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Offley & Stopsley, 163-4 Vs Crawley Green Nomads, 160-9 ; 31 May

OSCC Won by by 6 Wkts

Offley emerged triumphant from the Crawley Green minefield after an unbroken 90-run partnership for the fifth wicket between Steve Bexfield and Richie Barker carried the visitors to victory.

Bexfield lost the toss and Offley’s batsmen were left to count their lucky stars that the hosts opted to bat first on a scorching hot day which featured vultures circling overhead, waiting to feast on the carcase of any batsman unable to get out of the way of one of the myriad short-pitched deliveries.

Offley got off to a flying start. After Qumar’s opening delivery skidded past wicketkeeper Chris Austin – the start of a particularly torrid day for Austin – the bowler produced a brutish delivery that reared up from just short of a length and flicked Jethwa’s glove en route to Austin behind the stumps.

At the other end Darrell Cooper produced an equally brutish delivery; however, this failed to dismiss the batsman and succeeded only in breaking Austin’s finger, snapping it like a poppadum. Despite paying a heavy price for failing to let the ball melt into his gloves in the approved manner, Austin gallantly refused to hand over the gauntlets and knuckled down to an afternoon of sadomasochistic suffering, as the ball repeatedly ricocheted into his body, colliding with his ribs, face, arms, legs and occasionally the gloves. Austin carried on throughout the 40 overs like a real trouper, swearing like a trooper for much of the afternoon but never failing to put his body on the line for the cause.

After a wayward opening over Cooper bowled Reed with a well disguised slower ball before Steve Bexfield held on to a tricky catch at mid on to account for Munt off the bowling of Jon Cerasale. On a pitch full of pace and bounce it was a day for Matthew Freeman to make a big impression. However, after opting to come on first change from the pavilion end, he decided that he needed to take a lavatory break after drinking too much Lucozade. After a couple of deliveries he announced that he was bowling from the wrong end and generally proved to be about as much use as a fart in a spacesuit for the rest of the afternoon.

Nathan Brodie took over from Freeman and quickly showed what could be done as he removed the elder Jethwa with a rearing ball that the batsman tickled down the legside where Austin snaffled the catch.

Moments later the players were treated to a fantastic piece of motorcycling skills from an intellectually-stunted six-year old. It was really impressive to see how the local knuckle dragger could ride his bike across the wicket during the middle of the game, although not nearly as impressive as watching Nomad legend Graham Hull attempt to decapitate the rider with his bat. Hull was soon forced to leave the field after launching himself into a full-blooded cut off a wretched Cerasale delivery. The ball thumped into the boundary boards a split second after Hull’s knee buckled beneath him and he thumped into the turf before being forced to retire hurt.

Brodie struck again when Reed looped a simple catch to Cerasale at square leg and the erratic Carl Clair ripped a rare straight, full ball through Brickell’s defensive prod. Jones and Laidler held up the Offley onslaught as they struck some lusty blows before Brodie removed Jones with a slower ball, the batsman playing too early at the ball by about a week. Barker bowled Claridge and Bacchus ran himself out attempting an improbable fourth run to the Cooper-Cerasale combination before Hull returned to bat out the overs with Laidler. Nomads finished on 160-9, aided and abetted by 47 extras on a day where Offley’s bowlers struggled with the radar, sending down 24 wides and generally making life a living hell for Austin behind the stumps.

Offley needed a good start but were soon in trouble as Qumar reacted to being hit by a short ball by launching an expansive drive at Bacchus and being bowled neck and crop to the fourth ball of the innings. However, Darren Lunney and Bexfield shared an enterprising stand of 60 with some positive batting. Bexfield took three boundaries off an over to drive Bacchus out of the attack and Lunney maintained his fine start to the season before going back to the future and prodding a limp defensive shot to cover to make it 62-2. By the end of the 18th over Nomads were cock-a-hoop as Laidler struck twice in four balls to reduce Offley to 73-4. Brodie was the first to go, obligingly steering a short, wide delivery to cover. Cerasale followed him back to the pavilion moments later after edging a drive to slip and the momentum was firmly with the visitors.

With a fragile looking tail set to begin at number 7 with Austin unable to hold a bat due to his broken finger and Freeman already suffering from a nose bleed after finding himself so high up the order, Offley’s hopes rested on Bexfield and the out-of-form Barker. Working on the principle that the pitch was likely to account for him sooner rather than later, Barker opted to go for his shots from the start and was soon blazing away, mixing impressive timing with a little luck as he survived a difficult chance to mid off where the fielder was unable to cling on as he tried to take the catch over his shoulder. With Bexfield digging in and adopting his best “over my dead body” approach, Barker slashed and hacked at the bowlers, riding his luck against Reed and Bacchus but helping himself to eight boundaries.

Nomads rotated their bowlers as best they could but were unable to stem the flow of runs. Bexfield went to his 50 with his seventh boundary before Barker ended the game with a terrific pull shot that rattled away towards the tennis courts as he finished unbeaten on 54 and brought the curtain down on an exceptional weekend for Offley as the club fielded three teams and won the lot.

The victory snapped a two-game losing streak in the North Herts League and consolidated Offley’s bid to ensure mid-table obscurity ahead of next week’s trip to long-term nemesis Holwell and another showdown with Parkins’ broad bat. That can wait for another day; for the moment Offley’s players can enjoy a hard-earned victory and celebrate their safe deliverance from the minefield – all except that doughty stumper Chris Austin, the man who sacrificed his finger for the cause and will presumably be unable to raise it in the appropriate manner to take your correspondent to task for suggesting that he paid the inevitable price for failing to allow the ball to melt into the gloves...