Last season Endeavour Hills finished 14th on the VSDCA south/east First XI ladder, taking its fourth wooden spoon in five seasons.
Now the Hills are preparing for a cutthroat semi-final against Kew on Saturday, having missed a historic minor premiership by an agonising 0.02%.
The man at the centre of the club’s transformation? Decorated Sri Lankan international Tillakaratne Dilshan.
With 87 Tests, 330 ODIs and 80 T20Is under his belt, and over 17 000 international runs to his name, his record speaks for itself.
So, it should come as no surprise the captain-coach has been dominant with bat and ball in Subbies this season, having struck 491 runs and claimed 19 scalps.
“Personally, I’m really happy, I’m still competing with the youngsters and I’m 46,” Dilshan said.
“I can do much better, some games I got 30 or 40 runs and got out because I make bad decision. Still I am learning, next year might be I can play much better than this year.”
It’s been a successful year for his team also, undefeated through the last thirteen rounds of the season until it was upset by St Bernard’s in the first week of finals.
Set 173 for victory, Endeavour Hills fell 28 runs short of the fifth-placed Snowdogs’ target, skittled for 144.
The Hills’ second-place finish means they were afforded a double chance, but will have to do battle with the formidable Kew at Victoria Park.
“I think it’s a really good thing happening just before the main game,” Dilshan said of the loss.
“You know it’s a quarter final, important game, but we have another chance because we finished second in the ladder.
“I think as a team we didn’t bat well. We bowled really well to keep them to 170… even with a few mistakes in the field. This loss we can learn quickly where we went wrong, and we can correct everything and play well in the semi-final.
“We know we have to play best cricket to beat Kew, they’re one of the best sides. If you beat Kew definitely we have a big chance of winning the championship, it might mean we are playing a home final as well.
“As captain-coach I have big faith in my players.”
It’s been a much-improved season for the Eagles as whole, jumping from 24th to fifth in the club championship, with the Fourth XI playing a grand final this weekend and the Second XI also in the semi-finals.
Dilshan says he’s “really happy” with the overall results so far, but has his sights set on at least two of those sides going all the way.
Endeavour Hills have been buoyed by big name signings throughout the season, the biggest of those being Sri Lankan vice-captain Lahiru Thirimanne, who plundered two Test centuries in 2021, and Dilshan believes their influence extends beyond match-day performance.
“First three or four games Thirimanne played for us and that might be helpful for the youngsters,” he said.
As a result, he believes “more youngsters want to join to Endeavour Hills.”
“We are planning to bring big stars for next year like Chris Gayle, Yuvraj Singh, Sanath Jayasuriya, and to bring some international coaches as well.
“They can give our youngsters experience… from the international level, and that might be helpful to help the youngsters come for their next level.”
Dilshan hasn’t been available all season however, jetting overseas twice to compete in legends’ tournaments, where he enjoyed catching up with old mates as much as the competition itself.
“It was a great time. After a long time we share the same dressing room, we had a lot of long chats about what we did in the past, ten or fifteen years ago,” he said.
“The really good thing is after retiring five or six years ago again we are playing same dressing room, playing with the same players, it’s a great feeling.”
But his commitment to the Eagles never wavered while he was gone.
“Every ten to fifteen minutes I call Dirk (team manager) and get the scores, not only for One’s but Second’s and Third’s as well.
“As captain-coach I want to have a look all the time, see what players are doing well and which area we can improve.
“I think it’s worked. Always I am following the game, doesn’t matter if I’m not in the country. I’m watching and try and pass on my experience to the team.”
Dilshan has found leading at club level a “big challenge.”
“Especially because a lot of youngsters that play with me, they’re scared to come and talk to me.
“But after first couple of months we are all like a family now, we are gelling very well and sharing our thoughts. I think hopefully we can go long way, not just this year but the coming years.”