By Nick Creely
After a wobble in an otherwise fruitful season, Dandenong is well and truly back on track.
After its position in the top eight was under threat, the Panthers needed to rise to the occasion in a must-win contest against Northcote on Saturday.
And it did, in the process sending a warning statement to the competition.
Through the discipline of its bowling unit, to the class and grace of its legendary opening batsmen – it was the Panthers at its snarling best.
In the massive contest, the Dragons won the toss and elected to bat, but right-arm dynamo James Nanopoulos had an early say on proceedings.
After in-form quick Adam McMaster (3/43) snared the day’s opening scalp, Nanopoulos rummaged through the top-order in stunning fashion, prizing out star bat Mark Phelan early, before snicking off Josh Sundberg and Jack Lalor in quick succession into the grateful gloves of returning keeper Jacques Augustin.
Despite a fighting 38 from Steve Taylor, the Dragons posted an underwhelming 139, but did manage to claw back from 6/66 at one point.
Aside from McMaster and Nanopoulos (3/15) who used the ball new superbly, Pete Cassidy was once again a consistent force, snaring 2/21, while Jakeb Thomas took 2/25 from his 10 overs to also impress.
But two names at the top of the order for the Panthers, ones that make even the most seasoned Premier bowlers cringe – Tom Donnell and Brett Forsyth – shone in a stunning display of batting.
The two Panther champs once again reached a triple-figure opening partnership, slaying the Dragons with precision, patience and plenty of pizazz.
Despite facing the relatively mild target, the pair endured a probing new-ball spell before gradually ticking over the runs required and putting away anything that strayed.
In the end, the Panthers registered a completely dominant 10-wicket win, with the two greats running the target down inside 38 overs.
Donnell finished on 82 not out – his highest score of the season and second fifty of 2020/21 – while Forsyth enjoyed the time in the middle to finish on 54 not out.
It’s been a particularly stunning year for the Ryder Medal winning Forsyth – the right-handed jet out of Springvale South – who is nearing 600 runs for the season at the incredible average of 81.1, with five not outs as an opener an indication of his campaign.
The win was incredibly vital for the Panthers, who in the process banked a bonus point and returned to fifth spot on the Premier Cricket table with just three rounds to play.
The Panthers welcome ladder-leaders Carlton to Shepley Oval on Saturday, in another monster clash.
The Panthers’ Women’s team, meanwhile, went down to Carlton-Brunswick on Sunday, but will play a crunch semi-final this weekend.
Despite the final round defeat to the second-last Carlton-Brunswick, the Panthers finished third on the table after a home-and-away season that netted eight wins, five losses.
At Shepley Oval on Sunday, the Panthers – off the back of skipper Nicole Faltum (52) and opener Tiana Atkinson (56) – the home team posted 8/187, but it could have been more after losing its last six wickets for 41 runs.
The visitors slumped to 3/24, but didn’t lose another wicket, with Nipuni Hansika (89 not out) and Eve Sheehan (72 not out) guiding them home in 45 overs.
But the Panthers’ opposition – Essendon Maribyrnong Park – will be a stern challenge, with the Panthers going down in both clashes against them this season.
Sunday’s semi-final will kick off at 10.30am.