It was a nervous finish but the Narrabri District Cricket Association Pink Slugs are off to Sydney to contest the 2023/24 season Country Cricket NSW Plan B Country Plate final after beating Gilgandra by three wickets in the semi-final on Sunday.

The in-form NDCA first XI travelled across to Gilgandra’s McGrane Oval for the match after progressing to the semi-final stage off the back of forfeit wins over both Quirindi and Cessnock, and having already booked a spot in the Northern Inland Cricket Council’s MA Connolly Cup decider following a near-perfect campaign so far.

Gilgandra batted first after winning the toss and the Pink Slugs bowled and fielded brilliantly as they knocked over their opposition for 87 runs in 35.3 overs. They did it the hard way in the second innings as they lost seven wickets and were struggling at 4-28 at one stage, but they were able to overcome that and reach the required total in 33 overs to progress to the February 25 final.

The decider is expected to be played at Cricket NSW’s Sydney Olympic Park venue Cricket Central, where the Gilgandra men won last year’s final, but that is not yet locked in. The Pink Slugs’ opponents will be the winner of this Sunday’s semi-final between Riverina Cricket Zone and Highlands District Cricket Association, which will be played at Tim Doolan Oval in Harden.

The NDCA first XI captain Nathan Trindall told The Courier that he and his teammates were thrilled to have secured a spot in the final and a trip to the big city.

“All the boys are pumped,” Trindall said following Sunday’s match.

“It’s really good to put Narrabri back on the map and it means a lot to the boys.

“We really got around each other after the game at the end there. It’s not every day you get to go down and play cricket in Sydney.

“I thought we did really well in the first innings, bowling a side out for 87 that won it last year.

“It was a little bit nervy towards the end but the boys dug in and got the job done.

“Even though I was nervous, I was still pretty confident. When you’ve got Cooper (Brayshaw) batting at eight and (Matt) Conroy batting at nine, it’s a good position to be in. We bat all the way down to 11.”

Trindall said the 12-man team that travelled to Gilgandra would likely be the side that travels to Sydney, with the addition of one extra player as 13 can be named.

The fast-bowling skipper opened with the ball alongside Cooper Brayshaw in the semi-final on Sunday and the duo combined well to keep Gilgandra’s run rate down near two-an-over and deny the hosts the positive start they were hoping for.

Brayshaw struck with his first ball of the contest when he trapped Ashley Hazelton in front for a golden duck to make the score 1-4 from 1.1 overs, which became 2-12 after six overs when he bowled first drop Liam Zell (1) during his second wicket-maiden of the match. The talented quick delivered a third wicket-maiden in the 10th over when he removed Nick Willoughby (6), who attempted to put a full toss over the fence but sliced his shot and was caught by Bernard O’Connor.

Former NSW Premier Cricket first grade gun Matt Everett had opened the batting for the hosts and was the danger man who posed the greatest threat to Narrabri’s grand final hopes. He reached 16 runs after scoring a four in the Dylan Segundo-bowled 16th over but was run out by Dylan Smith after the following ball had been bowled while attempting a second run, and Gilgandra found themselves struggling at 4-33.

Smith then took the fifth scalp in the 21st over when he removed Brandon Hammond (2) during a wicket-maiden after the batsman’s aerial pull shot was caught by O’Connor. The quick then claimed his second wicket of the day in the 23rd over when he bowled James Glasson (17) to make the score 6-50.

A switching of ends for Segundo saw him replace Smith in the 25th over and that change brought on another wicket as the Narrabri quick bowled Ken Johnson for a fourth-ball duck.

The score was 7-60 at that stage and the Gilgandra innings looked to have been in danger, however, Cameron Whittall and Lachlan Ferguson were able to combine for their team’s most promising partnership of the contest as they put on 23 runs to guide the hosts towards what they hoped would be a defendable total. They perhaps could have had it not been for the brilliance of Matt Conroy who flicked a Whittall drive onto the stumps from his own bowling to run out Ferguson (15) at the non-striker’s end in the 33rd over and make the score 8-83.

Trindall replaced Conroy in the 35th and the skipper bowled John Irving (3) before Segundo took the 10th and final wicket of the innings from the third delivery of the 36th over to knock over Whittall (14) and bring the innings to a close as the hosts fell for 87.

Brayshaw was Narrabri’s best with the ball after taking a dominant 3-4 in his seven overs, four of which were maidens. Segundo (2-12 from 6.3 overs) and Smith (2-18 from six overs) claimed two scalps each and Trindall (1-19 from seven overs) took one, and all three of those bowlers produced a maiden each.

The Pink Slugs came out firing in the second innings as opening batsman Jakeb Nipperess smashed three fours and reached a game-high 17 runs, but he was stumped by Everett in the Hammond-bowled third over. That made the score 1-25, which became 4-28 in the eighth over after Hammond produced a hat-trick to dismiss Bernard O’Connor for a duck and then Lachlan Woolford and Josh Schwager for golden ducks.

Opening batsman Hamish Duncan was still at the crease at that stage and was joined by Matt Bradshaw, and the duo put on a 25-run partnership to get the innings back on track before Duncan (11) was caught behind by Everett as Jacob Wilson claimed his first wicket of the day to send Narrabri into drinks at 5-58.

It became 6-62 midway through the 22nd over when Ben Hjort bowled Bradshaw (14), and then 7-69 during the 26th when Hjort knocked over Will Ford (5), who was caught by Glasson.

That left Brayshaw and Conroy together at the crease and the duo combined for a match-winning 19-run partnership to get the Pink Slugs home. Brayshaw finished unbeaten on 13 runs and Conroy chipped in with an unbeaten four as the chasing side claimed a three-wicket victory to progress to the grand final in Sydney.

Hammond finished the innings with a game-best 4-22 from 10 overs, but his side fell agonisingly short of what would have been a miraculous victory.

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