Cricket: Ashley holds Cambridge at bay

Oxford University v Cambridge University
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IF IT had not been for a chance remark by Nathan Ashley to a friend that he had captained Australia Under 19s back in 1993, it is unlikely that he would have played in the 154th Varsity Match at Lord's yesterday - let alone play the key role that he did for Oxford University.

When he had filled in his application for a trial the self-effacing Australian - if that is not an oxymoron - merely mentioned that he was a club cricketer. In fact, he captains Balmain - a first grade club - and when he returns for the start of the next Australian season, Ashley will be trying to make his way into the New South Wales set-up.

Ashley's modesty meant he was initially overlooked, but he was eventually given more serious consideration and played in Oxford's last four first class matches leading up to the main event. It was just as well he did. Had it not been for his chanceless 96 before being snared lbw by Shamir Sheikh, the Dark Blues would have been looking pretty sick.

Ashley dug in and shared in a face-saving fourth-wicket stand of 122 with fellow countryman Byron Byrne in 26 overs either side of lunch. His fifty, which contained two sixes and three fours, occupied 64 balls and he was out to the 111th. That half-century was his second consecutive, Ashley having hit 59 last time out against Essex.

Cambridge had already suffered against the left-hander in the one day Varsity match earlier this season when again the 28-year-old smacked a match-winning half-century. His accomplice Byrne was caught behind off the bowling of Richard Halsall, one of three victims for the paceman.

With the exception of Salman Khan, who thrashed a rapid 24 right at the death, aided by the last man David Mather - the pair adding 39 for the final wicket - the remainder of the Oxford batting was eminently forgettable.

Not so the Cambridge bowling. Halsall was the pick of the attack, with Ashley the only batsman capable of dealing with his late away swing. There was also some help from the pitch which Halsall was able to take advantage of, finishing with a return of 3 for 64 off 19 overs. Sheikh looked promising and, despite his slingy action inducing inconsistency, very sharp. Needless to say, Cambridge were far more temperate with the bat.