ROUND 14 normally means Sale-Maffra cricket finals are a week away, but not in season 2020-21.
The SMCA followed Cricket Victoria COVID-19 guidelines, and scheduled 14 one-day rounds to allow for some flexibility in case of another lockdown.
The association scheduled a reserve weekend between round 14 and the finals in case a round was lost to rain, extreme heat or a lockdown.
However, the first two rounds were lost to rain, but because of the early finish to the season, the clubs agreed to push the finals back a week to accommodate both lost rounds.
This means there are still three rounds to play before the finals, with a lot to play for.
Six of the eight first grade teams remain in the hunt for finals places, with each of Saturday’s four matches to have some bearing on the top four.
The top three sides – Collegians, Sale and Maffra – are level on points, two wins ahead of Bundalaguah and Boisdale-Briagolong, which are in fifth and six places respectively. A win for the top three sides could lock away their spot in the finals if the Bulls and Saints lose on Saturday.
FOURTH-PLACED Stratford faces a vital match at Sale Oval.
The Redbacks will be confident following a strong showing against Bundalaguah at the weekend, scoring 7-203 and winning by 38 runs. Bohdi Walker scored 54 and claimed four wickets to continue a good spell of form for the Redbacks.
A similar performance will serve Stratford well against Sale, which bounced back from a heavy loss to Collegians to win at Maffra, successfully defending 116. The Swans didn’t really allow the Eagles’ innings to get going, with all six bowlers they used claiming at least one wicket.
When the sides met at the end of November, Stratford made 8-283, with Andrew Tatterson scoring an unbeaten century, before the Swans were bowled out for 112.
MAFFRA will be looking to arrest a two-game losing streak when it hosts Longford.
Defeats to Bundalaguah and Sale has seen the Eagles fall from first to third, and they will meet a side they restricted in round seven to 8-105, a score they passed in their 22nd over with six wickets in hand. But victory over the winless Longford is not guaranteed, as it put up a fight against Collegians at the weekend. The Lizards will look to spoil the finals hopes of Maffra and Stratford over the next two Saturdays.
A WIN outside the top four, Bundalaguah will view tomorrow’s home game against Rosedale-Kilmany as a “must win”.
The Bulls began the new year with three wins to move into fourth place before falling to fifth after losing at Stratford last Saturday. In reply to the Redbacks’ 7-203, leading run scorer Steve Spoljaric and Kyle O’Reilly posted half-centuries, but the Bulls needed others to contribute to the chase.
Despite only having one win this season, RK, in seventh place, has the potential to hinder the Bulls’ or Sale’s finals chances in the next two rounds.
In round seven, the Bulls successfully defended 111, winning by 33 runs.
BOISDALE-BRIAGOLONG will welcome Collegians.
The Saints are coming off back-to-back wins over bottom sides Longford and RK, but will be tested by the ladder leader. However on the previous occasion the Saints hosted the top side, they were too strong for Maffra in the final round before Christmas.
Collegians will be aware of the challenge at hand, knowing victory will be big step towards securing a home semi-final.
Collegians’ bowling strength helped it defeat Boisdale-Briagolong by nine runs in round seven, following the Saints’ late order collapse.
College was won its previous two matches, doing enough to defeat Longford on Saturday.