Bowling is for idiots

Two-day cricket resumed in Sydney on Saturday 10 October, with results that make unusually grisly reading for anyone who happens to be a bowler.  In the ten First Grade matches played on the day, 87 wickets fell while 3540 runs were scored.  Almost 41 runs were scored for every wicket that fell.  5665 legitimate deliveries were bowled, and a bowler claimed a wicket (there were seven run-outs) only once in every 81 balls.  These numbers, actually, tell a misleading story, since they include the anomalous game at Allan Border Oval in which Mosman and Campbelltown-Camden managed to lose twenty wickets between them in the day (they made up for this with a run-feast on the second day).  A responsible statistician would remove these outlying data to emphasise the underlying trend, which is gruesome.   The trouble, of course, is that Sydney’s early-season pitches are drab, lifeless strips of rolled mud that offer bowlers nothing but frustration, impotence and heartbreak.  They’re not ideal for batting either – most batsmen would prefer the ball to come on a bit more – but it’s relatively easy to stay in on them, and once a decent batsman becomes accustomed to the lack of pace and bounce, he can score almost at will. 

Some years back, there was a game played at Hurstville Oval in which the visiting team produced an excellent effort in the field to restrict a powerful St George side to a first-day total of just over 300.  On the second morning, the captain – a fast bowler – decided that his batsmen would benefit from a motivational talk, and announced: “Listen, guys, I just want you to remember two words today – application, concentration and dedication.  And if we all score 25, we’ll get these runs.”  This piece of spectacular innumeracy was cherished in the dressing room for the rest of the season as proof that fast bowlers are dumb.  But the numerical evidence from this season’s Round 3 is even more damning.  If bowlers were just a little bit smarter, they would have become batsmen.

Jay Lenton is seeing it like a watermelon

The sheer profusion of runs being scored can make it difficult to sort out the talented batsmen from the flat-track bullies.  It’s fairly safe, though, to put Jay Lenton into the first category.  Manly’s keeper-batsman reeled off three successive centuries, his brilliant unbeaten 113 (from 97 balls) against Sydney University being followed by a patient 101 not out against Fairfield (with only four boundaries) before he demolished St George with a rare Twenty20 hundred – 104 not out from only 62 deliveries, including seven sixes.  It’s not unique for a batsman to score three First Grade hundreds in as many innings (Sydney University’s Johnny Taylor did it, for example, back in 1923-24, when he hit 104 against Western Suburbs, 253 against Waverley and 110 against Petersham).  But what is new is that Lenton scored his runs in three different formats – a 50 over game, a two day game and a T20 game.  The runs came in three very different situations, too – a desperate counter-attack against the Students, then a grinding innings in an attritional day’s play at Rosedale, and then a blitz to set up the match against St George.  Lenton has held a Blues Rookie contract in the past, and has played in half a dozen Futures League games, without ever quite grasping his opportunities.  At 25, the left-hander has matured into an excellent player, and has earned his recall to representative cricket with the Futures League team playing in Adelaide this week.

The British are coming

With the English season now well and truly wrapped up, a number of county players are starting to turn up in Sydney’s Grade teams.  Not many of them are terribly familiar: they tend to be younger, fringe members of their squads.  Josh Poysden, a leg-spinner who has joined Northern District (and who has had a couple of stints with Gordon), has made only five first-class appearances (for Cambridge University and Warwickshire) in five years, although Warwickshire has used him more extensively as a one-day bowler.  He has made an execellent start; he was the only bowler to do anything at all on the flat track at Waitara, taking 7-87 while the other bowlers in the game managed 9-552 between them.   Another player to make a strong first impression was Aadil Ali, a right-handed batsman who can bowl off-breaks, who made his first-class debut for Leicestershire in July, and had a promising start, with three half centuries inseven matches.  His aggressive 162 against Blacktown (with four sixes) made the 21 year old only the second batsman to score a century on his First Grade debut for University of NSW (the other was also an English professional, Luke Sutton). 21 year old Worcestershire batsman, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, did well for Penrith, hitting a solid 50 in an opening stand of 143 with Johnny DiBartolo that set up an improbable chase of Easts’ 7-378.  Essex batsman Jaik Mickleburgh is currently on a charity cycling tour of England but is expected to maik – sorry, make – a reappearance for North Sydney soon.   Western Suburbs’ import is, at least, a familiar name, although that isn’t entirely his own doing.  Kent’s Fabian Cowdrey is the son and grandson of captains of England (Chris and Colin) – besides which his uncle Graham also played for Kent and his great-grandfather played first-class cricket in India.  Cowdrey, 22, has enjoyed some success with Kent as a batsman and left-arm spinner and took a wicket in his first over of Wests’ T20 clash with Sydney University.

The Students enjoy the short game

Less than a month into the season, each club has now played six limited overs games – two in the Grade competition and four Twenty20s, and Sydney University is the only team to have won all six.  A team close to full strength bullied Fairfield-Liverpool at University No1, with Nick Larkin striking cleanly down the ground for his 60 and Ryan Carters mixing orthodox strokeplay with clever improvisation on his way to 61.   Ben Joy, Nigel Cowell and Tim Ley bowled beautifully to strangle the Fairfield chase, Cowell claiming the vital wicket of Ben Rohrer and Joy slicing up the middle order.  Almost as impressive, in its way, was the way in which a side without six representative players (Ed Cowan and Ryan Carters on Matador Cup duty; Nick Larkin, Jonte Pattison, Tim Ley and Will Somerville in Adelaide for the Futures League) accounted for Wests.  David Miller hit a lively fifty, Liam Robertson showed how much he enjoyed the captaincy with 71 from 48 balls and a couple of wickets, and Tom Kierath bowled four miserly overs for 3-20.  By virtue of winning the Sydney Thunder conference, University now plays, this Sunday, the team that finished fourth in the conference – Bankstown, whose only loss was a two-run defeat at the hands of the Students in the opening round.

Mark Appleton is inspired.  Or extremely lucky.

Mark Appleton is one of those cricketers for whom University of NSW seems to have a production line.  He’s a lower-grade medium-pacer.  Played a bit of Seconds, never really threatened to go much higher – but, a devoted, tireless worker for the club, who has done plenty of donkey work in Thirds and Fourths.  Think of older players like Rob Stark and Greig Robinson and you’ll get the idea.  In a dozen or more previous seasons with the Bumblebees, he’d taken five wickets in an innings exactly twice, with his career highlight 6-10 in Fifth Grade at Hawkesbury back when John Howard was Prime Minister.  Anyway, this season Appleton, an engineer, is captain of Third Grade.  In Round Three, he took his side out to Jim Hanshaw Oval to play Blacktown.  It was hot, the pitch was flat, and Appleton won the toss.  Blacktown’s captain braced himself for a long day in the field, only to be told that he was batting.  Appleton’s batsmen were bemused at missing out on ideal conditions, and the bowlers were mildly resentful of missing out on a day with their feet up.  Except Appleton, who took the new ball and somehow persuaded the first six batsmen to nick the ball to either keeper Hamish Stening or second slip Danny Bhandari.  Blacktown crashed to five for 14, and Appleton took a rest after removing the first six batsmen for four runs in nine overs.  After knocking over Blacktown for 62, University of NSW won outright.  Appleton’s team-mates are still debating whether his decision to bowl was inspired or freakishly lucky.