Penrith skipper Matthew Halse’s quest to win a second one-day title received a considerable boost when the club named their “big three” Pat Cummins, Josh Lalor and Ryan Gibson for Sunday’s limited overs home final against local rivals, Hawkesbury.
Cummins’ inclusion is a major surprise, having just come-off a three-match T20 series against Sri Lanka that ended in Adelaide on Wednesday night and was considered some hope of playing in this weekend’s Sheffield Shield game for NSW.
With no Sheffield Shield commitments, Lalor and Gibson are also available as Penrith look to win their third one-day title and first since 2001/02, which ironically featured Halse.
Pat Cummins cleared for take-off this Sunday. Credit 77 Media.
A win by the current skipper will also ensure a third first grade title in the Halse family, with Matthew's father, Ron having played in the club's inaugural premiership-winning 1978/79 side.
Whilst Halse is excited by the opportunity to play in the final at Howell Oval, he played down suggestions that the local rivalry with their nearest neighbors will provide extra motivation, instead stating that the sense of occasion would spur them on to the club’s fifth first-grade trophy.
“You don’t get many opportunities to play in a final be it any format so it’s exciting for the club, exciting for the players,” Halse said.
“They’re one of our nearest rivals, there is a bit of rivalry.
“Also a lot of the guys know each other pretty well.
“The clubs are intertwined somewhat going back through the day.
“They will be pumped, it’s their first final in the top grade so whoever handles the moments throughout the day better will win the title."
Penrith skipper, Matthew Halse in good form with the bat. Credit 77 Media.
Halse comes into the final in terrific form with the bat, having smashed 77 not out off just 60 balls in Penrith’s dramatic one-run loss to Eastern Suburbs last Saturday.
But while the skipper is perplexed by the workings of the Duckworth/Lewis system which saw his team lose despite achieving a better run-rate, Halse admits that another top-order batting collapse can’t be tolerated on Sunday, despite having overcome similar batting failures to defeat Sydney University and Sutherland en-route to the final.
“(The Duckworth/Lewis system) I don’t know anyone that understands it fully but that’s the way it goes," Halse lamented.
“We got penalised because we were in a bit of trouble early but it still doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
“(But) a couple of guys in that top order have got to put up their hand and bat for a bit longer.
“Our (top-order) batting issues are not talent-based, it’s an application thing really.”
Halse says despite those batting issues, he is sticking solid with the team that is on the brink of winning the club's next first grade title, adding that the issues are in part due to the week-to-week team changes caused by the inconsistent availability of his big three.
“I’m pretty happy with the guys we’ve got,” Halse declared.
“It would be pretty hard to bring anyone else in at this stage of the competition given there are guys that are there doing the job already.
“But the team changes week to week is another issue altogether.
“It makes it hard to get any real consistency in guys getting to bat with each other."
Penrith’s top-order batting might be its weakness heading into the final, but it has been Hawkesbury’s undoubted strength as they have chased down totals to defeat the top two teams to qualify, with ex-Panther Josh Clarke and Dale McKay significant.
The all-round capabilities of Arjun Nair could also cause problems according to Halse.
“Josh Clarke has been in pretty good form all season and has played some pretty important knocks for them,” Halse said.
“Arjun Nair if he doesn’t make the Shield side is a quality all-rounder.
“They’ve got a really solid batting line up with quite a few hardened first grade players in there as well.
“It’s not about one individual but they’ve got quite a number of players who can turn a game for them.”
The final is also significant given the ongoing speculation regarding the playing future of the skipper.
While Halse admits his career is slowly but surely drawing to a close, the Penrith skipper has yet to confirm whether he will play on in 2018 but should he retire at the end of this season as widely tipped, the next two weeks at Howell Oval could be his last as a player.
“It’s fair to say I’m closer to the end of my career then the beginning so I’m trying not to worry about that too much,” Halse conceded.
“I’m hoping to win a title on Sunday and give ourselves a crack at the back-end of the season for the Belvidere Cup.
“I’ll wait until the end of the season and see how things are with work and family and all the other things you have to juggle around cricket, it doesn’t get easier as you get older."
Lucky charm? Josh Lalor has gone unbeaten in Penrith colours for almost four months. Credit 77 Media.
Penrith will start Sunday's final as slight favorites, but the likely prospect of rain could see the match deferred to Sunday March 12, which if it eventuates, could curtail the availability of Pat Cummins.
A 13-man squad has been announced for the final, which commences at Howell Oval at 10am, which is as follows:
Matthew Halse (c), John Di Bartolo, Ryan Hackney, Michael Castle, Ryan Gibson, Jonathan Sammut, Tim Cummins, Patrick Cummins, Josh Lalor, Jake Wholohan, Ryan Smith, Michael Collins, Luke Hodges.