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On the day that Englands footballers proved yet again that they have about as much chance of scoring from the penalty spot as Matthew Freeman has of passing on a bag of McCoys, Offley & Stopsley did just enough to preserve their unbeaten record in the Saracens League. Chris Latino and Wayne Cutts negotiated the final few overs to complete the most famous last ditch action since Rorkes Drift to clinch a draw, a result that seemed beyond the realms of possibility after Offley slumped to 12-4 in a blaze of wanton and generally clueless batting.
The visitors won the toss and elected to bat first on a scorching day. Offley took the field without either of their southern hemisphere stars, with Dan Jordan absent in Belgium and Gareth Mathewson conducting a seminar on psychiatry for beginners wickets proved hard to come by in the early exchanges as Colin Keeley and Jon Cerasale were unable to make the breakthrough with the new ball. Steve Bexfield made a double change, replacing Cerasale with Freeman at the clubhouse end and introducing Richie Barkers flighted filth from the football pitch end.
Barker struck in his first over, contriving to bowl a county batsman with an almost perfect yorker before Freeman induced the visiting captain, Riddle, to guide a long hop into the hands of Cerasale at point. Riddles last action with the bat may have been to thump it repeatedly into the ground in disgust but he was far from finished with imposing his hefty figure on the game.
After that wickets began to fall on a fairly regular basis as Freeman picked up another victim and Barker began to make useful inroads. Offley had the chance to bowl the visitors out for 100 but Bexfield muffed a chance off Meads at square leg and the reprieved batsman went on to score 25 crucial runs after surviving the chance on nought. Nathan Brodie picked up a wicket and Meads finally fell to Cerasale as Hertford tried to push on towards 170. However, despite the heat taking its toll on the Offley fielders and pushing their sense of humour to the limit (not to name names but one is the missing third of a shoe shop owned in partnership with Hardy and Willis and another has the three lions of England tattooed on his chest), the fielding side stuck to their guns. Barker cleaned up the tail, claiming the final two wickets in the last over to finish with 6-59 from 18.5 overs to leave Offley needing to score an eminently gettable 154 for victory.
With attention partly focused on the events unfolding in Germany, Offleys batsmen made a fairly dire hash of the run chase. Mo Chaudry went early on, trapped in front of middle stump and sent on his way by the lightning finger of Umpire Cutts. After that Offley progressed to 12-1 with few further alarms before the roof fell in.
Skipper Bexfield set a fine example as he led the charge for the self destruct button as he stormed down the wicket to Riddle and missed the ball all ends up to be bowled. Cerasale went down the pitch to his first ball, repeated the ploy to his second delivery and finally got it right at the third time of his asking as he advanced down the track and was stumped by a good three feet. Barker marched out to the middle and swiftly marched back after cutting his second ball to slip to give Riddle the remarkable figures of 3-0 from six deliveries.
With the wheels falling off in some style Chris Austin stormed out to the middle ready to sell his wicket dearly. Austin joined Brodie and the pair brought some respectability to the total before Brodie advanced down the track once too often and was stumped for a season best 34, an innings that confirmed a return to form and suggests that theres a lot to be said for finding confidence in the swimming pool.
Darren Lunney might do well to bear that in mind because in truth Offleys answer to Paul Collingwood is a man out of luck and out of form. Lunneys recent trip to the Mathewson Academy of Psychiatry looks to have reaped little reward and it was more of a mercy killing than a dismissal when the tortured Lunney finally fell for a single to leave Offley six down as England prepared to make their World Cup exit.
Was there a man dismayed? Indeed there was, Colin Keeley. For twas none other than the gallant Keeley who had provided a television in the pavilion for his teammates to watch the football. Such bitter irony then that they should all be engrossed in the drama of penalties as he played his finest innings for two years to haul Offley back into contention. Keeley cracked a splendid 26 before succumbing to a sharp return catch.
Austin continued to hold the fort and Freeman displayed a refreshing willingness to attack the ball and hit an entertaining 16 to revive hopes of a stunning victory before swinging at a straight one and being bowled neck and crop. Latino now walked out to join Austin with survival the sole thought but with safety in sight the gallant Austin played all round a straight one in a bid to steal a single and was bowled. It was a sickening sight to see Austin cleaned up by Riddle almost the same as seeing Michael Caine cut down by an assegai at the end of Zulu.
Fortunately Austins heroics were not in vain as Cutts and Latino held firm, Cutts batting with aplomb to score three not out and Latino negotiating the final over with increasing confidence to claim the draw, a deserved reward for a dogged rearguard action.