MERINDA PARK v PAKENHAM
When talking about leadership, Nelson Mandela said it best: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger – then people will appreciate your leadership.”
Pakenham is still only halfway to victory against Merinda Park at Donnelly Reserve at 7/339 after their 80 overs on day one, and there’s absolutely no thought of premature victory celebrations.
But if it wasn’t for a remarkable partnership for the ages between the Lions’ two biggest leaders – skipper and playing coach Dom Paynter, and wicket-keeper batsman and coaching director Rob Elston – victory likely wouldn’t have been a realistic prospect.
The pair came together at 4/44, with opener Russell Lehman dismissed for 28 of those. They had to start cautiously with the ball shaping around from the likes of Jason Toan and Cobras skipper Danny Diwell. One more wicket at that stage and the Lions – despite their particularly long batting line-up – would have been in a world of hurt.
But Elston (91) and Paynter (172) put on a sensational 269-run stand for the fifth wicket – taking the challenge head-on when there was the most danger to their side.
Paynter’s knock was his highest ever score in senior cricket. Once he was set, his innings was breathtaking – mixing conventional stroke-play in with some incredible shot-making, such as his back-foot cover drive for six, or his audacious reverse sweep past a vacant first slip. His rate of acceleration from 100 to 150 could best be explained by how he used his feet at the crease. Some shots he manufactured, but most were sublime shots to what were still good deliveries.
And yet, in typical fashion, Paynter was understated upon reaching each one of his milestones. It was clear after day one he was even slightly uncomfortable talking about his innings, with a full day of the match still to come.
“It wasn’t a great start,” he said.
“Toan (3/44) and Diwell were bowling a treat to start off with and it was probably a combination of our poor shot selection mixed with their pressure bowling.
“We just needed to buy some time with the ball shaping around.
“If you get into a rut of losing wickets, it can seep right down through the order.
“Russ made 28 of the first 40 or so, so we could easily have been 4/10.”
Paynter said the focus was on the stretch after tea.
Cobras veteran Jamie Smith bowled 13 tight overs, taking 1/32, but he injured his groin and was forced from the field – leading to Dylan Cuthbertson bowling for an extended period.
“He bowled really well and definitely had the better of me a fair few times,” Paynter said of Cuthbertson.
“He finished with 2/100, but he was really dangerous.”
Paynter’s innings wasn’t chanceless – he was dropped a number of times, the first of those when he was in the 30s, then on the dreaded 87, and again on 140.
But in that sort of innings, he deserved more than a little bit of luck to go his way.
It was clear that at absolutely no stage were Paynter or Elston batting for themselves.
“It’s a cliche, but you enjoy yourselves a little bit with personal milestones, but there’s nothing better than playing your role in a team win,” Paynter said.
“There was no point us standing around thinking happy days.
“There were a couple of our guys still to bat who were itching for a hit.”
Paynter couldn’t fault the Cobras’ attitude in what would have seemed like an eternity of an innings in the field.
“They could really hold their heads up high,” he said.
“They definitely created enough chances.”
Paynter hit six sixes in his innings but said the ball was moving around at the start of his innings and that situation had got him into trouble in the past.
“Once you’re in though, you just have to go for it,” he said, quick to point out that he could hit with the breeze down the ground.
As for his partnership with Elston, Paynter summed it up in three succinct words: “an absolute thrill”.
“I’ve played footy with him for a long time and always followed his cricket career, and it was just a privilege to be out there with him,” he said.
“He’s just so cool under pressure. He’s very measured and deliberate at what he does.
“He always keeps the greater goal of the team in mind, and what he can do to help the side win.”
Paynter said if the top-of-the-table Lions were to clinch the win away to the third-placed Cobras he’d look upon his partnership with Elston particularly fondly.
“But they’re sitting 4-1 (four wins, one loss),” he said.
“Until we’ve seen the back of all their batters for less than what we made, we won’t be truly happy.
“Look, it’s going to be a very exciting contest on day two.”
Paynter knows that with batsmen like Daniel McCalman, Anthony Craddock, Jason Pongracic and the big-hitting Diwell, there could be plenty of bite left in the Cobras yet.
KOOWEERUP v UPPER BEACONSFIELD
The stellar individual efforts didn’t stop with Paynter and Hussey on the weekend, as another Premier skipper – Upper Beaconsfield’s Scott Pitcher – stood tallest for his side, this time with the ball, taking 7/56 in 28 overs at Denhams Road.
The Maroons won the toss and put the hometown Demons in. They created plenty of wicket-taking opportunities, but outside of a freakish run-out that saw the back of opener Jake Bardwell for 24 – after Chris O’Hara hit a straight drive back to the bowler’s end which was then deflected on to the stumps – they struggled to find that all-important breakthrough.
But from 1/122, Kooweerup was dismissed for 259 with Pitcher removing each key Demons batsman who got a start.
O’Hara (36) looked ominous at the top of the order in his return game, using the speed of the ball on to the bat to find the boundaries with a series of masterful deflections.
But when Bardwell was dismissed, the in-form Chris Bright (61) took over – playing confident cuts and drives to virtually every bad ball.
Pitcher ultimately removed both and was at one point on a hat-trick after removing Bright and Jess Mathers in quick succession. The hat-trick ball was particularly close, with Matt Bright surviving a massive leg-before wicket shout.
At 6/151, it seemed the Maroons were every chance of dismissing Kooweerup for under 200 – which Pitcher said was a target of theirs leading into the innings.
But Demons legend Matt Davey (83) found some valuable form with the bat at exactly the right time for his side – as he’s done so often over the years. He first combined with his son, Premier debutant Mitch (7), for a 39-run stand before dragging his side’s total up towards 250 with some great stroke-play.
“Look, we have to bat well to win this week,” Pitcher told the Gazette in the wake of the first day’s play.
“We aimed to keep them under 200 so at 1/124 we were probably happy to bowl them out for 259.
“We didn’t field too well – we leaked too many runs, so that’s a bit disappointing – and if anything we probably bowled a bit too aggressively to them.”
While reluctant to talk about his own performance with the ball, Pitcher said his body was feeling as good as it has in years and was confident with the way the ball was coming out.
The focus now, though, switches to an all-important innings with the bat. This is a must-win clash for the Demons if they’re to stay in touch with the top four.
“For us it’s about batting positively and not just trying to occupy the crease too much,” Pitcher said about his side’s pending run chase.
“Against Tooradin we reverted back to what we had been doing – we batted for a long time but we just got stuck.
“To beat the big sides in the competition you need to take up to them and play with the right intent.”
For so much more on the first day’s play of this WGCA Premier round – including Aaron Avery’s thoughts on great mate Hussey’s century – pick up a copy of the Gazette.