‘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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HONEST TOILER GETS HIS REWARD

Jacob Schonafinger has spent the bulk of his WDCA career with his back to the wall.

In the 80 A-Grade games that he has played since he first debuted as a 15 year-old in 2008, he has become used to striding to the crease in times of crisis ; the weight of expectancy always on him to eke out a few runs which might give his side something approaching a respectable score…….

….Or to take the ball when the game had started to drift away, in the hope that his accurate, wobbly, medium-pacers might snare a vital wicket to put things back on track.

Long before he began playing senior cricket, he was a familiar face to long-time personalities like Arthur Welch, Joe Pilkington, Max Taylor and Ken Stewart, who held court in the Hogan Stand and set it alight with their quick-witted repartee.

They gave cheek to the keen, inquisitive kid who would come down to watch the progress of the senior team – surprised and delighted as they were that any youngster would be enthusiastic enough to spend his Saturday afternoons in that way.

And when he was slotted in for a few games these hard-bitten old judges encouraged him, even though he was ‘pretty green’. They knew a good type of kid when they saw one.
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‘Schona’ became used to shouldering responsibility in his time at the Findlay Oval.

He was just feeling his way when the loss of a number of senior players left Rovers-United with a shell of a side.

At 18 he became 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.

He was showing steady on-field improvement over the last couple of years ; so much so that I complained, under my breath, that he was grossly under-rated.

It was pleasing then, that when the Rovers-United-Bruck merge came about during the off-season, a few young players like ‘Schona’ would now have some of the pressure lifted off them and could play with a bit more freedom.

‘Schona’ finally made his Country Week debut a fortnight ago and performed consistently. When I rang to check the scores on the Tuesday, everything was going hunky-dory. Upon my subtle query as to how the young fellow was handling the lift in standard, the reply was : “Gee, he’s under-rated”.

I must divulge here that ‘Schona’ runs a close second to George Bailey, as my favourite cricketer…..

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So permit me, if you will, to talk about the role he played in another terrific day’s play at Stan Hargreaves Oval, Yarrawonga, yesterday.

The Hawks were chasing a challenging total of 188, which had been compiled thanks to fine knocks from Reed Clarke (45), Josh Vagg (40) and Matt Knight (50). The bowling honours had been shared by Mark Drage (3/22), Schonafinger (3/43 off 19) and Jeremy Wilson (3/82 off 31.3 overs).

But at 2/31, the Combine were on the back foot. Enter ‘Schona’ who, with a circumspect Jordan Blades, began to resurrect the situation.

Blades plays beautifully off his pads and began to drive the ball with some command. The pair had added 60 and put the Hawks back in charge when the impressive right-arm quick Ben Doyle enticed a nick from Blades to the ‘keeper, Reed Clarke. He had scored a solid 36.

Darren Petersen, struggling for touch lately, played a couple of trademark drives before falling in the same manner: caught keeper Clarke, bowled Doyle.

The visitors were 4/120 at tea and those in the packed rooms ( I’m sure that there is no more hospitable club than the Lakers) would have countenanced that the game was evenly poised.

Its fate, I felt, lay in the hands of the entrenched ‘Schona’, who was now 48 and well-settled.

Stylish Lucky Perera gloved one to be caught in slips (5/125). The pendulum had again swung. But ‘Schona’ was not allowing himself to become shackled. He contributed 28 to a 33-run stand with Luke Whitten, then saw 3 wickets fall for 4 runs – an all-too-familiar RUB collapse.

It was 8/162 and the star of the day looked like being left stranded. Rovers-United-Bruck still needed 27 runs. Victory seemed a fair distance away. The odds were now decidedly in the Lakers’ favour.

‘Schona’ was 78 and batting beautifully, when Mark Drage joined him.

Give Drage his due. He’s a very handy tail-ender and bats with a flourish. He played some decisive shots, to quickly diminish the target, which he and the co-captain overtook in a matter of 8 overs. The remaining interest in the game was to nurse ‘Schona’ to his maiden century.

He continued in decisive fashion and reached the milestone, to the roar of those in the Hawk enclosure.

Drage completed a good match-double with his knock of 19. ‘Schona’ chose to celebrate his ‘ton’ by trying to effect a couple of fancy reverse sweeps and when he finally fell with the score on 218, he had scored a memorable 115.

As the 207th individual to score a century in WDCA history, and the first for Rovers-United-Bruck, he would be hoping that it’s not his last.