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Offley & Stopsley, 151-7 Vs Bayford and Hertford, 150-9 - 26th July

OSCC Won by 3 Wkts

Official Match Sponsors: Adam and the Ants – Not enough for Richie to resist the Ant Invasion!

Offley escaped from the depths of 40-5 to keep their promotion hopes alive on a sultry afternoon as tempers frayed in the heat. Mo Chaudry smashed a savage 69 as Offley battled their way out of a hole and Richie Barker kept his nerve when all around him were losing theirs in the midst of a plague of flying ants to drag Offley over the line.

Steve Bexfield won the toss and elected to field first, a move that didn’t exactly provoke mass cheering in the home ranks but was regarded as something of a necessary evil. Offley opened up with their Jumbo Package in attack. Martin McCulley and Barker shared the new ball, making the ground shake with their approach to the crease and causing all problems for the batsmen in the face of the heaviest Offley new ball attack in history.

McCulley struck early, inducing Davis to play on before removing the Bradman-esque Brooks for no score. This was the start of a happy day for Brooks, who wasn’t actually good enough to lay the bat on the ball despite batting at number three but didn’t half go on about it when someone else did (or appeared to). The younger Davis played on to Barker for 2 as he failed to account for turn (there wasn’t any) before Morris and Samalak mounted a rescue operation from 14-3. It might have different if Majid had been able to haul in a sharp chance before Morris had got the mark. The score began to tick over before Barker ended Samalak’s resistance with a ball that turned out of the rough and bowled the bemused batsman behind his legs.

Morris looked like being the key wicket and Offley had two chances to remove him in the same over. First of all he drove the ball high towards Matty Freeman on the long on boundary. Freeman was under it all the way and didn’t have to move as it looked set to sail down his throat. Unfortunately he decided to run in a couple of yards and could only watch as the ball dropped over his head – for four. Two balls later Colin Keeley ran 20 yards to position himself under a chance at deep square leg and seemed certain to catch it before muffing the chance and eventually doing well to only turn it into 4 and not 6.

However, the pair were soon into the attack, Freeman striking with his first ball before Keeley finally picked up the wicket of Morris for 65. The pair bowled well at the death with the inspirational Freeman getting some great help from his fielders as they followed his example and sacrificed their bodies for the cause, or something like that. The visitors finished on 150-9, a score that looked to be well within Offley’s reach.

After seven balls of the reply the sun looked to be closer than the target as Offley got off to a shocking start. Nathan Brodie was castled in the first over for 2 before Bexfield was sent on his way first ball as the delivery ripped through his defences. Offley 3-2 and on the rocks.

The innings was stabilised by Chaudry and Wayne Cutts. In his last innings as a single man, Cutts rose to the occasion and batted with commendable aplomb as he halted the Bayford attack in its tracks. He made a priceless 11 (priceless in terms of valuable runs and the fact it cost Bexfield a jug after he had confidently predicted that Cutts would fail to make double figures), running the ball through the third man area with precision and helping Chaudry dig in. In the end it was something of a surprise when he launched a sweetly timed off drive straight into the hands of mid off to make it 37-3.

It was much worse moments later with the scoreboard reading 40-5. Majid played across the line and chipped a simple return catch before Chris Latino – fresh from an extensive net session on Wednesday night – decided that he had the ability to hit over the top at the start of his innings. Consequently he elected to tee off on his second ball, confidently clearing silly mid off with a lofted drive but failing to negotiate the man at mid off and accordingly registering his fifth duck of the campaign.

Barker joined Chaudry but looked all at sea against the swinging ball as he struggled to lay a bat on it despite a strong appeal for caught behind before he had scored. The appeal was turned down and Barker survived. He and Chaudry slowly repaired the wreckage of the innings, with Chaudry in brutal form. He reached his 50 with a slightly fortuitous single after Brooks failed to hold on to a catch at mid on that may well have won the game for the visitors. Instead Chaudry opened up, hitting four sixes in all, while Barker hammered the hitherto peerless Skinner to all parts of the ground. The game was all but won as the first wave of ants arrived and Chaudry thumped Samalak for consecutive sixes before lobbing a full toss to cover. By the time Keeley had arrived in the middle the ant invasion was fully under way. Keeley showed little stomach for the plague – despite the fact he swallowed one – and was soon on his way for a single.

However, Marc Ward stood firm, getting off the mark with a boundary and Barker brushed aside the swarm of ants intent on massacring his neck, to launch Skinner into the trees for 6 before Ward slashed the winning runs with a confident drive through point.

The victory marked something of a great escape for Offley, despite a number of words being exchanged afterwards and one member of the opposition upsetting Freeman’s sense of decency and chivalry by refusing to shake his hand on the boundary edge, an action that rather compromised his claim to be the guardian of cricket’s soul. Then again considering his efforts during the game the individual in question would probably have missed Freeman’s hand if he had tried to shake it, so perhaps all’s well that ends well....