And so to balmy and leafy Gerrards Cross on a glorious summer’s day. Not a cloud in sight and a day’s cricket in prospect. Cross’s Dukes Lane ground, bordered by a cocktail of smart villas, looked a picture.
Henley kept up the pressure at the top with, in the end, a convincing five wicket victory over Gerrards Cross, which keeps them well in contention at the top of Division 1 of the HCPCL.
Winning the toss, Cross elected to bat and openers Anwar, a Berkshire U17 player, and Watson got them off to a steady if slow start before Anwar, pinned down by Tahir Afridi, was induced, into the drive and nicked off to Michael Roberts at second slip.
A ridge that runs across the wicket at the Pavilion End makes it very difficult for batsmen to judge length and height and in the ensuing overs, this was exploited by Afridi to the full as Cross went from 42-1 to 52-2 and then fell of the cliff to 53-6. Aussie overseas Solway announced his arrival with a boundary though midwicket only to balloon a leading edge to Euan Brock at point a few balls later.
Opener Watson went the same way as Anwar, Roberts taking the catch low to his right. Hoddle was caught behind and Hunt, fortunate to survive a huge appeal off his first ball, indecisively prodded at the next and spooned the ball to Roberts. In between whiles, Bjorn Mordt trapped Dan Hampton lbw.
Skipper Rimmer’s attempts at consolidation lasted just 22 minutes before he succumbed to the Afridi/Roberts combo, having failed to score off Afridi’s eleven previous deliveries to him. With Cross on 75-7 at lunch, it looked as though another early finish beckoned.
It was not be however as the ball got softer and Westaway and, former Gloucestershire man, Banerjee dug in and showed a degree of application and durability that had been sadly lacking in the top and upper order. Playing unspectacular but effective cricket, only four boundaries coming from them, the pair pushed on to 122 before a returning Afridi trapped Westaway lbw. Most importantly, they had batted through a large portion of Cross’s allotted overs.
Mordt rotated the bowling but Cross stood firm. The incoming Tom Hampton, clearly a quality cricketer, put bat to ball to great effect in the closing overs scoring 43 off just 30 balls and saw his side though to the end of the sixty fourth over when Mordt bagged his second wicket, Banerjee lbw.
In many respects the Cross innings was a triumph for doggedness and durability of their lower order rather than a case of Henley letting them off the hook. But the star of the show was, once again. Afridi, with figures of 7-44 and once again, even though the last wicket was not taken, the bowling unit had restricted a side to less than 200 and the energy, commitment and athleticism in the field were outstanding. However, Cross now had something to bowl at.
Tom Hampton was soon back in action, opening the bowling at express pace from the v far end bowling into the ridge. It took all the experience of the Henley openers, Roberts and David Barnes to fend him off. But with Hoddle unable to maintain the same sort of pressure at the other end, the runs began to flow. Roberts was at his fluent best and cruised to 50 off 44 balls, Barnes content in the circumstances to play the supporting role before holing out to Banerjee with the score on 68, Hoddle doing very well to make the ground and then hold on to a tumbling catch at widish mid-off.
Ben McDermott now joined Roberts and the pair put on 57 for the next wicket before McDermott, having scored 37 off 33 balls, did not quite get hold of one as he might have liked and was caught off Banerjee by Hoddle at long-off. Banerjee would go on to take all five Cross wickets, number three being Roberts, bowled on 79 just when a century looked as though it was on the cards, although he was fortunate to survive drop at point and almost ran himself out just before tea.
With Roberts and McDermott gone, the rate of scoring dropped off markedly and the ascent to the required total was somewhat laboured. Brock added 7 off 25 balls before holing out rather tamely to Watson at mid-off and the returning Allaway hit a trio of lusty boundaries before failing to clear Watson at deepish mid-wicket.
Both found the returning Hampton a bit of a handful. But Stewart Davison and Mordt held firm and calmly ticked off the runs, it falling to Mordt to hit the winning boundary off Hampton through midwicket with seven overs remaining.
In the end then, a regulation win, but one which, apart from the fireworks of Afridi, Roberts and McDermott, was pretty workmanlike. Still it was job done, twenty five points in the bag and Henley march on. Once again, the bedrock of victory was a substantial score from the top order allied to excellent work in the field.