SALE and Collegians will take top billing in Sale-Maffra cricket on Saturday.
The cross town rivals sit second and third on the table respectively, with the Swans one game clear.
Sale takes hot form into the clash with four wins on the trot, and looks to be getting everything in order in the run to finals.
The move of skipper Rohan Blandford to bat at number five since the start of December has so far reaped rewards on two fronts, as Sale has not lost a game and Blandford has returned scores of 38 not out, 111 not out and 43.
While his preference would surely be to open the batting, Blandford’s move to the middle may well be born out of necessity since the Swans lost the experience of Nathan Massey and class of Coenie Nel during the off-season.
By batting at five, Blandford is able to help keep the innings together if they happen to lose a few early wickets.
On the evidence available, so far the plan is working to a tee, as Blandford and others in the middle order have been able to dig the team out from precarious positions.
Sale was 3-19 against Bundalaguah before Blandford helped the team get to 4-198, while a score of 3-56 turned into 4-113 against Boisdale-Briagolong, and 3-58 became 3-123 against Rosedale-Kilmany.
The Swans will face a Collegians bowling line-up full of firepower headed by Tom Morrison and Noah Hurley.
College could also have an ace up its sleeve in Tim Dessent – who played at Sale last season.
Dessent forged a bit of a reputation for taking ‘big fish’ wickets last season, nabbing Adrian Burgiel three times, and might have some intel which will come in handy against his old side.
The wide expanses of Sale Oval should give College opening bats Zac Hurley and Jayden Allison confidence to play their shots, with plenty of opportunity to either pinch singles or pug balls over the top.
MAFFRA will face a buoyant Bundalaguah.
The Eagles hold a one-game lead on top of the ladder, having only dropped the bundle once so far this season, but will be wary of a Bundalaguah team fresh off victory over Collegians.
The Bulls have climbed into the top four following back-to-back wins since Christmas and will want to keep the good times rolling.
After a number of close losses in the first half of the season, Bundalaguah has a chance to make a rise up the ladder as in a very small silver lining, those losses have hardly affected the team’s net run rate – which is currently the best in the competition.
Tomorrow’s clash will pit some of the best bowlers against some of the best batsmen so far in 2020-21.
Bundalaguah pace trio Lachlan Floyd (17 wickets), Steve Spoljaric (16) and Nathan Whitford (14) up against Maffra openers Daniel Bedggood (332 runs) and Brett Lanigan (277) promises to be an enthralling contest.
The Bulls only lost by 11 runs last time they played the Eagles, in a match highlighted by some freakish glovework by Lanigan.
Lanigan secured three stumpings in that game, including one rated by many Maffra stalwarts as the best they have ever seen after the ball looked certain to be going down leg for byes.
Having flipped the result on Collegians from earlier in the season last week, Bundalaguah will be wanting to do the same against Maffra.
ROSEDALE-KILMANY will welcome Stratford.
Although Stratford is some distance clear on the wins column, the Warriors might be quietly confident of sneaking an upset given the match is at home and the Redbacks are in the midst of a three-game losing streak.
Whenever a team with aspirations to play finals is going through a period like the Redbacks are, players can often be guilty of trying too hard and end up completely missing the mark because of the added pressure they place on themselves. Rosedale-Kilmany top order batsman Rohan Diamond, Cameron Freshwater and Michael Walters might have this in the back of their mind and be looking to cash in as a result.
Having slumped from second on the ladder at Christmas to out of the top four, the Redbacks will know this is a must-win game.
Captain Taylor Tatterson will want to put in another strong performance, backing up his game-high 60 last week.
Stratford has arguably the toughest run home, and still has games against Bundalaguah, Sale and possibly Collegians to come.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for the Redbacks, and those close to the action will know how recent history has unfolded.
For whatever reason, Stratford has always put in at least one really poor performance during either January or February in the past few seasons before hitting its straps in the lead up to finals.
The Redbacks’ January and February horror shows since 2016-17 have been: bowled out for 61 against Sale (2016-17), bowled out for 119 by Maffra (2017-18), rolled for 85 against Sale (2018-19) and a final ball loss to Rosedale-Kilmany last season.
BOISDALE-BRIAGOLONG will look to make it three wins from four games when it plays Longford.
The Saints have won plenty of admirers so far this season, with ‘giant killing’ victories against Maffra and Stratford proving their credentials.
Boisdale-Briagolong is still the only team to knock off Maffra, and can take its win-loss ledge to five-five if it gets the desired result on Saturday.
Strike bowler Jonny Lash is making a charge up the bowling aggregate list, with 13 scalps so far, and will want to add to his tally.
Longford showed good signs against Sale last week, and will want to carry that work into this match.
Kerrod Macgregor-Davis scored a half-century, delivering on what most in SMCA circles know he is capable of, while Coen Durbridge also got among the runs. The pair will want to take the Lizards to a decent total.