By Nick Creely
Berwick’s Turf 1 title defence couldn’t have got off to a better start.
The reigning Dandenong District champions have had to wait, in what has felt like an eternity to get back on the field, but the Bears showed no signs it will slow down this season, and in fact fired a warning shot to its rivals after an impressive opening round victory against a quality Narre South side.
Both sides played finals last season, and both looked primed and ready to go for an early-season blockbuster.
But Matthew Chasemore’s well-drilled group were on song from the outset after the Lions won the toss and elected to bat at Strathaird Reserve on Saturday.
Quick James Wilcock (3/17) was completely dominant early for the Bears, snaring openers Jawed Hussaini and Wookey Medal winner Morteza Ali in the early exchanges, before the ever-reliable Jarrod Goodes (1/37) prized out Ashan Wijayakumara to leave the home side reeling at 3/27.
Despite some consolidation, the Lions fell to 4/43, bringing highly-touted recruit Kaushayla Weeraratne and skipper Scott Phillips to the crease.
The pair were solid, providing some much needed counter attack, finding the boundaries and getting the scoreboard ticking along.
But enter spinner Ruwantha Kellepotha.
Kellepotha – in his second season for the club – tore through the middle order – and eventually ripping through the gate of Phillips for 38 to have the home side on his ropes, with the leggie snaring 4/36 from his 12 overs to steal the show.
A late flurry from Joel Zietsman (19 not out) and Tim Phillips (20), however, saw the home side lift to a competitive 155.
But with what looked underpar from the outset loomed as potentially defendable when recruit Josh Dowling (2/36) trapped the dangerous Nathan Pilon in front second ball.
Despite Dowling impressing in his opening spell with another wicket, the Bears – courtesy of an entertaining and flashy knock from Brodie Emmett – took the game away in one foul swoop.
Combining with skipper Chasemore (42 not out), Emmett took the game on, crunching a brilliant 59 from 48 balls, a knock featuring 10 fours and a maximum.
While he was eventually prized out from Morteza Ali (1/20), there was no Bear stumble, with Chasemore linking up with Kellepotha (37 not out) to guide the visitors home with seven wickets and over 10 overs left to play.
At Alex Nelson Reserve, Springvale South got off to a strong start to the season despite some shaky moments with the bat, brushing aside Heinz Southern Districts.
It was a horror start for the Bloods with the bat, with skipper Nathan King run out second ball of the match, and after Tim Ford and Ryan Quirk quickly found themselves in the sheds, the home side were struggling at 3/14 and with the Cobras applying plenty of heat.
It was slow and steady, but the Bloods worked its way back into the contest through Jack Sketcher and recruit Paul Hill, who saw off the pressure before getting the scoreboard ticking along.
The pair notched up a game-defining 88-run partnership, with Sketcher compiling a vital 53, while Hill provided plenty of support with an impressive, and gritty 37.
Despite the pair getting the Bloods back on track, the visitors battled manfully with the ball, in particular Udara Hettige (3/41).
Another of the Bloods’ high-profile recruits, ex-Dandenong spinner Akshat Buch (32 not out) was then able to provide a valuable cameo, finding the boundaries and helping lift the home side to 8/157.
But the Bloods gave the Cobras no chance in the chase, rolling the visitors for just 62.
Emerging star Sam Wetering (3/4) was incredibly impressive with the ball, while Buch also chimed in with 2/12 in his debut, including a wicket with his first ball for the club.
Buckley Ridges also got its season off to a strong start, with the 2019/20 runners-up defeating a competitive North Dandenong unit at Park Oval.
With gun recruits Ian Cockbain and Benny Howell still in quarantine and not available, the Bucks’ depth was on show, with the pair expected to be lining up for the club in the coming weeks in ominous signs.
A blistering 54 from 45 balls from champion all-rounder DJ Watson set the scene for the Bucks, and despite a wobble through the middle, valuable hands from recruit Michael Davies (42), Matt Goodwright (37), and coach Chanaka Welegedera (43 not out from 26 balls) saw the home side set an imposing 9/260 from 45 overs.
The Maroons set the challenge of becoming an incredibly hard side to play against, and certainly proved they won’t be pushovers by any stretch this season, competing hard in the chase but falling short in the end.
It was skipper Clayton McCartney (61) who led the way with a classy half-century, but the Bucks eventually overwhelmed the visitors with tweaker Wes Nicholas (4/43) the star with the ball, while coach Chanaka Welegedaa (2/38) completed an impressive debut with the club with a pair of wickets.
Hallam Kalora Park and St Mary’s also battled out a tough opening round clash, but the Hawks came out on top at Frawley Road.
The Saints looked to be in a strong position after winning the toss and batting, with opener Wendyl Pires (30) and Kusan Niranjana (35) battling hard to see the visitors reach 1/76.
But it was the slow bowlers that made a statement for the Hawks, with recruit Lee Brown (3/35) and Sachith Jayasingha (4/22) completely taking over the show.
The pair bogged the Saints down and took regular wickets with the visitors eventually bowled out for 123 in the final over of the innings.
Despite a small stumble, which involved an incredible few minutes from Ashan Anthony (3/24) that saw Ryan Hillard, Jagveer Hayer and skipper Jordan Hammond dismissed, the Hawks got the runs with four wickets left in the shed.
All-rounder Leigh Booth (44) started his season off solidly at the top of the order, while Steve Gilmour (21 not out) and Ryan Hillard (22) made valuable contributions.