‘SO NEAR……AND YET, SO FAR…..’

Fraser Ellis has, for some time, been touted as one of Wangaratta’s hottest sporting prospects.

He earned a reputation last year, for being able to shut down some of Ovens and Murray Football’s gun on-ballers. His disciplined play, whilst still being able to pick up possessions, was commendable for an 18 year-old.

But his cricket star has been on the rise for several years; ever since he won selection in an Australian Under 16 side which played against a Pakistani touring team in 2015.IMG_4018

As a pace bowler with a rhythmic bowling action and the ability to do a bit with the ball, there’s no doubt that talent scouts have had him earmarked for big things…………..

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2018/19 has been a relatively lean year with the ball, though, for the well-proportioned, blonde-haired speedster.

In the home-and-away rounds he took 18 wickets; at Melbourne Country Week he claimed just one victim – hardly stats befitting a brilliant up-and-comer……..

Yesterday, in warm conditions, under a smoky sky, on a fairly unresponsive wicket and a lightning outfield, Ellis proved the match-winner for his club, City Colts.

His 6/38 off 19 overs diverted a thrilling Semi-Final in Colts’ favour after 520 pendulum-swinging minutes of play.

From the second ball of the opening day, when Rovers-United’s inspiration, Jacob Schonafinger enticed Colts’ leftie Ollie Willet into tickling one to second slip, tension gripped O’Callaghan Oval.

The Hawks were at long-odds pre-match, as their form had been patchy and they’d had to cope with a few late-season absentees from their line-up……Colts, on the other hand, finished well-clear on top of the ladder and were hoping to take the next step towards expunging the demons which have haunted them since their only WDCA flag in 1986/87…………

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But first, after winning the toss, lay ahead the task of building a reasonable total.

It looked in some doubt after they plunged to 2/1, when medium-pacer Paul Szeligiewicz stretched his bulky frame onto the turf and clutched a return catch from Englishman Tom Jones.

Mitch Giggins and the veteran skipper Kent Braden, who has pulled his side out of countless tight spots like this, then got to work in restoring order.

But it was hard yakka, as Schonafinger, in particular, was bowling with vim, with offie Joe Thomas and the lively Paddy McNamara lending support.

It was the 16 year-old left-armer McNamara who achieved the next break when he clean-bowled Giggins for 30.

Braden attempted to attack against Thomas, who, he no doubt believed, posed a threat to his lower-order, but he mis-timed a lofted on-drive off Schonafinger, and was picked up at mid-on for 48.

The run-rate, as it proved throughout, was pedestrian, and when Colts crept to 8/117, the game was wide open.

The useful Mitch Howe was the principal figure in navigating them through that crisis, to a competitive 164, with his unbeaten knock of 33.

Jon Hyde (3/25) took the bowling honours, but Schonafinger (2/36 off 22), McNamara (2/27) and Szeligiewicz (2/30) had their moments. Thomas, coming off an eight-wicket haul, toiled valiantly, but went wicket-less. It just wasn’t big Joe’s day…….IMG_3132

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The odds were still stacked in Colts’ favour when the Hawk openers, Luke and Matthew Whitten broached the crease on Day 2.

But their start was highly-promising. They had raced to 27 in quick time, prompting enthusiastic chatter among the Hawk camp.IMG_4019

It was Ellis who drew first blood, having Matt snapped up in slip by Ollie Willett.

Then, putting an exclamation mark on that dismissal, he enticed dependable veteran Jon Hyde into the slightest of nicks, towards the waiting gloves of Mitch Giggins.

Suddenly the Hawks were in disarray. They crumbled to 5/38 and it appeared that the game may be terminated well before tea, as Ellis with four wickets and his fellow quick Dylan Adams (one) scythed through the upper-order.

Enter Gagabadawatta Arachilage Lakprija Waruna Shantha, otherwise known as ‘Lucky’, the most technically proficient batsman in the Rovers-United- Bruck camp and their saviour on many an occasion.

Lucky’s suffering from a dicey back these days; hence his decision to hand over the wicket-keeping gloves, and drop down the order for the Hawks.

Luke Whitten had, by now, begun striking the Kookaburra with his old proficiency, after a rather lean season figures-wise. The pair recognised the massive responsibility that had befallen them and batted with caution against a now-rampaging Colts attack.

Someone mentioned, after they’d been together an hour or so, that if they could add 50 or so, it might be line-ball. I felt they needed to extend the score well past 100 for the Hawks to be an even-money chance.

Lucky was favoured by the odd short ball which he dispatched to the boundary in emphatic fashion with his favourite pull shot.

The pair were now well-set, and when tea was taken, RUB sat on a rather more comfortable 5/102.

Kent Braden was by now wheeling down a deadly-accurate variation of offies and medium-pacers and had helped drag the run-rate back to a stage where overs and time were becoming a factor.

The mood in the field was sombre. A wicket was desperately required. Both batsmen had passed fifty, but you sensed that the classy Sri Lankan was in discomfort. Soon after they were applauded for the century-stand, which had taken the Hawks to a position of superiority, at 5/139, Lucky fended a delivery through to the keeper Giggins.

His departure, after a magnificent knock of 54, left RUB needing 26 runs to win, at a little under three runs per over.

Easy enough, you’d say, but the pressure of finals shouldn’t be discounted, particularly when young, inexperienced players are thrust into the cauldren.

The wickets again began to tumble. It was the still lively Ellis, in his third spell, who captured two of them.

But amidst this Luke Whitten soldiered on. It was now obvious that if the Hawks were to win, he’d be the man to take them there.

At 9/150, with 15 still needed for an upset victory, Whitten was joined by Paul Szeligiewicz, who, it would be fair to say, is yet to be classified in the all-rounder category.

The target dwindled down to 11, then Whitten punched a beautiful boundary, which brought a roar from a portion of the crowd. Successive leg glances produced two runs. Suddenly, the equation was – three to win, two overs remaining.IMG_2923

Sounds simple, but again, don’t discount the pressure…….

On the first ball of the penultimate over, the unlikely combination attempted a run which would have had even Usain Bolt stretching for the line.

Big Paulie was caught short, and so were his side – three runs shy of victory.

A game which had ebbed and flowed and produced a magnificent contest, had ended in heart-break for the Hawks.

There were a few heroes, not the least Luke Whitten, who carried his bat to finish with 68 in a 262-minute innings, in which he faced 229 balls.

A fascinating sidelight of the game was the display of several young players, which, in my opinion, again emphasises that Wangaratta cricket is alive and well………IMG_4020

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