By Nick Creely
A return to the Dandenong District Cricket Association Turf 1 ranks holds no fear for Narre Warren.
The Magpies – off the back of unwavering momentum from their Turf 2 premiership glory last season – return to the association’s highly regarded top-flight for the first time since being relegated three seasons ago.
Saturday 20 March, 2021 was a special day for the Magpies, defeating Dandenong West in a dominant grand final performance at Carroll Reserve, having capped off a sublime home-and-away season with an eye-catching victory.
But the new challenge awaits the club as it looks to build on that momentum.
While knowing what is likely to confront them in the hotly contested Turf 2 competition which seems to go from strength to strength each season, Magpies coach Brett Lewis said his group simply can’t wait for Saturday 13 November’s season start, with pre-season training now beginning.
“We can’t wait, the boys have been like cats on a hot tin roof, they’re ready to go,” he said.
“The guys have been getting together and having a hit because they’re all local in little groups, and I’d say there’s been 15 or 20 of the ones and twos doing that.
“We’ve got some very good talent amongst those boys, they’re certainly up and about.”
Lewis said that the club is backing in its Turf 2 premiership group to deliver, having spent the off-season not necessarily recruiting, but retaining the side under skipper Cam Dinger and his vice-captains Zach Allen and Ben Swift.
He added that seeing a club like Hallam Kalora Park achieve premiership glory last season – a side glittered with homegrown talent – was tremendous motivation.
“Just seeing who’s coming into the competition, and the way Springy South and Buckley have recruited, and also Berwick is great,” he said.
“But the sides like Hallam are the ones I look at – the amount of home grown talent in that team, and what they’ve done and where they’ve been and the amount of individuals that have come back together, that’s the key.
“It’s about having that clique, having 11 players play for each other – we’ll field the house down, we’ll be a great fielding team, the boys pride themselves on that, and to play their roles.
“It was hard to manage last year, there were a lot of egos in there, but it clicked late and everyone knows that it might be their day to sacrifice to allow someone else to come in.”
Lewis said that in such an esteemed competition such as Turf 1, depth, consistency and focus were the most important factors.
“You can’t afford those little lapses, you have to be completely focused, and know your role, and we’ve got some good youth coming through too who can play those same roles,” he said.
“We’ll bat deep, we’ll bat to number nine, 10 and 11, and that’s the key, we need to bat deep, be a good fielding side, and we’ve got plenty of bowling options, some good control bowlers and good attacking bowlers.
“We won’t be reliant on one or two players, we’re confident we have the depth.”
The Magpies will be hoping Dinger, Allen and Swift can really rack up the runs with the bat having combined for 882 last season, while are also confident that spearhead Josh Dinger (33 wickets last season), Kasun Balasuriya (13 wickets) and James Elliott (seven wickets) can continue forming a dangerous bowling attack and really surprise sides.
Dinger in particular was a menace for batters last season, having captured his 33 scalps at an impressive average of 9.79, including a best of 6/21 in the grand final. He’s got pace, and a really bright future.
With the DDCA season to once again be played in a one-day format, Lewis said that the side was well-suited to the shorter game, believing it has a dangerous edge that can pose problems for opposition sides.
He said that the side’s flexibility, combined with a selfless attitude, is what is the key this season.
“We’ll be working off pretty much the same guidelines as last year, we didn’t really click with it really until the last few rounds of last season,” he said.
“We want to build partnerships, set yourself, bowl to plans and on one side of the wicket.
“The strategy is about retention of runs and then definitely around building an innings – it’s imperative and I’ll always coach that way. You’ve got to back yourself with good footwork, be aggressive, and use your feet well.
“If we were going to be playing a two-day format, we’d be changing our entire mindset – we’d be looking to bat longer, take your time more, I’d change the batting order.
“It is a completely different strategy – we’d be back to bowling a lot more change up balls, not necessarily taking wickets but to contain, so it’d be different.”
The Magpies will kick off the season with a clash against 2020/21 runners-up Berwick at Arch Brown Reserve.