Contributions.

The sun.  The Steyn.  The promise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#Steynwatch2 (featuring Nye Donald!)

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

Aneurin nibbles into that. As does the fella Ingram.

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

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

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

At 6.17, I’m counting down the moments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

#Steynwatch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And are they actually both going to play?

Surely!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Crofty.

I was about 30 feet away as Dominic Cork, the slickish rather than truly urbane linkman thrust that furry mic into the poor fellah’s face. Crofty, looking a tad drawn after long hours in the field and no doubt more aware than anyone of the poignancy of the moment, drew in visibly and spoke. Not remotely as easily  as is his chirpy wont but, given he was immediately asked effectively to encapsulate a sporting life, he did okay. He then grabbed clumsily for his son’s outstretched hand for an inadequately rehearsed but final clamber up those dressing-room stairs. Tears, as they say, weren’t far away. Real ones, not High Definition jobs.

The small Cardiff crowd – in which I consider myself privileged to have been included – clapped with gusto in that way suggestive of building emotion. We felt entitled to offer up a kind of knowing but all the same deferential appreciation. I heard the words ‘wonderful, Crofty’ aimed like a kiss on the top of his lowered forehead.

All of us knew something quite special was passing. Let’s be clear, the 21 Tests, the 903 First Class/List A/20-20 matches played, the 1673 wickets taken really matter; they just don’t, in themselves, account for the love.

The home side by this stage had all but won the game (against Kent) barring a Glamorgan-scale debacle in their reply, which fortunately failed to materialise. The man himself had taken the final wicket and mostly, the September sun had obligingly produced. Robert Croft – with a one year contract at Glamorgan to do ambassadorial/corporate work and surely genuine possibilities for wider media work – will hardly be disappearing. But he will not, apparently, be bowling. So it felt – it feels – like a shame.

May his legacy (that word again!) persist; infectious, on the pleasing side of jaunty, like his approach to the crease. And on that irresistible nature, a small wager; that reminders to Rob to show some enthusiasm will remain unnecessary; whether working at the Swalec or beyond, in an office or net, the fellah will still bounce in.  He may even appeal.

Crofty I think of as the chopsy poet of off-spin – maybe the chopsy Taff poet – and I view this as complimentary in every detail. I hope he does.

Having attended a workshop he gave to us Regional Coaches and seen him deliver both those absurdly fluent, flighted or flattened right-armers together with informal masterclass-isms for the benefit of us lesser life-forms, I can make surprisingly valid comment upon the man. Spluttering before the cameras I might muster… “he’s a bloody good bloke”. Elsewhere, with time to re-grasp reflections more or less blurred by time or Felinfoel I might suggest an outstanding Welshman, full of that rich mixture of public house verbals and proper sporting sparkle befitting a Premier Grade Dragon. A real player, in fact.

So as not to patronise him entirely with stories of his chummily colourful past let’s reinforce this essential rider; Crofty has performed, with rare diligence and consistency and passion for his beloved Glamorgan. Look at the stats if you will. Consider the fact that he’s often opened the bowling in 20-20’s, for example – an invitation to get humbled for any off-spinner.  Or look elsewhere in the columns, the how many’s. You will find something pretty remarkable. The woolly, immeasurable truth however is surely that few can match either his quality as a slow bowler or his loyalty and commitment to a single cause; very few have matched that combination of gift and heart.

Slow bowlers need a certain guile to go with any spin they may have. Croft personified a further extra-curricular dimension; he was a personality on the pitch. He believed and expressed the belief that body language – the oohs and aahs and OWIZZEE’S as well as the physical whirlings – were key to the armoury.

Tellingly, during the spin workshop – in front of 40-odd coaches uniformly but perhaps unknown to him slightly awed to be in his presence – Croft seemed inconsistently served by words. But when he demonstrated some of this intensity, in alliance with a fluency bordering the bewitching he impacted most fully upon the room. You use that seam – at 45 degrees; you follow through; you engage with the batsman – you get in his head. Like this!

I have a clear memory of leaving with a smile on my face, surer than ever that this occasionally combative professional sportsman might reasonably have the words ‘artist at work’ daubed on the flip-chart at the mouth of his net. He has a quality perhaps best recorded by such graffiti. Plus I suspect he might like the ambiguity – the banter? – such a tribute might evoke.

When relaxed, Croft has that blokey ease found all over; when riled, he is allegedly capable of stubbornness or worse – perhaps especially if he feels the county, the team risks being undermined. But when bowling – when released into the flow of his natural state – Croft (if it doesn’t sound too absurd?) outlives himself. Meaning something to do with poetry occurs; meaning something bigger than Robert Croft occurs.

Whether I am daft or delusional or dynamically charged in this, I hope young spinners in Wales will get some sense of his boundlessly purposeful bound, his zealot’s wheeling. And… enjoy that.