ILLAWARRA CRICKET FINAL
The Illawarra cricket final is shaping up to be the classic battle between the batting strength of Keira and bowling firepower of Helensburgh, according to the respective skippers.
For the first time in decades, today's premiership decider will be a one-day final rather than the traditional two-dayer, with this season's competition format comprising of only one-dayers and Twenty 20 matches.
Helensburgh clinched their first top-grade trophy by winning last season's one-day title, while Keira went through the 18 one-day rounds unbeaten, and won the T20 competition.
In last Saturday's semi-final, Keira showed why they are the benchmark side by recovering from 5-27 against Corrimal to make 194 in a 58-run victory.
Jonathon Cook (37) and Neel Honavar (73) put on 84 in a backs-to-the-wall sixth wicket stand, which ultimately turned the game for the Lions.
In contrast, Helensburgh's Brad Bell (5-16) and Luke Falkiner (5-47) ripped apart the Wollongong batting in their semi-final, leaving the Burgh just 97 for victory.
Batting has been Helensburgh's Achilles' Heel all season and at 8-69 were facing defeat before wicketkeeper Ryan Morris (22 not out) won the game with an inspired innings.
Keira skipper Graeme Batty and Helensburgh counterpart Tim Lloyd agreed the final would be a match between one team's batting strength and the other's prowess with the ball.
"There's no doubt our strength is our bowling and it'll have to be against a good batting team like Keira," Lloyd said.
"You have to do both things well in a final and it's all or nothing for us but we'll be looking for our bowlers to lead the way.
"We've put teams under pressure with the ball all season and we'll have to do that again. We need the batting to do better than in the semi and are confident we can step up and do the job."
Batty went into the semi-final averaging 94 for the season and though he made a duck, the Lions, from 5-27, found a way to win.
"It's really encouraging we fought our way out of it," he said.
"We rely a fair bit on myself, Cookie [Jonathon Cook] and Tim Laws with the bat but Neel [Honavar] was fantastic and the lower-order really battled hard and won us the game."
Both skippers would have preferred a 90-over game to decide the premiership but, on the batting-friendly North Dalton Park track, 200 will be a par score for the team batting first.
With minor premiers Keira able to win the title with a losing draw - not bowled out batting second - Lloyd will be hoping to bowl first.
Meanwhile, Northern Districts have their second and third grade teams in today's final.
The Butchers take on Wollongong in the second-grade decider at Figtree Oval, while Norths face University in third grade at King George Oval.
Keira Red meet Wests Illawarra Blue in the fourth grade final at Figtree Oval No 2.