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Season 2009 Review
PAST NORTHAMPTON, VIA BALDOCK AND WEMBLEYS ON YOUR LEFT
THE OFFLEY & STOPSLEY 2009 SEASON
It was indeed a close run thing.
The Duke of Wellington said much the same thing in the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo but for sheer epic emotion a battle fought to decide the fate of Europe had nothing on the final desperate moments of Offley & Stopsleys frantic struggle for the Saracens League crown at Baldock.
Mind you, to manoeuvre themselves into position to win the title, Offley had to go through the formality of playing the first 18 league games, the majority of which failed to pass off without incident, regardless of whether it was Matthew Freeman refusing to bowl, Colin Keeley suffering mortal insult and taking umbrage at the implication that he was a washed-up knackered-out carthorse with all the mobility of a rocking horse, Richie Barker in full-blown diva mode at being asked to open the batting again and Mo Chaudry and Steve Bexfield offering convincing impersonations of men who had never handled a cricket bat before.
In addition there was the small matter of negotiating various friendlies, the North Herts League, the Herts Village Trophy and the frankly appalling performances against Lilley in the Mansfield-Towndrow Trophy before discovering a silver lining late in September.
Offley went into the new season with high hopes and a strong squad (strong in terms of number if not ability) after a winter of recruitment by the Chairman of Selectors. He might not have been able to find himself a job Barker enjoyed some success in bringing a number of newcomers to the club including Dhrupal Patel, Gary Law, Colin Williams and the great white duck hunter himself, Symon Wardley.
In other developments Barker also coaxed Wayne Cutts out of retirement (it was unclear whether this was the second or third time Cutts had come back from retirement) and persuaded Keeley to give cricket one more chance before opting for a new sporting career as a fisherman. The Club also introduced a Code of Conduct, requiring players to behave with a degree of cricketing decorum and demonstrate a certain amount of respect for authority or else face the consequences. Ladbrokes closed the book early on with regard to which individual would be the first to fall foul of the new guidelines and find himself suspended. Well, was there really ever any doubt? I mean seriously...
APRIL / MAY
The season began with a dismal batting display on a slow, low track against local rivals Lilley. Bexfield top-scored with 32 but the only other contribution of note was Chris Austins 16-over 18 not out. Extras contributed 32 to the cause, Bexfield ran out Nathan Brodie by 14 yards and Offley ultimately slipped to a three-wicket defeat as they went 1-0 down in the battle for the Mansfield-Towndrow Trophy. In a sign of things to come, Freeman pronounced himself unfit to bowl as Offley strived manfully (with one exception) to defend a below par score. Complaining of a side strain that he had apparently picked up while eating a sandwich, Freeman effortlessly set the tone for a season of clashes with higher authority.
Things didnt exactly improve with an 89-run reversal against Hornsey the following week. Freeman heroically struggled through six overs, Cutts conceded 18 runs from his first four balls (a performance that made the Chairman of Selectors decision to coax him out of retirement look somewhat misguided) and the middle order blew up, slumping form 40-1 to 52-7. It was not the last time that the middle order would go AWOL during a season scarred by myriad batting collapses and lemming-like mass suicides. Debutants Patel (1), Williams (0) and the returning Law (2) suggested they were all naturals for middle order berths in the fragile Offley line-up.
However, Offley bounced back the following day as they routed Houghton Town by nine wickets. Chaudry took three wickets, Jon Cerasale produced the first of a series of impression of bowling displays, Tom Reilly marked his lone appearance of the season with runs and wickets and Steve Hoar scored an unbeaten 61 as Offley sauntered to victory with nine wickets and eight overs to spare.
The bid for Saracens League glory got off to a slightly rocky start as Offley mustered just three points in their opening game against Luton Town & Indians. Reduced to 10 men after Charles Page bailed out on the morning of the match, Offleys batsmen staged a master-class in failing to deal with the straight ball. Eight of nine batsmen were bowled. The exception was Darren Lunney who had his stumps rearranged anyway after Bexfield ran him out without scoring. As a result Offley were all out for 138 inside 38 overs, failing to secure a single batting point despite Bexfields unbeaten 48. Marc Ward picked up two wickets but the visitors came out on top by seven wickets.
Offley beat Letchworth in the north Herts League despite taking the field with eight men. Qumar ran out of petrol on his way to the ground while Freeman and Latino both overslept after arriving home in the early hours following a heavy night out. Neither the alarm clock nor their respective snoring was sufficient to interrupt their gentle slumbers. Cerasale blasted out Letchworths middle order by taking 4-13 before Bexfield (44) and Mark Tattersall (49*) helped Offley to a comfortable five-wicket win to send them top in the North Herts league.
Elsewhere Darrell Cooper led the Second XI to yet another defeat in their opening game of the season. It was another fruitless outing for Captain Cooper, the most hapless skipper since the chap who ploughed the Titanic into an iceberg. Cutts took a career-best 6-32 to restrict Caddington to 170 but it was to no avail as Offley succumbed to a crushing defeat. Keeleys pugnacious 42 prevented a complete rout but ultimately failed to disguise the comprehensive nature of the reversal as Offley squandered an opening stand of 58 between Keeley and Carl Clair by slumping to 63-5. Five batsmen registered ducks, or in other words, three more than made double figures.
Despite early success in the North Herts League Offley threatened to hurtle to the bottom of the Saracens League courtesy of an iffy display at Hatch End. Billed as a must-win game, Offley looked to be in control after Barker took 4-3 to bowl out the hosts for 107. However, Bexfield pulled a long hop to the solitary fielder on the legside, Chaudry ran himself out, Brodie and Latino fell to limp-wristed wafts and Barker bottom edged a tasty full toss to square leg as Offley slumped to 63-5. Lunney and Austin added 20 before Austin walked across his stumps in a manner reminiscent of Viv Richards and was bowled in a manner reminiscent of Cliff Richard. However, Lunney held firm and Bridgland smashed a quick-fire 16 to lead Offley to a narrow win.
Offleys dreams of finally winning the North Herts League title suffered their first blow when they lost at home to Ickleford. Offley slumped to 89-6 (effectively 89-7 after Qumar made an unscheduled, yet not exactly unfamiliar early departure). Cerasale and Bexfield both demonstrated their vulnerability to leg stump full tosses as they guided simple catches to square leg before Chaudry and Lunney revived their chances with a determined 81-run stand. However, Chaudry perished in the deep and Lunney was bowled swinging across the line before Law and Jeff Francis just failed to steer Offley home. It was Franciss last game for the club, the rotund squad member evidently deciding that his talents deserved a bigger and better showcase.
The Seconds also lost. Keeley led the team to defeat at Biddenham despite three wickets each from Marc Ward and Freeman. Patel led the resistance with 42 but once Freeman ran out Dathan Sale for 21 the writing was etched firmly on the wall as wickets tumbled in the familiar welter of single-figure scores.
Offley took on Letchworth with ten men after Sri Lankan signing Hasith Perera failed to turn up. Freeman bowled six economical, albeit wicketless, overs before handing the ball over to Tattersall, informing him that he was supposed to play a containing role. Tattersall duly contained the scoring rate by running through the visiting line-up to claim 7-23, shredding the opposition with swing and movement as the containing bowler upstaged the alleged strike bowler in emphatic fashion. Qumar claimed 3-11, including holding on to a fizzing return catch to give him what seemed to be about his first catch in five seasons. Letchworth succumbed to 69 all out before Offley eased to an eight-wicket win.
After the first teams trip to Titanic was rained off, the seconds were able to draft in Barker and Cerasale as late reinforcements. Cerasale hit 53 and Barker made an unbeaten 29 on a stodgy pitch to help Keeleys team post 144-6, a score that looked to be competitive until Simmons opener Lucky Singh raised his own 50 in the seventh over. Marc Ward was smashed to all parts while Cutts solitary over yielded four boundaries as Offley crashed to a seven-wicket defeat with 19.5 overs remaining.
The closure of the M25 threatened to derail Offleys winning streak in the Saracens League as they travelled to North Enfield. The lengthy traffic delays proved too much for Hoar (out second ball, thereby recording his first duck for the club) and Freeman, the latter vowing never to play in an away game again and producing one of his more cataclysmic displays of the season. Lunneys unbeaten 57 and a dashing 11 from Cutts (an innings that featured several attempts to run himself out as the heat and fatigue proved too much for the spherical stroke player) enabled Offley to make 191-8.
Freeman made his mark by declining the opportunity to open the bowling on account of a large helping at tea time. Offered his preferred choice of ends (the winning response was Neither), Freeman was eventually forced to open form the bottom end but after complaining about a miniscule ridge was exiled to the outfield for the day. In his place 16-year old Ward took the new ball and after Freeman spurned the chance to make the breakthrough by trying to catch a hard-hit ball with his knee, Ward picked up the opening wicket. Keeley also struck before the spinners finished the job in a hurry. Barker claimed 5-42 and Bridgland picked up 3-34 as the hosts collapsed in a heap on a turning track to give Offley a 79-run win.
Cerasale smashed an imperious 53 against Hatfield. Unfortunately the other 10 batsmen mustered just 44 between them, including an undefeated 18 from Qumar. Brainless batting of the highest order from Latino (run out) and Freeman (stumped) saw Offley failing to bat out their overs as they were dismissed for 117. Freeman briefly raised hopes with his best spell of the season but the visitors recovered from 45-4 to win by five wickets.
The Saracens bandwagon kept rolling with a crushing seven-wicket win over Bayford & Hertford. Despite picking up just three wickets as the visitors piled up 212 in 53 overs, Offley stormed to victory. After Barker went arse over tit attempting a quick single and Bexfield guided the standard long hop to midwicket, Chaudry and Brodie set up victory with a 125-run stand. Chaudry hit a season high 62 and Brodie finished unbeaten on 88.
Brodie impressed with the ball the following day at Crawley Green, taking 3-12 to restrict Nomads to 160-9. The hosts innings saw Cooper break Austins finger with a brutal delivery, long-time Offley favourite Graham Hull hurt his knee and throw his bat at a rogue motorcyclist, Carl Clair endangering his own slip fielders with a somewhat erratic spell and Freeman carrying on in customary fashion over choice of ends before berating the broken-fingered Austin for dropping another catch off his bowling. Once Offley slumped to 73-4 the game looked to rest on Bexfield and Barker. The former opted to dig in and ground out the runs while the latter blazed away from ball one. Both scored unbeaten 50s as Offley edged home.
More surprising was the fact that the Seconds finally won a game. Gary Chamberlain and Cliff Large both took three wickets but it was two new faces who helped contribute to victory. Andrew Van Hoof picked up a couple of wickets (he also picked up his first duck) and Colin Williams snatched an improbable win with a dazzling batting display. Chasing 138 to win, Offley looked gone for all money at 93-9 with Williams and Large at the crease. However, Williams laid about him to great effect, slaying the bowlers like his namesake Kenneth Williams slaying a crowd with his comedy styling, and smashed an unbeaten 36. Large gave staunch support and Offley scrambled home by one wicket.
The month began in depressing style as Offley crashed out of the Herts Village Trophy in the opening round. Winners in 2007, runners-up in 2008, Offley ploughed into the opening hurdle as they produced a shocking performance against a Hexton team that took great delight in slaughtering Bexfields team, raising the bar of gobshite-ness to new heights in the process. No one reached 17 and Offleys total of 106-7 owed much to 35 extras. Hexton strolled home with almost seven overs and eight wickets to spare. The fiasco was epitomised by Keeleys performance. After taking a days holiday to play, Keeley was dismissed for a second-ball duck, conceded 20 runs in two overs, offered a fine impersonation of a one-legged drainpipe in the field and contrived to be off the field supervising the Colts in the nets when the ball trickled slowly through the vacant fine leg area for a boundary. It was not a good day.
The trip to Old Camdenians was no less eventful than in 2008. There may have been no dalek lurking in the undergrowth and the opposition captain may have been less inebriated than the previous year but he was even more objectionable, refusing to allow Neil Bigmore to stand as umpire during the Camdenians innings on the grounds that wasnt how the game was played in that part of the world.
Offley duly produced that rarest of things a united team effort as they did their utmost to upset a team who had won all of their previous games. No one reached 50 but they still piled up 256-9 and then came within a whisker of claiming victory as Freeman bowled with uncommon verve and purpose before the hosts clung on for an undeserved draw.
Rain left Bexfield high and dry on 84 at Holwell (he was also involved in a pair of run outs that left Lunney and Chaudry high and dry) while the 2nd XI failed to build on their win over Preston and were thumped by 90 runs by Codicote. The silver lining was provided by Symon Wardley getting off the mark in his first appearance for the club. Wards debut 50 for the club and the sight of Ray Counsel bouncing down the pavilion steps added to the feeling that defeat was hardly the end of the world.
Harpenden Dolphins provided little resistance after Barker dismissed the top three before Lunney ran through the tail like shit through a goose, claiming 5-20, to skittle the visitors for 128. Offley briefly threatened to cock things up as they slipped to 32-3 but a typically forthright unbeaten 50 from Tattersall saw them home without any real alarms.
Local rivals Lilley were routed by four wickets in a contest that was probably not as close as the final score-line suggested. Only two of the visitors passed 20 as they were dismissed for 122 and Offley were sauntering along at 74-1 before the wheels threatened to fall off. Bexfield was on the wrong end of what he perceived to be a questionable lbw decision before Cerasale was given out to a ball that appeared to be swinging away towards the slips when it hit him on the top of the pad as he danced down the track. However, Tattersall held firm to give Offley the victory over their neighbours.
The seconds went down to defeat at Studham. Freeman fell out with Captain Cooper over his refusal to bat at number 8 and was subsequently demoted to number 11. The fact that he then recorded the highest score of the innings (last out for 30) did little to improve anyones mood and could not disguise the fact that Freeman was sailing dangerously to the wind as far as the Code of Conduct was concerned.
A pair of sod awful midweek performances against Lilley sandwiched the trip to Potters Bar. After a luckless bowling performance, Offley were left to chase 184 for victory. At the outset no one was unduly concerned because with Bridgland, Cerasale and an injured Barker at 7, 8 and 9, Offley were fielding their strongest batting team of the season in the Saracens League. Consequently quite what the captain thought about walking out to bat at 16-5 is debatable. Bexfield made 1, Patel, Chaudry and Wardley all blobbed while Brodie scythed and slashed his way to a total of 8 in an innings which might have been aborted on at least half a dozen occasions before he finally departed.
However, Lunney produced his best innings of the season and repaired some of the early damage with Bridgland. Lunney and Cerasale subsequently took the score to 132-6 before both departed on that total. Freeman and Barker added 37 to garner crucial bonus points but ultimately the task of taking 14 off the final over was beyond Offley and they slipped to defeat as Barker opted to go down swinging rather than playing out for the draw. Defeat at Whitwell followed before the league campaign got back on track against Monken Hadley.
Freeman did not have a stellar day, producing the straw that broke the camels back and landed him with a one-week suspension, with his latest indiscretion. Cutts enjoyed his best spell of the year, sending down 11 overs for just 20 runs while Barker went wicketless for 113 balls before finally striking with the final ball of the innings. Swantons unbeaten 76 helped the visitors reach 171-6. Offley stormed to victory with 10 overs to spare as Hoar produced a virtuoso innings, easing his way to an unbeaten century with the minimum of fuss and effort.
Bexfield led his team to defeat at Whitwell but the real story was at Offley where Cooper finally broke his duck as skipper and led a team to victory at what seemed like the 426th time of asking. Offley were only asked to chase 103 for victory but succumbed to a slightly disappointing start as they slipped to 3 for 4 in the fifth over. However, Freeman and Gary Law both scored 32 and Offley withstood a late collapse to scramble over the finishing line and win by two wickets to give Cooper the cherished (and long overdue) gift of victory.
Van Hoofs debut 50 for the club set up a comfortable midweek win over Caddington before Offley travelled to a park in Watford to face Rickmansworth. On a barren wasteland devoid of charm and amenities, Offleys title chances almost came a cropper in some style. There was no danger of Rickmansworth beating them there was little danger of the hosts playing a shot, especially number four Raine who batted 59 balls to score 2 runs but Offley were nearly undone by the unwitting selection of Symon Wardley, also known as the Worlds Worst RingerTM.
Offley scored 219-6, including a fine 8 from the unregistered Wardley. After the Rickmansworth openers refused to play any shots against Barker and Cutts on the grounds that opening the bowling with spinners was tantamount to cheating, the game petered out into a draw, the aggressive Raine making 2 from 59 balls before surprisingly perishing to a stroke. A host of catches went down, some eminently catchable, and ultimately the hosts closed on 157-6, thereby earning themselves three points for their efforts. Unfortunately Offleys 16-point haul was slashed to just six points after Rickmansworth discovered that Wardley obviously Ricky Pontings step-brother was not correctly registered. Presumably they discovered this during their own innings because they were certainly doing fuck all else in terms of trying to win the game.
The next day produced arguably the best performance of the season against Holwell. Tattersall hit 61 and Barker made an unbeaten 69 as Offleys batsmen piled up 247-7. However, Holwell looked well placed to win as long-time Offley nemesis Adam Parkins compiled a chanceless century, dispatching Barker for a series of increasingly ridiculous sixes before tucking into Lunney. The tide changed when Qumar claimed three wickets in an over, including the prized scalp of Parkins. Parkins aimed the ball over long off towards the car park, a destination that would doubtless have left Bexfield having kittens. However, he could only send the ball into orbit somewhere over extra cover where the isolated Barker found himself in the unwelcome position of having to go for the catch everyone else was scattered around the boundary and to the surprise of some, not least the fielder himself, he clung on to set up a seven-run win.
The 2nd XI lost at Simmons as Clair, Cooper and Large all racked up half-centuries with the ball. The quest for 251 (including 50 extras) got off to a poor start as Hum, Law and Van Hoof contributed just three runs between them as Offley slumped to 18-3. Clair redressed the balance somewhat with a sparkling 70 and Williams weighed in with 45 but it was not enough to stave off a 73-run thrashing.
The Saracens campaign got back on track in the rain against Leverstock Green. With Freeman absent by his own volition making a guest appearance for Codicote, a three-pronged seam attack of Brodie, Cooper and Tattersall failed to take a wicket before the drinks break. Barker took 5-67 while Cutts dropped one of the simpler return catches is history as the host closed on 219-7. Latino was dropped three times before he had reached double figures before going on to score 16. However, the day belonged to Brodie as he scored his second century for the club, taking advantage of the wet, skiddy conditions to run some suicidal singles in conjunction with Lunney. Brodie hit an unbeaten 102 and Lunney finished on 43 not out as they added 129 to take Offley to a seven-wicket win.
The North Herts dream bit the dust in emphatic fashion the following day as Offleys bowlers were smashed all round the ground at Ickleford.
The hosts racked up 296-4 after being invited to bat, feasting on a smorgasbord of buffet bowling and shambolic fielding. Keeley conceded 74 runs from eight overs (1.54 runs per ball) and his mood was not helped by having two catches carried over the boundary for 6. The first, by Clair, was unavoidable. The second, by Williams, was simply hilarious as the fielder caught the ball five yards inside the line before somehow backpedalling over the boundary, a can-can artist in reverse. There really was no answer to the bowlers anguished inquiry of, What the fuck are you doing?
Bexfield gave Offley a glimmer of hope with a magnificent 125, an innings that contained four consecutive boundaries, as he unleashed a steady series of impressive shots all round the wicket. This was Bexfield at his best, eschewing the use of the pad and putting his wretched Saracens form behind him with a superb innings before the heat and age finally brought about a tired shot. Barker crashed an unbeaten 51 from 23 balls but it was too little too late as Offley slipped to a 22-run defeat.
With Bridgland betraying the club by opting to get married during the cricket season further depleting the teams resources by getting hitched to the scorer it was left to others to step up. Marc Ward blew away the Sandridge top order to set up a comfortable seven-wicket win. Sandridge never recovered after Ward reduced them to 14-4 with a three-wicket burst and eventually succumbed for 71.
The two-run win over Parkfield was a rather tighter affair. Offley struggled to 118 all out on a dull, lifeless surface. The closest thing to fireworks was when Freeman sent Lunney back, resulting in Lunneys run out, subsequent colourful observations and culminating in the Geordie batsman hurling a boot into the field. A heavyweight opening attack of Tattersall and Barker struck early blows, with Tattersall in imperious form. Striking early and often, Tattersall picked up 5-34. However, the hero of the hour was Freeman. The stocky seamer chugged in to pick up two vital late wickets, including the final wicket as Offley clung on to win by two runs, prompting scenes of jubilation and relief.
Freemans weekend deteriorated somewhat at Hatfield. Offley batted first on a surface where 240 seemed the bare minimum. In the circumstances 185 all out was a poor effort, especially as six of the top seven reached double figures but no one passed 40. Brodie threw his wicket away attempting a reverse sweep, Latino ran himself out without scoring and Barker ran out Freeman for a single as the last three wickets went down for one run amidst a typically lame collapse.
Nothing much improved during Offleys bowling display, as Freeman conceded 49 runs off six overs, including eight boundaries from his final 12 deliveries, as he capped a less than stellar day with some truly dreadful offerings. Reids unbeaten century carried Hatfield home by seven wickets with five overs to spare.
Elsewhere the 2nd XI crashed to another defeat, despite an unbeaten 49 from Dathan Sale, as they lost by seven wickets against Biddenham.
It was not a good day.
The month began in agonising fashion. Datchworth provided the venue and threatening weather provided stand-in skipper Brodie with a tricky decision. In the end he gambled on bowling first and chasing down the target before the rains arrived. Hyams batted throughout the 53 overs to score an unbeaten 53 as Datchworth laboured to 161-5, aided and abetted by some seriously iffy catching. Latino stood in behind the stumps and caught two but also dropped two and missed a stumping. However, Offley were cantering to victory amid a barrage of boundaries before the rain arrived with the score on 150-5. The players were forced off and after much faffing around the covers were brought on, a measure that served merely to exacerbate the situation. When the groundsman ruled a resumption out of the question, Offley were left to take a solitary point from the debacle.
A weakened team lost to Nomads by 34 runs despite running their old rivals closer than expected with such a depleted team as Freeman, Patel and Van Hoof all turned in solid displays in a losing cause. On the plus side it was nice to see a young side display some of the fire of the old days when the teams swapped (verbal) bouncers and beamers as the sides displayed markedly differing views as to what constitutes a catch.
Bridglands return from honeymoon coincided with Cerasale mowing down the Greenwood Park batting order, claiming 5-10 to shatter the visitors. Barkers run-a-ball 43 and Bexfields unbeaten 27 from 39 overs (the Prozac Innings of the Season) helped Offley to a six-wicket win.
The 2nd XI took centre stage against Preston and after progressing smoothly to 21-1 (losing Cutts in his new role as opening batsman), Offley slumped disappointingly to 36-7 amid a torrent of single-figure scores and shite shots, notably from Williams (0), Latino (1). Damien Sale triggering Wardley second ball for 0 didnt help much either. Austin (33) and Barker (77) repaired the damage with an unbeaten stand of 123 but Offleys bowlers struggled to find their line and Hum had a shocker as Preston stormed to a six-wicket win.
Offleys must-win clash with Broxbourne got off to a bad start as Barker fell first ball of the match and the batsmen failed to deal with a sluggish surface. Chaudry laboured over 36 balls to score 8, providing conclusive proof that his touch and form had deserted him and Bexfield staged another mini-epic with 24 from 79 balls. Only Cerasale with 36 ever really got going and Bridgland was left high and dry on 11 as Offley folded for 125, Freeman vowing never to bat again on the surface because it wasnt fair after he offered catching practice and a simple return catch.
Bridgland responded by surrounding the batsmen with close fielders and putting his trust in a pair of 40-year old seamers. Keeley and Cerasale both answered the call. Keeley, chugging in, like the little freight train that could, overcame the pain of his wrecked ankle to claim 4-42. Cerasale turned back the clock and recaptured some of the fire of his glory days as he claimed 4-22 from a marathon 17-over spell. Chaudry claimed three catches close to the wicket and when the 10th wicket went down Broxbourne were condemned to a 37-run defeat, leaving Offley to travel to leaders Northampton Exiles for the title showdown.
Prior to the potential title decider, Offley found themselves mired in Black Sunday.
August 16, 2009, witnessed arguably the most inept batting display in the history of Offley & Stopsley Cricket Club. 21 batsmen mustered 93 runs between them as the club endured apocalyptic defeats at the hands of Lilley and Flamstead. Eight ducks blotted the scorebooks (two of which were directly accountable to Freeman as he ran out Austin and Ward without scoring) as Offley plumbed the depths and provided a textbook display of how not to bat.
The Firsts made a pigs ear of chasing down 170 at Lilley. After Bexfield elected to open the bowling with the speedy combination of Barker and Vanhoof, Lilley posted a respectable, but not imposing, 169-6. Even allowing for the fact that Barker had been laid low by a mystery illness (for once alcohol was not a factor), there seemed no reason to suspect that Offley were poised to implode.
However, Bexfield went third ball, beaten for pace by Ashby and succumbing to yet another miscued pull shot against Lilley. Dhrupal Patel also failed to score and despite Brodie smearing a rapid 21, Offley were soon 29-3 when he spooned a simple catch. Keeley made a swashbuckling 3 before Lunney and Wardley dug in with a 12-run stand that lifted the total to 45-4. Unfortunately Offley then disintegrated as they were shot out for 51, wickets tumbling amid a tumult of inept shots and even more abject running from Double Agent Freeman who brought a swift end to proceedings by running out Offleys last two batsmen.
Coopers 2nd XI fared little better in their bid to score 162 at Flamstead. Of the top six batsmen, only Williams scored more than a single. He scored two singles. With the Sale brothers and Adam Ward all bagging ducks, the top six mustered just four runs between them. Law and Hum shared an improbably profitable stand as both passed 20 but in the end they were all out for 69, thereby bringing a dismal day to a merciful end.
Offley looked to bounce back at Southgate when they took on Northampton Exiles in a potential winner takes all encounter. Bridgland put the hosts in to bat on a hard, dusty surface and then let Brodie loose. Charging in with real venom and enthusiasm, Brodie subjected the Exiles top order to a ferocious examination of their techniques. Only opener Naik was able to resist as Brodie blasted out three batsmen and Keeley bagged another scalp to reduce the Exiles to 19-4. However, with their foot on their opponents throat, Offley were unable to drive home their advantage. The hosts scraped together enough runs to threaten a sizeable total and only when Naik needlessly ran himself out for 66 did Offley regain control after relatively disappointing spells from Tattersall and Cerasale. Nevertheless the Exiles finished on 158-9, thereby setting Offley a testing target on a surface that seemed ready to take spin.
Barker and Bexfield opened the innings, the former making it clear that he didnt think much of the invitation. However, he helped himself to four boundaries before being adjudged lbw sweeping by the home umpire, taking his leave of the crease by making it fairly clear that he did not think much of the decision.
Hoar joined Bexfield and the pair employed different approaches. Hoar was happy to go for his shots, carrying the attack to the bowlers and chancing his arm as he made 40 from 51 balls. Meanwhile Bexfield dug in, the situation apparently made for him, as he resisted the bowlers for 108 balls before succumbing to a tame drive after scoring 37. Brodie fell cheaply but Tattersall and Lunney carried Offley to the brink of victory with a vital 24-run partnership before Cerasale applied the coup de grace to send Offley to the top of the table.
The following day there was rejoicing throughout the land as England regained the Ashes. There was also rejoicing throughout the Offley ranks as they walked away from Icknield content in the knowledge that never again would they have to take on Houghton Town.
Even allowing for the chequered history between the two teams, the final encounter was fairly impressive. Possessed by the spirit of the long-departed M. P. Bigmore, Lunney attempted to extract a spot of revenge for Chillianwalla by reacting furiously to accidentally being struck on the arm by an errant throw. Offleys top order succumbed to strokes of varying degrees of incompetence and crapness, as they slipped to 26-5.
Barker played a captains innings, taking the attack to the bowlers and recording the top score of 14 before being given out to an lbw decision that he charitably described as fucking wank. Wickets fell in a heap before an unlikely alliance of Cutts and Williams added 26 for the final wicket to take the score to 101. Offleys bowlers put up spirited resistance (apart from Keeley who struggled with the task of bowling uphill into the wind while Barker came downhill with the breeze) and picked up four wickets, Barker claiming three and Cutts adding a fourth before Houghton Town clinched victory with 24 overs to spare.
The Seconds briefly threatened victory against Preston. Buoyed by Daniel Caddens three wickets, they dismissed the opposition for 136 before Damien Sale compiled an elegant 31 at the top of the order. Youngster Jordan Hook made a rapid 26 and at 81-5 Offley were still in with a shout. However, a youthful tail was swept away and the match ended in familiar fashion.
As Offley reached the business end of the season the equation was clear. Win their final two Saracens games and win the title, slip up in either and they would probably end up with nothing. North Mymms put up dogged, if uninspiring, resistance, batting 51 overs for 137. The highlight of the innings was provided by Keeley and Brodie indulging in a colourful spat regarding the formers mobility in the field. Keeley, cut to the quick by the implication that he was less mobile than a sideboard, claimed never to have been so insulted in 20 years of playing cricket. Despite that he still picked up three wickets and with Barker claiming four more, Offley were left with 49 overs to chase 138.
With a well-oiled Cutts turning up to offer moral support (he was well-oiled after rapidly consuming three pints in the sun, not doused in baby oil), Bexfield and Barker once again reprised their futile opening partnership. Bexfield was bowled for 0, thereby ensuring that the pairs highest opening stand of the season in the Saracens League was a woeful 55 from 10 innings. Chaudry scratched around to make 13 but with Barker displaying a rare determination and Brodie merrily laying about him like a man in a hurry, Offley romped to victory with eight wickets to spare, both batsmen finishing with unbeaten half-centuries. Elsewhere Northampton clinched victory in the final over against Broxbourne to ensure that Offley would need to win their final match of the year at Baldock to confirm their status as champions.
A club record eighth wicket stand of 136 between Freeman and Marc Ward was the highlight of an entertaining victory over Stevenage. A familiar collapse left Offley in trouble at 72-7 before Ward took the attack to the bowlers, plundering 14 boundaries in an unbeaten 70. Freeman was more circumspect, digging in against the bowlers, before realising that a maiden half-century was on offer and hurtling through the gears to bring up his 50 as Offley closed on 208-7.
Improbably Offley were well on their way to losing the match as Maguire smashed Wardley and Page to all parts of the ground. Freeman produced a solitary over of unmitigated dross that conceded 15 runs and the game was in the balance when Barker picked up a classical spinners wicket, snaring Maguire for 80 with a leg side full toss that the batsman contrived to deposit down Coopers throat at fine leg. Ward settled the issue with two quick wickets as Offley won by 40 runs.
And so to Baldock, a team desperate to win in order to stay up. Northampton made brutally short work of North Mymms, leaving Offley to win or finish the season with nothing to show for their hard work. With Barker absent at a wedding in Exeter and demanding constant updates by phone, Offley went to work. Freeman repeated his one-over burst of pure shite that led to his removal from the attack and Lunney dropped a sitter off Naylor that threatened to be slightly costly as the batsman (then on 3) went on to make 97. Cerasale and Tattersall were unable to stem the tide and Offley were forced to rely on five run outs to restrict Baldock to 218.
Offleys batsmen marched out in a do or die situation and in distressingly quick time it appeared that it might be time to summon up the hearse. Bexfield, the Saracens League equivalent to a walking wicket, perished after a painfully brief 4. Brodie made a breezy 13 but when Tattersall followed up his spell of 1-67 with a six-ball duck, Offley were in the cart at 31-3 and Barker was drinking heavily. Bridgland fell for 24 and when Chaudry went for 8 to round off his abysmal Saracens campaign, Offley were 60-5 and on the ropes.
Dhrupal Patel briefly turned the tide, unleashing a flurry of boundaries to keep the scoreboard ticking as Lunney patiently played himself in. The pair took the total to 104 before Patel fell for 23. Cerasale joined Lunney and they shared an enterprising stand of 63. Cerasale played his shots while Lunney, keen to atone for his fluffed chance and desperate to avoid going down in club legend as The Man who Dropped the Catch that Lost the League, played a determined innings. He eventually fell for 43, leaving Offley needing 52 to win with three wickets in hand. Keeley swung away to good effect before his ageing legs betrayed him and he was run out after adding 20 with Cerasale. Freeman not exactly the man most would have chosen to bat for their lives in a moment of crisis strode out to the middle and outscored Cerasale with some glorious shots. The pair had added 30 and brought Offley within two runs of victory when Cerasale edged a catch to the keeper and walked off after scoring 63 from 45 balls. Freeman and Austin a byword for incompetent running between the wickets joined forces with the entire season on the line, to say nothing of Barkers bar bill which was rapidly accruing tragic heights in deepest Devon.
Two to win, one wicket left, six balls to go.
Freeman promptly dropped his bottle and chipped a return catch to the bowler. Fortunately the chance went the same way as Freemans bottle and hit the turf to spare the watching Offley players a collective stroke. It was all over one ball later as the ball sailed down the leg side for four byes to give Offley victory and spark joyous scenes of celebration that featured old adversaries coming together in passionate embraces and were only slightly muted by the local band of travelling tinkers stealing the clubs lawnmowers.
After the beer flowed long into the evening, the team played out the last match in their North Herts history against Letchworth in typically subdued and hungover fashion. Perhaps no other batsman in club history has been quite as drunk as Gary Chamberlain was when he opened the innings. The rest of the batsmen were hardly in fine fettle either as none of the first six batsmen to be dismissed amassed more than 5. Lunney provided resistance with 45 before some generous bowling and field placings allowed Freeman to hammer an unbeaten 64 while Damien Sale weighed in with 23. 166 was never going to be a challenging total and the hosts duly knocked off the runs with 15 overs to spare, Vanhoof and Page both recording unwanted half-centuries with the ball.
The Seconds concluded another loss-littered season with an eight-wicket defeat at Codicote. Amid the wreckage of another top order disintegration (a top three containing Cooper and Cutts for crying out loud) Austin looked poised to register his first 50 for the club before tickling a catch down the leg side and walking for 49, thereby confirming his status as the only player in club history to pass the 1000-run mark without reaching 50. Cooper and Cutts both picked up a wicket before the end came.
Bridgland picked up the Saracens trophy at Wembley the following week in a blink and you missed it moment. On the same day Lunney led a depleted side to a comprehensive thrashing at Southgate Compton. Keeley made 39 opening the innings and the captain hit an unbeaten 55 before running out his final two partners, including last man Cutts without scoring.
An entertaining game at Langleybury ended in a draw with the hosts clinging on with 9 wickets down. Lunney made another half-century and Barker helped himself to a six-strewn 66, including a majestic shot over point that bounced back off the pavilion. He attempted to repeat it next ball and the ball bounced back off his detonated off stump. Wardley took a decisive step towards claiming the Duckwatch Trophy by missing a straight one in familiar fashion before Dathan Sale hit an unbeaten 23 including a huge six and Offley finished on 234-8.
The hosts kept going for the runs despite losing regular wickets once Wardley had made the initial breakthrough. Barker slowed the run chase with four wickets but the hosts held on to draw, closing on 204-9.
A game that no one would have wanted to play produced one of the best games of the season. The Steve Turner Memorial Match between Offley and St Josephs saw two teams come together to pay their respects to a fine man. Barker and Vanhoof both did their bit to enhance St Josephs prospects by dropping relatively easy offerings from Thomas Reilly. Nevertheless Reilly only made 42 about 83 less than usual against Offley and only a ludicrous unbeaten stand of 47 for the ninth wicket between Pat Turner and Harry Chudasama lifted St Josephs to 192 as matters spiralled out of hand in the closing overs.
Barker and Bexfield put on 43 for the opening wicket before hefty paceman Martin McCulley stubbed his toe and yelped in pain after hitting Bexfield on the pad. To Bexfields dismay, Umpire Cutts reacted to McCulleys girlish yelp by whipping his finger out of his pocket and raising it skywards to send a distraught Bexfield on his way for 19.
Duckmeister Wardley came in at number three and stunned all those who had seen him bat before by smashing a splendid 43 from 41 balls as he hit McCulley and Reilly to all parts before holing out in the deep to leave Offley on 110-2. Barker and Bridgland took the total to 153 but with the light fading and the run rate rising, Reilly returned to bowl Barker for 57.
Keeley smashed a ball towards the boundary that looked to be a certain six before Reilly clutched it in the gloaming. Bridgland perished attempting a big shot off Reilly and suddenly Offley found themselves relying on Lunney to hit the last ball of the match for a six to claim a tie. Lunney composed his thoughts, danced down the pitch to Chudasama, unleashed a mighty blow and connected with... fresh air. He was duly stumped by four yards as St Josephs, appropriately, claimed the cup.
A crap game at Datchworth ended in an eight-wicket defeat, the game memorable solely for Freeman forgetting to pick up Keeley. Only Barker passed 20, finishing unbeaten on 33, although even that was tarnished by the fact that he ran out a 13-year old without scoring. Offley finished on 139-9. Wardley claimed two quick wickets but Offley were brutalised into submission, losing by eight wickets with 16.4 overs to spare.
The season lurched towards its conclusion with a tie at Holtwhites Trinibis. Chasing 168 to win, Offley looked in control at 106-2 despite losing Keeley early on to a ruptured tendon (or something) as he collapsed in a heap attempting a ludicrous second run and was run out for a single. Lunney and Barker shared a stand of 66 (Barker scoring his 1000th run of the season) before the latter was caught at square leg. Brodie came and went in no time and Chamberlain swiped a quick 9 before he fell. Lunney and Harry Lovell both fell with the total on 123 and Offley looked poised to blow it.
However, Bexfield and Freeman (father and son or the odd couple, depending on how one views these things) rode their luck and survived numerous dropped chances to leave them needing 15 from the last over. The equation was reduced to three from the last ball to win. Bexfield was unable to find the boundary but the pair scampered two runs to tie the game.
If Offleys players had possessed an inkling as to what lay ahead of them in the final game of the season they would have packed their bats away there and then. But they didnt know, and duly headed for Southall Park with hope in their hearts and a jaunty air of optimism.
Even when Vanhoof pulled out half an hour before the start, Offley were still looking forward to enjoying themselves on the rolling playing fields of the Whitbread estate. Three hours later they were reflecting on cricketing hell after being hammered to all parts by an England under 18 batsman who scored 162 and staked the hosts to a total of 282-6 from 40 overs.
It might not have been Freemans finest hour but it certainly showed him at his worst as he refused to field at midwicket, opting instead to deploy himself at short third man and driving Bexfield to the end of his tether, as tempers boiled over amid farcical scenes that made subsequent disciplinary action inevitable. Torn between teaching Freeman a lesson and desperately trying to stem the flow of runs, Bexfield eventually tossed the ball to the portly speedster. Freeman was the pick of the bowlers with two wickets but still conceded 54 and did little for morale by accusing Ward of deliberately sabotaging his figures by failing to stop a ball at fine leg. By the time Offley dragged themselves towards the sanctuary of the pavilion, Bexfield was vowing to wash his hands of Freeman forever, team spirit had blown away on the wind and the only question remained was the margin of defeat.
In a season littered with spectacular batting collapses, it seemed improbable that Offley could somehow save the best for last. With no one showing any great enthusiasm for batting, Lovell and Brodie opened up with a stand of 14. Five overs later the scoreboard read 22-6.
Brodie went for 6 top score of the top six as it turned out. Lunney marched out needing 61 runs to rive him 1000 for the season. Moments later he marched back having fallen 60 short of his target. Chaudry went for 1 to leave the scoreboard reading a dismal 17-3 before Lovell and Ward repaired the damage with a five-run stand. Unfortunately Offleys position deteriorated slightly as they lost three wickets without increasing their tally. Ward (4) and Latino (0) wasted little time in the middle before Lovell (3) had his off bail trimmed by a beauty.
Barker and Freeman compiled a partnership of 10 despite Freeman doing his best to run his partner out due to his reluctance to face the quick bowler on the grounds that he was too fast before Freeman was bowled for 4 to leave Offley on 32-7 and staring down the barrel of their lowest every score.
Pride demanded an answer and Barker and Bexfield produced a 37-run stand before Barker lost his off stump after making 28. Freeman continued to make an fool of himself, serenading his raging skipper with a chorus of Boris, Boris, give us a shot! in homage to Bexfields stroke-free acquaintance from Southgate. Large was the last Offley batsman to be dismissed in 2009 after making a spirited 6, leaving Bexfield bloodied, dispirited but unbeaten on 19 as Offley were all out for 83, slipping to defeat by the narrow margin of 199 runs.
And that, as they say, was that.
The highlight was undoubtedly winning the Saracens League, a reward for some impressive performances throughout the season, both in terms of individual efforts and on those rare occasions victories that could actually be attributed to team spirit and camaraderie. At other times there were some shocking displays with bat and ball, notably Black Sunday.
I dont know where we finished in the North Herts League and at this time of day I dont really care. Ill settle for mid-table obscurity and the warm thought that never again will we be forced to play Houghton Town. Aye well, all good things must come to an end; still, 11-6 anyone?
The Seconds posted a mark of 3 and 12 although their greatest triumph was that they played the games (pass the bucket, someone, that sounds vomit-worthy). There was also, finally at about the 59th time of asking, success for Captain Cooper.
Which I suppose leaves just one question, and I think its only fair that Colin Williams provides us with the answer. In the immortal words of Colin Keeley, what the f*ck were you doing on the boundary at Ickleford?
See you in April.