“SURPRISES CONTINUE, AS FIGHT FOR WDCA FINALS TAKES SHAPE…..”

The WDCA’s 2021/22 season continues to throw up surprises………..

You were probably wondering if successive losses by competition powerhouse Yarrawonga-Mulwala was a mere blip, after a remarkable 14 years of consistency.

Well, they turned in another uncharacteristic performance in the match of the round against Wangaratta-Magpies yesterday, to fall short by 10 runs.

The Stan Hargreaves Oval is a veritable fortress for the Lakers. They were confident of re-discovering their form and proceeded to unveil it …….when they cut a swathe through the ‘Pies’ upper-order, to have them reeling at 8/70.

A formidable obstacle remained, however, in the shape of the competition’s recruit of the year – former Prahran all-rounder Prav Menon.

With support from youngster Tommy Rosser ( who has also proved a fine pick-up after arriving from Greta ), Menon ( 53* ) restored some equilibrium to the Pies’ innings after wickets had been clattering around the Indian-born star.

The pair proceeded to add 47, in a defiant, rear-guard, ninth-wicket stand of 42, to lift the ‘Pies to a barely-challenging total of 8/117.

But, as they say, the runs were on the board………The Lakers progressed at a steady rate, without ever appearing to take complete control.

Tall Matt Casey remained their ‘Rock’, but when he was dismissed for a patient 34 ( off 82 balls ) Yarra were 6/82 and there was still heaps of work to be done.

Spin, which has re-emerged as an attacking option in WDCA ranks this year, again came to the fore. Young offie Jimmy Thewlis sent down 8 overs for 2/14, whilst Menon was similarly miserly, conceding just 21 runs off his permissable overs.

But it was medium-pacer Nick Pell who took the bowling laurels, capturing 3/23, to clean up the tail, and finish with 3/23, as the Lakers were restricted to a total of 107.

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Delatite sent City Colts tumbling out of the four when they won convincingly at Lord Oval, Mansfield.

The boys from the hills were well on their way after opener Earl Ree-Goodings (51) got off to a flier. His departure, at 2/83, heralded the appearance of burly Matt Stevenson, whose 55 off just 26 balls assured that Colts would be chasing a formidable total.

The target of 4/207 was always going to prove difficult for Colts to overcome. …..They were dismissed for 84, to end a promising four-match winning streak, which had turned their season around.

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Cellar-dwellers Benalla won the toss and promptly invited Ovens Valley to bat in the encounter at Myrtleford’s McNamara Reserve.

It’s been a somewhat hazardous year for the Bushies, and little has gone their way, but on this occasion they were able to run through the home team for just 60, in 23 overs.

The prospect of negotiating his side to victory would no doubt have appealed to Benalla’s super-veteran opener Greg Hoysted, who has revelled in countless similar situations during his marathon career.

With undeniable patience, he faced 100 deliveries, and was undefeated on 23 when the Bushies crawled to victory….

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It’s a rare occasion for a batsman to score more runs, individually, than three other WDCA teams manage to amass for the round; rarer still when he smacks a brilliant, unbeaten century, only for his side to go down in convincing fashion……

That was the scenario, in cloudy, uncomfortable conditions at the W.J.Findlay Oval, when Beechworth’s Kayde Surrey conjured the season’s first A-Grade ‘ton’.

……But in terms of match highlights, the superb knock of 97 by Rovers-United-Bruck opener Luke Whitten also deserved a more-than-honourable mention.

As you can now visualise, the bat held sway in the clash between the two keen rivals.

The Hawks won the toss and, unsurprisingly, took advantage of the sultry atmosphere to put the hard-working, but under-strength Bushies’ bowlers to the sword.

Whitten, who’d suffered the ignominy of being dismissed off the first delivery of the previous week, elected to go on the attack from the first ball.

He and dashing Bailey Dale ( who has a real presence at the crease, and drives as well as anyone in the competition when in full flight ), were in fine touch. They had scored a brisk, entertaining 108 when Dale was removed by left-armer Matty Ryan.

His 42 followed on from an exhilarating 90 the previous week, but Whitten, who had regained superb touch, produced the full repertoire of shots. The best of them, in my opinion, a crisply-stroked on-drive, scurried to the mid-on boundary.

His brother Matt also joined the party, with a polished 22, and Jacob Beattie contributed quick runs towards the finish, to take the Hawks to an imposing 7/217 at the close.

Kayde Surrey’s 3/44 gave him the bowling figures, but was just the forerunner to the exhibition which was to provide him with ‘Man of the Match’ honours.

He had scored four previous WDCA tons – the last of them in 2015/16 . All fans in the area have become fully aware of his ( and his brother Brenton’s ) importance to the Beechworth side.

But the thought did run through my mind yesterday, that anyone popping into the Oval for a casual glance at the cricket whilst he was batting, would be convinced that the local game is still in pretty good shape.

Faced with a target of more than 5 runs per over, Surrey and his fellow-opener Matt Ryan didn’t waste time playing themselves in.

They raced to 45 before Ryan fell to first-changer Brady Bartlett. Unfortunately, wickets began to fall at regular intervals, as Surrey took complete charge, apart for a six-or-seven over lull in mid-innings, when he became quite circumspect.

With the overs ticking by, the right-hander produced pull shots in successive balls – a 6 and a 4, to rush into the nineties – and his inevitable march towards the century.

He had carried his bat, for 106 out of a total of 8/158 when time was declared……. Two outstanding individual innings’ – the WDCA’s highest for the season – had provided the highlights of a batting master-class……

“THE SURREY BOYS – AMONG BEECHWORTH’S SPORTING ELITE…”

Philip Surrey is one of those unassuming, knockabout blokes you find on the periphery of country sporting clubs ; the old-timer who regards it as his duty to lend support to the up-and-comers.

He numbered more than 200 senior games of footy among the 350-odd he chalked up with the Beechworth Bombers. They were an Ovens and King power in those days, but to his lasting disappointment, he was dropped from the 1979 Grand Final, which ‘Tree’ Forrest’s side won in a canter.

21 years later, when they took out their next flag, ‘Jimbo’ had long since hung up the boots .

On reflection, he regards it as one of those kicks in the guts you have to absorb when you’re a battler – and you’re Beechworth through and through.

The same can be said for his cricket. He was a forceful middle-order left-hand bat; a key member of the side for what seemed like decades, putting a price on his wicket and having the occasional ‘day out’ with the blade……….

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But the locals reckon ‘Jimbo’s’ greatest sporting achievement was to successfully hand on his sporting passion to his sons, Brenton and Kayde.

Brenton remembers being dragged along, at about four or five, to watch his dad run around at the tail-end of his footy career, and play cricket on the hard wicket at Mayday Hills:

“The old man loved tutoring us….When we were having a kick he’d make us use the opposite side of our body with foot or hand, for the first 10 minutes. The same with batting; the first 20 runs had to be scored through the V.

“He coached both the U12 and U16 cricket teams and Mum would take the U12’s to the games.”

“A favourite coaching method of his, was to send the kids into the nets without a bat, to teach them to get the pad to pitch of the ball….You can imagine how that went down at Juniors training !”

‘Jimbo’ found some black soil at a job he was working on, and laid a half-wicket in the Surrey’s Finch Street backyard. Thanks to a light-roller and some tender love and care, it became the town’s first turf wicket, a couple of years before they installed the one at Baarmutha Park.

“Our next-door neighbors, the Halliday’s ( Eamon and Tiernan ) used to join in,” says Brenton. ” They were older and stronger and bowled pretty quick…..Kayde, being the youngest, took some removing. He reckoned he was never out !”

“Looking back now, that’s probably where we honed our technique…..The ball would often rear off a good length…..You had to be really watchful……..and patient………..”

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Beechworth tasted minimal success in the WDCA in a brief sojourn in the early 80’s. Upon their return a decade later, they landed the wooden-spoon in four of five seasons, before opting to drop down to A-Reserve for the next seven years.

By then, Brenton Surrey was showing loads of promise, and attracting overtures from Wangaratta-Magpies and Rovers-United, who strove to convince the 16 year-old that he should be playing A-Grade cricket.

‘Jimbo’ suggested that the Hawks might be a better choice, but the fact that his uncle, Gary Harris, was involved with the ‘Pies helped sway the youngster. They also handed him the ‘keeping gloves and guaranteed him a spot in the upper order.

“ ‘Grub’ was a big part of the three flags we won in four years,” recalls Barry Grant. “……A quiet, humble kid who fitted in well and thought a lot about his cricket. A class act…..Very hard to remove….He ‘arrived’ the day he scored 174* back in 2006. It’s still the record score at Wang-Magpies .”

It was always understood that, once Beechworth were ready to return to A-Grade, Brenton would be back. And that’s what eventuated in 2008/09, when he was appointed captain of a new-look side.

Whereas the Wanderers had been out of their depth in their previous two stints, they took no time to develop into a solid combination. Their first finals appearance came in 2009/10 and they’ve been there or thereabouts ever since.

Brenton says they’ve maintained a good core group which gells together…….And the off-field contribution of ex-Carlton all-rounder Ron Lawrence can’t be under-estimated.

“Ronnie runs our nets. He’s got some old-style theories – pretty basic stuff. He has certainly had a fair bit to do with our success.”

But there’s no doubting the influence of the Surrey boys. Brenton has been a fixture as captain, for 12 years. He and Kayde provide the steel in Beechworth’s upper order, and it’s rare if both of them don’t feature in the WDCA’s top half-dozen run-scorers each season.

“We’ve always been pretty competitive……we both hate losing, and I’d like to think our performances in bigger games are okay,” Brenton says.

Despite the fact that they’d be automatic selections for rep sides, neither have made the trek to Melbourne Country Week.

“It was staged up this way in 2007 because of the drought, and I played a couple of matches,” ‘Grub’ says. “But work has always got in the way of getting to Melbourne.”

He started his building apprenticeship with his dad, then took over for five years or so, before becoming registered. After doing some sub-contracting work for Daryl Leary, he began operating own business : C.J & B.J Surrey Builders, which keeps him flat out.

It means he has had to cut back on training. “I’ve always loved footy and cricket practice……don’t like missing . But it’s down to one night a week now………”

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Brenton seems to make runs against Rovers-United-Bruck; which is probably one reason I rate him so highly.

I remember him dissecting a pretty effective Hawk attack with the precision of a surgeon, in scoring 158 at the Findlay Oval five years ago. Was that his best knock ?

“Actually, there’s one that sticks out, against Wang-Magpies at the Showgrounds a couple of years earlier. They’d made 140-odd the first week. A couple of our young blokes decided they were going to a concert on the second day…..so it was going to be 8-out, all-out. It’s one I look back and think, yeah, I stuck my head down…. batted most of the day…didn’t give a chance…….”

When I remind him that he’s scored 31 half-centuries among the 5680 WDCA runs he’s amassed, ‘Grub’ replies: “That’s a bloody embarrassing stat…..not to have gone on with it a few more times. But then, if I bat well -no matter how many I get – and the team wins, I’m happy ……….”

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Beechworth’s proudest cricketing moment came in 2014/15, when they held off a determined Bruck to win one of the all-time great WDCA Grand Finals.

‘Grub’ was the hero. They were in all sorts of trouble, at 2/10, when he walked to the crease. He played shots from the start, and combined with Matt Hunt in a solid stand.

Then youngster Matt Ryan, who replaced Hunt, proceeded to play the innings of his life, as the pair added 155 for the fourth-wicket. It proved to be the match-winning partnership. Ryan made a valuable 90 and Surrey was run out for 108 in the Wanderers’ total of 8/298.

The game was seemingly as good as over when Bruck were teetering at 3/18. But they recovered brilliantly, to be within sight of their target. Again, the skipper did the damage. He dismissed a rampant Darren Petersen for 84 – one of the two wickets he snared. Despite continued lower-order resistance, Bruck fell a whisker short, to be dismissed for 281.

Two years later, the Surrey brothers again steadied the Wanderers, when Brenton (57) and Kayde (47) helped to guide them to a highly-competitive 175 in the Grand Final against City Colts.

It was a tight contest, and the score was probably worth another 50 in normal conditions. But Colts, who had developed a reputation for getting the staggers in the big games, were never comfortable in the run-chase, and were dismissed for 90. It was celebration-time again for the Wanderers, in front of their large group of fans………….

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Brenton’s entry to senior football corresponded with his cricket career taking off. He was 16 when he debuted for the Beechworth Bushrangers in 2004, their maiden season in the Tallangatta League.

Tough, courageous and a highly-skilled small-man, he became one of the team’s stars in no time. Inevitably, the approaches came from O & M clubs..

He admits that they beat a path to his door for several years.

“I trained a couple of times at Myrtleford……. the Rovers and Maggies put a bit of pressure on too….so did the Wodonga clubs. I suppose they got sick of me knocking them back in the finish

…….Kayde had a run with Wang, but it doesn’t really faze me that I didn’t have a crack at O & M.”

He gets fulfillment out of imparting advice to the young fellahs and was rapt when Beechworth appointed him Thirds Coach in 2009, at the age of 21.

“It was great of the Club to give me a go. The Thirds were lucky enough to win the flag, then played off in 2010. It was pleasing was that a few of those kids became senior players not long after.”

One Beechworth die-hard confirms that he was a terrific coach: “Just a born leader……The kids really looked up to him.”

Brenton and Kayde were integral members of a Bushies line-up which outpointed Yackandandah by 40 points, to win the 2010 TFL flag – their last finals appearance.

When Nick Dillon departed the coaching job mid-way through 2013, they called on ‘Grub’ to take over the reins. He shared the role with Gareth Pritchard the following year.

A broken cheekbone, sustained soon after, cost him half a season, but the ankle reconstruction he underwent in 2019 is the most serious injury he’s had in his 249-game career.

He and Kayde must surely rank among Beechworth’s greatest-ever sportsmen ; particularly when you add their footy CV’s to their substantial cricket achievements.

Brenton was the TFL’s Barton Medallist in 2011, and runner-up in 2006, ’07, ’08 and ’10. He’s a five-time Beechworth B & F ( 2005, ’09, ’11, ’12 and ’13). Kayde (one of the most versatile players you’d find) has taken out the Bushie’s B & F four times (2015, ’17, ’18 and ’19) and was runner-up in 2010. He is the reigning WDCA Cricketer of the Year.

‘Grub’ was set to share coaching duties with Jay Dale in 2020, before Coronavirus intervened. “I don’t know how I got talked into it,” he jokes…..”I was busy at work, and half-way through building our house. We were shaping up alright, though……..But a few blokes have headed off this year……Beechworth’s in an awkward spot, geographically….. It’s hard to recruit.”

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Time will tell, he says, how much footy he has left in him. “I’ve never been quick…..so we’ll see how much pace I’ve lost after the ankle injury.”

As for cricket, he’s confident he can add to the five WDCA premiership medals he has collected.

“We were thoroughly disappointed that we didn’t get a crack last year, when Covid intervened. It was probably the most talented side we’ve had….It was there to be won. Mark Butters was in his last season; we were desperate to win it for him…….The same goes for 2017/18 when the Final against Yarra was washed out …..You always think back and say they’re the ones that got away.”

One thing’s for sure; Beechworth’s little dynamo hasn’t lost his hunger for the contest……………..