Five Sydney University teams appear in the semi-finals this week, every one of them entering the contest with the advantage of having finished the regular season as minor premiers.
First Grade takes on Sydney at University Oval. Last weekend’s heavy rain prevented any result from being reached in last week’s qualifying finals, so Sydney advanced to the semi-final after finishing fourth in the competition. University restricted Sutherland to 8 for 221 on a damp first day, the only play possible in its qualifying final. Four of those wickets fell to leg-spinner Devlin Malone, who has now 61 First Grade wickets this season.
Head to head: University had a comfortable win when the two sides met in Round 3. But Sydney prevailed in a last-over finish in the grand final of the 50-over competition two weeks ago.
Key players: With Nick Larkin returning to Sheffield Shield duty, University will be looking to the experience of Damien Mortimer and Liam Robertson to lead the way with the bat, while Ryan McElduff, in his first full season of First Grade, has played some very composed innings under pressure in the last few games. Nick Walker returns to the side in Larkin’s place. Devlin Malone is the most dangerous bowler on either side, but if the recent rain has left some moisture in the pitch, conditions could suit Tim Ley, who knows more about bowling in finals than anyone else. Sydney will be hoping that experienced opener Matt Rogers and newcomer Liam Scott can provide a good foundation with the bat, while Anthony Mosca - who scored a matchwinning hundred in the Limited Overs final, is a threat in the middle order and wicket-keeper Beau McClintock has been in dangerous form with the bat. The Sydney attack is led by former NSW opening bowler Nic Bills and off-spinner Ben Manenti.
Who will they play? Penrith plays UTS North Sydney in the other semi-final.
Seconds play Bankstown at their adopted home ground, Coogee Oval. Invited to bat on a lively pitch last week, Bankstown collapsed for only 90 against Sydney, but moved into the semi-finals anyway, after finishing fourth in the competition. University dismissed Penrith on the first day of its game, before rain cut short the chase.
Head to head: University beat Bankstown by 56 runs in a 50-over match in Round Nine. Nicky Craze (76) and James Larkin (57) set up a strong University total before Charlie Cassell (5-35) ran through Bankstown’s top order.
Key players: University’s side is full of players with plenty of finals experience - Ben Joy, David Miller and Steve Hobson have all been there many times before. Hobson, playing in his last season, has the ability to bat the opposition out of the game, and left-hander Nicky Craze can turn the course of a match in an hour. Bankstown’s Tony Clark may be the oldest man on the field by some distance, but he’s one of the few players to take 1000 wickets in Premier Cricket, and will bowl his medium pace shrewdly (while allowing time for his son, Ryan, to send down a few overs as well). Zeeshaan Ahmed, Joel Brockley and Mitchell Hinds have batted consistently all season.
Who will they play? Parramatta plays Sydney in the other semi-final.
Third Grade also plays Bankstown, at St Paul’s. An early University collapse to Northern District in the qualifying final was salvaged by a defiant partnership between wicket-keeper Hayden Storey (64) and veteran all-rounder Tom Kierath (54 not out), which enabled their side to hold its top seeding for the semi-final. University will face a Bankstown side that batted doggedly against Manly in a drawn qualifier last weekend.
Head to head: University won the Round Nine encounter at Jensen Park by 54 runs in a 50-over game. But the leading batsmen from that game, Alex Shaw (84) and AJ Grant (86) won’t be in the side this weekend.
Key players: University’s attack is balanced and aggressive: in the last third of the season, seamers Josh Toyer, Murray Watts and Lewis McMahon and spinners Tom Kierath and Will Masojada have all recorded striking returns. The batting has lots of experience, with Jack Hill, Ben Larkin and Charles Litchfield at the top of the order, while Matt Moran has a phenomenal record in Thirds and the ability to score big hundreds. Tom Kierath is retiring at the end of this season, and this will be his 53rd finals match in a remarkable career for the club. Solid batting has been the key to Bankstown’s success this season. Daniel Hayes, Mansukh Singh and Cameron Cotter provide a stable top order, and captain Iain Ridley adds experience.
Who will they play? Easts play Manly in the other semi-final.
Fourth Grade meets Manly-Warringah at Tunks Park. University fought out an even day’s cricket against Penrith last weekend, before rain ended the game at an interesting stage. Penrith was contained to 9 for 194 even though former Sheffield Shield batsman Kevin Geyer hammered a century. University now faces Manly-Warringah, whose bowlers enjoyed favourable conditions to reduce Eastern Suburbs to 7 for 85 before further play became impossible.
Head to head: University won a low-scoring 50-over game after routing Manly for only 81. But it would be wrong to read much into that, because that was in Round One. Only two University players remain in the side from that game.
Key players: Captain Ash Cowan needs only 16 runs to become University’s highest run-scorer in Fourth Grade, and seems to save his best for the finals. Ed Arnott adds experience and composure to the side, while the attack - Brodie Frost, Jazz Rinka, Aidan Peek and Jack Lawson - troubles most opponents. Manly’s young batsman Joel Davies has had a quiet season in Fourths, but was sensational in Green Shield and has tons of promise. Captain Adam Gummer has a strong all-round season, averaging just under 30 with the bat and 11 with the ball.
Who will they play? St George and Easts play the other semi-final.
After weekend washouts, University now travels to Chatswood Oval to play Gordon. Both sides will appreciate the opportunity to play at a First Grade venue.
Head to head: There’s no form to go on - rain prevented play when the two sides were due to meet in Round 13.
Key players: In a side that generally bowls better than it bats, University’s Azhar Saeed has been consistent at the top of the order. Matthew Johns and Max Shanahan lead a very effective attack. For Gordon, Green Shield batsman Jaiden Grey has scored consistently all season. Opening bowler Callum Braden has taken his 20 wickets at the ridiculous average of 4.80, including a burst of 4-8 against Mosman.
Who will they play? Penrith and Warringah play in the other semi-final.