A stellar season awaits in the top-flight of the Dandenong District Cricket Association.
It’s set to be ultra-competitive, with Narre Warren fresh off a Turf 2 premiership, North Dandenong and St Mary’s on the up, and all of last season’s top-four remaining strong.
Then there’s the recruits. One Test cricketer and four first-class cricketers have made the move to the DDCA, amongst many other established names.
Imagine Jayde Herrick or Andrew Perrin steaming in to try and dismiss Mahela Udawatte and Ben Wright. If you don’t know those names, get reading and get excited.
Hallam Kalora Park
Ins: Udara Hettige (HSD)
Verdict: Despite their status as reigning premiers, Hallam Kalora-Park still appear to be underdogs on paper, but that’s by no means ruling them out of going back-to-back. The Hawks haven’t looked to overseas names or former first-class cricketers, instead topping up their squad with HSD’s Udara Hettige, and continuing to promote growth from within. What Hallam has managed that their fellow top-four mainstays haven’t – and the rest of Turf 1 for that matter – is keep their squad intact, with no notable departures hindering the Hawks chances at replicating last season’s fairytale flag.
Hallam has added to a premiership squad, and are well and truly in the thick of the premiership race. What a story it would be if they could go back-to-back.
Outs: Ruwantha Kellepotha (Casey-South Melbourne), Brendan Rose (Richmond), Josh Holden (Buckley Ridges), Nathan Pilon (retired), Cory Bevan
Ins: Andrew Perrin (Prahran), Riley Siwes (Dandenong West), Damith Mapa Ralage (Mordialloc)
Verdict: When Berwick take to the field in round one, it’ll be a vastly different outfit to the one that fell agonisingly short of Hallam Kalora-Park in last season’s grand final, with at least five new faces turning out for the Bears. They’ve got some significant losses to account for, with Wookey Medalist and champion all-rounder Ruwantha Kellepotha joining the Premier cricket ranks, likewise ace quick Brendan Rose. But recruiting has always been a strong-suit for the Wickers, who’ve covered their losses on a bowling front. Andrew Perrin was an integral part of Berwick’s 2011/12 Turf 1 premiership, and having tasted first-class cricket for Tasmania, as well as winning a Premier Firsts premiership with Prahran last season, he’s back at the Cave. Will form a formidable new-ball partnership with James Wilcock, who’s taken the reigns from Matt Chasemore as skipper. Fresh off 22 wickets at 11.36 in Turf 2, leg-spinner Riley Siwes has crossed from Dandy West, and will have big shoes to fill as the sole spinner in Kellepotha’s absence, but is more than capable. Keeper-batsman Nathan Pilon has called time on his decorated career for the second time, and is a significant out, but fellow keeper-batsman Damith Mapa Ralage is an equally significant conclusion. Mapa Ralage lead Mordialloc to the Turf 1 premiership in 2017/18 when they were DDCA members, and averaged 41.15 in Cricket Southern Bayside’s top-flight last season. Hard-hitting middle order batsman Matt Robertson will also return after a year-off with a hip problem, and is a handy inclusion.
Consistently challenging for the Turf 1 premiership, Berwick has always coped with player turnover. Having lost 660 runs between Kellepotha and Pilon however, they’ll rely heavily on contributions Mapa Ralage, and would love a breakout season from one of their lesser-lights or younger names. May be in a slightly weaker position than last season, but a second flag in three years is within the Bears reach.
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Outs: Nathan King (Lakes Entrance), Clint Tomlinson (retired), Stephen Hennessey (Keysborough), Sam Wetering (Dandenong)
Ins: Josh Dowling (Narre South), Jayde Herrick (Langwarrin), Blade Baxter (Ormond), Mitch Forysth (Dandenong)
Verdict: Springvale South has been a big player this off-season as they look to go one step further than the preliminary final. Josh Dowling and Jayde Herrick are two massive inclusions that will spearhead a potent bowling line-up together. Dowling crosses from Narre South, where he picked up 31 Turf 1 wickets last season (the second-most behind Kellepotha). Having backflipped on his retirement decision, Herrick will pose a major threat to top-orders if he can get his body right. The right-arm quick that was once clocked bowling 147 km/h has dismissed the likes of Steve Smith and Ricky Ponting in a short but fruitful domestic career that saw him represent Otago, Victoria and the Melbourne Renegades. With the above mentioned players capturing the headlines, Blade Baxter is an underrated acquisition that’s somewhat flown under the radar. Baxter was a top-10 wicket-taker in the South-East group of Subbies last season with 22 scalps, more recently picking up 58 wickets at an average of 20.28 in all competitions in the Northern Territory, including six in three games for an NT Strike representative side against a Cricket Australia XI. With King, Tomlinson, and Hennessey all departing; the Bloods batting stocks have taken a hit, but Mitch Forsyth should provide some much needed depth as he crosses from the 2nd and 3rd XI’s of Dandenong. Baxter and Herrick will both provide some middle to lower order grunt with the bat - Baxter’s already crunched 132 for Old Haileybury in Sunday cricket this season, while Herrick has two Premier cricket centuries to his name. Young-gun Sam Wetering has crossed to Dandenong to try his hand at Premier cricket.
Although they’re probably a batsman short, Springvale South has established a fearsome bowling unit. The pace trio of Dowling, Herrick and Baxter, combined with the left-arm spin of Akshat Buck and Jarryd Straker, shapes to be one of the best attacks in local cricket. Definitely in premiership contention.
Outs: Benny Howell, Ian Cockbain, Susantha Pradeep (Endeavour Hills), coach Chanaka Welegedara
Ins: Nimesh Kariyawasam (North Dandenong), Josh Holden (Berwick), Ben Wright, Mahela Udawatte
Verdict: Like Berwick and Springvale South, Buckley Ridges have recruited strongly for the season ahead. Moving to account for the losses of star Gloucestershire duo Benny Howell and Ian Cockbain, as well as Susantha Pradeep (who’s returned to Subbies), Buckley has acquired two international signatures. Ex-Glamoragan and England Under-19 product Ben Wright will take over the captaincy, and offers plenty with the bat having plundered over 5000 domestic runs in England including six first-class centuries. Mahela Udawatte is another huge inclusion for Buckley, he’s represented Sri Lanka in all three formats and has over 18 000 domestic runs to his name. Right-arm quick Nimesh Kariyawasam has made the move from North Dandy and will bolster the bowling stocks.
On a side-note, Buckley has also secured Subbies legend Ricky Damiano as their T20 marquee player. Brighton’s Damiano lead the VSDCA South-East section with 643 runs last season, and is Subbies all-time leading century-maker with 20 triple figure scores to his name. With Daniel Watson, Wright, Udawatte, and Damiano all turning out for the Bucks’ T20 outfit, they look to be red-hot favourites to claim that crown.
In terms of Turf 1, Buckley Ridges will once again be a force to be reckoned with. Have a slightly stronger squad than last season, having brought in two top-shelf batsmen, as well bolstering their bowling stocks. Are a finals lock, and will contend for the premiership.
Outs: Josh Dowling (Springvale South), Scott Phillips (Williamstown Imperials)
Ins: Harsha De Silva (West Coburg)
Verdict: So tight was the Turf 1 ladder last season, that Narre South missed the finals despite being just a game off top spot. The loss of gun quick Josh Dowling, who picked up 31 Turf 1 wickets last season, and champion all-rounder Scott Phillips (who was instrumental in lifting Narre South from Turf 2) has hindered the Lions chance of returning to finals action. The recruitment of Harsha De Silva from West Coburg should account for Phillips absence and then some on a batting front, but the bowling stocks have been depleted. With 41 wickets departing between Dowling and Phillips, there’s plenty of opportunity in the pace department. Narre South junior Ruween Wijesinghe could be one to watch, leading the Turf 1 Reserves with 19 wickets last season.
On paper, Narre South appears to be weaker than Hallam Kalora Park, Berwick, Springvale South, and Buckley Ridges; but finals isn’t out of the equation.
Outs: Nimesh Kariyawasam (Buckley Ridges), Raveen Kalumshehara (St Mary’s), Buddhika Janith (Taylors Lakes), Rhai-Arn Cox
Ins: Austin Heldt (Endeavour Hills), Sohail Sadiq (Endeavour Hills), Patrick Bond (Monash University), Declan Fowler, Sanjaya Rodrigo
Verdict: It’s been a busy silly season for North Dandenong as they ready themselves for an attempted shake-up of the traditional Turf 1 power balance. The exits of Nimesh Kariyawasam, Raveen Kalumshehara, and Buddhika Janith were less than ideal, but a plethora of new names are calling Lois Twohig Reserve home in their absence. Sanjaya Rodrigo is a headline recruit with over 50 games of first-class experience that has relocated from the UK. His knowledge and experience means he’ll be a valuable addition on and off the field. Favourite son Austin Heldt has returned from a one-year stint with Endeavour Hills, and he’ll be hungry for runs off the back of a quiet season. Heldt also brought Sohail Sadiq with him, a capable quick with damaging potential if he can get his body right.
It’s hard to determine where the Maroons stand heading into the season ahead, but if everything falls into place they could definitely exceed expectations and feature at the pointy end of the season.
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Outs: Achinta Rajapaske (Noble Park), Prabath Hewage (Noble Park)
Ins: Raveen Kalumshehara (North Dandenong),
Verdict: The Saints have preached stability with minimal movement over the off-season as they look to build upon last season’s three-win campaign. Skipper Achinta Rajapaske has left for Noble Park, taking Prabath Hewage with him. Wendyl Pires will step up as skipper, and Raveen Kalumshehara should stabilise the batting. Were competitive in most matches last season, and expect some solid improvement from their existing players as they aim to grow as a group.
St Mary’s is in a very similar position to North Dandenong, and there’s a real possibility they could break free from the lower echelon of Turf 1 if everything clicks.
Verdict: Narre Warren no doubt took inspiration from Hallam Kalora Park’s flag, with the Hawks proving a homegrown group can match it with the big stars. Promoted after winning the Turf 2 premiership, the Magpies are taking a long-term approach to their return to the DDCA’s top-flight, choosing to trust the talent they’ve developed instead of sourcing recruits to drive their success. 16-year-old leg-spinner Sujan Hulangamuwa is set to be handed a Turf 1 debut, having lead the Turf 2 Reserves with 21 wickets at an average of 12.48 last season. On another positive note, Narre Warren has been able to hold the entirety of its squad together, with the club clearly buoyed by their premiership success.
A finals appearance looks unlikely for Narre Warren, but anything’s possible. Just two seasons ago Narre South was able to catapult into third on the Turf 1 ladder off the back of their Turf 2 premiership. If they can show some fight, and secure their place in Turf 1 for next season, the Magpies will be in a position to maintain their upward trajectory for years to come.