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Season 2009 Preview
After a tumultuous and trophy-free campaign in 2008, Offley & Stopsley Cricket Club head into what promises to be the longest season in club history.
The 2009 season promises to be a 167-day test of endurance, a marathon and not a sprint; which could be a bit of a blow for some of Offley’s crack athletes who start to feel themselves breathing heavily if they’re asked to climb a flight of stairs. Some of them can’t even make it to the bar without breaking out in a cold sweat, although that’s not necessarily anything to do with a lack of fitness.
It gets under way on April 19 against Lilley in the opening instalment of the five-match Mansfield-Towndrow Trophy and the curtain will not come down until October 3 when the S.P. Bexfield Over-40 XI clashes with the R.A. Barker Under-40 XI in the inaugural Forty/40 For 40s match, with the Ken Willis Trophy at stake for the winners.
Offley & Stopsley head into the new campaign in search of the answers to plenty of questions.
Can the club rediscover their form in the Saracens League and escape from Division Nine at the second time of asking?
Will Darrell Cooper finally lead a team to victory at the twelfth time of asking (or thereabouts) and inspire the Second XI to great heights?
Can the Second XI replace Steve Bexfield’s runs? For that matter, can the First XI replace Wayne Cutts’ integral all-round contributions (driver, scorer and umpire)?
Will those squad members who remain be able to fill the void left by the departures of Scott Addy and Rizwan and the retirements (for the second and third time of asking) of Phil Gourd and Wayne Cutts? Whatever happened to Michael Cunningham and Nikita Woods? Has anyone seen Qumar?
Does Nathan Brodie have the temperament and ability to make good on his promise to score 1300 runs? Will Darren Lunney prise the Bowling Award from Matthew Freeman’s tight, clammy, grasp?
Will Freeman get a rocket up his arse from higher authority? He’s already come perilously close to receiving a Rocket, a Catherine Wheel, a Roman Candle and a Black Snake where the sun doesn’t shine after setting fire to a load of unused fireworks during his attempts to tidy up the pavilion.
Who will be the first player to shatter the freshly implemented Code of Conduct? Will Marc Ward learn to spell his name correctly (here’s a hint Wad – both of your names have an ‘r’ in them)?
The answers to these and many other questions – how many balls can Freeman deliver without complaining of a side strain, how many times will Chris Latino fail to trouble the scorers, does anyone know the way to Bushey – will be provided in the weeks and months to come.
Yet for the moment, sit back, relax and crack open a cold one, as we consider what lies in wait for the players of Offley & Stopsley in 2009 and whether it will be a season in the sun or a summer of discontent.
On the surface runs should not be a problem. Bexfield, Brodie and Richie Barker all scored over 1000 runs in 2008 and seven regular members of the squad have all scored centuries in their career.
Even allowing for the fact that Bexfield padded his numbers somewhat by turning out for the Second XI, he still set a new record with 1407 runs and became the first Offley player to breach the 9000-run barrier. He has a new bat for the season (but no new pads) and this year will be using the Chris Austin-endorsed Gray Nicolls Viper. It’s not quite the same as using an Andrew Flintoff-endorsed Puma or a Kevin Pietersen Adidas but you get the idea. Bexfield made the decision to switch after seeing Austin launch ball after ball towards the boundary ropes (admittedly only one of Austin’s shots has ever actually cleared the ropes) and will be packing extra firepower this year. After briefly stepping down from the captaincy in the wake of events at Bushey – the day that the spirit of cricket not only died but was hung, drawn and quartered – Bexfield is back in charge and will look to mastermind a title-winning bid in the North Herts League. He is unlikely to bowl much but may be tempted to try the odd burst after bowling Freeman three times during a single net session. His little hands may hamper his ability to hold on to catches but he retains his ability to throw down the stumps on the (rare) occasions when his (now diminished) speed puts him in position to attempt a run out.
While Bexfield takes the helm on Sundays and in the Twenty/20 games, Dave Bridgland returns to the captaincy on Saturdays in the Saracens League. Bridgland takes up the baton again after enjoying his experiences of leading the team on tour and after leading Stopsley back in the last century, will take charge of Offley this season. He averaged over 30 with the bat last year and recorded the second century of his career, hammering the Baldock to all parts. His bowling has taken something of a backseat in the past couple of years but he could take a more prominent role this year with spin liable to play a key part in the bid for promotion in the Saracens league. Bridgland has a safe pair of hands but his biggest challenge in 2009 will be as captain and getting the most out of certain players (I name no names) whose opinion of how they should be employed on the pitch often runs counter to that shared by the other 10 members of the team.
Most likely to be compared to: Mark Taylor
Least likely to be compared to: Allan Border
Brodie piled up the runs but also racked up his fair share of dismissals and became the first player in club history to score over 1000 runs while averaging under 38 (25.26). Perhaps no other player in club history (with the inevitable exception of K.F. Towndrow) has shown such brilliant ability to hammer the self-destruct button when well set. However, he recorded his maiden century for the club – bringing to an end a long run of blowing up in the 70s and 80s – and has consistently shown that he can score runs. He has also consistently shown that he can be a streaky batsman and at times regards reaching double figures as equivalent to scaling Everest in flip flops. Potentially the most fearsome bowler at Offley, Brodie should see more opportunities with the ball this year and is perhaps only a pierced tongue away from establishing himself as Offley’s answer to Mitchell Johnson. Or at least he would be if he demonstrated a greater willingness to bowl fast in the middle rather than reserving his fiercest spells for the nets. As it is, he is in danger of being cast in the role of the club Flintoff, a player who wants to be a batsman but really should be concentrating on his bowling. He remains an exceptional fielder and if he dropped more than was usual last year, he still caught 20, and saved countless runs in the covers where he regards every ball hit in his direction as a personal challenge.
Most likely to be compared to: Herschelle Gibbs
Least likely to be compared to: Shivnarine Chanderpaul
Jon Cerasale enjoyed one of his finest seasons with the bat in 2008, striking the ball with fierce abandon and coming within 0.27 runs of winning the batting averages. The man called Piers proved he can still hit a wicked long ball with a series of fine innings, notably the defiant lone hand against Nomads where he smashed an unbeaten 84 and no one else reached 15. His bowling does not carry the same wicket-taking potential that it once did but he remains difficult to get away. Time has taken its toll on Cerasale and he has lost a yard of pace, replacing it with the apparent calcification of his spine, and a semi-permanently stiff back. Despite that he still has the potential to win a match single-handed and probably has a couple of great spells left in him – provided he doesn’t rupture himself getting out of bed on a Monday morning.
Most likely to be compared to: Albie Morkel
Least likely to be compared to: Mohammad Azharuddin
Mo Chaudry is another big hitter capable of big things in 2009. He did not bowl as much last year as in some previous seasons but retains the potential to produce a devastating spell every now and then – here a bouncer, there a yorker, every ball a real corker – or, alternatively serve up some real dross. Chaudry is best used as a shock weapon and tends to operate on the principle that if he has no idea what’s going to happen when the ball comes out of his hand, the batsman will have no chance. He only averaged 25 with the bat last year but has proved that if he can negotiate the early stages of an innings he can butcher attacks. Armed with a new bat that is vaguely reminiscent of Captain Caveman’s club, Chaudry could do serious damage this season and will be keen to recapture the form he showed in 2007 when he won the Saracens League batting title.
Most likely to be compared to: Azhar Mahmood
Least likely to be compared to: Zaheer Abbas
Mark Tattersall batted like a dream on a couple of occasions last year. Sadly on every other visit to the crease he batted like a tit in a trance, a man trapped in a nightmare with no apparent grasp of how to hold a bat. At one stage his average was well below that of Wayne Cutts. However, there is no doubt that he has the ability to transform a game in the space of a few overs with his clean hitting – much of it still resembles a fat man with a scythe playing golf – and he is arguably Offley’s most destructive batsman. There are signs that his days as a medium pacer may be coming to an end. Evidently no longer fit enough to come in off a long run and bowl swing, Tattersall has been experimenting with spin in the nets and could be set for a new role as a speamer (part spin, part seam, depending on the circumstances). In a sense Tattersall is ready to emerge as Offley’s Andrew Symonds – a big hitter capable of bowling whatever is required of him but a cricketer who has no qualms about turning up with a hangover and tends to regard the cricket as an occupational hazard that must be endured on the way to the bar. Although the chances of Tattersall sprouting dreadlocks (or hair) are about as high as Symonds finding religion.
Most likely to be compared to: Andrew Symonds
Least likely to be compared to: Alistair Cook
Darren Lunney has been lost his sponsorship deal with Gray Nicolls and will be endorsing Slazenger in 2009. His new bat was purchased from a second-hand shop in Leighton Buzzard, which isn’t quite the method international batsmen use when it comes to selecting a new blade. Despite initially receiving an optimistic diagnosis from Dr Scott Addy who suggested nothing more serious than mild bruising and a hangnail, Lunney was hampered by a broken hand last year after bundling Sanjay Roy over in an “accidental” clash having been withdrawn from the attack in favour of Patel. Nonetheless he will still have been disappointed by his failure to reach 50 in any of his 34 innings. He retains the hunger to record his first century after coming within a Stanley knife’s breadth of doing so in 2007. He runs like a greyhound between the wickets and is a whippet in the outfield – unfortunately there are some times where his attempts to catch the ball are a bit like a retarded puppy trying to catch a Frisbee in its jaws. His bowling has developed in recent times, as has his beard, and he will be looking to bowl more overs this season and build on last season’s 31 wickets.
Most likely to be compared to: Monty Panesar
Least likely to be compared to: Brian Lara
In an era where specialist wicketkeepers are kept in the shadows by batsman wearing the gloves, it’s nice to see that tradition still flourishes at Offley. Chris Austin is an old school glovesman, which is another way of saying that he’s not especially explosive with the bat. Austin does a fine job of standing up to the spinners – his 29 career stumpings are tied for the all-time record – and generally holds on to most of the chances that come his way off the quicker bowlers. At times he resembles a muzzled terrier behind the bars of his keeper’s mask and when a chance goes down or he fails to close his legs in time and concedes another four byes, it’s best to sit back and enjoy the show as Austin takes self-flagellation to a new level, displaying a nice touch of personal abuse that suggests he might be cut out for a career in the S&M business. Despite a relative lack of power with the bat, there were signs that he is on the brink of a breakthrough at the crease. He recorded his highest score for Offley and also notched up the first six of his career.
Most likely to be compared to: Bob Taylor
Least likely to be compared to: Adam Gilchrist
Chris Latino won’t win many games for Offley with his bat but his whole-hearted commitment in the field stands as an example to other more talented players who prefer to coast their way through an innings. Latino did enjoy his day in the sun with the bat at Breachwood Green (actually he didn’t enjoy it that much as he nearly succumbed to heat stroke and looked ready to vomit before the end) and shared a club record eighth wicket stand of 87 with Carl Clare. However, he also found time to equal the club’s longstanding record for most ducks in a season, failing to trouble the scorers on eight occasions and often performing a fine impersonation of a blind man with no talent. Despite the lack of runs Latino was outstanding in the field, snaring 18 catches including a stunning three-catch performance to sink Titanic.
Most likely to be compared to: Brian Close
Least likely to be compared to: Ricky Ponting
Steve Hoar managed to squeeze in eight games last year, finding the time between getting married, going on honeymoon and fulfilling various domestic duties and commitments, to score 201 runs. In the process his career average dropped below 50 (49.96) for the first time in a number of years. When he’s on song Hoar is probably the most fluent of all Offley’s batsmen and has the ability to make the game look simple. When he’s struggling for form he’s likely to splice a half-tracker to mid on and plays the short ball just about as badly as it is possible to do so for a batsman with any ability. Given the choice between backing S.J. Hoar or W.A. Cutts to hammer a short-pitched delivery to the boundary, you’d be well advised to think long and hard about where to put your money. Hoar also displays a frustratingly blasé effort to fielding and often shows signs of having come from the same club as Monty Panesar. To say that Hoar bowls is to say that Steven Hawking is a fast runner.
Most likely to be compared to: Michael Vaughan
Least likely to be compared to: Dwayne Bravo
Carl Clare provided Offley with what they’d been longing for for more than a decade, namely a West Indian fast bowler. Clare produced some impressively rapid spells and caused real consternation for opposing batsmen on bouncy tracks, in particular prompting one or two Nomads players to back away towards the sanctuary of square leg. Clare is capable of generating real pace and will have every opportunity to build on last year’s haul of 18 wickets. His batting is invariably a hit or miss affair but once he negotiates the first couple of runs of an innings he has shown he’s capable of wielding the bat to great effect. Never afraid to go down swinging, Clare has the ability to hit a mean long ball and worry fielders close to the wicket.
Most likely to be compared to: Curtly Ambrose
Least likely to be compared to: Suleiman Benn
Martin McCulley returned to the Offley ranks last season after a spell with Ickleford. Despite being plagued by injury concerns ahead of the coming season, McCulley figures to play a leading role in assisting Bexfield with the wicket. If he regains fitness, he will be desperate to improve on last year’s performance where his 13 wickets cost 45.30 runs apiece, an inflated figure that was owed in no small part to the fielding brilliance of Wayne Cutts at Old Camdenians. However, there was no disputing that McCulley lacked the sharpness he showed during his initial spell at the club even though he showed some fine form with the bat, registering his first 50 for Offley with a swashbuckling 61* at Tas Valley. Even though McCulley’s wicket tally was not as high as in recent seasons, he still thoroughly enjoyed the banter with his chums at the club and would only be too happy to sit down and share a glass with certain individuals – even though there wouldn’t necessarily be anything in the glass and the glass might not, in actual fact, be in one piece, although it might have some rather sharp and jagged edges.
Most likely to be compared to: Mark Ealham
Least likely to be compared to: Dale Steyn
With Bexfield returning to first team duties Darrell Cooper is poised to lead the second team into action this season. Despite the fact that Cooper has never skippered an Offley side to victory (or a Stopsley side for that matter), the veteran seam bowler has been entrusted with the task of leading the Second XI to glory in 2009. It’s a bit like asking the skipper of the Titanic to avoid the iceberg. 2008 was not exactly a vintage year for the man who for so long provided the spearhead of the Offley attack. Cooper’s highest score with the bat (12) was double the number of wickets he claimed all year (6). Ironically he spent enough time at the crease to share in a record ninth-wicket stand of 80 with Richie Barker at Happisburgh. Cooper may have swapped a yard in pace for a yard around his waistline but he still has the ability to cause problems for batsmen with his probing line and length and ranks third in club history with 223 wickets.
Most likely to be compared to: Tim Munton
Least likely to be compared to: Brett Lee
Matthew Freeman claimed 52 wickets last year, 25 of which came in league matches. To his credit Freeman shrugged off the pain and discomfort of his many ailments to win the bowling award. Since joining the club in 2003 Freeman has consistently shown that no other bowler in club history is quite as adept as harrying small children and old men with his blend of fast bowling and blood-curdling sneers and scowls. It’s also worth noting that no other bowler in club history has ever displayed such a keen commitment to gorging himself at the tea interval. Runs and wickets pale into insignificance beside a fresh plate of sandwiches or a packet of Jaffa Cakes and Freeman is always only too happy to sacrifice his value and usefulness in the field for the sake of another strawberry bonbon. If he wanted to Freeman could consistently dismiss the best batsmen. Unfortunately he seems happier to bowl at the end of an innings when the tailenders are occupying the crease. Of course what he wants and what he’ll get this season is not necessarily the same thing. His attitude in the field is interesting; while Freeman demands test match standard commitment and excellence when he is bowling, his own approach to fielding resembles a game of statues and despite having a safe pair of hands it’s an adventure whenever the ball is hit in his direction. Freeman’s astounding determination to preserve his wicket no matter what, resulted in him ending not out in 13 of 23 innings last year and helped boost his average to 17.10. He has finished unbeaten in 34 of his 75 career innings. A committed number eleven, Freeman really should bat no lower than six although an aversion to fast bowling invariably means that he’s to be found buried at the bottom of the order. However, this season he has vowed to come out swinging and has set himself the goal of being stumped five times...
Most likely to be compared to: Albert Steptoe
Least likely to be compared to: Mitchell Johnson
Marc Ward is coming off consecutive Young Player of the Year campaigns and figures to be a mainstay of the team on both Saturdays and Sundays. Ward showed real signs of potential last season, bagging 4-6 at the end of September, and despite a lack of height has shown that he already has enough ability to trouble most batsmen. His batting has its moments yet while he has undoubted potential he does show a slightly unfortunate tendency to get out for 0 while attempting a really rotten shot.
Most likely to be compared to: Glen Chapple
Least likely to be compared to: Joel Garner
Gary Chamberlain rushed back from serious illness to demonstrate his commitment to the cause and also embarrass some of the club’s more senior players who have been known to complain about anything from a splinter to a broken nail. Chamberlain has already established himself as one of the leading fielders at the club and has also proved that he can hit sixes with the best of them. He can also swing across the line with the worst of them. His bowling has potential but he looks ready to make his mark as a batsman in 2009.
Most likely to be compared to: Ravi Bopara
Least likely to be compared to: Malcolm Marshall
Charlie Page completes the Offley Triplets. He only took six wickets last year and mustered a shocking 16 runs in 11 innings (we’re talking about plumbing depths that were beyond even the likes of those master ducksmiths Cutts, Bains & Boatwright) but he claimed 3-8 in a North Herts League encounter with Baldock to suggest that there is plenty more to come this year and he will only get better with each game he plays.
Most likely to be compared to: Chris Martin
Least likely to be compared to: Sachin Tendulkar
Jeff Francis looks ready to resume his Offley career after his spell at university. Francis looked good in the nets and has the ability to score his first half-century this season. He has taken 41 wickets so far and has genuine ability as a seam bowler – and rather less ability as a slow bowler. He still possesses the most hopelessly disguised quicker ball in history but is generally a reliable fielder with decent hands and a strong arm.
Most likely to be compared to: Arjuna Ranatunga
Least likely to be compared to: Ishant Sharma
Ray Counsel stepped out of the pub and on to the pitch last season, eager to perform deeds of derring-do and smite the opposition hip and thigh. Sadly the Great Raymondo could only average 2.75 with the bat and 53.00 with the ball. He also went down in folklore on the last day of the season as The Man Who Dropped The Catch That Lost The Game At Lilley. Raymondo vowed to bounce back strongly in 2009 but was unfortunately injured within about three minutes of the opening net session. However, the doughty northerner should be back on the pitch at the start of the season and will be determined to make a more favourable impression in his second year with the club, making the most of his canny seam bowling and ability to strike a few lusty blows for the cause.
Most likely to be compared to: Ian Austin
Least likely to be compared to: Ian Botham
The Sale brothers were mainstays of the Second XI last year and should both feature prominently again this time round. Damien Sale handled the wicket-keeping responsibilities for the Seconds. Despite the fact he didn’t always handle the ball cleanly, Sale did a decent job behind the stumps. However, he struggled with the bat – ironically his best performance of the year came in a makeshift First XI at Baldock – and suffered a run of low scores that restricted him to just 50 runs in 10 innings, often holing out at mid off or cover as he looked to attack the bowling from the first ball. Discretion may be the better part of valour this year but he will once again be lining up behind the stumps where his keeping skills continue to develop.
Most likely to be compared to: David Bairstow
Least likely to be compared to: Jack Russell
Dathan Sale invariably had the dubious honour of opening the batting for the Seconds. He has now played several impressive innings for the club without going on to score the runs that he is perhaps capable of. His biggest weakness is early on and although he has few problems in getting off the mark, he tends to have a problem bridging the gap between 5 and 10, a worrying trait in an opening batsman. His bowling has been underused so far but he is a fielder of genuine commitment and promise.
Most likely to be compared to: Brendan Nash
Least likely to be compared to: A.B. de Villiers
Offley’s ranks were bolstered late on last season by the addition of local recruit Shaun Creech. Creech proved an instant with opposing bowlers as his bold counter-attacking game invariably met with premature disaster. He failed to get off the mark in 66% of his innings and mustered a solitary run. Improbably his batting appeared to have more promise than his bowling while he did not immediately catch the eye as a natural fielder. However, he always turned up and he has the ability to improve this year with further opportunities.
Most likely to be compared to: Devon Malcolm
Least likely to be compared to: Don Bradman
Cliff Large, Paul Bridgland, Majid Shah and the incomparable Wayne Cutts could all feature this season, while the Chairman of Selectors will probably put out an APB on Qumar at some point. However, there is unlikely to be a recall for Steve ‘Beer’ Baron who appears to have abandoned his cricketing career in his noble bid to support the beer industry and ensure that as many of Luton’s pubs as possible remain open in these taxing economic times.
Almost last, but certainly not least, comes Colin Keeley. Although there is no guarantee that Keeley will be back in 2009 – and Offley will unquestionably be weaker if he does not – the veteran enjoyed what euphemistically might be termed an interesting season in 2008. He hit the heights with a record burst of 8-10 against Lilley in the season opener before plumbing the depths with a two month ban following the Bushey debacle. Despite displaying his unerring touch for landing himself in hot water, Keeley enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career. He picked up 43 wickets and showed outstanding form with the bat, recording his second half-century for the club with an impressive display of clean hitting at Stevenage and averaged 16.05 overall. However, he failed to take a single catch and his days of haring around the outfield in pursuit of the ball appear to be over. He doesn’t know it yet but he’s been christened Mint, on account of the fact that he moves with all the pace of a glacier. Regardless of everything, Keeley’s passion for the club is undoubted and he will hopefully return to the ranks in the coming weeks.
That pretty much covers it, although as Vanessa Williams so eloquently put it, sometimes the snow comes down in June, sometimes the sun goes ‘round the moon... just when I thought a chance had passed, you go and save the best for last. Nobody did it better than Richie Barker last season, as he combined dazzling natural talent with a shocking lack of actual fitness to set an Offley record with 88 wickets. He also scored over 1000 runs and hit more sixes than anyone else. Considering the lack of turn Barker provides with his bowling, his haul of wickets last season was remarkable – it was also something of an indictment on the quality of over 80 opposition batsmen. Mind you over 300 batsmen have succumbed to his non-turning spin over the years so he must be doing something right. He showed a frustrating tendency to get himself out when well set last year, reaching 50 on nine occasions but never kicking on, invariably succumbing to a needless attempt to clear the boundary. He hasn’t scored a century since 2006 so he’s overdue in that department, although given his lackadaisical attitude to fitness three figures may yet be a long time coming. He retains the ability to look awful or awesome (often there is a correlation between his form on the day and the extent of the previous night’s drinking) but can still swing for the ropes with the best of them, even if he regards quick singles as something for others to concern themselves with. He generally has every chance of catching what he gets to but if he has to move any great distance in the first place you can probably forget about it. Ultimately, Barker’s still the coolest bandana-wearing batsman in Offley history and his race with Bexfield to become the first batsman to score 10000 runs promises to be the most fascinating clash between Cavalier and Roundhead since Prince Rupert got his arse kicked by Cromwell at Naseby.
Most likely to be compared to: A Prima Donna
Least likely to be compared to: A Spinner
So there you have Offley’s Boys of Summer, the crack outfit who will be going out with all guns blazing in a bid to get their hands on some silverware in 2009. The squad is strong enough to ensure promotion in the Saracens League and there is a genuine desire to claim sole ownership of the prestigious Mansfield-Towndrow Trophy after sharing the trophy with local rivals Lilley for the past few years.
There will inevitably a few blips and fireworks along the way but when the dust settles Offley will hope to find themselves popping champagne corks rather than swallowing cyanide capsules. Hopefully it won’t come to mass suicide.
Regardless of the outcome, history suggests that it certainly won’t be dull.