Saturday was Bob Dylan’s birthday. I doubt the great man is familiar with division five east of the Cornwall Cricket League, but as dark clouds hovered over Landulph at 2pm it seemed his prophecy was about to come true: ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’. For once the weather was kind, but by the end of the day we were hoping for A Simple Twist of Fate and desperately trying to salvage some Dignity.
We batted first in murky conditions, on a pitch which seemed to be made up of at least 50 per cent moss. Following the pattern of the season so far our batsmen faltered, and we were seven down in the blink of an eye. Saltash’s opening bowler Bott, inevitably nicknamed Botty, swung it away at pace and made short work of our youthful middle order.
George and Mike steadied the ship for a while, and then it was my turn. Having had a couple of long net sessions in the week I was slightly frustrated to be marked down at number 10, but knew I had plenty of time left and wanted to show the guts and technique required. Giving what I thought was my best Paul Collingwood impression (in reality it was more like Monty Panesar), I blocked, blocked and blocked some more, building a useful partnership with Mike – approaching his 70th birthday but seemingly Forever Young – to take us past the 120 mark. In the 37th over, keen to push things along, I top edged to leg slip for eight, and we were all out before I had my pads off.
As we took the field, bloated from too many interval cakes, I was pretty pleased with my batting exploits. I began to wonder whether this might turn out to be my breakthrough season. Thoughts like that are very dangerous, especially when you're in the field. Suddenly a hard red missile interrupted my daydream; their swashbuckling number three had smashed a long hop straight to me at mid off. I spilled it. My hand hurt, but not as much as my pride. In the words of Freddie Flintoff: "This game's got a funny way of biting you on the arse, mate." ‘To be or not to be’ it ain't, but there's a strange sort of poetry there somewhere.
We took drinks, added another layer of sweaters and the game seemed to be drifting towards a comfortable home win. But a couple of wickets from Mark, bowling quickly down the hill and catching the edge, gave us a sniff. I came on from the other end and struck with my second ball, spinning one through the gate to clip the right-hander's bails. I was feeling good, tossing the ball up and giving it a rip, and a few overs later another scalp followed, a carbon copy of the first. It's rare to find a turning pitch at this level – I must urge our home groundsman to stock up on the moss – and it was wonderful to rattle the timbers. Suddenly they were six down, and as they only had ten men it would be a case of nine out, all out. The close fielders crept ever closer, but we were unable to force any more breakthroughs.
“Have we had a good day?" asked Mike, half-rhetorically, in the post-match debrief. "Yes", came the tired reply. "Could we have done better?" "Yes". As we trudged back to the pavilion, a pair of voices from the ranks piped up. "The most important thing is that we've got the same number of points as we'd have got if it had all been rained off.” “So what you're saying is, the last five hours of our lives have been a complete waste of time?"
That old familiar friend named defeat had reached out its arms for a consoling cuddle once more. Will we ever win a game? Will I ever get into double figures? Will the rain hold off long enough for us to find out? The answer, my friends, is Blowin' in the Wind…