By Nick Creely
Ahead of a crucial block of cricket, Dandenong has no plans to take the foot off the pedal.
Off the back of a four-game winning streak, the fourth-placed Panthers know that in such a tough season of cricket, maintaining the momentum is key.
Since the loss to Ringwood on 16 January, the Panthers have put together some strong wins against Footscray, Camberwell Magpies, St Kilda and most recently Melbourne Uni.
It’s fair to say they are on a roll.
Panthers skipper Tom Donnell said that his side – which sits 13 points inside the top-eight – is determined to stay ahead of the pack, starting this week with a crunch clash against Prahran.
“The last few weeks have been really good after losing a couple after Christmas – we’ve got a bit of momentum,” he said.
“It certainly helps having James Pattinson in the side, he obviously makes such a huge difference.
“We’ll probably lose him, we’re not sure if he’ll play this week, and everyone will have to step up.
“It’s a tough season, so you do need to keep winning games – realistically, it can change so quickly, anyone can beat anyone on their day.
“We’ve got a tough run home, we play a lot of good sides, so it’ll be challenging for us, but good to see where we’re at.
“That buffer is important for us to play finals – we just want to keep competing and winning.”
With the season being played in the white-ball format, Donnell said that it has presented its own challenges.
“It is different – it’s been such a long season, there’s still seven rounds to go, so it feels like there’s still so much cricket to go,” he said.
“It has been difficult, it’s a new game every week, and it’s probably more difficult for middle order batsman who don’t get a proper hit every week, so you don’t really know what form they’re in.
“Bowlers can bowl well and still get hit for runs, and then not bowl well the next week and take wickets.
“We’re getting used to it now, but it has been a lot different, and there just feels like there’s a long way to go and we’re in the second week of February.
“This time of the year you’re looking to finals, but there’s a long way to go.”
One of the most exciting aspects of the Panthers’ excellent win against Melbourne Uni was the maiden century from ex-Victorian rookie Ed Newman, who absolutely dominated to blast his way to 120 not out from 122 balls.
It was a class knock built off sheer power, placement and the ability to move through the gears in an innings.
And it’s something that excites his skipper leading into a big block of cricket.
“It was great to see, we’ve seen glimpses over the years, but he’s never quite put it together,” he said.
“It was brilliant to watch – he’s got everything, he can clear the fence, he’s got timing, he hits the gaps.
He’s got that all-round game that in any situation he can help us – its been building for a while, he’s had mixed results over the years.
“Hopefully he’s putting it all together, we always thought it was a matter of time, and why we’ve shown such great faith in him.
“He’s a really good player.”
Adding to Newman’s stunning maiden ton, there are a number of Panthers in strong touch.
Donnell’s great mate, Ryder Medal winner Brett Forsyth is also churning out yet another remarkably consistent season and now has 435 runs to lead the way for the club once more, while the skipper himself has 221 runs.
And with the ball, the Panthers have shone with James Nanopoulos (21 wickets), Pete Cassidy (14), Adam McMaster (13) and Suraj Randiv (12) enjoying strong seasons, and as a collective bowling unit have taken the most wickets out of any team in the competition.
Ahead of a big clash against the in-form True Blues – who are a well-balanced unit suited to the white-ball game – Donnell said his side can’t wait for the challenge presented to them.
“They’ve always been a good white-ball team,” he said.
“They go hard, that’s for sure, so they’ll be a massive challenge, we need to play well to beat them, and they have a lot of depth with bat and ball.
“We’ll try and tie them down a bit with the bowlers – if James (Pattinson) doesn’t play, we’ll probably struggle to blast teams out, but we’ll look to contain and keep on top of that and look for mistakes.
“It’s a good test to play these better sides.”
Donnell also said that he hopes star all-rounder James Nanopoulos will be available for selection after missing last week due to a wedding, but hinted that the champ is battling some shoulder soreness.
“He probably will (play), but he’s got some issues with his shoulder, so we’ll see how he’s going,” he said.
“He’s likely to come back in, but he’s been a bit down since Christmas, and that’s coincided with a bit of an injury, but hopefully he’s right to go.”
The Panthers host the True Blues at Shepley Oval on Saturday, with the action to begin at 11am.