Ripper Grand Final Yarns Part 2: Can it Get Any Better?

Following on from last week’s tale of my team’s confusing yet fantastic Grand Final victory, I will detail a match that was even better, as the senior league plays out their Grand Finals’ this weekend.

Just two hours after my team’s match, almost everyone in the Diamond Creek to Heidelberg region who remotely knew anything about cricket was down at Lower Eltham Park, as the Grand Final of the Barclay Shield (A-Grade Seniors) was being played out. In the highest league of the Diamond Valley Cricket Association, the balls fly through at a peak of 130 kilometres per hour and can be sent crashing to the boundaries at even quicker rates, as this type of cricket was exhilarating and fascinating to watch.

Diamond Creek and the mighty Lower Eltham Kangaroos were fighting it out. Lower Eltham’s season was as nearly as interesting as their rivalry with Diamond Creek. In the 2011/12 season, Lower Eltham squared off against the ‘Creekers’ at the nearby Eltham Central Park as the Kangaroos won fantastically with the help of huge Pommy import Richard ‘Dickie’ Stevens. The next season they bowed out in the semi-finals stage, as 2013/14 appeared to be a year of possibilities for the ‘Kanga’, as they collected new imports and built the team around a few seasoned professionals.

During the home and away season, Lower Eltham boosted themselves into finals contention by upsetting Diamond Creek at Coventry Oval, which is the home ground of the latter. The ‘Kanga’ then had to win their last home and away game to get into the top two and receive a home semi-final, as the captain in Callum delivered a match winning century.

In the semi-final against Macleod, another poor start with the ball couldn’t be entirely saved by the end, as Lower Eltham needed to score upwards of 200 off their 68 overs to win. They did just that, with several half centuries getting them home with not long to spare. After great debate over which ground the match was to be played at, Lower Eltham was selected because it is the second choice ground, and because Eltham Central was being used for a B-Grade match.

The team that went into the Grand Final on Saturday the 15th of March went like this (in batting order):
Luke P: A steady opener that always seemed to stay in until tea, as he peeled off many half centuries.
‘Sash’: ‘Sash’ was a fantastic pick up that the club got for the season, as he was one of the backbones of the side, being a talented left handed bat and a more than handy pace bowler.
Cal S: The captain of the team, he was a fantastic bat in form for the match, as he led the team to two great victories in the two previous matches. He was also the number one spinner in the team, as his off spin bowling was as nearly as good as his appealing.
Justin W: ‘Turtle’ was the veteran of the team; he was the best bat when on his game and faced the pace bowlers with a rusty old Lower Eltham cap on.
Jarrod C: ‘Digger’ was another solid bat that had batted brilliantly in the semi-final to get the ‘Kanga’ home; he was a more than handy bat.
Mathew S: Mat was the clown of the team; but he was also a superb batsman that could bowl some great leg spin.
Jethro S: Cal’s brother, and the other stalwart of the team. ‘Jetta’ will be talked about quite a bit for his great acts, as he was one of the key players of the match.
Brett M: Brett was another great team member who helped the team to play some magnificent cricket.
Chris S: Mat’s brother and a fantastic first change bowler who was one of the keys of the Grand Final.
Ryan S: ‘Schnitz’ was the spearhead of the bowling attack, as he bowled probably the quickest balls in the league that season, such was his brilliance. He bowled superbly all season, including in the decider.
Luke B: ‘Burgs’ was the old timer of the bowling boys, as he never wavered from his fantastic line and length when it came to opening the bowling.

That is the general run down on the team, as many different pavilions and cars were parked all around the luxurious Lower Eltham Back Oval. Various local radio stations put out little pavilions or marquees while many other supporters parked utes and put couches in the back of them to create the perfect view. I was privileged enough to be seated with my teammates on one of the numerous couches as Luke and Sash walked out, ready to kick start the Grand Final.

Vuvuzelas could be heard and many loud drinking adults were shouting their support as the Diamond Creek opener steamed in to bowl the opening delivery. It was seen through well as the Lower Eltham boys got off to a nice start, putting on 52 before Sash fell for 19.

Out came captain Cal, who was in perhaps the form of his life, as Lower Eltham needed a third huge innings in just as many matches if they wanted to make a wonderful start to the match. Unfortunately, his heroics couldn’t continue for another week, as he fell for just two, and the ‘Creekers’ were back in it with the score at 2-58.

Turtle walks out, the faded yellow and navy blue melting into some weird mixture on his ancient Lower Eltham baggy cap as he strolls to the middle and begins his innings. The younger Diamond Creek pace bowler decides that the perfect option in this situation is to give him a bouncer. Thwack. From my spot next to the nets, I see Justin’s pull shot as clearly as possible, as the ball flies diagonally across from me and over the square leg fence, as many people standing up on that hill flee from the humming ball extremely quickly. A few overs later the same shot is replicated for the same result, as a cheeky upper cut for four shows Diamond Creek who is really in control of this see-sawing struggle. It doesn’t last for long though, as just six runs short of 100 Luke falls after a solid and much needed 30.

Tea comes and goes and Digger joins Turtle, albeit not for long, as they both fall promptly with the score on 100. Mat S goes for a duck and the score is now painful for Lower Eltham; 6-109. But Jetta was still in, as he decided to snatch up the runs for the Kanga, as a fire and brimstone partnership with Brett M took them to the end of the first day, as bad light meant that Lower Eltham would have to bat a few overs the next Saturday.

Back come the players, the supporters, the cars and the vuvuzelas the next week as just as many spectators, if not more, fill up the car park and park their utes in the same spots again, as the pergolas and couches are all set up again.

Jetta and Brett trudge back onto the field. Brett doesn’t last long, falling for a gritty 25. That doesn’t stop Jetta though, who continues his valiant lone hand from the week before, where he smacked the classy Diamond Creek pace men around the park in the fading light. But all good things must come to an end, as he falls for a courageous and perhaps match winning 47.

Chris S and Schnitz swing the bat a bit, before Schnitz becomes the ‘Creekers’ opening bowler’s fifth wicket of the match. Burgs and Chris S bat out the remaining overs, as we finish at 9-213 off our 80 overs. It isn’t the best, but it is surely competitive. Only time will tell whether it will bring another flag back to the Kangas’ clubrooms.

Burgs and Schnitz become a familiar duo for the Diamond Creek players, as they open up proceedings with the ball. Schnitz is fast and deadly accurate, as he strangles the openers from one end, while Burgs toils away from the other. Chris S is finally brought on, and he delivers the goods brought by the brilliant partnership bowling by the openers. He promptly removes both openers for cheap scores, leaving them 2-20 amidst some wild and mildly drunk celebrations from the Kanga faithful.

It almost seems like a carnival, as the vuvuzelas and the shouting out shine the clinking of beers as the first drop is run out for a duck. 3-24. Another huge moment is starting in this eventful rollercoaster ride that is the match, as the Diamond Creek captain in Tristan M walks out. His wicket is both crucial and necessary, as is the wicket of the solid batsman up the other end.

After a start that must have brought memories of a cauldron, Tristan is off for nine after some brilliant fielding by the Still brothers. Digger now comes onto bowl, after Schnitz had bowled nine consecutive maidens, yielding hardly a run in his spell. Cal’s tight bowling up one end matches Digger’s, as the latter removes a key batsman just starting to get going on 24. But the solid batsman is still in, and is soon past fifty. It’s all tightening up.

Sash is now put on to bowl, and the game is tightening like a corkscrew. Imagine all of the pressure put on a cork in a champagne bottle just before it explodes. That is where this game is that. Everyone is just ducking for cover in expectation of the awaited explosion. The lower order swings their bats, as the total slowly creeps above 100 and edging towards 150. Lower Eltham needs the explosion to go their way, as they bring back the strike bowler in Schnitz.

After not picking up a wicket all day and just bowling economical perfection that would make a bowling coach shake in excitement, it’s now Schnitz’s turn to pick up some wickets. He delivers, removing the solid batsman for a well-made 61, as Sash takes a great catch. A run later and the bowler that removed five of our bats is walking off himself, as he can only contribute nine runs to their total of 7-129.

Quivers of excitement occur all around Lower Eltham Park, as surely the pony club just a few hundred metres away must be deafened by the noise. Every ball passes and a few yells of encouragement fly from behind the fence, as everyone can sense the moment. But just as us proud Lower Eltham fans feel like another Barclay Shield flag is coming our way, two lower order batsmen come out swinging.

The score rises past 150, as fingernails erode a tiny amount more every time a run is added to the large scoreboard attached to the pavilion next to the scorers’. Up to 166 it goes, as it seems like anyone in the general vicinity has driven into the park to see this. All games by the kids’ have been abandoned, as the nets are as ghostly as a graveyard until you take a step out and see the couches, cars and tents. Schnitz comes back on, a flayed shot goes straight to Mat S. Wicket. The silence is deafening for half a second, as only the yell of the bowler and fielder are heard before the crowd kicks into gear.

Just as we are all calming down and regaining our breath from the last wicket, Schnitz steams in and bowls a wonderful ball full of sheer velocity which is hit not too cleanly. It’s the kind of shot that either tumbles away for four or falls into a grateful fielder’s hands. Mat S is the catcher again, as he jumps and clings onto it at backward point. Celebrations have now turned into a full scale riot, as jumping and stamping in excitement tells the tale at Lower Eltham Park as the ever darkening sky sets the perfect scene.

In comes the last batsman, padded up like the Michelin Man. No jokes can be made though; everyone has already chewed down to their nail beds as they crane forward on their seats, or refrain from the generous habit that is taking a swig of beer.

At 9-171, a quick glance by a person who hasn’t watched a ball of this game would say that the Kanga had the match, but the top team finished first for a reason. Plus, it’s a Grand Final. Nothing is truly set in stone until it happens. The jowls of nerves creep up everyone’s intestines and up into their oesophagus, as the butterflies and worries start to fill Lower Eltham supporters, while the frayed nerves of hope fill the fans of the ‘Creekers’.

It’s down to our most reliable bowlers, and our most potent combination in Chris S and Schnitz. As this is around the time of Mitchell Johnson’s resurgence, a man steaming in and massacring teams without having a moustache is a surprise, but Schnitz convinces everyone that he is the man, as a run cannot be scored off him. The score sits at 9-184 for an eternity, as Chris S steams in. I have the perfect view of the ball as it leaves his hand, as my weary eyes scan the darkened vicinity for the ball, as I catch the glint of the seam just before it cannons into the Michelin Man’s off peg. Out it flies, tumbling past the keeper and slips. Game. Over.

Chris S goes on a rampage, as the noise erupting around Lower Eltham Park would give the people working down at nearby Bolton Street a shock. It doesn’t affect anyone at the ground though, as the intensity and the atmosphere of the moment isn’t lost on anyone. Hugs and yells of joy emanate, as when I look nowadays while the season wraps up I can still vaguely remember the memories of that day, like a personal flashback on a documentary. Sweat, tears and beer all mix into one memorable celebration, as embraces and words are all allowed that night. In go the boys and all of us faithful supporters, ranging from infants to the elderly, as we jam into the well-used and well respected clubrooms for one final time, as the song reverberates around the packed room. People on the other side of the world must be able to hear this, as the passion is amazing. No win can ever be sweeter than a close Grand Final victory. And boy did this have it all.

DVCA Barclay Shield 2013/14- Diamond Creek v Lower Eltham
Lower Eltham Park- Saturday the 15th of March, Saturday the 22nd of March
Lower Eltham- 9-213 off 80 overs
Jethro S- 47
Justin W- 33
Luke P- 30
Diamond Creek opener- 5/41

Diamond Creek- 10/184 off 78.1 overs
J Adams- 61
Ryan S- 4/23 off 17 overs (9 maidens)
Chris S- 3/42 off 17.1
Digger- 1/27 off 5

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