Going down to the wire

File photograph





WHO would have thought there’d be a tighter race in the Valley after the state election.

Like trying to predict the seat of Morwell last year, the Latrobe Valley District Cricket League Premier A competition is genuinely too close to call.

With two rounds to go in the regular season, every team is still in with a show of either qualifying for finals, or securing the benefits that go with finishing top-two.

Less than a game separates last from fourth, while the top-three teams are all equal on points after last Saturday’s round of one-day matches (the entire round was reverted to a one-dayer following the previous week washout).

The dash to local cricket election day has started; early voting has opened, but winners won’t be declared until the final numbers are verified.

Who will be making their concession speech first?

MORWELL made a strong statement against a fellow contender.

The Tigers defeated Moe by six wickets inside 35 overs at Keegan St, a result which may just reaffirm Morwell’s premiership credentials.

The home side decided to bowl first after winning the toss, and reduced Moe to 3/21.

Brendan Brincat made a fast start, taking those three wickets with his first 13 balls.

His victims came about after Riley Baldi got a leading edge on one that went a million miles in the air and Morwell wicket-keeper Scott Douglas made good ground to take a running catch. A short while later, Noah Kane was trapped in front after playing back, and then left hander Sean Spiteri poked at one angled across him.

The early carnage was cleaned up by the ever-reliable pair of Andrew Philip and Rob Phoenix, who got together for a 45-run partnership.

Philip was sent out to open, making the move from his customary position at first drop. He got himself to 36 off 35 balls and looked set before being dismissed amid some contention.

An appeal for caught behind was immediately given after the ball ballooned to Mark Cukier in close off the bowling of Ross Whelpdale. While Morwell players were convinced there was bat involved, Philip, a scrupulously fair player, appeared to think otherwise.

Phoenix watched on from the other end, and he ended up playing a watchful hand of 39 off 64 balls.

The Philip decision was possibly a square-up after Phoenix survived a huge caught behind appeal when he was on four.

His eventual dismissal left the match in the balance at 5/93.

Chris Robinson took the score into triple figures, making a patient 31 off 72 balls, holding up an end while wickets fell among the lower order.

The Tigers were able to close strongly, taking the last five wickets for only 35 runs to see Moe all out for 138.

Brincat set the tone with figures of 3/22 off 10 overs with four maidens. Whelpdale and Greg Harvey did their job taking pace off the ball, and finished with two wickets each, while Cukier mopped up, taking the last three wickets.

Cukier then went out to open the batting, and ended up making a match-high 55.

With time on his side, Morwell’s greatest ever first grade run-scorer was able to go at a steady tempo, combining with Blair Clymo for a 65-run partnership for the third wicket.

Clymo played a busy hand of 49 off 66 balls, clearing the fence twice and remaining unbeaten as the game was won.

The Lions took a few wickets for their troubles, but in the end, just didn’t have enough runs to play with. Callum Grant was economical, returning figures of 1/26 off 10 with four maidens.

While disappointed with how things transpired, the result does not spell the end for Moe. In some respects, the match was a free-hit given it was a one dayer, a format that more than likely won’t be seen again this season.

Without stating the bleedingly obvious, finals aren’t played as one-dayers.

By the same token, Morwell will surely be pleased with the manner in which they won. Good sides chase down totals like these only three or four down, and the Tigers were able to complete this task professionally.

With some key players waiting in the wings, Morwell is also facing the proverbial ‘good problem to have’ at the selection table.

Brendan Mason still hasn’t played an A Grade game this season, and Tiger officials will be hoping he is fully-fit come finals.

Mason, on the return from dual shoulder reconstruction, played seconds on the weekend and scored 29 off half as many balls.

Fast bowler Travis Pickering is also on the comeback trail.

As fate would have it, Pickering is facing the unique proposition of playing a second grade match against old club Thorpdale this Saturday. When he signed up to play for Morwell seven years ago, it is unlikely he ever thought he would have to play a game against Thorpy scoobs.

With names like these, as well as captain Jordan Campbell to potentially come back in, Morwell looks to have depth to rival Hawthorn of the 1980s.

If you wanted unbelievable depth, check out the Hawks from that era.

Their side was so strong that Brett Lovett (a Gippsland boy incidentally), who ended up playing 235 games for Melbourne, was an emergency for the Hawthorn Reserves 1985 Grand Final team.

DID Latrobe know it was a one-dayer?

The Sharks were stuck in two-day mode against Churchill at Peter Siddle Oval, batting virtually 50 overs for a grand total of 98 runs.

The home side batted first after winning the toss, but put in one of the more bizarre limited overs’ innings you are likely to see.

Granted the Peter Siddle Oval wicket hasn’t had much use this season, to see 14 maidens delivered with a white ball was certainly unusual.

Players on either side had little reason to think anything out of the ordinary was going to happen when Latrobe got through the first four overs unscathed.

However, Churchill new-ball operators Kian Farnworth and Kurt Holt then took two wickets within three balls of each other to leave the Sharks 2/9.

Churchill had three different bowlers strike three different sets of pads for the first three wickets.

From there, the Sharks got their front pad outside the line, but only succeeded in going one mode worse, as four of the next five wickets were bowled.

Chris Williams did his average no harm, taking 2/8 off nine overs with five maidens. John Keighran did likewise, with 1/14 off 10 with four ‘Big Ms’, while Matt Harvey snared 2/5.

Latrobe’s decision to eliminate all risk from their game played into the Cobras hands, as it not only kept them ahead of the game, but only increased the likelihood of a wicket.

Having not died of boredom, Churchill negotiated the run chase with little to no issue, winning by eight wickets.

Harvey and Ric Velardi put on an opening stand of 54, with the later making 26 and the former going one better.

While the match was one-sided, it is worth noting that seven of the 12 wickets to fall were bowled. Regardless of how tricky conditions might have been, players on both sides will need to tighten up their defences as finals approach.

In the eyes of some, you really shouldn’t get bowled.

Looking ahead, there could some cheeky tactics from the boys at the Snake Pit in weeks to come.

Currently, Churchill is on top of the ladder, and therefore gets the first choice of venue for the semi-final.

However, the Cobras have hardly played at their home ground of George Cain Oval this season, and with the facility still not fully repaired, playing a final there presents a huge risk.

If Churchill can secure top spot, they might just choose to play the semi at Keegan St – thus taking away one of Morwell’s assets.

With the Cobras and Tigers set to meet in the last round of the regular season, spectators could see a reverse of what happened in the AFL back in 2007.

People may remember bottom sides Carlton and Richmond playing for the ‘Kreuzer Cup’ that year.

Churchill and Morwell might be playing for the ‘Keegan Cup’.

CATS aren’t done with just yet.

The team that had only won two games before last Saturday is now only one game outside the top four.

Travelling to Yinnar for an assignment against Raiders, the visitors elected to bat first upon winning the toss.

Having batted down the order for most of the season, Cal Stewart said ‘enough’s enough’ and went out to open.

He scored 45 off 61 balls, combining with Jamie Cochrane in a 110-run opening stand.

Cochrane took the captaincy for the day and led from the front, making a magnificent 83 off 113.

With 10 overs still to go when Cochrane was dismissed, CATS were able to get past 200 thanks to the efforts of Tyler Brown, who hung around for an unbeaten 26 from 61 balls.

Raiders captain Liam Maynard exercised good control, with his leg-breaks returning figures of 3/35 off 10.

The Raiders response was punctuated by wickets falling at semi-regular intervals, as a few players got starts without going on.

CATS were smart with their bowling changes, holding Stewart until the sixth over so he had more time at key players in the middle order like Maynard and Mick Higgins.

The express bowler ended up taking both those wickets, with the wicket of Maynard reducing Raiders to 4/58.

Wickets continued to fall, with all six CATS bowlers used taking a scalp.

Things got a bit tense when Madura Perera counterattacked with 30 off 34 balls, but once again, it was Stewart who was the man to take a match-defining wicket.

Burkeley MacFarlane dug in, making an unbeaten 39 off 77 at number eight, but could only watch on as the last few wickets fell to leave Raiders all out for 165.

Sam Gissara ended with two wickets, and fittingly, Cochrane took the last one to wrap up a 50-run win.

The reigning Premier A premier will more than likely need to win both their remaining games in order to qualify for finals.

If they do happen to sneak in however, there will surely be a few nervous teams, especially after what happened last season.

For those unaware, CATS finished 30 points off the top side and ended up winning the flag.