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?