Conference rise.

It was a real coup for Cricket Wales/Glamorgan Cricket to get the new ECB Head of Coach Development, John Neal, to open the first National Coaching Conference, held at The SSE Swalec Stadium on Sunday. (Good work on the nobbling-him-early-doors front, from our very own Paul Morgan.)

John is both plainly a top man and the top man in terms of his responsibilities vis a vis cricket coaching in England and Wales. He came across as exactly the sort of authoritative, centred, witty and determined individual you might really want to lead you through… whatever.

Opening up, the former WRU and RFU man did not so much speak – certainly he didn’t lecture – as conduct an exchange with us, which was (despite the fact that it had by its nature to be themed), refreshing, challenging, funny and direct. Those of you who attend vaguely corporate gatherings of this sort may shiver coldly when I tell you he played a series of short games with us but a) he did b) they were fine – they were funny, meaningful and illustrative of his points.

Understandably reluctant to lumber himself with a glib, conference-friendly soundbite, John threw away the notion that ‘this is about Making Coaching Fun’ – before making it fun. He was big on the ideas around the right reflex and how we must challenge our own ease or easing towards judgements which may be wrong; when we (ourselves) are often wrong anyway… and this is fine.

On the process of coaching, Mr Neal offered the following, in essence: that it is largely about the coach being skilled in offering good questions to stimulate self-learning in the player. I am para-phrasing, but speaking privately for some time after his initial remarks, the sense was that John is right behind the idea that

“players must problem-solve: coaching is not about answering”.

After a start that was as provocative as it was informative, the fifty coaches attending were then ushered down into the indoor school at the Swalec, where three top-level deliverers were waiting.

Cookie Patel is one of the ECB’s go-to men for leading Coach Ed. sessions. His brief on this occasion was to share some ideas and principles around fielding; from catching to sliding to stats. Inevitably, he threw in a few nuggety specifics around posture or practice – offerings, I would say, rather than instructions.

So there were observations and some demonstrations for the various disciplines, calibrated for – and then re-calibrated for – different abilities or scenarios, or just to make them more fun. Couple of half-decent fielders were tested: all done with a bit of healthy mischief and a good dollop of streetwise (but also clearly authoritative) cricket humour.

In short Cookie was engaging, sharp, likeable and packed a whole lot of learning into his sessions. There was some gawping at a screen full of prompts or stats but there was a good flow – good energy.

Sharing the space was the ECB’s Dan Garbutt, who beasted his posse of innocents with a chaotic-but-not-chaotic runaround under the theme of Game Sense. This was an inventive multi-game, loosely and briskly set up by Dan, demanding lots of input and application from the participants, in order to a) score runs through targets b) challenge the players’ wits.

Dan intervened only occasionally: he told me rather proudly midway through ‘I’ve offered no coaching points’, meaning this was about inventiveness – movement, adjustment, game sense – from the players. It was crazy-dynamic in a really good way: the coaches were smiling and knackered.

Screened off in a single net area (hard ball work) was Mark O’Leary, lead coach at Cardiff Met and the driving force behind the MCCU side which won out at Lords a month or two ago. Mark was and plainly is into spin.

Tall, slim and alarmingly youthful, ‘Sparky’ bustled his groups brilliantly through all things spintastic. Entry-level under-arm games; progressions towards Rashid-dom; use of visual cues and handy, wristy tips. He demystified stuff and demonstrated, simply but strikingly well, how you might extract major turn. (Certainly he did: the leggies and the extraordinarliy nonchalantly launched googlies turned about a yard – or that’s how they would surely have felt to the batsman). Impressive.

Impressive but delivered with just the right amount of direction, humour and humility. Loved that Mark unashamedly spoke of leg-spin (in particular, though obviously not exclusively) as an art and yet entirely demonstrated how accessible that magic around the art can be. The session, like the balls, fizzed.

In practical terms, Sparky used ver-ry few bits of kit. A builders line between bowler’s mark and off-stick; a washing line, effectively to draw loop and dip; some balls. The rest was ingenuity and enthusiasm – and yes, knowledge.

Those amongst my co-gluttons at Cricket Wales who failed to attend the day may be interested to hear that lunch was generous, tasty and included hot chunks of meat as well as the dainty sandwiches of yore. Well -fed, we sat again to listen to Hugh Morris.

Hugh is CEO at Glamorgan Cricket. I know now – having been in his company on several occasions – that he is also a hugely capable and honourable man, impressively focused on building a successful club, with a strong, Welsh core under-pinned by a truly effective pathway. Hugh knows there are sceptics; he himself joked about the South African rather than South Walian origins of a good deal of the current squad, but I am clear he means it when he talks about developing a county side that consistently reflects its support, its national identity, its base.

The former Glammy and England opening bat majored on the Long Term Athletic Development pathway that he believes – and again, I really think he does believe – must be central to a joined-up, fit-for-all-purposes, enabling structure. He took us through the detail, so as to make the argument unanswerable and impress upon us how necessary he believes the changes are. It was arguably dryish stuff but the gaffer was utterly, convincingly clear that the model of LTAD planning he outlined would be key to achieving the twin objectives of great, appropriate sporting provision and the development of great Welsh players.

Hugh was gracious enough to enlarge privately on the arguments – and the research around them – for some time after his presentation. Plainly, explicitly and rightly he wants Glamorgan to be geared up and ready to bid for and use the (potentially increased) ECB funds to make real his vision. It’s ambitious. It involves considerable culture-change and investment. However, Mr Morris, I can tell you, is committed.

After a few brief questions from the coaches, it was back to the action on the floor, as groups rotated through the sessions.

Dave Leighton is a shortish fella – fair cop, Dave, you made the jokes – who may well have played rugby league (as well as cricket) before his twenty-odd years service with the ECB. He now heads up National Participation in his role as Coaching Manager. Dave twinkled his way through ‘the graveyard shift’ asking questions about his chief areas of concern – ‘beyond Coach Education’ and ‘the club environment’.

Having spoken to him before he addressed the coaches, I was interested to see him in relatively discreet mode: he gave little away in respect of the transformation about to be unleashed: I respect that. However (again privately) he did share his confident expectation that resources will be ploughed into the recreational game… over and above the huge investment in All Stars Cricket. Coaching, it seems, will be recognised, valued and supported (by the ECB) in a way that marks a step-change towards the bubble-burstingly brilliant future envisaged by Matt Dwyer. I wish Mr Leighton had been as clear about that to the assembled throng as he was to me, individually.

Whatever, there’s a theme developing here, is there not?Centred on belief and expectation. Around investment which folks are pret-ty certain is a-comin’. Let’s go back to where this began – to the other Top Man, John Neal.

John was absolutely clear that he has the freedom to make changes happen; that he will do so. Given that his brief is for Coach Development he will broaden the Coach Education pathway, making it possible to improve and achieve in (probably) three newly defined areas rather than (probably) get blocked in the current, suffocatingly vertical structure. He likes the word enablement and he will enable. The money is coming and the ground has shifted and things will happen – are happening.

Final thoughts? Sunday was a good day. For those who participated, it was a blast, a pleasure, it was challenging-but-great. It was well-supported but chiefly by exactly the sort of coaches who support stuff – who always do this stuff. Meaning a) if you are coaching in Wales and you didn’t attend, why not? b) you’d be daft to miss the next one.

There are about forty-seven cricket revolutions going on simultaneously, right now; some on the pitch, some off. The first Cricket Wales/Glamorgan Cricket National Coaching Conference evidenced, echoed and nudged forward that sense that we are entitled to come over all excited, in these extraordinary times, because pound-for-pound, it seems likely that we coaches – we cricket people – may be able to contribute more, expect more, influence more… because the investment is coming. That’s the clear implication.

So, call me an optimist… but I am optimistic. Don’t just take my word for it, mind – all of us the Swalec were buzzing.

Aimee Rees, lead for Cricket Wales Women and a hugely respected coach in her own right, put it this way;

‘today’s conference was excellent – really well organised and all of the presenters were engaging and knowledgable… The standout session for me was on spin, with Mark O’Leary from Cardiff MCCU. I am already looking forward to the next conference.’

Friends, there will be a next conference.

Who knows?

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

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

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

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

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

Kerrigan gets 50.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

.

Obscene Brilliance.

The Epi-prologue.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First ball driven through extra cover. No further dramas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rain Dance.

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

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

Glammy seem relaxed: nattering or stretching.

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

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

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

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

Run their best batsman out! GET KLINGER OUT!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How did I get here?

So. We’re with David Byrne, right? Scrambling for sense in a trippily colorific world. In the sunshine – or is that floodlight? – in the city – but look at all those trees! Squeezed between giddyingly gaudy, pyroclastic sport-of-the-now and the river. Wondering…

How did I get here?

No idea if Robert Croft likes Talking Heads (some would say he certainly is one) but the Glamorgan gaffer has needed to say something. His side have been alarmingly exposed too much already in the county season in a way he simply will not accept: three consecutive defeats culminating in the extraordinary but surely dispiriting pasting at Cheltenham.

My sense is that Croft is tough, however and crucially that although he must be feeling personally slighted by the suspicion recent matches have featured capitulations, he does believe in his team. Not as champions or even leading contenders but as guys building.

I’m not party to real policy – who is, amongst us scribblers? – but I am aware of a deep commitment to developing talent, with some emphasis on Welsh players. At Glam this of course flows down from the very top, Hugh Morris being emphatically behind the  notion that it’s right, as well as financially necessary, to seek after local gems; all this implies Project Patience.

Of course Big Name Signings have to be factored in and Glammy have, in the recent past gone (I’m guessing!) as big as they dare to secure the likes of Steyn and Shaun Tait to lift attendances and results. De Lange is maybe this year’s arguably slightly lower profile star but the standout signature for the tilt at glory is a re-signature, this year – that of Colin Ingram.

Which brings us to the white ball… and to the river.

Ingram is a precious talent – one that must surely have been tapped-up by pals from Pietermaritzburg, agents from Vauxhall. He is a whirlwind, a destroyer, a smiter of mighty blows. He may well, by the way, be magnificent at four, possibly five day cricket; but Ingram was made for 20 overs.

I met his father briefly at a T20 in Cardiff last year and he told me ‘he’s just loving his cricket’. Arguably flimsy evidence for me to remain hopeful that Ingram still is content at (lowly?) Glamorgan, that he knows this is his moment and that he can channel the white-heat, the adrenalin, the spectacular focus and again go beautifully monstrous.

Many will hope that Donald and Cooke pitch in with the bat and that Hogan and De Lange can be wily or sharp enough to stem the flow from t’other end, as it were. Whichever way it’s hard to escape the feeling that the season has been building (and the team shaped) towards this T20Blast competition.

There are clearly pressures around the notion that Glamorgan kinda have to be a white ball county; given current status, balance, quality – given the real world. Croft and co have looked set (and more controversially, maybe like they’re settling?) for #T20Blast for months. They fit the c.v. – they feel competitive in a way they don’t at the longer formats – and maybe I’m including 50 over cricket in that category. (*Sign of the Times* alert).

How hugely the great capitalist shadow falls across this squad/format/direction equation is another great unknowable: tonight, pre-match, I don’t care. What matters in this glassy, summery, spring-coiled moment is the degree to which Glamorgan can grab.

The game; Hampshire to bat. Coolish summer eve – pret-ty close to ideal for sport.

A look at the teamsheets suggests Hants have the weightier characters, perhaps (Abbot, Bailey, Vince, Carberry, Afridi?!?) but who knows? I can however report with some certainty that for me that everyday nervous thing is coloured up or sharpened just a tad by the feeling that Glammy must really go to work – that this is their season.

Vince had other ideas. He twitches and sprints off the mark; Hants are 40 for nothing, sharpish. But Hogan has that hand nice and high, and TVG is bowling with some venom. Salter seems purposeful. If a team can be said to share body language…

Wickets fall. Hampshire are 72 for 4 in the tenth; things poised.

Salter and TVG make for an encouragingly testing combo. The blonde bombshell accelerating in hard and zapping the deck, the Pembrokeshire twirler bustling through, changing it. Notable that Van der Gugten bowls almost entirely back of a length (or shorter) at Bailey and MacManus and that the batsmen pass on the invitation to hook big almost completely. Plans, eh?

88 for 4 off thirteen. It’s hardly explosive stuff – for all his worldly experience Bailey feels a disappointment. Hants are going at seven an over without dominating. Sixes are a rarity, control in some dispute.

Suddenly MacManus smashes two off two (sixes that is) as we  close out the 16th on 116 for 4. Gear change? Ye-es but not emphatically so: MacManus will eventually battle through to 50 and beyond without absolutely bossing the scene. (Tonight, nobody does, in fact).

Early in the seventeeth MacManus dismisses De Lange back over his head for a booming maximum. (OK, pedants, not maximum just six). The visitors are plainly heading for a goodish total but this hasn’t felt especially one-sided: given recent history might Glam settle for that? Hopefully not.

Croft’s side’s time in the field felt efficient enough rather brilliant: they were unlucky – seven or eight times miscues or aerials just fell short of the onrushing fielder. Finally MacManus holed out to a diving cover in the last over (167 for 5). A serious challenge, then.

Lloyd and Donald to open for Glammy but the former’s cutting and tickling the first ball… behind, disappointingly. Topley the bowler. In comes Ingram, already a high percentage of hopes resting on him and the young man opposite.

Sharp intake of breath as Ingram is caught, outstandingly, flaying wide, at extra cover by Berg and Glamorgan are 3 for 2 after the first over. The thought registers rather darkly that the incoming Rudolph may have to find something unexpectedly maaarvellous, here.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the dynamic Donald that takes it to the enemy. Again he appears bright and almost fearless – raising that bat intimidatingly high and baseball-like as Topley charges in. He flukes a poor four before middling a couple to leg but the intent – that waggling, pre-hook backlift – is clear and positive.

Rudolph is from another generation but can he glide through this and shepherd the innings? Be the statesman to Donald’s stag? With Glammy at 24 for 2 off four, it seems that natural Rudolph will anchor and/or thread singles whilst Donald biffs the thing around.

With Donald so obviously set up to slap everything through midwicket, I wonder if Hants might bowl full at off-stick and get him playing across. Saw no sign of that approach. He’s done, in the end by spin, in any case. When Donald is swiftly followed by Carlson – for nought – the crowd re-calibrate their optimism. Glam are 47 for 4 after 8.

When Rudolph chips the energetic Afridi to short mid-off, the Glam faithful – and those critical newcomers, on a boozy or family night out – begin to fear capitulation, which would feel disastrous for the season, never mind the night. At 54 for 5 off 10, things look bleak.

Wagg finally connects with Afridi, smashing a straight six but the runrate is above ten per over at the halfway: too much. Unless…

Glamorgan reach the hundred five wickets down at the end of the 13th. Extraordinarily, the generally dynamic Cooke has been relatively soporific – certainly compared to his partner Wagg – who sits on 43, at this point.

Afridi is bowling incredibly quick ‘legspin’. Perhaps it’s this that unsettles Cooke, who spoons to off and is caught, rather tamely. Enter Salter.

Ultimately Wagg makes a brave 50 before driving to mid-off. Salter and De Lange have no option but to blast and hope, in the last four, with 54 needed(!) However they have mixed success and Topley deceives the South African paceman with a slower ball.

TVG bolts the first ball of the 19th from Topley past midwicket for 6, keeping the game alive – as in alive-but-surely-dead? The England paceman responds with two stunning yorkers and Glam need 27 to win it from Berg’s final over.

TVG is caught at deep mid-on off the first ball. Glamorgan finish 22 short, Salter swishing his blade violently in disappointment.

The suspicion remains that Glamorgan must find some collective inspiration and look to bursts of unanswerable brilliance from Ingram, Donald (possibly) with the bat and from Van der Gugten, De Lange or Hogan with the ball.

This can happen. Croft’s job is to stimulate and support those aspirations – to help build beyond expectation.

Slaven to the rhythm(n?)

Not sure how comfortable with the idea I am, but have been slightly comparing (if that’s a thing?) my medium-local cricket team with Premier League ‘equivalents’. Something to do with straining to get or put a handle on the role or leadership style of Robert Croft. Because Glamorgan – in fact based exactly 100 miles away – is my team.

The redaction back to footiestuff – as though that’s the Natural Yardstick – concerns me a tad but put that down to historical-familial linkage. Much as the righteous heart of me turns away from the diving, the feigning, the insufferable and delusional arrogance of too many contemporary football legends, I am in it (football) for life. Without pardon.

Cricket, meanwhile, insinuated a way in subtly and built over time. I played cricket as a wee lad, loving bowling from the first moment: however post comprehensive school (for reasons I won’t bore you with now) I flitted in and out of the game, returning fleshed-out and mature to coach, work for Cricket Wales and then really get back into it in my (ahem) middle years.

I now follow Glamorgan, from my hundred mile distance, ever more keenly. The daft-beautiful tribal nonsense-thing has properly kicked in.

This feels great, if challenging. Given the voluptuous up-and-down-ness of the current Glammy trajectory, I’m Kinda Concerned, of nr Tyddewi. And I’m wondering if it’s the ubiquity of fickleness itself – or what? – that draws me towards dubious analogies with more spiteful sports… and (ya know) Slaven Bilic.

Glamorgan under Croft just sounds right – and probably is. Former player, of great distinction and unquestioned commitment. Committed welshman – plus! Croft takes his archetype shooting, fishing and singing: slings his arm round it, man-hugs it, banters with it, in the dressingroom, sportsbar, tv studio. I reckon he broods with it, whilst softly crooning Canon Lan, wader-deep in the Tawe.

This is not (I promise you) to patronise the man. Bob Croft is loved and respected by many for his flawless, brilliant, imperfect, unstill, sanguine-genuine welshness but he is Head Coach at Glamorgan because of cricket; knowledge and nous.

Croft, I have felt, has the potential to be truly inspirational – a quality many coaches simply lack. It’s not in their biology, never mind their c.v. – however impressive, however legitimising. The Glammy coach’s strengths and weaknesses will increasingly inevitably be looked at as time goes on but few will question his ability to stir the blood of his players. Which is where (probably?) Bilic comes in.

Croft and Bilic share the p-word – the one that salespeople or businesspeople who should be stood against the wall and shot increasingly claim. (Shoot them for their impudence, their lifeless, dullards’ cheek, their hard-horny-shell-like unawareness; for they know nothing of… Passion!)

The geetar-playing Croat has it. The bloke from Swansea, too. Real, human, kosher, bonafide passion – the sort that implies a degree of poetry, of creativity, as well as that thing where you’d fancy sharing a boozy night out. Bilic and Croft are bigger than their sports – and this is why we are hopeful.

Today Bilic meets/met the West Ham board, in what the papers are characterising as a) crucial talks and/or b) routine, post-season discussions. Could be that like Croft he is both loved and under some pressure. Pressure because a) it comes with the territory and b) neither fella has sufficiently gathered his troops. The Happy Hammers have barely chortled, Glammy are steepling between Ingram’s brilliance and raw uncompetitiveness. Let me say now I hope both come through it (whatever it is) and go on to glory.

But what glory? What’s possible, in the nearish future? For West Ham maybe a cup, for Glamorgan likewise? What would turning it round look like?

Notwithstanding the brave retreat currently being fought by Ingram and partner in the four-dayer against Notts, in which at this very moment Chris Cooke is currently – perhaps symbolically – being treated for a blow to the head, Glamorgan have lately too often been battered. They appear off the pace in the longer format and were frankly wildly inconsistent in the LV One Day tournament, failing to progress.

Rudolph, the captain and theoretically the international-class statesman amongst a reasonably youngish group, is also under the spotlight. More than Noble (or whoever is West Ham’s skipper) might be. The role of the cricket captain is broader and  arguably more intellectually-demanding than the fooball equivalent but shares, clearly some fundamentals. You have to play well and you have to lead.

For Rudolph, this means more than anything that he has to get runs, against the fiercest, freshest bowling the opposition can muster… and he has to keep on doing that.

At every level in cricket the performance of the opening bats is crucial – even when (as say, in junior junior games) the result just doesn’t matter. Batters three, four and five settle, their whole experience of the game is transformed positively if the openers just see it out for a while, then get comfortable.

Glamorgan have rarely been in this position. Rudolph has (from memory) one much-needed ton to his name this season but his position will, as they say, be being looked at. He cannot lead, truly, without scoring pret-ty heavily.

Croft will have a big call to make on this – assuming agreements are not already in place. He must also seriously address what feels like a team-wide tendency to either gift-wrap wickets, or concede them somewhere on that spectrum between the mad reckless and the careless. Glamorgan batters have to stay and bat. More.

Of course Croft is aware of this – and no doubt working hard, pushing his players hard. Would be fascinating to know just how much Croft is prepared to blur the lines/protect his players/genuinely accept ‘positive cricket’ and/or ‘expressing yourself’ as an explanation for near-humiliation. I imagine he gets angry but also wants that positivity, not just from his precious jewel-of-the-moment (Ingram) but from likely lads Donald, Lloyd and co.

Glamorgan’s gaffer – and the man above, the impressively assured and committed Mr H Morris – are plainly and rightfully trying to find a way through meaningful encouragement of welsh talent AND via less popular (though necessary) judicious recruitment, with presumably smaller resources than most ‘bigger’ counties. They are also clearly targetting white-ball success. You would hope that Croft’s powerful bond with the county might suit a high energy, adrenalin-rich culture:  this year’s T20 Blast is feeling important, already.

Players talk of rhythym(n)s – of feeling good. Movement feeling natural, the game flowing or feeling easy or even energising, despite the tensions. I’m not neutral here but if I was, I’d still be hoping Croft (and Bilic) can charm, bully, or conduct their men towards that magical, tuneful, expressive flow.

 

JD. Thank you.

(Thinks). Wow. Now that’s class. That may be the best series of cover drives I’ve seen! Powerful, really powerful hitting… but so, so STILL!

The scene? Tenby Leisure Centre. Another dollop of coach education for a bundle of us clumsy amateurs. John Derrick, of Glamorgan – the ‘bloke who was leading the Performance Programme’ (or something) was ‘in’ – was demonstrating.

John hit the ball beautifully but boy did he hit it. Repeatedly. Hard. The strokes were controlled but not flashy, there was no sense that he was showing off – grandstanding, we later learned, just not being his thing. John was just demonstrating – like us coaches used to do in the oldish days.

It was beyond striking, in every sense.

The fact that he went on to reduce a glorious but complicated ‘technical skill’ (or the coaching thereof) to a single word has remained with me since that moment, as a kind of touchstone and a warning against my own verbosity. The execution both of the shot but also the art of coaching was about as perfectly judged and quietly impressive as anything I’ve witnessed in sport. And I’m medium ancient… and have done loads of sport.

John, bat whirling magnificently in that mighty but controlled arc, creamed the ball past cover or mid-off or wherever he wanted to cream it and said only… HEAD. It was all he needed to say.

This was probably ten years ago, or more. I’ve seen John irregularly regularly ever since – either at coach workshops or for gatherings of the Cricket Wales/Glam Cricket Massive. Can’t claim to be soulmates but we tended to have a laugh, to get on.

We’ll all have our own memories, now, poised on that spectrum from the plain daft to the ecstatically triumphant to the utterly tragic. I wasn’t there when he won trophies with Glamorgan or worked in South Africa, so mine will be mid-ranking; but important nevertheless, to me.

I sat next to JD at an alarmingly civilised Christmas Party at The Cricketers near the Swalec a year or two back. I saw him do the office thing, the strategic planning thing. But mainly we met in sports halls, or similar. In his element, in other words.

John could just do it. Play, coach, say the right thing. He was rooted and calm and he had the necessary crafts. He had energy gathered and he focused it. Once, after a particular coaching session, he made a point of eyeballing me and told me what I’d done was

brilliant – seriously.

It was a quiet couple of words. Undemonstrative. Genuine. It means even more now than it did then. Because we’ve lost him.

John’s gone, cruelly, another victim, another good ‘un ripped away too early. Some of us had been gently primed for news of this sort… but it barely helps. Time to give up on faith or retreat into something darkish and miserable? No. Absolutely no.

Back in Tenby I was struck by not just the quality of what John did, but by the simplicity, modesty, authenticity of everything around him. Folks do have an aura or feel about them: JD’s was solid, somehow – if that’s possible for an ethereal phenomenon? He gave off unquestionably good, honest, positive vibes, somehow without seeming to do that much.

Sure his presence was proper blokey – stocky, smiley, straight-talking – but he/we were all comfortable, there was easy engagement. Crucially for a coach you believed him and believed in him.

But why wouldn’t you? John Derrick was an elite level player and coach as well as an elite level bloke. His career will be charted well enough in the tributes that will pour in. John played, John coached – it’s on the record.

There’s more. The sheer volume of love and respect over-flowing from the various social media channels is testament to something beyond that list of achievements – impressive though it may be. John was special.

He was hugely loved and respected, at all levels of the game, across Wales, across the continents! John earned that love by being great company as well as a great player, Level 4 Coach, mentor. He was true. He was with you. He was genuinely, solidly, ever-reliably there.

We’re advised, these days, to seek closure in matters of trauma or difficulty – to resolve things. So let’s accept that John has left us. But is our engagement with him over? Do we need to (in any sense) leave him behind? No. Because he was fabulous… and therefore invincible… and good.