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.