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11 For 6 And All That

The 2006 Offley & Stopsley Official Review

Ultimately it ended up with champagne, silverware and a blue nylon pennant (to say nothing of Steve Bexfield going the wrong way in his bid to collect the trophy from Graham Gooch) but it’s fair to say that the 2006 campaign did not start off in the most promising of manners for Offley & Stopsley.

By the end of April Offley had played three and lost the lot. An uninspiring start saw ten men lose to local rivals Lilley before the team collapsed in dispiriting fashion at Holtwhites Trinibis, racking up five ducks in the process in a match that could cheerfully have been consigned to history were it not for opener Chris Austin’s stoic unbeaten 34 from 45 overs. Heavily reliant on an impregnable defensive technique that would have warmed Geoff Boycott’s heart, Austin’s innings drove skipper Bexfield to the brink of apoplexy for the first time in 2006. It would not be the last such incident. In the wake of the customary home defeat to Houghton Town to kick off the North Herts League campaign, optimism was scarce on the ground and the key issue was not whether things would get any better but whether they could actually get any worse. Relegation by the end of July appeared to be the consensus for the club’s prospects in the North Herts.

However, May brought fresh optimism and renewed hope as Offley took the plunge into the Saracens League. Jon Cerasale turned back the clock to claim 5-26 to help skittle Rickmansworth before following it up with a hard-hitting 40. Both represented season’s best performances for Cerasale which suggested that time had caught up with the all rounder or he had simply shot his bolt prematurely. Regardless, he was never the same again for the rest of the year as he succumbed to a combination of niggles and family duties.

The first weekend in May also witnessed a pair of debuts as Damien Sale and Dan Jordan made their first appearances in Offley colours at Breechwood Green. Chairman of Selectors Bexfield wasted little time in securing Jordan’s services for his Saracens League endeavours while leaving Martin Bigmore to utilise Sale’s bowling skills as best he saw fit in the North Herts fixtures. And that Indian who sold New York for a handful of beads and trinkets thought he wound up on the wrong end of a bad deal….

F.A. Cup Final day sent Offley to Kings Langley and also provided the stage for Gareth Mathewson’s club debut as Offley broadened their commitment to the Southern Hemisphere. After comfortably restricting the hosts for most of the afternoon, Bexfield made the dubious decision to employ Phil Gourd as his death bowler, a move that ranked somewhere alongside England’s decision to hand Sajid Mahmood the same task in one day internationals. In the wake of four Gourd overs of picking the ball out of a hedge and retrieving it from a field, Offley were left to score 173, a target that didn’t look any easier after Bexfield played straight over the top of a full toss to offer the first evidence that his eyes might be failing him as he approached his 40th year. However, Offley’s hopes were revived by a sparkling 102 from Richie Barker. After initially reacting to being asked to open the innings by throwing the customary Mariah Carey-style strop, Barker produced a boundary-laced innings to carry Offley to the brink of victory before falling to leave the score on 127-3. Six wickets and some injudicious shots later the score was 162-9 with Gourd and Matthew Freeman together at the crease battling to survive in the darkness and the rain as the opposition pacemen tore in down the slope. With Freeman sticking doggedly at the non-striker’s end in his role as conscientious objector to fast bowling, Gourd was left to navigate a probing over before the heavens opened and Offley escaped with a draw.

After Mark Tattersall provided a sign of things to come with a quickfire 38 to set up the first North Herts victory of the year over Great Gaddesden, Offley’s bid to get their Saracens campaign back on track was thwarted by the weather after Mathewson claimed 5-22 to skittle Frogmore. The following week Northampton Exiles threw a spanner in the works after the batsmen had racked up an imposing 220-5. Colin Keeley and Freeman both claimed three quick wickets before the victory procession was thwarted by the child in a T-shirt, a precocious little sod who managed to withstand everything Offley threw at him for the last 20 overs as the match ended in a draw. A win over Hatfield revived spirits, Dave Bridgland conceding three consecutive sixes but still claiming 4-24 before Offley stumbled over the line in near darkness after making hard work of chasing down 123.

The trip to Shenley on a scorching day provided the much needed kick-start for the Saracens campaign and also brought Freeman firmly into range for plenty of well-deserved abuse. After leaving the field after delivering one over because he wanted a drink (at other times during the season he left the field in search of sugar and a tissue), the ball sped through the gulley area he’d just vacated at catchable height (admittedly in Freeman’s case it would probably have just hit him in the chest) for a couple of boundaries. Freeman also declined to look for a ball that had rolled past him into the long grass on the grounds that he had hay fever. Despite Jordan showing the first signs of human frailty and producing a performance that revived memories of Superman and kryptonite (0-22 from four overs of dross and out for 1), Keeley’s 5-28 and Barker’s 79 ensured that Offley won by five wickets. A 93-run victory over Baldock opened a few eyes as to what might be possible in the North Herts League as Bigmore’s team made it three wins on the spin with Tattersall claiming runs and wickets in another impressive display.

An iffy batting display at Southgate saw Offley dismissed for 153 in 47.1 overs to leave the hosts with an eminently gettable target. The highlight of the Offley innings was Umpire Austin adjudging Skipper Bexfield LBW. This prompted 2006’s first sighting of the tossed bat, hands on hip, accusatory stare and “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me,” plea as Bexfield left the crease making it fairly plain that he did not agree with the umpire’s verdict. Bexfield’s blood pressure began to reach dangerous levels as Southgate made no attempt to chase down the target. After Keeley and Jordan had combined to spill an absolute sitter (credit where credit’s due it was all Keeley’s fault), the splendidly named Boris Grayson arrived to drop anchor and incur Bexfield’s wrath for his stoic refusal to play a shot. Despite Freeman producing a genuinely quick spell of bowling to claim 3-15 it seemed as if Offley would have to settle for a draw before Freeman clung on to a Barker long hop to snatch victory with three overs remaining. If anyone’s wondering if the noble Bexfield congratulated the gallant Boris on his unbeaten six as the players left the field, the answer of course is did he ****.

Games with Holwell usually have one outcome, heavy defeats and the scant consolation that it wasn’t Shillington or Houghton Town dropping the hammer. This time it was different as Offley produced comfortably the best performance of the Bigmore Era (at that time) to slaughter their long-time tormentors. Bridgland (50) and Bigmore (72) set the stage with an opening partnership of 114 before Tattersall and Barker blazed away in the middle order like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on crack to haul the total to 239-4. Qumar steamed in to claim 3-30 and the game was as good as over when Gary Davison held on to a steepling chance to dismiss the dangerous Parkins. Offley went on to win by 103 runs.

Hertingfordbury were swept aside with contemptuous ease but storm clouds began to gather on June 25 as patriotism and national loyalty – qualities that are apparently frowned upon by the small-minded scoundrels who run the North Herts League – prevented Offley and Therfield from meeting due to a clash with plucky England’s fixture against mighty Costa Rica. The game was rearranged for September and no harm done. Ha ha.

The bid for glory in the Saracens League veered off the rails the following week. After dismissing Hertford for 153 with Barker claiming 6-59, Offley stumbled out of the gate collapsing to 12-4. Mo Chaudry was LBW for one, Bexfield charged down the pitch in a manner that suggested he was auditioning for Strictly Come Dancing and missed a full toss before Barker and Cerasale both fell for ducks to shots of rare awfulness with Cerasale deserving credit for the persevering manner in which he got himself stumped for nought after charging down the track to all three deliveries he faced. However, Nathan Brodie, hitherto cast in the unwelcome role of walking wicket, steadied the ship with 34 before Austin and Keeley raised hopes of an improbable win. Ultimately Offley held on to claim a share of the spoils as Wayne Cutts and Chris Latino – a pair not customarily linked with Rorke’s Drift style defence – doggedly hung on to block out the final overs.

Chaudry’s blistering 147 set up a crushing win in the friendly over Steppingly as he hammered the visitors to all parts, sharing a stand of 216 with Brodie who confirmed his return to form with an unbeaten 55. Gourd picked up three wickets as Offley cruised home by 152 runs. Chaudry maintained his excellent form with a quickfire 92 to set up an eight-wicket win against St Margaretsbury after Jordan had taken 5-56.

July 9 sent Offley to Icknield to face their chums from Houghton Town. Tattersall claimed 4-18, Davison clung on to three catches in the outfield that varied from showboating to brilliant and Bridgland snapped up a pair of chances at slip as the hosts were skittled for 100. Needing a solid start to banish any threat of a collapse, Bexfield and Bigmore shared a stand of eight before the wheels fell off and Bexfield was adjudged LBW, a decision he greeted with typical stoicism by hurling his helmet at the scorer. Chaudry, Barker, Davison, Brodie and Tattersall fell for consecutive ducks to leave the visitors swaying ineptly on 11-6, tottering on the brink of disaster like a drunken hooker in six-inch stilettos. Few would have given Offley a price at that moment even though Houghton Town’s mascot-cum-poison dwarf was kind enough to suggest that the team had at least made a game of it after Bigmore and Bridgland had hauled the score up to 20-6. Yet this was Bridgland’s day, the time for an innings that conjured up memories of a similar epic of defiance long ago against the Cricketers at Hitchin. With Bigmore displaying a leech-like stickability and resisting everything the Houghton Town attack threw at him at one end, Bridgland carried the attack to the opposition with a fair impression of Charlton Heston hammering the Moors in El Cid. By the time the pair had added 84 and Bigmore had been sawn off by a fine piece of cheating from the home umpire (Note to editor – the official in question admitted as much afterwards so you can leave it in; it’s hardly libellous) the game was as good as over. Bridgland finished unbeaten on 55 as the title challenge gathered momentum leaving Bexfield, Davison, Tattersall and Barker to get beastly drunk while Brodie left early to go to the cinema.

Hexton were brushed aside in clinical fashion at Wardown Park (although Latino was lost for the year with injury after his knee ligaments disintegrated) and Offley completed the double over Great Gaddesden with a hard-fought victory despite being limited to 10 men for the first part of the match as Keeley navigated his way around deepest darkest Hertfordshire in a bid to find the ground. However, the following weekend brought double disappointment. Things started badly with a collapse to 37-5 against title rivals Potter’s Bar. Darren Lunney and Jeff Francis gave Offley hope by dragging the score to 163 and after Potters Bar slumped to 75-5 the game was in the balance. Unfortunately Bexfield opted to take the new ball and was rewarded by a poor spell from Keeley and a simply abject one from Matthew “I only turn up to bowl” Freeman as Potters Bar recovered to win. Things looked set to change for the better at Crawley Green after Tattersall hammered 48 from 24 balls to lift Offley to 206-6 against Nomads. Yet a combination of general incompetence, rotten bowling, a wretchedly hungover fielder and a missed sitter allowed Nomads to win with eight balls remaining and blew a huge hole in Offley’s title chances.

The bandwagon began to roll again at West Herts where Mathewson claimed the best figures of the season (6-56) to dismiss the opposition for 168. A minor dispute over selection policy compounded by some colourful observations (“My ‘fuck off’ is the same as someone else’s hello,” as Brodie subsequently explained in his defence) persuaded Bexfield to leave his team to get on with it themselves and claim a five-wicket win. Following a stunning performance by Formula 1 pit crew wannabes Lunney and Mathewson, Cutts and Barker lost a wheel at speed on the M1 and had to be rescued after vaulting over the crash barrier with impressive speed. The incident served as a catalyst for Cutts who made a career best 18 not out at Steppingly the following day, batting over an hour for his runs and bragging that he never felt like getting out. When those observations filtered back to Steppingly the news prompted a rash of suicide attempts among local bowlers.

Mathewson and Barker bowled unchanged to secure a win over the Met Police (a decision that did not sit well with Matt “No I in Team” Freeman) but a devastating 106-run defeat loss at Hatfield effectively wrecked Offley’s title bid in the North Herts League. The bid to chase down 300 never got off the ground and Bexfield ran himself out in despair as the title hopes slipped away. A second defeat on a quagmire of a track against Nomads combined with the loss of points for failing to fulfil the Therfield fixture (if that’s the price you pay for patriotism then so be it) ended the dream of a double success.

However, victory over Old Albanians (a team that apparently included a few old Albanians as well as the shot-a-ball Hughes who carried his bat for 19 not out) and a nine-wicket triumph over Southgate (including a nine-year old who fell victim to the Freeman Glare) left Offley well placed to claim the Saracens title. Qumar claimed 4-21 at Welwyn (had Lunney not chosen the moment to suggest that he has no hands and allowed an absolute sitter to rattle around his ribcage before letting it drop to the ground Qumar would have had five) to set up another victory. The batsmen did their best to throw it away with some rank shots before Chaudry sealed the win with a cracking unbeaten 78 out of 111-4 on a day when no one else made double figures.

The title was almost in the bag after the rout of Broxbourne. Jordan, Brodie and Barker hit half centuries as Offley piled on the runs, slamming 244 in 40 overs before declaring. Freeman spearheaded the attack with an 11-over spell of genuine pace which was free of the usual long hops and injuries. He claimed 5-17, including three wickets in the final over to wrap up victory as the heavens threatened to open and gift Broxbourne an undeserved draw. However Potters Bar kept up their challenge and Offley went in to the final game still needing eight points to be certain of clinching the title. The decisive points came at Leverstock Green as Jordan stroked his way to an unbeaten 116 to take Offley past the 185 runs they needed to secure the title and set up an evening of alcoholic excess.

There was time for the Australian-bound Bigmore to make his final appearance in the win over Breechwood Green, a game also memorable for Gourd claiming 3-29 and bowling about 17 wides in the process, including a 12-ball over. A forgettable friendly defeat at Hatfield and a more memorable win over Lilley rounded off the season. The last game was memorable for Bexfield claiming his first wickets of the season (improbably holding on to a return catch for the final wicket) after Cutts had refused to bowl and stomped off into the outfield, throwing down his cap like Elton John hurling his tiara. They both live near Watford anyway.

All in all not a bad season. The Great Escape at Icknield seems certain to go down in legend while the annihilation of Holwell already has its own place in club folklore. Champions of the Saracens League at the first attempt (for which we got the famous nylon pennant and a cheque for 100) was also a fine effort.

In addition to the cricket there were also some priceless moments along the way, including the Bexfield dummy flying from the Bexfield pram, Keeley’s navigating and time-keeping, anything to do with Michael Cunningham (remember him?), the sight of Brodie and Freeman squaring up to each other to discuss fielding and whether or not it’s possible to eat your own bodyweight in McCoy’s, to say nothing of Mathewson’s impromptu psychiatry session that left Lunney reaching for the rope. Yet ultimately it doesn’t get any better than rising from the depths of 11-6 and poking it up Ken Willis’s arse in the process.