PAINFUL memories of two grand final defeats will drive Warrnambool and District Cricket Association’s (WDCA) campaign at Melbourne Country Week.
Skipper Brett Eldridge and his 14-member squad are again chasing victory in division two and elevation to the elite provincial grade for next year when the competition opens on Monday.
After narrowly being beaten in last year’s final, Eldridge said the WDCA had thoroughly reviewed all aspects of the representative program in a bid to go one step further.
He stopped short of declaring it’s now or never, but the senior players believe this could be the WDCA’s year.
“We’ve felt like we’ve paid our penance in division two,” Eldridge said. “We’ve lost two close finals and were beaten by better sides. We feel like we’ve done all the hard work behind the scenes and that it should correlate to success down there.”
But he knows his squad has to be at its best and will need luck.
Eldridge said the WDCA’s squad included six new faces from last year, including star English import Karl Turner.
He said the side had not lost “anything” with the changes but it was well balanced and tight-knit.
“The point we’ve been trying to get better at is we want to get a good team together,” he said. “We’ve identified other teams or associations are very good teams and they are not just a representative side. They play well together.”
Eldridge said the WDCA squad over the past three or so years had spent plenty of time together playing at Hamilton’s festival of cricket and various lead-up matches and training sessions.
“That has given us a good platform,” he said.
The squad includes eight pace bowling options and two spinners. Eldridge said players would be rotated with a “horses for courses” approach adopted at selection meetings.
A key to the week was having a fit, fresh and in-form squad for the four preliminary matches, he said.
An added benefit of the squad is leadership, with about half either having coach, captain or vice-captain roles at club level. One is West Warrnambool skipper Michael Threlfall, who will make his Country Week debut as a wicketkeeper/batsman.
Eldridge said Threlfall would be able to provide key insights from behind the stumps and, having played in England, would be up to the challenges of Country Week.
The WDCA opens its campaign with a match against neighbouring Hamilton and District Cricket Association at Geelong Cricket Ground on Monday.
“Monday is always and has always been the most important day,” Eldridge said.
“You have to get a win because it sets up your week. You don’t want to have the added pressure of chasing three wins in three days.”
Eldridge said wins against Hamilton and Yarra Valley last year would give his side confidence, with a match against Mornington Peninsula (2) on Tuesday critical.
The squad travels to Geelong tomorrow, with Eldridge forecasting a walk around the Geelong facility to get players’ minds on the job.
“We’ve been quietly counting down the days since the final last year. We just want to get on the bus and get down there,” he said.