North in strong position

A marathon effort by Michael Johnston has placed North Sportsman’s in pole position after the opening day of its round 9 Barber Shield clash with South Gambier at Marist Park. Despite wickets tumbling around the grounds in the other red-ball games on Saturday, the Demons were forced to toil as the Tigers’ top order laid the foundations for a big score.

The key architect was Johnston, who batted for almost the entire day to score 134. South sent the hosts in and hunted for early wickets, but openers Johnston and Brad Robinson were tight in defence. The pair was watchful early, but still looked for the gaps when presented with the chance to score.

They progressed the scoreboard to 72 after 27 overs and Robinson approached the half-century milestone. But Drenthen’s patience bowling unchanged from the “Tower end” was rewarded when he dismissed Robinson for 42.

However, the Demons’ was short lived as Brad Stafford settled in alongside Johnston to continue the visitors’ pain. Both batsmen were not in a hurry and scored just two boundaries in their first 12 overs at the crease. But they were effectively batting time and wearing down South’s bowlers as the score crept into triple figures.

By the time Johnston and Stafford brought up their 50-run partnership milestone, they both raised the intensity and found the boundary a bit more regularly. The pair eventually drove the Demons into submission by pushing the hosts to a dominant 1/210.

Johnston was the aggressor in the 138-run stand and raised his bat for a hard-earned century, while Stafford also celebrated his 50. Luke Zadow was the bowler who found the breakthrough by drawing Stafford into a false stroke on 52, while Drenthen picked up Elliott Fisher soon after. With North captain Nick McInerney also sitting comfortable alongside Johnston, South could be forgiven for packing up before stumps.

But after 75 overs at the crease, Johnston finally departed as the Demons salvaged some pride late in the day. Drenthen claimed his second five-wicket haul in as many matches, while the Tigers lost five wickets in the last six overs. However, McInerney also dug deep and a series of boundaries helped his men post 8/294.

With plenty of scoreboard pressure, North will back its bowling attack to defend first-innings honours, but South hopes to utilise the warm conditions forecast when play resumes this Saturday.

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