Henley are the 2014 HCPCL T20 Champions following their defeat of Slough in the Semi-Final and Banbury in the Final, a pair of games with vastly contrasting plots and but equal measures of suspense and excitement.
Slough won the toss and decided to bat on what is the second ground at Oxford, the flattest of wickets with very short boundaries. Both sides were pretty much at full strength and well matched.
Opening up with Hussein and Shah, Slough charged off into the distance, the ball flying to all parts and Henley’s bowlers powerless to do much about it. By Over 8, having just lost Hussein (39), Slough had amassed 104 runs. But Ryan Bezuidenhout bowled Shah (47) and Euan Brock removed the dangerous Shaan Khan lbw (13) before he could cause too much damage and with the exception of an excellent unbeaten 66 by Slough skipper Sher, the remaining batsmen made little impression. Sher, however, kept the pressure up and plundered runs, and Slough completed their 20 overs on 195-7.
Set almost 10 an over to win, Henley were well up with the rate at half distance on 96. Bjorn Mordt (38) and Matt Carter (25) got things off to a good start and though Michael Roberts (5) went cheaply, Zia Ashraf (35) and David Barnes (40) both put in a terrific shift to keep Henley in the hunt.
But overs 14, 15 and 16 netted just 15 runs leaving Henley with 46 to get off 28 balls, lots to do and not much time to do it in. Barnes took Sher apart in the latter’s sole over only to be bowled by Akhbar with the score on 171. Davison (4) holed out hitting out but things took a dramatic turn when Slough were penalised with six penalty points for not bowling their overs in time.
It all came down to the last over with 12 required and Hussein bowling. Tahir Afridi clattered the first two balls for 4 and the third for two before being bowled. The incoming Bezuidenhout scampered one to level the score before Brock nudged the last delivery wide of the keeper and took off. Rather than walk or even run the ball to the stumps, the keeper shied and missed and with it went Slough’s chances of victory as Bezuidenhout made his ground to the joy and rapture of his team mates and the Henley faithful.
True to form, Slough were unhappy and aggrieved at the outcome and some of their players may live to regret their overreaction in the face of the Umpires.
Instead of playing the other semi-final against High Wycombe who were, apparently, unable to put out a side after four of their players cried off on Sunday morning, Banbury had spent their morning spectating and kicking their heels.
This however did not detract from their performance in the field in which, having won the toss and elected to filed they restricted Henley to 104 all out in 19.5 overs.
By the fifth over, Henley were four wickets down for 38, Manley taking all four wickets, Mordt (10) Carter (0), Roberts (20) and Ashraf (3), albeit that the Roberts dismissal was off no ball (three fielders out of the ring) that was not picked up. Davison (0) and Brock (4) added little, but Barnes 18 was crucial and Afridi was the star of the show with 33 as Henley just made it into three figures.
At was at this point that Banbury probably came to regret not being able to warm up their undoubted firepower against Wycombe. 105 in 20 overs must have looked a doddle, but it is never over until its overs and as history shows, chasing down small scores can be very tricky indeed.
And so it proved, with last year’s T20 Champs being dismissed for 88 in 19.3 overs.
In the field, Henley were simply magnificent, displaying trademark high energy, commitment, team spirit and never say die fielding. The will to win was palpable and transmitted itself through all five bowlers deployed. Pick of the bunch was Gurveer Singh’s 4 overs,1 maiden 2-5 but Afridi’s 2-13 of 3.3 overs came a close second and Ashraf 2-24, Carter 2-22 and Brock 2-23 were all immense. Add to that four stumpings and one catch by Davison and this was a performance to savour.
Banbury made it to 35 in the sixth over before Sabin (15) was caught Mordt bowled Ashraf and the dangerous Hawkes chalked up 28 before checking out to Carter caught Jacobsen to make it 43-2. But it was the loss of the next five wickets for just 21 runs that put paid to Banbury’s hopes and stalled their run chase as Mordt put his faith in his spinners, difficult to get away on a slow deck. Cater was caught behind and West and Ryan were stumped trying to force the pace. Brock held onto a remarkable caught and bowled to remove Harris, Tew was bowled by Singh and Blanchard was another stumping victim.
With two overs to go, 29 were needed. Manley and Wright managed 12 but 17 off the last over was a bridge too far as Afridi returned to bowl both Manley (8) and skipper Phillips for a duck.
Cue for great celebrations by the Henley team and travelling support as the HCPCL T20 Crown returned to Henley for the first time since 2010 when Henley did the double.