When I was a kid my grandad used to tell a joke called Bibby’s Horse. You know you’re in for a treat when a joke has a name all of its own. It went something like this:
Once upon a time there was man by the name of Bibby, whose job it was to deliver bags of coal to people with coal fires. He used a horse-drawn cart to carry his bags of coal, but business was not good and his income was poor. He realised that if he did not find some way to economise he would be in danger of going out of business. Eventually he came up with a great idea – he would save money by cutting down on the cost of feeding the horse. Little by little he gave it fewer oats to eat, gradually reducing the quantities each day. The horse had just got used to living on nothing when it died.
I never quite understood the punchline, and I’m still not sure I get it, but the rest of the family would split their sides every time. It must be 20 years since I last heard the tale of poor Bibby and his trusty steed, but it floated back into my consciousness as the third team’s latest inglorious defeat fizzled to a conclusion.
We were already relegated, so there was little more than pride at stake. After losing the toss we did well to restrict a strong Grampound Road side to 220-3. The spinners tied down their middle order, JP took a blinding catch at short midwicket, Ollie effected a direct hit run-out and Bill smashed his little finger diving to stop a crunching drive. You wouldn’t have guessed we had nothing left to play for.
The tuna sandwiches tasted pretty good as we bickered over batting spots. Word was spreading that the visitors had a lively fast bowler in their ranks, so we weren’t exactly rushing to strap on the pads. As it turned out Matthew Dalby’s bark was worse than his bite, but that didn’t stop us feeling the pinch. Before long we were 31-3 and I was walking to the middle, having eagerly told the skipper I would bat “anywhere you like”.
Dalby had two balls left of his opening spell. He charged in, scenting the blood of this fidgety, bespectacled left-hander. The first one skidded past my toes and he followed through right down the pitch, like Donald v Athers in ’98, whooping and hollering in digital surround sound. His near-namesake Thomas would no doubt have approved. His final delivery was straighter. I plonked my bat down, kept it out and nonchalantly prodded the pitch. That’s the first job done.
Their second string bowlers were nothing to write home about, and I began to cautiously enjoy my new home in the middle order. Bill was a patient partner, urging me to take my time and play straight. Then he swiped across a quicker one from the veteran dobber and was bowled all over the shop.
JP came and went on the stroke of drinks. I had never batted high enough up the order to enjoy a mid-innings refreshment, and I was chuffed. I left my helmet and gloves to dry in the sun, like they do on the telly, and gulped the sweetest cup of orange squash I had ever tasted.
I welcomed Helena to the crease like I had been batting for three days. “Just have fun, enjoy it, they’re nothing to worry about,” I smiled. “We’re not going to win, but this is our chance to stay in for as long as we can.” First ball after the break I got a filthy full toss. I tried to hit it into the River Looe, but only managed to toe-end it to an incredulous mid-on. Helena gave me a rueful smile. I gave myself a good talking to.
Our final total of 64 sounds bad, but it was far from our worst of the season. It came down to the fact that our team was made up of about 70 per cent bowlers, and the remaining 30 per cent were either back in the changing room before the 10th over or had volunteered for the tail-end shift.
It seems increasingly likely that the third team will be put out of its misery at the end of the summer. It has been a struggle to get eleven bodies on the field every week, and more often than not we are beaten before we start due to a lack of substance in the batting department. The club’s general lack of players has a knock-on effect – there have been a few times when the entire third team has been called into the seconds, and the seconds all bumped up to the firsts.
You can struggle on manfully, but eventually you have to cut the portions down to the bare minimum. A team can only keep losing for so long; it needs success to thrive. Like Bibby’s horse, lately it feels like we have become accustomed to living on nothing. It’s only a matter of time before we cease to exist.