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Offley & Stopsley 213-7 Vs Harrold 214-8 ; 13th June

Lost by by 2 wickets

Steve Bexfield scored 113, Matthew Freeman took 6-23 and Jon Cerasale defied his aching joints and creaking spine but Offley nonetheless contrived to lose to previously winless Harrold as they shelled six chances in a thrilling game in the Beds League.

It was an eventful journey into the depths of Bedfordshire, as Andrew Van Hoof marked his return to the team by running over Nathan Brodie in the car park of the Warden Tavern. At least Van Hoof was in the right place – Symon Wardley had decided to meet at the Halfway House. The long journey was enlivened by the sight of “Dogger” Freeman sitting alone in a secluded lay-by tucking into a tasty treat.

Richie Barker lost the toss for the eighth time in nine outings and Offley were asked to bat first. Barker and Bexfield found themselves facing the best bowler of the year as they came up against the swift, swinging Johnston who caused no shortage of problems. Bexfield tucked into some juicy offerings at the other end – his first five scoring shots all found the boundary – and when Barker finally got away from the danger end he promptly miscued to mid off for 5. This officially represented the last time he will open the innings after piling up 12 runs in four innings at the top of the order.

Brodie made a brisk 16 before being trapped plum in front of middle stump as he hacked dementedly across the line. Gary Chamberlain was the next to have a go and helped Bexfield add 58 runs for the third wicket, with both batsmen looking relatively untroubled but a little reluctant to step on the accelerator. Chamberlain hit a six in his patient 22 but departed when he got his legs tangled up and stumbled out of his ground and was stumped to leave Offley on 115-3.

Wardley provided a much-needed injection of pace as he slashed his way to 16 in typical fashion before slicing a catch to gully. Bexfield reached a well-made century, leaving behind his recent run of abject form, to score 113. Cerasale made merry as he cracked 21, including a fearful shot through extra cover, but both batsmen were out in quick succession as they attempted to penetrate the ozone layer without actually getting the ball off the square. The innings petered out in the last couple of overs – Marc Ward bagged his fourth duck of the campaign as he remained on record pace to set a new duck mark – and Offley closed on 213-7, a decent score but one that looked fractionally under par and was certainly not a guaranteed match-winning total.

However, Offley’s bowlers made a bright start as they claimed three wickets before a late tea was taken, the sandwiches originally having failed to turn up on time, a disaster that a distraught Freeman was inclined to regard as a greater tragedy than the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Urged on by the rumbling in his belly, Freeman struck an early blow when he trapped Monk lbw for 13. Ajmomi made just 2 before he guided Freeman to Damian Sale behind the stumps. Brodie served up a solitary over of unmitigated dross (a tasty blend of wides, pies and long hops) and misjudged a catch at cover before Barker snaffled a third wicket when he dived full length – or tripped over a blade of grass – to hold on to a return catch to remove York for 18. Woodhouse and Dixon batted out the overs until tea with Harrold going to the break on 51-3, needing 163 from 30 overs to clinch what seemed an unlikely victory.

That victory seemed rather less unlikely shortly after tea as Barker was pumped over his head and into an adjoining garden – this was the first of three such occurrences as the hosts stormed back into the game. Barker was hit out of the attack – although not before Freeman had deflected a tough chance for six via his chest with a Matrix-style manoeuvre – and Van Hoof delivered comfortably the worst over of the season (in fact arguably the worst over in club history by anyone not named Screech or Cutts) as he was carved to all parts.

With no option but to gamble, Barker broke the “in use of emergency only” seal and sent on Cerasale and Freeman. Cerasale, heroically flicking a finger at the pain of his calcified spine, produced a determined 10-over spell to haul Offley back into contention. At the other hand Freeman was immense – and not just in the, “Look at him! He’s immense! He must eat lots of pies and sweets!” type of way.

After Sale dropped a hard chance off Cerasale to remove Dixon, Freeman made the breakthrough by blasting through the batsman’s defences. Moments later he picked up another wicket when skipper Woodhouse chipped tamely to mid on and Van Hoof caught it on the end of his knob despite his best efforts to grass it. The visitors were five down and Offley were back in with a sniff.

In his next over Freeman claimed two more wickets, removing Harnan with the aid of a remarkable catch from Barker at first slip and then ripping through Johnston’s defensive prod. Freeman was on a roll – fat, fast, fiery and fantastic as he dragged his team back into contention.

Offley had a chance to snatch a stunning victory but Cerasale failed to hold on to a return catch from Woodhouse before making partial amends by picking up the eighth Harrold wicket. Freeman dropped a sitter that would have given him his seventh wicket (or narrowly avoided decapitation from a screaming drive – it all depends on one’s point of view) and Barker nearly lost both thumbs attempting to hold on to a vicious return catch.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough as Offley came up just short, slipping to a two-wicket defeat. The result left them two points adrift of Bedford in the Division 5 table with plenty to play for when the two teams meet at the end of the month.