Oxford University Cricket Club’s Varsity campaign gets underway on Friday May 23 at The Parks as the Dark Blues take on Cambridge in the Twenty20 fixture, the first of three encounters during the 2014 season. Oxford will be hoping to build on a strong 2013 season, which included dominant wins in the one-day and four-day fixtures. Oxford hold the Twenty20 trophy having won in 2012, the last time the match was held at the Parks, with last year’s Twenty20 fixture abandoned due to rain after Cambridge set an imposing 153 from 15 overs.

The Oxford team’s early season has placed an emphasis on the shortest format of the game, with the team’s pre-season trip to Edinburgh including fixtures against Fettes College and a strong East of Scotland Highlanders side. A comfortable win against Fettes was backed up by a determined performance against a Highlanders side boasting international talent, with the Blues ultimately falling short of the target of 157. Last Friday also saw the Parks play host to The Army and the Harlequins, a team comprising former Oxford Blues, as skipper Gus Kennedy sought to finalise his final squad for the Varsity Twenty20 match. Against The Army, Ferraby and Jones combined well in a 72 run partnership with the bat, while New Zealander Haines (2-12) starred with the ball, ensuring a 30 run victory for the Blues. Faced with a myriad of familiar faces against the Harlequins, Oxford once again performed strongly. Batting first, Kennedy and Chadwick recovered the Blues innings following the loss of early wickets, before strong hitting and innovative batting by the duo ensured Oxford set a challenging score for the Harlequins to chase. Despite a strong start by the Harlequins, miserly middle overs bowling by the Blues stalled the Harlequins chase, with Oxford eventually recording a comfortable victory. Wins against both teams should provide ideal preparation for the clash against Cambridge on Friday.

Pace duo Abidine Sakande and Jonny Marsden offer perhaps the most exciting prospect for the Blues come Friday. First year Sakande, who represented England Under-19s last June against Bangladesh and is affiliated with Sussex C.C.C, has impressed in his initial period at Oxford, bowling quickly with sharp bounce for the Oxford MCCU, as well as in his limited appearances for the Blues this season. Derbyshire’s Marsden will be looking to back up last season’s efforts with ball, having missed the rain affected Twenty20 last year. The pair will offer a tough challenge for the Cambridge top order. They will no doubt be well supported by the talented Sam Cato, with his useful off-spin bowling and the energy he offers in the field important for the Blues.

With the bat, skipper Gus Kennedy has started the season well with runs in the early season and will be looking to take this form into the T20 fixture. Having played varsity cricket for both the Cambridge and Oxford Blues, notably scoring a match wining 43 in the Lords one day fixture for Oxford last season, Kennedy will be a pivotal part of the Dark Blues top six. Alongside Kennedy, fourth year St. John’s engineer, Ben Jeffery’s aggressive batting and clean striking is well suited to the T20 format. LMH batsman Matt Winter will also slot into the middle order. Winter has scored well in his first year involved in the MCCU programme, and contributed with 51 in last year’s four-day win. He will no doubt be an important player in all three formats this summer. Nicholas Ferraby is a new addition to the squad, however brings with him years of cricketing experience having represented Leicestershire in domestic one-day cricket and having played for many years in the Home Counties Premier League. The talented all-rounder will hope to start his Varsity career well, with contributions with the bat, and through his wily ability with the ball. Such talent makes Oxford well placed to retain the Twenty20 trophy.

The Twenty20 fixture is sure to be fast paced, and is perhaps the most popular form of Varsity cricket for avid fans and casual viewers alike, with the match likely to attract a large crowd. Pinks balls, coloured clothing, music and other entertainment are all likely to add to the atmosphere and enjoyment of the occasion. Local food outlets Mission Burrito and George and Delilah’s ice cream will both be offering their products throughout the day. Ales and lagers will also be provided by north Oxford pub the Rose & Crown, Vincent’s club Oxford will be serving Pimm’s and their notorious Pinkies, whilst Mission Burrito will be serving frozen margaritas.

The men’s match begins at 3.30pm and is preceded by the women’s team, hoping to win their fourth successive Twenty20 Varsity, beginning at 12.00pm.

Entrance to the Parks for both matches is free of charge.