THIS weekend will see the return of the Mount Gambier and District Cricket Association’s Barber Shield competition after a four-week Christmas break.
With six of the 10 minor rounds completed there are two sides who sit pretty at the top of the ladder and appear the favourites to fight for the title.
They are last year’s finalists Penola and North Sportsman’s, who have continued their strong form through the season to emerge as the standout teams from the pack.
The Eagles sit first above the Tigers on the ladder thanks to their dominant outright win over South Gambier, where they tore through the Demons’ batting order.
Penola has ensured its title defence has gone to plan through consistent performances across their playing 11, led by star player David Somerfield.
Somerfield has scored a total of 218 runs including three consecutive half centuries in his most recent innings to sit third on the season’s leading run-scorers, which is led by North’s Jake Schutz.
Schutz has been the spearhead of the Tigers’ Barber Shield challenge and has been a dominant presence at the crease with a total of 329 runs to his tally so far.
A round-four century of 116 against West Gambier is his top score and if the Tigers are going to go one better than last season and lift the shield, Schutz will have to continue his strong form.
His consistent runs at the top of the order combined with new-ball bowler Declan Kenny, who is the league’s second highest wicket taker this season with 11 dismissals, creates a daunting all-round prospect for this week’s opponent in East Gambier.
Despite a promising start to the season with a tie against title holders Penola, the Bulldogs have struggled since and are the only team yet to register a win this season.
They have been led well by captain Dion Stratford who is second on the run tally with 276 and in his most recent innings scored 90 against Mil Lel, which put the Bulldogs in a strong position to break their unwanted win-less record before an inevitable thunderstorm ended that chance.
A dramatic improvement in all facets of the game will be required for the Bulldogs to challenge the Tigers at Marist Park.
Mel Lil has also struggled to compete with the top sides, with just a single win against the bottom-of-the-ladder Bulldogs to show.
Its two captains, Craig Lock and Jack Miller have been in hot form with the ball of late, but the batting lineup struggles to post big totals.
Mel Lil’s first clash after the Christmas break is against South Gambier, which will be the second meeting between the two teams.
The Demon’s will come in as the favourites, with the last clash seeing David Vine with a six-wicket haul which guided his side to victory.
Vine has captured the most wickets this season with 14 victims and will hope to be supported by his batsman, including the likes of Dylan Clough, who smashed the season’s highest Barber Shield score of 126 against East.
He has since been unable to replicate those heroics and will look for another solid total.
The away game against Mil Lel is a must-win contest for South if it wants to win its tight battle with West for third place on the ladder.
Short-format specialist West Gambier has excelled in the one-day fixtures, but has struggled to translate that form into the longer two-day format of the game, with all but one of the remaining fixtures played over two days.
Consistent contributions from the likes of Ben Hentschke and Sam Willis allowed the Roos to stay within sight of the top two sides, but a large collective team effort will be needed to fight against ladder-leader Penola at McCorquindale Park tomorrow.
The Eagles will start hot favourites and should be able to claim a comfortable victory.
Although the Christmas break was four weeks in duration it has been a total of eight weeks since the last full Barber Shield match has been completed due to poor weather, adding further intrigue to this weekend’s round.