The Final Clonk.

Come the final clonk, was it just my thoughts that turned to Taunton? To Maynard and Trescothick and Rogers? In that shockingly brilliant, acutely personal moment of triumph for Toby Roland-Jones, forgive me but I went briefly, instinctively west.

This had nothing to do with declaration bowling. Although I recognise there will be the darkest of mutterings around the slippage from mid-afternoon phoney war towards that controversial buffet.

I could live with the idea that Yorkshire needed to leave a door swinging wide open to invite some opportunity, some *momentum* into the game. We’d all maybe prefer that spell of strategic engineering  just didn’t need to happen… but it did. And most of those bleating or tweeting about it would surely have done the same, were they in that position. Let’s move on from that.

The reason I personally thought less of Finn and co and more of Maynard’s spirited gang has something to do with abstracted, sentimental stuff. (Is that legit – legit enough to write about, by the way? And really, was it just me?)

I think, having met him, there’s something very real and likeable and tough about Maynard. He’s a bit blokey, bit beery but he’s kindof emphatically proper cricket – undeniably, somehow. My hunch is that he has something powerful and inspiring he can draw upon… and that most players receive that.

Throw in Trescothick’s delightful yeoman/stalwart/daylong-honest thing and Rodgers squat, godlike committed Aussie Senior Pro, sling in a dash of cider and how could you fail to be seduced? Maynard’s Zummerzet are scrumpaciously great plus they were the outsiders-on-a-charge. I rest my addled case.

But that’s all a bit daft. Roland-Jones won the Championship with a flamin’ hat-trick. The Beeb reckoned there were 7,000 people PLUS the members there so – no excuses – it’s goddabe all about Lords. And a truly extraordinary finish. Yorkshire, having delivered a whole load of Northern Grit did ultimately get skewered by a genuinely formidable and (let’s not forget) equally gutsy Middlesex side. Critically, the manner of all this was somewhere between fabulous and mythic.

All of us – even those absolutely behind the rush into City Cricket – can celebrate this. The Championship beating it’s heaving chest, roaring with life. Tall as Finn, hearty as Bresnan, floppy and human and frenetic as Sidebottom. Lovable and real and definitely, profoundly not dead.

Proper cricket breaking out of its own hashtag. Being a force, being defiantly, unhelpfully, pointedly and magnificently alive; not to be ignored. All of us can celebrate that, however it may colour or complicate *negotiations*. Lords was wonderful, today.

Today? When it seems years since Gubbins marched out; since Bresnan re-took that guard. Surely the ebbs and flows and dead waters of a moony calendar month have passed since start of play this morning? But no. It’s just been a gargantuan stream  of stories, unthreading, stalling, threading towards the impossible.

The end-stop, then was appropriately, outlandishly, shockingly live. Live as in noteworthy, live as in profoundly watchable, live as in some beautiful exemplar. And despite the jarring, blurring, hyperintensity of the hat-trick moment, it felt like proper cricket. Because proper cricket (though allegedly lacking the pull, the draw of other sports or formats) can be magic. Don’t forget that.


The state of play.

Look we all know it’s ludicrous to go making comparisons. Between sports. Particularly when we go charging across the nations and the generations. But it’s also part of the fun. We’ve all (haven’t we?) illuminatingly weighed up Derek Randall and Theo Walcott, Andy Murray and Colin Montgomery, Michael Holding and Chris Ashton. Today feels like a day for a bit of all that.

Could be because rugby’s just rhino-charged back into the national consciousness – on a weekend where England play cricket in Cardiff. Plus (just to put the tin hat on the surreality of it all) Big Sam’s generally pitiful army start yet another World Cup campaign. So we’re entitled to drown in our own distracted chatter; aren’t we? Good.

Let’s start with the cricket.

As I write, England are going about their One-Day business, in pretty confident expectation of blitzing Pakistan in an entertaining but one-sided series. Blindingly obviously, there’s been another obvious lurch forward.

Bayliss and Farbraces’s posse(s) are clearly building impressively on more than one front. England have gone from being a raw embarrassment in short-format cricket to being one of the finest, most dynamic and not unimportantly one of the most watchable sides in world cricket.

Recent Tests may be less emphatic evidence of a level of development that really should have widespread and significant recognition but perhaps the uncertainties around (say) Hales and/or the number 4/5 batting slots might be considered more in the context of an encouragingly powerful blend within the squad. For me, the management team patently know what they’re doing in terms of bringing on a bunch of guys.

England and Wales cricket have genuine world stars in Root and Stokes (and in an admittedly less Boys Own kindofaway) Cook. They also have fellas like Woakes and Bairstow who, despite their obvious brilliance, are having to compete like hell for a place in the team. The ECB’s topline representatives – far from being Boring Old Fartish – are, in short, looking bloody strong, with the capacity to mature into something proper, erm aromatically tasty.

Almost finally on this, England are in danger of having players to look up to or love. Whether this be in the form of the charmingly, boyishly magnificent Root, or the horsier/left-fieldier Wood. They’re real, they’re engagingly chirpy and we all know they wannabe mates with us. Anybody playing football for England stack up against that?

Cobblers of the cheapest variety, of course. But fan-based cobblers, because yes, I am a fan, from a footballing family in the North of Ingerland, originally. And I do dare to back my right to mither or crow – or champion.

Back ‘midst the Cricket love-in, briefly, we may need to acknowledge the galvanising force of Cultural Positivity.  If this translates as both a raising of the glass to the work of the backroom staff and some appreciation that freeing the boys up is a function of mature and intelligent reflection rather than some dodgy contemporary dogma, I’ll sign up to that. England Cricket are brighter, busier, more aggressive – more positive. As is the game.

Now crossover to the footie. Wales (you may have finally-recently noticed), have their own football team.

Their stunningly successful Euro 2016 campaign was such a classic of unity and spirit (google the word hwyl, you Saes) it’s already been inwardly digested by the massively more well-endowed English FA – who have installed their own No Shit Sherlock tough-guy defender-of-the-faith, Big Sam.

This, in the context of previous dalliances with more exotic but nonetheless hopeless stewardship feels somewhere between a belated dollop of self-awareness and a concession to low expectation. England Football is (for example) gambling on freakily shot or depressingly brittle talents like Sterling, whilst Wales must now front up to the reality of being a team that should go beat people.

Both, therefore, face challenges, but surely England have the more threatening gulf to stilt-walk across?

As an active under-appreciator(!) of nearly everything the new England manager stands for, I confess to being little stirred by what happens next to Rooney, Raheem or even the genuinely fascinating Mr Stones. However, I am interested in the human: so that thing about whether they will look like they believe in Allardyce – having failed to project that for aeons under previous regimes – is the source of some fascination.

However, however. It’s one of the great vanities of world sport that England’s 60 Years of Hurt is still being by unpicked by idle scribes like myself. Enough; let’s waft on past.

Rugby. Is wonderful and confident in its own, indomitably morally-rooted fashion. Rugby people know their sport is a bastion against everything from too much time in the barbers to too much reality telly. Though plainly issues arise the great integrity of the whole remains largely un-nibbled by indulgence, arrogance or whatever phase of Pokemon wotsit we happen to be enduring. It’s about real clunking and real fronting up: it necessarily weeds out the fakers and the frauds. Rugby is essentially good: this the argument.

I buy some of that – strangely. But it doesn’t divert us from the task in hand – namely to surgically unravel the mysteries of current anglo-welsh attainment in the game, like us fans do.

Clearly it’s England who will dominate the flow, here. Since the appointment of a stiffer, brashier, ballsier, more Australian coach some months ago, the English have found or re-found a method. They now simply repel the insecurities that apparently plagued the Lancaster era. They are tough and they don’t care… they simply execute. It’s early but already Jones is in danger of deserving the fatal description ‘genius’.

Okaaay. But Wales have players that people love. Do England? Do they have a Liam Williams or a Jamie Roberts or are they simply a faceless powerhouse of a side? This may matter – like time and attention spans matter.

Maybe we finish with a points table. Maybe it looks like this;

(Out of 10.)

England football. Lovability 3 / style points 4 / current success level -26.

Wales football. L 8.5 / s p 5 / c s l 7.5.

Eng rugby. L 6.5 / s p 7 (oof, contentious!) / c s l 8.

Wales rugby. L 7 / s p 7 / c s l 6.5.

Eng and Wales cricket. L 8 / s p 9 / c s l 8.

I hereby declare (irrespective of today’s result) cricket the winner. Roooooooot!!







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.


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?  .