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Oxygen remains in Harwood title defence

DEFENDING Premier League cricket champions Harwood kept their title defence alive yesterday in a rain-affected minor semi-final against Easts at Harwood Oval.

In plenty of trouble at 8/95, Harwood scraped together 9/126 to give their bowlers something to defend and in the end eclipsed Easts by 31 runs.

Despite the low scoring and the wet weather, both skippers were full of praise for curator Peter Castle's strip for Harwood's first home semi-final.

“Full credit to him,” Harwood captain Tim McMahon said.

“We had plenty of rain and he's come up with a wicket that played well.

“He's just about lived at the ground for the past week.”

Easts captain Ben Hill also had no trouble with the wicket, instead rueing his team's batting shortfall.

“The game was there to win,” he said.

“Our shot selection let us down, myself included.

“I thought we would be a bit cleverer after breaks, like drinks, but instead someone would do something silly and get out.”

Harwood's innings began in promising fashion with Geoff Simmons (20) and Nathan Ensbey (15) putting on 28. There was little hint of the carnage to come as the total closed on 50.

But the loss of three wickets for one run and two more for a further 25 runs put the game back in Easts' favour.

Hill said it was the best performance he had seen from his bowlers this season.

“Everyone did their job. We were able to keep the pressure on the batting right through the innings,” he said.

In the end it was a lower-order partnership between veterans Craig Moran (25no) and McMahon (11) that took the score past the 120-mark.

Left-armer Dane James took 3/17 from 11 overs and speedster Rohan Hackett had 3/25 from 18 overs, including six maidens.

Easts batting ran into a mighty stumbling block in the form of giant red-headed medium pacer Kane Aeschlimann.

McMahon wound him up and let him loose for 19 overs without a break. He was almost impossible to score from and picked up the two vital wickets of Watkins and Doug Harris for a duck.

In all he took 2/26 and bowled 10 maidens. Renowned miser Mark Vallette did not do his reputation any harm, conceding just 29 runs from 12 overs and snaring the crucial wicket of Hill as Easts slumped to 3/24 early in their innings.

A defiant 27 from Matt Hartmann put their innings back on track, taking the score to 59.

But again the wickets tumbled as four fell for the addition of just four runs.

With the end in sight, McMahon turned to his spinners Matt Young and Greg Firth, who wrapped up the tail, leaving Easts to think about what might have been for season 2008-09. Hill was pleased with the club's achievements.

“Two years ago we didn't have a Premier League team, so to make the semis in our second season back has been good,” he said.

“It gives us something to build on for next season.”

The win puts Harwood into the final at Ellem Oval next weekend where they will play minor premiers Brothers for the right to play Tucabia-Copmanhurst White in the grand final in a fortnight's time.