‘BILLY…….YOU’RE A HERO……’

A few years back I penned a tribute to WDCA veteran Jonny Hyde after he had extricated Bruck Cricket Club from another on-field crisis:

“If I had my choice of one present-day player to recruit to a struggling side it would be the little fellah. The thing about him is he’s never out of the game and you can rely on him for a consistent effort every week. His ability to produce when it matters is an indication of a top-shelf performer.”

The 39 year-old ‘Pocket-Rocket’ is now one of the competition’s elder statesmen and among its best of the past two decades. He struggles to get to training these days and his senior appearances have been sporadic. But he was slotted back into the Rovers-United-Bruck senior line-up for the clash with Delatite.

It was a crucial game, as the teams, perched Fourth and Third on the ladder respectively, needed the points to shore up their finals prospects.

A steady tumble of wickets last week had seen RUB collapse to 6/53 when ‘Hydey’ strolled onto Lord Oval, Mansfield, to perform yet another rescue mission. The Delatite quicks had their tails up and their leader – Shane Jacobsen look-alike Matt Stevenson – was in full cry.

Hydey was watchful at first, but in the next two and a half hours re-shaped the Hawk innings to score 68 of the next 96 runs. When he lifted the bat to acknowledge his team-mates’ appreciation of his unbeaten knock, he had at least given his side a fighting – if outside – chance of victory……..

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The 67-minute, 102km trip up the Midland Highway today, offers time for silent contemplation. 149 runs is a meagre target, but then again, as they say, they’re ‘On the Board’.

Delatite have been notoriously fragile with the bat in recent seasons, but have been stiffened by a few handy players. The recruitment of the Mahoney brothers – Adam and Brett – the improvement in their cousin Harry, and a couple of others, has revitalised their line-up.

As I wend my way through Swanpool, I’m seriously dubious about our chances. By the time I reach Lima South I’m convinced……… I don’t think we can do it.

Lord Oval is one of the more pleasant places to play and watch cricket. It’s ringed by statuesque Pine trees, the pitch is usually firm and true, which suits ‘Stevo’s’ propensity to drop them short and achieve good bounce.

A fence, adorned by white pickets, kindly donated by the Glue family, whose residence overlooks the ground, adds character. There’s usually a buzz of activity around the pavilion, as locals drift in and out to check the state of the game. You really feel like you’re part of the action here.

One of the fixtures is Naomi, the lady who’s always on duty in the Clubrooms. She’s been on the go since the juniors started this morning, and will probably finish about ninish tonight. The boys always like to hang around for a bit longer, she says, but heck, she can’t stay forever.

Paul Duncan is another popular, familiar character. A life-time cricket ‘nut’ and former star, he’s been in charge of the Delatite score-book for years……..

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Delatite open with two youngsters – Nick Scales and Harry Mahoney – who are in no hurry to force the pace. Why bother, when the run-rate required is just two per-over.

Out of nowhere, there’s a mix-up, and Scales is caught in mid-pitch and run out by quite a way. When things settle down the war of attrition continues. Even the loss of another wicket leaves the home team in control.

They’ve got talented leftie Brett Mahoney at the crease. Brett’s sporting career took him from G.V footy to the West, where he once won a B & F with WAFL club Subiaco. Finally, Delatite have enticed him into lining up with them this season.

He signals his intent with a delightful lofted on-drive which charges into the pickets. Eager to get on with the job, he has smacked four stylish boundaries, and is threatening to take the game away from the visitors.

In the meantime, the long-limbed lad from Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa Tsiga, after deciding to keep up on the stumps, tries to glove one and dislocates his finger. He’s off to hospital and returns with the prognosis that he’s gone for the day.

It is a cruel blow for the Hawks, whose usual tactic is to convince ‘Faz’ to discard the pads, then wheel down several overs of tight off-spin. With their bowling resources already severely-tested, the odds are stacking up against them.

But Jacob Schonafinger manages to ease the pressure by slipping an ‘inny’ through the defences of Brett Mahoney, thereby rattling his stumps. He’s gone for a well-made 22 and the reliable ‘Schona’ has effected a timely break-through for his side.

At the long break, with 3/89 on the board, and just 61 required off 34 overs, there is quiet optimism, as the Delatite camp tuck into Naomi’s afternoon-tea offering……..

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The RUB bowlers toil assiduously. Left-armer Paddy McNamara has torn in with reckless abandon and troubled the batsmen, without being gifted a skerrick of luck.

His opening partner, Paul Szeligiewicz yields just four scoring shots from his first nine-over spell. As the day draws on, the big fellah’s bulky frame appears to be labouring. He’s dragging his feet, but soldiers on.

Enter Jonny Hyde.

The little bloke immediately drops onto the spot, and in his third over, traps Harry Mahoney in front for 30. The opener had done a sterling job for his side and withstood everything that was hurled down at him in his vigilant 147-ball stay.

Without addition, Szeligiewicz removes Joe Cousins; the score is now 5/94 and the door is slightly ajar for the Hawks.

But in a matter of minutes, the burly Chris Anderson, who never mucks around, restores order. His most ominous shot, a straight drive, sails over the boundary. Suddenly, his authoratative stroke-play has taken the home team to within reach -18 to get, with four wickets in hand, and 18 overs still to play.

But then, catastrophe. Anderson rashly lunges at a Hyde delivery and is on his way for 28. Next ball, Mitch Purcell is caught behind.

Collective breaths sigh among the crowd. Is this another capitulation ?

With no further addition, Lochie Scales nicks one to the ‘keeper.

It’s up to the skipper, Stevenson to restore order. He’s no slouch with the willow and would be expected, with nine wickets down, to defend stoutly, farm the strike and maybe find a way through this situation.

Alas, Hyde gets one through his castle, and removes him, with no further addition.

In an amazing transformation, the Hawks have captured the last four wickets for 0 and pulled off the most unlikely, and exciting, victory.

Jon Hyde’s last five overs are maidens, and his match figures, 9.5 overs, 6 maidens 4 wickets for 12, have proved pivotal in his side’s victory.

‘Billy’ Hyde has done it again…….

“AUSSIE ‘IMPORT’ SHARES IN LONG DITTON GLORY…..’

Aha………I think I detect the sweet, resonant sound of bat on ball…….

To an old cricket buff like me, it’s akin to a musician’s ears being pricked by the distant strum of an acoustic guitar. Or ‘the sound you hear when lightning parts the air for a split second’………

It’s only a couple of weeks since the O & M Grand Final produced the cacophony of 8,000 cheering fans at nearby Norm Minns Oval. A couple of the kids who participated on that day have put it behind them .

They’re limbering up for the approaching cricket season…..steaming in, hurling the spherical projectile with venom…… and conversely, delighting in the ‘crack’ of the willow, as the pill cannons into the netting.

I ask how things are shaping. Okay, they say…..There’s a new bloke coming over from Zimbabwe….a wicket-keeper batsman, called Tafadzwa Tsiga.

Crikey, I reply, that’s a handle that could drive an ageing scorer to drink…… I’ve only just managed to get my head around the interpretation of our generously-proportioned medium-pacer – Paul Szeligiewicz, and that reliable Sri Lankan veteran Lakprija ‘Lucky’ Waruna Shantha. And besides, I’ve still got to pronounce the name of our skipper, Jacob Schonafinger, to the less- informed opposition scorers.

By the way, I ask, what’s ‘Schona’ up to ?………

”They reckon he flies in tomorrow,” I’m told……..

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I’d better hunt him down…….

The first question I put to this fanatical Tiger fan is how – given he was on the other side of the world – he managed to deal with the stress of Grand Final Day.

“We were sitting in the Airport Lounge in Iceland,” he tells me, “….and I managed to get a good Internet connection. It was 4.30am, yet it felt like I was there…..Didn’t miss a kick….It was wonderful.”.

‘Schona’s’ just completed a six-month sporting adventure. Besides incorporating a fair bit of travel, he also spent some time teaching at Harlesden Primary School, in the north of London.

“That was an interesting enough experience in itself. It’s a cultural melting-pot. Really tough. Some days you’d be pulling your hair out wondering how you can put up with the kids any longer.”

“But then, when the Summer Holidays came around and my Term was up, they seemed really sorry to see me go. Presented me with farewell gifts. I guess I must have made some sort of an impression……”

His main purpose in heading over to the ‘Old Dart’ was to soak up a different cricketing culture; to savour the game at an 87 year-old club in South-West London – about 17 miles from the hub of the city.

‘Stokesfield’, a charming little Oval with fine amenities, is the home of the Long Ditton Cricket Club.

“Whereas over here we have a tier-system of young kids being fed through from junior ranks, the players were all my age, or slightly older. They love their cricket – and they love the social life afterwards,” he says. “ A few beers, and then they bring out the Cards and play ‘til all hours.”Schona

‘Schona’ wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but admits that the first ‘Friendly’ game he played in after landing – against Thames Ditton – certainly opened his eyes.

“It was about 7 degrees and there were a couple of delays because of hailstorms. I made a Golden Duck and didn’t look like taking a wicket. They probably thought their overseas recruit was a dud. For my part, I wondered if this might be a forerunner of what I was going to cop all season.”

He redeemed himself with a typically aggressive 87 off 50-odd balls the following day, so the ‘natives’ were rather relieved that the polite, cheerful young fellah who had arrived in their midst, could handle himself alright.

As things began to materialise, he adapted easily to the change in conditions : “I was told the ‘Stokesfield’ track usually had a bit in it, but it turned out a trifle ‘dusty’, and suited me, I suppose.”

Long Ditton enjoyed their best season in ages, and cleaned up a hat-trick of trophies : the 20/20 Cup, the F.A-style knock-out Sunday Cup, and the main prize, the Fuller’s Premier League Cup. According to ‘Schona’, they celebrated accordingly.Schona 2

The Premier League trophy earned them promotion to Division 4 of next year’s Surrey Championship.

A contributing factor towards their success, no doubt, was their Aussie ‘import’, who captured 31 League wickets, bowling second or third change. He usually batted at number 5, and mustered 290 runs @ 29.0 in the League. ( His stats in all matches were: 526 runs and 43 wickets ).

All told, he fitted 24 games into his English summer. The season finished near the end of August, and he and Sheri spent the last month exploring Croatia, Italy, Scotland and Wales, and taking in the volcanoes, geysers and the spectacular Northern Lights of Iceland. So after that break, he’s raring to attack the 2019/20 WDCA season………………

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You can understand what an eye-opener it must have been for the young fellah, when he walked into his new club in early April.

After all, he’d spent his entire cricketing life at the W.J.Findlay Oval, moving through the junior grades to ultimately make his senior debut in 2008, at the age of 15.

Even then, he was considered part of the furniture. His Saturday ritual, for a couple of seasons, had been to play Junior cricket of a Saturday morning, then hang around and follow the exploits of Rovers-United’s senior players like Peter Tossol, ‘Chuck’ Berry, Peter Harvey, Will Russell and ‘Jezza’ Ackroyd…..

The club’s trio of colourful supporters – Arthur Welch, Joe Pilkington and Ken Stewart – who were noted for their acerbic wit and unsolicited comments to players and supporters alike – took a ‘shine’ to the lad. They correctly reasoned that any kid who loved the game to that extent, must be made of the right stuff.img_2762

‘Schona’ saw the Hawks win a flag. He couldn’t wait to join them. But not long after he did, the ranks started to slowly dwindle, until they were left with just a shell of a side.

It’s a funny thing with sporting organisations ( and Glenrowan Football Club is a recent case in point). From the outside, the public think that they’re impregnable, whilst inside, a couple of individuals are ‘peddling furiously’ in an endeavour to keep them afloat.

That was the case with the Rovers-United of a decade ago. ‘Schona’ was one of those who had to do the ‘peddling’.

I remember penning a few words which summed up his involvement thus far:

‘Jacob Schonafinger has become used to shouldering responsibility at the Findlay Oval.’

‘At 18 he was captain, chief recruiting officer, motivator and secretary. Whenever anything went wrong, or needed to be done, ‘Schona’ was the man to contact. He maintained an optimistic outlook when things looked decidedly bleary, and celebrated the club’s meagre successes with gusto………..’

Relief eventually came in the form of Bruck Cricket Club, who were groundless, and floated the possibility of a merge. Suddenly there was playing support there in spades. From leading the ‘wooden-spooners’ the previous season, he was to become a central figure in a dramatic Grand Final against Yarrawonga-Mulwala, which went down to the wire.

I’ve seen almost all of the 2034 runs he’s made, and the 219 wickets he’s taken in 122 A-Grade games, but the purple patch he enjoyed in the 2015/16 Finals put the stamp on him as a ‘star’ of the competition.IMG_0999

For starters, there was an inspired 21 overs against Benalla-Violet Town, which yielded figures of 7/17. Those bobbling, well-controlled medium-pacers had the batsmen flummoxed, and incited visions of a re-incarnated Bob Massie.

The following week, he sent down 26 overs and snared 6/34. The ‘Lakers’ had staggered to 7/92 in pursuit of their target of 155. ‘Schona’ grabbed the eighth wicket with seven runs still needed, but there was to be no romantic finale’ to this hot-streak. Yarra-Mul scrambled to a two-wicket win in one of the great WDCA deciders.schonafinger 5

Nine years after initially being thrust into the leadership of his club, he’s still skipper….still the motivator….. still the ‘go-to’ man……still attacks his cricket with a passion….

When he walks onto Yarrawonga’s Hargreaves Oval on Saturday, to kick off the WDCA season, that sabbatical in the Northern Hemisphere will seem like a blur……..Long Ditton

ANOTHER NAIL-BITER AT THE GARDENS OVAL….

One of the quirkier characters of Benalla cricket is a rough-hewn gentleman called ‘Staff’, who operates the score-board at the Gardens Oval.

Thankfully, the Benalla players are well-used to his mannerisms and have learned to turn a deaf ear to the constant barrage of advice and encouragement that he proffers, in between arguing with those in close proximity about the accuracy of his work.

He was in full-flight yesterday, as he attempted to guide the Bushrangers home in a tense clash against Rovers-United-Bruck……

It was an intriguing encounter. The number of times the pendulum swung was enough to drive the average supporter to drink – and I’m sure that explains why ‘Staff’ had to sneak away a couple times during the afternoon to fortify himself…….
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The action started early, when the Hawks – who had been sent in – lost their openers, Luke and Matt Whitten in quick succession.

The younger of the duo, who has been in fine touch of late, with three half-centuries to his name, was sent packing when he nicked one off the lively Dale Stratton. Whitten, the elder, had preceded him – also edging behind. The visitors were 2/3, and the alarm bells were ringing. Neither batsman had troubled the scorers.

Co-captains Jordan Blades and Jacob Schonafinger appeared set on retrieving the situation, but Blades became Connor Brodie’s second victim. It was 3/22 and the quicks were right on top.IMG_3823

The visitors seemed to be imploding, and the loss of the reliable Schonafinger for 19 was a crushing blow. It only got worse – ‘Staff’ took great delight in bringing the scoreboard up to date after four quick wickets had tumbled – the score was 7/48…….

The two super-veterans of the side then came together in an eighth-wicket stand that brought the game to life. Lucky Perera decided on attack from the moment he reached the crease and, by so doing, wrested the initiative from the Bushrangers.

He and the dynamic Jon Hyde sent the run-rate scarping and took advantage of the fact that Benalla’s new-ball bowlers Stratton and Brodie had used up all of their eight overs.

The hosts were bemoaning the absence of a couple of their key back-ups. They relied on spinners Lee Brennan -who extracted huge turn from the track – and Ryan Lloyd-Williams, in a vain attempt to keep the rampant Hawks in check.IMG_3819

‘Lucky’ survived a clumsy catching attempt at backward square-leg, when he mistimed a sweep shot. It was to prove a crucial moment in the game. Shortly after, he produced a classic on-drive which sailed into the plane trees at the Rotunda-end of the ground.

Hyde, who looked scratchy early, discovered some of his rare touch, and deftly produced three boundaries in one over from Nathan Abley.

Resultantly, the Hawks had not only arrested a snail-like run-rate, but  scored with abandon. The 81-run stand between the pair came in just 49 minutes. but there were signs that ‘Lucky’s’ back injury was causing him some stress, and it came as no surprise when he holed out off Lloyd-Williams for 44.

Paddy McNamara, providing valuable support, helped Hyde reach his half-century. They added a further 39, before ‘Billy’ fell for a well-made 54.

The Hawks were satisfied with their eventual 9/174, particularly the lanky Paddy, who, with an undefeated 17, posted his highest A-Grade score.

“A handy total,” I suggested to a Benalla fan at the break. “Yeah” he replied, “but the Gardens has never been quicker. We scored 170-odd against Colts a few weeks ago and they ended with 200 in their 40 overs.”

So obviously, this was a game that was still up for grabs.

And when James Carboon and Ash Ellis set off after the target, it’s size seemed to shrink markedly. They had effortlessly cruised to 31 in just seven overs when, out of the blue, paceman Paul Szeligievicz got one through Carboon’s defences.

That was  the only encouragement the Hawks were to have for quite some time, though. The dashing left-hander Ellis was composed, and his stylish batting was a treat.
He took toll of Jon Hyde and belted four boundaries in two overs, prompting the diminutive medium-pacer to be removed from the attack.

The Hawks threw the ball to James McIntyre, who was bowling for the first time in senior ranks, and debutant left-armer Tyler Norton. Both strutted their stuff and showed promise, but were unable to make an impact.

Simon Holmes, one of Benalla’s finest batsmen of the modern era, was back in the side after missing two seasons through a serious eye injury. The stocky leftie was soon middling them and provided good support to Ellis, as the pair progressed to 87 at drinks.
88 to win, with nine wickets in hand, 20 overs to get them. It seemed an impregnable position for the home team.

But the game swung on its ear in a trice.

McNamara, the enthusiastic left-armer, had proved the most economical of the bowlers, conceding just 11 runs in his first 4 overs, but he struck a telling blow when he skittled classy Ellis for 59. IMG_3818

Wicket-keeper-turned off-spinner Lucky Perera Made further inroads when he had Holmes caught for 19, and five balls later dismissed Lee Brennan for a duck.

McNamara, who was now in full cry, captured two more wickets in his next over. The Bushies had now lost 5 wickets for two runs.

But again, it was Benalla’s turn to mount a rearguard action. Nathan Abley and Josh McCullum proceeded to steady things, then set a cracking pace, as they added 60 for the seventh-wicket.

The game was now theirs to lose.

They needed just 21 runs; still had four wickets in hand.

In a make-or-break move, the ball was again thrown to part-timer Perera. It was felt that the game may be decided on what happened next.

Again Lucky did the trick. Abley, on 38, slammed one back and was dismissed caught and bowled; a brilliant reflex catch.IMG_3821

Then McCullum fell with no addition to the score – out for 22.

Moments later, Dale Stratton was found short of his crease following a smart Schonafinger return.

Benalla had lost 3 for 1. Their two batting ‘hiccups’ had amounted to the loss of eight wickets for three runs.

Just 14 runs short of their target, and still not without a chance, Connor Brodie hoiked a shot into the deep, giving Jordan Blades a short run to complete the catch and effect a memorable victory for the Hawks.

McNamara, one of the team’s five ‘babies’ sent down 6.4 overs to finish with the figures of 4/16 and continue his improvement. Perera snagged 3/17 off his 4 overs.IMG_3817

With youngsters Matt Whitten, McNamara and Bailey Dale all enjoying fine seasons, and Bailey Annett, Jimmy McIntyre and Tyler Norton sure to continue their improvement,  the smiles  are back on the faces of the Hawk clan………..IMG_3822N.B: With thanks to Peter Whitten for Photography.

‘TWO BENDIGO CROWNS IN A ROW FOR W.D.C.A….’

The WDCA won its sixth – and arguably most emphatic – Bendigo Country Week Premiership at Bell Oval, Strathdale, today.

Under a blazing summer sun, and in a match reduced to 35 overs because of the anticipated extreme heat conditions, the Division 2 competition leaders faced off against Colac for the second successive day.

Added to that, play got under way at the unearthly hour of 9am, a time when some of the stragglers of yesteryear would have only just bedded down after a hefty night of commiserations.

But it was worth the effort. The WDCA again batted superbly to reach 8/205 (at just under 6 an over) – a total that was always going to be defendable.

Colac had not troubled the scorers when they lost their first wicket, and were right up against it after gun batsman Des Flanigan fell to the persistent right-arm pace of Richie Worcester. They finished with 7/160, continually tied down by a disciplined WDCA attack………
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The seeds of success were sown on Day 1, when Beechworth pace duo, Worcester and Mark Butters dismantled the Maryborough upper-order at the stately Queen Elizabeth Oval.

Worcester, who has been an unsung hero for the Wanderers for many years, finished with 3/50. Butters – an ideal foil – captured 3/24 off his 11.3 overs.
Joe Thomas, a real work-horse throughout the week, was his usual economical-self. His 2/20 came off 12 overs.

In pursuit of 167, openers Reed Clarke (39) and Luke Whitten (30) got off to a flier, adding 79 runs in quick time. From there, the brilliant Yarrawonga youngster Matt Casey (59) and Greta’s English recruit Tom Nightingale (71), put the icing on the cake, as the WDCA totalled 4/223.
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The clash against Red Cliffs followed a similar pattern. Butters (2/34), Thomas (3/46) and Mitch Howe (2/21) restricted the team from the state’s north-west to 180.

But centre-stage was taken by Casey, who again underlined his immense talent by belting an unbeaten century off just 132 balls, to take his side to 6/228.
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With successive victories, the WDCA had moved to the head of the ladder, but their encounter with Portland was to prove a real nail-biter.

Seven players reached double-figures, but it was a 63-run fourth-wicket partnership between Jacob Schonafinger (39) and Tom Nightnigale (57) which laid the foundations for another sizeable score.

Burly Andrew Squires (31), Cam Notttle and Sam Gladstone produced handy cameos to push the total up to 8/218.

Portland were always there or thereabouts, thanks to opener James Wilson and a punishing knock of 52 off 42 balls from Joe Atwell. They had struggled to get on top of the lanky orthodox left-armer Thomas, whose 12 overs yielded 3/17.

But the telling moment came when Atwell, who threatened to take his side to victory, was dismissed by Sam Gladstone, with the score on 206.

They lost another wicket on the same total and eventually finished nine runs shy – 9/209.
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So the two unbeaten sides – WDCA and Colac – drew swords at Harry Trott Oval on Thursday, with the prize being a certain spot in the Final.

And Wang were soon up against it. Worcester rattled the stumps in his opening over, to have Colac 1/2, but a dynamic Parker- Flanigan second-wicket gave them the ascendancy. Skipper Schonafinger sent Parker on his way for 50, but Flanigan found plenty of support in his classic innings of 98.

Colac’s 6/224 was formidable, but the experts considered that a good start was of the utmost importance.

They could scarcely have been happier when Reed Clarke and Luke Whitten produced another pearler. Their stand of 100 (Whitten’s contribution was 37) was solidified when the Lakers’ pair, Clarke ( 87) and Matt Casey (53) kept the run-rate moving along impressively.

The final total- 6/246 – looked on paper, to be a reasonably comfortable result, but, in truth, there was never a lot in the game………..
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It did, however, give the WDCA an important psychological advantage when news came through that Colac were to be their Grand Final opponent.

But things don’t always go to plan in cricket – particularly at Country Week – where a opposing player who gives you the impression that he’s a ‘scrubber’ can produce an innings of quality. Or two or three of your batsmen, who have been in rare touch all week, are back in the pavilion in the flick of an eye.

Schonafinger, fortunately, won the toss and elected to bat in the furnace-like atmosphere, but that’s when things momentarily began to go astray.

Openers Clarke and Whitten both fell early. At 2/10 it was horror start. It necessitated another fine Casey knock, as he had already totalled 220 runs for the week. But he was soon on his way for 11 and the WDCA were precariously-placed at 3/42.

It required a skipper’s hand. Schonafinger and Nightingale, who had more than proved his worth during the week, knuckled down an kept the run-rate flowing. With just 35 overs to play with, caution could only be applied in small doses.

They pushed the score to 117 before Schona’s bright 59-ball knock ended just one short of a deserving half-ton.

With just 12 overs remaining, it was crucial to push on. Nightingale garnered support from the dashing Squires, Mitch Howe and Joe Thomas, in his first innings for the week, to take the score to a highly-respectable 8/205. Nightingale’s 62 gave him 203 runs for the series.

The two batsmen who had proved such an obstacle on Thursday, were both dismissed cheaply by Worcester, who had excelled on his maiden visit to Bendigo.

There was plenty of resistance from the Colac lower-order, but they found it difficult to regain the ascendency, or up the run-rate.

Joe Thomas, operating superbly, despite the enticingly-small Ball Oval leg-side boundary, sent down his seven overs to capture 3/21, and again be the pick of an impressive bunch.

The boy from Oxfordshire, who will probably never again be subjected to conditions such as this, wheeled down 56 economical overs for the Week, in collecting his 12 wickets.

So the WDCA players returned in triumph from City of Gold for the second straight year. With the benefit of a similarlay-strong outfit, will be keen to acquit themselves well in Bendigo’s Premier Division…….

RIVALS TURN ON ANOTHER CLASSIC CONTEST…….

Joe Thomas, of Great & Little Trew Cricket Club – and occasionally Oxfordshire – made his debut on Australian soil yesterday.

And the rangy English all-rounder played his part in a classic encounter, as Yarrawonga-Mulwala and Rovers-United-Bruck, tangled at the Stan Hargreaves Oval.

It was a match that went right down to the wire – as most contests between the arch rivals generally do – and re-affirmed that both will be thereabouts at the business end of this WDCA season.

Hawks’ skipper Jordan Blades won the toss and elected to bowl in perfect conditions. He sprung the first surprise when Thomas was thrown the new ball.

It was obviously an opportunity for the left-arm finger spinner to settle in to his new surroundings and he immediately dropped onto a tidy line.

But after just one over, Blades reverted to the pacemen. Hamish Busk was a trifle rusty; Jacob Schonafiner, at the ‘Paddock End’, looked dangerous, and disturbed the stumps of highly-rated Shepparton recruit Josh Lawrence.

Ben Welsh and Matt Casey steadily solidified the Lakers’ innings before the game took the first of its several turns.

16 year-old Josh O’Donohue, playing just his sixth senior game, and with two A-Grade wickets to his name, found his rhythm in a terrific second over, to remove Welsh (25). Soon after he had the danger-man, Matt Knight, snapped up by a juggling Adam McNamara in slip.

Both wickets fell on 43. Suddenly the Hawks had assumed control.

It was an important spell for the lad, who tore in with zest and kept the ball up for the most part. Occasionally he dropped one short and was punished, but this was possibly through becoming a tad weary.

His eight-over spell yielded 5/25, and was a key factor in maintaining the ascendency of ball over bat.

But the bowling performances of Schonafinger (8/5/2/4) and Thomas (8/3/2/16) shouldn’t be discounted. ‘’Schona’ was always probing and gave nothing away, whilst Thomas proved what an asset he’ll be – particularly in the two-day format – with an accurate, tidy spell, which produced the occasional ‘fizzer’.

The Hawks had reduced the home combination to 9/98. But the next – and probably most important twist – came when James Irvine and second-gamer Will Sharp combined to defy their preying opposition in a 29-run last wicket-stand.

You just sensed that these were ultra-valuable runs. And it probably became apparent that the Hawks were a front-line bowler short, as the Lakers pushed their tally to a competitive 9/127 after 40 overs………..
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Rovers-United-Brucks’ progress was steady in pursuit of the target. Luke Whitten was watchful; Jordan Blades was his usual aggressive self. They didn’t really have much loose stuff to feast on, as left-arm opening quicks Angus McMillan and James Irvine were bang on target.

It meant that the Hawks were unable to push the run-rate beyond three-an-over. The introduction of young leggie Brock McCabe provided Blades with a couple of handy offerings which he despatched to the deep.

But, with the score on 48, Blades was gone for an enterprising 30, falling
to the newly-introduced Corey McIntosh ( Whitten had been dismissed 11 runs earlier).

Jacob Schonafinger was pro-active with the bat, but you could sense that some impressive bowling and plenty of yap in the field was conducive to tightening the screws.

‘Schona’ fell for 15 when Matt Knight made a surprise excursion to the bowling crease, but Adam McNamara, who is rarely shackled for long, took to the Lakers coach, smacking two sixes over mid-wicket amongst a 15-run over. Again, the Hawks had poked their noses in front.

With the total on 94 – and seven wickets to play with – Knight’s re-introduction of his opening quicks paid dividends. Jim Campbell was caught behind, Hamish Busk was clean-bowled, and the important wicket of McNamara fell to James Irvine.

It was now 6/94 and the weights had been applied to the visitors. Irvine snared another two victims in a team-lifting spell, which saw him finish with 4/17 and had the Hawks teetering at 8/106 – still 22 runs shy of victory.

Enter Joe Thomas. Reports had indicated that he preferred to bat in the middle-order, ideally at about number 7.  Some local experts preferred to think that, after watching him in the nets on Thursday night, he could be pushed up a little higher.

After getting a couple of effortless early shots away, it was obvious that the game now rested in his hands.

The big fellah looked composed, and whittled the margin down. He needed to continue throwing the bat – and keeping the strike – as time was of the essence. He had scored 21 and appeared on the verge of becoming an instant hero when sprightly young left-armer Will Sharp brought the home crowd to its feet by disturbing his hardware.

9/121. Seven to win; one wicket in hand. Wicket-keeper, and another debutant, Damien Kelly, was at the crease, and was joined by Josh O’Donohue.

He scrounged a single to maintain the strike. Six to win with an over from paceman Ben Doyle remaining, to settle what had been an absorbing contest.

Kelly straight drove the second ball for four. Two to win.

He attempted an identical shot next delivery, but it wasn’t there……He heard the sound of the death rattle behind him. The Lakers had triumphed by one run……

The crowd at Hargreaves Oval rose as one – after they finally realised that there was a tiny glitch on the electronic scoreboard – celebrating a famous Lakers triumph.

In a game that stood out for its excellent bowling, as well as its scratchy batting, it was also proof that WDCA cricket is alive and well ……..