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Offley & Stopsley, 111-4 Vs Welwyn, 110 all out

OSCC Won by 6 wickets

Mo Chaudry cracked an unbeaten 78 to guide Offley home against Welwyn. Offley’s victory plus plucky Hexton’s draw with Potter’s Bar was enough to send Steve Bexfield’s team 22 points clear at the top of the table and leave them requiring 39 points from their final two games to be assured of the title.

Bexfield won the toss for the third time in a row and had little hesitation in opting to bowl first on a green wicket that promised to offer plenty of early assistance to the seamers. Matthew Freeman and Colin Keeley took the new ball but Welwyn’s openers got off to a rapid start as they took 24 from the first six overs. However, Freeman made the breakthrough when he removed Carrollan after the batsman attempted an ill-judged pull shot to a length delivery. Welwyn’s hopes took a further blow when Byford retired hurt with damaged knee ligaments before Chris Austin flopped away to his right to pull off a fine catch behind the stumps to account for the splendidly named Primarolo and give Keeley his first wicket of the day. The second wicket arrived with the very next ball as Hyatt tamely hung his bat out to dry and dragged the ball into his stumps.

Qumar replaced Freeman and after a wayward opening over switched to round the wicket with immediate results. Qumar bowled Mester for six and then sent back the portly Sumdter for no score. Keeley won a leg-before decision before Qumar ripped the dangerous Fitzgerald’s leg stump out of the ground to leave Welwyn firmly in the mire with seven wickets down and Byford en route to hospital.

However, Wiles and Giddons dug in for the hosts as they battled to salvage the unpromising position of 74-7. Despite beating the bat with impunity Qumar was unable to wrap up the innings. Gareth Mathewson bowled a miserly nine-over spell but the excitement occurred when Giddons miscued Qumar straight to Darren Lunney at mid off. With plenty of time to steady himself for the catch – a fierce shot off the splice – Lunney brought his hands together like a demented cymbals player and could only watch in disbelief as the ball clattered off his rib cage and dropped to the ground. Skipper Bexfield was too stunned even to vent his customary dismay at a squandered opportunity.

Giddons was unable to take advantage of his reprieve as he sliced Qumar high to Wayne Cutts at backward point. Cutts, still searching for his first catch of the year in the final week of August, looked left and right to see if either the fielder in the gulley or at cover fancied it before resolving to take the catch or die in the attempt. He trembled nervously under the ball before clutching it with surprising ease and celebrating in some style. Despite the breakthrough Welwyn’s final pair refused to surrender meekly and they dragged the score up to 110 before Richie Barker trapped Mosscrop in front to end the innings. Qumar finished with 4-21 after demonstrating hitherto undiscovered levels of stamina, fitness and accuracy in reeling off an exceptional 16-over spell, figures that would have been even better but for six wides.

With the clouds giving way to intermittent sunshine Chaudry and Nathan Brodie opened the innings in a bid to set Offley on the way to a quick victory. However, Brodie’s recent fine run of form came to an abrupt end as he attempted to cut a ball off middle stump and paid the penalty. Steve Bexfield’s season of woe continued as he mistimed a pull and lobbed a simple catch to mid on before trudging sadly back to the dressing room. Qumar top-edged a sweep and Barker played round a Rock Hudson of a delivery (which is to say that it might have looked straight but it wasn’t – at least not from your correspondent’s viewpoint) to leave Offley rocking on 54-4 as Austin joined Chaudry in the middle.

Welwyn’s hopes of a dramatic victory were destroyed as Chaudry unleashed a barrage of sustained power hitting, hammering three sixes and ten boundaries as the fielding side wilted. Umpire Bexfield demonstrated his delight with a succession of little jigs at square leg as the target came ever closer, a display that may have lacked a little in sportsmanship but suggested that the fancy footwork he shows in thrusting his pad at the ball may have helped him become a nifty dancer. With Austin content to play a supporting role, Chaudry pounded the Welwyn bowlers into submission, inflicting the decisive blow with another boundary to wrap up a six-wicket win and carry Offley another step towards the prestigious Division 11 crown.