The premiers are rebuilding

Sydney University opened its defence of the Belvidere Cup on Saturday with a side that bore only a passing resemblance to the team that clinched the premiership at Bankstown Oval last April.  Greg Mail has retired after breaking just about every batting record available in Premier Cricket, which would have been a major loss without anything else, but Ryan Carters, Ashton May, Kieran Elley and Will Hay have also joined him in retirement.  Tom Rogers accepted a contract in Tasmania; David Miller is overseas.  All of that adds up to a fairly serious rebuilding exercise, on top of which University began the season without last year’s leading run-scorer (captain Nick Larkin, who broke a finger batting in a State trial) and top wicket-taker (Devlin Malone, who fractured his cheekbone in a fielding mishap during the recent Red Bull Campus Cricket World Finals in Sri Lanka).  Despite it all, University’s campaign began in promising style.  Hayden Kerr, making only his fifth appearance in First Grade, weathered a testing opening spell from Gordon’s Charlie Stobo, and got the innings away to a brisk start with 86 from only 76 balls.  He struck the ball cleanly, played one outrageous ramp over the keeper for four, and blasted three sixes before hitting a hard return catch to Sri Lankan spinner Sohan Boralessa.  Damien Mortimer continued last year’s fine form with a crisp 57, and stand-in captain Liam Robertson was dominant, hammering 102 from 84 deliveries.  Robertson combined silky, elegant drives with brutal slog-sweeps; his six 6s included the massive blow with which he raised his century.  298 always looked like a tough target for Gordon, especially after the evergreen Tim Ley claimed two early wickets, including key man Harry Evans, for a second ball duck.  Tym Crawford played a threatening innings which ended when he trod on his stumps playing back to leg-spinner Darius Visser.  Joe Kershaw, back in Firsts after battling injury, bowled a couple of testing spells and when Gordon slumped to 8 for 201, University looked likely to gain a bonus point.  Improbably, Gordon got within nine runs of victory, after some furious hitting by Charlie Stobo, who looks much fitter and stronger after his off-season with the Blues.  Although it has often been claimed that he bats better than his father did, Stobo had never passed 20 in Firsts; but on Saturday, he hit cleanly and often, lofting five 6s on his way to 71 from 51 balls.  He might have done even more damage had he kept hitting through the line instead of embarking on a repeated but completely futile effort to scoop the ball over the wicket-keeper.  Gordon got within hoping distance of its target, but Ben Joy and Kershaw kept their nerve at the end, and University emerged with the win.

Campbelltown has recruited wisely

There’s a scene in Moneyball, Michael Lewis’ bestseller about the economics of baseball recruiting, in which Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland As, reminds his scouts that they should pay less attention to players’ physiques and more to their productivity on the field: “We’re not selling jeans here!”

This could have been the template for the Campbelltown-Camden recruitment team, which faced a tough task after last season’s disappointments.  They’ve attracted two players from Bankstown who would not be quite at the top of your list if you were after prime quality rigs, but who know an awful lot about winning cricket matches.  And, against Sutherland on Saturday, Philip Wells and Jarrad Burke fully justified their new club’s confidence.  Wells has been one of Sydney’s most reliable batsmen for many seasons, and he provided the backbone of the Cambelltown innings, compiling a composed 89 after the loss of two early wickets.  It’s a return to Campbelltown for Burke, who won the O’Reilly Medal as a 21 year-old Ghost in 2004-05, and he played a perfect finishing role with a forthright 49 from 43 balls.  Sutherland appeared to be cruising towards its target when openers Jarryd Biviano and Chris Williams added 83, but Burke’s left arm spin broke the partnership, and he then removed marquee player Shane Watson first ball – caught by Wells.  Burke’s third wicket was Austin Waugh, the Trinity Grammar student making his First Grade debut (following in the footsteps of his father, Steve, and three uncles).  The tail folded to Burke, who ended with 6-16 from 7.4 overs, leading Campbelltown to a surprisingly comfortable 90-run victory. 

Ian Moran refuses to get old

There was plenty of representative talent on display at Mark Taylor Oval, where Northern District’s Test players, Nathan Lyon and Ian Butler, faced Easts’ internationals Peter Nevill and Nic Maddinson, backed up by Blues Harry Conway and Will Somerville.  But the match was dominated by a 38 year old whose career with New South Wales was confined, inexplicably, to a handful of Twenty20 games.  Ian Moran is in his 22nd First Grade season, and only his former team-mate Greg Mail has scored more runs in the competition, but his only concession to the advancing years has been to cut back on his bowling.  On Saturday, Henry Hunt’s maiden century propelled the home side to 6 for 276, which sounds like a lot of runs unless you’ve ever played at Mark Taylor Oval in September.  Maddinson (49) and Nevill (62) gave the chase a rapid start, but then it was all Moran, who cracked his 18th First Grade century, finishing with an unbeaten 113 from only 94 balls.  The last time Nathan Lyon bowled in the middle, he took thirteen wickets in a Test match, but although he bowled neatly, Moran and Nevill peeled 49 runs from his ten overs and Easts cantered home with eight wickets and five overs to spare.  Each team, incidentally, fielded a leg spinner (Jack Preddey for Easts, Jonte Pattison for NDs) playing for his third club in three seasons, which isn’t something you see every day.

Matthew Hopkins has settled in at Hurstville

Left-handed opener Matthew Hopkins has an extensive collection of club caps in the bottom of his kit bag: having started out at Bankstown, he moved to Sutherland, where he broke into First Grade, then spent four seasons at Penrith, and now he’s turned up at St George.  Back in 2010-11, he hit a century for Sutherland in only his fourth First Grade match, but although he had some solid seasons with Penrith, he’s only hit one other hundred in the top grade before this season.  The move to Hurstville seems to be suiting him well, though: he hit an unbeaten century in St George’s last trial match, and followed it up with 132 not out against Hawkesbury in his Premier Cricket debut for his new club.  St George teams always look ridiculously strong at this time of year, before the Blues representatives leave, and Kurtis Patterson overshadowed Hopkins with a brutal 66-ball century before Moises Henriques bludgeoned 38 from 24 balls.  Hawkesbury put up a strong fight, through Josh Clarke (99) and Arjun Nair (83), and at one stage had reached three for 242, but Andrew Walsh settled the issue when he dismissed Corey Lowe, Jay Dyball and Harrison Ridgewell with successive balls to claim his first hat-trick in First Grade.

Zain Shamsi’s shoulder is fine

Zain Shamsi, a popular and cheerful contributor to Western Suburbs’ lower grade teams for the past few seasons, wasn’t certain that he’d take his place in Fourth Grade for the opening round: the medium-pacer was troubled by a sore shoulder.  But he took the field against Parramatta at Merrylands Oval, and was introduced into the attack as first change after Parramatta’s openers had added 17 rather sedate runs.  Shamsi and opening bowler Albert Brooks then grabbed six wickets for only ten runs, and although Parramatta engineered a slight recovery, its batsmen never came to grips with Shamsi, whose two spells yielded five wickets for only eight runs from his full ten overs.  Wests’ batsmen also found the going tough on the dusty surface, but they ran down their target of 87 in time to earn a bonus point.  The game was a mirror-image of the First Grade match, in which Sean Abbott (5-15) blasted out Wests for 95 before arresting an early collapse to steer his team to a bonus-point victory.