By Nick Creely
Reigning red-ball, white-ball and now inaugural Victorian Super Slam Stars Conference champs – it’s fair to say the last year or so have been whirlwind for all involved at Dandenong.
On Sunday, the Panthers claimed the Stars title after defeating the Prahran True Blues in a semi at Harry Trott Oval, before finishing strongly to pip St Kilda at Junction Oval only a few hours later.
In the day’s opening game, the Panthers reached 9/133 off the back of James Nanopoulos (32) and Brett Forsyth (31) after being sent in, before the True Blues got to the final over of their innings needing four runs with two wickets left in the shed.
As he did brilliantly throughout the whole tournament, marquee Karl Carver (2/23) spun a web to claim the final two wickets to give the Panthers a remarkable one-wicket win. James Nanopoulos (3/25) was also once again outstanding.
But after breezing past St Kilda in the final to claim victory and their first title of the year, skipper Tom Donnell – who lead the charge with 51 off 38 balls to help set up the win – said winning the pennant wasn’t exactly on the radar coming in to the tournament, and especially after a shaky start saw them just claw into the finals with a 3-3 record.
“It was sort of something that we didn’t expect coming into the tournament, we played a lot of different players throughout the whole lot, and sort of luckily qualified for the finals, and then lucky enough to win it,” he said.
“The first game yesterday was a bit of a nail biter, and we didn’t think we’d get over the line, but the boys pulled through, and then in the final, we played some really good cricket.
“It all clicked at the right time for us, which is good.”
Donnell said it was an added bonus to see plenty of young talent feature for the Panthers, including the likes of Ed Newman and Zach Grundmann-Perera – who struck a vital 15 off five balls in the final – and maintain their winning ways.
“There wasn’t much preparation – as I said, we’ve played a lot of guys, and we wanted to blood a lot of players in the club, and we wanted it to be a bit of a learning curve for the younger guys to know what it’s like,” he said.
“But it’s a good result to do that and come through with a win, which is good for the club.”
The Panthers now have the chance to take out the Victorian Grand Slam when they take on the winner of the Renegades Conference, the Carlton Blues, at the MCG this Sunday, in what will be a curtain-raiser to the BBL clash between the Melbourne Stars and the Brisbane Heat. Both sides will also travel to Adelaide in March for the Cricket Australia National Premier Twenty20 Championships as a result of their wins.
Donnell said the club can’t wait to get onto the ‘G and have a red-hot crack.
“It is really exciting, it’s a chance not many of us will get playing at this level – we’ll go in with no expectations and do our best, and see what happens. The guys will be loving it,” he said.
“We’ve really got nothing to lose, we’ll have fun and enjoy it as we always do.”
The Dandenong Women’s, meanwhile, are preparing for a massive Women’s Premier Cricket Twenty20 final on Wednesday night, with the Panthers set to take on Essendon Maribyrnong Park at Junction Oval.
The Panthers enjoyed a strong Twenty20 campaign, picking up four wins and just one loss, that being to the very team they must best on Wednesday just yesterday.
But the Panthers will be strengthened by superstar Sophie Molineux’s presence in the side, with the 21-year-old – who had a brilliant WBBL campaign with the Melbourne Renegades – a crucial in.
Molineux has been dominant in her two appearances in the Twenty20 season, making a century against Carlton Brunswick, before snaring 3/16 and 28 against Ringwood the next week.
Both sides are expecting a strong crowd and an enthralling contest at the picturesque ground. Play starts at 5.15pm.