Brutal World.

So Croft goes, amid that abstracted, high-contrast, impulse-loaded, contra-sense that a) given the standards of the modern day, he had to… but also b) ain’t it a shame, the unpeeling of the romance, the murder of the righteous, the strangulation of the dream. Would that all that undeniable love for county and country had been converted into runs.

It wasn’t; or it wasn’t enough, or early enough. Or it wasn’t remotely, in 50 over and County Champs cricket – not recently, not so you’d notice.

The figures – painful ones for us Glammy supporters – are out there. I’m not searching through them again; too painful, too embarrassing, too brutally evidential of (one argument goes) undeniable failure.

One argument does say the Glamorgan gaffer presided over a shockingly uncompetitive period… period. Forget the wider debate or the responsibility for developing homegrown talent. Forget that. Croft was indulged waaay longer than your average football manager. His Long Term Plan for a Wonderfully Welsh Glamorgan side wasn’t working; so he goes.

A few, (not many, I think) will hold to the contrary, allegedly-truly more generous Long Term Plan, whereby patience and support for an honourable, long-term servant of the club persists. The seductive notion being that ultimately loyalty, that authentic hywl, might or should prevail. But nah. Not these days.

I remember the euphoria around the Croft retirement/appointment period. I was there when he hauled himself up the steps for the last time, his son alongside, to the Glammy dressing-room. It felt a tad staged, to be honest, but there was still a proper lump of Crofty-lurv in the air. I stood and cheered.

His succession to Coach was similarly notably wrapped in quasi-nostalgic goodwill. (Remember that?) But – as David Coleman might have said – goodwill don’t pay the rent.

The promise of real development through coupling white-ball superstars (Ingram, Steyn, Tait, etc) with wide-eyed Welsh Bois never came through for him. There were nearish misses in T20 Blast in particular but too much humiliation of late. We got to a place where the sympathy for a proper Welsh Bloke could not hold back the cruel questions; rightly so.

It’s tough all around when a patently genuine Club Legend is being undermined… but yaknow it’s his job to sort things and there’s inevitably a timescale on that.

The level of trauma (performance-wise) at Glamorgan has been such that my newish mucker, the brilliant ESPN Correspondent George Dobell has not simply questioned their quality but proposed something more powerfully challenging – the outright squishing of the club. He favours a re-boot, under a Welsh national flag, because Glammy have proved, essentially, (he says) to be non-viable. (I have, for brevity, maybe bastardised his argument but you get the point: Glam are seen by some to be a poor, inadequate, unworthy member of the County Clubs club).

Croft – and Hugh Morris – have presided over this. A few days ago, the latter relinquished his Director of Cricket, but not his CEO role. Today marks a further, significant step on. It feels to me both dramatic and appropriate.

I know Hugh Morris a little and find him impressive; tough, focused, loyal, committed, shrewd.

Croft I barely know, having been in a cohort of coaches for a workshop or two under him, and at club outreach evenings which he hosted: never truly in his company.

The man’s contribution over time deserves a certain level of respect so I am not going to repeat the one or two negative things I’ve heard about him, nor where they came from. What I will do is note to the universe that if I had to choose just the one of the two men to carry Glam forward it would be Morris.

Perhaps that’s indiscreet, perhaps it’s unnecessary? (Perhaps I’ll edit it out later).

Given the raw material available to him, it may be that Croft had to be a Pied Piper Plus – to have something deeply inspiring about him. I suspect, unfortunately, he hasn’t had enough of that magic: would Nye Donald have left if he did? Again, maybe that’s a tad harsh. But it’s a brutal world, eh?

 

A post-script.

Where to next?  Following what we can probably assume to be Hugh Morris’s difficult and therefore courageous decision to relieve Croft of his duties, where do Glammy go? Is the retention of Matthew Maynard as Batting Consultant a) erroneous b) smart c) a sign that the Welsh Connection (as it were) remains a force – a value? How far away from appointing TWO key figures – Director of Cricket and Head Coach – are the county?  We can’t know.

Personally I have no doubt that Morris will be looking to retain what we might/he might call Glamorgan’s soul. For him, despite that medium-aggressive business savvy-thing, the development of Welsh talent is more than just a marketing tool; it’s a full-on mission.

This of course doesn’t mean that he won’t be heavily conscious that Glam must now enter a period where they are competitive, where the leadership is authentically top-level. Meaning there is less or no room for sentiment.

But the need for two helmsmen (helmspeople?) may provide an opportunity here. Could he be bold enough to take it, I wonder, by bringing in a genuinely international class Director of Cricket, with Mark O’Leary – curently of Cardiff MCCU – beneath, running day-to-day coaching affairs?

(O’Leary is an ECB Level 4 Masters Coach from the same cohort as the likes of Dizzy Gillespie: he is a personable Coming Man, with verve, ingenuity, great ideas around coaching).

If this sounds a crazy-dangerous notion then consider the following scenario: essentially a triumvirate of senior staff, with a Brilliant New Guy as D of C, plus Maynard chuntering and cajoling and – importantly – at O’Leary’s shoulder).

I make this proposition for a couple of reasons.

1. I know O’Leary reasonably well and feel pret-ty convinced he may be a star in the making – that Glammy should get him into their system.

2. That there is plainly a way for him to be developed under the wings of a cool, authoritative Director of Cricket – particularly if the nuggetty Maynard remains an influence. Longer-term (only actually a year or two down the track), O’Leary might then be an utterly outstanding fit for Head Coach.

Sub-clause XXII. (I get that there are dangers around this).  Yes, O’Leary is Welsh. No, I’m not daft enough to either campaign on the issue,or pretend that going thissaway would be straightforward, for Hugh Morris.  But hey, this morning’s conversational hare… sorted. 👊🏻

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.

 

 

 

 

 

.

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.

 

Culture of spin.

Immediately post the Third Test versus Pakistan and all the talk is of the dearth of quality spin bowlers. Or at least in the UK mini-subcontinent it is. Hour upon hour or page upon page of rumination around spin stuff, which in a way… is great. Great that this (arguably) least glamorous facet of the game is in the spotlight.

Whilst inevitably unpicking the issues arising from this (ahem) turn of events, I do wonder if we can turn this moment when both armchair authorities and Cricketing Authorities are acutely engaged… into a positive?

Let’s hear what some influential peeps or tweeps have said. Michael Vaughan has been relentlessly withering on the inconsistencies or raw inadequacies of England’s 3 spinners. Boycott has just described them – slightly absurdly, but as is often the case, we know what he means- as ‘non-existent,’ in a Telegraph article. Robert Croft – from the other angle – has tweeted that

We can’t expect our batsmen 2 be consistent against the turning ball. They never have to face it in this country as no turning pitches!

There’s a comparatively rare consensus around the facts that

a) our spinners (by definition, picked to spin the ball and either take wickets or tie up an end) were ordinary, given the help they received from prevailing conditions and

b) our batsmen were too easily undone by the Pakistani equivalents. There’s a further consensus around the notion that these two phenomena are umbilically linked… to the relative void (as opposed to the fecund womb!) where our spin culture should be.

In attempting to apply my own laser-like intellect to the spin bowling issue only – for now – I’m going to do what any self-respecting bloggerist might do, and reach for a coupla subtitles.

The Individuals.
There’s always context, right? Selection is always about what’s happened before, what’s expected and what impact or contribution a player might make. Remember that.

Moeen Ali.
I was in Cardiff for the Ashes and can confirm that folks were falling for Moeen, rather. He was actually loved, for his smooth, assured batting and his energy round the place. I’m not saying he was Ben Stokes exactly – Mo’s mojo is a whole lot less spikily, edgily brilliant – but he seemed so comfortable in the environment we hoped good things might happen whenever he was involved. Often they did.

That whole Mo batting at eight ruse also worked a treat, felt like a master stroke as he moved stylishly (and critically) to 77 in the first innings. That crowd-lurv, that confidence fed into a decent return from his bowling; in the first innings he winkled out Smith and Clarke and in the second Australian knock he claimed three wickets, including that of Warner. He took a super-sharp caught and bowled (that Clarke wicket) and somehow lifted the crowd with his easy enthusiasm. It may have been the prevalence of Mo masks around the Swalec crowd but something about his quiet presence suggested he may be destined to be the face of the summer.

In fact, whilst Ar Mo certainly contributed to a flawed but uplifting Ashes victory, there was early concern around the quality of his bowling. More than that; it was generally appreciated that the Mo-at-8 thing made sense precisely because he’s not a genuine international spinner… and yet he is more than a mere makeweight. He deserves a slot, he improves the balance of the side and shores up the batting/offers a match-winning threat even, down there. He is – despite the work-in-progress-that-may-not-progress enough-ness of his bowling – a real international.

Mostly, Moeen Ali looks every inch of that but, if you look at his bowling in isolation, he doesn’t.

Samit Patel.
Is viewed as either a proper throwback kindofa cricketer, or a man out of time. Defiantly unsexy, patrolling like some amiable neighbourhood copper dangerously close to the ‘likeably portly’ category. Simply does not have that sprint and dive thing in his locker; in fact looks like he has a ham and chutney bap and a bottle of Sam Smith’s in his locker.

Samit can clearly play – as can the other two spin candidates – but he has been judged to be short of fitness and that true elite-level threat with the ball.

So if Patel is generally and rightly regarded highly and warmly by plenty but few consider him the answer to England’s spin ‘woes’, why was he picked? With all due respect he doesn’t fit the bill as England’s Future. The brutal truth is that he was selected because of injuries around the squad, then geography/’conditions’ and because okaaaaay he mi-ight do a job with bat and ball. This he did. An average job – predictably. It may have been an average selection, given short and longer term considerations.

Rashid…(however…)
is the one.

If Moeen is effectively a batsman who can bowl spin and Patel a goodish alround spin bowler and batsman, Rashid is the one we might look to with the ball.

The fact of his leggie-dom may flesh out the notion he’s a Man More Likely To, in broad terms, than the other two labouring away alongside in Sharjah. He’s different; he’s A Prospect, a threat, a candidate for bona fide spin-king status in a way that Patel and Moeen maybe aren’t – certainly aren’t. Something says he’s more likely to tear through an innings than his compadres… and that he’s young enough to invest in… and we’re entitled to be hopeful and maybe even excited about that.

And yet he proved flawed. As in-out and generally disappointing as Patel and Moeen. As Sir Geoffrey said (of all of them)
they are not accurate or disciplined enough and there are too many easy balls to score off.

Simple but true enough. Rashid, whom we hoped (and still hope?) may bring that X-factor, that extra dimension to the side, underachieved.

General (Brief) Boring Theory thing.
I reckon most of us who have flung the cherry accept that bowling leg-spin is about as difficult as bowling gets: that’s part of its allure. The cocked wrist and the snap or flip of fingers as the ball is delivered from more or less the back of the hand works against easy repetitions.

Leggies tend to really work with their wrists and/or wind up revolutions by (in particular) ripping on the seam with their third finger. It’s (in my view) a whole lot more difficult to do this consistently and with control than it is to (for example) bowl a stock off-spinner, where the clockwise ‘turning the key’ movement of the first finger is a) more easily achieved and b) more easily repeated with the necessary accuracy. At every level it’s rare to find a leggie who is both turning the ball ‘big’ and able to plop it on the right spot time after time after time.

Conclusion thing.
Time to hone your spin-king skills is available, in (UK) domestic cricket – but arguably not enough of it, or not in conducive or even ‘fair’ scenarios.  ‘Special breed’ though they may be, spinners – like everyone else – have to earn the right to play, possibly more so now than in the years when there fewer non-negotiables – when you could be unfit or relatively uni-skilled.

Ideally though things remain unchangingly straightforward; you (the spin-king) just bowl magnificently and/or with monotonous skill; meaning all arguments simply fall away.

#TMS made the point earlier that Tuffers bowled around 800-900 overs a season for Middlesex: this compares to about 300-400 for spinners in the current era. No wonder then, we seem cruelly short of international-grade spinners when the opportunities in domestic cricket are both limited and frequently unrelated to or unhelpful towards producing Test Match bowlers.

Of course the changing nature of the game itself mitigates against the kind of consistency Boycott understandably demands. Especially in Blighty where spinners are used mainly in limited overs games where variation rather than consistency is often the key. Pitches and the surge towards yet more dynamic cricket significantly undermine any spin culture we may have. This is tough; it may even brand us as philistines – myopic no-hopers – but don’t expect too much in the way of revelation or revolution too soon.

The tremendous debate underway during this, the inaugural Spin Awareness Moment is valuable but may not, I fear, amount to much. Changes a-comin’ in the structure of English domestic cricket will not, I suspect, be driven by the need to find a new Graeme Swann – or better still, nurture a spin-friendly environment. More likely we will simply sit and wait for someone extravagantly gifted and stunningly reliable to come along, wheeling in glorious isolation, against the grain.

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.