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Offley & Stopsley 228-8 Vs Datchworth 223-9 - May 24th
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Just when it seemed that Offley’s long unbeaten record in the Saracens League was set to go by the board, just when all hope had gone and Colin Keeley had sunk to his knees in dismay and Steve Bexfield had looked to the heavens in anguish, Matthew Freeman came to the party in time for the 600th ball of the day and pulled off a stunning catch at long on to help Offley hold on for a draw.
Bexfield lost the toss and Offley’s 10 men were offered first use of an excellent batting track. Richie Barker and Darren Lunney opened the batting – the 10th different opening partnership in the 10th game of the season – and Barker proceeded to give a good impersonation of a man with no talent as he almost played on to his third ball, was dropped off his sixth and subsequently slashed two fours through the slip cordon in the following over.
However, after the initial alarms Barker and Lunney began to pick up the runs as the boundaries began to flow, Lunney getting off the mark with a glorious off drive. Barker passed 50 during a series of scoring shots that featured six successive boundaries and Lunney also looked in good touch. The partnership was worth 101 when Barker holed out at long on for 76.
Lunney and Mo Chaudry took the score to 124 before Chaudry sliced a drive to backward point and Lunney edged a catch to the keeper to leave Offley on 129-3. Carl Clare and Jon Cerasale joined forces in an entertaining 48-run stand as Offley’s innings gathered momentum. Cerasale got off the mark with a six and dealt exclusively in boundaries as he hammered 24 (2 sixes, 3 fours) before being trapped in front. Clare – borrowing Freeman’s bat for the occasion after damaging his own blade – also played some fine strokes as he eased to 31, flaying the tiring bowlers to the boundary with casual disdain. Scott Addy swung away to make his highest score of the season before missing a straight one and Colin Keeley joined Clare in the middle. Moments later Keeley and Clare came together at the same end following an unfortunate mix-up that resulted in the West Indian being run out by about 19 yards.
Steve Baron – resplendent in a pair of black shoes that afforded him the mobility of a pair of deep sea diver’s boots – followed Addy’s example in dying for the cause before a shadow was cast over Freeman’s day as he went back to a ball of full length and was adjudged lbw before he had managed to get off the mark. It was the first duck of the season for Freeman. Fortunately Freeman’s spirits were soon lifted by a magnificent tea. Keeley finished unbeaten on 11 and Bexfield made a plucky 1 not out batting at number 10 as he inched ever closer to his century of not outs for the club. Bexfield called a halt after 48 overs, leaving Datchworth to score 229 to win in 52 overs.
Openers Marlor and Warrington got off to a solid start against a steady opening spell from Keeley and a fairly iffy one from Barker as Bexfield opted to persevere with the new ball. Cerasale made the breakthrough when he trapped Marlor lbw moments after having a strong shout turned down against the same batsman. Warrington and Brown took the score up to 89 with few alarms but without showing any great inclination to up the scoring rate. Cerasale and Clare both bowled tight spells, at one point conceding just five runs in four overs between them as Datchworth stuttered to a halt. Warrington reached 50 (the first time that line has ever featured in an Offley report) before miscuing a drive off Cerasale and giving a chance to Freeman at mid on where he took the catch. Cerasale, bowling through the pain of losing a toenail finished with 2-38 before giving way to Keeley. Clare had Bennett caught in the covers without scoring and when Barker trapped Hyams lbw, Datchworth were 105-4 and seemingly ready to settle for a draw.
However, Bexfield opted to dangle a carrot and with the 10 fielders giving a good impression of nine men and Barker bowling with a Boatwrightesque air of ineptitude as he tossed the ball up for the batsmen to hit, Datchworth stormed back into contention. Nash and Brown added 93 in quick time before Nash sliced Barker to Chaudry at cover to make it 198-5. The rate began to climb and Brown was run out for 70 as he lumbered up the hill in search of a second run but was comfortably beaten by Lunney’s throw and some good glove-work from Addy. Datchworth needed 17 runs from the last seven balls with four wickets standing and a draw looked on the cards when Barker helpfully served up a Boatwright special that disappeared somewhere over midwicket for six to leave Datchworth needing 11 from the last over. Barker retired to the outfield with Bexfield’s ever-so-slightly-sarcastic congratulations ringing in his ears after completing a tidy spell of 15-2-85-2, figures that were either the result of extracting too much turn from the surface and making it impossible for Bexfield to set a field with only 10 men or a product of some real dross.
Keeley, the man for a crisis, stepped up to deliver the final over. The first five balls gave the batsmen little width or freedom to swing their arms and although Datchworth picked up five runs they lost two wickets to run outs with Addy doing an excellent job of keeping his nerve under pressure to field the ball and remove the bails. A scrambled single off the penultimate ball left Little with the chance to win the match if he could clear the ropes.
Keeley began his run, pounding down the slope like a runaway roller, before bounding into the wicket and serving up a nice, juicy, full-length delivery that screamed “Hit me over long on for six!” Little swung and connected, sending the ball towards the boundary and sparking cheers from the sidelines.
For a moment time stood still. Keeley squatted on his knees, head in his hands, unable to watch, as the ball soared over his head towards the boundary. Bexfield screamed in silent agony, as he contemplated the end to an unbeaten streak encompassing 25 games and stretching back to July 29, 2006. And in that moment, Freeman searched for the hero inside himself and somewhere – God alone knows where amid the half-digested cookies and Jaffa Cakes and the cumulative effects of 23 years of junk food – he found a dose of heroism and athleticism that allowed him to reach up and pluck the ball out of the air a split-second before it sailed over the rope.
It was a magnificent catch that brought the final curtain down on a magnificent game and ensured that honours ended even, even if the points total did not with the peculiarities of the league giving Offley 19 points while Datchworth were forced to settle for 8.