‘AND NOW, THE TIME HAS COME…..’

It’s the pinnacle of the season tomorrow; the culmination of a year’s hard work………

The WDCA Grand Final has provided a catalogue of upsets, controversies, brilliant performances, dramatic collapses and – dare I say it – rain interruptions.

My memories hark back to the fifties, when Dad and his brothers left you in no doubt they were playing for ‘sheep stations’, as they prepared for the ‘Big One’….. But for decades before that, tempers flared and emotions boiled when rivals fought for the flag.

Here is a selection of  games that fostered a tradition which has spanned 123 years…….

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1896/97 : Wangaratta v Exelsior.

“……At 9/68 on the first day, these were anything but cheering figures that greeted the Wangaratta skipper, as he strode out to join McCallum, in one of the most eventful partnerships ever seen on the Wangaratta ground.

He had a ‘grim smile’ and one of the onlookers remarked…..”what if the last two were to make a century ?”

The batsmen played with verve and judgement. Clarke was content to play a steady game, but Mac hit ‘bloomin hard’ and ‘ bloomin often’.

Hickey came on and clean-bowled McCallum and the innings closed for 137.

Exelsior’s reply began well the following week, but soon they slumped. Their hopes were revived by Joe Bath, as they edged ever closer to the Wangaratta total.

But Joe had the unpleasant experience of having his wicket put down by the Wang keeper.

He played a splendid and plucky innings – never giving a chance. He was very knocked about, but had the consolation of knowing that he received his wounds and spilt his blood in a most stubborn fight.

The ray of light that had started to glow in the breast of Wangaratta now burst into the sunshine of splendid victory as Jimmy Tough, the last man in, knocked the ball into Len Docker’s hands.IMG_4021

While the ball was in the air, even the boldest held their breath, but when its career was stopped, the Wang supporters manifested their delight in no uncertain terms……”

Wangaratta 137 defeated Exelsior 130…..

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1928/29 : Wangaratta v East Wangaratta.

“Scarcely in the history of the WDCA have there been two stauncher rivals than the Grand Final combatants, who met at Oxley.

Wangaratta managed 136, with their premier batsman Alec Fraser registering 36, to be the main obstacle to the much-vaunted East Wang pace attack.

East gained a slender advantage by posting 158. Clem Fisher was his usual obstinate self in an innings of control, but it was the slow bowler Tom Nolan, with 8/48, who took the honours for Wangaratta.

Wang could manage only 99 in their second innings, after Harry Fisher had taken 6/5. So East needed 79 to take out the premiership.IMG_4022

They still needed 9 runs when last pair Cliff Pratt and Bill McCormick were at the crease.

Easts supporters urged them along all the way, as they inched their way to a famous win…..”

East Wangaratta 158 and 9/79 defeated Wangaratta 136 and 99.

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1933/34: Footballers v. Wangaratta.

“It was a most riveting game, dominated by the slow bowlers.

Wangaratta’s score of 87 saw them take a 1-run advantage over Footballers, who wouldn’t have reached their total of 86, but for a fine contribution from Arch Wilkinson.

Wilkinson’s 7/44 wrecked Wangaratta’s second innings, but they reached 97.

Footballers, having given themselves a definite chance of taking the honours, were then bundled out for 65.

Don Young did the damage. He bowled remarkably well, flighting and turning the ball in a manner that made him nigh unplayable. Young finished with 6/29…..”

Wangaratta 87 and 97 defeated Footballers 86 and 65.

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1935/36: Footballers v. Eldorado.

“This was one of the most memorable of all Grand Finals, principally for the numerous batting records which were created along the way.

On the first day, Arch Wilkinson and Bernie Izard put on 245 for the first wicket. Resuming on Day 2, Charlie Heavey and Frank Archman carried on the awesome performance, and added 287 for the third wicket.IMG_0828

The score at the end of the day was 8/634.

The first four batsmen scored centuries or over: Izard 100, Wilkinson 154, Heavey 187 and Archman 112.

Eldorado were to be congratulated for the wonderful way they stuck to their task.

Footballers declared after two days batting and Eldorado set out on their Herculean task. Several batsmen got a start, but the lower order failed badly and they were all out for 126.

In their second innings, Eldorado had compiled 5/196 when play was mercifully concluded……”

Footballers 8/634 defeated Eldorado 126 and 5/196.

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1957/58: Magpies v Bruck.

“The week preceding the Grand Final was chock-full of drama.

Magpies, in their third year in the competition, had staged a withering run after the Christmas break,  sneaking into the four at the death-knock, at the expense of unlucky Moyhu Gold.

They defeated Rovers Brown in a fiery semi-final clash, which saw three of their players – Jack McDonald, Peter Larkins and captain John Holloway – reported by umpire Bill Daly, for disputing an LBW decision against Graham Kerr.

All of them escaped with a reprimand, and were able to take their place in the Grand Final.

Bruck, led by Mac Holten, were the favourites going into the game, and they battled hard to contain Magpies to a score of 170. Jack Isles, with a handy 32, was the main thorn in Bruck’s side.

Bruck were always in contention, but were unable to gain the upper hand against some superb bowling from Jack McDonald, who finished with 8/67.

Bruck, at stages appeared to be on the verge of victory, but fell agonisingly short, by six runs……”

Magpies 170 defeated Bruck 164.

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1959/60: Rovers v Bruck

“Chasing their second successive flag, Rovers pacemen Jim Horne and Jim Chapman cut a swathe through the Bruck batting line-up to dismiss them for a paltry 90.

The swing of Horne (4/36) and the fire of Chapman (3/30) had given the Hawks the ascendency, but Bruck hit back well to have Rovers 5/14 at one stage, then 6/64 at stumps on the first day.

Jack Beeby (7/45) was the wrecker, as Rovers limped to a four-run lead, thanks to a lone hand of 50 from Len Hill.

Bruck were sailing along well, at 5/106 in the second ‘dig’, but collapsed dramatically to be all out for 115.

Chapman, Len Hill and Bob Rose shared the spoils for the Hawks.

Rovers had some anxious moments in pursuit of 113, and slumped to 5/74.

On a wicket which was affected by overnight rain, the feature of the day was the batting display of Fred Booth, who was 31* when Rovers claimed victory. It was only in the last hour that the Hawks put the match beyond doubt………”img_4025.jpg

Rovers 94 and 6/114 defeated Bruck 90 and 115.

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1986/87: City Colts v Corowa.

“Corowa made history by reaching their first WDCA Final.

And although they were given a hammering by City Colts, local fans were soon to become used to the Border team winning their way through to the Grand Final.

Corowa could only muster 141, as Maurie Braden and Mick Lappin did the damage. Colts, who were also relative newcomers to the finals stage, gave themselves a fair chance. But this was one game where their batting line-up rose to the occasion.

Led by teen-ager Scott Clayton (146*), they amassed a huge 414, with Maurie Braden (97), Russell Harris (76) and John Hill (32) joining the action.

Rod Lane, who was to join Carlton the following season, toiled manfully to finish with 6/100……..”IMG_4026

City Colts 414 defeated Corowa 141.

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2001/02: Wangaratta-Magpies v Rovers-United.

“One of the great WDCA Grand Finals went right down to the wire, in a low-scoring encounter.

Magpie star Duane Kerwin held his side’s innings together with a fine undefeated 73, to guide them to a respectable total of 151 after they had slumped to 5/55. Hawk speedmen Adam Booth, Peter Harvey and Trevor Anderson shared the bowling honours with three wickets apiece.

Rovers-United, 2/18 overnight, had slumped to 4/24 the next morning. Dogged right-hand opener Anthony Lawler then stepped up and proved the unlikely hero for the Hawks.

Recalled to the side after the unavailability of Peter Tossol, Lawler’s 61 was an innings of patience and defiance.

Even so, the Hawks still needed 12 runs for victory when the last pair, Peter Harvey and Adam Booth came together.IMG_4027

It was Harvey who hit the winning runs to take Rovers-United to a dramatic victory, despite the lion-hearted effort of ‘Pies quickie Tim Sheldon, who finished with 6/34……..”

Rovers-United 9/153 defeated Wangaratta-Magpies 151.

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2011/12: City Colts v Yarrawonga-Mulwala.

“City Colts suffered Grand Final pain for the 4th consecutive year, after losing a nail-biting clash with Yarrawonga-Mulwala.

The Lakers caused one of the upsets of the season, at the most appropriate time, with a Marcus Hargreaves spell on the opening day proving the catalyst to their four-wicket win.

Hargreaves took 5/47 in a 24-over spell, to help restrict Colts to 177 off 75 overs. Colts flew away to a good start, with openers Jeremy Carr and Nick Norris crafting a 40-run stand. It was left to veterans Scott Clayton and Justin Solimo to steady the ship, but the going was slow.

Luckily, the tail wagged, to push the score to 177.

In reply, the Lakers also found difficulty in breaking the shackles, but Daniel Athanitis (33), Lee Fraser (34) and Dwayne Duxson kept them within reach of a competitive total.

But they still needed 33 off 8 overs when Fraser was dismissed, and youngster Paddy Martin strode to the crease.IMG_4029

Whereas the batting over the two days had been circumspect, Martin cleared the field with some excellent hitting. Nineteen balls later, the game was over. Martin’s quickfire 26 and Duxson’s dogged, unbeaten 39 had taken the Lakers to their first WDCA flag……”

Yarrawonga-Mulwala 6/179 defeated City Colts 177

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2018/19: City Colts v Yarrawonga-Magpies.

“Who will write the next chapter in the WDCA Grand Final story……?”

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RIVALS TURN ON ANOTHER CLASSIC CONTEST…….

Joe Thomas, of Great & Little Trew Cricket Club – and occasionally Oxfordshire – made his debut on Australian soil yesterday.

And the rangy English all-rounder played his part in a classic encounter, as Yarrawonga-Mulwala and Rovers-United-Bruck, tangled at the Stan Hargreaves Oval.

It was a match that went right down to the wire – as most contests between the arch rivals generally do – and re-affirmed that both will be thereabouts at the business end of this WDCA season.

Hawks’ skipper Jordan Blades won the toss and elected to bowl in perfect conditions. He sprung the first surprise when Thomas was thrown the new ball.

It was obviously an opportunity for the left-arm finger spinner to settle in to his new surroundings and he immediately dropped onto a tidy line.

But after just one over, Blades reverted to the pacemen. Hamish Busk was a trifle rusty; Jacob Schonafiner, at the ‘Paddock End’, looked dangerous, and disturbed the stumps of highly-rated Shepparton recruit Josh Lawrence.

Ben Welsh and Matt Casey steadily solidified the Lakers’ innings before the game took the first of its several turns.

16 year-old Josh O’Donohue, playing just his sixth senior game, and with two A-Grade wickets to his name, found his rhythm in a terrific second over, to remove Welsh (25). Soon after he had the danger-man, Matt Knight, snapped up by a juggling Adam McNamara in slip.

Both wickets fell on 43. Suddenly the Hawks had assumed control.

It was an important spell for the lad, who tore in with zest and kept the ball up for the most part. Occasionally he dropped one short and was punished, but this was possibly through becoming a tad weary.

His eight-over spell yielded 5/25, and was a key factor in maintaining the ascendency of ball over bat.

But the bowling performances of Schonafinger (8/5/2/4) and Thomas (8/3/2/16) shouldn’t be discounted. ‘’Schona’ was always probing and gave nothing away, whilst Thomas proved what an asset he’ll be – particularly in the two-day format – with an accurate, tidy spell, which produced the occasional ‘fizzer’.

The Hawks had reduced the home combination to 9/98. But the next – and probably most important twist – came when James Irvine and second-gamer Will Sharp combined to defy their preying opposition in a 29-run last wicket-stand.

You just sensed that these were ultra-valuable runs. And it probably became apparent that the Hawks were a front-line bowler short, as the Lakers pushed their tally to a competitive 9/127 after 40 overs………..
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Rovers-United-Brucks’ progress was steady in pursuit of the target. Luke Whitten was watchful; Jordan Blades was his usual aggressive self. They didn’t really have much loose stuff to feast on, as left-arm opening quicks Angus McMillan and James Irvine were bang on target.

It meant that the Hawks were unable to push the run-rate beyond three-an-over. The introduction of young leggie Brock McCabe provided Blades with a couple of handy offerings which he despatched to the deep.

But, with the score on 48, Blades was gone for an enterprising 30, falling
to the newly-introduced Corey McIntosh ( Whitten had been dismissed 11 runs earlier).

Jacob Schonafinger was pro-active with the bat, but you could sense that some impressive bowling and plenty of yap in the field was conducive to tightening the screws.

‘Schona’ fell for 15 when Matt Knight made a surprise excursion to the bowling crease, but Adam McNamara, who is rarely shackled for long, took to the Lakers coach, smacking two sixes over mid-wicket amongst a 15-run over. Again, the Hawks had poked their noses in front.

With the total on 94 – and seven wickets to play with – Knight’s re-introduction of his opening quicks paid dividends. Jim Campbell was caught behind, Hamish Busk was clean-bowled, and the important wicket of McNamara fell to James Irvine.

It was now 6/94 and the weights had been applied to the visitors. Irvine snared another two victims in a team-lifting spell, which saw him finish with 4/17 and had the Hawks teetering at 8/106 – still 22 runs shy of victory.

Enter Joe Thomas. Reports had indicated that he preferred to bat in the middle-order, ideally at about number 7.  Some local experts preferred to think that, after watching him in the nets on Thursday night, he could be pushed up a little higher.

After getting a couple of effortless early shots away, it was obvious that the game now rested in his hands.

The big fellah looked composed, and whittled the margin down. He needed to continue throwing the bat – and keeping the strike – as time was of the essence. He had scored 21 and appeared on the verge of becoming an instant hero when sprightly young left-armer Will Sharp brought the home crowd to its feet by disturbing his hardware.

9/121. Seven to win; one wicket in hand. Wicket-keeper, and another debutant, Damien Kelly, was at the crease, and was joined by Josh O’Donohue.

He scrounged a single to maintain the strike. Six to win with an over from paceman Ben Doyle remaining, to settle what had been an absorbing contest.

Kelly straight drove the second ball for four. Two to win.

He attempted an identical shot next delivery, but it wasn’t there……He heard the sound of the death rattle behind him. The Lakers had triumphed by one run……

The crowd at Hargreaves Oval rose as one – after they finally realised that there was a tiny glitch on the electronic scoreboard – celebrating a famous Lakers triumph.

In a game that stood out for its excellent bowling, as well as its scratchy batting, it was also proof that WDCA cricket is alive and well ……..

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.