By Nick Creely
As Kingston Hawthorn seemingly looked to be cruising in its run chase at Casey Fields, Casey-South Melbourne desperately needed a spark.
It needed someone to break open the game, to take hold of the situation and to ignite the team in the opening round of the Victorian Premier Cricket season.
Enter Ash Adihetty, the left-arm spinner with an abundance of talent and a strong temperament, who with his clever changes of pace, tight lines and sharp fielding off his own bowling wore the Hawks down and provided that spark.
Adihetty combined with strong support from fellow spinner Lachie Sperling, and lion-hearted late spells by quicks Jackson Fry, Nathan Lambden and debutant Cal Dodson, and the Swans pinched a thrilling five-run victory late in the day, in what was an incredible match of cricket.
But all the drama and tension late in the day was set-up through hours of swift momentum swings and clutch moments.
The Hawks won the toss on an overcast Casey Fields, and sent the Swans in to face the music earlier in the day.
In a probing new-ball spell from Sacheen Paramesh (3/29) and Jade Christensen (3/45), the Hawks put a dent in early, removing the dangerous Lachie Sperling and skipper Michael Wallace, who feathered one through to the keeper, before Romain Grenville (1/13) ripped through the gate of young opener Ash Chandrasinghe, who looked solid for his 23.
But the Hawks, who continued to apply the heat, and were fielding with plenty of confidence, trapped Jordan Wyatt in front, before offie Prateek Patil (2/31) dismissed Chris Benedek and Dylan Hadfield in almost identical fashion – edging to slip into the safe hands of Grenville.
At 6/94, the Swans simply need to claw its way to something for the bowlers to defend.
And it did, through keeper batsman Devin Pollock, and Nathan Lambden (24), who withstood the pressure early in the partnership to get the scoreboard ticking along.
The pair’s 68-run stand at the end of the day proved arguably the most vital period of the match, with Pollock eventually starting to take the bowlers on, including a couple of breathtaking hook shots, one which sent him past a half-century and well over the fence and almost into the next suburb.
Lambden eventually fell LBW to Christensen, but the Swans found a way to post 178, with Pollock chasing some runs and eventually falling for a superb 69.
Pollock’s knock was full of strong defence, a willingness to run between wickets hard and clever placement and power to the boundary as he struck four boundaries and two maximums in his 98-ball hand, while Lambden’s knock can’t be understated.
It gave the Swans some much-needed momentum heading into what was always going to be a closely fought chase.
But the Hawks got off to the worst possible start.
Niv Sathyajith was caught-behind in the early exchanges off Jackson Fry (1/22) who delivered an excellent opening spell and looks like he’ll relish some added responsibility this season, before only moments later Matthew Vorbach was dismissed for a duck after being run-out.
At 2/10, and with the Swans’ quicks with their tails up, it appeared as if an early finish could be on the cards.
But the game slowly turned the corner, as Romain Grenville thrilled with his strokeplay, willingness to move the match along, and suddenly the opener combined with skipper Shorye Chopra in a frustrating partnership for the home side.
With Grenville the aggressor, slamming four monster sixes, and Chopra more than happy to rotate the strike, the pair looked to be cruising, passing 100 and Grenville his half-century.
At 2/107, the spark finally came through Adihetty.
Floating one up, Chopra looked to slam one down the ground, but found Jackson Fry instead, sending the skipper back to the sheds for 34.
And then another major moment. Grenville was run-out only overs later, much to his dismay for an excellent 72, before Adihetty struck twice in a matter of moments, one catch off his bowling and a ripping delivery to trap Joel Lewis in front.
The four quick wickets – three from Adihetty – left the Hawks reeling at 6/116, and in dire need of some stability, with Cal Dodson (1/38) providing excellent support in an unheralded spell of bowling to help tie the visitors down.
After leaking some early runs, it was an excellent return for Dodson to the crease, and a sign of exactly what he will provide throughout the season.
With the Swans charging hard, Hawk pair Abhishek Jain (30) and Harvinder Singh (20) did manage to get the score ticking along again.
But it was only a matter of time before the Swans struck again with the game now well and truly in the balance.
After returning for an excellent spell, spearhead Nathan Lambden (1/38) prized out Jain after a string of near-moments, before left-arm spinner Lachie Sperling (2/24) struck for his first and Dodson secured his maiden Premier Cricket wicket – a much deserved one – with Singh falling looking to move the game along but only finding Ash Chandrasinghe who took a ripping catch on the boundary.
With six runs left to win and seven balls left to play, Sperling delivered the knockout blow in a defining spell from the experienced Swan, with Jade Christensen looking to clear cover but only finding Jordan Wyatt who reached high to take a cracking catch and deliver the opening-round points to the Swans.
The Swans will take on Richmond in Round 2 at Central Reserve.