“ANOTHER RIVETING DAY’S PLAY AT STAN HARGREAVES OVAL…..”

I look forward to the annual pilgrimage to Yarrawonga’s Stan Hargreaves Oval……….

Situated on the eastern fringe of the town, a white picket fence surrounds a beautifully-thatched green sward, and a typically hard, true centre strip…

The balcony, which is situated on boundary’s edge, provides an excellent, sometimes rowdy viewing area……and leads into the Pavilion, which is, as usual, a hive of activity on match-day……

The Bar has been fully operational from the start of proceedings today , and there are more than a few of the locals sampling the amber fluid…….A giant TV on one wall screens the races from Caulfield and Rosehill…….On another, the uninterrupted vision of the current game is available to those who can’t be bothered craning their necks around to glimpse the action in the middle…..

They look after you a treat, the Lakers…….There’s always ample tucker on hand……….But someone offered the finest piece de resistance I’ve ever had as a scorer – a large plate of piping-hot fresh fish….

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You know you’re always going to be in for a hell of a contest against the Yarra-Mul Lakers, who exude confidence and have become a traditional WDCA powerhouse.

They keep rolling out talented youngsters to complement the array of stars who’ve kept them at the top for more than a decade.

But today’s game, I sense, has a bit of extra meaning for them…….Their opponents, reigning premiers Rovers-United-Bruck, knocked them over in last season’s semi-final and they’re keen to exact revenge.

The Hawks, on the other hand, haven’t tasted success over here for six years……There’s a hint of summer finally in the air….. two top sides are in action……you couldn’t wish to be in a better place than Hargreaves Oval.

I’m not disappointed………it proves to be a fantastic, high-standard game……….

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For the Lakers’ experienced openers Reed Clarke and Matt Casey, it’s ‘steady as she goes’ in the opening overs….

Left-handed Clarke, in particular, has decided to knuckle down, and provide support to his more adventurous team-mate. But they must have wondered what demons the wicket had in store for them when speedster Paddy McNamara incited a couple of venomous early deliveries to jump and spit.

You could see the Hawk skipper licking his chops, but that proved to be the only sign of mischief that the pitch displayed .

Tall and imposing Casey, whose only other knock this season had been an undefeated century against Delatite, looked completely at ease and again emphasised his standing as one of the competition’s top batsmen.

A solid, stylish defence is his keynote, but he dealt severely with the occasional overpitched delivery and he and Clarke guided their side to 0/ 51 at the 20-over mark.

There was really no cause for concern at the slow run-rate as the Lakers, with a lengthy batting list, reasoned that they could apply the pressure later in the innings…..The RUB bowlers, however, deserved credit for their accuracy and discipline.

The first twist in the game came after the drinks break, when Hawk speedster Brady Bartlett ended Clarke’s 76-minute stay at the crease…..He enticed him to nick one…..Keeper Perera did the rest….

Then youngster Zac Fraser swung wildly at a Bartlett delivery and middle stump was uprooted……A few balls later Corey McIntosh fended at a spinning delivery from South African leggie Koot Pienaar, who dived to take a brilliant catch mid-pitch…..

Suddenly the Lakers had slumped to 3/67.

But there was no more joy for the Hawks for some time, as veteran Matt Knight helped Casey to take charge of the game.

They added 40 in just 32 minutes……There have been few more aggressive stroke-makers than the solidly-built left-handed Knight in the last decade ……His innings of 28, which included 5 fours, ended when he skied one and was caught in the deep off McNamara.

Casey’s adventurous attempt at a second run brought his fine knock of 68 to a close, but he had piloted his side to a total of 6/137 at time; a target which, to my mind, would take some catching……..

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The RUB innings could hardly provided a starker contrast to the solid foundation provided by Yarrawonga-Mulwala.

They were in immediate trouble……

Lakers speedsters Corey McIntosh and Angus McMillan cut a swathe through their upper order to have them reeling at 3/19.

A solid response was required……It was up to young skipper Paddy McNamara and a contributor to many such rear-guard actions – Jacob Schonafinger – to right the ship.

The runs came, firstly at a trickle…… then, as ‘Schona’ produced some deft cover drives and began pushing the ball behind square, the total began to mount…

Alas, he played all over one from Jacob Bartlett and was gone for 19. Five balls later, Matthew Whitten departed and the Hawks had tumbled to a disastrous 5/42.

Their prospects looked precarious, but McNamara found a capable ally in his new partner, Lucky Perera – a renowned cool-head in a crisis. .

They added 46 runs in close to even-time to resuscitate the innings. ‘Lucky’ was the dominant partner, but McNamara played an anchor-role, as he set about crafting his finest – and highest – WDCA innings.

Again disaster struck….Perera pulled a full toss from Ben Kennedy and was caught for 28…..the Hawks were 6/88 – still 50 runs away from victory..

Brady Bartlett and Matt Winter both produced valuable cameos, as the target began to inch closer.

There were 15 runs required, with eight wickets down, when irrepressible Blake Nixon, freshly promoted from A-Reserve, marched purposefully to the crease.

Not content to be cast in a subsidiary role, Nixon proceeded to carve 13 runs off nine deliveries to help steer the Hawks to an unlikely victory.

At the other end McNamara, who had played the perfect foil during his 143-minute stay at the crease, for his unbeaten 46, stood in the background, as Nixon began his victory lap of Stan Hargreaves Oval…..

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