Well, this is the end of my Top 21. It’s been a bit of fun reminiscing. I’m hoping I haven’t left out any obvious major performances. As I said at the start, a lot of these performances aren’t necessarily “THE BEST” but they’ve been a combination of the most IMPRESSIVE AND the most MEMORABLE in games that I played. The Top 7 all occurred in finals (& 9 of the top 18) which I think emphasises the point that you never forget the finals you play in, whereas there’s a plethora of H&A games that I have zero recollection of. And obviously the pressure of finals & the better quality of the opposition in finals inflates the importance and significance of finals performances. On that note:

#1: PAUL THOMAS – 54 n.o. and 4/94 vs Gladstone Pk. 1sts. GF. 2006/07.

Statistically, there have been much more impressive performances, but considering the occasion and the opposition, this performance is as good as I’ve seen.

After single-handedly getting us through the semi final vs Buckley Pk (see #7), Gooch produces his jewel in the crown in the 06/07 GF against arch-rivals Gladstone Park.

The lead-up to this game is comical. Budgie misses the semi final with two bruised heels after mis-judging his landing on the way home after the last H&A game. He is still unable to run in the week leading up to the GF. We all assume Budge will face a fitness test on the Thursday night before selection. Not to be. Budge is selected & Gooch announces a “secret fitness test” to take place on the Friday. Budge pleads his case & advises Gooch a fitness test just before the game on Saturday is the way to go. Gooch surprisingly agrees.

We have begun our pre-GF warm-up at Donnybrook and Budge is still yet to appear. After much discussion, Budge joins us looking an inch or 2 taller – he has an inch of foam & rubber in his runners to cushion the bruised heels. He is running on his tippy-toes. Justy is agog, saying, “Have a look at Spongebob.”

We win the toss and bat first. Budge opens the batting, and to his credit, gets us off to a steady start with Mad Dog. Not surprisingly though, Budge is run out. We bat the day out, finishing on 6/176. Not bad. Not great. Donnybrook is a lush ground and scoring is not easy. Mad Dog is the star of the day making 69.

I am dismissed in the first over of Day 2 and then enter Gooch. We have 40 overs to bat and Gooch bats all the way through in rather warm & humid conditions. It is just quality, low risk batting. It is like watching someone bat as if their life depended on it. He and Tuddy put on 80 in what is a critical partnership. Gooch ends up 54 not out. On most other grounds, that would be 80-odd. We make 278 off our 120 overs. That is gonna be hard to chase down,

but if any team can do it, it’s Gladdy. They have an explosive batting line-up and are coming off making 505 in the Semi Final against PVC.

We have 40 overs to bowl on Day 2. Interestingly, Gladdy bat conservatively, which we don’t mind as Gooch is labouring in the conditions. His two hour plus batting effort is taking its toll as he continues to bowl well, but just lacking that little bit we all know he has. Gladdy end up 0/40-odd at stumps. This game will be decided on Day 3.

Gladdy reach 0/95 and Gooch has already bowled a truck-load of overs. It’s not panic stations yet, but we do need a wicket desperately. Gooch starts to look threatening & with Chops, things are starting to happen. 2/108, but now it’s the Gladdy middle order. Shep & the other J Markham could take this game away from us in half an hour. J Markham hits Gooch for a flat 6 over cover. I am in awe of the shot. It’s possibly the best cricket shot I’ve ever seen off arguably the best bowler I’ve played with. 2/170. Its’s slipping away. Gooch rises to the challenge and traps Markham LBW. We now need to get Shep and we need to get him soon. I drop a one-handed caught & bowled off him. As he comes through for the single, Shep tells me, “Catches win matches. And you can’t catch.” I am filthy I dropped it. It is the one catch of my career I would love to have back. My spell is over with Shep’s words ringing in my ear.

3/219. We need some Chopper leg-spin magic & he delivers. Shep out caught & bowled off a full toss. I then take a reflex catch at short cover under my forearm off another Chopper full toss. And then Chops dismisses P Viani, probably off a full toss. It is a match-turning spell from Chopper. Gladdy have lost 3/8 & Chops is on a roll. But after 17 overs, Chops is done, but his 4/49 is CRITICAL to getting us back in the game. Gooch is still bowling from the other end, as economical as ever. D Viani is now at the crease. I’ve seen Danny make a lot of runs over the years & he looks comfortable. He is in an aggressive mood but tempts fate once too often against Gooch. Clean bowled trying to put Gooch over mid-wicket. It is a massive wicket before tea.

Gladdy enter tea on the final day (Day 4 as rain interrupted Day 3) with 2 wickets in hand, needing 25 runs off 10 or so overs. I know Gooch won’t give them any easy runs. I’d rather be in our shoes. I am so nervous I can’t touch afternoon tea. I lay on the floor of the Donnybrook rooms stretching. I look up at Chops. Nothing needs to be said. We know what each other is thinking. We just want this over and done with. Cricket Grand Finals over two weeks are notoriously mentally-sapping events. Each player is totally consumed by it for two weeks. It’s a killer.

As we stroll back onto the ground after tea, we all know this game will be done either way within the hour, and for the loser, it will be a bitter pill to swallow. Gooch gets the 9th wicket – 9/258. We’re almost there. Scotty V is bowling from the other end. I’m fielding at fine leg and my heart is racing. I assume my teammates are feeling the same way. Scotty delivers the knock-out blow. Bowled! It is one of those frenzied moments. Mad Dog & I embrace as we make our way to the rest of the group. It is the first GF I’ve won out on the ground by taking the winning wicket. It’s euphoric.

This has been the most epic game of cricket I’ve ever played in. The quality of the players on both sides, the quality of the cricket played, the swings in momentum, the fierce competitiveness between two arch-rivals and the fact the game was still up for grabs after 230 overs……I am so glad we won. I’m not sure how I would’ve handled losing this one.

Gooch has finished the Grand Final against possibly the most potent batting line-up we’d ever played against, with figures 4/94 off 41 overs. It is a masterful display of pace bowling. Combined with his 54 not out, it is as good as an individual performance as I’ve ever seen by a Laker. As we dissect the game over the coming days, weeks and months, it becomes abundantly clear to me that without Gooch, the TLCC Premiership of 2006/07 does not happen



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