WHEN the dust had settled on what had been a very dry “result wicket”, SLOUGH were left wondering what they have to do to beat HENLEY.
Having dismissed their hosts for a relatively modest 169 and finding themselves well placed after 25 overs at 87-2, Slough then lost the next eight wickets for just 52 runs, and with it the game, and possibly the 2014 Championship.
By contrast, Henley took a massive stride towards the 2014 HCPCL Championship with a performance in the field which showcased their indomitable spirit and will to win.
Never once when they took to the field did the home side regard the game as anything but one they were going to win. And that may have been the difference.
Having won the toss, Slough skipper, Bobby Sher, decided to field which suited Henley skipper Bjorn Mordt who would have batted first in any event.
The game was but five deliveries old before Michael Roberts swatted the ball into Remenham Lane for six, the ball lost forever.
Slough opening bowler Nawaz however took it all in his stride and, in a 10-over spell, rooted out Henley’s top order batsmen. David Barnes was the first to go when a second consecutive and strident appeal for lbw was granted by Umpire Caldicott.
A disappointed Barnes departed and Ben McDermott took his place. As usual he was not long in finding the boundaries and getting a good start, but a 34 run partnership ended when Roberts went to drive and played on, knocking out his middle stump.
Worse was to follow as Nawaz’s next ball ricocheted off Mordt’s pads and dislodged the bails. All of sudden Henley were 50-3 in 15 overs.
Nawaz completed his four’fer in his last (the 19th) over to dismiss McDermott, clean bowled as he went for a big expansive drive. It was an impressive spell from a bowler who used his height and whippy action to good effect, moving the ball both ways off the seam and at times extracting added bounce.
At 83-4, Henley needed to dig in and build a partnership. Dave Allaway and Euan Brock duly obliged putting on 43 for the next wicket and taking advantage of the singles that were on offer as the field spread.
The Slough spinners, the unorthodox Akbar in particular, bowled quite tightly, but a key partnership had managed to dig Henley out of a hole.
Brock’s departure, caught behind off Sher, precipitated another flurry of wickets as Allaway slipped on his backside and was run out, Stewart Davison was caught down the leg side and Matt Carter was caught behind.
Cue then for another key partnership as Tom Nugent and Tahir Afridi put on 37 for the ninth wicket in much the same manner and Allaway and Brock, scampering plenty of singles as the field spread out, allied to a few strident boundaries from Afridi who eventually skied a delivery from Hussein to end the Henley innings in the 49th over.
Set 170 to win, a target well within the compass of a very capable Slough top order, Afridi notched up his 100th wicket for Henley in the third over, trapping Shah lbw and followed it up soon after as the dangerous Khan’s off stump went cartwheeling backwards to make it 18-2.
But that was it as Hussein, now joined by former Pakistan U19 Captain Yousuf, began it make it look very easy. At drinks after 25 overs, Slough looked to be cruising to the win.
But it is never over until it is over and what would change it was the belated introduction of spin in the form of first Singh and then Brock.
Bowling in tandem, they wreaked havoc. Singh had Hussein caught at slip by a diving Mordt and Afridi took an outstanding catch diving forwards on the deep cover boundary to dismiss Yousuf.
Slough’s nerve and resistance slowly crumbled as Singh accounted for Baig lbw and Jamshad caught behind, and Davison took a sharp stumping to remove a very disappointed Sharath. Brock meanwhile returned the compliment to remove Sher, caught behind.
Nonetheless, Slough now had Rana and Nawaz at the wicket with plenty of balls remaining to get 58 runs. But just as they began to look settled, Brock pulled off a magical bit of fielding as Rana went for a slightly risky run.
Brock was on to the ball in a flash, knocking down the stumps from 25 yards with Rana well out of his ground. Even then, Slough could have tried to knock off the runs in singles, but Mordt kept his field up and the pressure on and Nawaz fell short trying to clatter Brock, Carter doing the honours at long-on.
Cue for much jubilation from the home support mixed with relief as a below-par batting performance was rescued by an outstanding display in the field.
Slough too played their part, working hard and showing a lot of commitment in what was an excellent game.
But after losing home and away this year and last, not to mention the T20 semi at Oxford last month, Slough must be scratching their heads as to what they have to do to turn the tables.
M Roberts, b Nawaz 30
D Barnes, lbw Nawaz 4
B McDermott, b Nawaz 27
B Mordt, b Nawaz 0
D Allaway, run out 28
E Brock, c Rana, b Sher 18
S Davison, c Rana, b Sharath 3
M Carter, c Rana, b Hussain 6
T Afridi, c Rana, b Sharath 28
T Nugent, c Baig, b Sharath 15
G Singh, not out 1
W Hussain, c Mordt, b Singh 36
N Shah, lbw Afridi 0
S Khan, b Afridi 4
S Yousaf, c Afridi, b Brock 46
F Baig, lbw Singh 0
Z Sher, c Davison, b Brock 6
O Jamshad, c Davison, b Singh 0
S Rana, run out, b Brock 14
R Sharath, c Davison, b Singh 10
R Nawaz, c Carter, b Brock 14
A Akbar, not out 2