tooradin on Saturday.
Batting first, the Demons amassed 7/198 from their 40 overs thanks in no small part to powerful, in-form all-rounder Jess Mathers (64) with his second commanding performance with the willow in as many hits.
Mathers backed up his unbeaten 85 from Round 1 with another telling knock, while young gun Tyler Clark (42) – in his first game of the season – was stellar in his supporting role and Chris Bright scored a run a ball 34 at the top of the order.
The Demons’ impressive depth was on full display with the likes of Clark and Chris O’Hara – also in for his first game of the season – batting lower in the order than they’ve become accustomed.
With the ball for the Gulls, the Lehman brothers – Russ (2/22) and Troy (2/32) – snared two wickets apiece, as did Ash Adams (2/54).
But the Demons were just irresistible with ball-in-hand during Tooradin’s reply, taking wickets early and often to roll the new-look home side for just 113 inside 37 overs.
Only Bailey Lownds (24) could pass 20, while new Demon Hussain Ali (2/23) snared both Tooradin skipper Cal O’Hare and his deputy Matt Cox for 18 either side of drinks in a defining moment in the chase.
Luke McMaster finished with the impressive figures of 2/11 from his six overs after snaring both Tooradin openers (Kade Burns and Russ Lehman) in quick succession, while Mathers was also influential with the ball – snaring 3/27 from his eight overs.
To rub some salt in the wound for the Gulls, crucial all-rounder Aaron Avery picked up an injury and was unable to bat.
But in the wake of his side’s win, Demons captain-coach Mark Cooper was somewhat circumspect.
“One-dayers you can’t read too much into,” he said.
“We haven’t, and I don’t think they (Tooradin) would either.
“Two-day cricket would really suit them, and we know that.”
But it’s looking beyond the simple win-loss result where the real positive signs lie for the competition powerhouse.
They’ve improved their depth this season, particularly with the ball, while their more experienced players are helping to develop the leadership of their young stars.
All-rounder Luke McMaster is a case in point.
He’s taken on the vice captaincy responsibility this season as the Demons unashamedly look to continue to contend, while also keeping an eye towards sustained success in the future.
Mitch Cammarano and Tyler Clark are two other young players who the Demons have big plans for moving forward.
Cooper acknowledged his side is probably a more rounded team in 2019/20 than it was in its last campaign, courtesy of some “targeted recruiting”.
“We targeted our list again at the end of last season after losing a couple of young players,” he said.
“We had to look at things and keep on trying to improve, and we feel like we have.
“That’s the opportunity the first few games bring – seeing where you’re at with your own side.”
A big part of the side’s fast start has been the form of Mathers, which Cooper says is in no small part due to him having a strong mindset and putting in a strong preparation through pre-season.
And a healthy competition for spots throughout the Demons’ Premier and Sub-District sides is ensuring that form players are picked, and utilised with both bat and ball.
The standout quick of the competition, Mathers didn’t take the new ball on the weekend – pointing to the overall strength of the Kooweerup attack.
Cooper said Kooweerup has a genuine 14-15 Premier-quality players to choose from this season – a noticeable depth improvement on the 2018/19 campaign.
He also acknowledged that, perhaps, he and the other Kooweerup leaders didn’t change their lineup around enough to suit different game styles and conditions last season.
This time around, they can adjust to suit different situations within games and make more tactical adjustments on the fly.
On Saturday, with the Demons sitting on 4/72, Cooper acknowledged the game “could have gone either way”.
But Mathers’ timely partnership with McMaster not only steadied the ship, it put that ship on the path to victory.
“That’s what’s going to decide if we’re successful or not – those kinds of partnerships forming when we are under pressure and losing wickets,” Cooper said.
Kooweerup’s great rival, the reigning premier Pakenham – meanwhile – returned to the winners’ list in emphatic fashion with a seven-wicket thumping of Clyde on Saturday.
Batting first at home, the Cougars found themselves in desperate trouble at 7/26 and couldn’t recover – despite ultimately reaching 108 in the 32nd over.
Only Brett Reid (35) and Liam Bennett (26) could pass 20 as the returning Jack Ryan ripped shreds out of the Cougars’ top order – claiming each of the first three wickets to fall to finish with 3/9 from his five overs.
The rot for the Cougars started on just the third ball of the day, and continued from then on.
Pakenham player-coach Rob Elston explained that the Cougars’ 7/26 start was brought about by some strong, disciplined bowling by the Lions.
“There was a period of seven maiden overs in a row with two leg byes amongst those,” he said.
“The pressure applied brought about a lot of the wickets with a lot of players getting out trying to push the scoring rate to their detriment.”
Elston spoke with genuine excitement about having Ryan back in the fold.
“While he didn’t bowl as express as he can, and will later in the season, he bowled with outstanding control and found great assistance off the seam – with one particular delivery to (Jason) Hameeteman seaming back prodigiously and castling the batsman,” he explained.
Providing stellar support to Ryan’s early work were Jason Williams (3/27 with 24 overs coming from his last two overs) and Dale Tormey (2/14).
The Lions then made light work of the chase, courtesy of a positive 44-run opening stand between Ben Maroney (34) and Jack Anning (12). They lost just three wickets in their reply, with each of their batsmen encouragingly reaching double-figures.
Following a vastly different result to their Round 1 showing, the Lions are now looking forward to taking on the new-look Cranbourne Meadows this weekend.
Cardinia, meanwhile, was just as emphatic in its home win over Devon Meadows on Saturday.
Batting first, the Panthers were restricted to 6/140 from their 40 overs with Kyle Salerno (45) and Lucas Carroll (31 not out) top-scoring.
Travis Wheller claimed 2/18 from his eight overs for the Bulls, while fellow spinner Ryan Little took 2/25.
Cardinia’s chase got off to the perfect start courtesy of a 122-run stand between openers Alex Nooy (63) and Matt Welsh (46) before the Bulls ultimately reached 3/145 in just 21 overs.
“It was a different-look Meadows to what we are used to so we didn’t know what to expect,” said Cardinia captain-coach Bradey Welsh after the contest.
“I thought Matt (Welsh) and Cam (Brown) really set the tone for us with the ball and allowed every other bowler who came on to play their role.
“We weren’t very disciplined in a few areas late, which disappointed us and allowed them to get a few more than we planned.”
But Welsh was thrilled with his side’s start with the bat.
“We have been speaking about really backing ourselves to nail our skills and Matt and Alex at the top with the bat were unreal,” he said.
“We hadn’t seen their two opening bowlers before and they managed to get the game on our terms really quickly. We put a focus on partnerships and celebrating our 50 and 100-run partnerships so to start the season with a 100-run partnership in 12 overs was a huge positive for us.”
In the final game of the round, the newly-promoted Cranbourne Meadows opened its season’s account with a hard-fought 28-run win over Merinda Park in the local derby.
Batting first, the Rebels reached 6/216 from their 40 overs courtesy of a series of individual contributions headed by Vishalbir Thind’s 77.
Cobras star Daniel McCalman finished with 3/39 and then backed that up with a superb 92 at the top of the order in the chase, but that was almost half his entire side’s total as Merinda Park could only muster 5/188 in reply.