By Tyler Lewis
The Panthers are back in the hunt.
After its round 10 clash against Fitzroy-Doncaster, Dandenong had suffered yet another narrow defeat and was firmly poised to miss out on finals.
Needing five successive wins and results to go its way in the run home, the task seemed too great for a side with only two wins, one of those against the hapless Kingston-Hawthorn.
However since; the Panthers outfit have been a different side to the opening 10 rounds.
After losing James Pattinson during the week through injury and Melbourne adding some firepower of its own in Sam Harper and Jackson Coleman, on paper the tables had turned.
But after handling Melbourne in convincing fashion, the Panthers sit only three points outside of the eight, needing to win its final match of the season and only one of three sides on the other side of the fence to fall short on the final hurdle.
Not knowing what the wicket was going to do after its questionable output last week, Dandenong skipper Tom Donnell sent the Demons in, and it had its immediate rewards.
With notable batsmen Sam Harper and Cameron White opening for Melbourne, early wickets were crucial for the Panthers.
Second ball of the innings, Jacques Augustin set the tone of the day with an inconceivable piece of work with the gloves up to the jump to James Nanopoulos, whipping the bails off at the speed of light to remove the dangerous Harper without troubling the scorers.
Dandenong had its chances to roll over and let Melbourne take control at 3/100 and White unbeaten on 50. But consistent wickets from every Panther bowler had them rip through the Dees middle order, claiming 7/58 to end the innings.
Among the seven wickets, Nanopoulos’s second scalp for the day and 46th for the season, equalling the Dandenong Cricket Club season aggregate record held by Roger Gill (1982/83) and Will Carr (2000/01).
When the in-form Tom Donnell went early for the Panthers, Nanopoulos joined Brett Forsyth out in the middle with 1/9 on the scoreboard.
The pair put on a vital 52 runs in a touch over 10 overs to assert Dandenong in the driver’s seat.
As he has all year, Nanopoulos looked a class above, this time with the bat. Skipping down the wicket to the quicks to pump them down the ground with vigour and lifting anything short over the square leg fence nonchalantly on his way to 61.
Ed Newman found himself amongst the runs again with an entertaining 42, his second score in the 40s post-Christmas, proving he isn’t far away from exploding.
A late shake in the Panthers batting order had the Panthers pass the total with five wickets in the shed and almost 20 overs up their sleeve – securing its fourth win on the hop and a chance of finals action in the wake.
Dandenong skipper Tom Donnell said his side couldn’t have got off to a better start than it did on Saturday with Augustin’s tidy work behind the stumps, although it wasn’t what he was expecting so early in the game.
“It was a great result, it was exactly what we needed,” he said.
“The stumping, second ball, it was a bit of a surprise, we hadn’t planned for it really.
“We just tried to get ‘Nano’ into the attack early to see how his body was, he was sort of struggling during the week so we thought we would get some overs in when the ball was new and the wicket was fresh.
“It was a massive moment in the game really and it sort of started things off our way.”
Before round 10, Dandenong had scored five half-centuries in 10 digs and since there have been three half-centuries, one century and three scores in the 40s by Panther players, proving runs on the board win games of cricket.
The match against the Rams in round 11 is one Donnell believes his side has taken an enormous amount of confidence out of with the bat.
“I think it did, it gave us a bit of confidence,” he said.
“You know it has been a bit of a difficult batting season for us, it sort of gave us a bit of confidence from that Ringwood game to push forward that we can get big scores against good sides.
“The batting was really pleasing, Nano and Ed (Newman) were really great on a wicket that was probably difficult to bat on, and they made it look easier than it was.
“They took their chances, waited for their ball in their area and I think that’s what was needed on that wicket – they played it really well.”
The Panthers have St Kilda in their way for a shot at finals, while it may be the shorter format of the Super Slam, the Panthers have had the Saints’ measure on two occasions; but the record with the white ball this season isn’t something Donnell will take into mind going into Saturday’s do-or-die clash.
“I suppose we don’t really think about those other games too much, we just play who we are playing,” he said.
“We roll into this game, giving it our best; we need luck to go our way and win the game – that will be the hardest part, winning the game because St Kilda is a very good team.
“We just need to go in the way we have been playing the last month, go in full of confidence and have a crack really.
“We can’t control the other games; we have probably let it out of our hands because of the results earlier in the season.
“(We) just need to go out and enjoy ourselves, whatever happens, happens I suppose – it is hard because we rely on other teams, it is not the way you want to go about it but that is the position we have got ourselves in.
“We will see how we go and hopefully have a win, fingers crossed results go our way.”
James Nanopoulos is in career best form with the ball, and throughout this year he has etched his name into four of Dandenong’s bowling records with the most wickets of all-time, best figures in a match, best figures in an innings and now has equalled the season tally.
While there is some valid hype over the all-rounders season, Donnell thinks his great mates name will no doubt feature in the awards night.
“He hasn’t had many poor games to be honest,” Donnell said.
“He has either taken wickets or chipped in with the bat, he has had an awesome season, especially taking as many wickets as he has.
“It is sort of hard to tell, I am not too sure how other guys are going from other teams.
“But I am sure he will be right up there come that night at the end of the year.”