Village of one-shot wonders

Norman Harris sees a recurring nightmare played out on the cricket pitch of proud little Werrington
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The Independent Online
The village blacksmiths don't exist any more, but Billy Prosser could perhaps be mistaken for the blacksmith's son. His "lucky" batting socks are black and grey, and with his bright blue cap, his heavy build and his uncomplicated strokes there is also something of a Bunter about Werrington's opening batsman. "Take that!" each of his strokes seem to say.

And if the blacksmiths are gone, the grounds remain. This one is bounded on the top side by a Devon Bank of incalculable age. A couple of oak trees grow out of this grassy wall, and at its base a few simple planks sit loosely on large stones.

It is wonderfully cool sitting here, though in the distance a heat haze obscures Dartmoor, 10 miles away. This is the equivalent of the front row of the stalls: little more than 30 yards away, Werrington's Bunter flexes his muscles, and every word is audible.

Most of all, Prosser seems to like the straight hit. There is little back-lift but rapid movement of the bat and a decisive follow-through. It indicates considerable strength. And it is not long before one of these thumps clears the man at long-off.

"Keep it going!" shouts a cover fieldsman to the bowler. "He's only got one stroke." In the still of the mid-afternoon, the words carry as clearly as a stage announcement. And, just a stage whisper away in the lee of a grassy bank, Werrington supporters buzz quietly as they consider a rejoinder.

Uphill Castle's opening bowler does indeed keep going, and again bowls a challengingly full length. But the next ball also clears the straight fence, and so does another in this same over, the sixes carrying farther and yet farther into the adjacent sheep pasture. "Keep it going, Billy," comes a voice from the bench. "Keep that one shot going."

In the shadow under the cover fieldsman's hat, a smile can just be seen. Good humour and tension compete uneasily with each other, for this is the sixth round of the National Village Knockout, the competition in which Werrington went all the way in 1994. And it is more, even, than that.

Two years ago, Werrington's path to Lord's featured on these pages. Getting there was a miracle for Cornish characters such as "Bodmin" Moore and "Boy Roy" Cobbledick. But after their loss in the final, there was bitter self-examination - and a period of trauma from which Werrington are only just emerging. Some felt they had deluded themselves into believing that they could chase any total, which is why they opted to bat second after winning the toss at Lord's. They had believed their own publicity. They were naive. There was even a thought that they made themselves look like yokels by making the minibus driver 12th man.

At the club's next annual meeting, someone stood against the captain, who felt betrayed and left. Relegation in the Cornish leagues followed the next season.

And then the unthinkable happened. The biggest name in Werrington cricket, the ever-reliable Roy Cobbledick, decided he wasn't enjoying the game and should stop. Now a name like Cobbledick may bring a smile, but Roy is a flinty, proud, competitive cricketer who hates to lose and is sensitive to the thought that, at 51, he might have overplayed his hand.

His decision to retire was short-lived, though it needed a delegation of players to persuade him back this season. But he has not resumed his other role, that of groundsman. Roy had last year prepared a pitch that was almost too good. It provided a game that is perhaps the most remarkable in the 25 years of the Village Cup. Werrington, on the march to Lord's again, won their East Cornwall group and were at home to Uphill Castle, from Somerset.

Werrington, batting first, recovered from 17 for 3 to reach the massive heights of 299 for 5. Their captain, David Taylor, made an undefeated 151 and the pugnacious Prosser 80. But Uphill Castle's openers very nearly won it on their own. They made 289, a club record, before being parted, and victory came with an over to spare at 300 for 1. It was stunning.

Surely it can't happen again this year. Werrington's supporters seem certain of this as they watch their sixth-wicket pair soundly take the total up to 185, and with 15 from the last over the total reaches 219. With Uphill Castle's target 220, the openers stride out - Andre Belcher, who made 173 in last year's famous encounter, and his captain, Gareth Williams, who was 100 not out.

At the end of the first over, Belcher gets a short ball and pulls it decisively to the straight midwicket boundary. It is a most emphatic stroke from a young batsman whose sharply peaked cap seems to emphasise his height and the straightness of his bat.

Soon the Werrington bowlers are passing the bat, and on 34 Williams is dropped by the wicketkeeper. Werrington are guarding the boundary - something they failed to do last year. Then, the score was 100 after 10 overs, but now it's 43. Roy Cobbledick, hastening out to reinforce the boundary men, shares some positive thoughts with Werrington supporters. "The bounce is a bit uneven. If we can eliminate the bad ball and bowl straight . . . it's a competitive total."

Now another push and a thin edge, and this time the keeper has it. Unbelievably, Werrington have Belcher's wicket for 39. The total is 59. The next over sees Cobbledick introduced. The old shuffle and slide from a metronomic two-pace approach brings six accurate deliveries and just one run.

But at the other end, Werrington are bowling wides. In one over there are five, causing the bowler much raking with his boot of a bowling crease that is obviously the sole cause.

There are mortal wounds, too, as the No 3 batsman dances down the pitch to Cobbledick and hits him straight for a big six, then sweeps him for four. Roy turns disgustedly on his heel. Then Williams, on 56, sweeps to square leg and departs for the first time in two visits.

Four wickets fall, but the runs pour through. The end comes quickly. Alone on the off-side boundary, Cobbledick makes ground nimbly to prevent a four, bringing the ball under control with football-like leg action.

Now he has even more to do, as another ball runs away for the boundary that will spell the end of Wer- rington's 1996 cup run. Roy can't quite trap this one. As it gets away from him and hits the grassy bank, he leaps despairingly after it. In a man of few words, it is a gesture as eloquent as that minimalist, metronomic bowling action. He lies on his back on top of the grassy bank while Uphill Castle's batsmen race wildly from the field.