“CRICKET FINALS PRODUCE HEROICS……..”

Local cricket fans will be licking their lips at the Norm Minns Oval this Saturday, when the Hawks and Pies meet in the ‘Battle of the Laneway’, to decide the WDCA A-Grade Premiership.

It’s the first meeting of two Wangaratta-based teams in the ‘big one’ for 11 years……..and the first between entities of the two Clubs since Wangaratta/Magpies and Rovers/United tangled in a famous encounter 20 years ago………..

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Yesterday’s Semi-Finals were typical, pressure-packed affairs.

Delatite, who won the toss and batted, got off to a horror start…….They lost both openers, Earl Ree-Goodings and Nick Scales without a run on the board. It was up to Mitch Copey to perform a rescue act in the face of some pin-point bowling.

His patient, undefeated 51 off 109 deliveries – with some assistance from experienced Chris ‘Fatty’ Anderson and Matt ‘Bull’ Stevenson – enabled them to crawl to 5/97 off their 40 overs.

It was hardly enough against a Wangaratta-Magpies side containing the competition’s ‘Recruit of the Year’, Pranav Menon. The former Prahran star’s 638 runs for the season have included only a couple of failures.

The Indian-born right-hander again lit up proceedings. He had cultivated a sprightly 41 when the Pies reached their target, off 27 overs, for the loss of just two wickets………..

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Meanwhile, high drama was unfolding over the road, at the Findlay Oval, as Rovers-United-Bruck elected to bat.

The Hawks had certainly done their prospects no harm the previous week, when they snaffled handy extra bonus points, to clamber over the top of Yarra-Mulwala, into second spot, and earn the right to host the Semi.

The Lakers were certainly up and about, with consistent left-arm paceman Angus McMillan and young Rory Bartlett proving a handful for the openers. The first significant blow was struck when bulky ‘Gus’ enticed Bailey Dale to nick a superb delivery through to ‘keeper Reid Clarke.

Surprisingly, Jacob Beattie was promoted in the batting order and several daring shots by the tall, free-wheeling all-rounder kept the run-rate ticking over. He’d scored 16 when Bartlett ripped through his defences.

And that was probably the tale of the Rovers-United innings…………Handy partnerships continued to evolve, without any batsman taking complete charge. Paddy McNamara’s score-card showed a ‘picket-fence’ of 13 singles, but at least he was enterprising enough to keep turning the strike over.

The highest score of the day ( and easily the most impressive knock ) came from the blade of Alex Grant, the Kenyan recruit, whose tidy 20 included 2 fours ( the only boundaries for the game).

A more than handy last-wicket stand of 21 by youngsters Darcy Wilson and Brady Bartlett took the Hawk total to a challenging 9/123. Considering that the track was ‘doing a bit’, you felt that there was still plenty to play out in this encounter……..

What followed probably caused the Lakers’ highly-vaunted batting line-up to endure a sleepless Saturday night……..

The new ‘cherry’ was handed to the usual second-string paceman Brady Bartlett, who produced handy pace and life in his opening spell.

Surprisingly, spinner Jeremy Wilson operated from the other end. Considering that the Yarra/Mul openers had quilted the pacemen in their previous meeting, it proved an inspired move, as they approached him with uncertainty.

Bartlett had Ben Irvine fending at one in his second over, to be smartly snapped by ‘keeper McCarthy……..then the normally cavalier Josh Lawrence prodded at one from Wilson and was on his way…….2/5.

The situation only deteriorated from there……..Matt Knight was snapped up off Jacob Schonafinger ( who had immediately hit the spot with his medium-pace ), Matt Casey never looked comfortable in his 18-ball stay, and was a Paddy McNamara victim…….

The very next ball, Ben Radford nicked a McNamara flier to be caught behind.

At 5/9 the competition’s most outstanding upper order was in disarray. There was some resistance from Reid Clarke and leftie Fraser Smart, but by now the run-rate was also careering out of control.

Schonafinger nabbed his fourth victim – Brock McCabe – to close off the Yarrawonga-Mulwala innings for 56, and finish with the figures of 4/13 off 7.4 overs.

The other Rovers-United bowling figures would impress the most critical of bowling judges: Bartlett ( 4 overs 1/5), Jeremy Wilson (6 overs 1/3 ), McNamara ( 6 overs 2/13 ), Jon Hyde (8 overs 1/16), Darcy Wilson ( 3 overs 0/6 ).

It was a superb bowling performance from the Hawks – and plenty of credit should go to ‘Paddy Mac’, their 19 year-old skipper, who executed the team plan to perfection……………

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But for a moment, let’s tread down memory lane, to that Grand Final classic of 2001/02……..

If you happen to be strolling around Norm Minns Oval this Saturday, you might come across a bloke, pensively sitting in a quiet corner, possibly with fag in hand, closely following the game.

He’ll be silently barracking for Rovers-United-Bruck ( even though you wouldn’t know it ) and may be inclined to cast a thought back to one of the greatest moments of his sporting life.

Anthony Lawler ( ‘Ant’ to his mates )……was the unlikely hero of a classic premiership victory………

Originally he was the Hawks’ 12th man…….His form as a solid opening batsman had fluctuated during the season, which was the reason for his demotion……But when his side lost the toss and had to bowl he was included, because star left-hander Peter Tossol had footy coaching commitments at Corowa-Rutherglen………

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The Wangaratta/Magpies innings was held together by champion all-rounder Duane Kerwin, who remained steadfast when wickets were tumbling around him.

The Pies, in the face of some hostile pace bowling from Adam Booth, Peter Harvey and Trevor Anderson, fell to be 5/59 on the opening day. It was up to Kerwin to nurse his batting partners from then on….

At 7/94 they were still in deep strife; they recovered to 8/139, and finally limped to a respectable total of 151; predominantly because of the magnificent unbeaten 73 from Kerwin…….

With half an hour’s play before stumps on the opening day, a lively spell from quickie Tim Sheldon gave the Pies the upper hand…….The Hawks were 2/18 when play was halted……Importantly, Lawler was looking composed and solid, unbeaten on 11.

Aware of his knack of ‘having a few quiet ones’ to wind down after a day’s play, Tossol and his wife Bronnie invited the nonchalant opener to dine with them that evening, thus eliminating the possibility of being led astray.

When play resumed the following morning, Lawler showed admirable restraint, in the face of a Wang-Magpies attack which quickly gained the upper hand.

With the Hawks limping to 6/67, they appeared near-certainties to lose……..Left-hander Steve Croxford then combined with the redoubtable Lawler to undergo the rescue mission.

They added 68 before Sheldon, bowling as if his life depended on it, claimed Croxford for 34……A couple of balls later, Sheldon struck again, trapping Trev Anderson in front for a duck…..

Seventeen runs were required; two wickets in hand. Five runs later the monumental Lawler stay concluded, on 61, when Sheldon claimed his sixth victim.

There were still 12 runs required, and it was up to last-wicket pair Adam Booth and Peter Harvey to get Rovers-United over the line.

Lawler, after his heroics, couldn’t bear to watch…….He took the pads off and headed off for a long walk and a quiet ‘gasper’, as the runs, one by one, began to be whittled away.

Finally, as Harvey snicked the winning runs, players from both teams literally slumped with exhaustion…….and jumped with elation…….

Are we in for a repeat clash this week-end ?……….

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