By Nick Creely
It seemed like a routine win for Berwick was on the cards.
The early losses Syed Mehmood, Austin Heldt and skipper Asfan Thajudeen had North Dandenong immediately on the back foot when play resumed at Arch Brown Reserve on Saturday in Round 1 of the DDCA Turf 1 season.
Something stunning would’ve needed to happen for the Maroons to recover from 4/68 to chase down the Bears’ 250 in their own backyard.
Enter Akshay Ballal (110), the Maroon import with a point to prove.
In an exquisite knock that not only resulted in a century on debut for the club and in DDCA Turf 1 cricket, he secured a win from the clouds for his side in an incredible, breathtaking knock that actually ended in controversy.
When Muharjithan Thedchanamoorthy was dismissed, the scores were tied with the Maroons finishing on 250, but on a recount after the scorebooks didn’t add up, found that the visitors actually won, scoring 253.
But it was the sublime effort of the Maroons’ new recruit that was the big talking point, flaying a highly rated Bears bowling side to all parts after steering them out of trouble.
Bears skipper Matt Chasemore (4/54) did a superb job as he builds back into his bowling, while Brendan Rose impressed on debut with 2/32.
But it may have not come to this had the Bears not declared with three wickets in hand and with eight overs left on day one, in a puzzling tactical move that ultimately brought about their downfall.
With Rose set on 74, the Bears could have easily put another 40 or 50 runs on the board, putting the result beyond doubt. But the eagerness of the Bears to take late wickets gave the Maroons a sniff, and Ballal delivered.
It’s a massive result in the opening round of a long season, and one that could be a catalyst for the revival of the Maroons.
Buckley Ridges, meanwhile, made their run chase against St Mary’s look almost easy at times down at Park Oval.
The powerful Bucks had a mini mountain to climb when play resumed and the two sides made their way onto the ground.
Chasing an imposing 284 for victory, champion opener Daniel ‘DJ’ Watson (82 off 62 balls) completely blitzed the Saints, belting six sixes and seven boundaries in an ominous, almost routine standard setter from the Bucks gun.
DJ – the most destructive batsman in the DDCA – picked up where he left off in his brilliant 2017/18 season, putting on 122 runs for the opening wicket with reliable batsman Jayson Hobbs, who provided the perfect foil for Watson.
Hobbs continued to bat and bat, using his class and elegant stroke play to keep the scoreboard ticking over, compiling crucial partnerships with Susa Pradeep (26) and Greg Todd (28), and eventually raised his bat for a sublime century, finishing 116 not out as the Bucks crossed the total with five wickets left and in just 65 overs.
Down at Alex Nelson Reserve, a spin masterclass by Springvale South saw the Bloods hold off a brave Mordialloc.
Resuming at 0/66, the Bloodhounds were a long way away from Springy’s 313, and at 2/97, urgently needed a strong partnership to keep the game alive.
Brendan Morris (95) and Damith Mapa Ralage (50) were simply outstanding, piling on over 100 runs to get the Bloodhounds into a position for a potential win.
Morris in particularly, is beginning to make his mark on the competition, and after his breakthrough century last season, is set for a big season for the reigning premiers.
At tea, the Bloodhounds had skipped to 2/199, and looked like pulling off an absolute miracle considering the depleted nature of the side, showcasing their trademark grittiness and determination to take the game on.
Champion skipper Craig Slocombe stepped up in a stunning spell after the break, trapping Mapa Ralage LBW, and then denying Morris a much-deserved century after a Dylan Quirk catch.
Slocombe didn’t stop there, once again rapping the pads of Daniel Fuller without troubling the scorers, finishing with the mind-boggling figures of 5/18 off 17 overs, a spell of bowling that included 10 maidens. It seems that the champion Blood is getting better with age.
Slocombe was brilliantly supported by spinning duo Malinga Bandara (3/65), Jarryd Straker (2/25) and ensured the visitors would lose their last seven wickets for just 41 runs, in a wonderful pressure performance.
Bandara did a mountain of work, bowling virtually all day, helping tie up an end in his 34 overs.
And in the final game, Heinz Southern Districts lost to Hallam Kalora Park at Reedy Reserve, avoiding outright as the Hawks started the year with a bang.
After setting the Cobras an imposing 258 for victory, the home side started the day at 0/9, but immediately lost skipper Trevor Davies to seamer Will Whyte (2/19), before star all-rounder Jordan Hammond took over.
Hammond completely obliterated the top and middle order of the Cobras, and it was virtually game over at 6/19, with the all-rounder picking up four of those.
Trademark fight from Kaushalya Weeraratne (24) and Kyah Cronin-Little (25) kept the Hawks at bay for a while, but eventually Hammond finished them off with two more wickets and see his side skittle the home side for 73.
Hammond finished with the brilliant figures of 6/25, while Whyte picked up 2/19 to be the pick of the bowlers.
Sending the Cobras back in after tea, Hammond picked up a quick wicket, but the home side fought out the game to finish on 1/65.
In Round 2, Mordialloc will host North Dandenong at Ben Kavanagh Reserve, St Mary’s take on Hallam Kalora Park at Hallam, Springvale South host Berwick at Alex Nelson, and Buckley Ridges make the trip to Reedy Reserve to take on Heinz Southern Districts.