1   Sydney University are the minor premiers

Unusually, there were three clubs in contention for the First Grade minor premiership on Saturday: Sydney University needed to beat Bankstown, and Bankstown needed to win while Gordon lost.  Bankstown Oval has been one of Sydney’s best and most reliable grounds for years, so it was a surprise on Saturday morning to discover a pitch that was badly affected by rain that for much of the day it seemed likely that there would be no play at all.  Eventually, the match was reduced to 21 overs a side – not the ideal way to decide who finished first in the competition but, as it happened, the setting for a gripping contest.  Bankstown’s seven for 115 seemed a little under par, with seamers Tim Ley, Tom Rogers and Liam Robertson bowling tightly and Devlin Malone (3-27) doing plenty of damage with his leg-breaks.  It took some late hitting from Brendan Smith and Jarrad Burke to make Bankstown’s total competitive.  The wonderfully consistent Nick Larkin (49) and Liam Robertson put University in control with an opening stand of 58, but then another young leg-spinner, Tom Sowden, grabbed 4-16 in a spell of four overs.  When left-armer Burke took the ball for the last over, University was seven down and needed 14 improbable runs to win.  Burke, at that point, was close to being the player of the match, having contributed 17 not out from 16 balls, four catches, and the key wicket of Robertson.  Tom Rogers worked the first ball away for a single, which gave the strike to Tim Ley (who had walked out to bat to the encouraging shout of a Bankstown spectator, “No pressure, mate!”).  No run came from Burke’s second ball: 13 needed from four.  Ley deposited the third over deep mid-wicket for six, then lashed the next straight down the ground, where it was cut off just inside the boundary.  Two runs were scored: five from two.  The nerveless Ley then smashed the fifth ball high over mid-wicket for another six to complete yet another agonizingly close game between these two sides.  It wasn’t the ideal way to decide the minor premiership, but it was certainly memorable.

2   Gordon finds ways to win

Good sides win games that they seem likely to lose, and Gordon seems to have discovered that knack this season.  When Wests’ James Shepherd grabbed two wickets inside his first two overs, Gordon was 2-3, and missing both its strongest performer of the season, Mason Crane (on duty for NSW) and last season’s O’Reilly Medallist, Charlie Stobo.  But Elliot Richtor (56) and Tym Crawford (67) lifted the total to respectability and Richtor (4-42) and Matt Junk (3-29) strangled Wests’ reply.  The eventual winning margin – 75 runs – belied how close the game was at critical stages, but Gordon has become used to winning, and knew how to apply pressure at the crucial moments.  Its reward is a home qualifying final against Sydney this weekend.

3   Whatever happens now, Parramatta has had a great season

It was a memorable weekend for Parramatta, who clinched a First Grade semi-final place for the first time in decades, and followed up on Sunday with only the second Poidevin-Gray title in its history. 

Needing to win in First Grade to clinch a semi-final place, Parramatta suffered an early setback when Brenton Cherry fell to the second ball of the game.  But two familiar Parramatta names, Will Affleck (64) and Adam Turrell (55) – whose fathers both played for the club – pushed the total to seven for 242.  Turrell was ferocious, scoring his runs from only 25 deliveries, with five sixes.  Scott Copperfield bowled Anthony Adlam with the first ball of Mosman’s innings, and Mosman never really recovered, losing eight wickets for 50 runs and limping to a sorry total of 101.  The highly consistent Ben Martin was again the pick of the bowlers.  Only Tim Ward and Owen Simonsen backed up for the Poidevin-Gray final the following day, when Ward’s 95 was the backbone of Parramatta’s innings.  Parramatta’s attack included three Third Graders (Michael Sullivan, Matthew Giumelli and Liam Lofts), a Green Shield player (Jacob Workman) and a Fourth Grader (Gabriel D’Angelo) but the enduring appeal of Poidevin-Gray is the way it enables exactly those sorts of players to take on opponents with more exalted reputations.  The game was probably decided when D’Angelo (who went wicketless in his previous Fourth Grade game) removed St George captain Jonathan Rose, a First Grade century-maker this season.  The only real disappointment of Parramatta’s weekend was a loss in Seconds, which cost the side a semi-final place. 

4   Monty remembered where he put it

Monty Panesar hasn’t had the most spectacular of seasons for Campbelltown-Camden.  He’s maintained his enthusiasm and his effort, and has done a lot of valuable work coaching.  There just haven’t been all that many wickets – only 15 in his first 16 matches, at a cost of 39 runs each.  But on Saturday, he gave a reminder of how he became the most successful English left-arm spinner in recent years, capturing 6-24 from 9.3 beautifully-controlled overs against Northern District.  Pansear’s effort limited Northern District to a modest total of 222, despite a sparkling innings from Andrew Harriott, whose 91 from 96 balls included no fewer than seven sixes.  Northern District was out of the running for the finals, but needed the win to claim the club championship (after starting Round 15 in fourth position).  Campbelltown batted solidly, but was always behind the rate it needed, especially when Chris Green, back from his Pakistani T20 stint with the Qalanders, had the ball.  In the end, Campbelltown ran out of overs with 13 runs still needed, and the club championship heads back to Waitara for the first time this century.

5   This could be the collapse of the season

At least in theory, Fairfield-Liverpool might have reached the Second Grade finals if it won its match with University of NSW on Saturday, and a few other results went its way.  Chasing 220, Fairfield reached 4-72 in 19 overs – a couple more wickets down than they might have liked, but certainly in touch with the required run rate, and one good partnership away from a positive result.  But then Tom Atallah removed Nicholas Johns, and everything came crashing down in a heap.  Medium pacer Ben Chaplin, who had been wicketless in his last three matches, plucked out four batsmen in an over – he trapped Russell Wilcoxon in front, had Jeremy Maher caught by keeper Sam McCormick, and completed his hat-trick with another lbw decision, against Nathan Smith even though, as Atallah admits, “the batsman absolutely smashed the ball into his pads.”.  Vishal Vuppalapati survived his first ball, but not the second.  Viraj Kadam, who made 30, watched all this from the other end, but then hit Brandon McLean’s first delivery straight back to him.  The last six wickets crashed without adding a single run to the total.  After taking his second wicket, Chaplin announced “I’m back!” and when asked how long it had been since he last took a wicket, replied “between 57 and 61 balls”!  Bowling full and straight, he ended the day with four for five from three overs, the kind of figures not usually seen outside the under-12s.  University of NSW finished Round 15 in second place: for Fairfield, it’s back to the drawing board.