By Russell Bennett
Cometh the moment, cometh the man.
At 7/167 after 39 overs of its chase on Saturday against local rival, the powerhouse Kooweerup outfit, a young Tooradin side was steered home by favourite son Dylan Sutton, and rising young gun Rohan Simpson.
But the manner in which the Gulls emerged victorious – well that won’t be forgotten any time soon by those who had the chance to witness it.
At 5/165, with plenty of overs left to bat, the visiting Demons were more than in prime position. If this was a motor race, they would have been half a lap out in front.
Ayden Mills (an impressive 56 in his first Premier game this season after stepping up from District) looked at ease at the crease – showing a particular fondness for anything remotely wide outside off.
But when he fell, trapped in front LBW by Gulls skipper Cal O’Hare, the Demons stumbled from 6/166 to 183 all out in just 37.4 overs – leaving an invaluable 2.2 overs un-faced. Experienced Demons player-coach Chris O’Hara was left stranded on 26 not out as the wickets tumbled around him.
So, when looking for just how the Gulls walked off the field hours later with a miraculous victory, look no further than them snaring the final five Kooweerup wickets for just 18 runs.
The chief destroyers for the home side were O’Hare (3/24), Kal Braid-Ball (3/26), and Sutton (3/26) while the Gulls’ most accomplished bowler, reigning league medallist Russ Lehman, didn’t even bowl.
That just shows the upside in this group – when it can string consistent overs together.
And that’s the thing – the momentum of the final overs of the Gulls’ bowling innings couldn’t translate to the start of their chase with the bat.
They’ve been searching for a way to build and maintain momentum all season, but have struggled in the face of injury, a high turnover of players, and the relative inexperience of their side.
With the Bright boys – Matt and John – opening up for the Demons, the Gulls’ top order batsmen seemed to dig themselves a hole, with each chewing up the deliveries and struggling to rotate the strike.
And yet, from 0/15 after the first 10 overs, and 5/43 in the 19th, the home side still found a way to win.
At 7/167 off 39 overs, Tooradin was still well short of the target with just an over left in the game and it’s hard to imagine many of the side’s players thinking snaring victory from the jaws of defeat was anything like a realistic possibility.
So it’s little wonder O’Hare counts the clash as one of the best victories he’s ever been involved in.
All up, the Gulls scored an incredible 99 runs off the final 10 overs.
Sutton finished unbeaten on 49 off just 28 balls, including a clutch square drive off the final ball of the game that sailed to the boundary for the winning runs.
And no less impressive was young Simpson, who hit a couple of crucial boundaries of his own on the way to 24 off just 17.
While Saturday’s result secured Tooradin’s place in the running for an all-important top two sport (and the double chance) – along with the top-placed Cardinia, and Kooweerup – the significance of it was about so much more than that.
It wasn’t established guns O’Hare, Lehman, or Avery that steered the group home – it was the new wave of 20-somethings who did it under pressure.
There’ll be no over-the-top panic from the Demons in the wake of the result. They know they’ve got plenty of room for improvement – with the bat, and with their late execution of key skills with the ball and in the field – but this game was proof that, in this fully one-day season, no team is ever completely safe until the final over is bowled – and that includes the might of the reigning premiers.
“When they got away from us a bit through that (51-run) partnership between Mills and Tubsy (O’Hara), we bowled some crap, to be honest,” O’Hare said on Monday, looking back on reflection.
“We went to sleep a bit and ended up letting them get 20 or 30 runs too many by that stage, but when we broke that partnership I just told the boys it was so important to keep the momentum before we batted, otherwise we would have been chasing more like 220 than 180 – which would have been the difference.
“Getting those last five wickets for less than 20 runs was massive for us.”
With the bat for the Gulls, it was Andrew Proctor (37) who started the charge, and Sutton and Simpson who finished it off.
And what makes that all the more impressive is how ill Proctor was throughout the week. He was far from guaranteed to even take his place in the side.
“Sutts and Proccy have been great for us this year – obviously they haven’t been as consistent as they’d have liked, but when they stand up for us, they make all the difference,” O’Hare said.
“In the past they haven’t got much of the recognition, but they’ve been really strong contributors for us for quite a while now and, with all the players we’ve lost, they’ve had to step up even more – especially Suttsy, who I think has been one of the comp’s best bowlers this season, and he’s been great at finishing off the innings for us with the bat, and he was outstanding in both on Saturday.”
Incredibly, Tooradin’s blockbuster clash with Kooweerup wasn’t the only game of the Premier round to come right down to the wire, with Clyde skipper Daniel Lever hitting the winning runs to give the Cougar faithful something to smile about after what’s been a particularly tough season.
Batting first at Clyde, Upper Beaconsfield was restricted to 8/168 from its 40 overs, with Will Haines leading the way with 66 from the top of the order.
But the game’s most thrilling moment happened right at the death, when Lever whipped a six over mid-wicket that fittingly landed just in front of the bar and canteen area.
The Cougars, who still sit seventh on the ladder but safe from relegation, received contributions with the willow throughout the order – including by Kiefer Peries (36) and Pat Lawson (38).
But there were plenty of tense moments when player-coach Matt Aslett (21) and Kane Avard (run out for 26) both fill within sight of victory.
Still, Lever was there to stand tall right when he was needed most – finishing unbeaten on 12, the spinner’s first double-figure score of the season with the blade.
Elsewhere at Lawson Poole, Pakenham’s indifferent season continued with the Lions lowering their colours to the ever-entertaining Cranbourne Meadows.
With just two rounds left before the finals (unless the Covid-affected Round 11 is rescheduled, which remains a possibility), the Lions are stunningly on the outside of the finals looking in – percentage in arrears of Merinda Park, which also lost on the weekend.
Batting first on Saturday on their home deck, the Rebels amassed 8/182 from their 40 overs courtesy of important digs from top-order pair Sunny Paul (36) and Vishalbir Thind (32), and lower-order counterparts Sajjanmeet Singh (38) and Pardeep Singh (40 not out).
The Lions were restricted to just 167 in reply, with star skipper Dale Tormey (62) producing his highest output with the willow to date this season and Zac Chaplin adding 56 of his own.
Worryingly for Pakenham, though, they were the only two batsmen to pass 20 as the side scrambles for form for the remainder of its finals push.
In the remaining game of the round, the rampant Bulls continued on their winning ways with a strong win away to Merinda Park.
This season’s surprise packets, the Cobras – who impressively sit fourth on the table and could yet be finals-bound – could only reach 8/156 in their reply to the Bulls’ 5/186.
With his better than a run a ball 73, Cardinia player-coach Bradey Welsh recorded his second half-century in his past three innings, while Justin Berry added a valuable 38.
In the Cobras’ reply, Bulls skipper Jake Prosser (5/40) continued his stellar season with the ball – claiming his first five-wicket haul in his new colours. He currently has 259 runs to his name at an average of 37, and is two clear on top of the wicket-taking tally with 23 at just 10.39. Tellingly, team mates Travis Wheller (21 at 10.29) and Dean Henwood (17 at 17.47) also sit inside the top 10.
The bulk of the attention this Saturday now turns to Kooweerup’s clash with Merinda Park at Denhams Road, and Pakenham’s battle with Clyde.
On Sunday, Cardinia will host a special memorial day for favourite son Ian ‘ Cambo’ Campbell. For more on the event, turn to page 53.