BENDIGO all-rounder CAMERON TAYLOR provides a recap of Bendigo's Melbourne Country Week campaign with his tour diary.
I arrived at the QEO ready to jump on the bus and eager to get started with this year's Melbourne Country Week carnival.
It was a tense start, though, as I could feel the tension between coach Max Taylor and myself already as I knew he was nervous about his position as coach due to my recent success coaching the Goulburn Murray Cricket Association to their Bendigo Country Week victory.
Frankly, he has plenty to be nervous about - I'm gunning for him next year. Watch out, Max.
It was a different feel on the bus to past years as we were definitely missing the value of our Entertainment King, Miggy Podosky, with his smooth beats and "Up and About" nature.
The ride to Braybrook was a quiet one, with the only thing breaking the silence being bus driver Johnny Hewitt grinding his way through the gears.
After what felt like an eternity we arrived at our holiday destination of the Braybrook Caravan Park.
Being my third stay at this wonderful place, the shock of the area to the system was not as strong as years past.
We had a short stay before we grabbed our cricket gear, promptly locked all our doors and headed for a net session in Greenvale.
It was a good way to get a few cobwebs out for the boys after being washed out at home and feeling slightly underdone.
It also gave us the opportunity for some nightmares after we looked at the wicket we are going to be playing on tomorrow.
Rumour has it the ground is currently in a transition period between curators and our game looms as a wicket festival.
Max promptly told us to keep the wicket out of our minds (and nightmares) and go about preparing as normal.
Early to bed as a big game against Murray Valley awaits us tomorrow.
Finally, game day had arrived.
It's always an exciting morning ahead of the first game because you don't know what to expect.
We knew we had a strong team, but we also knew that the teams we would be facing were going to be strong as well.
I had added confidence for the day knowing we would all be arriving sporting our flashy new BDCA bucket hats. Nothing intimidates opponents more than the professionalism of a bucket hat.
The bus ride to the game was lively and it's always enjoyable to get everybody pepped up for the day with some tunes.
Welsh import Gareth Davies seems to have a strong liking for Pitbull and Kesha's chart-topper, "Timber". Each to their own I guess.
We got into the game after losing the toss and getting sent in to bat.
Unfortunately, we had an off day with the bat. The conditions were tough for batting, but it would be unfair to blame that for our total of 98.
I know each and every one of our batters put pride into their innings and it hurt us all to finish our batting with only a small total on the board.
Our bowlers were terrific, but you wouldn't expect anything less from one led by Adam Burns and Roo (Ben DeAraugo).
Fielding standards were just as good and we were able to make our small total competitive.
Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough at the end of the day.
Post-game we all did our recovery, a process that Burnsy has perfected in his 36 Country Week carnivals.
From there we headed out for tea before getting back to everybody's favourite caravan park to get ready for another day.
Bendigo 98 & 3-122 lt Murray Valley 117.
Today was an important one for us as we not only needed to keep ourselves in the running for a spot in the final, but also a lot of us wanted to win back some pride after a disappointing loss in the first game.
We were playing at Princes Park, which is more often then not a terrific ground for cricket, so everyone was very keen to get into the days play.
When we arrived at the ground with our bucket hats on, we weren't surprised to see that the wicket was a belter and the outfield was in immaculate condition.
Wiz (Linton Jacobs) won the toss and we were having a bowl. A few might have thought that was surprising due to the conditions, but if the pitch was going to offer assistance to the bowlers it was going to be in that first hour.
Burnsy and Roo got us off to a fantastic start, not only getting early breakthroughs, but creating three or four added chances along the way.
After getting ourselves into a really strong position, the cricket gods reminded us that we play a funny game and anything can happen.
This was combined with myself serving up half-a-dozen sixes to one of Sale-Maffra's hard-hitting lower-order batsman.
They managed to compile an extremely competitive total of 271 through some very impressive batting under pressure.
We probably missed a few chances that could have made for a smaller total, but all in all, I thought the bowling and fielding effort was pretty good.
We were confident going into the run chase that on that wicket we could chase down the total.
We lost an early wicket or two, but continued to score runs consistently through the early overs.
The middle period of the run-chase was a really successful one for us.
We got through to the second drinks break with seven wickets in hand, setting ourselves up really well. We managed to knock the target off with seven balls to spare and five wickets in the shed.
To follow up such a disappointing day with the bat in that fashion was a great result for us.
The feeling around the caravan park is an upbeat one as we sit third on the ladder with two games to play.
Bendigo 5-280 d Sale-Maffra 8-271.
Today was another big day us.
We needed to win to keep our chances alive and after a good win yesterday spirits around the group were high.
Today's opponents were the bottom-placed Leongatha.
We all know too well through constant reminders from the captain that cricket is a funny game, so we were ready for a challenging match against a side playing to avoid relegation.
Again, the ground looked in good condition and again, we won the toss and bowled.
Weather was looking like being a factor in the day, so bowling first was the best way to keep control of any changes to the match conditions.
The bowlers got us off to a great start once again and this time we didn't take the foot off the pedal.
All of the quicks bowled terrific spells on a very good wicket and we were looking in a strong position at the halfway point, chasing 132.
The chase began positively and apart from a few dismissals along the way, it was a successful one.
Once the winning runs had been knocked off it meant we were able to go about gaining as many points as we could with our remaining overs.
This point in the day can be very entertaining, but can also be a nightmare if you are on the receiving end of it.
The big hitters provided some great fireworks, including a six from Papsy (Adrian Pappin) that is scheduled to land in Bendigo sometime in the early hours tomorrow.
After the game we went into the city for a well-earned dinner before finding our way back to the caravan park.
An even bigger day awaits us tomorrow as we need to win against the undefeated Mornington team, that despite their terrible purple hats, always play good cricket.
Bendigo 9-230 d Leongatha 132.
We woke up this morning optimistic about our chances of progressing through to the final.
We were sitting third and had a difficult game ahead of us.
We had an early start to the day as we were scheduled to play our match in what felt like North West Gippsland. Endeavour Hills I think the place was.
The area had copped a decent amount of rain overnight, so we were all interested in what would be revealed as the covers came off.
It didn't look good. Half of the wicket was wet and the rest of the wicket table was mud.
Needing a win, we were determined to wait it out and hope for the best. The umpires were on our side and keen to give the game every possible chance to play.
We sat around listening to music and arguing over who had enough data allowance to offer their hotspot to download Monopoly on the iPad.
Finally, a start time had been determined. We were playing 34 overs each.
We won the toss and were bowling.
We started well with the ball as we had all week and were doing a good job of restricting and taking wickets.
Mornington was able to show their depth though and compiled a very handy 186.
We had a huge challenge ahead of us. We were going to need to knock over the runs as quickly as possible and make as many more as we could to hopefully, sneak into second place.
Unfortunately, we couldn't quite gain the momentum we needed at any stage during the innings.
It was great to watch everyone go out to bat when their opportunity came and put the team goals ahead of their own.
We needed to take risks if we were going to pinch a spot in the final.
Some risks were probably more calculated than others (my judgement of a single has come under fire, along with Wiz's ability to lap sweep).
In the end we fell a fair way short of where we needed to be.
Bendigo 123 lt Mornington Peninsula 8-186.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing in cricket and we were left to wonder what could have been had we not thrown away the first game of the week.
There were a lot of positives to be gained out of the week, but we had come to Melbourne trying to win the carnival and we were unable to do that, so everyone was pretty disappointed.
After we had lost, it was time to head back home.
The trip down the Calder back to Bendigo is always a favourite of mine for the week.
There's nothing like watching Max Taylor slap the walls of the bus to Icona Pop's "I Love It."