By sports editor Russell Bennett
WGCA PREMIER DIVISION
REVIEW – ROUND 1
The Demons threw down the gauntlet on the opening day of the West Gippsland Cricket Association’s Premier division season with an emphatic win at home over their famous rivals, the Bulls.
Cardinia has been bolstered this season by a string of significant inclusions, and it’s only a matter of time until the Bulls fire, but Saturday delivered another stark reminder that Kooweerup remains the benchmark of the competition – even in its full one-day format.
Catch the Demons if you can.
But prior to the game on Saturday at Denhams Road, old rivalries were briefly put to one side as both sides produced a fantastic show of respect with a moment’s silence for Cardinia life member Ian ‘Cambo’ Campbell, who passed away back in July.
A regular fixture at Cardinia versus Kooweerup games over the decades, Cambo had battled serious health issues for years, and ultimately passed away in hospital in July at just 61.
Even in his final hours, the incredible strength of that famous ticker of his continually shone through. Four times he suffered a cardiac arrest, only for him to remarkably fight back each time.
On Saturday, fittingly, Ian’s son, and fellow Bulls life member, Ricky top-scored for the side with an entertaining, quickfire, counterpunching 24 in his first innings back since returning from a stint at Langwarrin.
A number of Cambo’s family members even made the effort to come and watch, and after the game, on social media, the outpouring of support for Ricky and the Campbell family was obvious.
“From us all at Kooweerup CC, it’s the least we could have done for you as a club,” said Demons skipper Chris Bright about the mark of respect paid.
“Hold on to those memories mate.”
Bright’s new opening batting partner, young Lachie Ramage, also paid his own heartfelt tribute to Ricky and the broader Campbell family.
Ricky was an instrumental coaching figure for Ramage in his formative years in the sport.
But on Saturday Ricky was one of only two Cardinia batsmen to pass 20 as the side was comprehensively outplayed by the Demons.
There was plenty of first-round rust on display from teams right across the competition on Saturday, particularly given the lack of any significant pre-season due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Clearly the Bulls weren’t at their best, with either the ball or the bat, with huge improvement still to come across the board.
But, still, there’s no sidestepping around the fact that they were comprehensively outplayed – particularly in their batting innings.
Batting first, Kooweerup got off to a lightening start courtesy of an impressive 70-run stand between the new opening combination of Bright (53) and returning young gun Ramage (34).
Ramage, who returned to Kooweerup after a stint at the top of the order for Pakenham Upper/Toomuc in the District division, played with great confidence on Saturday – pouncing on anything too short or over-pitched, particularly square of the wicket.
The consistent form of his opening partner, Bright, was one of the talking points of the past Premier season, and on Saturday he picked up right from where he left off – taking it right to the Bulls’ attack with confidence.
The home side raced to 73 off the first 10 overs of the innings, setting the foundation for a massive chase for the Bulls.
But the visiting bowlers answered – particularly the seam-bowling combination of Dean Henwood (3/26 in his first match back in Bulls colours after stints at Nar Nar Goon/Maryknoll and, most recently, Garfield-Tynong) and former Demon (and Pakenham Upper/Toomuc Yabby) Jack Bacon.
Bowling off an abbreviated run-up, Bacon hit his mark early and often – removing both Ramage and Bright in the process, both chopping on.
From their lightning start, the Demons were restricted to 180 – dismissed in the final over, due to the fight back from Henwood and Bacon, and the spin of Travis Wheller (2/30) and Dwayne Doig (2/37) in his return to Premier.
At the innings break, Cardinia – on paper at least – was right in the contest, but the Bulls’ chase never got out of first gear as they lost wickets early and often.
Again, there was plenty of rust on display, but there was also some questionable shot-selection thrown into the mix.
Using just the four bowlers, the Demons only took a shade over 22 overs to roll through the Bulls for just 83 with only Campbell, and some lower-order hitting from Henwood (21), showing any real resistance.
New Bulls skipper Jake Prosser, clearly feeling under the weather, fought his way to 11 in the lower order.
Matt Bright opened with his spin and had an immediate effect, removing the explosive Alex Nooy without scoring. He also removed the dangerous Welsh brothers – player-coach Bradey (0) and Matt (6) – to have a massive impact on the contest, finishing with 3/14 from his eight overs.
Jess Mathers also claimed three scalps, while the returning John Bright (2/13) and young opening bowler Luke McMaster (2/30) were also key to their side’s cause.
The sheer amount of options the Demons have at their disposal in the game’s shorter format will be one of the side’s biggest strengths all season long.
Tooradin, meanwhile, was every bit as emphatic in its season-opener – this time against fellow 2019/20 finalist, Clyde.
The battle for the top two – and the double chance – will be fascinating to watch unfold this season, with Kooweerup, Tooradin, and Pakenham all finishing within three wins of each other in the last campaign.
Tooradin finished a game clear of Pakenham in second before succumbing to the Lions in their semi-final.
But on Saturday the Seagulls started their new campaign with a bang, ripping the Cougars’ batting lineup to shreds.
Batting first at Tooradin, the home side was dismissed for 205 in the 36th over – frustratingly for their sake leaving nearly five overs un-faced.
Last season’s star recruit for the Gulls, Neil Peake, led the way with a free-flowing 89, while skipper Cal O’Hare (31) and all-rounder Dylan Sutton (38) provided valuable contributions from the middle-order.
Promisingly for Tooradin, WGCA champion and recently-crowned two-time Terry Stephenson medallist Russell Lehman (10) didn’t need to have a huge scoreboard impact for the side to pass the 200 mark.
The wickets were shared by the Cougars, with player-coach Matt Aslett snaring 3/33.
Clyde has no shortage of proven, bonafide options to turn to with the ball this season, but there is still a sense that the Cougars may only go as far as their batting can take them.
It’s far from panic stations in the wake of Saturday’s performance, given the competition is merely one round into what will be a season full of twists and turns, but being dismissed for just 104 does highlight the work ahead.
Only Brett Reid (32) could pass 20 for Clyde as the Gulls showcased their own prowess with the ball – led by Lehman (3/17) and Sutton (3/33).
Clyde has the ability to move on quickly from the defeat, and move on in style, and still has ‘finalist’ stamped all over the group.
But, still, the Cougars would have been left in no uncertain terms about the work ahead.
They’ll next face Merinda Park, who lost gallantly at home to a side that could prove to be the season’s biggest x-factor in the Premier grade – the exciting, albeit extremely unpredictable, Cranbourne Meadows.
In the battle of Lesdon Avenue’s two resident clubs, the Rebels batted first – posting 9/189 from their 40 overs, led by a big-hitting 70 from Vishalbir Thind. He gave a glimpse of what he was capable of at the level last season – recording two half-centuries from just a handful of Premier appearances – but this season he’ll be relied on to consistently perform if Cranbourne Meadows is to prove to be the big improver many suggest it could be, particularly in an all one-day campaign.
In their reply, the Cobras had a series of contributions with the willow from the top through to the middle-order, with the returning Manu Goraya leading the way with his 57.
But they’ll be looking to convert on more of those starts in the coming weeks.
At one stage on Saturday they were 1/70 in their chase, with star batsman, the highly-respected Daniel McCalman (29) the only wicket to fall.
In the remaining contest of the round, Pakenham shook off rust of its own to overcome the Maroons up the hill in Upper Beaconsfield.
Batting first, the Lions amassed 7/185 from their 40 overs with new skipper Dale Tormey (54) continuing from right where he left off with the blade last season.
Jack Anning (30), Chris Smith (17), Zac Chaplin (36), and Troy McDermott (28) also spent some valuable time in the middle for the Lions facing a promising Maroons attack on its home deck.
There are plenty of question marks surrounding Upper Beaconsfield’s batting in 2020/21, given the departure of top-order maestro Lakkana Jayasekara over the off-season, but a whole host of Maroons batsmen got starts on Saturday – led by Will Haines (34), and skipper Dan Brennan (45).
Lions all-rounders Sean Gramc (4/31) and Troy McDermott (4/17) took eight Upper Beac wickets between them. Like the Demons, Tormey’s men have no shortage of options to turn to with the ball in a variety of situations in the shorter format of the game.
Premier fans don’t have to wait long for another mouth-watering clash between Pakenham and Kooweerup, either, with the two sides going head-to-head at Toomuc Reserve to highlight Round 2 on Saturday.
WGCA Premier fixture – Round 2
Pakenham v Kooweerup – Toomuc Reserve (Oval #2)
Cardinia v Upper Beaconsfield – E. Gunton Oval
Clyde v Merinda Park – Clyde Recreation Reserve
Cranbourne Meadows v Tooradin – Lawson Poole Reserve (Oval #1)