By Nick Creely
Talk about a testing weekend for the Casey-South Melbourne bowling attack in Victorian Premier Cricket.
The Swans were unable to defend 329 against a St Kilda side at the Junction Oval boosted by the inclusions of Australian and Victorian players Nic Maddinson, Marcus Harris, Peter Handscomb, as well as recent Victorian debutant Jon Merlo.
While the Swans fought hard, and certainly learnt a lot about what it takes to bowl consistently at top-grade batsmen, it was actually one of the rare non-contracted opposition players that took the game apart – elegant opener Damon Egan.
Declaring overnight, Egan – as well as recent Ashes opener Marcus Harris – strode to the crease with plenty of vigour.
Egan was solid early, playing straight and getting used to the pitch, but Harris – with his class through the off-side – was causing havoc with his driving, and brought up a 51-ball half-century with a superb flick off the pads to the longest part of the ground.
Making matters worse, seamer James Maxwell was done for the day early with a side-strain, leaving the Swans’ bowling stocks a little shallow.
Just as the leftie looked set for a monster afternoon, debutant Jordan Hammond snared his maiden first XI wicket, and it will sure be a memorable one, with Harris slicing a ball straight into the sure hands of Joel Mitchell at backward point to bring up the first wicket.
Returning from a break for mental health reasons, Nic Maddinson – who was on the verge of Test selection before opting out of the game for the last month – looked largely untroubled from one end as Egan slowly built into his innings.
Slamming on 118 runs for the second wicket, the pair was pure class, dispatching anything too short and launching into cracking cover drives when the ball was overpitched.
But much like Harris, Maddinson was removed for 58 looking to clear the ball over the mid-wicket boundary off Josh Dowling (1/62), bringing Peter Handscomb to the crease.
And in a superb 30 minutes of pressure bowling, spearhead Nathan Lambden picked up a double-strike, dismissing Peter Handscomb – once again from a top-notch catch from Mitchell in the covers – while Merlo was rushed by the pace and top-edged a ball to be removed within three balls.
But at 4/219, needing a further 111 runs to win, the depth and star power of the Saints was on display, with Egan looking impenetrable in defence and classy in attack as he inched closer to a century.
Despite Hammond snicking off skipper Adam Crosthwaite, rookie contracted Paddy Rowe (28 not out) and Egan guided the Saints home, with the opener ticking over for his third ton at the level.
Egan finished with an unbeaten 137 off 205 balls, a knock featuring 20 fours and two sixes as he continues to build into a strong Premier Cricket career.
Despite the tough loss, Jordan Hammond showed brilliant signs in his debut to finish with 2/62 off 21 overs, Nathan Lambden charged in all day to finish with 2/85, and Josh Dowling kept the lines tight with 1/62.
The Swans will tackle Camberwell Magpies at Casey Fields this Saturday as they look to return to the winners list.