The University Match, 1st day
Oxford University 50-5 (Crichard 4-23) trail Cambridge University 225 (Tice 54, Marsden 4-47) by 175 runs
A captain’s knock.
An innings compiled under huge pressure in a middlingly-bad to severe situation. Produced only by a leader of men. Typified by hard-graft and punchiness, hallmarked by immediate command of an unwarranted respect, and ultimately defined by single-handedly diverting the course of a match.
All of the above are reasonable definitions of the supreme counter-attack provided by Cambridge captain Patrick Tice on a day where 15 wickets fell at Fenner’s. Loud in the field by trade as a wicket-keeper, Tice’s words hang in the muggy air; dancing merrily in front of batsmen’s eyes, and encouraging rash strokes like a devil with wide eyes, a halo and a cheeky grin. But here, it was with the blade that he rallied his deflated troops, plundering a maiden varsity half-century: the only man to reach the milestone (or indeed pass 33).
Tice was first over the top of the trenches onto a Fenner’s pitch that truly played like a minefield at times. Bowling from the Gresham Road End, Johnny Marsden regularly extracted trampoline bounce off a length, whilst the skiddier Tom Brock fired several at shin-height over the course of the morning session. The Cambridge batsmen would have been excused for making their way to the crease with their pads over the top of bomb disposal suits.
This could potentially be Tice’s last match for Cambridge. As if acutely aware of the fact, he played with parochial focus, determined to entrench his light blue swansong long into the memory. Diminutive in stature, he was authoritative throughout, and in truth the only batsman to tame the pitch; to play with its jagged edges like a child’s toy.
It was in partnership with Tim Moses that Tice was able flourish freely, playing a game of buckaroo where the rest of the middle order had been patiently manoeuvring chess pieces. Despite Moses possessing the ability to selectively hoist sixes at will in both the twenty20 and one day fixtures, it was Tice who looked the most refined batsman.
His first boundary arrived via common method: pulled hard to the fence in front of square. He has a tendency to lean heavily on the ball leg-side – a technique that can render him vulnerable to away movement, and one that at times promoted two gully fielders, alert to the possibility of a leading edge. But as the innings developed, the stroke-play became more expansive through the off-side as if intoxicated on the thrill of driving for the first time, and insatiable for more: two booming cover drives off Tom Brock the only consecutive boundaries on a day where patience trumped arrogance.
Oxford plugged away willingly all morning through a turgid session and made regular breakthroughs, thwarting any meaningful dovetail between any of the Cambridge top order. Tom Colverd played with intense focus against-type, reigning in his more extravagant game in favour of a prominent front-foot defence and soft hands. The last over before the morning drinks break perfectly captured the difficulty of such reticence for a free-flowing player: Colverd wafting wildly at the penultimate ball before chastising himself with lusty blows to the pad that left little to the imagination.
Senaratne was more at home in the piece, now a part of the Fenner’s furniture whose commitment to the light blues has transcended the entirety of ex-teammate Zafar Ansari’s career. His imperturbably calm head was on full show here, unattractive, and abundant in the fourth slip region, but always controlled and resolute. For his 112 deliveries, Senaratne absorbed 98 dot balls, and struck just 5 singles. It was credit to the incredibly tight lines produced by Oxford, and in particular Toby Pettman, who like a gazelle on caffeine bounded in repeatedly to remove both openers lbw, and end Tim Moses’ rather torturous stay at the crease playing down the wrong line once too many.
Angus Dalgleish paid the price for attempting to challenge the playground bully pitch, flaying hard at any length offered, and top-edged high attempting to pull a ball upon him too quickly for the shot. Having just completed his nine-boundary fifty with trademark wristy blows, a momentary lapse also did for Tice as he gloved a rip-roaring Marsden bouncer (angled in at the ribs) in similar fashion to Ali Dewhurst’s earlier dimissal, and a venomous assessment Rory Sale would later receive.
As Tice trudged off unwillingly, out to the final ball before tea, score locked at 182 for 7, the usual frustration will likely have bred glee, keen to see what his own attack could oust with the assisted bounce, and the now moody grey skies. As James Poulson and Rhuari Crichard unfurled some late classics, the total was pushed to 225. Without their captain’s knock, they may well have found themselves in the same perilous position inflicted in a difficult evening session.
Crichard bowled immaculately with the new ball and claimed four late dismissals all caught behind, all prodding, poking or attempting to leave (Nick Taylor was caught in two minds and attempted to withdraw his bat). The fast bowler’s action is smooth and powerful, never travelling stronger than at the popping crease – the sort of rhythm that responds generously to a profitable spell. For a dropped catch at midwicket the final hour would’ve yielded a five-for.
When Tim Moses, visibly nursing his hamstring between each delivery, then bowled Jamie Gnodde with one that came back through the gate, the complexion of the game had altered markedly. Evident was the significantly greater proportion of deliveries that Oxford batsmen were made to play at, such is the profit of home advantage and a track tailored to the light blue attack.
Alex Rackow looked in good touch late on as the Cambridge attack began to dull, Crichard into his 11th consecutive over, but twilight intervened and the light blues will get the opportunity to go again fresh in the morning. Rackow will need to assume superiority; to look out for his tail and martial them past the follow-on and beyond: whatever in store tomorrow, batting all morning is a must.