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Offley, 203-4, Vs beat Stevenage III's, 201 : 19th July

OSCC Won by 6 Wkts

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Offley & Stopsley ventured into bandit country for the first time since the halcyon days when they used to cross swords with Taylors Sports in the happy town of Stevenage. Facing a game they had to win to keep their promotion hopes alive, Offley took on their closest promotion rivals and came out on top amid a flurry of brilliant shots, rattling towards their victory in double quick time and making a mockery of those who had claimed that Stevenage possessed the best bowling attack in the league.

Offley fielded a new-look line-up with Steve Bexfield missing his first Saracens League game in three seasons and Darren Lunney playing as a specialist fine leg fielder on the grounds of the cast on his broken hand. Richie Barker won the toss and elected to bowl first on a pitch that conjured up images of long ago regarding park pitches and erratic bounce.

Mark Tattersall and Martin McCulley opened the bowling and were soon beating the bat with monotonous regularity. The jumbo-sized opening pair produced a series of superb deliveries and it was ironic that the first two wickets to fall were both from short, wide Tattersall long hops that were obligingly steered into the hands of Majid Shah and Nathan Brodie respectively. Stevenage should have been three down but a combination of Tattersall’s slightly girlish throw and wicketkeeper Chris Latino’s slightly leaden hands and slightly feeble reflexes allowed Brown to regain his ground when he should have been run out by yards.

At the time that did not seem significant because Brown seemed intent on playing no more than one scoring shot every three overs. However, he began to find his touch and with Cooley tucking into some fairly dodgy bowling from Barker, Stevenage were well set at the drinks break. The action began to develop in the final third of the innings as Colin Keeley and Matty Freeman bowled the final 18 overs. Both bowlers served up some dross but also produced some fine deliveries, notably Freeman who broke the third-wicket stand by bowling Cooley with a ball that was too quick for the batsman. Freeman treated the batsman to a verbal send off. It seemed slightly harsh by Freeman, especially as the batsman had congratulated him for bowling a nice, short, juicy half-tracker two balls previously that had been smashed somewhere towards Hitchin.

Wickets began to tumble as Kumar was run out after his push down the ground deflected off the stumps to Brodie who threw down the stumps like a small girl throwing a medicine ball. Kumar tripped over in a feeble bid to make his ground and subsequently lay bleating on the ground like a mortally wounded wildebeest before being helped off the ground. Keeley claimed the next two wickets thanks to a fine catch by Latino and a slightly questionable lbw decision before Freeman struck a key blow by castling Brown for a patient 72 from 47 overs.

The ball continued to disappear to the boundary with the elder Cooley treating Freeman and Keeley to some stick, Freeman flying off through third man and Keeley being heaved over cow corner, before Barker ended the threat by hauling in a good catch in the deep. Keeley claimed his fourth wicket before Latino held on to a catch off the final ball of the innings to give Freeman his third scalp as Stevenage were bowled out for 201.

The game looked to be slightly tilted in Stevenage’s favour as Offley set out in pursuit of 202 from 47 overs, against the self-styled best attack in the division. As events transpired the odds might have been in Stevenage’s favour if Offley had been left to chase down 202 in 35 overs.

Brodie and Mo Chaudry got the innings off to a fine start as they shared an opening stand of 82 in 16 overs. After surviving some optimistic early appeals from Kumar (miraculously healed from his life-threatening ankle injury) and an easy chance to mid off by Brodie, the pair carried the attack to the opposition as they hammered the bowling round the park. Brodie hit Kumar for thee consecutive boundaries down the ground and Chaudry clouted the ginger-haired Mould out of the attack before Brown pierced Chaudry’s defences.

Keeley strode to the wicket fresh from a discourse on the merits of Don Bradman. He might have challenged the standard historical perception of Bradman (after all few cricket scholars have been radical enough to dub the Australian legend as a miserable git) and he might not have batted in a manner which Bradman would have approved of, but there was no doubting the effectiveness of his innings. Smearing the ball over point and cover with his personalised Gray Nicholls bat (The Scythe 2000), Keeley raced to a half-century that set up Offley’s win as Stevenage heads dropped.

Brodie made 61 before falling to a shooter and Shah ran himself out without scoring but Keeley kept up the onslaught. He hit a pair of sixes, including a tremendous blow over midwicket, before having his off stump sent cartwheeling out of the ground by Mould. That left Offley rocking slightly on 169-4 as Tattersall walked out to join Latino. With runs as scarce for Tattersall in 2008 as hairs on his head, another cheap dismissal could easily have prompted a crisis. However, he rose to the occasion, getting off the mark with a boundary and hammered two sixes in addition to almost killing a fielder when the ball fizzed through his hands and into his chest. Tattersall finished on 26 with Latino recording a useful unbeaten 10 as Offley stormed to victory with the small matter of 83 balls to spare.

The victory enabled Offley to cut the gap between themselves and Stevenage to just 10 points in the race for the fourth promotion spot. On a day when Keeley blitzed The Don and bowlers alike, when Lunney did a better job of fielding with one arm than many previous Offley players have managed with two and when Tattersall finally scored double figures for the first time in 10 months, Offley showed that the race for promotion will go to the end.