Not even an unprecedented summer containing rain, heat and a worldwide pandemic could stop North Sportsman’s from strolling to a hat-trick of Hoggies Wines Barber Shield triumphs last weekend.
Facing a determined Penola side, the Tigers showed their true colours with a classy and crushing seven wicket win after just one hour of play on the second afternoon of the Mount Gambier and District Cricket Association grand final.
After winning the toss and electing to bat on a nice pitch under sunny skies, Eagles’ captain Mark Smith had many reasons to feel confident.
Jake Schulz looked settled after tucking the opening delivery away off his pads for a single before scoring the first boundary with a cracking pull shot.
Meanwhile, Lewis March endured a nervier start with an outside edge falling just short of slip on his first ball from North’s Tim Young.
However, the runs started to flow and Schulz was in fine touch before he shelled a drive straight down the throat of Elliott Fisher at short cover.
A wicket inside the first 20 minutes of play was just what the Tigers hunted for and their bowlers increased the pressure.
The naturally aggressive Jack Mullan was given no room to breathe and became Declan Kenny’s second victim after an 11-ball duck.
The move to introduce Isaac Mulraney into the bowling attack proved to be a masterstroke from North captain Nick McInerney.
The young gun playing in his first Barber Shield decider captured the big wicket of Smith for just 2.
After McInerney joined the party himself ending March’s 48-ball 6, Penola was in a world of hurt at 5/33.
The experience of Michael Waters stemmed the bleeding for the period to push the score past 50 until Kenny found the edge of his bat.
The Eagles were at high risk of being knocked over for a disappointing double-figure score, but Thomas Clayfield and Sam Klemm thought otherwise.
Both batsmen were not afraid to attack the spin of Fisher and Mitch Lewis down the ground and some expansive strokes finally got the scoreboard moving.
A 36-run stand gave Penola some much-needed momentum before the tea break.
But just when the Eagles were clawing their way back into the contest, the Tigers’ pacemen came out swinging when play resumed.
In just five overs, Penola lost its last four wickets for just nine runs.
Klemm was the first to go for 12, while Clayfield continued to swing hard at the other end and brought up his gutsy half century with a boundary.
But he soon ran out of partners and was the last man to be dismissed on 51.
Inside 50 overs the Eagles were bowled out for 104 and forced onto the back foot from three-wicket hauls to Young, McInerney and Kenny.
Despite North’s impressive bowling effort, the game was far from over.
The Tigers’ top order still had to navigate 28 overs before stumps against an attack which has a history of defending low totals.
However, things did not go Penola’s way.
Jake Schutz set the tone by collecting three runs from the first ball, while his partner Brad Robinson looked assured.
The Eagles’ two strike weapons Waters and Lachlan Jones could not find a breakthrough and Smith was forced to revert to plan B.
Chinaman bowler Mullan was introduced and momentarily claimed the wicket of Robinson late in the day.
Although Robinson was already walking towards the pavilion after edging to slip, he was recalled to the crease as the catch did not carry.
This proved to be Penola’s only chance of the evening as Robinson and Schutz had safely brought North within 42 runs of victory at the close of play.
Grey clouds and wickets threatened the reigning premiers during the second day, but nothing was going to rain on the Tigers’ parade.
Schutz continued his way to 37 until being trapped lbw by Jones, while Brad Stafford played within the “v” to compile 14.
Paul Ellis attacked Robinson with the short ball and the latter’s blow to the groin area created some humour to the closing stages.
The plan eventually worked when Robinson unluckily dragged a ball back onto his stumps.
But the opener held his head high after scoring 40 in a man-of-the-match performance.
Despite three quick wickets, day two was always a North procession and Fisher brought up the win in style by pulling the Kookaburra ball into the picket fence.
With three wins on the bounce, the question beckons can anyone stop the Tiger train from steaming towards a fourth trophy?