On Sunday, Oxford University Cricket Club hosted their first fixture at The Parks this season, welcoming travelling club Arabs.
The visitors are a side composed of Oxbridge and Durham alumni, and they fielded a strong side, bolstered by the presence of Jamie Dalrymple – famously the last man to make the transition from OUCC to England – and several other players with county experience to their names.
Oxford captain Matty Hughes won the toss and elected to bat; the serene conditions and batsman-friendly wicket evidenced in his decision. Openers Dan Escott and Matthew Naylor put on 29 for the first wicket, before the former fell to off-spinner Freddie Fox. Naylor and Hughes then set about crafting a fine fifty partnership, and the duo looked to be vindicating the decision to bat.
It was here, though, that all of Dalrymple’s experience and guile came to the fore. Bowling round the wicket to the right-handed duo and causing problems both sides of the bat, captain Hughes was keen to use his feet and negate the spin, but fell victim to a clever stumping ploy as the man in possession of 27 ODI caps fired the ball wide down the leg side, and away from the dancing Hughes.
Between overs 25 and 34, the innings stagnated as the Arabs began to tighten the field, and only 23 runs were added to the initial solid foundation, for the loss of 3 further wickets. Tall opening bowler H Douglas returned to the attack and removed Alex Rackow in the 33rd over, before then claiming Jamie Gnodde for a duck two balls later. Naylor remained at the crease and became increasingly proactive between the wickets as he looked to up the tone, but he too fell victim to Douglas, as he edged behind for an excellent 60, attempting to cut a short and wide delivery.
It brought to the crease Alex Loudon, a bearer of 5 first-class centuries, and the second of the Arabs party with England pedigree – having captained England U19s at the 1999 World Cup, and won a sole ODI cap vs Sri Lanka in 2006
Batting at 7, Jack Rogers was then out caught for 9 as he connected sweetly with a reverse sweep off Dalrymple, unfortunately picking out the fielder at gully perfectly with his premeditated stroke. Nick Taylor and Jack Harrison then put on a quickfire partnership of 31 – the second highest of the day – to pass the 150 mark, and Tom Brock also added some late aggressive runs. Harrison was the pick of the trio, with an especially fluent knock, driving and cutting ruthlessly, before being removed for 22(23); in doing so giving 2014 Oxford Blues captain Gus Kennedy a fifth dismissal behind the stumps. When Mike Dawes then chipped to midwicket in the 49th over, Oxford were all out for a respectable 181.
Early wickets were to be essential in the chase, defending a total around 60 short of par, and the bowling cause got off to the best possible start when Toby Pettman bowled CS Jones in the 3rd over, leaving the score at 1-1. Mike Dawes (7-2-1-21) was particularly impressive from the other end, bowling a probing corridor line, and he produced a jaffa in the 6th over, clipping the bail off the very top of off stump to dismiss the dangerous Hugo Darby.
With the game hanging in the balance at 37-2 after 15 overs, Hughes turned to Brock – a late replacement in the side for the injured Johnny Marsden – to break the developing partnership. The move proved to be a masterstroke, as Brock (5-0-1-22) rapped the pad of the Alex Hearne with his very first ball, removing him for 18.
It brought to the crease Alex Loudon, a bearer of 5 first-class centuries, and the second of the Arabs party with England pedigree – having captained England U19s at the 1999 World Cup, and won a sole ODI cap vs Sri Lanka in 2006 (he was in fact run out without facing a ball). Loudon was fluent throughout, though not without half-chances – a difficult chance at leg gully being put down off the bowling of Jamie Gnodde (9-0-0-46) – and with Wilfred Marriott put on a weathering stand of 128 to effectively take the game away from Oxford. After conceding a miserly 13 runs in his first 7 overs, Pettman strayed too short with his length in his second spell (10-2-1-32), and Loudon brought up a 78 ball half century with a punishing pull shot from the bowler.
The light blues are unbeaten at Fenners this year, and there is palpable anticipation ahead of what should be intensely competitive 2017 Varsity fixtures; the first of which, the t20 match, takes place at Fenners on Friday 16th June
Hughes (5.2-0-0-20) rotated his bowlers admirably, turning to the leg-spin of Rogers (6-0-0-25) and Escott (3-0-1-14), as well as his own medium pace towards the end of the innings, but there was no breakthrough until the 41st over, with the Arabs just 17 runs off the total. The wicket came just three balls into Escott’s spell, and whilst it briefly threatened to evoke memories of the last year’s Varsity match – in which the spinner took 6 consecutive second inning Cambridge wickets to become only the 4th man in history to score a century and take a five-for on first-class debut – with a tight ring field and a heightened OUCC intensity, the incoming F O’Brien and unbeaten Marriot were able to see the Arabs home from 45.2 overs. A defeat for Oxford, but a very respectable performance against high calibre opposition.
At the other place, Cambridge recorded a sixth win in seven completed fixtures this season after bowling out the Duke Of Norfolk’s 1st XI for 205 inside 37.1 overs. Opener Tom Colverd made 87, and bowler Tim Moses – fresh from claiming the first-class wickets of Alex Hales and Liam Livingstone for the MCCU side – produced a fast opening spell. The light blues are unbeaten at Fenners this year, and there is palpable anticipation ahead of what should be intensely competitive 2017 Varsity fixtures; the first of which, the t20 match, takes place at Fenners on Friday 16th June.