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Offley & Stopsley 159-8 Vs Holtwhites Trinibis 152 all out; 7th May
OSCC Won by 7 runs
On a day when the wind cut like a knife and saw Offley holding out for a hero as they teetered on the brink of losing consecutive games in the Saracens League for the first time ever, Offley’s leading diva scripted an performance to inspire a fine all-round team performance and snatch an unlikely victory.
Richie Barker scored runs, took wickets and finally, with the game on the line in the final over, produced the catch to seal a victory that had scarcely seemed possible 90 minutes earlier.
Dave Bridgland won the toss and elected to bat first on a greenish yet firm pitch, a move that looked somewhat questionable as Offley slumped to 25-2 within half an hour. Bridgland and Chris Austin opened the innings and the captain played a couple of cracking drives before he was undone by a ball that held in the surface and he chipped a simple return catch to Butt. Mo Chaudry lasted long enough to make a single before he was brilliantly caught at slip off the bowling of his namesake.
Austin and Barker joined forces and slowly but steadily began to dig Offley out of a hole. This approach involved plenty of leaves and forward defensives, to say nothing of the odd nurdle and even the occasional attacking shot as both batsmen made survival the order of the day.
Austin, playing with rare authority, looked in fine touch as he worked the ball into the gaps and even scored runs in areas that had never previously featured in his repertoire – namely in front of the wicket. The stand was worth 55 when Austin finally fell after dragging on an in-swinger for 29.
Darren Lunney replaced Austin and got off the mark with a crunching square cut. He added another boundary before disaster struck. Moments earlier Barker had advised that no runs should be countenanced to “the bloke in the yellow and black jumper.” Lunney now hit the ball straight to “the bloke in the yellow and black jumper” and set off down the wicket bawling for a single that wasn’t really there. Sent back, he was comfortably run out as the “the bloke in the yellow and black jumper” fielded the ball cleanly and sent the return in over the stumps to leave Lunney well short of his ground.
At 96-4 Offley looked in danger of imploding. However, Symon Wardley now played one of the best innings of his life for Offley and regardless of what happened later in the evening, it was Wardley’s knock that helped to turn the tide and put Offley in a position where they had a score to defend. Swinging away with his customary flair and showing his usual carefree approach to the prospect of losing his wicket, Wardley hammered five boundaries as he made a brisk 26 before he was bowled.
Offley’s hopes of reaching 170 were ended when Barker followed shortly afterwards for 39 when he edged to the keeper. Chris Latino batted with his usual determination before offering a return catch and Andrew Van Hoof was undone by a ball that he thought was there to cut but actually swung in to comprehensively bowl him as Offley lost four wickets for eight runs to slump to 141-8.
A symbol of the club’s future and the Ghost of the Christmas Past dragged Offley up to 159 as they shared an unbroken stand of 18 for the ninth wicket. Daniel Cadden played with textbook assurance to hold one end while Colin Keeley – whose shot selection suggested that if he had been studying a sporting textbook it had been entitled “How To Play Hurling” – blazed away. Keeley launched one fine shot over mid on to seal possible bonus points but then blotted his copybook slightly by turning down a second run off the final ball of the innings because he had miscounted and thought there was still one over left. Offley closed on 159-8, leaving the hosts to see if they could significantly improve on their previous week’s effort of 47 all out.
Reid and Burgess opened the innings and although Reid smashed the first ball back over Keeley’s head for four, he looked to be on his way moments later when he picked out Wardley at mid off. However, the chance went begging as Wardley failed to hold on. Wardley appeared to injure himself in the process, damaging the same ankle he hurt at the same ground last season, which suggests that he should steer clear of Enfield in the future to avoid further mishap.
It soon became clear that this might be an expensive miss as the Caribbean Reid was soon laying about the bowlers with all the relish of a man who seemed to regard himself as the spiritual heir to former West Indian legends. Latino performed heroics at point as he saved at least a dozen runs with a series of acrobatic stops as Marc Ward probed a way on a length that was short and wide outside off stump. Burgess was also keen to get in on the act and effortlessly flicked a rank offering from Ward off the windscreen of a parked car. Keeley’s humour was tested when Van Hoof spilled a second chance from Reid, the sort of chance that Geoff Boycott’s mother could have caught in her apron. Keeley shrugged his shoulders philosophically and did his best to maintain his cheery exterior as the next ball sailed over long on for six. Bridgland produced a superb attempt at a one-handed catch that threatened to take his hand off at the wrist but stopped a certain boundary but it was clear this was not to be Keeley’s day.
Bridgland dispensed with the services of his seam attack and went for spin at both ends, bringing on himself and Barker. The flow of runs began to dry up but the openers were past the halfway mark with the score reading 80-0 when Bridgland delivered a juicy full toss that Burgess middle and swatted away towards the deep midwicket boundary. Unfortunately for the batsman he had middle it towards the longest boundary on the ground where Lunney was waiting for it and judged the catch to perfection. Bridgland struck again to remove Davies when the number three charged down the pitch and was stumped but at 105-2 with Reid going strongly the hosts looked firm favourites.
Barker struck. Reid, who had made a fine show of turning down singles and turning twos into ones in a bid to hog the strike, and had also treated the fielders to a running commentary to his innings, now got a thick edge to Austin as he shaped to cut. The Offley keeper took an excellent catch standing up and even though the batsman seemed ready to contest the odds despite nicking the cover off the ball, he was duly sent on his way and Offley, who 20 minutes earlier had regarded avoiding a 10-wicket defeat as the summit of their ambitions, now sensed the chance of a dramatic turnaround.
Whether anyone would have been prepared to stake large quantities of money on Van Hoof’s hands being part of the miracle is a moot point. However, he now made amends for his earlier drop by snaring a difficult chance to dismiss Khan and the hosts were wobbling on 109-4. Barker picked up his third wicket by bowling Mansoor behind his legs for a duck and when he induced Chaudary to chop on Holtwhites were in disarray on 119-6.
Kashmiri and Butt briefly threatened to put together a stand as they batted with composure. However, Kashmiri perished opting to hit over the top and Van Hoof took another good catch to make it 128-7. The Butt brothers joined forces and Bridgland was launched out of the ground for a mighty six that threatened to swing the game back in Holtwhites’ favour but shortly afterwards he gave Barker his sixth wicket when he managed to steer a chance to Lunney at cover to make it 138-8. Barker thought he should have had a seventh but the inscrutable Umpire Bigmore rejected a huge shout for lbw against Butt before the home umpire upheld Bridgland’s lbw shout; swing and roundabouts. 139-9.
At this point there was only one winner. Yet with a true touch for disaster Offley did their best to ensure that it was not them. Butt and Sarna began to scamper singles and Van Hoof replaced Bridgland and started off with a wide that came close to mowing down the immobile Wardley at second slip. The equation at the start of the final over was eight to win from six balls with Butt (13) looking good but Sarna (7) on strike.
Van Hoof ran into bowl and sent down a ball that shaped away from the batsman. Sarna drove at the ball and sent it towards first slip where Barker, presented with the clear choice of catch it or wear it, did neither. Displaying a true – if not necessarily desirable – theatrical touch, he parried the catch to send ten hearts leaping into their mouths and one heart lurching towards his arse, before safely pouching the rebound to spark a massive celebration as Bridgland’s team converged for jubilant scenes of celebration.
All in all there have been few better wins during Offley’s five-year stint in the Saracens League as the team refused to quit even when it seemed they were heading towards a cataclysmic defeat. And as yet, there have not been consecutive losses either. This was one of the best team performances from Offley in a long time and sets Bridgland’s men up for the rest of the year.