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Offley & Stopsley 120-8  Vs Lilley 124-7 ; 19th April 2009

OSCC Lost by 3 Wkts

Offley & Stopsley began the 2009 campaign in inept fashion as they slipped to a three-wicket defeat against an under-strength Lilley outfit, falling 1-0 behind in the race for the Mansfield-Towndrow Trophy.

Offley were left to rue a lacklustre batting performance and also regret the fact that former Lilley legend Kenny Hammond has yet to catch up with his nemesis Timothy Perry – the villain who drove him away from the club he loved – and exact revenge in a darkened alley. Perry took 3-14 and followed it up with a critical 37 as Offley folded against a team they will face in the upper echelon of the North Herts League this year after their local rivals gained promotion via the back door.

Steve Bexfield won the toss and elected to bat on the principle that the pitch would cut up as the match progressed – as it turned out this proved to be a fairly serious error of judgement and suggests that despite 11 seasons of experience at Offley, groundsman/skipper Bexfield still needs to work on reading the pitch.

Offley made little progress in the opening 10 overs as the boggy wicket proved ideal to accommodate trundler James Ashby’s medium-pace offerings. Between them Ashby and Gareth Tompkins kept it tight, Ashby conceding just 10 runs in five overs and Tompkins bowling one maiden over in a spell of 4-1-4-0.

However, the breakthrough came when Steve Hoar attempted to pull Stuart Collinson. The ball pitched halfway down the track and proceeded to roll along the floor, striking Hoar on the back foot as he conveyed the impression of a man playing French Cricket with a frying pan.

Bexfield and Richie Barker shared the highest partnership of the innings, adding 26 in five overs, before Perry struck first. Barker, who had been timing the ball so well that he broke his bat getting off the mark, dragged an extravagant drive into his stumps and Gary Chamberlain followed soon after to make it 49-3.

Nathan Brodie joined his captain and demonstrated his eagerness to run the opposition ragged. Unfortunately in his eagerness to do so, Brodie called Bexfield for an optimistic second run. Bexfield lost his balance and landed on his arse in the mud at the bowler’s end, presumably suffering from ruptured tendons or an ear infection. Tragically Brodie seemed caught between completing the second and rushing to the side of his stricken skipper – consequently he was run out by the length of the pitch.

It was 63-5 moments later when Umpire Freeman sent Mo Chaudry back to the hutch with an lbw decision that was viewed as questionable in some quarters and abysmal in others; perhaps Freeman was simply over-zealous in raising his finger because he was desperate to get out to the middle and have a bat himself.

Bexfield obligingly guided a long hop from mystery spinner Mik Carman down long leg’s throat before Darren Lunney was undone by Ashby’s lack of pace, a half-tracker producing not so much tennis ball bounce as sponge ball bounce. However, Chris Austin held the rearguard together with an unbeaten 18 and Colin Keeley weighed in with a couple of lusty blows as Offley limped up to 120-8.

Bexfield’s plans of opening the bowling with Matthew Freeman were left in ruins when the portly pace ace announced that despite having had seven months to warm up for his opening spell, he was unfit to bowl and would have to be used in the role of specialist fielder.

Consequently Bexfield opened up with the searing pace of Keeley and Barker. Keeley was soon limping into his stride, fighting through the pain of a ripped calf muscle to produce a miserly, albeit luckless opening spell. Midway through the innings Keeley was forced to limp off the field to apply potions and ointments to his battered limbs and played no further part in proceedings.

At the other end Barker induced Brad Tompkins to play a limp-wristed slog sweep that gave Lunney the simplest of catches at short midwicket. Chamberlain ran Mills out with a brilliant piece of fielding but Perry and Gareth Tompkins shored up the reply and Lilley were on their way to victory before Brodie induced a top edge and Chaudry snaffled Perry on the boundary.

The pendulum looked to have swung in Offley’s favour when Tompkins nicked a snorter from Brodie and Austin took the catch. However, the game turned in the moment that Ashby mistimed an agricultural flat-batted mow towards mid off. Specialist fielder (specialist needs fielder?) Freeman stood ready to take the catch but misjudged the flight of the ball and also managed to put his hands in the wrong place. He also misjudged the burden of history when he expected his teammates to give him tea and sympathy after he trotted out his first excuse. His subsequent revelation that he had not dropped a catch but saved a four did not do much for his popularity either.

Chaudry picked up the wicket of Karl Berry for a fortuitous 11 before Lunney gave Offley late hope by inducing Ashby to prod a return catch. However, Steve Eyres hit Lunney out of the ground and repeated the treatment with a fine shot off Brodie to effectively settle the issue. In between Eyres smashed one to Freeman at long off which the specialist fielder booted over the boundary via his knee and also allowed a shot off Lunney to roll through his legs. Lilley clinched victory when Craig Paddington lofted Lunney down the ground for an improbable boundary.

All in all, it was a fairly disappointing start to the season from Bexfield’s team. Offley’s batsmen produced just five boundaries and only three reached double figures. On top of that Freeman produced one of the worst all-round performances ever seen by an Offley player (no runs, no wickets, one very costly drop, three miss-fields and one very dubious umpiring decision), and in all probability the worst by a player who did not have the excuse of being either hungover or stoned. There were few redeeming features to be taken from the game and things will have to improve in all departments if Offley are to have a hope against Houghton Town in a week’s time.