Tabs: no rest for the wicket

A stellar all-round performance from Queen’s Sam Agarwal was the cornerstone of a comfortable victory for the Dark Blues in the third annual Varsity T20 fixture.

Agarwal, who opened both the batting and bowling, starred with 88 as Oxford batted first; together with opening partner Dan King, he put on a stand of 126, in the event more than the entire Cambridge line-up could manage. Agarwal and King started in relatively circumspect fashion, although their aggressive running was quickly in evidence, pushing the Tabs’ fielders, who missed two early run-out chances. In ideal conditions for T20, sunny skies and a good batting pitch, Agarwal was soon into his stride, striking the ball cleanly, especially through the leg-side, including a memorable calypso flick for four. Seam gave way to spin following the powerplay, and both batsmen took a liking to the slower offerings. King sent several towering shots towards the mid-wicket boundary, while Agarwal swept and charged both spinners to distraction.

The pair continued to run together excellently, a feature of the century stand. Agarwal brought up his half-century at the beginning of the thirteenth over, and took Oxford past three figures two overs later, with an imperious lofted drive back over the bowler’s head, the first of three consecutive boundaries which underlined the Dark Blue dominance.

Cambridge finally tasted success in the sixteenth over, King bowled for 41, and Agarwal followed four balls later, although not before he had hit the game’s first six. The beleaguered Tabs might have hoped the double strike would slow Oxford down; if anything it had the opposite effect, and a scintillating cameo from captain Raj Sharma, 33 off 15 balls, took Oxford to an imposing 178-2 from their allotted overs.

Whereas the Cambridge skipper Ansari had stuck to a rather rigid rotation of his bowlers, Sharma immediately seized the initiative in the Light Blue innings, entrusting the second over to Agarwal’s off-spin. The move paid off, as his dream afternoon continued with a fourth ball wicket, a smart caught and bowled off a leading edge.

Despite the early loss, the Cambridge batting looked in good order as captain and mainstay Akbar Ansari joined Richard Timms at the crease.

Ansari in particular timed the ball crisply and looked every inch the class act as he found gaps all around the field. It was the introduction of spinner Dan Pascoe in the seventh over which changed the game decisively in Oxford’s favour.

Pascoe, noticeably flighting his left-armers, earned immediate success with the crucial wicket of Ansari, bowled essaying a cut. Pascoe continued to reap rewards for his subtle approach, claiming two more wickets and conceding just seven runs in a three over spell which included a wicket maiden. From 70-4 after 11 overs, there was no way back for Cambridge.

All that remained was for Oxford to close out the victory, and for Agarwal to enjoy one more moment in the sun, with a brilliant running catch at long-off to dismiss Frankie Brown, who had battled gamely against the tide for 38.

In the end, victory came quickly for Oxford, as the well beaten Light Blues subsided to 125 all out, leaving a large crowd basking in the evening sun and the glow of a crushing home victory.