Henley’s unbeaten record so far this season, and dating back to June 2012, came to an end at Banbury on Saturday when they were outplayed by the side placed second in Division 1 of the HCPCL. In all respects, Banbury had the better of the day.
Winning the toss, Henley skipper, Bjorn Mordt, elected to bat on what was a very slow, dry, dusty and poorly prepared wicket. Progress was initially very slow though that was down, in no small measure, to Banbury’s opening bowlers, Barends and Blanchard who kept things tight and probed the right areas. Barends, Banbury’s South African overseas, has clearly learnt a lot about English wickets this summer and was a different proposition from the corresponding game at the Brakspear Ground earlier this year. Michael Roberts and Dave Barnes played themselves in but the combination of distant lateral boundaries and sharp fielding made for a quiet start which was enlivened somewhat when Umpire Andy Grose was struck over the eye by a returning ball that ricocheted off Barnes’ bat. After initial first aid at the ground courtesy of Eric Davison, the unfortunate umpire had to take a trip to A&E in Banbury, but patched up, bravely returned to stand later in the day, more of which later.
This episode apart, the boundaries began to come only for Barnes to be bowled by Blanchard, bringing Hamza Riazuddin to the middle. The Hampshire duo put on 33 for the next wicket before Roberts went for the big hit over the midwicket boundary off Barends, only to pick out West who took an excellent tumbling catch. 61-2 became 61-3 when Cameron Boyce was out fourth ball, bowled Barends, and at 62-3 at lunch, the morning belonged to Banbury.
Post lunch, Dave Allaway and Riazuddin pushed on, only for Riazuddin, having struck West back over his head for 6, to go down the track to the same bowler and be stumped. Keenly aware of the need to accelerate the score, Mordt strode the crease and both he and Allaway adopted markedly more aggressive approach before Ryan, making a belated appearance as a bowler, had Allaway stumped. Jason Barber now joined Mordt.
In the pantheon of Barber’s all or nothing approach to batting, whilst last week’s bludgeoned 63 was all, this week’s 12 was relatively little as he holed out to Wright at mid-on off Barends. 135-6 in 47 overs was hardly reflective of the sort of total Henley wanted to defend and Mordt and Ferguson worked hard to up the ante. But it was not easy and became harder still when Mordt was adjudged run out by returning Umpire Grose, despite having appeared to many, including some Banbury players, to have made his ground. Mordt’s departure was to prove a major turning point because though Ferguson was the last man out for a worthy 32, with the exception of Gurveer Singh, whose cameo 9 made batting look very easy, there was little support otherwise.
Ending on 202 in 65.3 overs was hardly throwing down the gauntlet to a side with plenty of batting. And following a sluggish start during which Tahir Afridi bowled Haupt and Riazuddin kept things very tight, a few no-balls apart, Banbury motored inexorably towards the total. Spin looked to be the answer for a while as Singh removed Sabin and Tew lbw, and Boyce serially beat the bat without success. But Tew, then Hawkes then Cater went after both spinners and batted them both out of the attack, accelerating as the required total hove in sight. Afridi returned to remove the free scoring Hawkes thanks to an incredible catch by Barber at deep backward square leg, but by then it was too late and Cater saw his side home. The only excitement during the Banbury innings occurred when a glider was compelled to make a forced landing in the next door field. Thankfully, the pilot did not join Umpire Grose on the casualty list.
Well, it had to happen sometime and it might be said that the spectre of defeat has been present on several occasions this year without actually paying a call. True, the wicket was poor but it was just as poor when Banbury batted. Quite simply, Banbury were more effective in all areas, notably in their fielding where, by contrast, Henley had a poor day and shipped some unnecessary runs. They also bowled better and seemed more adept at freeing their arms with the bat. In hindsight it might have been better to insert Banbury and make them post a total leaving enough overs to encourage Henley to chase – which, as they will often bat to 66 overs to make a game safe, is not their style. With the return to 50/50 win lose cricket where winner takes all, Henley must pick themselves up, buck themselves up and return to winning ways. A 39 point cushion is all very well but could soon disappear in the format that will prevail in the last four games. It is one thing to have led all season but, as they say in motorsport, the only lap you need to be leading on is the last one!