STONY Stratford have enjoyed an excellent start to their Northants Cricket League Premier Division season, but were outgunned by a top class Finedon Dolben side on Saturday – despite another masterclass from run machine Sharn Gomes.
Finedon skipper Chris Goode won the toss and with the wicket green and moisture in the air, he wasted little time in sending the hosts in to bat first. Opening pair Mihir Choksi and Gomes took differing approaches to the challenge posed by Finedon new ball duo Will Sneath and Jack Chopping.
Gomes was the more watchful of the two whilst the flamboyant Choksi crashed three boundaries from the 17 balls he faced before he got a leading edge to a Sneath away swinger and was caught by Goode diving at mid off for 16.
Ian Sandbrook and Gomes both looked comfortable up against probably the best bowling attack the NCL has to offer. Northants spinner Tom Brett wheeled away from one end for 17 overs straight and with the Stony score on 80, he tempted Sandbrook into a square cut to a ball which kept low and edged a sharp chance to keeper Greg Hofbauer to fall for 31.
Brett (4-59) then accounted for youngsters George Humphries and Prasanna Wijesinghe for ducks, before Jarrod Pretorius was harshly given out caught behind for 17, again off Brett.
Stony were now in trouble on 123-5, but for the second week in succession Stuart Gulliver used his vast experience to great effect in helping get the Stony innings back on track with an obdurate 19 in a partnership of 69 with the Portuguese maestro Gomes, who by now had passed his half century.
When Gulliver fell Stony were looking well poised for a late surge on 192-6, but it never came as they lost three quick wickets for four runs. Gomes was almost left stranded on 95, but he was joined by last man Steve Bellew and the skipper grimly hung on at the other end while Gomes plundered the remaining five runs he needed for his second century of the season.
That took him up to 478 runs Premier Division runs this term, but Stony were left fearing the worst as they set Finedon a target of just 207-9 from their 55 overs.
The reigning league champions have had their problems with the Stony attack in the past and early on opening pair Greg Evans and Andy Daniels found life difficult against Bellew and Habib Ullah.
But with the wicket now dried out and providing the Finedon batsmen with few problems, the visitors were always favourites to chase down the win, and despite Stony’s best efforts they got there comfortably in the end. Daniels and Evans soon put on 64 for the first wicket before Evans nicked Ullah behind to Pretorius for 25.
The Dolben batsmen enjoyed their fair share of luck though, with several balls being edged over or wide of the slip cordon, but Stony were also forced to count the cost of three dropped catches which could have altered the course of the game.
Gulliver dropped Daniels at point before he went on to make 45, but the key partnership that took the game away from Stony was formed by Dan Bendon (52) and Dutch international Bradley Kruger, whose unbeaten 62 came of just 67 deliveries.
The couple of bright points for Stony were the new ball bowling of Ullah and the leg spin of Jamie Baxter who deserved better than his figures of 1-42. But in the end, Finedon cantered home inside 45 overs to win by six wickets – their title challenge re-ignited as Stony slip to seventh place in the table.
Stony were left to lick their wounds having been outclassed by an all round batting display that they can only aspire. And questions have to be asked as to where they would be without Gomes’ mountain of runs.
Skipper Bellew said: “We have more than enough talent in the team with the bat to see others scoring Prem hundreds, but what we’re lacking is any real desire or application, and we’re going to struggle until that’s resolved.”
Stony’s 2nds were involved in a thrilling game at Northampton Saints 2nds in Division Two and sealed a winning draw. Batting first Stony reached 192-6 as Tom Moore hit a fine unbeaten 75.
In reply the hosts lost seven quick wickets and it looked like being an early finish at one stage thanks to some fine bowling from Andrew Ellemore (4-34). But the Saints recovered and number 10 Dave Allen’s 58 not out saw them hold on at 180-9.
Stony’s 3rds did manage to get a win in a high scoring game at Gretton in Division Six, the away side winning by four wickets on 228-6 after Gretton made 227-8.