Delph v Honley has traditionally been one of the biggest humdingers of the season. But the sands of time haven’t been the best for our visiting Honleyites over recent years. A succession of lower-half finishes have underlined a transitional phase with pretenders to their throne overtaking them, us included, and it’s fair to say Delph has been the most infertile of hunting grounds during this period. But, it looks like the steely, hardened will-to-win of those mid-noughties title wins has been reinstalled in the “Honley Hippos”.
On a cheery, sunny afternoon it was us that set the tone by batting first. The wicket lacked that bit of bounce that batsmen feed to well on so runs would need to be crafted rather than gifted. Mosun Hussain, who’s only introduction to the home crowd was a pair of ponies in a dress rehearsal at home to Heyside, was making his official debut. Nathan Jones was as familiar to our regulars as Peter Young’s hat collection. But a steady, if unspectacular start was needed and it’s pretty much what we were served.
Hussain, master accumulator he is and risk-taker he is not. Most adept to these conditions, he frustrated the Honley bowlers; a newly formed strike attack of Sam Denton and Brett Randell (not Randall) received no change from this miserly opening batsman. Young Nathan didn’t feel quite as comfortable, mind, umming and ahhing himself to 13 before being run out.
And then, a glimpse of that familiar Delph quirk that stayed well and truly locked up all last season: The mini-collapse. Simmo, undoubtedly on a high from last week’s heroics, stumped by the ram-man figure of Honley’s wicketkeeper Joe ‘Macca’ McNamara. Then our talisman, Lilley, bowled by the youngster Tommy Woodhead. It was going spectacularly wrong. Like a pram rolling unmanned towards a long, steep flight of stairs.
Shak’s making the number five position his own right now. Our hero with the ball is rapidly becoming our hero with the bat. You’re in danger of being called an all-rounder Shak! He and Mosun combined like gin with tonic. Mosun continued to accumulate, laying down his anchor. Shak knew he had a crowd to please. Together they stopped the pram from falling off the precipice and rescued the baby. Mosun crowned an epic performance with his century. What a way to inaugurate yourself so soon after losing our powerful opener Chris Laker. The king is dead, long live the king! As soon as the collection cap has departed Hussain has checked out himself. His work his done anyways.
There can’t be many more pleasing sights than seeing a good platform laid with ten overs left and Luke Hargreaves striding in to the crease. Honleyites groaned internally. They just knew what was going to happen here. He and Shak bump fists and continue to harass poor Denton and Randell. Even the bowlers on the green know when it’s “Luke time” as the ball is peppered over the boundaries. Shak chalks off his half-century before mis-timing one shot too many which Will Fraine gratefully accepts. Of course cameos from Wasim Qasim and Daniel Jones are nice to see but we’re mostly satisfied with the final total of 256-6 on a slower-than-normal deck.
A lot rests on the broad shoulders of Honley skipper and pathfinder Simon Kelly. We know him all too well. Many a Delph bowling figure has been left in tatters thanks to Simon’s crushing blows. He’ll need to reproduce once again if Honley have any designs on being our usurpers today. Don’t tell that to either Shak or Qasim who skid and skim piercing deliveries aplenty to both Kelly and his fellow opener Will Fraine – himself returning to Honley after discovering girls, music and hedonism at University. They acquit themselves well really. Fraine displays patience, dispatching the odd bad ball as a good opener should. But Kelly, he misses one, just one and it’s fatal. Shak landing his low on the pad. It’s a good shout and umpire “Nunnseh” (in Andy Gleave speak) agrees. Next, Qasim fires one onto Fraine’s pad and Umpire “Woodseh” also agrees. 2-down. Honley are in bedlam.
Two Taylors also feel the same fate. Timmy; the Taylor #1 is snaffled by Steve Broadbent; making a rare first team appearance. Bjorn; the Taylor #2 finds his feet mysteriously magnetised to the spot, like “The Force” is being employed as a Qasim ball thuds fatefully low on his shin. Woodseh won’t make too many decisions as easily as this. Honley are rattled. 256 looks like a mountain right now.
Honley have a succession of talented youngsters in their armoury. One of them is Lewis Kenworthy. He’s not fazed by the carnage afoot. He just needs a willing partner. How about Danny Howard, one of cricket’s “good guys”? The veteran with the thousand yard stare that’s stormed this hill in ‘Nam a hundred times and lived to tell the tale. Mssrs Howard and Kenworthy have a plethora of overs to play with. They just need to keep cool.
Qasim and Shak have done their bit. It’s time for new blood to pummel these new Honley bastmen. 17-year old Daniel Jones with his peculiar, yet effective run-up could be the key to breaking the resistance. He bowls well but inexperience always tells, the bad ball gets punished and Danny Howard chiefly is the equaliser. Lilley also comes into battle, often the rescuer when a single wicket is vital. It’s not working though, Howard and Kenworthy are venerable adversaries. Our Azza helplessly sees many of his deliveries sail hopelessly into the fields as tension mounts amongst the Delph faithful.
It often takes a moment of genius to unlock a case. Another routine single between the batsmen looks to be another minor turn of the screw as the balance of power shifts. Furrowed brows and nervous glances all around spontaneously turn to cheers as Qasim returns a the ball with laser-like precision. A direct hit on Kenworthy’s stumps as he’s a yard or two outside the line that matters. Young Lewis is crestfallen. A body can only take so much until it succumbs, but there’s life in the patient yet.
Danny Howard, by now is running on nothing but adrenalyn and sheer willpower. He’s VERY grateful it’s not a double-header weekend. Time for new partners in his one-man quest to slay the champions. Brett Randell and Charles Taylor have no answer to such directness by Shak and Lilley. But Sam Denton does and Shak’s all out of overs. The pendulum swings again. If Howard and Denton can hold it together Honley will win. More sixes are swatted in a by-now regimental way into the field. More tension mounts and more nervous paces poor president Peter Gledhill has to make. He’s almost ground out his own trench by this point.
Again, Qasim comes to our rescue. Denton swishes and clips an edge off, the ball flies into Grant Jones’ gloves. It’s a wicket but is it enough? Danny Howard, 97 (which is how much he’s aged during his innings), looks a shoe-in for the most deserved century ever made. If he was running on adrenaline and willpower before, he’s been taken over by a higher power by now. Lilley delivers, a slower pace and finds the leading edge off Howard’s bat to loop up to Stevie Broadbent at mid-off. You’d empathise if he fell to the turf, arms aloft like Willem Defoe in Platoon. When the levee breaks and all that.
Tommy Woodhead has suddenly morphed into a vulnrable nine-pin and is rolled over ruthlessly by Lilley to bring the match to an end with an over left. The sense of relief is palpable all around. Danny Howard’s body slowly fills back up with blood. Honley were the very nearly men today and they’ll take heart from one hell of a performance. For us though, it’s two from two.