THE Warrnambool and District Cricket Association’s dreams of jumping into the elite Melbourne Country Week elite division turned into a nightmare at Northcote yesterday when it suffered an agonising two-run defeat.
In a heartbreaking finish to the division two grand final against Bairnsdale, Nirranda skipper Jason Mungean needed a boundary off the final ball of the innings to win the game but he could only manage a single as the WDCA finished at 9-166 off its 50 overs, so close to Bairnsdale’s 9-168.
As elated Bairnsdale players celebrated, Mungean trudged from the field.
A drained WDCA skipper Brett Eldridge and his team were devastated, having put up such a brave fight-back after being seemingly out of the contest at 7-99 in the 28th over.
“All the way down we knew we had the weapons, we just didn’t have any luck,” Eldridge said.
“The 50-50 things just didn’t go our way but that’s why we play cricket, that’s why it is the greatest game in the world. One day they go your way, the next they don’t.”
He said it was a painful defeat. “There is a lot of great people who have put in a lot of time and effort, there’s been a lot of supporters from back home and that’s why you feel the most hurt. You’ve got a lot of wonderful people around you and you feel like you have let them down. We have done the hard work and hopefully we will get a chance to reap that one day soon.”
Eldridge said he expected his side to re-load again next year in pursuit of a victory and elevation to the elite provincial grade.
He described his side’s work in the field as the best of the week, having restricted Bairnsdale to 9-168. At one stage Bairnsdale had been 0-64 in 12 overs but tight bowling from Mungean (3-19 off 10), Boyd (2-26 off 10) and Jake McKinnon (0-18 off 8) stopped the runs with 6-34 in 21 overs.
After a bright start in pursuit of the total, the WDCA seemed to be cruising at 1-58 and 3-90 but lost 4-9 on a life-less, deteriorating pitch at Bill Lawry Oval in Northcote to slump to 7-99 in the 28th over.
But Brierly Christ Church skipper Nathan Murphy (35) and Woodford’s Nick Butters (39) steadied the innings and then appeared set to become the heroes before their 54-run stand was broken when Murphy was bowled by a ball that kept low.
At that stage the WDCA needed 16 off 24 balls. Butters was bowled with seven balls left, leaving Mungean and Ben Boyd at the crease.
Eldridge said even down to the final ball he and his teammates believed they would win.
“Memories went back to Monday when he (Mungean) hit three sixes in three balls. We were looking for the fairytale finish. If there was anyone in the side you wanted on strike, it was him. Unfortunately the ball was too good. There was nothing he could do with it, it was a yorker.”
He said conditions had been critical in the wash-up.
“It was a massive toss to win,” he said.
“The best 20 overs to bat were the first 20 and it deteriorated from there.”
Eldridge heaped praise on Murphy, Butters and McKinnon, who continued their rise at representative level.
“It was a fantastic effort from Nathan and Nick, we were doing a panic and they put on a great partnership. It was a massive effort from Nick who last year didn’t get much of an opportunity and he took the chance he got on Wednesday.”
Eldridge said the performances of the two eldest players, Boyd and Mungean, were impressive while opening paceman Hank Schlaghecke was lion-hearted all week.
“I can’t speak highly enough of these guys. Everytime I have looked them in the eye and asked for something this week I have got it in spades.”
Mungean was named the WDCA’s player of the grand final for his performance with the ball. Opener Cam Williams was the association’s leading runscorer for the week with 310 runs at an average of 62 while Schlaghecke was the leading wicket-taker with nine at an average of 18.66.