Henley Squeeze Home Against Banbury in a Thriller

Henley made it five wins from five games, defeating Banbury in a thrilling encounter that saw Henley chase down the visitors’ 242 with just two balls to spare. The game represented the first occasion this season where Henley have been seriously tested and in which they had to see off a compelling challenge.

For an unprecedented fifth time this year, skipper Bjorn Mordt won the toss and, as it his wont, inserted the opposition on a gorgeous morning. Both Tahir Afridi and Tom Nugent showed early promise and there were several close calls. With the field close in and sharp, runs were hard to come by. With the score on 28, the game came to life in the 12th over when Tew (7) fenced a Nugent delivery to Dave Allaway at backward point. His successor, Haupt, set off to run two off his first delivery clipping the ball to deep square leg. Nugent however had other ideas, haring after the ball and shying the stumps, leaving the returning and disbelieving Haupt (1) well short of his ground. It will probably be the run out of the season.

For several teams this year, the early loss of key wickets has signalled the beginning of the end, but not in Banbury’s case as Sabin and Hawkes regrouped and consolidated. Mordt replaced Afridi but this was not a day for a swinging ball and there was little to fear from his medium paces as both Sabin and Hawkes went after him, depositing the ball on Remenham Hill. Mordt exacted his revenge, taking a catch off Gurveer Singh low to the ground to see off an unhappy Hawkes (19). Sabin (56) brought up his 50 with a reverse paddle sweep but failed to execute a similar shot a short while later and was bowled to give Singh his second wicket of the day to make it 97-4 after 31 overs.

But Banbury’s young keeper Cater took up where Sabin had left off, and in conjunction with West, put on 55 for the next wicket. Both batsmen worked hard, rotating the strike and putting away balls there to be hit. By the same token, Henley worked their socks off in the field. Having himself taken some tap, Mordt rotated his bowlers. In truth, Henley were a bowler short and, having picked up a side strain in his first spell, Riazuddin was reduced to bowling slowish cutters from the Remenham Hill end. Mordt had little option but to stick to his task, returning to bowl West in the 41st over, only to take a pasting from the incoming Ryan (36) whose enterprising and useful contribution was terminated by Afridi, full and straight. Cater brought up his 50 with a flashing cover drive off Nugent, Blanchard (29*) climbed into Afridi, but Nugent kept up the challenge to the last over to remove Cater (58) and Barends, caught at deep square leg by Fahim Qureshi.

In response, Michael Roberts and David Barnes made light and fruitful work of Barends and Wright to bring up 50 in 10 overs, half the time it had taken Banbury, but found themselves pinned down by the spin of West and Blanchard’s accurate and back of a length medium pace. But as against North Mymms, so now, neither batter was remotely fazed and grafted away. Roberts brought up his 50 with a massive swept 6 off Phillips who had replaced West. When Ryan and Wright returned, the rate of scoring increased only for Roberts to hole out rather tamely to Sabin at cover. Nonetheless, an opening stand of 138 was an excellent platform and as long as Barnes was at the wicket, a successful outcome beckoned.

But Banbury were not going to make it easy. Skipper Phillips rang the changes, and he and his team refused to give up. Qureshi (14), who had been champing at the bit for 34 overs, was quick off the mark with a clipped four though the on-side and played some attractive wristy shots before falling victim, lbw to West and Dave Allaway (4) top-edged the same bowler to Haupt at slip. Unsurprisingly, both departures caused a loss of momentum and at the end of the 44th over, Henley required 48 runs of 36 balls.

The 45th over would prove critical as Barends, now operating from the Remenham Hill end, was put to the sword by Barnes and went for 15. In the process Barnes brought up 200 runs and, to the jubilation of himself and all present, an excellent century. Now it was 33 from 30 balls and the loss of Riazuddin (5) brought Mordt to the crease. Mordt may not have had much batting this year but relishes these gladiatorial contests. Phillips came back to tighten things up and make it 32 from 24, only to see Barnes undo his good work and smash Blanchard out of the ground to make it 25 off 18 which became 15 off 12 as Mordt clattered Phillips for 4 and then pulled his next delivery into Remenham Lane. Blanchard took another hammering from both batsmen in the 49th to leave the scores tied. Phillips, bowling the last over, brought his field up and Barnes (118) fell to a stupendous one-handed catch by Ryan at mid-wicket. This brought Todd Ferguson to the crease to see things out. A couple of dot balls were followed by a scuffed hoof to square leg which eluded the fielder and allowed the batsmen to trot the required run.

So there it was, victory with two balls to spare at the end of a full blooded and entertaining contest, Henley demonstrating that when they are put under pressure, they can respond to the challenge. Barnes, in particular, and Roberts once again led the way with the bat, but the fielding was sharp and all the bowlers stuck to their tasks, Singh and Nugent taking the honours.  That is to take nothing away from Banbury who made a real game of it. It is perhaps reflective of the points system currently in play in this format that for all their efforts and contribution to a thrilling game, their points haul was just 5, one less than for a cancelled or abandoned game.  Still in a limited over win/loose format that may be inevitable.

Elsewhere, Harpenden maintained their second place, chasing down North Mymms’ 281, Welwyn won at Burnham who have now slipped to bottom place, Wycombe chased down Potters Bar’s 198 and Tring won at Slough. Next weekend, sees the return of the 120 over format and it will be interesting to see how the current league standings change over the next nine games.