Highlights: Steve McGiffin 125, Mark Hobley 76, John Barry 4 for 31
For a full scorecard click here
Spectators who arrived early to Saturday’s league match against Datchworth were rewarded with a magnificent display of batting. With the league won, there had some tinkering with the order. Hobley deserved some fun, having so often successfully negotiated some high pressure situations this season, while McGiffin was 136 shy of a thousand league runs for the season. Both were promoted to open and neither disappointed.
Datchworth, whose win over Hertford the previous week had guaranteed Northchurch champion status, were still in the hunt for promotion and arrived fired up for what was surely a must win game. However, after electing to bowl first, their heads quickly dropped as the Northchurch openers brought up a half-century stand from just five overs. It was a taste of things to come and the partnership would not be broken until the stroke of the drinks break.
When Hobley, who had been dropped at first slip early on, was trapped LBW for a brilliant 76 from 80 balls, the partnership was worth 179 and the platform was set for a total well in excess of 300. However, as the ball softened and the spinners found some accuracy, scoring became more challenging and the run rate dropped during the second half.
McGiffin brought up his third league hundred of the year with a nudge to mid-on and lapped up the cheers for a chanceless knock before getting back to work. With wickets in hand, he identified the right time to put his foot down and hit the kind of six which makes the umpire immediately wave at the scorebox for a spare ball. When he fell trying to repeat the shot, his 125 had come from just 119 deliveries, though with one match to play, he remains 11 quick singles away from recording the 1000 for the year.
With the exception of Lindsay (19*) the remaining Northchurch batsmen struggled for the same fluency as the openers, although Ollie Johnson’s sweet one ball innings at number 11 proved that there are no such thing as lesser roles, only lesser batsmen. With such a dominant start to the innings, the 120 taken off the second 25 overs was enough to set an intimidating 299 to win.
In the second half, Northchurch were able to maintain intensity, in spite of the dead rubber status of this game for them and, while Datchworth were able to build some promising partnerships, the steady loss of wickets would leave them short of the target.
Fresh from batting heroics, Ollie Johnson struck a characteristic early blow by removing first round centurian Steve Gregory, LBW for four. Charles Fidler, with his lively outswingers, beat the bat more often than not but was punished by some aerial slashes when he dropped short on a pitch which allowed the batsmen to throw their hands.
With any sideways movement rapidly disappearing but the ball still hard, Datchworth enjoyed the best scoring conditions of the match and compiled a handy second wicket partnership of 80, albeit at a rate that was going to leave them with plenty to do later in the innings.
Taking pace off the ball, John Barry was the man to really shift the momentum of the game and ruin the visitors’ hopes of completing an epic chase. With lovely variation in flight and pace, he was able to tie the batsmen down and draw several false shots that would earn him four for 35 in ten overs.
After Stratten was bowled for 42 to end the second wicket partnership, Datchworth struggled for momentum and consistently lost wickets when looking to accelerate. Calum Lindsay, coming on for his first spell of the season at a difficult time, bowled stump to stump and was rewarded with the scalp of the number three, Tom Vits, who played on for a swashbuckling 49.
The middle order offered some resistance but Romit Patel, replacing Lindsay from the rec end to bowl spin in tandem with Barry, helped to ensure that Northchurch did not surrender momentum. Patel’s accuracy and flight earned him two very smart wickets, however, the match was suspended briefly while several fielders and a spectator were treated for shock after witnessing the captain take a catch at extra cover.
Ollie Johnson returned to burgle an absolute strangler of a wicket down leg side for his 35th league victim of the season. Mention must be made of the Datchworth batsman who, after being given not out by the umpire, turned round and headed for the pavilion anyway.
Erstwhile opening batsman Henry Bexon, debuting his slingy seamers in the league, finished the game five overs ahead of schedule by bowling number 11 Pybus with a deceptive half-tracker that never got above stump height.
Northchurch’s 12th win of the year makes it one more victory than recorded in 2016, though reflecting on the strength of last year’s competition, this year’s 423 points so far earned, easily the most accrued by any team from division six upwards, would not have been enough to secure promotion at this point twelve months ago.
The Black and Ambers will make the trip to North Enfield for one last league match next Saturday, with hopes of enjoying a genuine dead rubber, before the presentation evening and celebrations at the Meadow begin.
However, the first XI will not be able to over-indulge as they face Langleybury at 10am on Sunday morning, in the first semi-final of the Herts League T20 cup. Details of the finals day, during which both semis and the final will be played at Northchurch, can be found by clicking here.
Updated 10:47 - 30 Aug 2017 by Thomas Vila