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Offley & Stopsley CC 51-10 Vs Lilley 167-6 ; 16th Aug

OSCC Lost by 118 runs

On August 16, 1812, American General William Hull surrendered Fort Detroit to the British without a fight. Seriously, I looked it up on Wikipedia.

197 years later Offley & Stopsley surrendered in similarly ignominious fashion to local rivals Lilley, crashing to a macabre 118-run defeat to hand mathematically-relegated Lilley their maiden victory in the top flight of the North Herts League. Offley’s gruesome day was compounded by a typically abject batting display from the club’s 2nd XI against Flamstead, the team capitulating to 11-6 before “recovering” to 69 all out.

Steve Bexfield won the toss and elected to bowl first despite a number of bowlers carrying injuries, notably the indestructible Matthew Freeman who had apparently picked up his first injury in two years while antique sideboard Colin Keeley could realistically be expected to be feeling the strain after delivering 13 overs the previous day. On top of that Richie Barker was still suffering from a bad back and it was therefore a surprise when Barker volunteered to open the bowling up the hill into the wind.

Andrew Vanhoof opened the attack at the other end and the pair did a reasonable job of keeping the batsmen under pressure. Vanhoof moved the ball away with his gentle swing while Barker found a nice length, bowling with good rhythm.

Vanhoof might have made the breakthrough in his opening over when he coaxed Lilley captain James Ashby into attempting a big, booming drive that would presumably have threatened the church tower had he connected properly. As it was, the batsman could only toe the ball gently into the gap between mid on and mid off where Freeman’s lumbering form distracted Symon Wardley from going for the ball – and who could blame Wardley for bailing out of a potential collision with Offley’s Yokozuna – and ensured that the ball dropped to the ground between the pair of them, despite Freeman moving at least 18 inches towards the ball.

Vanhoof finally broke the partnership when Ashby smeared a wide long hop straight to Nathan Brodie in the covers, not the first time that Ashby has fallen foul of that particular fielder, although this time there was no invitation to, “Have some of that on your onion bhaji.”

Offley’s hopes took a tumble when they were reduced to 10 men shortly afterwards when Barker was forced to leave the field, apparently under the impression that he had bowled just five overs when he had in fact bowled his allotted eight. Somewhere along the line the Offley bowler had lost all memory of a six-over passage in play and had, ironically, been bowling like a tit in a trance. Despite that he was still able to complete his eight overs for 28 runs, a marked improvement on some younger players who were called upon later in the day to have a bowl free from the burden of neurological complaints. Unfortunately Barker had not picked up any wickets in his missing overs – memorable or otherwise – and Lilley reached the drinks break with nine wickets intact.

Despite being a man short, Offley continued to keep the home batsmen in check. Keeley, evidently undeterred after his marathon stint the day before, charged in up the hill, puffing into the crease like a freight train pulling a heavy load of coal. Keeley picked up two wickets, forcing Brad Tompkins to miscue a flick to midwicket where Dhrupal Patel made another catch look sublimely easy before Majid Shah sliced one to Darren Lunney at point. Marc Ward bowled a tidy four-over spell for just 13 runs and when Lunney bowled the dangerous Gareth Tompkins for just a single, Offley did not look as though they would be chasing more than 140.

Unfortunately at this point things began to unravel. Freeman let a drive go straight through his legs for 4, an effort that did not overly impress the bowler. Lunney’s double-teapot and scowl fit to curdle Newcastle Brown Ale clearly indicated he was not impressed with his bosom chum’s effort.

After Keeley and Barker had conceded 56 runs from bowling 16 overs up the hill, Bexfield might have hoped for more from his young paceman Freeman who conceded 30 runs in four overs at the death. Freeman soon made the breakthrough, producing a couple of wide deliveries that provoked a reaction from the umpire and in turn provoked a reaction from Freeman. The net result was the umpire walking off, Freeman’s only victim of the day.

Brodie kept his nerve to complete a simple run out, corralling the ball at cover and then flicking it underarm to Lunney to run out the President of the Ken Hammond Fan Club, Tim Perry for 31, Lilley’s highest score of the day.

Malik took the game away from Offley with a late cameo as he regularly found the boundary, treating Lunney and Freeman with equal contempt before missing with a wild hoick off Lunney and being bowled.

However, at this stage the fielding deteriorated in alarming fashion. Among the lowlights were the usually reliable Lunney threw a bouncing ball over his shoulder, blaming it on a combination of a divot and a bad bounce. Keeley chugged round the boundary like a fire engine going to the wrong fire before sliding in with the boot to kick the ball over the boundary. Bexfield might have effected a run out with a less girlish throw as Offley wilted in the heat.

However the nadir came in Freeman’s final over as Rich Kendall smeared Freeman towards the short straight boundary at the other end of the ground where Keeley and Vanhoof converged quickly on the slowly rolling ball. Owing to a lack of communication they both adopted an “Afetr you, Claude” approach to stopping the ball and stood mesmerised as the ball trickled over the boundary, an incident that did little to appease Bexfield’s mood, as the Offley captain performed a vintage double teapot before bending over in disgust. Lilley closed on 169, setting Offley an eminently gettable target of 170 from 40 overs for victory.

With Barker unable to bat Offley needed a good start. Unfortunately shorn of their Flintoffian inspiration, Offley were soon in dire straits. Offley’s opening partnership produced a resounding zero for the second day in a row. Bexfield fell in the first over, misjudging an attempted pull short and giving Shah the catch off the bowling of Ashby. Bexfield duly departed for a duck, thereby continuing his unhappy trend of succumbing to short-pitched deliveries from Lilley’s bowlers.

Brodie and Patel added 15 for the 2nd wicket – the highest partnership of the day as it transpired – before Patel took on the short ball and was caught without scoring. Brodie decided that attack was the best form of defence and duly looked to carry the assault to the bowlers. He struck three boundaries and a six before falling for 21 to leave Offley in disarray on 29-3.

Keeley marched to the crease, determined to revive Offley’s fortunes and launch his bid to win the sixes league. Our sources suggest that Keeley was determined to swing from the hip from the outset, routinely attempting to heave the bowlers into the nearby fields. Keeley attempted to land some mighty blows but, alas, in terms of cricketing heavyweights he was more Audley Harrison than Muhammad Ali. Consequently Keeley contributed just 3 runs to the score before being bowled attempting another lusty blow. The ball kept treacherously low, skidding all along the surface (allegedly) but the net result was the scoreboard’s grim reading of 33-4.

Lunney and Wardley provided some dogged middle-order resistance, sharing a doughty stand of 12 runs to help Offley reach the relative prosperity of 45-4. However, everything disintegrated in a cascade of wickets as Offley were bundled out for 51, the last five wickets tumbling for just 6 runs.

Lunney edged a catch to the keeper and departed for 7 to give Malik his fourth wicket of the day. Wardley was undone by Perry’s spin and chipped a catch to a fielder to go for 3. Vanhoof managed a couple of runs before he holed out against Khan and suddenly Freeman and Austin found themselves together in the middle needing 123 to win. The previous week Austin had shared in an unbroken stand of 123 so there was hope. However, moments later Freeman and Austin not only found themselves together in the middle but also at the same end as Freeman’s kamikaze running between the wickets claimed another victim. The upshot was that Austin was run out by Freeman for the second time this season and for at least the third time in their history of batting together. The scoreboard read 47-8 and at this point Offley had lost four wickets scoring 2 runs.

A late flurry dragged the score past 50. However, with Freeman keen to come back for a second run and Ward apparently showing less enthusiasm for the run, the innings ended with another run out. Freeman, typically, made his way to safety, leaving Ward run out without scoring, thereby giving him his second duck of the weekend and enabling him to open up a 6-5 lead over Wardley in the race for this year’s duck title.

Possibly there have been worse displays in the 12-year history of Offley & Stopsley Cricket Club, yet in all probability there have not. Freeman claimed it was the worst day in his cricketing career and considering his brace of run outs and lack of wickets it was hard to argue with that assessment. However, on a day when Offley sent 21 batsmen to the crease and a mere three reached double figures, it would be harsh to pin all the blame for the disaster on Freeman’s round shoulders.

In all honesty this was a disaster from start to finish, a patchy fielding display followed up by a shambolic performance with the bat, as the batsmen combined to score just 39 runs, extras fortuitously weighing in with a dozen. Plucky Lilley were given their first win of the season and also provided with an excuse to update their website for the first time in over a month and doubtless there were plenty of pints suck in the Lilley Arms, even though their victory was doubtlessly tarnished by Barker’s absence, an absence that perhaps gave the triumph a slightly hollow ring; perhaps not.

As for Offley, there’s always next week and a chance to bounce back to winning ways at Icknield at Houghton Town. Why can I already feel another headache coming on...