New season, same rivalry

Formerly a champion opening batsman, Demons player-coach Chris O’Hara will have a telling role to play as a steadying hand in the middle order all season for his side. His 29 was crucial in a low-scoring game on Saturday. 221903 Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Russell Bennett

WGCA PREMIER DIVISION
REVIEW – ROUND 2

The current era’s Kooweerup and Pakenham sides may just have the best local cricket rivalry the Gazette has ever covered.

It’s a massive call, but it’s hard to imagine a rivalry quite like it anywhere – in any community sport, for that matter.

Think about it – in the wake of the 2019 grand final, their head-to-head record dating back to Pakenham’s first season in what is the current Premier tier (2011/12) stood at nine wins apiece, along with three draws.

And all that’s separated them on the biggest stage of them all over the past five years was a 2020 grand final that couldn’t be played.

Over the four seasons leading up to the 2019/20 decided, the grand final ledger was squared away at 2-2.

Then, in March, the world seemingly became swallowed up by the Covid-19 pandemic.

While Australia is managing it incredibly well, to this day Covid cases are still rapidly on the rise all around the globe and with every passing day there seems to be increasing uncertainty when it comes to the things that matter – health, happiness, and financial security.

So, in the grand scheme of things, community sport kind of fades into insignificance.

That’s not at all to downplay its impact on local people, and what it means in the hearts and minds of so many of us throughout the community, but it’s seriously important to keep it in context – cricket is, ultimately, just a game.

But try telling the Demons and Lions that.

Given the circumstances, the 2019/20 season didn’t get its Premier finale.

And what a mouth-watering decider it would have been.

How do we know that for sure? Just look at just about every game these two sides have fought out in recent memory.

They’ve had more twists and turns than a Goosebumps choose your own adventure book.

The only way to decide the champion of last season was to award the title to the highest-placed qualifier that reached the grand final, and that was Kooweerup.

The Demons earned it – they finished 18 points clear atop the ladder and only lost one game all season. The Lions finished third.

But that game would have gone down to the wire, like so many before.

It’s possible that the true magnitude of the rivalry won’t sink in for its participants until they’re years removed from it.

For now, they’ve got more immediate things to worry about – like how to one-up the other.

But, truth be told, these two sides have far more in common than anything that sets them apart.

Disciplined bowling in tight lines and lengths; proven, experienced batsmen; quality youngsters; all-around depth – they’ve both got the lot.

And on Saturday at Toomuc Reserve, it was all on full display yet again.

After Kooweerup won the toss and elected to bat, Pakenham opened with the spin of Jason Williams and crafty seam-ups of Jack Melbourne, donning his customary Lions cap as he bowled.

It worked to great effect as each bowled out their eight overs from the start to finish with 1/13 and 2/22 respectively.

It set the tone for the innings, with the Lions forcing the Demons to make their own pace with their stroke-play. The Lions clearly looked to be trying to force the Demons into taking unnecessary risks, while they remained disciplined with the ball and in the field.

It worked a charm, with only player-coach Chris O’Hara (29) and former Lion Steve Dillon (28) making it past 20 with the willow for the visitors.

The Demons’ top order fell cheaply, with the middle and lower orders having to combine to salvage a score.

Kooweerup was on just 4/40 at drinks after 20 overs and its eventual 126 still seemed well short of par – even on a slow Toomuc Reserve ground – with a string of soft dismissals to blame.

But that’s not to take anything away from the Lions’ discipline with the ball, which clearly created plenty of implied pressure.

Aside from Williams, Melbourne, and the miserly Sean Gramc (1/19 from his eight overs), young left-arm seamer Liam Wolstenholme was a huge standout for the hometown Lions – snaring 3/21, including dangerous big-hitter Jess Mathers for seven.

Even though the Lions seemed well ahead of the game at the innings break, those watching on knew that there’d be another twist in this tale.

Enter Matt Bright, and Dillon – the latter picking the perfect time to stand up and be counted against his former side.

With the Demons opening with spin of their own, Bright claimed 3/16 from a telling eight overs – including both openers, Jack Anning and Chris Smith, cheaply to catches to Dillon at an unusual leg-gully position.

Clearly the key was always going to be the wicket of the Lions’ superstar skipper Dale Tormey, and when Bright bowled him cheaply at 2/14, the Demons were suddenly in the box seat.

And then they applied the pressure – tightening their grip on the contest in the same kind of fashion they have in big games for years.

It used to be the likes of Dole, Davey, and O’Hara but on Saturday it was Bright, young quick Luke McMaster (1/26 from his eight), the returning John Bright (1/12 from 5.2), and the man-of-the-moment Dillon (3/21) with his spin.

Not only did Dillon claim three scalps, two of those were great mate Zac Chaplin (33) and Lions leader Rob Elston (19).

They were the only two Lions to reach double figures as the home side was ultimately rolled for 109 in the 37th over – the end of yet another fascinating chapter of their rivalry.

That’s the thing about these two – neither are never completely out of the contest, and nor do they have it won until final wicket is taken.

Neither side will have emerged from Saturday’s game learning much about the other, but that’s because they know each other’s games so well.

Instead, they’ll walk away with stark reminders of what the other is capable of, and the rest of us have to just sit back and wait with eager anticipation until they meet again.

Even though Saturday was only the second round of what promises to be an increasingly unpredictable fully-one day season, the usual pattern had already started to emerge – that the rest of the competition will have to catch the Demons and the Lions.

The super-talented Cougars are still chasing their first win of the season after losing to the impressive Merinda Park at Clyde on Saturday.

Batting first, the Cougars could only muster 146 before being dismissed midway through the 36th over.

Frustratingly for the home side, a string of batsmen made starts but none could go on and record that decisive score, with only impressive young opener Kiefer Peries (36) passing 20.

No fewer than seven other batsmen reached double-figures – highlighting that frustration.

Tyson Bertrand (4/29) was the star of the day with the ball for the Cobras, who took their chances when they came.

Then, with the bat, they continued with the momentum they created with the ball earlier in the contest – cruising to huge seven-wicket win with almost 10 overs still to play.

Arguably the most impressive facet of their chase was that star opener Daniel McCalman was removed for 14. That’s often spelt serious trouble for the Cobras, but on Saturday a telling 122-run stand between man-of-the-match Priyantha Kumara (64 not out) and Manu Goraya (54, his second half century on the trot) effectively saw the visitors home.

The Seagulls, meanwhile, would have left Lawson Poole Reserve scratching their heads on Saturday after their shock loss to the home side Cranbourne Meadows.

Batting first, the Gulls could only muster 111 – which they could only reach courtesy of important starts from Neil Peake (23), Kade Burns (38), and Rohan Simpson (17 not out).

Cranbourne Meadows has shaped as the biggest x-factor of the season for a while now, but most put that down to the Rebels’ explosive batting.

Yet on Saturday they won the game with the ball – let by 3/30 from Sajjanmeet Singh and two wickets apiece from Joraver Sidhu (2/11) and Sunny Paul (2/23).

But on the weekend even a low triple-figure target proved tricky to chase, with the Rebels just scraping home for 114 in the 28th over – courtesy of starts from Singh (20), Paul (14), Jas Gill (29), and Sidhu (24 not out). Simpson (2/11) had a fine showing with the ball from his eight overs in what was an otherwise dirty day for his side.

In the remaining game of the round, Cardinia recorded its first win of the season with a commanding showing against the newly-promoted Maroons at Upper Beaconsfield.

Batting first, the home side was rolled for just 125 with only Will Haines (41) and Taylor Joyce (27) passing 20 as the Bulls’ slower bowlers wreaked havoc.

Travis Wheller claimed 2/18 from his eight overs, while the evergreen Dwayne Doig (2/26), and skipper Jake Prosser (2/23) were the other multiple wicket-takers.

After a nightmarish start to the Bulls’ reply – losing the top order of Mitch Bromley, Alex Nooy, and Ricky Campbell for just seven runs between them – Prosser (68 not out) and player-coach Bradey Welsh (43 not out) combined for an unbeaten 108-run stand to see their side home at 3/128.

After feeling particularly under the weather in week one, Prosser – previously from Langwarrin – gave a much clearer indication of the kind of impact he could have on the Premier division with his telling knock.

The Cobras, Gulls, Lions, and Bulls are all locked on a win apiece – with only percentage currently separating third from sixth.

Surprisingly, Clyde and Upper Beaconsfield are the only sides yet to register a win through the season’s opening two weekends.

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