By David Nagel
The Casey Cardinia Cricket Association (CCCA) will be represented by a team bristling with all-round talent when the Crusaders start their Melbourne Country Week campaign at Walter Galt Reserve on Monday 12 February.
The association has a long and proud history in the week-long carnival that brings the best country cricketers from around the state to metropolitan Melbourne to showcase their talents.
This is the first time the association will play under the CCCA banner, which was formerly known as the West Gippsland Cricket Association (WGCA).
The 14-strong squad team includes three wicketkeeper/batters and 11 high-quality all-rounders.
Chris Bright, Ben Parrott and Will Halton will share the workload behind the stumps, while three players, Dale Tormey, Lucas Ligt and Morteza Ali would consider their key strengths as being their batting.
Brad Butler, Cooper Pursell, Jason Williams and Rumesh Ranasinghe form the bowling all-rounder brigade, while Dylan Sutton, Luke McMaster, Steven Dillon and Travis Wheller are equally adept at both skillsets.
Bright and Tormey will lead the team into battle, with both confident the squad can produce a strong challenge.
“It’s exciting, we’ve put together a team full of very exciting players and now it’s all about putting our best foot forward when it counts,” Tormey said at the Country Week launch at Tooradin.
“We’re not going there to be second best, we’re going there to win, and I think we’ve got the players that can get the job done.”
Bright is equally as excited to be pulling on the colours of the CCCA with the most talented players in the league.
“You have a look at the record of some of these players and it’s going to be great to have them as teammates for the week,” Bright said.
“Obviously we have some great memories from the 2017 success, and it would be great to share that same feeling with this team, this time around.
“I think our batting is very strong, and we have plenty of bowling options to keep the pressure on for 50 overs.
“It’s taken a lot of work from quite a few people to get to this point; now we just have to go out there and play an exciting brand of cricket and see where that takes us.”
Three players, Bright, Wheller and Williams, were part of the WGCA’s 2017 Country Week premiership; which was capped off a brilliant team performance in the grand final at Preston City Oval against Warragul.
The Division 3 title that day, in early February 2017, lead to a prosperous three-year journey that saw the Warriors climb from the lower rungs of Country Week to the elite-level Provincial Division.
Premiers in 2017, then earning consecutive promotions via a grand final appearance in Div 2 in 2018, and playing semi-finals in their first attempt at Provincial in 2019…the then WGCA had built a 9-4 win-loss record and had thoroughly earned the title as one of the most improved cricket competitions in the State.
Country Week is the one, the only time of the year, where the senior reputation of a league can be enhanced.
Covid by a halt to Country Week for a prolonged period of time, with the CCCA relinquishing its elite-level standing by not fielding a team last year.
Led by Country Week Team Manager Phil Anning, the passion of a strong off-field contingent has filtered down to the players who are very keen to play four solid days of cricket to qualify for a Friday grand final.
The CCCA will play four round-robin games in the 10-team second-tier competition, with the top-four teams qualifying for the tournament deciders.
Qualifying first or second will qualify teams for the Division 2 Grand Final at the Albert, while teams three and four will play the Division 3 decider at Hoppers Crossing.
Here’s Star News Groups look at this year’s Country Week squad.
CASEY CARDINIA CRICKET ASSOCIATION
2023/24 COUNTRY WEEK SQUAD
• Morteza Ali Cardinia
TOP ORDER BAT/RIGHT ARM OFF-SPIN
-Premier Division #4 (517 runs)
-Three big not outs (154, 105, 99)
-Unpredictable Match Winner
Comment: Throw the text book away with Morteza, who has adapted his own style of batting to become one of the great players in the CCCA over the last two seasons. Has won a Wookey Medal on Turf in the DDCA in the past, so knows how to play on that surface; and that experience could prove invaluable.
• Brad Butler Tooradin
RIGHT ARM QUICK/LOW ORDER BAT
-Premier Division #3 (20 wkts)
-Team of the Year member last season
-Three wickets or better five times this season
-Averages under 14 with the ball
-Is still only 23 years old
Comment: An up-and-coming star of the competition who can force opposition batters into mistakes due to his raw pace. The quickest bowler in the CCCA is also a damaging low-order bat who can dig this team out of trouble with his clean ball striking. Has been expensive in recent seasons, but has tightened up his line and length.
• Steven Dillon Kooweerup
RIGHT ARM DARTS/MID ORDER BAT
-Premier Division #10 (15 wkts)
-Match-winning 82 not out in round two
-Leading wicket-taker in T20 with 14
-Took 7/10 in a T20 game this season
Comment: At 29 years old, Dillon is probably the most improved player in the CCCA Premier Division this season and thoroughly deserves his selection. A premiership player at both Pakenham and Kooweerup, Dillon has always had the talent, but is now a lot more reliable; playing at near or at his best on a far more consistent basis.
• Will Halton Devon Meadows
TOP ORDER BAT/KEEPER
-Premier Division #14 (317 runs)
-Only 18 years old
-470 runs in District Premiership last season
-Three half-centuries this season
-Massively emerging talent
Comment: Fell to two of his Country Week teammates in Luke McMaster and Chris Bright on Saturday, but that hasn’t dulled the impact that the 18-year-old has on the CCCA Premier Division this season. A technically correct opening bat, Halton has already established himself as a respected player against the new ball.
• Lucas Ligt Devon Meadows
TOP ORDER BAT/MEDIUM PACE
-Premier Division #2 (536 runs)
-10 centuries since 2020/21
-Three centuries this season: 125*, 107*, 107
-Made 916 runs in District last year
-A left-hand run-machine
Comment: Ligt has continued on from where he left off last season, when he made 916 runs for Devon Meadows in a premiership-winning year. The lefty plays shots to all parts of the field and scores at a rapid rate; and is particularly punishing on anything short of a length. A real key for the CCCA at the top of the order.
• Luke McMaster Kooweerup
RIGHT ARM QUICK/TOP ORDER BAT
-Premier Division #10 (382 runs)
-Premier Division #7 (16 wkts)
-2022/23 Terry Stephenson runner up
-Highest score of 193
-Best bowling figures of 7/44
Comment: Opens the batting and bowling for Kooweerup and is equally as damaging in either skill-set. Any player that has a highest score of 193 and best bowling of 7/44 can really play the game. Luke scores very quickly when he gets going, and has a great ability to hit good length balls over the fence. Our tip for player of the carnival.
• Ben Parrott Tooradin
KEEPER/LOW ORDER BAT
-Played Country Week as a 14-year-old
-Has made more than 1500 runs
-Highest score of 88 last season
-Can bat…has made six fifties
-Can keep up to the stumps to the quicks
Comment: One of three wicket-keepers in the squad (alongside Chris Bright and Will Halton) Parrott has changed the outlook of games this season by simply standing up to the stumps to bowlers who can send them down at a fair clip. By his own admission has not been great with the bat this season, but you’d back the 26-year-old in to get some tough runs if required.
• Cooper Pursell Officer
LEFT ARM QUICK/MID ORDER BAT
-District Division #1 (27 wkts)
-Officer Captain…only 20 years old
-Only representative from District
-Handy bat…2 x 50s this season
-Valuable left-arm variation
Comment: The left-arm opening bowler produced a strong performance in the Premier Division last season, despite Officer being relegated. At age 20, he has been bestowed with the captaincy this season and has the Bullants flying high at the top of the ladder. Sends then down at a fair clip and his variation will be important.
• Rumesh Ranasinghe Merinda Park
LEFT ARM ORTHODOX/MID ORDER BAT
-White-ball specialist…took 15/87 in five T20 games
-Has great flight and variation
-Loves bowling a quicker ball
-Handy bat in the middle order
-Impressed in trial match against MPCA
Comment: A new recruit for Merinda Park this season, Ranasinghe has impressed with his left-arm offies and right-hand batting through the middle order. He has been particularly good in white-ball cricket, dominating for the Cobras in the shortest form of the game with both bat and ball. Like Pursell, his left-armers provide a good mix to the bowling group.
• Dylan Sutton Tooradin
RIGHT ARM MEDIUM/MID ORDER BAT
-Multiple Team of the Year all-rounder
-Averaging 68.5 this season
-Taken over 150 wickets
-Best bowling of 6/81
-Highest score of 133 in 2022/23
Comment: Has been one of the best all-rounders in the competition over the last five years, but is probably still underrated despite earning multiple selections in the CCCA Team of the Year. Sends them down quicker than he looks, and his mid-to-lower-order batting is going to be crucial as Country Week unfolds. A true gun of the CCCA competition.
• Travis Wheller Cardinia
RIGHT ARM OFF SPIN/TOP ORDER BAT
-Premier Division #7 (420 runs)
-Premier Division #2 (21 wkts)
-20/200 club by himself…21 wickets and 420 runs
-Made two centuries this season (105, 132)
-Only 25 but proven in big games
Comment: Announced himself in this competition as an 18-year-old, playing in the then WGCA’s Country Week premiership against Warragul in 2017. Has great control with the ball and is always difficult to score off, and now has two centuries to his name this season to underline his tremendous all-round ability. Captain’s Bright and Tormey can trust this bloke to back them to the hilt…all week long.
• Jason Williams Pakenham
RIGHT ARM OFF SPIN/MID ORDER BAT
-Took 8/47 against Devon Meadows this season
-Made over 3000 runs for Pakenham
-And taken over 230 wickets
-Has a highest score of 139
-Team of the Year member last season
Comment: Along with Ali is the elder statesman of the team, but took career-best figures of 8/47 earlier this season to show he still has what it takes to have an impact. A classical off-spinner with a beautiful action to watch ‘Boof’ could even open the bowling, given his consistency and ability to hit the right spot. Usually bats top order, but could be a strong presence down lower as the week unfolds.
• Chris Bright Kooweerup
TOP ORDER BAT/KEEPER
-Premier Division #6 (447 runs)
-Century and four half-centuries in 2023/24
-Needs 36 more runs to reach 6000
-Eight-time premiership player
-Scores at better than a run-a-ball
Comment: Along with Williams, Bright is the heart-and-soul player of this campaign, with a long and proud history of representing the WGCA/CCCA over the journey. He and Ali are the most destructive opening batters in the business…with Bright taking 20 runs off the first four balls of a recent game. ‘Wombat’ will captain the team for most of the week from a prime position behind the stumps, where his glovework is outstanding.
• Dale Tormey Pakenham
TOP ORDER BAT/RIGHT ARM MEDIUM
-Premier Division #5 (504 runs)
-Averages well over 50 in his CCCA career
-Dual Terry Stephenson Medallist
-Has made 3500 runs for Pakenham
-Destructive boundary hitter
Comment: An absolute superstar left-hand bat who has taken the WGCA/CCCA by storm since first playing for Pakenham in 2018/19. His first two seasons (960 and 952 runs) were off the charts, and contributed significantly to his more than 3500 runs in Lions colours. Most CCCA observers would say he’s the best player of the last decade…and it’s hard to disagree. The key to the CCCA’s success.
CCCA SQUAD – AT A GLANCE
Chris Bright Kooweerup (c)
Dale Tormey Pakenham (c)
Morteza Ali Cardinia
Brad Butler Tooradin
Steven Dillon Kooweerup
Will Halton Devon Meadows
Lucas Ligt Devon Meadows
Luke McMaster Kooweerup
Ben Parrott Tooradin
Cooper Pursell Officer
Rumesh Ranasinghe Merinda Park
Dylan Sutton Tooradin
Travis Wheller Cardinia
Jason Williams Pakenham
CCCA COUNTRY WEEK FIXTURE
MONDAY 12 FEB
Hawks U18 at Walter Galt
TUESDAY 13 FEB
Ballarat at Port Melbourne
WEDNESDAY 14 FEB
Sunraysia at Oakleigh
THURSDAY 15 FEB
Bellarine at Donvale
FRIDAY 16 FEB
Grand Final at Albert Ground (Div 2)
Grand Final at Hoppers Crossing (Div 3)