Henley suffered only their second defeat of the season going down at Harpenden by 70 runs which might have been a much bigger defeat but for a spirited fight back following the disastrous loss of three wickets in three balls courtesy of a hat-trick by Harpenden skipper Nick Lamb.
A bright morning accompanied by a stiff northerly breeze greeted the teams and having won the toss, Lamb decided to bat. Despite the early loss of Cooper, lbw Tahir Afridi, Fraser and Pankhurst went on the attack and, showing little respect for the bowlers who in turn seemed powerless to do much about it, rattled up 102 in 16 overs. It took a rather fortunate thigh high full toss from Tom Nugent to deceive and bowl Frazer (64 off 48 balls), but it was through the introduction of spin in the form of Cameron Jacobsen and Gurveer Singh that Henley were able to regain control and impose a degree of pressure. Jacobsen’s excellent bowling was soon rewarded with the wicket of Pankhurst and when he removed the dangerous Will Jones, caught on the boundary at deep mid wicket by Singh, and Lamb then ran himself out, Harpenden were wobbling on 165-5 off 35 overs.
However, Harpenden’s Dan Blacktopp, having come in at No.4, was still at the crease and quietly accumulating. Latham was caught by Graham Furber at short mid-on off Singh, Afridi reinvented himself as slow left-armer to good effect and, with the field well spread, runs were not easy to come by. Nonetheless Blacktopp and White ran hard and rotated the strike, at times living dangerously until White was caught by Nugent at short mid-on off Hamza Riazuddin. Blacktopp brought up a well crafted 50 with a six over mid-wicket and began to open his shoulders a bit only to be adjudged run out following Singh’s swift pick up and return to Ferguson. Brabner and Doyle saw things through to the 50 overs and Harpenden ended on 241 which reflected a bowling job well done, especially given the home side’s tearaway start and the flat wicket.
In contrast, the Henley innings never truly got going in terms of mounting a credible challenge. Dave Barnes was an early loss, dragging on a ball from Will Jones, Jason Barber teed off but was soon bowled by Frazer and Stewart Davison looked well set, only to suffer the same fate at the hands of Jones. 47-3 became 56-4 when Bjorn Mordt was caught behind, and, all of a sudden, 242 looked a long way away. However Nugent combined well with Riazuddin, the former posting a well worked, if at times fortuitous 24 before being the subject of an excellent diving catch at cover by Lamb to make it 98-5.
And that was when disaster struck and the game was lost in the 29th over. Lamb’s first ball of the over was struck by Riazuddin to deep square leg and caught by Cooper, Ferber adjudged lbw with the second and the third to Afridi was caught behind.
At 98-8, the game looked lost but Jacobsen and Ferguson dug in to put on 54 for the next wicket, the former going for his shots and the latter playing with strength and circumspection. Paradoxically, Henley were never behind the required run rate but now lacked the numbers to see the job through, a problem that became accentuated when Ferguson became the ninth wicket pulling a ball around the corner and picking out Peck. Anywhere else and it would have been four. Now the incoming Singh and Jacobsen needed to score 90 off 83 balls. As ever, Singh was positive from the off with a brace of entertaining fours to his name before holing out to Jones at long off.
And that was that. Beaten by the better side on the day, Henley could claim that they were missing certain players, but still and all, and although Harpenden bowled well, there was plenty of quality in the top five, but no one ultimately stepped up to the plate. It is then asking a lot of the middle and lower order to win the game. In simple terms, the bowling was a job well done, the batting less so, though the ninth and tenth wicket partnerships reflected what might have been. Jacobsen had an excellent day with bat and ball, reflecting the benefits of regular and diligent attendance at nets, and is clearly cut out for first team cricket.
Finally, no account of the day is complete without reference to the excellent lunch put on by Harpenden for the players, officials, committee members and Henley guests. Melt in the mouth lamb shank, washed down by a glass or two of Malbec, followed by banoffee pie was the away meal of the season and a big thank you goes to Harpenden for their generous hospitality!