REVENGE BID: Blockbusters to open CRCA season
IN A MASTERSTROKE by the fixtures committee, round one in Clarence River Cricket Association's GDSC Premier League mirrors last season's semi-finals, which were the last matches played before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the competition to an untimely halt.
The premature end delivered South Services their first title since 1997-98 by virtue of being the first side to qualify for the grand final with an upset win over Ulmarra Hotel Tucabia-Copmanhurst at Ulmarra Showground on March 14-15.
Souths will be hoping history repeats at the same venue today while Tucabia-Copmanhurst will be seeking revenge after the minor premiers were denied the opportunity to defend their title.
Meanwhile, at McKittrick Park, Brothers Clocktower Hotel will start their mission to take care of unfinished business in 2020/21.
The Brethren face GDSC Easts/Jacaranda Hotel Westlawn in their opening encounter, having last recorded a 26-run win in an epic minor semi-final.
"I think the way it finished last year has made us pretty hungry," Brothers captain Jake Kroehnert said.
Who will win the 2020/21 Clarence River Cricket Association GDSC Premier League title?
"To win the semi-final and not get a chance at making the grand final has left a bit of a question mark. We were starting to build a bit of momentum there, so hopefully we can bring that into this year.
"It was a pretty fiery game against Easts-Westlawn, so they'll remember that and be keen for a win. Blokes like Pidge (Nathan Blanch) always compete from ball one to the end."
Blanch will once again captain the composite side, having left his best performance of the 2019/20 season to last, when he took 5 for 23 off 24 overs including 10 maidens, and then with the bat contributed 19 runs off 74 balls at No.10 in a gallant attempt by the lower order to chase down the runs.
"It was a good game of cricket all round," Blanch recalled. "They dug in early, I ended up with a few wickets after the second new ball.
"Shannon (Connor) and Patty (Vidler)) batted well for about 20 overs, but once we lost them we had the old collapse.
"I had to hang around, and (Matt) Lobsey (24 off 66) did a good job. I went out there with about 80 to get and we fell about 30 short."
Easts-Westlawn have a few changes to the lineup this season, with stalwarts Ben Shaw and Ben Hill joining old school mates at Lower Clarence club Lawrence for this season and Sam John returning to Adelaide, while Ben Shipman returns from Coutts Crossing, and Jacob Ellis, who Blanch is confident will be able to play on a regular basis, returns from Souths.
Brothers meanwhile have secured the services of gun all-rounder Eli Fahey, moving across from Coutts Crossing who are only fielding Second and Third grade sides this season.
Former Brothers junior Jordy Newman also bolsters the ranks, with Kroehnert confident his side has the depth to challenge for the title.
"A good recruit getting Eli and also got Jordy back who knows his way around the cricket field," he said. "He bowls good medium pace, can swing the ball and a handy middle order batsman.
"Ethan Lucas is a year older now. He's been training well and bowling pretty fast so I think he'll have a good year.
"I think it's an evenly spread comp. It's a good thing to have Second Grade back, for those players who were too good for Third Grade. It gives us a reserves, which in turn will give our comp a fair bit of quality."
Kroehnert has stepped up to the plate for the CRCA this season as vice-president.
The association is facing numerous changes on and off the field this season.
The North Coast Premier League, which gets underway with a twenty20 double header in Sawtell today, will consist of twenty20, one-day and two-day matches.
CRCA will play in the one-dayers as part of a five-round mini-competition, with the first game against Harwood at McKittrick Park on November 15.
"It will be good to reward the players that are doing well in our competition to play together, unite as an association and play against some different faces," Kroehnert said.
Meanwhile clubs will need to negotiate a raft of new COVID safety measures, such as cleaning balls after they're hit retrieved from beyond the boundary, umpires not holding bowlers' hats and players not permitted to apply saliva to shine the ball.
As a seam bowler, Blanch acknowledged he will find shaking old habits and making new adjustments as difficult as anyone.
"Yes I think it's going to be a bit difficult to stop doing something you've gotten used to all your life," Blanch said.
"It's going to be difficult at times, and there's a few things that might make the game take a bit longer. But that's the times we're in, so whatever gets cricket going is what we've got to do."