Five Things We Learned from Round Seven (and a few T20 games)

It was a mixed weekend for St George

It’s hard to imagine a stranger weekend than the one St George just completed: on Saturday, they were thrashed outright by a Fairfield-Liverpool team that hadn’t mustered a single point from the first six rounds; but then, on Sunday, St George produced an heroic effort to upset strong favourites Randwick-Petersham (who themselves had won outright the day before) in their T20 semi-final. It was a memorable Sunday for Luke Bartier, who opened the innings for the Saints and was first out (to the first ball of the fourth over) for 33 from 17 balls, having scored every one of his side’s runs. He then backed up with the ball, grabbing four for 26 in his four overs to help his side defend a slightly sub-par total. Thomas Ortiz continued his outstanding T20 form, following his hat-trick in Round Four with 3-14 from three overs. Ortiz dismissed the dangerous Daniel Bell-Drummond early in the innings, then took the vital wicket of David Warner late in the day. Warner, who hit 62 from 60 balls, seemed thoroughly in control until he drilled a lofted drive to deep extra cover, where Andrew Walsh held a well-judged catch diving forward. St George meets Sutherland in the Sixers Conference final at the SCG next Sunday; Sydney University and Penrith play in the Thunder Conference final.

The answer to “bowler’s name?” might be harder than you expected

A large part of St George’s pain on Saturday was inflicted by Kazimierz Boleslaw Szymanski, who collected six of the last seven wickets to fall to finish with 6-34 on his First Grade debut for the Fairfield-Liverpool Lions. Szymanski, a 19 year old right-arm seamer, is of Polish descent but was actually born in Devon, in South-West England, and plays his cricket for Wales (in the Minor Counties competition) and the Glamorgan Second Eleven. In his four Second Grade games this season, he’s managed only five wickets at 47.60, but he was untroubled by the step up to Firsts and triggered a collapse in which St George lost its last seven wickets for only 37 runs. Fairfield now has the record of played seven, lost six, won one outright, which is just weird.

Stuart Meaker still has a bit to offer

In the last round of matches in last season’s County Second Eleven Championship, Szymanski found himself playing against Surrey’s former England fast bowler Stuart Meaker - who is also in Sydney this season, turning out for Eastern Suburbs. Meaker, born in South Africa, made such a strong impact after his debut for Surrey in 2008 that he represented England in Limited Overs games and T20 matches in 2011-12 and 2012-13. He excited the English coaching staff when he was regularly clocked bowling above 150 kilometers an hour in training. But he then suffered knee and shoulder trouble, and lost his place in Surrey’s side after the rise of the Curran brothers and the signing of Morne Morkel. He played little first team cricket for Surrey in 2018, when he was troubled by a rib injury, but continued his rehabilitation in spectacular style for Easts on Saturday. Easts were defending 252 at Allan Border Oval - usually a difficult task. But Meaker, who is still lively and now has greater control than earlier in his career, took the first seven wickets, including Mosman’s two young stars, Anthony Adlam and Lachie Hearne, both for ducks. George Furrer interrupted the party by dismissing top-scorer Nathan Hinton for 64, but Meaker wrapped up the innings with 8-42, salvaging some improbable but important points for the Dolphins.

Zak Crawley is possibly unlucky

The Grade Cricketer has always argued that there is nothing in cricket more enjoyable than performing well in a losing team. By that standard, Zak Crawley’s weekend was phenomenal. The 20 year old Kent batsman, currently helping out Sydney, hit 76 not out against UTS North Sydney in Round Seven, which enabled Dan Smith to declare at 4 for 380. Which sounds as though it should have been enough, and indeed things looked good for Sydney when Nic Bills removed Ben Bryant with the third ball of the North Sydney innings. But Tom Jagot (125 not out) and Adam Crosthwaite (143 not out) shared an unbroken stand of 261 in 246 minutes to run down the target with time to spare. The long day in the field clearly didn’t tire Crawley out, because on Sunday he went in at 3 for 57 against Sutherland in the T20 semi-final, and blasted 100 not out from only 42 balls. This, unsurprisingly, is a Sydney T20 record. He hammered five fours and cleared the fence a ridiculous nine times, sweeping left-armer Ben Dwarshuis as though he were a gentle spinner. And Sydney lost. Jarryd Biviano and Peter Saroukos gave Sutherland a blistering start, after which Steve Smith walloped 61 from 33 and Dwarshuis and Dan Rixon finished off in style. You really should not hit 100 not out off 42 balls and lose. Even if some of those runs were scored from Steve Smith’s bowling.

Campbelltown’s season just turned upside down

Before last weekend, Campbelltown-Camden has been consistently disappointing in two-day cricket, and exceptional in the T20 games. That just turned around, suddenly and unexpectedly. On Saturday, the Ghosts chased down a target of 310 with a minimum of fuss: Phil Wells (70), Jaydyn Simmons (58 not out) and Jordan Browne (54) all played accomplished innings to run down Bankstown’s total with plenty of time to spare. On day one, Luke Courtney had celebrated his return to First Grade with 5-32 to help contain Bankstown to a catchable score. But Sunday was another story. In its home T20 semi-final, Campbelltown bowled adeptly to hold Sydney University to 9 for 130. Aaron Yabsley and Wells then got the innings away to an excellent start, taking 53 runs from the first 7.5 overs. That left the Ghosts needing 78 from 73 balls with all their wickets intact - and the side that chased 310 the day before could have done that with ease. But leg spinner Devlin Malone then struck, removing both openers, and University captain Liam Robertson strangled the middle order with his medium-paced variations. Momentum can swing quickly in T20 games. In the space of four overs, Campbelltown lost four for 16, and the innings never quite recovered, University easing home by 16 runs. So the bad news for Campbelltown: no trip to the SCG. The good news: the two-day form that won the Ghosts the minor premiership last season seems to be returning.

Five Things We Learned from Round Six

It’s good to bat in the last five

There was a time, not so very long ago, when bowling teams were disappointed if their opponents’ last five wickets added more than about fifty runs. Back then, most sides included a couple of players who really couldn’t bat at all, plus one or two who sometimes slogged successfully, but usually didn’t. But now, just about everyone has pretensions with the bat, and shifting the lower order is often a lot harder than getting rid of the first five. So, taking a few examples at random from Round Six (and there were plenty more), Parramatta crashed to 5 for 53 against Northern District, but recovered to reach 179; Randwick lost 5 for 135 against Hawkesbury before the next three wickets added 200 runs; and Easts reached 7 for 298 against Penrith after being 5 for 81. That last one was a bit of an anomaly, though: Test players Peter Nevill and Sam Robson went in at six and seven after some creative juggling of the order. There won’t be too many other occasions when Harry Conway goes in before Nevill and Robson.

Why are the last five so hard to dismiss? The usual culprits suggested include soft balls, flat pitches, and a shortage of attacking spinners. Actually, blaming the spinners seems harsh to us: the fact is that they’re almost always bowling on a first-day pitch, so the surface doesn’t deteriorate much. And most pitches, at least before Christmas, don’t have much bounce in them, so it’s relatively easy for a batsman to survive against the old ball by propping onto the front foot. Whatever the reason, there’s never been a better time to bat in the lower half.

Suddenly, Ryan Felsch is a weapon

Sydney all rounder Ryan Felsch was been around First Grade for about six seasons, chipping in every now and then with handy wickets or useful runs without ever really imposing himself on the game. This season’s different. The left-handed Felsch (who works as a gym instructor at the SCG) has been used as an opener in the limited-overs games, a move that gives him both freedom and responsibility, and he’s responded with some outrageous hitting. The most memorable has been his 127 from 59 balls (with 9 sixes) in the T20 against University of NSW, but he has also plundered 85 from 62 against Wests and 77 from 46 against Mosman, repeatedly giving himself room to carve the ball away through the off side. His success with the bat has boosted his confidence with the ball, too: last season each of his wickets cost 44 runs, but in Round 6 he grabbed the second five-wicket haul of his First Grade career, 5-76 against Sutherland, which included Steve Smith, lbw for 27. Sydney is strongly placed in both the limited overs competitions, and (despite the handicap of one of the worst Movember growths ever) Felsch looks more and more like its key to further success.

Sydney University’s depth is impressive

After six rounds, we still have two unbeaten sides in First Grade - the two universities, who battled out a closely fought draw at Sydney University. Sydney University was without Nick Larkin and Joe Kershaw (due to representative duties), and had numerous players missing through the grades because of exams, but still won four of the five grades, maintaining its strong lead in the club championship. Opener Ben Trevor-Jones was recalled from Seconds after scoring a First Grade hundred in Round Four: he responded with a composed 87. Also promoted was Ben Joy, in place of Kershaw, and he contributed the vital wickets of Matt Gilkes and David Dawson. Ryan McElduff made way for Larkin on the second day of the game, and hit a dominant century as Seconds chased down a target of 319. Sydney University’s Seconds have now won six from six; the club is in first place in each of the top four grades, and second in Fifths. It’s enviable depth, and a tribute to the work of the club’s new coaching team under Cam Borgas.

Northern District is fighting back

There hasn’t been all that much to cheer about at Mark Taylor Oval in the last couple of seasons: Northern District finished 16th in First Grade last season, 10th the year before - they haven’t featured in the First Grade finals since 2009-10, which is an unusually lean run for a traditionally powerful club. There are signs of a fightback at Waitara, though: a gritty win over premiers Parramatta last weekend put the Rangers within reach of the top six. An excellent team effort from the NDs attack dismissed Parramatta for only 179 on the first day, although no bowler took more than two wickets; then Nic Badings and captain Ben Davis added 90 for the second wicket to get their side within reach of the points. But Parramatta didn’t win the premiership last season by giving up easily, and Sean Abbott, Luke Loft and Scott Copperfield then triggered a remarkable collapse in which six wickets fell for 41 runs. Davis (who batted for almost four hours for his unbeaten hundred) and Zac Honeybrook weathered the storm to clinch a well-deserved victory. It was a memorable First Grade debut for Maitland prodigy Will Fort, who missed out with the bat but should benefit from the experience of a high-pressure game.

If we’re talking about you, your career might be in trouble

Although a couple of clubs occasionally accuse us of unnecessary snarkiness, we do try to play nice here at Five Things. After Round Five, we were very nice indeed to several players and teams from other clubs.

Except it didn’t work out so well. We sang the praises of Manly opener Logan Weston: in Round Six, he kicked the second ball he faced from Harmon Sandhu - out for 0. We carried on about how good Axel Cahlin is, so of course he made 4 in a Futures League game where everyone else made a thousand, and then got his pad in front after making only 1 against Campbelltown. We raved about how good Hawkesbury’s Fourth Grade is: naturally, they were touched up by Randwick-Petersham.

What’s happening here? Is it some kind of hex, a regression to the mean, or is our judgment just really, really bad? Either way, don’t complain next time we write something snarky - it generally turns out better that way.

Five Things We Learned from Round Five

If you build it, they will come

Brief history lesson: Grade cricket began as a spectator sport. Each club’s main source of revenue was the admission fees it could charge for home matches. This, of course, was in the 1890s. If you were interested in cricket, there were two home Sheffield Shield games you could watch each year, and a tour by England every so often. So if you wanted to see, say, Victor Trumper, you went down to Hampden Oval at Paddington. If you weren’t interested in cricket, then other available forms of recreation included counting passing flies and reading Banjo Paterson’s poetry. Hence, Grade games drew large crowds, and indeed most clubs attracted enough spectators to charge money at the gate until well into the 1970s. The reason was simple: it was a great way to see outstanding cricketers at close quarters, because the leading players still turned out fairly often for their clubs. There’s no turning back the clock, and that time will never come again, but several thousand people got a taste of what it was like when they packed into Coogee Oval on Saturday to see David Warner, Jason Sangha and Randwick-Petersham take on Steve Smith, Shane Watson and Sutherland. They were rewarded with a fantastic game and a great finish, although the star performers were slightly upstaged. Warner had made only 13 when he sliced Austin Waugh to an astutely-placed backward point, where Dan Fallins held the catch on his knees. But newcomer Daniel Bell-Drummond, the Kent batsman, showed why he has been so highly rated in the English pathways system, hitting a debut 106 from 130 balls. Steve Smith bowled ten tidy overs and batted neatly for 48, and Shane Watson blasted 63, but it fell to Austin Waugh to take Sutherland home in the last over. Waugh has had, to be kind about it, a forgettable start to the season, but he rose to the occasion with 3-43 and a decisive knock of 46 not out from only 37 deliveries. It was a fantastic advertisement for Grade cricket, and the day was brilliantly managed by the Randwick-Petersham club.

Axel Cahlin is in a hurry

Gordon opener Axel Cahlin is still only 20, but his match-winning hundred against Penrith on Saturday was the third of his season and the seventh of his First Grade career. He added 139 for the second wicket with Tym Crawford, which provided Gordon with the platform for a competitive total, after which Crawford (3-42) and Elliot Richtor (whose 4-31 included his 100th First Grade wicket) inflicted the first defeat of the season on the Panthers. Cahlin is a disciplined and focused cricketer, and his ability to convert starts into hundreds has been a feature of his career with Gordon ever since he broke into Firsts at the age of 16. He struggled in his two Futures League games last season, but seems more than ready for another taste of representative cricket. He gets his chance this week in the NSW Metro side playing at the WACA.

Tim Ley keeps getting better

It was the “age shall not weary them” weekend, so not the worst time to mention Tim Ley, who on Saturday carried out his usual routine of knocking the top off his opponents’ innings with the new ball, keeping it tight in the middle, and finishing off the tail. Result, another win for Sydney University, and three more wickets for Ley, the third of them his 350th victim in First Grade. Already this season, Ley has 12 wickets at an average of 14; more importantly, he takes a wicket roughly once every four overs. Nick Larkin also resumed business as usual, making his first club appearance of the season and scoring his 16th First Grade century. His 138 anchored the innings, and University’s victory took it past Penrith to the top of the table. Joe Kershaw and Devlin Malone (still the leading wicket-taker in the competition) bowled well, too, and unexpectedly, Larkin also made a (suitably) brief appearance as a bowler, even though Ed Cowan (who earlier hit a rapid 38) didn’t, a decision that undoubtedly triggered lively dressing-room debate.

Logan Weston is getting the hang of it

Before this season, Manly opener Logan Weston was starting to look like one of those players who scores buckets of runs in Second Grade, without ever quite cracking the code to succeed in Firsts. A carpenter by trade, he first broke into the top grade as a 20 year old six seasons ago, but his record by the end of last season was underwhelming - 113 runs at 14, even though he seemed to score at will in Seconds. Weston’s game depended on hitting a lot of boundaries, and he found it difficult to impose his method on the tighter bowlers in Firsts. His first four innings of the season offered little hope of much improvement - he made four starts, but didn’t get past 27. But then Manly played a second innings against Mosman, and Weston played with a fluency he hadn’t displayed before in Firsts, remaining unbeaten on 106, with four sixes, from only 110 balls. And that may have been a second dig with not much pressure, but in Round Five, he added another hundred, a quickfire 104 against Parramatta. There was certainly pressure this time, as the Waratahs’ State players - Jack Edwards, Chris Green and Jay Lenton - managed only 29 runs between them as Manly slumped to four for 93. But Weston found a willing partner in Ollie Davies (54) and Manly’s total of 277 proved to be just enough to hold off Parramatta, who kept hitting the ball in the air to Davies, and lost in a thrilling finish by just a single run. Three weeks ago, the season looked discouraging for both Weston and Manly; now, they’re both surging forward.

Corey Lowe goes OK in Fourth Grade

Last season, Corey Lowe scored 581 runs at an average of 58. In First Grade. This season, the Hawkesbury keeper-batsman has chosen to step down to Fourth Grade where, unsurprisingly, he has accelerated the education of a whole bunch of inexperienced bowlers. On Saturday, Lowe hit 90 not out against Northern District, which was actually his second unbeaten ninety in succession, after his 94 not out against Sutherland in Round Four. After five rounds, Lowe now has 321 runs at the imposing average of 161.50. Those people who complain that former First Graders don’t play on any more in the lower grades should take a look at the Hawks’ Fourths which include, apart from Lowe, Dean Laing (scorer of more than 10,000 Premier Cricket runs), former First Grade all-rounder Steve Simons and last season’s First Grade opening bowler Jay Dyball. Want to guess who’s leading the competition?

Five Things We Learned from Round Four

So, apparently “retired, sledged” is now a thing

For an hour or so, the game between Western Suburbs and Randwick Petersham was more or less normal. Anthony Sams won the toss and batted. Michael Tudehope made an early breakthrough, getting through Matt Everett’s defence. David Warner settled in comfortably, and moved sedately enough to 35. And then apparently Jason Hughes said something, which may or may not have head-butted the line, which caused Warner to ask the permission of the umpires and leave the field for two minutes. And then he resumed his innings.

It’s a fair guess that nothing quite like this has ever happened in First Grade. Which is not to say, necessarily, that it’s a bad thing. Warner has a history of responding unwisely to provocation in Grade games, and he knows he’s under scrutiny, so if he took time to compose himself that might have avoided unnecessary trouble. Although our advice is that you do not try this if you’re a number nine batsman in Third Grade. Anyway, if someone was trying to unsettle Warner, they needed a Plan B - he ground out 157 in six hours.

Daniel Solway is human

It would be nicer to write about Daniel Solway when he scores a hundred, but this is Five Things We Learned, and we already know he can score hundreds, since he does it every other week. It comes as more of a surprise when he misses out. University of NSW’s 299 looked slightly under-par at Bankstown Oval - and it could have been much worse, because the Bees were 7 for 136 before in-form Matt Gilkes (with 128) and the tail made the score respectable. But there were three overs left before stumps, and the balance shifted when Declan White bowled Solway first ball. It was Solway’s first duck for Bankstown since the 2016-17 season, when he recorded three (all of them lbw). It’s only fair to add that he’s racked up ten centuries over the same period.

The Bees maintained their early-season momentum by holding on to win by 31 runs, with off-spinner Marcus Attallah doing most of the damage. Solway resumed normal service in the T20 game against Blacktown on Sunday, belting 77 from 50 balls.

Penrith means business

After Round Three, we mentioned that Penrith owed a good deal of its success to the opening partnership of Gibson and Hackney. Well, the Ryans missed out against St George - the consistently excellent Nick Stapleton accounted for them both - and they still destroyed their opponents. Cameron Weir hammered a career-best 180, Brent Williams added a rapid 90, and Penrith closed at 5 for 420 with still enough time to reduce St George to 5 for 20 by stumps. St George staged an impressive recovery on the second day, largely due to the fact that Kurtis Patterson came in at eight and Matthew Hopkins hit a century from number nine, but the result was never in doubt. Penrith is mostly a home-grown side, with few obvious stars, but a group of players who all appearing to be maturing well together. Its position at the head of the First Grade table is no accident.

Liam Scott should be fine in First Grade

For a few seasons now, Sydney coach Mick Haire has been guiding a bunch of talented young players through the grades, and Liam Scott, the latest graduate from the Tigers’ 2016-17 Green Shield premiership team, reached First Grade in Round Four. 17 year old Scott (who’s in this year’s NSW Metropolitan Under 19 squad) has been part of the Blues’ junior set-up for some years now, although his role has changed from time to time. In the NSW Metro Under-17s last year, he batted in the middle order and bowled handy seamers - Sydney has always seen him as a top three stick who can bowl some useful overs. So he made his First Grade debut against Northern District as an opening batsman, and immediately looked at home, surviving a tricky period before stumps on the first day and then resuming confidently to build a partnership of 132 with Matt Rodgers. Scott, tall and lean, cut a four to bring up his half-century and he moved into the nineties comfortably. On 99, though, with Sydney’s win secure, he chipped off-spinner Tom Felton straight to Daniel Anderson. No-one else in the history of the First Grade competition has been dismissed for 99 on debut. Obscure trivia sideline: Scott attended Trinity Grammar School where, for a season or so, he played alongside Austin Waugh. He’s the second Trinity graduate to be out for 99 in First Grade, after John Hurley, who made 99 for his second club (Sydney University) against his first (Wests) in 1983. That remained Hurley’s highest score in Firsts - it’s unlikely the same will be true for Scott.

The tide must have been in at Balmoral

There’s a legend that clings to seaside grounds, that the condition of the pitch is somehow affected by the tide. That is, at any rate, an excuse that Many’s Fifths might want to try after being comprehensively rissoled for 21 by Mosman. It could have been worse. Manly was 8 for 9 and then 9 for 11 before an heroic partnership between Josh Park (top score with 6) and Jack Hobson very nearly doubled the score. Om Prakash bowled unchanged to claim 5 for 7, well-supported by Anup Oli (4 for 7), while Sadeep Deepak, who sent down six balls without dismissing anyone, needs to have a good, hard look at himself. Manly made a determined effort to keep Prakash out in the second innings, blocking so furiously that he bowled 22 maidens in his 37 overs while taking 7-25. There should be one relatively straightforward decision at Mosman selections this week.

Five Things We Learned from Round Three

You never won a game with your scrapbook

Rugby League supercoach, the late Jack Gibson, who also opened the bowling for Waverley for some years, was renowned for dropping pearls of gnarly, homespun wisdom. One of his particular favourites was to remind his teams that “you never won a game with your scrapbook”. Gibson had a spell as coach of the Cronulla Sharks (who, in those days, never won games with anything else either: as Gibson put it, “waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt”). That Gibsonism might resonate in the Sutherland Shire at the moment, because a team that can boast the hefty scrapbooks of Steve Smith and Shane Watson, and finished fourth last year without their help, somehow manages to prop up the competition table on 0 points. They’re not alone, though: Campbelltown-Camden, last years’ minor premiers, are just a nudge ahead with one point from three rounds. Of course, there’s a long way to go and no-one sensible would write off either side, but it’s a healthy sign to see the composition of the top six fluctuate so dramatically.

Penrith means business

Three rounds into the competition, Penrith has jumped to the top of the First Grade table, winning all three of its games. The impetus for its success is perhaps the first regular opening partnership ever in Sydney Grade cricket between two men called Ryan: Gibson, who has two hundreds from three innings, and Hackney, who followed a first round 103 with 65 against Manly. Gibson and Hackney hit three sixes each during an opening stand of 157, against a pretty fair attack led by Mickey Edwards and Chris Green. Manly’s hot prospect, Joel Foster, received his mandatory “it’s a funny game” education when, after he had dismissed Steve Smith cheaply in his previous outing, the Ryans took him around the park to the tune of 51 runs from six overs. Penrith then bowled and fielded efficiently, with Josh Lalor contributing a couple of vital spells, so that the result was never really in doubt. Penrith finished 13th in First Grade last season, but looks set for a very significant improvement in this campaign.

Isaac Taylor had a breakthrough

Wests opening batsman, Isaac Taylor, is something of an old-fashioned Grade player. He was never a superstar in junior cricket, and slowly worked his way up through the ranks, one grade at a time. He’s stuck with the same club for ten years, instead of looking for faster promotion elsewhere. He works hard, and over time he’s transformed himself into a batsman who’s noticeably too good for Seconds without ever quite entrenching himself in the top grade. He first broke into the Magpies’ Firsts five seasons ago, since when (before Saturday) he’d put together 1422 runs at the modest average of 22.93. His start to this season - scores of 5 and 8 - was nothing to get excited about.

On Saturday, though, he had a day to remember. Opening the innings against a Mosman attack spearheaded by the in-form Greg West, Taylor cracked the ball all around Allan Border Oval, hitting 12 boundaries and clearing the fence three times. He turned his 69th First Grade innings into a maiden century, reaching 118 from 127 deliveries - which should have set Wests up for a comfortable win, but for a mid-innings stutter that limited the total to 8 for 282, hardly a huge target on AB Oval. Mosman appeared to have the chase in hand at 4 for 218, but when rain intervened, the home side fell two runs short of the Duckworth-Lewis figure.

Liam Robertson has stepped up

Sydney University’s Liam Robertson has been regarded as promising young player for so long that it’s almost surprising that he’s now in his tenth season in First Grade. For much of that time, the label “promising” did him no favours, suggesting that his talents were worthy of greater achievement. But last season, when he stepped into the captaincy with Nick Larkin on State duty, his game visibly matured: he scored runs consistently, fielded as well as ever, and bowled usefully when it was needed. He guided University to victory in the 50-over competition and, without much fuss, showed all the maturity and leadership of a senior player. This year, he’s carried on where he left off, hitting a bright 50 in Round One, then compiling an exceptional century against a good Sydney attack. Robertson went to the crease when Nicky Craze’s run-out reduced University to 2 for 30, and he paced his innings carefully, facing 125 balls for his 105. He hit only eight boundaries across the heavy outfield, but played with purpose and discipline in an innings in which no other batsman passed 21. Sydney’s top order found the going tough, too: Tim Ley celebrated his 200th First Grade game by knocking the top off the innings, reducing the Tigers to 7 for 49. The last-wicket pair of Alex Glendenning and Nic Bills made the score look more respectable with a rustic stand of 51, but it only delayed the inevitable. Robertson’s captain’s knock cemented University in second place on the ladder.

The British are coming

The annual influx of English county professionals has commenced, with Aron Nijjar, Steve Eskinazi and Harry Brook all appearing in Round Three. Nijjar, a left-arm spinner from Essex, bowled ten tidy overs for Easts against Sutherland; Eskinazi, a batsman from Middlesex, hit 14 for Sydney against Sydney University before he was run out. Eskinazi is a typical English-qualified batsman from Middlesex, meaning that (like Andrew Strauss and Nick Compton) he was born in South Africa - although, less typically, he has also represented Western Australia at the Under-17 and Under-19 levels. Harry Brook is a batsman from Yorkshire who made his first-class debut for the county at 17 before captaining England Under-19s. He contributed a bright 24 to University of NSW’s win over Gordon before flaying a rapid half-century in Poidevin-Gray.

Five Things We Learned from Round Two

Premier cricket is 125 years old

Last weekend marked the 125th anniversary of the Sydney Premier Cricket competition (although for much of that time it was known as the Sydney Grade competition, and before that as the Electoral competition). It began as Electorate Cricket on 7 October 1893 - so known because (except for the University of Sydney), the clubs were based on State electoral boundaries. On the first day of competition, East Sydney bowled out Manly for 89, Glebe made 126 against University, and Redfern reached 9 for 217 against Central Cumberland. Canterbury and Paddington had a bye. Most of the clubs were missing their Australian representatives, who were still on board the ship bringing them home from a tour of England. Sydney Premier Cricket isn’t quite the oldest cricket league in the world: the Birmingham League was formed in 1888, and the Victorian Pennant competition began a year later.

It helps if you get on

We probably knew this already, but it’s a huge advantage to be able to get onto the ground when it rains. On the weekend, results were reached in only four of the ten First Grade games. Penrith and Sydney seized the chance to move to the top of the table, and Wests and Manly hauled themselves back into the pack after starting slowly. Twelve other teams had to be happy with a solitary point for the draw. Premiers Parramatta had the most reason to feel aggrieved: after piling up 7 for 383, they reduced Campbelltown-Camden to 6 for 83 before running out of time. Nick Bertus (predictably) and Trent Crittenden hit hundreds for Parramatta, and off-spinner Liam Lofts continued his impressive start to the season, grabbing two wickets for next to nothing.

Hayden McLean had a Phil Antman moment

You may not remember the late Phil Antman, but he was a strongly-built seamer who bowled a useful inducker and led the Gordon attack through much of the 1970s. He was in the NSW training squad for a while, and played well for NSW Colts, without ever quite breaking through into Shield cricket. Anyway, back in 1976-77, Geoffrey Boycott was refusing to play for England because they wouldn’t make him captain, and instead he spent a season with Waverley (as Eastern Suburbs was then known). In one sense, it went quite well: in 15 innings, he racked up seven hundreds, on his way to 1160 runs at an average of 165. Unfortunately, he spent so much time getting those runs (often batting well into the second day), that Waverley won only two games all season. The point is that, in the middle of all that heavy scoring, Waverley played Gordon at Chatswood, and Phil Antman slipped an inswinger past Boycott’s usually impregnable defence, bowling the Yorkshireman for 1. Events like that are less frequent than they used to be, because leading players turn out so rarely in Premier Cricket these days, but something similar happened in the match between University of NSW and Randwick-Petersham. At one end, David Warner - Test average 48 (higher than Boycott, as it happens), 21 Test hundreds, fresh from a match-winning century in Round One. With the ball, Hayden McLean - career record, 42 First Grade wickets at 37. But it only takes one ball. In the third over of the innings, McLean bowled the former Test vice-captain for only 2 - an event that at least one of them will remember for a very long time. Rain prevented play on the second day when the match was evenly, and interestingly, poised.

Lachlan Hearne is in good touch

After an excellent start to his First Grade career last season, Mosman left-hander Lachlan Hearne has opened the season in exceptional touch, following his first-round 59 not out (which clinched victory against Steve Smith’s Sutherland) with an impressive 92 against Northern District. Hearne is already firmly established in the various junior pathways run by Cricket NSW and Cricket Australia, but he’s providing Mosman with excellent value before he disappears off to the next round of junior representative games. After 12 matches in Firsts, he now averages just a tick under 82 with the bat. Not that it’s any of our business, but it’s probably time to promote him from number six in the order, given that nothing he’s faced so far in First Grade seems to have bothered him much.

Jono Cook isn’t ready to give up the O’Reilly Medal

It used to be said that the best way to win the O’Reilly Medal was to be an all-rounder in a team that wasn’t conspicuously strong. The logic was that you’d have the chance of earning points on both days of the game, and not a huge amount of competition from your own team-mates. Leg-spinner Jono Cook fits that profile, although the simple fact is that he won the O’Reilly Medal last season because he was outstanding with the ball (leading the competition with 53 wickets). Again this season he’s already emphasised that he’s easily the outstanding player in the Western Suburbs side. Wests were in all sorts of trouble when Cook went in at 5-98 against Fairfield-Liverpool, but he dragged his side out of trouble with a combative 75. Then he captured three wickets on the second day, leading his side to a narrow, 31-run victory. Wests will win their share of games this year, Cook will have a hand in most of them, and you can be sure he’ll figure prominently in the O’Reilly Medal voting at the season’s end.

Five Things We Learned from Round One

Round One was like a Seventies flashback

Most Seventies flashbacks are bad. Generally, they involve bad hair, brightly-coloured synthetic fabrics, and a kill-me-now choice between disco music and way, way too much Abba. But one feature of Grade cricket in the 70s made a welcome return on Saturday - the competition was boosted by the presence of half a dozen current and former Test players.

This used to be part of what made Sydney Grade cricket such an effective competition for developing future first-class cricketers. In the distant time before the game became fully professional, international players often turned out for their clubs, and no-one progressed past Grade cricket until he had been thoroughly tested by some exceptional players. Take for example the last pre-Packer season, 1976-77. In the early rounds of that competition, there were current and recent internationals like Kerry O’Keeffe, Ian Davis, Dave Colley, Doug Walters and Rick McCosker all turning out for their club sides. Past Test players like Bob Simpson and Brian Booth were still playing, and Geoff Boycott and Andy Roberts were beginning stints as overseas imports. Several current players got a taste of that challenge when Steve Smith (Sutherland), David Warner (Randwick-Petersham), Pat Cummins (Penrith), Josh Hazlewood and Trent Copeland (St George) and Ed Cowan (Sydney University) all took the field on Saturday. Smith and Warner were there because of their suspensions, of course, but it was great to see them both trying hard for their clubs and making a huge difference to the standard of the competition. Anyone who plays with or against them this season will benefit from the experience.

Manly’s depth is being tested

Manly, last season’s Club Champion, has become a victim of its own success. The Waratahs have supplied no fewer than five players to the NSW JLT Cup squad - Chris Green, Jay Lenton, the Edwards brothers and Steve O’Keefe. That’s outstanding, but unfortunately, it leaves a large hole in the First Grade side, especially after the loss of the Crosthwaites to North Sydney (a move that will make life at North Sydney Oval that much busier for both the scorers and the tea ladies). Add to that the unavailability of a few other players, like Cameron Merchant, and Manly was seriously under-strength on the weekend, losing all five matches to Sydney University. Manly’s junior development program has been too good in recent years for this to be anything more than a blip, but there could be a few hard rounds ahead before the teams get back towards their usual strength. University was clinical in First Grade: Ed Cowan hit a sparkling 69, Ryan McElduff struck the ball cleanly in his maiden fifty and captain Liam Robertson batted brightly for 50. Seamers Tim Ley (2-25) and Ben Joy (2-13) gave nothing away before leg-spinner Devlin Malone (4-35) wrapped up the innings. Nick Walker, who once represented some other tertiary institution, made a good start to his career with the club, hanging on to five catches behind the stumps.

Easts have a Moran-shaped hole in their side

On paper, despite the losses of Nic Maddinson to Victoria and Will Somerville to his native New Zealand, Eastern Suburbs looks to have maintained a very competitive First Grade side this year. New recruits Henry Hunt and Harry Dalton would enhance any team in Sydney, and some of last season’s promising younger players look ready to step up. But there’s no escaping the Ian Moran-shaped hole in the side. The veteran all-rounder has finally retired, after an extraordinary career in which he became the second-highest run scorer in the competition’s history (as well as taking over 400 wickets). It isn’t as though he was losing form - last season, he contributed 758 runs at 47. Somehow, he was one of Sydney’s most consistently under-estimated cricketers - people knew he was good, but didn’t realise just how good. Easts are likely to be reminded of it this season.

The Bees scored the first upset of the season

Last season, Campbelltown-Camden won the minor premiership, and University of NSW propped up the ladder in 18th place, so the Ghosts could hardly be blamed if they expected a straightforward opening to 2018-19. But the Raby pitch proved unusually sympathetic to the bowlers, and the home side never recovered after Joshua Bennett knocked the top off their innings. The crucial wicket, as so often, was Phil Wells, who edged Bennett to keeper Matt Gilkes before scoring. Campbelltown’s tail folded to the left arm spin of Suthangan Thanabalasingam, who walked off with 4-26 from seven overs. It’s a fair guess that no-one outside his immediate family expected that: this is the spinner’s tenth season of Premier cricket, and before last weekend he had taken only a single First Grade wicket. Jarrad Burke, who has taken rather more than that, threatened to claw his side back into the game when he reduced the Bees to 4-25 (including the first-ball dismissal of key man David Dawson), but Marcus Attallah and Nivek Tanner restored order with a stand of 59. It took the Bees 48 overs to creep to their target, but they got there.

Craig Di Blasio enjoys Blick Oval

Which not many people do. Wests’ lower graders used to call it Bleak Oval. Although the umpires actually ranked Blick as the third-best lower grade ground last season, it’s a difficult place to love, carved into the side of a windswept hill. When you get slogged over the fence, the ball runs away down the hill towards Canterbury Racecourse. The facilities are basic and, early in the season, the pitch tends to be on the dusty side. But Craig Di Blasio likes it. The Sydney Third Grade all-rounder was in all sorts of trouble midway through Saturday. He missed out with the bat and was staring at defeat after his side had collapsed for 135, and Wests had cruised to 2 for 92. Then Di Blasio and Oliver Little got to work, and in a handful of overs the last eight wickets crashed for only 14 runs. Di Blasio, who sends down flattish left-arm orthodox spin from a perfunctory run-up, finished with 5-22 from his ten overs. It’s the sixth time he has taken five wickets in an innings for Sydney, and three of those have come against Wests; last time he played at Blick, he scored 60 and took 5-77, so he won’t mind more trips to Canterbury in the future. As a footnote to the game, the only batsman to master the conditions was Lawrence Prittipaul, who hit an unbeaten 53 for Sydney. Prittipaul is Shivanrine Chanderpaul’s cousin, and a former Hampshire batsman, who hit 152 against Derbyshire in his third first-class game, back in 2000. He’s now 38, but could cause a lot of grief to Third Grade bowlers this season.