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Offley & Stopsley CC 274-7 Vs Ickleford 293-4; 12th July

OSCC Lost by 19 runs

Steve Bexfield scored an imperious 125, Richie Barker crashed an unbeaten 51 from 23 deliveries and Offley made their highest-ever score batting second as they posted 274-7 at Ickleford. Unfortunately they still came out on the wrong end of the result after being pounded into submission by the Ickleford batsmen as the hosts piled on 296-4, subjecting the Offley bowlers to all manner of humiliation. On top of that Offley had to put up with the comedy stylings of Giggle and Jenner, the least original double act since Cannon and Ball, as the pair competed to discover which one of them could irritate Offley’s players most. It was, as someone once said, a close run thing.

Bexfield won the toss and after some hesitation elected to bowl first on a hot day on a track which seemed guaranteed to have runs in it. Bexfield calculated – correctly – that an attack shorn of Cerasale, Tattersall and Qumar would struggle to defend any score on the pitch and was soon proved correct as Mo Chaudry leaked runs from the outset, serving up a variety of pies, moon balls and pies from outer space. The game might have been very different had Willoughby not hit a moon pie straight into and out of the hands of Nathan Brodie at cover when he had barely reached double figures. In the context of the game (Willoughby ended on 92 – thereby subjecting the Offley fielders to plenty of banal shouts of “Batting, Willoughbeeeeeeeeee,” from the man with the initial DJ, appropriate enough as sounds like a broken record) this could be regarded as an expensive drop.

Willoughby and Millwood began to impose themselves on the bowlers and for the second day running Offley’s bowlers suffered the ignominy of failing to pick up a wicket before the drinks break. (Seriously, how f*cking hard is it, for f*ck’s sake!?(would be easier if the fielders would hold onto the 4 drops)) They had put on 111 for the opening wicket when Millwood attempted to smear Barker into Hitchin and succeeded only in slicing a drive to Freeman at point. Freeman took an eternity to move but eventually fell over, grasping it safely. Barker was promptly smashed out of the attack and Darren Lunney also came in for torrid treatment as Offley’s fielders began to wilt in the heat. Colin Keeley, a worthy workhorse, was cruelly denied a wicket when Carl Clare took a brilliant catch on the boundary but overbalanced and tiptoed over the rope to reprieve the batsman and concede six runs one ball after Mo Chaudry dropped a skier at deep mid on.

The onslaught continued. Willoughby hit the ball high and hard and seemed certain to reach three figures before pulling one straight to Lunney on the boundary after Keeley had slowed the run rate from a deluge to a simple flood. However, there was no let up in the assault. Edwards weighed in with a rapid 60, surviving a brutal chance to Mo Chaudry in the deep, while the ever-entertaining Giggle got away with a regulation offering to Lunney. Clare briefly stemmed the flow when he picked up two wickets in one over, bowling Edwards for 60 and then accounting for Giggle, sent on his way by a gravity-defying, age-denying, high-flying, mystifying catch from Barker as the fielder hurtled around the boundary and dived full length to catch it inches from the ropes. (Barker is the author).

Yet just when it seemed things could get little worse for Offley – after all the visitors were closing in on 300 at this point – Keeley stepped up to bowl the final over.The first ball went for a single, then Keeley’s humour turned sour, witnessing the stunning effort in the deep from Colin Allen John Dudley Williams.

Jenner heaved a swipe towards the waiting Williams at cow corner. The fielder initially misjudged the catch, moving in slightly before readjusting his balance to move into position five yards inside the line. He safely pouched the catch and then – for reasons that probably need diagrams to explain or would at the very least fill up an entire episode of the X-Files – elected to backpedal manically like the energiser rabbit in reverse, doing a jig that would do the riverdance proud, he wandered backwards and over the boundary with the ball in his hands to give away yet another six. With Williams on his knees in despair, and Keeley at the end of his tether (after seeing the second six of this type) lost his cool,  a man who has never lost his composure on the cricket pitch or whittled sticks on the boundary, was beside himself with rage, opining at some volume that his teammate was, “A twat! What are you doing? I can’t believe I’m seeing this!” At this point it was unclear whether Keeley was referring to Williams’ drop or the sight of Freeman and Barker rolling around in the deep having hysterics. The final ball two balls of the innings duly went for 4 as Keeley finished with figures of 8-0-74-1 and Ickleford ended up on 296-4.

Rightly deciding that this was not the time for Agincourt-style speeches, Bexfield simply nominated the batting order and then walked out to lead the counter offensive. Bexfield and Dhrupal Patel opened the innings and the pair both went for their shots. Bexfield was a little streaky at first, surviving a regulation catch behind the stumps and a hard chance in the gully and Patel’s pads offered a steady target to the bowlers, but the pair soon had the scoreboard moving over.

Bexfield took four boundaries in a row off Wheatley and Patel played some glorious wristy flicks to spread the field before he tried one too many and was trapped in front for 25 to end an enterprising stand of 78. Bexfield soon passed 50 but with Chaudry struggling for fluency Offley began to fall seriously behind the run rate. Chaudry’s attempts to hit himself into form ended when he sliced a drive off Crouch and was held at cover.

Brodie provided a spark as he hit the ground running, hitting four boundaries in quick time before dancing down the wicket to Giggle and missing the flipper – or the side-splitter or whatever he calls it – and was stumped in familiar fashion to leave Offley on 175-3. Bexfield passed three figures with his 19th boundary but the heat and age were beginning to take their toll and when Lunney was run out for 9, Offley needed 99 to win from 48 balls.

The impossible dream looked over when Bexfield was bowled aiming a tired swipe at Jenner. He departed for 125, a fine captain’s innings that had briefly given Offley hope of overhauling their massive target. Keeley and Barker came together with 70 wanted from the final four overs and the pair resolved to go down swinging. And so Keeley went for the big one and sliced one skywards and managed to pick out the only man in the infield. Williams was run out at the start of the final over – 39 off six balls always looked a little steep – but Barker carried on blazing away like Davy Crockett in the final minutes at the Alamo, hammering three sixes and reaching his half-century off the final ball as Offley closed on 274-7.

It ended a valiant effort by Offley’s batsmen to chase down the huge target and led to rueful reflections as to what might have been had a couple of chances stuck or a couple of fielders – one in particular – had managed to stay in the field of play instead of hurtling off over the boundary like a defective wind-up toy. Ultimately it was a defeat that means the dream of a North Herts League title is gone although no one could say that Offley’s batsmen went down without a fight.