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Balancing on a knife edge

The glory of a minor premiership and despair of relegation – polar opposites on the achievement spectrum - will be inextricably linked when the final round of the Casey Cardinia Cricket Association (CCCA) Premier Division begins on Saturday.

Pakenham’s (8/139dec) comprehensive defeat of Tooradin (102 and 9/131) in round 13 has seen the Lions close the gap on the ladder-leaders to a minuscule amount.

If the Lions had made 30 more runs for the season…they would find themselves in top place.

But you think that’s tight!

At the bottom of the ladder, Clyde’s (4/304) incredible run-chase victory over Merinda Park (8/303) and left a nanoscopic amount of difference between the two sides as we head into round 14.

Merinda Park would be relegated if the season finished right now, but make five more runs for the season and the Cobras would maintain their Premier Division status!

Yes, it’s that tight!

How appropriate then that Tooradin will host Clyde, and Pakenham turn on the porch light for Merinda Park at 1pm this Saturday.

Every single run, every sundry, every wicket taken…every single action by every single player will decide this year’s minor premiership and the resultant prospect of a home grand final.

Those same actions will also decide the fate of the Cougars and Cobras…with one to ply their trade in the secondary District Division when the new season begins in October.

Clyde – the Cougars – well it has all the momentum.

Their imposing left-hand openers Michael Vandort (91) and Trevor Bauer (89) got the visitors off to the ideal start on Saturday, forging a 170-run partnership that was the very essence of season-defining.

Vandort departed the scene with 134 runs left to get…but had built the platform for victory.

Bauer and Cougar-stalwart John Simpson (69) then shared a 61-run union, with Simpson cracking 10 four in his innings, which ended with the Cougars requiring 21 runs to keep their season alive.

It was fitting that captain Brett Reid (19 not out) was at the crease with Kane Avard (6 not out) when the winning runs were scored, with 27 balls to spare.

The scenes of jubilation were in stark contrast to the Cougars most recent game, where they fell 20 runs short (219) of victory against Officer (238).

It was a loss that appeared to end their quest for survival, but proved the catalyst for a change in attitude.

“It sounds pretty simple, but I think Saturday was about the boys going back to basics and having a bit of fun I think,” said non-playing senior coach Adrian Buller.

“We were really disappointed after the Officer game, we probably thought that was it, we had our past-players day that day and the players were gutted, just falling short.

“They were pretty devastated in the rooms afterwards.

“I just told them to stop worrying about it; if we get relegated we get relegated, because it was really having an impact on their cricket.

“We were putting so much pressure on ourselves to get the wins and getting away from relegation, rather than just having fun, enjoying our cricket, giving it our best, and whatever happens, happens.”

Buller said there was one clear reason why the Cougars were no challenging for a finals position this year.

“Our batting has been pretty good, we just can’t bowl and we have trouble taking wickets,” he said.

“We lost our first eleven attack; our second eleven attack; we lost 20 players out of our top three grades from last season and most of those were bowlers.

“We went from a club that was renowned for our bowling, to struggling for quality and just giving guys a go to see how they performed.

“If we could bowl better we’d be bloody dangerous.”

Buller, a club stalwart, said a relaxed attitude was thing, but staying in the Premier Division is very important to his club.

“It is important, it’s important because if you want to recruit guys, and get better as a club, it’s very hard to do that in the second tier,” he said.

“I actually thought we’d go alright this year, and push for finals, but it hasn’t panned out that way.

“I want Clyde to be spoken about like a Cardinia, Kooweerup, Tooradin or Pakenham, but the only way we can do that is to stay in the top grade.

“It’s really important from that point of view.

“Hopefully the boys can do it, but it’s a game of cricket at the end of the day.

“I think it will be the same message, to not worry too much about it, although we have Tooradin and they’ve given us a nice touch up the last few years.

“But the boys did knock them off in the T20 (Kookaburra Cup), so they can do it, we just need to stick to our game plan and we should be right.”

Merinda Park also face a huge challenge this week, heading to Toomuc Reserve to take on a Lions outfit that has taken all before it this season.

Shock losses to Clyde and Carlisle Park have been the only blips on an otherwise clear radar.

The Lions, 5/110 overnight, eight runs ahead of Tooradin (102), batted for 15 overs on Saturday before skipper Dale Tormey declared his first innings closed, 8/139.

With the game effectively over on day one both teams agreed to a truce, before a league rule made them head back to Toomuc for day two.

If you’re going to play…you may as well have a crack!

“Our attitude was, let’s have a real crack at them and see where that can take us,” Tormey said.

“We had no set plan on how long we were going to bat, but James (Close) was dropped in the over before we declared and the decision was made from there.

“We weren’t going to make too many more runs, and losing wickets would have hurt our percentage.

“Myself and Robbie (Coach Rob Elston) decided the time was right.”

The decision to throw the Seagulls back in paid instant dividends for the Lions with Josh Lownds (0), Ben Parrott (10) and skipper Cal O’Hare (1) all back in the sheds with the score at 3/7.

Evergreen Tom Hussey (26) and the in-form Dylan Sutton (53 not out) then thwarted the Lions hopes of chasing an outright victory.

Tormey was superb, with figures of 22 overs, 12 maidens, 5 for 37, while off-spinner Jason Williams (2/44 off 21) also applied the pressure.

Controversy surrounded the finish to this game, with the CCCA Rule Book saying that a line should be ruled in the scorebook at 5pm on day two of play, with 20 overs to be bowled from that point in time.

This rule was not implemented on day two, with the standard 77 overs, plus three for the innings changeover, constituting the day’s play.

Tormey said the Lions would now focus on implementing their brand against Merinda Park this week.

A hefty victory could see the Lions climb above the Seagulls into top place on the ladder.

“If we start going away from our game-plan, losing our focus, and worrying about what’s happening at other grounds, we’ll find ourselves 5/40 and in all sorts of trouble in a hurry,” Tormey said.

“We need to play good solid cricket and the rest will look after itself.”

Tormey said he was proud of his Lions for being in minor-premiership contention with just one round remaining in the season.

“I think a few people probably wrote us off a bit at the start of the season, but the young kids have come in and played a terrific role for us,” he said.

“There’s still a lot to play for, but right now I’m proud of how the season has unfolded.”

In other games this week, Cardinia (5/276) booked its place in this year’s finals series with a commanding batting performance against Officer (166), while Kooweerup (182) was at its back-to-the-wall best, ending Carlisle Park’s (126) faint finals hopes at Denhams Road.

Apart from two loose overs from Luke McMaster (1/42 off 42), the Demons were clinical in their defence.

McMaster bowled too short and too wide to Campbell Furze (13) in third over of day two, being guided over slips and gully for two fours, before settling nicely into his rhythm.

He was then taken for 12 by Vikings’ gun Shalika Karunanayake (28) in the first over after the drinks break.

The Sri Lankan first-class performer pulled the third ball of the over for six, before swatting a slightly fuller ball in the same direction to end McMaster’s set.

The Vikings were well in contention at 3/81 before a Demons’ bowling change quickly switched momentum.

Off-spinner Matt Bright (2/12 off 9) bowled a rank long-hop to Karunanayake with the first ball of his spell, with the classy right-hander hitting the ball straight down the throat of Cody Miller at deep-square leg.

Bright then had Kasun Balasuriya (32) caught down the leg-side by his brother Chris, to have the Vikings two top-scorers back in the hut within the space of two runs.

The chase was effectively over.

Big-game specialist Jess Mathers (4/36 off 19.2 overs) was the clear top pick of the Kooweerup attack and is showing great signs with both bat and ball as we head into this year’s finals series.

Adam McMaster (2/18 off 11) was next best with the ball for the Demons.

The Vikings have made a late charge this season, but were found wanting on the weekend against a Demons’ bowling outfit that looks in good nick with one round left to play.

The Demons will look to sharpen their focus even more in an otherwise meaningless trip to Officer, while the Vikings face a tough road-trip to Cardinia to round out a productive season.

And Cardinia (5/276) had the clear intent of batting long and batting deep in pursuit of a modest Officer (166) total at Starling Road.

If the Bulls can get their coughing and spluttering batting machine firing they’re going to be a huge threat in finals, a period of the season when they do play their best cricket.

Remember, they’ve won three of the last four trophies on offer in the CCCA…they know better than any of the top four on how to get the job done!

Resuming at 0/58, their batting fired beautifully on the weekend, with openers Morteza Ali (64) and Alex Nooy (57) building solid overnight starts (33 and 22) into half centuries.

Bradey Welsh (44), Matt Welsh (49), Nathan Volpe (33 not out) and Leigh Paterson (14) then spent some vital minutes at the crease as the Bulls travelled at almost five runs per over.

Cooper Pursell (2/48) was the only multiple wicket-taker for the Bullants, who are not completely free of the relegation battle.

In the unlikely case that Merinda Park defeat Pakenham and Clyde produce an upset win against Tooradin, the Bullants might then be relegated if they go down heavily to Kooweerup.

They should be safe, but will be keeping a close eye on proceedings at both Toomuc Reserve and Tooradin.

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