Mitchell Carruthers has found his feet

It's easy, in considering the resurgence this season of Campbelltown-Camden, to give all the credit to the two big off-season signings, Phil Wells and Jarrad Burke.   With some justification, too: Wells has cruised past 500 runs for the season, and Burke already has 33 wickets and (if you ignore T20 games) averages more than 100 with the bat.  But the most pleasing aspect of the season for Campbelltown has been the way in which so many other players have improved measurably now that they're playing alongside more experienced senior cricketers.  Mitchell Carruthers is a good example.  He joined the Ghosts last year after lower-grade stints with Bankstown and Blacktown, and played almost a full season in Firsts with only a single half-century to show for it.  This year, the opener has already passed fifty three times, and averages in the forties.  He anchored his team's chase against Manly on the weekend, batting through the innings to reach 83 not out.  Manly set only a modest target of 177, but when Burke was the fifth batsman dismissed, the Ghosts still needed 46 runs and Manly sniffed an opportunity.  But Carruthers and Jordan Browne knocked off the runs without any further loss, planting their side at the head of the table at the Christmas break.  Last season, Sydney University set a new record by winning the premiership after finishing 17th in the previous season.  Last season, Campbelltown finished 20th, and if the Ghosts can maintain their form they stand a chance of being the first team to move from last to first since the 20-team competition began in 1985-86.

Dan Rixon bowls now

Sutherland's Daniel Rixon has had a long and distinguished career with the club, keeping wicket for several seasons in Firsts, and playing a number of valuable, lively innings (including a record-breaking 272 in Seconds a few years back).  This season, though, Jarryd Biviano has the gloves in First Grade, and Rixon has taken his place in the side as a batsman who bowls.  Many, many years ago, Rixon's medium pacers collected all ten wickets in an innings in a Scottish Cup match while he was playing as the professional for Edinburgh Academicals, but Scottish form means nothing in the Shire, and Rixon wasn't allowed near the ball in grade games before this season.  It hasn't been an unmitigated success - Newcastle's batsmen plundered 44 runs from his four overs in a T20 game, although Rixon did take two wickets.  Anyway, on Saturday Penrith threatened to overhaul Sutherland's useful total of 286, racing to 3 for 187.  But Rixon removed Brent Williams (stumped by Biviano) and, more importantly, dried up the runs, allowing only 21 runs from seven overs.  Despite a late surge led by Brent Atherton, Penrith finished 21 runs short.  It's shaping up as a memorable season for Sutherland, who reached the Preliminary Final of the T20 competition, sit in second place in First Grade, and have watched Austin Waugh and Daniel Fallins advance their junior representative careers.

The Tigers like the pace off the ball

Sydney had a weekend to remember, brushing aside Sutherland and Penrith to collect Harry Solomons' oversized cheque in the Kingsgrove Sports T20 competition, and making short work of Northern District on Saturday, to move just outside the top six.  Sydney seems to be intent on phasing out fast bowling altogether (which may explain why Nic Bills seems to be concentrating on his batting these days) - the side is packed with spinners.  Delray Rawlins (left arm orthodox) and Ben Manenti (off spin) have now be joined by the leg-breaks of Nathan Sowter, who spends his northern summers on county duty for Middlesex.  Middlesex has pigeon-holed Sowter as a white-ball bowler; in three seasons with the county, he has played 31 T20 games, while appearing only once in the County Championship.  The odd thing about it is that Sowter's value in the shortest form of the game isn't his economy rate (he concedes about eight runs an over) but the fact that he takes wickets regularly.  Which is just what he did at Drummoyne Oval on Saturday, ripping out the Northern District middle order after Henry Hunt and Jack Colley had given the visitors a deceptively comfortable start with an opening stand of 61.  Sowter (4-28), Rawlins (3-23) and Manenti (1-24) hustled out Northern District for only 135, setting up a stroll to a bonus point for the Tigers.  At the SCG, the T20 title was settled by the same spin trio, with Manenti (who was joined in the side by his younger brother Harry) and Sowter each taking 2-17 and Rawlins following his rapid 57 with 1-26.  Sydney meets Parramatta in a crucial Round 9 game in January: Parramatta's batsmen are advised that thigh pads and helmets will be optional.

Craze is in good nick

For a few seasons now, Nicky Craze (of Sydney University and, before that, Campbelltown) has been one of those frustrating players who looks much better than his scores.  In a full Second Grade season with the Students last year, he passed fifty only once, while hitting any number of dazzling twenty-odds.  This season, something's changed, and he's occupying the crease for long enough to build a significant innings.  His 129 against Penrith in Round 5 occupied 259 deliveries - easily his longest innings in Premier Cricket, and his first century.  Last Saturday, he opened the innings against Fairfield, and began sedately enough, defending carefully as the experienced Russell Wilcoxon probed away outside his off stump.  Craze anchored the innings as University reached 5 for 186, but after Alex Shaw was dismissed in the 44th over for a neat 43, he cut loose.  Medium-pacer Cain Brewer, making his debut in Seconds, was enjoying the game when he had taken 2-22 from 6.4 overs: he finished with 2-62 from 8, after 32 runs were ripped from his last over (which included two wides and two no-balls).  Craze smacked four sixes in the over, the last of which brought up his hundred.  He played strokes all round the wicket, including crashing pulls, meaty blows over wide long on,  cleanly-hit reverse sweeps and a variation on Kevin Pietersen's "flamingo" shot, which whips the ball away through the on side with the back leg raised in the air.  The 49th over of the innings, bowled by Vishal Vuppalapati, went for 26 runs, with Craze belting three sixes, and he blasted the last three balls of the innings, from off spinner Varanjit Singh, for 4, 6 and 6.  In the last 7.2 overs of the innings, Craze and keeper James Crowley added 114 runs, of which Crowley contributed 11 from 12 balls and Craze 96 from 32.  University may soon need to look for a way to fit Craze into First Grade.

T Greig looks handy

The first thing you notice is his height, which helps him to find extra bounce when he bowls, and makes powerful driving a feature of his batting.  Something very much like that used to be said of the late England captain, Tony Greig, whose youngest son Tom is quietly making a name for himself with the University of NSW Green Shield side.  In the second round of the competition, Greig, who's a student at Cranbrook School, took 4-35 opening the bowling, then top-scored with a mature 42.  Impeccably polite, but extremely determined and competitive, he looks a handy prospect - as does his team-mate, Scots College student Jack Attenborough, who already has two unbeaten centuries to his name for the Bees this season.