On a used wicket, the toss appeared to carry great value so Hertford were pleased when Scott Ruskin called correctly and elected to bat first. The local knowledge was that this was a wicket that would become increasingly difficult to score freely on as the pink ball softened and so it proved so, albeit after Hertford had suffered an immediate setback when Jamie Riddle was trapped LBW by off-spinner Jack Doyle in the first over for a second-ball duck.
At this stage in the season Hertford had become all-too familiar with top order collapses so Will Ray and George Pavey were eager to buck the trend. The pair were quickly into their work, rotating the strike off of Doyle while attacking left-arm seamer Andrew Neal when he dropped short. That plan appeared to be paying dividends until a short ball from Neal rose sharply and clattered Pavey in the helmet. His response to keep out a great follow-up yorker the next ball was admirable.
The rebuild was going to plan until Pavey attempted to loft Doyle over mid-on’s head, only to pick out the stretching Jake Pankhurst at mid-on. At 39-2, there was a very real possibility of another top order failure. Pavey’s demise bought Adam Carlson to the crease; Carlson had been promoted to the 1st XI following his impressive start to the season in the 2s. Carlson’s inclusion at no. 4 meant this was a top order with Hertford in its blood; Ray, Riddle, Pavey and the new batsman had all progressed through the youth set-up into the senior sides. Having played together from a young age, Ray and Carlson knew each others strengths and weaknesses and were able to embark on a partnership that would define Hertford’s innings.
In truth, the partnership was somewhat unremarkable with regard to stroke-play but it was exactly what was required through the middle overs when the ball softened and Harpenden’s young spin attack set about their work. Ray was content with rotating the strike to exploit the benefits of a right and left hand partnership, while Carlson was slightly more aggressive after he passed 30. The moment of the partnership was Carlson’s huge six over mid-wicket off of left arm spinner, Arthur Garrett. Hertford’s attempts to up the tempo would bring about Carlson’s demise when he was bowled by Andrew Neal for a well-made 53. The fact that two well set batsmen could not easily change gears confirmed to those to come that this was not an easy wicket to hit out on. Carlson and Ray had however added 125 for the 3rd wicket; with the score on 164-3 and the best-part of 13 overs remaining, Hertford were entitled to dream of posting a really testing total.
New-man Ben Cowell joined Ray who had by this stage passed 50 and was looking to anchor the innings. After a period of further accumulation, Cowell was bowled by Australian Aaron Burrage for 12. This was a familiar passage of play for the remainder of the innings whereby a wicket would fall, the new batsmen would contribute a run-a-ball 10 or 20 before being dismissed looking to clear the ropes. If Hertford misfired in their attempts to exceed 250, this was a reflection of the increasingly difficult batting conditions rather than any lack of skill or judgment. The weary Will Ray was dismissed for 111 from 148 balls in the 48th over of the innings. Alongside several other contributors, his long vigil which lasted just shy of 3 hours led Hertford to a competitive score of 239-6.
In reply Harpenden knew they would need to score the bulk of their runs up-front while conditions favoured the batsmen. For a period they succeeded in doing so - Harpenden skipper Nick Lamb was able to rotate the strike while his opening partner Tom Beasley pounced on anything remotely loose. At this stage, bat was dominating ball but Hertford hung in there knowing full well that batting would only get harder. With the score on 32, Andrew Knight was rewarded for a spell of pressure when Lamb was bowled attempting a straight drive. Harpenden’s number 3 was Jake Pankhurst who was coming off the back of a 90 the week before. As is usual when Hertford and Pankhurst collide, chaos ensued. Early in his innings, Pankhurst took on a risky single into the covers, a direct hit was given not-out which led to a verbal exchange between the players, adding a real fire to the game.
Where this kind of distraction would previously have foiled Pankhurst, on this occasion it seemed to focus his efforts and he began to score fluently, taking the attack to Hertford’s young off-spinner Underdown who was facing his first true test as a first team cricketer. Underdown and Knight however continued in tandem and neither were particularly unnerved by the attacking intent of Harpenden’s batsmen. Knight was brilliant once again, finishing with 1 wicket for 32 runs from his 10 overs. A great effort under the energy-sapping sun.
Johnny Underdown meanwhile had got his just-rewards for a good spell of bowling when he had opening batsman Beasley well-caught by Pavey at mid-off for 28. At this stage Hertford were looking to assert some grip but in truth the game was beginning to turn in Harpenden’s favour when they reached the halfway stage on 113-2, needing 127 to win from 25 overs. The break for drinks did no favours for Harpenden as they lost 3 crucial wickets for 6 runs. Firstly Burrage was bowled by a beauty from round-the-wicket Ruskin - a ball which turned to pass in-between bat and pad. Then a calamitous mix-up between Pankhurst and Latham caused the former to lose his wicket when a cool Jamie Riddle swooped to initiate the run out. Then the 5th wicket fell on 119 when Latham was trapped LBW by Ruskin who was doing all he could to wrestle control of the game. At 119-5, Hertford had quite brilliantly seized the moment.
The two new batsmen at the crease were Scott Galloway and wicket-keeper Alex Axon. While Galloway was circumspect against Underdown and Ruskin, Axon was up his usual tricks, sweeping and reverse sweeping to great effect. His unorthodox style was proving hard to set a field to and the partnership was materialising until Underdown got the crucial breakthrough of Axon to reduce Harpenden to 152-6. Hertford, slight favourites at this stage, were yet again held up by Andrew Neal in the next partnership. Neal struck the ball cleanly and provided able support for Galloway who comes into his own in these run chases. The atmosphere was tense - the required run rate of 6 an over would not normally have been an issue but with a softening ball and a wearing pitch, it was far from easy.
The 7th wicket partnership of 42 was broken by Leather who had returned to bowl his 2nd spell. Pace on the ball after a long period of spin was a good call by Ruskin as Leather’s fine spell finally killed off the game. Leather bowled in tandem with Lawrance who provided able support but it was the former who regularly sent stumps sprawling to dismantle the young Harpenden lower order. No. 5 Galloway was left stranded on 37* as his companions succumbed to Leather’s pace and aggression. Harpenden eventually fell 25 runs short, bowled out for 214 with 3.3 overs remaining.
Hertford’s bowling attack all contributed; Knight was brilliant up-front; Leather picked up 3-52 from 8.3 overs; Ruskin 2-35 from 10; Underdown 2-55; and Lawrance 1-35 from 7. Next week Hertford return to Balls Park to face Totteridge Millhillians who have just come off the back of a heavy defeat to North Mymms.