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Coronavirus brings an end to cricket season

AFTER five months and 15 rounds of regular play, the Portland and District Cricket Association’s 2019-20 season has been cancelled on the eve of finals in a brutal competitive anti-climax.

The season began on October 12 of last year and on Saturday (March 14), five A grade sides and six B grade sides completed the fifteenth round of the season and began preparing for the semi-finals, which were scheduled to begin tomorrow.

On Tuesday, the PDCA’s executive announced that per recommendations from Cricket Australia regarding the spread of the international coronavirus (COVID-19), finals would not go ahead.

Per PDCA rules, the premiership for the A and B grade competition is then handed to the teams finishing the season on top of the ladder.

Portland Tigers are therefore the premiers in A grade, and Gorae-Portland are the premiers in B grade.

Portland’s cricket competition isn’t the only grade impacted by the coronavirus, with Cricket Australia making the following statements regarding the abrupt end to seasons everywhere.

“Putting the health and safety of all participants, volunteers and the wider community first, and in line with the decisions made for elite cricket, Cricket Australia expects that all Premier and Community Cricket competitions cancel all cricket activity for the remainder of the 2019-20 season as of March 17,” the statement said.

“Our number one priority is to the cricket communities that we lead and serve, as well as their families.

“We all need to do our part to protect players, staff, volunteers and match officials at all levels of Australian cricket during the global coronavirus pandemic.

“We acknowledge that most competitions are reaching their exciting pinnacle, and any decision to cancel Premier and Community Cricket competitions will disappoint many people.

“However, this recommendation has been made on strong advice from Cricket Australia’s Chief Medical Officer and consultation with all levels of government to ensure that cricket is doing everything it can to contribute to the global effort to slow, and eventually stop, the spread of coronavirus.”

Portland and District Cricket Association president Will Oakley said the early termination of the season was something the association’s executive body has been cautious about for some time.

“We have been receiving updates from both Cricket Victoria and Cricket Australia regarding the coronavirus throughout the last couple of weeks,” Oakley said.

“At our delegates meeting this week (Monday night) we came to an agreement as a committee that if a major recommendation was made by one of the governing bodies of the sport, the PDCA would simply accept that recommendation and act accordingly.”

With the end of the season less than two weeks away after five months’ worth of build-up, the temptation to push on despite recommendations from the upper echelon is justifiable for players and organisers alike.

Oakley said that while missing out on the finals was disappointing for everyone involved, the executive was unified in their final decision.

“It was a very straight forward discussion for us,” he said.

“Everyone was of the opinion that we have to follow the recommendations handed down by Cricket Victoria or Cricket Australia, especially in these unprecedented circumstances.

“It really wasn’t something we could ignore.”

Tricky spot for a young president

The potential for the 2019-20 season to be cancelled at the end of the home and away season was a more than-complicated scenario for PDCA president Will Oakley in particular.

21-year-old Oakley is in his first year as leader of the Association, taking over the presidency after Paul Drew departed the role at the end of the 2018-19 season.

At the same time, Oakley is now in his second season captain of the Portland Tigers’ A grade side, who are now premiers following this termination.

Portland Tigers climbed to the top of the A grade ladder right at the last possible moment, defeating Portland Colts in a round 15 two-day match to move to 70.11 premiership points, eclipsing Tyrendarra (67.70) in second and Portland Colts (62.81) in third.

Having the Association led by a player or club leader with vested interests in the finals is far from an exceptional circumstance, in fact it’s the norm, however having a season cancelled early due to a global pandemic is new territory for the PDCA.

Oakley said managing his responsibilities with both the league, and his club, had been complex in recent weeks.

“It’s definitely been a complicated few weeks, being both president and captain of a team keen to play finals,” he said.

“My personal view was always that I thought Cricket Victoria or Cricket Australia would call things off around the grand final weekend.

“I suggested at one meeting that we should switch the finals to one-day matches and get them done over Saturday and Sunday (March 21-22) before everything was cancelled.

“It was a pretty left of field suggestion that didn’t end up being feasible.

“But in my capacity as both a captain and a president, my number one goal has always been trying to make finals cricket happen.”

One round 15 thriller suddenly counts for so much more

The minor premiership has always carried a significant weight within the PDCA.

With the semi-finals and grand finals hosted in March each year, the warm weather of summer has usually long begun to fade and rain impacting matches isn’t uncommon.

Finishing higher on the ladder gives a team a default victory in rain impacted finals and as a result, clubs are always aiming to finish on top to protect themselves from a washout, along with other benefits like being able to select which ground the semi-finals are held at.

Heading into the final round of the regular season Portland Tigers sat in third, trailing Colts in first with less than three premiership points.

With Go-Ports carrying the bye in round 15 and unable to add to their position in second, the winner of a two-day contest between Colts and Tigers at Hanlon Park was likely to determine the minor premiers.

Portland Tigers won the toss and batted first on day one, setting a first innings total of 158.

Colts then returned to bat on day two, making it as far as 9-146 before the final wicket fell, leaving Tigers with a 12-run victory and top spot on the ladder.

Following the match, spectators witnessed a despondent Colts side, frustrated with the narrow loss, and an elated Tigers side, rapt to finish on top of the ladder.

48 hours later these reactions would have a deeper context and Oakley said while both sides clearly viewed that final match is important, few could’ve predicted just how significant those final overs were.

“(After the season has been cancelled) in hindsight it does make the weekend’s win against Colts so much sweeter,” he said.

“Everyone that played that day knows how hard we were striving to finish on top of the ladder.

“When it comes to the premiership though, it’s a bittersweet feeling for sure.

“Obviously we would’ve rather to have play finals and won it the ‘real’ way.

“But really this has been completely out of the control of our team.

“Winning a premiership will mean a lot to our guys, as a club we haven’t had a great deal of success in the last 15 years since Flinders became Portland Tigers.”

Asterisk be damned

The 2019-20 season, and the first premiership for Portland Tigers, will likely always carry a certain ‘asterisk’ feeling for the other five clubs within the PDCA given that no finals were ever played.

That won’t be a feeling shared by the Tigers however after a successful campaign in both the one and two day formats.

During the first 10 rounds of the season Tigers recorded four one-day wins, had the bye twice (round one, four) and experienced a washout against Colts (round three).

When the season resumed with five rounds of two-day play, Portland Tigers defeated Tyrendarra, lost to Go-Ports by a single wicket, and then defeated South Portland and Portland Colts in succession, showing that the two-day format may suit the young side best of all.

Oakley said that for his side it was a season that the club would celebrate regardless of the circumstances.

“To finish on top of the ladder off the back of some really exciting cricket definitely means a lot to us,” he said.

“It’s easy for some people to forget that at the start of the season there were plenty of murmurs going around that we were going to be the easy-beats of the summer.

“We looked like we were going to be missing a few big names of past seasons, and quite a few people had us pinned to be the team to miss finals.

“So for us to have different players standing up each week and helping us get the results that we needed, that was big.”

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