Bendigo chases Country Week premiership glory
THE preparation hasn't been ideal without a warm-up game and the quality of opposition is an unknown, but Bendigo has every right to be bullish about its chances at Melbourne Country Week.
While paper teams don't win games of cricket - or any other sport for that matter - this year's Bendigo District Cricket Association squad certainly has the quality to give the Provincial Group title a genuine tilt.
The selectors have picked an even squad that is balanced with youth and experience - two traits that can never be under-estimated at Melbourne Country Week.
You need the big-game knowledge that the experienced players provide, but also the youthful exuberance around the group during what can become a long week if a few early results go against you and all you've got to look forward to is the Thursday night bus ride home, rather than the final on a Friday.
When looking at the squad of 14, what stands out immediately is the three players who represented Victoria at last month's Australian Country Cricket Championships in Canberra - Linton Jacobs, Cameron Taylor and Travis King.
And they weren't just fringe players for the Vics, they all had leading roles in the team - Jacobs as wicket-keeper, Taylor as a leg-spinner and King as an opening batsman.
And when you add in Ben DeAraugo and Adam Burns have also represented Vic Country in the past, that's five players in the squad who have all tasted the top level of country cricket.
Not a bad starting point for the selectors.
For Jacobs (pictured), it will be his first trip as Melbourne Country Week captain as his BDCA standing continues to grow.
Jacobs will be the first to admit his Melbourne Country Week stats with the bat aren't great, but as he's shown since he took on the Strathdale-Maristians' captaincy five years ago, expect him to revel in the extra leadership responsibility.
As well as making your own luck, at Melbourne Country Week, every ball matters
Jacobs is certainly going to have a wealth of options when it comes to the bowling department.
A bowling unit consisting of Burns, DeAraugo, Sam Johnston, Brent Hamblin, Rhys Irwin, Aaron Monro leggie Taylor, plus the off-spinners of Gareth Davies, will keep the pressure on opposition batting line-ups for 50 overs.
So strong is the bowling department, there wasn't room for the BDCA's leading wicket-taker, Golden Square's Luke Baird.
But the bowlers don't just bowl, they can all bat as well to complement King, Anthony West, Michael Hanson, the explosive Adrian Pappin and keepers Jacobs and Isaac Conway.
For the youngsters in Irwin and Conway, it's going to be a tremendous learning curve to spend a week playing alongside the cream of the BDCA, while for Welshman Davies, he can tick it off his bucket list of cricketing exploits on his Australian visit.
The BDCA has the talent to be one of the Country Week forces this year, but it's going to take more than just talent to get through to Friday's MCG final - itself an extra carrot dangling in front of all the Provincial Group teams.
As well as making your own luck, at Melbourne Country Week, every ball matters.
Every run made and every wicket taken has an effect on the ladder as Bendigo has cruelly found out in recent years with some narrow grand final misses to go with the triumphs of 2007 and 2010.
Good luck lads. Go well.