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2022 Season Preview

"Tonight, he's pitching against time, he's pitching against the future, 

against age, against ending, 

to push the sun back into the sky and give us one more day of summer."

For the record those words from For Love of the Game form the single most beautiful quote from any sport movie, (narrowly surpassing Slap Shot's "Suzanne sucks pussy!") and one that is very apt with the first match of the season just around the corner.

Regardless of whether you think this is the 25th season in the history of Offley & Stopsley Cricket Club or it represents the club's 25th anniversary (and either way life's too short to get too worked up about such matters), it is now at hand.

It doesn't matter whether you're over 50 or act like a stroppy teenager, if you can't feel a frisson of excitement about the first game then it's probably time to look for a different sport.

Throughout the squad are players with points to prove.

Scott Boatwright leads the way. The scrappy skipper will be determined to pile up the runs this season to ensure there's no repeat of last year's Boat Aid campaign. He's determined to lead his troops to promotion in the Bedfordshire League and reach the third tier for the first time in club history. Furthermore, the man who was named after a Thunderbird, will be anxious to prove that he's no puppet behind the stumps, although some of his jerky uncoordinated movements may suggest otherwise. 

Josh Scott is battling history. No Offley outfit has ever been relegated in consecutive seasons. Technically he bears some responsibility as he was vice-captain last year (Captain Dan is now the vice-captain so there may be an element of shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic) and he needs to improve on his 2021 record of 11 wickets with a top score of 23. He may lack his predecessor's passion but his people skills could be an advantage. 

Josh Hook is the early favourite to lead the club in runs and tantrums. The man who throws a mean dart has also demonstrated the ability to throw the toys out of the pram. However, after producing as many 50s in 2021 as the rest of the squad combined (Five. Five! For fuck's sake! Five!) not to mention a pair of centuries, the level of expectation is there for him to become just the fifth player to score 1000 runs in a season.

Ben Wiles is blessed with the best technique in the club - which is to say that when he plays a forward defensive shot it actually vaguely resembles one, a skill that is beyond most others. He also has the power to hit it further than the rest of his teammates. He led the way with 31 wickets last season and had the best average and although a repeat of the demolition of Northchurch may seem a little fanciful, there is no doubt he carries the hopes of the bowling attack.

A pair of old stagers are hoping for big things in 2022. Steve Bexfield is readying himself to lay down his lawnmower and go in search of the 405 runs he needs to reach the 15000 mark. To the disappointment of batters across Hertfordshire & Bedfordshire Luke Munt has given up bowling on medical advice and will be concentrating on his batting and is determined to improve on last year's disappointing average of 14. Munt's delicate late cunt is a thing of beauty - especially if you're a bowler who has just sent down a straight ball. 

A trio of local heroes are determined to make their mark in the middle order. Fearless in the field and combative at the crease John Davis is ready to join the ranks of the prestigious Offley Double Figures Club this year. It's common knowledge that John has given his bat a name in the hope it will inspire him to destroy the bowling this year. It's less well known that the bat has also given John a name. It remains to be seen how the Blade of Destiny & Johnny Smashed Stumps get on. 

Desmond Bateman is hoping for a more consistent approach this year (last year nine innings produced 55 runs with 31 coming in a single knock) while Roger Piepenstock continues to dream of unfurling a cover drive as elegant and luxurious as his honeyed tones. Piepenstock scored 22 runs at an average of 2 last season, two less than the number he conceded in his four overs..... With numbers like that it's no surprise Roger's close personal friend David Cameron got his sums wrong and got the referendum result he didn't want.

In a similar vein Marc Ward surrendered 44 runs in seven overs and scored just 24 runs in seven innings. Once upon a time, not so long ago, Ward was the future of Offley cricket, a dashing batsman who routinely collected the Young Player of the Year Award. After making his comeback last year Ward needs to improve markedly this season otherwise the only awards he will be picking up in future will be from the shop for other people. He needs 11 wickets and 125 runs to do the double of 100 wickets and 2000 runs.

It's a big year for Dan Goord, freed of the shackles of captaincy and now ready to concentrate on his batting. Goord scored more runs than anyone bar Hook in 2021 but only reached 50 once in 22 innings. The man who has never met a delivery he didn't think he could cut will be looking to kick on this season. Only ten others have scored more runs than Goord for the club and he needs just 225 to reach the 3000 mark.

Darren Lunney will be looking to rebound after averaging 12 last year while the splendidly rotund Kaiz Ul-Haq is looking to graduate to a more welcome all-rounder status as he attempts to flip his batting average (11) with his bowling average (16). Despite producing his best score for the club on several different occasions last year Ul-Haq's batting remains a work in progress after winning the duck award outright last year after claiming a share of it in 2020. Kaiz Ul-Quack, as it were. Lunney did chip in with 17 wickets but his batting needs to improve after regressing somewhat. He may have recorded more ducks in club history than anyone else (56) but that doesn't mean he needs to show off. His club record 226 catches suggest he's the man you'd always want under a catch....

Hassan Shah will be keen to ensure there is no repeat of last year when he routinely seemed to attract the best delivery of the match, invariably a vicious in-swinging yorker that demolished the poles while Ali Shah continues on his merry quest to manipulate his way up the order to his rightful berth in the top five. Las Vegas has set the over/under number for the number of twos he runs this season at three. He claimed 29 wickets last season, trailing just Wiles in the rankings, and will be keen to bemuse and bamboozle more batters this year with his dart player's run-up. 

Matthew Taylor has threatened to retire (again) while Ian Laidler's plans for the season are unconfirmed as yet. The presence of both will only enhance the enjoyment on account of their unflagging willingness to make the best of a bad situation. 

C.J. McIlveen missed most of last year with injury but returned late on to contribute with bat and ball. He bowls with pace and hits the ball a long way. McIlveen is a free spirit, a man who has the confidence to accessorise a Freddie Mercury mustache with a Tupac do rag. To observe him at first hand is to witness real Bohemian Rap-sody.....

The club's chairman and moral compass Mark Tattersall is back for another season and is one of three players who featured in the club's inaugural cup final win in 1998. He has a little less hair these days (at least on top of his head if not necessarily around the mouth) and is unlikely to scamper three as he did in that final. He needs just 117 runs and 22 wickets to complete the career-double of 5000 runs and 300 wickets and become the second man in club history to achieve that feat.

James Barker took 23 wickets and scored almost 250 runs but will find himself in the opposition ranks on May 14 when Offley travel to Hitchin. His ability to score runs, take wickets and field means that regardless of what happens on the 14th, he will be welcomed back with open arms the following day.

Jamie Cummins claimed the first five-wicket haul of his career in 2021 and also scaled hitherto unbelievable heights of competence with the bat. Once there was a time when Cummins struggled to locate the cut strip. These days it's a rare occurrence if he goes more than three overs without finding the edge, admittedly something that would be more useful if there was someone at slip who could catch.

Will the real Peter Gilkes please stand up? In 2020 Gilkes burst on to the scene, destroying batting lineups across the county and would have won the bowling award at a canter had it not been for the pandemic. Last year he claimed three wickets at 98. He has a whimsical, dare one say prosaic approach to batting. 

Steve Denton has been in training over the winter, reportedly pounding the streets in a bid to increase his speed and stamina after a season in which the speed gun seemed to detect a marked loss in velocity. All of which begs the question, if Stevie D releases the ball at the bowler's end and sprints to the other end, will he arrive before the ball?

Slow bowler Prem Lala scored as many runs as he took eight wickets and introduced a hint of mystery spin into the Offley attack. Will the ball bounce? Will it miss the strip? How many times will it bounce? It's a mystery!

Crafty Cliff Large has been building up his arm strength over the winter with a series of training sessions in the Barrels. He has 179 wickets to his name and while it's a stretch to see him reaching 200 this year, 180 is firmly in his sights.

That only leaves a little room for the Offley legend who stands on the cusp of 650 wickets (638) and 13000 runs (12880). And if Richie Barker hadn't dropped nine out of ten catches that had come his way last year he'd be pretty close to 200 (191). Despite the landmarks there's no need for a permanent statue to be erected in his honour because he does a decent impression of one every time he stands at slip. 

Other names that could feature over the coming months include Nathan BrodieAdam Ward and Rehan Samdani (Rehan's appearances may hinge on the success of his one-man Zayn Maliy tribute tour) along with anyone else who has the good fortune to get a game for Hertfordshire's premier cricket club / care in the community project.

One way or another we're still standing after 25 years while a lot of the teams we played back in '98 are long gone. While some of the names and faces have changed (not to mention some of the hairlines and waistlines), the same levels of genial idiocy and incompetence survive.

It's a special club to play for. 

Enjoy it.


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