WHEN does Merrivale enter the conversation as a genuine premiership contender?
It should already be there. The Tigers weren't a pre-season flag fancy, but Justin Lynch's men have found a way to win and play to their strengths.
One-day cricket is a game of fine margins. It's not necessarily about producing the most technically brilliant innings or bowling to the spot on a 50-cent piece for overs and overs on end.
Above all else, it's about efficiency. That's what the Tigers have been able to do well.
Marcus Bunney has been able to get more wickets than any other player in the Warrnambool and District Cricket Association through the summer and is also leaking just 2.5 runs an over.
Hugh Fleming and Ryan Fleming have taken the next steps in their development and are bowling super economically. Mark Jones is also bowling well.
It's eased pressure on players like Josh Stapleton, who has focused mainly on his batting to great avail.
Batting-wise, Lynch has enjoyed a strong season through the middle order and pleasingly, Theo Opperman and Flynn Wilkinson are becoming really comfortable at division one level.
They're arguably the best fielding side in the league as well. So which one of the three features of the game is behind their dramatic improvement?
The answer is consistency. Boring, but true. Merrivale is as even a side as you'll find in the district and it has more than enough to earn its status as flag contender.
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Its biggest test of the season will come on Saturday against Russells Creek but if the Tigers can go eight unbeaten and stretch their advantage atop the ladder, a minor premiership will edge closer.
There's still an appetite for two-day cricket right through the association but the evenness of the season begs the question - is the limited overs format the way forward?
The shorter form gives teams who were outside the top five this past season - Merrivale, Wesley Yambuk and Nestles - more opportunity to reverse their fortunes. It has, in 2021-22, been the ultimate equalisation measure.
Regardless of the format, a premiership is a premiership and the Tigers are in the hunt. Watch out.
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