Batsmen break records, but bowlers win matches

Another Sydney batting record was obliterated in the last round, when St George’s Ashton May and Damian Bourke shared an unbroken partnership of 370 for the fourth wicket against Sydney.  This was the highest fourth-wicket stand in the history of the First Grade competition.  Extraordinarily, May broke his own record – back in 2009-10, he shared an unbroken partnership of 366 with Steve Cazzulino against Northern District.  But that’s not the most remarkable thing about the game – which is that May and Bourke finished up on the losing side.  Sydney chased down their target of 391 thanks to a nicely-paced century from its experienced captain, Dan Smith. 

Cricket is a game of numbers, but the most important one in the game is ten – the number of wickets in an innings.  In exactly half the First Grade matches in Round Four, the team batting first failed to defend a total above 300 (and Bankstown fell just 19 short of Fairfield’s 314).  Blacktown posted a total of 8-371 at Mark Taylor Oval, only to watch the home team cruise to victory with an hour to spare, Daniel Hughes carving out a rapid double-century.  North Sydney felt comfortable declaring at 8 for 309 at Old Kings, but Parramatta passed that total for the loss of just one wicket, with Brenton Cherry and William Affleck piling up 291 runs before the first wicket fell.  At Petersham Oval, Randwick-Petersham couldn’t defend 6-345 against Gordon.

After four matches, North Sydney has scored 32.4 runs for every wicket it has lost, so that its average total is 324.  But it has won only one of its matches, because its bowlers pay a horrendous 48.2 runs for each wicket they take.  Blacktown’s batsmen average 31.7 runs per wicket and University of NSW a whopping 39.5 – and each side has won one game out of four.   On the dead, dull wickets that are so common in Sydney early in the season, bowlers generally need to be resourceful, skilful and persistent to present a consistent threat.  But unless you have bowlers with the talent and craft to work batsmen out on these surfaces, your best hope of winning games is to send the other side in and back your batsmen to chase whatever target gets set.

Devlin Malone is one to watch

Devlin Malone sounds like the name of a minor character in a Sean O’Casey play – the guy who appears halfway through the second Act to take Kathleen O’Houlihan to the dance, and announces that there’s trouble on the road to Donnegal.  But perhaps it isn’t surprising that he’s actually a leg-spinner, because for several years the southern suburbs of Sydney have harboured several wrist spinners with distinctively Irish names – William Joseph O’Reilly and Kerry O’Keeffe being only a couple who spring to mind.  The 17 year old produced the most impressive performance of his short career when he claimed 16 wickets in the Second Grade match against Sydney University – a decisive spell of 6-31 on a wet pitch in the first innings, followed by a record-breaking 10-115 in the second.  At stumps on day one Malone had taken 2-8 in the University second innings, and he was listed for promotion to First Grade on the second day, when left-arm spinner Riley Ayre was due to perform 12th man duties for the Cricket Australia XI against New Zealand.  When the tour match was abandoned, Malone stayed in Seconds, and set about creating a bit of Sutherland history.  His 10-115 made him the first Sutherland bowler in any grade to take all ten wickets in an innings, and he also became the first bowler to take 16 wickets in a match for the club.  In his short grade career, Malone has been a consistently effective wicket-taker: last season, when he was troubled by stress fractures in his back, he still managed 19 wickets in six Second Grade games, and took 3-12 against Northern District on his First Grade debut (all three wickets coming in one over).  He bowls relatively quickly for a leg-spinner, but still spins the ball hard and has plenty of variety, with a wrong ‘un that’s difficult to spot.  Sutherland has a long history of producing gifted young spinners who never really kick on in the game (the theory is that their commitment declines when they discover some combination of girls, the beach and alcohol).  But you sense that Malone will be around for a while.

All things must pass

It took Malone’s outstanding performance to bring a halt to the remarkable unbeaten streak of Sydney University’s Second Grade team.  University won its first three matches this season, won 16 and drew two in 2014-15, and was last defeated on 21 December 2013, by Gordon at Chatswood Oval.  It didn’t help that University was sent in to bat on a wet pitch, but no-one is using that as an excuse – over the two days, Sutherland well and truly earned its result.  An unbeaten run of 22 months and 31 matches is an extraordinary accomplishment – as is the team’s four successive premierships.  It couldn’t last forever, and now the opportunity to begin the next streak begins on Saturday.

Dan Hughes is the big wicket

Sydney University produced a high-quality team effort to beat Northern District in the final of the Sydney Thunder Twenty/20 Conference at the SCG on Sunday, but without doubt the biggest single moment of the match came when Ben Joy removed Daniel Hughes, caught by keeper Ryan Carters for 22.  Hughes’ form this season has been phenomenal; his four innings in the First Grade competition have been 78 not out against Randwick-Petersham, 66 against Bankstown, 146 against Sutherland and 200 (from only 228 balls, 24 of which went to the boundary) against Blacktown.  That’s 490 runs in four digs for three times out.  Even though Tim Ley and Nigel Cowell knocked the top off the Northern District innings on Sunday, the Rangers were always a threat as long as Hughes was batting.  Somehow, the left-hander has played only two Sheffield Shield matches for New South Wales, but he’s making an unarguable case to add to that tally later this season.

It’s possible to play until you’re 107

Which is, as far as we can work it out, more or less how old Geoff Spotswood is now.  This season he’s captain of Bankstown’s Fifth Grade side, and he’s gradually creeping up towards 10,000 runs for the club, to go with his 434 wickets.  He’s been at Bankstown for as long as most of his team-mates have been alive, but in fact he broke into grade cricket in 1972, with the Western Suburbs club.  He was an opening bowler back then, not exactly express, but he was strong and hostile and could find awkward bounce from a slightly open-chested action.  He joined Bankstown in 1977-78, by which time his batting had developed to such an extent that he could be regarded as a genuine all-rounder, scoring runs in the middle order as well as using the new ball.  After playing a decent amount of First Grade with Bankstown he settled into the role of Second Grade captain for a time, scoring a massive 867 runs in that grade in 1986-87 (which remains a club record).   There was a stint at Hawkesbury somewhere along the way, too.  His record in cricket is impressive enough, but he also played at a time when it was relatively common for cricketers to play a winter sport to a decent standard, and he played Rugby League as a prop for both Western Suburbs and the Bulldogs. Playing front row in the 1980s was not a task for the faint-hearted: it was a well-established convention that every game had a “softening up period” in which the forwards on each side had a licence to beat the daylights out of each other.  Spotswood’s ability to emerge unscathed from these running brawls made him, for several years, the player least likely to be sledged in grade cricket – you simply don’t annoy a man who has just been exchanging blows with Les Boyd.  As it happens, Spotswood has always played his cricket hard, but in a great spirit, and Bankstown is lucky to have him helping to shape its next generation of players.