SOUTH West Cricket yesterday completed a meteoric rise in country Victorian cricket rankings, winning division two at Melbourne Country week.
After making 8-200 off 37 overs, SWC dismissed Bairnsdale for 177 in the 37th over at Camberwell Sports Ground, Camberwell.
The victory, the first at division two level, comes after SWC won division four in 2009 and division three in 2010 before finishing third in its division two debut last year.
The elevation to provincial grade next year is a sporting fairytale, according to captain Steven Castle. “The raw talent of the players is what has got us to where we are,” he said.
“We don’t have a lot of time to train. Our only training was one practice match and that was washed out. Our warm ups are non-existent . . . We have to look at all those things to make sure we are cherry ripe for the Monday next year.
“I think it is a really simple game.
“We are not as professional as others but we certainly have a very competitive spirit.
“And we are not as predictable as others.”
The win means SWC, formed 15 years ago out of a merger of two competitions, which had previously been involved in two other mergers, will play in the highest grade at Melbourne Country Week next year.
That will pit a group of proud cricketers from the bush against representative sides from cities like Geelong.
The population base for SWC which includes towns like Terang, Camperdown and Mortlake, wouldn’t even equal a suburb of Geelong, whose winning provincial grade side yesterday included former premier league stars and some domestic clubs have eight senior teams.
Moments after the triumph Castle said the significance of the win hadn’t sunk in.
“Stoked, a bit bloody hard to believe,” he said.
“Maybe five years ago I came down here with South West Cricket in division four or five and didn’t win a game. There probably was a changing of the guard and how seriously we took it. If we are going to come down here, we are coming to win.”
Castle said the promotion to provincial grade reflected the talent in his association.
Asked if the win made SWC the region’s leading cricket competition, he replied: “If you use Melbourne Country Week as a measuring stick, there probably is no other measuring stick.”
“I like to think I’ve played against some good players over the years but I believe we have got some of the best going around.
“Simon Baker has made endless amounts of runs down here over the years, played in three grand finals and been man of the match in two of them.
“The competitive spirit of all those guys, the Baker boys, Steve O’Neill etc, they’re all leaders at their own clubs. When they come down here they are so intense at performing at their best.”
Castle said his players, while enjoying the moment, were excited about the challenges ahead next year.
When Bairnsdale tail-ender Darcy Murray pulled a half-tracker from Terang captain Ben Grinter straight to Bookaar’s Simon Baker on the boundary yesterday, it sparked big celebrations on and off the field.
Team manager Keith Baker, who played at as many as 20 country weeks and has been manager for the past eight years, couldn’t hide his emotions. “I couldn’t talk,” he said.
His son Simon was named man of the match after match-winning efforts with the bat (75 off 84 balls, including seven fours and one six) and in the field (2-35 off eight overs including two maidens and the catch).
The Bookaar all-rounder and Heytesbury Rebels right-hand batsman Travis Brown (40 off 43 balls) provided the platform for SWC’s 8-200. They came together at 3-25 in the ninth over and shared an 88-run stand at run-a-ball pace to turn the tide in favour of their side.
Mortlake’s Clinton Baker (34 off 18 balls including three sixes and one four) and Terang left-hander Oliver Fitzpatrick (23 not out, including one six and two fours) pushed the total to 200 with some lusty hitting late in the innings. They shared a 44-run stand off five overs for the eighth wicket to give SWC the upper hand.
Bairnsdale off-spinner Geoff Stewart finished with 4-58. Earlier, Bairnsdale paceman Nye Norman had tied down SWC’s batsmen, bowling eight overs for just 13 runs.
Castle felt his side was always in control in the field, even when Bairnsdale seemed to be cruising at 3-140 with seven overs remaining.
But Pomborneit off-spinner Stephen O’Neill (3-35) dismissed Bairnsdale’s danger men Mike Jones (34) and Sam Howden (45) in consecutive balls in the 31st over to ensure victory.
He heaped praise on the contribution of Fitzpatrick, who took three catches, and bowlers like Todd Lamont (2-26) and Ben Grinter (2-35).
“Everyone was really good. We fielded really good. There was some great outfield catching, bloody tremendous.”
Lamont exemplified the standard set in the field, diving full-length at long-on to take a catch while horizontal to the ground to claim the eighth wicket of Marcus Latham.
Meanwhile, Colac suffered a one-wicket loss to Yarra Valley in the division three grand final.