By Nick Creely
A staggering 21 wickets fell on day one between Berwick and St Mary’s, with the Bears claiming first innings points as it looks to an outright victory on Saturday.
The Turf 1 powerhouse were in ominous touch in the last two-day game before Christmas, and it came through ex-Dandenong seamer James Wilcock, who had too much pace and aggression for the Saints to handle.
Sending the Saints in on a tricky Arch Brown Reserve deck, the visitors were shot out for just 56 inside 31 overs, with Wilcock in fine form, snaring 5/14 from 11 overs to make life difficult for the opposition.
Fellow seamers Jarrod Goodes (2/5) and Cory Bevan (2/9) provided the perfect foil for Wilcock, who is slow working into his best form after a relatively slow start to the year considering his lofty standards.
The Bears themselves didn’t have it their own way with the bat either after the innings changeover.
Snaring in-form opening pair Jordan Cleland and skipper Matthew Chasemore with no damage to the scoreboard, the Bears were somewhat teetering at 5/48 with Corey Ely (3/16) doing a fine job with the new-ball.
But a crucial 32 from the experienced Josh Holden in the middle-order ensured the Bears would pass the Saints on the first innings, reaching 8/90 before Chasemore boldly declared with a 34-run lead.
Despite a double strike from Wilcock early in the Saints’ second dig, the visitors managed to fight out the day to finish 3/60, holding a 26-run lead as they look to avoid an outright loss when play resumes this weekend.
Down at Reedy Reserve, another tricky deck saw wickets tumble between Heinz Southern Districts and Buckley Ridges, but the reigning champs hold the upper hand after the opening day.
Sparked by a superb spell by spinner Matthew Goodwright (5/19) and pacer Jerome Jones (4/22), the Cobras managed to scrap to 110, with makeshift opener Udara Hettige (48) managing to keep his good run of form going with the bat.
With 22 overs to negotiate, the Bucks got off to the worst possible start with Jayson Hobbs edging one behind in the third over, but skipper David White and experienced bat Paul Rudd (23) consolidated the chase.
Despite the Cobras managing to prize out Rudd, as well as Wes Nicholas caught in slips on the stroke of stumps, the class of White to attack when needed and defend the good balls saw the Bucks in the box seat at 3/63, with the skipper unbeaten on 36 and looking likely to go on with it on Saturday.
Ateeq Javid, meanwhile, was once again in the runs while Nathan King took a star turn with the ball as Springvale South claimed first innings points against North Dandenong at home.
It was looking incredibly worrying for the Maroons after they won the toss and batted, soon finding themselves 5/48 and needing a spark to have any chance of a competitive first-innings total.
With all-rounder Nathan King (5/30) ripping through the Maroons in a devastating spell of bowling, the visitors at least had something to cheer about, with a daring 56-ball 53 from Syed Mehmood lifting the score to 136.
The Bloods lost opener Ryan Quirk early, but it mattered little as Nathan King rattled along to 35, sending eight balls to the boundary in a 28-ball cameo as skipper Javid settled in on the other end.
Crossing the Maroons just four wickets down, Javid saluted yet another half-century for the club on his way to 63 as he crosses 600 runs for the season across all formats.
The Bloods finished the day 6/189, and will be pushing hard for maximum points when play resumes on Saturday.
Narre South also had a solid opening day in their clash against Hallam Kalora Park at Strathaird Reserve.
Batting first, the Lions clawed its way to 223 with the Hawks bowling disciplined lines all day and never really letting the home side off the hook.
Morteza Ali (64), the returning Jonty Jenner (46) and skipper Scott Phillips (54) were all in the runs for the Lions, while with the ball, spinner Sachith Jayasingha (4/94) bowled over 30 overs in a terrific display for the Hawks.