By Nick Creely
Showcasing the grit and determination that Dandenong has become synonymous with, the Panthers’ season is well and truly back on track.
The Panthers haven’t been the underdogs much in recent history, but entered Saturday’s Men’s Premier Cricket clash with just one win and against the undefeated Melbourne Uni away from home.
The odds were stacked against them.
Brett Forsyth’s group proved that not only do they have the ability to play high standard cricket despite the many departures from last year’s grand final side, but when they’re at the top of their game, they’re as dangerous and talented as any side in the competition.
Alarm bells – however – would have been ringing after champion pair Tom Donnell and Brett Forsyth fell in the opening exchanges, leaving the visitors 2/6 and in a dire position.
But slowly and surely the Panthers found some fluency, and momentum – and it was through Josh Slater and Cameron Forsyth.
Slater, described by another coach recently as a “formidable player”, was once again a shining light, seeing off a probing spell, particularly through Simon Mackin.
He is easy on the eye – a simple yet effective technique, and one that will flourish with the more exposure he gains at the level.
In a game-turning 123 run stand with Forsyth, the pair showed plenty of class and rhythm, finding the boundary but also crucially ticking over the strike with clever shot selection and placement.
While Slater eventually departed for a well-made 59, his second half-century of the season, the Panthers had swung the game in their favour.
Forsyth – who has actually been batting well this season but been the unfortunate recipient of three run-outs – was finally rewarded with a half-century.
Falling just 19 runs shy of a century, the right-hander proved vital as the visitors pushed towards a total far exceeding 200.
His knock featured six fours and plenty of clever cricket shots in the gap, using all of his 173 minutes at the crease to stamp his authority as the club’s number four moving forward.
The impressive Matthew Wilson struck his maiden half-century for the club at the back-end of the innings, whacking an unbeaten 51 from 48 balls to guide the Panthers to a highly competitive 6/253 from 50 overs, with handy cameos from Gehan Seneviratne (17) and Aaron Fernando (18 off 7 balls) helping the cause.
Fernando – who has ditched the keeping gloves this season in a quest to add to a different element with ball in hand – was the firestarter with the new-ball.
In a shrewd, yet surprising captaincy move that was in the end a masterstroke, Fernando removed the dangerous Noah Croes early, before trapping Andrew Young just moments later to have the home side 2/40.
Despite the feeling that with the Students’ quality batting group that it was always in the game, the Panthers were disciplined and gave little away.
Harrison Emms threatened during his 49 from 60 balls, class duo Andrej Yaksender (20) and skipper Fergus McKenna (34) were fluent, but the Panthers – after getting ahead of the game early – always had the answers.
The home side eventually tumbled out for 197 in the 47th over, with keeper Sam Newell flicking off the bails with a stumping to clinch the points.
With Fernando impressing during his 2/29 from 10 overs, rising quick Braeden Tauber (2/29) once again impressed, and Josh Sawrey (1/33) managed to claim the key scalp of skipper Fergus McKenna.
But a man described by skipper Brett Forsyth as capable of going to the higher level, as one of “the better spinners going around”, leggie Gehan Seneviratne starred with 4/42.
The spinner was vital through the middle, picking up key wickets and providing plenty of energy for his side on the way to victory.
While his numbers don’t tell the full story of what he’s capable of just yet – 7 wickets at 26 and 112 runs at 56 – the rising Panther is one to watch.
“Everything you want from a leg-spinner, he’s got. Control, variation, competitiveness and he is a really good fielder and a batter as well,” Forsyth said.
Dandenong sits in 11th position on the Men’s table, and will enjoy the Christmas break before returning to the field on Saturday 8 January with a clash against the in-form Ringwood at Shepley Oval.