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.