Sydney University’s push to win back-to-back first grade titles in Sydney’s premier cricket competition will have to be achieved without two mainstays in Greg Mail and Ryan Carters.

Mail, the record-breaking Belvidere Cup batsman, announced his retirement from the game after the Students collected the 2016-17 First Grade title back in March. During his long and industrious career he amassed a record 44 First Grade centuries and 72 fifties with a record aggregate of 15,242 runs.

While Mail’s career spanned 22 seasons, Carters’ four seasons with Sydney University were also littered with achievements, highlighted by his epic, unbeaten 110 in the 2016-17 final to force a draw and help the Students claim the title.The 26-year-old NSW batsman-wicketkeeper decided in May to announce his retirement from all forms of cricket to focus on higher education and his charity work.

Sydney University Cricket Club’s Director of Cricket, Gary Whitaker, says while the retirement of Mail and Carters leaves some big shoes to fill, they offer the opportunity for young players to step up to the mark. “The program we’ve been developing over the past seven years has been designed to bring young players through the ranks with the aim pushing for First Grade spots and preparing them for higher honours,” he says.

“We saw that in the first two rounds of this season with First Grade captain Nick Larkin out with a hand injury he suffered in a NSW warm-up game and leg-spinner Devlin Malone also on the injured list,” he said. “He fractured a cheekbone on the recent tour of Sri Lanka for the World Red Bull Campus Cricket Finals. “Liam Robertson took over the captaincy and led from the front with a century in the season opener against Gordon. Hayden Kerr took over Nick’s opening duties and scored 86 and Joe Kershaw took the new ball with Ben Joy

“We won the opening two rounds of the season without our skipper and our leading wicket-taker from last season. In fact we won four of the five grades in each of the first two rounds. “That’s indicative of the talent and depth at the club.

When available we have NSW openers Nick Larkin and Ed Cowan and NSW Under 19 representatives Ryan McDuff and Lawrence Neil-Smith. “McDuff is an opening batsman and right-arm off-spinner and Neil-Smith is a right-arm quick. “And we welcome wicketkeeper Tim Cummins, brother of Australian fast bowler Pat Cummins, to the ranks. He made his debut in First Grade against Gordon.” Mr Whitaker said Sydney University Cricket Club (SUCC) also has a number of young players coming through the ranks who are being provided with the opportunity to develop their games and go to higher levels.

They include 17-year-olds Dominic O’Shannessy, a tall right-arm quick, and Ben Mitchell, an all-rounder and left-arm fast bowler, who’ll link up with the club after they finish their playing commitments with NSW Country. Both played Green Shield with Sydney University last season. Mr Whitaker said the squad taken to Sri Lanka for the World Red Bull Campus Cricket Finals in September performed admirably and put them in good stead for the opening of the Sydney grade cricket season. “We lost on the last ball to Sri Lanka in the semi-final,” he said.

“The boys played exceptionally well against South Africa, India and Pakistan in the pool matches. Those sides were littered with professional players from around the world.”

While Mail won’t be competing for Sydney University anymore, he will still be an influential figure at the club as a consultant and mentor. After announcing his retirement as a player, the Sydney Cricket Association (SCA) awarded him Life Membership of the association. Along with his immense numbers in NSW Premier Cricket, he had been a guiding voice for the players on the SCA Committee of Management for a number of years.

He joins fellow SUCC members, the late Mick O’Sullivan (2002), former chairman James Rodgers (2004) and current chairman Max Bonnell (2016) as Life Members of the SCA. Former Australian Test player and Sydney University team-mate Ed Cowan endorsed Mail’s nomination. “Greg’s impact on not only Sydney Uni, but the entire NSW Premier Cricket competition has been immense, striving for excellence and bringing out the best from team-mates and opponents alike, while forming friendships all across Sydney cricket ovals,” Cowan said.

SUCC also acknowledged Mail’s contribution, and that of Mark Faraday, another long-serving player for the club who also announced his retirement, with Life Memberships. They became SUCC’s 18th and 19th Life Members. In announcing his retirement in May, Carters finished on a high. The 26-year-old NSW batsman-wicketkeeper scored three centuries for SUCC – all in the past season – including his epic, unbeaten knock in the 2016-17 final.

He said he is looking towards post-graduate opportunities. On the fund-raising front, along with the LBW Trust, Carters founded the Batting for Change charity, which has the goal of improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged females in cricket-playing nations around the world. Batting for Change has raised $140,000 during the past two BBL seasons.

As coach Whitaker said: “Ryan’s a unique character, his own man, and he finished his career on the highest note with his epic contribution in last season’s final.” Indeed, that contribution helped Sydney University to their ninth First Grade premiership since the establishment of the competition in 1893-94.