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Offley & Stopsley, 172-5 Vs Lilley 108 all out ; 14th April

OSCC Won by  by 64 runs

Offley defied icy rain, biting winds, freezing temperatures and frankly ridiculous hailstones to open the season with a commanding 64-run victory over Lilley to go 1-0 up in the Mansfield-Towndrow Trophy, a trophy that Offley tend to regard as a bauble while Lilley cast envious glances in its direction in the same manner that Roman Abramovich covets the Champions League.

Matthew Freeman bravely elected to take the field after suffering a near-fatal wound on the squash court. The plucky captain ignored the small bruise on his leg to limp out to the middle to toss up and when the coin fell in his favour elected to bat first.

Offley suffered an early blow when Josh Hook, armed with the most expensive bat Offley had ever seen, succumbed to a cracking delivery from Kurram Khan. Hook seemed unsure whether to play it or withdraw his bat and thus safeguard his new blade. The result was the first duck of the season.

Mo Chaudry swung away to good effect, smashing James Ashby for six straight over his head and depositing Kurram into the trees. At the other end Richie Barker played like a golfer on top of his game, finishing four under par with 11 runs from 15 overs before he was bowled.

Nathan Brodie – allegedly a more sensible batsman these days – showed why he is the third-leading run scorer in Offley & Stopsley history with a rapid 39 as he took on the short-pitched bowling of Taz Quereshi and thumped him towards the short leg-side boundary. Chaudry posted the first half-century of the season as he smashed Lester over mid on for a boundary and Offley looked capable of pushing on towards 200. However, three quick wickets – Brodie, Chaudry (61) and pinch-hitter Colin Keeley (4) – left Offley tottering slightly.

Marc Ward and Lilley-killer Tom Reilly shared an unbroken 50 partnership to drag Offley up to 172-5, a score that looked to be competitive but not necessarily decisive. Ward’s innings was notable mainly for his suicidal attempts to run himself out while Reilly took pity on Lilley and, rather than put them to the sword in his customary manner, elected to milk the singles and warm up for the season with a net in the middle.

Freeman immediately made clear that he would be unable to bowl, the hideously small wound in his leg making it impossible for him to even contemplate running into bowl. Consequently he announced he would concentrate on inspiring his troops with his leadership skills, a policy that worked well as Lilley openers Ashby and Mills shared an opening stand of 53 with few alarms. Freeman’s impersonation of a sundial at point allowed a tight single to turn into an easy three and things were not going well for the hosts and their non-playing captain in particular.

Reilly caused some consternation by unleashing a string of beamers with a ball that could be fairly termed as hard to grip and when rain and hail drove the players from the field to seek temporary respite in the pavilion it seemed as though Lilley were cruising to victory.

Things changed dramatically on the resumption. Reilly pinned Ashby lbw and Mills chipped a return catch to Keeley. However, the game tilted decisively in Offley’s favour when Keeley slipped in a vicious leg-side full toss that Dan McLaughlin clipped effortlessly off his legs towards the boundary. Yet instead of getting off the mark with a boundary, McLaughlin had to make the long walk back to the hutch as Chris Austin threw himself to his right at square leg, digging up the turf like a rogue satellite colliding with the earth, to pull off a fantastic catch.

Lilley were rocking and Keeley claimed his third scalp when Timothy Perry – the heartless bounder who drove Kenny Hammond away from Lilley by not granting him admission to his favoured harem – miscued a soft chip to Darren Lunney at midwicket.

Freeman opted to remain at deep third man, plotting the downfall of Lilley’s batsmen and rotating his bowlers to good effect. Barker dismissed Collinson as the batsman aimed to cart him into the trees and then claimed his 450th wicket for the club with a ripping ball that proved far too good for Paddington as it failed to turn, a dismissal that essentially encapsulated his entire bowling career in a nutshell.

Lilley’s last chance disappeared when Captain Kruger smeared Keeley into orbit and Brodie held on to the catch at cover with few alarms. Kurrum ran out his partner Lester with a suicidal single to point before Austin bowled Quereshi with a well-flighted yorker – or full toss, depending on who you asked.

Lunney wrapped up the innings when he sent down a really juicy full-bunger that Kurrum generously dumped into Chaudry’s hands at midwicket to complete the Lilley collapse, a slump from 53-0 to 108 all out.

Freeman heroically ignored the pain in his leg to lead the celebrations, modestly proclaiming himself to be the Champion Captain and comparing himself to Jose Mourinho. Not so much the Special One, as the Special Needs One if you ask me but there you go.

In the end Freeman could claim – and he did – that his leadership skills had been the key factor (obviously it was leadership that was more decisive than Keeley’s 4-24 or Chaudry’s 61) but however you choose to regard it it means that Offley are 1-0 up in a competition they regard as on a par with the Carling Cup while Lilley are desperately trying to find a way back from 0-1 down in their quest for the Holy Grail.