HENLEY saw their lead at the top of Division 1 of the Home Counties Premier League cut to seven points with four matches remaining after going down away to fellow challengers HIGH WYCOMBE on Saturday.
The reigning champions’ winning streak came to an end at London Road in a game that was there to be won but was thrown away through a poor batting performance.
This highlighted the soft centre to Henley’s batting line-up that is all too often masked by good bowling and fielding and top order batting.
Winning the toss on a breezy sunny morning, Henley skipper Bjorn Mordt opted to field. Slowly warming to their task, Wycombe openers Baker and Russell notched up 47 off the first 10 powerplay overs.
Baker chanced his arm and got away with it, scything at anything within his arc, at times to spectacular effect.
Four shy of his half-century when Russell played on, Baker brought up his 50 by clattering Mordt for six over long-off. Morgan lasted just seven balls before chipping to Carter at cover off Mordt.
Baker motored on in the same vein as the Wycombe batting engine room of Benning, Cranfield-Thompson and skipper Eyles all came and went around him, making starts and partnering Baker to good effect but not themselves kicking on.
For its part the Henley bowling attack, allied once again by generally tight and athletic fielding, stuck to its guns, prizing out the middle order and controlling the run rate within acceptable bounds, particularly after Mordt deployed the spin of Gurveer Singh and Euan Brock.
Baker’s departure for 118, caught by Michael Roberts at wide long-on off Nugent in the 40th over, blunted Wycombe’s rate. Just 33 runs came off the last 10 overs as Jones was stumped off Brock, and Singh accounted for Zaib lbw and Amjad, caught by Roberts over his shoulder at deep mid-on off a skier that swirled in the wind. A score of 241 was slightly below par and reflected a job well done in the field. Absent Baker’s 118, the run chase might have been different but the opener had played to his strengths and if the Henley bowlers were guilty of one thing, it was of allowing him to do just that and not bowling more back of a length to him.
In reply Henley made a bright start and the ball was just three overs old before Roberts despatched it over the stream and netting and way into the park beyond never to be seen again.
Despite that, U18 bowler Burden was sharp and impressive though it would be the more workmanlike Parsons, replacing Baker, who accounted for David Barnes, caught at second slip.
This brought Ben McDermott to the crease. Just when it began to look like it would be his day, an almost a run a ball innings of 24 was ended by an lbw decision.
At 81-2 Henley were well up with the rate. Brock was out quickly lbw but Roberts and Allaway had things well under control. Roberts brought up his 50 and Henley’s 100 in the 20th over and after 25 overs Henley were 122 runs to the good.
Trouble lay ahead, arriving in double measure in the 27th over as first Allaway and then Roberts gave their wickets away, unable to resist trying to smash spinner Zaib out of the ground and getting caught respectively at long-on and deep mid-wicket where Baker returned the favour.
In one over, Henley had gone from being well placed to cruise to victory to finding themselves with a mountain to climb.
Henley needed Roberts to stay in to the end and once he departed the writing was on the wall as, with the exception of Mordt who demonstrated what can be achieved by unspectacular accumulation and not trying to hit every ball out of the ground, Henley’s run chase fell apart.
In truth, none of his partners at the crease looked either likely or capable on the day of seeing Henley home.
Afridi holed out to mid-wicket going for a second consecutive six, Nugent got the slightest of edges and was caught behind, Carter never got going and Davison saw the ball ricochet off his bat onto the stumps.
With just Singh left to help him take Henley over the line, Mordt took most of the strike until he was unable to keep out the pacey Benning as the visitors fell 41 shorts with 32 balls remaining.
G Baker, c Roberts, Nugent 118
G Russell, b Carter 22
A Morgan, c Carter, b Mordt 2
J Benning, c Brock, b Singh 21
D Cranfield-Thompson, c Nugent,
b Singh 15
M Eyles, c Davison,b Afridi 20
R Jones, st McDermott, b Brock 9
S Zaib, lbw, b Singh 1
C Parsons, not out 19
U Amjaid, c Roberts, b Singh 0
J Burden, not out 4
TOTAL (9 wkts) 241
• Best bowling: G Singh 3-54, E Brock 2-18.
M Roberts, c Baker, b Zaib 63
D Barnes, c Benning, b Parsons 14
B McDermott, lbw,b Benning 24
E Brock, lbw, b Amjaid 5
D Allaway, c Burden, b Zaib 14
B Mordt, b Benning 31
S Davison, b Amjaid 14
M Carter, c Benning, b Amjaid 1
T Afridi, c Amjaid, b Zaib 13
T Nugent, c Cranfield-Thompson,
b Benning 8
G Singh, not out 3
• Best bowling: S Zaib 3-36, U Amjaid 3-26, J Benning 3-41.