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.