STATISTICS in sport can be overblown. Especially in cricket.
But sometimes they paint an interesting picture. Take them with a grain of salt. Such is the case in the Warrnambool and District Cricket Association.
Allansford-Panmure is last, but has scored the second-most runs of any side in division one.
There are points to consider here - Uebergang Oval is typically a good batting pitch and its outfield is typically cut short and fast.
But above all else this statistic shows how truly even the competition has become.
Just 12.125 points - basically two wins - separates third from last.
If your good players play well (you're a chance). If Kory (Howlett) doesn't get 100 for North Warrnambool against Brierly earlier in the season (they're in a bit of a trouble). If Cam (Williams) doesn't get a hundred, or if Chris Bant doesn't play well... Anyone can beat anyone.- Alex Strauch
Russells Creek held pre-season favoritism on the back of a strong off-season. Just about every other club lost players while Creek signed bowler Craig Britten to complement an already top-line attack.
Questions loomed over its ability to score but with Jetty Flat - one of the smallest turf wicket grounds in the Warrnambool district - back in operation after missing 2020-21 it was generally accepted it would boost Creek's chances.
They're a finals contender but with a top four featuring Merrivale, Wesley Yambuk and North Warrnambool Eels, the race is still wide open.
The Eels were the standout side from this past season but have lost a few and look a little shakier than they have in the past, especially with the bat. Wesley Yambuk has been the surprise packet of the league under Jason Mungean and has been squeezing the most out of its young list.
Merrivale is well-coached, well-drilled and capable of playing to its strengths.
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Nestles, this past season's most troubled batting side aside from Wesley Yambuk, appears to have fixed its batting woes and is fifth.
Sixth-placed West Warrnambool has stacks of talent but has been pigeonholed largely as a two-day specialist team.
Dennington, which is seventh, is young, hungry and capable of ruffling a few feathers while eighth-placed Port Fairy has an array of match-winning talent and hasn't hit its straps yet mainly due to injury.
Then there's Brierly-Christ Church in ninth. The Bulls boast two of the association's best batsmen in brothers Mark and Nathan Murphy and could beat any other side on their day.
The fact the entire season is one-day cricket has also brought the field closer together. There's no outright leader and there's no outright tailender.
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Gators skipper Chris Bant said the competition was as even as ever.
"There's not really anyone who is an easybeat and not really anyone you can't beat either," he told The Standard.
"That's just the way it is this year. Obviously the one-day results haven't gone our way until the most recent game (against Brierly-Christ Church) but we haven't felt like we're too far away."
Allansford-Panmure might be last on the ladder but there's a case to argue it has a squad far more capable.
Bant, a multiple Melbourne Country Week representative, is one of the most talented batsmen in the region and players like Paddy Mahony and Daniel Meade are serviceable division one players.
Ben Boyd is the current Australia Country skipper and will go down as potentially the Warrnambool and District Cricket Association's greatest bowler.
Noah Greene and Ethan Boyd are seriously promising young players who have a bright future and are capable of contributing right now. There's almost a case to argue this Gators side is better-positioned than the one which won seven games this past season.
They've also taken more wickets than both Brierly-Christ Church and Dennington and just four less than Wesley Yambuk.
The reason they're last? One-day cricket punishes team who struggle to close out games. It can be as brutal and simple as that.
Nestles coach Alex Strauch said one-day cricket and the evenness of the competition meant any team could win a grand final from inside the top four. "If your good players play well, you can win a flag," he said.
"It doesn't matter who it is. Creek have dropped a couple and that's not usually what they're doing pre-Christmas. I don't think they'd have lost two before Christmas for a while.
"If your good players play well (you're a chance). If Kory (Howlett) doesn't get 100 for North Warrnambool against Brierly earlier in the season (they're in a bit of a trouble). If Cam (Williams) doesn't get a hundred, or if Chris Bant doesn't play well... Anyone can beat anyone."
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