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Offley & Stopsley CC 135 all out Vs Bedford 155 all out : 27th June

OSCC Lost by 20 runs

Kenny Willis, We Hardly Knew Ye

“I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he give three lbws or only two?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as I’m the umpire with the quickest trigger in the world and can send you back to the shed in a heartbeat, you’ve got to ask yourself one question. ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

On the day that England’s footballers crashed out of the World Cup, Offley’s cricketers saw their title hopes suffer a serious blow. Despite a fine effort by a depleted team missing the Iscariot Brothers (Brodie and Tattersall) and forced to make do without their hamstrung captain (torn calf actually) Offley slipped to a 20-run defeat.

On the day that Germany hammered four goals into the England net, Offley’s players were treated to the privilege of meeting the most obnoxious German since Hitler rolled into Warsaw, a teenage wicketkeeper named Heinrich; presumably he was named in honour of Himmler. Offley’s batsmen also fell foul of a hair-triggered official, a man who could have given John Wesley Hardin and Doc Holliday a run for their money in a race to see who had the fastest draw.

Steve Bexfield led a weakened team into battle and duly lost the toss, forcing Offley to field first on a scorching day where the mercury hit 31. As it turned out the mercury hit considerably more than most of Offley’s batsmen managed.

The hosts made a bright start. Matt Freeman stormed into bowl, bustling with his customary blend of enthusiasm, aggression and indigestion. He nearly had an early wicket but had to settle for not conceding a boundary when Damian Sale pulled off a fine parry with his chest in the gulley. Freeman had another edge fly through the slips and Marc Ward dropped a hard return chance.

However, the bowlers stuck to their task and Freeman made the breakthrough when he bowled Carr. Ward followed it up by trapping the thrice-reprieved Nagi lbw.

After that wickets fell at regular intervals but the boundaries also kept coming. The visitors cracked 17 fours and a pair of sixes, often chancing their arm and invariably getting away with it as Freeman failed to hold on to an eminently catchable chance, Sale grassed another and Paul Hum offered further compelling evidence to suggest that when it comes to fielding he simply cannot be Australian. Despite the misadventures in the field Offley still performed well. Dhrupal Patel was the start of the show, bagging 4-22 to help restrict the opposition to 155 all out.

The key issue now was whether Offley had sufficient firepower to chase down the target. The reply started brightly with Calypso Chris Austin producing a stunning uppercut and Bulldog Bexfield digging in.

A conference between the visiting captain and Umpire Lovely – both natives of the Rainbow Nation, that joyful land where England made their World Cup exit – led to swift results. One imagines it was the sort of conference that members of the Natal Mounted Police used to carry out when trying how best to coerce innocent chaps into making forced confessions.

Disaster struck with the score on 21 when Bexfield played forward and was hit high on the front pad. Much to his surprise he was sent on his way by Umpire Lovely who wasted little time in gunning down the Offley skipper.

Bexfield, as ever a paragon of virtue on the cricket field, did not stop for one second to reflect on the injustices of life or the fact that the ball would probably not have struck another set of stumps. He immediately turned on his heel and walked off.

All was silent as the wind blew across the ground, a gentle summer breeze that sounded suspiciously like an Afrikaans’ accented voice informing the batsman, “You’ll eat that fucking helmet, boy.”

It must have been a pigeon.

The situation deteriorated further when Austin was sent on his way by Umpire Lovely. To be fair to Umpire Lovely Austin did appear to be pretty plumb – the batsman more or less confirmed that suspicion by walking. Darren Lunney was bowled behind his legs and Patel was stumped in grotesque fashion, shambling down the wicket and missing a straight one.

To his credit Patel made sure he came so far down the track that there was no danger of Umpire Lovely being forced to make a difficult decision that would have favoured his team. Youngster Cameron Niven battled hard before being bowled and all of a sudden it was down to Freeman and Jolting Jon Cerasale to rescue Offley from the depths of 51-5.

Freeman survived a concerted, high-pitched appeal from young Heinrich before he had scored. The pimply youngster ran around appealing for the catch with the enthusiasm and fervour of a Hitler Youth member trying to curry favour with der Fuhrer. As the ball had obviously ballooned up off Freeman’s thigh pad, it wasn’t clear as to whether it was a genuine appeal or simply a concerted attempt to make his voice break by shouting. Fortunately Umpire Lovely was standing at square leg for that one so he wasn’t in a position to give it out.

After that early scare the pair batted superbly, Cerasale maintaining his excellent run of form and Freeman picking up the singles and lending dogged support. They had added 37 priceless runs when Cerasale mistimed a trademark off drive and fell for 38.

Sale and Freeman now took up the fight. Alas, the bold Sale was undone by a delivery that deflected on to his pad from the middle of his bat. Umpire Lovely was in no doubt and quickly raised his finger to indicate that Sale was out. The condemned man uttered his defiant last words. But what were they?

“You got me,” as John Dillinger famously said, croaking out his life?

“All my possessions for a moment of time,” as good Queen Bess said on her death bed? (Incidentally we could have done with her in Bloemfontein. The girl who thumped the poxy Dagoes would have had no trouble with a pack of German ploughmen.)

I know you are here to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man,” as Che Guevara apparently muttered at the last.

In fact Sale said nothing. Once again the only sound was that bloody pigeon chirping away with what sounded uncannily like, “You fucking cheating South African c*nt.”

Hum’s fine form ended abruptly as his stumps were detonated before he had scored but Ward and Freeman rallied to the last stand. Ward went for his shots and Freeman uncoiled a couple of mighty blasts. The visitors had no answer and even Umpire Lovely was unable to stem the flow of runs as Ward and Freeman made sure that they did not allow the ball to hit their pads.

Each run was greeted by a girlish gasp of panic from Heinrich behind the stumps and the seeds of doubt were taking root when Ward failed to clear cover as the run rate soared.

Last man Wayne Cutts walked to the middle. He was soon on the end of some pre-pubescent banter from behind the stumps but like the true Englishman he is (or at least wishes he was, eh Wayne?), Cutts quelled the German tyro to silence by threatening to insert his bat into a certain orifice.

Left to score 20 from the last over, the valiant Freeman went down swinging, edging a catch through to the keeper and unfortunately depositing it in his gloves rather than striking him fatally in the throat.

Umpire Lovely checked his finger and slid it back into his pocket, knowing he would need it another day, perhaps some day soon. Young Heinrich danced a jig of unfettered Teutonic glee, basking in the glow of victory and dreaming of big men in leather shorts.

For Offley there was nothing left to do but contemplate heroic defeat, reflect on Cecil Rhodes’ wise words that as Englishmen they had won first prize in the lottery of life and muse on the fact that while Fabio Capello’s mob were homeward bound, they still had a chance to put things right in a few weeks time.

As legendary thespian Russell Osman noted at halftime during Escape to Victory, “We can win this.”