STONY Stratford ground out a creditable draw against a strong Peterborough side to maintain their solid start to the Northants League Premier Division season on Saturday.
Peterborough - who lost out on the league title by just a point last year - came to Stony having been tipped by many to go one better this season and wrestle the NCL championship away from Finedon.
But whilst they were in control for three quarters of the game, the visitors never looked like beating Stony, who had South African star Sharn Gomes to thank again for another fantastic innings as they comfortably held on for a draw.
Stony skipper Steve Bellew won his third successive toss and with plenty of rain around overnight and in the morning, he decided to ask Peterborough to bat first. And when Bellew ripped through the visitors’ top order to leave them on 31-3, the hosts looked poised to run through what looked to be a shaky batting line up.
Bellew soon trapped Pakistani professional Asim Butt followed by Martin Hair in front lbw, and with the ball swinging to such an extent that a leg slip was required, Gomes took a sharp low chance to dismiss Lewis Bruce off Bellew.
And 19-year-old David Clarke, one of the league’s better young players, was struggling to survive against Bellew and Habib Ullah, but a crucial turning point was to follow as he gloved a rising ball from Bellew down the leg side to keeper Jarrod Pretorius. But he dropped what looked a relatively straight forward chance, and it would cost Stony dear as the opener went on to post 100.
When Ashley Rodgers was out to Ullah, Peterborough were 78-4 from 25 overs, but Clarke was then joined by Cambridgeshire captain Paul McMahon and the pair put on 84 for the fifth wicket.
McMahon looked uncomfortable throughout but he battled hard and made a very important 44 for his side before he became Ullah’s second victim. Peterborough were keen to try and up the run rate, sensing that on what was now a very flat wicket, any score under 200 would be easily chaseable.
Clarke brought up his 100 in the 50th over, taking the visitors past 200 in the process before falling victim to an athletic, diving catch from Bellew off the bowling of Humphries (2-28).
Wickets then fell regularly and Bellew (4-67) returned to grab his fourth by dismissing Ajaz Akthar, with Gomes picking up a wicket in the last overs. As the two sides left the field for the interval, the game was in the balance.
It swayed immediately towards Peterborough in the first over after tea when Akthar bowled Richard Scott for a duck, but the ship was steadied by the impressive Gomes who once again showed his class.
He was joined by debutant Ian Sandbrook who looked good at number three, and the pair went on to produce a solid foundation for Stony by putting on 73 for the next wicket before Sandbrook (25) fell to a sharp catch at short leg off the bowling of McMahon (2-39).
The problem for Stony was the scoring rate - Peterborough’s spin attack bowled very tightly and got more out of the wicket than their Stony counterparts. Scoring was never easy but despite losing Paul West (0) and Kevin Wijesinghe (4), Gomes was never troubled and passed 50 without giving a chance.
Nick Allen came in and blasted a quick 20 off 22 balls, but when he went in the 45th over - followed by Pretorius for 0 and with 60 still needing to win - Stony decided to shut up shop and in truth never looked like losing the game.
The only question was whether or not Gomes would hit a second successive century. He carried his bat, for the second game in a row, but in the end finished unbeaten on 96, Stony ending up on 161-7 and with eight league points.
Stony visit the County Ground next week - where they have never won - to face Northants Academy who have won two of their first three game this season. But it’s Northampton Saints who top the league at this early stage, with Stony half way up the table.
Stony 2nds got their first win of the season in Division Two with a 52 run victory over Long Buckby, with Tom Moore top scoring on 77 as the visitors set a target of 229-6.
Andrew Ellemore then returned 5-36 to help bowl Buckby out for 11, with good support from Jamie Baxter (2-9).
There was also a first win of the season for Stony 3rds (233-4) over Kempston Hammers 2nds (78) by 155 runs. Steve Wharton smashed a fantastic 156 not out for Stony.