Harpenden’s Ryan lends a hand as Kevin Pietersen tries to overcome left arm spin conundrum

First XI suffer first defeat of the league campaign though

HCPL Division One

Harpenden 163 Oxford 164-5

Oxford won by five wickets

IF Harpenden were to be taught something of a salutary lesson on life in the HCPL then Oxford was perhaps an appropriate place to visit.

It isn’t known whether skipper Nick Lamb had visions of maximum points or even nightmares about ex-Warwickshire seamer Stuart Hole but the dreaming spires of Oxford can be an intimidating place.

However, if one member of the Harpenden 1st XI had good reason to feel confident in his abilities then it was left-arm spinner, Jon Ryan, pictured right. The recipient of various phone calls during the week, Ryan was invited to attend specialist net sessions in order to help a certain Test cricketer who was looking for extra practise against this particular type of bowling.

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Ryan spent two days at Lords wheeling away to a committed Kevin Pietersen and enjoyed an unforgettable time within the England camp. “It as an amazing experience and hopefully I helped him out in some small way. Kevin Pietersen couldn’t have been a nicer bloke and it was a privilege to be around the England team as they prepared for a Test” said Ryan.

After a lost toss Harpenden were sent in to face one of the hardest exams in the league as set by Hole (17.3-6-32-5) who only last year had taken 7 wickets in the same fixture and expelled the cream of Harpenden’s batting for just 48. This time things were a little different as opener Gregg Cooper (35 in 80 balls) carried on his run of solid form but nobody was able to post a half century on a green wicket where the ball very rarely stayed on the straight and narrow. Young batsman Ollie Tuck (18* in 55) continued his education and showed great determination at No. 9 to add some late runs but otherwise Harpenden found themselves with some very difficult questions to answer.

Lamb’s view was concise: “I lost the toss and our top order struggled early on against Stuart Hole who produced a tremendous opening spell. We lost key players and this left us in a position where our middle and lower order really had to dig deep.

“Coops (Cooper) continued his good form and I was really pleased with Tucky at the end. To be honest I wasn’t unhappy with our total but we knew we were up against it.”

It didn’t need Oxford’s literary Chief Inspector Morse to detect that Harpenden were going to be reliant upon a good bowling display and the taking of any half chances that came their way if they were to win. Opposition skipper, ex-Middlesex player Jason Harrison (55* in 143) carried his bat and made the match-winning half century that his team needed although Ryan (13-5-22-3) raised a few alarms as he reduced the home side to 58-3 at one stage.

Lamb was left with the feeling that things just hadn’t fallen for Harpenden on the day but was not prepared to use this as an excuse. He said: “Oxford knocked the runs off with five down and I was pleased with the way we bowled and fielded.

“We might have asked for a bit more luck with a few decisions but that’s the way it goes.

“The pick of our bowlers was Jon Ryan but I guess it helps when you’ve been working with the England squad for the week!”

n At home, Harpenden 2nd XI were also on the wrong end of the result after the batsmen of both sides made life difficult for themselves.

Harpenden contrived a collapse to 54-5 once again leaving opener Tony Hooper (73 in 118) to rescue them.

A run of false shots left ‘keeper Graeme Sprowson (30 in 82) to add 67 with Hooper for the sixth wicket but then a senseless run out left both Hooper and the innings somewhat stranded.

Skipper Richard Darwin (22* in 35) and Chris Arnold (21* in 13) finally demonstrated that shot selection and timing of the ball was not impossible and at 174-7 in 53 overs Harpenden may just have had a total to bowl at.

Preston started well at 65-0 with Richard Wharton (48 in 61) looking in the best of form but an anxiety to hit full tosses straight to fielders then took over.

Preston tumbled to 130-6 with Darwin (14-2-50-3) and Allah Tawakkal (12.3-1-48-3) turning the ball slowly and the surprise arrival of a wailing fire engine circling the ground added to the tension. However, Ashley Catlin (40* in 54) saw his team home in the last over with a flurry of boundaries and a vital dropped catch in the deep that was probably Harpenden’s last chance for the win.

Darwin’s view of his team’s performance was unsurprisingly low key: “Our first defeat this year was the result of our poorest team performance so far.

“We didn’t set a challenging enough total on a flat deck despite a late rally and our poor start with the ball and our fielding display cost us as well. I’ll be talking to the team about it and then we’ll move on to next week.”

* Harpenden III’s loss to Potters Bar II was a mirror image of the results of the two senior sides as their total of 159 all out looked to be short of a good total.

Early successes from a competitive bowling unit then suggested that Harpenden might just have enough.

Both Duncan Gilson (40 and 7-0-14-2) and Guy Watts (37 and 8.4-1-39-2) were in the runs and wickets but it wasn’t enough as Potters Bar won by four wickets.

* A similar story befell Harpenden IV although their 221 all out in 49 overs against Ickleford II had a healthier complexion.

Jason Guest (60 in 49 at No. 9) had to rescue the innings with some magnificent striking adding a partnership of 101 for the eighth wicket with Berwyn Petrie (38 in 70) but 33 extras in the reply allowed Ickleford to win by three wickets.

* A league win was finally posted by Harpenden V as they passed Berkhamsted IV’s 158 all out with three wickets to spare and teenager Sam Jeater (retired 100) made a fine century in a VI’s friendly against touring side, Redbats CC.