New South Wales Blues opening batsman Nick Larkin has become the equal second fastest player to reach 1,000 runs in a season with a marvellous century that guaranteed Sydney University a place in the McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket semi-finals.
The first weekend of the finals also saw the sixth-ranked Sydney keep its premiership hopes alive.
Larkin scored 162 not out from 259 balls on the second day of the qualifying final against Sutherland on Sunday, securing the students a draw and a home semi-final after Sydney produced the upset of the weekend with an emphatic 109-run win over Minor Premiers Campbelltown-Camden.
The Tigers’ win over the Ghosts also eliminated fourth-ranked Sutherland after it drew with Sydney University. In the other qualifying final at Old Kings Oval, the Parramatta draw with fifth-ranked Gordon also removed Gordon from the finals race.
Parramatta will now host Campbelltown-Camden in the first of the semi-finals next weekend, and Sydney University play Sydney in the second elimination match.
In 12 innings thus far this season, Larkin has scored 1,043 runs at the Bradmanesque average of 94.81. He joins legendary former Australian batsman and coach, Bob Simpson, as the equal second-fastest player to reach the 1,000-run milestone. Simpson scored 1,138 runs in his first 12 innings of the 1967-68 campaign.
The illustrious Victor Trumper holds the record as the fastest to reach the mark. The great Australian batsman scored 1,021 runs in just eight innings during 1897-98.
After being unavailable for the Saturday of the two-day qualifying final at Sydney University Oval due to Sheffield Shield duties, Larkin spent nearly six hours at the crease to keep the Sutherland attack at bay and guided the students to 4/320 in response to 5/428 declared in the first innings.
Fast bowler Nic Bills (6-37) was outstanding for Sydney in its stunning upset over Campbelltown-Camden to keep the Tigers in the hunt for the 2017-18 Belvidere Cup.
Bills maintained a straight line to the Ghosts batsmen that resulted in five lbws amongst his six wickets. His other scalp was bowled.
The Ghosts were bowled out for 198 in response to 7/307 declared by Sydney in its first innings.
Tigers' top order batsman Harry Dalton was also superb in helping his side progress. He scored 82 from 123 balls.
Gordon captain Steve Colley (126) made a sublime century in the disappointing result against Parramatta. Terrific knocks by Tim Ward (89) and Brenton Cherry (77 not out) provided just what the hosts required. The home side finished the day 4/230 in response to 8/331 declared.
Blues seamer Sean Abbott (26 not out) was the other unbeaten batsman for Parramatta.
The Sydney University batting order prioritised survival on Sunday lasting 91 overs, thanks largely to Larkin, to ensure safe passage through to the next stage of the finals.
An unbeaten 125-run partnership between Larkin and Sydney University captain Liam Robertson (68 not out) was crucial to the result.
Sutherland gave itself the best opportunity of advancing with a mammoth first innings total courtesy of centuries to Jamie Brown (106) and Jarryd Biviano (102), as well as a fine knock by Tom Doyle (92), and a solid innings from captain Chris Williams (64) at the top of the order.
Brown also became the third player to pass 1,000 runs this season along with Larkin, and leading run-scorer at the end of the regular season rounds in McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket, Bankstown opener Daniel Solway. The innings took Brown to 1,070 runs at 48.63.
A 163-run opening partnership between Williams and Biviano started the Sutherland innings on the perfect note and that momentum was maintained throughout the 96 overs.
Brown and Doyle shared in the second century stand of the innings. The pair combined to add 128 runs for the third wicket. Ben Joy (2-67) and Devlin Malone (2-98) were the best of the bowlers for the students.
University swing bowler Tim Ley collected the other wicket to fall for Sutherland. He finished with 1-82.
However, on the good batting surface, Sutherland was unable to cause Sydney University any major concerns.
Opening bowler Tom Pinson (2-101) returned best figures for Sutherland and the remaining scalps belonged to Blues rookie leg-spinner Daniel Fallins (1-85) and Brown (1-16).
Bills produced his best performance of the season in the win over Campbelltown-Camden. It was his first five-wicket-haul for the season and took him to 45 scalps at an average of 25.2.
A second-wicket 104-run partnership between Dalton and Anthony Mosca (57) was also central to the Tigers’ winning total. The Ghosts were unable to make early inroads in the Sydney first innings at Raby Oval No. 1, as Sydney moved to 1-146 early on.
Campbelltown-Camden fought back to take 4/70 in the middle stages through some tight bowling by captain Jarrad Burke, but late runs from Ryan Felsch (41 not out), wicketkeeper Beau McClintock (28) and Ben Manenti (29) took the Sydney total past 300.
Burke claimed 2-53 from 37 overs. The best figures for the Ghosts were returned by opening bowler Sam Skelly (3-72).
Despite an excellent opening partnership of 115 runs between Campbelltown-Camden leading-run scorer Aaron Yabsley (76) and wicketkeeper-batsman Mitchell Carruthers (35), the Ghosts collapsed losing 10/83 to be bowled out within 66 overs.
Nathan Baker (29 not out) was the only other batsman to show any resistance to the Tigers’ attack led by Bills. The other wicket takers for Sydney included Alex Glendenning (2-39), Ryan Felsch (1-34) and off-spinner Ben Manenti (1-50).
Like Sutherland, Gordon gave itself the best possible chance to progress after it posted 8/331 batting first.
At one stage, Gordon was 4/67 due to the great bowling of Jack White (3-96) and Scott Copperfield (4-83), but recovered through some quality batting by Colley and Tym Crawford (84).
The pair shared a fifth-wicket stand of 170-runs in the middle part of the innings.
However, in reply Parramatta was resolute. Ward and Will Affleck (25) started the innings in fine style adding 90 runs for the first wicket and the hosts were never really troubled, despite the loss of their leading run-scorer Bertus fourth ball without scoring.
Ward and Cherry played with patience to seal the draw. The opener spent nearly five hours at the crease before he was dismissed by Crawford (1-48) eleven runs short of his maiden First Grade century.
Cherry was as equally composed spending more than three-and-a-half hours in the middle.
Scott O’Brien (2-68) continued a good recent run of form with the ball for Gordon. The other wicket was claimed by Harry Evans (1-14).