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Offley & Stopsley CC II's 145-10 Vs Codicote 148-2 ; 6th Sept

OSCC II's Lost by 8 Wkts

Offley’s second string – a bold blend of youth, experience…and people with cars - put in a plucky performance in their final fixture of the season but finally came up short against a solid Codicote side.

Captain Darrell Cooper won the toss and elected to bat first, reasoning that while his side didn’t look to have many batters it had even fewer bowlers. The skipper led from the front, opening in tandem with regular first-team ‘keeper Chris Austin, who was relishing the opportunity to dig in for a long stay at the crease. Despite unveiling a powerful early drive over mid-on (subsequent suggestions that it was more akin to a hoick were vehemently refuted), Cooper’s plan for his experienced opening pair to give the innings a solid start hit a slight drawback in the second over when he edged a good ball from Codicote’s young opening bowler Beaks and was caught behind for 2. The skipper’s departure brought the wise old head of Wayne Cutts to the crease, but he was only able to pinch a brace of singles before horribly mistiming a drive and spooning a straightforward return catch to the elder Chandler. The first of Offley’s young lions, Lewis Crosby, was next in, and he hung around for a while before swinging wildly at a straight full toss from Chandler and seeing his stumps splattered in all directions. With Austin solid but as yet unproductive at the other end, Offley were already tottering at 13-3.

The innings received some much-needed impetus, however, with the arrival of Offley’s own Jamie Oliver, Paul Hum. He took advantage of a double bowling change, hammering a number of impressive boundaries, before chasing a very wide ball from the younger Chandler and unluckily picking out Matherson at point when well set on 23. Jack Willis joined an increasingly comfortable Chris Austin in the middle, and they continued to accumulate runs. Austin in particular appeared to have finally realised what attacking batting meant, tucking into a number of short, wide deliveries and striking boundaries that few, least of all him, would have ever thought possible.

Codicote skipper Gillard brought himself into the attack, delivering a first-ball bouncer that sailed high over the ducking Austin and brought purrs of delight from umpire Cooper, who after years of unrewarded toil on the unforgiving Offley track was relishing the opportunity to bowl on a pitch with a bit more life in it. Gillard served up a wayward spell but nevertheless picked up the wickets of Willis for a brave 10 and Simon Wardley for 4. Wardley’s demise brought another young hopeful, Josh Hook, to the crease, and he immediately showed he wasn’t out of place, getting off the mark with a sumptuous off-drive for four and following this by hooking Matherson for another boundary in the very next over. Austin, meanwhile, had taken a liking to the spin of Long, pouncing on anything short or over-pitched as he progressed serenely towards his highest-ever score in Offley colours. However, his innings was cruelly brought to an end on 49 as he attempted to nurdle a single round the corner (usually his best, and often only, attacking shot) but succeeded only in getting a slight touch. Codicote’s stand-in ‘keeper did the rest, taking a smart catch down the leg-side. Austin remained remarkably philosophical despite falling so close to a long-awaited first-ever half-century, possibly grateful that the host of youngsters and parents on the boundary stopped him giving the air a very definite blue tinge.

Hayden Winters joined Hook, and the pair added a few more valuable runs before Winters became Chandler junior’s second victim of the afternoon. Thomas Coombes quickly became his third, taking up membership of the primary club as he missed a straight one and had his stumps rearranged. Following a frantic rush to put on his pads that might have seen him timed out by less charitable opposition, Phil Heals kept out the hat-trick ball but perished soon afterwards as Chandler junior found a way through his defences to finish with figures of 4-27, leaving Josh Hook stranded on a highly impressive 18 not out.

Offley's final total of 145 appeared eminently defendable, however, especially in the wake of the Codicote skipper’s claim at the toss that they ‘didn’t have much batting’, and Cooper strolled off to an excellent tea scenting his second victory of the season.

With what looked to be a solid score on the board, Cooper opted to give youth its head and opened the bowling with Coombes and Hook. Neither disgraced themselves, with Hook unlucky not to pick up an early wicket when Wardley spilled a reasonably straightforward chance at cover, but Codicote’s experienced opening pair of Gillard senior and Dance were quick to punish any loose deliveries and got the innings off to a rapid start. Cooper brought on Simon Wardley and himself in an effort to stem the scoring rate and exert a modicum of control. Wardley started well, generating some searing pace that saw ‘keeper Austin drop back from the stumps before snapping yet another finger, but failed to make the desired breakthrough. At the other end, Cooper sought to roll back the years as he pounded in to try and break the opening partnership. He saw a difficult chance go down in the deep before finally getting his man as Dance went for one lofted drive too many and picked out Lewis Crosby at deep mid-off, who pouched the chance with ease despite displaying a look of real panic as the ball descended towards him.

Jones joined the extremely assured looking Gillard at the crease, and they continued to score freely. Wardley was replaced by the leg-spin of Wayne Cutts, who was immediately dubbed the new Matty Freeman as he opened up with a wide that made Steve Harmison’s first ball in Australia look straight and then proceeded to unveil a litany of excuses and injuries, prompting Paul Hum to remind him that “Pain is temporary, class is permanent”. Well, even renowned positive thinker Hum couldn’t say “Bowling a treat!” after that ball. Cutts served up his usual mixture of filth and fizzing leg-breaks, and picked up Offley’s second wicket when Jones hooked a leg-side full toss to square-leg, where Hayden Winters plucked the ball out of the air, then appeared to realise several seconds later that he’d pulled off an astounding catch.

Hum and Winters were next into the attack, and they both asked questions of the batsmen, but Gillard and Biggs took full advantage of the tiring fielders and pushed inexorably towards their target, reaching it with another firmly hit boundary. Gillard finished on a chanceless 81 not out, ably supported by his fellow batsmen.

No season-ending victory, then, but nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable game played in excellent spirit under bright September sunshine – isn't that what cricket is all about.