1 Thirteen into six doesn’t go
By the start of Round 12, you’d expect the composition of the top six in First Grade to be reasonably predictable. It isn’t. In Round 11, both Gordon and Northern District lost games to teams placed low on the table, while Parramatta and Sutherland slugged out a gripping draw that earned neither side a point. So, while there’s a clear top six (with seventh-placed Northern District two points adrift), there are still another seven sides with realistic ambitions of playing in the finals. Two of the most interesting matches in Round 12 pit Sydney University (first on 55 points) against Parramatta (sixth, 40) and Gordon (second, 49) against Sydney (3rd, 48). But the games between teams on the fringe of the top six may be more significant. Either Northern District (seventh, 38) or Sutherland (12th, 31) has the chance to stay in touch with the leading pack, but a defeat would probably end Sutherland’s chances. Out west, Penrith (8th, 37) and Hawkesbury (ninth, 36) will fight to keep their seasons alive. There are five teams that could move into the six with just a first innings win and a couple of other results falling their way.
2 It’s just possible that they’re batting too low…
Back in Round Seven, Sutherland’s Kurt Brockley and Jake Wilson created all kinds of new records when they broke their club’s First Grade record for a last-wicket partnership. Against Parramatta, they went one step further, demolishing the club’s 47-year old record for the highest ninth wicket partnership. Brockley, now batting at nine, went to the crease with Sutherland deep in trouble at seven for 172, and 17 runs later he lost his captain, Chris Williams, who had battled for more than four hours for his 85. Brockley counter-attacked, lashing four 6s and ten 4s on his way to an unbeaten maiden century, from only 85 deliveries. Wilson was more subdued, scoring 33 from 94 deliveries, and by stumps their partnership was worth 129. Although Sutherland batted into the second day, Brockley was dismissed bowled by the second delivery he faced from Ben Martin, before another run was added. Sutherland’s previous ninth-wicket record was set 47 years ago almost to the day, on 17 January 1970, when Les Ritchie (101) and Brian Stephen (28 not out) added 103 against Bankstown. Ritchie, famously, reached his century in only 49 minutes before he was bowled by the fast bowler then known as Len Durtanovich (later Len Pascoe, and even later, a Sutherland player himself). Anyway, Brockley and Wilson now hold both the ninth and tenth wicket records for Sutherland, having broken both in the space of a few weeks, and if anything like this has happened before, it has escaped us. The eighth wicket record in First Grade for Sutherland is 130 – just saying.
3 Campbelltown-Camden got off the mark
It has been a tough season down at Raby – last year’s finalists lost several key players in the off-season, and a depleted and inexperienced First Grade side struggled through its first ten matches without a win. In most matches, Campbelltown has played highly competitive cricket, only to lose its grip on the game at vital moments. But its players have stuck to their task with grit and enthusiasm, and they were rewarded on the weekend with a solid win over Mosman. Former England spinner Monty Panesar turned in his best performance of the season, sustaining his threat over 28 overs to claim 3-50. In pursuit of a modest 234, Campbelltown slumped to five for 124, and for a while it looked as though another strong position might be squandered. But Jack Preddey, who has batted with plenty of determination throughout the season, steadied the innings, occupying the crease for more than two hours while compiling an unbeaten 59. Campbelltown meets Western Suburbs this week, and both clubs will see the game as an opportunity to improve on their record for 2016-17.
4 Aaron Royall is resilient
Five years ago, Aaron Royall was a promising left-arm wrist spinner with St George, and plenty of good judges were excited about his future. He was good enough to be chosen to play for City Colts against Country Colts, and if that doesn’t sound like the most exciting representative assignment, consider the company he was in – from that City Colts team, Jordan Silk, Kurtis Patterson and Nic Bills all progressed into Shield cricket, while others like Andrew Harriott and Kerrod White have forged impressive careers. But Royall went the other way. No cricketing talent is more fragile than that of a left-arm wrist spinner, and Royall struggled to achieve consistency. He began to slide down the grades, and towards the end of last season, he was languishing in Fourths. It’s in that situation that many promising cricketers concede that the game has defeated them, and either retire or change clubs. But Royall (who works as a development officer for the AFL) has stayed with St George and persisted, climbing from Fourth Grade to Second Grade this season with some tidy work with the ball , as well as scoring three fifties in four innings. In the last round, in Seconds, he collected 4-64 against Penrith before scoring 30 useful runs. It isn’t, perhaps, the most dramatic comeback story imaginable, but it’s always good to see a loyal and resilient player being rewarded.
5 There has never been a more exciting time to be a Fifth Grade bowler
This is the perfect time of the season to be a bowler in Fifth Grade. The standard of play in this competition tends to decline late in the season: sides that are out of finals contention are often weak and under-strength, plus there’s rain about, and the covers on Fifth Grade grounds aren’t always perfect. So plenty of bowlers in Fifths spent Round 11 improving their averages. In the ten matches in Round 11, there were no fewer than eleven instances of bowlers taking five wickets in an innings. In the first seven rounds this season, Gordon opening bowler Sam Watts took six wickets at an average of more than 30; last weekend he took 5-21 and 5-10 against North Sydney, who put together totals of 42 and 52 (which would have been significantly worse but for the efforts of Tim Reynolds, who scored 12 and 45 – yes, 45 out of 52). Parramatta’s Angus Graham was equally effective against Sutherland – he took 3-8 and 4-10 (with a hat trick) in Sutherland’s innings of 32 and 112. There are four more rounds of this kind of thing to go.