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Mark Tattersall took advantage of a sporting wicket (dubbed the worst pitch in the world by one of Letchworth’s batsmen, an ironic allegation coming from a man who had just played probably the worst shot in the world) to shred the visiting batting line-up and return figures of 7-23 as Offley moved within touching distance of the promotion places.
Dave Bridgland won the toss and elected to field despite the fact that Offley only had seven players on hand. Although Tattersall, Qumar and youngster Jack Willis arrived in time, new Sri Lankan signing Hasith Perera failed to show up, leaving Offley to solider on with nine men and Darren Lunney’s impersonation of a moving fossil for the duration of the match. As events proved half the side could probably have taken the afternoon off and still Offley would have won at a canter.
The visitors had won both their opening games but Offley found themselves up against a unit that was less a finely tuned machine than the sunshine bus with a puncture. After strike bowler Matthew Freeman failed to make the breakthrough in a tight six-over spell, he handed the ball to Tattersall, informing him that he would now be expected to do a job as the team’s containing bowler.
Qumar replaced the miserly Marc Ward and quickly made the initial breakthrough when he had Fernando caught at mid off by Chris Latino. It marked the end of an innings that had seemed liable to end at any moment – it was not so much a case of can you hear the drums, Fernando, as can you hit the ball Fernando. In the end he could, but he didn’t hit it very far and Latino held on to an easy catch.
Tattersall claimed his first wicket when he induced Hughes to chop a short wide one (perhaps it’s time that Tattersall named his deliveries after himself) on to the stumps. Tattersall picked up two more wickets and Qumar claimed another scalp to reduce the visitors to 43-5 before the Offley Recreation Ground was treated to a stunning sight.
Tattersall had already claimed an impressive return catch, chugging towards the ball and flopping around like e beached whale to swallow the chance, but now Qumar took centre stage.
It has been alleged that Qumar has the worst hands of any decent cricketer in the history of Offley & Stopsley Cricket Club. For a man who clearly does not belong in the same prize vegetable patch as the likes of Boatwright, R. and Cunningham M., Qumar has certainly made an unfortunate habit of spilling chances that could charitably be described as routine or regulation.
However, cometh the hour and cometh a thunder bolt of a drive fizzing off McEvitt’s back, cometh the Qumar. For a brief moment Qumar seemed to risk decapitation as the ball was smashed back towards him, hurtling down the track like an asthmatic sparrow hauling a medicine ball. For a brief second Qumar’s life would have flashed before his eyes – and how many dropped catches would he have seen during that flashback – before he steadied himself and grasped the catch in a manner that would have made Jonty Rhodes proud.
After that the innings disintegrated in the face of Tattersall’s fine bowling. There’s no doubt that Tattersall has faced tougher opponents – at one point it seemed as if he might as well help himself to a fag and a pint during his approach to the crease rather than waiting to get to the bar – but as someone said you can only deal with what’s in front of you and if someone drops a load of shit on your doorstep you have to clean it up yourself. Tattersall duly ripped through the tail, picking up the remaining four wickets including that of Shire who contrived to ladle (it wasn’t even good enough to be classed as a spoon) a simple catch to the immobile Lunney at gulley. The innings was wrapped up after 31 overs for just 69 runs.
The only issue of note was whether or not Offley would be able to settle the game before the tea break. Richie Barker and Chris Austin opened the innings and although Austin seemed reluctant to push for quick singles – thereby leaving Barker, laughably, as the dynamic force in the running between the wickets stakes – the pair added 38 in quick time. Barker survived a confident appeal for a catch behind (presumably because the keeper really fancied himself even though he had precious little cause to do so and was celebrating the fact that he had managed to take the ball cleanly) before he had his off stump knocked back attempting something that might have been a cut but probably wasn’t.
Latino walked out to join Austin and dug in for four balls before he played a tentative forward defensive prod. Unfortunately the ball beat the bat and thudded into the stumps leaving Latino to make the long walk back to the pavilion.
Any hopes Letchworth had of making a game of it disappeared in a flurry of byes and slashes from Austin who displayed a hitherto undiscovered desire to lay about him with his bat, routinely slicing the ball away to the third man boundary as Offley cantered to victory.
The result moved Offley into the promotion race with their second win in successive weeks. Tougher games lie ahead – Lady Zia Werner’s Second XI are up soon – but for the moment Offley’s players were able to relax in the novelty of a 5:00pm finish and enjoy a succession of penalty shootouts that proved that when it comes to excuses, Matthew “Wrong Shoes” Freeman is in a league of his own.
But then we already knew that....