Park just miss out in the end after troubled season
Knebworth Park narrowly failed to clinch promotion in a thrilling and dramatic climax to the season in the Saracens Herts League Division One. It was a day that had all the hallmarks of a tense finish with leaders Letchworth playing third-placed St Albans
Knebworth Park narrowly failed to clinch promotion in a thrilling and dramatic climax to the season in the Saracens Herts League Division One.
It was a day that had all the hallmarks of a tense finish with leaders Letchworth playing third-placed St Albans who were only one point adrift of the Park - and with two promotion places up for grabs.
With Saints beating Letchworth, where conditions had been drier in a game that finished earlier than the one at Knebworth, it meant that nothing less than victory over visitors Totteridge Millhillians would clinch promotion ahead of their North Herts rivals.
As Park took the eighth wicket with four overs remaining, the destiny of who would be promoted lay in the balance right up until the last two balls, only for the ninth wicket pair to hold out for a draw.
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After the heavy rain of the previous days, conditions were soggy and it was down to the management of the umpires and the mopping up operations that the game started at all, albeit 90 minutes late. Coupled with a shower break, the match was reduced to only 71 overs.
Park skipper Tony Skeggs lost a toss that was important in such a shortened game, and the home side had to bat first in the most difficult conditions.
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Jarrod Turner and Tony Skeggs, each scoring 51, batted with unstinting commitment, knowing they had a maximum of 40 overs to post a challenging total. Turner drove superbly before he fell to an improvised shot off his legs and was caught at short fine leg.
Skeggs stepped up the momentum, the highlight being a brilliant shot through the covers as his back foot slipped away on the damp surface. He was assisted with strong-arm shots from Steve Gregory (19) before Skeggs declared on 150-5 after 35 overs leaving the visitors 36 overs to chase - in the gamble to have time to bowl them out.
Heavy rain clouds swirled around all afternoon and rain looked to be the likely winner, particularly when there was a heavy shower at tea.
The rain relented and Millhillians set off at a rapid pace. Although Sam McCrow snatched a breakthrough, the task seemed forlorn until Skeggs resorted to the slower pace of himself and Shaun Robinson.
Robinson's deceptive variation in pace and length brought him 2-19 in nine overs in claiming the vital wickets of the two dangermen with well-taken catches, by Jarrod Turner, who took three in all at short extra cover, and another in the deep by Alex Richmond.
Skeggs removed skipper Shaun O'Brien and then Turner snatched a wicket to a neat slip catch by Gregory, to reduce the score from 86-2 to 115-5.
Paul Slade (3-27) returned to the attack and when he whisked out three in rapid succession, the result and the promotion race hung in the balance at 133-8.
But the visitors chose sadly to play out for a draw to finish on 143-8 to consign the Park to third place for the second year running.
Former club chairman Chris Johnson, still the club's press officer, said: "The Park can reflect back on what might have been.
"They know there were games they had let slip, and should have not been in the position of leaving their destiny hanging on the last day of the season."
But Johnson also stressed the positives from the season after overcoming numerous challenges.
Before the campaign started, they suffered the tragic death of their young fast bowler Nick Simpson. Chris Brook withdrew his threat to retirement to fill the void with some match-winning performances before his knee finally gave up on him, while skipper Tony Skeggs also spent several weeks out with an injury.
Under the direction of club coach Jarrod Turner, who had a superb season with bat and ball, a number of youngsters came to the fore. In particular, under-16s wicketkeeper/batsman Louis Champion and left-arm pace bowler Charlie Randall both established themselves as first team regulars.
Johnson continued: "With all the other teams maintaining their status in divisions that are across the board as good as any other club in the county - and with another hugely impressive colts season - it is a year that the club can look back on with satisfaction. Apart from the weather!