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Russell Lehman claimed his second Terry Stephenson Medal in a brilliant all-around campaign in 2019/20. He’ll yet again be one of the competition’s biggest stars - this time in a full one-day season. 206049 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By sports editor Russell Bennett

After a year like no other, this is shaping up to be a West Gippsland cricket season like no other – but at least our great summer sport is back.

It might not quite look the same, and the approach to it might be a little different, but it’s back.

The Covid pandemic has had a devastating impact on the community in all kinds of ways, but from this Saturday cricket returns as a means for those participating and watching on to take their minds off things for a while – at least a few hours a week.

The pandemic ended the 2019/20 season in the cruellest of ways, ruling a line through the season after Kooweerup and Pakenham had won their respective semi-finals, which would have set up yet another mouth-watering chapter of their famous Premier grade grand final rivalry.

With Kooweerup finishing on top of the ladder and Pakenham third, the Demons were awarded the premiership – as all the highest-placed grand final qualifiers were throughout the grades.

It was the only way to do it, once it became clear the grand finals wouldn’t be played.

The Demons earned their top-place finish. They were the most consistent of any group throughout the season, but yet WGCA fans couldn’t help but wonder just what could have happened on another grand final weekend between two such incredible opponents.

The 2020/21 season still feels the impact of the pandemic, with a delayed start, and hygiene and public health measures in place.

This will be a campaign made up solely of one-day games, which could lead to the field of contenders growing beyond the competition benchmarks of recent seasons.

While Kooweerup and Pakenham have the proven consistency and discipline over the longer two-day game, a whole host of other sides have the potential to click in the one-day format. Most of them have the star-power to cause some real headaches when they get it right.

The key, though, will be getting it right when it counts most.

Cardinia finished well off the pace in seventh last year, but this year the Bulls have a assembled a much deeper, more potent squad to once again try and match it with the WGCA’s best on a more consistent basis. Clyde and Tooradin, likewise, have the pools of all-around talent to turn to with both bat and ball, while the likes of Cranbourne Meadows loom as a real dark horse. Their talent, particularly with the bat in the shorter format, is undeniable. But, again, will it click?

Upper Beaconsfield makes its return to the WGCA’s top flight in place of the relegated, rebuilding Devon Meadows, while Merinda Park’s dyed-in-the-wool star Daniel McCalman keeps rolling up and valiantly taking his side with him for the ride.

Another key change this season – and one that could be a lasting change beyond just 2020/21 – is the implementation of the semi-final/preliminary final/grand final structure that rewards the top two sides with a double chance.

But yet, the more things change, the more they could well stay the same. It’s up to the remaining six sides to prove otherwise and find a way past Kooweerup or Pakenham, because they’re the benchmarks for a reason.

As we said last season – ah, WGCA cricket… it’s great to have you back. Finally.

Pick up a copy of this week’s Pakenham-Berwick Gazette for a full rundown of what to expect from each Premier XI this season.

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