You can never tell who might turn up in Third Grade
There’s no doubt what the big Grade cricket story was last weekend – all the attention was on a former Australian Test player, returning to a lower level of the game for the first time in years. Yes, when Sydney University’s Tom Decent pulled his hamstring and was unable to take the field for the second half of the Third Grade match against Hawkesbury, the player who answered the call for a substitute fieldsman was NSW Blues opener Ed Cowan. Ed last took the field in Thirds as a 16 year old back in 1998-99, when he belted 61 and disappeared upwards and onwards towards a baggy green cap. Settling in at second slip, Cowan introduced himself to the players he hadn’t met and buzzed around the field providing the young University side with a lesson in maintaining enthusiasm and focus – as well as providing captain Henry Clark with some handy suggestions on field placings. About 20 overs into the innings, Liam Robertson walked up from Firsts to offer to take over in the field, only to be sent back down the hill, as Ed insisted that he wanted to be there to celebrate the win by singing the club song. Unfortunately, he missed out on that – Hawkesbury was still nine down when University’s late-order collapse in Firsts made it necessary for Cowan to head back to Number One Oval. But if you’re looking for examples of club spirit and sheer enjoyment of the game, this one’s hard to beat.
Wests are off the mark
There was an interesting game at Pratten Park, too – the highlights of which were Umpire Greg Lill’s 400th match in First Grade and an outstanding effort by Wests’ opening bowlers James Shepherd and Geoff Ashmore to defend a modest total of 209 against Randwick-Petersham. Lill’s career as an umpire included only two Sheffield Shield matches, scant reward for such a dedicated and reliable official, but his tally of 400 First Grade games is a record for Sydney cricket, and throughout Australia has been matched only by Bill Sheahan in Melbourne. Ashmore and Shepherd have toiled hard through a challenging season, and their persistence and determination finally paid off on Sunday.
Oh, OK, some bloke called Clarke turned out for Wests, too. But this is Five Things We Learned, not Five Things We Knew Already. Clarke is still good enough to score runs in First Grade – no surprises there – and he’s still loyal to the club that brought him into Grade cricket. Whether he can summon the motivation, fitness and form to take things further remains to be seen. In the meantime, his young team-mates will benefit from playing alongside him, and bowlers like Sam Doggett and Daniel Sams will have stories to tell about the time they dismissed a former Australian captain. All of which is very healthy for Grade cricket.
Ryan Gibson is still on the rise
By his own very high standards, Campbelltown-Camden’s Ryan Gibson has had a relatively quiet season – before last weekend, he had been solidly consistent for his club but had converted only one of several good starts into a century (and that against North Sydney, whose bowlers concede more runs per wicket than any other attack in the competition). Blacktown may not have the most ferocious attack in Sydney, but its bowlers are experienced and effective, and reduced Campbelltown-Camden to 3 for 62 before Gibson took control of the game. Facing 238 deliveries, he hit an unbeaten 204, with 12 fours and three 6s. He beat his own record for the highest First Grade score in the club’s history, passing the 191 he scored against Sutherland last season. Already under contract to the Blues, Gibson looks set to receive more opportunities in the near future.
Nigel Cowell had a good week
Sydney University fast bowler Nigel Cowell had a week to remember, joining the NSW Sheffield Shield squad for the first time, then taking a wicket with his first delivery against Hawkesbury, which also made him the 21st bowler to take 300 wickets for Sydney University. Cowell went on to slice through the Hawkesbury top order, generating good pace and nipping the ball away from the bat. He was well supported by smart catching, especially from Will Hay at first slip (who followed a useful 50 with three deft catches), the agile Ryan Carters (who hauled in a gloved hook shot high down the leg side) and the sure hands of Ben Joy in the outfield. Cowell finished with 6-46, which ought to have made University convincing winners – except that a defiant and implausible last wicket stand of 84 in 81 minutes between Jay Dyball and Shane Mott hauled Hawkesbury to within two strokes of an unlikely upset. As it was, Tim Ley put an end to the partnership, giving Greg Mail his 200th win in a First Grade match – only the second player to achieve this, although he remains 56 wins behind the record-holder, the indestructible Ken “Emu” Hall of Penrith and Bankstown.
350 is the new 250
There was a time when a score of 350 made a team more or less invulnerable – no longer. University of NSW was unable to defend 359 against Easts, after evergreen Ian Moran compiled a magnificent 103, during which he passed Paul Maratziotis to become the sixth-highest run scorer in First Grade history. Manly felt comfortable enough to declare at 4 for 330 against Parramatta, only to be overhauled within 73 overs after William Affleck and Brenton Cherry shared an opening stand of 218. And Penrith, after amassing 342, squeaked home against Sutherland by only two runs.