‘BILLY…….YOU’RE A HERO……’

A few years back I penned a tribute to WDCA veteran Jonny Hyde after he had extricated Bruck Cricket Club from another on-field crisis:

“If I had my choice of one present-day player to recruit to a struggling side it would be the little fellah. The thing about him is he’s never out of the game and you can rely on him for a consistent effort every week. His ability to produce when it matters is an indication of a top-shelf performer.”

The 39 year-old ‘Pocket-Rocket’ is now one of the competition’s elder statesmen and among its best of the past two decades. He struggles to get to training these days and his senior appearances have been sporadic. But he was slotted back into the Rovers-United-Bruck senior line-up for the clash with Delatite.

It was a crucial game, as the teams, perched Fourth and Third on the ladder respectively, needed the points to shore up their finals prospects.

A steady tumble of wickets last week had seen RUB collapse to 6/53 when ‘Hydey’ strolled onto Lord Oval, Mansfield, to perform yet another rescue mission. The Delatite quicks had their tails up and their leader – Shane Jacobsen look-alike Matt Stevenson – was in full cry.

Hydey was watchful at first, but in the next two and a half hours re-shaped the Hawk innings to score 68 of the next 96 runs. When he lifted the bat to acknowledge his team-mates’ appreciation of his unbeaten knock, he had at least given his side a fighting – if outside – chance of victory……..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The 67-minute, 102km trip up the Midland Highway today, offers time for silent contemplation. 149 runs is a meagre target, but then again, as they say, they’re ‘On the Board’.

Delatite have been notoriously fragile with the bat in recent seasons, but have been stiffened by a few handy players. The recruitment of the Mahoney brothers – Adam and Brett – the improvement in their cousin Harry, and a couple of others, has revitalised their line-up.

As I wend my way through Swanpool, I’m seriously dubious about our chances. By the time I reach Lima South I’m convinced……… I don’t think we can do it.

Lord Oval is one of the more pleasant places to play and watch cricket. It’s ringed by statuesque Pine trees, the pitch is usually firm and true, which suits ‘Stevo’s’ propensity to drop them short and achieve good bounce.

A fence, adorned by white pickets, kindly donated by the Glue family, whose residence overlooks the ground, adds character. There’s usually a buzz of activity around the pavilion, as locals drift in and out to check the state of the game. You really feel like you’re part of the action here.

One of the fixtures is Naomi, the lady who’s always on duty in the Clubrooms. She’s been on the go since the juniors started this morning, and will probably finish about ninish tonight. The boys always like to hang around for a bit longer, she says, but heck, she can’t stay forever.

Paul Duncan is another popular, familiar character. A life-time cricket ‘nut’ and former star, he’s been in charge of the Delatite score-book for years……..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Delatite open with two youngsters – Nick Scales and Harry Mahoney – who are in no hurry to force the pace. Why bother, when the run-rate required is just two per-over.

Out of nowhere, there’s a mix-up, and Scales is caught in mid-pitch and run out by quite a way. When things settle down the war of attrition continues. Even the loss of another wicket leaves the home team in control.

They’ve got talented leftie Brett Mahoney at the crease. Brett’s sporting career took him from G.V footy to the West, where he once won a B & F with WAFL club Subiaco. Finally, Delatite have enticed him into lining up with them this season.

He signals his intent with a delightful lofted on-drive which charges into the pickets. Eager to get on with the job, he has smacked four stylish boundaries, and is threatening to take the game away from the visitors.

In the meantime, the long-limbed lad from Zimbabwe, Tafadzwa Tsiga, after deciding to keep up on the stumps, tries to glove one and dislocates his finger. He’s off to hospital and returns with the prognosis that he’s gone for the day.

It is a cruel blow for the Hawks, whose usual tactic is to convince ‘Faz’ to discard the pads, then wheel down several overs of tight off-spin. With their bowling resources already severely-tested, the odds are stacking up against them.

But Jacob Schonafinger manages to ease the pressure by slipping an ‘inny’ through the defences of Brett Mahoney, thereby rattling his stumps. He’s gone for a well-made 22 and the reliable ‘Schona’ has effected a timely break-through for his side.

At the long break, with 3/89 on the board, and just 61 required off 34 overs, there is quiet optimism, as the Delatite camp tuck into Naomi’s afternoon-tea offering……..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The RUB bowlers toil assiduously. Left-armer Paddy McNamara has torn in with reckless abandon and troubled the batsmen, without being gifted a skerrick of luck.

His opening partner, Paul Szeligiewicz yields just four scoring shots from his first nine-over spell. As the day draws on, the big fellah’s bulky frame appears to be labouring. He’s dragging his feet, but soldiers on.

Enter Jonny Hyde.

The little bloke immediately drops onto the spot, and in his third over, traps Harry Mahoney in front for 30. The opener had done a sterling job for his side and withstood everything that was hurled down at him in his vigilant 147-ball stay.

Without addition, Szeligiewicz removes Joe Cousins; the score is now 5/94 and the door is slightly ajar for the Hawks.

But in a matter of minutes, the burly Chris Anderson, who never mucks around, restores order. His most ominous shot, a straight drive, sails over the boundary. Suddenly, his authoratative stroke-play has taken the home team to within reach -18 to get, with four wickets in hand, and 18 overs still to play.

But then, catastrophe. Anderson rashly lunges at a Hyde delivery and is on his way for 28. Next ball, Mitch Purcell is caught behind.

Collective breaths sigh among the crowd. Is this another capitulation ?

With no further addition, Lochie Scales nicks one to the ‘keeper.

It’s up to the skipper, Stevenson to restore order. He’s no slouch with the willow and would be expected, with nine wickets down, to defend stoutly, farm the strike and maybe find a way through this situation.

Alas, Hyde gets one through his castle, and removes him, with no further addition.

In an amazing transformation, the Hawks have captured the last four wickets for 0 and pulled off the most unlikely, and exciting, victory.

Jon Hyde’s last five overs are maidens, and his match figures, 9.5 overs, 6 maidens 4 wickets for 12, have proved pivotal in his side’s victory.

‘Billy’ Hyde has done it again…….

“AUSSIE ‘IMPORT’ SHARES IN LONG DITTON GLORY…..’

Aha………I think I detect the sweet, resonant sound of bat on ball…….

To an old cricket buff like me, it’s akin to a musician’s ears being pricked by the distant strum of an acoustic guitar. Or ‘the sound you hear when lightning parts the air for a split second’………

It’s only a couple of weeks since the O & M Grand Final produced the cacophony of 8,000 cheering fans at nearby Norm Minns Oval. A couple of the kids who participated on that day have put it behind them .

They’re limbering up for the approaching cricket season…..steaming in, hurling the spherical projectile with venom…… and conversely, delighting in the ‘crack’ of the willow, as the pill cannons into the netting.

I ask how things are shaping. Okay, they say…..There’s a new bloke coming over from Zimbabwe….a wicket-keeper batsman, called Tafadzwa Tsiga.

Crikey, I reply, that’s a handle that could drive an ageing scorer to drink…… I’ve only just managed to get my head around the interpretation of our generously-proportioned medium-pacer – Paul Szeligiewicz, and that reliable Sri Lankan veteran Lakprija ‘Lucky’ Waruna Shantha. And besides, I’ve still got to pronounce the name of our skipper, Jacob Schonafinger, to the less- informed opposition scorers.

By the way, I ask, what’s ‘Schona’ up to ?………

”They reckon he flies in tomorrow,” I’m told……..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I’d better hunt him down…….

The first question I put to this fanatical Tiger fan is how – given he was on the other side of the world – he managed to deal with the stress of Grand Final Day.

“We were sitting in the Airport Lounge in Iceland,” he tells me, “….and I managed to get a good Internet connection. It was 4.30am, yet it felt like I was there…..Didn’t miss a kick….It was wonderful.”.

‘Schona’s’ just completed a six-month sporting adventure. Besides incorporating a fair bit of travel, he also spent some time teaching at Harlesden Primary School, in the north of London.

“That was an interesting enough experience in itself. It’s a cultural melting-pot. Really tough. Some days you’d be pulling your hair out wondering how you can put up with the kids any longer.”

“But then, when the Summer Holidays came around and my Term was up, they seemed really sorry to see me go. Presented me with farewell gifts. I guess I must have made some sort of an impression……”

His main purpose in heading over to the ‘Old Dart’ was to soak up a different cricketing culture; to savour the game at an 87 year-old club in South-West London – about 17 miles from the hub of the city.

‘Stokesfield’, a charming little Oval with fine amenities, is the home of the Long Ditton Cricket Club.

“Whereas over here we have a tier-system of young kids being fed through from junior ranks, the players were all my age, or slightly older. They love their cricket – and they love the social life afterwards,” he says. “ A few beers, and then they bring out the Cards and play ‘til all hours.”Schona

‘Schona’ wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but admits that the first ‘Friendly’ game he played in after landing – against Thames Ditton – certainly opened his eyes.

“It was about 7 degrees and there were a couple of delays because of hailstorms. I made a Golden Duck and didn’t look like taking a wicket. They probably thought their overseas recruit was a dud. For my part, I wondered if this might be a forerunner of what I was going to cop all season.”

He redeemed himself with a typically aggressive 87 off 50-odd balls the following day, so the ‘natives’ were rather relieved that the polite, cheerful young fellah who had arrived in their midst, could handle himself alright.

As things began to materialise, he adapted easily to the change in conditions : “I was told the ‘Stokesfield’ track usually had a bit in it, but it turned out a trifle ‘dusty’, and suited me, I suppose.”

Long Ditton enjoyed their best season in ages, and cleaned up a hat-trick of trophies : the 20/20 Cup, the F.A-style knock-out Sunday Cup, and the main prize, the Fuller’s Premier League Cup. According to ‘Schona’, they celebrated accordingly.Schona 2

The Premier League trophy earned them promotion to Division 4 of next year’s Surrey Championship.

A contributing factor towards their success, no doubt, was their Aussie ‘import’, who captured 31 League wickets, bowling second or third change. He usually batted at number 5, and mustered 290 runs @ 29.0 in the League. ( His stats in all matches were: 526 runs and 43 wickets ).

All told, he fitted 24 games into his English summer. The season finished near the end of August, and he and Sheri spent the last month exploring Croatia, Italy, Scotland and Wales, and taking in the volcanoes, geysers and the spectacular Northern Lights of Iceland. So after that break, he’s raring to attack the 2019/20 WDCA season………………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

You can understand what an eye-opener it must have been for the young fellah, when he walked into his new club in early April.

After all, he’d spent his entire cricketing life at the W.J.Findlay Oval, moving through the junior grades to ultimately make his senior debut in 2008, at the age of 15.

Even then, he was considered part of the furniture. His Saturday ritual, for a couple of seasons, had been to play Junior cricket of a Saturday morning, then hang around and follow the exploits of Rovers-United’s senior players like Peter Tossol, ‘Chuck’ Berry, Peter Harvey, Will Russell and ‘Jezza’ Ackroyd…..

The club’s trio of colourful supporters – Arthur Welch, Joe Pilkington and Ken Stewart – who were noted for their acerbic wit and unsolicited comments to players and supporters alike – took a ‘shine’ to the lad. They correctly reasoned that any kid who loved the game to that extent, must be made of the right stuff.img_2762

‘Schona’ saw the Hawks win a flag. He couldn’t wait to join them. But not long after he did, the ranks started to slowly dwindle, until they were left with just a shell of a side.

It’s a funny thing with sporting organisations ( and Glenrowan Football Club is a recent case in point). From the outside, the public think that they’re impregnable, whilst inside, a couple of individuals are ‘peddling furiously’ in an endeavour to keep them afloat.

That was the case with the Rovers-United of a decade ago. ‘Schona’ was one of those who had to do the ‘peddling’.

I remember penning a few words which summed up his involvement thus far:

‘Jacob Schonafinger has become used to shouldering responsibility at the Findlay Oval.’

‘At 18 he was 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………..’

Relief eventually came in the form of Bruck Cricket Club, who were groundless, and floated the possibility of a merge. Suddenly there was playing support there in spades. From leading the ‘wooden-spooners’ the previous season, he was to become a central figure in a dramatic Grand Final against Yarrawonga-Mulwala, which went down to the wire.

I’ve seen almost all of the 2034 runs he’s made, and the 219 wickets he’s taken in 122 A-Grade games, but the purple patch he enjoyed in the 2015/16 Finals put the stamp on him as a ‘star’ of the competition.IMG_0999

For starters, there was an inspired 21 overs against Benalla-Violet Town, which yielded figures of 7/17. Those bobbling, well-controlled medium-pacers had the batsmen flummoxed, and incited visions of a re-incarnated Bob Massie.

The following week, he sent down 26 overs and snared 6/34. The ‘Lakers’ had staggered to 7/92 in pursuit of their target of 155. ‘Schona’ grabbed the eighth wicket with seven runs still needed, but there was to be no romantic finale’ to this hot-streak. Yarra-Mul scrambled to a two-wicket win in one of the great WDCA deciders.schonafinger 5

Nine years after initially being thrust into the leadership of his club, he’s still skipper….still the motivator….. still the ‘go-to’ man……still attacks his cricket with a passion….

When he walks onto Yarrawonga’s Hargreaves Oval on Saturday, to kick off the WDCA season, that sabbatical in the Northern Hemisphere will seem like a blur……..Long Ditton

‘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…………..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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…………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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…….
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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.

‘SPINNING DOWN UNDER…….”

I spot him over near the electronic scoreboard at the Norm Minns Oval on Saturday, far-removed from the clumps of keen fans, who are geeing up their sides in the Under 16 Grand Final.

He’s doing his darndest to relay a few discreet instructions through one of his young fielders in the deep, without looking too conspicuous.IMG_3182
Well, as inconspicuous as a bloke of 6’7” can be, I suppose…………

He’s the coach of the Rovers-United-Bruck Red team, which bowls with discipline and fields keenly, to restrict Benalla Bushrangers to a reachable 105 off their 40 overs.

The following morning he urges them to bat sensibly and build partnerships. Kids, of course, can get ‘caught up in the situation’ and panic, even within reach of a small target. But not this mob. They cruise along and claim victory for the loss of just five wickets………..IMG_3183
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Joe Thomas has certainly created an impression.

A few Rovers footballers, who saw him ‘winding down’ after an early-October training session at the Findlay Oval, thought they were witnessing a miracle. That the key position forward they had been praying for had been delivered on their door-step, as if by ‘divine inspiration’.

Alas, they’re advised, this fellah doesn’t know the first thing about Aussie Rules. He’s the Hawks’ new spinner, who has just arrived in town.

Six months on, the towering left-armer has become a familiar sight in local cricket. I’ve seen most of the 130 overs he’s sent down in the WDCA. They’ve been dead-accurate and economical. And delivered so promptly. We’ve timed him at a touch over a minute and a half per-over.

Fair dinkum, you can’t afford to blink, particularly if you happen to be scoring !
But gee, the boy can bowl…………
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Joe hails from Yarnton, a small, historic village in the South-East of England, about four miles from Oxford.

Soccer was his ‘go’ as a young tacker, he says. But when he made his first tentative steps in cricket, it was as a 14 year-old opening bat and brisk medium-pacer, for Combe, a Division 7 Oxfordshire C.A club.

His next step up the cricketing ladder was to the quaintly-named ‘Great and Little Tew’, a tiny hamlet, boasting a population of about 250, a picturesque oval, and situated roughly 25 minutes from home.IMG_3187

It was a fair lift in standard, but along the way, Joe discovered he could effectively bowl orthodox left-arm spin. A new career was born.
He served a fair apprenticeship in the Third Grade. Then opportunity knocked when the club’s First XI spinner was out injured in 2014. In one of his early games, he helped them to a 9-wicket victory over ex-Test player Darren Gough‘s old side, Dinton.
This earned Great Tew the right to play in the Final of the National Village Cup, on the hallowed turf of Lords.

“It was a great experience…….the first time we’d reached the Cup Final. And to be playing at the home of cricket was like being in heaven. The only low point was that Woodhouse Grange beat us,” he says.

Joe has become a consistent performer in his three years as a member of the First XI team in the Premier League. Last season was his most successful, with 34 wickets @ 15.24.

And he’s been rewarded, in the last couple of seasons, with a spot in Oxfordshire’s Minor Counties line-up. It hasn’t been an easy initiation, he says.

“In a couple of my early games in 2016, I went for plenty. You’re bowling against some gun bats. After all, it’s the equivalent of County Seconds, but I learnt a fair bit and that’s my big challenge now – to cement a spot in the Oxfordshire side. I have to try to beat the bat a bit more, rather than just try to contain.”

His best Minor Counties performance came in his most recent game, last July, when he took 2/49, 2/49 and made 26* against Dorset.

He has crossed swords with the likes of Matt Renshaw, Tim Paine, Peter Hanscombe, Ashton Agar and Curtis Patterson, who have all played as overseas pro’s in the Minor Counties Premier League in recent seasons.

After yarning to them, he was convinced that a season in Australia would do him the world of good.

So, through his agent, he established contact with Rovers-United-Bruck.

“Jacob (Schonafinger) and Luke (Whitten) painted a great picture of the Club through their use of social media. They kept me up-to-date, and I felt really comfortable about coming to Wang.…….”
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

And he hasn’t been disappointed.

I get the impression that Joe’s at peace with the world when he cradles that shiny Kookaburra in his big left mitt and charts the course for a lengthy afternoon at the bowling crease. He’s not over-enamoured with the 8-over per bowler one-day limitations. Heck, he’s barely got into a groove when his spell is finished !

No, those 25-over stints are right down his alley.IMG_2923

He finds the closely-mown Aussie ‘tracks’ a touch inhibiting. There is plenty of grass left on the wickets at home, and they allow him to skid the ball onto the bat. Which means that he has to work a bit harder over here.

But that’s okay. He has 21 wickets @ 11.00, and an economy rate of 1.78 in club cricket. He’s a key component of a Hawk line-up which takes on Beechworth in a potentially rip-snorting Semi-Final this week-end.

No doubt the highlight of his Australian summer has been the role he played in Wangaratta’s dual Country Week successes.

“You meet some great new team-mates that you haven’t had much to do with when playing against them in club cricket. There was excellent camaraderie in the team. We struck some class players in some of the other rep sides”, he says.

Joe sent down 54 overs at Bendigo.C.W, and was the leading wicket-taker, with 12 for the week. The Final, which began at 9am, was reduced to 35 overs because of the anticipated plus-40 degree temperature. He snared 3/21, to help restrict Colac to 150, in sauna-like conditions. Wang had earlier made 8/205. The boys celebrated with considerable zest.IMG_3054

He was co-opted into the Melbourne Country Week side mid-week, and again played a valuable role in an attack which had a slant on spin. His 10-over spell in the Final, in conjunction with Northamptonshire left-armer Saif Zaib, put the screws on the Central Gippsland stroke-makers. Wang had some tight moments, but ran down their target for the loss of 5 wickets.IMG_3135

One of the stipulations Joe made upon his arrival in Wangaratta was that he wanted to become involved in junior coaching. Besides his role as Under 16 coach, he regularly took Hawk youngsters aside for individual sessions.

This led to a few kids from other clubs also seeking his tutelage. “The more coaching they got, the more they seemed to lap it up,” he says.

He also managed to fit in some part-time work at ‘Paulie’s Corner Cafe’, the restaurant of fellow RUB player Paul Szeligiewicz.

Joe and his girlfriend Finola were able to take in a fair portion of the Ashes Tests at the MCG and Adelaide. Far from feeling like ‘pigs in a poke’ amongst the rabid Aussie fans, they were surprised at the support for the Poms from the ‘Barmy Army’.

Seven days after they arrive back home, Joe is scheduled to play his first practice match of the new English season.

There is Club cricket, T-20’s and League cricket on the program, besides hopefully, a full program of 3-day games for Oxfordshire. He’ll possibly be playing four days a week.
And besides this, he has to fit in the final year of his P.E Teacher’s Degree, which involves working-in-school assignments.

It’s his intention to return to Australia – and Wangaratta – sometime in the future.

But firstly, there’s a Semi-Final to negotiate…………….IMG_3132