1 Manly has a new spinner
If Matt Alexander had been available for Manly last week, Joe Graham would have been playing Seconds at Graham Reserve, rather than driving south to Glenn McGrath Oval to make his First Grade debut against Sutherland. The Caringbah ground isn’t an ideal place for an off-spinner, with its flat pitch and fast outfield, and the game was a predictably high-scoring one, with Manly (five for 398) holding off a fast-finishing Sutherland (385) to win by 13 runs. Graham emerged as the unlikely match-winner, claiming seven for 148 from 34.2 overs. If he was punished at times (going for nearly four and a half runs an over), he showed an excellent temperament, maintaining his line and length when under pressure, and collecting wickets at crucial times - including the first five of the innings. Not a bad debut for a player who joined Manly as a Fifth Grade batsman and occasional medium-pacer.
2 St George’s slump is unprecedented
It’s hard to remember the last time St George began a season with five matches and no points – if, indeed, it ever happened. Even in 2004-05, arguably Saints’ worst season on record (finishing 17th), they actually won their first three games. But the loss to Gordon in Round Five left St George firmly anchored at the foot of the competition ladder, with four losses, a draw, and zero points. No-one sensible ever rules out St George’s chances – even chasing the home side’s 364, there were glimpses of hope when the in-form Kurtis Patterson and dynamic Moises Henriques were together at the crease. St George had reached three for 175 when Matt Junk removed Patterson and then, for the second time in as many games, Tym Crawford took the key wicket for Gordon, hanging on to a return catch from Henriques. St George has suffered this season from the loss of last year’s strong middle order (Ashton May, Damian Bourke and Englishman Rory Burns), but its attack has also found wickets hard to come by, having taken only 35 wickets so far this season. It’s no coincidence that Gordon, still unbeaten and still leading the table, is the only side yet to have taken 50 opposition wickets.
3 Sydney has some depth
Five rounds in to the competition, Sydney is dominating Second Grade with five straight wins, one of them outright. Sydney hasn’t run up the massive scores some teams have achieved, but it has kept a fairly stable side (using only thirteen players so far) and its bowlers have performed extremely well. The experienced spinner Ash Squire, with 17 wickets, is currently the leading bowler in Second Grade but Ryan Corns, Alexander Bloomfield and Justin Rodgie have been just as effective. Bloomfield’s 5-33 in Round Five was his best return for Sydney, and helped his side defend a modest 232 against Blacktown.
4 At North Sydney, 400 is the new 200
Teams that were knocked over for 200 used to console themselves that “At least it’s something to bowl at”. Now, with flat pitches and flatter seams, they say that when they make 300 – Mosman, Sydney University and Western Suburbs were all chased down last weekend after posting scores well above 300, and three other sides only narrowly defended bigger totals. At North Sydney, it looked as though 400 might be the par score – chasing the home side’s seven declared for 414, Parramatta reached four for 357 with plenty of overs in hand. Nick Bertus destroyed the bowling on his way to his third century in five matches this season, and seemed to have set up a memorable win for his side. But Jake Lintott and Robbie Aitken triggered an astonishing collapse, in which Parramatta’s last five wickets fell for only eleven runs, and North Sydney sneaked home by 23 runs. It was a memorable game for the ageless Aitken, who followed an unbeaten century with three vital wickets – all against his old club, and the club for which his father and uncle played for so many years. For good measure, he passed 10,000 First Grade runs during the game.
5 Matt Hughston is a handy Fifth Grader
Say your side has scored six for 291. And you’ve dismissed four of the other side’s five top order batsmen for scores of 19, 11, 2 and 1. In Fifth Grade. You don’t lose from there, do you? Unless, of course, the other top order batsman is Matt Hughston, who has just decided to play his first match of the season for Sutherland. Hughston retired from First Grade at the start of last season, having decided that it was time to focus on his career away from the game. But the right-handed opener (who represented the NSW Second XI only a few seasons back) is still only 33, and is still a tough player to remove in any grade. On Saturday, he batted through 68 overs for an unbeaten 197, steering Sutherland to a six-wicket victory over a rather unfortunate Manly. It was, for people who count these things, the highest score ever recorded for Sutherland in Fifths, surpassing Matt Burg’s 176 not out at Tonkin Oval in October 2011. Sutherland’s opponents that day? Manly. Burg, incidentally, had a bizarre season - apart from his massive hundred, he played fourteen innings in Fifths and was dismissed for six or less in eleven of them.