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We’re Livin’ in the Future and None of this has Happened Yet

The 2010 Offley & Stopsley Season Preview

Offley and Stopsley Cricket Club enter their thirteenth season, reflecting on an occasionally glorious first twelve years while facing an ever uncertain future. These days glory don’t pay the rent.....

It has been a winter of discontent for Offley with storm clouds hovering ever since the local raggle taggle bunch of travelling tinkers swiped the mowers on the night of the club’s moment of championship triumph – an incident that confirmed the belief that where Offley are concerned inside every champagne-filled cup there lurks a floating turd.

Chris Latino threatened to retire in the wake of a disappointing season where he dealt almost exclusively in single-figure scores and regarded adventures into double figures with the same reverential awe that Columbus reserved for discovering America. Matthew Freeman briefly threatened to quit after being handed a four-week ban (later commuted to three weeks) following his infamous display at Southall Park in the 2009 finale, a display of such sustained impudence that the captain felt the need to call Childline for help.

Richie Barker revealed he will miss up to a third of the season due to work commitments and, perhaps most seriously of all, Wayne Cutts failed to announce his retirement for the first time since 2007, vowing that 2010 is the year he finally emerges from his cocoon and makes the transformation from caterpillar to cricketing butterfly.

God help us all.

The 2010 season marks the beginning of a new era (hopefully one that will not prove short-lived). Offley have finally turned their backs on the North Herts League (cheerio, Houghton Town) and will compete in the Bedfordshire League. They will also take part in Division Eight of the Saracens League following last season’s epic promotion campaign, a campaign that culminated in glory on the final day of the season at Baldock. The Herts Village Trophy, the Mansfield-Towndrow Trophy and the Turner Prize are also up for grabs.

Dave Bridgland will lead Offley’s bid for another title in the Saracens League. It’s fair to say captaincy had a somewhat negative effect on his batting in 2009 (he averaged almost 11 runs fewer per innings than his career mark) but he compensated for his lack of runs with some inspirational leadership and creative field settings. 2009 was certainly not Bridgland’s finest year with the bat but it was undoubtedly the moment when he confirmed his credentials as the Man who would be Brearley. Bridgland’s bowling remains a potentially devastating weapon when employed at the right time against the right unsuspecting opponent and he retains the ability to pull off the odd age-defying catch around the bat.

Steve Hoar topped the batting averages for the first time in 2009 but a repeat performance seems unlikely with his appearances likely to be seriously curtailed by the prospect of spending the summer changing nappies. That’s not because he’s taken on the role of looking after Wayne but due to the fact he’s now a father. On the rare occasions that Hoar is able to feature in the line-up he should slot into his familiar role at the top of the order as he looks to supplant Barat Odedra atop the club’s all time batting averages.

Darren Lunney is coming off a career year with the bat where he cast aside the image of a leaden-footed, limp-wristed walking wicket and reinvented himself as a left-handed version of Chris Tavare, complete with turbo-chargers. Lunney performed heroics in the middle order in the Saracens campaign (never more so than in the last game when he ground out 43 priceless runs to help avoid the sobriquet of the Man who Dropped the Sitter that Lost the League) and scored 940 runs overall as he was named Player of the Year. Armed with a new bat and determined to finally scale the peak of Mount Century, Lunney will be looking to kick on in 2010. He has also turned himself into a useful bowler and retains the ability to chase down any ball in the outfield. Despite 19 catches last season he does not have the ability to hold on to everything that comes his way and while his speed gives him every chance of getting under the ball, his hands of stone give him no better than an even chance of holding on to it.

Steve Bexfield – he of the perennially furrowed brow and owner of his own personal dark cloud of deep despair – is poised for an all-round role in 2010. He enjoyed an inconsistent season with the bat last year, occasionally brilliant in the North Herts League – never more so than at Ickleford where he hammered 125 in a losing cause – and frequently abysmal in the Saracens League where he offered a good impression of a walking wicket. He may be used as a bowler this year in a bid to plug the hole in the seam department and could star in his role as a non-fielding version of Paul Collingwood, adding his experience as a finisher to the middle order. Bexfield has not bowled regularly for the best part of a decade but has 112 wickets for the club and could gain a new lease of life as a lightweight reincarnation of Derek Pringle.

Mo Chaudry is another all-rounder hoping to return to form with the bat in 2010. After passing 50 on six occasions in 2008, Chaudry invariably struggled to make it past 6 in 2009, frequently succumbing to a combination of poor shot selection and ill fortune. His bowling also headed south at a rapid pace – his 11 scalps cost 38.64 runs apiece – and by the end of the season he was waiting to be put out of his misery. However, he has enjoyed an impressive winter in the nets, showing signs that he has recaptured his form with the bat and also suggesting that he has regained a yard of pace. He may never be able to repeat 2007’s Saracens League batting title but he certainly has the ability to put last season’s batting disasters behind him.

Like a robust cheese Mark Tattersall continues to improve with age. Although he doesn’t make as many appearances as he used to, Tattersall rarely fails to make a big impression when he gets the chance to take the field (apart from when the league was on the line and he bowled crap and was out for a duck). Had he had one more innings in 2009 he would have won his first batting award and would have become just the third player in club history to win both batting and bowling titles in their careers. Tattersall still has the ability to carve any attack apart – ironically enough by relying on carving the ball in an arc over the infield – but he has adopted a more measured approach in recent times and has added a defensive prod to his repertoire of hoicks, mows and slashes. In addition to catching everything that comes his way, he generates prodigious swing with the ball and has the ability to run through a batting order on any given Sunday. He also still has the ability to drink more than anyone else at the club, a distinction that marks him out as a genuine all-rounder.

There are question marks hovering over the future of veteran all-rounder Jon Cerasale. Cerasale enjoyed an Indian summer as he produced a series of fine performances with bat and ball, culminating in a match-winning innings in the league decider against Baldock. However, his exertions last year may have reduced the Italian Stallion to a knackered out carthorse with early indications suggesting he will struggle to bowl effectively in 2010. It remains to be seen if Cerasale will be able to generate much pace this year and although he recoils in disgust at the prospect, his future may lie primarily as a batsman. Considering that he has scored over 3,000 runs for the club, that’s hardly the end of the world. However, his passion for the game appears dependent on his ability to bowl (it’s certainly not dependent on his ability to field where his injured back has reduced him to the role of a sideboard in the gully), and if he his thunderbolts have turned to dibbly-dobblies, Cerasale may be on his way to cricket’s glue factory.

Nathaniel Brodie may not be a proven all-rounder (he has never taken more than three wickets in an innings) but despite one respected authority suggesting he will never be a batsman while he has a hole in his arse, the scrawny beanpole figures to play a prominent role this season. It’s difficult to keep the quiet, mild-mannered Brodie out of the action – even horse tranquilisers have little effect. Brodie remains an all-or-nothing batsman (last season he logged his second career century and still managed to lower his career average over the season) and although he is happy to give the opposition a couple of chances early in his innings, he has the capacity to make them pay if they fail to get him early. His bowling is potentially his greatest weapon and he has the ability to wreak havoc on bouncy pitches. He is unquestionably the most effective ground fielder at the club and saves myriad runs in the covers yet looked strangely vulnerable under catches last season, possibly due to playing too many games under the influence.

Chris Latino regards Brodie as an inspirational figure, a guiding light as it were, both on the cricket field and in the pubs and clubs of Luton. Whereas Brodie has a secret collection of photos of Tom Reilly in action at the crease, Latino has a picture of Brodie on his key ring. Latino displays a similar zeal and recklessness when it comes to saving runs and is always quick to put his body on the line, throwing himself about with gay (that’s gay as in carefree, not gay as in having a picture of your mate on your key ring) abandon with never a thought for his battered Heather Mills knees. When he bats Latino often asks himself the simple question “What Would Brodie Do?” Unfortunately he tends to emulate Brodie by getting out cheaply attempting a really rank shot. Latino’s appearances are likely to be restricted this year but his love of drink and the chance to spend time with his mentor Brodie (and his bosom pal Freeman) should ensure he is a regular at the ground.

The incomparable Freeman starts the season under suspension. However, he should return to the side in May – providing he is not required to visit garden centres or go shopping – and is raring to go. Freeman has slimmed down over the winter (actually that might not be strictly true but he has bought himself some skinny fit jeans) and will be looking to recapture his bowling form of 2008 when he scooped the bowling award and terrorised infants and pensioners alike. In contrast last season he struggled to scoop up anything more than ice cream. Despite his decline as a bowler, Freeman blossomed as a batsman, scoring his first half-centuries for the club and threatening to emerge as Offley’s answer to Luke Wright with some mighty swings of the bat and the occasional mercurial piece of fielding. At other times he was a complete tool, driving four captains to despair, twice falling foul of the club’s code of conduct, and ultimately earning the lengthiest suspension in club history for anyone without the initials CK.

Marc Ward is another player who scored his first half-centuries in 2009. Ward employed a feast or famine approach for his trips to the crease, notching 125 runs in a pair of unbeaten knocks and mustering just 99 combined runs in his remaining 28 innings. This strategy was almost enough to scoop the Duck Watch Trophy but he was narrowly edged out in the closing weeks of the season. Despite his performances with the bat, Ward’s greatest value is with the ball and he took 29 wickets to win the Young Player of the Year award for the third and final time. Displaying the ability to swing the ball and trouble the best batsmen – whilst also displaying the ability to produce 11-ball overs and bowl some real dross – Ward could threaten the 50-wicket barrier in 2010. He is an enthusiastic, if inconsistent fielder, and occasionally appears to apply a catch-it-by-numbers approach to fielding, shelling sitters and clutching rockets with equal ease.

Charles Page enjoyed a mixed season, either taking wickets or conceding a barrage of boundaries depending on the opposition. He pulled off one of the best catches of the season with a stunning effort at Datchworth and will have the chance to bowl plenty of overs in the seconds this year.

Following an intensive winter working out, Gary ‘Make mine a large one’ Chamberlain has bulked up for the coming season. Chamberlain seems to be happiest when swinging for the fences and could make a serious run at topping the six hitters league – at least he might if he can overcome his tendency to play by numbers and avoid mowing across the line before reaching double figures. There’s no doubting his talent and this year he should record his maiden half-century. He is one of the club’s more athletic fielders and may possess the strongest arm in the deep.

Whereas Chamberlain has opted to bulk up for 2010, formerly chunky stumper Chris Austin has decided to step down in weight category and the one-time heavyweight keeper will be behind the stumps at cruiserweight level this year. Despite moving to London Austin will continue to take his place behind the stumps as often as possible. Austin came close to registering his maiden 50 last season and now enjoys the dubious distinction of being the only player in club history to score over 1,000 runs without scoring a 50. However, he continues to improve as a keeper (although he may concede more byes in 2010 on the grounds that there is less of him to stop the ball) and he holds the club record for stumpings with 32. Although there are no official statistics to support this claim, Austin boasts the lowest strike rate per 100 balls anywhere in the UK.

With Austin relocating to London, there could be more opportunities for Damien Sale to don the gloves for the first team on a Sunday. Sale has the chance to carve out a regular berth as the Beds League keeper. Sale’s keeping has improved significantly in the past couple of seasons and he rarely concedes byes, invariably prepared to sacrifice his body to block the ball. Sale did not have the happiest time with the bat last year – despite recording his highest score for the club (31) his other 11 trips to the crease yielded a mere 40 runs – but clearly has the potential to improve. He has a new bat for the coming season and will be eager as ever to take on the bowlers. Always keen to dance down the wicket to the pacemen, hopefully Sale will be able to loft the ball over cover in 2010 rather than chipping it straight down his throat.

Dathan Sale will also be looking for his first 50 for the club in 2010 after coming close last year when he finished unbeaten on 49. Sale’s weakness – getting bowled for less than 5 – is countered by his ability to unleash some prodigious shots and he has demonstrated the capability to clear the ropes and score quickly. He should emerge as one of the mainstays of the 2nd XI batting line-up in 2010 and retains the ability to catch most of the offerings that come his way in the field.

Dhrupal Patel brought wristy elegance to the Offley line-up last season. Batting at times like a poor man’s Azharrudin, Patel produced a series of flicks and glances that tended to result in boundaries or his dismissal. An unfortunate penchant to try and work everything across the line often ended in disaster as he struggled at times to come to terms with the lack of bounce in the Offley wickets. However, he came good when it mattered most at Baldock and also demonstrated an ability to hang on to the hardest of catches with relative ease.

Symon Wardley enjoyed a fascinating debut season in 2009. He unwittingly found himself cast in the role of the world’s least effective ringer at Rickmansworth (an aberration that cost 30 points) and struggled to make much of an impression with the bat before ripping St Joseph’s for 43. However, his other 24 trips to the crease yielded just 103 runs. Despite not making his debut until June, Wardley still found time to record seven ducks to scoop the Duck Watch trophy. With the opportunity to bat for an entire season, Wardley has the chance to make a serious run at the club’s all-time single season record of eight blobs (currently shared between Chris Latino and Philip Gourd). Amidst the carnage of his frequently wrecked stumps, Wardley demonstrated a reliable pair of hands as he held on to 14 catches and also showed some promise as a seam bowler.

Colin Williams produced 2009’s magic moment when he hauled in a stonking catch on the boundary at Ickleford before ruining it somewhat by high-kicking his way across the rope like a Cossack dancer in reverse. Williams flailed away to good effect with the bat on numerous occasions for the 2nd XI and never gave less than whole-hearted commitment in the field. Despite contriving at times to get out in somewhat weird and wonderful circumstances, he showed enough potential to suggest he will make further progress this summer.

Andrew Vanhoof will also look to kick on in 2010. Vanhoof enjoyed some spectacular moments after making his debut last season, recording a maiden half-century and also bowling well on occasion. Unfortunately his batting was often undermined by a tendency to try and sweep the ball off middle stump, a lack of judgement that invariably resulted in his dismissal. Regardless of whether he was performing with bat or ball, Vanhoof invariably failed to agree with the umpire’s verdict on lbw decisions, often coming a cropper with the bat and gaining little reward for his vocal appeals when bowling. Armed with a new bat, he will be looking to make rapid strides this year.

Gary Law demonstrated useful all-round qualities last year by scoring runs, taking wickets, keeping wicket and, most importantly, making teas. Blessed with four strings to his bow Law should continue to play a prominent role this year. He brought calm assurance to the Second XL batting line-up, often standing alone amid the wreckage and also picked up a number of wickets with his useful spin.

Wayne Cutts recorded the first five-wicket haul of his career last season, bagging 6-32 against Caddington, and also enjoyed a fairy tale season with the bat. Cutts finally reached the promised land of the 20s and averaged 5.91 with the bat, an improvement of more than 2 runs on his previous career average of 3.68 and even tried his hand as an opening batsman (admittedly an experiment that did not last long and produced little success). It’s too early to make rash predictions but it looks as though something might have clicked at last for the portly all-rounder and 2010 could be a vintage year. Although every catch remains an adventure and every trip to the crease threatens to be short-lived, Cutts continues to play the game with the enthusiasm of a chubby child let loose in a sweet shop – which is just as well because that’s exactly what he looks like after wintering well on an exclusive diet of dairy milk and dime bars.

Chirpy Australian Paul Hum is never short of a word in the field, constantly encouraging his colleagues with the reassuring cry of, “Bowling a treat,” and often doing his unwitting best to wind up the opposition (see Nomads, Hull. G). Hum may not be the greatest cricketer to ever emerge from Australia (thereby following in the footsteps of Balmer Bains – not the greatest cricketer to ever emerge from the subcontinent) but his commitment to the cause is unquestioned and anyone who makes the commute from London to open the innings and get out first ball of the match deserves to be regarded with respect. His fielding is not the greatest – enthusiastic but emphatically not the greatest – and he has been compared to a kangaroo with callipers.

Darrell Cooper has taken more wickets for Offley & Stopsley than all but two bowlers but these days the veteran cricketer has his eyes on a new role. Cooper is ready to cast himself in the role of the new Mike Brearley, a rather limited opening batsman who is capable of inspiring his troops to glory with his thoughtful captaincy. Unfortunately whereas Brearley could call upon the likes of Ian Botham and Bob Willis, Cooper’s pace attack is likely to include Page, Williams and Hum so any comparisons with Brearley may be a shade unfair. Cooper (career average 5.01) is determined to take on the new ball as captain of the Second XI in 2010 and will be keen to record his first 50 for the club and also record 100 runs in a season for the first time. The last time Cooper came close to a century was when he took 3-96 in eight overs against Houghton Town...

Colin Keeley is back for another season after a winter playing club cricket in Australia. Keeley earned comparisons with Australian legend Glenn McGrath during his time under, although primarily because he trod on a ball and injured his ankle rather than because of any lethal accomplishments as a bowler. Keeley may no longer be the bowler he once was although he remains capable of delivering the odd match-turning spell with the ball and can still be difficult for batsmen to get away. Fitness concerns have reduced his effectiveness in the field where he occasionally displays all the mobility of the Eiffel Tower. He still has a strong arm but his lack of speed now means that he can only throw the ball back to the keeper after it has already crossed the boundary owing to his inability to cut it off in time (see Lilley, away). However, while his fielding has deteriorated his batting has improved with age and he now matches the bowling pace of Derek Pringle with the doughty resilience at the crease of the former England star. Despite scoring a mere two half-centuries for the club in 150 trips to the crease, Keeley’s self-confidence and self-belief means that he will feel he has three figures in him this season as he looks to bolster the Second XI batting order and inspire the youngsters with his experience and love of the game.

All of which leaves the ‘big bloke who struts about like he owns the place.’ Such a sobriquet was not intended as a complement but it will come as little surprise that Richie Barker took it as such after the opening game with Lilley. Then again he had just become the first player to score 10,000 runs for the club and modestly marked the occasion by unveiling a T-shirt commemorating the achievement. Still, as has been noted before, where is it written that we’re not allowed to say how good we are? Barker’s appearances may be restricted in 2010 owing to work commitments (ha!) but he should still feature prominently with bat and ball as he goes in quest of his first century since the day Liverpool last won a trophy. He retains the uncanny ability to get wickets with non-turning deliveries but there are signs that while he can still hold on to most things that come his way in the field, he is not too far away from star jump territory when it comes to dealing with powerfully hit shots.

The stage is set for another season of cricketing mayhem with Offley going in quest of glory, Freeman poised to return from suspension in the second week of May, an overseas tour lined up for August (over the Severn Bridge to Wales at any rate), and all manner of carnage set to be unleashed in the coming months. As ever it won’t be dull.