Having won the toss under sunny conditions unbefitting of the September date, and on another excellent batting wicket at The Meadow, Harry Chapman made the obvious decision to bat first, seeking a big total for his bowlers to defend.
It proved to be a frustrating start for the opening partnership of Jimmy Smart and Joel James though, with The Exiles’ bowlers finding good areas and surrendering very few bad balls on a typically high-scoring ground. M Shah in particular gave the batsman difficulties, picking up both batsmen in fairly quick succession – Smart (17) chopping on having started to find his strokes, and James (11) cleaned bowled after being dropped behind just a ball before.
That left Northchurch having to mentally revise their initial target of the upper 200s, but brought the in-form Randall and big-hitter Ryan Smart to the crease. With a steady partnership required to help the 2s rebuild, both batted with control, putting loose balls to the boundary and keeping the score ticking over with efficient running between the wickets.
The pair have batted well when at the crease together this season, but saved their biggest partnership for last, putting on over 100 to put Northchurch in a strong position after the drinks break. The duo fell in quick succession though, both at the hands of Lawlor. Randall (58) was out caught and bowled mistiming a straight drive, before R Smart was trapped lbw for an impressive 65.
Following their dual departures, Northchurch were left with a little work left to do over the final 10-15 overs, with skipper Chapman unable to make a meaningful contribution to the scoreboard (with the bat at least) when he was bowled by Hosier for just 10.
With the grounding from Randall and Smart’s partnership, Northchurch required a measured, if not explosive, approach to the close. That was duly provided by Towler and Patel, working excellently in tandem through the closing overs to put on another 60 or so runs. Both carried their bats scoring at around a run a ball, Towler making 40* and Patel 27*, working the ball around the field to accumulate runs in all directions and keeping the Northampton Exiles fielders busy.
Ultimately, Northchurch set a target of 257, believed to be about par for the ground, which was providing good value for well-timed shots thanks to the dry outfield.
The chase by the Exiles got off to a very steady – if not spectacular – start, with Chakravait and Niak batting with discipline to wait for the bad ball and play themselves in. While never above the required rate they were able to keep it within reach, yet were unable to accelerate due to tidy spells from Pyne, Vila and Randall, who each deserved more for their early efforts.
The partnership was eventually broken for 84 though, when Chapman brought himself on from his favoured Pavilion end. He got the breakthrough when Chakravati tried to go over the top, only succeeding in finding Randall at mid off.
Having changed ends and bowling in tandem with Chapman, Randall picked up Lawlor for just two, trapping him lbw to put more pressure on the Exiles, and in particular on Waik at the other end. Chapman picked up his second soon after, claiming Drupesh Patel lbw for just six as he tried to play across the line.
It was to be Chapman’s next over that really seemed to turn the match in the home side’s favour. While Waik had enjoyed some early success against the spin bowler his eyes lit up at a slower ball. Looking to accelerate the scoring when provided with little support from his middle order, Waik went hard at the ball, only to miss and find his bails displaced and himself back to the Pavilion with 59 to his name.
Chapman wasn’t done there though, claiming D. Patel in the very same fashion next ball to start the next over on a hat trick. The hat trick ball wasn’t taken, and Chapman eventually finished with impressive figures of 4 for 39 off his ten overs.
With five wickets down and another 149 runs required, the remaining Exile’s batsmen showed commendable resilience to keep in touch and keep the contest alive. Amin and Nathwlal led the fightback, with James and Forshaw bowling in good areas to prevent them gathering too much steam.
It was James to find the next breakthrough though, thanks in large part to the quick work of R Smart behind the stumps, with the two combining to dismiss Nathwlal, stumped on 21. The wicket was the least James deserved to conclude his breakthrough season, ending the match with one for 33 off six overs.
Vila returned and immediately found the pace and control that has been a hallmark of his spells this season. He picked up the next two wickets, including the key wicket of Amin (45), as well as bowling Shah for just nine.
That left Northampton Exiles requiring 60 from the final six overs with just two wickets in hand, a tough but not unfathomable task. A combination of some questionable fielding from Northchurch players with one eye on the end-of-season bar, plus the positive approach of Hosier at the crease meant that the visitors approached the final two overs with an unlikely victory in sight.
Forshaw returned to bowl the penultimate over, restricting the Exiles tail-enders to just three runs when something into double figures was required. That left Pyne to bowl the final over, Exiles looking for 19 with only two wickets in hand.
Hosier worked the first ball of the over to fine leg, knowing that he needed two to take the extra run and – more importantly – retain the strike. The sharp work of James, again working in conjunction with the gloves of Smart, left Hosier (44) short of his ground, and put the visitors nine down with five balls remaining and 18 still to get.
Divyesh was the final man in, raising eyebrows both on and off the pitch when he sent his first ball sailing back over the head of Pyne and into the bushes for six. The response on the boundary by the Northampton Exiles team – many with beer in hand by this point – was rapturous, with some eyeing up a finish reminiscent of Brathwaite vs Stokes in the 2016 T20 final.
That excitement was only to last a little longer than it took for the ball to be recovered, with Divyesh taking the same approach with the next ball, finding both the middle of the bat, and Towler at long off. Towler, despite having a largely forgettable day in the field, made amends for any previous misfields – and single drop off Forshaw – to take the catch cleanly and leave Northchurch victorious with just four balls remaining.
Despite the game being a dead rubber, with no promotion or relegation spots of concern to either team, both fought a good game in the right spirit, with those arriving for the end-of-season do early rewarded with a close finish that left the home side just about on the right side of the result.
The 2s finish the season with only one league defeat to their name – at the hands of eventual league winners, Radlett – but have been left to rue missed opportunities in tough draws during the middle games, with others abandoned due to rain not helping the team when in strong positions. That said, they will begin the 2018 season with their eyes firmly on the division title.
*Written by Adam Forshaw*
Updated 14:29 - 5 Sep 2017 by Matt Dawson