Several current and former New South Wales Blues will be key to the prospects of Parramatta and Sydney University in the McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket Grand Final this weekend as the students seek to defend their crown.
The battle for the Belvidere Cup takes place over three days at Bankstown Memorial Oval starting Easter Saturday and concluding on Monday.
Former Australian Test opener and recently retired Blues batsman Ed Cowan, as well as Blues opening batsman and Sydney University captain Nick Larkin, will both be important players for the students, while Blues seamer Sean Abbott provides extra strike power to the Parramatta attack.
Sydney University are seeking to claim its eighth title and fifth since 2010-11, whereas victory to Parramatta this weekend ends a 53-year drought without a Premiership trophy. It last claimed the crown when known as Central Cumberland in 1964-65.
It is the second time the two teams have met in a Grand Final this season after the students defeated Parramatta by five runs in the decider of the First Grade Limited-Overs Cup.
Sydney University will have seven players in their side that defeated Bankstown in the Grand Final last season including Larkin, Cowan, Damien Mortimer, Liam Robertson, Tim Ley, Ben Joy and promising young leg-spinner Devlin Malone.
Cowan scored 82 from 103 balls in the semi-final victory against Sydney last weekend, and combined with centurion Mortimer (120) for a match-defining 157-run partnership.
Abbott was just as impressive with the bat for Parramatta. He posted 61 not out in the draw against Minor Premiers Campbelltown-Camden.
The Blues quick has now scored 186 runs from his last four innings across both McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket and the Sheffield Shield. He made his highest First Class score of 79 against Queensland in the Blues’ final Shield match of the season.
Larkin has been the talisman for the students’ at the top of the order. He has scored 1,091 runs at the remarkable average of 90.9 from 13 matches with a highest score of 246 against Mosman in round 10.
Mortimer is the leading run-scorer for Sydney University and will also be a vital wicket for Parramatta, after his magnificent 120 from 206 balls against Sydney in the semi-final.
Parramatta captain Nick Bertus will be just as pivotal to the his team’s chances of victory. He is the leading run-scorer for his club in the top grade this season with 933 runs at 44.4.
Some of the key bowlers for each side include leading wicket-taker for Sydney University this season and opening bowler Tim Ley, and Parramatta quicks Ben Martin, Scott Copperfield and Abbott.
While Abbott did not collect as many wickets in the Sheffield Shield as he would have perhaps aspired this season, he was first-rate for the Sydney Sixers during the 2017-18 Big Bash League and has been equally as good for Parramatta.
He claimed 13 scalps at 21.76 during the BBL and has taken 19 wickets at 15.8 during the 2017-18 McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket season.
Parramatta qualified for the finals in second position on the competition table, but on an equal number of points as the Minor Premiers Campbelltown-Camden, and progressed to the deciding match after successive draws against Gordon and the Ghosts.
Sydney University were one point behind Parramatta on the ladder. The students booked their spot in the Grand Final with a draw against Sutherland in the first week of the finals and a first innings win over Sydney.
Parramatta has played eight finals of the Belvidere Cup but has only claimed the crown once in its history. The other seven results were losses on the first innings.
Sydney University has appeared in the final match of the season on nine occasions with just the two losses.
Larkin was instrumental in guiding the students to the safety of a draw against Sutherland in the qualifying final.
He scored 162 not out from 259 balls on the final day to defy the men from the Shire any chance of victory. Larkin has amassed 210 runs and been dismissed just once during the finals series.
The 27-year-old from Taree has posted one double century, four hundreds and two fifties throughout the McDonald’s NSW Premier Cricket season.
Larkin missed out for the students during the Premiership decider last season. He was dismissed early in the first innings, where the now retired Ryan Carters, in his final match, batted for nearly nine hours in an incredible innings of 110 not out from 431 balls that forced the draw and claimed the title for Sydney University.
Cowan likewise batted superbly for the students in the 2016-17 decider. He fell five runs short of a century in that match.
He and Mortimer snatched the game away from the Tigers during the middle stages of the first day of the semi-final last weekend with some composed and positive batting.
Mortimer produced his best innings of the season in the semi-final which continued some excellent form sustained throughout the campaign.
It was his highest score of the campaign and his second ton. Mortimer has 1,101 runs to his name at the impressive average of 50.
All-rounder Hayden Kerr is another batsman who could prove dangerous for the Parramatta attack to be spearheaded by Abbott.
Kerr has been dynamic with bat in hand for the students throughout the season, whether that is at the top of the list in the one-day outfit, or in the middle-order in the longer format.
He has scored 774 runs at 38.7 and claimed 17 wickets.
The Parramatta attack head into the Grand Final having not bowled in two weeks after the rain affected draw at Old Kings Oval against Campbelltown-Camden, but will nevertheless challenge a Sydney University batting order full of depth.
Martin, Copperfield and Jack White all provide the perfect complement for Abbott in a four-pronged pace attack for Parramatta.
Copperfield tops the list of wicket takers for Parramatta this season. He has collected 41 wickets at 26.54. Martin is two wickets behind his fast bowling colleague on 39 wickets at 26.13.
White completes the quartet and heads into the Grand Final with another respectable record. He has claimed 34 First Grade scalps during the 2017-18 season.
Ley will lead the attack for Sydney University. The right-arm swing bowler has taken 59 wickets for the season at the miserly average of 16.1 with best figures of 6-18.
He has taken four wickets in four of the last seven matches he has played for the students including 4-30 against Sydney in the semi-final.
Ley claimed five wickets in the other three matches. He has 21 wickets in his last seven games.
Malone and all-rounder Liam Robertson have also been good with the ball for the students claiming 36 and 24 wickets respectively during the 2017-18 campaign.
Although, while Parramatta may not have the experience of the Sydney University batting line-up, much of the Parramatta top-order heads into the finale in fine form.
Young opener Tim Ward and top-order player Brenton Cherry, particularly, have been stand outs for Parramatta during the final series.
Cherry is yet to be dismissed in the Finals series so far. He remained unbeaten on 85 not out from 137 balls to force the draw against the Ghosts, and likewise was unable to be removed by the Gordon attack when he finished that match 77 not out.
In both of those matches, Tim Ward also showed significant poise at the crease.
The left-hander compiled consecutive half-centuries with his best performance produced against Gordon when he scored 89 from 219 balls in an innings that lasted nearly five hours. Ward has scored 150 runs throughout the Finals series.
MCDONALD’S NSW PREMIER CRICKET
First Grade: Saturday 31st March to Monday 2nd April 2018.
Parramatta v Sydney University at Bankstown 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.
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.
Umpires: Gerard Abood & Greg Davidson.