Joel Foster is promising
Bankstown's Round 12 meeting with Manly was critically important for both clubs, with the winner taking a place in the top six and the loser dropping out. Bankstown's planning for the game probably included thoughts on how to handle Manly's better-known representative players (Jay Lenton, Chris Green and the rest) and it's unlikely that too much thought was given to Joel Foster. Foster's few outings in Firsts this season hadn't been particularly threatening, and in his previous two games he'd been treated roughly, allowing 130 runs from 22 overs. Lenton (113) and Green (60) propelled Manly to a decent, but by no means intimidating, total of 334, and then Mickey Edwards knocked the top off the Bankstown innings, removing Etahn Leten and Chris Ridley when the total was only 17. What no-one expected was that Foster then dominated the rest of the innings, taking all of the remaining eight wickets. Joel Brockley and (inevitably) Daniel Solway began to repair the innings, but Foster wrecked Bankstown's recovery in the space of two overs, in which Bankstown crumbled from 2 for 43 to six for 44. The critical wicket was Solway, who was pinned in front having scored 19. Jake Cormack (68 not out) showed some resistance, but Bankstown was routed for 145 and Foster grabbed the remarkable figures of 8-23. Those aren't only the best bowling figures in First Grade this season, but they also make the 18 year old Foster the youngest bowler ever to take eight wickets in a Sydney First Grade innings. Foster has a strong action, lively pace and good control - and the former Australian Under-16 representative has suddenly become a crucial part of Manly's drive towards finals cricket this season.
The premiers are back on top
A workmanlike win over North Sydney, featuring yet another big innings from Nick Larkin and some probing leg-spin from Ed Cowan, has combined with some unexpected results elsewhere to put Sydney University on top of the First Grade ladder. University is equal on points (49) with Sutherland, but has an impressive, and extremely valuable quotient of almost 1.6. But neither University, nor any other club in the top six, will be relaxed about its position, as the field remains tightly bunched. Ten wins should guarantee a team a place in the First Grade finals this year, but very few teams seem capable of achieving that as several of the top six teams will play each other over the next few rounds. Nine wins will give a side a chance at the finals, and there are no fewer than eleven sides that could potentially achieve that. The most interesting match-ups in Round 13 will pit Manly (6th) against Parramatta (3rd), Campbelltown (4th) against Bankstown (7th) and Sydney (5th) against Easts (8th). If either Bankstown or Easts lose, it will become extremely difficult for them to reach the top six.
Wests enjoy disruption
Western Suburbs has had a strange season, losing games they ought to win, and then upsetting sides ranked high above them on the table. They did it again in Round 12, costing Sutherland its lead in First Grade with a narrow, 12-run victory at Glenn McGrath Oval. What made the victory even more satisfying for the Magpies was that they did it without a major contribution from Jonathan Cook, who has carried the attack almost single-handedly at times this season. Instead, the unlikely wrecker was Michael Tudehope, whose 4-48, in his first top-grade match of the season, helped Wests to defend the modest total of 209. Tudehope's career has had some parallels with that of his father, Mark, who was a Wests stalwart for many seasons in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The differences are obvious enough: Michael is a tall seamer, while Mark was a tall left-arm spinner with highly unorthodox approach to the crease. But both men spent their careers at Wests moving between Thirds and Firsts, often playing in Seconds for an extended time, but always with the ability to produce a single match-winning spell in the top grade. On Saturday, Michael made early inroads by bowling both Jarryd Biviano and Dan Rixon, and then returned late in the innings to claim two vital wickets just as Sutherland seemed likely to rally.
Matt Critchley has a new record, maybe
Derbyshire all-rounder Matt Critchley has provided great value to Fairfield-Liverpool this season, scoring runs attractively and consistently and chipping in occasionally with useful wickets. He's also a novelty of sorts, since the last time a leg-spinner from Derbyshire tried his luck in Australia, it was Tommy Mitchell, who was a member of the Bodyline tour party in 1932-33. Critchley has had an exceptional January, hitting 57 against Sydney, 149 against Penrith and 126 (from only 129 balls) to lead Fairfield to an upset victory over Parramatta. That (in what may very well be some kind of record) gave Critchley three centuries in his last two matches. How is that possible? Well, against Penrith, his bowling analysis was 22 overs, 0 for 113. He's at batting-friendly North Sydney Oval this week, so the chances of him adding another century, one way or another, are on the high side.
And the winner is...
Finally, congratulations to University of NSW quick, Blaize Irving-Holliday, who not only took his 200th wicket in NSW Premier Cricket (including his stints with North Sydney and Gordon), but also claimed for the third year in succession, the Five Things Award for the most entertaining name in Premier Cricket. There's no-one else in Premier Cricket who sounds more like a minor villain in a James Bond movie.