THE Emu Valley Cricket Association has reached the halfway mark of the season with its top three teams all level on 78 points.
Reigning premier United, Spring Gully and Emu Creek all have six wins, one loss and one draw and are separated by just percentage with all teams having played each other once.
In what was the clash of last year's two combatants who would have fought out the abandoned 2019-20 grand final, Emu Creek inflicted the first loss of the season upon United.
The Emus knocked over the Tigers by four wickets at Ewing Park.
Batting first, the Tigers were bowled out for first time this season when dismissed for 184 in the 39th over.
It was two of the key all-rounders for the Emus who did the bulk of the damage with the ball.
Captain Simon Marwood (4-27) and Tyrone Downie (4-41) combined for eight wickets as the Emus heaped the pressure on the Tigers from the outset.
Downie picked up the first two wickets when he removed the Tigers' two top run-scorers for the season in Broderick Williams (3) and Alex Code (0), with the key pair facing just seven balls between them.
Downie later closed out the Tigers' innings by taking the last two wickets - Kane Goldsworthy (23) and Mitch Whittle (0).
As well as his four wickets, Downie also took three catches in the field.
The sixth bowler used, Marwood's four wickets included opener Joe Hartney, who top-scored for the Tigers with 49, while skipper Harry Whittle made a quickfire 43 off 35 balls.
The Emus' attack included veteran Anthony Collins (1-34) for his first game of the season.
In reply, the Emus' run-chase got off to a disastrous start.
After just 14 balls the visitors were reeling at 3-3 with Luke Dyer (1), Marwood (0) and Jeremy Brown (0) all out - Marwood and Brown both falling first ball to Mitch Whittle.
Later at 5-55 in the 11th over the odds were still stacked against the Emus until the rearguard action was led by Tom McGregor and Luke Bennett.
McGregor compiled 53 off 74 balls and after a tough season with the bat Bennett found form with his side under pressure.
Bennett had worked his way to 48 before retiring in the 33rdover after falling ill.
It was the McGregor-Bennett partnership that paved the way for the Emus to recover from their early trouble to post 6-185 and win with 13 balls to spare.
In his first game against his former team that he played in two flags with, the Emus' Alex Collins made 28.
In what was United's first loss since the corresponding weekend last year (January 11), Whittle (2-41) and Goldsworthy (2-32) both finished with two wickets for the Tigers.
* Spring Gully was made to work hard for its win against bottom side Axe Creek.
Needing just 98 runs for victory at home, the Crows were under the pump at 8-81 and the Cowboys were a chance of pulling off the upset of the season.
Fortunately for the Crows, though, they had the competition's leading run-scorer, Rhys Webb, at the crease.
Webb didn't bat until No.9, but his 20 n.o. with support from Beauden Rinaldi (4 n.o.) ensured Spring Gully avoided becoming the first team to lose to Axe Creek as the Crows closed at 8-109.
The Spring Gully innings also featured 44 from Brannon Stanford, but there were also four ducks - Lachlan Brook, Thomas Perrin, Byron Perrin and skipper James Fox.
Byron Perrin and Fox were among four wickets taken by Cowboys' skipper Ash Dixon (4-31) - his second-consecutive four-for.
Earlier, while the runs didn't flow freely, the Cowboys kept the Crows in the field for the full 40 overs as they crawled to 9-97.
Only Connor Lever (31) and Jesse Trenfield (20) reached double figures.
Spring Gully used nine bowlers, with Justin Webb (2-10), Nick Skeen (2-11) and Rhys Webb (2-27) all taking two wickets.
* Marong jumped from seventh to fifth with a 56-run win over Sedgwick.
A half-century to Chris Dixon (50) helped the Panthers to 7-178 batting first, while Alex Gorrie (33), opener Andrew Gladstone (26) and Duane Anderson (22) also chipped in with handy contributions.
The Panthers' total proved well beyond the struggling Rams, who lost their fourth game in a row when all out for 122.
Anderson (3-26), Nathan Green (3-29) and Gorrie (2-26) combined for eight wickets for the Panthers.
Skipper Jordan Ilsley's run-a-ball 33 was the top-score for the Rams, who lost their last five wickets for just 19 runs.
* Mandurang kept itself a game clear in the top four with an eight-wicket win over California Gully.
Mandurang's James Bailey snared 4-33 in the Cobras' innings of 9-180 headed by 44 in the middle-order from Jordan Knight.
However, with Linton Colclough (81 off 56) and Corey Dickins (67 n.o. off 74) in good touch, the Rangas made light work of their target, taking just 27 overs to answer with 2-185.
Between them Colcough and Dickins smacked 24 fours and four sixes.
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Bendigo Advertiser, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thankyou very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Bendigo's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.