Cricket authorities have offered a $5000 reward for information to help find the person who vandalised a turf cricket pitch and sabotaged a match to deny a local team the chance to play in the finals.
The players from Kingsville Baptist Cricket Club arrived on Saturday thinking they were a good chance of playing in the finals of the West A1 division of the Victorian Turf Cricket Association competition.
They had bowled out lowly Sunshine Heights the week before for 186 and were on their way towards a win, being 1/46 overnight.
Sitting fourth, they only needed the win to get into the top four and play in the finals. They arrived at Skinner Reserve in Sunshine full of anticipation, only to find the covers had been drawn back and someone had dug up the pitch with a shovel and poured oil on it.
The match could not be relocated and so was declared a draw. Kingsville Baptist missed the finals by two points.
Sunshine Heights was the second bottom side so stood to gain nothing from a draw. Suspicion then would fall on those in the top four whose position in the finals would be in jeopardy.
Cricket Victoria chief executive Tony Dodemaide has condemned the vandalism and endorsed the decision by the Victorian Turf Cricket Association to offer a $5000 reward for information on the damage.
"It's just so disappointing," Dodemaide said. "The VTCA have offered the reward for information, which I have not heard of before. I think that is unprecedented and I welcome that decision. Its easy to be angry and jump to conclusions but we do need evidence.
"It would be hugely disappointing to find out it is someone from the cricket family but that is the direction it is pointing at the moment given the covers were pulled back although Skinner Reserve in the pst has been subject to vandalism."
Kingsville Baptist treasurer Peter Hardeman also felt the likelihood was the damage was connected to the match.
"That does come across your mind, but you can't prove anything," he said.
"The fact the covers were pulled back and it was dug up as well as bringing oil to pour on the pitch would make you think it was not just a random thing of someone walking over the oval.
Words can't describe how the club feels about turning up to a must win game to play finals to this act of vandalism . We...Posted by Kingsville Baptist Cricket Club on Saturday, February 27, 2016
"It's very disappointing, it's not Test match cricket at the end of the day but, as we know, everyone just wants to win all the time.
"We are really pleased (the VTCA) has offered $5000 for someone with any information about it. That was quite unexpected but hopefully that encourages someone."
The pitch was not only rendered unplayable but will likely have to be dug up completely and relaid.
The damage to the pitch was redolent of the attack on the Headingly Pitch during the 1975 Ashes test match. On that occasion Australia needed 225 to win on the final day and had seven wickets in hand. Overnight a group of vandals dug holes in the pitch at the crease and poured litres of oil on the pitch at a length forcing the match to be abandoned.
That vandalism was a political statement in a campaign for the release from prison of a man convicted of armed robbery. Four people were later convicted over the damage to the pitch one of whom was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
There have been previous cases in cricket where pitches have been deliberately watered the night before a critical match.
On occasions, during extremely localised showers and thunderstorms, covers have been "blown off" and the pitch area saturated. Unmelted ice has occasionally been found still sitting on the pitch.