By Nick Creely
There are few clubs that can match the might of Buckley Ridges when it comes to crunch Dandenong District Cricket Association Turf 1 finals.
It’s ingrained in the club’s culture – almost something that can’t be taught outside the four walls of the little club on Pultney Street.
But regardless of stature, or background in cricket, the Bucks always find a way to find that extra gear, whether it’s through some of their out-and-out stars, or the unsung heroes of the club that perhaps don’t always get the recognition they deserve.
While there were plenty of tense moments in the weekend’s mammoth preliminary final against Springvale South, the Bucks are now within just one win of a successful premiership defence, despite the many obstacles that have stood between skipper David White and his side.
Berwick does stand in the way of the Bucks’ back-to-back quest, but if the professional manner in which they defied the odds to knock off the Bloods in front of a strong Alex Nelson Reserve crowd was anything to go by, they’ll be a tough prospect for the Bears.
White told Star News Group that the turnaround after a worrying patch of form prior to the finals came down to intensity, and a desire to lift itself up in big finals, something that the club is well-renowned for.
“I’m really happy, especially with (Sunday), the guys certainly brought a different intensity – it was a great performance, and I’m absolutely over the moon,” he said.
“I’ve tried for most of the season as a leader to try and get the guys to bring that sort of intensity – they’ve got the ability, but a few experienced guys want to play finals and turn it on.
“The moment we get into those finals situations, I feel like the guys raise the intensity and it brings out the best in terms of their skill sets.
“I can’t really pin point it, but it feels like a completely different team when it comes to finals.
“Whether it’s the personality of the guys, the big games just brings out the best of them in terms of the competitiveness.”
White won the toss and elected to bat on a deck that looked, on sight, to be one tailor-made for batting, but the Bloods managed to make some strong in-roads despite the threat of the Bucks’ strong top-order.
Makeshift opener Greg Todd fell early at the hands of all-rounder Nathan King, who had his tail up and was bowling with some lively pace, and despite both skipper David White (13) and Susantha Pradeep (19) looking strong, the Bloods managed to prize out the pair and leave the visitors 3/89.
Standing tall and providing and much-need presence, Jerome Jones was absolutely rock-solid from the outset, combining with one of the club’s many unsung heroes, Jayson Hobbs (58) for a handy little stand prior to tea.
Hobbs once again provided calm as the Bloods looked to really delve into the middle-order.
After a super knock – one that saw him soak up the pressure superbly and play some attractive shots across the grounds – Hobbs looked to lift seamer Tim Ford over mid-on but picked out Nathan King to fall just after tea, but Jones was setting himself up for a big one.
A testing short-ball barrage from Nathan King saw Jones pull the bat away and remain patient as Troy Aust (16) settled in to the crease, but as the big West Indian started to become more comfortable, his power and strokeplay started to thrill the crowd, and the right-hander crossed to a half-century with a casual push to the long on boundary.
On what was a strong day of batting for the Bucks, and quite a disciplined display from the Bloods, with King (3/54) the pick of the bowlers and tweaker Jarryd Straker (2/74) battling hard to control the contest, the visitors finished 7/265 off 80 overs, with Jones finishing on a brilliant 88 not out.
Daniel Watson – still in protection mode for a hamstring complaint – contributed a more than handy 23 from lower in the order.
Knowing full well that the Bucks needed to keep the pressure on with the Bloods a highly-confident batting unit on its home turf, openers Nathan King and Ryan Quirk dug in to put on a brisk 43 runs for the first wicket.
But soon enough, towering quick Adrian Neill (1/36) found a way to remove the dangerous King for 25, while not long after Akshay Ballal fell victim to wily all-rounder Greg Todd (2/25) caught and bowled, suddenly leaving the home side 2/47.
But youngster Quirk was digging deep, combining nicely in a partnership with skipper Ateeq Javid (51), but as the Bucks often do when challenged in a big final, key wickets tumbled.
Removing Quirk for a brave 37 off 126 balls, the Bucks just found the breakthrough each time the Bloods managed to kick-start a partnership, but the game changer came when skipper Javid was trapped in front from Todd, who was proving a difficult stumbling block with his relentless lines.
Bloods legend Craig Slocombe left no stone unturned in what proved to be his final innings after announcing his retirement after the clash, finding a maximum early in his dig but ultimately falling to Jerome Jones (2/31) for an entertaining 16 off 15 balls, and the home side was unable to muster up another push, with spinner Matt Goodwright (3/30) ending his golden spell with the final wicket as the home side fell for 203.
White said it was a great toss to be able to win, and was hoping to be able to put enough runs on the board, knowing that the slower bowlers would be able to do the damage on day two.
“The wicket looked good, it was always going to be a bit slow – it’s like the old adage, put runs on the board so that was the plan,” he said.
“It did get a bit slower on day two, and it was tougher to score – it was definitely a good toss to win.
The ball went soft quickly. We just settled in with our slower bowlers, and probably played some boring cricket, and tried to force them to take the risk.
“But we’re really happy with the result.”
But with just one more win this weekend between them and back-to-back premierships, White said that the group was looking forward to the challenge presented by Matt Chasemore’s momentum-filled Berwick side.
“Berwick’s strength lies in their bowling, they rely on a few with the bat – if we can get those guys, Chasemore’s a big player for them then we’re in for a good chance,” he said.
“They’ve got a pretty balanced bowling line-up, but as a team we cover more bases than them, so I’m pretty confident we can get up.
“They’re a strong side and have had a strong season, but in terms of finals, it’s two days of cricket and how you perform.”