A CHANCE to clear his mind and focus only on batting after being freed from the captaincy has Sutherland's Matt Hughston in career best form.
Hughston has surged to second top of the Sydney Grade Cricket's run-scoring charts, hitting 462 runs at 66 including three 50s and one century.
His form reversal comes after relinquishing the leadership to Phil Jaques midway through a horror last season when he averaged just 23.18 in the top grade.
"I had a pretty bad year by my own standards," Hughston said.
"It was a combination of things including working, buying a unit and the captaincy.
"I let my batting slide and it was no one's fault except mine.
"I just couldn't put my hours in at training."
He joins Jaques (370 runs at 61.67) in the top 10 with one match remaining before the holiday break.
Hughston top-scored for Sutherland, guiding the side to victory in a low-scoring limited-overs match against Penrith on Saturday.
His 89 not out was a key.
"I was making silly mistakes that a junior would make rather than a senior player," he said.
"I couldn't free myself up."
Penrith won the toss and batted, moving to 86 before NSW spinner Adam Zampa took the first wicket.
Zampa led the bowling attack, finishing with 4-25 from 10 overs as Penrith were all out for 183.
Sutherland lost both openers Stephen Cush and Nic Maddinson for zero and were struggling when Jaques (28) was out with the scores at 55.
Batting at No.4 Hughston helped to guide the team to victory, but his teammates struggled, losing wickets at regular intervals.
"I love opening the batting but we have plenty of guys that can open," Hughston said.
"We can be flexible which is a real strength and I never really worry with where I'm batting.
"As long as I don't go further down than No.4, which I've joked to Jaqusey about."
A 40-run eight wicket partnership with Daniel Rixon (22 not out) gave Sutherland the lead and moved them to the top of the limited-overs table, undefeated from their three games.
They also sit in third on the overall table, one point behind St George.
"There is definitely a good feeling coming on," Hughston said. "We just have a great balance."
Sutherland will host Eastern Suburbs this Saturday at Glenn McGrath Oval, Caringbah.
■ First grade: Penrith 183 (Adam Zampa 4-25, Mitch Brown 2-21, Nathan Fitzgerald 2-37) lost to Sutherland 7/184 (Matthew Hughston 89no, Phil Jaques 28, Daniel Rixon 22no).
■ Second grade: Sutherland 198 (Matthew Hopkins 83, Joel Brockley 31, Nathan Loder 20) d Penrith 135 (Nathan Whittingham 4-30, Trent Smith 2-34).
■ Third grade: Penrith 202 (Josh Zywietz 3-36, Lachlan Maddinson 3-45, Ryan Almond 2-27, John Derwent 2-48) d Sutherland 151 (Ryan Almond 28no, Matthew Bradley 23).
■ Fourth grade: Sutherland 5/237 (Michael Kelly 73no, Chris Macnamara 56no, Tom Doyle 39, Ryan Chivers 29) d Penrith 151 (Michael Kelly 4-31, Chris Macnamara 2-36) - with one bonus point.
■ Fifth grade: Penrith 163 (Scott Dawes 2-20, Steve Kourouche 2-25, Ben Williams 2-31, Dylan Lowy 2-45) d Sutherland 90 (Oliver Selby 24) - with one bonus point.
■ Poidevin-Gray Shield: Sutherland 9/228 (Jamie Brown 34, Duncan Maddinson 34, Ben Dwarshuis 34, Ryan Maguire 30, Trent Smith 21no) d Sydney 198 (Kerrod White 3-25, Ben Dwarshuis 2-43).