Five things we learned from Round 14

Five things we learned from Round 14

Ten into six doesn't go

To be honest, ever since Greg Mail retired, we've struggled around here with any mathematical calculations requiring more than the use of ten fingers.  But even we can figure out that with one day of the preliminary rounds remaining, there are ten teams that have at least a mathematical chance of playing First Grade finals cricket.  That's a tribute to the close-fought nature of one of the most even First Grade competitions for many years.  Here are some of the possible outcomes.

After mowing down Mosman's target of 430 in ridiculously easy style, Campbelltown-Camden (58) will play in the finals no matter what happens, and can't lose out on the top three.  That's a remarkable achievement for the side that finished 20th last season.  But it won't have everything its own way against Sydney University - the Premiers and  freshly-minted Limited Overs champions are likely to be strengthened by Ed Cowan and Nick Larkin and will be pressing hard for a top-three spot in the match of the round.  If University knocks off Campbelltown, Parramatta (58, and a courageous loser in the one-day final) leap-frogs into first place if it can overcome Randwick-Petersham.  Even if Parramatta loses, it needs to lose by a giant margin, and watch Sydney win by a large margin, to finish any lower than second.  Sydney (52) plays Sutherland.  If it wins, it stays in the top three, and has a faint mathematical chance of finishing higher on quotient if it wins well and both Campbelltown and Parramatta lose heavily (which, if you want quotients figured out, give Greg Mail a call).  Where it all starts to get interesting is with Sydney University (4th on 50).  University could end up in the top three if it wins at Raby and Sutherland take out Sydney.  But if it loses, it could end up outside the top six altogether because if Sutherland, Gordon and Bankstown all win, they would all go past the Students.  It's an easy equation for Sutherland (49) - they just need to win.  If they don't, they'll be passed by whoever wins the game between Bankstown and Easts, and then they'll need each of Gordon, Manly and Randwick-Petersham to lose, which could happen but you wouldn't be holding your breath.  Same with Gordon (45) whose good fortune it is to meet last-placed Blacktown in the final round.  Blacktown went down pretty meekly to University of NSW in Round 14 but did beat Northern District the round before, so Gordon won't be taking this one for granted.  It's theoretically possible for Gordon to win and still miss out, if Bankstown wins with a massive quotient boost.  If Gordon loses, they miss out for sure, because the winner of the Bankstown-Easts game goes past them.  Bankstown (45) gets in if it beats Easts and one of Gordon, Sutherland and Sydney University loses.  Manly (44) Eastern Suburbs (44) and Randwick-Petersham (44) get by winning well and being lucky enough for one of Sutherland, Gordon and Bankstown to lose, or Sydney University losing badly enough to trash its quotient. 

None of which factors in rain, or bonus points or ties.  For which we need far, far more than ten fingers. 

Northern District has a very handy Second Grade side

Basically, if Northern District's Seconds decided to hold their Mad Monday this Friday night, and got so badly hammered that not one of the side remembered to turn up to play North Sydney on Saturday, and the SCA got furious with them and stripped them of ten points as a punishment... they'd still be minor premiers in Seconds.  Their lead with one game to play is 16 points, and the disparity between the Rangers' places in Firsts and Seconds makes you wonder whether the club's selectors have got every single decision right this season.  They really should have lost against Fairfield in the last round, after Vishal Vuppalalapati (5-43) knocked them over for 138, but the bowlers responded so well that they defended even that meagre total.  What was most remarkable is that Fairfield weren't so much blown away as ground down - their 128 occupied 86.3 overs!  Max Webber did the most damage with 4-37 while Nathan Maskell, in his first game up, took 2-20 from 17.4 overs.  Elsewhere in Twos, Mosman, Hawkesbury and Manly will be playing finals cricket.  Effectively, Sydney University and Campbelltown-Camden play off for a place in the finals - if University loses, it will need last-placed Sutherland to beat sixth-placed Sydney, and good luck with that. If Sydney win, they're in the top six - but if they did lose, then Penrith could sneak in with a win over University of NSW if Campbelltown loses as well.

Parramatta has given Northern District a chance in Thirds

Parramatta's collapse for 75 at the hands of Easts' Jameson Coutts (7-35) led to the Eels' second defeat of the season and cost them the chance to wrap up the minor premiership in Third Grade.  Parramatta still leads the table, on 65 points, but if they lose to Randwick-Petersham and Northern District (63) beats North Sydney, then Northern District will steal the minor premiership.  Northern District should account for North Sydney, whose spirits will be low after last week's pounding at the hands of Penrith, for whom Tom Sargeant compiled a massive 234 not out, passing his previous best for the season by a ridiculous 180 runs.  It wasn't enough to haul Penrith back into the mix for the finals.  Parramatta, Northern District, Sydney University and Mosman will all be there.  Easts are safe if they beat Bankstown, and Sydney needs to beat bottom-of-the-table Sutherland.  Randwick-Petersham can make the six by beating Parramatta and hoping that Sydney loses; Gordon could get there by beating Blacktown and hoping that Sydney and Randwick-Petersham both lose.  If Sydney, Randwick-Petersham and Gordon all lose, and Manly wins strongly over Mosman, then Manly could take sixth spot.

There's a clear top three in Fourths

It's an uncontroversial statement to say that Manly (77), Northern District (74) and Wests (72) will make up the top three in Fourths.  The rest is up in the air.  Gordon (57), Sydney (56) and Randwick-Petersham (53) all need to win to be sure of a spot because they could all be passed by one or more of Sydney University (52), Penrith (52), Parramatta (51) and Hawkesbury (50). Wests' Fourths have been the Magpies' strongest performers this year, with opening bowler Rowan Carthey emphasising his value by claiming 6-59 in the win over Hawkesbury.  That gives him 42 wickets in Fours so far this season (the most in the grade for any club) - and importantly, he averages a wicket every four overs or so.  Each of the top three teams fields a penetrative attack -  Manly's Brad Wilson, Michael Counsell and Sam Alexander have been highly effective with the ball, and Jack Straw has 32 cheap wickets for Northern District.

There are two spots up for grabs in Fifths

In Fifth Grade, Penrith (78), Gordon (74), University of NSW (67) and Parramatta (64) will all be in the finals.  If Penrith stumbles against University of NSW, then Gordon can take top spot by beating Blacktown.  Manly (57) and Mosman (52) effectively play off for a spot in the six, although if Mosman wins, Manly will remain in contention if both Sutherland and Bankstown lose.  Sutherland stays in by beating Sydney, or if Mosman and Bankstown both lose.  Bankstown needs to beat Easts and hope that at least one of Manly or Sutherland loses.

Now, read all that again, and tell us what's missing.  Give up?  Then you're under the age of forty.  With one round remaining, not a single St George team can make the finals in grades 1 to 5.  There was a time when that would have been unthinkable (only last year, 3rds, 4ths and 5ths were all there) and it's hard to remember when that last happened.  Maybe this is a good thing, and we should be celebrating the diverse success of many clubs - but St George has been, for years, one of the great engines of New South Wales cricket, and it will be good for the competition when they bounce back.  Notice we didn't say "if".

Five Things We Learned from Round 13

If we're writing about you, your career could be in trouble

Every now and then Five Things gets a cranky call from a club secretary somewhere in Sydney, complaining that we've been unnecessarily snarky about their afternoon teas, or ground, or Fourth Grade captain, or something.  And we're sorry, kind of.  A bit.  But a sober analysis of the data shows that the time to get mad is when we say something nice about you.  Look at it: we raved about Jamie Brown's hot streak of form - the next week, he scored five.  We praised Jonathan Cook's consistency: he immediately endured his only wicketless day of the season.  Nick Bertus couldn't hit one in the middle for a month after we pushed his representative claims.  Danny Bhandari responded to our recognition of his efforts by getting suspended and making a duck on his return, before retiring hurt in the second innings.  Even Jarrad Burke's tattoo is probably fading now (although we may have made that up - we're too scared to check).  Forget criticism - it's when we say something positive about you that you know you're in trouble.

Sydney University plays Bankstown again on Saturday.  Bankstown is a fantastic team.

There are no upsets

It's tempting to say something about the upsets in Round 13 of First Grade, but the truth is that, this season, there are no upsets.  It's been more than four rounds since the team coming first on the ladder actually won a game.  Not for the first time, University of NSW enjoyed complicating life for the older institution of higher learning, with run-machine Nick Selman (131) and Josh Bennett (5-69) excelling, although a dogged last wicket stand between Ben Joy and Lawrence Neil-Smith denied the Bees the points.  Fairfield-Liverpool was surprised by North Sydney's Anjan Oberai, who rescued the Bears from 2-35 to hit a rapid, unbeaten 184.  Similarly, Sutherland was overwelmed by a Josh Clarke masterclass; he hit 188 not out to make 320 look an easy target for Hawkesbury.  At the moment, there are no guaranteed points anywhere, which will make the last two rounds extremely interesting.  Two obviously important match-ups this week are Easts and Parramatta, and Gordon's visit to Sutherland.  Gordon has been a touch off the pace all season but could conceivably sneak into the top six if it upsets Sutherland at Glenn McGrath - except, remember, there are no upsets.

But one pair of finalists is settled

At least we can be sure who will meet in the First Grade Limited Overs final - it's Sydney University and Parramatta, at Old Kings on 4 March.  The surprising thing about the weekend's semi-finals was Parramatta's margin of victory over Easts, who were under-strength but still fielded reliable pro Angus Robson, the ageless Ian Moran and Nic Maddinson, who may be the best white-ball striker in Sydney at the moment.  But Jack White removed Maddinson early, Ben Martin dismissed Robson for 2, and only Moran, with 52 from 60, troubled the Parramatta attack for long.  When Parramatta lost 2-21 it was anyone's game, but Will Affleck and Nick Bertus calmly added 148 for the third wicket to end the contest.  Sydney University continued its long tradition of winning tight games against Bankstown in which Tim Ley plays a crucial role.  After Damien Mortimer (91) and rookie of the year Hayden Kerr (78 from 72) propelled University to a competitive 289, Ley claimed 4-42 to clinch the match.  Bankstown looked well-placed at 1-134 before Kerr removed Daniel Solway (53) and Brendan Smith (59) in quick succession.  Kerr's clean striking has brought him 614 runs at an average above 40 in his first full season in Firsts, and his left-arm seamers have often contributed handy wickets.

This season can't last too long for Scott Rodgie

Gordon ran down Mosman in a high-scoring game of Bat at Chatswood Oval, but it wasn't Scott Rodgie's fault.  His third hundred of the season took him past 1000 runs (including T20 games).  The Mosman captain's consistency has been phenomenal: he has passed fifty in ten of his 17 innings and failed to reach double figures only twice.  He's been chipping in with the ball as well, taking ten wickets in the last three matches.  In Round 13, Rodgie hit 126, took four wickets and ran out Axel Chalin, and ordinarily a player who did all that would expect to end up on the winning side.  Chasing 378, Gordon lost its eighth wicket at 332, and batting ten was Alex Patterson, who had never made more than 24 in 40-odd Premier Cricket innings.  But Elliot Richter played his best knock of the season, an unbeaten 77, while Patterson equalled his career-best score, ending on 24 not out, as Gordon ran down the target with ease.

North Sydney needs a new keeper in Fourths

You may have seen, during the last round of Shield matches, that Tasmania's wicket-keeper, Matt Wade, responded to Jackson Bird's injury by taking off his pads and wrapping up Queensland's innings with a quick burst of medium-pace.  Sadly, Wade's 3-13 made him only the second most impressive bowling keeper of the week.  Darryl Hands, in North Sydney's Fourth Grade side, has worn the gloves for most of the season, as well as opening the batting.   But James Leary, up from Fifth Grade, had the gloves in Round 13, and when Fairfield-Liverpool had reached 1 for 71, the Bears' captain, Chris Lloyd, threw the ball to Hands.   The result - 8.3 overs of left arm wrist spin, 6 maidens, six wickets for seven runs, as Fairfield lost nine for 34.  North Sydney won outright after Leary hit a century and Hands grabbed three more wickets, although at the disappointingly normal cost of 36 runs.  We've now reached that enjoyable part of the season when lower grade bowlers make the most of dodgy post-Christmas pitches and under-strength opponents to collect ridiculously cheap wickets.  Also in Fourth Grade, Hawkesbury's Ethan Franke nabbed 5-6 as Sutherland crashed for 34, and Randwick-Petersham's veteran leg spinner Rod Stafford took a hat-trick in his 5-17 as St George lost outright, subsiding for 59.

Five things we learned from Round 11

Five things we learned from Round 11

Jamie Brown has broken through

It's taken longer than expected for this to happen, but Jamie Brown has emerged this season as a genuine force in the First Grade competition.  The Sutherland right-hander was identified as an exciting prospect as long ago as 2008 when, at 13, he played the first of his three seasons in the AW Green Shield side.  By 18, he was in First Grade.  But it took him a while to find his feet.  In 2013-14, he took a break from the game, sitting out the whole season.  After he returned, he hit his maiden century in Firsts, but lost the confidence of the club selectors and spent most of 2015-16 in seconds.  He bounced back strongly in 2016-17, scoring more than 700 runs, but his career average remained below thirty, and he had managed only two hundreds in 61 innings.  There was nothing about his start to this season that suggested anything better; he opened with scores of 4, 4 and 8.  Since Round 8, though, he's been unstoppable.  He hit a rapid 101 in a 50 over match with Penrith, followed that with 109 at North Sydney, and narrowly missed a third successive century when Randwick-Petersham's Adam Semple trapped him lbw for 91.   He made up for that in Round 11, with a patient, matchwinning 126 against Bankstown.  That's a streak, and it's helped to propel Sutherland to the lead on the First Grade table.

Tim Ley is under-rated

Tim Ley turned 30 this season.  His pace isn't quite what it was, and it's unlikely that the representative selectors will be hunting for his phone number any time soon, but he remains a remarkably consistent and dangerous new ball bowler.  Even though he missed a game to nurse a delicate hamstring, he's the most successful fast bowler in the First Grade competition this year (with 27 wickets - 36 in all formats), moving the ball both ways, maintaining an excellent line and length, and putting to work all of his accumulated knowledge about how to get batsmen out.  He had a decent total to defend on Sunday, after Hayden Kerr, Steve Hobson, Nick Larkin, Damien Mortimer and Liam Robertson helped Sydney University to post 282 in their limited overs quarter final against Sydney.  But Sydney has a powerful batting line-up, and Drummoyne Oval was in great condition, so the game remained wide open - until the first two balls of Sydney's innings.  Tristen McDonald edged Ley's first ball through to Tim Cummins behind the stumps, and the second was a gem that flattened Dan Smith's off stump.  Sydney was 2-0 from two balls, and although Harry Dalton fought hard, there was no way back from there.  Ley took his 300th First Grade wicket earlier this season, and is a single good afternoon away from capturing his 500th wicket for the club.  he may fly under the radar, but he's critical to University's chances of retaining its First Grade premiership.

The future looks bright for Liam Scott

It wasn't a great weekend for Sydney, who were upset in First Grade by North Sydney and crashed out of the Limited Overs finals.  But there was a silver lining in Third Grade, where Liam Scott opened the batting and was still there when Craig Di Blasio declared, unbeaten on 201.  Scott, who has a preference for the on-side, faced 223 balls, hitting 26 to the fence as well as five sixes.  It was only Scott's ninth Grade game, as school commitments with Trinity Grammar School have limited his appearances so far, but he was a member of Balmain's premiership-winning Green Shield team last season, when he won two competitions with the Tigers (he hit 78 in the Fourth Grade grand final).  An Australian Under-15 representative, he played for Cricket Australia in the 2016-17 Under-17 championships before turning out for NSW Metro this year, when he scored 57 in the grand final win over Queensland.  At the age of 17, he already has a knack of scoring runs in finals, and (when free from injury), he's also a very handy medium-quick bowler with a high, upright action.  In the Sydney club's long history, no-one had ever scored a double-century in Third Grade before, and Scott is unlikely to linger in Thirds for very much longer.

It's crunch time for Manly

Manly did everything it needed to do last round, with a clinical demolition job on Blacktown.  Michael Visser and Mickey Edwards cut through the Warriors' top order, reducing them to 5 for 28, before Thomas Kaye finished the job with 4-9, his best return in the top grade to date.  Then James Crosthwaite pounded 141 from only 116 balls, adding 167 for the second wicket with his brother, Adam (who hit 69).  But Blacktown (and especially Jake Fawcett, whose unbeaten century soaked up 151 balls and included 11 fours and six sixes) did well to prevent Manly from taking full points, and the result leaves Manly just outside the top six.  Manly's next two matches are against Bankstown (6th) and Parramatta (2nd) - so by the end of Round 13, they could be securely lodged inside the top six, or well adrift of it.

Easts are scary at full strength

 Campbelltown probably thought they had a decent chance of knocking Easts out of the Limited Overs Cup after Phil Wells (97) steered them to a total of 264, and left-armer Luke Webb dismissed Peter Nevill for only 3.  But when Easts are at full strength, getting rid of Nevill just brings Nic Maddinson and Angus Robson together.  Maddinson has had an odd season, struggling for a run in four-day cricket, while often rising to quite spectacular levels in the short game.  On Sunday he went beserk, thrashing 113 (out of 145 runs scored while he was at the crease) from only 56 balls, launching five sixes along with 13 fours.  Robson anchored the rest of the innings with an unbeaten 83.  Easts now meet Parramatta in the semi-final, but that's on 18 February, when the New South Wales team has a Shield game in Adelaide.  Maddinson, Nevill, Will Somerville and Harry Conway might all be chosen for that game, in which case the match will become a test of Easts' depth rather than its horsepower.

Five Things We Learned from Round 10

Five Things We Learned from Round 10

Allan Border Oval is not its full name

The full name of the ground formerly known as Mosman Oval is the "Allan Border would still get runs here, at the age of 62, batting right-handed, Oval".

There have already been plenty of tall scores at Mosman this season, but it's hard to imagine that any of the pitches there this season were more soul-destroying for bowlers than the surface produced for Round 10.  The bare scores (which show that 17 wickets fell) are deceptive.  Sydney University actually reached 2 for 360 before losing late wickets in the pre-declaration slog.  Mosman, in reply, made it to 3 for 192 before losing late wickets to a combination of pressure and reverse swing.  There was no bounce or carry for the quicker bowlers, no turn for the spinners.  It may be time, at the season's end, to dig up the square and start again, in the hope that something resembling a contest between bat and ball might be restored.  We can think of a few bowlers who would be happy to turn up with shovels to get things started.

Give Nick Larkin a road, and he will drive

Whatever the surface, 246 is a lot of runs.  Nick Larkin's epic innings for Sydney University against Mosman was only the latest reminder of his dominance over bowlers in Premier Cricket.  He batted for nearly six hours, faced 276 balls, hitting five of them over the fence and 25 fours.  He was merciless on anything aimed at his pads, drove fluently, despatched anything short, and disrupted the spinners' line with some well-executed reverse sweeps.  Records fell around him throughout the day.  He equalled the 13th highest score ever recorded in Sydney First Grade (246 was also scored by Balmain's Bill Donaldson and was the highest Grade innings by someone from St George called Bradman).  He became only the second Sydney University batsman to score two double hundreds in First Grade (after Greg Mail, who did it three times).  He passed 5500 First Grade runs in his career, and he fell only seven runs short of the highest score in First Grade for Sydney University.  That record, oddly, is shared by two Test batsmen: Johnny Taylor hit 253 against Waverley in 1923-24 (after winning the inter-college swimming relay for Wesley College in the morning) and Ed Cowan equalled that score against Manly in 2006-07.  The highest score ever recorded for University's 1st XI was notched by Tom Garrett in 1888-89, five seasons before the Grade competition was established.  The Test all-rounder hit 274 against the Albert Club.  As the game's laws didn't then allow for a declaration, University batted throughout the whole of the two-day game, reaching 635, and not allowing their opponents to face a single delivery.

If Daniel Solway passes 20, you're in trouble

Sutherland heads to Bankstown Oval for Round 11 this week, and they need to give serious thought to what to do about Daniel Solway.  Bankstown's opener notched his fifth century of the Premier Cricket season against Northern District on Saturday, a relentless 174, sharing in a second-wicket stand of 263 with Brendan Smith.  Solway doesn't just make hundreds - he makes big hundreds, with scores of 168, 177 and 174 to his credit already this season.  The one glimmer of hope for opposing bowlers is that, to match his five centuries,  Solway also has five scores under twenty this season.  Bankstown's opponents need to use the new ball wisely and pick up Solway in the first half-hour or so - otherwise, they're in for a long day.

The competition table is taking shape

Two-thirds of the way through the season, the First Grade competition ladder has finally taken on a distinct shape.  There's the top six: Campbelltown (still on top despite its first defeat), Sydney University, Sutherland, Parramatta, Sydney and Bankstown - all clustered within five points of each other.  Then there are four clubs (Easts, Manly, Randwick-Petersham and Wests) close enough to the top six that a few good results could get them in there.  And then there are the bottom ten clubs, whose prospects of playing in the finals rest upon a combination of highly optimistic maths and a very improbable sequence of results.  The four clubs filling positions seven to ten on the ladder will take some encouragement from the Round 11 draw: Sydney University (2nd) plays Parramatta (4th) and Sutherland (3rd) plays Bankstown (6th), so it's likely that at least two of the top six clubs won't advance away from the pack.

And then there was one...

Campbelltown-Camden's first defeat of the First Grade season means that there's only one unbeaten side remaining in Premier Cricket: Parramatta's Third Grade, which has managed 9 wins and a rain-affected draw from ten matches.  Efficient bowling has been the key to Parramatta's success - in ten games to date, only Gordon (who hit 332 in that drawn game) has reached 200 against them.  Anand Verma, once a Gordon First Grader, has led the attack, with good support from captain Jason Coleman and Liam Lofts.  Keeper Taylor Charles has batted well, and there have been several good contributions form Green Shield player Harrison King.  Barring some major implosion, Parramatta's lead in the Club Championship already looks unassailable, even with five rounds remaining: similarly, its Third Grade side could lose its remaining five games and still play in the finals (not that anyone expects that to happen).

Five Things We Learned from Round 9

Five Things We Learned from Round 9

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.

 

Five Things We Learned from Round 8

Five Things We Learned from Round 8

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.

Five Things We Learned from Round 7

Five Things We Learned from Round 7

There's more room in the air

Not strictly Round 7, but it's hard to ignore Shane Watson's performance in Sundays' Kingsgrove Sports T20 semi-final for Sutherland against Mosman.  Allan Border Oval is a small ground with a flat pitch, where batting records always look a bit vulnerable, but even so Watson's furious 114 not out from only 53 balls was exceptional.  Mosman actually started the game well, reaching 2 for 111 with Scott Rodgie blasting 72 from 51 balls and Johan Botha 36 from 33.  But Watson made his first intervention to remove Botha, after which Mosman limped to 8 for 150 - slightly below par.  Watson hit the first ball of Sutherland's innings for 4 (the only four he hit) and then took only four runs from his next seven balls, showing plenty of respect to Danul Dassanayake's off breaks.  But from his next 46 deliveries, he hit 110 runs, 96 of them by clearing the fence 16 times.   He reached 50 from 29 balls (7 sixes) and 100 from 50 (with 14 sixes).  Shortly after he reached fifty, he drilled the ball straight to Botha at long-on, but the ball bounced from the former South African captain's chest over the fence for yet another six.  Sutherland didn't lose a wicket until Jarryd Biviano fell to George Crowe with the total on 149, and Watson hit the winning runs with a ridiculous 28 balls to spare.

Watson had never hit as many as 16 sixes in a senior match before, and it seems to be a record for Sydney First Grade cricket in any of the three formats.  In 1906-07, Test fast bowler Tibby Cotter smashed 16 sixes in a furious innings of 156 for Glebe against Waverley.  It's true that the legendary Victor Trumper cleared the fence 22 times while scoring 335 (in a single afternoon) for Paddington against Glebe on 31 January 1903.  But at that time, hits over the fence scored only five runs (and Trumper had to change ends each time he hit one), so technically the record for sixes stands with Cotter and Watson.  According to Tom Iceton, font of all knowledge on Sutherland cricket, Watson also passed the record for the highest T20 score for Sutherland, previously held by a certain Steve Smith.

All of which meant that another impressive performance was overlooked.  In the midst of the run-scoring orgy, Sutherland opening bowler Jake Wilson took 4-23 from his four overs, playing a key role in holding Mosman to 150 - especially by removing Dan Hughes before he scored.  On pretty much any other day, it would have been a man-of-the-match effort.  

Jack Preddey had a day out

It's taken a while for Jack Preddey to find his feet in First Grade.  He started out with Randwick-Petersham, one of his father's old clubs, then moved on to share the misery of Campbelltown's 2016-17 season, and has now turned up at Easts, taking the spot left vacant by Jonte Pattison's move to Northern District.  His opportunities at Easts have been limited by the team's batting strength and the form of the side's senior spinner, Will Somerville.  But last Saturday, he seized the chance to make a decisive impact on the game, going to the crease when the score was five for 152, with Easts in urgent need of a boost from its lower order.  Preddey cracked an unbeaten 60 from 52 balls, sharing a rapid unbroken stand of 67 for the seventh wicket with new keeper, Sam Mullens (who hit 26 not out from 16 balls on his debut).  Daniel Nicotra and Josh Hilder gave Blacktown's chase a decent platform with an opening partnership of 51, but then Somerville (4-36) and Preddey (4-39) ran through the innings.  Easts' comfortable victory left them in second place on the First Grade table, while Preddey could celebrate two career-best efforts on the same day.

Oliver Pope is one to watch

It seems as though half the cricketers in England are in Australia at the moment, in one touring squad of another, pouring beers over each other at The Avenue (short for "aven' you had enough?") or playing for club sides in the hope of being called up into one of the squads where they pour beers over each other.  This isn't entirely fanciful - remember Scott Borthwick being summoned from Northern District to play a Test at the SCG?  Anyway, flying a bit under the radar at Campbelltown-Camden is Surrey's 19 year old keeper-batsman, Ollie Pope, who made a strong impact on the county scene in 2017.  Fresh from Cranleigh  School, Pope hit an unbeaten 100 against Hampshire in only his third County Championship match and showed plenty of invention in the T20 games.  He hit 114 against St George in only his second game for the Ghosts, and on Saturday he helped Philip Wells (97) chase down a tricky target against Gordon, notching 72 not out from 90 balls.  Wells and Pope added 159 for the third wicket and were brutal on Charlie Stobo - the Blues fast bowler leaked 60 runs from only 6.4 overs.  Campbelltown held onto top spot in First Grade, and Pope continued to give the impression that he may be back in Australia with a touring team before too much longer.

We need to talk about Nick Bertus

Hawkesbury's total of 204 was never going to be enough to challenge Parramatta once Tim Ward and Nick Bertus got going on Saturday, and the two batsmen probably regretted that they didn't have a few more to chase, since Ward finished up on 98 not out, with Bertus unbeaten on 90.  That pushed Parramatta into the top six, and it also gave Bertus 502 First Grade runs this season at an average above 100.  Which follows a series of highly prolific seasons for the left-hander.  And a Futures League season in which, so far, he has hit 251 in three innings without being dismissed.  It seems puzzling, and a little troubling, that New South Wales cricket doesn't appear to offer much opportunity for such a consistently successful performer.  Not to pick on Nic Maddinson, a gifted player who no doubt would score runs by the truckload if he played club cricket regularly, but in the five Shield games so far this season, he has scored 177 runs at 17.70 without reaching fifty once and without ever appearing in danger of losing his place.  Selections are never easy and often controversial, but there are times when it would be comforting to see a more direct correlation between performance and reward.  One obvious example: last season, Tom Rogers won a premiership with Sydney University and was named the Toyota Futures League player of the season, but was somehow judged not good enough to win a State contract.  So he went to Tasmania.  That's the Tasmania that just beat New South Wales by ten wickets in Hobart, where Rogers took 2-37 and 3-32.  So far this season he has 15 wickets at 16.06 from four Shield games.  It would be no surprise if Bertus were thinking about whether he needs to move to win more recognition.

The smart money is on Clark

Here's a trick to bear in mind when spot betting takes off in Sydney Premier cricket - put your money on the next wicket to fall to Blacktown being taken by a bowler named Clark.  The father and son combination dominates the Warriors' Second Grade side, with the veteran Tony already gathering 26 wickets this year with nagging little medium-paced things.  On Saturday, the father and son combination destroyed Easts by taking the first four wickets between them for only 17 runs.  Tony finished his ten overs with 6-33, while Ryan picked up 2-34.  Five Things is old enough to have played against Tony back when he was a fresh-faced young Sutherland player - who bowled loopy leg spin.  At the moment, he's playing as though he wants to be the first Premier cricketer to play in the same team as his grandson.

Five things we learned from Round 6

Five things we learned from Round 6

Campbelltown's resurgence is serious

After six rounds, last season's wooden spooners confirmed the strength of their recovery by hitting the lead in the First Grade competition.  The Ghosts thoroughly outplayed Western Suburbs, who have also improved significantly since last season, but had no answer to Luke Webb's left arm swing, crumbling for 79 in their first innings.  Webb only collected 19 First Grade wickets last season, but even then he unsettled a number of reputable players with his ability to bend the ball back in to the right-handers.  On Saturday, he snared his first five-wicket haul in the top grade, capturing 5-26 from only ten overs.  Aaron Yabsley, another player who endured Campbelltown's tough times last season, helped to set up the win with a rapid 75 on the first day; and, inevitably, new recruits Philip Wells (72) and Jarrad Burke (2-18) chipped in.  The Ghosts don't have an easy path through to the mid-season break, but if they can hold off Manly in Round 8 they could well celebrate Christmas with top place on the ladder.

Jonathan Cook is a force

That Campbelltown didn't have everything its own way at Raby Oval was largely due to the efforts of Jonathan Cook, who continues to keep Western Suburbs competitive in every match.  It's only the start of December, but already Cook has 30 wickets to his name.  Purists might argue that he doesn't give his leg breaks much air, but no one can question his accuracy of the impact of his subtle variations.  His 5-72 against Campbelltown was the third time this season the former Port Macquarie bowler has taken five in an innings (and twice he's taken four).  Not only is he the Magpies' most effective attacking force, he also keeps things tight, conceding little more than two and a half runs an over.  As captain, he couldn't ask much more of himself.

Steve Hobson looks at home in First Grade

It's always risky suggesting that something or other is a Premier Cricket record, because it usually turns out that it either happened in 1911, or Greg Mail did it (no, either, not both).  But we're fairly confident in suggesting that never before has a 39 year old batsman hit his maiden First Grade century immediately after taking a match off to attend a ballet concert.  Steve Hobson has been playing for Sydney University since he turned up just before the start of 2011-12.  A little bit of research would have turned up some impressive performances in South African junior cricket and the Surrey League, but as no one was quite sure who his was, he was placed in Fifth Grade, and responded by belting 240 against Parramatta.  Since then, he's scored heavily for the Students, mostly in Seconds, and early this season he made an unarguable case for promotion by hammering two hundreds in successive Second Grade games, including a record-breaking 229 not out.  The only problem was that he had committed, before the season began, to attending his daughter's ballet concert, so he was unavailable for Round 5.  He made up for lost time in Round 6, playing a highly assured innings against a good Sydney attack, driving confidently and punishing anything short.  He was ruthless against Ben Manenti's off spin, cutting and sweeping before lifting the ball over long on to bring up his hundred.  Even though he hasn't played all that much in Firsts, he's already playing as though he's been there for a long time.

Usman Qadir is a chip off the old block

You may need to ask your father who Abdul Qadir is - if he's forgotten, there's always YouTube.  Qadir took 236 Test wickets for Pakistan between 1977 and 1990 and was the best, and most entertaining, leg-spinner of the pre-Warne generation.  No fewer than four of his sons have played first-class cricket in Pakistan, and the most promising of them has been Usman, who turned out for his country at the Under-15, Under -19 and Under-23 levels.  He made his first-class debut in December 2013 but, in one of those situations that seems to occur remarkably often in Pakistan, he was given little to do with the ball and soon fell out of favour.  Deciding that his options were limited at home, he tried his luck for a while in Adelaide, and this season he's playing for Hawkesbury.  He started well against University of NSW, taking 5-84, then bowled a marathon spell against Northern District, collecting 6-111.  He has also been highly effective in the Twenty20 games, grabbing 2-14 and 3-15.  He may never reach the heights that his father scaled, but he has formed a very effective combination with Arjun Nair, and gives the Hawks a genuine attacking option on the generally blameless surface at Owen Earle Oval.

This is getting silly

In Round 5, Mosman's Seconds ran up 5 for 542 in only 82 overs against Fairfield-Liverpool, and did not win - the visitors batted out 115 overs to save the game.  Last round, the Whales hit 385 against Blacktown, and did not win - when rain ended play, the Warriors were 4 for 263.  That's 1583 runs on four days, with a wicket falling, on average, every 61 runs.  Both games were at Allan Border Oval.  It's none of our business, but if we were a Mosman bowler, we'd be buying the ground staff their Christmas beers early this year, and buying lots of them.

Five things we learned from Round 5

Five things we learned from Round 5

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.

 

Five Things We Learned from Round 4

Five Things We Learned from Round 4

Rain messes things up

Rain affected both days of Round 4 and, as it always does, had the effect of distorting the shape of the competition.  It wrecked the top-of-the-table clash at Waverley Oval, where Manly would have been disappointed at failing to extend its lead over Eastern Suburbs.  Easts had the best of the opening exchanges, with Sam Doggett and Harry Conway reducing the visitors to 3 for 11.  But a robust 103 from James Crosthwaite dragged Manly back into the contest.  Easts fought back through NSW representatives Conway and Will Somerville, who worked their way through the middle order so effectively that the seventh wicket fell at 184.  Manly bats deep, however, and Cameron Merchant is a distinctly useful player to have coming in at seven.  He hit a crisp 102 to boost the total to 283.  There were no such fluctuations on the second day when, in miserable conditions, five Easts batsmen reached 20 but none passed 30.  Michael Visser was the main threat, picking up four of the five wickets to fall.  It was a big day for Visser, who captured his 300th wicket for Manly when he bowled Greg Clarence.  Manly was well-placed to claim the win, but the weather closed in, while Will Somerville and Jack Preddey blocked diligently.  Both sides collected a point from the draw, which leaves the head of the table looking congested, with Manly on 20, Easts and Campbelltown on 19, and Sydney University on 18.

Wests are on the way back

Not even Manly would have been as deeply frustrated on the weekend as Western Suburbs were.  For all but a couple of hours of the game, Wests outplayed Sydney at Drummoyne Oval, but rain prevented the Magpies from collecting six points they richly deserved.  Accurate leg-spinner Jonathon Cook has emerged as one of the most reliable bowlers in the competition, and his four wickets on the first day  helped to dismiss Sydney for the moderate total of 273.  In truth, that score should have been lower, after the home side's eighth wicket fell at 173, but some uncomplicated biffing from Ben Manenti (43 from 47) and Nic Bills (76 from 101) boosted the total by another 100 runs before the last two wickets fell.  From 15 innings last season, Bills managed only 49 runs at 4.45, but he seems to have rediscovered his batting form of 2012-13, when he hit an unbeaten 96 for North Sydney against Bankstown.   English import Ned Eckersley (109 not out) and James Psarakis (52) put Wests on track with a third-wicket stand of 105, after which Alec Baldwin played aggressively as the rain approached.  When the game was cut short, Wests needed only 42 runs with seven wickets in hand, and they'll feel that only the weather denied them victory.   There are encouraging signs of a resurgence at Pratten Park this season, with Wests outplaying the premiers, Sydney University, and now Sydney, in the last two rounds.

Nigil Singh keeps on going

If you've played grade cricket at some time in the last 20 years, the chances are reasonably good that you've come up against Nigil Singh at some point.  The Fijian-born medium-pacer (an investment banker with Morgan Stanley) started his career with Randwick back in the pre-amalgamation days, and has now taken 479 wickets across the five grades since the combined club was formed (he also took 70-odd for the old Randwick club).  He had a brief, but very respectable, First Grade career, taking 27 wickets at 25.44 between 2004 and 2006, but after some problems with illness, he has concentrated on terrorising lower grade batsmen.  Last season, he was content to spend his time in Fifth Grade, where he led his side to a premiership, took 56 wickets at 11, rissoled Gordon for 25 in a semi-final (taking 7-18) and won the player-of-the-match award in the final.  This season, in Round 4, he turned up in Third Grade, where Randwick-Petersham were in all sorts of bother.  They were dismissed by University of NSW for only 161, and at stumps on day one, the Bees had reached one for 64.  The rain spiced up the David Phillips pitch on the second day and Singh, with his usual mixture of accuracy, swing and hostility, took full advantage.  He removed Tom Byrnes and Joshua Mellick with consecutive deliveries before a run had been scored on day two, and bowled relentlessly to rout University for 139.  He produced the remarkable figures of 6-32 from 24 overs, 14 of which were maidens.   Singh now has 247 wickets in Third Grade for Randwick-Petersham - just one decent spell away from 250.  But the more interesting statistic (and just about the only one you won't find in Lyall Gardner's comprehensive club records) is how many games Singh has won for his club.  Whatever the number was, add one more.

Panic is contagious

That rain, again.  It reduced the Third Grade game between Sydney University and Hawkesbury to a one-day game, theoretically of 120 overs duration, although the weather shortened play to 106.  The captains, Ash Cowan and Dean Laing, reached a gentlemen's agreement to split the overs, and University ground out nine for 209 from its 53 overs before declaring.  Veteran Hawks left-armer Shane Mott sent down 27 consecutive overs, bowling through the entire innings for his four wickets.   Hawkesbury started with 53 overs to chase down its target, although rain then reduced that to 40.  And for a while, it looked easy.  Eknoor Singh hit 55, Scott Baldwin 64, and the most experienced man in Premier Cricket, Dean Laing, scorer of several gazillion lower grade runs, was at the crease and well set on 19 as his side cruised to 3 for 202.  Eight to win, seven wickets in hand, four overs remaining.  Easy.  But then Baldwin lofted Jim Ryan to Jack Hill at long-off, Kieran Tate removed Mott for a duck, and panic set in.  In Ryan's last over, Laing and Tom Wood both clubbed drives to Hill at mid-off, and Matt Williams was bowled.  Ryan had grabbed four wickets in eight balls, and Hawkesbury still needed three runs from the final over.  Liam Hodge smashed the first ball from Tate away through the leg side for what his team-mates thought was the winning boundary.  But the rain had left the outfield heavy, and the batsmen ran only two, to level the scores.  Tate then flattened Hodge's middle stump.  Last man Adam Renfrey came to the crease with the scores tied and four balls remaining.  With the third ball of the last over, Tate beat the bat and narrowly missed the stumps, somehow prompting non-striker Tyson Beatty to set off for an optimistic bye.  Keeper Matt Powys gathered the ball cleanly and rolled an underarm throw at the stumps - which missed, but was gathered by Tate at the bowler's end.   While Renfrey and Beatty met in the crease at the striker's end, Tate calmly removed the bails to end the innings.  Hawkesbury lost seven for seven in 17 balls and if anyone can beat this for the collapse of the season, it will be truly spectacular. 

It was Tibby Cotter Round

The SCA named Round Four "Tibby Cotter Round" to mark the centenary of the death of the Test fast bowler, killed at Beersheba while serving with the Australian Light Horse.  So here are five things you may not know about Cotter's career in Grade cricket.

  • Cotter made his First Grade debut for Glebe against Central Cumberland at Parramatta Oval on 11 March 1899.  At 15 years, 98 days, he was the eighth-youngest debutant in Sydney First Grade.  There were two other debutants in the Glebe team, Warren Bardsley and Percy Dive, and all three of the newcomers went on to represent New South Wales (although Dive did not play for his State until 25 years later, in 1924-25).
  • In 101 First Grade games for Glebe, between 1898-99 and 1914-15, Cotter took 297 wickets at 20.22.  234 of these were bowled - 78.78% of his wickets.
  • He took four wickets in four balls against Sydney at Wentworth Park in 1910-11 (he took 7-39, all of them bowled).  He performed the hat-trick again against Redfern, also at Wentworth Park, in 1912-13.
  • In First Grade matches, he hit 2173 runs at 20.69.  When his hitting came off, he was phenomenally effective.  In 1906-07, he hit 152 in 85 minutes against Waverley at Waverley Oval, an innings that included 16 sixes.  The following season, he punished Waverley again, hitting 121 in 64 minutes.
  • His best First Grade season was 1906-07, when he scored 494 runs at 49.40 and took 37 wickets at 19.73.  His efforts propelled Glebe to equal first on the table, with the Paddington club, and a final was required to decide the premiership.  Cotter missed the final, preferring to tour north Queensland for money in a team assembled by Victor Trumper (and taking Glebe's wicket-keeper with him).  Paddington won the final, and Cotter was censured by his club's committee.

Five Things We Learned from Round 3

Five Things We Learned from Round 3

Counting is an under-rated skill

In the week in The Grade Cricketer published the second volume of his tortured thoughts on the game, it was somehow fitting that the author's club was tied up in a mess that will fit very neatly into volume three.

Wet weather stripped 26 overs from the match between Gordon and Northern District at Mark Taylor Oval and the reduced time and flat surface combined to create an old-fashioned declaration game.  Gordon batted into the second day, and captain Steve Colley (who led the way with an excellent innings of 90) set the home side a target of 328 in 78 overs.  The main obstacle for Northern District was Charlie Stobo, who made good use of the new ball and quickly removed Tom Fulton and Jonathan Whealing.  But Henry Hunt, who has found a rich vein of form, combined with Andrew Harriott for a third-wicket stand of 109 (in which, unusually, Harriott was the quieter partner).  Matthew Parkinson (a Lancashire leg-spinner who turned 21 yesterday, so happy birthday, Matt!) hauled Gordon back into the game with two quick wickets, but then Hunt and the aggressive Daniel Anderson (who hit 79 from 87 balls) added 148 for the fifth wicket to place NDs in a winning position.  

At some point during that partnership, Henry Hunt planted a ball over the fence.  The scorers dutifully recorded the six, but then the umpire signalled "dead ball", apparently because a child had wandered onto the field as the ball was being bowled.  It seems that the dead ball call was missed by both scorers, so that Northern District continued their chase in the belief that they had six more runs that they actually did.  Matt Junk and Parkinson triggered a brief collapse late in the day but Hunt, who played brilliantly, kept his cool and hit Parkinson to the fence with one ball remaining in the final over.  Northern District celebrated its win, only to be told by the umpires half an hour later that Hunt's six hadn't counted, that the scores were wrong and they had finished two runs short of their target.  By then, the covers were down and it was too dark to resume play, so the match was called a draw.  

Whether that result will stand will be decided by the SCA on Thursday, and we make no comment on that.  But it would be a shame if Hunt's fine innings went unrewarded.  So far this season, he has hit 114, 31 and 160 not out in Firsts, and a pair of unbeaten fifties in Poidevin-Gray, but this may have been the best performance of his career to date.

Chris Green has settled in at Manly

Three games into the season, Manly sits in first place in First Grade, and new captain Chris Green averages 112 with the bat and 10 with the ball.  In Round Three, the off-spinner collected a career-best 7-42 against North Sydney, bowling with immaculate control on a dry surface.  North Sydney had a glimpse of a chance when Manly lost its fourth wicket on 119, with 111 runs still needed, but then Green played with cool authority for 69 not out to steer his side to first innings points.  He was well supported by Jack Edwards (64 not out), who bashed three sixes in his first half-century in the top grade.  It used to be said by Rugby League players that the only Manly Junior anyone had ever seen was the sailing boat, but Edwards (who emerged from Beacon Hill and St Augustine's College) is a genuine local product.

Easts are formidable at full strength

There are a few grade bowlers who will be hoping that the Test selectors change their mind about Peter Nevill.  In Round Three, Nevill was one of five players in the Easts side with first-class experience (the others were Angus Robson, Nick Maddinson, Will Somerville and Harry Conway - and that doesn't count NSW contract player Henry Thomas Raphael York Thornton), and understandably the Dolphins had too much firepower for Hawkesbury.  Hawkesbury did pretty well to reach a solid total of 331, with Jordan Gauci showing his best form of the year, but on Owen Earle Oval, Easts were always favourites to overhaul that target.  It was no surprise that the first wicket fell to Blues spinner Arjun Nair - but it took over two hours for the first breakthrough to come, and by that time Maddinson (94) and Nevill had already added 178 for the first wicket.  Nevill carried on serenely, batting for over four hours for his unbeaten 130, and vigorous cameos from veteran Ian Moran (46 from 45) and newcomer Baxter Holt (38 not out) hurried Easts to victory in barely 65 overs.  The Dolphins now sit in second place on the ladder, and the interesting question will be whether they have the depth to maintain that position once the side is depleted by representative calls.

Sean Abbott is a handy grade cricketer

Parramatta's Sean Abbott must still be working out how he managed to end up on the losing side last weekend.  Returning from State duty on day two of the game against University of NSW, Abbott wrapped up the Bees' innings with a burst of three for one from three overs.  Then he hit his maiden First Grade century, 102 from 154 balls.  His partnership with Nick Bertus carried Parramatta to three for 194, a decent platform from which to chase 351.  But the game turned when off-spinner Marcus Atallah removed Bertus for 87.  After that no-one could stay with Abbott long enough to build a substantial partnership, and Atallah, Declan White and Josh Bennett worked their way through the lower order to give the Bees their first win of the season (which owed a good deal to James Henry's patient 153 on the first day).   Abbott's grade stats for the season currently stand at 146 runs at 146, and eight wickets at an average of two.  Useful.

The British are coming

The annual influx of pale-faced county cricketers is now almost complete.  Apart from Angus Robson (Sussex) at Easts and Matt Parkinson (Gordon), other English players in action in Round Three included Ned Eckersley (Wests and Leicestershire), Oliver Pope (Campbelltown and Surrey), Nick Selman (the Glamorgan batsman, who hit 97 for UNSW) and Sydney's Delray Rawlins, a Bermudan left-arm spinner who now plays for Sussex.  It's good experience for them and at times gives Sydney cricket a nice cosmopolitan touch - the closing stages of the game between Gordon and Northern District featured a Lancashire spinner (Parkinson) bowling to Chad Soper, opening bowler for Papua New Guinea, and that isn't something you see every day.

Five Things We Learned... Round 2

Five Things We Learned... Round 2

Tim Ley is a threat on any surface

6019 runs were scored across the ten First Grade matches in Round Two, and each fielding side paid an average of 37 runs for every wicket it snared.  In that context, the one effort that stood out most conspicuously wasn't any of the fifteen centuries scored, but the performance of Sydney University opening bowler, Tim Ley.  The pitch Ley had to bowl on was as flat as all the others: Sydney University had hammered the Blacktown attack for 394 runs while losing only two wickets.  Ben Trevor-Jones stroked his maiden First Grade century, reaching 144, while James Larkin (96) narrowly missed his first top grade hundred and Damien Mortimer played fluently for his unbeaten century.  But the pitch looked far from docile when Ley had the ball: despite a hamstring niggle, he bowled aggressively and accurately, and with just a hint of movement away from the bat.  He captured two wickets late on the first day, and tore through the innings on the second morning with a spell of four wickets for six runs.  He collected his sixth wicket when Gabriel Joseph offered no shot to a ball that jagged back to hit the top of off stump.  Blacktown slumped to be all out for 65 - in a round where the average innings total was close to 400.  Ley's 6-18 was the best return of his First Grade career, and in the second innings, he took his 269th First Grade wicket for University, to become the club's joint fifth-highest wicket taker in the top grade.  It was a remarkable spell, which showed off Ley's skill, experience and determination, and University will be hoping that his hamstring holds up to the strain of his early-season workload.

Chris Green has a good memory

No-one has a better appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of his team-mates than an astute captain.  Last season, Chris Green was an astute captain of Northern District; this time around, he's leading Manly, and Round Two brought him face to face with his old team.  Manly owed its total of 306 almost entirely to Adam Crosthwaite's patient 133, helped by some lower-order defiance from Ryan Farrell and Matt Alexander, and on a slow surface at Manly Oval, this wasn't obviously a winning score.   It was reasonable to think that Test spinner Steve O'Keefe would pose the greatest problems on the second day but, while he bowled neatly enough, it was Green who put his knowledge of his opponents to work and did most of the damage.  Northern District reached one for 80 without too many alarms, but Green then grabbed the key wickets of Jonathan Whealing and Andrew Harriott, before working his way through the lower order to end the day with five for 42.  The fact that Northern District got as close as it did to its target was largely due to a fighting 79 not out from Jonte Pattison, who showed a welcome return to form after enduring a lean season with Easts in 2016-17.

Jason Sangha will be a force this season

Randwick-Petersham's Jason Sangha is best known as the youngest player ever to hold a New South Wales Blues contract, and that's a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, you're the youngest player ever to hold a New South Wales Blues contract.  Against that, Sangha has had to contend with the grumbles in the background, to the effect that he was given his contract before he earned it.  Last season, while he often played well for Randwick-Petersham, he scored only one fifty in 12 matches, and he began this season with a second-ball duck against North Sydney.  Sangha (who turned 18 just before the season began) was under all kinds of pressure when he went out to bat against Mosman last Saturday: his side was two for 70, chasing 343 (after Scott Rodgie posted his second successive hundred).  And his response was outstanding.  Most importantly, he won the match for his team, batting with great composure, and displaying a wide range of shots, for nearly four hours.  His partnership of 120 with ex-Mosman player Shaun Eaton set up the chase; then, after Danul Dassanayake's off-breaks triggered a middle-order stutter, he played maturely to marshall the tail.  Sangha helped to steer the Lancastrian newcomer, Josh Bohannon, through his first innings in Sydney, and then Riley Ayre contributed only four runs to a vital eighth-wicket stand of 36.  The SCA website claimed that Sangha's 162 not out was the highest maiden century by an 18 year old in the history of the First Grade competition, although there have been higher maiden centuries (Liam Robertson's 193 for Sydney University against Campbelltown in 2014-15 springs to mind).  Anyway, at least for the time being, Sangha's silenced that muttering in the background.

Important Jarrad Burke update

All right, we didn't learn this from Round Two, but we learned it during Round Two, and that's close enough.  Experienced Grade cricket watchers will remember Jarrad Burke as a promising young Campbelltown all-rounder back in the early part of the century, not least when he won the O'Reilly Medal as a 22 year-old back in 2004-05.   One of Burke's Campbelltown team-mates in those distant days was Scott Coyte, and it seems that on the circuit one Saturday night, Coyte questioned how loyal Burke really was to the Ghosts.  Burke decided to prove his loyalty in exactly the way you do when you're circuiting, by visiting the nearest tattoo parlour and having the Campbelltown Ghost tattooed on a part of his anatomy where... well, where it's unlikely to be affected much by tan lines.  It isn't clear whether Coyte felt sorry about this when he left Campbelltown for Randwick-Petersham.  Nor is it clear how the Ghost was received in the showers when Burke moved on to Penrith and Bankstown.  But Burke's return to Campbelltown-Camden means that, after a lengthy break, his ink now once again matches the rest of his kit.   This may help to explain his excellent early-season form: in Round Two, he was the only bowler to exert any control over the Fairfield-Liverpool batsmen, collecting four for 65 from 28 mean and probing overs, and he then bashed Campbelltown to a win with a forthright, unbeaten 61.  Burke's form is a key reason why it has take Campbelltown only two rounds to double the number of wins it recorded last season.

There's another Matt Moran

Mention Matt Moran to the average Mosman resident, and they'll recognise the name immediately, before launching into a lengthy, well-informed discussion about which of the chef's restaurants is the best ("I still prefer the slow-cooked lamb at Chiswick to the jurassic quail at Aria…").   Those conversations might become a little more confused soon, if Mosman cricketer Matt Moran can build on his remarkable effort against Randwick in Third Grade.  Moran is just finishing Year 12 at Shore, where he performed reasonably well in GPS games without building any very special reputation.  His record for Mosman, though, was nothing to get excited about: playing Fourths and Fifths in the school holidays over the last three seasons, he managed only 208 runs at an average of 11.55 with a highest score of 41.  Having missed Round One, he opened the batting in Thirds at Coogee Oval (his debut in that grade), and reeled off an extraordinary 202 from 204 deliveries, bashing four sixes and 25 fours.  Like most tall batsmen, Moran likes to drive, and he deals harshly with anything on his pads, but the interesting thing about his innings was the efficiently brutal way in which he rocked onto the back foot to punish anything short.  His progress will be worth watching.

Five Things We Learned from Round 1

Five Things We Learned from Round 1

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.