FOR the second time this season, South African players Cloete Buitendag and Coenie Nel shined for their respective clubs as Sale-Maffra cricket returned for 2020.
A maiden SMCA century to Nel enabled Sale to keep its position on top of the ladder, while an ultra-aggressive ton to Buitendag helped Bundalaguah to a big total.
Wins also to Rosedale-Kilmany and Collegians mean there is just one game separating teams ranked between two and six on the competition ladder.
SALE began the year in threatening form with a comfortable victory over Maffra.
After electing to bat first, things did not get off to the most promising start for the Swans, as they slumped to 2-28. Skipper Rohan Blandford and Coenie Nel then realigned the team throughout the middle stages of the innings, putting on 79 for the third wicket.
Blandford departed for a well made 46, as Nel continued on his way to triple figures, hitting two consecutive sixes for good measure.
Handy contributions late in the piece by Nathan Massey (20 from 21 balls) and Ben Jones (18 from 19) kept the scoreboard ticking over. Nel closed in on his century in the final over, getting there with two balls to spare.
Walking off to the applause of teammates and with the bat raised, Nel's innings of 101 not out came in 96 balls with three fours and four sixes as Sale closed at 8-207.
Multiple wicket takers for Maffra were Nathan Magnuson (2-26), Lee Hopkins (2-18) and Zac Kearns (2-43).
Things began disastrously for the Eagles as they set about chasing the required total, with Brett Lanigan knocked over by Andrew Nicholas on his first ball. The early breakthrough began a rot for Maffra it was never able to recover from, as the Sale bowlers reduced it to 4-31.
The situation only worsened for Maffra, as a double wicket strike to John Mayman had the scoreboard reading 6-58. Only a handful of runs were added shortly after, and with the Eagles 8-80, the result was a foregone conclusion.
Maffra batted out its overs to make Sale wait for its celebrations, and ended up 9-128.
Eagles skipper Lee Hopkins was the only player to make a mark on the scorecard, and gave his average a nice boost with 62 not out.
Sale's bowlers did their bit, chipping in with either wickets or important dot balls. Mayman took 3-14 and Nel rounded out a prolific day individually with 2-17.
ROSEDALE-KILMANY had an early day against Boisdale-Briagolong, in a one-sided game.
The Saints were shot out for 83 in just 27 overs. Captain Toby Leeds went to the top of the order and scored 27, but was bereft of any support as the next seven batsman made 35 between them.
Rosedale-Kilmany shared the love with the ball, as Harry Tattersall (4-24), Tom Anderson (3-31) and Brad Scott (2-8) got in on the act.
The Warriors wasted no time getting the runs, with Theo Smith (35 not out) and Michael Walters (42 not out) coasting across the line.
With such an emphatic win netting a large amount of percentage, Rosedale-Kilmany may thank itself in eight week's time when places in the finals are decided.
COLLEGIANS defeated a youthful Stratford by seven wickets.
Batting first, Stratford made a below par 135, with no player able to make the big score the side needed.
Cormac Hassett (37) and Lewis Bolton (33) did most of the heavy lifting, as other players either got starts before finding a way to go out, or missed out completely.
Young gun Noah Hurley led the way with the ball for Collegians, snaring the key wickets of Chris Aurish and Taylor Tatterson to set the side on the right foot. Hurley finished with 3-14, and received good backing from Tom Morrison (3-23) and Isaac Love (2-20).
Collegians chased the total with relative ease, and got home with plenty of time to spare.
A couple of early wickets for Stratford kept the game interesting, before Jack Tatterson (59 not out) and Matt Foster (30 not out) asserted their dominance.
Seb Pendergast took 2-25 for the Redbacks.
The two teams offered an interesting contrast, with Stratford fielding four players under the age of 18, including debutant Dean Devisser, rewarded after some good performances pre-Christmas.
Collegians legend Chris Morrison took to the field for his first game in the top grade since 2013.
BUNDALAGUAH and Longford played an entertaining and high scoring game, with plenty of clean hits by both sides.
The Bulls batted first and got stuck into the Lizards' bowling, as Jason Langshaw (25) and Nathan Hibbins (56) put on 61 for the first wicket.
Captain Sam Bedggood was also productive, scoring 25 from 21 balls to keep the scorers' desk busy.
Hibbins and Bedggood had the best seat in the house to the Cloetie Buitendag show, as he plundered a mesmerising 104 from just 56 balls.
Buitendag's innings of mayhem saw him strike five sixes and just as many fours.
Longford was able to take a few wickets after Buitendag was dismissed, claiming 6-19 in the last four overs, including three wickets from the final three balls, as the Bulls searched for quick runs.
Kerrod Macgregor-Davies found some success with 4-43, along with Austin Bauer who claimed 2-31.
Chasing 249, the Lizards put up a good fight but were caught short as the Bundalaguah bowlers remained disciplined and performed well as a unit.
Richard Bell was again among the runs for Longford, scoring 49 from 50 balls.
Spectators were treated to a battle between internationals, with Longford's Steve Parry facing Bundalaguah's Gayashan Munsinghe. Parry scored 55 opening the batting, negotiating the pace and movement of Munsinghe, who ended the match with two wickets.
Harry Elms also played well for Longford, scoring 34 from 35 balls in the middle order.
The Lizards were bowled out for 168, as Bundalaguah bowlers Steve Spoljaric (3-27), Jake Wynd (3-38) and Lachlan Floyd (2-36) hit the right areas.