CRICKET SHOWCASE: CRCA curator Tony 'Skully' Blanch is preparing Ellem Oval for the Country Plate and Country Cup finals to be played at the venue from December 28 to 30.Photo Bill North / Daily Examiner
CRICKET SHOWCASE: CRCA curator Tony 'Skully' Blanch is preparing Ellem Oval for the Country Plate and Country Cup finals to be played at the venue from December 28 to 30.Photo Bill North / Daily Examiner Bill North

'Batsman's paradise' to greet state's best talent in Grafton

COUNTRY CRICKET: After months of careful preparation the centre wickets at Ellem Oval, McKittrick Park and Lower Fisher Park are in tip-top shape and just about ready for their biggest test in decades.

Next week (Dec 28-30) Grafton will host the semi-finals and finals of the McDonalds Country Cup and Country Plate knockouts, and Clarence River Cricket Association curator Tony "Skully" Blanch has been charged with delivering first class playing facilities worthy of the quality and talent on display.

The process has been a careful balancing act, continuing to prepare wickets for the local GDSC Premier League with one eye always on showcasing what the Clarence Valley has to offer to many of the state's best country cricketers between Christmas and New Year.

"We've sacrificed our own comp a little bit and haven't used the middle tracks at all on all three turfs," Blanch said.

"We've fertilised twice where we might usually only fertilise once, and just tried to get the grass to grow as much as possible."

 

Clarence River Cricket Association curator Tony 'Skully' Blanch is preparing Ellem Oval for the Country Plate and Country Cup finals to be played at the venue from December 28 to 30.Photo Bill North / Daily Examiner
Clarence River Cricket Association curator Tony 'Skully' Blanch is preparing Ellem Oval for the Country Plate and Country Cup finals to be played at the venue from December 28 to 30.Photo Bill North / Daily Examiner Bill North

Just as players are at the mercy of the cricketing gods, curators are always at the mercy of the weather gods. Blanch said Grafton had been blessed weather-wise in recent weeks and the ideal preparation has continued into the days leading up to the tournament.

"A little bit of rain and low temperatures, then it's supposed to be dry, so it is a good outlook," Blanch said.

"Our weather this year has been brilliant, only two or three days of 40 degrees. Soaring 38, 40 degree days all the time are a curator's nightmare. A lot of Fridays preparing the wickets we've had 28 or 29 degrees, which is perfect."

And Blanch says that should translate into lots of runs for the eight sides visiting from all corners of the state.

"I predict these good sides on these tracks should be scoring 250 to 300 for most matches.

"I hope to put up a wicket that has a bit in it for the bowlers for the first hour or so then hopefully settles down into a batsman's paradise and then the spinners come into it."

2014/15 NSW Country Shield final winners Clarence River. Photo: Geoff O'Neill / NDL
2014/15 NSW Country Shield final winners Clarence River. Photo: Geoff O'Neill / NDL

Blanch said the three-day Cricket NSW event was the biggest tournament to come to Grafton in his "30-odd years" of preparing wickets and the first major carnival since the last under-24 carnival "about 26 years ago".

"It's good for our country town and businesses should thrive over the three-day period.

"But the best part about it is we should have some really good cricketers in town for our up and coming players and parents to watch.

"Hopefully we can put on three good wickets and produce a good atmosphere.

"The rest is now up to getting as many hands on board to help the association with covers, marking grounds, catering for breakfasts and lunches."

If you are able to assist during the week please phone CRCA secretary Judy Disson on 0409 037 361 or CRCA president Tom Kroehnert on 0488 096 707.

NSW COUNTRY CUP/PLATE DRAWS

Country Plate: Semi-finals (Wed): Bowral v Temora (McKittrick), Cessnock v Yass (Lower Fisher); Final (Thurs): TBD (Lower Fisher).

Country Cup: Semi-finals (Thurs): Tweed v Bathurst (Ellem), Tamworth v Southern Spirit (McKittrick); Final (Fri): TBD (Ellem).

Who will win the 2016/17 McDonalds Country Cup?

This poll ended on 30 December 2016.

Current Results

Bathurst

17%

Southern Spirit

43%

Tamworth

7%

Tweed

31%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Proof in the pudding: wickets producing runs

The wickets have already produced an 'unseasonal' amount of runs, with seven Premier League centuries already in 2016/17, matching last year's figure and surpassing the previous three (five in 2014/15, two in 2013/14, five in 2012/13).

So don't just take it from the curator. The competition's leading run scorer, Harwood captain Nathan Ensbey, admits his glut of runs has been helped along by ideal batting conditions.

"The wickets are playing well," Ensbey said.

"I think (curators) Derek Woods and Scully (Blanch) do a great job with the wickets around Grafton. These guys haven't got all the flash equipment so they do a great job with the machinery and facilities that they've got.

"I'm very confident those blokes will be able to prepare some top decks for the Country Cup and Country Plate finals. I think the teams over the Christmas New Year break will be impressed."

Who will win the 2016/17 Country Plate final?

This poll ended on 29 December 2016.

Current Results

Bowral

0%

Cessnock

0%

Temora

33%

Yass

66%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

No local sides represented

Blanch said it was disappointing no local sides will be represented, with the closest team coming from Tweed, who progressed in the Country Cup courtesy of skittling Clarence River for 24 runs in the third round before a tense, low-scoring victory over Coffs Harbour in the quarter-final. They also form the bulk of the Northern Rivers Rock team who finished runners up to the Dubbo-based Orara Outlaws in the recent Plan B Regional Big Bash final at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

"By the look of Tweed, who have a pretty strong bowling attack, they should be hard to beat," Blanch predicted. "But Tamworth's always been a strong cricket town so no doubt they'll be pretty handy."

Meanwhile, after a strong campaign Lower Clarence was bundled out at the final hurdle in the Country Plate against Cessnock in a designated home game played at a neutral Port Macquarie venue.

"It's a shame Maclean (Lower Clarence) batted first on a wet track. They would've been a strong chance if they got through."



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