By Russell Bennett
Both the West Gippsland Cricket Association (WGCA) and Warragul and District Cricket Association (WDCA) have had weeks to remember in the VCCL’s Melbourne Country Week.
The ‘Wild Dogs’ of the WDCA advanced to the Division 3 final against the Seymour District Cricket Association at Beach Oval in Brighton on Friday thanks largely to the buy-in from its entire playing group and support staff.
In this campaign under coach Norm Berry the Wild Dogs have taken their professionalism to a whole new level – demonstrating their eagerness to prove they belong, not only as Country Week contenders, but as players who can take their side through the divisions into the upper reaches of the competition.
After treading water somewhat in recent campaigns – since that infamous heated Division 3 grand final clash at Preston against the WGCA – the Wild Dogs are snarling once again, and have shown they’ve got genuine bite to match their bark.
The Warriors paved the way for how a local league in the south-east can advance through the divisions into the top tier, and now the boys from the WDCA are looking to emulate them.
“The leadership group of Fraser (skipper Fraser Duncan), Jack (Armour), and Sam (Batson) have an average age of 24 and have delivered a strong direction that senior players have followed, and the result is as strong a week of results in many years,” said WDCA support staff member Dave Armour.
He also praised the leadership, guidance, and selflessness of Berry who inspired the group in his eagerness to give so much back to local cricket in the region.
The WDCA’s campaign has featured contributions from right throughout the squad, with the likes of Sanjaya Gangodawila, Duncan, Ben Spicer, Hussain Ali, James Vela, and Danny Sheehan starring in particular.
Vela, a former Pakenham player, and Sheehan were nothing short of superb on Thursday against Hamilton District, combining for 170 of their side’s 290-run, winning total.
Long known for his undeniable talent with the bat, Vela converted his start in the semi-final into an emphatic century – 108 at far better than a run a ball, courtesy of 12 fours and four sixes.
While a number of Hamilton batsmen got promising starts in their reply – including 52 from opener Simon Close and 66 from Damien Logan – the Wild Dogs had the answers right when they needed them most in crunch time. James Williams snared 3/47 from his 10 overs, while Troy Lehman (2/47), and Spicer (2/2) were the other multiple wicket takers as Hamilton was dismissed for 218.
Meanwhile, the WGCA’s 2019 run in the top tier, Provincial, came to an end on Thursday with a gallant defeat to its neighbour to the south, the powerhouse reigning champion Mornington Peninsula Cricket Association. The WGCA had advanced through to the semi-final stage, therefore assuring its place in the top tier once again for 2020.
But for large parts of the clash with the MPCA, it looked like the Warriors had one more famous chapter left to right in this year’s competition.
Batting first at Bayswater Park, the MPCA amassed 8/239 from its 50 overs on a track that had plenty in it for the bowlers early, but evolved to an outstanding batting wicket with a lightning fast outfield as the day wore on.
It was fitting that WGCA champion, and now Langwarrin keeper-batsman, Tom Hussey helped lead the way for the MPCA against a number of former Warriors Country Week team mates. His 58 from the top of the order helped to set the scene for Kierran Voelkl to accelerate later in the final overs, finishing on 72 not out. Warriors co-captain Mark Cooper was once again outstanding with the ball, claiming 3/45 from his 10 overs, while Daniel Lever was the other multiple wicket-taker with 2/58.
In reply, the Warriors got off to a scintillating start – 0/41 from the first six overs – courtesy of some outstanding stroke-play from Cooper, who pouncing on anything short, in particular.
He and Rob Elston loomed as the potential match-winners for the WGCA at various stages, but both fell at the most inopportune times for the Warriors in their search of a famous win – Cooper run out by man of the moment Voelkl for 44 while batting with Elston, and Elston later caught for 49 off the bowling of Billy Quigley – who shone in the closing stages and finished with 3/52.
Despite another impressive middle order knock from young Tyler Clark (24), and some late cameos – particularly that of Tom Tyrrell (18 off 12) – the Warriors fell just short, finishing on 9/220 from their 50.
For a complete run-down of all the Country Week action featuring both the WGCA and WDCA, pick up a copy of next week’s Pakenham Gazette – out first thing Wednesday morning.