Town win in style to stun the leaders
CRICKET: Akhtar’s claim that Town can win the title isn’t looking so crazy now
PETERBOROUGH Town skipper Ajaz Akhtar is so full of self-confidence, he’s probably disappointed not to have been included in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
That’s why when he told the local cricketing world that he had built a side capable of winning the Northants Premier Division, few believed him.
But it appears he may have been telling the truth. It wasn’t just the fact that Town beat a Northampton Saints side with three former firstclass county cricketers in their lineup, to dislodge them from the top of the table for the first time this summer, it was the manner in which they achieved it.
A six-wicket victory only partly told the story of an afternoon of complete dominance from the moment Akhtar won the toss.
Saints rode their luck before being dismissed for 159, a total Town passed with 17 overs to spare to make it six wins from six matches that haven’t been affected by the weather.
There are potential deficiencies in the Town bowling attack which may surface on hard and fast wickets, but there are no concerns about a starstudded batting line-up.
Last weekend’s heroes Asim Butt, caught at third man, and David Clarke, dismissed by the only straightish ball Saints opening bowler Harry Bailey, the son of former England cap Rob Bailey, delivered were unfortunate to fail.
But up stepped two other high-class performers to steer Town from 28-2 to the verge of victory.
Matthew Pateman is a formidable character who plays with a passion and determination that belies the fact that he’s been a club member for just three months (although £2 a run also probably helps), while Connor Cunningham is a preciously talented teenager.
Together they added 112 for the third wicket before Pateman fell for 58. Cunningham, who was given an early life by a fielding blunder, was still there at the end on 68, much to the annoyance of leading home sledger Richard Stemp.
Stemp, a former first-class left arm slow bowler, endured a disappointing afternoon, scoring one run, dropping a dolly and seeing Cunningham missed off his own bowling by another ex-professional Michael Davies and failing to take a wicket before being out-chirped as well as out-played by a 17 year-old who now tops the topflight batting averages.
But for all the flurry of fine shots which steamed Town to victory, it was all set-up by a fine display in the field.
Inevitably Akhtar led from the front once the world’s stiffest shoulder loosened up (he even included Dr Sunderam in his side in case of emergencies this weekend).
The captain conceded just 30 runs from 17 overs delivered on the trot and claimed three big wickets including Saints’ other old professional Alec Swann and the division’s top run-scorer Zak Harvey.
Akhtar’s regular field and bowling changes also worked as Saints slumped from 80-2.
Off-spinner Lewis Bruce outbowled the bigger names in the home side to return excellent figures of 4-38 from 12 overs, despite playing with a broken finger.
Basharat Hussain was commendably accurate while Jamie Smith’s figures were unfairly treated by a series of outrageous edges, although he did hit back well to claim three late wickets.
Chris Milner’s wicket-keeping was also impressive on his 18th birthday, but the catch of the day was held by Akhtar at slip.
The 41 year-old threw his aching body to his left to dismiss dangerous Saints’ slogger Andrew Reynoldson off Bruce before embarking on the sort of celebration last seen when Peter Crouch bagged Abbey Clancy.
“Don’t write me off,” appeared to be Akhtar’s message.
TOWN opener David Clarke made 77 as Bradford/Leeds UCCE beat Oxford University in a two-day match at The Parks last week.
More cricket in tomorrow’s ET