Proper good.

Back recently from a ‘tour’ to sunny Aberystwyth, triumphantly brimful of something we might hashtag under #positivity. Not the faux variety, which accompanies so much sport, unconvincingly driving up its libido whilst reducing its intelligence. No. The positivity arising from proper good.

Much of this was due to the sheer level of enjoyment my junior charges experienced. The rest was about… well, about Dylan.

I can use his name because although what follows is both personal and in a rather dangerous way revealing, this lad (this family) have a huge amount to be proud of. Plus, following conversations with Dylan’s mum, it’s perfectly clear that she is absolutely signed up to my inclination to walk the streets with a luminous billboard saying ‘Case For Sport proven. Whoooppeee!!’

The John family and most of the folks involved on our county team’s opening-season journey know that something wonderful has happened or begun to happen. The world has gotten better. A statement has been made. Doors which have typically clunked have swung open… a tad. Without I hope getting too mushy too early, we’re all touched and actually rather privileged to have been involved.

Okay, for better or worse, it feels like Dylan needs to be described, here. He is big, he is boisterous, he has Special Needs. Those are the obvious – and obviously inadequate – labels.

As a medium-sensitive and streetwise kindofaguy, I reckon to have some understanding of Dylan’s issues; but for brevity maybe I should package those wider, cod-psychological musings into the following phrase and leave it at that.

I am pret-ty certain Dylan ain’t an Evil Little Monster. He is more likely a lad who doesn’t either understand what barriers mean OR (maybe more painfully?) what people mean when they describe his transgressions back to him and expect him to a) get that… and then b) behave.

Beyond this actually rather critical stuff around understandings or otherwise, Dylan has a medical condition which is characterised by lapses into what I, as an amateur, might call lower states of consciousness. They aren’t either true faints or true blackouts but maybe they do symbolise Dylan’s vulnerable place in the universe. These episodes are controlled by medication and (no surprises?) happen more regularly when he is stressed or challenged.

Hold on. Roll that back. Vulnerable? At somewhere near twice the body mass of most of his peers? With a rough-tough, edgy, unpredictable presence about him?

Yes – I think so. Vulnerable. The clue is in the phrase – Special Needs.

This is not to say I don’t see how Dylan might be scary to some of his schoolmates, or relentlessly demanding of teachers or parents or anyone else charged with watching over him. I know he’s been tough to manage; that he bounces from one bollocking (which he doesn’t understand) to the next – endlessly. I found it tough to cope with him, myself, at times, when he’s got that slightly wanton, slightly worrying head on. But…

Let’s re-cap, briefly. We’ve got a lad who’s been thrown out of things for bad behaviour, for being wild and reckless and ‘likely to explode’. But he can do that See Ball, Hit Ball thing, powerfully – admittedly partly because he’s big and strong.

He comes to my Under 10s winter development sessions and it’s immediately clear that Dylan’s a Wild One and a One-off. But I kinda like his style – his childish joie-de-boom. I watch.

So this young fella hits the ball excitingly, intimidatingly hard but he is disruptive. He will complicate things. It’s not at all a given that I select him to go on for further – i.e. Regional Cricket level – sessions yet I remember very early on thinking that despite his occasionally hilarious rawness, Dylan had to play. Not because I wanted some pet project but because his batting (or rather his hitting) had crazy potential. He would be in on merit, because he’d get runs. That and yes, I did feel some responsibility and/or sympathy and/or huge opportunity much bigger than cricket was there, before us. It felt right and important to give the lad a chance.

That was all very well but from the first moment I also knew that I would have to choose a team to go on tour to Aberystwyth. Meaning 3 nights, four days away from home, with lots of patient waiting to bat or bowl and lots of Appropriate Behaviour in accommodation or dining hall. Etc etc. This would be massive.

Biggish for all the nine or ten year-olds in the group but Himalayan for Dylan. Hence further toing and froing.

He would be uncontrollable or kinda toxic. He would lose it, surely – shout or fart, not just in the shower, like the rest of us – but out there in front of the umpire or the tea lady… or he’d sling his bat at their coach or into the sunbathing mothers. Impossible to take him.

But I knew I should take him and I thought (after those entirely reasonable but also nightmarish doubts) we could make it work.

So I spoke to Ben Fields, who leads Pembrokeshire County Council Sport Development and to two Head Teachers and to my outstanding colleague and Cricket Development Officer Matt Freeman and we cooked up a plan to offer Dylan support. My comrade and manager, Rob Williams was typically up for the challenge so we just went for it – pushed for a wee bit of funding – and bingo.

The upshot was that a further responsible adult (Johnny T, a teacher from Dylan’s school) attended the Aberystwyth Festival alongside us with a brief to a) be a good bloke and b) watch over Dylan, discreetly. Both of which he did – superbly.

So, the Festival.

Helpfully, the weather was beyond glorious. We played all the scheduled cricket, we had a laugh and a surreal sing-song on the minibus. We launched ourselves into the Irish Sea, from Aber’s seafront jetty. We did the ice-cream and arcades thing. The whole gang – including parents – were magnificent and the memories really may last a lifetime.

Dylan participated fully and wholeheartedly. He was good company and only a pain in the arse when it came to muggins announcing the batting order. (I tend to name a few but try to rotate the opportunities around reasonably fairly, so am not in the habit of fixing an eleven, in case somebody bats for an age in a couple of games, thereby denying chances and necessitating changes.)

Dylan could not stop himself from asking me – in both direct and fascinatingly convoluted ways ‘who would be in after so-and-so?’ During one innings he asked maybe eight or ten times… during one innings!

He also struggles with the concept of fielding – taking the usual ten year old’s drift to new levels of estrangement. In his ideal world, Dylan would bat and bowl early, then play with anyone he can badger into bowling at him on the sidelines, before gloriously re-entering the fray. (Not that different from most club players, asitappens, but clearly something that complicates things.)

Dylan is a one-off and could not function within the same rules as everyone else. So of course we let him drift – under observation, or with encouragement to engage in something relatively calming or helpful or relevant. His contribution was hugely flawed; it bore no comparison to that of the other members of the team; but such comparisons are meaningless.

Let’s come to his achievements. (In doing so, I am conscious of the superb achievements of his fellow players and have some regrets that this is a story which bypasses them. I hope they and their parents will forgive me for that. The fabulous richness of their enjoyment was such that I’m sure that every minor man jack of them will be locked into cricket for life… and yet we are scorching on past.)

Dylan needs to feel his family are close. In several of our regional games he has quietly asked – maybe during a team-talk, maybe during the long wait to bat – if he could go and see his cousins or his mum. He needs to. For him to actually stay ‘away’ overnight, in his own room – even in the knowledge that the family have a hotel (to which he can retreat if necessary) within a handful of miles – was massive. He did that.

For Dylan to win over the fears and discomfitures of his fellow players and their families pretty completely – by being a laugh and a decent lad – was massive. He did that.

For Dylan to have come through the entire four days without creating any significant difficulty in terms of behaviour or relationships with any other party was massive – but exhausting for him. (He wobbled a little on the last, sweltering afternoon.)

At almost every moment I could feel the intensity of his energy, most of which I knew was being ferociously channelled (in his own rumbustious, amorphous way) into being good – or as good as he could be.

On the pitch, Dylan took two catches that half the team would have dropped and broke new ground with the bat. He scored 37 not out in our final game and smashed more boundaries than anyone else in our posse. He entertained us, with his beefy bludgeoning and his centrifugal anything-might-happenness. People cheered him on.

Crucially, he also showed us that he is trying like hell to learn proper cricketstuff; like playing with a straight bat (sometimes). Like showing a degree of circumspection previously completely unimaginable.

This latter stuff, for me, implies thought and maturation; development. Development like you wouldn’t believe! A rich universe of possibles, in fact, that the world seemed likely to deny him, because Dylan is Big and Boisterous and has weird faints and stuff – and Special Needs – and he ‘doesn’t listen!’

Except he has listened. Because the game’s gotten into him. The poor lad’s been seduced by the pure joy of hitting (and succeeding) and the camaraderie thing – being one of the gang with the gang finally becoming comfortable with that – with him!

Dylan was the lad who had lost the right to be taken anywhere, the right be really listened to. He had no hope of anything except more of the same, crushing, inevitable, well-earned ‘discipline.’ He was hoodlum-fodder: a Lost Boy. But now he’s winning.

Look we can’t say there won’t be more grief and difficulty ahead but we can say there’s something here that may offer a way out of trouble and isolation and failure to learn. Weirdly and wonderfully, that thing is cricket. A transformation, or at least the opportunity, the possibility of a staggering transformation, has begun. It’s massive.

 

Nailed it.

It’s about seizing your opportunity, right? Everything is. From winning the egg and spoon cos Emily tripped… to going through the group phase.

Tonight Glamorgan – they of tremendous white-ball surge complicated by oddly disfunctional 4-day form – can seize the day/egg/whatever by beating near-neighbours Somerset, before a home crowd, in cloudy/balmy Cardiff.

Come 6pm, with the Mochyn Ddu appropriately buzzing and the expectation just beginning to fizz, the Swalec looks, feels, sounds up for it.

Robert Croft is bundling his guys through a carousel of spookily match-relevant warm-ups. (Principally a rotation of catching/throwing fielding drills post the inevitable footie.) With bowlers having a thrash at what bowlers do (too).

Two things struck me as interesting here. Tait looked to be moving less than fluently – if not quite wincing then certainly stiff-backed – and there was a notably significant amount of care taken over measuring run-ups.

I wondered if Tait was leading this latter obsession, as Alpha Male in the pack. Were the other seasoned or less-seasoned pro’s simply falling in line behind the Aussie rocket-man… or was it nothing. Was it just me, *looking for meanings* to report?

Pre-game I did, as I do, look more at the Glammy Posse. But I did also note that as the Somerset bowlers warmed up, the ball was shifting around off the practice pitch. Noticeably. Who knows, at 18.43, if that means anything?

Glammy have opted to bowl. Hogan opens and first ball there’s a not entirely appreciative aaah in the Media Centre as van der Hugten appears to misjudge the flight of a ball eased out at him at Third Man. We thought maybe he could’ve got there. Somerset take seven off the over.

Then the Australian-Dutchman or Dutch-Australian charges in himself, from the Cathedral Rd End. He tests Jayawardene, threatening his heart, before the brilliant Sri Lankan carts him… before he’s caught! Almost too much drama too early; the visitors are 17 for 1 come the end of the second over.

Then Salter (Pembrokeshire’s finest!) stunningly and emphatically runs out Allenby in the third to peg Somerset back further, lifting the crowd to roars of approval. His side engulf him and the hwyl is notably up. The sun genuinely does burst through as if to confirm Glammy’s brightness.

Interestingly but not unusually Tait steps up several overs in. I’m personally struck by the relative ugliness of his movement but waddoo I know? He blasts out Trego’s off stump sharpish. Then soon after he has Hildreth dropped on nought by Wallace. Important, we wonder?

Van der Gugten, meanwhile, is apparently both in form and in favour. He opened up and before you can say Salford van Hire he’s switched ends to cruise then bolt belatedly to the crease from the Taff End. This is the seventh.

Tait is hit for successive fours in the 8th, by Myburgh. The game feels punchy-counterpunchy beyond the point at which Myburgh falls, caught Backward Point with Somerset at 70 for 4.

Whilst we are wondering where this leaves the Match Situation much sustained entertainment is provided by an encroaching squirrel. On the pitch for an age, poor love;  well, certainly long enough to have set up its own twitter account.

So, how to describe Tait’s movement? Steyn he ain’t – he’s more like an ageing knight- complete with armour. He walks/jogs like a bloke who’s either not a great athlete, or he’s suffered a few knocks in the jousts along the way.

Tait’s back in particular looks worryingly brittle but this may be the inevitable consequence of barely generating a gallop before absolutely hurling ’em down at 85-90 mph. His action appears almost all upper-body (or right shoulder) hoiking – as I’m sure they call it the trade.

Bit rich from an ageing seamer like myself to poke holes in the guy but Tait’s lack of agility both interests and slightly concerns me: late on his inability to sprint and reluctance to dive cost Glammy on one occasion in particular. Is he always this uncomfortable or is he struggling through something?

I must add that Tait contributed, significantly, with ball in hand.

(Fairly occasional) wrist-spinner Ingram bowls Rouse and at the halfway mark Somerset are 91 for 5. Glammy’s fielding generally has been good but not flawless. The feeling is they have to make the wickets column count – Somerset having maintained a half-decent scoring rate.

Rudolph brings himself on: 13 over score is 112 for 5.

Ingram has Gregory dancing down, with a ball that bewitches him by going straight on: Wallace juggling copiously before whipping off the bails.

Now, with the proverbial Not A Lot To Come the question lurches towards whether Glammy can kill this thing quickly? The answer comes back yes… probably, as Ingram dives rather theatrically to collect a c&b – in a double-wicket maiden that really should be The Defining Moment.

We’re in  the 15th – from Wagg – when Tait’s aforementioned lack of agility is responsible for an obvious missed catch at shortish fine leg. He does look like a man suffering back pain to me. He lumbers. However Tait is watchful and composed under the next one from Green, soon enough. In truth it’s the kind of catch you or I would have taken. (Yes really!)

Hilariously, the Glammy fans launch into an Icelandic (or Motherwellian) Hooh. It kinda peters out early but will surely be making an appearance at every sporting occasion near you for the next two/three years.

Donald then collects an easy one – steered thoughtfully straight at him by topscorer Hildreth – out to deepish midwicket. Wagg the bowler, the score now 131 for 8.

In truth throughout the Somerset innings, it’s been hard to get a grip on what things mean. They’ve scored reasonably freely; wickets have fallen. We can’t be sure if this a 140 or 170 wicket.

Distractions beyond the squirrel include Hogan ‘s disproportionately long legs. Could be the Glammy kit’s horizontal stripes don’t do him any favours in this regard but there are times when the two halves of his body do not appear to belong to the same bloke.

Also, we witnessed one of the shortest bouncers we’ve ever seen – courtesy of Graham Wagg. Inevitably, the ball having taken four minutes after the bounce to reach him, the batsman mistimed his shot woefully. Dot ball. Could this mark the origins  of another Cunning Plan, I wonder?

The crowd are enjoying it. In particularly fine voice to ‘500miles’. No doubt excitedly ready to Proclaim victory?

A second brilliant runout – this time from van der Gugten –  claims the final wicket and Somerset are all out for 152. Meaning runs on the board; quite a lot of them. An unquantifiable bundle of them. Still don’t know where the game’s at.

Allenby – former Glammy player who left under circumstances that were regarded by many as rather messy – opens up for Somerset. Followed by van Meekeren. Glammy bustle rather than bludgeon. 11 for nought after 2.

There’s another immediate change as Gregory comes in. Wallace is struggling to time the ball. Lloyd appears initially not much better: he slashes at one which almost carries to Jayawardene at slip. Almost. Wallace finally connects nicely enough with a pull to backward square leg and follows that with a steer over point before skying one rather painfully and departing medium crestfallen. The score moves on to 33 for 1 after 4. About par?

About nine (p.m.) and Lloyd now also gone. Golden Boy Donald in. Crowd launching into Sweet Caroline. Glammy 2 down, needing just over seven an over. Good right/left combination with Ingram at the other end. The universe is thinking Glamorgan should be okay.

Donald and Ingram continue in mature, skilled, play-within-ourselves-but-get-this-thing-done mode, punctuated by an occasional piece of violent exuberance. It’s excellent. It does feel like they may win this themselves…

Donald has a characteristic slaaaap across to midwicket. He part smothers, part smooths it out there. In the 15th over, that one shot threatens to dismiss tonight’s opposition. Thought strikes they won’t be the last.

Had been 108 for 2 off 12. Then 134 for 2 off 16.

Ingram finally goes for 54, slightly miscuing. Shame he couldn’t be there to the death but again he’s provided the spine to the innings.

With only a dozen needed at this point, the skipper – now entering – should be the ideal man to nudge this to a conclusion. This hasn’t exactly been a procession but the crowd take the opportunity to express the pre-triumphant moment, like many before them, with a cacophonous ‘Hey Jude.’

Glammy get home. Ultimately that young lad Donald has carried his bat for 44 and in the process again looked classy rather more than he has looked belligerent (as he was up in Conwy earlier in the week.)

#YoungNye once more contributed with a calm and control that will have folks talking about him: folks who select the national team, probably. The win ensures that Glamorgan have a quarter final in the bag and need only to win once more (or for Middlesex to lose) to nab that heavily-prized home fixture in the next phase. Good night, then, for Crofty and co.

Finally I am reliably informed that Glammy have attracted greater numbers this t20 season than last. Quite right too. And that 7,596 attended tonight’s fixture. The Swalec did sound like a place where a kosher and indeed biggish sports event was occurring. Which is nice – and necessary.

A Year in the Life of…

May seem weird to some of you but most of my work for the year is done. Which is why I’m writing this from the medium-strength comfort of a leathery settee in a very pleasant caff in St Davids – @orielyparc, if you must know – where, as well as putting away a more than acceptable veggy tagine, I’m reflecting on stuff.

But hang on – how come that thing about the work?

It’s because I’m (mainly) a cricket coach and (mainly) I go into schools. And the bulk of that work builds towards festivals and they are all done.

Sure it’s true that there are other reasons, other venues for my cricketstuff; sure I will be leading a tour in August and there will be @cricketmanwales-prompted activity come September through the winter but broadly – broadly – the energy has been dolloped already.

In this sub post-coital moment, I find myself stepping outside and viewing my crazy sporty life bundle as though it’s someone else’s – or somehow dreamily extra-me? Weighing up again and maybe luxuriating in the fabulousness or fascination of much of what’s happened. It feels good. It feels like a year’s worth of work.

I suppose it began last September, with the start of the new school year. I work for Cricket Wales, meaning I have a schedule and pretty clear objectives but at this moment, sans diary, I have no real idea what I did when, or in what order things happened, so apols if this sounds unhelpfully amorphous.

Treat it as a highlights package, or another ‘5 Things I can slap down, sharpish’ – a contemporary way in to the stories. Or perhaps a remembrance of how things feel, looking back.

I know again that because this is personal there’s the possibility it’s also wildly egocentric but I’m both too old and too committed to care about how I might be judged in this. I’m well-content to look you all in the eye and say that this is about the value of the sport, endof. I am clear – defiantly and kindof proudly clear – that there has been value.

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So highlights include the following; a first ever morning with allegedly challenging kids at a medium-notorious school; the impact of a few hub sessions on one single child; the festivals; being gobsmacked by a particular talent; the possibility that another individual with particular needs *just might* do that ugly duckling-to-swan thing, following brilliant support from a tranche of Sports Development folks and a Headteacher or two.

That first morning with children at a ‘school with challenges’ was and is a sensational place to start.

I’ve since been told that some sporty peeps actively swerve this establishment but I found it raw inspiring. The kids absolutely bought my daft-friendly engagement; the alleged hooligans hurling their energy into zapping, kappowing or listening out for the hikes in the challenge. If my faith in the Power of the Game ever needed re-booting, these children did that… and more.

We’d simply gotten busy together. Yep, it was mildly anarchic when 30something balls were flying about but because we kept driving forwards through the games (and because mostly they ALL had a ball!) we smashed that behaviour issue out of the park.

When the kids went back in the Headteacher came out to ask me what the hell I’d done to them, such was the mad-healthy buzz flashing through. It was a reminder that a) I’m in the right job b) making kids feel heard/encouraging them is still the greatest, most mutually-uplifting experience.

There was actually maybe a year’s worth of good done in that single morning: simply credit the game.

The second highlight I wrote about in ‘Just one experience’. Read that. Or note again my utter conviction that revelatory changes can and do happen when coaches or teachers go right past the apparent ability of a given child. When they open up possibilities by being a pal and by (sorry for the over-clunky coachification here) incrementally increasing appropriate challenges.

The child in this instance went from being a silent non-participant to having a go at almost everything – and I’m not just talking sport, here.

Where once there was no capacity to dare or risk involvement, over a few weekly sessions a whole new language of confidence emerged – all without that child being ‘singled out’ as the one who needed special attention. (My strong suspicion is this child’s relationships with sport/school/society were transformed because the encouragement was deeply subtle.) Whichever way something massive happened.

Our Cricket Wales Festivals are soo-perb days out for the kids – and for me. They are nearly all based around the kwik cricket, eight player, four batting pairs format where every player bowls a single over. They are both genuinely spiced with competitive spirit and a lovely, therapeutic escape from school.

There are flags or banners, pitches tend to be marked out ‘properly’ and we ring the boundaries with cones so it does feel like a kosher occasion. There is adrenalin. Importantly, there are  two fundamental breeds of festival, one being for the school’s best players of either sex, the other being just for girls. Proper cricket breaks out in both; crap cricket occurs in both; kids kinda grow in both.

They grow because they are stretched and possibly tested – and I use that word particularly advisedly. Festivals are dynamic and teamy and communal and individually liberating whilst they are challenging. They are places for picnics and giggles and fleeting disappointments and daft glories. Kids love them and so do I.

In one such festival I nearly got felled by the most incredible bit of fielding. The batter had clattered something out to deep midwicket, where the most athletic gather was followed by the most exciting long throw I’ve seen in years.

I can barely describe the combination of grace, power and laser-like accuracy expressed in that stunning moment. Partly because the fielder was a thirteen year-old girl (and I really have to choose my words carefully for fear of sounding frankly a bit pervy) and partly because I was and remain simply shocked at the quality of the work.

I’d not seen or met this girl before but from what I saw in the next half-hour, she’s a nailed-on international athlete, or should be. Her talent spoke of skills that were brilliant but raw – that throw being a spike of genius in an on-off matrix which bore witness (amongst other wonderful things) to a clear unfamiliarity with cricket. Making it all the more exciting!

So I ‘discovered’ somebody? No. Or yes and no. Yes this girl is absolutely dynamite; no, I don’t think she’s either playing or going to play regular cricket. I’m fine with that, too – as long as she’s expressing that brilliance somewhere.

The point of this is that festivals (that sport) can stun us, delight us, blow us away simply by providing the forum, the opportunity, the bat, the ball.

My final ‘moment’ must be wrapped in much care and discretion. All I will say is that someone young who spends most of their life on the receiving end of bollockings (because their behaviour is continually twitching back to mad-naughty) may get a chance to break out. To show the universe they have value. It’s a gamble a few of us are playing… because the kid has talent.

We all have talent. We all have stories. We most of us find a way of expressing just some of that – more or less. How great to be in the business of enabling that gift.

Contemplating my navel and my ‘bag’, I’m re-enthused and genuinely grateful. I’m so-o in on the game, so aware of its invincible goodness. One deep breath and I’ll be playing again.

 

 

 

 

Glamorgan – the players.

If you visit Glamorgan County Cricket you may or may not come across the following people. I did – because I sought them out – having become abstractly aware of either powerfully altruistic or economically necessary forces at the club moving to accommodate, entertain and welcome the fan, the visitor.

All of which sounds like something from a pamphlet you just might not want to read. And some of which sounds like the forces – or policy – at work were unknown to me. They were, pretty much.

But get this: I knew there would be stories behind both the individuals themselves and the process of deciding what Glamorgan can or should *actually do*. I knew those stories would be seductively ‘human’ and point towards the really tough issues and choices County Cricket has to face. I was interested to know more about the process of capturing and sustaining support when the economic facts are frankly pretty scary.

I had a gut feeling that Glammy were doing lots of things right – whatever that means – but had no real concept of how any strategy they might have for ‘engagement’ (or similar) was enacted. It was somewhere between refreshingly fab and downright inspiring to see this all in action.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been to three recent #T20Blast games at SSE Swalec and this has provided the time and the contact with individuals to pull together a fair overview of the various elements we might reasonably lump under the heading Visitor Experience. Which again, unfortunately sounds like something out of a pamphlet but if I learned anything during my visits it was surely that what’s going on at Glamorgan definitely transcends well-meaning corporate dogma. Inevitably, it’s about people doing stuff naturally well.

So I’m following this up because I think the county’s energy around this is fabulous and because I met some great people trying to absolutely nail that Visitor Experience thing – under real pressure from the zillion factors challenging cricket generally and the tighter issues specific to Cardiff and/or Wales. Also… I reckon there are things which might be learnt, here.

I’ve said before that I absolutely consider myself a sportsman not a salesman but clearly have to acknowledge the drift towards either sycophancy or corporate messaging here. But I can live with the thought (your thought?) that @cricketmanwales ‘would say that’… if you will hear me out.

I am clear, in short, that Glamorgan are doing an exemplary job in many respects of trying (*trying!*) to keep their rather lovely Taff-side ship afloat. Having really looked at what’s being done, I am more committed than ever to support that mission. Having met and spoken at some length to the off-pitch players involved, I know it’s a brilliant, dynamic and what us sporty-zealots might call top-top righteous project.

Let’s meet just some of the people that might in another era be labelled The Backroom Staff. (Apologies if your kit or mine isn’t up to supporting the following slideshow. If necessary please feel free to use your imagination.)

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The Scorer.

Except he really isn’t just The Scorer. Dr Andrew Hignell is a much bigger, more all-round presence than that.  He does lead the team of scorers for Glamorgan CC but is also the archivist, museum man, the guided tour man, the lighter-up of wee visitors man. He educates, he is the voice of authority and one of the key links between incoming children and rich, often uplifting experience. Andrew Hignell, for Glammy, scores over the full three-sixty.

Like several of the good folks I spoke to, the doctor has a history in teaching. He also has a lifetime’s worth of interest – interest? Seems such an inadequate word! – in cricket. Like myself he visibly feeds off a) stories around the game and b) the broad understanding that we can make things better by offering a way into sport. Mr Hignell doesn’t need too many lessons from the Communications Posse about the ‘need to engage.’ The messages ooze from him – about opportunity, personal growth, communal expression, development – The Scorer understands life that way.

The Volunteer. (Of which there about 40, it seems.)

Typically public-spirited, open, friendly. Maybe patrolling a particular beat with a particular task; welcoming folks in, proffering freebies and yes, a smile – answering questions.

Volunteers I met included a teacher who ‘happened to be’ a big cricket fan, doing this ‘for enjoyment and to support the club’. He was gifting out luminously iconic headgear genuinely cheerily. He was talking with and listening to fans. Like a teacher free to banter. He was skilled and friendly.

Volunteers are unpaid. Some also prop up other local events/other sports, meaning they’re not necessarily cricket fans, more people who get that thing about putting something back – being sociable. They’re plainly essential and invaluable and I do know the Glammy hierarchy is conscious of how fortunate they are to have such gorgeously generous humans out there batting for them in the fanzone or at the foot of the stairs. The V men and women did tell me they love doing their occasional, part-time cricket-thing. I hope they do.

The M.C.

James is the face and the voice on #T20Blast night. Sickeningly handsome, impressively well-prepared and researched. Young but with presenting work for the ICC (amongst others) in his locker, James interacts with and leads the crowd through their evening at Glamorgan.

This isn’t just a matter of drawing out the most intimidating bawl the locals can offer their opposition. James links with the Communications Team’s work on screens and audio to try to raise the whole experience. He also conducts interviews and the like. We spoke at some length about the challenges and the need to be friendly, entertaining, professional – to in some way replicate the extravaganzatastic Sky Sports mode.

James is a free-lancer contracted in to cover the T20 games. He is not, however, a part-timer in terms of his commitment to and understanding of this unwritten(?) Glamorgan Visitor Experience project. People expect things. Crowds maybe in particular. Again, under pressure and in the spotlight it’s this young man’s job to project a kind of welcoming, entertaining Big League legitimacy. He nails it.

The Engagement Man.

Former player Mark Frost, most recently seen darting from The SSE Swalec in full black tie ‘n DJ kit to attend an awards night on Glamorgan’s behalf, is Community & Development Manager. He in fact splits his time between roles at both Glammy and Cricket Wales – it being decided a year or so ago that this literal joining of the two cricket clans would be beneficial to both.

Mark has been central to the establishment of a diverse but increasingly focussed web of activity aimed at increasing or strengthening the profile and presence of the game in Wales and (thereby) building support at Glamorgan CCC. This implies work over a spectacular range; from diversity projects to local club mentoring to sorting the blokes with the climbing wall.

Of course Mark is not alone in this. I’m singling him out partly because I have a photo of him dressed up to the proverbial nines – he collected another award for Glammy that evening, by the way – and partly because it feels like he is driving the policy towards brilliant engagement at the stadium.

I’ve not yet mentioned the 100 catering staff who were there on match-night last Friday, or the Activators, or the guys (players) signing autographs. Nor the rugby fellas, nor the receptionists battling with a failing phone system, never mind the folks whose job it is to actually organise and/or present the Glammy Show – those in Comms/Groundstaff etc. These people are all essential to the offer – the multiple award-winning offer that Glamorgan are making.

I aim to find out more about how things are decided; what the policy that I feel being played out so well looks like and where exactly it comes from. Meantimes I want to say a big thank you and an old-school-but-genuine congratulations to all those playing their part.

Contributions.

The sun.  The Steyn.  The promise.

The SSE Swalec on a Friday night, lifting with possibilities – most of which feel good to the locals.  Even the thought of seeing Sangakkara.

Glammy are on a surge and the evening is fair.  The fanzone has been bubbling with children (in particular) and the vibe is generous and busy, so I get to wandering and this turns out stories.  Off-the-pitch cricket stories.

I’ll declare an interest and then we can move on swiftly.  I work for Cricket Wales as a coach and in So-shul Meedya so I’ll concede an inclination to support Glamorgan.  I’m also an independent thinker and a do-er of sportystuff which makes me too vital (honest) to offer up some lame sales pitch.  You’ve come this far; have a listen.

Tonight I’m drawn to look at the energy around the mob – to the folks who are contributing to what I’m going to call Glammy In The Abstract.  The family, the workers, the Activators, the people who charge up the battery of the thing.

Why would I do that when Glammy are flying high and Steyn is materially committed and Surrey are Biggish Beasts and the game arguably if not massively key?  Why go outside the pitch for anything?

Because a) maybe the universe needs to hear these things b) there are shared challenges here c) my hunch is Glamorgan are top of this experience table too.  Or bolting for that summit.

This afternoon and tonight I’ve spoken at length to Volunteers – capital V ab-so-lutely justified – caterers, front of house peeps and the bloke who Fixes Everything.  To the scorer, the umpires, the compere and half the folks with their hands on the punter-buttons.  A rareish richish positive picture emerges.  (I’m not necessarily going to argue that this is unique but I am going to bang on briefly about its brilliance.)

There’s something really good going on. From that scorer/museum curator/educator/facilitator of epiphanies Dr Andrew Hignell to the Volunteers and Activators out welcoming kids, brandishing the un-coolest wigs in the history of headgear.

My admittedly hugely un-scientific research confirms that somehow they all get it, this need to maximise, to welcome, to hook.  And what I like and what feels particularly gratifying is that despite the inevitable presence of motivational mantras deep in the subconscious of all this – the hint of entirely appropriate and forward-thinking policy – this feels predicated on the human touch.  Being friendly.  Being helpful.  Being game.

This is not to say that everybody’s bought instinctively into some fabulously post-corporate or corporate-free idyll.  It’s a company!  It’s a business!  But what feels refreshingly clear is the commitment not just to sales but to (that word again) experience.

I’m going to delve further into this sometime.  For now I’m going to just put out there that I rate the use of ambassadors and Volunteers and the golf and the rugby and the climbing wall and the free-form cricket knockabout and the players signing bats and the fount-of-all-knowledge that is Dewi’s Den in the fanzone.

Glamorgan are not so much pulling out all the stops as inventing them.  The energy is awesomely good – if I thought I could get away with it in a cynical world I’d say they deserve to succeed.

Suddenly I’m into the game.  Steyn’s brisk but pensive walk back to his mark.  His right mitt wafting – doing that restrained jazz-hands thing.  His beautifully controlled, swift, even-but-swift run.  Steyn, on his final sprint in this spell (he said, implying the South African Great must surely return) looking hawk-like, predatory, expectant.  His contribution tonight includes comprehensively skittling a Curran but more generally and maybe significantly raising the heat out there and in the stands in the way that only truly elite fast bowlers can.

30 for 3. Mixed feelings as Sangakkara is gone, via a triumphantly elasticated star-jump of a catch from Cooke.  But momentum lurch.  Then a frankly fairly amateurish run-out gifts Glammy their fourth wicket and we’re entering steamroller territory – whoever bowls squishes out a wicket.

Soon it’s 74 for 6 as Ansari is caught and bowled by Cosker, who’s firing it in there, challenging, enjoying the luxury of chasing wickets.  The locals – on and off the park – are starting to swagger.  (Or possibly stagger.)

As so often when the feeling’s this good there’s no keeping a lid on it.  The crowd is somewhere between amiably boorish and full-on ecstatic and the home players tap into that.  We know we’re less than halfway through this but… another win feels nailed-on.

The attendance, by the way, is somewhere over the 4,500 mark – enough to register – but my report will have to read Could Do Better.  Not that I’m going back to that woolly argument re meritocracies and spiritual justice: I’m just urging Wales to Feel The (other, Bale-less) Surge.

19 overs in and Surrey – who are Big, who are London, who are loaded up with Bravo and Sangakkara and stuff – are 110 all out.

The world nips to the loo and the bar then Lloyd goes caught behind in the first over from Curran. Minor blip.  It’s 42 for 1 off 6/74 for 1 off 11.  The skipper, whilst still not looking wholly fluent, middles a few and remains undefeated alongside his compatriot Mr Ingram as Glammy proceed to the genuinely inevitable conclusion.

Rudolph rightly plays the supporting role as Ingram, without needing to engage his favoured missile-launching mode, goes sufficiently ballistic to dismiss the visitors in a way I suspect the watching Alec Stewart will not enjoy.  Glamorgan, meanwhile, surge on.

Earlier, I’d met some friendly South African fella in borderline shorts looking mildly lost around the rear of the corporate boxes.  Colin Ingram’s dad.  I said something chirpy about how he must be enjoying watching his son’s hot streak: he confirmed ‘Col’s loving it here now’.

As I wandered back out to see the Volunteers and the youngsters in the sunshine I thought… yeh.  Feels good.  Why wouldn’t he?  .

 

#Steynwatch2 (featuring Nye Donald!)

For the second match in a row, the boy Donald may have stolen the story. Not that I actually arrived with something planned – how could you? But maybe I’d *thought to* go with a #Steynwatch2, something along the lines of Steyn Has Landed. Then stuff about his greatness and his penchant for fishing.

Aneurin nibbles into that. As does the fella Ingram.

6pm at the Swalec. Warmer tonight than against Essex. First thought? Will this free up the local pacemen’s actions and by implication, give Steyn and Van der Gugten just that wee bit of a lift, or will it merely temper the pitch and soften things up?

I say local but the miles travelled and consequent environmental damage trailing behind Glammy’s strikemen give the lie to concepts such as this. They are guilty as charged by the Climate Change Lobby and yet… I can’t help loving them.

There may yet be a truly dynamic and exciting and destructive duo awaiting their moment and I am therefore am only momentarily torn in regard to their provenance and to any diabolical implications around their shocking inability to be born in Bridgend. More than that, I remain pret-ty close to thrilled at the prospect of seeing a hopefully settled-in Steyn and a Boy Wunda With Something to Prove charge in. Together – or one after the other. In the sun.

At 6.17, I’m counting down the moments.

Up in the really rather magnificent Media Centre, we hear that Glamorgan won the toss and are bowling. Which means I only have 13 minutes to wait. I spend the next four trying to work out if Dom – Glammy Social Media Dude – is winding us up on this. (He may have sensed me twitching, which leads me to a…

Question: could a fast  bowler obsessive be called a twitcher? There is, after all, something hawkishly fabulous about Dale Steyn. Ok, onward.)

Time is both racing and surreally juddering as a bloke with a bewildering array of keepie-uppie skills fills the void before that next Steyn Moment by doing his thing right there in front of us, on the pitch. With a football and his cap. Then Glammy emerge, followed by James Vince and Michael Carberry, no less. Meaning this is a proper significant challenge.

Will Dale-bach be ready? And (Donald having shelled one on Wednesday) will his slips?

There are less fireworks, first up, than against the Eagles. Steyn  bowls two goodish balls which draw nothing too adventurous from Vince, but then the Hampshire skipper eases the third through the covers for an undemonstrative four. It may have been a tad overpitched. He comes back with a sharp one outside off which Carberry wafts poorly at… but there’s no contact. A quietish over then.

Van der Gugten starts with a mixed bag. Attacks the crease, smacks the pitch but two or three are simply too hittable – being around the hip or shortish/wideish. Two boundaries result. He does however finish with an absolute peach; quick, lively and full – a wicket-taking ball which took no wicket. It does feel as though these guys do just need that moment of good fortune to ignite the Maestro/Apprentice Thing.

Steyn’s second over is decent but not hugely threatening. Hampshire have gone on to 26 for nought. Van der Gugten, meanwhile, takes an immediate rest.

Hogan steps in and gets Carberry, top-edging and maybe a little cramped; or lazy. Then he destroys Adams with a quick cutter which surely has clattered the stumps. But no. Unreal. 35 for 1 off 4.

Van der Gugten switches, in fact, to the Cathedral Road End. There’s the sense that he’s just *trying too hard* – or is that something folks just say when things go slightly unproductively? (It did seem like he’s really forcing towards a full length, when perhaps his natural length is shortish, darting or slamming towards the heart?)

Hogan bowls Vince with a stunning yorker and the thought occurs that maybe these Johnny Come Latelys are inevitably going to spike the competitive fury of some of their comrades. And that Hogan’s bouncy run has turned bouncier. The fella’s fist-pump at the wicket maybe hinted at that re-invigoration: he bowls great, tonight.

Wagg then easily pockets a skier from the bowling of Wagg and with Hampshire at 51 for 3 off 7 the game feels poised. I ask myself if it matters that neither Van der Gugten or Steyn have yet (yaknow) struck and struggle with the idea that actually yes it might – in the longer term.

When Hants lose another to a lame doink into the loveliest of Cardiff skies – this time Meschede benefitting – that need to massage the egos of the strike bowlers arguably recedes. Glammy are apparently okay without them. Who knew?

When the threatening Wheater is stumped Cooke bowled Cosker for 39 that a) feels good to the locals but b) brings in Shahid  Afridi. *Surprisingly*, he looks to club Cosker down the ground  but with limited success. The game progresses but the subtext (that story re the strike-bowlers who don’t seem to be striking yet) remains a goer.

Afridi – the inevitable sideshow(+) does then pat Wagg over midwicket for 6. The score moves to 107 for 5 after 14. And there is clearly a game, here.

Hogan returns to bowl the 15th and immediately claims a ‘typically’ t20 wicket – the batsman trying to do eight different, preconceived and unnecessary things with the ball…and getting rather limply caught.

Steyn returns to bowl the 17th. Two men out. He goes very quick but marginally down leg. It scuffs something maybe but it’s no event.

Then… The SOUTH AFRICAN LEGEND CLAIMS HIS FIRST GLAMMY WICKET with one that clips something on the way through. He backs that up with two very full and straight – the first of which almost *seriously inconveniences* Darren Sammy. Great contest now, as Sammy and Afridi face a distinctly waspish Steyn.

Hogan is back again, justifiably, looking in his pomp, for the 18th. BoomBoom smashes at everything, profiting until he drives one straight at deep mid-off. Hampshire now 136 for 8 as Steyn comes back for his fourth.

He claims Andrew caught behind with a shortish delivery that the batsman parries at fatally awkwardly. Then Tino Best can’t cope with a snorting full-lengther and is comprehensively leg before. This is timely and encouraging, ‘psychologically’ as Hants are done, on 141 and Dale-bach has therefore made the telling, innings-concluding contribution that he was bought to make. (No pressure.)

On reflection we must of course insert the fact that Hogan got 4 wickets to Steyn’s 3. We should also note again the energy and craft the (ahem) Senior Seamer brought to his work tonight.

However I suspect even Hogan would forgive our obsessing with Mr Steyn. Because that, if you remember was our subtext.

So, how was it for the electrifying new signing, with presumably the fattest contract in the Glammy Posse? Where did tonight take him? In a word, forward.

Is it mindcrushingly dumb to wonder if it’s the case that even legends – owners of the proverbial t-shirts – must feel relieved, feel better when they’ve justifed the fee/cheered the paying public/earned their crust? Surely they must?

Steyn looked fit, committed and focussed. And tonight he struck.

In reply to that 141, Glamorgan again started badly. The captain Rudolph is in danger of playing his way out of the side, having exited early-early again. As was the case in the Essex game, the innings steadied and then built around Donald, partnered ably by Ingram in this instance.

Glam were 63 for 2 off 6, with Ingram and Donald both on 28. Something in the ether felt with them, felt good – matchwinningly good – already.

After being dropped by Sammy out at deep midwicket, the latter went on to his highest t20 score, of 55. In doing so he hiked up both his reputation as a starlet-to-watch and the expectation around him. Donald’s manner and level of comfort against the likes of Tino Best was… impressive. Expect him to shine on rather than fizzle: this was his second consecutive Man-of-the-Match award.

Ingram, in belligerent mood, departed on 43 with the score at 108 for 4 off 12. All that remained was for Cooke to steer Glamorgan home.

The final blow was emphatically despatched through midwicket for four and the crowd of 6,100 duly celebrated. It was an important win in terms of momentum and the gathering in of any substantive support for a tilt towards bigger games, bigger money.

It was also a night when Dale Steyn began to make the mark that we want, he wants and Huw Morris gambled on.

 

 

 

#Steynwatch.

It may be that somebody offered him salmon-fishing rights on the Wye. It may be simply that him and Jacques-bach are soul-brothers, or close enough to want to hang together. It certainly seems to be that Mr Steyn was (whisper it) behind a certain Morne Morkel in the queue… and yet.

Whichever way the arrival in Cardiff of one of the great strike bowlers of the last generation feels major. Like a real story, like some kind of dream: ‘beyond, mun’.

But unless our eyes have deceived us, the Proper Quick South African has indeed been transported into our midst, pausing only to check out the Taff for encouraging ripples.

In the football warm-up, he looks relaxed and happy to jog around, with frankly little evidence of the elite- level threat he poses when that smaller, more familiar pill nestles in his right hand. He seems rather smiley and good-natured, in fact.

Things change a little when the fielding drills start. That arm twitches and flexes – begins to unfurl. We watch and hope (along with his coach, no doubt) that he’s warmed right through.

Later he’ll be mean, or rather purposeful and muscular in exactly the kind of way you’d expect. Like a slightly nastier (and slightly-but-crucially quicker) Anderson. And at the moment of this later, without sounding too weird, it’s mildly electrifying just looking at the bloke at the top of his run. Dale Steyn. Here. At Glammy.

Of course we could come over all cynical and hypothesize about the further trampling of everything that’s dear to us, by the relentless march of capitalism. And later we may. But for now (6pm) I prefer to plug into the charge and live a little off of it. He could well (couldn’t he?) turn out to be One a The Boys, get the whole Being Welsh thing, move into a semi in Aberdare and see out his career at the Swalec. So let’s enjoy! It’s Dale Steyn, mun!

Chill; cut through the businessness and the jetlagness of all this and watch the fella bowl. Without over-theorising or even noting the alleged facts about him not turning that tattooed arm over much, for yonks, because either other tactical choices were there or batsmen failed to recognise the threat that is Dale Steyn and hoiked him around the park a bit. Yes – cut out the background noise – simple tends to be good, right?

In truth, pre-arriving at the Swalec, the only in-depth analysis I allowed myself was on the #ohtimmytimmy issue. How might a Steyn/van der Gugten strike force gel? (If indeed they line up together?)

Might Glammy’s new-new legend (Dale) fire up the storm first, or might the fledgling legend step up and make some brilliantly bold, boyishly challenging statement, aimed at Dale and his coach, as well as Bopara and co?

Were/are the two Glammy quicks going to *get on famously* or will Crofty need to manage some diplomatic issue behind the scenes?

And are they actually both going to play?

Surely!

Fast forward an hour and yes they are but turns out Glammy bat first, so speculation re the pecking order is immediately less significant than whether Rudolph’s slash to cover carried or not. Ump says ‘yes’ so out strolls the skipper for another disappointingly measly score.

As he’s followed fairly promptly by Lloyd the early signs aren’t good but the cool, thick air and spongy outfield suggest this could be a bowler’s night. Tough to predict a par score in this autumnal chill.

Meanwhile (because there were other folks on the pitch), some of us were momentarily mildly diverted by Quinn (of Essex) – seen live for the first time, I confess. He proves good value. Not only did he slamdunk two bouncers unplayably high in his opening overs but his movement generally suggested stiltwalking of a rather under-rehearsed kind. He was, however, hugely willing in the field – the kind of bloke you really love if he’s one of yours.

Glammy stutter. Ingram smashes one to mid-off, who catches with nonchalant focus well above his head. The runrate is not special; the home fans are shuffling somewhat, in their seats.

There follows the highlight of the Glamorgan innings by some distance; young Donald playing a skilled, mixed, mature knock employing an impressive variety of strokes – most of which looked like Authentic Cricket. He gets a deserved 50. Glammy get to 140 but by any measure this does feel light.

The change of innings either goes too quickly or I’m simply not psychologically ready for the next bit. The bit I travelled for.

Steyn opens up… and starts with a pearler. Immaculate fourth stump line with a shade of drift. Cruelly, it’s Donald who drops the sharpish but straightforward chance at slip. Very first ball.

I get most of the way through the thought that ‘this is what we want’ when Steyn backs that up with another which breezes past the outside edge. He’s moving nicely. Okaaay it looks quickish rather than frightening; two straight balls are caressed through the on side by Bopara – one for four. Honours even.

Van der Gugten then comes haring in from the Riverside End. Heavier in the chest, perhaps he bowls a tad quicker than Steyn, accelerating sharply as he approaches the crease, dander markedly up. He nails Bopara (caught behind) in his first over.

But then things change: what the bowlers are doing seems suddenly irrelevant. Ryder’s hands simply take charge – respecting neither the Maestro nor the Young Pretender. There’s one of those shifts in momentum that feels decisive… until you check the overs total… and it says 5. Time yet.

The game is inexplosive but yes, we’re muttering that Essex have established what feels like a measure of control but when Ryder is brilliantly caught at mid-on, we wonder.

Steyn returns, having switched ends, looking fired-up, but is immediately dispatched for four through cover point. He means it now, though – running in freely and with intent. We like this, this smacks of determination and Proud Man Earning Living rather than Soldier of Fortune. He looks an athlete, he looks game.

Sadly, it just doesn’t quite happen for him. The man is patently unlucky more than once as the batsmen go airborne (but) generally the Eagles are steering the ball into space and easing towards the win.

When TimmyTimmy fluffs a stop out in the deep and another four is etched against Steyn’s name, he’s entitled to be disappointed; this is not going to be a glorious, victorious entrance. He fires down just that one over – his third – and then it’s all change again as Glammy run through the carousel of bowlers in search of that ‘critical’ breakthrough.

Strangely, Westley gifts them that when heaving and missing. But it’s too late, in tactical terms to bring out the quicks again – too few runs to play with. Essex are 101 for 3 off 12 at this point; they need only 38 for the win.

Soon enough, they get them – with 22 balls to spare.

So we had a whiff of something brilliant. Steyn’s first two deliveries were top; his third over was sharp, rhythmic, committed. Let’s hope he gets some luck.