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Offley, 191-6, Vs Lilley, 190-5 ; 18th April

OSCC Won by 4 wickets

Offley opened the season in style as they took a 1-0 lead in the battle for the prestigious Mansfield-Towndrow Trophy. Tom Reilly scored an unbeaten century to guide Offley to victory, sharing in an unbroken partnership of 83 with a new slim-line Chris Austin to thwart the visitors.

There were so many new faces in the Lilley team that introductions were required before the start of the game as recent signings met for the first time and exchanged handshakes. Cynical onlookers from the pavilion wondered if the Lilley team were in more need of name tags than bats, as they milled around aimlessly like strangers at a business convention rather than old comrades.

Lilley won the toss and after lengthy deliberation skipper James Ashby decided to bat. Kenny Hammond’s former wingman wrestled with the decision for some time before electing to tale first strike on a dry, firm surface. Ashby’s decision was doubtless influenced by his reluctance to take on wily Wayne Cutts on a turning surface later in the day.

Darrell Cooper and Nathan Brodie opened the attack for Offley and sent down five overs each without any reward. Brodie bowled with impressive venom before appearing to tire in the April sunshine and conceding three boundaries in an over. Reilly was called upon to stem the Lilley onslaught and struck with his first ball, trapping Brad Tomkins lbw. Richie Barker wasted little time in conceding the first six of the season – the second was not long in arriving either – before he almost bagged his first wicket. However, Symon Wardley was able to hold on to a diving catch at mid on to grant Dan Mills a reprieve. Marc Ward spilled a straightforward offering from Mills at square leg as he attempted to catch the ball with his thigh before Wardley made amends to give Reilly his second wicket when he held on to a mistimed drive from Dan McLaughlin at mid off.

Wayne Cutts was introduced into the attack and Mills and Hanley piled into him with relish, hammering his opening over to all parts. Cutts did his best to keep his nerve and eventually emerged with pride intact after conceding 29 runs from his three overs and having just one delivery launched into the car park; fortunately it bounced back off the side of a van with no damage done, apart from inducing a mild coronary in the chest of watching pitch curator Steve Bexfield.

At this point things might have gone badly for Offley but Ward and Mo Chaudry stemmed the tide with some impressive bowling in the final 10 overs of the innings. Ward took 2-22 from six overs despite a plethora of no balls and wides while Chaudry conceded 14 runs from his four-over burst. Chaudry accounted for Mills one short of his half-century and Ward removed the dangerous Hanley and Goddard to ensure that a late onslaught failed to materialise as the boundaries dried up and Lilley closed on 190-5 from their allotted 40 overs when they might have regarded 200 as a minimum.

Chaudry and Darren Lunney opened the Offley reply but unfortunately a promising opening stand of 5 was cut short by the fifth ball of the innings when Ashby trapped Chaudry in front on the back pad. Midway through the second over matters deteriorated further with the scoreboard reading 9-2. 2009’s Duckwatch Champion, Wardley, opened his account for the new season by declining to play a shot at a straight ball that proceeded to clatter into middle stump. It was Wardley’s eighth duck in 29 innings for Offley and even allowing for some of the bizarre dismissals that have gone before, it’s fair to say that leaving a straight ball destined for middle stump was one of his more spectacular dismissals.

Barker and Lunney repaired the damage with a stand of 47. Both batsmen looked in decent touch with Lunney looking to kick on from his impressive 2009 performances and Barker ready to take the attack to the opposition who apparently regard him as ‘the big bloke who struts around like he owns the place’. Barker became the first Offley batsman to score 10,000 runs for the club before things began to go pear-shaped for the hosts.

Leg spinner Dave Carman was introduced into the attack and the man dubbed Captain Pie by Matthew Freeman soon wreaked havoc. Lunney was the first to go as he shuffled on the crease and played a non-descript shot worthy of ‘Old Lunney’ and was bowled off his pad. Reilly and Barker added 31 with few alarms before wickets began to tumble in rapid succession as Captain Pie trapped the Offley captain lbw sweeping. Three balls later Captain Pie struck again as he comprehensively bowled Brodie. The batsman headed back to the pavilion after failing in his attempt to run a straight ball to third man. Carman’s carnage was complete a few moments later when he bowled Colin Williams behind his legs after the batsman attempted a swipe that bore closer resemblance to a pirouette rather than a genuine cricket shot.

Offley were on the ropes at 108-6 as Austin – a man’s who typical response to a crisis is often to get run out by Freeman – walked out to join Reilly. Austin, resplendent in shiny new spikes, strode out with the determined air of a man who will accept nothing less than balancing the books and grinding out the six runs necessary to compensate for the six byes he allowed.

Slowly but surely Offley began to claw their way back into the game as the visitors began to pay the price for packing their team with batsmen. At this moment Ashby would have sold his soul for another spinner – perhaps a Paddington or a Perry. Instead he turned to two of his veteran trundlers – Collinson and Kendall – and Reilly responded like a small child on Christmas morning, tearing into their assorted gifts with gleeful relish as he smashed them to all parts. Collinson’s two-over burst yielded 27 runs and even Austin became carried away with proceedings as he chipped the ball into space to break the shackles of singledom and scamper a two.

Austin and Reilly posted the 50 stand and brought the target to within 30 when Reilly miscued towards mid on after Ashby rolled the dice by bringing himself back into the attack for a final assault. Carman, the man who had bowled so brilliantly to bolster Offley’s hopes of victory, found himself with the chance to the seal his hero’s status. However, his magical day was over as he failed to pick the ball up in the gloaming and the chance went begging as the ball evaded his desperate lunge on its way to the boundary.

At that moment Lilley’s heads went down – in the well-rehearsed manner of the members of the harem that once callously excommunicated the great Hammond – and Reilly took full toll of the tiring fielders as he raced through the 80s and 90s before bringing up his sixth century for the club with his 20th boundary of the afternoon. Moments later it was all over as Offley clinched a four-wicket victory. Reilly finished unbeaten on 102 and Austin broke even for the day with 6 not out.

The result leaves Offley with one hand on the Mansfield-Towndrow Trophy (admittedly a situation they have found themselves in before) ahead of the second instalment of the series on June 6. With Ashby poised to consult the Yellow Pages in a bid to bolster his attack ahead of the second match of the series and Barker also ready to make changes to a winning side, it promises to be a hard-fought encounter. Yet for the moment all that matters is that Offley lead 1-0 after their victory in the early season sunshine.