“TYPICAL HAWK-MAGPIES CLASH PRODUCES THRILLING CLIMAX…..”

Lucky Perera has become somewhat of an ‘Elder Statesman’ in his 13-year involvement in WDCA cricket.

The lightly-built pocket dynamo, salubriously christened Gangabadawatta Arachchiga Lakpruja Waruna Shantha by his doting Sri Lankan parents, can still be relied upon to provide a touch of nimble wizardry to his performances with the bat and ‘keeping gloves.

And he provided a healthy dose of that in guiding Rovers-United-Bruck to a nail-biting 17-run over arch rivals Wangaratta-Magpies, at the Findlay Oval yesterday.

Lucky has now accumulated 3834 A-Grade WDCA runs in his 157 games – always with a touch of polish. He migrated to Australia from the back streets of Colombo to play with Ovens Valley United in 2008/09, transferring his allegiances to Bruck in 2013/14. His youthful RUB team-mates stand tall in the presence of Lucky.

Nobody plays the delicate late-cut with as much precision, or takes toll of the poor delivery with such telling effect. In short, it’s a tribute to him that he’s still producing quality performances, as he enters the evening of his fine cricket career.

His undefeated 75, combined with two classy leg-side stumpings in a near-faultless display with the gloves, made the difference in this good-standard tussle.

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Having won the toss and elected to bat, the ‘Pies progressed steadily. Another of the WDCA’s young talents, right-hander Angus Webb, impressed with his disciplined restraint against some aggressive new-ball bowling from Jacob Beattie and Paddy McNamara.

But it was first-changer Matt Winter who achieved the break-through, thanks to gloveman Perera’s brilliance, when he made something out of nothing; catching Jarrod Wallace short of his ground and sending him on his way for 7.

It was to be the emerging Winter’s only highlight in a bleak day with the Kookaburra. His usually spot-on radar was astray, as he twice sent wayward deliveries careering to the leg-side boundary. Umpire Briggs had a busy day, adjudging 22 wides in the ‘Pies innings.

Left-hander Corey Matheson lifted the run-rate upon his arrival at the crease, smacking a brisk 22 (featuring five boundaries) in his 31-minute stay, before having his stumps re-arranged by Hawk skipper Jacob Schonafinger. It was now 2/57, then 3/76 when skipper Jack Davies departed.

This signalled the arrival of Nick Bonwick, who certainly doesn’t leave you wondering. There was no science about his stroke-play, as he endeavoured to lift the run-rate.

For a period of overs, 15-year-old medium-pacers Will O’Keefe and Darcy Wilson, both playing their third senior games, had been impressively operating from the Barr End, with good effect. Both are spirited and have nice actions, and are sure to become even more dangerous when they grow into their slender bodies.

Wilson had some misfortune when a skied Bonwick flick was grassed at deep backward-square, but an over later, he nabbed the hard-hitter in exactly the same place, when the errant fielder nabbed a ripper. Bonwick was gone for 15, off 11 balls.

From then on the Magpies innings scooted along at a brisk pace. Young Webb went for a well-made 30, victim of another piece of Perera handiwork, off Jacob Beattie.

Son-of-a-gun Rhys Grant (16), who departed when he clean-missed an O’Keefe delivery, and Zac Guilfoyle (18*) were handy contributors to a solid total of 6/151, which was always going to prove difficult to surmount.

The pick of the bowlers, in this scribe’s humble opinion, went wicket-less. Paddy McNamara conceded just 11 runs from his eight tidy overs.

The Hawks’ innings fell into disarray in its formative stages. Opener Luke Whitten, fresh from a fine innings last week, was cleaned-up, neck-and-crop, by a beautiful swinging delivery from Chris Clement.

The solidly-built left-armer couldn’t have been more impressive, and looks to be one of the WDCA recruits of the year. Hailing from Melbourne’s South-Eastern Cricket Association, he looks to be an ideal two-day bowler, who could tie up one end for ages.

Despite the obvious danger he posed, he was only to be rewarded with the single wicket, but I’m sure he’ll pick up plenty of ‘bags’ in the future.

The Pies were completely in the ascendency when their faltering hosts fell to 3/19, with Jarrod Wallace and Zac Guilfoyle chipping in with handy wickets.

Enter Jacob Schonafinger (who has arrived on the scene to far greater crises than this), and the afore-mentioned Lucky Perera.

They were, of necessity, rather circumspect, treating the bowling with suspicion, but picking up their ones an twos, with a delghtfully-executed ‘Schona’ off-drive bringing applause from Hawk fans.

As they became more settled, the ‘Pies rung the changes at the bowling crease, realising that it was of little use preserving their stars until the final few overs if the game had, by then, got out of hand.

Jack Davies even took a turn himself, sending down a few overs of ‘toppies’. Schonafinger had a life when he square-cut a delivery which should have been taken, was fumbled, then hit the turf. Moments such as these can swing a game of cricket.

The ‘Schona-Perera stand had added 64 runs and brought the Hawks back into the game, but the skipper sparred at one off Corey Southern and was caught behind for a valuable 30.

Perhaps the ‘Pies had regained the ascendency…..Well, they certainly had when Jacob Beattie was run-out after an overthrow produced a mix-up between the batsmen. It was now 5/88, and the 64 runs required in diminishing overs seemed eons away.

Paddy McNamara, refreshed after a week-long ‘Schoolies’ trip, proved to be the man for the occasion, the support-act for the well-settled Perera.

McNamara’s score-sheet began to resemble a picket-fence, as he continually rotated the strike, to allow his partner to cut loose. One superb ‘Lucky’ six, over the mid-wicket fence, was the shot of the day. The Pies were now beginning to rue dropping the veteran when he was entering the forties.

The stand continued to grow, as Paddy ‘Mac’ began to exhibit more flair in his batting. His driving was a feature of a very sensible hand from the youngster.

With the batting pair now completely in control, they reached the target in the 47th over -timing the chase to perfection.

The unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 80 took the Hawks to 5/168 at time (Perera 75*, McNamara 25*)’ Having engineered an excellent fight-back against the odds, they have breathed fresh life into their finals campaign……..

‘SO NEAR……AND YET, SO FAR…..’

Fraser Ellis has, for some time, been touted as one of Wangaratta’s hottest sporting prospects.

He earned a reputation last year, for being able to shut down some of Ovens and Murray Football’s gun on-ballers. His disciplined play, whilst still being able to pick up possessions, was commendable for an 18 year-old.

But his cricket star has been on the rise for several years; ever since he won selection in an Australian Under 16 side which played against a Pakistani touring team in 2015.IMG_4018

As a pace bowler with a rhythmic bowling action and the ability to do a bit with the ball, there’s no doubt that talent scouts have had him earmarked for big things…………..

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2018/19 has been a relatively lean year with the ball, though, for the well-proportioned, blonde-haired speedster.

In the home-and-away rounds he took 18 wickets; at Melbourne Country Week he claimed just one victim – hardly stats befitting a brilliant up-and-comer……..

Yesterday, in warm conditions, under a smoky sky, on a fairly unresponsive wicket and a lightning outfield, Ellis proved the match-winner for his club, City Colts.

His 6/38 off 19 overs diverted a thrilling Semi-Final in Colts’ favour after 520 pendulum-swinging minutes of play.

From the second ball of the opening day, when Rovers-United’s inspiration, Jacob Schonafinger enticed Colts’ leftie Ollie Willet into tickling one to second slip, tension gripped O’Callaghan Oval.

The Hawks were at long-odds pre-match, as their form had been patchy and they’d had to cope with a few late-season absentees from their line-up……Colts, on the other hand, finished well-clear on top of the ladder and were hoping to take the next step towards expunging the demons which have haunted them since their only WDCA flag in 1986/87…………

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But first, after winning the toss, lay ahead the task of building a reasonable total.

It looked in some doubt after they plunged to 2/1, when medium-pacer Paul Szeligiewicz stretched his bulky frame onto the turf and clutched a return catch from Englishman Tom Jones.

Mitch Giggins and the veteran skipper Kent Braden, who has pulled his side out of countless tight spots like this, then got to work in restoring order.

But it was hard yakka, as Schonafinger, in particular, was bowling with vim, with offie Joe Thomas and the lively Paddy McNamara lending support.

It was the 16 year-old left-armer McNamara who achieved the next break when he clean-bowled Giggins for 30.

Braden attempted to attack against Thomas, who, he no doubt believed, posed a threat to his lower-order, but he mis-timed a lofted on-drive off Schonafinger, and was picked up at mid-on for 48.

The run-rate, as it proved throughout, was pedestrian, and when Colts crept to 8/117, the game was wide open.

The useful Mitch Howe was the principal figure in navigating them through that crisis, to a competitive 164, with his unbeaten knock of 33.

Jon Hyde (3/25) took the bowling honours, but Schonafinger (2/36 off 22), McNamara (2/27) and Szeligiewicz (2/30) had their moments. Thomas, coming off an eight-wicket haul, toiled valiantly, but went wicket-less. It just wasn’t big Joe’s day…….IMG_3132

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The odds were still stacked in Colts’ favour when the Hawk openers, Luke and Matthew Whitten broached the crease on Day 2.

But their start was highly-promising. They had raced to 27 in quick time, prompting enthusiastic chatter among the Hawk camp.IMG_4019

It was Ellis who drew first blood, having Matt snapped up in slip by Ollie Willett.

Then, putting an exclamation mark on that dismissal, he enticed dependable veteran Jon Hyde into the slightest of nicks, towards the waiting gloves of Mitch Giggins.

Suddenly the Hawks were in disarray. They crumbled to 5/38 and it appeared that the game may be terminated well before tea, as Ellis with four wickets and his fellow quick Dylan Adams (one) scythed through the upper-order.

Enter Gagabadawatta Arachilage Lakprija Waruna Shantha, otherwise known as ‘Lucky’, the most technically proficient batsman in the Rovers-United- Bruck camp and their saviour on many an occasion.

Lucky’s suffering from a dicey back these days; hence his decision to hand over the wicket-keeping gloves, and drop down the order for the Hawks.

Luke Whitten had, by now, begun striking the Kookaburra with his old proficiency, after a rather lean season figures-wise. The pair recognised the massive responsibility that had befallen them and batted with caution against a now-rampaging Colts attack.

Someone mentioned, after they’d been together an hour or so, that if they could add 50 or so, it might be line-ball. I felt they needed to extend the score well past 100 for the Hawks to be an even-money chance.

Lucky was favoured by the odd short ball which he dispatched to the boundary in emphatic fashion with his favourite pull shot.

The pair were now well-set, and when tea was taken, RUB sat on a rather more comfortable 5/102.

Kent Braden was by now wheeling down a deadly-accurate variation of offies and medium-pacers and had helped drag the run-rate back to a stage where overs and time were becoming a factor.

The mood in the field was sombre. A wicket was desperately required. Both batsmen had passed fifty, but you sensed that the classy Sri Lankan was in discomfort. Soon after they were applauded for the century-stand, which had taken the Hawks to a position of superiority, at 5/139, Lucky fended a delivery through to the keeper Giggins.

His departure, after a magnificent knock of 54, left RUB needing 26 runs to win, at a little under three runs per over.

Easy enough, you’d say, but the pressure of finals shouldn’t be discounted, particularly when young, inexperienced players are thrust into the cauldren.

The wickets again began to tumble. It was the still lively Ellis, in his third spell, who captured two of them.

But amidst this Luke Whitten soldiered on. It was now obvious that if the Hawks were to win, he’d be the man to take them there.

At 9/150, with 15 still needed for an upset victory, Whitten was joined by Paul Szeligiewicz, who, it would be fair to say, is yet to be classified in the all-rounder category.

The target dwindled down to 11, then Whitten punched a beautiful boundary, which brought a roar from a portion of the crowd. Successive leg glances produced two runs. Suddenly, the equation was – three to win, two overs remaining.IMG_2923

Sounds simple, but again, don’t discount the pressure…….

On the first ball of the penultimate over, the unlikely combination attempted a run which would have had even Usain Bolt stretching for the line.

Big Paulie was caught short, and so were his side – three runs shy of victory.

A game which had ebbed and flowed and produced a magnificent contest, had ended in heart-break for the Hawks.

There were a few heroes, not the least Luke Whitten, who carried his bat to finish with 68 in a 262-minute innings, in which he faced 229 balls.

A fascinating sidelight of the game was the display of several young players, which, in my opinion, again emphasises that Wangaratta cricket is alive and well………IMG_4020

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.

‘JUST ANOTHER WEEK IN THE LIFE OF LOCAL CRICKET…’

Wangaratta’s cricketers returned with some silverware from Bendigo Country Week on Friday.

It’s the best news to come out of the WDCA for a while.

Principally, because youngsters were afforded the opportunity to be exposed to the rigours of Bendigo for the first time in 17 years.

And also, that they were able to enjoy the camaraderie that was engendered during a week of competitive cricket – the laughs and fun ; sharing the individual and team success, and forming what can become lifelong friendships.

Pardon me if I reminisce about the corresponding week 54 years ago, when a group of us kids were on our maiden trip and were billeted with a dear old lady called Mrs.Tredinnick.

She looked after us like her own and insisted that we be up early for her cooked breakfast. We would be picked up by the elder members of the side, en route to the game, but not before Mrs.T had presented us each with a packed lunch.

We seemed like positive angels, but still got up to some shenanigans when we hit the bright lights. But I must admit that a couple of the boarders, who became long-serving champion players for Wangaratta, performed deeds of skalduggery on later trips, which are the stuff of legend.

Last week’s side, by comparison, stayed at a very accomodating Caravan Park and bonded superbly. Most of them were Country Week ‘virgins’ and will long remember the highlights of the trip.

You’ve probably caught up with the details of Wang’s week.

They got away to a ‘shocker’ and, after a first-day hiding from Colac, were at long-odds to reach the finals.

But in the following games they scored 8/229, 5/316 and 5/262 to record mammoth victories and so ensure a spot in the final against Colac – their opening-day conquerors.

When the rain pelted down on Thursday evening, their hopes again dived. As the top side, Colac held the whip-hand and, in the unlikelihood that the game would proceed, held all the aces.

The contest was subsequently reduced to 37 overs apiece and Wang won the toss and batted. Led by an enterprising 72 from Yarrawonga ‘dasher’ Reid Clarke, and handy contributions from Jack Davies (47), Luke Whitten (31) and skipper Jacob Schonafinger (27*), they scooted to 4/203.

Colac would have to go at 5.3 runs an over to claim victory, but were never in the hunt.

They were restricted to 116, thanks to a superb exhibition of fast bowling by Dylan Landgren, who captured 5/35 from 12 overs.

There were a host of stars, but stats-wise, the performances of ‘Schona’ (229 runs and 7 wickets), Luke Whitten (210), Jack Davies (205), last-minute addition Mitch Howe (16 wickets and a knock of 75*) were the stand-outs. Handy contributions from Cam Nottle, Reid Clarke, Landgren and Will Creed were factors in a strong team display.

I’ve always felt that a break-out week by a young player can provide the impetus to go on to bigger things. So It was great to see 19 year-old Luke Whitten enjoy a consistent week with the bat.

His maiden century (105) against Upper Loddon was a masterful knock and provided the base for Wangaratta’s huge total of 5/316.

The young fellah has been developing gradually since he made his A-Grade debut at 15, back in 2012. There’s no-one keener, but this season he’s developed more authority in his shot-making and now completely looks the part in his role as an opener.

The feature of his game is his concentration, something that has become more evident as his 41-Game A-Grade career has progressed…………

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And thank goodness it again came to the fore yesterday, during the absorbing Rovers-United-Bruck versus Yarra-Mulwala clash at the Findlay Oval.

The Lakers were defending a meagre total of 95, but no-one was expecting anything less than a stiff rear-guard action from the competition heavyweights.

So it proved.

The action started from the first ball of the day, when Hawk left-hander Jordan Blades didn’t offer a shot to sprightly Angus McMillan and had his ‘castle’ rattled.

It was a beautiful delivery and left the experienced Blades, who has never been dismissed in such a fashion, shaking his head.

One run later, his opening partner Whitten, whose head may still have been fuzzy from the previous evening’s celebrations, careered down the wicket for an impossible single and left the newly-arrived Jon Hyde well out of his ground.

And it proceeded to get worse for the Hawks. Jacob Schonafinger, looked to be settling in after a steady 20 minutes at the crease, but nicked one from McMillan to the exhuberant ‘keeper Reed Clarke, who accepted it gleefully.

Suddenly, from a dominant position, the home team had slumped to 3/28 and were being subjected to some extreme pressure from the Lakers’ pacemen.

Fortunately for the Hawks, Whitten was holding up his end. He was having difficulty piercing the field, however, and just couldn’t release the shackles.

The veteran Adam McNamara produced a couple of the shots of the day in a cameo of 15, but in attempting to sweep spinner Brock McCabe, played across the line and was on his way, adjudged LBW.

With Jordy Hansted’s dismissal five runs later, RUB were on the ropes at 5/53, still 40-odd in arrears and with a lower-order which had shown a propensity to self-destruct during the season.

It was bite-your-nails stuff and the miserly, disciplined Yarra-Mul attack deserved credit for the way they had reduced runs to a trickle.

After 42 overs, for instance, the Hawks had crawled to 60.

Lucky Perera then embarked on a partnership with Whitten that was to clinch the game. The enterprising Sri Lankan is handy in a tight situation and was able to find the boundary with a couple of pull shots.

The pair had added 43 runs and nosed just past the victory target of 96, when Lucky became another run-out victim. The fleetest runner between wickets in the side, he fell short by inches.

When Jeremy Wilson and Hamish Busk both fell to hard-working Matt McCabe for ducks, the match began to meander towards its conclusion. The only remaining interest was whether a visibly-tired Luke Whitten would reach his half-century.

Alas, he became involved in the third run-out of the day – his own- and walked from the ground after a valuable 46, which had consumed 256 minutes. He, as much as anyone, had managed to stifle the Lakers’ bid to snavel the six points.

Considering that the sides will probably meet come finals-time, RUB would be slightly peeved that they weren’t able to establish more of a psychological edge over their keen rivals.

A reply of 118 was far from convincing. But then again, it was a tension-filled match that produced just 213 runs off 133 overs and a dominance of ball over bat that provided more than it’s fair share of drama.

Just another week in the life of local cricket………

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