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Biggleswade CC, 191 -5 Vs Offley & Stopsley 227-4 ; 5th June

OSCC Won by 36 runs

Matty Freeman’s Merry Men recorded another victory in the Beds League as they overcame Biggleswade by 37 runs. Three batsmen scored fifties and five bowlers picked up wickets as Offley clinched victory in the rain.

Offley lost the toss and were asked to bat first. Freeman would have bowled first if he had called correctly, even though it would have meant taking the field with ten men as Colin Keeley, last of the great explorers, was hunting high and low for the ground with little success. Keeley the spiritual heir of Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus, eventually pitched up at around quarter past two, attributing his late arrival to the incompetence of Google Maps. This latest ability to get lost and turn up late earned him the nickname of the White Qumar.

Offley made a poor start. Chris Austin edged an away-swinger to the keeper before Steve Bexfield had his stumps rearranged to leave Offley in some trouble on 22-2.

Bexfield’s dismissal was felt particularly keenly by next man in Colin Williams. Williams was happily munching away at his Magnum – Skipper Freeman did his best to inspire the troops by treating them to ice cream – when Bexfield was cleaned up, forcing Williams to swap lolly stick for cricket bat and march to the middle to face the music.

While Bexfield delivered a moving soliloquy, testifying to the brilliance of the delivery that had dismissed him and the sheer hopelessness of trying to deal with such a ball, Offley dug themselves out of trouble thanks to a century stand between Josh Hook and Williams. Hook blended solid defence with the odd reckless swipe and some shots of real quality as he grew in confidence throughout his innings. Williams played in the only way he knows how, looking to carry the attack to the bowlers from the start and swishing away merrily outside off stump, invariably unfazed regardless of whether the ball makes contact with the middle of the bat or flies harmlessly past the outside edge.

Williams was the first to reach his half-century before Hook swiftly followed him to the landmark, posting the hundred-partnership with a pulled boundary. Moments later Hook was on his way after playing all around a straight ball and being trapped lbw. Williams departed in the following over, playing on via his foot, to leave Offley wobbling slightly on 129-4 after 28 overs.

Marc Ward and Richie Barker slowly began to repair the damage, mixing singles from Barker’s bat with boundaries from Ward’s blade. Ward enjoyed some luck, surviving two dropped catches while Barker, who for a long while made batting look ridiculously difficult, was required to dive full length to prevent Ward running him out. At one stage it looked as though Offley would struggle to reach 200. However, Barker finally found his touch and eased through the gears like a blonde Ferrari, launching an impressive straight six and bringing up his fifty in the final over as Offley closed on 227-4.

Keeley and Andrew Vanhoof opened the bowling as the skies closed in and the rain began to fall. Both bowlers produced impressive opening bursts, sharing three maidens to start proceedings and preventing the hosts from getting off to a good start. Vanhoof generated impressive swing as he went in search of his first wicket of the season. The ball flew past the outside edge as the batsmen were unable to get a bat on any of a series of brilliant deliveries. Vanhoof’s failure to pick up a wicket was simply the price he paid for being too good.

At the other end Keeley, frustrated by Freeman bungling two eminently catchable chances at mid off, took matters into his own hands. Birch punched the ball back down the ground with a checked drive that looked to have a single written all over it. Instead the evergreen 42-year old Keeley flung himself low to his right like another great Irish athlete, Shay Given, and pulled off a remarkable one-handed catch.

Keeley reacted with delight, a dazzling smile illuminating the leaden skies, as he reflected on a piece of athletic brilliance that a 39-year old would have been proud of. While Keeley ploughed through his nine over stint, ignoring the pain of a damaged groin, Vanhoof was withdrawn from the attack, Freeman saving his overs for a second spell. The decision was not well received by the luckless bowler who clearly believed that his first wicket of 2011 was just around the corner despite 53 wicketless overs. Vanhoof gave way to Ward and the diminutive speedster produced three wides in his first four balls before claiming a wicket with his fifth delivery. It was his eighth wicket of the season and cemented his position as the second-most successful bowler in his family.

Biggleswade began to fall further behind the rate as Data dug in, determinedly resisting the temptation to hit the ball off the square. This hitherto undiscovered Indian by-blow of the Austin Clan was magnificent, producing some marvellous forward defensive prods and steadfastly managing not to beat the field. He also produced some of the most pedestrian running seen on a cricket field since Brian Moslin was in his prime, driving his captain who was umpiring to bouts of exasperated rage.

At the other end Biggleswade’s Australian star Suttle was struggling to make much of an impression. Suttle should have gone when he mistimed a drive to mid off but Freeman came steaming in and slipped over like a baby giraffe on ice and the ball sailed harmlessly over his head. Suttle finally got the scoreboard ticking when he hit Barker for consecutive sixes (the latter in response to Ward’s helpful challenge, “Bet you can’t do that again!”) as Biggleswade attempted to score 145 from the final 15 overs.

Data tried to join the party, inside edging Freeman to the boundary, skimming the ball five yards wide of Bexfield who declined to dive, despite being ripped by his captain who called for a “token dive”. Ryan Chamberlain made the breakthrough, bowling Data for 18 from what seemed 167 balls but was probably only 145.

Suttle launched a desperate assault that carried him to his 50 before a miracle occurred. No, Vanhoof didn’t get his first wicket of the year, but Freeman did hold on to a catch. Suttle took on Barker once more and attempted to bounce him off the pavilion roof for the third time but only succeeded in picking out Freeman on the boundary. Offley’s skipper clutched hold of the ball with the delighted expression of a small boy who has just been lobbed a toffee apple.

Freeman was then denied a wicket despite the suspicion that the ball would have uprooted middle stump if it had not collided with the batsman’s pad. Despite explaining his point of view to the umpire with a lengthy discussion that involved a PowerPoint presentation, Freeman was forced to accept that the umpire’s decision was final. Freeman was not to be denied and picked up a deserved wicket in his next over courtesy of an excellent reflex catch from Vanhoof at point.

Vanhoof nearly pulled off a second remarkable catch shortly afterwards as he turned to chase down a well struck ball in the deep. Unfortunately he narrowly failed to get to the ball, briefly re-enacting Eric Morecambe’s “Bring Me Sunshine” routine before falling over and bouncing into a the back of the football ground stand a split-second after the ball.

Biggleswade’s batsmen swung away in the dark but Vanhoof and Chamberlain kept their nerve to ensure the hosts fell short in their effort to score 70 from the last three overs. Offley held on to seal a deserved win by 37 runs and reflect that it had been a good toss to lose as they kept up their impressive run under Captain Fantastic.