Who knows?

Bancyfelin under monsoon, Bute Park in glorious sun. Not especially warming sun, but an accommodating bonus, nevertheless. Arrive to find Northants coasting to an inevitable win. Stride breezily to the pitchside, as though it’s a clifftop; sniff the air. The vibe? No dramas.

Zoning in then, acclimatising to the cool, stilled altitude of the Media Centre, it soon feels like the challenge, for all of us, revolves more about pride – professional for some, provincial, maybe, for others – than about something more specifically result-oriented. Glammy are surely done for, again? The competitive angle therefore profoundly skewed, if not screwed.

Crowd of a few dozen. Watching quietly intently but surely also in that loosely therapeutic mode; allowing themselves to wander through the issues of the day. That thing mother said to Suzanne; the bloody washing machine; oof… and Parsons Green.

We have the slack, do we not, to drift towards things of a philosophical bent; perhaps that’s why some of us are here? The lack of edge, of overt drama invites – we’re freed up.

Am I being frivolous, imagining many of us enjoyably twitchy around the body-language of things? Looking for the signs that player A or B is drifting – ‘on the beach’, as they often say of footballers, when commitment dips, late-season.

Kerrigan gets 50.

Sweeping the crowd; guessing there are precisely no psychologists/psychiatrists in the gathering but this will not be getting in the way of the flood of expert analysis. The bloke in row 12 (who’s never warmed to the ‘foreign imports’) is ab-so-lutely certain Rudolph’s back in South Africa. Dai from Canton is snorting with derision at Meschede.

Observing serenely from above, from our perch (did I mention?) in the Media Centre, I’m drawn in to all this. How could anyone not be? This is the essence of cricket. A quiet frisson, a seminal insight mid-shiver or mid-slurp, then lunch at 149 for 2.

Clouds hold something of an intimidating gathering over the ground. Finally, placated no doubt by the one who has most to lose – the one out on parole? – they slide off, muttering. 150 up.

Hogan, two back. Kerrigan, now on 60, rather easily defuses the short ball, which had not so much reared up as telegraphed the Back Defence Manual to him. Strangely, given the current bubble of phoney-war-ness, Hogan castles him next over. (Kerrigan may or may not be gnashing those teeth over an opportunity to beat his previous batting best, now gone: who knows?)

Ingram, like all of them – disappointingly, for our thesis -seems engaged. Bowling those leg-spinners into the thankless void. Gets clubbed for six, ball returned. End of the over the South African God of Boom yanks it angrily from floor to fielder with a strangely exotic flick. The man’s engaged – angry even.

14.03. Those clouds are really back. Could this be why De Lange is bowling a series of short ones – to get the umpires to look up?

208 for 3. Nine to win. Glammy faffing relentlessly, batsmen suddenly slogging in the dark… because DOWNPOUR!!

Edward Beaven (He Who Knows) darts to the back of the Press Box to check out that which is incoming. Diagnosis ‘could be an hour’s worth’. But a month of rain falls in 48 seconds, so his further view – that we could be here til six – carries an undeniable weight. Northants are nine runs short. The locals go home.

Back at 3.30pm. Eminently playable sunshine. We contemplate a sweep on the number of balls needed. Wakeley has 35, Levi 31. No significant targets in sight – no intrigues. Will Northants biff their way to a pointed victory or take the more dignified approach?

Wakeley drives the second ball from Meschede for four. Then two forward defensives. Then a medium-convincing wristily-defensive doink to midwicket. (Five balls only – one before the rain break).

De Lange. Second ball almost daisy-mows Levi but the fourth is dispatched to the boundary – as is the fifth. Job done in nine balls. 221 for 3, Northants win.

A muted ending to a muted day. Sure Northants have had ‘things to play for’ and there’s always that professional pride…

So the formality turned out a formality. And it’s easy to be frivolous. Glamorgan had not, in fact, seemed absent – they merely lacked the weapons to challenge.

There was minimal slackness in the field; I remember as many friendly-but-mischievous-but-competitive darts between two fielders to gather the same ball as I do poor pick-ups or lazy throws. On at least one occasion I thought Crofty must have had words, such was the obvious fizz into action. (Of course he must have had words; before the game; at lunch; all season long. Angry words).

Glammy have I think lost five out of the last six four-day games; the other was rained off. The closer you look at the figures the more worrying it gets; the more you wonder about what’s being said… because the job’s intimidatingly obviously a tough one.

The home side looked more like an ordinary team than a team capitulating today – that’s important. But (however much the words may be resented) there have been repeated capitulations with the bat throughout the season: too many embarrassingly low scores.

Painfully, there’s a sense that Glammy batting failures have often been followed by the opposition batsmen either mastering any alleged demons in the pitch or alternatively (or in addition?) exposing the relative mediocrity of the Glamorgan attack. In short it’s a brutal world and our team have been unable to compete in it… at least sometimes.

All of which made me wonder very much about a) what’s being said and b) how players will respond.

I like the expression ‘humour of the team’, meaning how they are, how they act together. Not because I’m naive enough to think that great mates always win but because I know that humour covers a million qualities – from camaraderie to level of focus, to will. Essex might be a half-decent example of a team who benefit from being in good humour – not that it’s their only quality.

I have no doubt that Robert Croft and his support staff will be watching the upcoming ‘dead rubbers’ in the championship for signs. Who really simply isn’t good enough? Who doesn’t care enough? Who doesn’t think enough? This brutal stuff has to accompany the absolutely vital development of player and person.

The coach and his players will be hurt by the defeats and by the humiliating cluster-suicides to bugger all for four or the loss of five wickets for twenty-odd. Sometimes us fans forget those are sickeners for them, too. Defeat can be damaging for confidence, for relationships – we know that – it’s tough to build a way through.

A final view, or a final feeling? Players may need support but they also have to be held to account. There are two County Championship games left: statements must be made.

 

 

 

 

 

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Blowers.

Pre- the final curtain there was the inevitable falling over backwards; too many forced ‘dear old things, too much cranking up of the emotional. Vaughan and Tufnell maybe slightly nervously fawning.

The Old Pro, though, ploughed on, admirably briskly – because that’s what his generation do, right? – because he had a game to commentate on; because ‘tremendous fun’ loometh.

TMS, of course. Blowers. Dressed to kill; impossibly vital and irretrievably amiable, as always. No doubt aware of the doe-eyes around him but impressively focused on that uniquely distracted world-view, drawn in to Lords and to his cricket.

Throughout he remained seemingly unaffected by the smiley furore around him. Doing his thing – scene-setting, describing. All of it via that, yaknow… voice.

There have been contenders, overs the decades, for the Voice of Cricket moniker. Few if any (Arlott, Benaud, perhaps?) have breached that bubble of national/international consciousness in quite the way that Blofeld has. He is instantly, widely, almost universally known – and known beyond his game.

Whilst the fact of his popularity is all the more extraordinary given his lack of physical visibility – duh, radio commentator and therefore relatively obscure, despite those sartorial outrages – Blowers figures. He is identifiable, he is a one-off, one-man, universal brand. Supremely Posh English. Because of that voice.

We can’t pretend to appreciate Our Henry without acknowledging this: he is – or he sounds – elite-level posh.

In another scenario – politics, perhaps? – he might surely be the recipient of cruel satire and abuse for being so. How then has he cut through to the extent that or’nary blokes like Tuffers and Vaughan are now falling over themselves to offer touching tributes? When they, like me, must surely be instinctively posh-averse? In this sense alone, Henry Blofeld is a phenomenon.

Let’s look at the context. The TMS tribe itself is arguably a relatively conservative clique; if defined by well-meaning, cake-wielding softies, then incontrovertibly, fascinatingly so. It’s the land of private schools, polished accents, awfully genuine people. It’s the land of the flourishing cricket club; we can’t pretend that breeding has no significance here.

Hold that heavy roller though: this a truth but it’s not the truth.

Despite that (dangerous concepts alert) deeply traditional, English core, to which it’s a no-brainer that Blowers might appeal – as a soulbrother, as a ‘natural voice’ – there are radical hipster eco-Corbynistas amongst the TMS Posse. Of course there are. And there are binmen and teachers and surgeons and vicars and thieves. But let’s get back to how he sounds.

Only a few could hear that voice without issues arising. I still hear it and battle the prejudices of a punky youth in the North of England. Growing up Grimbarian (now 35 years honorary Welsh, with Welsh-speaking family) I have shoulders to be de-chipped, confessions to make around this.

Grappling for a way through and out of Thatcherism and by direct consequence hating (then – less so now) the Privileged South, I am uneasy around what google is helpfully calling Upper Received Pronunciation. The purveyors of said gift have to earn my trust and respect in a way some bloke from Swansea may not. Because posh means privileged and this is wrong, yes? Because the country was and is divided and a certain political party need only be interested in securing the goodwill of the South… and the job is done, yes? (Like I said, Thatcherism).

Hah but I am worldly and self-aware enough to know this strikes some of you as either offensive, irrelevant or both and that it reflects on me as badly as anyone else. I hope you’ll be pleased to hear I now know at least two people from the URP category whom I really like… but (hah hah?) I’m sticking to my guns on the wincing at privilege thing.

Some part of me will always think Henry Blofeld could not sound or be more of an icon for the Privileged South if he crooned Gaudeamus Igitur whilst boiling the lobster.

We can (and I have) got over this but it matters. It matters because a) this voice projects us across the universe and b) this voice doesn’t represent us. And c) Free Nelson Mandela!

Just kidding – I’ve enjoyed Blowers too. I’m a huge fan of TMS.

Here’s how it is. For me Our Henry’s a hugely affable outlier. From another age, another place, for sure but when the flow is with him, humorous and painterly and yes, ‘tremendous fun’. Someone I can join with, despite the chasm between. The man is skilled and knowledgeable, eccentric and somehow hyper-exotically English in a way I can live with – now – a way that’s simply entertaining; diverting, as they used to say.

Critically, look at what his peers are saying. Even allowing for a degree of sycophancy here or there, the vibe is strikingly, convincingly positive.

We plebs don’t have the inside track on this but his co-commentators – the guys and gals who’ve been covering his back over the last eighteen months – plainly love the man. (Check out tonight’s twitter to confirm; notable). Henry may have been increasingly less able to see clearly who is who and where the ball went but this has not diminished his colleagues love for him – and he’s too sharp to allow too much saccharoidal patronage.

It would seem most colleagues, like most fans, appreciate his flair, his infectious wordsmithery, his sweet disposition. Agnew and Marks and co reeled off stories – often featuring ‘classic’ Blower errors or post-binge aberrations, all palpably enjoyed, all relayed entirely without malice.

As Blower’s day ended in triumph, with what he might call a glorious perambulation round his beloved Lords, crowd roaring, the tributes multiplied. Few from the media will receive a lap of honour at Lords and an England dressing-room visit to mark their final spell of verbals. Few will get so many unsolicited snogs. Up close then, once you’ve put your shades on, the fella must be an absolute diamond as well as a journalist of distinction.

He is a phenomenon. The Great British Public, beyond the cake-bakers and the geeks, want either to share a glass with him, or a paternal hug, or worse. He transcends judgement by simply screening out opinion, being honestly good and being honestly, clearly in love with his game.

I’m struck by the thought that Blower’s signature talents are 1) he can talk 2) he sticks to the cricket and the pigeons and the cranes. Job done.

 

Measuring the Moment.

Finals Day. For some, an exemplar of the modern, dynamic game we’re searching for – what with heaving, happy crowds and boomtastically lusty action. For others, including (weirdly counter-intuitively?) the ECB, a still slightly undercooked version of the spectacularly box-ticking ideal. For other others a kind of Nightmare on Lowest Common Denominator Street.

Muggins here was at Edgbaston, having received wider ECB Media Accreditation for the first time. I was both swanning around and working but did make the occasional effort to tear myself away from the outstanding hospitality/catering/Media Bubble to get down and dirty with you plebs.

Of course I didn’t do anything quite so undignified as to break out into song, or drink from a shoe, or do that bungee-rocket-jump thing but I did, yaknow, contemplate stuff.

Mainly I watched the cricket, enjoying the following in no particular order;

Pollock – for finding a zone of near-obscene brilliance (see previous blog) which separated the Bears from Glamorgan. My memory, which I admit may not coincide entirely with the stats, suggesting his hitting was simply more devastating than anybody else’s all day.

At the other end of a long, intermittently intense day I quietly hailed another triumph – and somehow they all feel personal? – for Peter Moore, the Real Good Bloke Who Rode Disappointment. The Notts coach again might be tempted to fistpump the mirror and tell Ingerland Crickit to go eff itself. (He won’t… because apparently he really is a RGB and he just doesn’t need to: he just keeps working to a fine, fine level).

Sodhi, who span the ball as well as splatting it swiftly down, also caught my eye. Having watched from directly behind his arm, I can tell you that yes he did mix things up – T20 needs must – but also he really did succeed in spinning/turning the ball. Entirely get that the spin-bowler’s short-format repertoire cannot afford to focus more than about 12% on that sideways movement but yup – enjoyed that.

Enjoyed Taylor’s knock in the final, too. Despite having aired my concerns on twitter re- his steady progress towards thirty-odd, it was a pleasure to see his craft cut against the expectation for relentless violence. Taylor played a lot of proper cricket shots, only unleashing the beast later on in proceedings, when the situation (finally) did demand it. I rated his measurement of the moment – it was (as they say) class.

Lots of fuss over Samit so I won’t go there. Clearly the guy’s a player but have previously gone on record to say I’m cool with an international coach, or international coaches as a breed demanding high standards of athleticism, in the modern era.

On the fast bowling front I admired much of what Stone did, plus Ball and Gurney with their spidery strafing-from-Mars thing. Woakes, though, was a thing of beauty, when fired-up.

But the story should maybe about Edgbaston… and about the future. Which is where (I don’t mind telling you) I come over all conflicted.

Plainly Finals Day was a striking, all-singing, most boozing success in the modern way. Clearly Edgbaston does an ace job of this. It was colourful, it hosted, it showed-off, it surfed the excess most excellently. The job was absolutely done in terms of an orgasmic, short-format Big Day Out. (Oh, and lots of the cricket was great too – I mean that). So… that other competition; what’s it for, again?

T20 Blast has got better every year and seems on an upward curve in every respect. Accept there are those who claim it’s a significant notch down from the IPL and  Big Bash in terms of playing quality but that gap has closed. Besides, nobody at Edgbaston was complaining. There is a ver-ry strong argument that building, year by year on the Blast’s positives rather than introducing a rival competition makes perfect sense. As we know, that ain’t gonna happen.

I’m slightly fascinated by the ECB’s moves, here. The chosen option, to create an ultimately higher-class, city-based tournament which more successfully bursts or expands the bubble of traditional cricket supporters is a strikingingly ambitious choice, given what we have – what Blast has become.

Based around masses of research, driven in some meaningful part by Australian experiences and expertise, aimed at transforming levels of visibility of the game and joined up with the huge All Stars and Cricket Unleashed projects this is an epic call. Radical; romantically bold; risky.

The ECB are backing it, though, unless something extraordinary happens(?) They’ve found, as All Stars has recently demonstrated, an unlikely bundle of courage and commitment to change the scenery drastically. This is on the one hand rather exciting.

However the general experience of Edgbaston – my experience, the deliriously fabulous experience of many in the crowd, Saturday – challenges the notion of whether another 20-20 is at all necessary. Blast is becoming that good… and seems likely to tick many of the required boxes in good time… and offers no threat to County Cricket. It offers or can offer the gateway to wider exposure and new customer bases that the ECB understandably craves. So why tinker?

It’s a huge call.

It wasn’t just the Hollies Stand that was rocking on Saturday. As I enjoyed my luxury miniature dessert, the whole of Edgbaston was giving it some.

Word on’ tinternet and beyond has been of a longterm agreement to tie #T20Blast to Brum and good luck to them. Most of what we saw would escape funding from the Arts Council but it was great, relatively inoffensive fun. Easy to be cynical about the attention-seeking antics of a certain former England all-rounder in particular but people laughed and joined in and participated in the cricket. Bumble and Freddie were part of the rockin’ whole.

Blast has become a popular success and therein lies a problem, of sorts, for the ECB. We all know really that two UK 20-20s is one too many – the market’s getting crowded, increasingly so. When withdrawing your hottest, sexiest, bravest plan ever ever feels unthinkable and the expendable prototype turns out better than you thought…. what, exactly, do you do? Glad it’s not my shout.

 

 

Obscene Brilliance.

The Epi-prologue.

I travelled in hope and some expectation. Carrying some real belief in the men from Wales… and okaay, South Africa. I’ve seen plenty of this #t20blast, enough to know that *on their day* Crofty’s Posse could compete – underdogs or no.

They have most bases covered –  from youthful dynamism to crafty-oldish-meisterhands. They’ve been on a slightly under-the-radar surge, appreciated by dispassionate observers as well as foaming Cardiffians. 

Glammy have targeted this event over months if not years and gathered, astutely, towards it. Hugh Morris and Robert Croft deserve credit for that. Glamorgan Cricket have had to tiptoe throught the financial and provincial and cultural minefields to a) stay relevant and b) stay afloat. Today helps. It helps to support both the big signings – Ingram, De Lange – and the bringing through of the Donalds and the Carlsons. Hey, and without Pollock’s obscene brilliance and Rudolph’s freakish run-out who knows, who knows?

But they got beat; that’s sport. The Glammy players and the Glammy fans know they got close to something. Croft and Morris’s job now to rally again. 

 

Great, dark then stirring run through to alien territory, by misty rivers, through leafy, autumnal lushness. West Wales night-dawn lifting with foxes screaming then owls hooting then – ping! – the hyper-reality of Big Brum, in spectacular sunshine, at nine a.m. Wow.

I fraudulently seamlessly wend my way to The Ground, being sickeningly friendly to all and sundry. Because… well, this is a Big Day Out. For me, for Glammy.

But is there a whiff of the interloper there? The undeserving, the outsider? Probably. Me and Glammy together as the Guys Who Got Past Security?

In the case of the welsh county this is cobblers. They are unquestionably here on merit.  They are well-balanced, they are equipped, they may yet spring a magnificent surprise. Maybe I will too? (A streak? A great blog?) Onward, post-haste.

Players are out, warming up.  10.35. Rudolph wins the toss and will bowl. 10.37 meet George Dobell, who’s been ludicrously generous re my scribblings. Absently wonder – not mid-conversation, obviously – if I should squeeze more food down (luxury buffet upstairs, free to us Elite Media Sorts) cos, well, 5am start & could be a late finish: feed up.

News is Carlson in. Shame TVG unfit for Glammy – do like his bustle and focus – but as Rob Key said Glamorgan do look balanced. They have changes of pace, they have batting.

What we can’t know is whether they have the bottle or depth for this. They have quality and experience but this will feel kinda new; as a group they haven’t been here. We’re on that fabulous edge.

Goes without saying that Ingram is truly world-class in this format and that Rudolph has begun to show some of the real quality that might turn things or be the platform. Hogan too, for me, has looked cool, mature, ready for the tightest of moments – the death(s). Whilst I’m a huge fan and supporter of Donald (and De Lange is beginning to court, rather persuasively, my affections) it’s these three who feel most central to Glamorgan’s chances.

Formalities done, Ingram to bowl. Second ball, ‘ambitious appeal’, third ball six(!) We have officially woken. Pollock booms ten off the over. Then Hogan.

Sharpish first ball. Beats Pollock close to off. The left-hander responds with another six, clubbed straight. Then one over mid-on. Could be big numbers today, you sense. 24 for 0 off 2.

Weirdly, the umps are asked to examine the shape of the circle, before De Lange stoops then launches in.

Pollock simply dismisses the lanky South African for another six, then a crisp, straight four. And another – pulled. This is some start. Glammy have to gather. Rudolph and Hogan need to calm the energy: The Bears are 40 for 0 off 3.

Enter Wagg, grateful for a stunning stop at backward point from Salter. But Pollock is already looking unplayable. First sarcastic roar from a famously roartastic crowd as De Lange fails to field a squirt towards third man. Pollock has 47 and his partner, Sibley 2. Just seen Legside Lizzy.

Hogan changes ends. Sibley (have we met?) finally connects – four over extra cover. Hogan searching for the blockhole; doing okay but can’t stop Pollock racing to 50 off 23. Nobody could, today. Almost alarming for the visitors; can they hold… or can Ingram simply outbiff Pollock?

De Lange no-balls, offering Pollock a free hit – escapes. Finally some relief as the batsman cuts straight to Carlson at cover. 65 for 1 off as the powerplay closes.

Meschede. Blockhole. Donald takes an easy catch at deep-midwicket. Can Glammy calm the torrent?

Ingram from the other end. The energy’s changed – in a good way for the visitors. Pollock seems a lifetime ago, a different event. It’s quiet, briefly. Great, stalling over of legspin from Ingram. 74 for 2 off 8. Meschede continues.

Decent wee spell for Glamorgan. Ingram, now charged with producing more of this canny stuff; largely succeeds, gets Sibley, caught Donald. 88 for 3. Game’s evolving. 92 for 3 at the halfway stage.

Meschede in again. Been average, for me, lately but working nicely enough now – pace off a tad, ver-ry full, straight. Rewarded, getting Hain LB. (Has the game really changed?) Crowd quietened, certainly.

Did I say the Bears are slowed? Mood deliciously different. 95 for 4 off 11. Salter in.

First ball driven through extra cover. No further dramas.

Meschede continues; excellent spell given the pressure. The optimist in me dallies with the prospect that the aforementioned balance, that spread of bowling qualities may be bringing Croft’s men back into this. As Ingram returns, you feel the Bears must go after him.

Brief panorama. Described as a sell-out and the ground looks resplendently full; great scene.

Ingram again holds, before Wagg returns, bowls a foot outside off but is tweaked crazily round the corner to backward square leg: ludicrous four… but it’s a batsman’s game, right? Wagg being slightly found out, which could be important.

Score-wise, 200 feels possible, if somebody in any way re-Pollocks. 129 for 4 off 14. Hogan switches again for the fifteenth. I’m thinking Ingram might explode here… and might need to.

Unusually, Hogan strays near leg and is clipped fine, behind, for four. The sunshine floods through again. Magic day to bat. COME ON, Ingram!

Elliot comes over all daft and is caught, embarrassed at short fine leg. 139 for 5. Then another sign of Bears nerves as a slack skier falls safely.

Mixed stuff, however, from De Lange – over-full and fortunate not to get heavily punished. Searching for the blockhole, slinging it in there but mixed. Then better. 145 for 5 off 17.

Wagg. Has been struggling to make an impact so the 18th feels key. Strikes me nobody but Pollock has bossed the Glammy attack so maybe the Big Score that’s looming is merely a par?

A wide wide again indicates it’s just not coming out right for Wagg. Even when he bowls a good ‘un it squirts past fine leg for four. The fella looks hunted.

The 19th starts well, with De Lange. Quick and hostile and challenging. De Grandhomme hooks to Donald. 6 down, enter Woakes. Great over leaves Bears on 169 for 6. Hogan will finish. Like the way Glamorgan have competed, here.

Last over. Thomason run out then Patel caught long on, first ball. Helpful. Last ball runout leaves Bears on 175 for 9… and who knows what that means?

The reply; Woakes to Rudolph. Great first ball. Shafts the skipper, feeling outside off. Donald; hearts going for the lad. Lifts the England bowler over extra cover for four! You beauty!

As so often though, the young opener maybe gets too greedy too early; second ball, caught at deep square leg. On the plus side, this brings in Ingram. #KIngram.

Glammy’s gloriously gifted number three eases Woakes through extra cover too  – four. Then bullets him there. First time I hear the Glam faithful. 13 for – off 1.

Patel in. Goes deep into the crease, at the legs. Ingram patient – two Proteas together. Successive fours for Ingram – more from the welsh faithful. Goodish start, now.

Woakes. Timing of both Rudolph and Ingram looking good. They look settled and quietly determined. (*Fatal*). 30 for 1 off 3 is okaaay.

Ingram takes time and heat out of the affair with a longish faff over his laces. (Or possibly his laces just need doing up?) Then a stunning catch on the retreat claims Glammy’s most irresistible source and Rudolph nearly departs caught behind next ball… but survives. Tense, critical period. (Ingram simply didn’t get enough on a drive to leg. *Moment*. Obvs).

Rudolph softly opens the blade for four to third man – a welcome boundary.

Thomason to Miller: caught behind.  This is a worry. 39 for 3.

Huge moment for the incoming, inexperienced Carlson, with the Bears veering towards the rampant. Am liking, however, the guile of Rudolph: impressively skilled hands under tremendous pressure. 46 for 3 off 5. He has 29 off 16, at this point.

Stone meanwhile, looks good – searching. Rudolph guides him, Carlson can’t cope with his bounce, though – nicks behind for 3. Trouble, at 48 for 4, powerplay done. Cooke may need to stick around with the skipper.

Rudolph benefits from some woeful fielding at deep extra cover; four, Thomason unimpressed. Then Cooke glances behind for another boundary. No fireworks but decent, timely re-building.

Patel returns. Suspect Rudolph will settle for runs as opposed to violence and risk; he rightly does. Good over nevertheless for Patel: 60 for 4 off 8.

Important, emphatic four for Cooke, off Elliot, through mid-off. Confidence-settler, if not builder. The sun breaks powerfully through once more.

But not for Cooke. He chips weakly, deflatingly, to deepish midwicket. Enter Wagg, with things close to deadly at 67 for 5.

First six for Glam comes via Rudolph, off Patel. 76 for 5 off 10 – Bears were 92 for 3. Run-rate very close to 10, so tough but do-able, if Wagg and Rudolph persist. Maybe?

Key fifty for Rudolph but he knows he may need to double that up. 83 for 5. Wagg feeling for it – must surely park the wilder ambitions and hand this over to the skipper?

Instead he smashes one many rows back over long on. Some great running and solid thinking from the batsmen are keeping this alive. 100 up off 12.3.

Another beauty from Rudolph flipped over his right shoulder for four. We do have a game here – particularly as Glamorgan’s fielding was sharper than the Bears. Hope yet, with the potential for this to go deep – if Rudolph remains, carving and cutting.

Maybe I’m underestimating Wagg. He drills one straight for four, off Patel. For his trouble, the ump tells him to watch his running down the pitch. No matter, the maths and the mood still suggest Glam are in it…

Until(?) Rudolph is brilliantly run-out – cruelly brilliantly run-out – by the bowler Thomason, gathering from Wagg. Meschede joins. 118 for 6 after 15. 59 needed.

Woakes has changed ends. Wagg slaps him straight to mid-off and you feel Glammy are done.

My Pembrokeshire mate Andrew Salter enters the fray. Facing Chris Woakes, on #FinalsDay, he may feel a long way from St Ishmaels. (He flips him for four, mind, to backward square).

Thomason gifts Glammy a wide, first up in the 17th. With the run-rate over 12, Meschede booms one straightish but only as far as the fielder – gone. De Lange and Salter need to do something pret-ty extraordinary.

The big South African quick carts Thomason for four and we’re 133 for 8 off 18. Over to De Grandhomme.

He finds the blockhole beautifully, killingly. Glam are done. De Lange smashes a highish full-toss for six but we’re at 144 for 8 off 18.

The impressive Stone returns. Salter rides his luck – Elliott failing to take a regulation catch – but then De Lange is castled. 150 for 9. Woakes will bowl the last.

Some wonderful defiance from Salter, inevitably in vain. Glamorgan fall to 164 all out. The difference? Pollock. Pollock and maybe Stone.

The sun and the scene are fabulous. I am lucky to be here. The ‘what ifs’ are already rumbling through  – chiefly what if Rudolph had somehow stayed? (That run-out was almost shockingly, freakishly brilliant). What if Ingram had…

There are no complaints. The day is spookily young. For many Glammy fans there is cricket to be enjoyed, beer to be swilled. Brave face time – time to appreciate. Thank you, Glamorgan, for another tremendous ride. Heads high.

 

Carew’s Choice. A personal view – what else?

Cresselly CC v Carew, on the last Saturday of the season – Pembs Division 1. The title at stake. Bowling points, batting points being juggled through the minds. Given Carew’s 21-point lead, what are the options? Well…

 

Everything is compound – or feels it. So we can’t come over all judgemental, or maybe even all idealistic, without expecting counterviews to arise. Make a statement and the universe will challenge it. Make a statement that you know is controversial or provocative and you better don the proverbial tin hat.

There is conviction; there is friction; there is opinion.

Sport lives off this fury – or rather it’s an essential part of the magical, infuriating sporty whole. It’s how many of us on the sidelines access the game(s), by bawling, or responding, more or less gracelessly, to the issues arising.

Pembs cricket had an issue this weekend. Or should I say – because there are fabulous and fascinating micro-issues within every game, right? – it spawned a biggie, a grotesque, attention-seeking argument worthy of discourse beyond the moment, beyond the region. That debate is welcome… and it will come.

In their final ‘critical’ game, Carew Cricket Club declared on 18 for 1, essentially to protect themselves from any possibility of failure in their quest for the First Division title. Playing nearest rivals Cresselly, away, with a 21-point lead in the table, Carew shut down the possibilities and the match.

In so far as there ever can be shockwaves in Pembrokeshire sport or Pembrokeshire life, there were shockwaves, around the local grounds (as games were barely under way) and, inevitably, via social media. The universe – our universe – was gobsmacked.

I saw this on twitter and despite being more than semi-detached from senior cricket, recognised the sonic boom-thing pretty early in its rumble. There really was a certain level of shock. Everybody knew immediately that Carew could do what they did; yet there was still a striking level of distaste around that choice, never mind discontentment.

A wholly unscientific survey of reactions from roundabout (and beyond) suggests my own reaction – part disappointment, part weird moralistic sub-anger – was fairly general. Instinctively, something about this just felt too brutal – too wrong. But maybe  we/I need to look at this, too?

I’ve seen no-one I recognise as a leading figure in Welsh Cricket come out in favour of the declaration. In fact the decision is being widely viewed as somewhere between cynical and – as others, notably Fraser Watson in The Western Telegraph, have said – cowardly. (I’m not that comfortable with that word but can understand why it was used).

On @cricketmanwales I twittered that I thought what the champions did was anti-sport and I’m happy to stick with that, despite being aware of a certain corniness and (again) that dangerous whiff of the moralistic. Clearly, Carew acted to close out any risk: but in doing so they insulted their opponents on the day, on their home ground, mid glorious finale. Arguably they also traduced something which we may or may not choose to call the spirit of the game.

I know a chunk of the cricket world and/or media has become tired or resistant or hostile to the idea of a Spirit of Cricket. I understand that. The naysayers have a point, in particular around the pomposity, the reactionary dumbness that can attach itself to the cause here: who the hell do we cricketpeeps think we are, guardians of the (non-effing) universe? (Cue the eight zillion examples where we have patently failed our own, faux-glorious, sanctimonious standards). What right, what credibility do we have, to hold forth so? Why don’t we just get real, pipe down a bit and still try to be good sports? I get all that.

And yet two things spring to mind. One is we don’t have to conflate this into The Great Debate over The Meaning or Otherwise of the Spirit of Cricket, necessarily. The other is if you ask me the straight question is it good or bad to aspire to high standards of sportsmanship at all levels then I would emphatically and without hesitation say it is good.

In every issue there lie those wonderful or ugly or key micro-issues. Rivalries, needle, previous. And there are always places that we can take the argument – precedents – that might re-calibrate our truths. Carew might want to take us to some of those, or they might, as is their prerogative, brazen this one out with a non-explanation, a ‘show us the rules precluding’ kindofa shrug.

I haven’t yet heard it but I do expect to see the view that their decision was magnificently bold and de-mystifying; a view that could be both legitimate and offensive. Me? I thought was anti-sport. And I feel somehow robbed. How’s it looking from Cresselly, I wonder?

Coaching: a fabulous crisis.

We can’t pretend nothing’s changed; everything’s changed. McCullum plays baseball cum tennis, with hands eight feet apart, off a wide, elasticated base. Pietersen says ‘kiss the ball’ – it’s all about head – and forget (or trust?) your feet. Nye Donald (a fair symbol for the next, irresistible generation?) has high, twitchy hands, intent on pulls and slaps – and he’s opening. The old certainties are buried.

Or are they?

All of us coaches at all of our levels are scrambling across the fallen masonry. It’s the age of the positive, the pre-emptive counter-attack, the bomb squad. Levels of change, development or challenge have become become so-o tectonically shifted it’s become unthinkable to deal in classical batting… or has it?

A series of Sky Sports Masterclasses have felt central to the annihilation of all we knew; or maybe they’ve simply enacted the moment of kerrplunk. Hussein and Key and Vaughan and Warne; McCullum and Pietersen most memorably perhaps; bawling, often brilliantly, from the war-zone.

We can revel in, learn from or capitulate to this fabulous carnage but whether we work with elite players, juniors or clubbies we have to find a way to move forward through it.

How then, in what feels like a period of peak anarchy, can we generalise or theorise or point to ways that work? When the kiwi great has made a nonsense of a hundred years of good practice? When the South African-English-South African grenades the notions around footwork being key? Is there a coach, in fact, when there are no wisdoms left unravelled? Or what is now sayable, deliverable or true, that the artist previously known as Coach might deal in?

For years there’s been a drift away from the instructional, or that which might be demonstrated by the coach. (And yes, I guess I am talking about batting, largely, here). The much-maligned ECB Coach Education programme, which I am happy to report has seemed somewhere between useful and really good, to me, has moved on dramatically and with some intelligence.

The essential ECB shift towards ‘core principles’ – i.e. allowing batters/players to find a way that works after offering areas of consideration – is bold, positive, liberating, generous. It challenges the coach to ask brilliant, helpful questions rather than regurgitate conditioned ‘knowledge’. It implicitly understands there are revolutions going on and that the genius of individual expression trumps all… or can.

Frankly I’m not in a position to know if things have very recently been further moderated towards freer interpretations of what batters should do – my most recent series of ECB Workshops being undertaken a couple of years ago. I don’t doubt, despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, that the enlightenment (if that’s what it is) continues.

There are naturally a zillion views on the move towards sound but negotiable concepts – cricket coaches being a fascinatingly opinionated bunch. Many have been bolshy about the perceived drift away from expert, cricket-specific coaching and towards what we might call generic skills moderation. Others see that casting off of the coach’s ego and his or her need to directly instruct as a seminal step towards the holy grail of enabling the player to understand, to learn, to own the development. There is much talk of empowerment. 

But let’s get to those masterclasses. Not that they’re the sole agents of change here but they do represent something of the crazy, immediate, polemical, possibility-heavy now. I’m going to look briefly at McCullum’s and KP’s.

The New Zealand skipper, Ar Brendon, is loved and respected for his freewheeling boldness. He is Everybody’s Brendon – SooperMac, never mind BMac. He’s (almost literally, given that scything swing of the bat) put all-comers to the sword, most notably the Aussies in that barely believable, record-breaking century in Christchurch in 2016. McCullum brought some of that fearless twinkle to the Sky Sports studio for the masterclass included below.

http://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12345/10941493/brendon-mccullum-in-the-zone-for-batting-masterclass-at-lords

The Christchurch innings was the embodiment of the shock of the new. It was brash to the point of lurid, it was dancing on graves; maybe it underlined some profound stuff about the age of instagram and fake news, who knows? I’m still reeling. However we view it – and I do know people who see it as some kind of sacrilege – it mattered.

In the masterclass McCullum shows us and talks about his stance, his grip, his set-up. His hands are crazily far apart, with his apparently emphatically dominant right obscenely ready to hoik to leg. His feet are wide, legs bouncy and bent. He looks like a wild child ready to spring and slap. The whole smacks of latent, instinctive action – an unleashing. Grown-up, traditional, straight-batted cricket seems unthinkable from here. He is re-inventing the game.

McCullum does nothing in these few minutes on Sky Sports to diminish our love for his openness, sportiness, generosity of spirit. How wonderful that in trampling the textbooks, his radicalism seems utterly predicated on a kind of glorious old-school honour; Brendon being game.

Pietersen, of course, is different – and he posits a different technical challenge to coaches. Firstly (and generally) it is noticeable that KP, unsurprisingly, is preachier here, more didactic than McCullum. This may be because he feels more wronged, more traduced(?) KP shows us The Model, or possibly A Model, in a way the New Zealander doesn’t.

This model is based on head position – almost to the exclusion of other considerations. It’s implied that feet, for example, don’t matter because they will follow naturally, given assumptions around athleticism, balance, flow. If the head goes to the ball, the striking should be good and consistent and powerful. Just kiss the ball.

Many of us will relish the simplicity here – one of the great pitfalls of coaching surely being that thing where you give the player forty-two things to think about instead of two. Possibly because there are other coaches within earshot; other better-qualified coaches, so the urge to let rip with everything you’ve ever heard anyone good say about issue z proves irresistible. (I know this happens: have seen it, done it.)

KP has something fascinatingly clear and pure around which his processes crystallise. This is arguably to be envied; whether it is to be followed will depend on the coach… and the individual being coached.

http://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12123/10965314/watch-kevin-pietersens-batting-masterclass-from-the-oval-on-saturday

The views of KP & McCullum, together with the other contributors on Sky are of course hugely welcome contributions but they do both enrich and un-pick our coaching almanac. The social media world, likewise pours opinion into the flux. So, where are we?

I’ve asked some leading coaches to comment on where coaching is at, following on from all this traumatic/brilliant/befuddling/game-changing stuff. And I’d like to throw this open to all.

Coaches, friends, players: why not stick something in the comments here about what gets you going… or what you’d like to torch?

The questions are merely a way into this: I don’t claim they’re the smartest or most important; I just thought they’d get coaches fairly promptly into the mix of philosophical and technical worlds thrown against each other through (for example) the Sky Masterclasses. Please do have your say on these or anything else about how coaches respond. 

MAYBE SUGGEST THE QUESTIONS US COACHES MOST URGENTLY NEED TO ASK OURSELVES(?)

1. Given the radical approach of someone like Brendon McCullum – crazy grip, wide, bouncy, pro-active stance – what do we coaches do with a player who can make the unorthodox work ?

Encourage him or her? Talk about potential flaws? What?

2. Is it still ‘our place’ to mainly guide players towards traditional skills and movements? Straight bats/still heads etc. Or how/when do we intervene?

3. KP talks in his masterclass about ‘kissing the ball’ – meaning his key focus is getting head to the ball – almost to the point of forgetting or not worrying about feet. Presumably the assumption is they will take care of themselves. How do you feel about this?

4. McCullum talks about his hands being quite far apart on the bat and demonstrates a set-up that simply doesn’t fit with traditional, straight-batted cricket. But clearly he has lit up all formats in recent years, with his freewheeling, sporty approach. Does this raise any issues with you?

5. Finally, is there anything you think we need to add in or take out of our ‘textbooks’, our overall view of what constitutes good batting practice – or is there simply no single way to go now, in the light of contemporary, revolutionary changes?

 

Go on. Stick your oar in.

Rain Dance.

Five o’clock. Sharp and very cool shower. The Glammy players, out having what seems a very informal net, are unmistakeably wincing. The groundsmen are cursing. The sky suggests it may change.

It does. Twenty past and the clouds are still swarming to my left, over and behind the pavilion – in fact over and beyond everywhere. Clouds. Now though, they threaten a good deal less.

Glammy seem relaxed: nattering or stretching.

The opposition are going through a batting drill where throwdowns are launched from about twelve yards, rather than twenty-two – presumably to cheat the senses and buy time for the bigger challenge, the longer distance. Hogan and Rudolph and co operate nearby, in their own world; building. I like these moments.

Set warm-ups are marked out: the strength and conditioning stuff precedes. Lunges. Choreographed stretches. Directed, building towards dynamic movements – hurdles, half-sprints then seamlessly into football.

I happen to know football so I could (if the mood took) dismember the footie confidence of some of these pro athletes. (Some of them are hopeless). But they seem to love it – or get into it – and it’s visibly, audibly a larf as well as a way towards freer movement. There’s good, smiley energy about. The coach is laughing.

Post the Swalec Champions League, it’s concerted fielding practice, for both sides. Gearing up and focussing. Long high catches and sharp pick-up and throws.

Run their best batsman out! GET KLINGER OUT!!

That’s what I’d be bawling – in fact I may be, in the Press Box as the adrenalin begins to fizz.

Out there, quietly striking moment(s) as Klinger, the Gloucestershire skipper and batting lynchpin tai chi’s alone at the crease; dancing, cutting, driving; visualising the shots. I can feel them as he does it: it’s real.

Finally we are left with Croft overseeing Van der Gugten and De Lange’s game-intensity bowl-off. Van der Gugten, in particular, steaming in hard and targetting middle stump – with off and leg splayed out, enticingly.

Glamorgan win the toss and choose to bowl. There’s a shower before they can.

As the players enter the pitch… it’s horrible. Back to that coolish, hardish squally autumnal garbage. Cruel. Glamorgan adjust their caps and race boldly, purposefully to their positions. Van der Gugten will open up.

First ball a wide down leg. And the second. Not much in either but not what you want. Followed by an angry short one. Four off the over.

Hogan. Second ball, wide down leg. Note square leg and third man deep for both opening bowlers. No early aggression from the batsmen. Salter nearly pouches a full-length dive at point: can’t hold on. Half-chance at best. 8 for 0 after 2.

Finally Mustard finds the boundary, straight, off Van der Gugten, who is bowling quickly – or at least getting great carry. Rain has cleared, lights are on. Mustard steers a six wristily last ball of the third – 18 for 0.

Klinger booms one straight off Hogan but it plugs, comically, in the damp and he can only run two. This surely cannot be a hugely high-scoring affair – the air is chunky and cool, the ground inevitably still moist. Wisely, despite not looking that swift, the Gloucester openers grab their share of quick singles where possible. We are 36 for 0, off 5.

Wagg, coming round, starts with a legside wide. Marginal again but not a theme Croft will be revelling in. However there is a relative lack of fireworks, considering Klinger’s reputation for vulcanism. Wagg notably drops his pace (or varies it) and 45 for 0 off 6 feels… even.

Salter takes a steepler confidently to get Klinger – Meschede the bowler. Next ball is a shocker of a full-toss, summarily dismissed for six by Mustard. 54 for 1, then, off 6.

Salter round the wicket to the left-handed Mustard. (Got to be a condiment-related joke on there). No major dramas.

Meschede gets three consecutive overs but Glos seem to be able to pick him off, despite his ability to mix things up. He didn’t feel all that convincing, to me, his goodish figures flattering him somewhat.

Salter on the other hand seemed pretty tidy – but inevitably Mustard picks him up over long on for six, as I type these words. A further four from Cockbain rather spoils the off-spinners figures. 0-28 off 3.

Ingram steps up to bowl the fourteenth. Claims a wicket – again nonchalantly taken out in the deep by Salter – for six runs scored. Then de Lange.

Ingram’s legspin takes some tap, unsurprisingly, in the sixteenth, as Gloucestershire look to up the ante. Donald drops a regulation catch off de Lange in the next and after seventeen the visitors are 129 for 3.

Thereafter Donald almost makes amends with a good, forward, stooping catch, first ball of the eighteenth – Hogan the bowler. Later the lanky Australian strikes again with a stonking yorker but the detail drifts because it’s gone grey and cold and sinister again…

Hogan claims a third victim in the over as Perera steers to deep mid-off, where Miller calmly obliges. De Lange takes the nineteenth, pumped and quick.

Hogan, it is, who has further success, though – bowling Roderick then effecting the run-out of the incoming Taylor. Suddenly it’s 145 for 8. Hogan claims his five-fer with the last ball as Taylor is caught at gully.

150 for 9, which feels frankly difficult to judge – Glamorgan having done generally well, Gloucester having done… similarly.

The reply. Donald bangs the first delivery from Taylor for four through midwicket, the second is tickled straight behind for four more and the third is dispatched behind square. Wow. Oh – and it’s raining. To a slightly worrying degree. So Glammy will look to stay ahead.

Next, Donald is undone, mistiming and fending disappointingly to mid-off (did it stick in the pitch? He seems to imply so). 19 for 1 off 2. In comes the ‘worldie’, Ingram. Conditions are not good.

Ingram strokes his first ball elegantly for nought but the second emphatically for four, over extra cover. But conditions are tough. Maybe the lights make it seem more dramatically unhelpful than it is… but it’s not helping anyone. Given the rivalry here, a rain-affected game would devalue any bragging rights significantly.

Rudolph is yorked by Perera. The umpires talk… and we’re off. There is some disquiet – on and off the pitch. 32 for 2 off 5.

There follows a minor classic in rain-dancing. It’s clearly off due to rain then entirely feasible then it rains. Then umpires have a look and we’re on at 9.15… then it rains. Meanwhile Glamorgan are 5 runs down on the Duckworth-Lewis. We wait – some resigned, some tense, all helpless.

Twenty-past nine and the umpires have rightfully called it off. Some of us have just missed the last train home. Klinger won’t care… and good luck to him.