SAWTELL WIN THEIR HAT TRICK
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
THERE were mixed emotions among the Sawtell cricket fraternity last night as players from three grades had their beers at the Sawtell Hotel.
The first grade team had won their third consecutive title but some of the top team's members tried to subdue their victory celebrations trying not to offend those from the second and third grade teams who were unsuccessful in their premiership tilt.
Not captain Chris Neal though.
"You won't take the smile off my face tonight," he said with glee.
Neal had just led his band of brothers to becoming the first team to win a hat-trick of titles since the Diggers Ex-Services unit of the mid-eighties.
Winning by a margin of 80 runs, one could be forgiven for thinking that the team that has dominated the cricket scene for three years did it easy but there were times over the course of the weekend that gave the victorious skipper reason for some serious concern.
With a scoreline showing 5-65 and most of the batting big guns already in the shed, an upset was on the cards.
But it was two of the team's younger members that showed the resolve that make champion teams and Ben Davis and David Kennedy put their head down to try and rescue the situation.
A 70 run stand between the pair helped the reigning champs make it to a more than respectable total of 205.
"We were in big trouble there but Benny (Davis) was just a rock," the captain said of Davis' top scoring innings of 85.
"The other boys just batted around him for the rest of the day."
Richardson Park is a renowned pitch for allowing big scores so it was with some trepidation that Sawtell began defending their total but Neal was always confident that the score would somehow be enough.
"It was a competitive total but it was 70 or 80 less than what we wanted," Neal explained.
"We knew though that if you get 200 or more in a grand final than you're always in with a big chance.
"Before the start of play on Sunday I said to the boys 'Imagine being in their shoes, there's always a lot of pressure chasing a score in grand finals so it doesn't matter what your score is'."
Leading the charge with the ball was Lawson Jarman who for the second year in a row took five wickets in a grand final.
"He's the go-to man for us," a delighted captain said.
"He's bowled a spell that was just unplayable. Ben Andrews was itching to get the ball in his hands but 'Lawso' was just bowling too well. It was a case of the young bull taking on the old bull and the old one wasn't going to give up the ball without a fight."
Dismissing Diggers for 125, Neal said that the score was more a reflection of his team's ability with the ball rather than an indictment on the recent brittle batting that their opponents have shown.
"We play simple cricket, we ask the bowlers to bowl one side of the wicket and we set the fields accordingly," he explained.
"If someone starts to get hurt by the batsmen we ask questions why it's happening and usually it's because they're not bowling one side of the wicket.
"That's what we do, we just wear teams down. Even if they put on 20 or 30 we just say hang in there and hang tough because it's going to be hard for the next bloke that's coming in."
This summer Neal took over the reins from hard hitting batsman Todd Gill but after winning the title, Neal says he's more than happy to hand the sheriff's badge back to his predecessor.
He also said that the greatest honour he felt last night wasn't the fact that he was now a premiership winning captain but more that he gets to go into battle every week with his best mates.
"I have been through some hard times over the last couple of years and these guys have always been there for me," he said with more than a tinge of emotion.
"They're always right in there behind me and they back everything that I do. I can't fault their commitment and they're just a great bunch of blokes.
"This group has set a benchmark and now it's up to the other teams to try and get there."