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 ……..

HONEST TOILER GETS HIS REWARD

Jacob Schonafinger has spent the bulk of his WDCA career with his back to the wall.

In the 80 A-Grade games that he has played since he first debuted as a 15 year-old in 2008, he has become used to striding to the crease in times of crisis ; the weight of expectancy always on him to eke out a few runs which might give his side something approaching a respectable score…….

….Or to take the ball when the game had started to drift away, in the hope that his accurate, wobbly, medium-pacers might snare a vital wicket to put things back on track.

Long before he began playing senior cricket, he was a familiar face to long-time personalities like Arthur Welch, Joe Pilkington, Max Taylor and Ken Stewart, who held court in the Hogan Stand and set it alight with their quick-witted repartee.

They gave cheek to the keen, inquisitive kid who would come down to watch the progress of the senior team – surprised and delighted as they were that any youngster would be enthusiastic enough to spend his Saturday afternoons in that way.

And when he was slotted in for a few games these hard-bitten old judges encouraged him, even though he was ‘pretty green’. They knew a good type of kid when they saw one.
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‘Schona’ became used to shouldering responsibility in his time at the Findlay Oval.

He was just feeling his way when the loss of a number of senior players left Rovers-United with a shell of a side.

At 18 he became 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.

He was showing steady on-field improvement over the last couple of years ; so much so that I complained, under my breath, that he was grossly under-rated.

It was pleasing then, that when the Rovers-United-Bruck merge came about during the off-season, a few young players like ‘Schona’ would now have some of the pressure lifted off them and could play with a bit more freedom.

‘Schona’ finally made his Country Week debut a fortnight ago and performed consistently. When I rang to check the scores on the Tuesday, everything was going hunky-dory. Upon my subtle query as to how the young fellow was handling the lift in standard, the reply was : “Gee, he’s under-rated”.

I must divulge here that ‘Schona’ runs a close second to George Bailey, as my favourite cricketer…..

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So permit me, if you will, to talk about the role he played in another terrific day’s play at Stan Hargreaves Oval, Yarrawonga, yesterday.

The Hawks were chasing a challenging total of 188, which had been compiled thanks to fine knocks from Reed Clarke (45), Josh Vagg (40) and Matt Knight (50). The bowling honours had been shared by Mark Drage (3/22), Schonafinger (3/43 off 19) and Jeremy Wilson (3/82 off 31.3 overs).

But at 2/31, the Combine were on the back foot. Enter ‘Schona’ who, with a circumspect Jordan Blades, began to resurrect the situation.

Blades plays beautifully off his pads and began to drive the ball with some command. The pair had added 60 and put the Hawks back in charge when the impressive right-arm quick Ben Doyle enticed a nick from Blades to the ‘keeper, Reed Clarke. He had scored a solid 36.

Darren Petersen, struggling for touch lately, played a couple of trademark drives before falling in the same manner: caught keeper Clarke, bowled Doyle.

The visitors were 4/120 at tea and those in the packed rooms ( I’m sure that there is no more hospitable club than the Lakers) would have countenanced that the game was evenly poised.

Its fate, I felt, lay in the hands of the entrenched ‘Schona’, who was now 48 and well-settled.

Stylish Lucky Perera gloved one to be caught in slips (5/125). The pendulum had again swung. But ‘Schona’ was not allowing himself to become shackled. He contributed 28 to a 33-run stand with Luke Whitten, then saw 3 wickets fall for 4 runs – an all-too-familiar RUB collapse.

It was 8/162 and the star of the day looked like being left stranded. Rovers-United-Bruck still needed 27 runs. Victory seemed a fair distance away. The odds were now decidedly in the Lakers’ favour.

‘Schona’ was 78 and batting beautifully, when Mark Drage joined him.

Give Drage his due. He’s a very handy tail-ender and bats with a flourish. He played some decisive shots, to quickly diminish the target, which he and the co-captain overtook in a matter of 8 overs. The remaining interest in the game was to nurse ‘Schona’ to his maiden century.

He continued in decisive fashion and reached the milestone, to the roar of those in the Hawk enclosure.

Drage completed a good match-double with his knock of 19. ‘Schona’ chose to celebrate his ‘ton’ by trying to effect a couple of fancy reverse sweeps and when he finally fell with the score on 218, he had scored a memorable 115.

As the 207th individual to score a century in WDCA history, and the first for Rovers-United-Bruck, he would be hoping that it’s not his last.