STRATFORD cricketers Jack Rietschel and Jack Wrigglesworth have returned from a triumphant time in the Queensland city of Toowoomba, after being part of the Victorian team which won the Australian Country Cricket Championships.
The win broke a long drought for Victoria, which had not tasted premiership success since 2006-07.
A gruelling schedule saw all states (except Tasmania) and the Australian Capital Territory compete across 10 days in one-day and twenty20 matches.
The Stratford pair were making their second appearance at a country championships, and captured 33 wickets between them.
Wrigglesworth was prolific with the ball and finished as the tournament's leading wicket taker with 18 scalps before the final to earn selection in the All Australian Team.
Having developed a deadly slower ball, Wrigglesworth was awarded a green cap emblazoned with the Cricket Australia logo, and took home a trophy named in honour of Australian great Bill O'Rielly for his efforts.
Rietschel took 13 wickets in the tournament, narrowly missing All Australian honours.
Wrigglesworth credited the team's ability to meet consistently high standards as reason to Victoria's overall success.
"Coming into the tournament we had a team that we thought could possibly win it, but there was always at the back of our minds that we hadn't won it in so long," he said.
"But everyone played their role, we had really good balance that worked and we were well-structured and well drilled and we were extremely motivated to win. I think that's why we won the whole thing."
Things didn't get off to the most promising start for the Vics, who lost a twenty20 to Western Australia on the first day. From there, the side was able to put strong performances together, and apart from another loss to WA in a one-day game, finished the tournament on top of the ladder.
"Western Australia beat us twice during the regular games but they weren't a better team, they just had a mental edge over us," Wrigglesworth said.
Pitted against WA in the final, Victoria went in with the burden of having lost its previous five matches to the team from across the Nullarbor.
"The previous five times against Western Australia we never won the toss and had always bowled first," Wrigglesworth said.
"Rietschel and I were saying 'if we bowl first, it's going to be tough', so luckily we won the toss and batted.
"We got off to a pretty bad start but scratched our way to 194 which we didn't think was going to be enough.
"Then in our bowling luckily we got their best player who had made 500 runs for the tournament and broke the record caught at point first ball."
With things rolling for Victoria in the decider, a catch on the boundary to Rietschel brought the team closer to victory.
"It started to rain and we were 17 runs ahead on Duckworth-Lewis (the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method is used to determine results in rain-affected matches), so we were feeling pretty good but it was 50-50 because they only needed 60 and had two good players in," Wrigglesworth said.
"When we came back on you could tell it was going to rain again, so they tried to up the ante straight away."
The tropical Queensland weather came into play late in the day, confining Victoria's celebrations indoors.
"I got a wicket first over after the delay and then Rietschel took a catch in the next over," Wrigglesworth said.
"I got another wicket and straight after that it started to absolutely pour down, it was torrential, I had never seen it rain so hard in my life, it was crazy.
"They were nine down at that stage and needed 50 off four overs so Western Australia agreed to call it.
"It was a shame we didn't get to take the last wicket out on the ground which would have been nice, but everyone was over the moon because it had been a long time since Victoria had won it."
The team was coached by former Tasmanian and Warragul fast bowler Mark Ridgway, who Wrigglesworth said "finally showed a bit of emotion" after the win.
"He wears his heart on his sleeve and just loves it. Obviously he can't play but he's the most invested one out there," Wrigglesworth said.
"He can be a hard marker but at the same time he is really supportive and appreciative of when you do well. He just says it as it is."
Another Gippslander, Traralgon's Lee Stockdale, also played in the championships, and like Wrigglesworth, was selected in the All Australian Team.
The Victorian team also included former South Australian first class batsman Sam Miller.
With the country championships held every year, it is hoped more local cricketers will consider trying out for the Victorian team to harness Gippsland's reputation as being a place where quality players are produced.
As captain of the Sale-Maffra senior representative team, Rietschel said the championships offered a good opportunity for those looking to test themselves against the best.
Rietschel and Wrigglesworth encouraged other Sale-Maffra players to nominate themselves to trail for the Victorian team.
"We are always up there playing provincial Country Week, which means we have the better players in country Victoria," Wrigglesworth said.
"The team that won it probably wasn't the best 14 players in country Victoria, it was just the best 14 that tried out.
"It's the best standard I've played at. I played district seconds in Melbourne but I'd say that the country championships would be better. A lot of the players that played would play district firsts."
Next years Australian Cricket Country Championships will be held in the Barossa Valley, South Australia.