After another dominant performance in which they outplayed Tring, Henley find themselves alone at the top of Division 1 of the HCPCL for the first time since the end of the 2010 campaign with 100 points from 4 games, 19 points clear of second placed Harpenden.
Winning the toss yet again, Henley skipper Bjorn Mordt wasted no time in inviting Tring to bat on an initially overcast, breezy and cool morning. From the off, the Henley bowling attack posed plenty of problems. Tom Nugent, a tad wayward last week, was back in the groove, delivering the ball with pace and nip and when Tahir Afridi bowled opener Devisetty in the third over, it was clear that the Tring batsmen had their work cut out, albeit on what was a pretty benign deck. The incoming Dutch brought all his experience to bear as he and Tomlinson were made to nudge, nerdle and graft for every run with the odd boundary thrown in. After 12 overs, Tring had just 18 runs on the board and there was little change in the rate when Mordt and Hamza Riazuddin came on as first change, Riazuddin going for just 18 in his first seven over spell. Dutch took more of a shine to Mordt’s medium pace to clatter several boundaries, but just as he had done the hard work and was looking set to up the rate, Dutch (40) went to sweep Gurveer Singh, lost his balance and was artfully stumped by Todd Ferguson for his pains. One gets two they say, and in no time at all, Tomlinson (33) nicked off a Singh delivery to Mordt at slip and Tring were 91-3 off 27 overs.
Ashton Agar may departed for more important pastures, but Henley gave Oratory School skipper and left arm off-spinner Cameron Jacobsen his HCPCL debut. The eighteen year old showed plenty of poise and confidence to remove Tring skipper Payne with the score still on 91 and when Arshad charged down the wicket to Singh and was bowled in the 35th over, Tring were in real trouble on 107-5. Helm an England U19 and, apparently, the next big thing in the bowling department at Middlesex, led the charge with the bat but Henley kept the pressure up to remove Pritchard (118-7), bowled Nugent, fast and straight. Dixon then weighed in with Helm, the pair plundering runs from a returning Riazuddin and Afridi, before Afridi pulled off the move of the day to remove Helm, Wilson, Raja and Stanway with successive deliveries, each delivery clipping off or middle and off. Abject batting maybe, but that is to take nothing from a bowler whose application and work rate is First Class.
Tring thus collapsed from 159-6 to 159 all out in 46.4 overs. Afridi, 5-15 in 8.4 overs, was superb, but in truth, this was an excellent bowling performance from every bowler. Nugent 1-18 in 9 overs was threatening and miserly, Singh 3-39 in 10 overs took key wickets when most needed. Jacobsen, a recommendation to Henley by former Henley star Chad Keegan, could take heart from 1-21 off 5 overs, and though wicketless, Mordt and Raizuddin gave little away and kept the pressure on. If there is one criticism, it is of the ground fielding, which was rather too variable.
Having started off with three wides, the evergreen Stanway accounted for Jason Barber, lbw, with his second legitimate delivery. But toil as they might, success was limited for the Tring bowlers. The sun shone, the breeze dropped and David Barnes took up where he left off against North Mymms and settled into a productive partnership with Fahim Qureshi, the pair running hard and rotating the strike. Neither looked in any bother, until Qureshi (31), in a momentary lapse of concentration, played on off an inside edge. This brought Dave Allaway to the wicket and he and Barnes began to set about the Tring attack, all of whom felt the heat as the batsmen struck some mighty fours and sixes, particularly down the ground. Allaway would nick off for 31 with 33 needed, but Raizuddin (7*) proved an excellent foil to Barnes who applied his trademark accelerate on as the target neared. It was left to Raizuddin to stroke Wilson into no fielder’s land for the 160th run, and that was it, job done in 44th over. Barnes (75*) justifiably strode off to the applause of his teammates and the Henley faithful.
Henley are thus the current leaders and given the way they have played to date, that is no accident. Their opponents have taken just 8 points off Henley in four games. But there is a long way to go and it is far too soon to make any predictions. Elsewhere, Harpenden have emerged as the dark horses in Hertfordshire, beating Welwyn at Digswell Park, despite the presence of a certain Owais Shah in the Welwyn ranks. Banbury, next week’s opponents, beat Potters Bar, High Wycombe managed their first win of the season, defeating Burnham at London Road, whilst North Mymms’ 151 all out was enough to see off Slough (134 all out). Welwyn now prop up the Division but in close proximity to the three clubs above them, Banbury Slough and North Mymms currently represent mid-table respectability and the current Henley poursuivants are Tring (78 ) and Harpenden (81) which is not much off a gap in a the current format where winner takes all – which is what Henley must seek to do yet again next weekend.