Sydney are the big improvers
Premierships aren’t won in October, and it would be silly to make predictions on the basis of the first two rounds. No-one seriously expects to see Manly propping up the bottom of the ladder at the end of summer. But the greatest improvement so far this season has come from Sydney, who managed only three wins in 2014-15 but hold a share of the lead this season, joining four other clubs with two wins from as many starts. You could argue, perhaps, that Sydney has had a favourable draw, but its improvement has come without any major changes of personnel. Swing bowler Alex Glendenning, from Wests, may turn out to be a useful recruit, but the early success has come from the steady leadership of experienced Dan Smith and good form from some of Sydney’s younger players. Burly off-spinner Ben Manenti, still only 18, has seven wickets after two games; leg-spinner Nathan Sowter has benefited from a taste of county cricket with Middlesex in the off-season; and Beau McClintock and Harry Dalton have done well with the bat. Sydney will fancy its chances against Parramatta in Round 3, so its run could continue for a while yet.
Ian Moran is in form
A few years back, if you were building the perfect First Grade team from scratch, you would have started by attracting one of Sydney’s leading all-rounders – Grant Lambert, Greg Mail or Ian Moran. Sydney University, of course, had two of them, which accounts for much of the team’s success in the last decade. Moran had a relatively quiet first season with Easts, but he bounced back strongly with 971 runs in 2014-15 and so far this season he has managed 63, 42 and 84 not out – 189 runs from only 168 deliveries. At the age of 36, he remains a formidable competitor and it still seems unjust that his appearances for the State were confined to a handful of Twenty/20 games.
It’s not quite the same without Billy Hendricks
At the start of this season, Billy Hendricks announced his retirement from umpiring, after standing in 332 SCA matches, 265 of them in First Grade. But he’s been a fixture in Grade cricket for even longer, because he played for Gordon between 1981 (after migrating from his native South Africa) and 1999. He turned out in every grade, and took 319 wickets with skiddy leg-breaks, as well as batting stubbornly. As a player, Billy was – well, if you played alongside him for Gordon, you’d say he was highly competitive. His opponents usually found stronger ways of putting it. Matches in which he was involved often seemed to become unnecessarily heated. Which is worth mentioning now only because, as an umpire, his trademarks were fairness, a cool head, an easy rapport with the players and an ability to defuse tense situations. He has made an outstanding contribution to cricket in Sydney over the last 35 years, and we wish him well in his retirement from the field.
Darwin was on to something
In On the Origin of Species, in which he first proposed his theory of evolution, Charles Darwin explored the way in which members of a species passed on their genetic advantages to their offspring. Darwin actually performed his breeding experiments on pigeons, but Grade cricketers would have done just as well. In the first round of the Twenty/20 competition this season, Manly handed First Grade debuts to Sam Gainsford (son of quick-medium Manly bowler David) and Zach Trewartha (son of dogged left-handed batsman Ross). North Sydney fields a minimum of three Aitkens, the latest in the dynasty that originated at Parramatta, while at Parramatta itself, Adam Turrell and Tim Affleck play together in the side their fathers represented in the 1980s. It’s possible that some time this season, Gordon will field a First Grade attack featuring the sons of two State opening bowlers – Charlie Stobo (son of Richard) and Jack Skilbeck (son of Mosman’s John). But it’s a nice question whether these players are exploiting a genetic advantage or whether they simply adapted to being raised in a cricketing environment. There’s a PhD thesis in this somewhere.
Sutherland is tough to beat
Twice this season, Sutherland has looked dead and buried – rolled for only 111 by Blacktown in Round 1, then 7-150 chasing 213 against Fairfield last weekend. Each time they found a way to win, knocking over Blacktown for 96 and beating Fairfield with an over to spare after a gutsy partnership between Shayne Smith and Daniel Fallins. Successful teams find ways to win matches from poor positions and Sutherland seems to have discovered the knack of doing exactly that.