The stately old gum trees that lean over the nearby Ovens River, form a perfect backdrop to Wangaratta’s sporting Headquarters, the 160 year-old Norm Minns Oval.

If only they could talk !

They could lay testimony to many of the town’s greatest sporting events……..such as Peter May leading the English tourists from the bowels of the brand-spanking new W.B.Richardson Grandstand, onto the Oval to do battle with a Victorian Country XI in 1959……..

And ten years later, Gary Sobers’ famous West Indies team – the game’s greatest entertainers – entrancing an adoring crowd with a display of big-hitting and entertaining cricket……

Or cycling legends, such as Sid Patterson and Russell Mockridge swooping around the dirt track at breakneck speed and charging to the line to snatch last-gasp victories………..and running superstars, Barney Ewell, Norm McDonald and J.J.O’Sullivan flashing across the 130 metres of the floodlit Gift track to enter the record books…..

They could recount the champion footballers who have strutted their stuff – something of a Who’s Who of the game. And what about some of the great Grand Finals, which had crowds of up to 12,000 screaming with excitement……

Today’s event is much more low-key, but just as competitive. It’s a crucial WDCA clash between Wangaratta-Magpies and Rovers-United-Bruck.

A total of 59 flags have come the way of the five teams that have been compressed into these two combinations. Plenty of tradition has gone by the board, but then, that’s sport these days.

There appeared to be obvious no complications with the track. Like all Showgrounds wickets, it generally behaves in favour of the batsman. So, it was difficult to explain the clatter of wickets that followed.

It began in the first over of the day, when Magpies opener Hamish Cox was trapped in front by long-striding Hawk speedster Lochie Busk.

Soon it was 3/13, after diminutive Jon Hyde twice broke through. The veteran is hard to keep out of the game and he was again on his way to making an effective contribution.

It was left to tall debutant ‘Pie left-hander Blair McCormick to pull things around. A stylish stroker of the ball, he drove nicely and enjoyed being given a bit of width, quickly moving into double figures.

It was the advent of hard-hitting Andrew Nunn, who collected four boundaries on his way to a brisk 22, that got the Magpies total moving along. They were 5/67 when he was dismissed.

Meanwhile McCormick had gone completely into his shell and appeared reluctant to take risks. When Umpire Richard Haywood adjudged him LBW to Hyde, for 25, the Hawks were right on top.

Spinner Jeremy Wilson tidied up the remainder of the innings with a couple of late wickets. The Pies were bundled out for 88, with Hyde (4/20) and Wilson (3/27) taking the bowling honours.

Umpire Haywood had provided the highlight of the day, with his energy and willingness to embrace the spirit of the game. On the fifth ball of each of the 72 overs bowled, he would loudly announce: ‘One to go, boys’ . His regular trips of 10 or-so metres, away from the wicket, were another little idiosyncrasy that amused onlookers.

The Hawks were regarded as odds-on favourites when they commenced the run-chase. But they were soon on the ropes. They stumbled to 3/12, thanks to some fine pace bowling from Nick Cox and Dylan Landgren.

The tall Landgren, thrust into captaincy duties due to the loss of a couple of his side’s leaders, was most impressive. He seemingly glides to the wicket with an effortless gait and was bang on target.

When he snared Jeremy Wilson LBW he had put his side back into the game – the Hawks were 4/16, with the cream of their batting line-up back in the pavilion.

Surprisingly, Landgren removed himself from the attack at this stage. It led some to wonder whether he should have maintained the attack from his end. But, in his defence, his second spell later in the day, almost swung the game.

Jacob Schonafinger and Jordan Hansted led the rear-guard effort for the Hawks. They added 43 runs and had regained the ascendancy when Hansted became the sixth LBW victim for the day, falling to lively Jarryd Wallace.

Two runs later, Wallace claimed Hamish Busk and the visitors were 6/61, with plenty of work still to do. But the dogged Schonafinger, with help from youngster, Dan Larkings took the total to within four runs of victory, when ‘Schona’ was removed for a well-compiled 36.

Surely, with three wickets still in hand, there would be no dramas, would there ?

But successive wickets fell, with the score still on 85. A couple of scratchy singles moved the total to within one. Then a mad dash for a single saw umpire Haywood declare ‘Not Out’ at the bowler’s end.

The Hawks were home, at last.

The pressure was off at last. Anthony Speziale hit out well to score an unbeaten 16 and push the tally to 106, before his partner Lochie Busk fell to Andrew Nunn.

It was a day of ordinary batting, effective bowling and high drama and it’s conceivable that there is still plenty of spice left in this clash when it resumes next Saturday.Shona picture

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