1 A top six is starting to emerge
As the halfway point of the season approaches, the top six in First Grade is starting to take shape. There is, of course, a very long way to go, and fifteen of the twenty clubs could still hold realistic hopes of playing finals cricket this season. But, for the first time this season, gaps are appearing on the table: sixth place (Parramatta) is three points clear of seventh, and fifth place (Sydney University) is six points clear of eighth (Randwick-Petersham). Things may become clearer after next weekend, when Penrith (24) will need to beat Bankstown (31), and Eastern Suburbs (24) will need to beat leaders Northern District (38) to stay in touch with the pack. Sutherland (25) will seek draw level with early leader Gordon (31) at Chatswood Oval, and Gordon needs to stop the two-game losing slide that has followed its five-game winning streak. The match of the round is at Drummoyne, where second-placed Sydney (36) meets Sydney University (30), with both sides likely to be near full strength.
2 Intervals in play are more flexible than you think
Bankstown dominated the opening stages of its match with Sutherland so thoroughly that, a few minutes before lunch on the first day, nine of the home side’s wickets had fallen for only 88 runs. County professional Mitch Claydon struck with his first ball, after which Jarrad Burke and Nathan McAndrew worked their way through the Sutherland innings. The last pair (Kyle Brockley and Jake Wilson) survived until 12.30 and the players started to leave the field, only to be reminded by the umpires that the competition rules have changed this year. A new playing condition (it's 1.15.4 if you don’t have your rulebook handy) provides that if nine wickets are down at the time for the lunch interval, play continues for half an hour or until the tenth wicket falls. But the tenth wicket didn’t fall, and in the extra half hour, and Brockley and Wilson carried the score to 110. In the second session, they romped past the old Sutherland record for the tenth wicket (81 by Daniel Rixon and Chad Gilmour against Sydney University in 2010-11) and at 3.10, the time for tea, the score was nine for 202. But the laws of the game provide, as you may have guessed, that if nine wickets are down at the time for the tea interval, play continues for half an hour or until the tenth wicket falls. And so, for the second time in the day, the session was extended – until 3.19, when Brockley fell for 71. It was his first fifty in First Grade; Wilson, formerly of Randwick-Petersham, equalled his highest First Grade score, and the partnership eventually amounted to 119. Century partnerships for the last wicket are less rare than they were (this was the second in First Grade in two weeks), but this is certainly the first time that the last pair in a First Grade innings has caused an interval to be extended twice.
3 Cowan bowls
Connoisseurs of leg-spin bowling have enjoyed a feast at the University Cricket Ground this season, with Devlin Malone producing the wide variety of deliveries, fine control and calm temperament that prompt good judges to predict a bright future for him. But last Saturday, he was in Adelaide at the Under-19 National Championships and, as the pitch flattened out into an excellent surface for batting and the ball got older and softer, Nick Larkin had another wrist-spinning option to turn to: Ed Cowan. Cowan was, for those without long memories, a very handy leg-spinner in his Green Shield days, and even when he first broke into First Grade, he was a useful occasional bowler, but as he last took a wicket for University on 15 November 2008 (for Cowan completists, it was Bankstown's Paul Darwen, caught by Will Hay), it’s fair to say that Mosman’s Danul Dassanayake and Kurt Neely weren’t massively intimidated. Joining forces at seven for 155, the pair had shared a half-century stand for the eighth wicket that put Mosman within reach of victory. Cowan bowled a tidy first over, but after a single ball of the next, Greg Mail decided that the sharp turn promised by the flick of Cowan’s wrist wasn’t actually happening, and shifted himself from slip to square leg. Two balls later, Neely flicked a shortish ball off his hip straight into Mail’s hands. Dassanayake (once, briefly, a University player himself) went on to a well-deserved maiden hundred (his first score above fifty in First Grade), raising three figures by hitting successive deliveries from Cowan for 4, 4 and 2. He then celebrated by launching a full toss over long on for six. But from the very next ball, he missed a cut at a flatter, quicker ball (which we can’t quite bring ourselves to call a flipper) and was out lbw. University held its nerve, and when Tim Ley returned to remove last batsman Sam Sykes, took the win by five runs – the same margin, incidentally, by which it won in Second Grade.
4 Declan White can be a match-winner
University of NSW hasn’t enjoyed the most successful start to the season, but upset Randwick-Petersham thanks to a devastating spell of new-ball bowling by Declan White. After two years in the NSW Metropolitan Under-19 side, the promising White has been improving gradually throughout the season and, given helpful conditions, he surprised the home side at Coogee Oval, reducing Randwick-Petersham to 5 for 39 after Charlie Wakim invited them to bat. White removed four of the first five batsmen and finished with 6-51 and, well-supported by Blaize Irving-Holliday (who sounds like a minor character in a PG Wodehouse novel), dismissed his hosts for only 123. White had four wickets before the first drinks break, and a fifth before lunch. He was carrying an unpleasant flu, and kept telling his captain that each over was his last but, as Wakim admits "I just kept bowling him because no one could hit him." The Bees had earned first innings points before stumps on the first day and, although there were no more alarms on the second day, White’s performance has given his club hope of climbing towards the top six in the second half of the season. A member of the Sydney Sixers Academy, White is developing into one of the more dangerous opening bowlers in Premier Cricket.
5 This may be the first hyperlinked haiku ever written about a Penrith batsman’s return to form
Saturday. At Howell.
Used his bat more.