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Offley & Stopsley, 262-8 Vs Eversholt, 261-4; 22nd May

OSCC Won by 2 Wkts

“Fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... our freedom!”

As it turned out it wasn’t necessary to sacrifice our freedom, or even our lives, for victory at Eversholt. To be honest it’s a bit of a stretch to picture Colin Keeley as William Wallace, Celtic heritage notwithstanding.

It’s even more difficult to imagine Chris Austin and Marc Ward in the same light as Ian Botham and Graham Dilley but as far as Offley & Stopsley are concerned, Eversholt ’10 bears comparison with Headingley ’81. Quite simply, it was an awesome performance, one that defied common sense and ultimately resulted in one of the greatest ever victories.

It began with the depressing news that Dave Bridgland had lost the toss on the hottest day of the year and as the troops shuffled out into the scorching heat the only good news was that two drinks breaks had been guaranteed: whoop-de-doo.

Nathan Brodie took the new ball and promptly went round the ground. Keeley trundled in, wobbling up to the crease like a weeble and did his best to stem the tide but it did not look like being his day, although he stuck manfully to his task while bits of his anatomy threatened to drop out. Cliff Large followed up a dreadful first over with four tight ones while Ward followed up a dreadful first ball (flicked for six over long leg) with 23(ish) more offerings that ranged from indifferent to rank as he conceded 36 in four overs. Consequently it was not too long before Bridgland resorted to an all-spin attack, himself at one end and Richie Barker at the other.

Chances began to come, although they weren’t exactly snapped up. Mo Chaudry spilt opener McDuell on 48. Barker took off in full flight like an electrocuted Simon Warrington but could only get a finger tip to a caught and bowled chance as McDuell reached his 50. Barker also had catches put down by Austin (hard) and Chris Latino (not so hard) which didn’t do too much for his sense of humour.

Bridgland eventually made the breakthrough when he held a good return catch to dismiss Garratt for 71. He followed it up with an even more impressive catch to account for Jani, diving low to his left to snaffle the chance inches above the ground. Moments later Barker trapped McDuell lbw for 58 as Eversholt ‘collapsed’ to 160-3. However, the barrage of boundaries continued as Bridgland was shelled out of the attack, conceding three sixes in a single over as he served up the most expensive over of the season to date (24, apparently). Barker picked up a second wicket when he lured the enormous Garratt down the track and somehow got the ball past him. Austin stumped him but it merely proved a brief lull in the scoring rate. The runs continued to flow and Offley were almost on their knees when Eversholt decided to declare on 261-4, leaving Offley 54 overs to chase down the runs or cling on for a draw, depending on how optimistic you were feeling.

Offley did not get off to a good start. Barker, press-ganged into opening, promptly went lbw for a single before the highly-strung diva threw his toys out of the pram in the dressing room, making various statements, including a really choice observation about being spit-roasted by his own captain and umpire.

Chaudry was brilliant caught and bowled for 2 as Offley fell to 12-2. Brodie, handicapped by a damaged groin, and Steve Bexfield lifted the total to 44, Brodie swinging for the short leg-side boundary, Bexfield grinding it out, before disaster struck. Bexfield guided a catch to gully (a tendency that is rapidly becoming a weakness in his game). Darren Lunney marched to the crease, marked his guard out a la Chanderpaul, indulged in his customary bout of callisthenics and was then promptly cleaned up first ball. 44-4; start the cars (a champaigne moment if ever there was one).

However, into this seemingly hopeless position strode the great Keeley, Offley’s greatest living Irishman, and a man with the warrior spirit of Cuchulain flowing through his veins. Borrowing Austin’s bat for the occasion – on the reasonable assumption that there should be a few runs in it – Keeley and Brodie blazed away like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the face of the entire Bolivian Army, they took on the bowlers with aggression straight away, unfurling some majestic defiant blows that cleared the long straight boundary, including one that came to nestle in the branches of a tree. Keeley wrought mayhem on the Eversholt attack, clearing the ropes five times, as he plundered 62 from 44 balls. The pair had added 111 in rapid time when Keeley finally missed with a tired heave across the line and was clean bowled.

Wickets now tumbled as Bridgland feathered a catch down the leg-side to the keeper and Brodie’s defiant innings of 80 from 66 balls ended when he was well caught one-handed at cover. When Latino – who had already hit the best shot of his career – contrived to steer what would have been a wide into the hands of gully with what may have been the worst shot of his career, Offley were 175-8 and looked gone for all money. Apropos of nothing, it should be pointed out that in the light of what has gone before, it was much harder for Latino to hit the worst shot of his career rather than the best one.

Ward walked out to join Austin and with only Large remaining in the shed, the prospects of Offley cobbling together the 87 runs needed for victory seemed somewhat remote, especially as the trio’s career batting averages (15.91, 8.04 and 6.76 respectively) barely covered a third of the total. Either Extras was going to have to play a blinder or something truly remarkable would be necessary.

By the time the pair had added 10, they had done enough to secure two more bonus points and Ward had safely negotiated his customary Achilles’ heel – namely the straight ball early in his innings. 15 more runs followed to secure maximum bonus points and the watching players relaxed, ordered up a beer content in the knowledge they had made a game of it and honour had been satisfied.

Yet out in the middle Austin and Ward were refusing to bow to the inevitable and with the theme tune to The Great Escape echoing out around the ground (yes, I know it wasn’t, but it should have been), the runs began to accumulate as the target drew ever closer. Austin smashed a glorious shot through the covers for four and Ward reeled off a couple of classic Caribbean strokes – in stark contrast to his usual impersonation of a Caribbean pensioner having a stroke after too much Red Stripe – and the watching Offley players dared to dream. All except Large who was suddenly feeling the pressure and doing his level best to prevent his nerves to seep through and perhaps stain those cherished pink pads. One thing was for sure, at that moment in time the man nick-named after Bernie Clifton could not have straddled an ostrich.

Austin, growling with determination like the lovechild of a St Bernard and a blood hound, was never going to sell his wicket cheaply. The chunky stumper was playing the innings of his life, drawing upon his raw anger that Keeley should have struck more sixes in a single innings with his bat than Austin had ever managed to do in his life with his cherished blade. Technically Keeley had overtaken Austin with his second maximum but that wasn’t really the point. For an hour in the Eversholt sun, Austin wielded his enchanted blade like Excalibur.

At the other end young Ward continued to swing away merrily, occasionally slicing the ball agonisingly close to fielders but on other occasions lashing it through the covers with disdainful aplomb. The landmarks began to come thick and fast – less than 50 to win, the 50 partnership, Austin scoring a run in front of the wicket – and with each run the Eversholt fielders grew ever more quiet and fearful.

All of a sudden Offley had reached 250 and the winning post was in sight. Euphoric cheers greeted every run – each cheer drowning out the sound of Large’s guts churning fearfully at the prospect of a wicket going down and being forced to make the long walk out to the middle. A single brought the scores level and then one of the two batsmen – it may have been Austin, it may have been Ward but to be honest I have no idea – beat the field and the pair scampered through for the winning run to seal one of the greatest triumphs in club history with a record ninth-wicket stand.

Pandemonium ensued (along with a few hangovers) as Offley’s players wasted no time in commencing the victory celebrations. It might not quite have been an epic to rank alongside Homer (well, maybe Homer Simpson) but this was one of the great victories in the history of Offley & Stopsley CC and when those players are old and dying in their beds, the memories of this one should help keep them warm.

 

 

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