By Nick Creely
There won’t be many grand final victories quite like it.
There were joyful scenes at the most iconic ground in Victorian cricket, the Junction Oval in Sunday’s Premier Cricket Women’s grand final, with Dandenong showing immense determination and resolve to surge to a memorable premiership in a stunning game of cricket against Box Hill.
For Panthers coach Andy Christie, there’s still a little bit of disbelief about how Sunday played out.
From last on the table in 2019/20 to premiers this season, it’s been a truly remarkable turnaround.
“There’s still a little bit of shock going on, and the realisation of what actually did happen, it’ll take some time to process and we’ll reflect on it over time,” he told Star News Group.
“The girls certainly deserved it, and we’ve had some time to celebrate it, they did a great job.”
The Panthers weren’t down and out, but found themselves in a tough situation as the Mustangs skipped away to a 77-run opening stand and eventually 1/103 in pursuit of 183 to win the flag.
But, slowly but surely as great sides do, the inner belief – and the trust in the process that got you there – took over.
Earlier, in the day it was a patient Kim Garth 52 that set up the ultimately match-winning score, while opener Tiana Atkinson stood tall to compile a vital 33.
Garth then started the fire that eventually took hold with the ball, removing a well-set Anna Lanning (60), before ripping through the gate of Tahlia Meier to suddenly have the Mustangs 3/107.
The remarkably consistent Zoe Griffiths (41) dug in and needed teammates around her to settle the game and build partnerships, but the Panthers had other ideas.
Champion Panther Emma Gallagher (2/32) turned in a defining spell, and in the blink of an eye had two wickets, before Nicole Faltum’s excellent glovework resulted in a stumping off Poppy Gardner (1/26) to leave the Mustangs 6/157, and the game in the balance.
The Mustangs battled hard, with every run and ball seemingly under pressure.
Then came Garth once again, who trapped Griffiths LBW with a searing delivery to send the score to 7/167, and with the Panthers now in the box seat, before Lucy Cripps got one through the gate only a mere moment later.
In a gripping finish to cap off a truly memorable game of cricket, pressure was to the fore, and sensing the urgency, Isabella Weber desperately tried to make her ground but fell short to be run-out.
With 10 balls remaining, one wicket in hand and nine runs left to win, it was only fitting that Garth would snare the match-winning scalp, bowling an absolute ripper to trap Danielle Montague in front as celebrations took full voice.
Christie conceded that his group was up against it as Box Hill got off to a rattling start in the chase, but said that the belief from previous matches and care for one another proved vital in the end.
“When Box Hill were 1/103, there was certainly questions about how we could get out of the situation – it goes back to the semi-final when we were in a similar situation,” he said.
“We needed plenty of wickets and not many runs to play with, so we had resolve from that.
“No matter what situation the girls were in, and whoever the 11 were, the process we put in place stays the same – they backed themselves to say, ‘hey if we just get one, especially in a final, we are in this’.
“They stuck at it – at both drinks breaks there was a lot of belief and we believed we were still in this.”
Christie said that little moments from every single player was the catalyst for a stunning fightback.
“It’s a testament to the people involved, and the experience – we talk about players like Kelly Applebee, Kim Garth, Nicole Faltum – but the younger players to do what they did, like Tiana Atkinson to take that catch, Poppy Gardner to get a run-out, it all came down to those little moments,” he said.
“Throughout the day they all had little moments, and once they got on a roll they knew they had a sniff.
“We just stayed calm.”
Garth’s performance was sublime, 4/34 and 52 in a grand final are golden numbers, and was duly awarded the best on ground medal, the Betty Wilson Medal, in an individual effort not to be forgotten.
“We were certainly nervous, it was a huge day, but she (Kim) just seems to have the ability to absorb it and knuckle down despite feeling under pressure,” Christie said.
“She kept a cool head – it’s a testament to all the work behind the scenes, for her to back herself in and her abilities.
“She puts in so much hard work, and there’s a lot of others in the same boat – in the T20 finals a couple of years ago she played a massive part in that.
“She must just like the big games.”
After a tough season last year – a bottom placed-finish – Christie said that despite the challenges, and virtually no pre-season due to Covid, that his group moved forward with hard work and dedication.
And that this premiership will be savoured by all involved in the powerhouse club.
“Covid’s taught everyone a whole lot of things about adapting to different situations,” he said.
“They had such a great start to the season winning a number of games straight up, and it gave them a bit of belief after last year.
“For them to get some momentum earlier was a big part of getting to the finals, and when you make it anything can happen.
“We didn’t get to the semis in great form, but it comes back to them having the belief, and care for each other.
“They were certainly playing for more than themselves – for all of the work the committee does, the volunteers and all of that, it’s a testament to all the work they do to get that result for them.”
Dandenong’s premiership XI
Nicole Faltum (capt,wk)