Riverina's search for a maiden NSW Country Championships title fell short yesterday, as Newcastle showed exactly why it has dominated the competition for over 30 years.
The grand final was played at Goulburn's Seiffert Oval, and featured a classic clash between the proverbial David (Riverina) and Goliath (Newcastle). It was the first Country Championships final in more than 25 years for the former, while the latter looked to defend its 2019/20 title.
The wicket was dry and described by Newcastle captain, Nick Foster, as somewhat "powdery".
This, Foster explained, led to some confusion when Riverina captain Zac Simmonds won the toss and elected to bowl first.
"To be quite frank, I was a bit surprised that was the decision that was made," Foster said.
"But we were happy with that, we were definitely batting first on that wicket. In the end, both teams got to do what they wanted to do."
Batting proved to be a slog at Seiffert Oval, as variable bounce, sharp seam movement, and excessive spin made scoring exceedingly difficult. Riverina bowled well early, and reduced the defending champions to 5-72 as the midway point of the innings drew near.
However, Newcastle's number six batsman, Ryan Van Kemenade (33) dug in and gave his side some hope of building a defensible score.
He was aided by a number of lower order batters, most notably 17-year-old Aidan Cahill, whose 23 from 22 balls included two towering sixes in an over from seamer Nathan Brown, which went for a total of 23 runs.
"It was a fairly significant momentum shift," Foster said of the costly over.
"He's a really talented kid, Aidan Cahill, he's only 17 and for us, he's an impact player. It was his first game for Newcastle, so for him to come out there with no fear and do something like that was not only big for him, but for our group.
"The boys got around him, and in the context of the game, 20 in an over was pretty significant."
Cahill's power hitting helped push Newcastle to a total of 188 all out from 48.5 overs.
In response, Riverina's innings failed to ever really get going. A suffocating opening spell from Bradley Aldous (1-20) and Daniel Bailey (0-22) kept the run rate at less than two per over for most of the first ten overs.
At 0-21, the pressure became too much and a collapse ensued. Before long, the chasing side fell to 3-23 and, eventually, 6-46.
Young opening batsman Dean Bennett (25 from 64 balls) was the only member of the top four to offer any serious resistance, before he became one of Adrian Chad's five wickets.
Chad's medium-paced cutters were perfectly suited to the dry Seiffert Oval pitch, and aside from Theo Valeri (38), none of Riverina's middle or lower order batsmen could resist Chad's rampage.
"He's not someone who often bowls for us, but on a wicket like that and in these conditions, he's custom made for it," Foster said.
"He was outstanding, and we went batting heavy, keeping in mind we'd expected something like this here. It probably paid dividends in the end."
With the final delivery of his tenth over, Chad took the wicket of Jarryd Hatton to bring Riverina's innings to a close for 121 runs.
His haul of 5-25 from 10 overs earned him the Player of the Match award, and Newcastle proceeded to celebrate its second consecutive title, fourth in seven years, and 17th overall.
To Foster's mind, Newcastle's extensive experience in Country Championships finals was a critical part of the team's continued dominance.
"I think most of the guys in our side have played finals in this competition before, and multiples of them. In that sense, it stands us in good stead," he said.
"We start training in July for this stuff, so it's a very clear goal for us. Certainly from the Newcastle cricket community, it's a very clear expectation that we win this.
"We work hard for it, hopefully the work continues to pay off."
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