By Nick Creely
It was absorbing, intense Premier Cricket, with local rivals itching for bragging rights.
And while runs flowed and the bat definitely trumped the ball over the course of the Saturday and Sunday clash, the contest was nonetheless engrossing, with twists and turns at every corner.
But in the end, a draw was all that could be salvaged as Casey-South Melbourne very nearly chased down Dandenong’s mammoth 370 off the back of a sublime 154 to skipper Luke Wells in the final hour of day two.
The Swans won the toss and elected to bowl, with a slight breeze making for comfortable conditions at a picturesque Casey Fields.
The first ball of the match very nearly yielded a wicket, with spearhead Nathan Lambden roaring in excitement as a ball seared into the pads of visiting skipper Tom Donnell.
It could have been one of the game changers, and a huge unsettler for the Panthers, but luckily, the umpire didn’t agree, and shook his head as the Swans waited in anticipation.
Donnell (75) and his dangerous opening partner, Brett Forsyth, were beginning to look comfortable and find gaps around a ground that was lightning along the surface, before the latter was perhaps harshly adjudged caught behind for 25 to give the home side their opening wicket.
Jackson Fry (3/61) forced an edgy looking Ed Newman to find Luke Wells at slip, who took a belter of a catch to remove the left hander, and suddenly, the Panthers were 2/67.
Aggression, and a combination of hard running and deft touches were the highlight of Donnell and LJ Edwards (57), who after lunch, piled on the runs, with the pair making the most of the older ball and lightning outfield.
But, Wells (1/56) and his leggies struck, trapping Edwards in front just when it looked like he could get out of hand, and then, within a few overs, rising spinner Jonah Serong (1/63) brought the game back to level pegging by denying a disappointed Donnell a century, getting through the gate with a sharp piece of off-spin.
But the final session truly belonged with the reigning premiers, cracking 141 runs and making the Swans run ragged around the field.
It started with champion all-rounder James Nanopoulos (86), who despite starting slowly and pushing the ball around, very quickly found his groove as the late afternoon sun made batting the only place you’d want to be, in a sign of what he’s capable of with the bat.
With spin the go to for Wells, the Panthers made the tiring bowling side pay, with spinner Akshat Buch (48 not out) and veteran Darren Pattinson (23 off 12 balls) launching late, with Donnell declaring late on a monster 8/369.
Ryan Quirk was almost immediately gone the next morning, trapped LBW by James Nanopoulos (4/75), and with young seamer Jakeb Thomas snaring the edge of Jared Maxwell (14) in the first hour, the Swans were looking a long way from giving the chase a shake at 2/37.
But, similar to how day one unfolded, batting became easier as the day progressed, and crucially, skipper Luke Wells was there, playing with his usual fluency and class.
Wells and his vice-captain Lachlan Sperling (36) worked hard before lunch to put on 60 runs, before the untimely departure of the latter only minutes before the end of the first session.
Fresh off a century, Michael Wallace once again looked in strong touch, continuing to rotate the strike. Despite Wallace being snared by seamer James Wilcock for 36, Wells’ brilliant knock was saluted with his century just before the tea break – his second in just five digs at the club – getting his side to 4/215 with little over two hours of game time left.
It was then the talented Jordan Wyatt’s (54) turn to dig in and find some form in conjunction with his confident skipper, and the dynamic middle-order player was in his groove, enjoying the freedom of the chase as he began to use all of his aggressive attitude to swing the game in the home side’s favour.
But Nanopoulos snared Wyatt at an opportune time, with the star all-rounder continuing his fine game by stamping his authority in the big moments.
Nanopoulos, however, picked up the Panthers’ sixth wicket with Dev Pollock caught for 23 and with 44 runs left to get, before he ended the innings of the skipper for 154 moments later, with the safe hands of Brett Forsyth giving the visitors a chance to reverse the tide and surge for a win.
Next over, James Wilcock picked up his third, rattling the stumps of Nathan Lambden to bring the Swans to 8/328 with minutes left to play. But Serong and Maxwell managed to fight out the remaining few overs, with the Swans scraping their way to 8/332 at stumps despite some intense pressure.