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Offley & Stopsley CC 125-10 Vs Broxbourne III's 88-10 ; 15th Aug

OSCC Won by 37 runs

Jon Cerasale and Colin Keeley turned back the hands of time to produce a pair of sensational sundial-defying bowling performances to help Offley overcome Broxbourne and set up a crucial clash with Northampton Exiles next week.

After a dismal showing with the bat, Keeley and Cerasale lifted Offley to a dramatic victory over one of their promotion rivals as they shared eight wickets while spitting in the eye of Old Father Time.

Broxbourne won the toss and elected to bowl. Richie Barker declared himself to bat despite a bad back and was subsequently left with 52.5 overs to reflect on the wisdom of passing a fitness test after getting a leading edge to the opening ball of the match and chipping a simple catch to mid off.

Steve Bexfield and Mo Chaudry responded to the early reversal by digging in. Chaudry’s struggles continued as he scratched around for 36 balls before spooning a catch to the keeper and departing for 8. Nathan Brodie marched out, determined to increase the run rate and take the attack to the bowlers. Four balls later he was marching back after attempting a wildly extravagant drive and losing his off stump.

That brought the trench diggers extraordinaire together as Darren Lunney joined Bexfield for their latest attempt to recreate Rorke’s Drift. Bexfield was in dogged mood, refusing to strike a boundary in his 79-ball vigil. He eventually allowed ambition to get the best of him and perished attempting an attacking shot, succeeding only in picking out the lone fielder at deep square leg. Bexfield departed for 24 with the score on 53-4.

Jon Cerasale arrived and provided the innings with some much-needed impetus. Going for his shots from the outset, Cerasale dominated a 43-run stand with Lunney and put the bowlers under pressure for the first time in the match. The partnership ended when he failed to clear mid on with a typically expansive drive and departed for 36, leaving Offley in the mire once more at 96-5.

The situation deteriorated rapidly. Lunney’s 82-ball stay ended when he played a horrible agricultural swipe and was comprehensively bowled for 21. Symon Wardley set out to play his shots with typical relish and picked up a couple of singles before picking out the fielder at extra cover.

The stage was set for Keeley to play a watchful innings. However, the ageing warhorse decided that he would look to counterattack, unfurling a sumptuous boundary and striking the only six of the day before having his off stump knocked back by a ball that allegedly kept a little low. Offley found themselves rocking on 120-8 with skipper Dave Bridgland desperately searching for someone to stand by him.

Could Matthew Freeman answer the call? Freeman, so often rock solid in defence if haphazard between the wickets, did his best to knuckle down. Sadly he was betrayed by hands of stone as he failed to deal with a regulation delivery which may have stopped a little in the pitch and could only succeeded in gently pushing it back to the bowler to take the simplest of return catches. Marc Ward was charged with surviving the final three balls of the 47th over in order to get Bridgland back on strike. However, not for the first time this season he was betrayed by his lack of a defensive shot and was duly bowled for the twelfth time in 2009. Bridgland was left unbeaten on 11 as Offley were bundled out for 125, 15 runs short of even securing a batting bonus point.

Faced with no alternative but to go out and win the match or surrender any dreams of winning the title, Offley’s players strode out to the middle and attacked from the outset. With close fielders surrounding the bat on both sides, Freeman and Keeley opened the bowling. Freeman bowled well but was soon hampered by a side strain and was forced to give way to Cerasale.

However, wickets were already beginning to tumble as Keeley, stout of heart and stout of waist, charged in to the crease, vowing to swim through blood (actually he looked more as though he was wading through treacle) before he would cede the title to Offley’s rivals. Keeley struck first when he bowled Powell off an inside edge.

Cerasale reduced the visitors to 16-2 when he induced Perry to pop up a simple catch that Chaudry snaffled at silly point. Broxbourne were in all sorts of strife at 18-3 when Davies prodded tentatively forward and Bridgland took a marvellous reflex catch at short leg, diving one handed to his left to take the catch. Perry and Davies faced a combined total of 52 balls for their 7 runs.

Dickson and Robinson now looked to repair the damage and slowly dragged Broxbourne back into contention. Robinson looked to be the key as he played a number of sumptuous shots, flicking Cerasale effortlessly through midwicket and unfurling a couple of rasping drives off Keeley. Offley’s best chance looked to have gone when Robinson edged Cerasale to Lunney behind the stumps but the keeper failed to react quickly enough and the ball whistled through to the boundary.

Cerasale hit back in his next over, wrecking Dickson’s stumps as he blasted the ball through his flimsy defensive shot. Pearce led a charmed life as he batted eight balls for a single. He should have departed after his seventh delivery as he drove Keeley to mid on but the usually reliable Wardley failed to hold on to a juggling chance. However, Pearce failed to make the most of his reprieve and was out the very next ball when he chipped the simplest of chances to Chaudry at midwicket. Broxbourne were 53-5 and Offley were on fire.

Robinson opted to attack, taking on Keeley and smashing him for a pair of boundaries as Broxbourne reached the sanctuary of the drinks break with five wickets standing. A visibly tiring Keeley – to say nothing of a visibly stiffening one – demanded the ball for one last effort. It was not much of a delivery, it did not rear off the seam, or cut back off a length, or rip out middle stump with a venomous yorker. Instead it pitched halfway down the track and scuttled along the ground, defeating Robinson’s frantic attempt to chop down on the ball like a mad axeman and colliding gently with the middle stump with sufficient force to disturb the bails; 70-6.

Preston and Melisi did not know whether to stick or twist. Preston occupied the crease for 53 deliveries, apparently unsure as to how best to negotiate a pitch which was not quite the minefield that the batsmen on both sides made it appear to be. Eventually he fell in typically tame fashion, propping forward and tentatively pushing a catch to Chaudry close in where the fielder took an excellent catch.

Keeley finally gave way to Barker and the slow bowler defied the pain of his bad back and the ignominy of his dismissal to probe away before Melisi perished in meek fashion, chipping a return catch which the bowler clung on to as he dived forward. Broxbourne were in tatters at 83-8, 43 runs short of victory.

Pegg briefly looked as though he might be the man to mastermind an unlikely victory but those hopes disappeared when he was bowled by Cerasale attempting a wild smear. One run later it was all over as Barker found sufficient turn to beat Stone’s flat-footed prod and bowled him all ends up, provoking a yell of triumph from the bowler. The dismissal sparked dramatic celebrations from Offley’s players as they clinched a stunning 37-run victory when few would have given them a price at tea.

Keeley and Cerasale deservedly claimed the plaudits on account of their fine bowling displays but it was a fine all-round team effort in the field, as Offley, inspired by their captain and 40-something pace attack, easily defended an apparently indefensible target.

As a result they travel to face Northampton Exiles next week in the knowledge that victory will send them top with two games to play. It’s fair to say that it’s all getting rather interesting.

Squeaky bum time, as they say.. . . . . . . .