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Offley & Stoplsey CC 161-5 Vs Nothampton Exiles II's 158-9 ; 22nd Aug

OSCC Won by 5 Wkts

Offley & Stopsley came out on top in the crunch match against Northampton Exiles at the head of Division 9, transforming an 11-point deficit into a 10-point lead with two games to go.

A dramatic opening burst from Nathan Brodie reduced the hosts to 19-4 before a solid batting effort allowed Offley to claim victory with 17 balls to spare.

Dave Bridgland won the toss and elected to bowl first, gambling everything on his side being able to chase down whatever target Northampton set them. Brodie came charging in from the start, slinging the ball down with impressive velocity. However, it was veteran seamer Colin Keeley who made the opening breakthrough. Chugging into bowl like a broken down oil tanker ploughing through choppy seas, Keeley extracted sufficient bounce and movement from the wicket to find the edge of Bower’s bat. Although Chris Austin flung himself to his right, thereby obscuring the flight of the ball and momentarily threatening to block out the sun, Richie Barker kept his nerve to cling on to the chance and get Offley off to the best possible start.

Brodie muscled his way into the thick of the action when he nipped one back off the seam to trap Butt palpably lbw. The ball kept a little low and trapped the batsman on the back foot, apparently on a collision course with middle and leg. Brodie maintained his impressive display by bouncing Naik out. The batsman showed little enthusiasm for taking on the short ball and made a meal of avoiding a bouncer, succeeding in nothing more than lobbing the gentlest of catches to Mo Chaudry at short midwicket. O’Neil briefly suggested that he might try to drop anchor but he was unable to resist the temptation of a floaty wide delivery from Brodie. O’Neil duly launched a drive at the ball but could only slice it to backward point where Steve Hoar – rarely a watchword for composure and reliability under a chance – took an excellent catch running round. The dismissal left the home team in utter disarray on 19-4 as Offley looked to tighten the screw and bundle their opponents out for under 100.

However, the hosts began to battle their way back into contention. At one end the unflappable Naik was playing a chanceless innings, easing on to the front foot and showing no sign of panicking against Keeley’s swing or Brodie’s bounce. At the other end Montague went for his shots, repeatedly slicing the ball over the slips and wide of gulley. The ferrety Montague was happy to chance his arm, riding his luck before trying to smear Keeley through the vacant midwicket area. However, he mistimed the shot so badly that he could only edge it to slip where Barker held his second catch of the day to reduce the hosts to 54-5.

Jon Cerasale and Mark Tattersall (Fat Mark as he is apparently known) replaced Brodie and Keeley (Wingnut) but both struggled to find their customary line and length. Both bowlers gave the batsmen too much width which, coupled with a lack of cover, allowed the hosts to mount a spirited recovery. It might have been different had Tattersall held on to an eminently catchable return offering from Naik. However, the chance went begging and the score continued to mount.

Goldman launched a dogged counterattack, flailing away with the grace and determination of an asthmatic Saxon axe man in the final desperate moments at Hastings. Latching on to some tasty offerings from Cerasale like a gorilla wolfing down bananas during feeding time at the zoo, Goldman swung away. Keen to indulge in some Oscar Wilde-style humour with his blood brother Brodie, Goldman showed no hesitation in swinging himself off his feet in his bid to propel the ball into orbit and unfurled a couple of mighty blows before Cerasale rearranged his stumps in comprehensive fashion.

The game turned with the hosts on 128-6 and looking as though they might easily set Offley a score in excess of 180. Nail continued to look undisturbed by the wickets falling around him and seemed ready to make Tattersall pay for his drop. However, for reasons known only to himself, he attempted a suicidal single in a bid to pick up a leg bye. Austin kept his nerve, coolly picking the ball up and flicking a casual underarm throw to Cerasale at the bowler’s end. To the casual eye it might have looked as though Austin had thrown the ball with the strength of a four-year old girl, pathetically trying to toss a beach ball. However, it was a precise throw that Cerasale gathered in time to remove the bails and send Naik on his way for 66, the only member of the Northampton team to pass 20.

Hosier swung and missed to give Tattersall his lone wicket of the afternoon and Cerasale speared one past Panja’s wild hoick. However, the last two Exiles dragged the score past 155 to secure four bonus points and eventually set Offley 159 to win from 47 overs.

With Matthew Freeman supposedly camping in a field in Belgium but in actual fact visiting a top secret Belgian hair clinic in a bid to arrest his receding hairline, it was left to Keeley to provide the halftime entertainment. Supping contentedly from a can of Coca-Cola, Keeley enthusiastically revealed that, “I love this stuff so much I’d still drink it even if they put cancer in it.” Quite.

Steve Bexfield and Barker opened the innings for Offley. In Bexfield’s case this was a wet dream, the chance to get his head down for at least 40 overs and lay the foundations for the Offley run chase with a mixture of bloody-minded defiance and redoubtable pad play. In Barker’s case it was about as welcome as a poke in the eye with a wet stick as he was again forced into opening the innings. The introduction of spin from both ends meant that, metaphorically speaking, the stick was not only poking him in the eye but it was also covered in shit.

Panja and Montague both generated significant turn and bounce from the dusty service and Bexfield survived a couple of early appeals for catches via his boot. Inevitably it was Barker who had his aggressive innings terminated as he looked to sweep a legside delivery and was adjudged lbw for 19. Not for the first time this season he took his leave of the crease with the firm conviction that the ball’s trajectory was not exactly adjacent to the stumps.

Hoar looked to play his shots while Bexfield dug deeper and deeper, piling the earth high around his trench. Hoar survived a confident appeal for caught behind before he had scored but gradually the run rate began to show signs of life. Hoar unfurled some elegant strokes as well as a couple of streaky ones as through the covers before slicing a drive to extra cover where he fell to an excellent catch after making 40 from 51 balls. Brodie was in no mood to hang around and did well to last 10 balls before edging a catch behind.

Tattersall and Bexfield looked to up the run rate despite a cunning plot from the hosts to starve Tattersall of the strike, as first Bexfield and then Darren Lunney ensured that Tattersall faced just 15 balls in 39 minutes. Bexfield survived a simple chance to mid on before skying a return catch to the bowler to leave Offley wobbling on 127-4.

Lunney struggled to get going in the early stages of his innings but gradually found his touch before Tattersall smeared a drive to extra cover with the finishing line in sight. Tattersall’s fall gave the Exiles another point and also gave Montague his first and only success of the day, a bitter pill to swallow for such a fine bowler with facial hair like rat’s whiskers and a personality to match.

However, there was no stopping Offley. Lunney brought the target down to two runs before Cerasale punched the ball through extra cover for the winning boundary that took Offley top of the table with two games to go.

Consecutive victories over their rivals at the top of the league, Broxbourne and Northampton, have left Offley needing two wins from their final two games against North Mymms and Baldock to clinch the title. Not for the first time this season there is no room for error but Offley have their fate in their own hands as they charge towards the final furlong knowing that two more wins will be enough to seal the winner’s pennant.