Harpenden on a low at High Wycombe

HCPL Division One

High Wycombe 299-9

Harpenden 80

H. Wycombe won by 219 runs

LIKE the character portrayed by Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech” Harpenden are suffering from a unfortunate stutter at just the wrong moment and need to find their own Lionel Logue as soon as possible.

Excellent performances against Falkland, Welwyn, Banbury, Radlett and Henley have been followed by consecutive losses against Tring Park and High Wycombe with totals below a hundred posted on both these occasions. Whilst therapy is hardly called for after what has been a very promising start, Nick Lamb’s side are currently down to sixth in the table albeit a relatively comfortable 22 points clear of Bishop’s Stortford in seventh. In such a competitive league, a couple of good or poor results can result in a dramatic change of fortune and Harpenden will look to improve their level of performance this week away to Falkland CC in Berkshire.

High Wycombe are as strong a side as can be found in the HCPL and ex-Surrey and Leicestershire player James Benning strikes the ball as well as anyone when he is in good touch. Not the sort of player then to grant an early life as a chance to cover-point went begging before Benning (99 in 91 balls) was able to shift through the gears.

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Nitin Sehgal (63 in 65) and Alex Jewell (63 in 112) had already laid some decent groundwork with a stand of 89 for the second wicket as Benning came to the crease. He then added a further 84 with Jewell for the third wicket before being run out by Chris Bennett-Baggs as a minor collapse left Wycombe at 299-9 declared from 63.3 overs having at one stage been 274-4.

Ben Mahoney (16-1-79-2) bowled well early on but it was a case of saving Jon Ryan (9.2.-2-38-4), pictured below, for the middle overs that made the difference as he pegged Wycombe back with a consistent spell of left-arm spin.

At this stage Lamb must have been the less happy of the skippers and he admitted: “It was a disappointing day for us and we were behind the 8-ball from the start really. We thought it was a pretty flat deck and the Wycombe top order set out to dominate our bowlers from the start. James Benning is a class act and it didn’t help that we dropped him early on. At halfway I was satisfied having kept them to 300 when at one stage we were staring down the barrel of well over 350 to chase. Jon Ryan was excellent for us as we tried to claw it back”.

The Harpenden stutter was most in evidence with the bat as their reply never got started. A suspicion that conditions became more bowler friendly with the ball starting to swing may have found some sympathy but could not disguise that Ricky Damiano, Gregg Cooper and Lamb were all dismissed caught for single figures. When Ben Frazer (19 in 18) suffered a rare failure and was also caught at 29-4 the innings was in danger of capitulation. In fact, no Harpenden batsman made it to 20 as Frazer top scored and there was to be no partnership of note as Sohail Hussain (10-2-37-4) blew away the top order and Chris Sketchley (4.5-2-2-3) finished off the tail.

Lamb was in no mood to hide from the truth: “With the batting we just never got going” he said. “We felt that the conditions may have become more swing-friendly but we can’t use that as an excuse.

“The Wycombe boys put the ball in the right areas, something that we didn’t do enough, and they nicked out our top three early. After that it became a bit of a procession”.

When pressed for his plans for this week Lamb was honest: “We need to restore a bit of confidence and this will take some hard work and a bit of fight. I’m convinced we have the strength of character in the side to come through”.

Like the king in the film, if the Harpenden batters discover some of their lost fluency whilst the bowlers maintain a smooth delivery then their supporters can soon look forward to something more cheerful to talk about.

To be on the receiving end of one excellent league hundred might be regarded as careless but to be the victim of a second in two weeks looks extremely unfortunate as Cockfosters’ Tony Sayers (108) put the Harpenden II bowlers away with ease and no little class.

This was reportedly Sayers’ third league century this season and he looked a good player in fine form. Harpenden knew that a total of 179 all out in 49.4 overs on The Common was maybe 40-50 runs light of a par score but a stronger bowling attack and a younger fielding side gave rise to some hope.

At one stage the home side had been 88-6 and it was only a stand of 68 for the seventh wicket between David Whiteley (36 in 81) and Alex Randall (a very promising 38 in 49 at No. 8) that rescued the innings from disaster.

Cockfosters currently lead Herts Division Two based on a strong batting unit that likes to chase runs and a century stand for the third wicket took the game away from Harpenden who next travel to face Hemel Hempstead II.

Eversholt CC’s David Goltz (13.5-2-33-7) made the best use of bowler friendly conditions on a “green ‘un” to rip through Harpenden III’s batting and reduce them to 64 all out on a day when one might have seen an ECB pitch inspector wandering around as 16 wickets fell in the day for just 129 runs. However, Simon Wade’s team showed great courage on a helpful but not untrustworthy pitch as they reduced Eversholt in reply to 37-5. Seamer Rohan Pancharatnam (7-2-19-3) threw off the shackles of recent exams to set a fearful test of his own as he showed great promise in a lively opening spell. In fact, the result might well have been very different had Pancharatnam not been forced from the attack having bowled his restricted quota of seven overs. Another youngster, Tom Cuppello (10.1-1-27-3) also bowled well and some sharp fielding must have led to some nervous glances in the pavilion but Eversholt eventually came home to win by four wickets.

Harpenden IV battled out a draw with Old Albanians II with Bryn Luffman (42*) top scoring whilst Harpenden V remain the side in the best form at the club as they chase promotion from Herts Division 12.

The V’s bowling remains a strong unit as Imi Hussain (14-6-19-4) and skipper Ben Dearman (7.1-3-8-3) rolled Hatfield III for 109 all out before Belal Hussain (53*) knocked off the runs. Harpenden’s VI were all out for 128 as they lost to Hitchin IV by five wickets.