The top six is taking shape
Ten rounds gone, five to go, and in First Grade the top six is starting to take shape. Sydney still leads, on 48 points, with Bankstown and Penrith on 42, Easts on 35, Campbelltown-Camden on 34 and premiers Manly (who were docked 1.1 points for a slow over rate against University of NSW) recovering from a slow start with 33.9. The six teams on 30, Fairfield on 26, and two teams on 24 will all think their chances are still alive.
Upsets happen at this time of year, rain can cause havoc, and predictions would be silly. In theory, 30 points are available in the three two day games and say another 14 (if bonus points are taken into account) in the two limited-over games. So Sydney University, on 24 points, could mathematically end up on 68. More realistically, if we assume that most of the results from here on will be six-pointers, it looks as though teams will need at least 52 points to have a chance of reaching the qualifying finals. That means that Sydney will be there – barring some extraordinary results, they need to win only two of their next five games to secure a place and only one of their remaining games (against Manly this week) is against a side that’s currently in the top six. Two wins should make Bankstown secure, and they get to play the bottom two teams (Wests and North Sydney, with one win between them). Penrith also needs two wins to claim a place in the finals, and has a tougher draw than Bankstown, but should manage it. Which leaves something like nine teams pushing for three spots. Each week from here on, one or two clubs will drop off the pace. In the big match-ups this week, Easts (35) can make things hard for Blacktown (30), while Randwick-Petersham (30) will try to leap-frog over Manly (33.9) and Northern District and St George (both on 30) will battle to stay in touch with the pack.
Jake Wholohan has broken through
If you’ve played cricket against Penrith in the last forty-odd years, the chances are that you’ve played against someone called Wholohan. Trevor Wholohan was club President for years, and his son Michael was a keeper-batsman in Firsts and Seconds for what seemed like decades (and has since been involved in coaching at the club). Now 18 year old Jake Wholohan has worked his way into First Grade (via the NSW Under 19 team and some solid efforts in Seconds). The slightly-built off spinner took time toacclimatise to the higher grade, but broke through against Fairfield-Liverpool, exploiting a soft pitch to produce a match-winning spell of 5-28 from 16 overs. He looks set for a lengthy career in the game, before he settles down to the more serious business of breeding another generation of Wholohans for the club.
James Psarakis makes it look easy
Another outstanding performer from this year’s Under-19 National Championships was Tamworth all-rounder James Psarakis, who now turns out for Randwick-Petersham. Already this season, Psarakis has scored a 91 in Seconds and 98 in his first game in First Grade (excluding a couple of T20 matches). In Round Ten, Psarakis walked out to bat at 6-91 after Mosman’s Ellery Clugston has taken three wickets for next to nothing in the space of two overs. Over the next three hours, Psarakis helped to add 94 runs for the eighth wicket and another 60 to the ninth, lifting Randwick-Petersham to a presentable total. His maiden First Grade hundred included five sixes. An uncomplicated player, he’s making batting look a very simple task at the moment – altogether, for Randwick-Petersham and the Under-19s this season, he’s scored 1051 runs at an average close to fifty.
Ben Patterson is fun to watch
In Dubbo, Ben Patterson used to play for the Dubbo Rugby Cricket Club, a name which suggests a strange hybrid game in which batsmen are tackled as they run between the wickets and fieldsmen occasionally drop-kick the ball towards the stumps. Anyway, he made his way to Sydney this season (after a stint in Derbyshire club cricket) to try his luck with Hawkesbury as an opening bowler. It’s fair to say that the jury is still out on that one (so far this season, his wickets cost 57 runs each, although bowling on Owen Earle Oval can do that to you). But what has been an unqualified success is his batting in the lower order. Going in at nine against Eastern Suburbs in Round Seven, he belted 11 fours in an innings of 72. That came at a relatively sedate pace, from 118 deliveries. Promoted to number eight the next week, against Northern District, he blasted 64 not out from only 51 balls, with fifty runs coming in boundaries. And in Round Ten, against Wests, he played a decisive innings in a low-scoring match, smashing 42 from 30 balls (with five 6s and two fours, meaning that he ran for only four of them). Patterson is capable of bowling at decent pace, and if his bowling continues to improve, he should develop into a very capable all-rounder; in the meantime, he will always be fun to watch.
It’s time for the revenge of the pie-chuckers
Regular readers of Five Things will have noticed our interest in – some would say obsession with – the balance between bat and ball in Grade cricket. What it boils down to is that life is pretty tough for bowlers, especially before Christmas when the pitches are flat and dry and the batsmen do as they please. Fortunately, if you’re a lower grade pie-chucker, things even up after Christmas and every now and then the intervention of rain produces an underprepared pitch or skimpy covers create a wet one. This allows bowlers who had, for the first few months of the season, been crashed all over the place, to reap extravagant rewards simply for possessing enough skill to land the ball somewhere near the stumps. With that in mind, let’s celebrate the efforts of Eastern Suburbs’ Jack Remond who, despite the wisdom and insight he must have gleaned from his pre-season stint as a member of Sydney University’s Australian Universities Games team, battled through his first nine games of the season in Third Grade to take only two wickets for 161 runs. Not to worry – in Round Ten, in Fourths against Sutherland at Trumper Park, he returned the absurd figures of four wickets for three runs from 5.2 overs, as Sutherland subsided for only 32. As we said two weeks ago, about now is a good time to be a lower-grade medium pacer – further proof of which was provided by Wests’ veteran, Col Barry, who snared five for nine from ten overs against Hawkesbury.