Henley Cricket Club First XI 2013 Season Review – Champions Again

cricket-2Played 18

Won 12, Drew 2, Lost 3 Can/Abn 1 Bonus Batting Points 9, Bonus Bowling Points 17, Total Points 336

50/50 Over Matches: Played 9, Won 7, Lost 2

120 Over Games: Played 9, Won 5, Drew 2, Lost 1, 1 Abn.

2877 Runs Scored,  147 Wickets Taken.


What a season! A record 12 wins, 336 points and leaders of Division 1 from the start to the finish of the 2013 Campaign. CHAMPIONS

Henley rounded off the 2012 season with four straight wins and came into the 2013 campaign with a brace of victories in pre-season friendlies against Ealing and Aston Rowant. Taking to the new limited over format played in the first five and last four games of the season like ducks to water, Henley hit the ground running.

First up at the Brakspear Ground were High Wycombe, runaway champions in 2012, but not so keen on the new format. And it showed as the visitors were shot out for 163 in 41 overs, the wickets shared pretty evenly between Tom Nugent, skipper Bjorn Mordt, Gurveer Singh and Australian Ashton Agar, the latter courtesy of Hampshire CCC’s initiative to bring overseas players into club cricket. In reply, an in-form David Barnes led the way with an imperious 78, Dave Allaway recorded a season best 56 and it was job done 4 wickets down.

In Week 2, Henley travelled to Welwyn Garden City. The hosts showed an uncharacteristic lack of spirit and were unbelievably poor, blown away for 76 with once again, the wickets shared around with Mordt (4-24) and Tahir Afridi (3-20) leading the way. Michael Roberts (33*) led the way and it was game over in the 17th over as Welwyn, who would eventually be relegated, recorded zero points.

Next up were North Mymms at the Brakspear Ground. Once again, the bowling attack saw off the visitors for a relatively cheap166 and again, the wickets were shared around, the highlight being Agar’s 4-36 that included a lbw hat-trick. Barnes (83*) and Roberts (77) almost saw Henley home on their own before Fahim Qureshi, experiencing a torrid start to his season, scampered an unbeaten single. This would be Agar’s last game for Henley as his star shone briefly but brightly in the firmament that was the Ashes 2013, giving Henley more publicity in a matter of days than they have enjoyed in decades as a media feeding frenzy descended on the club to find out all about this unknown Aussie.

Another dominant display and Henley were now building an invincible aura around themselves.

The Week 4 game at Tring followed a similar footprint with Tring all out for159 in the 47th over and Barnes once again leading the way with an unbeaten 75 with contributions from Qureshi and Allaway, 31 apiece. Again, wickets shared, Afridi was top dog (5-15) and Singh weighed in with 3-39. The game marked spinner Cameron Jacobsen’s debut for the First XI which he marked with a wicket, showing plenty of poise and confidence in the process.

In Week 5, Banbury were the first side to post a meaningful total (242-8) but had no answer to Barnes (118) and Roberts (70) before a belligerent Mordt and Todd Ferguson saw Henley home with just two balls to spare in what was a full blooded and entertaining contest. Hampshire’s Hamza Riazuddin picked up a side strain which left Henley a bowler short as the game unfolded but the fielding was top draw and Nugent (3-31) and Singh (2-42) took the honours.

But it was five wins from five games as the limited over format came to an end to be replaced by the traditional 120 version.

The following week, again at the Brakspear Ground, Henley were defeated by the weather with Potters Bar on 85-4 and found themselves joint first with Harpenden whose win at Tring was unaffected by the weather.

Week 7 took Henley to Division 1 returnees Slough in a rain affected game. Winning the toss, Slough elected to field as Henley ground out 202 on a poor wicket for the loss of 8 wickets in difficult circumstances. Once again Barnes led the way with 47, Afridi had his best weekend with the bat with a quick-fire 22 and Stewart Davison caught the eye with a muscular 32.

In reply, Slough (118 all out) rather self-destructed as Agar’s spinner replacement from Queensland, Cameron Boyce recorded 5-41 and Afridi put in another top performance with 4-38. Now it was Harpenden’s turn to lose a game to the weather and Henley were now clear at the top with 156 points to their credit.

The winning streak ultimately game to an end the following weekend at home to Harpenden. Winning the toss and fielding first, the Henley bowlers appeared to have things sown up tight as the visitors slumped to 60-6 before the burly and somewhat agricultural Will Jones took the Henley bowlers by the scruff of the neck, clattering 113 that included 12 fours and 7 sixes to take his side to 214-8.

Not the largest total to chase down, Barnes, Allaway and Qureshi went cheaply, but it was the loss of an otherwise untroubled Roberts on 42 that resulted in the innings stalling. Although Riazuddin notched 39 off 90 balls otherwise the middle order struggled to form any lasting partnerships and it was left to Boyce (43*) and Afridi (11*) to mount stern resistance and hold out to the end for the lesser end of the draw.

Week 9 over at Burnham went much the same way. On a gorgeous morning, Burnham won the toss and batted first scoring 251-9. With Roberts absent injured, Qureshi (24) and Barnes (38) made a decent enough start but once again the middle order failed to fire and the visitors found themselves six wickets down for 92 with lots of overs left to get through. Ferguson’s enterprising 27 off 22 balls apart, it was once again down to Boyce (53) and Afridi (7) to hold the fort. Although Henley had shipped a few more runs than they might have, Burnham can be a real handful when they are in the batting frame of mind, and the need for the middle order to step up the plate was readily apparent.

This would be Qureshi’s last game for five weekends as Ramadan took precedence.

Still, the midpoint of the season had come and gone and Henley were 16 points clear of a Harpenden side whose challenge for the title would falter in the second half of the a season.

The following week however, it was back to winnings ways on a blisteringly hot day at London Road with an easy if not crushing win over High Wycombe. Riazuddin, normally very economical, if light on wickets, was positively turbocharged, ending with figures of 6-38 in 8.3 overs as the home side slumped from 75-2 to 106 all out. Only Cranfield Thompson (54) showed any fight as Mordt (3-18) did the rest. Once again the top order did the job, Barnes hammed 43, his fellow opener Davison offered some crisp shots and a straight bat for 17, Riazuddin chipped in with 18 and Boyce saw things out with 26 off just 12 balls. It was all over by early afternoon.

Another easy win, and in Week11, yet another glorious day greeted Welwyn at the Brakspear Ground. Unlike the encounter earlier in the season, Welwyn showed up with spirit and fight and skipper Jamie Hewitt led the way with 80. Yet again however, the Henley bowling attack took ten wickets in the 60th over and Henley were set a total of 231 for victory. Boyce led the way with 5-57 and was ably supported by Singh, 2-41. In reply, the top order made it 112-2. Mordt forced the pace with a quickfire 33, there was no collapse and there were adequate contributions from the rest of the middle order to take Henley across the line despite Southgate’s 6-85.

All this left Henley on 225 points, 55 points clear of Tring.

In Week 12 it was off to the delightfully rural setting of North Mymms for a game which, if the weather forecasters had anything to do with it, was not going to take place. Happily the adverse weather arrived in force after the game had ended in the evening gloom around 7.30pm with victory for Henley which might easily have gone the other way.

Bowling first as usual, Henley soon had Mymms in trouble 89-6 only for their skipper Lewis to lead a fight back with a meaty 92, leaving Henley with a target of 220. At 89-3 at tea, it was anyone’s guess what would happen with the weather. Roberts was however in a class of his own as he led the run chase. But once again, the middle order crumbled, and it was left to Roberts to guide things home with an unbeaten 129, ably supported by Nugent (11*). Up there in the pantheon of damn close run things but 25 points nonetheless.

In Week 13, Tring were the visitors to the Brakspear Ground. Unusually, having won the toss, Henley batted first and posted 224 all out. The top  order all went cheaply but Jason Barber was on hand was in fine slogging form to post 63, Mordt made his only half century of the campaign (54) and Davison weighed in with 36. For a Tring side with quite bit of batting, this was not a huge target, but yet again, the Henley bowling unit stood up and was counted. Mordt’s guile and flight netted him 5-38 and there were contributions all round as Tring subsided all out for 178. On a day when, despite the statistics, Henley never really dominated the game, retaining the initiative was all important, and this Henley managed.

In Week 14, the unthinkable happened – a defeat! Actually the spectre of defeat had been present on several previous occasions without paying a call. Banbury were quite simply better in every department as Henley ground their way to 202 in just under 66 overs. Barber apart, the middle order all posted creditable scores without anyone going on to set the world alight with a big score that would have given Henley a better platform. All in all it was pretty turgid stuff. As it was, an under-par 202 proved easy pickings for a Banbury side whose batters seemed more adept at freeing their arms, none more so than Hawkes (64) ably supported by Tew (43) and Cater (43*) who all made light of what was a poor wicket.

On 280 points, Henley were now 39 points clear of the chasing pack and the last four games would see a return to 50/50 over cricket.

In Week 15, Henley made their last foray of the season into Hertfordshire to Potters Bar. Once again, the weather threatened to intervene, but Potters Bar had no answer to Mordt (4-25) or Boyce (5-22) and were all out for 98. Barnes (37) and a returning Qureshi (22) made a solid start and Barber 23* smashed an unbeaten 23 in 12 balls to end the contest, such as it had been.

In Week 16, Henley (100-3) comprehensively defeated Slough on run rate to clinch the League. Given the events of the last two rounds of the season, it was fortunate that they did. In a game that might well have been lost to the weather but for the industry of the Henley faithful pressed into ground staff duties and the positivity of the umpires, Slough were shot out for 132. Once again there were all round contributions from the bowlers, though Slough threw some wickets away in an attempt to smash their way to a score on uncertain conditions. In reply, the top order did the job led by Barnes (20), Riazuddin (42) at his most fluent all season including some mighty blows onto Remenham Hill and Qureshi (33*). This would be Qureshi’s last game for Henley as he bowed out from, for him, a difficult season in which he was not able to showcase his undoubted talent and reach anywhere near the heights he did for Tring in 2012.

But that was it and now no one could overhaul Henley. In the event, Henley would end the season 27 points clear of Slough following defeats away at Harpenden and at home to Burnham. At The Common, the home side posted a worthy but by no means unassailable 241. With Roberts absent and Barnes playing on for 7, Henley were never in the hunt, Barber and Mordt apart, the middle order all got starts, again without anyone having the durability to go on to make the big decisive score. Jacobsen managed an unbeaten 32 but wickets fell at regular intervals and Henley ended up 71 runs short. On the plus side the lunch, comprising melt in the mouth lamb shank followed by banoffee pie was the finest away lunch of the season.

As in 2012, so in 2013, the last game of the season was against Burnham, this time at the Brakspear Ground. It was hardly a champion’s performance, unassisted by the fact that at 11am, only ten men were available including skipper Mordt who really was too ill to play but heroically went out to bat. Barber was in blistering form, smashing 70 that included six fours and three sixes, one of which removed roof tiles from a property in Remenham Lane. But around him durability and application was sadly lacking as the middle and lower order were rolled up, Henley all out for just 128, which would have been far more embarrassing but for Barber. Burnham made light work of the run chase and it was all over in just under 25 overs for the loss of three wickets.

So how and why did Henley win the League?

First and foremost because the Bowling Unit performed very well indeed, if not quite brilliantly, complemented almost always by an excellent standard of fielding and top notch wicket keeping by Ferguson. On 12 occasions, Henley took all 10 wickets, twice for less than 100, three times for less than 150, three times for less than 200 and four times for less than 250. Everyone made a contribution, Afridi took 32 wickets (Av 19.26, Econ 4.05), Nugent 20 (Av 18.6, Econ 3.77), Mordt 29 (Av 19.2, Econ 4.15), Singh 24 (Av 18.5, Econ 3.63), Boyce 22 (Av 20.81, Econ 3.63), and Agar 7 (Av 12.57, Econ 3.52) and although Riazuddin only took 9 (Av 36/.77, Econ 3.54) wickets, he destroyed Wycombe and was otherwise very economical. The averages and economy rates of all the principle bowlers speak for themselves and every week, someone stood up and was counted. All of the above meant that frequently, Henley were chasing modest scores – perhaps fortuitously.

Second, Henley’s leading batsmen made a very substantial contribution and eight victories (High Wycombe H, Welwyn A, North Mymms H, Tring A, Banbury H, Slough A, Welwyn H and North Mymms A) were based on their substantial contributions. Roberts scored 429 in 9 appearances at an average of 61.29. Barnes, First XI player of the Year in 2013, scored 669 in 18 appearances at an average of 47.79. Between them, they scored 38.16% of all runs scored and 48.33 of runs scored when playing, Roberts 25.8% and Barnes 23.35%. The only other player to get near scoring10% of all runs scored was Riazuddin with 9.8%, though Barber weighed in with 6.74% of all runs scored in just 9 appearances during which, based in London as he is, he traversed a substantial part of the rail network into the Home Counties!

Third, but for Boyce’s rearguard resistance against Harpenden H and Burnham A, those games would have been lost as would the contest at North Mymms but for Roberts’ virtuoso performance. Critically therefore, the wheels did not fall off the wagon when the chips were down to turn three potential defeats into two draws and a win.

Fourth, the victory against Slough in Week 16 was key. This was a game which could very easily have been lost to the weather which, had that happened, would have netted just 6 points apiece. Given the manner in which the season played out, Slough could well have otherwise been champions.

Fifth, winning the first 7 games in a row was massive, particularly the first five limited over games during which Henley conceded just 11 points. What the 2013 campaign did show was that it was difficult to amass many points at all as a losing side in the limited over context, however well one played. So whilst everyone else was winning some and losing some, Henley got off to an excellent start which created an aura of invincibility and meant that everyone else was playing catch up from early on.

Sixth, it was not until Week 14 that Henley ended on the losing side and by the time an end of season slump ensued, the job had been done.

Seventh, Wycombe, Champions in 2011 and 2012, who can usually be expected to mount a stern challenge had an awful season, avoiding relegation on the last day of the season. The challenges of Tring and Harpenden, which, for so long, looked quite compelling, fell away, the other Hertfordshire clubs mired themselves in a relegation fight, Banbury were not consistent enough, Burnham blew hot and cold to end up mid-table. Only Slough, who gathered momentum as the season progressed under the canny leadership of Bobby Sher, were eventually on hand to mount a challenge which was blunted by losing both their games against Henley. In other words, the competition was not all it might have been in 2013.

Whilst Henley were busy working their way towards their fourth HCPCL Championship, England were completing a 3-0 Ashes Series to retain the Urn. It was not so long ago that a 3-0 victory over the Aussies was the stuff of pipedreams and wishful thinking. So the England camp must have been rather dismayed to discover their campaign being dissected, criticised and contextualised by the media, various elements portrayed in a rather negative light and generally receiving less credit than they expected.

Nonetheless, no side can rest on its laurels and even a winning side can have shortcomings. And, as Andrew Strauss recently put it in the Sunday Times, with success come higher expectations. It is not enough to simply say we won the League and that’s it. A glance at the team photos for the last few years shows how much the Henley First XI has metamorphosed over that time and 2014 will be no different. 2011 was a year of under-achievement as various senior players bowed out, 2012 was a year of rebuilding and developing a bowling attack which, in 2013, bore fruit. The process of development is unending and that is the way it has to be.

As it is, the No. 3 batting position has remained a conundrum ever since Jonno McLean departed to Radlett. There was legitimate hope and expectation that Qureshi would solve that problem, but it was not to be. Riazuddin, who retired from professional cricket at the end of the 2013 season, took up the spot but, though hard to get out, did not score big runs – understandably perhaps. Beyond the Number 3 spot, the middle order has shown itself to have something of a soft centre and is an Achilles Heel that will have to be addressed. Boyce apart, who was really a spinner who could bat well but turned out to be less suited to batting further up the order, the middle order only managed two half centuries and caved in on more than a few occasions. No one weighed in with a match turning innings and some players lacked durability. Reinforcements are required. As the statistics show, the current side is highly reliant on the top order getting the job done. That cannot always be guaranteed and besides, the availability of Roberts and Riazuddin in 2014 is unclear. At this time of the year, potential new players are just that and we will have to wait and see how things pan out. But there are some talented players out there and a batter from the Hampshire CCC overseas/club initiative would be a good idea.

Whilst Banbury progressed to the Finals Day of the ECB T20 competition which was washed out and resolved rather farcically, Henley did not progress beyond the HCPCL semi-final stage and did not enter the ECB National Knock-Out Competition. As long as Henley continues to make a substantial contribution to Berkshire Cricket, fielding a competitive side on a Sunday for the ECB National Competitions is going to be a problem. However, on the plus side, those who spent a wonderful day in late August at Wormsley watching Berkshire defeat Shropshire in the MCCA One Day Final were able to enjoy some excellent contributions from Henley players in a game which also showcased other youthful developing talents.

What of the other Henley sides? As in 2012, so in 2013, the Seconds had a torrid time of it and were relegated from Division 1 of the TVCL. Whilst it would be easy to blame this on the departure of the White Brothers, Jimmy Yandell and Steve Horne, it is worth remembering that but for the departure of Basingstoke and HN to the Southern Premier League, the Seconds would have been relegated in 2012. As it is, the Seconds are very much work in progress. Jacobsen, Barber and Simon Wheeler apart, there are few players knocking on the door of the First XI, which is not good for the First XI. All too often, the Seconds were prone to collapse when batting though it is worth remembering that Barber was frequently drafted into the Firsts and they were often up against strong first teams often with an overseas player to boot. However the strengthening of the Second XI is as much a priority as for the Firsts and an Overseas Player exclusively for the Seconds would be a smart move.

The Thirds, under the leadership of Jeremy Palmer who hung up his bat at the end of the season, were a bit up and down but held their own sufficiently to remain in Division 3A and the Fourths held onto tenure of Division 7B by a whisker. At all these levels, recruitment and the blooding and development of up and coming juniors are the priority issues. It is an unfortunate fact of life that out of the scores of juniors that throng cricket clubs throughout the land at the weekends, very few actually percolate into becoming regular club players, let alone players at the highest levels where this club plays. Changing that or at least retaining as many juniors as possible as senior players is a huge priority and will remain so for Coach Todd Ferguson, who has now retired from playing, in conjunction with the Junior Section. Additionally, the development of youngsters from the State School sector is a priority given the absence of cricket in State Schools and the unavailability of players in private education for half the season.

The season has come and gone, the Brakspear Ground has been put out to grass, the advertising hoardings removed and winter beckons. Once again, the clouds of uncertainty hang over the HCPCL with the cessation of the Hertfordshire Clubs looking increasingly likely. It could be that by the beginning of the 2014 season, the HCPCL is made up exclusively of clubs from the TVCL and the Cherwell League but that remains to be seen.