First Class Varsity 4 Day Match Report – from the 2018 Captain Dan Escott

A strong Cambridge seam attack proved too good for Matty Hughes’ Oxford in this year’s four day varsity match on a wicket which offered plenty for the fast bowlers, as the light blues claimed victory after tea on the final day at Fenner’s.

The Blues arrived in Cambridge in good spirits, having triumphed in a nail biting encounter at Lord’s ten days beforehand and come away with two positive draws in three day warm up fixtures against the Free Foresters and MCC. After training in the indoor centre on the Monday afternoon, they enjoyed a relaxing evening familiarising themselves with Cambridge and arrived on the Tuesday morning ready for the final game in what had been a thrilling varsity series between two very evenly matched sides.

Cambridge captain Patrick Tice won the toss and elected to bat: a brave decision on a pitch which looked green and patchy and had proved difficult to bat on for the whole season. Indeed, it was the Oxford seamers who drew first blood, as fresher Toby Pettman removed both openers lbw before lunch. In the afternoon and evening sessions, Tom Brock and 2016 captain, Johny Marsden, took over the wicket taking role from Pettman, ending up with seven between them as Cambridge were bowled out for 225, with only captain Tice reaching a half century. That left an awkward session of around an hour’s play for Oxford to try to negotiate before the close, with the light fading and an experienced Cambridge seam attack running in with the new ball. Both opening bowlers extracted a huge amount of moment out of the patchy surface and Ruari Chrichard in particular caused havoc, taking four wickets in five overs, all caught behind. Without having really played a rash shot, Oxford found themselves five down at the close, with massive mountain to climb on day two.

Fortunately, the two men at the crease when play resumed on Wednesday morning were Alex Rackow and Jack Harrison, who showed impressive grit and concentration to negotiate a tough first half hour, before taking advantage of an older ball, sunnier overhead conditions and tiring Cambridge bowlers. Their partnership of 106 put Oxford very much back in contention. When Harrison was finally removed for 38, Rackow continued on with acceleration, eventually falling tantalisingly close to a first class hundred for 95. It was nevertheless a superb innings which gave the Dark Blues hope, as they ended up on 212, just 13 behind.

Oxford felt like they were taking momentum into the third innings, having been so far behind the game on the evening of day one. However, the Cambridge batsmen showed impressive resolve to respond as they did. The pitch seemed to offer less movement than it had the day before and wickets were harder to come by. Nevertheless, the Oxford bowlers did well to keep the scoreboard under control, with left arm spinner Ben Swanson, in particular, bowling economically. Although Cambridge continued to accumulate steadily, Oxford never felt as though they had lost control of how the game was progressing until Tim Moses came to the crease. He had already scored quick runs in the first two games of the varsity series, and once again started to find the boundary with regularity, setting up a declaration with an exhilarating 80 not out of 65 balls, leaving Oxford a monumental 431 to chase in three and a half sessions.

Once again, Oxford were asked to negotiate a tricky mini-session before the close, but this time managed it without loss: Hughes on 28 and Escott on 21 at the end of day three. This gave the dark blues hope that a win or draw was within their reach on day four, but Crichard again had other ideas. He took six wickets, to add to his five in the first innings, which decimated the Oxford top order. While Jamie Gnodde had been at the crease, a positive result for Oxford had still seemed a possibility, but when he was run out for 54 and the in form Rackow was caught at short leg a few overs later, hope seemed all but lost. Despite valiant efforts from Jack Harrison and Toby Pettman, who survived 108 balls and 51 balls respectively, the game was lost around half an hour into the final session. Fittingly, Crichard took the final wicket.

The loss was a sad way to end what had been an excellent season for Oxford, including a varsity win at Lord’s and a second place finish in the BUCS league. It was nevertheless an extremely enjoyable four days, made so by a great group of guys led brilliantly by Matty Hughes, as well as by the committed support of the parents and alumni who attended.