With Trinity term about to begin, Cherwell Sport turns its attention to the upcoming cricket season. Last season’s dominance for the Blues in Varsity matches, spectacularly capped by Sam Agarwal’s triple century in the four-day fixture, should provide grounds for optimism in the University arena. The real life-blood of cricket in Oxford however is the College Cricket League and Cuppers competition, which we will focus on here.
The College Cricket League is set to begin in 1st Week and looks to be as hard to predict as ever. Last season’s league was slightly affected by rain, but with a warm summer in the offing the teams will hope that consistency and quality will be more fairly rewarded. The 1st Division last year was a two-horse race between Balliol and Keble which finished in a dead heat, some 44 points in front of the chasing pack. These two teams will be looking ahead to more dominance, although newly promoted St. John’s and Somerville will provide stiff competition and the likes of St. Catz, Univ, and New will always offer a challenge to any opponent.
The lower divisions were fiercely contested last season, with a much smaller gap separating the teams in the top half of both leagues. The 2nd Division thrived, with St. John’s, Somerville and Exeter contributing to a nail-biting finish which would have been all the more thrilling had Pembroke not run out of time to play their ninth and final fixture. As it is the teams dropping down from the 1st Division, Brasenose and Merton, will face a tough fight for promotion as Exeter, Pembroke and Jesus will all be looking to finish in the top two. That is not to mention Trinity College, who as last year’s beaten Cupper’s finalists are my pick to finish first as they bid to follow St. John’s up to the 1st Division. No doubt the match of the season in this league will be the Jesus/Exeter fixture as an age-old College rivalry coincides with both sides’ realistic chances for promotion.
The 3rd tier of College cricket was more interrupted last year than the other two divisions, as a mixture of weather and the inability to consistently get full sides to turnout for regular matches lessened the competitive edge of many contests. Nevertheless Lady Margaret Hall look to be the team to beat this time around, having gone unbeaten in their four games last year and missing out on promotion only because Oriel and Magdalen got through more games. Linacre should also challenge for the title along with former 2nd Division sides Teddy Hall and Wadham, who failed to win a game in last year’s competition.
The Cuppers competition begins in 2nd Week, with the 1st Division teams looking to redeem themselves after two 2nd Division colleges, St. John’s and Trinity, competed in the final last year. Victory for St. John’s capped a successful season for the team, who also gained promotion and look well placed to mount a serious defence of their Cuppers title. The competition should see some all-round quality cricket played, as the colleges will have the freedom to select their full complement of Blues and ‘Tics players, something not allowed in League fixtures. This could potentially alter the prospects of some of the lower ranked teams; not least in the case of Lady Margaret Hall, whose star batsman Matt Winter is a mainstay of the Blues middle order and over the winter gained a place in the MCCU squad. Elsewhere last year’s 2nd Division whipping boys Wadham will be hoping that the availability of Jack Kelleher will boost their chances in Cuppers if not the league. The competition will be stiff however as 1st Division stalwarts Worcester and Balliol can also call on University players for their cup fixtures.
With an action-packed season in store for all the teams involved, cricket at Oxford seems to be in rude health. Although the ultimate victors in all levels of competition remain a mystery, what is incontestable is the tension, excitement, and passion that will accompany quality cricket across the university. Keep up with all the twists and turns with Cherwell Sport.