A week of persistent rain had threatened Hertford’s crucial clash against Luton Town and Indians on Saturday in what was a major moment for both sides in the race to stay in the Premier Division. Hertford knew that nothing less than a win would suffice as they hosted last year’s Championship winners at Balls Park.
Scott Ruskin came out on top at an important toss and shrewdly elected to field first. He placed Luton into less than favourable batting conditions against a bowling attack looking to make amends for last weekend’s struggles against Totteridge.
Hertford fielded a slightly changed bowling line-up, with an injured Rob Slater making way for one of the club's youth prospects, Dan Orchard, for his third Premier League appearance of the season. The opening partnership remained the same, however, with James Leather opening from the School End and Andrew Knight from the Pavilion End.
The pair were able to start fast, looking to make the most of the overcast conditions. Before the batsmen could settle, Leather struck for his 23rd wicket of the season, removing Luton’s opener for a solitary run, caught well at backward point by Will Ray.
Leather’s early breakthrough brought Luton’s overseas star, Murtaza Trunkwala to the crease. Knowing the importance of Trunkwala to the out-of-form Luton side, Hertford immediately applied the pressure in an attempt to remove him early. Duly obliging, Knight was able to find the right length to nip one back, trapping the prize batsman in front of his leg stump to secure a huge wicket for the hosts.
At 8-2, Hertford were in a great position to turn the screw. Whilst some disciplined bowling didn’t immediately bring further wickets, the Luton batsmen were unable to build momentum and ended the ten-over powerplay with only 15 on the board.
Captain Ruskin turned to young Dan Orchard to continue the controlled start with his notoriously testing lines and lengths. The change instantly reaped rewards for Hertford as Orchard drew the edge of opener, Suleiman Mohammed with his very first delivery. His second was just as successful as he then removed the incoming Lutonian after a flashing drive was edged to second slip.
Luton were facing a hat-trick ball at 20-4 and Hertford could not have dreamed of a better start. A cut into the offside denied a him his hat-trick, but it did not take Orchard long to find more success. Peppering the top of off stump, Orchard quickly claimed his third and then fourth victim, both clean bowled, reducing the visitors to 37-6.
Orchard wasted no time in sealing his five-wicket haul by once again finding the testing length that he had ruthlessly exploited to bowl Luton's captain. The young bowler was mobbed by his team mates as he celebrated his first Premier League five-for. His spell, taking 5-15, had showed skill and guile beyond his years and put Hertford in a commanding position.
Despite a brief counter attack from the Luton lower order, James Leather's return spelled the end for the visitors as three overs of typically sharp bowling brought three further wickets for the opener. Luton were able to drag themselves to 79 all out, but Orchard’s heroics had left them far short of anything competitive and Hertford had a golden chance to take the 25 points.
Heading out to chase the modest total were Will Ray and Jamie Riddle. The pair were looking to prevent the visitors from picking up any points from the game and leapfrog them in the league table.
Riddle unfortunately fell early on a still tricky batting surface, but Ray relished the chance to punish the Luton bowling attack. After a tough couple of weeks for the opener, he returned to form in fine style, effortlessly despatching the attack to all parts in a contrasting start to that of their opponents.
Ray and new partner Richard Leather were able to put together their fifty partnership in quick time with some classic stroke play. Making good use of a short leg side boundary against an undisciplined bowling performance, the pair were able to break the back of the run chase.
Just before they could complete their dominant performance, Leather fell for 24 and was quickly followed by Ray for 40, but they knew the hard work had been done. Hertford's number four, Ian Harris, carried his side over the line with ease and cemented the vital 25 points.
The day was undoubtedly Dan Orchard’s as he put in a performance that he and his side will not forget in a hurry. His man of the match performance lifted Hertford to seventh in the Premier Division table and provided them much needed confidence ahead of their visit to title challengers, Welwyn Garden City, next weekend.
Written by: Andrew Knight