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Kings Langley III Vs Offley Stopsley, 13/5/06
A cloudburst of biblical proportions had the final say as torrential rain brought the curtain down on an epic encounter between Offley & Stopsley and Kings Langley.
Steve Bexfield won the toss and decided that Offleys best chance of victory lay in bowling out the hosts as quickly as possible before putting his faith in an admittedly weak battling line up to chase down the target. The absence of all rounder Jon Cerasale and batting tyro Wayne Cutts meant opportunities for Phil Gourd and South African sensation Gareth Mathewson, as Offley continued with their new look one nation policy.
Offley got off to a promising start as Matthew Freeman bowled with decent pace and his customary lack of fortune but Colin Keeley rolled back the years to produce a vintage performance. Bowling with a verve and vitality most had considered Keeley to have misplaced along with second and third helpings of his girlfriends world famous lasagne, the ageing seamer charged in up the hill, against the wind, to rattle the opposition top order. Keeley made the initial breakthrough when he had Thompson held at the wicket by Chris Austin. As the momentum began to swing slightly towards the hosts, Keeley burst through the defenses of the dangerous Sanders to claim a second wicket.
Keeley looked set for a long bowl but a groin injury forced him out of the attack and with Nathan Brodie replacing Freeman (deciding after six overs that the ball was too slippery to hold, a decision that only arose after he had produced a nine-ball over), Richie Barker took over from Keeley. Brodie trapped the tediously resistant Guy plumb in front before giving way to Mathewson who needed just two balls to claim his first wicket for the club and finished with tidy figures of 2-30 off eight overs. At the other end Barker produced a solid spell to tie the hosts down, taking 2-16 off 10 overs before Freeman was brought back for a second spell. At the same time Gourd took over from Mathewson as skipper Bexfield shuffled his pack in the search for a pair of aces. Unfortunately he came up with a couple of jokers. Gourd did pick up a wicket but his four over spell went for 31 runs while Freemans pace failed to produce a breakthrough and Kings Langley finished on 172-8, a total that had look well out of their range earlier in the afternoon. The sense of a chance having been missed was summed up by Freemans petulant swipe at the stumps, a blow that dislodged the bails and also resulted in a suspected fractured metatarsal.
Bexfield was forced to abandon his original plan of opening the batting with Gourd who was apparently suffering from indigestion after a hearty tea (or possibly morning sickness). Consequently he dragooned a typically unwilling Barker into going in first, a move that left the middle order looking slightly unsteady. However, the move paid off in handsome style as Barker produced one of the finest innings seen by an Offley player in some years.
After Bexfield fell for a duck, Barker began to carry the attack to the bowlers, hammering Sanders over midwicket for six and then producing an effortless flick off his legs to send the ball soaring away over long on for another maximum. Both shots resulted in lost balls. Moving his feet and playing with a freedom some suspected had been lost amid the odd pint too many, Barker unfurled a dazzling array of shots all around the wicket, piercing the field at will or simply clearing the boundaries with arrogant disdain. Austin arrived to lend his customary solid support at the other end and Offley began to make steady progress towards their target.
The introduction of the new ball and the express pace of Whitlock added a slightly different air to proceedings. Whitlock came hammering in down the hill as though a bat out of hell was biting at his heels. Austin was beaten for sheer pace and bowled but Barker continued on his merry way, launching the new ball out of the ground with a ferocious drive. His seventh six, a stunning shot over cover, brought him his century but he failed to add to his 102 after James nipped one back up the hill to leave Offley on 127-3.
Michael Cunningham marched out to join Brodie but was soon marching back without troubling the scorers. Darren Lunney got his season going with his first runs as he and Brodie took up the challenge but just as the balance seem to be tilting towards Offley, Brodie nibbled fatally at an away swinger. Vamsi came and went in a matter of moments before Keeley strode to the middle.
Keeley, ever-sensitive about his batting knuckled down and mixed good fortune with impressive stroke play to put Offley back on top as they scaled the heights of 160-6. However, fortune swung again as Keeley found himself marooned on the crease and Mathewson was bowled for a single to leave Offley in dire straits at eight down for 162 as the rain began to fall.
A visibly nervous Freeman shuffled out to the middle, looking for all the world like a condemned man on his way to the gallows with Offley 11 runs adrift. Freemans well documented lack of enthusiasm for quick bowling forced Lunney to try and end it as quickly as possible but his expansive drive produced nothing more than the disheartening sound of leather on stump to leave Offley down to their last pair as Gourd walked out to join Freeman with the score on 162-9.
The fat lady may not have been letting rip in full throated chorus but there was no doubt that she was warming up. However, her voice may have struggled to cut through the rain that was now hammering down and threatening to reduce the wicket to a paddy field. Gourd negotiated the remaining five balls of the over and a no ball with some aplomb (he also survived at least three shouts for lbw) before the umpires conferred and the players bolted for the dubious sanctuary of the pavilion with Offley 10 short of victory.
The game was ruled a draw, a result that did Offley few favours under the league rules, leaving them with 5 points while Kings Langley picked up 15. However, the satisfaction of preserving their unbeaten record offered some solace for the team ahead of the clash with Frogmore.