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Offley & Stopsley CC 83-10 Vs Southill Park 282-6; 27th Sept

OSCC Lost by 199 runs

Offley & Stopsley closed out the 2009 season with an utterly shambolic performance at Southill Park as they slumped to a crushing 199-run defeat. If not quite the worst defeat in club history, it was arguably the most gruesome as the team capitulated with a complete lack of dignity.

Although Offley’s 10 men (Andrew Van Hoof wisely cried off shortly before the start with a sore thigh) were not exactly helped by having to contend with destructive batsman James Kettleborough (Bedfordshire, Middlesex and England Under 18s) and opening bowler Slack (Hitchin Town 1st XI), they still contrived to plumb hitherto hidden depths of ineptitude.

Not for the first time Matthew Freeman played a central – if not starring role – as he helped turn his club into a laughing stock following his latest run-in with authority before complaining (without a hint of irony) that Offley had disgraced the scenic Southill Park setting with their behaviour.

Following the withdrawal of Colin Keeley and Symon Wardley to injury the day before, Van Hoof’s last minute bail out left Offley to face their opponents with 10 men after frantic late phone calls failed to conjure up a replacement. Consequently Steve Bexfield agreed to let the hosts bat first, a move that looked progressively misguided with every Kettleborough boundary.

The 16-year old struck his first boundary in the opening over and was soon tucking into the offerings of Offley’s own 16-year old tyro Marc Ward. With Freeman unable to open the bowling, ostensibly on the grounds of a neck injury, Ward and Nathan Brodie did their best to make an early breakthrough but with no success.

Brodie gave way to Mo Chaudry and things quickly disintegrated as Freeman refused his captain’s request to field at midwicket. With Freeman laying down the law and pleading the effects of a longstanding eye injury, an incredulous Bexfield was forced to juggle his limited resources as Freeman opted to deploy himself at short third man.

The sight of the ball disappearing through the vacant midwicket area did little for the skipper’s sense of humour and from that moment on the remainder of the season was set on a collision course with disaster. Rejecting the invitation to go home – higher authority suggested that Offley might as well lose with nine as ten – Freeman heroically refused to “let the team down”.

Ward was replaced by Richie Barker, a move that was greeted with little enthusiasm by the bowler on account of a sore shoulder, his precarious hold on the bowling award and the fact that the prospect of bowling at Kettleborough was about as appetising as tackling a rogue elephant in steel toecaps. Despite his reservations Barker made the breakthrough when he dismissed Pike with the aid of a well-judged catch by Brodie to break the opening stand of 86.

Wells came to the crease and resolved to play his shots from the off. He raced to 18 before failing to control a drive off Chaudry and gave Chris Latino a catch at mid on. Freeman entered the attack at the other end and duly bowled with the customary hostility and vigour he invariably displays when he perceives himself cast in the role of a good man cruelly wronged.

Despite Ward’s attempts to sabotage his figures (at least in Freeman’s opinion, an opinion he felt the need to share with his colleagues), Freeman picked up two wickets, celebrating each with fervent delight. Had he elected not to duck under a relatively simple caught and bowled catch he would have claimed three scalps, although presumably he won’t be counting that as the 18th drop off his bowling this season.

At the other end Kettleborough unleashed cricketing hell as he smashed Darren Lunney to all parts. Chaudry pulled off some fine stops, Cliff Large belied his years and Barker went from long off to long off, throwing himself about in the field with something like reckless abandon, seriously endangering his genitalia with one full frontal dive.

Freeman attempted to do his bit, diving for a ball but missing it and damaging his knee. He rolled around for a few moments, pointed at the indentation where he had landed and then recovered his composure as soon as it was evident that he would not have to retrieve the ball from the boundary.

After Lunney had been mown to all corners of the ground, Harry Lovell finally removed Kettleborough after he had made the small matter of 162, smashing a well flighted delivery down Chaudry’s throat at deep midwicket. Southill Park closed on 282-6, leaving Offley to score at seven an over with Bexfield allowing his batsmen to sort the order out for themselves on the not unreasonable grounds that they weren’t going to listen to him anyway.

As a result Brodie and Lunney opened to the innings. Or at least they would have done if Lunney had been ready in time. Instead Lovell walked out to open with Brodie and anyone taking the odds that five wickets would go down before Lovell was dismissed would have made a small fortune.

After all that had gone before both in terms of the bowling figures and Freeman’s latest outburst, it seemed reasonable to expect that Offley’s batsmen would make a better fist of things and perhaps retrieve a thin slice of pride. In the event they managed to lower the bar even further with a display that could charitably be described as cowardly.

The openers constructed a solid partnership of 14 before Brodie guided Slack to second slip. Lunney walked to the wicket needing 61 to record his first 1,000-run season. Shortly afterwards he was walking back after falling 60 runs short of his target, bowled by Slack off an inside edge for a single.

Chaudry, a byword for single figure scores in recent weeks, decided that this was no time to construct an innings and elected to hit himself back into form. This aggressive approach lasted four balls before he holed out at mid on for a single.

Ward and Lovell looked to dig in and help Offley recover from the precarious situation of 17-3. Ward got off the mark with a boundary (thereby ensuring that Symon Wardley marked his debut season by scooping the Duck Watch Trophy) and helped Lovell take the score to 22. Unfortunately Offley’s position deteriorated somewhat as they lost three wickets without scoring a run.

Ward edged Slack to the keeper, Latino survived a loud appeal for leg before off his first ball before being given out off his second to give Slack figures of 5-1-7-4 before Lovell’s 10-over vigil ended when he was bowled for 3 to leave Offley in tatters on 22-6.

Barker and Freeman stopped the rot with a stand of 10. Freeman rejected a run on the grounds that he could not be expected to deal with Slack’s pace and preferred to stay at the sanctuary of the non-striker’s end. Despite cravenly refusing to face the paceman, Freeman was soon on his way, bowled for 4 by Galloway’s swinging delivery.

Bexfield joined Barker for the innings’ only partnership of note. They added 37 and avoided the humiliation of being bowled out before the drinks break or being dismissed for a record low score (the 43 effort at Therfield remains intact). Barker was finally bowled for 28 before Large and Bexfield provided spirited resistance for the last wicket with an enterprising 14-run stand. Tactful to the last, Freeman encouraged Bexfield by serenading him with chants of, “Boris, Boris, give us a shot,” before Large departed for 6.

The result was a shocking 199-run loss.

Quite what the after-effects will be remain to be seen because this was not a particularly great day for anyone. The Code of Conduct finally went up in smoke (although at least it lasted until the final day of the season) and a general air of “What’s the point?” was all too evident among some senior figures.

It was a shambolic performance and Offley could not be accused of failing to save their worst for last both in terms of performance and conduct on a day when the spirit of cricket and club morale took a shoeing to rival anything Kettleborough dished out to the Offley bowlers.