By LIAM DURKIN
CHURCHILL Cricket Club will again provide a strong challenge to all opponents in season 2021-22.
The Cobras have been a mark of consistency in recent years, with their A Grade side playing in the last four grand finals.
While the make-up of the team might be slightly different this season, it would be very dangerous to write off any team that will still include the likes of genuine match-winners Brendan Mason and John Keighran.
Keighran takes over from Mason as first grade captain, and is again tipped to be one of the most prized wickets in the Latrobe Valley and District Cricket League.
As Churchill cricketers and footballers seem to just tell it as it is, which is to be appreciated, Keighran did not spin facts when asked how things were shaping up for the season ahead.
“We’ll still be very competitive but probably at this stage not as good as we were last season, but I think that can change pretty quickly,” he said.
“We’re definitely not going to be easy beats … I’m pretty happy where we’re at.
“The easiest way to put it sometimes is our best cricket is easily the best cricket and can win premierships but sometimes we have some real flat spots and our worst can be quite the opposite end, so finding somewhere in the middle is where we aim at.”
Perhaps it is this honesty that has enabled Churchill to have sustained periods in the top half of the ladder, with the majority of players understanding and under no illusions as to their own cricketing ability.
This, coupled with players’ willingness to fight and accept their role has formed the cornerstone of how the Cobras have built a successful program.
Keighran pointed to players such as batsman Ric Velardi and all-rounder Steve Warr as cases in point to this mantra.
As Keighran explained, Velardi may have only scored 280 runs and got past 30 three times as an opening batsman last season, but his efforts helped the team in the long run.
“If you can play your role and play to your strengths that allows other people to play to their strengths,” he said.
“That is something we are very good at, people know their own strengths and weaknesses and we do talk about that.
“If you have people at the other end who are going really well all you need to do is rotate strike.
“Ric is a perfect example, he knows he’s not a top five or top two bat in the competition but he’s got a job at the top of the order where he’ll battle as hard as anyone to get a score.
“Early in the season last year he did that, he made quite a couple of good scores and that put us in good winning positions.
“Similar to Steve Warr, he does the exact same thing. He just concentrates on bowling dot balls and being as consistent as possible and in our competition that gets wickets.
“Lots of people play very similar roles and that allows a few of us to play freely.”
Superlatives aside, the story of Steve ‘Tugga’ Warr is a pretty inspiring one, as he has climbed from virtually the bottom to the top in the local cricket world.
“He was probably an underrated player for a lot of years,” Keighran said.
“He spent a bit of time in C Grade and B Grade, he is a C Grade premiership player for us and now an A Grade premiership player and best on ground performer (in 2018-19).
“He has developed his game and knows his game better than anyone else knows their own.”
Another hallmark of Churchill’s cricket in the last few seasons has been their brilliance in the field, and those who have played the Cobras will attest to how it often feels as though there are 15 fielders on the ground.
Keeping that honesty going, Keighran said the emphasis on fielding was basically to make up for any potential shortcomings with the ball.
“Pressure is a massive thing for us,” he said.
“We probably don’t have a bowling attack where we are going to skittle teams for not a lot of runs so we really rely on playing a dot ball pressure game.
“At the standard of cricket we play people tend to get themselves out once the dot balls start piling up.
“With this season being a one day competition I think that will probably only help us, people can’t set in and try and bat through our plans, they have to try and get on with it.
“If we’ve got some good bowlers operating through the middle overs, creating a lot of pressure I think that only benefits us.”
Heading into a full one day season, where it will be vital teams have bowlers who can scoot through overs, the Cobras will have options in off spinner Ross Whelpdale and medium pacer Warr, who will bowl with the keeper up to the stumps, to do this.
Matt Harvey could also be called upon with his left arm orthodox to drift a few across the right handers depending on his availability.
“He is a pretty good one day bowler, he has a knack of getting wickets,” Keighran said of Harvey.
“One day option he is quite handy being a leftie, just adds a different dimension to it all.”
Although the ins and outs for Churchill are still to be confirmed, it is expected club favourite and heart and soul performer Ryan Harvey will be playing in a limited capacity as he recovers from an injury sustained during the football season.
Maintaining the theme of honesty, an honest brand of cricket is sure to be seen at Churchill Cricket Club this season, with Keighran, the man known as the ‘King Cobra’, leading the way.