The Mackay/Whitsunday region hasn’t always been a cricket powerhouse. However, the Nitro’s will aim to become only the second team to ever defend the Bulls Masters Country Challenge title when they take on the Central Queensland Seamers in the final at the Gabba on the 17th of January.
With the Nitro’s also winning the Bulls Masters under 16 Youth Cup last month for the first time, there is a feeling in the Mackay/Whitsundays region that cricket is in the strongest shape it’s ever been in.
“I think it is a special time to savour, it’s our time to enjoy. It probably is a bit of a purple patch”, Nitro’s Country Challenge captain, Adam Knezevic said.
Knezevic acknowledges that these are indeed heady days but he insists it didn’t happen overnight and it also doesn’t come as a surprise to him.
“There’s just a lot of good people involved at the moment, the club scene is quite strong and there are some really good administrators looking after Mackay cricket and Mackay/Whitsunday Cricket. They’re really putting the players first and that support is there”
Mackay/Whitsundays has got things right off the field but they’ve also been lucky on the field with some top-quality talent such as Mitchell English, Jason Butterworth, Joel Bruun and the Kohler brothers to pick from.
“There are some guys that are talented coming through and we’ve got some guys who have come back from Brisbane adding their experience to it and it’s just all coming together”, he said.
But Knezevic says the one man who has had more influence on their recent bout of success than any other is former Queensland State Squad member, Kim Evetts who runs the high-performance program for junior cricketers in Mackay and Whitsundays.
Evetts was on the cusp of the Queensland Bulls squad for much of the early 90’s, and he played First Grade for both South Brisbane and Wynnum-Manly until he returned to Mackay in 1998. Since then he’s been a major factor in producing quality young cricketers in the region.
“It’s not just a fluke, it’s five, six, seven years in the making and we’re just starting to see some fruits from their labour”
Evetts culture of giving back to the game has rubbed off on the current crop of senior players in Mackay/Whitsundays. Knezevic was the coach of the successful Nitro’s under 16 Youth Cup team and fellow Mackay rep player, Chris Dunn was the Manager of that team. Nitro’s opening batsman Brenton Polzin was the coach of the under 12 Mackay/Whitsundays team and all-rounder, Jason Butterworth looked after the under 13’s at the recent state carnival.
“I just remember coming through and playing and going away and it was a great experience and so now we’re just trying to give back”, said Knezevic.
Despite the purple patch of form that the region is currently experiencing, it’s still an ongoing battle to keep players in the game. This is where they hope to make the biggest impact on cricket in their region. Knezevic thinks that if the senior players can help create a fun environment for young cricketers, then they can set up Mackay/Whitsundays cricket for sustained success.
“There are issues there but I think if we keep creating this great culture to play in and guys are enjoying their cricket, then we are a big chance to improve our retention”