Best still to come

By Patrick Tansey

At the Christmas break, Cobram is sitting pretty atop of the Murray Valley Cricket Association Premier Division tree.

To this point, there has barely been a blemish for the Tigers besides a round one loss to Deniliquin.

The near faultless start, after eight rounds of action, can be owed to a multitude of factors — the most obvious one — South African recruit Wian Van Zyl.

In an inspired piece of off-shore recruiting, the Tigers put their faith in the opening batsmen from Bloemfontein and he has paid the club back in spades.

He has gone on to re-write the record books for the Tigers, eclipsing the club record for most runs in a season, held by club great Steve Gemmill, who plundered 796 in 1996-97.

To think the powerful hitting opener is on 830 runs with four two-day matches remaining in the home and away season almost borders on disbelief.

His season has been Bradman-esque, with a staggering average of 118.57, highest score of 274 not out, two double centuries, and a whopping 26 sixes.

To put into context how dominant he has been — compared to the rest of the competition, the next highest run scorer after his 830 is Barooga’s Trent Batchelor on 241 — a remarkable chasm of 589 runs.

Van Zyl’s ability to advance the game from ball one gives the Tigers a huge advantage.

He is not afraid to take on the opening bowlers and the results have often been devastating not only for his team, but also for shattering the opposition’s confidence.

With the ball, captain Adam De Cicco has led from the front all season and tops the league for wickets taken on 18 at a strike rate of 20.95.

His best figures of the season came in the Tigers’ last match before the break against second-placed Katamatite, where he picked up a brilliant 7/25 in a spellbinding performance of accuracy and seam movement with the red ball.

In an ominous sign for the rest of the competition, the Tigers appear to only be getting stronger.

Although they will be without talented all-rounder Lachlan Hyde for the rest of the season after having foot surgery, they will re-gain big hitting all-rounder Tyron Baden permanently after the break, while fast bowler Mark Haberfield recently made a successful return to action via the division one side after back troubles.

There are also signs of internal growth, with the club’s other South African import Ewald Roberts producing his best performance of the season in the Tigers’ last match, making a classy 97 not out batting at four after an interrupted start to the year.

Despite such a positive start, De Cicco was not getting carried away and feels the Tigers still have plenty to give, and knows they must produce their best when it matters most which they failed to do last season.

‘‘It’s been a good start to the year but I still don’t think we’ve fielded our best team yet,’’ he said.

‘‘Last year we were confident that we had a good team but we just didn’t play well in the finals, so this year we need to play with a calm head and treat it like a normal game.’’

The captain believes the Tigers have now settled on their best batting order, but admitted the bowling side of things was throwing up a few more challenges.

‘‘Once we get everyone back, we’ve got so many bowling options that it’s going to be tough trying to fit everybody in, but that’s a good problem to have because it creates competition.’’

Cobram starts back against Nathalia on January 12 and will be hell-bent on breaking a long-running premiership drought, in which it has been the perennial bridesmaid on the big stage.