Henley Still in Contention

Henley First XI pulled off a stunning victory over Aston Rowant in one of the most exciting finishes seen at Matson Drive in many a long day. The win keeps Henley’s title hopes alive and elevated them to third spot, within reach of Wokingham and Aston Rowant, albeit with Banbury, Datchet and High Wycombe breathing down their necks. It is tight at the top and too close to call.

Another scorching day, the outfield baked to slick straw and lightning quick, it really did not matter who won the toss. But Rowant, buoyed up by numerous travelling support, who at times outnumbered the locals, and fancying their chances, won it and decided to bat.

Nine overs in, Tom Nugent replaced Harry Jordan with Adam Searle and was immediately rewarded with the wicket of Rowant opener Condon, deceived by the flight of Searle’s second delivery. After which the Henley bowling once again stuck to their guns, kept their nerve, and made scoring difficult for the Rowant top order, prizing them  out at modest cost, thanks in part to two sharp catches by Euan Brock. By the 25th over, Rowant had just 116 to show for their efforts with their top four gone. But former skipper Josh Smith was made of sterner stuff, he and Russell putting on 90  before Russell became Brock’s first of four wickets. Smith grafted away, now joined by the Overseas, Le Bas, for another useful partnership before falling to Shariq Sheikh.

Apart from the briefest flirtation with seam from Johnny Connell, Nugent stuck with his spinners who all repaid his faith. Searle and Sheikh each bowled their full ten, the former for a miserly 39, the latter taking two key wickets, whilst Matt Rowe’s seven overs snuffed out the threat of Watling. Special mention, though, goes to Brock whose bowling, like fine wine, matures with age, pick of his four’fer being the third, the wicket of Le Bas, brilliantly caught by Stewart Davison, uncharacteristically patrolling the deep and taking a fine catch above his head millimetres in from the rope. On a day when the punishing conditions lent themselves to run-fests, restricting Rowant to 269 was no mean feat.

The question now was whether Henley could top that. Archie Carter found himself trudging prematurely back to the Pavilion, bowler Bethell having spotted him out of his crease and shying the stumps to fatal effect. But after that hiccup, Jack Davies joining Connell, normal service resumed until Connell’s risk-embracing adventure cost him his wicket, 94-2 becoming 111-4 as Davies top edged to point, and Roberts fell victim to Rowant skipper Penhale for the second time this season. Given Rowe’s variable form in recent times, the absence of a batting matchwinner lower down the order, and both Rowe and Brock on nought, the cognoscenti feared the worst. They should have known better.

Rowe painstakingly played himself in, his first six runs coming off 31 balls, whilst Brock showed greater enterprise in a 48-run partnership which steadied the ship and kept Henley in touch with the required rate.  Sheikh maintained the adventurous spirit and upped the rate with 30 from 30 balls as Rowe grew into the innings, ever more confident with each passing boundary. Sheikh’s departure in the 43rd over left Henley needing 51 off 42 balls, more than doable.

Nugent, now took up the challenge, supporting Rowe who added another 36 off just 22 balls before falling (82 off 90 balls, 10 fours, 1 six) with one run required. Searle did the honours and Henley were home with 5 balls to spare. Henley bowled 37 overs of spin, whilst Rowant’s reliance on seam (31.1overs) and two dropped catches played to Rowe’s strengths and into Henley’s hands for a fine win that owed much to real teamwork in both disciplines and will be long remembered.

Another exciting Saturday awaits. Henley travel to relegated Buckingham Town and the form book favours an away win. Nothing less will do as Rowant entertain mercurial Datchet, Wokingham have a long, tricky trip to Banbury, and Slough could upset High Wycombe’s applecart.