Country Week preview: Who can stop Murray Valley?

WHO can stop Murray Valley? That’s the question heading into today’s opening day of the annual Bendigo Bank Country Week cricket carnival.

Murray Valley has claimed the past four division one titles, during which it has won all 20 games it has played.

With four consecutive titles, Murray Valley now has the opportunity to do what hasn’t been done at Bendigo Country Week since the 1940s.The only team to have won five division one titles in as many years was the powerful Barham-Koondrook, which won all five between 1947 and 1951 after the carnival resumed following World War II.

The reigning premiers will be led this week by all-rounder Shaun Downie, who previously captained Murray Valley’s 2010 and 2011 triumphs.

Murray Valley will field a young side this week, with only a handful of last year’s winning team, including Ash Quinn, who took 7-43 in the grand final win over Ferntree Gully, Luke Carter and Joel Cahir backing up.

“We’re going to be a fairly young side, so it’s going to be good to give the young guys who have been playing in our colts side an opportunity,” said Downie, who two years ago produced one of the greatest Country Week doubles with his 102 n.o. and 8-18 against Castlemaine.

Asked if he could pinpoint a key reason for Murray Valley’s phenomenal success in Bendigo over the past four years, Downie said one of the traits of the team was a fierce desire to win.

“The boys have a real want to win, and over the past few years we’ve been lucky enough to win a lot of close games,” Downie said.“

Over a week there’s a lot of things that determine a game of cricket, and we’ve been able to do the little things well that have helped us get over the line.”

Also crucial in Murray Valley’s reign of domination has been its ability to bat out its overs.

In its 20-consecutive victories dating back to 2009, only four times has Murray Valley been bowled out.Murray Valley – which has also played in the past two Melbourne Country Week Provincial Group finals – will begin its title defence today against Ferntree Gully at the QEO in a grand final rematch.

There was plenty of feeling in last year’s grand final between the two teams, which Murray Valley won by 69 runs in a game where it recovered from 7-88 to post a match-winning 9-170.It’s an almost entirely new squad for Ferntree Gully this year.

From last year’s team, only 17-year-old identical twins Luke and Robbie McComb – the great grandsons of former Australian leg-spinner Clarrie Grimmett – are playing this week.

Ferntree Gully will be captained by Jay Colee, who is a former player of the carnival.

This year marks the first Country Week appearance of the new Goulburn Murray Cricket Association.

Goulburn Murray was formed this season from a merger between the Campaspe and Kyabram District cricket associations.

The side will be captained by all-rounder Dylan Cuttriss, who skippered Campaspe to a third-placed finish last year.

“We’ve had quite a few blokes put their hands up to play, so we’ll have a fairly strong line-up,” Cuttriss said.

“We’ve got the majority of the strongest players in the competition playing, which is fantastic for our first competition at Country Week.

“The whole competition is going well in the first season, so this is another step forward for us and we’re hoping to do well.

“With a strong side, we want to make sure we do everything right and give ourselves every chance of playing on the Friday.”

Among the Goulburn Murray side will be two English imports in opening batsman Tim Maxfield and opening bowler Colin Griggs.

The side also boasts Adam Ward, who has returned to the competition after a stint with Premier Cricket club St Kilda and is averaging 63 for the Rochester Tigers this season.

Goulburn Murray will play in Rochester today against Castlemaine, which will be aiming to win its first division one title since 2006.Castlemaine will be captained by former Kangaroo Flat all-rounder Matt Kile.

“We’ve got a stronger squad in than last year, so we’re confident we can go alright,” Kile said.

“Most of the good cricketers in the competition will play at least two days.

“We’ve got guys like Jamie Allan, Daniel Christmas, Sean Smith and Chris McKnight coming, so it’s a good side that we’ll be bringing.”

Plus one bonus for Castlemaine is it doesn’t play Murray Valley in the pool rounds.

Castlemaine today takes on reigning division two champions Gisborne.

Gisborne, which last won division one in 1982, will be captained by Warren Else.

“We’ve had a couple of late pull-outs, so with our bowling, we don’t have the best firepower we could have, but we have a lot of consistent bowlers,” Else said.

“But we’ve got close to our batting line-up.

“Not having been in division one for a few years, it’s always a bit difficult because we don’t know what we’re going to come up against, but if we have some luck and results fall our way, hopefully, we can get through to Friday.”

Gisborne last played in division one in 2010. Also promoted to division one will be Benalla, which lost last year’s division two grand final by four wickets.

Benalla will be captained by veteran Greg Hoysted, who has been coming to Bendigo Country Week since the late ’70s.

“We’re going to be younger than last year, so it’s going to be a fair sort of a challenge for us stepping up to division one,” Hoysted said.

“But we’ve got some good young players in the squad and hopefully, they will rise to the occasion.”

Benalla has never won a division one title, and last competed in the top division in 2009.

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