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Hertfordshire Midweek Cup Finals Day - 12th Aug

Semi Final - Offley & Stopsley CC 153-7 Vs Great Gaddesden - 102 all out

Final - Offley & Stopsley CC 116 - 8 Vs Bengeo - 105-7

OUR DAY IN THE SUN

No matter how long you play cricket and no matter what is at stake, regardless of whether it’s a blue polyester championship pennant or individual trophies encrusted with lashings of gold plastic that look like they were knocked up in a couple of minutes on Blue Peter, there is something about cup finals that stirs the blood. Injuries miraculously disappear, long-term absentees suddenly make themselves available for selection – “big-game player” is a term suddenly thrown around with spurious abandon and precious little justification – and the intensity rises throughout the club, along with the captain’s blood pressure.

Over the years Offley & Stopsley have been to their fair share of cup finals, invariably scraping home via a combination of luck, judgement and on one memorable occasion the entire Shaheen team stomping off after disputing a run out decision, an incident that prompted some interesting correspondence with The Luton News, airing their grievances and demanding a rematch. It would be a shame not to recall one of the classic moments of club history so for anyone who may have forgotten the incident or would like to acquire a fresh perspective on the laws of the game it seems worthwhile quoting from the aggrieved missive that appeared in the pages of the august Luton News.

The Shaheen chairman explained the reasons behind his team’s premature departure from the lush Crawley Green playing fields, a swift exit that might even have given Inzamam-ul-Haq pause for thought before he and the lads walked off at the Oval. “A member of our team was batting with a runner at the other end. The ball was out of play with the wicket-keeper having hold of it. Following the proper procedure our batsman tapped his bat on the ground three times to get the umpire’s attention. He asked the umpire if he could have permission to talk to the other batsman. The umpire agreed. As soon as the player left his crease the wicket-keeper took the bails off and appealed for an out. To our surprise the umpire gave our man out. After being treated so unfairly all our players agreed there was no point playing any further. We walked off and are sincerely asking for a fair rematch.”

We are still awaiting the outcome of the appeal.

However, August 12, 2007 was no ordinary cup final as Offley geared up for their first appearance in the Hertfordshire Cricket Association’s 20-over finals day. 32 teams had entered the competition and by virtue of a bye, an overdue win against their friends from Pirton and a scrambled victory over Graveley, Offley & Stopsley emerged as one of the four semi-finalists at the prestigious Old Albanians Club. If the prospect of a 10:30 start offered little reason to be cheerful, the prospect of slinking off home a couple of hours later following an early defeat was more than sufficient to concentrate the minds.

Considering that certain members of the team have had their problems in the past in finding grounds and arriving on time it was perhaps a little surprising that skipper Steve Bexfield had not hired a minibus or at the very least organised a police escort to ensure that his players turned up at the designated hour. There were a certain amount of raised eyebrows as a result of Colin Keeley, a man whose navigational skills have rarely been compared to Marco Polo, being one of the first to arrive at the ground. Bearing in mind that Keeley would represent a decent each way bet to stumble upon the source of the Nile (although only if he was actually looking for the Pyramids), his timely arrival was a welcome boost for Bexfield and soothed the skipper’s already fevered brow with the news that his opening bowler was present and accounted for. Unfortunately Keeley compensated for turning up on time by leaving his bowling boots at home, a piece of forgetfulness that afforded the gout-stricken trundler the opportunity to open the attack in a battered pair of old boots with his big toe protruding through a gaping hole.

Bexfield had further problems to contend with in the shape of Darren Lunney who evidently had other things on his mind and apparently would have preferred to have been staked out naked on the ground beneath a hornets nest with various parts of his anatomy smeared in honey. Lunney, fresh from a minor tantrum the day before over his failure to be regarded as a serious bowling option in a league game (Lunney’s five career wickets suggested that his prospects of being taken seriously as a bowler were on a par with Devon Malcolm being selected ahead of Don Bradman as a batsman in an all-time cricket fantasy team), grandly announced that his head was not in the right place to play the game. If he had not already been in the dressing room he would doubtless have flounced off there like a scorned Hollywood diva protesting that he wanted to be alone. As it was Bexfield simply told him he was playing and to get on with it, thereby making him the least willing finalist in club history.

Bexfield won the toss and elected to bat first against old rivals Great Gaddesden. Bexfield and Mark Tattersall opened the innings and after some preliminary scouting and mandatory defensive shots the runs began to flow at both ends. Tattersall was in his element with power hitting at a premium and serious exertion at a minimum. Swinging away with his customary carefree approach to life, Tattersall applied his own unique blend of nine-irons, forehands, sickles and scythes and the occasionally beautifully executed cover drive to hammer 57 before his innings came to an end with a shot that might have been more appropriate on a croquet lawn than a cricket pitch.

Bexfield was more circumspect (no wild swinging across the line for the man who once – allegedly – practiced his forward defensive shot in a hotel mirror without even a jockstrap to protect his dignity) but still posted his own half-century before being given out stumped, a decision that he made perfectly clear did not correlate precisely with his own interpretation of events.

The inevitable flurry of wickets occurred as 123-1 became 142-7 amid a succession of dreadful shots, mindless running and sheer ineptitude although it would be churlish to deny the splendidly named Badcock the credit he deserved for taking four quick wickets. Among the particular highlights (or lowlights, depending on how one chooses to view these things) were Nathan Brodie’s well-rehearsed Forrest Gump impression as he attempted to scramble a bye to the wicketkeeper without bothering to inform his partner of his intentions with the result that “Brodie run out 2” made its first appearance of the day in the scorebook. Keeley subsequently departed first ball after producing one of the worst shots of his illustrious career, a limp-wristed waft that conjured up images of Quentin Crisp flicking the head off a pansy with an umbrella before Offley rallied to finish on 153-7 from their 20 overs with Richie Barker finishing unbeaten on 17.

The general consensus suggested that while 153 was not quite sufficient to render any pursuit academic, it should be enough to ensure victory provided that something did not go seriously amiss. With Gaddesden going well on 43-1 from six overs it appeared that proceedings were well on their way to going awry with Tattersall operating with Steve Harmison-style accuracy and Keeley struggling into bowl with the air of a man who is concerned that he’s about to stub his exposed big toe on a particularly sharp stone hidden somewhere beneath the surface of the quicksand he was ploughing through.

However, Qumar made his first notable impact on the day by bowling Crawley for 20 and a Brodie-esque piece of running between the wickets accounted for the dangerous Ambrose to leave Gaddesden in tatters on 61-4 with the only issue of note to be decided the margin of victory. Jon Cerasale ripped out the middle order to claim 3-14 and with the required run rate climbing to 25 an over Bexfield was finally able to relax and scatter his fielders to the four corners of the field in a bid to protect the boundaries even though his demeanour suggested he was waiting for Adam Gilchrist to march out to bat or that a plague of no balls and sixes was about to blight his day. Gaddesden’s doomed chase ended somewhat appropriately with the third run out of the innings leaving Bexfield’s men to handle a novel experience – namely filling up the four hours before their next game.

Professional cricketers would presumably have headed for the swimming pool or an appointment with the masseuse. They might have sought to counter the threat of dehydration by consuming some isotonic drinks or tucking into some healthy food designed to keep their bodies in optimum condition ahead of the showdown ahead. It almost goes without saying that Offley’s crack band of athletes did nothing of the sort, promptly heading for the bar and four hours of extended loafing on the pavilion patio as they held forth on a wide range of subjects in a manner that would have fascinated a psychiatrist – and perhaps chilled him to the core at the same time.

With Qumar and Keeley heading off to attend to various matters Chris Austin was the first to bring mockery crashing down upon his head by tucking into a salad. It was hardly as if the bar did not have life’s essentials on offer with plenty of burgers and chicken wings available while Matthew Freeman was able to attest to the quality of the confectionary on offer as he worked his way through an apparently endless succession of Mars Bars and Kit Kats. Yet for reasons presumably known only to himself Austin opted for the healthy option and the scorn and opprobrium that went with it as each mouthful of salad opened up fresh observations on his sexuality and the benefits of calorie-controlled diets.

Brodie’s dining habits were the next to come under the microscope. Considering that few would have been entirely surprised to see the man named Bloodaxe attempting to tackle the hind quarters of a cow while it was still chewing the cud, it was something of a shock to see him resorting to cutlery to eat his burger. Instead of wolfing down his burger in a feral manner Brodie opted for refinement and culture reminiscent of Little Lord Fauntleroy dining at the Reform Club, a misjudgement that led to the familiar questions being asked regarding his sexual preferences as well as demands for him to adjust his serviette to ensure his shirt remained spotless.

Barker’s reckless decision to shun the high-brow conversation of the Offley intelligentsia in favour of trying to read a book was also doomed to failure with Tattersall (whose preferred choice of literature is the Chelsea match day programme) wasting little time in making one or two choice observations. Such observations prompted a response that might not exactly have been designed to draw comparisons with Oscar Wilde but it was short and to the point and admirably conveyed the necessary sentiments.

In the meantime Freeman opened up another opportunity for ridicule by fervently rejecting suggestions that he was the worst fielder in the club and subsequently attempting to defend his season’s bowling performance. With his efforts in the field at Potton the previous day representing Exhibit A in the prosecution’s case, Freeman was left to mount a staunch defense of his bowling skills. Considering his bowling efforts had yielded six wickets in the past four months it seemed reasonable to speculate that any singer contemplating a similar performance could have expected to have been bottled off stage. However, Freeman elected to hold forth on the misfortunes that have plagued him this summer (most noticeably a suspected, albeit invisible, hernia) while surrounded by increasingly unsympathetic teammates who were not slow with offering their own suggestions of a cure. The most popular ideas revolved around retirement and a change of scenery, possibly involving an extended run in the second team or a free transfer to the Lady Zia Werner starting line-up. In the end Freeman settled for a change of sorts and bought himself a Twix.

With the clock counting down towards the final and a date with Bengeo, an increasingly anxious Bexfield began to scan the horizon for the return of Qumar and Keeley. Keeley returned from an extended powernap on his sofa to order up what looked like an entire chicken run’s supply of barbecued wings and a towering plate of chips before tucking into it with gusto. Watching his opening bowler devour a meal for two as the final drew ever nearer had a tortuous effect on Bexfield and by the end he had turned away to face the wall with the appalled air of a man who knows that judgement is at hand.

Keeley may have been powering his way through his meal like a carthorse let loose at the trough but at least he was there. In the meantime Qumar had gone AWOL and only reported back to the ground after a couple of urgent phone calls. On his return to the ground he conveyed the glad tidings to Bexfield that he would have to leave early (much as professionals do in one day internationals) in order to carry out essential taxi driving duties. After agonising debate Bexfield decided he had no choice but to omit Qumar from the final and opted to go with Freeman who celebrated his dramatic selection in his own inimitable fashion by tucking into his third Mars Bar of the day. News of the move prompted Ladbrokes to install Bengeo as slight favourites.

With the final almost at hand Tattersall made the fatal mistake of heading off to the nets to try and hone his game, thereby compromising his instinctive talent and effectively assuring himself of failure. Meanwhile tea was held in the pavilion with a tempting mix of pasta, kebabs and steaks being offered to the players. Despite having recently wolfed down his chicken wings Keeley was in no mood to pass up the chance of free food and duly helped himself. Freeman attempted to calm pre-match nerves by getting stuck into the proffered meat but was soon heading for the toilet as a combination of chocolate, kebabs and blind panic took its toll.

Disappointingly there was no entertainment laid on between the second semi-final and the final in the manner of the real Twenty/20 finals day. An appearance by the Harpenden String Quartet might have been nice or perhaps a recital of appropriate verse from the St Albans Poetry Society.

Bexfield won the toss for the second time and had no hesitation in batting, a decision that soon looked to have been the wrong one as Offley slumped to 25-3. With Dowling hurtling in from one end and hurling the ball down at a rate of knots rarely encountered by the Offley batsmen, desperate measures were needed at the other end. However, Tattersall paid the price for daring to tinker with his technique and was duly sent back to the pavilion after launching a solitary blow in anger (six and out). Bexfield slapped a full toss to cover and Barker was sent on his way with a rueful smile on his face and a song in his heart after being adjudged LBW to a ball that might have gone down the legside, would certainly have gone over the top and had in fact come off the full face of the bat. Apart from that it was a good shout.

Mo Chaudry and Cerasale steadied the ship with a stand of 46. Chaudry might have scored more runs in his time and may even have batted better but he produced comfortably his second most important innings for the club (Welwyn in 2006 his most triumphant innings) as he and Cerasale dragged Offley out of the mire with a combination of power hitting and sensible batting. A total of 140 looked like it might just be on before Cerasale was stumped to bring Nathan Gump to the crease. Gump got off the mark first ball but shortly afterwards he optimistically attempted a second run to short third man and despite a full length dive the words “Brodie run out 2” were entered into the scorebook for the second time.

The innings seemed set to disintegrate as Offley’s favourite umpire gave Rizwan out caught behind off a ball that looped off up his hip after patently failing to make contact with the bat. Keeley eclipsed Brodie with a truly suicidal piece of running that bore more testament to his fear of Dowling's bowling than any cricketing brain. After Chaudry deflected the ball to gulley, Keeley bawled “Yes” with the cast-iron conviction of a man who knows the world is round but was run out by about three yards as the umpire’s raised finger symbolised a doom end to his quest for a quick single.

Lunney and Chaudry gave Offley hope with a stand of 22 and Lunney produced the shot of the day, a glorious straight six that cleared the sightscreen and persuaded Bexfield that he might not have got the order quite right. However, Bexfield’s intention to apologise to Lunney was lost as the batsman returned in a chuntering tantrum, hurling his bat aside in disgust (presumably he’d already launched the tiara) and making a couple of somewhat untimely comments about captaincy and batting orders that were definitely not along the lines of winning as a team and losing as a team. Keeley lanced the boil on the spot with some forthright opinions of his own which quelled the insurrection and concentrated minds on the matter in hand – namely that despite Chaudry’s unbeaten 49, 116-8 didn’t look enough and it was going to take something special to pull it out of the fire.

Judging by their efforts in the first few overs the Offley bowlers and fielders were more intent on throwing petrol on the fire and fanning the flames rather than dousing the sparks. Rizwan dropped a catchable offering at long on from the hefty Robinson and Keeley picked an unfortunate moment to serve up a 15-run over. By the time Tattersall was top edged over point and Chaudry was forced to take evasive action on the boundary after the ball emerged from the sinking sun, Offley looked beyond a price and gone for all money. The ball had been lost and the cup final was set to go with it.

At which point Lunney grabbed the initiative with a direct hit from point that he had no real right to attempt, let alone hit with as the batsman was well short of his ground. Ricky Ponting or Paul Collingwood might have hit the stumps but I doubt it. The ball should have gone speeding off into the deep for overthrows but instead it detonated the stumps to give Offley the breakthrough they craved although it took some desperate appeals from the fielders to persuade the umpire to make the right decision. The fielders converged upon Lunney, sharing loud entreaties to stay calm that gave the huddle the air of a Dad’s Army Convention with frenzied cries of “Don’t Panic” and futile requests to stay calm. Two balls later Lunney repeated the treatment as one batsman set off and the other sat on his bat. It lacked the drama of the initial run out but Lunney’s throw to Austin was sufficient to leave Bengeo two down.

Austin now showed the benefits of a healthy lunch. Unencumbered by carbohydrates or calories he moved to his right to take an edge off Rizwan and promptly dropped it. Rizwan took matters into his own hands with the next delivery and speared the ball through the batsman’s defences to claim the third wicket of the innings.

Cerasale was next to make his mark as he followed his important innings of 21 with a superb spell as he conceded 11 runs in four overs, trapping Nix LBW in the process. That dismissal brought Dowling to the crease and he soon showed that he was as accomplished with the bat as with the ball as the Bengeo innings regained momentum. An abysmal over from Barker looked to have settled the issue but Rizwan kept it tight in his last over to give Chaudry and Keeley a chance with 35 wanted from five overs

Dowling crashed Chaudry towards point and while Barker’s extraordinarily agile diving catch (what might be termed his get out of jail catch considering the over that had gone before) might not have been quite as decisive as Bexfield’s decision to remove him from the attack after a solitary over it certainly helped turn the tide in Offley’s favour. Then again considering the president of the Hertfordshire Cricket Association highlighted it as the defining moment in his post-match speech I suppose it must have been pretty spectacular.

Robinson followed shortly afterwards for 30 after Chaudry produced a fine throw from the boundary that fizzed into Austin’s gloves and Offley suddenly sensed victory. Keeley returned to the attack and bowled a brilliant two-over spell that settled the issue, particularly his final over which conceded just five runs and might have given him a wicket but Austin’s salad was evidently proving slow to digest as he was unable to hold on to a top edge. Chaudry ensured that there would be no last-gasp disaster as he kept his nerve to see Offley over the line.

Following the necessary speeches Bexfield stood high on the pavilion steps holding the trophy aloft and sporting the kind of inane grin that Freeman might have if he discovered Santa coming down the chimney with a box of Chomps.

There might not have been any champagne (there were certainly enough jugs of lager later on) and the lack of individual medals was also slightly disappointing but there was a shield that said Offley were the 2007 Hertfordshire Village Trophy Champions and at the end of it all nothing else matters.