By Tyler Lewis
“We played well, bowled well, but we can’t look back on the afternoon and say it was defining – the games earlier on in the season cost us.”
Dandenong skipper Tom Donnell isn’t blaming Saturday’s nail-biting draw for why the Panthers will be absent from the 2019/20 Victorian Premier Cricket finals series.
After Monash claimed first innings points over Essendon at stumps on day-one last week, the equation was simple for Dandenong.
Take 10 wickets on Saturday and if Monash bat the day out, the Panthers will play finals cricket.
And in the minutes after tea, when Monash had completed its victory over Essendon, and Suraj Randiv claimed two wickets in four balls to put the Saints eight down, it seemed Dandenong was on cusp of completing the impossible.
Number 10 Will Lovell strode to the crease with a nudge under 30 overs remaining in the day, St Kilda skipper Adam Crosthwaite starting farming the strike, pushing the ball half-way to the fence and sending the left-hander back.
Ed Newman got alarmingly close to the bat under the lid, as balls weren’t travelling off the wicket from Crosthwaite and Lovell’s bat.
When the Panthers took the new ball after 80 overs, it was expected the fighting charade would conclude.
But Lovell and Crosthwaite continued to hold firm.
With the possibility of only six balls left in the season, Donnell threw the ball to James Nanopoulos, who entered the day needing only one scalp to make the club wicket record his own and had yet to jag a victim throughout the day.
Crosthwaite saw out the final six, striking the second last ball for four making a Panthers win impossible.
Of the 96 overs bowled throughout the day, the Saints saw out 43 maidens in its fighting draw, 18 of those coming from tweaker Randiv.
It was a rollercoaster of emotions for Donnell, especially in the final session.
“I felt pretty confident when Randiv got the first two (after tea),” he said.
“After we took the new ball, the wicket wasn’t offering a lot; there wasn’t much happening with the new ball with 16 overs to go.
“Within 10 overs to go, I thought ‘it is getting pretty tight here’.
“Then with five to seven overs left I thought ‘this could be a struggle’.
“In a sense I think we may have bowled too well early.”
While the Panthers next weekend hinged on the final match of the home and away season, Donnell believes his side shouldn’t have been in the do-or-die situation, while saying not one specific game that got away bobs up, but a few.
“There is probably a few that come to mind, I think we lost two games with the opposition nine down,” he said.
“Obviously that hurts, the opposition played well, then the game against Casey where we cruising and then just fell away also.
“There is three games there, if one of them goes our way then things are different, I suppose it was meant to be, previous seasons we have been opposite ends of luck where we have had those wins.
“This year we weren’t able to get those close wins and it shows at the end, disappointing but that is the way cricket goes.”
Dandenong coach Nick Speak after the game stood down as Panthers head coach, and while Donnell is saddened by his departure, he is extremely grateful for the impact ‘Speaky’ had on the club in his tenure.
“He (Nick Speak) told me a week or so ago that he was going to finish up,” he said.
“He has been fantastic; I think we might have missed finals maybe two years in a row before he came, the first year we finished second, lost to Melbourne in the qualifying final which was sort of disappointing.
“The next year we managed to go on and win the flag, and the white ball flag which was a great achievement.
“Then last year to finish top four but be bundled out of finals, even this year, we haven’t been thrashed or anything like that, we have always been competitive.
“He brought a lot of knowledge to the group about the game, he brought LJ (Lincoln Edwards) across from Melbourne and he has been fantastic for the group, he (Speak) is going to be missed.
“His imprint on the game is going to be missed.”