The finalists have been decided!

That's right, all eight of them.

You could be forgiven for having missed the fact that Round 9 of the First Grade competition was also Round 4 of the First Grade Limited Overs Cup.  Rather like Cricket Australia, the SCA struggles to know what to do with 50-over cricket: it needs to be in the mix somewhere, but squeezing it in presents a problem.  The current solution - to designate rounds of the premier Cricket competition as dual-purpose limited-overs rounds - is as sensible as anything, since it allows each club to play as many of the others as possible without requiring First Graders to turn out on every single Sunday in summer.  But it does rather have the effect that the competition flies under the radar until January when, all of a sudden, it's quarter-finals time.

The nature of the competition being what it is, it's no surprise that the top eight on the Limited Overs table bears a striking resemblance to the top eight on the First Grade table, the only difference being that Manly sneaked past Randwick-Petersham (and a bunch of other sides with two wins) by virtue of a bonus point.  Anyhow, on 28 January, table-topping Campbelltown plays Easts at Raby, while Parramatta plays Manly, Bankstown takes on Sutherland and Sydney and Sydney University meet at Drummoyne Oval.  

Ed Cowan is misunderstood

There are probably still a few misguided players out there who buy the line that Ed Cowan is a dogged, grafting strokeless opening batsman - a caricature of his game that grew out of a period when he was playing under instructions at the highest level of the game.  This always amuses those of us who recall that when Cowan played together with Kevin Pietersen in Sydney University's 2002-03 premiership side, they both hit the same number of sixes (19, since you ask).  Cowan always had, and still has, the ability to demolish any bowling short of the highest class, which he showed in his blistering 71-ball century against St George on Saturday.  Although he showed due respect to a probing opening spell from his Blues team-mate Trent Copeland,  Cowan still reached fifty from only 52 balls, with his square-driving of the quicker bowlers a feature of his innings.  But he raced to his century from the next 19 balls, shredding St George's young spinner Chris MacDougal, whose four overs cost 48, repeatedly lofting drives down the ground.  When he eventually miscued an attempted ramp, Cowan had hit 13 fours and five sixes, racing to 120 from 88 balls.  Nick Larkin played well for 54, Liam Robertson finished the innings in spectacular style with 65 not out from 41 balls, and University's 5 for 324 always looked too much for the Saints, although a furious 83 not out from Jonathan Rose (from only 49 balls) threatened an upset before Robertson effectively settled the issue by grabbing three wickets in his first over.

Manly is doing something right with its juniors

A few rounds back, we commented on the progress of Manly's Jack Edwards, who is now off on duty with the Australian Under 19 side.  His place in the Manly side is being kept warm by 17 year old Oliver Davies, a product of St Paul's Catholic College Manly and the highly effective Manly junior system.  Davies was captain of the NSW Metro Under-17s this year, and has been finding his way in Seconds (where he hammered 167 against Gordon in Round 5).  He earned a First Grade call-up with a furious Poidevin-Gray innings against Randwick-Petersham in which he smashed ten sixes on the way to 163 from 124 balls.  Technically, the match against Wests wasn't his First Grade debut, as he'd played a T20 match in November, but the newcomer played with unbelievable confidence and assurance, stroking 44 from 37 balls with two sixes.  His innings gave Manly the acceleration it needed to reach a total that was just beyond the grasp of Wests' batsmen - although they chased hard until Joe Graham's hat-trick derailed the lower order.

Jarrad Burke probably wishes he had an English grandfather

Another round, another Campbelltown win, another record for Jarrad Burke, along with a few more O'Reilly Medal points.  Burke's 3-16 (and 13 not out from 11) set up Campbelltown's clinically efficient win over Penrith, and in the process he became the 31st bowler to take 600 Sydney First Grade wickets.  Only four of those bowlers - Test captain MA Noble, Blues all-rounder Grant Lambert, Anthony Clark and now Burke - have also scored 10,000 First Grade runs.  The last time a spinner did so well in the Sydney Premier cricket competition, he was hoisted into the Sheffield Shield side and within a year was playing for England.  Burke's representative career never got past three T20 games for NSW back in 2005-06.  How different it might have been if he'd only had an English grandfather.

Experience seems to count for something

University of NSW's Second Grade opener, Danny Bhandari, is old.   Don't believe us?  Well, he's a member of the Board of Cricket NSW, which makes you old by definition.  He's also old enough to have played against Five Things, which means he just about belongs in a nursing home.  And yet, taking on the new ball and a truckload of aggressive, sappy young quicks in Seconds, he has already scored 426 runs this season, at the very healthy average of 47, which puts him on track to match last season's 654 runs.  On Saturday, his dogged 78 almost helped the Bees to upset competition leaders, Northern District.  In the process, he passed 5500 runs in Seconds (no-one has made more for UNSW) and became the Bees sixth-highest run-scorer in Premier Cricket.  We are yet to confirm the rumour that he has launched a Board inquiry into the problem of why young Grade fast bowlers aren't sharp enough to unsettle elderly batsmen.