It was July, 1990, and my little village cricket club was poised to make Devon Cricket League history.
In a month’s time, Galmpton and Churston CC was almost certain to become the smallest club EVER to be promoted to the Premier Division of the Devon League to compete with the big guns of Exeter, Torquay and Plymouth!
At this moment, Hatherleigh were league leaders, we were in second place, Budleigh Salterton were third, and Seaton were fourth. The first two teams would be promoted.
Then, one morning, we received a letter which changed everything. It was from the Devon League itself. “Following a complaint, your facilities are deemed to be below the standard required for the Premier League.”
In June, we had played our home fixture against Budleigh Salterton in which a player was struck by a rising ball, and angry words had ensued... and now the pay back!
Budleigh, themselves, had made the complaint and might well now take our promotion place. How could they do this to us? An emergency committee meeting was arranged.
The meeting came to two conclusions. Firstly, that we couldn’t improve our pitch in the last four weeks of the season, and, secondly, that we must stop Budleigh being promoted!
The chairman looked at me and said: “Roger, our return fixture with Budleigh is due in two weeks. You are the captain, and you have a budget... make sure we win!”
The next morning was spent planning my response. If we hire a top batsman, he might fail on the day, a spinner might find the pitch unhelpful... No! There’s just one option. We need the most terrifying fast bowler we can find!
Lancashire CCC told me that Patrick Patterson, the fastest bowler in England, was unavailable but I had read that Malcolm Marshall, the West Indian Test fast bowler, was almost recovered from an injury. He would be perfect!
Hampshire promised to give him my message, and two hours later, he rang me back!
“I’m really sorry, man, but I’m not back to my quickest yet! But, if you want pace, I have a young man living with me, here, who bowls faster than I have ever done! I wouldn’t even face him in the nets! Hang on, and I’ll ask him if he’ll play for you.”
I waited a few minutes and he came back to say “Yes, he’ll take your club’s money!”
Linden Joseph was a 21 year old from Guyana on a contract with Hampshire. His raw pace had got him a place in the Guyana team at 17, and now he was taking another step up.
On the day of the match, I was up at 4am for the drive to Marshall’s house in Chandlers Ford, near Southampton. I waited outside before knocking on the door at 8am. No-one came. I knocked again.
Eventually, a bleary eyed, world-famous fast bowler opened the door in his dressing gown.
“Come in, man, sit down, and I’ll tell Linden that you’re here.”
I was shown into a smoke-filled room with two broken down settees, and a carpet littered with empty beer bottles.
A full hour passed before a tall, slim lad, in a leather jacket, made his way slowly down the stairs, followed by his host. I stood up, shook a big limp hand, and said: “The car’s outside.”
Malcolm waved us off, and whispered: “Look after him. He’ll give you more wickets than words.” ...and how right he was!
As we joined the motorway, I broke the silence: “Do you like it at Hampshire?” “Yes, man,” he replied, took out his Walkman, and put on his headphones. That was it!
As we neared Exeter, I tapped his shoulder: “Can I get you some lunch?” The sound of reggae, from his headphones, almost drowned his reply: “No eat before work, man!”
I mused that they didn’t feed the lions before releasing them in the Colosseum, but quickly dismissed the thought as unworthy of me.
As we arrived at the pavilion, two Budleigh players stared as they witnessed what all Devon League cricketers dread most... a 6ft 3ins tall West Indian slowly emerging from a car in the visitors’ car park!
• Part two next week