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Offley & Stopsley, 108-7, Vs Hatch End, 107 all out; 9th May
Offley took advantage of a solid bowling performance to record their first victory in the Saracens League. Despite a nervy batting display, Offley just about made it over the line with three wickets in hand after they had threatened to self-destruct.
Dave Bridgland won the toss and elected to bowl. His decision was vindicated when Nathan Brodie and Matthew Freeman both struck early blows to reduce the hosts to 7-2. Brodie, striving for pace on a lively track had Knockles caught behind fending off a lifter while Freeman’s pace was too much for Cutts.
The key wicket for Offley was Davies, a man who had frustrated them last year by blazing away from the start of the innings and now seemed keen to repeat the performance. Davies played and missed on numerous occasions, adding to Offley frustrations by slicing a couple of boundaries, before wafting at one delivery too many from Mo Chaudry and offering a catch to a diving Richie Barker at first slip. Chaudry struck again when he had Richardson caught behind by Chris Austin to leave the hosts on 56-4.
Lawrence and Kennedy took the score to 77 before Lawrence offered a simple return catch to Barker. At this stage Hatch End’s captain Kennedy decided to go for broke. Perhaps he had little faith in his remaining batsmen; perhaps he was simply motivated by the sight of Colin Williams’ brown shoes. Regardless, Kennedy helped himself to five quick boundaries as Williams’ two-over spell yielded 25 runs. At the other end the hapless Abrar continued to do his best to make Barker look like a spin bowler, prodding forlornly at the ball with no real idea as to what he was trying to accomplish. Eventually he laid the bat on ball and sent it towards long leg. Marc Ward settled under it and judged a tough catch with impressive precision to leave the hosts in trouble at 102-6.
The writing was on the wall in Barker’s next over when Kennedy stormed down the pitch like a Panzer division moving in on Stalingrad. He missed the ball with a wild swing of his bat and despite making a frantic effort to regain his ground was sent on his way as Austin executed a smart stumping. It was the 30th stumping of Austin’s career and gave him sole ownership of the club record he had previously shared with Martin Bigmore.
Bridgland introduced himself at the other end and capitalised on Hatch End’s utter incompetence against spin. Dockleman lumbered down the wicket to miss the ball with ease and give Austin his second stumping as the hosts collapsed to 106-8. Barker accounted for the burly Sherman when the hefty number 10 limply hung his bat at the ball like a bunch of wet lilies and successfully dragged it on to his stumps. He was denied a fifth wicket as a ball lobbed agonisingly out of Austin’s reach. Bridgland wrapped up the innings with his next delivery when Jahanzaib finally got the ball off the square but could only lob it to Chris Latino at square leg as the hosts capitulated for 107, their final five wickets falling for just five runs.
Barker and Bridgland’s combined figures of 12.1-7-6-5 suggested that Offley had either uncovered the most lethal spin combination in the history of the game or that the Hatch End batsmen would have struggled to have connected with a slowly turning beach ball. In any event, Offley were left with 59 overs to score the 108 runs they needed for victory.
Barker and Steve Bexfield opened the innings and both batsmen looked to play their shots from the start. In Barker’s case this was predominantly a forcing back foot shot against the rapid away swing of Davies, a shot with which he consistently failed to make contact. At the other end Bexfield unfurled his favourite cut shot against the hulking Sherman, cracking two boundaries and racing to 12 off just 11 balls before the burly paceman exacted his revenge, bouncing out the Offley batsman with a delivery that reared up and ended in the hands of square leg.
Chaudry came to the crease and was immediately in trouble as his first ball cracked him on the thumb. He later received a blow amidships and never settled before running himself out for 1. Brodie swaggered to the crease and looked in good touch, cracking a sumptuous drive through mid-off before thumping a return catch to Sherman to leave Offley on 49-3.
Latino played positively for 5 before attempting an extravagant drive and holing out at mid on off the curious slow offerings of Jahanzaib. The bowler’s one-yard shuffle to the stumps was causing problems for the Offley batsmen and the alarm bells were ringing when Barker, who had progressed to 27, contrived to sky a waist high full toss to square leg, to leave Offley clinging on at 63-5.
Darren Lunney and Austin elected to dig in. Surprisingly Austin played the dominant role, clipping the ball off his legs with aplomb and sweeping the spinner off his length. Austin had cruised to 13 and was looking in fine form when he walked across his stumps and executed a Kevin Pietersen-style flick that would have doubtless brought the England player four runs. Unfortunately Austin misjudged the line somewhat and managed to bring the ball into contact with his middle and leg stumps; 83-6.
Bridgland walked to the middle and elected to try and end the game in a hurry. Going for his shots from the start, Bridgland raced to 16 with three boundaries. He looked ready to end the game with another 4 but only succeeded in holing out at midwicket. Lunney, whose 53-ball vigil was the longest of the innings, survived a stumping chance when he attempted to settle the match with a single smear. However, with Freeman digging in for a trademark not out, Lunney ended the game with a paddle sweep that narrowly eluded the field to give Offley the two runs they needed to win. Lunney finished unbeaten on 12.
All in all, not the most convincing performance that Offley have produced during their four years in the Saracens league. However, the game was ultimately about the result and not the performance. The bowlers did an admirable job, with the spinners thoroughly enjoying spreading their own blend of myxamytosis among the Hatch End rabbits. The batting was rather less impressive with a number of senior players (specifically the opening batsmen) succumbing to shots that could fairly be described as abysmal. However, in the end Offley scrambled home to set up a key game against Letchworth – winner of their first two matches – at home next week, with a win set to catapult Bridgland’s side firmly into the mix at the top of the table and a reversal likely to leave them a long way off the pace.