Eleven wickets for Cambridge seamer Ruari Crichard saw Oxford fall to a crushing 216-run defeat in the four-day Varisty match at Fenner’s.
Jonny Marsden’s four first-innings wickets and a combative 95 from Alex Rackow meant that there was little between the two sides at tea on day two. But some wayward bowling and an onslaught from Tim Moses – impressive in all three formats with both bat and ball – meant the Dark Blues were set a mammoth target on the final day.
However, despite a couple of useful partnerships, Oxford rarely looked like saving the game, and defeat was sealed when Jack Harrison’s 108-ball rearguard was ended by Crichard.
After winning the toss, Cambridge skipper Patrick Tice would have been disappointed with his side’s first innings.
The top order struggled for any real fluency, with fast-bowling pair Marsden and Tom Brock proving particularly hard to get away.
Despite several batsmen making starts, only Tice made fifty, and the highest partnership was just 45.
Marsden in particular excelled with the ball. He bowled ten maidens, and ended with exceptional figures of 4-47 in his 21.1 overs, creating regular chances as well as proving difficult to score off.
After seeing the pair put on stands of 133 and 171 in last year’s Varsity Match, Cambridge would have dreaded the arrival of openers Dan Escott and Matty Hughes at the crease, knowing that both had the ability and the temperament to punish any wayward bowling.
But Crichard, in his final appearance for the Light Blues, came out fired up, and produced one of the most remarkable spells that Varsity cricket has seen in recent years.
In his first five overs, the St. John’s student turned the game entirely into Cambridge’s favour. He ripped out Oxford’s top order, dismissing four of the Dark Blues’ top five, with all four nicking off to wicket-keeper Tice, conceding just nine runs in the process.
When Jamie Gnodde was bowled by Moses to leave the visitors 38-5 on the first evening, it looked like Oxford were set for a disastrous total.
However, Rackow had other ideas. The St. Hilda’s student had endured a difficult first season with the bat for the Blues with a string of underwhelming scores, but chose the biggest of stages to prove his worth.
His 179-ball 95 was a lone hand in a poor batting effort from Oxford, as he rotated the strike with Jack Harrison (38) and then Toby Pettman (25) to drag them first to respectability, and then to a deficit of just thirteen runs.
Regardless, a strong start was needed with the ball.
But Oxford struggled against the dogged top-order quartet of Tom Colverd, Darshan Chohan, Nipuna Senaratne and Alistair Dewhurst, and a solid lead began to grow on the second evening.
By lunch on day three, a strong total had already been achieved, and with the visitors’ attack flagging, first Dewhurst, who was eventually dismissed for 91, then Tice and Moses began to tuck in.
Things began to fall apart. A total of 51 extras conceded summed up Oxford’s effort in the field, and despite Marsden and Ben Swanson remaining economical, the rest of the bowlers suffered.
When a declaration was eventually made, it was a case of batting for three-and-a-half sessions to achieve a draw, rather than chasing the 431-run target.
Escott and Hughes put on 70 for the first wicket, but both fell in the space of nine balls as the opening bowlers came back for their second spells, and from there, defeat always looked likely.
Gnodde battled hard for his 54, but when he was run out by Dewhurst, the visitors were five wickets down with several hours left in the day.
And while the lower-order pair of Harrison and Pettman again showed resolve with the bat, Crichard again pulled it out of the bag to secure victory with his second five-wicket haul of the match, and the third of his first-class career.
His eventual match figures of 11-142 were a fair reflection of his control and precision, and rightly earned him the match award.
Cambridge’s victory meant that they deservedly sealed a 2-1 win across the three formats, following their Twenty20 win and 50-over defeat.