1. The premiers will be hard to beat, again
On paper, St George looked to have just about the strongest team going into the first round of this season’s Premier Cricket competition. It could field two Test players, in Moises Henriques and Trent Copeland; Kurtis Patterson, fresh from his performances with Australia A; and a handy off-season acquisition in prolific opener Nick Watkins. In the end, though, its loss to Bankstown wasn’t even particularly close, with the premiers closing out the game with fifty runs to spare. There was a little irony in the fact that the decisive innings of the game was played by a St George product, Philip Wells, who has been with Bankstown since 2011. Wells’ 127, and his partnership of 118 with Mitch Brown, gave Bankstown the useful – though hardly unassailable – total of 261. At one for 110, St George was well placed in its chase, but veteran spinner Jarrad Burke removed the dangerous Patterson, and Mitchell Phelps settled the issue by dismissing Henriques and Copeland in quick succession before Nathan McAndrew finished things off with a flourish, disposing of Darius Visser, Ben Patterson and Nathan Ellis. It was an impressive start to the season for Bankstown, who showed the mixture of class and grit you’d expect of a premiership team.
2. It’s possible for a man to score 205 in a 50 over match and lose
A batsman who scores 205 not out, from 149 deliveries, in a 50-over game really ought not to end up on the losing side, but that was exactly where Fairfield-Liverpool’s Ben Rohrer found himself on Saturday. After Anthony Sams’ robust 152 from 139 steered Randwick-Petersham to 7 for 332, Fairfield always had a challenging chase on its hands, and it became even more demanding after the first two wickets fell for 13 runs inside the first four overs. In company with his fellow veteran, Anthony Clark, Rohrer rebuilt the innings in a stand of 123, but after Clark gave a return catch to Soumil Chhibber, the pressure was too great for the middle order. Soon Fairfield was 7 for 224 – effectively, eight down, since keeper Andrew Deitz was unable to bat. That was the signal for Rohrer to cut loose: he smashed all but eleven of the 99 runs added for the last two wickets, pushing Fairfield within 10 runs of victory. His 205 was the highest score ever recorded in a Sydney 50-over game, passing Scott Hookey’s 200 against Fairfield in December 1994. Hookey isn’t well-remembered these days – his career with NSW and Tasmania was fitful, and his temperament never quite allowed him to do justice to a phenomenal talent, but he was a kind of prototype David Warner, a left handed opener who liked nothing better than smashing the ball to the fence in the first over of the game. He may also have been the first cricketer of whom it was said that he had more clubs than Tiger Woods. Fairfield was one of them, but he was playing for North Sydney when he hit his double hundred at Rosedale Oval: his innings lasted only 136 balls, and included seven sixes and 31 fours (although he reached both his hundred and double-hundred with singles). There were still 13 overs left in the innings when he was dismissed. And North Sydney won by 213 runs, which is exactly what should happen when you score two hundred in a limited-overs game.
3. Campbelltown is rebuilding
Campbelltown-Camden enjoyed a very successful 2015-16 season in First Grade, reaching the qualifying final. But only five of the side that played in that final remained at the club for this season. The outstanding Ryan Gibson has joined Penrith (signing on with 65 against Parramatta), last year’s captain Joshua Clarke (who opened the season with 95 not out against North Sydney) and promising Jordan Gauci are at Hawkesbury, and Tom Rogers and Damien Mortimer faced up to their old club for Sydney University. A great deal now depends upon grizzled captain Scott Coyte, who leads a very inexperienced side. A disciplined University attack, and some inspired leg-spin bowling by Devlin Malone, contained Campbelltown to only 168 on Saturday. Still, they had their moments, sending a fright through the University supporters when the home side was reduced to three for 21, with three contracted Blues players back in the sheds. Greg Mail and new University recruit Ashton May then killed the contest in a high-class partnership of 133.
4. Michael Clarke is still pretty handy
Back in 1968, Australia’s Test captain, Bob Simpson, retired from first-class cricket at the age of 31. He was still good enough and fit enough to play, but there was no money in the game then, and he needed to make a living. But he didn’t throw his kit away, instead turning out for Western Suburbs every weekend, and showing Grade bowlers what a Test-class batsman looked like. Something a little similar is happening this season, with recent Test skipper Michael Clarke appearing in at least the first three matches of Wests’ season. Clarke steered Wests to a first-round victory over Mosman. In pursuit of the admittedly modest total of 141, Clarke stoked a masterful 99 not out from only 108 deliveries. Wests have now equalled their total of First Grade wins from last season, and with Clarke on board (and an efficient-looking attack) will fancy their chances of upsetting Randwick-Petersham this week. Either way, it’s healthy for Premier Cricket to have Clarke in action. Clarke might well have rounded off his innings with a century, but a newcomer from Macksville (Philip Hughes country), with the improbable name of Alec Baldwin, impudently closed the match by hitting the last ball of the 38th over for six. Rumours that Baldwin will soon be joined at Wests by his brothers Stephen, Billy and Daniel, remain to be confirmed.
5. Even in Fifth Grade, there might be giants
An historic moment occurred on Saturday, but it passed without notice because it happened at Marrickville Oval, in Fifth Grade. But never before have two players opposed each other in Grade Cricket – sorry, Premier Cricket – who had scored a higher total of runs between them (which we haven’t finished counting yet, but comes to somewhere over 28,000). Usually, you’d expect this record to involve Greg Mail and just about anyone else, but the players concerned were Warwick Hayes of St George and Geoff Spotswood of Bankstown. Before the start of the season, Hayes had scored 15,834 Grade runs for St George alone – and when you add on his one season with Sydney University, he’s well above the 16,000 mark. Spotswood had 10,384 runs for Bankstown when the season started, and has well over 12,000 when his runs for Wests and Hawkesbury are taken into account. St George won, with Hayes adding 41 runs to Spotswood’s 27 – but at this stage of their careers, what matters more than the runs are the experience and mentorship they provide to their younger team-mates. Their clubs are lucky to have them.