Sutcliffe keeps Oxford afloat

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NORMAN HARRIS

reports from Lord's

Cambridge Univ 295 and 40-4 Oxford Univ 233-9 dec

If you are the overwhelming underdogs, as Cambridge were, you have every right to play for a draw in the University match. But that was an option that the favourites, Oxford, felt unable to take when they found themselves 15 for 3 in reply to 295.

Instead, they convinced themselves that a low total would make a result more likely. And when, after staging a partial recovery, they hurried on to declare 62 short, they could present themselves as the side happy to risk losing in order to try for a win - which looked far from unlikely by the close.

The favourites had been forced into this position by the wily Cambridge captain, Andy Whittall, who daringly opened the bowling with his own off-spinners. Oxford were not totally surprised by this, but it intensified the pressure on their openers, Iain Sutcliffe and Chinmay Gupte, who had put on 283 against Hampshire. They strode out punching each other's gloves in the modern ritual of batsman-bonding.

But soon it was the Light Blues who were leaping into each other's arms. Whittall, though hardly turning the new ball, had expertly bowled the arm ball and Gupte had edged it low to slip. There was more leaping as Nick Haste snatched two wickets at the other end.

Cambridge's figures this season may suggest that they have only these two bowlers, but Whittall's captaincy ensured that it hardly showed. Above all, he got an inspired effort out of Haste. The bowler's purposeful stride and vigorous action was quite in keeping with his name - he looked a genuinely first-class bowler with a career-best return of 5 for 73.

Oxford were saved, though, by a batsman who bears a great name. The reputation of the left-handed Sutcliffe is that of a stroke-player, but yesterday's fighting 71, which started amid the ruins, reminded us that this Sutcliffe is a Yorkshireman from Illingworth's club, Farsley - and also a boxing Blue.

Cambridge, slumping in the final session, now depend heavily on Russell Cake. In his first Varsity match he scored 0 and 0, in his second 27 and 27. If he follows that pattern, he will today claim a second hundred.

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