CRICKETher reporter Ben Gardner was at Friday’s Varsity match to see a memorable innings by Oxford’s Sian Kelly.
Oxford v Cambridge, T20, The Parks, Friday 20 May
Result: Oxford won by 162 runs.
Toss: Cambridge won and elected to field
Sian Kelly produced a sustained and controlled assault on the Cambridge bowlers, paving the way for a victory by 162 runs, the margin of which did not flatter Oxford in the slightest.
Kelly’s innings, of 102* from 61 balls, was so brutal and calculated, it seemed remarkable that it wasn’t her best; Kelly made 127* in the reverse fixture last year. From the moment she put away Holly Tasker’s first ball to the square leg boundary to when she walked off the field 61 balls and 102 runs later, she exuded control, rarely seeming troubled by the bowling.
Runs were plundered all around the ground, with the favouring of the leg side being more a result of the full tosses bowled by Cambridge, invariably pumped between square leg and midwicket, than any lack of ability through the off side, as demonstrated by perhaps her best shot, a drive behind point for four, which brought up fifty.
The pacing of Kelly’s innings too was something to behold. To begin with, she exploded. After 6 overs Kelly was 46 off 24, Oxford were 74/0, and Cambridge were chasing the game, four consecutive fours of one Holly Tasker over being a particular highlight. Then, with the Powerplay finished, she switched gears, content to push the ball around, while still picking up regular boundaries, before accelerating again, moving from 83 to 97 in just 5 balls.
This was a masterful innings, and Kelly simply was a class above the bowling. She looks ready for greater challenges, and perhaps more game time alongside her twin sister Marie, Warwickshire’s captain, awaits.
Tina Gough, who turned over the strike well and played some excellent shots of her own, was an excellent foil for Kelly. When she was out, for 52 off 50, the scoreboard read 173/1 off 16.3 overs, and the match was almost over as a contest but Cambridge did well to keep their heads up and stick to the task.
It mattered little in the grand scheme of things, but Cambridge bounced back well to restrict Oxford to 33/2 off the last 4 overs, and on a different day, without two batters in such fine form, such a recovery could have been the difference. While the full toss and no ball counts show there is much improvement to be had, this was certainly an attack with potential.
Still, a target of 205 seemed a tall order, and Oxford put the result beyond any doubt with an immaculate bowling display, with perhaps the only disappointment being that Cambridge bettered their 36/8 against Oxford in a league match 2 weeks ago by 6 runs.
The first three bowlers used by Oxford all represent various counties, and their extra quality showed. Sam Moore moved the ball away at pace, while her Oxfordshire colleague Helen Baxendale was metronomic in her line and length. Captain and Berkshire opening bowler Immy Brown was even more impressive, picking up 3 of the top 4 batters with her skiddy pace, as well as running out the 4th.
Away from the county stars, Oxford showed impressive depth; Sarah Attrill’s loopy accurate bowling especially is so difficult to get power behind, and therefore ideal for a T20. In the field too Oxford were sharp, and though there were a couple of missed run outs, these were more a result of smart work to earn the opportunities in the first place.
However, while it would be difficult to overstate how well Oxford played, there were some simpler areas where Cambridge could have improved. Their fielding was one such, but perhaps more inexcusable was their running between the wickets. There were several occasions where they chose not to push the fielders, or to attempt to rotate the strike, which meant Oxford were under almost no pressure. The boundary balls weren’t there to be hit to be sure, but the fact that no batter had a strike rate over 50 tells its own story. This was in stark contrast to earlier in the day, when Oxford wasted no opportunity to score runs, turning the strike over regularly and always looking if the second was on.
Cambridge, it has to be said, were missing key players. Most notable was Frankie Barber, who made fifty in the Varsity match at Lords last year. She is the only full Blue currently at Cambridge. Oxford and Cambridge examinations do not take place at the same time so finding a date when one university is not unfairly disadvantaged is tricky. However, making Cambridge play away while it is their students more likely to be affected is unfair, and something you’d hope the organisers would look at for coming years.
Still, to focus on such small details would be to miss the greater joy of the day, which was of a well-trained and extremely talented team playing to their potential, and of one special batter playing an innings that will be remembered by all who witnessed it.