An afternoon at The Albert

It’s the weekend before Christmas. Saturday December 17 to be precise. My wife has kindly volunteered to do the gift shopping this year. With all obligations, both at work and home, met I find myself with a free afternoon. I’ll spend my spare time watching some local cricket. I’ve taken a short tram ride down St Kilda Road and disembarked at the corner of Commercial Road. I’m greeted by a tiny oasis less than five kilometres from the central business district of Melbourne – The Albert Ground.

When you enter the gates on the St Kilda Road side you could be mistaken for thinking you’ve been transported to a village green in rural England. The quaint Clive Fairbairn Pavilion, the compact yet information laden scoreboard to your left, the well manicured embankments that provide a comfortable vantage point for spectators to view proceedings. I doubt you’ll meet someone, anyone for that matter, privileged enough to have spent time at the Albert that has no intention of returning sometime soon.

The Albert Ground, originally known as the Warehouseman’s Ground – the Warehouseman’s Cricket Club played there, has been the home of the Melbourne Cricket Club since the mid 1890’s. The Victorian Cricket Association used the venue to stage First XI finals from 1953/54 to the mid 1990’s. With the arrival of the Melbourne Grand Prix, Cricket Victoria were forced to find an alternative venue for their annual finale. Today Melbourne will attempt to win their seventh game of the 2011/12 season. Standing in their way will be the visiting Footscray Edgewater Cricket Club. The Albert played host to the greatest moment in Footscray’s 63 year VCA history in April 1980. The Bulldogs defeated St Kilda in the 1979/80 decider to claim its first, and thus far only, First XI pennant. The Dogs recent Albert Ground record has been atrocious, their previous two appearances finishing in nine wicket losses. It’s exactly five years to the day since the Bulldogs “saluted” against Melbourne on their home ground. A splendid 103 from Stuart Brohaska headlined a memorable afternoon for Footscray; the Dogs amassing 4/309, easily chasing down the 307 runs required for victory.

Neither side is at full strength for todays 50 over clash. Melbourne will be without Brad Hodge, Andrew Mc Donald, Michael Hill and Rob Cooper, the first three players involvement in the inaugural team based Twenty/Twenty competition placing a severe strain on their playing resources. The Dogs have been forced to make four changes to last weeks side, those missing from their previous encounter include lion hearted opening bowlers Andrew McCammond & Brad Robertson, Greg Sheehan and injured skipper Travis Gloury.  Dean Russ will stand in for the absent Gloury and assume all captaincy duties.

The Footscray “ins” include opening batsman Peter Herrick, who will be making his Premier Cricket debut, middle order batsman Nick Oldridge and spin bowler Michael Kelly – both playing their first senior matches for 2011/12 and Shepparton recruit Hamish Winter-Irving.  Winter-Irving debuted in the Round 5 clash against Casey South Melbourne played in the Northern Victorian town of Numurkah in Premier Cricket’s Country Round. He’s only the second player with a hyphenated surname to represent Footscray at senior level. Rory Hamilton-Brown current captain of English county side Surrey made five appearances for the club last season.

It’s a perfect Saturday morning with the temperature somewhere in the mid 20’s and not a cloud in the sky. The starting time for the final pre-Christmas round of Premier Cricket has been brought forward an hour to allow all players, officials & supporters an opportunity to attend this evenings Twenty/Twenty clash at the MCG. Whilst the combatants of tonights encounter will enter the Jolimont Coliseum to a cacophony of sound todays game will have a more genteel soundtrack, that of trams, automobiles and the occasional passing shot from the adjacent tennis courts.

Melbourne wins the toss and decides to have the first use of the Albert Autobahn. Their openers Seb Gotch and Andrew Kent take the field in red uniforms sporting a stylised Demon head on the front of their shirts. The visitors are wearing blue uniforms with a cartoon style Bulldog on their tops. Call me reactionary but I’d much prefer to see both teams in traditional white. So be it.

Left arm medium-fast bowler Tallan Wright will take the new ball for the visitors. Wright joined the Dogs at the start of the 2011/12 campaign having spent the previous four seasons at neighbouring Essendon.  His all-round skills have been a handy addition to the team averaging 24 with the bat. Today his brief is to spearhead an attack that could struggle with experienced pacemen McCammond & Robertson both sidelined.  An uneventful first over follows, Wright’s two wides provide the scoreboard attendants minimal activity. Winter-Irving will bowl the second over from the Tennis Court end of the Albert. A confident appeal for LBW against Andrew Kent is denied, the Melbourne captain well down the pitch. Wright and Winter-Irving are on target early and after five overs Melbourne are 16 for no loss, Gotch 7, Kent 4 with 5 sundries.

When Andrew Kent reached 3 he brought up his 8,000th run in Premier Cricket. Kent, who debuted in season 1999/2000, has been a superb contributor for the Melbourne Cricket Club with 16 centuries to his name. It begs the question how the 30 year old MCC skipper hasn’t been selected for higher honours. He trails only Warwick Armstrong (8.197) & Warren Ayres (11.154) on Melbourne’s all time leading run scorers. Congratulations Andrew on reaching this magnificent milestone.

Whilst boundaries are at a premium Melbourne keep the score ticking over with a number of quick singles. Shane Jones replaces Wright and makes the initial breakthrough for the Bulldogs forcing a bad shot out of Gotch (18), the Melbourne opener caught 15 metres short of the mid off fence by Wright. At 1/41 Alex Keath enters the fray. It’s just over twelve months since Keath was first selected to represent Victoria, his interstate career getting off to a promising start with 46 in the second innings against England in the tour match last December. Season 2011/12 has proved a little trickier for the 19 year old, his four innings for the MCC producing 86 runs with a top score of 56. Unfortunately Keath’s work with the willow lasts a mere ten minutes, scoring 4 runs from 19 deliveries. He’s dismissed when he edges Jones into the safe hands of Dogs keeper Dylan Kight. It leaves Melbourne at 2 for 48. He looks short on confidence, however I’ll spare you my opinion as I’ve never played the game, so what would I know?

Simon Dart, a 17 year veteran of District/Premier Cricket and winner of the 2004/05 Ryder Medal, joins skipper Kent and the pair get the Melbourne up the run rate rotating the strike with some smart running between the wickets and well timed shots to the fence. Russ continues to switch his bowlers around with Michael Kelly and Sean Hollins replacing Winter-Irving and Jones respectively. Hollins was a pleasant surprise in 2010/11 taking 22 wickets in his debut season. His 2011/12 campaign suffered from an injury interrupted start. Today he makes only his second senior appearance for the season. In his second over he justifies Russ’ faith by enticing Kent (38) down the pitch and having him stumped by Kight. Drinks are taken at the half way mark of the Melbourne innings, the home side are 3 for 95 and need to get a wriggle on in the second half. Matt Brown will join the dangerous Dart, unbeaten on 28, following the refreshment break.

Ben Green is introduced into the attack for a crack at the Melbourne batsman. The home team find it difficult to get the 21 year old medium pacer away, Green keeping the pressure on. Hollins is dispatched to the fence on three occasions during his fourth over by the lanky Brown. It’s the first time the Demons look dangerous, and after 30 overs Dart (34) and Brown (13) have taken the total to 3/115.

Dart reaches a well made half century by cutting Kelly for two. He’s dismissed shortly after when a smart piece of work from Kight finds him short of his crease. Dart (54) is run out, Melbourne 4/161. His 79 minute stint included 3 boundaries but more importantly the experienced Dart kept the score moving when it appeared his team would struggle to reach 200.  Petricola joins Brown and the pair add 23 runs before Brown (48) is removed by Green, his’ Red, White & Blue teammates are tickled pink with his efforts, Melbourne 5/184 after 43 overs. In his second over Travis Dean sends Steve Gilmour (1) on his way and the Demons are reduced to 6/187. Max Tomkinson (14) and Petricola (27) push the score past 200, both are dismissed at the tail end of the 50 overs. When the compulsory closure is enforced Melbourne have reached 8/222, Dart (54) Brown (48) and Kent (39) the headline performers. Shane Jones, Ben Green and Travis Dean grabbed two wickets apiece for Footscray.

First gamer Herrick will open the Dogs innings with “skipper for the day” Dean Russ. Russ, who spent the off season playing Yorkshire club cricket for Guiseley, handled the added responsibilities of captaining the team admirably. Holding the talented Melbourne batting line up to the gettable total of 222 on a pitch as benign as this was a sterling effort by Russ and his attack. His task now is to ensure his team gets off to good start in pursuit of the 223 runs needed to win. After 5 overs Footscray are 0/27, Russ (20), Herrick (6) with an extra for good measure. Herrick looks comfortable enough against the home sides new ball bowlers Gilmour & Dan Worrall. Nick Quinn replaces Gilmour and makes the initial breakthrough for Melbourne, dismissing Herrick (19) leg before wicket to leave Footscray 1/44. Herrick’s cameo included four boundaries.

Russ is joined in the middle by Nick Oldridge. The hard hitting 28 year old made his senior debut last season making five appearances in total. Oldridge forced his way into the “ones” following good form in the mid-week Twenty/Twenty competition and a match winning century in the Second XI a fortnight ago. Kent, in search of another wicket, introduces Aaron Boyle, Dart & Keath, however none can provide their captain with the desired result. Drinks are served after 25 overs and Footscray are cruising with 125 runs on the board for the loss of only one wicket. The hard working Melbourne attack has received precious little support from the Albert Ground wicket, Russ (56) and Oldridge (32) going about the business of knocking off the required runs with a minimum of fuss. But, as is often the case, a wicket falls soon after an interval. Former State representative Gilmour gets one through the defence of Oldridge (34) and terminates a valuable 84 run partnership for the second wicket, the Dogs 2/128. It’s a well deserved wicket and a nice reward for Gilmour’s efforts. It opens the door slightly for the MCC.

Travis Dean walks to the middle of the Albert Ground, his team 95 runs short of what would be their best win for the season. Dean burst on to the Premier Cricket scene on Valentines Day 2009 scoring a wonderful 91 against Prahran at Toorak Park. His 166 minute, 136 delivery debut knock included 14 boundaries and remains his top score at senior level to this day. Dean’s season average of 24.38 is slightly inferior to the 25.67 mark he entered 2011/12 with. Still 6 weeks shy of his 20th birthday he remains a huge chance to be the first Footscray “batsman” in almost four decades to represent the great state of Victoria at Sheffield Shield level, Ron Nicholls the most recent to do so in season 1974/75. Russ and Dean add 41 for the third wicket before Dean (24) becomes Quinn’s second leg before victim of the afternoon. Dean’s dismissal leaves the Dogs 3/169 requiring a further 54 runs to grab the desperately needed premiership points. With Melbourne required to bowl a minimum of 15 overs, the match is still Footscray’s “to lose”.

Dylan Kight makes his way to the middle. Much was expected of the young keeper/batsman when the 2011/12 season commenced, and the 20 year old product of the Melton Cricket Club has delivered the goods, becoming only the third Footscray keeper to score a century in District/Premier cricket posting his maiden ton at Windy Hill in November. He followed that with another triple figure score against Fitzroy Doncaster in Round 9. Entering today’s clash he’d accumulated 440 runs at an average of just over 73, having passed 50 on four occasions. However, the old saying “Cricket is a great leveller” couldn’t be used more appropriately when Kight plays Boyle’s innocuous delivery on to his stumps, out for no score. Rooster one day, feather duster the next. Having lost 2 wickets for the addition of one run Footscray are 4/170 and have the staggers. The target of 223 set by Melbourne is proving a harder task than the visitors had hoped.

Ben Green, who shared in a 171 run partnership for the fourth wicket with Dylan Kight seven days earlier, becomes Russ’ fifth partner of the afternoon. They add nine runs to the total before Russ (85) exits the contest, bowled by Nick Quinn. The 117 delivery, 158 minute effort was Russ’ best for the season in both magnitude and importance.  His departure leaves Green with the responsibility to get the Dogs over the line. After 40 overs he remains unconquered on 12, Tallan Wright is yet to score and Footscray have reached 5/185, 38 to get, 60 {legitimate} deliveries remaining.

Simon Dart has Green (19) caught by Tomkinson and Footscray slip to 6/201. 45 overs have been completed, 22 runs are required from a minimum 30 balls – Squeaky bum time for the Doggies. Sean Hollins enters the Albert arena. His previous innings in senior company ended when he was adjudged run out. Those who witnessed the decision suggest he was a tad unlucky.  Nonetheless I will continue to donate to Vision Australia on a monthly basis. If Hollins had any butterflies in the tummy he doesn’t show it, he and Wright take their side within one run of victory when Dart strikes, trapping Hollins (16) leg before wicket. 49 overs have been bowled, Footscray 7/222, scores tied, the Bulldogs are, at worst, assured at least 2 points for their days work.

Wright (11no) and Shane Jones (0no) spare their team any further heartburn, and victory is attained from the first ball of Worrall’s ninth over, the 50th of the innings. The win moves Footscray to 10th spot on the Premier Cricket ladder and could kick start a push for a finals spot in the post Christmas period. Melbourne, despite losing for the first time in eight starts, remains in second position on the table and primed for serious crack at their second pennant in three seasons. The return of McDonald, Cooper, Hill and perhaps Hodge won’t harm their chances. Today however belongs to the visitors. It’s a great day for Footscray, hopefully there are many more to come after the holiday hiatus.

Happy New Year to all, may 2012 bring you all you wish for – MCR.

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