Oxford University 212 & 49-0 (Hughes 28*) trail Cambridge University 225 & 417-7dec (Dewhurst 91, Moses 80*) by 381 runs
The first over of the day was bowled by the leg-spin of Dan Escott. Day one’s bowling carnival feels long and distant in the memory: as the pitch continues to tame, and lightning continued to strike on a tropical day, 40 overs of spin were sent down. Ravenous for pace on the ball, when it did arrive it was sent back even quicker. As Cambridge struck 117 off their final 15 overs, Oxford were set a mammoth 430 runs to chase down for victory.
Alistair Dewhurst eased the first ball of the morning square into the off-side for an unobtrusive single.
The same could easily be said for the entirety of the morning session. As spectators arrived at Fenner’s, milling about the pavilion sparking old acquaintances, clutching bacon sandwiches, and smothering cream onto their sun-kissed skin, Dewhurst went about his business quietly. Before anyone really noticed he had reached thirty something.
Then with the threat of lightning circling amid an ominous backdrop, the more salient of the pairing, Tom Colverd, feathered behind off Johnny Marsden. Colverd played with resolute defence, and had brought up his fifty within five minutes of play starting, easing any nerves that could be expected of trudging off 47* on Wednesday evening. His dismissal roared the morning session into life: Oxford had their deserved breakthrough, and only now was the tally of the lithe batsman down the other end being consigned to memory.
This was a different player to the one that single-handedly dismantled the Oxford Authentics in a varsity twenty20 fixture. Then, Dewhurst scored prolifically and enterprisingly, at one point lofting three consecutive straight sixes without so much a brow of sweat. Here, he was nothing if not compact, slotting into the more nuanced rhythm of four-day cricket smoothly and letting it dictate.
At one time, twelve overs passed without Dewhurst scoring a boundary. At another, ten overs passed. This was an innings of temperament, and of incredibly low-risk. Dewhurst could have passed 50 solely in 1s, 2s, and 3s in his 91. Of those, just 2 runs were amassed inside the V, and not a single boundary in the region either.
When you have so much time on the back-foot the need to score straight down the ground, with on and off drives, becomes futile. When you watch the ball so intently onto the bat, you already have a head start. The drive looks excellent, dreamy in places, but fundamentally it is a high-risk low-reward stroke. With Tom Brock extracting more movement than any over the course of three days in a testing spell, scoring from the stroke was withdrawn. Dewhurst was supreme on the back-foot, waiting for the ball always, and continued to engineer boundary options with delicate cuts and more emphatic square drives. Throughout the morning and afternoon, he remained with admirable equanimity, delivery to delivery, over to over, and laid the bedrock of the light blue charge.
Patrick Tice accompanied Dewhurst for the final stretch, and immediately set about disrupting the entrenched dynamic of his side’s second innings. He relished the pressure in taking on the role of aggressor, and raced along, eking out every last run from the blade. There is more than one way of assessing such an innings. It could also be considered incredibly fortunate: being it high on the bat and guiding through the vacant 3rd slip on his fifth ball, swinging hard across the line to an outswinger and being parried behind for four on his sixth ball, and being dropped at square leg on his twenty-first ball. The twenty-second ball produced the same shot for four through square leg. This was more a statement of aggressive captaincy than a chanceful innings of 36. I want a declaration tonight and I’m going to get it.
Such cavalier attitude was primarily a result of the electric storm that plagued the morning session, removing over an hour from the day’s play as dark clouds loitered. When Tice was finally removed by Tom Brock, Dewhurst 2.0 continued with his captain’s methods. Chanceless to 66, the venture to 91 was altogether more tearaway, adding the extra 25 in just 29 balls, via a flashed top edge down fine leg and being caught at second slip off a Toby Pettman no-ball. The longest stay at the crease this series ended incongruously as Dewhurst attempted to drive Brock and played on to his stumps, castling them. This was in many ways a selfless act, a century sacrificed to the cause.
Oxford had been admirable in their pursuit on the sort of day a mirage was the likeliest source of wickets. Brock removed Tice with a delivery that pitched and seamed away off the glove to Harrison behind, and the wicket of Dewhurst rewarded him with a deserved third. Pettman toiled hard all day in several attacking spells, and also struck to remove Angus Dalgleish lbw earlier in the day.
As the Oxford attack dulled, and the new ball lost its early shine (retaining the sort hardness sweet on the bat), Cambridge scored heavily. Tim Moses played with the sort of vengeance that cameos in the twenty20 and one-day first introduced, and reached a telling 80 off just 65 balls scarcely of the same world as the 250 overs that had come before.
The belligerence was fully cut loose in the 115th over of the innings. To Pettman’s third delivery, Moses rocked back in the crease and bludgeoned straight down the ground. Dan Escott at mid-off was reduced to tipping the ball over the boundary rope for six. Then the next delivery was crashed hard into the Fenner’s gate for six. Next, Moses went straight again, slightly wider and brought up a third consecutive six over long-off. The last ball brought relief to Pettman, and to Oxford: a pushed signal and Tice had seen enough for a declaration. The clock at 17:34, a western-style shooting at the Oxford top-order late in the day had seemed an inevitability.
Oxford came through the final session unharmed, and in fact Matt Hughes unfurled some of the finest shots of the day in racing to an unbeaten 28. The cuts off Winder and Sale were emphatic, and the on-drive off Crichard beautiful, but perhaps the most significant stroke of the session was Dan Escott being put down at short gully off the bowling of Tim Moses; a man you do not want to be giving a second chance to.