“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……

‘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

‘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…….

‘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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