Perhaps I should just fess up. You see 'The Decrepits' down there? Well, that's my other team, that is. Our captain has actually made some of his money by writing about how old and crap we are - over the space of two books, in fact (I've all but outed us now, but shall preserve the veneer of anonymity).
But on days like this, you have to wonder - is that joke funny any more? I am the club's youth policy. I'm 30, and as such I'm our athletic fast bowler. But I'm ludicrously unfit, I've played far too much joke cricket, and I doubt my bowling's topped 70mph since I was 24. Christ, it's just occurred to me that my bowling is legal on British roads. Anyway.
Some days we're not too old. Today we were the oldest we have ever been. Even with me in the team, we averaged 51. We lost the toss, and were inserted on a day so cold, and so damp, it felt rather like being - I can't even think of a simile. Like being in the North Sea, but on land. "I'm just going outside," announced our Captain, as we huddled in the dressing room, "I may be some time".
And the oppo. Oh, the oppo. A village. But a proper village. With a league team. That play in a league. And bowl properly. And bat properly. And are either middle aged, ludicrously coordinated batsmen who despite being past their prime simply deal in boundaries to save running, or thrusting young Charlies who just want to knock you or your stumps over.
Up against them: me. And ten people either closing in on or having already flown past 60 years of age. Why do we play them? Because they're nice, and it's a nice ground. When it's not -5C and the clouds don't look like the opening to an Ingmar Bergman film.
We lost the toss. I opened the batting. The short story is this. I got about 25 or 30, and when I was out I remember noticing we were 36-6. I had pretty much scored all of our runs. Had I not been there, I think we probably could have been entirely done for in the first half hour.
The long story of this innings is very long. That 25 took an hour and 20 minutes. The pitch was green and unbelievably slow and low, the ball was swinging miles, and the seamers were very good. It took me 15 minutes before I got off the mark, and it was (genuinely) the first bad ball I received. After 10 more minutes the bowler finally got another one wrong - a low full toss, and I climbed into it, punching it over his head and holding the pose. Have some of THAT, Sonny Jim.
Except. It wasn't four. It stopped absolutely dead, three yards from the boundary, and I scampered two. It was almost impossible to hit fours, because the outfield was slower than, well, us. So my score was entirely comprised of twos, many of which would have been boundaries on another day.
But EVEN given all this: tight and quick bowling, lots of seam movement and a pitch that won't let you time it even when it doesn't move laterally, a slow outfield - you still have an option to get the scoreboard moving, don't you? The quick single. Yeah, good luck with that when your batting partner is, in cricketing terms, older than Methuselah.
But EVEN given all this, you have another option, don't you? Take a few risks and go in the air. Cut the outfield out and send it home. Well yeah, you could. I mean, surely someone else will make a few if it goes wrong? Oh, there goes another one. 20-4. Hmm, might put that lofted on drive back in the locker.
But EVEN given all this, you have one final option, don't you? Just stay there, and hope for the best. So that's what I did. Their opener, once he'd found his rhythm, was getting it to move both ways, huge amounts, in the air and off the pitch. Every ball either cut back in or away sharply - far too much for me. Fuck it, I'm happy to declare - too much for most people.
You have a wonderful Hobson's choice in these scenarios - do you just cover off stump for the one that comes in, let the balls that move away beat the outside edge and hope one doesn't catch it, or do you try to play everything in the hope of picking up some extra runs, and pray you don't nick off or get bowled? Either way, you're very unlikely to score any runs. I opted for the lesser of two evils, and covered off stump. Five balls in a row fizzed past the outside edge.
And you want to know the real fucker? It was how I got out. For an hour, I'd restrained myself from playing the horizontal bat shots, knowing the ball was barely getting stump high. And the first change bowler, who's a teenage kid and isn't a patch on the openers, drops one half way down, and for one ball I forget, start to pull, and there's that sickening realisation that I'm not going to get a bat on it because once you're into the shot there's no going back - and - clunk.
Ultimately, you can't coach yourself out of a couple of decades worth of cricket forever. I'm an English club cricketer, and I play on soft, slow pitches. This isn't bloody Australia, chaps. If that ball lands half way down, it's got to go to the square leg boundary. I deliberately dropped short when I was bowling to their batsmen, who made exactly the same mistake, instinctively going on the pull. But the ball missed the stumps by a whisker, three times. I made the same mistake at that Wimbledon game last year. No answer, really, other than to play more games on wickets like this. Anyway: FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK.
You may think I'm talking this innings up. But as I was walking off, the skipper, who clearly knows the game and clocked most of the contributory factors that made this innings even trickier than it would ordinarily have been, ran up and patted me on the back. I probably still am talking it up, of course, but never mind. All relative, isn't it.
We somehow set them 70. We're worse at bowling than we are at batting. I don't need to go into the details.
And yet the whole thing was so much fun. I bloody loved the challenge, though I'm pissed off I ultimately flunked it. I love the company of my team mates, for whom middle age has brought an extremely mild, but sharp - in fact absolutely wicked - sense of humour and self-deprecation. But we do need a couple of new recruits. Even Dad's Army wasn't quite so funny at the end.