By Marcus Uhe
It was a long time coming for Narre South captain Kyle Hardy.
A gritty century under pressure from not only himself, but from the fierce and experienced bowling attack of Hallam Kalora Park, has put his side in an excellent position with a day to play against the Hawks at Hallam Recreational Reserve.
Hardy finished in the top five for runs scored in 2021/22, when he averaged 31 with three fifties in a consistent season that yielded 407 runs.
But 2022/23 was a vastly different campaign, his average falling to just 14 with a total of 168, without raising the bat for a single milestone.
Just 42 runs from four hits to start the current season threatened to yield more of the same for a man shouldering plenty of responsibility in a young side with aspirational ambitions.
But Saturday was different; a switch in his mentality saw him park his “lean trot” and return to the Kyle Hardy that made him the batter that has earned him such a respected reputation over the years.
“A weight off the shoulders is a good way to put it,” he said of his breakthrough century.
“Last year I just wasn’t feeling great at all.
“I think it was a confidence thing; I was being timid, I wasn’t being aggressive, I’m not the most aggressive batter but I didn’t have that intent when I went out to bat, I was more trying to not get out.
“Whereas this year I’ve switched my mindset and thought, I’ve done the work, so I may as well try and bat the way I know that I can bat, and it paid off, which was good.
“It was pretty special, especially because we were playing against one of the better bowling line ups.”
His 102 from 201 deliveries massaged ebbs and flows throughout the innings, from losing his opening partner Vineth Jayasuriya on the first ball of the day after winning the toss and choosing to bat, to forming partnerships with Callum Nicholls and Brad Parker after a middle order stumble on the Lions’ way to posting 301, a total he felt was “above par”.
With Nicholls, the pair added 93 for the second wicket before Hawks seamer William Whyte returned to the crease with the wickets of Nicholls for 54, and Jeevan Mendis for three, in quick succession, to wrestle momentum back to the home side’s favour in hot and steamy conditions.
Things could have unravelled for the Lions in the face of adversity, but Hardy’s steady head and vital contributions from Brad Parker (29), Adam Snelling (43) and Alex Cruickshank (33) later in the innings has the game at an intriguing stage ahead of the second day.
Whyte finished the day with brilliant figures of 7/84 as the Hawks’ standout bowler, having claimed the top four Narre South batters and then ending the counter attacks from Snelling and Cruickshank later on.
“He was tough to face at the start and when he came on towards the end with ‘Jordy’ (Hammond), he bowled really well to his plans and deserved all those wickets,” Hardy said of Whyte’s performance.
“He’s obviously a great bowler and he comes in and will hit a spot all day.
“He bowls the line and length that’s going to get you wickets all day and we know that’s how he bowls.”
For Narre South, Saturday’s outcome could have a massive say on their trajectory for the remainder of the campaign.
While it’s only round six, six points against such a respected and quality outfit in Hallam Kalora Park would do wonders for the confidence of the group coming off a tough one-wicket loss to Buckley Ridges the week before.
A poor batting performance on day one ultimately cost Narre South on the back end, unable to defend 164 on its home deck against last season’s runner up.
A target of 302, however, puts the onus right back on the Hawks’ stars in Mahela Udawatte, Jordan Hammond and Leigh Booth.
Having processed the circumstances around the Buckley Ridges heartbreak, Hardy says he “can’t wait” to take the field on day two and put the lessons from the week before into practice.
“When we’re playing teams like Buckley or Hallam Kalora Park or the top teams, we want to be performing well and putting our best foot forward,” Hardy said.
“I felt like we gained a little bit of momentum from the Buckley game, we just need to take it into this game and continue on from there.
“A win against (Hallam Kalora Park) will obviously be good for the confidence of the team.
“We’re going there expecting to win, but we’re not going there over-confident.
“We’re going there to bowl our plans and hopefully win.”