ALMOST six months ago captain Brett Eldridge was lying in a hospital bed wondering if he would make it to Melbourne Country Week.
Yesterday he produced the innings of his stellar representative career to guide Warrnambool and District Cricket Association (WDCA) to a first-day win over Hamilton and District.
Eldridge scored a match-winning 133 not out off 128 balls as the WDCA reeled in Hamilton and District’s 7-269 with 18 balls to spare at Geelong Cricket Ground.
It was the 31-year-old’s first century at Country Week in his 12th campaign and kept alive the side’s dream of winning promotion from division two for next year.
“The monkey’s off the back,” Eldridge said of his personal milestone.
“I’ve had a 94 not out and another 90 but this is my first (century). I needed to tick that box. I should have had a couple by now.”
Eldridge, who missed a significant amount of the early season because of a severe bout of pneumonia, said his fitness base was tested yesterday.
“Lochy Eccles (masseuse) is going to be holding my body together this week. The hard work to get here paid off and that is what we are about.”
Eldridge said his focus had been on his side’s position in the game when he reached his ton off 103 balls.
The WDCA was teetering at 5-119 in the 24th over before Eldridge, batting at number three, found an ally in Woodford’s Jake McKinnon (58 off 76 balls).
They combined for a 134-run sixth-wicket partnership that changed the course of the match. When McKinnon was run out in the 46th over, their side was in sight of an improbable victory. By the end of the next over, the WDCA had claimed it.
“Because the game was so tight, it (the century) was a bit of a relief. Jake was batting so well. It was a case of getting him to his 50 and us keeping it going.
“There wasn’t time to relax. We still needed a run a ball so we put the foot down and we tried to take the game away from them.”
Eldridge heaped praise on McKinnon.
“It’s huge for him. I was so pleased for him. He batted so well.”
Eldridge’s knock included 10 fours and three sixes while McKinnon’s included two fours and one six.
Eldridge said his side had done well to escape with a victory, scoring bonus points as it reached 6-298 off its 50 overs, after Hamilton made a flying start to its innings.
Hamilton and District had a golden opportunity to take the game away from the WDCA when it raced to 2-175 after 30 overs but Ben Boyd (3-31 off nine overs), Eldridge (2-19 off six overs), McKinnon (1-40 off eight) and spinner Matt Brophy (1-37 off seven overs) slowed the run rate.
“We bowled really well at the end of their innings. The way they were going through the innings it was 300-plus, but Broph, Boydy and Jake bowled really well. Jake had a great all-round game.” Hamilton and District association president Lloyd Ilett said his side could only applaud the WDCA.
“I thought we were a big show but Brett Eldridge just took the game away from us and Jake McKinnon — every year he plays against us, he just does it to us,” Ilett said.
“Last year they were 5-133 and in came Jake McKinnon and they won. Today it was 5-119. They didn’t thrash the ball around, they batted well. We’ve got no one to blame. We batted well and we didn’t bowl as well as we would have liked.” Ilett said the foundation laid by opening batsmen Brendan Huf (86 off 87 balls) and Hugh Douglas (58 off 58) in a 135-run opening stand had been sensational.
“I thought we should have made 300, 280 at least, but the boys just kept getting starts and didn’t go on with it. We lost 5-100 off the last 20 overs, just lost wickets at vital times.”
The WDCA faces Mornington Peninsula (2) today at Brighton Beach Oval while Hamilton and District play Benalla at Coburg.