‘LUCKY’ ESCAPE FOR HAWKS

Kids in hot and sweaty Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, grow up with the notion that cricket might lend them a passport to fame and fortune.

The bustling city of 5.6 million people, located on the western side of the island, is a diverse mix of ethnicity and religion. But their mutual enthusiasm for the national game transmits those with above-average ability to a pedestal reserved for the elite.

Gagabadawatta Arachilage Lakpriya Waruna Shantha, hailing from Borella, Colombo’s largest suburb, was one such youngster who dreamed that, eventually, he would don the Blue and Yellow cap of the national team.

He rose to first-class level, as a wicket-keeper/batsman with the Lankan Cricket Club and at one stage was rated the third best ‘keeper in the land. But opportunities dried up and the slightly-built dasher with the lightning-quick hands chose to broaden his horizons. He headed to Australia with his team-mate Nelum Kumara.

I’m sorry for going the long way around introducing you to Lucky Perera, the bearer of the afore-mentioned regal-sounding, monosyllabic appellation.

Local cricket followers are familiar with Lucky, who is now in his eighth season, having previously played with Whorouly, Myrtleford and Bruck. His flamboyant displays behind the stumps have earned him recognition as a ‘keeper of the highest standard. He was part of the move over to the newly-merged Rovers-United-Bruck this season and has, unfortunately, had his battles with injury.

On Saturday he played probably his most significant WDCA innings in helping to rescue his side from a dire predicament.

Please permit me to acquaint you with the details of an absorbing day’s play at the W.J.Findlay Oval.

The combine played host to new team Delatite, who have performed well this season and are basically a very young group, with two or three old-stagers. It was a danger game for the Hawks, whose batting had recently been showing signs of fragility.

The captain, and key bowler for the Mansfield-based line-up is Matt Stevenson, a burly plasterer whose career CV includes a stint with North Melbourne and a couple of seasons in the English minor leagues.

A wicket which had been under the tarpaulins for over 24 hours and boasted a healthy grass-cover, offered good support to the bowlers. Stevenson and his fellow new-ballers, Nathan Purcell, Patrick Marks and Lachlan Milen probed away assiduously at the Hawk upper-order.

It was Stevenson, operating with four slips and two gullies, who gained the early break-through, when Jordan Blades played on. The incoming Darren Petersen was subjected to a baptism of fire, as he ducked and weaved at a few.

The Delatite slippers took great delight in Petersen’s discomfort and relished the sight of his stumps being rattled by the energetic Purcell. It was 2/23.

The ball certainly held the upper hand and tall youngster Patrick Marks, a lad with a strong approach to the crease, struck twice in his four overs, to have the remarkable figures of 2/2. He didn’t re-appear at the crease, which possibly suggests he was hindered by injury.

The home team were soon languishing at 5/47 and in deep, deep trouble.

The man of the hour, Lucky Perera (1 not out), was joined at the crease by Anthony Speziale, who played the support role, as the pair began to resuscitate an innings which was in a downward spiral.

‘Spaz’ defended well, as his more talented partner started to regain control. It was good stuff – a concerted battle in which a batting error could change the shape of the game.

Indeed one did come, as Perera pulled a ball from leggie Joel Sanford and was dropped at backward square.

He was in his twenties and it would prove to be a fatal blunder for Delatite.

At tea, the score was 5/98 and the pendulum had begun to swing in the combine’s favour.

Upon resumption it tilted back Delatite’s way again. Only 3 runs were added in 8 overs and two more wickets fell. Where were the runs going to come from ?

Blake Nixon played in typical stubborn fashion and, even though his contribution to the eight-wicket stand was just 4, the score had been pushed up to a still-modest 138.

Perera was batting brilliantly. He hoiked the occasional loose ball over mid-wicket and kept the run-rate flowing. By now the field had been set deep to keep him away from the strike. But still, he found a way to advance his side’s total.

It was 9/162 when Mark Drage departed after a handy 13. The end was nigh, it was felt – and more’s the pity, because Lucky was 77 and in sight of a ‘ton’.

He farmed the strike superbly in the next seven overs, as the total moved on to 187. He was now on 99 and had scored 65 of the last 88 runs.

Alas, the hard-working Stevenson, in his 29th over, and now bowling off five paces, got one through the defences of the scoreless Lochie Busk, to leave the little Sri Lankan stranded, one short of his first century in seven years.

But he could sleep easily, knowing that his fighting knock had given his side an even-money chance of taking the honors when the teams take up the cudgels next week.

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