Head to head
By Steve Spinks
Matthew Phelps and Tom Cooper won the Lismore District Junior Cricketer of the Year award almost 20 years apart.
Today, the duo will go head-to-head, along with former Lismore wicketkeeper Andrew Neilan, in the Sydney first grade final between arch-rivals Sydney University and University of NSW.
Phelps, part of the winning NSW Pura Cup team only two weeks ago, has been a Sydney first grade regular for more than a decade, firstly with Uni of NSW, then Manly and now Sydney University.
However, the former Clunes batsman has never won a Sydney grade final.
Cooper, of Corndale, has played only four first-grade matches with Uni of NSW after joining the club in late January.
He was named Lismore Junior Cricketer of the Year in 2002-03; Phelps won the award in 1984-85.
Australian Test vice-captain Adam Gilchrist is another former winner.
Imagine how it must be for a cricketer in his first year out of high school to take on an established NSW player he has always looked up to.
"It's a little bit daunting (taking on Phelps)," Cooper said.
"Even more daunting is that there are four State players who have come back into their team.
"But you can't worry too much about them, you have to concentrate on your own game."
Phelps and Blues team-mates Ed Cowan, Stuart MacGill and Greg Mail will all play with Sydney Uni along with former Test groover Greg Matthews.
But Uni of NSW have also been strengthened.
Former English Test leg-spinner Ian Salisbury has returned for the final after having to head back to England in early February for pre-season training with his county team.
Salisbury played 15 matches for England and his first Test scalp was legendary Pakistani batsman Javed Miandad.
Cooper broke into first grade after two innings in second grade, where he scored 75 and 49.
In his only three innings in the top grade, the youngster has made 3, 37 and 8 not out.
Joining him in the Uni of NSW side is Neilan, now in his seventh season as first-grade wicketkeeper.
The 24-year-old recently broke the club record of 47 dismissals in a season.
Neilan is now well over the 50 mark.
In the one-day final in early February, Uni of NSW defeated Sydney Uni to earn their first title since 1981.
But Neilan was the only local playing in that match.
Play in the three-day final at Sydney University starts today at 9.30am and will conclude on Sunday.