Grade Cricket Deserves Better Than This

By now, you will be aware of the happenings at Old Kings Oval on Saturday morning in the match between Western Suburbs and Parramatta.

In a competition where international appearances create little more than a footnote in the back pages of sports columns, the actions of Western Suburbs Cricket Club made international headlines.

For those who are playing catch up, Michael Clarke, Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke, was listed on the team sheet to play against Parramatta in a bid to prove his fitness for the 1st test.

As the laws permit, Clarke would appear for the second day of the two-day fixture, meaning, ideally, that Western Suburbs would bowl on the first week and bat on the second – allowing Clarke time in the middle – to prove he was able to play in the test arena in a fortnight.

Parramatta, however, won the toss and elected to bowl. Western Suburbs promptly declared their innings closed at 0/17 after 9.5 overs, sacrificing first innings points, but giving Clarke the opportunity to bat next weekend.

Having played grade cricket for the past 10 years, I feel comfortable enough to make comment on what was a complete and utter piss-take, in order to facilitate one player. Albeit a very good one.

No chance of friendly post-match beers in this encounter
No chance of friendly post-match beers in this encounter

As I understand it, Wests’ captain Jeff Cook approached Parramatta’s captain Michael Castle at the coin toss and told him of the situation, asking if it were possible to come to an agreement whereby the toss would become largely irrelevant.

Completely within his rights, Castle stated that he and his team were there to win the 6 points and declined Cook’s offer. When Cook called incorrectly at the toss, I imagine Castle took less than a millisecond to weigh up if his bowlers would want to be bowling machines for the Australian captain next week and elected to bowl on what was a presumably sublime batting strip.

Allegedly, Cricket NSW and Cricket Australia officials were livid with the Parramatta captain’s non-compliance and refusal to turn the match into some batting practice for Clarke, but from here the details become decidedly confusing.

After 9.5 overs, Cook declared Wests’ innings closed with the score at 0/17. This had Sydney Grade Cricket officials up in arms, as the laws had recently been changed to prevent this exact thing from happening.

For me, it’s the blatant nature of it. They didn’t slog for a session, get bowled out for 130 and mask their attempts to aid Clarke’s cause. They didn’t even make any attempt to promote the scoring rate. They carefully negotiated the first 10 overs, ticking over at just under two an over, before going “yep, this seems about right, let’s bring ’em in.”

"Bring it in, lads"
“Bring it in, lads”

Law 1.4 of the Sydney Grade Cricket Playing Conditions states: “No team shall be permitted to forfeit its first innings”. Seeing as Wests did not declare at 0/0, they may have avoided this breach on a technicality; however, anyone with common sense would conclude that forfeiting their first innings is exactly what Western Suburbs did.

But this story isn’t about laws, by-laws, rules, regulations or playing conditions. In my opinion, this merely takes the piss out of a competition that is actually a thoroughly competitive and elite competition.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s exciting when a state player or an international player is either in your side or in the opposition. You want to play with and against them because you’ve seen them on the telly and you want to experience, first hand, just how good these guys are. But there comes to a point where you must wonder: “why am I even here?”

I’m trying to imagine being in that Western Suburbs dressing room when Jeff Cook addressed his players. If I was told, “look, we’re gonna bat 10 overs and then declare because Clarke fancies a hit next week. Might as well just put your kits back in your car, lads,” I’d have been livid. I’d have been fucking livid.

I often feel that there’s a perception from people who have played Shires, club, or park cricket, that Grade cricket is not really that close to a professional standard. Incorrect. 1st grade cricket is a properly good standard. Anyone who has played grade cricket would, I’m sure, have been embarrassed by what happened at Old Kings, and I’m guessing that anybody who hasn’t would say “Get over it, boys. Let Pup have a hit.”

Proper good
Proper good

Fuck that. There has been no suggestion that Clarke had anything to do with the manipulation of this game, and I’m certainly not saying he did, but why bother having a hit against grade cricketers to prove your fitness? Why not have a centre wicket practice for an hour against the Australian Squad? Why not do some net batting and running between the wickets? I don’t understand.

I fail to see why a game of 1st grade cricket, where blokes pay up to $600 a season to play, has to be completely facilitated so one guy, who would have played less than five games for the club in 10 years, gets some centre-wicket practice. I also don’t genuinely believe that Jeff Cook made this decision on his own. I’m not even convinced he conceived the idea and I actually feel sorry for him for having to front up to questions about this.

It will be interesting to see if Cricket Australia usurps the authority of Sydney Grade Cricket – who will surely be keen to punish Wests, probably through the docking of championship points as no club makes enough money to be fined. Western Suburbs should be proud of having the current Australian captain as one of their members, but to essentially throw a game – or at least attempt to – isn’t any different to match fixing, is it?

By Ian Higgins

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