Middlesex County League: Gourlay hits a ton as Highgate start fightback

All the weekend’s action from the Middlesex County Cricket League as we go around the grounds with Highgate, North London, Hornsey and North Middlesex.

Craig Gourlay notched his maiden first-team ton on Saturday as basement boys Highgate recorded their first win of the season.

Gourlay top scored with 109, while Sam Joseph (39) and Nasirul Alam (31) also chipped in with useful knocks as the hosts reached 239 after 54.2 overs.

And it took just 25.3 overs to skittle Harrow Town after tea, with Jared Treadway and Tony Duckett taking four wickets each, and Dave Benton taking a one-handed catch at third slip to wrap up the victory, as the visitors perished on 102.

Highgate’s 137-run victory was their first ever in Division Two, with the Park Road outfit making their debut in the second tier this year.

As Highgate approach the halfway point of their campaign this weekend, Gourlay believes that Saturday’s victory could be the pivotal moment of their season.

“It was a welcome relief after not getting a win all season. It was a pretty meaningful result,” said Gourlay.

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“We were in a winning position the previous week against Brentham before the rain came down – we felt were unlucky there – so we just carried that into Saturday’s match really.

“There was certainly a good feeling around the place on Saturday night.

“When we got Harrow’s ninth wicket, the captain got us all together and said ‘this is the turning point of our season now’.

“Then, when Dave Benton took his catch – and it was a great catch – it felt like a very significant moment.

“From a personal point of view, getting my first century for the first team was a really nice moment. I’ve had a couple of tons in the second XI, but this was my first for the first team.

“We’re playing North Middlesex at the weekend and that will be the halfway point of the season, so it’s a case of forgetting the first half now and looking positively at the second half.”

Highgate’s prospects looked far from positive at the start of the day as they sat a massive 17 points from safety with zero points on the board.

That was partly due to a deduction of two points after the team fielded an ineligible player, which initially left them with -2 points.

A losing draw and an abandoned match took Highgate back up to zero.

And, despite their victory on Saturday, Binns’ side still prop up the table, fighting to avoid a rapid return to Division Three after just one season in Division Two.

However, Gourlay insists that Highgate are not out of their depth.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been a shock. We’ve been happy with the competition, we’ve just been unhappy with our performances,” he said.

“The problem has been that we’ve all had relatively poor seasons.

“Collectively we haven’t been playing our best cricket so that’s not an inherent problem or a mismatch in terms of the standard in

Division Two.

“We haven’t been too concerned about our position in the league. It was pretty disappointing to go into negative points – but a lot of the time the scoreboard doesn’t reflect the way a match has gone, and a league table doesn’t necessarily reflect the gap between all of the teams. I think that’s the way we’ve viewed it so far.

“At the same time, we knew that we needed to make changes, and have a greater focus on match days.

“Our batting scores haven’t been too bad but the top order and middle order haven’t been doing that well – the lower to middle order has been bailing them out.

“That’s been an issue, but when the top order clicks we should be posting some big scores.”

Next up for Highgate is a derby clash with local rivals North Middlesex, who were in the relegation zone themselves last week, and who also secured their first win of the season on Saturday, against Enfield.

“It does become a pretty key game, it’s a 20-point match really,” said Gourlay.

“When you get into the second half of the season, the fixtures against the teams who are around you in the league table become particularly important, and we’ll be going all-out for another win on Saturday.”

In Division Three, NORTH LONDON moved into the promotion positions in Division Three after scraping over the line in a farcical match at Kenton.

Jonathan Scantlebury continued his recent fine form with the ball, taking 6-29 as the hosts were skittled for just 74 from 35.3 overs.

But with such a small target to chase, NL lost their nerve – and wickets – at regular intervals, and ended up scraping over the line thanks to last pair Ted Greally and Scantlebury.

The pitch had not dried out sufficiently from overnight rain and batting was difficult with uneven bounce – but that hardly excused 10 batsmen making ducks and amassing just 149 runs in over 70 overs.

For the second week running North London skipper Mark Askew benefited greatly from winning the toss, and Byron Hackshall (3-42) immediately removed one of the home side’s openers for the first duck of the day.

Kenton’s No3 Faisal Ashraf was the only batsman to master the conditions, making a stubborn 37, but that ended up being precisely half of his team’s score as the wickets tumbled around him.

Scantlebury’s six-wicket haul takes him to 24 for the season, while Hackshall now has 27 and the pair’s devastating bowling looked sure to have set their side up for victory.

Chasing 75 to win in more than 60 overs should have been a formality, but once opener Ian Johns and Hackshall had departed for ducks the chase didn’t seem so simple.

Matt Hoyle (26) and Jack Godfrey-Wood (19) settled the ship, but when they departed and skipper Askew (11) followed, the lower order disintegrated to the brink of defeat.

Fortunately No9 Greally proved to have a mature head on young shoulders, and his 10 not out included the winning runs to see NL gratefully over the line, just when it looked like they might slip to a highly embarrassing defeat.

The 10 points moved North London up to second place in the table, just six points behind leaders Wembley and that should install them as promotion contenders for the second half of the season. They host bottom club Bessborough on Saturday, before hosting struggling Ickenham the following week.

Back in Division Two, HORNSEY had to settle for four points after failing to bowl out a stubborn Brentham side at Tivoli Road on Saturday.

Chetan Patel’s side reduced the visitors to 109-8 but, for the second week in a row, were unable to seal the 10 points – although they did secure a winning draw, which kept them third in Division Two.

Bhasker Patel kept up his recent wicket-taking exploits with 4-28, increasing the young spinner’s tally to 18 in the last three games.

Earlier Hornsey had been put in by their visitors and struggled to build a winning total despite reaching 127-2 with Deepesh Makwana (21), Anthony Murphy (47) and Sam Hickingbotham (32) all getting out when well set.

They subsided to 160 all out from 53 overs, and just ran out of time to skittle Brentham.

Meanwhile, Dexter Thomas struck 42 off 20 balls as NORTH MIDDLESEX’S first successful run chase in the league earned them their first win of the season.

Electing to field, Will Nicoll celebrated his maiden league five-for as Enfield declared on 182-8 after 55 overs.

North Mid lost Adam Holmes and Hill early on and looked to be in trouble at 30-2.

Amir Mapara (28) and Jaron Semper (18) added runs, but the visitors still found themselves needing 90 runs from 14 overs with six wickets in hand.

It looked a tall order, but Anthony Holloway added a run-a-ball partnership of 30 with Joe Hewton, and Thomas then struck a rapid 42, while Hewton remained unbeaten on 59 as North Mid climbed out of the drop zone.

Elsewhere, in the Middlesex Championship, Munish Grover notched 57 and then took five wickets as ALEXANDRA PARK held top spot in Division Two, despite missing out on victory.

Inserted on a damp track, Grover (57) and Tim Dyer (46) hit 97 off the first 15 overs.

Josh De Kock (35) and Andrew Cullen (26) saw AP to a defendable total, and Grover (5-44) nearly secured the win after tea, but Sheen Park held on for a draw.