By Nick Creely
On a day in which only one match was completed in full due to the wild weather that swept across Melbourne late on Saturday, Narre South’s victory against Heinz Southern Districts in context may well prove vital as the year goes on.
It was a win that the Lions simply had to walk away with.
After an incredibly difficult opening two rounds for the highly-touted Lions, it could be the igniter for a side that both excited, and surprised the DDCA Turf 1 grade last season.
But with storms looming, there was a sense of urgency from the Lions from the outset at Strathaird Recreation Reserve.
After winning the toss and sending the Cobras in to face the music, seamer Tim Phillips (3/6) was on song early, in fact he was virtually unplayable, and in the process snared a memorable hat-trick for the Lions.
After trapping dangerous opener Udara Hettige, Phillips then also brought about the undoing Nishita Weerakoon the next ball, before ripping through the gate of skipper Brent Patterson to cap off a remarkable, and game changing three balls.
It was also the seamer’s second hat-trick of his career, with his previous one coming back in 2014/15 against Cranbourne.
With the seamers in control, the Cobras crumbled for just 92, with Scott Phillips (2/1), Kaushalya Weeraratne (2/17) and Morteza Ali (2/10) also doing plenty of damage in a dominant bowling effort.
But it was with the blade that the Lions did the most damage.
Sensing the urgency, seasoned pros Kaushalya Weeraratne (56 not out off 26 balls) and Scott Phillips (32 not out) muscled their way home in just 10.1 overs and with the loss of only one wicket to bank a crucial six points.
Weeraratne, one of the prized recruits for the Lions this season, is building into some ominous form in a format he has excelled in for many years, and now has 122 runs at 61 as well as three wickets at 21 across his first three matches for the club.
A depleted Buckley Ridges, meanwhile, dodged a bullet at Park Oval against Hallam Kalora Park in a draw.
With champ Daniel Watson, as well as stars Ian Cockbain and Benny Howell unavailable, and a few others battling some injury concerns, the in-form Hawks sensed the opportunity to inflict a loss on a premiership contender after winning the toss and batting.
Leigh Booth (42) and Jordan Hammond (34) got among the runs in the early stages, before Matt Cox (77) struck his second consecutive half-century and Ben Hillard (53 not out) flayed the ball to the boundary to give the Hawks an imposing 6/253 off its 45 overs.
Despite copping some tap, coach Chanaka Welegedara (3/69) battled hard with the ball, while Michael Davies (2/83) took some important wickets.
With plenty of momentum on their side, and a Buckley batting line-up that looked completely different, skipper Jordan Hammond (3/22) tore through the top-order, leaving the home side 5/50 and in desperate need of some unsavoury weather.
Fortunately for the Bucks, the storm descended onto Park Oval with the Hawks still requiring the five wickets for an early-season scalp, and the points were shared.
It was also a draw down at Alex Nelson Reserve in what was looming as a fascinating blockbuster between Springvale South and Berwick.
With both sides in ripping form, the Bloods won the toss and elected to bat, and it was skipper Nathan King that took to the Bears’ seamers, crunching a typically entertaining 67 from 61 balls.
King’s knock featured eight fours and three sixes.
But after a cracking start, which saw King combine with Ryan Quirk (18) for a 79-run opening stand, it was again the brilliant work from spinner Ruwantha Kellepotha (4/31) that changed the course of the contest.
Snaring four wickets, including that of King, Ryan and Dylan Quirk, as well as Sam Wetering at the end of the innings, the leggie alongside Cory Bevan (3/21) and the ever-reliable Jarrod Goodes (2/45) restricted the home side to just 174 from 43 overs.
After Nathan Pilon (23 off 14) came out with ominous intent, launching three early sixes, the Bloods – through the work of quick Matt Wetering (3/22) – managed to make a dent into the Bears’ top-order, with Pilon, and dangerous duo Jordan Cleland and Brodie Emmett back in the sheds.
But just as the game looked to be heading to an interesting finish, with the Bears 3/79 off 18.4 overs and skipper Matt Chasemore building nicely on 19, weather intervened once more.
And in the final game of the round, St Mary’s and North Dandenong also split points with the game also looking to go to a tense finish.
After batting first, the Saints were in fine touch with the blade, and off the back of captain-coach Archy Rajapakse (72), the home side crunched 5/205 off its 45 overs.
Wendyl Pires (54) was also in the runs for the Saints, while Junaid Kari struck 35, while with the ball Nimesh Kariyawasam (2/47) once again impressed to be the only multiple wicket taker.
The Maroons were in the dire trouble early in the run chase, quickly falling to 4/28 with Keppler Fernandez (2/15) doing some early damage, but the visitors clawed its way back.
Off the back of skipper Clay McCartney (58 not out) and top-order bat Nanayakkarawasam Kalumshehara (40 not out), the Maroons got to 4/126 and with 19 overs remaining and 80 to win, rain had the final say in what was destined to be a fascinating conclusion in a clash both sides would have fancied themselves in.
Berwick, Hallam Kalora Park, Springvale South and Buckley Ridges still occupy the top-four positions on the Turf 1 table with two rounds to play before Christmas.