Cricketers arrive in Grafton for prestigious tournament
COUNTRY PLATE: From the hallowed turf of Bradman Oval to the humble surrounds of South Grafton's McKittrick Park, Bowral Cricket Club is ready to stamp its mark on Country Cricket.
The small town in the Southern Highlands has been synonymous with cricket since Sir Donald Bradman rose to prominence in the late 1920s, and is home of Australia's sacred treasure trove of cricket memorabilia - the Bradman Museum.
But the local club's trophy cabinet is bereft of a major Cricket NSW trophy, and this week Bowral will attempt to win its first McDonalds Country Plate title.
"This is the first time we've entered this competition, so to get this far in our first crack is absolutely fantastic," Bowral CC chairman Angus Humphreys said.
The Country Plate comprises representative sides of smaller associations, as well as some club sides. Bowral plays in the Highlands District Cricket Association, against perennial heavyweights Robertson Burrawang who won the Country Plate in 2012/13, stepped up to the Country Shield in 2015/16 when they were runners-up to Clarence River, and this year reached the Country Cup quarterfinals before being knocked out by Woy Woy-based Southern Spirit, who will contest tomorrow's semi-final against Tamworth at McKittrick Park.
This year Bowral decided it was their turn to have a crack at a statewide knockout, and have reached the Country Plate semi-finals courtesy of knockout wins over Bomaderry, Warnervale and Nowra.
"This is our most competitive team in recent years and we thought the opportunity to play against other teams outside of the Southern Highlands would be a good experience," Humphreys said.
"We're really proud of the boys and hope it comes together for them over the next couple of days."
Borrowing the Bradman Museum mini-bus, the players arrived on Tuesday afternoon and were keen to scope out the venue for Wednesday's clash with Temora. Coming from the famously pictureque surrounds of Bradman Oval, with some trepidation we asked the players for their first impressions of McKittrick Park.
"The wicket is definitely hard, very true," captain Chris Weller noted, "Different to what we're used to. The climate's a bit different too.
"The outifeld's nice and green and the it looks like a nice wicket," added Patrick Jackson.
The opening bowling combination of Weller and former North Sydney first grader Pete Crawford will be key for Bowral, but the side's hopes rest largely on the shoulders of Jackson. The 32-year-old left arm orthodox bowling all-rounder played a Sheffield Shield match for NSW just two years ago when he filled in for an injured Moises Henrique while Stephen O'Keeffe was off on international duty.
Jackson was lured to Bowral this season, fresh from playing Sydney First Grade for Penrith and has been a massive factor in the side's success. Opening the batting, the left hander has returned scores of 79, 37 and 49, while taking 3 for 8 off 6, 2 for 16 off 5.5 and 3 for 14 off 10 this campaign.
"He contributes a lot with bat and ball," Weller said.
"But it's not just the quality of player, but also the quality of the guy. He has helped our juniors and the club as a whole drastically."
Bowral will come up against a Temora side boasting a strong record in the knockout, including a Country Plate title in 2008/09.
Temora registered comfortable wins against West Wyalong and Leeton before Luke Gerhard steered the side to a two-wicket victory over Yass. Skipper Mark Stimson has been a consistent performer with the bat at the top of the order while David Tassell has led a bowling attack that has a penchant of restricting the scoring options of batting sides.
At 928km, Temora has the furthest to travel of all eight sides competing across the Country Plate and Cup competitions in Grafton this week - slightly further than what would have been required of Young, who withdrew due to the difficulty posed by distance.
Yass will match up against Cessnock at Lower Fisher Park today in the other semi-final. While Yass lost to Temora, they were awarded the match on appeal to Country Cricket NSW after Temora played an ineligible player. Temora were then handed a lifeline when Young withdrew.
Yass had previously scored wins over Tumbarumba and 2013/14 winners Cootamundra, while Cessnock disposed of Singleton, Upper Hunter, Inverell and local hopes Lower Clarence.
The final of the Country Plate will be played on Thursday at Lower Fisher Park.
The McDonalds Country Cup for larger associations and club sides gets underway on Thursday with Tweed taking on Bathurst at Ellem Oval and Tamworth, who first won the SCG Country Cup with Josh Hazlewood in 2008-09 and again without him in 2010-11, will take on Southern Spirit at McKittrick Park.