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Offley & Stopsley, 126 all out, Vs County Hall, 127-8 ; 1st May

OSCC Lost by two wickets

Offley briefly flirted with sweet Victory – at one point holding the goddess close and sharing an illicit kiss – before ending up in the bitter embrace of her ugly sister, Defeat.

Despite opening their Saracens League campaign with a loss, Offley produced a determined team performance, pushing their opponents all the way despite looking well beaten on several occasions.

Josh Hook pulled off a pair of impressive catches, Dhrupal Patel registered his highest score for the club and Colin Keeley demonstrated once again that you cannot lose what you never had, as the ageing trundler lumbered into the crease to deliver an excellent 11-over spell that gave Offley hope of defying the odds.

Offley lost the toss and were asked to bat first, promptly slumping to 15-3. Richie Barker fell to a very good catch in the gully, a dismissal that prompted Nathan Brodie to inform him, “We’re not in Division 13, mate.” Dave Bridgland was sent on his way after Umpire Austin raised his finger in his customary sheepish manner to uphold a polite lbw request before Brodie slashed to gully where he was brilliantly caught, a dismissal that confirmed his suspicion that we’re not in Division 13....

Darren Lunney and Mo Chaudry did their best to repair the damage on a sluggish pitch which made stroke play all but impossible. After the vast improvements of last season, Old Lunney made an unwelcome return to the crease, flailing away outside off stump and generally looking all at sea as limped to 19 off 92 balls. Chaudry played with more poise and batted well to make 29 before falling to an excellent catch at mid off to make it 51-4.

Patel joined Lunney and wasted little time in taking the attack to the bowlers as he looked to flick the ball away in his customary wristy manner. For the first time in the contest run-scoring looked possible as Patel made it look easy on a treacherous surface as he plundered five fours and a six. Lunney departed, offering a tame catch to backward point, before Symon Wardley produced a five-run cameo before chipping a return catch to the bowler to make it 116-6.

Moments later Patel (43 runs on the leg side, a single on the off) paid the price for abandoning his favoured leg side and was out trying to steer the ball through the off side. Predictably Offley’s last three wickets fell in rapid time. Hook played one superb pull shot, reminiscent of Gordon Greenidge as he rose on one leg, before being caught behind. Keeley tried and died for the cause as he looked to clear long on. At the moment of impact the ball seemed certain to soar over the boundary like an eagle, only to wither and die on the wing like an asthmatic turkey before falling into the fielder’s hands two feet from the rope. The innings ended when Marc Ward attempted to play several shots – all of them particularly crap – to his first ball and was bowled as Offley were dismissed for 126.

County Hall made it clear that they were not going to hang around as Jones swung and missed at Keeley’s second ball, launched a booming shot over mid on and then fell lbw in palpable fashion as he was trapped on the crease. Keeley, thudding into the crease like Boxer on his way to the glue factory, picked up a second wicket to remove Sharp before Ward took centre stage.

Having previously fallen to a rotten shot, Ward now turned the tables by picking up two wickets with abysmal deliveries. Langton, who had previously slashed three boundaries between slip and gully, rocked back to pull a short ball but instead of depositing it somewhere over the trees could only top edge it towards square leg. Hook, running back and judging the flight and distance to perfection, made a very difficult opportunity look remarkably simple, pouching it from over his shoulder with a casual assurance that belied his 14 years. Moments later another dreadful ball ended up in a fielder’s hands as Wardley made good ground to the ball at mid off and timed his jump to perfection to haul in the catch to reduce County Hall to 34-4 and give Offley a clear advantage.

Moments later it might have been 34-5 as Mitchell sliced a drive off Keeley towards Brodie at cover but the fielder, hampered by a damaged groin that will rule him out for at least a week after he damaged it in the interclub match attempting a quick single to predatory Wayne Cutts, was unable to move as the ball flashed past him. Mitchell and Melisi duly shared a 38-run stand that put the visitors on top before Chaudry dug into his box of all sorts and produced a beautiful delivery to bowl Melisi. Moments later he should have had a second wicket but the limping Brodie failed to hold on at slip. At the other end Keeley gave way, his elbow swollen like a melon, and Barker produced an over that threatened to beat Mitchell in the flight several times. Unfortunately it didn’t beat him in the flight once and yielded 18 runs to apparently end the game as a contest and drinks were taken with the visitors in control on 100-5.

To the surprise of some, not least the bowler, Barker was given an over and the bowler responded by producing a ripper of a delivery. Mitchell, unsure as to whether to hit the ball for four or six, only succeeded in guiding it to Lunney at cover. Two balls later the game was back in the balance as Barker removed Maslanka for a duck as Chaudry made no mistake.

Offley were rampant and the game would have been theirs had Lunney held on to a return offering from Marsh. However, the Man who Dropped the Catch that Nearly Lost the League now found himself cast as the Man who Dropped the Catch that Lost the Match, as the ball cannoned off his chest. Lunney served up a couple of loose deliveries that looked to have decided the outcome before Barker provided another twist when he removed Brown at backward square as the batsman top-edged a sweep and Hook took another cool catch to make it 117-8.

Yet just when Offley looked ready to script another great escape, Marsh settled the contest with two swings of the bat off Patel. The first cleared the ropes at square leg before the second sped away over the lush outfield behind square to provide the final act in an enthralling contest.

Despite the defeat Offley were able to take plenty of positives from a fine all-round performance where they once again displayed their ability to defend a low total. Whether another fit seam bowler or an additional dozen runs would have made a difference is a moot point. Ultimately Offley played the hand they were dealt as well as could have been expected and did enough to suggest that while another promotion may not be on the cards, a relegation battle may not feature too highly on the agenda either.

In any event, opening day losses are nothing new in the Saracens League and Offley are already five points ahead of the game compared to this time last season. At this rate we should have the league wrapped up by the end of August....