I was about 30 feet away as Dominic Cork, the slickish rather than truly urbane linkman thrust that furry mic into the poor fellah’s face. Crofty, looking a tad drawn after long hours in the field and no doubt more aware than anyone of the poignancy of the moment, drew in visibly and spoke. Not remotely as easily as is his chirpy wont but, given he was immediately asked effectively to encapsulate a sporting life, he did okay. He then grabbed clumsily for his son’s outstretched hand for an inadequately rehearsed but final clamber up those dressing-room stairs. Tears, as they say, weren’t far away. Real ones, not High Definition jobs.
The small Cardiff crowd – in which I consider myself privileged to have been included – clapped with gusto in that way suggestive of building emotion. We felt entitled to offer up a kind of knowing but all the same deferential appreciation. I heard the words ‘wonderful, Crofty’ aimed like a kiss on the top of his lowered forehead.
All of us knew something quite special was passing. Let’s be clear, the 21 Tests, the 903 First Class/List A/20-20 matches played, the 1673 wickets taken really matter; they just don’t, in themselves, account for the love.
The home side by this stage had all but won the game (against Kent) barring a Glamorgan-scale debacle in their reply, which fortunately failed to materialise. The man himself had taken the final wicket and mostly, the September sun had obligingly produced. Robert Croft – with a one year contract at Glamorgan to do ambassadorial/corporate work and surely genuine possibilities for wider media work – will hardly be disappearing. But he will not, apparently, be bowling. So it felt – it feels – like a shame.
May his legacy (that word again!) persist; infectious, on the pleasing side of jaunty, like his approach to the crease. And on that irresistible nature, a small wager; that reminders to Rob to show some enthusiasm will remain unnecessary; whether working at the Swalec or beyond, in an office or net, the fellah will still bounce in. He may even appeal.
Crofty I think of as the chopsy poet of off-spin – maybe the chopsy Taff poet – and I view this as complimentary in every detail. I hope he does.
Having attended a workshop he gave to us Regional Coaches and seen him deliver both those absurdly fluent, flighted or flattened right-armers together with informal masterclass-isms for the benefit of us lesser life-forms, I can make surprisingly valid comment upon the man. Spluttering before the cameras I might muster… “he’s a bloody good bloke”. Elsewhere, with time to re-grasp reflections more or less blurred by time or Felinfoel I might suggest an outstanding Welshman, full of that rich mixture of public house verbals and proper sporting sparkle befitting a Premier Grade Dragon. A real player, in fact.
So as not to patronise him entirely with stories of his chummily colourful past let’s reinforce this essential rider; Crofty has performed, with rare diligence and consistency and passion for his beloved Glamorgan. Look at the stats if you will. Consider the fact that he’s often opened the bowling in 20-20’s, for example – an invitation to get humbled for any off-spinner. Or look elsewhere in the columns, the how many’s. You will find something pretty remarkable. The woolly, immeasurable truth however is surely that few can match either his quality as a slow bowler or his loyalty and commitment to a single cause; very few have matched that combination of gift and heart.
Slow bowlers need a certain guile to go with any spin they may have. Croft personified a further extra-curricular dimension; he was a personality on the pitch. He believed and expressed the belief that body language – the oohs and aahs and OWIZZEE’S as well as the physical whirlings – were key to the armoury.
Tellingly, during the spin workshop – in front of 40-odd coaches uniformly but perhaps unknown to him slightly awed to be in his presence – Croft seemed inconsistently served by words. But when he demonstrated some of this intensity, in alliance with a fluency bordering the bewitching he impacted most fully upon the room. You use that seam – at 45 degrees; you follow through; you engage with the batsman – you get in his head. Like this!
I have a clear memory of leaving with a smile on my face, surer than ever that this occasionally combative professional sportsman might reasonably have the words ‘artist at work’ daubed on the flip-chart at the mouth of his net. He has a quality perhaps best recorded by such graffiti. Plus I suspect he might like the ambiguity – the banter? – such a tribute might evoke.
When relaxed, Croft has that blokey ease found all over; when riled, he is allegedly capable of stubbornness or worse – perhaps especially if he feels the county, the team risks being undermined. But when bowling – when released into the flow of his natural state – Croft (if it doesn’t sound too absurd?) outlives himself. Meaning something to do with poetry occurs; meaning something bigger than Robert Croft occurs.
Whether I am daft or delusional or dynamically charged in this, I hope young spinners in Wales will get some sense of his boundlessly purposeful bound, his zealot’s wheeling. And… enjoy that.