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Offley & Stopsley CC 129-5 Vs Harpenden Dolphins 128 all out ; 13th June

OSCC Won by 5 Wkts

Mark Tattersall, the self-titled Offley Punisher, cracked an unbeaten 50 and Darren Lunney, the self-proclaimed Decorator, bagged five wickets as Offley moved into second place in the Saracens League with victory over top of the table Harpenden Dolphins.

Dave Bridgland won the toss and elected to field first. Harpenden’s opening batsmen laboured in the early stages as they struggled to come to grips with Matthew Freeman and Nathan Brodie. Stand-in stumper Chris Latino fluffed an early chance off Brodie’s bowling but the reprieved batsman, James, remained marooned on single figures as he struggled to come to terms with the bounce.

The opening bowlers gave way after their initial five-over burst (one of them did so apparently on the understanding that he would be brought back for a crack at the tail because “that’s the deal when you open the bowling”) and were replaced by Tattersall and a rather ill Richie Barker. Barker made the initial breakthrough when he coaxed James down the wicket and beat him in the flight, allowing Latino to complete a smart stumping. The Dolphins began to flounder like fish in a net as they slipped from 36-0 to 43-4. Barker removed the Rayner brothers in the space of four balls, beating one with a dipping delivery and holding on to an excellent return catch to dismiss the other before Tattersall castled Mathur.

Harpenden then enjoyed their best partnership of the day as Bonney (an escapee from a Right Said Fred tribute band) and the massive Gregory (an escapee from the planet of the apes) added 75 for the fifth wicket. Gregory served notice of his intentions by launching a massive shot off Tattersall into the car park. The ball would have been heading for Stopsley if it had not collided with a rear windscreen.

The partnership was assuming critical proportions for Offley when Lunney – who had just been launched back over his head for six – made the crucial breakthrough by bowling Gregory for 45. He added two more wickets in the over as Roche obligingly turned one straight to Barker at square leg and Gull chipped a simple return catch to leave the visitors rocking on 118-7. Lambert hang around for a few moments but failed to get off the mark before smashing Lunney to Chaudry at cover (Chaudry made the catch despite being put off by the sight of Nathan Brodie cravenly diving out of the way at silly mid off) and the bowler completed his five-wicket haul by dismissing Lang. Bonney went for broke and took on Marc Ward but the youngster kept his nerve and removed the batsman with the aid of a good low catch at extra cover from Barker as the Dolphins lost their last six wickets for just 10 runs, subsiding to 128 all out.

Offley did not make much of a start. For reasons best known to himself, Steve Bexfield felt the urge to punch one straight to cover before he had scored. Barker went for 13 when he was adjudged lbw, leaving the crease with the firm conviction of a man who knows that if an off spinner can get the ball to pitch, turn and hold its line in the manner alleged by the umpire, then the off spinner in question ought to be playing for England. Brodie obligingly smashed one straight up in the air and Offley were in trouble at 32-3.

Chaudry and Lunney repaired the damage before Chaudry was undone by a ball that pitched and rolled under his bat, flicking the toe of the bat on its way to colliding with the base of the stumps, as Offley slipped to 55-4. However, Lunney was joined by Tattersall and the pair led Offley towards the finish line. The Punisher, so-called for the damage he inflicts upon pints and pies as well as bowling attacks, was in imperious form, striking seven boundaries as he finished unbeaten on 50. Lunney batted for 108 balls, scoring a priceless 20, before “Old Darren” put in an appearance and the batsman allowed himself to be bowled behind his pads, a split second after Bexfield had informed all and sundry in the pavilion that “Lunney hasn’t put a foot wrong all season.” Bridgland and Tattersall knocked off the remaining eight runs as Offley made it five wins out of six to move into second place in the table.

Their fate might not be in their own hands just yet – Offley trail Bayford and Hertford by seven points despite beating them already this season – but after facing all of their rivals in the top six, the stage is set for Offley to stamp their authority on the rest of the division. Which – as history has shown on more than one occasion – is usually the moment when things start to unravel for Offley & Stopsley CC. Next stop, Potters Bar.