Eagles soar to maiden T20 trophy

Penola soared to its maiden South Aussie Big Bash T20 Cup title in grand style by thumping North Sportsman’s in the Final at Frew Park on Sunday night. Under picture-perfect blue skies, the blue team was unstoppable on a big day of cricket which contained two Semi Finals and the decider.

After overcoming Mil Lel earlier in the day, an unbelievable all-round performance by Jack Mullan pushed the Eagles to smash the Tigers by seven wickets with 35 balls to spare. Penola captain Michael Waters was overjoyed and said it was a great effort by his team after fighting just to field 11 players in the tournament.

“The team is ecstatic,” he said. “It has been a hard ride trying to get sides together, but we have some pretty talented players. “The top order did a good job all tournament and these guys have been great.”

But if you watched the final from underneath the trees, it was impossible to recognise the Eagles’ issues and they landed the first blow almost immediately. Waters opened the bowling and nailed his fourth delivery, destroying the stumps of top Tiger Nick McInerney.

Brad Stafford lived dangerously and survived two close calls during a steadying partnership with Elliott Fisher. The pair compiled 40 runs in 45 balls to help the Tigers recover, but the introduction of spin established the Eagles’ dominance. Mullan’s first match-winning contribution began in his second over when he deceived Fisher and Stafford with his left-arm wrist spin.

Both batsmen advanced down the track, only to be stumped for 14 and 23 respectively in the space of four balls. The chinaman bowler also caught and bowled Jordan Hollitt to finish with 3/21, while fellow spinners Mark Smith and Lewis March were also effective.

The turning trio conceded two boundaries during the crucial middle overs period as North’s batsmen struggled to break the field. Mitch Lewis scraped to an innings-high 26, but should have been dismissed much earlier after being dropped twice.

By the time Waters and Paul Ellis returned for the death overs, the Tigers battled just to reach triple figures and the latter claimed two late wickets. No boundaries were scored from the last 32 balls as North crawled to 7/103.

With a small target on the board, the opening overs were critical to the run chase and Mullan brutally set the tone. He smashed Tigers’ captain Declan Kenny for three successive boundaries to get the Eagles off to a flying start.

Despite McInerney trapping Jack Schulz lbw for 12, Penola’s sprint to glory continued after Kenny dropped Mullan on 19. The right hander made full use of his second life and raced to a 36-ball 50.

Mullan’s leg side play was a feature of his innings with two big sixes over the long on fence, while he also rotated the strike with regular flicks behind square. His important knock ended in equally brilliant fashion by Fisher, who sprinted from long off to take a diving catch in front of the sightscreen.

Waters also fell cheaply to spin, but the two late wickets failed to inspire an unlikely North fightback as Smith hooked Jared Strawbridge for three straight fours. Then Smith sealed the win by launching a McInerney ball over the bowler’s head and into the trees to provide all Penola cricket fans a moment to savour.

Waters said it was pleasing to overcome an undefeated North outfit. “We were quietly confident, but it is always tough coming up against North,” he said. “They are very good at defending totals and never give up.”

To contend with the Tigers’ powerful batsmen, Waters revealed utilising his spinners through the middle was discussed pre match. He said it helped restricting North to a low score. “It was a plan to bowl spin through the middle overs and dry them up,” Waters said.

“Spinners usually take wickets and are crucial to slowing the runs. “They executed the plan very well and we were pretty happy keeping North to 103 because scoring was reasonably easy out there.”

Despite sitting in a good position, Waters admitted he remained nervous at the innings break. However, the aggressive approach by his batsmen settled him down as the Eagles flew to glory. “I was definitely nervous from ball one and not confident until the end because I have seen plenty of things happen in cricket,” he said.

“We were hitting with the wind, so we thought we may as well go hard early to take a chunk out of the target. “Jack (Mullan) is an unbelievable cricketer and a got us off to a good start which took the pressure off. “I was glad to see that final ball go over the fence.”

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