By Nick Creely
It was agony for Narre South and ecstasy for Buckley Ridges.
With no second chances in the DDCA Turf 1 semi-final, it all came down to 4pm on Sunday, and one moment that sealed the reigning champs’ great escape.
And a great escape it truly was.
With Adrian Neill at the batting crease – needing four runs to win the game for the Bucks with just one wicket left – and the Lions’ champion skipper Scott Phillips, with his tail up and steaming in to the wicket with ball in hand, the Scottish quick tickled one through the slips for four to win the game.
The reigning champs lived to fight another day, and as skipper David White said recently, the Bucks are going to thrive off the challenge of defending its premiership by “doing it the long way.”
But the brave Lions very nearly pulled off a stunning result, and despite falling short in agonising fashion after at one stage going from a potential heavy loss to an almost certain victor, will undoubtedly bounce back into a stronger group once the agony wears off for the team and its many supporters and members.
On a Strathaird Recreation Reserve deck that offered plenty for bowlers willing to put it in the right areas and for batsmen willing to dig in and play a big innings, the clash was poised to be a classic when Bucks skipper David White sent the Lions in to face the music.
But it couldn’t have gone any worse for the Lions.
With Jerome Jones up and about with his usually lively pace, the Bucks snared opener Jawed Hussaini, before medium pacers Greg Todd (2/30) and Susantha Pradeep (1/9) found a way through a usually strong top-order – including the key scalps of Wookey winner Morteza Ali and Jersey international Jonty Jenner – leaving the home side in a bit of trouble at 4/40.
But Scott Phillips had other ideas, knuckling down for the home side to look an assured presence, building a strong 53-run stand with a patient Joe Thomas (18), with the pair rebuilding the early collapse to get the home side on track for a competitive total at the tea interval.
However, just after the break, Adrian Neill – almost ironically – snared the monster breakthrough of Phillips, caught behind into the safe hands of Troy Aust for a well-made 40, sparking another collapse that saw the Lions fall for just 131 in the 62nd over, with tweaker Wes Nicholas’ 3/19 absolutely vital in removing a lower-order with the capabilities to do some serious pinch hitting.
The Bucks employed Greg Todd to open up the chase with one of many of the club’s unsung heroes, Jayson Hobbs, with regular opener Daniel ‘DJ’ Watson struggling with a hamstring complaint, and the pair managed to get the visitors into a strong – and almost indomitable 0/35 at stumps.
The task of gathering 10 wickets seemed all the more insurmountable when the pair on day two were watchful in adding 35 runs to the overnight score, without a wicket loss and with plenty of firepower still in the sheds.
It was from an unlikely source in Jonty Jenner (1/24) that saw the Lions finally managing to get through the gates of Greg Todd for an incredibly vital 29, but with just 62 runs to get and an army of capable batsmen to come, the odds were still against them.
But enter reigning Wookey winner Morteza Ali (4/38), who sent down an utterly game changing spell of bowling.
Accurate and precise, Ali snared the DDCA’s most dangerous man, David White not long after, before the triple strike of Susantha Pradeep, Jerome Jones and the well set Jayson Hobbs (59) saw the Bucks suddenly tumble to 5/108.
With each run becoming all the more precious, it was then Scott Phillips’ (4/37) time to put a serious scare through the Buckley camp
Bowling another memorable spell, and his last as a Lion after hanging up the whites after the game, Phillips – one of the great finals performers anywhere in Victoria – trapped keeper Troy Aust in front, removed champion all-rounder Daniel Watson second ball before rattling the stumps of Suren Ekanayake (12) as the Lions surged home with almost unwavering momentum.
Some nervous moments ensued with the Bucks still needing 11 for victory with two wickets in hand, before Phillips – desperately needing something after Matt Goodwright managed to find an extremely valuable boundary – trapped the late-order batsman in front to put the remarkable game within his side’s grasp.
But despite a brave and memorable fightback, Neill produced six of his most unforgettable runs, including a skimming ball through slips for four to win the game, and ensured the Bucks would earn the right for one more week to still be the reigning champions of Turf 1 cricket, but are still far from their best cricket.
Tension was just as palpable down at Arch Brown Reserve as Berwick and Springvale South fought tooth and nail to earn a place in the Turf 1 grand final.
But the Bears, led brilliantly by another great in Matt Chasemore, sealed its spot in the big dance and its first grand final since 2011/12 as momentum builds strongly at the Cave.
It was a delayed start of almost three hours on day one due to heavy rain falling in the south-east in the latter part of the week, but Chasemore wasted little time in winning the toss and electing to set the tone with the blade.
With the skipper and vital keeper batsman Jordan Cleland negotiating a tidy new ball spell, the Bloods finally found its spark through seamer Tim Ford, before Nathan King (5/56) produced a devastating spell to help restrict the home side to 3/42, and eventually 4/80 when Ruwantha Kellepotha also fell victim to the all-rounder.
Vital experience, and some strong strokeplay from Josh Holden saw the Bears claw its way to 5/123 at stumps, with Brodie Emmett knuckling down with the middle-order batsman to get the home side in a strong position to launch.
It didn’t take long for the Bloods to make the in-roads into the remaining five wickets, with Ford trapping Emmett in front early, before the visitors found a way through Holden for a well-made 52, with King crashing into the stumps for his fifth scalp.
With Ford up and about, the Bears were unable to mount any form of late runs, rolled for 143 – losing its last five wickets on day two for just 20 runs.
Ford – who’s produced some huge performances throughout a strong season – snared 5/29 from 15.3 overs to give his side a huge lifter before the chase.
But it was a disaster as soon as ex-Dandenong seamer and the competition’s most in-form quick James Wilcock (4/31) held the new ball in his right hand and came steaming in.
In the first two balls of the innings, Wilcock found a way through the dangerous Nathan King, before sending skipper Ateeq Javid packing with another searing delivery caught by keeper Jordan Cleland.
With barely time to put his pads on and settling in to watch the top-order go about its work, Dylan Quirk soon found himself right in the thick of the action, joining his brother Ryan Quirk – and the pair desperately needed to steady.
Combining some rock-solid technique with some testing moments, the pair soaked up the pressure, seeing off an absolute golden new-ball spell from Wilcock, and eventually found a way to keep the scoreboard flowing.
But just as the pair crossed over for an absolutely crucial 52-run stand, Wilcock struck again to bring about the end of Dylan Quirk for a hard-fought 23 – and it sparked another collapse.
All-rounder Akshay Ballal fell victim not long after to spinner Ruwantha Kellepotha, and when Brayden Sharp lasted just the one delivery – courtesy of yet another piece of impressive fast bowling from Wilcock – the Bloods slumped to 5/54.
As determined as he is talented, Ryan Quirk just kept on fighting in the midst of an impressive Bears bowling attack, combining for a handy 36-run stand with veteran Craig Slocombe (16), before skipper Chasemore (3/12) – who has bowled very little this season – sealed the deal with three clutch wickets to bring his side into the grand final.
Quirk remained unbeaten in a brave four-hour effort opening the batting, finishing on 58 off 170 balls and showcasing exactly what he’s capable of in the red-ball game.
But the Bloods’ loss sets up an absolutely epic preliminary final this weekend against their great rivals, Buckley Ridges, with the winner to take on Matthew Chasemore’s side in the grand final on 21 and 22 March at Carroll Reserve.