RIGHT down to the wire. That’s how we like it.

Defence proved to be the best offence at the weekend, as Centrals and Imperials batted long and hard in the Cricket Latrobe Valley A Grade Grand Final.

Both sides displayed their consistencies as well as weaknesses, but for the most part, slow and steady won the race.

Centrals won the toss on Saturday and captain Tye Hourigan opted to bat at Fred King Oval, Glengarry.

Centrals started fairly confidently, as Andrew Slimmon and Lachlan Speairs put on 38 for the first wicket until the former was dismissed.

Todd Mann was the man to break Centrals first, as Slimmon departed for 17.

Sam Gray joined Speairs at the crease, and the two put on another 38 runs for the second wicket.

Speairs would be forced to see his third batting partner come to the crease, as Gray was bowled by Dominic Thompson.

Wickets fell in quick succession for Centrals. Hourigan lasted 28 balls for just nine runs, becoming the second man to be caught behind off the bowling of Mann.

Speairs had himself a fourth batting partner, but he would be next to go after an impressive 43 runs. Suddenly, the score was 4/91, merely five minutes prior, the Lions were 2/91.

Mark Rawson and Corey Pollard now occupied the crease, as Imperials were desperately looking for a breakthrough to expose the tail.

Rawson made a hasty 13 from 21 before he became Mann’s third casualty, the score reading a nervous 5/107.

Centrals called upon their bowling attack to get themselves to a respectable score, and boy did they answer the call.

When Centrals wicketkeeper Ben Doble was trapped in front for 11, things looked bleak for the Lions with only 132 on the board with four wickets left in the shed.

It looked even worse when Pollard’s 85-ball innings came to an end with only 12 runs added.

At 7/137, things could’ve quickly taken a turn for the worse for Centrals, but their ship finally steadied, and at what a time.

The eighth wicket partnership of Bryce Williamson and Tyron Gamage put Centrals back in control, and by some length of persuasion.

At this point of the match, Centrals may have been looking for another 20 to 30 runs to get to 150 and defend for all hell.

But Williamson and Gamage combined for 59 runs, taking the total to 8/196 by the time their partnership came to an end, when Gamage was dismissed for 24.

Williamson continued to collect runs, so much so he became Centrals’ top-scorer for the match.

Williamson would eventually run out of steam to be the ninth wicket to fall, for 46 runs. Not bad for some bloke who averaged just under eight runs throughout the season, with a top score of 20.

Talk about a match-winning performance.

Marc Fenech added four runs of his own before Centrals were thrown in to defend their total of 215, having batted on into Day 2. Favouritism all of a sudden pointed to Centrals.

Mann was the best of the bunch for Imperials, taking 4/71.

In response, Imperials also had a confident start to their innings. From the outside looking in, it looked to be a long slog on Day 2, as if they were going to chase these runs, they would be done slowly and steadily.

Thankfully the music sounding around Glengarry in between overs was just enough to keep people going throughout the day.

A 48-run stand helped keep Imperials in good stead before losing their first wicket, when Anubhav Meenakshi was trapped lbw for 27. The opening partnership of Meenakshi and captain Ryan Morley lasted more than 20 overs.

When it rains, it pours.

Morley was next to go for 23, and he was swiftly followed by James Skingle who was sent on his way for a golden duck.

Next thing you knew, Imperials were 3/54.

When Imperials needed a pair to bring them back into contention, up stepped Dilshan Thilakarathne and Nilantha Thillekarathne.

For more than 40 overs, the two added over 80 runs. Two runs per over would’ve won Imperials the game from here.

Dilshan Thilakarathne faced 141 balls for a well-made half century, hitting three fours, before his exit left the scoreboard reading 4/137.

Shane Galea came to the crease and looked dangerous from the get-go, but his flair only lasted so long, hitting five from 17 deliveries.

Now five down for 149, only 67 runs were needed for victory, with about 30 overs left in the day. It was coming down to the wire.

Just when it looked like Imperials had enough ammunition to go all of the way, Centrals deflated them in a matter of overs.

Despite adding 26 runs for the sixth wicket, Nilantha Thillekarathne would leave Kaveesha Jayasuriya at the post, departing for 46 runs off the bowling of Fenech.

After missing out on a potential hat-trick earlier in the innings, Fenech gave himself another opportunity, when he dismissed Mann for a golden duck.

Jayasuriya couldn’t hold on much longer, dismissed lbw off Gamage for 15. All of a sudden, Imperials were in strife at 8/175, losing 3/0 in the space of minutes.

The damage was all done, and with one hand on the premiership, Centrals swiftly made it two, when they skittled the final two wickets for 15 runs, to claim the flag by 25 runs.

Long time coming: Marc Fenech was instrumental in the win, taking 5/47 to be named man of the match. Fenech was one of many Centrals veterans to have waited their whole career to play in an A Grade flag. Photograph: Zaida Glibanovic

Fenech was named Man of the Match for his five-wicket haul in the defence, taking 5/47 from his 31 overs.

Gamage bowled admirably for 3/58, while Pollard picked up a wicket, the other a run out.

It was a drought-breaking triumph for Centrals, winning its first A Grade premiership since 1990/91.

During that drought, they had only ever been to three Grand Finals in 1993/94, 2008/09 and 2018/19.

As for Imperials, they have to wait even longer – their last A Grade premiership was back in 1987/88.