By Lance Jenkinson
There has been little New Year cheer for Dandenong in the Victorian Premier Cricket.
The Panthers are licking their wounds after suffering back-to-back defeats for the first time this summer.
While it is not yet cause for alarm, it has undoubtedly been a deflating period in the season for the Panthers, who went into the Christmas break cock-a-hoop on the back of three wins from their opening four games.
The Panthers have tumbled from their lofty top four spot to seventh on the ladder and are in desperate need of a form reversal to avoid falling out of the top eight altogether.
Dandenong’s ledger is square at 3-3 after six games.
The Panthers are one of four teams between seventh and 10th on the ladder to hold 17 points, which shows just how vulnerable their position in the upper echelon has become in a short space of time.
Their latest defeat came at the hands of ninth-placed Ringwood at Shepley Oval on Saturday.
The warning signs came early for the Panthers.
A below-par batting performance – all out for 137 in 36 overs – was a big reason behind the four-wicket home loss.
Panthers openers Brett Forsyth (20), who recently brought up 8000 Premier Cricket runs, and captain Tom Donnell (9) got the Panthers off to a solid start with 31 for the first wicket.
But a pair of golden ducks to Aaron Fernando and Comrey Edgeworth proved a major setback for the Panthers.
Those wickets were part of a rare hat-trick for Ringwood opening bowler Ian Holland.
Dandenong showed some fight through the middle order.
Lincoln Edwards played his part in steadying the ship with 19 off 37.
Then James Nanopoulos re-discovered the middle of his bat in the most positive development of the day for the Panthers.
Nanopoulos was both the saviour of the innings and the entertainer en route to a fine 70 off 76 balls, including five fours and a six.
In his previous five games, the all-rounder had taken more wickets than scored runs, so if he can start wielding the willow like he did last season, it will be invaluable for the Panthers.
The only trouble on this occasion is that Nanopoulos had no help from the tail-enders.
The last five Panthers batsmen combined for a measly 13 runs.
Ringwood’s run chase got off to a shaky start, largely due to the continuation of Nanopoulos’s white hot form with the ball.
Nanopoulos, who has a league-equalling best 19 wickets, snared the first two wickets of the innings to have the Rams 2/5.
The Rams would be 4/37 before their No. 4 batsmen David King slowly wrestled back the momentum of the game with 50 off 88 balls.
The difference in the game was the lower order sparkled for the Rams.
Jackson Freeman knuckled down for 22 off 55 balls before Arjun Dhull (23no off 17) and Jake Toohey (26no off 20) guided the Rams to victory.
Jakeb Thomas was Dandenong’s second multiple wicket taker with 2/35 off seven overs, while Suraj Randiv returned an economical 1/12 off eight overs.
The recent form dip has created extra pressure on Dandenong heading into the most important week of the season for all clubs.
The Panthers have a hectic three games in seven days, including a trip to Footscray on Saturday, an away game against Camberwell Magpies on Australia Day and home game against St Kilda on 30 January.