By Luke Voogt
Geelong faces a crucial game against Footscray tomorrow as the club returns from the Christmas break with two wins and two losses.
The Cats sit just outside the top eight behind the Dogs on net run rate.
“It’s a big game on Saturday because they’re probably about where we are,” Geelong coach Nick Speak said just before training on Tuesday.
“They’ve got a good blend of experienced players and emerging talent – similar to us.”
Geelong’s experience was the key before the break as wicketkeeper-batsman Josh McDonald hit 126 off 112 balls to help the Cats score a thrilling upset against Melbourne University.
University, last season’s minor premiers, won the toss and scored 6/287, setting Geelong a challenging chase.
Captain Eamonn Vines and fellow opener Hayden Butterworth managed 35 for the first wicket before the latter was run out for 27.
But Vines remained at the crease and provided the anchor for McDonald, who hit 15 fours and four sixes at his home ground for his second Victorian Premier Cricket century.
“He found the boundary when he needed to,” Speak said.
“Geelong’s a quick ground – if you find the gaps it’s often going to run to the boundary.
“When he needs to clear that straight boundary he can. He rotated the strike well too; it’s as good a one-day innings as you could ask for.”
The pair put on 159 for the second wicket before Vines was dismissed for 59 off 80 balls.
McDonald batted on to get the Cats to 5/252 with Dom McGlinchey and Josh Garner seeing the Cats to a four-wicket victory (6/290) with just four balls left.
McDonald also hit 52 against Carlton in round two and looks to have slotted in well at number three, averaging 53.5 so far this year.
“He bounced around the order a bit last year so we’re trying to give him a bit of stability,” Speak said.
Speak said the aggressive batting of Butterworth and McDonald combined well with the more conservative style of Vines.
“The three complement each other and all three have the ability to dial it back and have a long innings if needed.”
Footscray, which some rated a flag contender at the start of the season, has had an up-and-down year with bat and ball.
The Cats have been similar, and their bowlers have shared the wickets since spearhead Brody Couch got a call up to the Melbourne Renegades squad at the start of the Big Bash.
The paceman has yet to play for the bottom-ranked Renegades.
“I spoke to him yesterday and he’s still there,” Speak said.
“Hopefully he’ll get a start – if they keep playing the way they are he will.”
This Saturday’s game is important for the Cats and the Dogs, and will give both a good indication of their finals hopes.
Speak was optimistic about January after upsetting the minor premiers, with the Cats set to face three bottom-eight sides and play two homes games in their next four after the Dogs this month.
“To get two and two with the draw we’ve had, we’re in a pretty good spot,” he said.
“January is basically going to shape our season.”
Geelong Cricket Association divisions one, two and three are set to resume on January 16.