The most enticing of Wednesday’s 40-over matches, between New and Balliol, finished in a surprisingly easy six-wicket victory for New. Last season Balliol romped to the title without even suffering a league defeat, while the hosts finished a creditable third, managing to knock Balliol out in Cuppers.
A close game had been expected therefore, one that even as the opening game could well affect the destination of the trophy: if this proves to be the case, then Balliol have reason to worry, and New can be well satisfied.
Winning the toss, Balliol elected to bat – unsurprising with sunny skies, although as it turned out a slow pitch caused frustration and difficulty in getting the ball away. More immediately alarming, though, was the capitulation of the top order, with three ducks. The New opening bowlers, Matt Keyworth and Bishop, combined to produce a formidable spell; the former accurate, the latter erratic, but providing the welcome variation of a tall left-armer. Poole was the first to go, bowled by Bishop.
At the other end, Trudgian looked uncomfortable, and soon had his stumps removed by Keyworth with a ball that kept low. After further wickets fell, things looked bleak for the defending champions as four wickets had fallen for just 17 runs. Fortunately for them, Penfold emerged to stabilise the innings, scoring the game’s first boundaries off successive Bishop overs.
The New College captain and wicketkeeper, Alex Asher, spilled difficult chances off both Robin Penfold and Alla, before Davies was introduced; a like-for-like replacement for Bishop. Keyworth, however, was kept on to bowl all his permitted overs in a ploy to try and break Balliol’s increasingly slow accumulation, and it worked: Alla edged, Asher again spilled it, but fortunately for him his first slip reacted quickly and took the catch. Balliol were now vulnerable at 31-5, and Keyworth had fine figures of 8 overs, 5 maidens and 3 wickets for 6 runs. Then less threatening spinners were introduced and the batsmen continued warily, with only the occasional boundary being hit, in a stalemate.
This lasted until shortly after Balliol’s most successful over, scoring 6 runs off Dungate. Penfold, growing complacent, then tried to sweep him and was bowled for a well-made 33. Head scooped a catch off Tomlin to backward point soon afterwards, and it was left to the lower order to drag the total out to a still meagre 98, helped by defensive fields and the somewhat strange decision not to recall Bishop.
New started their chase nervously. Sam Tomlin was dropped at slip, and the Balliol opening bowlers, Tommy Douglas and Clark, at least matched those of New. They experienced less reward though until the ninth over. Clark had an LBW appeal against Asher turned down, forced him back with the next ball, and shattered his stumps with the third, to leave the score at 10-1 and the run rate on a sluggish pitch beginning to cause worry.
The introduction of the spinners brought mixed relief: the aggressive Corby lofted Poole for a boundary, but seemed unlikely to resist holing out to a fielder for long. However, the score was in fact 53 before Corby, followed one run later by Tomlin, was out. Their replacements showed no circumspection, with Sutton blasting a 6 and rapidly taking them to their target, requiring a mere 30 overs.
Such a small run chase was never going to be a difficult task for such a confident New College side, and Balliol’s total proved to be insufficient. However, don’t count Balliol out as Champions just yet: they murmured about the imminent return of high quality batsmen; by the look of it, they need them.