Having dominated their opponents in the drawn timed game at Matson Drive, Henley First XI went one better in the 50 over version at Wokingham in a compelling victory, ending the home side’s aspirations to the Division 1 Championship.
And so to Sadlers End, unlikely to wow Nikolaus Pevsner were he writing today, and the Surelock McGill (a long-lost brother of Saul Goodman perhaps) Oval is in serious need of some trees around the boundary to afford character and shade.
Winning the toss, Wokingham decided to bowl on what proved to be, initially at least, a rather difficult, tacky wicket. In time, it would flatten out and, never a belter, become easier as the day wore on.
The first few overs were pretty tight until the fifth when former Henley man Andrew Rishton, think Daemon in The House of the Dragon, went for 11 and by the tenth over, both Archie Carter and Johnny Connell were beginning to find their feet only for Carter to be caught behind. Mikey Roberts gradually played himself in as Connell accelerated before the ageless Peploe did for him and Henley were 66-2 off 18 overs. Aakash Radhakrishnan soon departed thanks to an outstanding onehanded catch by Peploe at slip, making room for Matt Rowe and the partnership of the day.
Both Roberts (7*) and Rowe proceeded with care, but as Wokingham resorted to all spin from Rogers and Uttley, began to push on. Peploe returned for an over and was clattered for six as was Uttley in the next (37th) over. Back came the seam of Creighton for an over. He fared no better (12) than Rishton who replaced him, for Henley, the gift that keeps on giving, as he leaked 14, immediately replaced by Peploe, who went for 12 and ended the over dazed and confused, hands on knees. If there was a plan to the Wokingham bowling, it was difficult to discern.
Roberts was gone in the 45th over, falling short of the long-off boundary for a classy 67 and a 110 partnership, but Rowe (42*) pressed home the attack, ably supported by Liam Hilditch who gave Uttley a torrid time including a shot of the day six. As the innings closed and Henley threw caution to the wind, Peploe improved his figures with the wickets of Hilditch and Rowe (an invaluable 61) and the home side needed 231 to win.
On a day when Henley had but one front line seamer, it was always going to be about spin and who played it better. Jordan charged in, testing ‘keeper Hilditch’s reflexes and athleticism to the max, serially saving single wides from becoming four wides. But in the fifth over, Jordan found the range to bowl Rishton with a fine yorker. By the ninth over, it was all spin as Adam Searle, skipper for the day, joined Farland and immediately saw off Rogers. The balletic Shariq Sheikh replaced Farland. Wokingham skipper, Dan Housego, struggled and was completely bamboozled by Sheikh and could only watch, bemused, as the ball passed him and hit the stumps.
Khan now partnered surviving opener Malik and Searle turned to Euan Brock and Rowe who bowled Malik and then Khan. By the end of the 31st over, with an otherwise spectating Tom Nugent subbing for a now hamstrung Brock, Wokingham needed 101 off 19 overs.
Not for the first time this year, the Henley spinners held their nerve and did the job as the much-travelled Conrad Louth and Kang could only manage 30 runs in the next ten overs. The pressure told and Kang was out sweeping, Clapham brilliantly run out, and Peploe unable to put bat on ball and bowled, 35 required off 12 balls with 2 wickets remaining. It was all over in the next over, two more wickets to Sheikh and victory by 25 runs.
In truth, Henley played spin better than their hosts who never grasped the initiative, no one standing up and talking responsibility, the batting as strategically and tactically lacking as the bowling. By contrast, Henley were outstanding in the field, bags of energy and effort, runs saved all over the place, a never say die spirit and top keeping by Hilditch.
Had Henley played in the manner they did in this game against Buckingham Town the previous week and against Finchampstead in early June, they would now be odds on for the Championship. As it is, that is Aston Rowant’s for the taking unless High Wycombe administer a drubbing at the Butts this coming Saturday and let Banbury in by the shortest of heads.
This Saturday, Datchet are the visitors. Henley must carry their Wokingham form into this game and finish the season strongly and in style.