Crazy, I know.

Lunchtime in Wales. The twittersphere tells me Rashid Khan can’t play tonight for Sussex – a plus.

But given the Sharks (I kinda resent calling them that but let’s go with the faux I mean flow, eh?) have maybe the most fangtastic attack in the tournament in any case, the chances for a Middlesex win at Hove prolonging Glammy’s season remain slim, yes? Sussex still have Archer, Jordan and Mills and are therefore odds-on to endstop Eoin Morgan’s campaign with another emphatic disappointment.

Or are they?

T20 does have scope for that turn-on-a-tanneresque, wtf-acious, well I ne-ver in a-all my born days jolt. It’s arguably predicated on thrills and dramatic holy cows; lurid ones, inflatable ones – ones with a microphone or megaphone. Meaning it’s a rush. 

Me, I’m in a flush. Because if you didn’t know it, my lot – our lot – Glamorgan are scrambling. They must win tonight and hope Sussex lose.

Sussex are at home to the worst team in the division. Glam have Surrey at Sophia Gardens. There may even be a weather issue, possibly, in Cardiff, which could scupper that 2 points imperative. It’s feeling cruel and ecstatic and BIG, all this. We love it and it’s almost unbearable.

If you’re like me you start wondering fatally aloud and quite probably pontificating to people in bars, or caffs or kitchens. Trying to un-mist those memories around How, Exactly It Came To This.

We blame shot selection, rank amateurism, villageism, inexperience and the coach. We know we are right even when at our most nailed-on preposterous but our love of An Opinion drives us on. Our hunches become Mona Lisas; unshiftable and mighty and true; stars in the firmament of revelation.

This is the essence of supporting stuff: knowing that our professionals haven’t got a clue.

It’s ingloriously bastardly. It’s hilarious – it drives the coaches, players and opposition mad. The utter cobblers we come out with.

Ah but it’s rejuvenating and self-validating and joyfully daft, too. It’s the essential matrix – and you bloody coaches and CEOs and players better remember this! – without which public sport itself is dead. Fans mithering or bawling or making extraordinarily, brilliantly astute contributions. It’s the game.

Hey before I get into that pre-pre-game period – where it’s too early to get hyper and too late for calm – let me leave you with the wildest daftest contribution my own allegedly-plainly free-wheelingly absurdist cerebellum came up with the other day. During that massacre at Hove.

Staggering-but-true there was a moment in that Sussex v Glam game where the visitors were if not cruising then on that most delicious cusp. Chasing a reasonable lump, Donald and Meschede had gone in and made a magnificent start. Donald (I think) got out, bringing Ingram in. But Glam had been going at something close to 12 an over. And Ingram is almost god.

In my infinite but delusional, inexperienced, unreliable wisdom I was certain that the spectacular South African could play within himself for ten overs and still score at more than the required rate, thus guiding Glam to an uncomplicated but tremendously significant win. Instead, he crashed one to the fielder.

I tweeted something to the effect that Ingram – Glam’s rock and leader and inspiration – had arguably thrown away the campaign; right there. In a flashy, unnecessary moment. (To be fair I was careful not to accuse the man of anything but you get the drift).

I kinda love Colin Ingram but I still (secretly until now) believe he was wrong… and that my own intuit-o-cobblers was right. He’s so good he could have picked and cut and nurdled or watchfully-downwardly boomed his way to the win. He could: I believe that.

And that, my friends, is both a confession of sorts and a statement of my vain, inviolable prerogative – and yours. Over a season where eight zillion more obvious errors or misjudgements patently out-rank this embarrassing hunch of mine, we reach the last, fatal knockings with me wondering on this. Crazy, I know.

 

Come ON Glam!

 

 

#Kingram at ease with his Kingdom.

Dart back from an All Stars Cricket event at Eastern Leisure Centre, supported by Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething. (More on this later). Traffic against us but we manage to get to Sophia Gardens in the nick of.

Glammy to bat, Essex open with left arm spin. Quietish first over, 6 from it.

Change of pace claims a wicket in the next – Meschede slapping Quinn rather carelessly to midwicket. However, this feels relatively non-traumatic… as the man incoming is Ingram.

However, when Donald holes out to the same bowler from one that may have stopped a touch in the pitch (and Glamorgan are 8 for 2 after 2) our nonchalance around this is challenged, somewhat. The crowd, on another delightful evening, shuffle quietly.

Ingram, predictably, lifts things. He races to 25 and, joined by Carlson, does that uniquely T20 dynamic transformation-thing. The South African is unplayable in a way that might really be pretty demoralising (already) for the Essex attack.

He is controlling at least as much as he is exploding.  He goes through 44 off 18 balls, claiming 30 off Quinn in the 6th. At the end of the power play Glamorgan sit at 71 for 2.

Carlson is caught at deep midwicket off a slight miscue, bringing some respite for the visitors; 93 for 3. The youngster had taken 11 out of the partnership’s 75. Cooke is in. Imagine he’ll be looking to lean on his bat, in the main.

We are hearing in the Media Centre that Ingram needs 15 off 6 to beat his own ridicu-record. It feels like a formality: spoiler, he doesn’t.

Cooke, perhaps sensing that he’s a comparative irrelevance, flips Bopara to deep fine leg. There’s an argument that he might have been better simply repeatedly dropping a one to get Kingram back in and maintain the momentum: this argument is strengthened when Bopara nails Selman first ball, l.b.w. and things inevitably have stalled.

113 for 5 and Wagg must face the hat-trick ball. He survives.

Essex have mixed things up and looked decent enough in the field. But Ingram has eased his way to 89, come the end of the 14th. You feel like another irresistible burst is a -coming and then… caught in the deep, off Bopara.

125 for 6, with no meaningful contribution from anyone else in the Glam line-up; this could peter out disappointingly, we fear. Wagg and Salter must produce.

Ingram (and possibly the coaches) might be forgiven for offering icy stares and swear-words all round as the innings does indeed threaten to disappear.

Extraordinarily, after 16 overs, with Salter leaving us, Ingram is the only player to breach the boundary. Killer stat, right there. A nailed-on 200 is drifting to a likely 160 as we reach 138 for 7 off 17.

Bopara, numberless, is back. Smith slashes him wide of mid-off for a much-needed four, then cuts him square for another. Follows that with a contemptuous wallop through cow corner – having picked a very slow slower ball early. Some encouragement as Glam reach 155 for 7 by the end of the 18th. Quinn will bowl the penultimate over, from the River End.

Wagg absolutely clonks him to leg, first ball – middled and massive. He’ll be looking for 20 from the over: he exceeds that by six.

Seems inadequate to talk of ebbs and flows in T20: more like raging floods and desperate micro-calms.

Late on, from nowhere, Wagg and Smith invent the second partnership this innings desperately cried-out for. 198 for 7, we finish, with both Wagg and Smith undefeated – on 53 and 22 respectively. Strangely unbalanced, that; unaccountable, somehow.

Wheater and Chopra are the openers for Essex. They have an early dig, with Hogan responding by bowling full, full, with mixed success. 23 for 0 off 2.

Smith, from the River End, slaps a couple into the deck. Wheater connects with one off a decent length to swish him through midwicket for four, but carts the next to deep square, where he is easily caught. Walter joins Chopra and we sit at 30 for 1 after 3.

Walter is six foot nine, apparently, in old money – the language of the Media Centre. In that same illuminating tongue one of us personifies him eloquently as ‘looking like a bloody monster’. (A confession, at this point: it was me).

Van der Guten replaces Hogan, running away from us but there is no further joy for Glamorgan. Hogan, in fact, has changed ends and now charges in from the tree-lined Taff. He concedes a four through midwicket but then beats Walter with a quick one outside off. Good over – 6 from it.

Van der Gugten is a touch short of luck, barrelling in and spearing for the sticks but only finding a scruffy edge past the vacant leg-slip area. Hogan has a gentle word. Last ball also squirts past the keeper’s left hand, mind. 61 for 1 off 6.

Meschede is on and immediately makes an impact, Walter being snaffled superbly at mid-on. Shadows beginning to bloom under the lights.

Ingram is in for the eighth. No real sign of spin but he bundles through relatively unscathed.

Meschede is running in with some urgency. When he drops a tad short Salter makes a good stop at backward point.  Decent spell for Glam.

Salter is in, from underneath us in the Media Centre. Looks to me that he’s really been looking to extract a wee bit more, of late; he stays flattish, quickish, understandably so, with his off-spin but there are revs on the ball. He may be a tad unfortunate that the pitch here tends to offer little in the way of assistance.

Wagg follows, losing some pace, bowling some gentle comeandhaveagoifyouthinkyou’rehardenough cutters. Smith changes ends, with things feeling ver-ry even: required rate 10 (give or take), score now 112 for 2 off 12.

Chopra has medium-quietly gone to 50 for the visitors, as dusk falls. Wagg, returning,  has his wily head on again- successfully so – until his final delivery clears the the square leg boundary.

Magic Man Ingram again stirs the relative peace, bowling ten Doeschate for 28. We welcome in Bopara, knowing that he’s, as they say, ‘well capable’.

VDG claims what may be the key wicket of Chopra, who skies one, in trying to clear his arms: Cooke pockets it watchfully. Chopra’s 54 came off 41 balls.

The evening has gone from dusky to batty. We are back with Ingram, with Zaidi and Bopara coiled. Runs come but not decisively, you feel.

VDG will bowl the 17th. Bopara steers him rather beautifully over mid-off – six. Glam need a wicket.

Zaidi does everything to offer one, firstly by swinging wildly across something which nearly cleans him out, secondly by lofting to long-on, and the grateful Smith. This will surely be close. Hogan.

Peach of a yorker then six over mid-on. Storms and calms. Much tactical rearrangement. Another good yorker. Then too much width – it’s slashed away through third man. 167 for 5, 32 off 2 needed.

Wagg in again from the river. Around the wicket. a poor full-toss gets clattered over long-on. Six. Forgiven when Harmer finds backward point next delivery. 175 for 6 at the end of a good over. Hogan has 24 to play with.

The endgame. Two boundaries, meaning 16 off 4. Becomes 14 off 3 – Bopara facing. Six! Dot ball! Dot ball to finish, Glamorgan winning by 6 runs.

Hogan has closed it out again. He may not be the biggest threat in the division but the fella is impressively, sometimes imperiously cool at the death; genuinely rate him for that. Another win for Glammy – four in four – and that Finals Day Mad Day Out may yet streak towards us – possibly literally.

 

 

 

The Universe Podcast 2: with Matt Thompson, Talent Programme Manager for Cricket Wales

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In the second of my amiable meanderings through what-might-turn-out-to-be the Definitive List of Movers & Shakers in Welsh Cricket, I chat to Matt Thompson, Talent Programme Manager for Cricket Wales.

Matt is a brilliant 26 year-old cricketer/lecturer/coach, with a ridiculous c.v.

Despite this, I kinda liked him. We talked the new job through – criminally unedited – plus all kinds of coach-feely other stuff.

Have a listen.

 

Last Chance Saloon?

Early the morning after, reflecting on another extraordinary night of sport. Savouring again (I AM a Glammy fan, after all) the intensity, the ecstasy and the daft rejuvenating joy of those key moments; Meschede’s knock; Smith’s two-in-two; VDG’s ultimate last-over roar. Wow.

The Crash-Bang Story is clearly that Glamorgan’s season remains alive but my own experience of the day was enriched by conversations with colleagues – Senior Blokes at Cricket Wales.

So respect to Matt Thompson, Kerry Lloyd, Peter Hybart and to Mark Frost, out in the Fun Zone welcoming folks and proferring his cricket storybook. (This for children, this intelligently linked to the CW/Chance to Shine project to embed/develop the link between sport and thought, all proceeds to cricket in Wales). Behind the Glam rollercoaster, there is honest, strategic, generous work.

Meanwhile, here’s how it was; the game – live.

 

Big Few Days coming up, for Glammy. In which a season, a coach maybe, might be saved.

Juicily, we’re against local rivals Gloucestershire, at Sophia Gardens, with conspiratorially muggy skies enhancing that possibility-for-intense-drama thing as we ease towards blast-off.

Glammy are without their recently-imported star Aussies but are emphatically buoyed by yet another great win away at Mighty Southern Softies, Surrey, a handful of days ago. After a prolonged period of disappointment, if not trauma, for Glammy fans, there’s a dangerous wee buzz building as the potential for a successful T20 campaign threatens to emerge.

Tonight, we know, is important: at 3.32 p.m. it’s still not clear if Colin Ingram will play. If the South African leftie-genius doesn’t march out there that would surely be a blow, unless the budding beauties – Donald, Carlson, maybe – sear into the void?

After my customary pitstop at The Plan, I scoot through Bute Park into Sophia Gardens to meet up with Matt Thompson, recently appointed by Cricket Wales to oversee the Player Development Pathway. (Official job title Talent Programme Manager).

Matt is every bit the spookily authoritative, engaging and – despite his preposterous youff – experienced cricket bloke I imagined he would be. I spoke to him for cricketmanwales.com and will post the podcast soonish.

By 6 p.m. a comparatively smallish crowd 3-4,000(?) is in and enjoying the sunshine. The Glam Media Team are hoping and expecting for more following ‘goodish ticket sales’. A win tonight will surely boost attendances for the remaining home fixtures but a defeat, in the context of frankly poor form throughout the County Champs and 50 over season, will inevitably see them remain lowish.

Payne – left arm over, quickish – opens to Donald, who drives him for two off the first ball and then middles the next to point, who gathers. The young welshman then survives two wobbles on consecutive balls as  a beauty beats him playing inside the line then a misjudged effort flies up into his face – off bat, I think – dislodging part of the helmet. Only three off the over.

Higgins follows, for Glos. Donald drives him lustily over mid-off, into the river, for the first boundary and follows that with an angled drive backward of point. Early signs are that the pitch is looking true-ish and placid and that therefore we could see a bundle of runs. After Payne’s second over – the third – Glam are at 20 for 0. Enter Tye – a unit – for the fourth.

People, it’s now a delightful evening and maybe you should be here?

Khawaja finally middles a pull over midwicket for four and Donald betters that with a cover drive for six. Good start now, as Glamorgan reach 37 for 0 off 4.

The night’s first great catch is a crowd catch, as Khawaja drives Payne majestically over mid-off but a yorker/full-toss cleans the Aussie out for the first wicket. 45 for 1; in comes Meschede. It feels like honours are relatively even as Glamorgan rack up 68 for 1 off the first seven… but maybe Glam would have liked one or two more boundaries? This is comfortable rather than explosive and the evening is looking set fair for top, top batting conditions.

Donald tries to invent nine different shots at once and spoons one out to backward point for another disappointing dismissal. He made a goodish-but-also-mixedish 31 – so neither bad nor really influential again. Absolutely right that he opens… but does need to flesh out these promising starts. Enter Carlson, who did so well the other night at the Oval.

At the halfway point Glam are 90 for 2, meaning 200 should be within their compass – but again this feels like a deck where nearly anything might be chaseable. We’ll see.

Carlson contemptuously despatches Noema-Barnett to square leg for six to signal the necessary gearing-up; he backs it up a superb, whipped cut-drive through point before sadly skying one to mid-off. Missed opportunity, you sense; 105 for 3. The incoming Cooke will know he needs to maintain, if not build, the momentum.

Meschede baseball-bats Smith through cow corner for six: come the end of the 14th, he’s onto 49 and Glamorgan are 131 for 3. (Spoiler: he gets his fifty).

Cooke sweeps Smith over backward square for six, drives him out over extra cover for four, then heaves him over midwicket for a further six. Important. The shadows are long and the night still: there is much drama to come.

Cooke is caught at deep midwicket off Howell for 29, in the seventeenth, bringing in the other hero of the Oval, Wagg. He must tee off, immediately. Instead, he falls l.b. to a cute slower ball. Salter must fire. Glamorgan are 159 for 5 off 17. Not enough, for me.

Things are in danger of falling apart, as Salter is caught behind, swinging hard to Payne, who now runs in from the River End. Meschede remains, defiantly swinging that same bowler over long on for another four, bringing his own tally to 63. Glammy surely need 20-something off each of the last two overs to be competitive?

They do get 25 off the last over, from a furiously frustrated Tye. Innings closed on 201 for 6, with Meschede on a creditable 77 and Selman also undefeated on 12. Good score, clearly but from where I’m sitting – looking straight down the strip on a glorious summer’s eve – it simply does not feel enough, against Klinger and co. Is that weird?

Gloucester have been competent rather than brilliant. Glam have been okay. Let’s see where this goes from here…

Hammond and the consistently excellent Klinger will open for Gloucester… and they will attack. Almost the whole of Sophia Gardens is now – at 20.09 p.m. – under deep shadow but as Glos race to 30-something this feels less than relevant. That is, until Hammond skies (and I do mean skies) Hogan to mid-on. After 3, the visitors are 39 for 1, with Hogan looking notably fired up; bowling full, quickly and with a beautifully bounce-inducing high hand. Heard it said that Hogan is a spent force. I like him for his intelligence, consistency and heart.

(Interestingly, we hear in the Media Centre that a Glam fielder has been penalised under the new law on feigning control or possession of the ball. Could be that Salter faked a return to the keeper but honestly not clear on this. The penalty is clear; five runs to the opposition).

In the sixth over, Cockbain exquisitely drives van der Gugten out through extra for arguably the night’s most delicious boundary before fluking an ugly one past the inevitably vacant leg slip area. But Glam respond, dramatically, having that man Klinger caught at long off *and* Cockbain caught behind next ball! Wow. 58 for 3 and game on with knobs on. Change of pace for the 8th as Salter comes in.

He fires in a beauty – ragging the ball for spin – but the edge goes through slip for four. Good little over, mind, encouraging shift in momentum, here. The wicket-taker Smith runs in again from the River End; like Hogan, the fella seems fired-up.

At the halfway, with Gloucestershire County Cricket Club at 76 for 3 and Glammy seemingly in control… I’m delighted and surprised. (Cue the inevitable six, from Hammond).

Wagg’s first ball is a peach, speared in, dismantling the stumps, removing the opener Howell. Such is the nature of things that his third – a perfectly decent, full, straightish delivery – is heaved over midwicket for six. 102 for 4 off 12.

Could be my eyes – long day, already – or my sympathetic nature but Meschede appears to be following the other Glamorgan bowlers by finding an extra yard: another sign that the home side want this.

A moment or two of concern for Wagg, who collects one on the head on his follow-through… and lies prostrate for some time on the pitch. He eventually storms off, having been instructed to leave by attending medical staff, understandably concerned re- a possible concussion. Almost funny but then not.

With five overs remaining, at 129 for 4, Gloucester have a lot to do. They attack van der Gugten, with some success – until Donald pockets Higgins for 37, at long on. This could be close. Crucial over from Hogan upcoming.

Oof. Carlson spills a tough chance out at square leg. Not critical, as Donald promptly takes Noema-Barnett at mid-on. 154 for 6. Jack Taylor biffs the last ball for six. 41 to tie, from 6.

Meschede from underneath me (as it were). Streaky four then dot ball. Awful misjudgement in the deep gifts cruel four. Then powerful drive for four – fifteen off the over. 27 from 2 wins it. The crowd are willing Glammy on, now.

The penultimate over will be Hogan’s. Another delay after Taylor takes a knock. Tense.

Roderick spoons a scoop-effort to backward square. Out. Should settle it but is settle a word we can use, here? No. Taylor hauls a six.

16 required off the last over, which van der Gugten must bowl.

We all leap as he cleans out Taylor with an emphatic yorker! But – there’s gonna be more buts, right? – Tye heaves a six high into the night sky, leaving 9 from 3 required.

Dot ball!

SIX!!

BOWLED!!! NEVER IN DOUBT!!

Stunning, painfully brilliant finish… for all of us. Massive, massive result for Croft, for Glamorgan, for Welsh Cricket. Take me to a dark room or a bar, swiftly, please? Fabulous, crazy, dramatic night.

 

 

 

 

 

The Universe Podcast 1. @cricketmanwales meets Mark O’Leary… & talks MCC University Cricket.

Please note that this post is very much a companion piece to the preceding feature – On #firstclasscricketersfirstclassdegrees.

I spent some time with Mark O’Leary – Head Coach at Cardiff MCCU.

It’s not what you might call hard-hitting journalism. In fact it’s not journalism. I like the bloke; we talked.

O’Leary is something of a rising star – ECB Elite Master Level 4 Coach, workshop maestro, deviser of wittily wicked drills – who combines the cricket role with teaching on the Cardiff Met academic staff.

We talk about everything from funding, to honoured alumini, to the future for the scheme. Have a listen.

The sharp-eared may notice mention of £76,000 at the ver-ry end of the discussion. This of course related to Mr O’Leary’s fee.

 

On #firstclasscricketersfirstclassdegrees.

 

 

 

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Friends we can be pretty sure that Messrs Bayliss and Farbrace don’t order the kit, sort the stop-overs, book the buses and the umpires. They don’t frame their work around ‘equally important’ other stuff – for the players, I mean – academic stuff. Mark O’Leary does.

He does because he’s the Head Coach at the Cardiff M.C.C. University Scheme. This as many of you will know is the project that for two decades has offered both a route in to professional cricket *and* the safety net of a university education.

Initiated by the inimitable Mr G Fowler Esquire of Durham and now based around six centres across England and Wales, the scheme has played a significant role in the careers and indeed the lives of (to take current figures) some 26% of county cricketers.

But even this apparently strong result in the value-for-money department has not rendered the project immune from the administrative/cultural/fiscal or accountability-driven revolutions carving and helicopter-shotting their way through the cricket landscape.

Recent features of that hypnotic but not always helpful flux include the M.C.C. pulling out after years of noble and very much-appreciated support, business (i.e. Deloitte) pulling in, and – within the last week or so – the E.C.B. confirming that they will bankroll things, post 2020.

There had for many us been a sense that after years of low-level uncertainty, a clear, bomb-proof structure needed to be in place and that if there can be such a thing, the ECB (the original funders) seemed the natural sponsor. However just how bomb-proof, how durable, how comforting on a day-to-day basis, is the future for the scheme looking?

As an outsider but interested party, I wanted to get a handle on how this felt from within: I scooted to the capital – to Cardiff.

Mark O’Leary is tall, tall and shaven-headed. If he lumbered a bit more you might place him somewhere rather worrying – like a tube-station, maybe, skulking with the rest of The Firm – but no.

He’s one of those big guys who gives off no darknesses. Refreshingly, there’s no ‘physicality’, no sense of a man asserting big-ness or power or dominance. He’s a light, open, smiley guy, welcoming me into a narrow, functional office, not some site-of-ambush.

I say this because O’Leary is a successful Head Coach, a team leader and a bloke about 6 foot five. One might expect a degree of machismo: I’m sensing none. He may not always be calm, quietish, affable and willing to listen… but he is now.

We talk and we go for a wander round the campus – Cardiff Met.

He describes the structure of the Cardiff Process and the responsibilities he has. He stresses the genuine gratitude he feels towards the now-departed M.C.C. for their central role, not just in having the vision to fund the scheme but also, more personally, the opportunity it has afforded him to develop himself over time, through experience.

O’Leary, like his counterparts at the other centres, really is everything from coach to logistics man to quality-controller of the whole cowabunga; even more so than his opposite numbers, as the Welshman also lectures on the academic curriculum.

Sure, certain specialist roles are delegated – for example to the Strength and Conditioning or Sports Psychology team – but the Head Coach is all over everything else.  He describes this epic multi-skilling modestly, in entirely philosophical fashion, free of any of the eye-rolling many of us coaches get drawn into when relating the menial stuff, the crèche-control-thing that most of us have to endure.

My guided tour is similarly conducted in an open, engagingly informative way. A friendly word to everybody; a quiet affirmation of respect for the S & C guys, ‘whom I really should meet’; a nod to the world class stat-analysis and athlete-monitoring systems, which O’Leary oversees but sidesteps any particular credit for.

We spend time in the gyms – where the 23 players do three, testing S & C sessions a week, starting at 7.30 a.m. We linger in the ungenerous office/corridor space that is the beating heart (lols) of the Strength & Conditioning Department. Peering out I imagine visiting sixth-former applicants gawping at the magnitude of both the facilities and the challenges they are applying themselves towards: ‘awesome’.

At the perimeter of the spectacular indoor tracks – yes, plural – Dai Watts (Lead) and Chris Edwards (S & C Coach) brief me, with just a touch of quiet pride, on personal training plans, scheduling etc etc.

Dai is employed by the university across a variety of sports. Dipping briefly into anorakdom, he nevertheless makes clear that a) the cricket at Cardiff Met is kosher, in terms of the integrity and commitment required for professional sport and b) that the O’Leary curriculum is fully fit for purpose in respect of the aspiration towards exceptional performance. Crucially, I also sense that these guys between them make sure that the House of Pain is also a House of Fun.

Without any whiff of sycophancy, Mr Watts plainly respects the cricket bloke: I suspect, given the S & C man’s demeanour and own, impeccably high standards of work, this is a privilege not always gifted.

A further detail from our tour. Outdoor facilities; immaculate 3G pitches, athletics field, track – all that – tick the boxes, emphatically. But look closer. Cameras.

O’Leary expands on this. The cameras are providing extraordinary levels of information for analysts, who then guide coaches and players on movement, discipline, tactics.

It escapes me at the time but on reflection this may be less relevant to the Cardiff M.C.C.U. than to their powerfully successful football and rugby equivalents: however I note it because the inference was absolutely that the cricketers benefit from precisely the same degree of support. That is, as O’Leary says, “world class”.

We retreat to The Office to chat further.

The Head Coach briefly recounts some salient, personal cricketty-info. He’s been coaching 26 years – implausibly, given I’d have stuck him in his late thirties – delivering across all age groups and abilities up to international (Wales) standard. He’s ECB Elite Master Level 4 qualified, has an MSc. in Sports Coaching and finds himself very much in demand; workshops, fielding sessions, playing for M.C.C. all this over and above the day-job.

Sparky, as he is known to friends and comrades, is perfectly content to discuss the state of the M.C.C.U. project and to reveal that over a period of time, the E.C.B’s hierarchy – in particular Mr Graveney – have been sounding out the current centres about plans for the future. (These talks have been somewhere between discreet and full-on secret).

O’Leary confirms that the E.C.B. have undertaken to take up the funding of the scheme in 2020 and that the talks have been encouraging in several ways. Firstly – dosh.

Figures have not been offered but O’Leary’s strong sense is that the E.C.B. want this to be professional and therefore to be funded adequately, at the very least. (“The aim is to develop professional cricketers”). They are consulting the Head Coaches to take a view on their individual university’s modus operandi, to keep them accountable but also very much to discuss the how and why of what works. Graveney is, to his credit, seeking guidance as well as preparing directives.

When I ask impertinently directly about money the reply is simply that Mark doesn’t know. There’s an assurance, a commitment but as yet no figures attached. O’Leary expects things to continue pretty much as they are but we talk about the possibility, raised in the media in the last few days, that other, probably additional centres may come in – that there may be a tender process.

Firstly, there is no sign of concern at this prospect; O’Leary being understandably quietly confident that the Cardiff M.C.C.U. should and indeed will thrive beyond any putative competitive scenario.

Secondly, the developments seem more about expansion than contraction, other centres being established at new venues. In our conversation the possibility is raised that funding may need to be spread more thinly over a bigger number of centres but… all hypothetical. O’Leary is planning to go on planning.

Guess what? I’m unashamedly a supporter of the scheme so offer the Cardiff man a freebie – the opportunity to make the case for his own process, his own course. Which brings us directly to the success stories, the names.

Or it would if either Mark O’Leary or myself accepted that this is just about transferring bodies into County Cricket. In a word, the Head Coach describes the rich combination of the whole Cardiff M.C.C University experience – education, discipline, bantz, performance-level sport – as “irreplaceable”.

Yes, the brief is to prepare able and talented cricketers specifically for a career in the sport but I imagine we’d all like to think (even?) the funders might get that this is bigger than cricket. (I know they do: the ECB are exploring possible community links to the scheme – prompting a diversion from yours truly, during our recorded conversation. Think Foxy Fowler; go listen).

A further brief note is in order, here. Mark O’Leary makes very clear in our podcast that there are three constituent parts to Cardiff MCCU – all of whom contribute significantly in terms of players and commitment. To give one example, Cardiff University – led by my old mucker Lee Herring won the British Universities & Colleges Cup (for cricket) last year and showed strongly in the Premier League South. The third element of the capital’s cricketing uni-scheme is the University of South Wales. I happened to visit Mark in his office at Cardiff Met. 

Heather Knight is maybe the highest profile name. World Cup Winner, world class player and captain: was at Cardiff. Jack Leach, who recently collected his first full England cap, likewise.

The trajectories, the angles vary. Jake Libby got into the scheme during his second year – it’s competitive and you have to re-compete, as it were, with every intake. Now has a three year contract at Notts.

Alex Thompson and Tom Cullen are particular sources of pride, for O’Leary, as they ‘came from nowhere’ and truly emerged during their time in Cardiff. Pro cricketers, former #crimsoncaps; i.e. part of the O’Leary Massive.

Of the current squad of 23, two are women. They work and train to the same level as the blokes, play in the university women’s team but are also involved at Western Storm (Taunton) where they get their elite cricket. It may be, incidentally, that one of the developments, come the ECB takeover, is a greater emphasis or investment in women players.

For obvious reasons there’s a strong, symbiotic relationship with Glamorgan. Many of the pictures adorning the O’Leary office feature past or present players, alumni of the scheme. Andrew Salter (formerly Cardiff Met.) has become a fixture in Robert Croft’s side; there will be more like him.Roughly a dozen of Glammy’s current first or second team squads are, or have been crimson caps.

To illustrate the diverse routes in and out we get to the example of Cameron Herring. Herring played three years of County Cricket before he entered Cardiff Met. He then brought an impressive and no doubt inspiring lump of nous and experience to the Cardiff side.

The stories go on; some tragic – Matt Hobden was a crimson cap – some hilarious and many which evidence both the completion of the Performance-Level Cricket Mission and the rich, holistic development we discuss in the podcast.

The whole points to a brilliant, well-executed programme borne aloft by the impressive and sustained commitment of students and staff alike. If the key aspiration for the man driving all this is to achieve Performance-Level Cricket Coaching, the box, for me is ticked.

However, I hear him noting that other boxes are available – are ‘irreplaceably’ a part of the Cardiff M.C.C. University package. O’Leary adds further that players may theoretically be temporarily dropped, if their academic work slips. So there is work, there is cricket work and there is camaraderie, fun: remember that?

As it happens, on the day of my visit, the universe, as so often, interveneth. Students are receiving their degree results. O’Leary politely absents himself in favour of the laptop screen, for a moment or two, as the scores come in. They’re really good.

 

 

The podcast/discussion around which this ramble is almost constructed, is on the way. Stay tuned! 

 

 

Spitting and Swearing.

Bristol, yesterday; lifting (as we say in Wales) with festivals and beery but beaming fans – football fans. Shrill and St Paulsiferous in the dizzying sunshine.

Today it may be hotter and the festivities are rich again but different. Smelling less dope, seeing similarly fabulous levels of colour. Some of this, of course, describes inadequately and I hope not in any way pejoratively the Indian support; but also the home fans, brightly if not luridly t-shirted for the day’s cricket. It’s proper summer and proper hot – 30 degrees.

1.30pm. News. Kumar may be out with a stiff back and Root is dropped, Stokes is in. Which is a sharpish reminder that sport at the top end is competitive. I *decide* that my typical ball-by-ball attack on this is OUT; big call but it’s bloody intense to do that for two innings.

This means theoretically I can sit back a little, enjoy and hopefully be maturely, authoritatively, entertainingly reflective. In practice and in truth, could be that my twitchy nature means I pour out the instinctual cobblers as usual. (*I do*).

First over from Chahar. Buttler clatters him through extra and then mid-on and (lols) we need to change the ball. Buttler miscues that new ball for another four, to square leg and there are 13 from the first over.

Umesh Yadav now follows from in front of us in the Pavilion End. The Indian quick looks powerful and committed but ominously, England’s keeper despatches him straight and then really middles a pull to backward square. Buttler is flying early.

Roy joins the fun, driving classically with beautiful hands –  straight – then profiting from a misfield, then clattering Yadav over mid-off for the first six. England have bolted to 43 for 0 off 4. Siddarth, in his distinctive red headband, has the unenviable job of bowling the fifth.

The scoreboard is already strongly indicative of a more bat-friendly strip that the unusually lively one at Sophia Gardens on Friday. Both Roy and Buttler appear to be striking with potentially demoralising ease. The runrate soars to over 12 as we reach 73 for 0 after 6. Apparently the guys on the telly are suggesting India have misread the green tinge on the pitch for seamtasticism. Nope; it’s easy-pickings – currently at least.

India put down two toughish but maybe catchable chances as Roy bursts on to 50 from 23 balls. Crazy to think it but *right now* there is a medium-legitimate possibility that India might get humiliated here. Roy absolutely nails one which thuds spookily loudly against the window five feet to my right – nearly brutalising the cameraman innocently stationed on that balcony.

Siddarth, having changed ends, responds by bowling Buttler, attempting to heave a very full one to leg. The Indian support get behind him and there will be more to cheer, as Roy, who had looked impregnable, in trying to guide over the keeper, edges to the keeper. England are still going great guns – over ten an over – but the familiar sense that there is no contest between batter and bowler, has drifted.

This is a smallish but pleasantly flooded-with-light kindofa ground: it seems full – fuller than Cardiff, on Friday. Short boundaries straight, again, like Sophia Gardens. Conditions for playing and spectating could barely be more perfect.

A further shift: Morgan skies two, the second of which is taken by Dhoni, waddling over and then trashing through the stumps. (The previous really should have been taken, at extra, but as the fielder is subsequently escorted from the field clutching his head, maybe the cries of ‘Village’ really do need to transform to sympathy… and then to support).

While Chahar is being attended to, the Indian comeback continues, as Hales is out edging behind. We find ourselves with two new batsmen at the crease – admittedly these are Bairstow and Stokes – but the game has re-invented itsef… as a game. 150 for 4 as we enter the 16th over.

Like Umesh Yadav for his control and consistency. He slots another series of probing yorkers at the batsmen’s heels. It’s Pandya, though who claims Stokes, caught easily and coolly by Kohli at long off.

When Bairstow also goes, caught behind, England appear to be conjuring a pret-ty disappointing under-achievement. Willey’s edge onto middle off Yadav confirms, indeed emphasises this turnaround.

With Roy and Buttler looking unplayable earlier, England looked set for something approaching 250: we enter the penultimate over 59 runs shy of that figure. It’s over to Plunkett and Jordan to re-wrestle the initiative.

Instead Jordan becomes the third England bat to try to guide behind, claimed in straightforward fashion by Dhoni.

The Indian icon is rather more seriously challenged by the runout chance on the final ball of England’s knock. Throwing down his glove early in anticipation of the inevitable wild scamper, Dhoni flattens the stumps, in doing so reducing (if that’s the right word, it feels like it?) England to a total of 198 for 9. Somewhere, Roy and Buttler are spitting and swearing.

This could be a great game. Willey is making some things happen but immediately India counter. Rohit Sharma and Dhawan strike, purely, to raucous appreciation, as the nerves all around settle… and at the same time, jangle explosively.

Ball dives outstandingly to his left to remove Dhawan, off Willey; Rohit clatters Jordan straight; the ball is changed; the crowd is in. India are taking this challenge on, fearlessly. It could be a great game. 43 for 1 off 4.

There are flats, at the Ashley Down Road End, with extravagant views over the ground. Currently most of Bristol is up there.

They get the proverbial grandstand view, then, as Jordan races, eases then reaches brilliantly out and behind to remove Rahul off Ball, for 19. It’s a proper *moment*, fit for a clash of top, top-level players and it brings in some fella called Kohli.

After 7, India are 72 for 2. Enter Rashid.

Rohit Sharma gets to a swift 50 with a minor miscue behind off Stokes. The batsmen do, however look to have this under some measure of control. England need to do all of the following, arguably unhelpfully contradictory things;

  • hold their nerve.
  • Make something happen.
  • Either distance themselves from or feed off the crowd.

As India get to 100 for 2 – and beyond – there are increasing signs that both Rohit and Kohli are relishing this. A certain portion of the crowd is sniffing a particularly satisfying win; sniffing noisily and full-throatedly. India need 74 from 48 balls, as the heroic fielder Jordan runs in from under the pavilion.

The bowler mixes it up – one delivery ambling down there at a teasing 66 mph. He errs significantly, though, by offering a full toss around Rohit’s left shin; it’s smacked out over square leg, for six.

Plunkett finds Kohli in similarly belligerent mood. In a flamingoesque flash, the ball is propelled shockingly for a further maximum. Blimey this is brilliant, from the visitors. They appear to be easing to an impressive win.

Except Jordan. One of the sharpest catchers in world cricket takes a very sharp c&b to remove Kohli. Doesn’t, in the moment feel enough, as India need only 48 from 30 balls but hey… who knows? Rashid returns from the Ashley Down Road End – no dramas.

Big Challenge for Ball as he takes the next. His first is driven straight for four, his second dug out skilfully from off his toes by Pandya then a further boundary comes through midwicket. Nothing against Ball but strong sense in the Media Posse that he was the wrong bloke there.

29 needed from 18 as Willey comes in from under those flag-draped flats. Feels like Rohit has this, but Pandya pitching in nicely with a long-levered drive for six, then a four… then more. The fella seems intent on denying his partner a glorious ton. India suddenly need just the 9 from 2 overs.

In fact Sharma does get to that landmark – kissing Jordan down to third man. India win it, by 7 wickets, as Pandya goes big again over long on.

Fine series, enjoyed by both sets of supporters (I would suggest), won deservedly by determined, accomplished, elite-level-competitive men in blue. Congratulations.