As the last dregs of the academic year disappeared down the metaphorical plughole, it’d have been easy to miss the series of cricketing varsity matches which have been – weather not withstanding – providing the University’s sporting summer with a final flourish. With a 50-over match that took place in the grand arena at Lords, as well as a 20-20 game and a four-day match, it’d be impossible to accuse our cricketers of laziness in the face of exams.
The weather however has so far proved harder to tame, with the men’s 20-20 game which took place at Fenner’s in Cambridge falling victim to heavy rain, whilst the women’s one-day game was another casualty. Luckily Saturday June 15th saw our Blues make a successful start in between the showers. Eventually winning the match by seven wickets after making a twice-reduced target of 89 off 20 overs. This was a great reversal of recent history, as the Oxford squad hadn’t managed to win the 50-over episode of the Varsity series in any of the last three years.
Key to the victory were the opening spells of bowlers Johny Marsden and Freddie Johnson (who ended with fantastic figures of 2 wickets for the concession of just 10 runs.) Both enabled the Oxford team to hold the initiative from the very beginning. Their restriction of the Cambridge top order to 24-1 after 12 overs left them facing an uphill battle, and with observers expecting 250 to be an approximate par score – in the unlikely event either side was able to play their full allocation of overs – the game always looked within the capabilities of an Oxford side which has looked impressive all Summer.
In particular the batting line-up made the run-chase look easy. Despite a shaky beginning, soon the Blues were motoring, and by the time the scoreboard read 70-1, the only threat to an Oxford victory was the weather, with the sodden skies appearing ominous. In the end though, the rain held off and Gus Kennedy’s quickfire 43 (from only 49 balls) was central to a strong performance. Another notable effort with the willow was from Sam Agarwal who made a crucial 16 to help stabilize the innings after the potentially problematic early dismissal of Ben Jeffery.
Although the crowd at Lords was hardly full, those who did make the trip to London were thoroughly entertained by the Oxford team at least. Peter Ladd commented that “it probably wasn’t a great game for the neutral, but then I wasn’t going as a neutral!” He then added that he really hadn’t been “convinced by the Cambridge top order, with the obvious exceptions of Paul Best and Tom Elliot.” Those two batsmen made over 90 runs between them, and in Ladd’s opinion the Tabs could have done with more of their ilk. Best was in fact a surprise starter, having been slated to be 13th man for Warwickshire during the same week.
The one-day match has not been the only Varsity success so far though. The Women’s team won their 20-20 tie, and are also 1-0 up in their series. All in all, this year has looked he best for quite some time for our cricketers.
The beginning of July will see the last part of the series as the game’s longer form game takes centre stage, again at Fenner’s, on the 2nd. As the oldest first-class cricket fixture still in existence – it dates back to 1827 – we all hope that the Oxford side can make another historic contribution to a lengthy tradition of sporting success, and all things being equal we’d have to see our side as favourites to win both the match and the series. Expect an update on the team’s progress soon after.