The premiers are hanging in

Sydney University, the holder of the Belvidere Cup, confronted an alarming loss of players at the start of the season, which has only become worse with every round.  Captain Nick Larkin broke a finger, and was then called up for representative duty; Ed Cowan has received an overdue recall to the NSW team; Joe Kershaw has missed games on Futures League duties; all-rounder Darius Visser hasn't played since Round One due to a series of injuries.  But, somehow, the premiers have found ways to win, and remain on top of the First Grade table one third of the way through the season.  Penrith had plenty of chances to win the Round 5 clash at Howell Oval, reducing University to 4 for 85 on the opening day, and making a rapid start to its run-chase on day two.  But each time, University found a way back into the game.  Damien Mortimer led the way with an impressive, responsible 73, continuing his exceptional form since he joined the Students last year.  He had good support from Hayden Kerr, who looks increasingly at home in First Grade, and  Tim Cummins, who chipped in with an unbeaten 70 against his former club.  The University attack still relies heavily on the guile of veterans Tim Ley and Ben Joy, but it was the two young left-armers, Kerr (2-22) and Dugald Holloway (3-43), who carved up Penrith's middle order.  In the end, the game was only close because of an outstanding, fighting innings from Penrith captain Mick Castle, whose unbeaten 109 (from only 156 balls) was his first century for Penrith in First Grade.  With other results falling the Students' way, University is four points clear on the top of the table, but faces a tough challenge from Sydney this weekend.

Doug Bollinger needs a new PR guy

Even in a week in which Shaun Marsh received his twenty-third recall to the Test team, and Tasmania's reserve keeper was picked for Australia, nothing was quite as weird as the piece on the Premier Cricket website celebrating Doug Bollinger's 5-61 against Mosman.  This, according to the SCA, was his first five-wicket haul in Premier Cricket.  The piece went on to explain that the big man had made his First Grade debut for Fairfield in 2005-06 since when, due to representative commitments, he had taken only 28 wickets at 24.96 in 23 matches, with a best return of 3-79.  Now, this possibly might have been true if you took the view that Bollinger had only ever played in matches recorded on the MyCricket site.  But the fact that he first played for NSW in 2002-03 might have been a bit of a hint that something wasn't quite right.  By our count, Bollinger now has 237 First Grade wickets, and last weekend's effort was his 12th five wicket haul, not the first.  As it happens, we have vivid memories of his best First Grade figures: 7-28 in the 2004-05 semi-final against Sydney University.  On that day, Bollinger blasted out University for only 101, which might very well have been a match-winning effort but for the fact that Fairfield then crumbled to be all out for 34.  In that season alone, incidentally, Bollinger took 67 First Grade wickets with six five-wicket hauls.  The Premier Cricket website has since been corrected, but clearly whoever does Bollinger's PR is asleep on the job.  Doug, give us a call - we'll match his rates.

Luke Hawksworth is promising

After declaring at 399, and reducing Sutherland to five for 160, Eastern Suburbs probably expected to clinch a win that would have taken them to the top of the First Grade table.  The only thing in their way was the experience of Dan Rixon, plus a bunch of bowlers and a guy called Hawksworth who was playing only his third innings in First Grade.  Hawksworth, a product of Endeavour Sports High School, has been regarded as a bright prospect for a couple of years, but without ever having done anything very remarkable.  That changed last Saturday when, unfazed by a strong Easts attack (including Will Somerville and Henry Thornton), he shared a decisive partnership of 168 for the sixth wicket with Rixon.  Even at six for 328, the odds favoured Easts, but Jake Wilson hit hard for 32, and the seventh wicket added another 70 runs.  In fading light, and with overs running out, Will Somerville removed Wilson and Nick Amos with successive balls, but Tom Pinson swatted the next ball away for the two runs needed to clinch a thrilling victory.  Hawksworth remained unbeaten on 119 from 152 deliveries, with 16 fours.  His strokeplay was impressive, but his temperament was better, and it will be interesting to watch his progress throughout the season.

Dan Smith is a handy number eleven

It must have been heartbreaking for St George.  They did almost everything right.  Another solid innings from Matthew Hopkins (83) and a patient fifty from Luke Bartier lifted their score to 283, after which a cutting spell by captain Nick Stapleton reduced Sydney to seven for 95.  But, for the second match in a row, Sydney played like one of those school teams where the coach reverses the batting order.  Ryan Felsch blasted 73 from only 78 balls, clearing the fence four times, and Nic Bills hit his second successive fifty, reaching 87 not out.  They added 103 in rapid time, but even after Mitchell Grey removed Felsch, Sydney still needed 86 to win with two wickets in hand.  Bills and Alex Glendenning reduced the deficit to 30 before the excellent Stapleton (6-72) dismissed Glendenning.  But Dan Smith is a useful player to have at number eleven.  In barely a few overs, he cuffed two fours and two sixes to carry his team over the line for an extraordinary one-wicket victory.  Sydney now sits on 20 points, eight clear of St George, but the positions might very easily have been reversed.

It was a good week for the Quenbeyan Greybaggers

As we're sure you know, a team called the Quenbeyan Greybaggers turns out on Sundays in the Sydney Over-50 competition.  We had a try at figuring out what a "Greybagger" was, and then wished we hadn't.  Anyway, it's a semi-social, semi-serious competition.  Some decent players, a few hacks.  Batsmen retire at thirty (like most Grade cricketers).  Generally, the players have a bit of a hit, then several beers while they talk about what it used to be like when they played in Grade.  Except that two of them still do.  Warwick Hayes has scored over 16,000 runs for St George, and looks intent on pushing on to 17,000, but takes advantage of his role as Fifth Grade captain to toss down his off-breaks from time to time.  It's not unfair to say that Hayes' bowling was rarely sighted in his long stint in the top two grades - he captured only one wicket in over 100 matches in Firsts and twelve in a career in Seconds that spanned almost twenty years.  But now that he has a captain who appreciates the value of his bowling, it has become a force, and his 4-38 in Round 5 helped to dismiss Sydney cheaply and set up a win for the Saints.  Campbelltown-Camden also grabbed a win, over North Sydney, thanks to the efforts of Hayes' fellow Greybagger, Todd O'Keefe.  O'Keefe, a keeper-batsman, is a Campbelltown institution, who has played for the club ever since it entered the grade competition in 1985-86.  His 112 against North Sydney was his fourth century for the club, and his first in seven years.  He has now passed Scott Coyte to become the second-highest run-scorer in Campbelltown's history, behind only John McKell.