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The last unbeaten record in the Saracens League went by the board as Offley slumped to a three-wicket defeat at home to Potters Bar. The top order failed yet again and despite some spirited resistance from the tail it proved to be one batting collapse too many.
The visitors won the toss and elected to field on an overcast afternoon that quickly gave way to heavy drizzle. Things went wrong from the start as Steve Bexfield was bowled for six and Colin Keeley, playing as a specialist batsman on account of injury, went for four. Richie Barker survived a confident appeal for a bat-pad catch but fell for 17 and with Mo Chaudry out for four and Nathan Brodie failing to trouble the scorers, Offley were in the mire at 37-5.
Chris Austin and Darren Lunney dug in to share a stand of 48 before Austin feathered a catch behind. However, Lunney cast aside his previously wretched form to crack five boundaries before falling to a tame dismissal at square leg. Offley were given a fighting chance by Jeff Francis. Francis marked his first appearance of the year by racking up his highest score for the club, an unbeaten 44 that featured some fine strokes all around the wicket. Francis overcame his lack of spikes on the slippery ground and the subsequent resemblance to a baby elephant learning to walk for the first time to pepper the boundary and give Offley hope. Matthew Freeman made a gutsy 15 before the tail subsided to leave Potters Bar chasing 164 to win from 52 overs.
Bexfield opted to keep the old ball and opened the attack with Rizwan and Gareth Mathewson. The bowlers had little luck at the start and the opening wickets both fell to run outs. Keeley threw down the stumps from midwicket before Brodie darted in from cover to send back another batsman and give Offley hope. Chaudry claimed an impressive one-handed catch to give Mathewson a deserved wicket and with Barker joining Mathewson in an all-spin attack, Offley gradually turned the screw. Barkers instinct for survival helped him hold a fizzing return catch and when Austin produced a smart piece of work to stump Lewis for 48 the game was in the balance with the score at 80-5.
Bexfield opted to take the new ball at the last possible moment and after a few more overs from Barker and Mathewson, the skipper placed his faith in Keeley and Freeman. Keeley, struggling to overcome a foot injury, gallantly ran into the crease but could only provide fodder for the batsmen and surrendered 22 runs in three overs. Freeman simply produced a dreadful spell of bowling as boundaries flowed thick and fast of the few balls he managed to get on a decent line as he caused more problems for the slip fielders than the batsmen. It was simply not up to his usual standard. With the game effectively over, Offley managed a little consolation by picking up two late wickets to salvage a couple more bonus points as Austin and Brodie both held sharp chances but despite holding on to top spot at least for one more week the gap at the top was slashed to five points.