1 Malone won the battle of the leg-spinners
The cluster of old Gordon players who gathered in the stand at Chatswood Oval to drink Adair Durie’s wine billed it as the battle of the young leg-spinners – 19 year old English professional Mason Crane, for the unbeaten Gordon side, against Sydney University’s prodigy Devlin Malone. Ultimately, the honours went to Malone: with University defending 340, he decided the outcome of the match with a devastating first spell. With just his fourth ball, he bowled the well-set Steve Colley, and in his second over he held a return catch from Elliott Richter, a centurion against St George the previous week. Then he bowled Max Papworth and Ashley Doolan, leaving Gordon six for 88 and with no way back into the contest. Malone at that stage had four for 18, but although he removed James Kennedy later in the day, his figures were dented a little by a record last-wicket stand of 128 that more than doubled Gordon’s total. Crane, who plays for Hampshire, didn’t go down quietly. Although he took some punishment on the first day, he was still Gordon’s most successful bowler, and his four wickets included three of the best-credentialled batsmen in the match – Ed Cowan, Ryan Carters and Greg Mail. On the second day, he showed that he could bat as well, scoring a defiant 80 before Ben Joy drew upon his genetic memory for dismissing English batsmen. Crane, who bowls with a fast arm but gives the ball a stronger rip than many other English spinners, certainly proved what a strong competitor he is. Still, the points went to University and Malone, who took all of his wickets unassisted (three bowled and two caught and bowled) and has become the leading wicket-taker in First Grade so far this season.
2 Northern District are the quiet achievers
Gordon’s defeat left Northern District as the only unbeaten team in First Grade, and the Waitara club cemented its place at the top of the table with a methodical victory over Penrith. This NDs team doesn’t have the star power of some of the club’s past sides, but it produced a methodical and disciplined effort with the ball to contain Penrith to 280 at Howell Oval, and then recovered from 2 for 62 to stroll to an eight-wicket victory. Andrew Harriott, who has been exceptionally consistent this season, tempered his usual explosive approach to bat for nearly four hours for his 135 not out – although he still deposited the ball over the fence five times. And Jonathan Whealing, after a near-miss against Parramatta in Round Four, notched his maiden First Grade century for NDs.
3 There’s only one answer to the North Sydney problem
For the best part of twenty years, North Sydney Oval has had a reputation as a graveyard for bowlers. Its flat, dead pitch and modest boundaries have resulted in the routine posting of massive totals, especially in the first half of the season. There were hopes that the introduction of drop-in pitches early in 2016 might improve matters, mitigating the impact of the Oval’s heavy winter usage. So how’s that working out? Well, it plays as though a section of the Pacific Highway has been dropped in to the centre of the Oval. After two First Grade games have been played on North Sydney this season, 25 wickets have fallen and 1692 runs have been scored – that’s an average of 67.68 runs for every wicket. In Round Six, Manly’s four for 443 was run down by North Sydney who smashed four for 444 with 12 overs to spare. This isn’t good cricket – the game is supposed to involve some kind of contest between the bat and the ball, and scoring runs isn’t meant to be so easy. There’s only one solution left. The man in charge of North Sydney is the Sports Field Manager, Peter Devlin who, back in the day, was a very handy all-rounder in a strong Randwick team. Randwick could then field a formidable pace attack, with Test fast bowler Mike Whitney and State players Evan Gordon and Gary Bensley, and somehow, the Coogee pitches always seemed to have a good amount of grass, and plenty of pace and carry. Devlin bowled behind those guys: medium-fast, with an off-cutter and plenty of attitude. He’s getting on a bit now, but perhaps he should be called out of retirement and forced to bowl on North Sydney Oval. Every week. Until someone at North Sydney remembers that the game is for bowlers, too.
4 Johan Botha plays better as an Australian
When former South African one-day captain Johan Botha finished his stint with South Australia, he moved into that strange limbo of the full-time Twenty20 player, turning up in odd tournaments around the world. You may have missed his most recent appearances, which were for a team called the Leo Lions in a Masters tournament in Dubai (his captain was Brian Lara, and he played against teams like the Libra Legends). Anyway, he’s still on contract to the Sydney Sixers for the Big Bash and last week he became an Australian citizen. With the Big Bash approaching, and Botha not having played competitively since his stint with the Leo Lions in February, he arranged to play some Twenty20 games for Mosman to get some match practice. That was how he came to be at Allan Border Oval on Sunday when Sydney turned up, confidently expecting to maintain its unbeaten record against Mosman. And, to be fair, Sydney accounted for Mosman pretty comfortably. It was Botha who gave them trouble. From his 23 deliveries, Botha took five for 12, including a hat-trick: he removed Daniel Jacob, Liam Gibson and Nic Bills with the last three balls of Sydney’s innings. The other Mosman bowlers between them managed four for 174 from 16 overs. Mosman’s chase of 186 was far from easy, and ten Mosman batsmen managed only 78 runs between them. But Botha, batting at four, hit an unbeaten 102 from only 45 balls with six 4s and a ridiculous nine 6s. Mosman still needed 37 runs when the ninth wicket fell, and Botha blasted them home, smashing the runs in just over two overs. If ever there was a case of one man winning a match on his own, this was it. And he followed with an unbeaten 87 from 45 balls against Illawarra later in the day. It’s fair to say that he got the practice he needed, and that he plays much better as an Australian citizen.
5 It’s just a thought, but Ajay Singh might be ready for Third Grade
Northern District’s lower grade selectors are not easy men to impress. Spinner Ajaypal Singh was graded in Fourths this year, in his second season with the club. After a slowish start, he took 5-63 against Randwick-Petersham and then destroyed Mosman in Round Five, taking 6-19 and 5-19. He had a tougher assignment in Round Six at Asquith Oval, but bowled with excellent control to take 6-55 against Penrith. So far this season, he has 25 wickets at an average just above 8 (which makes him the highest wicket-taker in any one grade in the competition). It’s just a thought, and of course it’s none of our business, but he might be ready for Third Grade.