Dire Henley Pay the Price

An abysmal showing by Henley at Banbury on Saturday got it just desserts; a ten-wicket thumping and not a losing bonus point in sight. The result sent Henley back to sixth place in Division 1, a point ahead of Slough and 33 points adrift of new leaders, Wokingham, who rolled over Oxford as High Wycombe and Datchet cancelled each other out in a drawn game. Even allowing for inconsistency across all the teams ahead of them and the fact that to date, Henley have lost no more games (3) that the top four, barring miracles, the prospect of winning the League in 2022 is remote.

So to Banbury, always a bit of a curate’s egg of a fixture, weather, the state of the wicket, and a mercurial home side all potential factors in an uncertain equation. Overnight, it had, as forecasted, rained. However, the covers were not on and although they were put on around dawn, the damage was done and whoever won the toss and fielded first had a considerable advantage, not to say a winning hand.

Tom Nugent’s impeccable record of winning the toss ended and Henley were batting. With Covid victim Archie Carter absent, Mikey Williams, playing his first game of the season, opened with Johnny Connell. A dearth of practice and game time seemed to trouble Williams not a bit to judge from a couple of crisp boundaries and Banbury’s experiment of opening the bowling with a comically wayward Kieran Coyne soon ended.

Johnny Connell on the other hand lasted just 9 balls before, yet again, shouldering arms and paying the price. Still, here came gun player, Jack Davies, and Williams continued to find the boundary. Perhaps, he should have stuck to boundaries only because an attempted run two on his, perhaps rusty, call off a push to square leg, the second never remotely on, ended Davies’ day with the bat and Henley were 23-2. Talk of self-inflicted wounds.

By drinks, just after midday, Henley had moved on to 52-2, so there was not that much wrong with the deck. Another 40 – 50 by lunch without loss and the morning would belong to Henley. Not so.

At this point, one would like to say that the Banbury seamers had other ideas. Except they did not. They bowled adequately and aimed at the stumps, and maybe the deck did a little bit, but they were hardly a handful. Williams was gone almost immediately after the restart, and with the honourable exception of Matt Rowe, supremely disappointed by his LBW decision, the rest of the Henley batting was an essay in swinging and missing, a regulation catch to mid-on (Brock) and another shouldering of arms (Adam Searle), of a lack of focus and application. 77-8 at Lunch (excellent Thai street food from a van in the carpark) soon became 89 all out. This was pre-season Ealing all over again, but without anyone standing up and being counted and getting a big score.

The old mantra about chasing low scores never materialised. With no early wickets to create pressure, skipper Lloyd Sabin and fellow opener, Richard Simpson, strolled serenely to the win in 14.1 overs, 60 of the 90 runs coming off boundaries. The wind rising under a frowning cloudy sky, it was all over by 2:50pm. As François Rabelais put it, “Bring down the curtain, the farce is over”.

With a third of the season left, and a lot of cricket to be played, an assessment of the 2022 campaign and what needs to be done must await another day. True, Carter and Mikey Roberts were absent, and the bowling has performed pretty well to date in 2022, but a wider entropy prevails and the need for action is clear.

This Saturday, Slough are the visitors to Matson Drive. On a weekend when Wycombe and Finchampstead will fancy maximum points at Oxford and Buckingham, and Banbury and Aston Rowant have the potential to frustrate Datchet and Wokingham, the need for 25 points has never been greater.