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Offley & Stopsley CC 100-10 Vs Hougton Town 101-4 ; 23rd Aug

OSCC Lost by 6 Wkts

A weakened Offley outfit travelled to Icknield, a venue they traditionally regard with about as much warmth and enthusiasm as the Christians once reserved for the Coliseum, and went down to an inevitable six-wicket defeat.

The hosts won the toss and even though the Offley team was scattered across Luton as a result of discovering the game had been switched to a 1:30 start about two hours before the match was scheduled to get underway, Offley were asked to bat first. Not for the first time Offley’s batsmen found themselves confronted with a dry surface at picturesque Icknield and not for the first time the players found themselves en masse asking the question as to why they were there, especially when they could have been watching England win the Ashes.

Chris Austin and Dhrupal Patel opened the batting and the pair survived with few alarms until the eighth over. However, Austin provided the cue for the wheels to come off when he offered a catch down the leg side and scandalously walked instead of waiting for the umpire’s decision.

This display might not quite have been tantamount to desecrating a war monument but it was nevertheless an affront to the memories of those Offley batsmen down the years who have been triggered, sawn off and just plain robbed of their wickets in this fixture. Austin was left in no doubt that he’d let the side down as he was upbraided in sulphurous terms by his captain.

Austin’s dismissal also sparked a collapse as Offley lost five wickets for nine runs, slumping from 17-0 to 26-5. Andrew Vanhoof looked to flick a ball over the legside but could do no more than spoon a simple chance to midwicket. Patel was next to go, falling in somewhat typical – dare one say customary fashion – as he shuffled across the stumps and attempted to flick the ball on the onside only to be pinned in front. That left Offley in deep trouble at 19-3.

Nathan Brodie looked determined to play a big innings. He had informed his teammates that he was not going to throw his wicket away. He wasted little time in scooping a simple chance to backward point but was reprieved by a cack-handed piece of fielding. Surely Brodie would make Houghton Town pay for their blunder. Sadly not; moments later Brodie waltzed down the wicket and chipped a ridiculously easy catch to mid off. One ball later the scoreboard showed an even sorrier tale, 26-5, as Symon Wardley was trapped in front first ball and sent on his way by the hosts’ umpire, the prize pupil from the Ken Willis Umpiring & Charm Academy.

Darren Lunney and Richie Barker briefly rallied with a stand of 27. However, Lunney lost his composure after being struck by the ball by a fielder’s throw, suffering a serious bruise as a result. Moments later he played a tame shot and missed the ball to be comprehensively bowled. It was 53-7 in the next over when Barker got in a big stride, playing forward outside the off stump but was sent on his way anyway by the home umpire whose understanding of the lbw law and fitness to apply it would rule him out of standing in a game of beach cricket. Barker simply laughed and walked off, safe in the knowledge that he had at least top-scored with 14 runs.

Paul Hum and Colin Keeley now tried their luck, adopting different approaches. Hum dug in, an Australian determined to die with pride on a black day for his home country. It was a black and blue day for Hum as he unflinchingly got himself into line with a series of rapid deliveries, pluckily scoring a single before having his stumps rearranged. Keeley made merry, smashing a couple of boundaries, including one that seemed destined to clear the ropes, and indeed might have done had he put his considerable frame behind it. Instead it fell just short. Keeley was duly bowled by a wicked turner trying the same dazzling stroke three balls later.

Offley were in disarray at 75-9 yet even now in their darkest hour there was still time for heroes. Wayne Cutts and Colin Williams emerged from the eye of the storm, taking on the bowlers and giving as good as they got. Despite some frankly disgraceful running between the wickets – the pair looked like a pair of slightly camp undertakers’ mutes running after a hearse with a bunch of lilies in their hand – they managed to add 26 for the final wicket, dragging Offley past three figures. Cutts played the shot of his life, lacing a tremendous drive over extra cover and Williams batted with aplomb before being given out in controversial fashion. The home umpire sent Williams on his way, caught low down at backward point, raising his finger with an alacrity one would have considered over-enthusiastic in a member of the Hitler Youth meeting the Fuhrer for the first time. The umpire – the man who once apologised to former captain Martin Bigmore for giving him out by admitting it was a dodgy decision – later admitted it that he had not been sure about his decision which didn’t exactly do a lot to placate the Offley troops.

Offley needed quick wickets and Barker gave them hope in the fourth over. The slow bowling skipper bowled himself down hill with the wind at his back while asking his aged strike bowler to toild against the conditions, working on the principle that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, he cunningly brought himself on to bowl from the home umpire’s end and launched himself into a banshee wail after striking the opening batsman somewhere on the body. The ball would doubtless have gone on to hit something if the batsman’s pad had not got in the way (probably either Austin’s gloves or simply fresh air) but selling the appeal with the conviction of a man who knows that it must be out, the Offley captain duly earned the umpire’s approval and the opener was sent on his way.

Offley needed another wicket. They had the chance when Houghton Town lynchpin Naveed flicked a catch to Cutts at square leg. Surely the club’s specialist square leg fielder would no mistake. Alas, despite leaping like a petrified deer and looking like Bambi after treading on a land mine, Cutts could only flap at the ball. The chance was gone. Naveed made the most of his reprieve by smashing Keeley out of the attack as he and Bob tucked into the seamer’s fourth over. Chugging in, up the hill against the wind, the big-hearted bowler was left on his knees as the ball was routinely smashed back over his head, disappearing from whence it came for 14 runs.

Barker stemmed the tide when he persuaded Bob to slice a drive into orbit and Vanhoof overcame a moment of pure fear to take a nicely judged catch. Lunney took over from Keeley but fared little better before giving way to Wardley. Wardley exacted some useful bounce from the surface but it was the spin of Barker that gave Offley their third wicket when he bowled Shah with a sharply turning delivery – it turned sharply after hitting the pad at any rate. Cutts was called upon to preside over the last rites and with Houghton Town wanting just two runs to win the game seemed destined to end as Cutts floated a delivery up on Naveed’s pads. The batsman was momentarily bemused by the turn – or perhaps unsure as to whether to try and hit the ball into Leagrave or Marsh Farm – and could only smash it to Barker at square leg where the fielder dived low to his left to take an impressive catch.

Moments later it was all over, Houghton Town winning by six wickets with the small matter of 145 balls to spare. It was another plucky display by an under-strength Offley team and the team were clearly the moral victors, even if the result did not quite mirror that.

Still, there’s a lot to be said for mid-table obscurity and in any event when you’re playing for big stakes in the Saracens League you can afford to regard the North Herts in similar fashion to the Carling Cup and field a weakened team accordingly – it gives the little clubs a chance.

Hopefully this will prove to be the end of an era and it will be the last time that Offley are forced to take the field at Icknield. And indeed, if it is the last time, then let us pause for a moment to think of a suitable manner in which to bid farewell to such a cherished ground and such spirited opponents. And after quiet consideration I have to say that only one thing really springs to mind...

11 for 6 and you ballsed it up.