New South Wales Blues opening batsman Nick Larkin and seamer Sean Abbott will both feature for their respective clubs in the semi-finals of McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket this weekend, as the race for the Belvidere Cup intensifies again with four teams remaining in the fight for a place in the Grand Final.
Larkin, along with recently retired Blues batsman Ed Cowan, again add to a strong Sydney University team to take on a resurgent Sydney outfit at Sydney University Oval, while Abbott returns to the Parramatta side to host Campbelltown-Camden.
A win or a draw by Parramatta or Sydney University guarantees each side a spot in the three-day decider starting on Saturday 31 March in a possible repeat of the First Grade Limited-Overs Cup Final where the students prevailed by five runs.
Whereas, the Ghosts and the Tigers need no less than a victory for their place in the finale.
Larkin has been vital to much of the students’ success this season and passed 1,000 runs for the campaign last weekend in the students’ draw with Sutherland which maintained home ground advantage for Sydney University in the semi-finals.
The Blues opener has posted a remarkable 1,043 runs from 12 innings at a Bradman-like average of 94.82. While his Sheffield Shield form has not replicated that kind of touch, his class came to the fore again last weekend when he guided his team into the semi-finals with a composed 162 not out from 259 balls.
Likewise, Cowan adds significant experience to the defending champions. He was again among the leading Sheffield Shield run-scorers for the Blues this season, after he finished the 2016-17 campaign at the top of that list.
In his final Sheffield Shield season for the Blues, the veteran left-hander scored 347 runs at 34.7, and in the process, passed the magnificent milestone of 10,000 First Class runs.
Abbott strengthens an already formidable Parramatta team which secured its place in the semi-finals with a hard-fought draw against Gordon at home last weekend.
After a quiet season in the Sheffield Shield, Abbott finished the campaign well and demonstrated his all-round capabilities with bat in hand.
The Blues quick claimed four wickets in the final two games of the season and was particularly good against Victoria in round nine where he collected match figures of 3-89 from 28 overs.
However, in the final match of the season against Queensland in Wollongong last week, it was his batting which impressed most. He posted his highest First-Class score of 79 in the first innings of that game, and backed that up last Sunday, with a useful 26 not out in the qualifying final against Gordon.
Abbott also made his maiden First Grade century earlier in the season against UNSW with 102 from 154 balls. He has returned 19 wickets for Parramatta from 10 matches this campaign at the excellent average of 15.8 and best figures of 5-15.
The additions of Larkin and Cowan only serve to add to a wealth of talent in the Sydney University batting order which has been led by prodigious talent Damien Mortimer in their absence.
The right-hander has been a stand out performer for the students and will play his 100th First Grade match this weekend. He has 981 runs to his name at 46.71 during the 2017-18 McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket campaign.
Although, Sydney have the attack to challenge this batting depth and numerous bowlers in form.
Tigers’ fast bowler Nic Bills, in particular, will be full of confidence after he tore through the Campbelltown-Camden batting order last weekend with season best figures of 6-37.
Bills is fifth on the list of leading wicket takers for the competition with 45 wickets at 25.18 and a repeat performance of last weekend could continue his team’s giant-killing run.
Sydney off-spinner Ben Manenti will be another strike weapon for the visitors at Sydney University Oval. He is the third leading wicket taker in McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket with a tally of 52 wickets at 24.06 including three five-wicket hauls.
Campbelltown-Camden finished the season as Minor Premiers, but a shock 109-run loss to the sixth-ranked Sydney meant that the Ghosts lost pivotal home ground advantage for the second week of the finals.
The task does not get any easier for Campbelltown-Camden against Parramatta, who finished the regular season in second place, on an equal number of points.
Abbott will form a potent attack for the hosts alongside two of the top ten wicket takers in the competition, Scott Copperfield and Ben Martin.
Copperfield has claimed 41 wickets this season at 26.54, while Martin has taken 39 scalps at 26.13.
Jack White completes the four-pronged pace attack. He has collected 34 wickets at 20.65 for the season.
Parramatta captain and wicketkeeper Nick Bertus leads an equally outstanding batting order, and will be looking to rebound from a fourth ball duck against Gordon.
Bertus is the leading run-scorer for Parramatta thus far this season. He has amassed 916 runs at 45.8.
The accomplished wicketkeeper-batsman has been well supported in the top order by Brenton Cherry and Tim Ward, who have all scored more than 700 runs throughout the season.
Both men showed tremendous application against Gordon to secure the all-important draw. Ward made 89 from 219 deliveries and Cherry was 77 not out. The unbeaten knock also took Cherry past 4000 First Grade runs.
Campbelltown-Camden captain Jarrad Burke, and top order batsman Philip Wells, will once again be crucial to the Ghosts’ prospects at Old Kings Oval.
Despite the loss, Burke was again at his miserly best against Sydney. He claimed 2-53 from 37 overs adding to his season tally of 49 wickets at 20.8 and an amazing economy rate of 2.72.
Wells was a key wicket for the Tigers last weekend and will be so again for Parramatta.
The Campbelltown-Camden No. 3 managed only 12 from 34 balls against Sydney, but has maintained a consistent flow of runs since arriving from Bankstown with his skipper at the beginning of the season. He has scored 862 runs at 45.37.
If the Ghosts progress to the decider, it will mark an incredible fifth straight Grand Final for both players, in which they have won just the once in 2015-16 for Bankstown. The previous four Finals have all featured the Bulldogs.
Aaron Yabsley will also be an important cog in the wheel for Campbelltown-Camden. His dismissal last weekend was key to the Sydney victory after he compiled 76 from 100 balls at the top of the order. The opening batsman is the leading run-scorer for the Ghosts and has scored 953 runs at 45.38 this season, including two centuries and four fifties.
MCDONALD’S NSW PREMIER CRICKET
Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th March 2018
Parramatta v Campbelltown-Camden at Old Kings Oval.
Parramatta: Nicholas Bertus (c), William Affleck, Luke Dempsey, Sean Abbott, Trent Crittenden, Owen Simonsen, Timothy Ward, Brenton Cherry, Ben Martin, Adam Turrell, Ben Abbott, Scott Copperfield, Jack White, Bradley Taylor, Liam Lofts.
Campbelltown-Camden: Jarrad Burke (c), Aaron Yabsley, Mitchell Carruthers, Philip Wells, Jaydyn Simmons, Jordan Browne, Charlie Dummer, Nathan Baker, Jarred Lysaught, Luke Webb, Samuel Skelly, Iain Carlisle.
Umpires: Greg Davidson & Anthony Wilds.
Sydney University v Sydney at University Oval.
Sydney University: Nicholas Larkin (c), Ed Cowan, Tim Cummins, Ben Joy, Damien Mortimer, Ben Trevor-Jones, Timothy Ley, Liam Robertson, Devlin Malone, Lawrence Neil-Smith, Hayden Kerr.
Sydney: Daniel Smith(c), Matthew Rodgers, Anthony Mosca, Harry Dalton, Suffan Hassan, Beau McClintock, Benjamin Manenti, Ryan Felsch, Nicholas Bills, Alex Glendenning, Thomas Ortiz, Justin Mosca.
Umpires: Simon Lightbody & Ben Treloar.