By Nick Creely
Powerful overseas recruit Jerome Jones would have to be an early-season favourite for the coveted Alan Wookey Medal as champion Turf 1 player.
His impact has been simply extraordinary since entering the Dandenong District Association at the beginning of the season.
The West Indian – playing his cricket with the reigning premiers Buckley Ridges – provided a timely reminder of his all-round capabilities in a sparkling performance that saw the Bucks finish the opening day against Berwick in command.
Jones snared figures of 5/45 just weeks ago against North Dandenong, but this time, the Barbadian showed his wares with the bat in an incredible display of power against a bowling attack featuring names such as Brendan Rose, James Wilcock, Ruwantha Kellapotha and champ Jarrod Goodes.
Skipper David White won the toss and elected to bat, and that decision seemed vindicated with openers Daniel Watson (39) and Jayson Hobbs (16) getting the visitors off to a strong start.
But the Bears worked their way back, snaring the pair before they could inflict too much damage, but White (41) – alongside valuable batsman Susa Pradeep (32) kept the scoreboard ticking along, with the South African in particular showcasing his extreme class, particularly through the covers with a series of blistering drives.
Once again, at vital times, the Bears were able to stem the bleeding and find a wicket, snaring the dangerous White caught-behind before sending Pradeep on his way not long after. With Goodes (5/77) causing problems for the Bucks, the visitors soon found themselves 5/138, and in need of a steadying partnership.
Troy Aust raced out to 12 off 19 balls before he was trapped in front. But enter Jones, who completely changed the flow of the game.
Confident, strong and with an incredible eye, Jones – batting at number eight – was joined by Matthew Goodwright in a last-ditch effort to post an imposing first-innings total, and proved that he’ll be a headache for opposition sides as the year progresses.
Putting on 116 runs, the pair was outstanding, with Goodwright playing a less aggressive role despite keeping the scoreboard ticking along; while Jones – who feasted off the spinners – took the game on to dismantle the Bears with brute force.
Goodwright was eventually dismissed for a superb 58 – his third Turf 1 half-century in a decorated career for the club – but the damage was done as the Bucks eyed a monster total.
Chasing an elusive century in the final over of the day, Jones eventually holed out to wide mid-off for an incredible 97 off 110 balls, a knock featuring eight fours and four monster sixes.
But his phenomenal knocked guided his side to 338 and sets up a fascinating chase on Saturday.
With Jones set to trade the blade for the new ball, as well as the likes of Daniel Watson charging in against Matthew Chasemore and his depth-filled batting group, it’s sure to go right down to the wire when play resumes.
Down at Strathaird Recreation Reserve, North Dandenong are in a strong position to push Narre South in an interesting day of play.
Up against an excellent Lions bowling attack, the Maroons elected to bat after winning the toss.
With the Phillips’ – Scott and Tim – charging in with the new ball, the visitors couldn’t have got to a better start, knocking around 64 runs for the first wicket, but it took an unlikely bowler to kick the Lions into gear.
With skipper Austin Heldt playing superbly from the top-of-the-order, club coach Matthew Brooks – not usually renowned for his bowling – took a star turn with the ball, dismantling the top and middle orders to swing the game back in his side’s favour.
But Heldt stuck firm to make a vital 80 off 145 balls, combining with Matin Sultani (36) to help the Maroons keep the scoreboard ticking along.
Brooks eventually ended with the impressive figures of 6/39 off 12.3 overs, with the Maroons managing to find some lower order runs to scramble to 221, an extremely competitive score.
Springvale South, meanwhile, found plenty of spark with the bat against St Mary’s at Carroll Reserve, with the Bloods eyeing victory on day two.
Swashbuckling opening batsman Nathan King (73 off 77 balls) was on-fire for the Bloods in the opening session, blasting a half-century in his usual aggressive manner, while skipper Ateeq Javid (43) and Josh Allen (53) all found plenty of time in the middle as the visitors racked up 9/271 in 72 overs before declaring for a crack at the Saints before stumps.
The Saints managed to fight out the remaining eight overs of the day, finishing on 0/6 but still a ways away from victory against a star-studded Bloods bowling group.
And in the final game of the weekend played out at Frawley Road, 11 wickets fell but Heinz Southern Districts enjoyed a strong day of cricket against Hallam Kalora Park.
2017/18 Wookey Medal winner Michael ‘Slick’ Davies was simply electric with the ball after the Hawks elected to bat, in a spell that proved almost impossible to get away.
Despite some fight from Leigh Booth (23) and Adam Warfe (39 off 138 balls) in the top-order, the Hawks were rolled for just 107 inside 62 overs, with a steady flow of wickets throughout the afternoon making it impossible for the home side to hold on to any momentum.
Davies was extraordinary, finishing with 4/11 from 13 pressure-filled overs, while Udara Hettige (3/22) continued his strong form after a hat-trick in Round 2, and Justin Davis (2/12) also got in the wickets for the Cobras.
With 18 overs to get through, the Cobras would be relieved to scratch its way to 1/25 at stumps, with star skipper Kaushalya Weeraratne and Davies still in the sheds.