‘THE AGONY AND ECSTACY OF A GRAND-FINAL…..”

It was, they said, the Grand Final that the WDCA had craved………a fluctuating, high-standard clash between two of the competition’s keenest rivals ……..

It featured dashing stroke-play, more twists than a winding mountain road, a dramatic batting collapse…….and finally, one of those last-wicket stands that evoke the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller………

Firstly, I must offer a disclaimer……….I wasn’t there…….and wasn’t party to the pressure-cooker atmosphere that someone mentioned resembled one of those classical ‘Local Footy Derbies’………

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‘Prav” – The Gun

Instead, as the game progresses, I’m relying on periodic score-updates. Early on, they verify my pre-game trepidation ………that Wangaratta-Magpies’ brilliant Indian all-rounder Pranav Menon, is going to have a profound influence on the game.

The trouble is, when you’re bowling to ‘Prav’, he’s so dominant, and scores so quickly, he can take the game away from you in a jiffy…….

His third-wicket stand with skipper Jack Davies adds 100 in just 80 minutes, before Jack is skittled by left-arm quick Paddy McNamara for a handy 36……But by now the Pies are 3/126, and headed for a huge total.

Brady Bartlett, whose 25 wickets have rounded off the Hawk attack nicely this season, collects another timely scalp when he traps ‘Prav’ in front eight runs later. His 59 off 64 balls was, I’m told, an essay of fluent, wristy strokeplay.

From then on in it’s a matter of the Wang-Magpies lower-order eking out crucial runs – and the Hawks keeping them in check. Despite the best efforts of the bowlers, the Pies finish with 8/163…….Bartlett (3/31) and McNamara (3/23) take the bowling honours.

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‘Runs on the Board’ is a well-worn adage in finals cricket…….Four runs an over, against a side which, time and again this season has been able to put the screws on their opposition, is a tough proposition.

But I’ve got faith in Bailey Dale and Luke Whitten, who have developed into a handy combination. Luke seems to have been inspired by Bailey’s cavalier stroke-play and has, himself, become more uninhibited……..The extent of this partnership could, I believe, determine the match…….

They’re off to a flier, and the updates I’m getting ( scoring at almost eight an over ) indicate that they’ve given their side a really handy launching-pad.

It’s 1/67 when Whitten is adjudged LBW to Zac Guilfoyle, but Dale and the incoming Jacob Beattie ( who’s also a free-wheeler) keep the run-rate flowing nicely.

When I succumb to temptation, and ring for someone to ‘paint the picture’, I’m told they’re 3/112…….Dale had skipped down the wicket to spinner Menon and had been neatly stumped by keeper Cooper Matheson for 45…….Beattie’s 22-ball knock had come to an end when the newly-introduced Nick Pell dismissed him for 28.

The Hawks had experimented with Beattie at first-drop, late in the season, with some success, and again, he had produced valuable, quick runs.

I’m delighted…..surely they should do the job from here……Only 50-odd runs, with heaps of overs in hand and plenty of batting to follow…….

Then the reports start coming through…….I’m informed later that the under-rated Pell is bowling ‘hand-grenades’……..6/120….7/129….8/131…9/136……

I receive an ominous four-word text from a knowledgeable Hawk….’Not looking good, KB’……. which sends me into the depths of depression….

Ah well, the dream’s over…….the boys have had a good season…….and the Pies deserve it. They’ve been outstanding all year ……..

I’m anticipating the final death knell……Half an hour passes by…….No word…Surely the game must be over by now…..

Then the belated message comes through………They’ve pinched it……..Unbelievable…

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So I sit down to watch the live-stream this morning, to recapture the drama of this Grand Final of the Ages ( I note that there have been more than 820 views on You-Tube, which shows the interest in the contest ) ….It’s every bit as riveting as I’ve been told……particularly that last-wicket stand of 28 between Alex McCarthy and Brady Bartlett, which finally swings the pendulum the Hawks way.

Equally as interesting is the ‘chit-chat’ from the crowd, amidst the excitement from both camps:

‘Pelly…Pelly….Pelly…’ as the ex-Greta paceman is cutting a swathe through the RUB middle-order…….

‘He doesn’t have faith in ya mate…….Can’t ya handle the pressure, Bartlett….’

‘Pull ya head in, why don’t ya….’

‘Very uppish shot that…You’re looking scratchy, McCarthy…..’

The partnership develops: A Bartlett pull-shot scoots to the boundary, as does a streaky shot backward of point………They chip 10 runs off one over, then Bartlett hammers a shot back at tiring medium-pacer Matt Gathercole, who just can’t grasp a difficult chance, with the score on 149….

A single here and a strong off-side shot there from McCarthy, who’s been solid, maintains the pressure……….It’s down to 11…..then another Bartlett boundary off Guilfoyle brings the crowd to fever-pitch………Seven to get…. another boundary reduces it to three……

And now they’re home……. Bartlett, whose handy all-round contribution has been as significant as anyone in the match, executes a strong drive, ushering in celebrations and commiserations among the combatants, neither of who deserved to lose………

Rovers-United-Bruck 9/164 defeated Wangaratta- Magpies 8/163

“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……..