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Offley & Stopsley 256-9 Vs Old Camdeniand 141-8 ; 6th June

Match Drawn

Offley & Stopsley snapped Old Camdenians’ five-game winning streak but were ultimately forced to settle for a draw after an occasionally fractious afternoon when the attitude of the Camdenians’ captain would have tested the patience of a saint and driven the strictest of teetotallers to drink.

Offley lost the toss and were asked to bat first. The opening batsmen found themselves surrounded by hordes of attacking fielders, evidently the work of some megalomaniac captain with delusions of Brearley-like grandeur or a Napoleon complex, depending on one’s point of view.

Steve Bexfield was the first to go, falling victim to a superb one-handed catch in the gulley by Metha. The batsman trudged off, evidently unable to believe his rotten luck and apparently torn between writing a letter of protest to his MP and throwing a rope over a stout beam and baying adieu to a cruel world.

Richie Barker launched one massive six out of the ground – causing a delay as the fielders hunted for the ball – before Offley’s answer to Chris Gayle played all round a straight one to preserve his run of failing to get to 30 when opening the innings in 9 straight attempts.

Mo Chaudry and Nathan Brodie took the score to 92 before Brodie miscued slightly and was well caught running back at mid on for 19. The game was in the balance when Chaudry tamely steered a simple catch to point for 43 before Chris Latino regained the initiative for Offley. Latino had not been in the best of form but he had evidently resolved to go down swinging as he flashed and slashed away, driving the bowlers to distraction as he repeatedly found the vacant third man boundary.

Latino eventually flashed once too often and was held at the wicket before Dave Bridgland came and went in quick time, bowled attempting something horribly agricultural, to leave Offley in some difficulty on 175-6.

Colin Keeley and Darren Lunney kick-started the innings with some innovative running between the wickets and a succession of lusty blows. Keeley smeared a couple of sixes and also unfurled a cover drive which was the closest thing to a pure, unadulterated cricket stroke that he has ever played in his long career. He finally perished attempting one swipe too many. Lunney also died for the cause, top-edging a pull to fine leg moments after he had celebrated reaching his 50 by raising his bat and calling on his teammates to cheer. Unfortunately he had miscounted and promptly holed out for 49. Marc Ward was the ninth to go, stumped by a comfortable margin, before Wayne Cutts and Matthew Freeman swung away during an unbroken frolic of a tenth wicket stand. The pair put on an unbeaten 27, Freeman finishing on 20 not out after hammering the final two balls of the innings for 6 and 4, to lift Offley up to 256-9 and leave Old Camdenians’ vaunted batting line-up with a mountain to climb in their bid to make it six straight wins.

There was some controversy before Camdenians began their innings when the home captain announced that Neil Bigmore would not be allowed to stand. The skipper, a man who would have been at home propping up the bar with the likes of Al Capone, Pohl Pot and that c*nt Howard from the Halifax adverts (although doubtless always making sure he never had to buy a round) insisted that his players would handle the umpiring duties. This did not go down well with Bridgland’s men and created what could politely be termed an atmosphere.

Offley’s players stormed out of the blocks with a point to prove and swiftly reduced the hosts to 29-3. Barker made the initial breakthrough when he bowled Katan via the inside edge. Bridgland sent Johan on his way when the batsman was hopelessly deceived by the half track long hop and could only smear it straight to backward square leg where Chaudry took the catch. Katkoria survived a regulation chance to Latino behind the stumps and was granted another life when Ward dropped a viciously floating sitter. However, he finally fell for 12 when he miscued a drive off Barker and Keeley made no mistake at mid off.

The spinners gave way to the seamers and the batsmen opted to dig in, abandoning any dream of victory in preference for survival. Correll showed every inclination to die wondering and absolute no desire to perish to a stroke, resolutely digging trenches and clinging on for dear life before Freeman produced an absolute snorter with his opening delivery that the batsman could only fend to Chaudry in the gully. It was arguably the finest ball of Freeman’s career and illustrated just how effective he can be.

Freeman and Brodie now indulged in a barrage of short-pitched bowling, going for the batsmen and looking to drive them back. However, Metha and Doshi resisted for a long time before Doshi launched a wild slash at Freeman and edged the ball towards the packed slip cordon. It looked to have the power and pace to carry for a flat six over third man but Barker, either involuntarily stepping on a land mine or temporarily possessed by the spirit of a golden eagle, launched himself to his right to parry the edge and then caught the rebound to make it 88-5. Freeman bounced out another victim when he induced a top edge and Bexfield steadied himself at square leg before taking the catch to make it 98-6.

That brought the skipper to the crease and he was soon involved with a frank exchange of views with Brodie and Freeman, trading verbal insults with the former and wielding his bat at the latter. Judging a suicidal single to perfection, the skipper ran out Metha for a fine 37, courtesy of a brilliant pick up and throw by Chaudry and some cool thinking from Lunney.

The hosts were down to their final pair when Bridgland persuaded his opposite number to aim a brainless swipe (actually in the light of his behaviour over the umpiring, a brainless swipe shouldn’t really have surprised anybody) that flew straight to Brodie. However, the final pair clung on for the remaining three overs to secure a draw.

Offley finished with 18 points, their opponents with just 6. The result cemented Offley’s hold on fourth place and saw Old Camdenians drop to second, a point behind new leaders Harpenden Dolphins – Offley’s opponents on Saturday.

Offley have won a lot of games during their four seasons in the Saracens League (37 victories compared to a mere four losses) but Saturday represented arguably their finest performance. On a day when no one reached 50, Bridgland’s team nevertheless managed to rack up 256-9 against the league leaders. They then turned in a fine bowling and fielding display to come within a fag paper of bowling out a team that had not previously lost more than 5 wickets in an innings and had lost just 14 wickets in five previous games. Offley won’t want to play Camdenians every week – more specifically they won’t want to see their nemesis again – but if they can harness the same intensity for the remainder of the season, there will be few teams capable of standing against them.

Incidentally, did anyone see Richie’s catch.....