1 Climate change is real
The first day of Round 13 was cancelled due to an anticipated heat wave: the second was heavily disrupted by rain. Of course, extreme weather has interfered with Grade cricket before – in 1976-77, one day’s play was famously disturbed by a solar eclipse, and in 1994-95, several matches were postponed due to rampant bushfires in and around Sydney. But this was new, and (through no-one’s fault) it had a distorting effect on the competition. Worst affected were Sydney University and Randwick-Petersham. Their game at Coogee eventually began an hour late, and when bad light forced the players from the field, only 10.5 overs had been bowled in University’s innings – 25 frustrating balls short of a Duckworth/Lewis game. Only one other match in First Grade failed to achieve a result, but there were no points for either University or Randwick-Petersham. Chasing 229, University was in front of its undemanding Duckworth/Lewis target, but that calculation is highly sensitive to the number of wickets lost, and the home side also thought it was well in the game. As it was, University remains on top in First Grade, but only on quotient – Gordon drew level on 61 points – and lost the chance to move into second place in a tight Club Championship race. And Randwick-Petersham dropped to eighth place, making it possible that its Round 15 meeting with Eastern Suburbs could be effectively a play-off for a finals spot.
2 The Bees are still in touch
University of NSW has had an unusual season, never in the top six, flying under the radar, but never entirely out of contention. They’re now in ninth place, only five points south of a finals place with two rounds to go. The Bees’ 304 on Saturday was probably about par for North Sydney Oval, set up by David Dawson’s second century of the season and James Henry’s 95. This actually represented a timely return to form for both batsmen – Dawson’s previous two innings yielded 0 and 4 while Henry had scored 0 and 0 in his last two visits to the crease. Rico Du Plessis launched the innings in spectacular style by lashing four 6s in his 52 from 45 balls. North Sydney was 52 runs adrift of its Duckworth-Lewis target when thunderstorms forced the players from the field after 21 overs had been bowled in its innings. University of NSW now needs to upset Bankstown (whose form looks ominously assured) in Round 14 to keep its season alive.
3 Manly is the master of the late charge
Last season, Manly overcame a lacklustre start to surge towards the finals, missing out by only a single point. Something similar is happening in 2016-17. Manly won only one of its first three matches, but now has worked its way up to seventh, just one point behind Parramatta and Penrith. Michael Visser neatly symbolizes this recovery: in Round 3, he returned the decidedly unflattering figures of 0-138 against Sydney University, but since then he has taken five wickets in an innings on three occasions, and his 5-31 against Fairfield set up another Manly victory. Visser took the first five wickets to fall as Fairfield crumbled to 5-39 before Matthew Harivel and the lower order lifted the total to 137. Manly actually squeezed home by only nine runs on Duckworth/Lewis, negotiating some testing bowling from Doug Bollinger, who made a rare appearance for his club. Manly now plays the faltering Northern District (beaten on Saturday for the sixth match in succession) at Mark Taylor Oval.
4 Second Grade is a log-jam
Not right at the top – Sydney won again, putting its minor premiership beyond doubt: it’s 18 points clear of second-placed University of NSW. But a little lower down, things get interesting. Mosman (48) and Parramatta (44) round off the top six, but then there are another six teams within three points of Parramatta. Sydney University (9th) and Mosman (5th) could swap places on the table if results go a certain way in Round 14 – but there are also plenty of other possible permutations. Mosman plays seventh-placed Penrith in a Round 14 match that has the look of sudden death about it.
5 Hugh Sheriff looks like one to watch
Old players of a certain age can still feel the bruising where they were hit by the Balmain left-arm quick Andrew Jones a few decades back. Jones, whose bouncer was suspiciously difficult to pick up, was often a deadly operator for Balmain, as well as bowling well for New South Wales. But now he seems in danger of being upstaged by his 15 year old nephew, Hugh Sheriff. Sheriff is a lively fast-medium bowler whose season has been disrupted by injury, but he played a part in Sydney’s AW Green Shield victory, and now turns out in the Tigers’ table-topping Fourth Grade side. At Birchgrove Oval on Saturday, he was given the ball as first change after Wests had struggled to four for 25. A few chaotic minutes later, the innings was over. With his second ball, Sheriff bowled Rowan Carthey; he then bowled Alex Cheung and completed the hat-trick by removing Mandeep Oberoi. With the last ball of his over, he had Mitchell Fleming caught: 4-0. In his next over, he delivered two wides, but also won lbw decisions against Lachlan Dawson and Zain Shamsi. Wests were all out for 33: Sheriff sent down only ten balls for his six wickets, while allowing no runs at all off the bat. Predictably, Sydney knocked off the runs two down- the whole game occupied only 24 overs. What makes it all slightly worse for Wests is that Sheriff is actually a Wests junior, having played with the ACC Club in the Wests/Canterbury Cricket Association.