Harps close to title

HARPENDEN Cricket ClubĀ are now just a handful of bonus points away from concluding a brilliant season with the Home Counties Premier League Division Two East title. In Ben Frazer s first year as captain after joining from Welwyn Garden City the team have

HARPENDEN Cricket Club are now just a handful of bonus points away from concluding a brilliant season with the Home Counties Premier League Division Two East title. In Ben Frazer's first year as captain after joining from Welwyn Garden City the team have negotiated their way through a couple of nervous weeks to soundly beat Letchworth by 159 runs on Saturday leaving themselves with the task of picking up six final bonus points to be the league champions.

Frazer summed up the position himself: "Following the disappointment of the West Herts tie last week it was crucial for us to play well this week. The previous weeks I think that we have been at only about 75% and we have got away with it so to turn up and put on one of our best displays was very pleasing. We knew a score of 240 was par so 260 meant we were always going to control the second innings. Chris Bennett-Baggs's innings was one of the best you will ever see and I was delighted for him. I was also thrilled for Ben Mahoney who has only just come back to full fitness and bowled an amazing spell including the ball of the season to get their best player. This win sets us up nicely for what will hopefully be a special last league weekend for the club."

Harpenden's 260-6 from 60 overs was down to an inspired Chris Bennett-Baggs (73 off 91 balls) who struck the ball cleanly to all parts of the ground with eight fours and two sixes before he was run out. Will Bates (37 off 98) provided the counter-point innings with solid calm and good sense and Mike Howard (46 off 52) added his years of experience having been reinstated to the line up for the title run in. All this left little time for Frazer (28* off 20) to blast away but it was a hard afternoon's graft for the Letchworth bowlers for whom the pick was a persevering Andy Newland (22-5-56-1).

From this point Mahoney (12-3-34-4) and Frazer (12.5-3-22-4) caused mayhem as the Letchworth batting collapsed from 69-2 to 101 all out. Dominic Chatfield (33 off 60) top scored but Mahoney was magnificent as he took early and late wickets to end any interest Letchworth might have had in their run chase. Brad Moses (6-1-27-2) provided some good back up and the quality of Harpenden's fielding did the rest. Frazer takes his men to Hertford for the last game of the season knowing that matters are in their own hands and that the league title is now almost in touching distance.

For Harpenden II a strong finish to their first season in Division 2 could get the team a final place in the top six and put down a good marker for next year. A comfortable win at Ampthill Town on Saturday showed how far the team has come with a bowling unit that rivals any other in the league.

Ampthill were looking promising at 62-2 but a combination of Justin Savio (13.5-4-49-4), Jake Pankhurst (10-3-29-3) and Peter Makower (13-7-25-2) was too much despite more dropped catches that gave a small glimpse as to why Harpenden are not challenging higher in the table.

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Paul Woodruffe (38 off 56 balls) at number nine played well enough on a relatively placid pitch and helped to add 46 for the last two wickets but otherwise Harpenden were not made to work seriously hard for their wickets.

Tony Hooper (72 off 97 balls) was in imperious form as he dismissed the Ampthill bowling and ruined several sets of bowling analyses along with his latest opening partner Ollie Tuck (47 off 88).

Hooper's driving through the off-side was majestic enough to grace any match in any division. It was a shame when he was out

shortly before the win was confirmed with four final byes that brought a suitably anti-climactic end to proceedings at Ampthill's picturesque ground.

Harpenden III confirmed their promotion to Division Three next season and are thought to be the first ever third XI to rise so high in the Herts League - a considerable achievement by Simon Wade in his first year as captain.

However, on Saturday they were caught on a spiteful Northampton Exiles pitch and well beaten by 69 runs. With the tricks from the surface yet to reveal themselves an 80 run opening partnership effectively won the match for Exiles as Wayne Lawler (52 off 145 balls) played an epic innings to lay the necessary foundations for Harit Patel (15-1-31-6) to confound the Harpenden batting.

The visitors were all out for just 89 in 37.1 overs not really knowing whether to attack or defend as the pitch showed more of it's true colours in the second innings. Wade's warriors will wonder what next week has in store for them as they require a minimum of 14 bonus points to win the league title at home against mid-table Baldock.

For the Harpenden IV captain Mark Bashford there was huge disappointment as a strong team on paper were overcome by Southgate Adelaide II at St. George's School. Adelaide's resolute total of 251-7 was always going to be a test but the Harpenden batting failed to fire at a crucial stage of the season and a slump to 103-5 allowed the game to slip away. Mike Hughes (32 off 57 balls) and James Latham (27 off 45) were top scorers but there was no partnership higher than 42 as Harpenden succumbed to 167 all out.

The result means that Harpenden slip out of the Division Seven promotion places and may be forced to re-group for another assault next season.

Happier news for Harpenden V as a thrashing of Potters Bar V thanks to Dave Fraser (10-4-19-5) secured the Division 13 title from Stevenage V on the basis of more games won over the season after the teams finished tied on points. John Desborough (33*) saw his team to the title and regular off-spinner Teddy Peck said "Dave bowled our best spell of the season by pitching the ball up and we're delighted to be champions being unbeaten in 15 of our 17 matches this season."

On Bank Holiday Monday a large crowd enjoyed the sunshine and some brilliant Twenty20 cricket as Harpenden hosted their friends at Hemel Hempstead in a challenge match sponsored by Mike Cooper Sports and supported by the Herts Advertiser.

Harpenden first XI star Adam Winchester had arranged the day including individual music for each player as they strode to the crease resulting in some interesting choices.

There was some audacious hitting from the likes of Ben Frazer (34) and Brad Moses, who was unbeaten on 81, as Harpenden posted an imposing total of 177 from their 20 overs.

In the reply Chris Arnold, James Absalom and Will Bates (4-19) all bowled well as Hemel were knocked over for 90 to ensure that Harpenden ran out winners, holding on to the title they'd won last year.

In the evening Rupert Garrett hosted a raffle including framed Harpenden cricket shirts signed by Sir Ian Botham and another by Shane Warne who has links with the club through playing members Simon Caunce and Barney Francis.