The biggest test of cricket’s new representative setup will take place this weekend, with the Greater Illawarra Zone to contest their first Country Championships.
The side will be coached by Grant Tilling, with Oak Flats all-rounder Brynley Richards captaining the team and Balgownie batsman Graeme Batty in the vice-captain role.
All three men head into the competition confident the new structure will serve the region well in this year’s Country Championships and well into the future.
“It’s a really big occasion with the new zone that’s been established,” Richards said. “It’s a big honour to be able to lead this side. It’s pretty exciting and we’re looking forward to the challenge.
“I think the new zone is a good initiative. It was only a matter of time before something like this did happen. We’re looking forward to what it brings in the future. It is new, so still needs some fine tuning, but I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
The change in representative setup came after three successive years of sub-par Illawarra Country Championships results.
With Illawarra’s performances on the slide and South Coast players previously playing for ACT Southern, Richards believes the merged team will benefit the region’s cricketers.
“In recent years the standard of cricket has dropped a bit, so I feel it was just a matter of time before it had to happen. They had to make a change in order to steer cricket back in the right direction.
“Now we’ve got quite a large area under one banner. With that comes a lot more competition for spots and the cream will rise to the top. Also in the future we could see an Illawarra-South Coast combined competition.”
Illawarra and South Coast players make up the bulk of the squad, with three Shoalhaven players also selected.
The team’s chances took a blow on Thursday, with the late withdrawal of Udara Jayasundara, however Richards is confident the side will compete in every match. Jayasundara has been replaced by Pushpinder Singh.
“We’re a very balanced side. We have an experienced batting lineup, with me and Batty, and then Mitch McCrae is in form and Mitch Watterson and Daniel Gleeson can take a game away in a number of overs.
“With the ball we have four very good spinners who will play a huge part in leading the charge with the ball for our side over the three days. They could be the difference for us, the decks in Shoalhaven are not quick decks, but time will tell.”
Greater Illawarra will take on ACT-Southern on Friday, before facing Newcastle on Saturday and Riverina on Sunday. The winner of this weekend’s Southern Pool will play Central Coast at Bradman Oval in a fortnight.
Richards expects Newcastle will be the side’s toughest test, however he knows Greater Illawarra will be challenged in all three matches.
“Our goal is to be competitive and then from there we believe we can get a couple of wins. Newcastle will definitely be our biggest challenge, but all three teams are quality.”