April: falling leaves, cool mornings and finals cricket.  Sydney University heads into the last weekend of the season with two premierships on the line, as Third Grade and Fourth Grade have earned their passage to the Grand Final.

Thirds host the Mitchell Cup Grand Final at University No. 1, where they will face a confident Eastern Suburbs side.  Easts finished the regular season with 9 wins from 15 matches, to finish on 61 points, four ahead of University.  But that statistic is a little deceptive, since University had three of its 15 matches entirely washed out.  Easts reached the semi-finals as the lucky loser, having been outplayed by Manly in the Qualifying Final.  But there was no fluke about its result in the semi-final.  Minor Premiers Sydney were dismissed for only 58 (occupying the crease for 56 overs in the process), and after Easts lost two early wickets in reply, some steady batting put the result beyond doubt.

For Easts, it’s a case of deja vu.  Last season, the Dolphins lost the Qualifying Final (to Sydney University), only to win the semi-final and reach the Grand Final (which they lost to Manly).  Several of the same players are involved this time around, including captain and opening bowler, Angus Palmer, batsmen Alex Tunnadine and Ollie Maxwell, spinner Mike Peacock and left-arm seamer Harry Brooks.  It was Brooks who did the early damage against Sydney, reducing the opposition to 3 for 5 in the early stages of a spell that ended with the remarkable figures of 4-11 from 16 overs.  Matthew Sarkies, playing his first Third Grade game of the season, then finished things off with 4-22.  While Tunnadine, Maxwell and Matthew Yiend have all scored useful runs this season, it’s not unfair to say that Easts’ bowling has been more impressive than its work with the bat this season.

University goes into the Grand Final full of confidence, after sweeping past Mosman and Manly in the last two weeks.  With the experienced Tom Decent replacing the unlucky Tom Galvin in the side, seven of the University team have First Grade experience.  But it was one of the younger players, Jono Craig-Dobson, who stepped up in the semi-final, hitting an unbeaten 46 from number nine and following that with 4-39 to help seal a conclusive victory by 75 runs.  Jack Gibson chipped in with three wickets, taking his tally in a memorable debut season to 33 at an average of just 11.96.  Medium-pacer Henry Clark, who has 24 wickets at 11 this season, and spinner Ryan Kurtz (28 wickets) complete a highly efficient attack, while captain Ash Cowan has the habit of burgling vital wickets in finals matches.  At the head of the order, Ben Larkin bring reassuring solidity to the team’s batting, and Nicky Craze, despite a season disrupted by exams, has shown plenty of promise in the middle order.  Behind the stumps, the experienced James Crowley adds polish to the team’s outcricket. 

The University team is: Ash Cowan (captain), Ben Larkin, James Larkin, Suda Sivapalan, Tom Decent, Nicky Craze, James Crowley, Henry Clark, Jono Craig Dobson, Jack Gibson and Ryan Kurtz.  12th man: Tom Galvin.


Fourth Grade faces rather a different challenge, playing Penrith at Howell Oval in a contest which the home team enters as clear favourite.

Not much separated the two sides at the end of the regular rounds (Penrith had 62 points, University 60), but Penrith has the psychological advantage of having scored a thumping victory over University in Round 14.  Nathan Maskell scored 146 in that game, one of his two centuries in Fourths this season, and Penrith’s batting has been easily the strongest in the competition.  It scored more runs than any other Fourth Grade side, and on average managed almost 29 runs for every wicket lost.  Captain Edward Brown, and middle-order batsmen Jacob Apicella and Jacob New, have also scored consistently.  But the bowling is strong, too: Pete Gregersen is the competition’s leading wicket-taker (with 30), while opening bowler Ben Leyshon and Green Shield spinner Trent Weir have also performed well.  It’s a strong, well-balanced side.

University captain, AJ Grant, knows that his team has a tough assignment on its hands.  But, he says, this season he “has seen many new faces join our Fourth Grade troop (approximately 40 players in total for 2015-16).  Yet the group's interest in learning and development remained unyielding, which has certainly been a telling feature of the evident steel that has developed with the existing squad heading to Howell Oval. Every game we have played has been a lesson and one that has been well learnt by a young group showing a true determination for a genuine shot at the title. As we approach this weekend, I'm genuinely excited to undergo another exam with this resilient group and deliver undoubtedly yet another improved performance. If we can do that then there is just no telling the heights that our underdog SUCC outfit might scale.

Crucial players for University will include the lynchpin of the batting, Ryan Danne, the promising Hugh Kermond and Hayden Kerr in the middle order, and the rapidly-developing pair, Jake Day and Liam Whitaker.  Lewis McMahon, with the new ball, and all-rounder Charlie Cull, together with Grant, provide the experience needed in what is essentially a very young team.  McMahon’s work with the new ball (he took 4-36) was crucial in University’s win over minor premiers Northern District in the semi-final, while Danne (58) and Kermond (53) showed the discipline and application that is so crucial in finals cricket.

The University team is: AJ Grant (captain), Ryan Danne, Ed Arnott, Hugh Kermond, Hayden Kerr, Charlie Cull, Matthew Powys, Lawrence Neil-Smith, Jake Day, Lewis McMahon and Liam Whitaker. 12th man: Ryan McElduff.

Whether it’s at University or Howell, get down there when you can this weekend to enjoy the tension of finals cricket and make some noise on the hill.