Henley had to settle for a draw in their top of the table clash with Harpenden at the Brakspear Ground on Saturday. When the dust had settled, Harpenden took away 13 points and Henley had to be content with 10, leaving the home side clear at the top of Division 1 of the HCPCL by 16 points.
This was a game which owed much to one big innings by Harpenden’s Will Jones and a failure by the home side to kill of Harpenden when they were 60-6 allied to a loss of momentum when Henley batted following the departure of Michael Roberts for the third wicket.
Once again, skipper Bjorn Mordt won the toss on a warm and sultry morning, perfect bowling conditions at Henley, and lost no time inserting the visitors. Blacktopp, a golden duck, was Afridi’s first victim. His replacement, Harpenden’s South African overseas, Chad Breetzke (0), having played several loose shots, fenced a Nugent delivery to Dave Barnes at point and it was 1-2 which became 15-3 when Nugent sent Frazer’s off sump cartwheeling out of the ground. A repeat of last year when Harpenden were shot out for 116 looked on the cards. Opener Cooper and Harpenden skipper Lamb endeavoured to consolidate before Cooper (16) shuffled across his stumps and was adjudged lbw to Mordt. Cameron Boyce replacing Mordt from the Remenham Hill End was immediately on the money as Lamb (19) was caught behind, and when Mordt caught Latham at slip off Boyce, Harpenden were indeed teetering on the brink at 60-6.
Until, that is, Will Jones entered the fray. A big strong lad in the mould of the archetypal village blacksmith-cricketer of yesteryear, Jones, a close season recruit from West Herts, quite simply took the game, his side’s innings and the Henley bowlers by the scuff of the neck and tonked the ball all around and on occasions out of the ground. No one was spared as 12 fours and 7 sixes bear witness. Anything within his arc was swiped mightily, mainly down the ground or to or over long-off but, in truth, few areas of the ground were spared. A tad agricultural maybe, but highly effective and very entertaining.
Recognising that Jones had taken a real shine to the spin of Boyce and Gurveer Singh, Mordt rang the changes bringing back Nugent, himself and Afridi. But it made little difference. In between whiles, Pankhurst chipped in 32 runs before becoming Mordt’s second lbw victim, but when Afridi, for the second time of asking, took a difficult catch at deep mid-wicket to dismiss Jones, the damage had been done and 60-6 had become 214-8, Jones’ 113 coming of just 95 balls. Boyce and Mordt rolled up the rest of the innings in short order and just 63 overs, but now, Harpenden had an eminently defendable total.
The visitors took the field in a very buoyant mood, sounding more like an Apache raiding party attacking a wagon train in an old-school Western, hardly in-keeping with the MCC’s traditions and etiquette of cricket. Nonetheless, it was water off a duck’s back to Roberts and Barnes. Jones now reappeared as an opening bowler and animatedly charged in and down the pitch, eagerly pursuing his deliveries with a little added interest, his ardour and his voluble teammates only being calmed when Roberts nonchalantly deposited a couple of his deliveries in Remenham Lane and the allotments.
Jones succeeded in removing Barnes lbw for 7, a score equalled by both Fahim Qureshi and Dave Allaway, neither of whom really got going, but it was the loss of Roberts (42) caught low down by Breetzke at short and wide mid-on off Fraser that stalled the innings. Hamza Riazuddin ground out 39 runs off 90 balls, Mordt fell lbw to Jones for 8 and Todd Ferguson (11) rather needlessly ran himself out. But with Frazer who bowled 28 overs for 3-66, keeping things tight from one end and Henley unable to form any lasting partnerships, a draw seemed inevitable. It was left to Boyce to give a hint of what might have been with an unbeaten 43 including 9 fours. Such was the speed with which Harpenden bowled their overs that Henley were accorded another 6 overs before the witching hour of 7pm came around, Henley ending on 190-7.
Harpenden were heard to complain that Henley had not really gone for the win. But that is another way of saying that Henley declined to throw caution to the wind to pursue victory in circumstances where defeat would have handed the visitors 25 points, the home side 7 and closed the gap to a single point. And by the same token, the intensity went out of Harpenden around the 50th over. Jones came back at the death but was just about out on his feet at the end and unable to work any further magic. He was certainly the man of the match and but for his sterling effort, the game might well have followed the same course as last year’s encounter. Uncharacteristically, Henley lost the initiative in both aspects of the game and will look to put that right when they take the short trip to Burnham next week.
Elsewhere, wins for Tring and Banbury enabled them to make up some ground on the leading duo and Slough passed the 100 point mark with a win over Potters Bar. Just 27 points separate Welwyn in sixth from Burnham in last place, and an unseemly relegation scrap is already on the cards.