© 2019 – Nicolas Rackow for OUCC
Oxford University Authentics turned a slow start to the season around to finish second in their BUCS league, and record two memorable victories in their varsity series against Cambridge. There were significant contributions from all members of the squad, who can look back proudly on some fine performances, especially during the second half of the summer.
The Tics began with a fixture in their BUCS division (Midlands 2A), travelling up the M40 to take on a strong Warwick 1st XI. The Oxford attack found some nice early-season rhythm, restricting the hosts to 185 from their 50 overs with Tom Brock (4-37) and John Bartlett (3-27) the pick of the bowlers. After starting steadily with the bat, the Tics struggled to impose themselves against Warwick’s spinners on a tired wicket, and despite some middle order resistance from Brock (27) and Jamie Powe (23), Oxford fell a disappointing 75 runs short of their target. The Tics would not have to wait long for their first win however, claiming an impressive victory over Middlesex County League outfit Teddington CC in their next fixture. Again deciding to field first, the visitors came under pressure from Teddington’s powerful top order, and it needed a strong fight back from Ben Swanson (3-68) and Barnaby Graff (3-46) to limit the target to 219. Matt Clements, the 2017 Tics captain, lead the way in reply with an unbeaten century (106*), guiding his team over the line with some valuable support from Powe (30) and Jack Rogers (25).
The Tics failed to build upon this win however, and fell to the bottom of their BUCS division after consecutive defeats to Oxford Brookes and Nottingham Trent. Pranav Bharadwaj (45) and the impressive Brock (46) provided the only significant contributions with the bat across the two fixtures, indicative of the sides struggle for runs during the early part of the season. Despite this, the bowlers continued to perform admirably, with Jei Diwakar returning the pick of the figures (4-37) against Brookes.
Next on the agenda was the first game of the Tics varsity series against their counterparts from Cambridge, the Crusaders, in which they compete across all three formats. Beginning with a T20 contest at the Parks, Oxford were confident of a positive result following some strong performances against the Crusaders in the 2016 season. After some heavy overnight rain, skipper Clements opted to bowl, and was quickly rewarded when Brock removed one of the Cambridge openers in the first over. This brought Ali Dewhurst to the crease, the Crusaders captain and a man who had scored a hundred against the Tics in the three day format the previous summer. Dewhurst was quickly into his stride and punished some uncharacteristically wayward bowling from the Oxford attack, compiling a rapid 87 from only 50 balls. Once he had departed, Brock (2-20) and Swanson (2-16) did well to stem the flow of runs, but some lusty blows from the Cambridge lower order set up a difficult chase for the hosts, who required 165 from their allotted 20. Despite a good start to the reply, the Tics continued to struggle against spin and medium pace bowling, losing wickets with regularity through the middle of their innings. After opener Rogers departed for a dogged 28, any hopes of an Oxford victory quickly dissipated, with the Crusaders eventually running out comfortable winners by 33 runs.
The Tics needed to recover quickly, and did so by beating the Free Foresters only a few days after their varsity disappointment. Ben Barber (52) and Graff (57) helped post a very competitive 220-7, which proved to be too much for the Foresters who fell 117 runs short of their target. In the absence of Clements, the Tics were lead brilliantly by off-spinner Ben Jenkins (4-11), who along with Diwakar (4-13) ensured an Oxford victory was never in doubt. A tough fixture against the MCC followed, and with the squad depleted by exams, an inexperienced Tics side put in a credible performance at the Parks, ultimately falling to defeat despite the efforts of stand-in captain Bartlett (3-77).
BUCS cricket returned as the Tics hosted Nottingham Trent 2nd XI, knowing that anything other than a win would see the side relegated with a game to play. With Clements still missing due to exams, veteran campaigner Harry McGhee stepped in to lead the side, electing to bat first on a slow Marston wicket. Half centuries from Rohan Tripathi (57) and Kazi Elias (53) formed the basis of the Oxford innings, although there were contributions all the way down the order as the home side posted 225. The game looked to be going to the wire, but the Tics held their nerve to record a vital 27 run victory. This set up a nail biting final group game against the University of Nottingham, another must win encounter if Oxford were to survive in Midlands 2A. After a long journey up to Nottingham, the second of the season for the Tics, returning captain Clements decided to make first use of a worn pitch at Caythorpe CC. This was arguably the most complete performance of the season in the limited overs format, and will be remembered for a superb century from Diwakar (134), who along with Clements (46) helped Oxford post 263; a score the Tics felt confident of defending given the condition of the wicket. It again looked like the game would go deep into the second innings as the Nottingham batsmen played positively, but some skilful bowling from Teddy Hall pair Kusal Lokuge and Jenkins turned the game in the visitors favour. Marcus Hoddinott was introduced as the Tics third spinner, and efficiently mopped up the tail to seal a 72 run victory which secured Oxford’s survival.
These two wins provided a big momentum boost before the varsity series recommenced, and incredibly resulted in the Tics finishing 2nd in their BUCS division (above three other teams by virtue of a superior net run rate). Before travelling to Cambridge to take on the Crusaders, friendly fixtures against the Frogs and the Heretics both ended in defeat, although batsmen were able to spend some valuable time at the crease, most notably Barber and Matt Fanning sharing an impressive partnership against the Tics old boys.
With the OUCC fixture list drawing to a close, the Tics were left with two season defining games against Cambridge. The first of these was in the 50-over format; Oxford making the trip Fenners in good spirits given their recent upturn in form. On a sweltering June afternoon, the Tics stuck to the plan which had served them well in Nottingham, electing to bat first on a wicket that had been used three days previously for the Blues T20 contest. Hertford duo Hoddinott and Diwakar made a solid start to the innings, but three quick wickets left the visitors in a precarious position at the end of the first powerplay. Captain Clements (40) was joined by McGhee (59), and the experienced pair batted steadily through the middle overs to set a platform for the Tics’ strong lower-middle order. This included Powe (38) and Barber (33), who gave Oxford some real impetus heading into the interval, running the Crusaders ragged in the field, and propelling the score to 238. The Tics started well with the ball, with the accurate seam bowling of Bryan Leighton (1-25) and miserly off-spin of Bartlett (1-37) pegging Cambridge behind the rate. Wickets proved hard to come by however, and it appeared that a middle order stand between French (40) and Corner (32) was setting the innings up perfectly for Dewhurst (52), who threatened to take the game away from Oxford once he arrived at the crease. Leighton returned to the attack and picked up the crucial wicket of the Cambridge captain, leaving the game finely poised with the hosts requiring 69 from the remaining 11 overs with 6 wickets still intact. Despite a brilliant spell of bowling from the bustling Richard Sykes (4-19), it looked as though the Crusaders lower order had done enough to get them over the line; that was until Sykes struck again in the penultimate over, leaving the hosts nine down still requiring five to level the scores. Leg-spinner Rogers, who had bowled with great composure through the latter stages of the innings, ended the game with the first ball of the final over, dismissing Cambridge’s last man and sparking wild celebrations amongst Oxford’s players and supporters. Barber, fielding at long on, held onto the decisive catch, and capped a spirited performance in the field from the Tics, who fought back on numerous occasions through the game to secure an impressive victory.
Heading into the three day game with honours even, the Tics were on the verge of a series win against the Crusaders, something that had not been achieved in recent varsity history. Returning to home comforts at the Parks, the Oxford side featured only one change from the team that had been victorious the week before in Cambridge; Fanning coming in to bolster the seam bowling attack. Electing to bat first on the opening day, the Crusaders undoubtedly had the best of conditions, and so the Tics attack did well to limit the visitors to 279, with Jenkins (3-37) and McGhee (2-42) bowling with great control during the middle session. Keen to post a first innings lead, the hosts started well; Hoddinott (53) and Diwakar (89) batted deep into the morning session on day two, and were backed up by Clements who made a fluent 49. Scoring runs became more difficult as the day progressed however, and an exceptional spell of bowling from Richer (5-80) appeared to sway the tie in favour of the visiting side; the Tics slumping to 230-7 and in danger of conceding a first innings deficit. In need of some lower order resistance, Oxford found inspiration in the strokeplay of Leighton, who struck a decisive 33, including a glorious six lofted beyond the pavilion and into the adjacent tennis courts. With support from Fanning, Bartlett and Jenkins, the home side were able to fight up to 303, ending the day with a slender but significant lead of 24. Although a draw seemed the most likely outcome, the Tics were keen to put pressure on the Crusaders line-up on the final morning, especially on a wicket that was offering more and more support for the slow bowlers. Early wickets for Leighton, Fanning and Sykes gave Oxford hope, but a resolute stand between French and Turner looked to have taken the sting out of proceedings. This was until the introduction of Rogers (5-38), who again delivered when his team most needed him, ripping through the Cambridge middle order with a devastating spell of wrist-spin bowling; the visitors losing their final 7 wickets for 42 runs. Requiring only 82 to claim the varsity series, a nervy chase ensued, with the Tics slumping to 23-3 before tea. Oxford would not be denied however, and a battling 33 from captain Clements took the hosts to the brink of victory. Powe (15*) swatted the winning boundary to deep square, sealing a thoroughly deserved 5 wicket triumph for the Tics, who had played the better cricket over the course of the three days.
And so concluded an intense summer schedule for Oxford, who had saved their best performances for the second half of the season. The nature of the two varsity victories was testament to the character of the squad, who fought back superbly after the T20 fixture to win a hotly contested series with their rivals. The Tics will be in a safe pair of hands moving forward with Ben Barber at the helm, and with many of the 2017 cohort returning next year, Oxford will be keen to emulate the success they experienced in both BUCS and varsity cricket this summer.