WEST HERTS signalled their Home Counties Premier League Division Two East title intentions with a 31-run win over high-flying St Albans at Park Avenue on Saturday, June 15, that propelled them to the Division Two East summit for the first time this season.

After an inauspicious start to the campaign, the Stags, who finished runners-up last season, confirmed they are beginning to approach their best form with a fourth straight win.

On a slow wicket, the visitors won the toss and elected to bowl and had Duncan Hodges' side in trouble as Michael Thewlis and Rick Harris were both removed by Simon White without a run on the board.

Things got worse for the home side when Spencer Fan departed to leave West Herts at 7-3 off just seven overs.

However, West Herts were rescued thanks to a fine fifth-wicket stand of 63 between Matt Smith (45) and Mike Hodges, who made the most of an early dropped chance to score 55, that revived the innings.

Another stand involving Hodges this time with his brother Duncan (25) yielded a crucial 46 runs, and further useful contributions from the tail enabled the Stags to muster a total of 153-8 from their 60 overs.

Once again West Herts' bowling attack, arguably the best in the league, proved the key to their success.

Thewlis struck an early blow with the wickets of Plumley and Edbrooke, although St Albans continued to make steady progress, mainly through their opener Josh Holt, in their search for victory.

However, wickets did fall steadily, and, after the crucial wicket of the classy Holt a talented Australian wicket-keeper trapped lbw by Thewlis, there was only going to be one winner.

Thewlis returned to complete a five-wicket haul, while West Herts' own Australian import, Simon Smith, picked up three wickets without conceding a run to wrap up the victory.

"It was an excellent win as they are a good side," commented Duncan Hodges, who is conscious that the campaign is not even halfway through.

"The key was the partnership between Matt Smith and Mike Hodges, but, again, we bowled and fielded excellently, which is our strength."

June 21, 2002 11:30