By Nick Creely
The indicator of a maturing side doesn’t always come down to how often they win.
It often comes down to how they lose, and what can be learnt from defeat and how it can be used as a tool for improvement.
For Casey-South Melbourne, the first four rounds certainly haven’t been easy.
But it’s a different side to that of the past – the Swans are as determined as humanly possible to keep improving as a collective, and not as individuals.
After managing to escape with a draw after play was abandoned against Essendon on Saturday at Windy Hill, where the Swans made just 134 after a fighting 41 from Nathan Lambden helped save the day, facing an 0-4 start to the season when they welcomed local rivals Dandenong to Casey Fields on Sunday was not on their agenda.
For all of the hard work – and expectation – the Swans simply needed some reward for effort, and to stay in touch.
Similar patterns emerged early in the piece after Panthers skipper Brett Forsyth sent the Swans in to bat, with skipper Luke Wells – fresh off a plane on Thursday – Devin Pollock and Nathan Freitag, all returning to the sheds with the home side hanging precariously at 3/33.
But the Swans wouldn’t just allow the Panthers to tumble through them with ease.
Emerging batsman Joel Mitchell – who has shown some signs in the last few seasons – combined with the experience and composure of Michael Wallace, clawing back momentum, in a game-changing 125-run partnership.
Mitchell cracked a sublime 83 off 99 balls, showcasing his rock-solid technique but ability to keep the runs pinging off the blade, while Wallace – who has started the season slowly – worked his way back into some strong form, and right when his team needed them most.
A vitally important and quick fire 29 from Jordan Wyatt late in the innings helped the Swans set a competitive 8/218 off 50 overs, considering the bleak scoreline of 3/33 in the 14th over.
Panther champion Brett Forsyth and Comrey Edgeworth nudged the ball around superbly, with the pair getting the visitors to 0/28 off the first 10 overs, before going at three overs over for the next hour to perfectly set the game up at 0/80 at drinks.
With the pair set, and with plenty of hungry batsmen waiting in the sheds, the Swans needed a spark, and it came through skipper Luke Wells (1/22), who forced a false shot from Edgeworth (46) to snare the opening wicket.
Forsyth quickly nudged past another first XI half century (his 38th), with the Panthers seemingly cruising at 1/115 and with only around a run-a-ball needed.
All-rounder Dylan Hadfield (1/35) got another fire started by trapping Cam Forsyth LBW, with the Swans starting to take some control after a pressure-filled period of bowling.
Jackson Fry (2/36) managed to snare two vital scalps – that of Forsyth for a brilliant 76, as well as the dangerous Lincoln Edwards for 11 – firmly putting the game in the Swans’ grasp.
Combined with some brilliant fielding efforts seeing the Swans really put the Panthers under the pump, the home side were digging deep.
Despite Ed Newman (28) threatening to do damage, the Swans rolled the Panthers for just 202 off the last ball of the game with a run-out from Josh Dowling (1/32), finally putting the Swans on the board for 2019/20.
Swans coach Brian Keogh told Star News Group that considering the start the group has had to the season, they never wavered in their belief.
“Round 1 feels like a long time ago now, that Prahran game we just got completely outplayed, and then to fightback against Geelong gave us proof that it was an aberration against Prahran, and against Essendon they bowled well, and we probably dodged a bullet, 135 was probably not enough against their batting side to be brutal,” he said.
“To come out Sunday and just fight and show courage to say ‘we really want to stand up here’ was great.
“We spoke a lot on Saturday night about being confident in ourselves, and to be the person, and if you went through our team, every single person made a contribution at a point in time.”
Keogh praised Joel Mitchell for his special knock, but also the middle-order for pulling together and finding a way to make a competitive total.
“Joel’s 80 and Wally’s (Michael Wallace) 50 were great, and Joel’s innings was of the highest class, and then Jordy (Wyatt) made a really important 29,” he said.
“It was a high class 80 (from Mitchell) – he got out when he probably had 120 not out on offering, and he’ll learn from that, but it was a knock of the highest order.
“The other thing not to be underestimated is that in the covers, he is red hot.”
Despite just netting 16 runs in his first two games of the season, Keogh said that without the influence of Luke Wells, the Swans would have struggled to get the same result.
“Clearly he didn’t get the runs, but he landed Thursday morning, he’s captain of the club, he comes in and we’re 0-2, but he gave the guys a lift, and he spoke so well to us after the Essendon game,” he said.
“I thought his captaincy was great – he just held his nerve, Dandenong were going at a run a ball, needed 125 off the last 20 with eight wickets in the shed, you’ve got Brett (Forsyth) set and looking like he’ll be there to the end, and Wellsy just held his nerve with the field, got the bowling changes right, and he was a big part of why we won yesterday.”
Two of the most vital wickets of the match were snared by left-arm quick Jackson Fry, who Keogh said has worked tirelessly to improve after struggling to get going with the ball in the matches previous.
“By his own admission, he hasn’t got off to the start he would have liked, mind you with a small sample, but it was a terrific fightback, he worked really hard with Will Carr throughout the week on his run up, and got the rewards on Saturday,” he said.
“And to be fair to our bowlers, they haven’t had much of a chance.
“But we bowled so well as a bowling group, and Jacko was a big part of that, and he took two big wickets.”
The Swans will finally get into some red-ball cricket this Saturday, hosting Carlton at Casey Fields in the first two-day match of the season.