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By Matthew Handley
Oxford drew first blood in this year’s varsity cricket schedule with a narrow victory over Cambridge in the Twenty20 game.
With the sun shining and the promise of free Pimms in exchange for an awkward chat with Ernest and Young employees, the crowds flocked to University Parks, hoping for some more entertainment than the rowers could provide. The nature of Twenty20 means a quicker game, with an all or nothing approach taking hold.
Cambridge embraced this strategy from the off, erring on the dangerous side of caution as Tom Elliot took advantage of the 20/20 power play rules which restrict the number of fielders allowed in deep field to hit successive boundaries; giving Cambridge a strong lead. Oxford were strong in the field, restricting Cambridge to singles once Richard Timms fell for nineteen, as catches off Owain Jones and Sam Agarwall saw Gus Kennedy and Evans fall at the halfway stage, with Cambridge on 76 for 3.
It took a free-hit to get Cambridge scoring again, as Paul Best took a boundary from Jones’ bowling. A more aggressive Oxford bowling attack reduced Cambridge’s run rate, as they slowly made their way to 101-4 by the end of the fifteenth over. Things began to look up as the wicket became better though- the final five overs saw Matt Hickey and Jonno Evans record twenty three runs from the last two overs, leaving Oxford the not unreasonable target of 152 to win the match.
Things started well for the Dark Blues as the opening partnership of Ben Williams and Rajiv Sharma raced to a score of 30 after 4 overs, well within the required run-rate for victory. Sharma was particularly in the mood, hitting a six in the first over and regularly challenging the Jack Wills lined boundary.
Such aggressive shots soon found the batsman in trouble though as ex-Oxford cricketer Jonathan Lodwick teased out an edge, sending Sharma packing as it fell into the wicket keeper’s hands.
Agarwal joined Captain Williams at the crease, and the two put on a good partnership, as Oxford crept toward the golden score of 152. Some excellent Cambridge fielding reduced the Dark Blues to single for several overs, and there was a fear that this may go the same way as last year’s varsity games. A sense of urgency took hold of Oxford’s batsmen, still needing 49 from the final 6 overs to claim victory at home.
Williams and Agarwal began to show their talent; scoring 90 between them before Williams was sent packing by a clean Elliot Bath ball. The partnership had done the job though, and Owain Jones brought them even closer with a cameo appearance where he scored several boundaries before a great piece of bowling from Scottish international Paddy Sadler condemned him to the club house with two overs remaining.
Needing a score of 13 from two overs, Oxford turned to Ben Jeffrey to partner Agarwal, who reached the half-century mark after 17 overs. Needing only one from each remaining ball Oxford looked comfortable, more so when they hit two 2s at the start of the final over. Things weren’t that simple though, as Agarwal finally fell on 61 with a great catch from Sadler at long off.
The pressure was now on Jeffrey and Tom Chadwick, needing three from three to avoid defeat or the dreaded ‘power over’. Unfazed Jeffrey took a swing at the next shot, smashing it over the fan’s heads around the boundary to secure victory for Oxford with an audacious six.
Things are now looking up for the Oxford side, which hopes to avenge Cambridge’s whitewash of victories in last year’s competition. Their minds now turn to the one day varsity game at Lords on June 16th. With victory in this game there will be hopes the team won’t be overawed by such an historic venue.