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Offley produced perhaps their best batting performance of the season and followed it up with a devastating bowling display to set up a crucial victory over Broxbourne under brooding dark skies on a day when the weather threatened to derail their championship quest. Not even seven dropped catches and a generally abject display in the field could prevent Steve Bexfields team from moving within nine points of the Saracens League title.
However, it all began unpromisingly as Bleeding Gums Mathewson was ruled out and Mohammed Qumar stepped in at the 11th hour after Bexfield had contemplated dropping himself after a shocking run of form. Things hardly improved as Bexfield lost the toss and was asked to bat first on a green surface that had enjoyed no more than a passing acquaintance with the roller. Bexfield, predicting disaster from the moment the coin fell the wrong way, had been reduced to a gibbering wreck by the time the in-form Mo Chaudry gloved his second ball to the keeper. While Bexfield carried on in the manner of Private Fraser from Dads Army (Were all doomed), Nathan Brodie and Richie Barker began to repair the early damage.
It proved to be a watershed innings for Barker as he abandoned his recent determined attempts to transform himself into a legitimate rabbit after a string of innings where his form fluctuated from iffy to abysmal. His 71 might not have been the most fluent innings of his career but it was one of the more important. Brodie, a man who started off the season by accumulating more ducks than Elmer Fudd, shared in a stand of 144 as he played arguably his finest innings for the club. Resisting the urge to charge aimlessly down the pitch or waft the ball lazily to a fielder, Brodie knuckled down to score an impressive 55. By the time the pair were parted the stage was set for Dan Jordan to put the Broxbourne bowlers to the sword.
After quietly playing himself in, Jordan announced his presence with authority by crashing a six over extra cover. He followed that up by clearing the pavilion with a sweetly timed effort that sailed over the trees and into the neighbouring field as Offley stepped on the accelerator. Darren Lunney and Colin Keeley added a couple of lusty blows before trying another and dying in the attempt and Matt Freeman bagged a duck before Qumar holed out for nine whereupon Bexfield declared in the 40th over with Jordan unbeaten on 65. The declaration, prompted in no small part by the angry grey skies encircling the ground, left Offley 60 overs in which to bowl Broxbourne out.
Keeley opened the bowling and served up a tasty smorgasbord of full tosses in his first over. Opener Lee hit the first to the boundary for four but miscued the second straight to Chaudry who spilt the chance at midwicket. History repeated itself three balls later as Chaudry shelled another opportunity. Keeleys mood was not helped in his second over as Safe Hands Brodie dropped a sitter. Brodie atoned for his error by holding on to a sharp chance at cover to account for Lee and start the slide.
Keeley became increasingly irritated by his failure to claim a scalp but the breakthrough finally came when keeper Chris Austin feinted to his left, slipped to his right and attempted the splits before holding on to an edge to complete a fine catch. It was a magnificent reflex catch by Austin and should in no way be overshadowed by the sitter he dropped half an hour later. Lunney held on to a regulation chance at mid off to dismiss Nugent before Freeman added a couple of wickets to leave Broxbourne five down.
Brewsters apparent intention to block out for 40 overs went up in smoke when he was trapped in front by Barker and a fine stumping by Austin left Broxbourne seven down and praying for rain. It should have been eight but Lunney failed to deal with a fairly simple chance at mid off and with the skies closing in and the Offley nerves starting to fray it began to look as if Broxbourne might escape with a draw
Yet cometh the hour, cometh the man; or in this case Matt Freeman. Enter the dragon. Bowling with the wind at his back and storming into the crease he removed the Broxbourne skipper Rosser with a yorker that ripped through timid defenses. The very next ball produced the same result as youngster Pegg was given no chance by a seriously quick delivery. Last man White narrowly survived the hat trick ball but two balls later was totally deceived by a slower ball and had his off stump knocked back prompting scenes of delirious celebration as Offleys players began dancing in the dark, safe in the knowledge that nine more points will win it.