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Offley & Stopsley Vs Leverstock Green - 9th Sept
On a cool but sunny day at Leverstock Green, Offley & Stopsley wrapped up the Saracens League Division 11 title with a solid team performance. Dan Jordan provided the runs with an unbeaten 116 but there were contributions all the way down the order before the bowlers shared the wickets around.
After a frantic week of juggling with his team selection, skipper, coach and chauffeur Steve Bexfield managed to coax 13 players to Leverstock Green. Chris Latino (knee) and Gareth Mathewson (spider-related incident) missed out and with Jon Cerasale (back or possibly just old age) and Qumar (work) also absent, Offleys bowling attack looked a little light.
Armed with the knowledge that nine points would be sufficient to win the title outright, regardless of how Potters Bar fared against West Herts, Bexfield abandoned his customary strategy of bowling first after winning the toss and elected to bat on a wicket that promised to offer pace and bounce in the early stages.
Richie Barker and Mo Chaudry opened the innings and got things off to a solid start before Barker was bowled off his thigh for 17. Nathan Brodie was quickly into his stride as he batted with the fluency he has displayed over the past month before he fell in similar fashion, the ball deflecting on to the stumps via his pad.
Jordan and Chaudry kept the scoreboard ticking before Chaudry offered a thin edge to the keeper and was replaced by Chris Austin who struggled to find his touch before becoming the third batsman to play on. Bexfield nearly went for a duck before battling through to make 16 (not as some wag suggested his highest score of the season) and had the satisfaction of being out in the middle when Offley secured the eighth point that ensured they would win any potential tie-breaker with Potters Bar. Bexfield eventually played all round a straight one before Colin Keeley helped himself to a few late runs, blending agricultural swipes with the occasional cricket shot as he accompanied Jordan through to his ton.
However, the real story of the innings was Jordans knock, an artistic creation that underpinned the more workmanlike efforts of his teammates. After an uncertain start where he appeared to be intent on nothing more than offering catching practice to the fielders behind the wicket, he raced through the gears on a wicket offering him the opportunity to play a full range of shots as he cruised to 116. An impressive array of cuts and drives helped Offley reach an imposing total of 231-5, a score that was always liable to be beyond the reach of the hosts in just 47 overs.
Yet having secured the title with the bat it was never going to be easy for Offleys bowlers to rise to the occasion in the field. The task was further complicated by the decision of one nameless member of the team (lets just say hes not averse to the odd family-sized pack of McCoys) to gorge himself at tea with enough food to give a pregnant rhino indigestion. Such grand scale piggery reduced his effectiveness in the early stages and he was swiftly removed from the attack after complaining about the foot holes.
However, Keeley ran in with some purpose at the other end and picked up a couple of scalps. The bowler was only denied a third by a fairly iffy piece of fielding from Wayne Cutts who preferred to moonwalk away from a possible catch rather than getting his delicate pianists fingers in the way.
Cutts enjoyed some success of his own with the ball as he wheeled his way through a nine-over spell, mixing dross with the odd unplayable ball and picked up a couple of wickets. Barker claimed his 35th league victim of the season and both bowlers were left to reflect ruefully on a couple of very average efforts by Jeff Francis, including one incident where it appeared to be harder to drop the ball than hold on to it.
However, perhaps the highlight of the fielding display was Darren Lunneys all-round efforts. Durhams finest will openly admit that he has struggled of late in the field but he took an excellent catch running back at mid off a catch that prompted an exceptional display of bat-hurling petulance from the victim and claimed another dismissal in the gloom off the final ball. Yet those efforts paled into insignificance alongside his magnificent piece of fielding at cover where he swooped on the ball and with only one stump to aim at hit direct at the bowlers end. The sound of leather colliding with ash, sending the bails spearing into orbit, was almost enough to drown out the petrified girlish screams of bowler Cutts as he attempted to jump out of the way of the fast-traveling ball.
Having had time to allow his hefty supper to digest, Freeman (for twas he) returned to the attack and bowled with impressive speed as he scented the chance of success against the tail. The oft-injured, always melodramatic Freeman picked up a couple of wickets and had a number of deliveries ushered on their way to the boundary by less than convincing shots. Freeman also seized the opportunity to execute a run out after picking up the ball, tripping on a dandelion and contriving to hit the stumps with a gentle underarm lob.
Ultimately Leverstock Green held on to secure the draw despite Freeman claiming the ninth wicket off the final ball of the innings. However, the result was never important once Jordans bat had sealed the vital points and Offleys players wasted little time in beginning the celebrations. The emotional Bexfield sprayed champagne around the outfield with the reckless enthusiasm of a run-starved batsman tucking into a succession of Freeman pies. Offley picked up 19 points from the game and with Potters Bar going down to a crashing seven-wicket defeat against West Herts, Bexfields team walked away with the title by a 38-point margin after finishing on 444 points.
Not a bad end for a season that involved frantic finishes wondering whod stop the rain, dancing in the dark as the night closed in, the odd tantrum and spat dummy, some rotten shots, dismal drops and abject bowling displays but most crucially of all, a dozen victories and a title