It might be a Village Green, but there’s a six-lane highway running through it
Some of us have played cricket on actual village greens. You find them in villages. In England. They’re rustic. They all seem to have one side of the outfield that slopes either up or down quite dramatically. One boundary is marked by an old stone wall, which can’t be knocked down because it was built in 1471. Sometimes there is a tree at mid-on. You can tell the pitch apart from the rest of the ground because that’s the strip that they waved a lawn-mover across, half an hour before play began. Conditions are, to be generous about it, bowler-friendly, which only goes to show that whoever gave the University of NSW home ground its name had an especially cruel sense of humour.
For a while there in the mid-to-late 1970s, the Village Green pitch had enough pace and bounce to allow the quicker bowlers some encouragement, and Geoff Lawson (who didn’t need all that much help anyway), Greg Watson and swing bowler Steve vanderSluys all flourished there. Then there were a few years when it turned, and Paddy Grattan-Smith and Mark Ray enjoyed it. But for about the last thirty years, the pitch has offered bowlers nothing at all. And on Saturday, it hosted an extraordinary match in which University of NSW very nearly pulled off a seemingly impossible chase of 422 against Manly.
It was a remarkable chase, steered by a mammoth third-wicket partnership of 259 between the prolific David Dawson and Charlie Wakim, but although they put in an heroic effort, somehow University of NSW fumbled the finish. With twelve balls remaining, the Bumblebees needed 13 runs with four wickets in hand – and this, in the context of the game, was far from an impossible quest. But Manly played the closing stages of the game with real tenacity. James Munting bowled a mean over, dismissing Jake Turner, and then James Henry was run out on the final delivery of the game attempting what would have been the match-winning third run. The scores finished level – 5 for 422 plays 8 for 422 – and as the match was drawn, not tied, the teams gathered 844 runs between them, but no competition points.
So, yes, it was an extraordinary game. But was it a good one? That depends on whether you believe that cricket ought to be a contest between bat and ball. The best of the bowlers on show was Manly’s English seamer, Nathan Buck, who tweeted after the game, “Never ever have I been in a game where in 96 overs, 422/5 played 422/8. Give the groundsman a medal. Said no bowler ever.”
All over Sydney, early on Saturday mornings, you can see very small children learning how to hit a ball with a cricket bat by swinging at a stationary ball sitting on a tee. This is a skill that will come in very handy when they grow up, because it duplicates almost exactly the experience of batting on the Village Green.
The next one equals the record
At the risk of banging on about the dominance of bat over ball, while the bowlers still had a hard time of things in Round Seven, at least no double-centuries were scored. There would have been a few, probably, except that Bankstown invoked the mercy rule against Mosman, calling it a day with a full session remaining and with Philip Wells (146) and Michael Stoneman (142) looking immovable, and Nick Larkin chose to try for outright points when Greg Mail was doing as he pleased with the Western Suburbs attack. So after seven rounds, the number of double centuries in First Grade this season still stands at five.
Yes, even though we are only half way through the season, the next double century will equal the six that were scored in 2009-10, by Greg Mail (twice), Grant Lambert, Ashton May, Steve Cazzulino and Adam Crosthwaite. Round eight is a one-dayer, so there’s a reasonable chance that this particular record will stand until after Christmas. But probably not much longer.
Greg Mail isn’t tired of scoring runs yet
It’s a trap – you think Greg Mail isn’t churning out the runs quite the way he usually does, and start to wonder whether his multiple roles (banker, selector, SCA Committee member, elder statesman) aren’t dulling his appetite for runs. And then you look at his stats for the season, and see that he has 303 runs at 75.75. His unbeaten 164 against Western Suburbs was a ruthlessly dominant innings; he made those runs from only 186 deliveries, and hit 22 fours and a six. In the process, he reached his 42nd First Grade century, extending his own record – the next players on the list behind him being the not-too-shabby trio of Victor Trumper, Warren Bardsley and Bob Simpson, who each made 36.
Simpson’s tally, as it happens, increased by one a few months ago, even though he played his last game in 1980. That happened because, during 1976-77, grade cricket was played on an afternoon when there was a solar eclipse. The NSWCA issued warnings to players about the risks of looking at the sun while on the field, and Western Suburbs and Mosman dealt with the problem by shifting the tea interval so that they players were off the field when the eclipse occurred. But that meant that they had altered the playing hours without the Association’s permission, and in one of the asinine, pointlessly officious decisions that the Association frequently produced in those days, the game was struck from the records – including the century Simpson scored. This season, in its overhaul of the Grade records, the Sydney Cricket Association sensibly agreed to recognise that the game took place, which meant (among other things) that Bob Simpson won back his 36thcentury and Mosman’s Dave Colley had his 500th First Grade wicket returned to him.
Anyway. Back to Mail. The records he breaks these days are ones that he holds already, so we tend to miss them, but in Round Seven he became the first player to reach 14,500 First Grade runs, and the first player to pass 9,500 First Grade runs for Sydney University. He extended his record number of centuries to Sydney University to 29. It is, theoretically, possible for the second player on the list, Ed Cowan (who has 12) to catch him, but only if the programme over the next couple of years is arranged so that Ed plays an awful lot of games for SUCC on the Village Green.
Anthony Kershler has called it a day
Hawkesbury left-arm spinner, Anthony Kershler, who began the season in spectacular form, has retired from First Grade after deciding to move to Kingscliff in Northern New South Wales. It brings an end to a career in which the durable spinner became only the third player (after Tony Clark and Ken Hall) to play 400 First Grade matches, and the thirteenth bowler to take 700 First Grade wickets.
Ken Hall was actually one of his team-mates when the 18 year-old Kershler he made his debut for Penrith against Fairfield in Round One of the 1986-87 First Grade competition, on 27 September 1986. It was an inauspicious start; Fairfield hit 376, and Kershler, the sixth bowler used, bowled seven overs for 26 runs without a wicket. He was far from the least successful bowler in First Grade on the day, because this was the day when Western Suburbs ran up a huge score against Petersham, whose off-spinner Wayne Mulherin recorded the figures of 35-2-188-0, prompting Waverley’s David Hourn to say that “those aren’t bowling figures – that’s my phone number in Bondi”. Kershler took his first wicket in Round Two, on the Monday of the October long weekend, and it was a good one – Campbelltown’s Brett Williams, a future Sheffield Shield opener, who was stumped by Greg Gavin. Over the next 29 years, Kershler moved from Penrith to Parramatta to Hawkesbury, taking 742 wickets in First Grade, the last of which belonged to Easts’ Shane Devoy last Saturday.
In case anyone is tempted to dismiss Kershler’s record as owing more to longevity than class, it’s important to remember that he was a regular member of the New South Wales side in 1994-95. He helped NSW to beat the touring English side at Newcastle, taking 2-27 and 3-41 – which included the scalps of Graeme Hick, Mike Gatting (twice), Graham Thorpe and John Crawley. In his next game, he took 5-42 and 2-46 against Queensland, dismissing both Allan Border and Andrew Symonds in each innings. Not only a long serving bowler then, but – at his best – a very good one indeed. The Grade competition will be poorer without him.
Jordan Gauci is one to watch
Jordan Gauci is still six months short of his eighteenth birthday, but already he has an Under-19 Test century to his credit, and has been named with Sydney University’s Jonte Pattison in Australia’s provisional squad for the Under-19 World Cup to be held in Bangladesh next February. The Campbelltown-Camden right-hander hit his maiden First Grade century in Round Six, an undefeated 108. But while that was an impressive feat for so young a player, it was accomplished in the middle of one of those North Sydney Oval run-orgies that tend to strip scores of their significance. In many ways, his more impressive innings was played last weekend. Campbelltown was chasing only 238 against Parramatta, and seemed to be cruising when Jason Clarke carried his side to 3 for 192. But Parramatta fought back strongly, Campbelltown collapsed, and the next six wickets fell for only 41 runs. Gauci, batting at six, held his nerve through the last hour and a half of the innings, and helped to guide Campbelltown home with only one wicket in hand. He scored only 13 not out, but that innings told a great deal about his composure, maturity and ability to withstand pressure. He’s one to watch.