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Offley made it three wins in a row to consolidate their position in the top six in Division 9 of the Saracens League. Darren Lunney hit an unbeaten 57 and shared key stands of 46 and 35 with Wayne Cutts and Marc Ward respectively to help Offley recover from 109-6. Richie Barker and Dave Bridgland shared eight wickets as North Enfield crumpled in the dust of a turning wicket.
The game did not start well for Bridgland’s team with the closure of the M25 leading to a fairly unpleasant diversion around the highways and byways of Hertfordshire. When the game did get under way, Offley elected to bat first and Barker and Steve Bexfield shared an opening stand of 34 before Barker brilliantly picked out the only fielder on the legside and departed for 22.
Steve Hoar lasted precisely two balls before having his off stump uprooted by an in-swinging yorker from White. Bexfield and Colin Keeley shored up the innings with a 40-run stand. Keeley took the initiative in the partnership and unfurled some tremendous shots as he carried the attack to the bowlers. He struck five boundaries in his innings and looked set to go on to a big score before he was bowled for 34. Bexfield departed immediately prior to the drinks break when he failed to connect with a straight ball and lost his off stump. Moments later Offley were reduced to 88-5 when Chris Latino perished after playing on following a rather limp-wristed pull shot. The prospects looked bleak for Offley when Bridgland became the latest batsman to lose his off stump, after a ball kept low and skidded through his defences to make it 109-6.
At this juncture it seemed that a score of 150 was the extent of Offley’s ambitions. However, Lunney dug in and Cutts provided a surprisingly effective ally. With Lunney tear-arsing between the wickets like a whippet with an arse full of dynamite and Cutts lumbering up and down the pitch like a heavily pregnant hippo, the pair kicked the scoreboard into life. They ran two threes in a single over, an exertion that seemed destined to kill Cutts or at least give him a serious seizure. Deigning to run his bat in to give the fielders a sporting chance of hitting the stumps (admittedly there was not a lot of point in running his bat in as he was invariably three yards short of his ground when the throw arrived), Cutts moved to 11 with some ease before being bowled off his pads attempting his trademark palsied paddle shot.
Gary Law came and went in quick time but from 156-8, Lunney and Ward lifted Offley to 191 at the close. Ward unfurled a glorious drive through the covers for 4 and Lunney went to his own well-deserved 50 as he maintained his hot start to the season with the bat, striking eight boundaries and driving the fielders to distraction with his running between the wickets.
North Enfield needed a good start to seriously threaten the Offley target and they looked to be well on their way when Matthew Freeman declared himself to be suffering from an apparent bout of indigestion following an unwisely hefty tea. Skipper Bridgland asked his strike bowler which end he would like to open the bowling from. A model bowler would have cheerfully answered, “Either.” Freeman went a letter better and settled for, “Neither.” Upon being assigned the far end – despite his insistence that he would only be bowling medium pacers while he worked off his battle with the buffet – Freeman revealed that he would not be able to bowl due to an imperceptibly small ditch on the return crease. This led to Freeman’s exile to the outfield for the rest of the afternoon and saw Ward and Keeley share the new ball.
The batsmen went for their shots from the start and Ward was initially expensive as he sprayed the ball about. Freeman had an early chance to make amends in the field when White smashed the ball at him at an eminently catchable height at mid off, his long-stated specialist position. Unfortunately, for reasons best known to himself, Freeman declined to try and catch the ball with his hands, opting instead to try and corral the ball with his calf muscle. The ball collided with the sound of a rotten cantaloupe colliding with concrete. The scenes that followed were eerily reminiscent of the opening shots of Saving Private Ryan as Freeman writhed about in agony while wailing like Bambi on discovering that his mum wouldn’t be coming back from her trip to the forest.
Despite his early failure to take a wicket Ward rediscovered his nerve to find the edge of White’s bat and Law took an excellent catch to dismiss the opener, diving full length to his right to snare the chance. Ward gave way to Barker and the spinner struck with his second ball, inducing an edge that Bridgland pouched at slip with an impressive diving catch. The writing was on the wall when Barker followed up that success by trapping Earney palpably lbw on the back foot to leave the hosts rocking on 39-3.
Bridgland took a marvellous low catch off Keeley to account for McMurdie and McHugh was hopelessly early with his agricultural mow at Barker as the collapse continued, North Enfield firmly in the mire at 41-5.
Freeman finally got involved in the action in a positive way when he moved sharply to get under a lofted drive off Bridgland and held on to a fine catch. North Enfield subsided to 56-7 when Barker fell forward at slip with all the grace of a toppling redwood to scoop up a low catch off Bridgland. At this point the hosts had lost 5 wickets for 17 runs and the end seemed inevitable.
However, Holmes came in and swung away from the start, launching Barker for three sixes in four balls and racing to an impressive 30 before the bowler had his revenge with a quicker ball that didn’t turn. Barker completed his five-wicket haul when Cutts judged a towering leading edge perfectly and Bridgland applied the coup de grace by turning one past Malleson’s tentative forward prod to give Offley the victory.
The victory consolidated Offley’s position among the chasing pack at the top of the table and set the team up for a brutal three-game stretch against the division’s top three teams, Bayford & Hertford, Old Camdenians and Harpenden Dolphins.
Things, as they say, are bout to get interesting.