Five Things We Learned from Round Thirteen

Scoreboard pressure is a thing

Just because Shane Warne mentions it every three minutes in his BBL commentary doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist: Round 13 helps to prove that scoreboard pressure actually is an observable phenomenon. What does it mean exactly? Well, opinions vary, but it’s basically a slightly more scientific update on the old mantra, “we’ve got ‘em, now they have to get ‘em.” Or, if you want to be slightly more analytical, it’s a state of stress induced in batsmen not entirely by the fielding team or the pitch but also by the state of the game. Exhibit A: Gordon at home to Sydney University. A win would have Gordon entrenched in the top six; with a loss, they’d drop to eighth. University had recovered from 7 for 161 to reach 316 - not a huge score at Chatswood, with its short square boundaries and flat strip - and, as University showed, batting gets easier as the day wears on. Cam Eccles handled the attack calmly to reach 63; Axel Cahlin helped him in an opening stand of 73, and then Harry Evans played fluently for 50. Gordon reached 2 for 172 with Evans and the in-form Steve Colley seemingly in control. At which point, everything went pear-shaped. Experienced quick Ben Joy got the key breakthroughs, bowling Evans and then trapping Colley in front. Steve O’Brien fell to improving off-spinner Ryan McElduff. And then the whole innings collapsed in on itself, three wickets falling on 223 to leg-spinner Devlin Malone and left-armer Dugald Holloway. University looked cooked two-thirds of the way through the day, but walked off with a comfortable 71-run win. Scoreboard pressure. Exhibit B; Western Suburbs, playing to keep their season alive. A win over UTS North Sydney would have placed Wests only four points from the top six. The Magpies did the hard part well, knocking over the Bears for only 237. Quincy Titterton continued his greatly improved form, grabbing three wickets, and young Connor Blaxall-Hill had a memorable day, snaring not one Crosthwaite, but two. In reply, Wests reached two for 74, with captain James Psarakis looking strong. Then Englishman Toby Lester carved through the middle order and, from 7 for 103, not even a late-order rally could save Wests’ season. Scoreboard pressure, right, Warnie?

The Limited Overs competition is worth its place in the calendar

The First Grade 50-over competition is the ugly duckling of Grade cricket, almost tacked on as a bit of an afterthought. It’s not as sexy as T20, with its SCG finals, and not as respected as the deep tradition of the Belvidere Cup, besides which Cricket Australia still doesn’t really know what it wants to do with the 50-over game. And yet the quarter-finals of the competition last Sunday produced some quite exceptional cricket. The holders, Sydney University, dominated Penrith (who were missing captain, Ryan Smith): Damien Mortimer crafted an exceptional, unbeaten hundred, while Ed Cowan smashed a remarkable 89 which included eight sixes. The veteran left-hander actually cleared the fence six times before hitting his first four. Penrith was always going to struggle to reach 312, and Devlin Malone cut through the innings with five wickets, becoming the first bowler in Sydney to reach fifty Premier Cricket wickets (across the three formats of the First Grade game) this season. Bankstown contained North Sydney’s powerful batting line-up to 237, then romped home through Mitch Brown (who followed his 2-26 with 126 not out from 100 balls) and Nathan McAndrew (64 from 40). Sydney walloped St George - Ryan Felsch not only removed Kurtis Patterson for 8, but also whacked 61 from 48. But the match of the round was at Chatswood, where Gordon collapsed for the second day in succession. University of NSW built its innings around Matt Gilkes, who resumed his early-season form with 109 from 103. 237 is probably sub-par at Chatswood, and looked it once Cam Eccles and Axel Cahlin took the score to one for 99. But Harry Brook and Josh Bennett then triggered a ridiculous collapse in which Gordon actually lost six wickets for seven runs (this might have been scoreboard pressure, but we need to check with Warnie) - eight down, and still one hundred needed. That brought together Glenn Winsor (promising enough, but with a First Grade average of 12) and Charlie Stobo, who certainly bats better than his father did, but has reached fifty exactly once in 128 Premier Cricket matches. They played calmly, and sensibly, and hit the bad ball, and by the time Winsor fell to Bennett for 60, seven runs were needed from two overs. Stobo somehow produced a ramp shot for 4 from the first ball of the 49th over, and Matt Junk nicked the fifth ball away for two to complete a memorable win. Gordon celebrated just as much as you would in that situation, while the Bees will be wondering just what happened to a season that had so much promise.

There are seven teams chasing five spots

Mathematically, Sydney University can’t miss the First Grade finals. Even if the Students go to the wrong ground for the last two games and everyone in the chasing pack gets maximum points, University could not possibly finish lower than fifth. Also mathematically, all the teams bunched between 35 points and 31 points (Mosman, University of NSW, Sutherland, Wests, St George, Northern District, Randwick-Petersham) could make the finals, but it would take the combination of an outright win and a sequence of other results roughly as likely as a team of monkeys typing out Hamlet. So that leaves Easts (44) and Gordon (43) just outside the top six and struggling to get in. There could be an opening for one of them, because next round Sydney (4th, on 50) plays Parramatta (5th, 44). If Parramatta loses, its season is on the line - the reigning premiers would almost certainly drop outside the top six, and then they would need one of Easts, Bankstown or Gordon to lose in the last round. On the other hand, if Parramatta wins, it’s likely that the table after 14 rounds could show University first, followed by North Sydney and Penrith, followed by four team on 50 points and one on 49. This one looks like going down to the wire.

You don’t win many games after scoring 16

We actually knew this already, but how often do you see it? In Fifth Grade, Eastern Suburbs were sent in to bat by Fairfield-Liverpool at Don Dawson (where the pitch is apparently prepared by the same guy who does the Edwards brothers’ hair), and batted for more overs (22) than they scored runs (16). Fairfield captain Simon Grove did most of the damage, taking five for four from his eight overs; Green Shield opening bowler Shaun Shaji might well have done just as well, but he’s limited to six-over spells, and had to come off with figures of two for four. Number ten batsman Tom Speiser top-scored with five. There was a famous county game in 1922 when Hampshire was bowled out for 15 by Warwickshire, and won the game, after making 521 the second time around. This was not that game: Fairfield declared with a lead of 38, and although Easts managed 72 in its second effort, Fairfield took all ten points. The moral: do not get bowled out for 16. You’re welcome, no charge.

Justin Green is immovable

While we’re in Fifth Grade, Sutherland’s 16 year-old Justin Green steered his side to an outright victory last Saturday with an unbeaten 35. Nothing much to see there, you might think (although the game itself had plenty of colour, with Blacktown subsiding for only 30 in its first innings, and Don Nash blasting 57 in the second innings). Except that those runs took Green’s Grade cricket average for the season beyond 300. Graded in Fifths, Green was run out for 24 in the first game, against Mosman. After hitting 31 not out against Easts, he was promoted, and marked his Fourth Grade debut with an unbeaten 106 against Hawkesbury’s experienced attack. After another unbeaten hundred against Randwick-Petersham, he was promoted to Thirds, where he didn’t bat in his first game, then missed two rounds with a back injury. When he returned to Thirds in Round Nine, he showed impressive maturity to remain unbeaten on 17 as his team collapsed for only 96. But then he injured his ankle in a Green Shield game, and came back through Fifths last week. In Grades 3 to 5, he now has 313 runs at 313.00 and is yet to be dismissed by a bowler. Oddly, in Green Shield this season, he was out five time while scoring 119 runs. Our advice to opposing captains: when Green comes in, it’s time to bowl your 15 year-olds.

Five Things We Learned from Round Twelve

Sydney University is going to the finals

After twelve rounds, the First Grade table remains heavily clustered, with only six points separating second from sixth. But two things have changed. There’s now a clear-cut top six, with Bankstown (on seventh) five points adrift of the pack. And there’s no remaining doubt that Sydney University will be playing in the finals. This season, University has made a habit of winning games without always being totally convincing - and last weekend’s clash with second-placed Penrith was extraordinary because University won outright without being anywhere near its best. It was a tough weekend for Penrith, and especially its inspirational captain, Ryan Smith, who took a career best 7-59, and ten wickets in all, as University stumbled to 146 and 8 for 131, yet went home with no points while University took all ten. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the game was that University owed its success to its new generation of players. Opening bowler Joe Kershaw produced the devastating spell he’s been promising all season, wrecking Penrith’s first innings with 6-45 and triggering a collapse in which four middle-order wickets fell while a single run was scored. Left-armer Dugald Holloway rewarded his club’s faith in his potential with a career-best 5-44 in the second innings. They had good support from newcomer Charlie Cassell, who also punched the winning single in the final over of the game. And NSW Metro Under-19 all-rounder Ryan McElduff played with confidence, maturity and surprising power to produce two decisive innings of 43 and 65 in bowler-friendly conditions. University now sits twelve points clear in first place, with three rounds to play. This was, incidentally, the third time University and Penrith have played this season (twice in the T20): they will meet again on 17 February in the Limited Overs finals. If they are drawn to play in the First Grade finals, which is very possible, they will play each other at least five times this season, which is slightly ridiculous and must be some kind of record.

This is Tom Jagot’s breakthrough year

At the start of the season, if you’d been asked which North Sydney batsmen could do most damage to a bowling attack, chances are that Tom Jagot wouldn’t have been in your top three. Jagot is now 23, although he’s been on the scene for a few years, having represented NSW at both Under 17 and Under 19 level, and played for both University of NSW and Randwick-Petersham. He had two solid seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18, but his numbers weren’t remarkable, especially for a player who got to bat regularly at North Sydney Oval. This year, though, his game has moved to a different level. He was fallible early on: in his first nine innings, we was dismissed six times in single figures. But since late November his form has been outstanding: his sequence of scores in that period is 45 not out, 125 not out, 43 not out, 22, 130, 91 not out, 114 and 95, so that his last eight innings have produced 665 runs at an average of 133 - which may have been better had he not run himself out twice. He may not score quite as rapidly as some of the other Bears, but he has strokes all around the wicket and his recent consistency has been exceptional. Last weekend, his former club University of NSW made a determined effort to defend a paltry total of 154, reducing the Bears to two for 8 and then eight for 146. It was Jagot who dragged his team over the line, batting almost five hours for 95 on a pitch where no one else on either side passed 32. UTS North Sydney has now won seven games straight, sits in second place, and looks confident of taking its place in the finals.

Bankstown is unlucky

In cricket, big things turn on fine margins. Just one more over against Randwick-Petersham would probably have been enough to give Bankstown the win that would have placed it equal with Parramatta and Gordon on 43 points. Instead, Bankstown now sits one win outside the top six. It appeared to have the game under tight control on the first day, when Randwick-Petersham lost its seventh wicket at 152, but a counter-attacking stand of 146 between Dylan Hunter (whose 80 not out was his highest First Grade score) and captain Adam Semple (a decidedly handy number nine) set Bankstown a target of 299. Peter Dignam (53) and Nick Carruthers (95) set Bankstown on course, but medium pacer Tom McKenzie, in only his second top grade game, grabbed two critical wickets and Bankstown’s chase fell just short. Daya Singh bowled a nerveless final over, and Bankstown failed to score the four runs it needed from the last possible ball. Rain after lunch on day one stripped more than twenty overs from the game, which could be a crucial setback for Bankstown. The Bulldogs now need to win their last three games and hope that a couple of other results fall their way.

These are three games to watch

If this season has taught us anything, it’s that any team in this First Grade competition is, on its day, capable of beating any other. Front-runners Sydney University, for example, have lost only once - but to Hawkesbury, who are currently second-last. So with three rounds remaining, every game is critical and no result can be taken for granted. But three games look particularly important. In Round 13, Gordon hosts Sydney University at Chatswood Oval. A win for University virtually locks up the minor premiership, while Gordon would drop out of the top six if either Bankstown or Easts won. But if the resurgent Stags pull off an upset, they could rise as high as second or third. In Round 14, Sydney (currently 4th) plays Parramatta (5th) at Drummoyne. The winner of that game almost certainly plays in the finals: the loser could easily miss out. And in Round 15, UTS North Sydney meets Bankstown: the Bears maybe playing for a home final, while Bankstown will need to win to have any chance of playing finals cricket.

Karma for bowlers has arrived

Five Things always enjoys the last few rounds of the season, when a bit of rain, some tired groundsmen and the occasional under-strength team all combine to allow lower-grade pie-chuckers to record outlandish bowling figures merely by virtue of being able to hit somewhere near a length. Such conditions are made for Mosman’s Fifth Grader Om Prakash, whom you may remember from his 5-7 and 7-25 in Round Four. On the weekend, he collected 5-21 from his ten overs against Blacktown, who were dismissed for only 71. Randwick-Petersham’s veteran Glen Standing (the club’s Green Shield coach) is experienced enough to know not to bother playing before Round 12: in his first appearance of the season, he took 5-17 in Fourth Grade to help Sam Boyns rout Bankstown for 66. And in Thirds, Blacktown’s Hershpreet Multani demonstrated why Pie-Chucker’s Revenge is such a pleasurable part of the season. It would be polite to say that Multani has struggled a touch this season. In his nine games in Thirds, toiling on flat pitches in the unforgiving heat of western Sydney, he had managed only seven wickets at an average of 37, with a strike rate of approximately never. But on Saturday he caught Mosman on a dodgy pitch at Rawson Oval. Mosman’s first four wickets fell for only three runs. Home captain, the experienced Daniel Apps, who opened the innings, was eventually the fifth batsman dismissed - for two, when the score was six. Mosman recovered, sort of, to reach 77 from 38.5 overs, and Multani ended the innings with 5-9 from 9.5 overs. Enjoy these moments, medium-pacers of Sydney, they don’t last for long.

Five Things We Learned from Round Eleven

We have another bunch of finalists

With the Kingsgrove T20 decided, we now have our next bunch of finalists: the top eight in the First Grade Limited Overs competition. North Sydney and Sydney bashed their way into the finals with characteristic displays of muscular batting: Gordon slipped through by belting St George; Sydney University held off Campbelltown-Camden to hold onto its unbeaten record; and Bankstown, University of NSW, Penrith and St George also won through. Sydney University’s win was set up by a typically controlled 138 by Nick Larkin - his 17th First Grade century and, curiously, the third one to end on 138 (although a slight fallibility on 138 is hardly the worst possible weakness a batsman can have). Returning from injury, Tim Ley then sliced the top off the Campbelltown innings, and captain Liam Robertson wrapped up the innings with 3-42. Robertson’s medium pacers are a key part of University’s success in the shorter game, although his threat isn’t always obvious from outside the boundary. He’s not fast, but is extremely accurate, bowling straight and full so that scoring options are limited, and constantly varying his pace and movement so that it’s hard for batsmen to set themselves for big shots. In University’s last three 50-over games, he’s taken eight wickets while allowing only 108 runs - and that includes matches against North Sydney and Bankstown. Anyway, Sydney University’s reward for finishing second is to play Penrith, which is hardly an easy assignment, at home on 17 February. Front-runners Sydney will play St George, while Gordon faces University of NSW and North Sydney meets Bankstown.

Bad things happen to good people

Did the best all-round performance in Round 11 belong to Daya Singh or Tom Doyle? It’s a close-run thing. Singh, the Randwick-Petersham all-rounder, went in to bat with his team in disarray against Easts, at four for 28, which soon enough became six for 79. Singh hauled his team up to a defendable total with a determined innings of 78, punctuated with clean driving and two meaty sixes. Then, with the new ball, he sent back Test batsmen Peter Nevill and Sam Robson, as well as Henry Hunt, in his first spell, before ending the innings with 4-31. Not bad. But maybe not as good as Tom Doyle, who was (with 3-33 from ten overs of his off-breaks) the tightest bowler on show in the match between Sutherland and Wests, and then smashed a blistering 100 from only 67 balls, with no fewer than 8 sixes. Two quite extraordinary performances.

Especially since both of them ended up on the losing side, and those defeats are a serious setback to their chances of playing in the finals. Sometimes bad things happen to people who deserve better.

Charlie Stobo is back at the right time

Gordon, way out of touch for much of the First Grade season, has roared back into contention with three wins in succession, and now sits outside the top six only because of a fairly unimpressive quotient. Gordon monstered St George on the weekend, piling up a good score through Cam Eccles (85), Harry Evans (61) and Steve Colley (44) before spinners Matt Junk (5-14) and Steve O’Brien (3-7) cashed in on some reckless St George batting. The Saints were in the game at one for 95, but then managed to lose nine wickets for only 29 runs. But probably the best news for Gordon was the return from injury of Charlie Stobo. Stobo’s impact on the game was minimal: he didn’t score a run, and took precisely the same number of wickets. But with pitches getting greener and some tough end-of-season matches ahead, Stobo should restore some much-needed penetration to the Stags’ new-ball attack.

Manly is cooked

At full strength, Manly looks as good as any side in the First Grade competition this season. Unfortunately, Manly hasn’t been at full strength all season: every round, several players have been missing, mostly on representative duty, sometimes injured and occasionally marrying complete strangers on television. Even in the defeat to Sydney on Saturday, there were glimpses of what makes Manly such a strong club: chasing an impossible 365 (set up by hundreds from county professionals Zak Crawley and Steve Eskinazi), local juniors Jack Edwards and Ollie Davies kept the game alive with a magnificent partnership of 160. But Manly fell 57 runs short, and still occupy last place. Even if they won their last four games, which they very well could, it won’t be enough to get them to the finals. To compound Manly’s disappointment, on Sunday its outstanding Green Shield side was thumped in a surprisingly one-sided grand final by Northern District. Northern District has been the most consistent bowling combination in the competition, with Yash Patel, Varun Ravindran and Spencer White leading the attack, and there was enough juice in the pitch at Manly to make life difficult for Manly’s batsmen early on. The excellent Joel Davies, with 29, passed 500 runs in the competition this season, but no one else made it to 20, and the target of 116 was never likely to be enough. William Coffey (53) and Corey Miller (40 not out) put together an opening stand of 102 to put the game beyond doubt. But it was still an exceptional season for Manly’s production line of junior talent.

And then there were two

With four rounds remaining before the finals, there are only two unbeaten sides left in the grade competitions. In Seconds, Sydney University has won all of its eleven matches, one of them outright. The side is closing in on the record of the 2014-15 Seconds, who won their last 13 games to claim the premiership, and then won the first three matches of the next season to string together 16 straight wins. The side’s batting is consistently reliable, and the pace attack of Kieran Tate, Charlie Cassell and Josh Toyer has been highly effective. Eastern Suburbs are undefeated in Thirds, where the experienced Mark Morley, Tom Gallop and Andy Coles have been reliable with the bat. Morley has also been an important contributor as a bowler. It’s almost time for James Larkin and Morley, the two captains, to turn their minds to the darkest of the lower-grade captaincy arts: saving their players from the threat of promotion.

Five Things We Learned from Round Ten

Five Things We Learned from Round Ten

It’s a cluster…

We’re two-thirds of the way through the season but, remarkably, not one side can feel as though it’s safely through to the First Grade finals, and not one club is yet mathematically out of equation. Warning: a combination of arithmetic and speculation follows.

In recent seasons, teams have needed something between 55 and 48 points to get through to the last six (it varies, depending how even the competition is, and how much the weather interferes). This season, after ten rounds, Sydney University leads the pack on 45, 14 points clear of seventh place. Which (given the number of times teams in the top half of the table still need to play each other) means that just two more wins, and 57 points, ought to be enough to get the Students through. But it’s also quite possible, given the draw, that the team that finishes sixth will have as few as 50 points. In which case, Manly (currently last on 19) could still sneak in with five wins and a bonus point (and, if Manly did reach the finals, they could conceivably field a team including Steve O’Keefe, Chris Green, Jay Lenton and the Edwards brothers, which would take some beating). Wests, after flying under the radar all season, nabbed an outright win on the weekend that put them only three points from sixth. Gordon is improving at the right time, while University of NSW and Parramatta, firing on all cylinders not so long ago, have hit a bit of a slump.

There are several matchups this weekend that could have a serious impact on the table. Easts (15th) could leapfrog Randwick-Petersham (8th). St George (12th) could pass Gordon (9th). Mosman (16th) could, with a bonus point, pass Parramatta (6th). University of NSW (5th) could draw level with Penrith (2nd) - or drop out of the top six altogether. And, if results go a certain way, either Sutherland (10th) or Wests (11th) could make it into the top six.

It all adds up to one of the most even competitions in recent memory. Just now, anyone who tells you he can pick the top six is either a genius or a sad, deluded fool.

Hayden Kerr’s first hundred was worth the wait

Only three seasons ago, Hayden Kerr was traveling round the lower grades ovals of outer Sydney, enjoying life as a Sydney University Fourth Grader. In a remarkably short space of time, he’s become one of the most destructive white-ball batsmen in Sydney and a Futures League representative. But something was missing: despite passing fifty more often than most batsmen, he’d never completed a top grade century.

Until Sunday. Sydney University was chasing a respectable score of 274 posted by Randwick-Petersham, mostly through a fine partnership between Riley Ayre (70) and Shaun Eaton (72). Randwick-Petersham looked set for a bigger total before Devlin Malone (5-86) completed his fourth five-wicket haul of the season. Two University wickets fell early to Adam Semple. But then Kerr, with good support from Ryan McElduff, Varun George and Liam Robertson, turned the game around. Although he rarely seemed to be trying to force the pace, his 133 came from only 137 balls and included no fewer than nine sixes (which was almost, but not quite, a University record for the ground: John Saint hit 11 sixes, including five in one Wayne Mulherin over, at Petersham Oval in 1993-94). Kerr strikes the ball cleanly and has the knack of getting the greatest possible leverage from his long arms. He brought up his hundred by carving Semple over mid-on for four, and his innings kept University on top of the table.

There’s a little bit of Mumbai in Penrith

Mark Taylor Oval - Waitara Oval if you’re of a certain age - has always been regarded as one of the better grounds for batsmen in Sydney. True, Northern District has often fielded very handy slow bowlers, but that was mostly because the quicker bowlers hated playing there, and someone had to do the job. But in the last couple of months, the home club’s Second Grade routed its opposition through its spin attack, and when they visited Penrith last weekend, NDs included two slow bowlers in Firsts - Tom Felton and Ajay Singh. It was a reasonable plan as far as it went - Felton (5-22) and Singh (3-36) both recorded career-best figures in the top grade. Unfortunately, NDs had to bat on the same dusty Howell pitch, and crumbled for 60 and 88. Penrith’s Luke Hodges had a day out, grabbing 5-11 (during a spell when the home side lost five wickets for three runs), and even Ryan Gibson did some damage, taking 3-14 in the second innings. Hodges comes with an interesting back story; the blond left-armer is a local Penrith product, from a tough background, for whom cricket has provided something of a pathway through life. He’s enjoying the best season of his career.

Glenn Winsor has kept Gordon’s season alive

Hawkesbury batted first at Chatswood Oval on Saturday, and seemed to be travelling comfortably enough at four for 103, with former Australian batsman Peter Forrest well set. Six overs later, the Hawks were all out for 127, and Gordon was on its way to an outright victory that makes the Stags genuine contenders for a top six place. The damage was done by Glenn Winsor, a Singleton junior who played Green Shield for Gordon and made his First Grade debut in Round One this season. Winsor, a quickish seamer, had Forrest caught for 27, then ripped through the lower order to claim five for nine in only three overs. Alex Patterson and Tym Crawford did the damage in Hawkesbury’s second innings but Winsor, who performed strongly in this season’s Under-19 National Championships, is clearly a player to watch.

Don Nash still goes around

Remember Don Nash? Big unit. Opened the bowling twenty-odd years ago and took 99 first-class wickets for New South Wales. Swung it around. Hit the ball vast distances, though rarely for terribly long. Played a bit in the Shires recently.

Well, this season Nash is doing his thing in Blacktown’s Fifth Grade. He bowled his ten overs on Saturday, while Easts put together the perfectly presentable total of nine for 190. And then he turned the game into a massacre. Opening the batting, he pounded 137 from only 81 balls, smashing four 6s and 18 fours. When he was the fourth batsman dismissed, at 4 for 178, the match was virtually over. His team’s five other batsmen faced 101 balls between them for 37 runs, and the next highest score in the innings (apart from extras) was nine. Awad Naqvi contributed 8 runs to an opening stand of 51; Kieran Mills managed six in a partnership of 55. If you chase 190 and second-top score is nine, you don’t usually come out on top, but Blacktown recorded its first Fifth Grade win of the season..

Five Things We Learned from Round Nine

Five Things We Learned from Round Nine

The students have at least a finger or two on the club championship

Sydney University has held a solid lead in the club championship almost since the race started back in September. And, although there are six rounds remaining, predictions are dangerous, anything can happen, the draw isn’t easy, and so on, they lead by 175 points and it would now take a major implosion for them to be overhauled. Although anything can happen - some years back, Sutherland turned a tight championship race into a romp by beating Hawkesbury outright in all five grades in the final round. Anyway, a couple of rounds ago, Bankstown was snapping at University’s heels: but, on Saturday, University snuffed out that challenge with conclusive wins in the top four grades. Oddly, Bankstown’s lowest place team (Fifth Grade, who were running 16th) was its only side to win. University registered a clinical win in First Grade, producing a mean bowling display to restrict the home side to a modest total. Ben Joy performed the vital service of removing Dan Solway early, after which Devlin Malone (3-33), captain Liam Robertson (3-30) and Joe Kershaw (2-32) bowled disciplined spells. Nathan McAndrew did well in his pinch-hitter role, hammering 78 from 82 balls, but after he hit a return catch to Robertson, Bankstown’s innings lost momentum. After reaching 4 for 171 with 16 overs remaining, Bankstown lost its last six wickets for only 60 runs. The result was never in doubt once Ed Cowan made a start: from only 63 balls, the left-hander hammered 85, clearing the fence four times and hitting nine fours. In the process, he became the 80th batsman in the history of the First Grade competition to pass 7500 runs - a significant accomplishment, given the seasons he spent playing for Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania.

Something isn’t working for Easts

On paper, Eastern Suburbs has one of the better sides in the First Grade competition - last Saturday, the side included two Test players (Peter Nevill and Sam Robson), an English white-ball international (Stuart Meaker) and two other first-class cricketers (Angus Robson and Harry Conway). That quintet has played, between them, 404 first-class matches, which is 404 more than the entire Gordon side they faced on Saturday. But, while Conway and Meaker bowled well enough, a second wicket stand between Steve Colley (81) and Harry Evans (86) gave Gordon a grip on the game which they never relaxed, and the result would have been even more embarrassingly one-sided had Conway (43 not out) not chosen this as the occasion to double his previous best First Grade score. With its blend of experienced players and a crop of youngsters, Easts ought to be pushing for a place in the top six, but just at the moment, the blend isn’t working.

North Sydney shows that bowling is an over-rated skill

A remarkable win over Parramatta has vaulted UTS North Sydney into the top six in First Grade for the first time this season. Captain Tom Jagot led from the front with 130 from 142 balls, sharing an opening stand of 179 with James Crosthwaite (90) in just over two hours. That set the scene for Adam Crosthwaite, who slaughtered the bowling so completely that his 104 came from only 58 deliveries. Ben Martin did well for the reigning premiers, taking two for 37 from his ten overs - the rest of the bowlers will be hoping that some kind of localised NBN mishap wipes out the relevant MyCricket page. Chasing four for 348, Parramatta looked hopelessly beaten at 6 for 87, but North Sydney Oval is a very, very good place to bat, and the last four wickets actually lifted the total to 299 before James Campbell wrapped up the innings. Losses by Randwick-Petersham and Sutherland allowed the Bears to jump into sixth spot, but the game was a handy summary of their season so far. Their bowling is so-so: they have paid an average of about 32 runs for each of the 72 wickets they’ve taken. They’ve dismissed their opposition only four times in nine matches. But when their batting fires, they win anyway - and they have Justin Avendano to come back. An interesting difference between cricket and baseball is that cricketers call their bowling “the attack”, while baseballers call batting the “offense”. North Sydney plays baseball.

Bill Watson would have approved

A fine top-order batsman for Australia, New South Wales and St George, Bill Watson died on 29 December, a month short of his 88th birthday. Between 1949 and 1972, Watson hit 10,757 First Grade runs at an average of 43.20 - most of them for St George, although he started out with Waverley. St George and Wests remembered him with a minute’s silence before play began in their First Grade match at Hurstville on Saturday. There was probably some science behind the decision to ask St George to bat first, and when Haris Rauf removed Nick Stapleton for a duck, the move looked as though it could work. But not for long. Luke Bartier (133 from 133) and Kurtis Patterson (167 not out from 147) then massacred the bowling in a second wicket stand of 309. This was only the tenth partnership of 300 or more for the second wicket in the history of the First Grade competition. There have only been 20 higher partnerships in the history of the competition. And it wiped from the St George records the club’s previous best second wicket partnership, of 264, against North Sydney in 1963-64, between Norm O’Neill and… Bill Watson.

Stephen Wark refuses to get old

While we’re at Hurstville, observers with very long memories will recall Stephen Wark as that medium-pacer who might have played more First Grade at a club other than St George in the 1990s (in fact, he did try a short stint with Gordon in 1998-99). He did take 70 wickets in Firsts for St George, and was often very useful there, once taking seven wickets in an innings, but he was also a stalwart of some very successful Second Grade sides, taking 273 wickets in Twos. In a career that began back in 1993, he also took more than 200 wickets in Thirds, and he’s now closing in on 200 wickets in Fourths. He was too wily and accurate for his opponents in Fourths on Saturday, taking 3 for 13 from 9.4 overs to help dismiss Wests for only 90; then, when St George stumbled in the chase, he walked in calmly at number ten to clinch the win. In First Grade to Fifth Grade, he has now taken 717 wickets for St George. He doesn’t look like stopping any time soon.

Five Things We Learned from Round 8

Five Things We Learned from Round 8

Sutherland is surging

Remember when Sutherland was propping up the bottom of the First Grade table and Steve Smith’s batting average was a decent-but-distinctly-mortal 36? That was so 2018. Turning into the new year, Sutherland sits just two points outside the top six and Smith has led the way with the bat, with 636 runs at almost 58 across all three formats. And the Sharks have grabbed the first silverware of the season, claiming the Kingsgrove Sports T20 trophy. Actually Sutherland delivered two thumpings to local rivals St George inside a week, winning both the Sixers Conference final at the SCG and the Norm O’Neill trophy game at Hurstville. The St George attack never found an answer to Smith, who was 42 not out in the short game and hit 112 not out from as many balls in the two day game. Sutherland will need to manage without Smith for a while, though, as he’s joined the Comilla Victorians in the Bangladesh Premier League. You know Comilla - it’s that city lying between Dhaka and Chittagong. Smith’s team-mates there include Pakistani Shahid Afridi, who still gives his age as 38 - which, if you believe, means that Smith might still be able to squeeze in a game or two in Green Shield.

But the Students are back on top

After the rest of the top four stumbled in Round 8, Sydney University took the lead in the First Grade competition with a workmanlike, if slightly ugly, win over Mosman. Leg-spinner Devlin Malone led the way, taking 5-55 to limit Mosman to a decidely sub-par 209, but University made hard work of the chase, as left arm spinners Luke Shelton and Jayden Park (who began the season in Thirds) posed unepected problems. The issue was decided by Ryan McElduff, the NSW Metro Under 19 all-rounder, whose 86 was his best effort in Firsts so far.

University also reached the Kingsgrove Sports T20 final, and although Sutherland secured a well-deserved win, the player who’s most likely to add the game to his highlights reel is opening bowler Ben Joy. Joy welcomed Steve Smith to the crease with a searing lifting delivery that may (according to Joy) have flicked his glove before hitting his shoulder and looping to gully or might (on the umpire’s version) have taken only shoulder. Next over, Joy found Smith’s inside edge, only to see the ball jag past the stumps to fine leg for 4; and in his next over, he squared Smith up with a ball that kissed the outside edge on its way to keeper Tim Cummins. Joy missed Round 8 because he was heading overseas; rumours that he was off to join the Bangladesh Premier League have not been confirmed.

Harmon Sandhu is a force

Harmon Sandhu has been known as Gurinder’s younger brother for so long that it’s easy to overlook the fact that he’s developed into an excellent cricketer in his own right. In Round 8, he came within a single wicket of writing himself into the record books, taking the first nine wickets for Fairfield-Liverpool against University of NSW.

In the long history of Sydney First Grade, only three bowlers have taken all ten wickets in an innings - Balmain’s Bill Hunt in 1930-31, Vic Jackson in 1937-38 and Test medium pacer Maurice Sievers in 1942-43. Remarkably, in consecutive rounds, bowlers have taken the first eight wickets in an innings - Stuart Meaker did it for Easts in Round 7, and Sandhu accounted for the first eight University of NSW batsmen at Rosedale Oval before going one better and bowling Declan White for his ninth scalp. In his search for the last wicket, Sandhu bowled 22 overs straight, but the last pair, Hayden McLean and Josh Bennett, held on to deny him. Their stand of 22 equalled the highest partnership of the innings, before Chad Sammutt had Bennett caught by Zach Johns. Sandhu finished up with 9-54, the 69th time a bowler has taken nine wickets in a First Grade innings. In the process, he enabled his side to defend a modest total of 224 and record a genuine upset - before this result, the Bees were on top of the table and Fairfield was stone last.

Anyone can beat anyone

Last-placed Fairfield beating leader University of NSW wasn’t the only upset of the round. It’s clear that, in this year’s competition, any team can beat any other team on the right day. On paper, Easts looked too good for UTS North Sydney, but the Bears scored a comfortable victory thanks to Adam Crosthwaite’s disciplined 81, a determined recovery from the tail, and a strong bowling effort in favourable conditions. No one would have backed Wests to beat Penrith after they managed just 151 - and were without their captain, Jono Cook, who’s currently showing his man bun to a national television audience as a member of the Sydney Thunder. But Michael Tudehope took a couple of early wickets and Rawalpindi fast bowler Haris Rauf, who has played a couple of times for the Lahore Qalanders in T20 cricket, unsettled Penrith with his extra pace. Quincy Titterton (3-22) took two wickets in consecutive balls to undermine the middle order, and Brent Atherton’s dogged 44 not out got Penrith close, but not close enough.

Manly’s unusual formula works

Manly-Warringah has, for some years now, had a slightly odd relationship with what we might politely call the sub A-list breed of celebrities. There are always people around the club who you’re sure you know from somewhere, even if you can’t quite remember where that was. One of the club’s current patrons is Mike Baird, a banker with NAB who apparently used to do something or other in politics. Baird fills a position recently occupied by Tim Bailey, a TV weatherman whose face glowed a curious Trumplike orange colour. First Grade batsman Cameron Merchant has been spending this season with “stunning redheaded hairdresser Julie, 36” on something called Married At First Sight (which sounds a bit like sending the other side in to bat without looking at the pitch). So it made some kind of sense when, short on numbers, Manly filled gaps in its Fourth Grade team by recruiting John Warn (former Cricket NSW Chairman and Scentre executive) and Andrew Rochford (occasional TV presenter and once a winner on The Block). Well, it works - Warn (who did, in fairness, play First Grade not so long ago) hit 86 not out after Rochford helped to dismiss Northern District for only 45. Manly now leads in Fourth Grade and is, we understand, now looking for an opening batsman who was once eliminated in the first round by The Bachelorette.

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.