Henley First XI closed out the season with an emphatic 64 run win over Datchet, securing a creditable third place in Division 1 of the HCPCL behind Banbury, since 2000 often the bridesmaid and never the bride, and most worthy 2022 Champions, Aston Rowant. Much better than many predicted, and it would have been even better but for a few aberrations.
Datchet won the toss and bowled, slightly hamstrung by the presence of only one genuine seamer, Smithson, whose partner at the other end was the veteran spinner Naylor, as theatrical as ever with his appeals and (not so) near misses. Openers Archie Carter and Johnny Connell were positive from the off, the latter ending Naylor’s first spell with three successive boundaries and meting out similar treatment to Akhtar who got his own back in his next over, making Henley 66-1.
Cue Mikey Roberts making his last playing appearance for the Henley First XI. The usual array of stylish shots, three emphatic sixes, but on 35, he walked past one from Zaheer Sher, and that was that, some 246 League games since a memorable debut as a 17-year-old against Tring Park CC on 15th July 2006 (87*), thousands of runs, and an average seldom less than 50. He may be missed. What a long strange trip it’s been!
Carter (64*) marched on, quite untroubled, a century for the taking. Running himself out was the only way Datchet were likely to get him. Carter duly obliged. Jack Davies added 36, and Henley were 204-4 with 10 overs to go. The middle and lower order all got stuck in as best they might, but star of the show was Zaheer Sher who really enlivened the score (243 to 274) and proceedings with a 31-run nightmare over to Shaariq Sheikh, jolly entertaining all the same, which went something like this: 4, 5 wides, 4, 2, 5 wides, 1 wide, 1 + 2NB, 6, 1, no run. With Naylor donating 13 runs in the next over, Henley were well placed to top 300 which they did, albeit gifting Smithson three wickets in the process before Harry Jordan arrived late in the day, like the Prussians at Waterloo, to get the job done (9 off 4 balls).
Needing 305 to win, the visitors, who had spent the entire Henley innings squabbling amongst themselves in the field, made a decent start, shrugging off the early loss of Barrett before Adam Searle prized out a very positive Raheem Sher and the dangerous Billy Mead. As ever, skipper Tom Nugent shuffled his pack to good effect, Matt Rowe gutting the middle order either side of drinks, making it 142-5. Cussed and at times spikey resistance by a yellow helmeted Naylor (a fine 55) was eventually ended by the returning Searle who combined effectively with Rowe to snuff out resistance in the 47th over. They may not have taken any wickets but between them but Euan Brock and Sheikh bowled 19 overs for 95 creating pressure exploited by others.
So that is it for another year. As ever the season passes in a blur and feels over before it has properly begun. 34 Saturdays must pass before it all gets going again. Roberts’ retirement will leave a huge hole not simply as the player he is, but in terms of leadership, experience, and sheer talismanic presence, felt by teammates and opposition alike.
But no team stands still, sporting careers are ephemeral, and live moves on. The wealth of youthful talent that has stepped up to the plate this year has been a joy to behold. Adam Searle surpassed expectations with 43 wickets, 2 short of being top wicket taker. Johnny Connell has more than demonstrated why Mark Ramprakash thinks so highly of him, and Liam Hilditch has matured into a confident effective bat and an excellent keeper. Shariq Sheikh has proved a terrific find with bat and ball and Declan Farland is only 17 with bags of potential. And of course there is Archie Carter…… well, what can you say? Ally all of that to the experienced players, and the burgeoning Jack Davies when available and what do you have? A bright future.