WHEN Bendigo United’s Nick Crawford strides to the wicket tomorrow in his 200th Bendigo District Cricket Association first XI game, he will be hoping for a much longer innings than that of his first game.Well, anything more than one ball will be a longer innings than Crawford played in his debut match 20 years ago.Crawford will reach the 200-game milestone when the Redbacks take on Strathfieldsaye at Harry Trott Oval in round four.The milestone takes in two clubs, with Crawford having started his career as a 16-year-old with Strathdale-Maristians, before later crossing to Bendigo United.The 36-year-old’s path to 200 games started in October of 1991 when he was selected for the Suns in the opening round of the 1991-92 season against California Gully.“I reckon there were four or five guys who debuted that game for Strathdale, which didn’t win a game and had finished last the year before,” Crawford said yesterday.“It was John Neylon’s first game as captain, so he was new having come from Bendigo. Mick Chalkley had come back, Barry Tippett played after a couple of years off, Brad O’Shea played his first game and I played my first game.“It was a Saturday-Sunday game, and I remember I had an under-17 representative game on the Sunday, which meant Strathdale could transfer a player overnight.“We bowled first and knocked California Gully over and John (Neylon) decided to send me in at No.3 that night so I could be not out and the new player could come in overnight and just continue on.“But I got out lbw first ball to Ian Glen, which wasn’t the best start.”Crawford’s first-ball duck on debut came in a dramatic start to the Maristians’ innings. Chasing California Gully’s moderate 150, the Suns were in tatters early at 4-5 and later 5-12, before a Barry Tippett (120 n.o.) century guided the Suns to a winning total of 246.That was the first of 70 first XI games Crawford played with Strathdale-Maristians between 1991-92 and 2000-01.During those years he also had stints at Premier Cricket clubs St Kilda and Carlton.The highlight of his time at Bell Oval came in the 1994-95 season when he was a member of the Suns’ team that defeated Bendigo United by five wickets in the grand final.Crawford had been dropped late in the season, but regained his place in the first XI on the eve of the finals and top-scored for the Suns in the grand final with 58 batting at No. 4.After defeating Bendigo United in the 1994-95 grand final, seven years later he made the switch to Harry Trott Oval in the 2001-02 season to take on the captaincy of the Redbacks from Chris Pinniger.“I wanted to captain a side and I didn’t think I could have any real impact at Maristians as a captain,” Crawford said.“My form at Maristians had been poor in the last year that I was there, and there were some other blokes who would have been better choices as captain.“And I wanted to bowl a bit more as well, which was difficult to do at Maristians because they had John Neylon, who was a terrific spinner.“So after making the decision that I wanted to captain a side, I thought BUCCS was a good choice to go to.”Ten years on, the move to Bendigo United has reaped dividends for Crawford in the form of four premierships, one of which he was captain.Since crossing to the Redbacks, Crawford has been a part of premiership teams in 2002-03 (captain), 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2009-10, earning a reputation as ‘Mr March’ that started in 1995 for his capacity to perform in finals.For the past five seasons, Crawford – a wily veteran off-spinner – has been the Redbacks’ leading wicket-taker with returns of 33, 33, 38, 38 and 24 wickets.While there’s no disputing the talent of Crawford – he has taken 287 wickets and made 4884 runs during his career – he has the reputation as one of the competition’s best antagonists out on the field. And there’s no better example of that than bowling with his cap on.He’s one of the characters of the BDCA, who at times comes across as both aloof and complex, and there’s no doubt he gets under the skin of the opposition.“I don’t know if I’d call myself aloof. Maybe it is my love of gardening, professional wrestling, cricket history from the 1970s and my years as a cello player in the late-80s that qualifies me in the eyes of some as being aloof,” said Crawford, whose gardening includes a particular love of Pittosporum.“To be honest, probably the best thing I did was go and play Country Week a few years ago and meet some of the guys you play against.“I’d like to think I get on well with most players from the other side.“One thing I always try to do is if someone makes runs I’ll always shake his hand, and whether we win or lose, after the game I always try to make sure I’m the same.“When I was captain I was very serious about things, but now I just enjoy playing cricket and I’m fortunate that I can still play at a reasonable level.“I enjoyed my time at Strathdale and I’ve enjoyed coming across to BUCCS. It’s all about the friendships you make over time and the people you meet.“If I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t have done it for so many years.”Crawford’s best performances with the bat and ball have both come against Huntly-North Bendigo.His top-score of 109 was made against the Power in round two of the 2003-04 season – the same day team-mate Heath Behrens made a league record 249 not out, with the pair putting on 320 for the third wicket – while in round 13 of the 2008-09 season he claimed 8-48 off 21 overs at Strauch Reserve.