1. Larkin and Mail are a formidable opening pair
Quite some time has passed since Nick Larkin and Greg Mail opened the innings together for Sydney University – over the last couple of seasons, Larkin has often batted at three, and Mail has frequently dropped down to the middle order. But they took on the new ball together against Manly, and their reunion at the top of the order was an unqualified success. Larkin hit his first double-hundred in First Grade, an unbeaten 206 that included 27 boundaries. Mail actually outpaced his partner, manipulating the bowling around the ground almost at will, and hitting 22 fours in his 179. This might suggest that the pitch was dead, but in fact it was well-grassed and Mickey Edwards extracted plenty of lift from it with the new ball. Luck didn’t really go Manly’s way: its best bowler, Edwards, was returning from injury and was allowed to send down only 12 overs, while Ahillen Beadle, whose slow bowling would certainly have been useful, left the field during the first session feeling unwell. The other bowers stuck to their task with plenty of discipline and application, except perhaps for two overs of presumably tactical filth sent down by captain Adam Crosthwaite, apparently in the hope that one of the batsmen might self-destruct. Crosthwaite could not be blamed if he was frustrated: he was also the Manly captain in 2009-10, when Mail and Will Hay shared an opening stand of 324. That record was wiped from the books by Mail and Larkin, whose partnership of 337 was not only a first-wicket record for University, but also the second-highest in the history of the competition, behind the 423 by Victor Trumper and Dan Gee for Paddington against Redfern back in 1902-03.
2. Joshua Clarke is in good nick
Batting at Owen Earle Oval appears to agree with Joshua Clarke, who won’t be regretting his move to Hawkesbury from Campbelltown-Camden in the off-season. After exchanging the south-west for the north-west, he's opened the season with scores of 95 not out against North Sydney, 109 against Parramatta and 118 against Blacktown – 322 runs at an average of 161. With his fellow Campbelltown exile, Jordan Gauci, also in good touch, Hawkesbury won’t be short of runs this season. Bowling might be another matter, though: in its three games, Hawkesbury has taken only 18 wickets, and each one has cost over 42 runs.
3. Playing against Campbelltown won’t ever be boring
Imagine you’re a left-arm bowler. You have immense talent. Over the course of your career, you’ve had trouble harnessing that ability. You’ve played for lots of different teams, trying to find the environment that brings the best out of you. You’ve achieved a lot, but you’re left with a frustrating sense that you might have done more. If you’re Australian, you’re called Danny McLauchlan. If you’re English - hello, Monty Panesar. So it’s fitting that both of these gifted, idiosyncratic characters have now turned up together in the Campbelltown-Camden side.
McLauchlan’s resumé now extends to five Sydney Grade clubs – he’s also played for Sutherland, Wests, St George and Bankstown – apart from his time in Western Australia, where he played well in Shield cricket. Panesar, since losing his place in the England Test side, has drifted from Northamptonshire to Sussex to Essex and back to Northamptonshire, trying to rediscover his touch. He’s been open about the problems that have contributed to his loss of form, but he remains the most successful English left-arm spinner of the last thirty years. Both men bowled neatly on their return to Sydney Grade cricket, and they picked up a wicket apiece, although they couldn’t prevent Sutherland’s Chris Williams and Jamie Brown from sharing a fourth-wicket partnership of 234. Still, McLauchlan and Panesar bring some much-needed experience to Campbelltown, and no game in which they both play will ever be dull.
4. Mark Morley won’t forget his debut any time soon
Mark Morley first appeared in Grade cricket eight years ago, when he was a student at St Gregory’s, Campbelltown. He played for Bankstown in those days, and stayed with the Bulldogs for six seasons without ever rising above Second Grade. Inconsistency was his problem. In 2012-13, for example, the solidly-built left-hander hammered 203 not out and 154 in Third Grade, but was also dismissed in single figures nine times. Then he moved on – first, to Lindfield in the Shires, and then to Easts, where he spent last season in Seconds. His debut in First Grade, in Round Three, was his 148th grade game. But it was worth the wait. Against his former club, Morley went to the crease with the score at five for 228, chasing Bankstown’s total of 411. Soon, he lost his captain, Greg Clarence, bowled by Nathan McAndrew. Morley played like a man with nothing to lose, facing 96 deliveries and hitting 20 of them to the fence. He dominated a seventh-wicket stand of 121, to which Will Somerville contributed only 28 runs. With Daniel Magin, he carried the score to 409 until Magin was run out – which left Morley on strike for the final over of the match, with three runs needed for victory. The highly-experienced Jarrad Burke made things interesting by removing Morley, caught by keeper Michael Stretton: but with three deliveries remaining, last batsman, Tim Skelly, edged the ball through the infield and scampered the three runs Easts needed for their first win of the season.
5. Bowling is for idiots
We’ve mentioned this before, but if Sydney cricketers were subjected to IQ testing, it’s highly likely that those players who offer themselves for selection as bowlers before Christmas would not feature at the higher end of the scale. A rational person would work on his batting, or complain of some unspecified muscular complaint, at least until a few blades of grass appear on the pitches. In the ten First Grade matches in Round Three, there were eight totals over 400 – and it may well have been nine if Hawkesbury hadn’t declared at 9 for 390. Sydney University hit 1 for 424; Sutherland ran up four for 407 against Campbelltown; Parramatta hit five for 422 against Wests; Randwick-Petersham hit six for 431 and would have lost if Northern District (seven for 427) had batted for one more over. In winning its three matches so far this season, Sydney University has lost only eight wickets, and its opponents have paid 106 runs for each of them. The unforgiving pitches and the flat-seamed ball offer almost no encouragement to the faster bowlers in particular. In these circumstances, Nic Bills – who took eleven wickets (5-43 and 6-77) in Sydney’s win over Fairfield – deserves some kind of medal. To put that performance in context, Bills took only four fewer wickets than the entire Eastern Suburbs attack has managed in the season so far.