On arrival, Hertford were greeted with yet another wet pitch following heavy rains in the week so it was no surprise when Luton won the toss and elected to field first. Hertford got off to the worst possible start when Jamie Riddle was given out LBW in the 3rd over for nought. These exceptionally bowler-friendly conditions were plain to see with the swing and uneven bounce even visible to onlookers from the boundary. Will Ray was joined in the middle by Ian Harris who was playing his first game of the season – what circumstances for a batsman to come home from university to…
For a brief period of time, Ray and Harris negated Luton’s attack with a measured approach on a wicket that offered no leeway for loose stroke play. Hertford had reached 35-1 when a change of bowling bought about the undoing of Hertford’s number 3 when Gittens-Browne’s well-directed short ball surprised Harris whose mistimed pull offered an easy catch at mid-wicket.
Shortly after Harris’ demise, Ray was caught at second slip for 15 off of the metronomic swing bowling of Manzoor. In usual circumstances, a score line of 34-3 would represent a disastrous effort but in the conditions it felt more like just below par from Hertford’s top order. Still Hertford knew they must improve and had their sights on batting out their 60 overs and seeing where that took them. The whisperings among Luton’s experienced heads were that they must restrict Hertford below 80 which was perhaps the greatest reflection of how much the rain had scuppered the batsmen’s chances.
When Adam Carlson edged another rip-snorter behind for 5, Hertford then looked to Max Lawrance and James Leather to frustrate Luton’s seamers. Lawrance however was caught by a one-handed screamer in the slips before Leather was bowled through the gate by off-spinner Trunkwala – a ball which pitched wide of off stump and spun sharply. Hertford skipper Scott Ruskin joined Elliot King in the middle and the pair duly took Hertford to lunch without further damage to their precarious score.
Hertford took to the field after the lunch-break in the same “60 over survival mode” – this bought about some turgid cricket which almost came to a standstill at times, but it was the right approach from Hertford and Luton became frustrated. That frustration came to an end when Ruskin was unfortunately caught attempting a sweep which deflected off multiple body parts into leg slips grateful hands. Craig Lyte on 1st team debut was the next man in but his stay was short when he was adjudged LBW for 0. Hertford had confidence in their batting depth to get them up past 100 and this faith was vindicated by King and Jonny (R)Underdown who batted very sensibly. King continued on his patient journey while Underdown unfurled a number of lusty blows which are becoming his customary trademark from number 10.
If the rain clouds gathering ominously overhead looked menacing and chaotic, the cricket was the perfect juxtaposition as King and Underdown executed their skills with calmness personified. The score had reached 123 when King was caught for a superb 37 and Hertford’s innings came to an abrupt close when Hertford’s number 11 Andrew Knight offered up a simple caught and bowled for 0. Hertford using up 52.4 overs in setting 123 was a greater indication of the tricky conditions rather any lack of skill.
Luton’s reply started in disastrous fashion when they lost Fayaz Homyoon to the second ball when he was caught by King at slip off of Knight. This was compounded when Ruskin had Shah trapped LBW to reduce Luton to 4-2. The next phase of the game seemed to carry added significance because Luton’s overseas pro Trunkwala was at the crease. Trunkwala’s ability was plain to see as he was the only batsman on the day that looked remotely at ease. He was quickly into his work, too, striking Hertford’s bowlers over the top as he looked to reverse the momentum.
Ex India U19 Trunkwala had only just passed 30 when James Leather pinned him LBW at the start of a spell of fast bowling which would turn the game in Hertford’s favour. Leather, coming off the back of a 3 wicket haul the previous week, bowled fast and full in tandem with Knight, and the pair dismantled Luton’s top order to leave them reeling on 48-5 at tea. The game felt were much like it was in Hertford’s hands at the 2nd interval.
The post tea-session offered up fantastic viewing for the gathering crowd as the afternoon sun reared its head for the first time – possibly making batting that little bit easier for Luton’s lower order. Leather saw the hardening surface as an opportunity to hit the bat hard and his ferocious spell of post-tea bowling was rewarded when he bowled Mistry for 3, and then Saijad Homyoon for 0, reducing Luton to 72-7. Carlson’s sharp slip catch to dismiss Homyoon was noteworthy.
Still requiring over 50 to win and with only 3 wickets in hand, Hertford were now well on top and it would take a special partnership to wrestle back control of the match in Luton’s favour. What followed was indeed a special partnership between Luton skipper Divyesh Patel and opening bowler, Sam Lodge. With almost everything against them from a rampaging Leather to a soggy wicket, Lodge and Patel batted with extreme courage to take Luton past 100 and shift the game back in their favour.
The game was all-but gone from Hertford’s grasp when the irrepressible Leather fired a yorker into Patel’s off-stump for his maiden 5 wicket haul in 2019. However not even Leather or Hertford’s triplet of skilful off-spinners were able to dislodge Lodge and he bought scores level when his partner Gould was nicely stumped off the bowling of Ruskin. With Luton 9 down and still needing 1 run for victory, the game was perfectly set up for Leather to cap off his awesome bowling display. In he charged yet again for his 17th over - dot; dot; dot; dot; nick agonisingly short of first slip; and then sheer delight for Luton as Lodge clipped the last ball for a single to bring his team home. A remarkable finish to a game played in unremarkable conditions.
Leather finished with the incredible figures of 17 overs, 5-27 while other wicket takers were Knight (2-50) and Ruskin (2-25 from 15). Next week Hertford welcome league leaders Welwyn Garden City to Balls Park.