Small Country.

You may not know John Derrick but you will know John Derrick. Ours is the one who played for Glamorgan and Aberdare and who coached well, most of us in Wales, either as players or coaches ourselves, or both.

All of which sounds pretty bland. Like he’s just some ordinary bloke – which of course he is. But 500 people gathered at the SSE Swalec Stadium last night to honour and support this fella, suggesting there may be more, more of a story here. There is.

John has been poorly – frankly rather alarmingly so – having recently undergoing chemotherapy following an op to remove a brain tumour (I think).

(The truth is that those of us that love him to bits but don’t want to intrude too heavily into deeply private matters have inevitably ‘just heard’ a few things and not wanted to push too hard for details we fear may be distressing for family members to hear or describe. I think – it’s my understanding that – we can fairly describe John’s status as recovering… between bouts of chemo and awaiting an important review in the New Year.)

But back to the Swalec and last night. 500 people, many thousands of pounds raised to support JD and his family through tough times. Important but maybe (with all due respect) less important than the feeling.

Proper writers and proper writing swerves the sentimental but forgive me if I dip below the accepted standards in my scuttling after truths on this. A) I generally do and b) this really is about love, not money.

JD – as he is almost universally known – is a fabulous bear of a bloke. He is a smiler, a banterer, a real authority but no demagogue. If I say he is no orator, this too is a deep compliment, John being neither a maker of speeches nor a poseur or player-to-the-crowds. John is a player and a coach; he says stuff – good stuff – and folks listen.

Given the nature of JD’s  work, at Glamorgan Cricket, developing and overseeing Wales’s prime talent, it’s maybe important that the man has credibility in spadeloads. John is a Level 4 coach and as well as being massively skilled and experienced in cricket theory, he can demonstrate with the best of them.

One of the seminal moments of my own coaching development (hah! Such as it is!) came through watching John bat. During one of several JD-led workshops that I have attended, he creamed an endless serious of beautiful cover and off drives to the walls of a leisure centre in deepest Pembs. It was ridiculous; it was remarkable; it was educational. Something profound about stillness landed – stillness of the heart at the centre of some poetic whirl. John edited down the coaching of this phenomenon to a nonchalant point at his supremely immobilised bonce accompanied by a single, key-but-understated word. ‘Head’.

So yeh, John is one of those guys who can do it. You’d follow him – you’d want to. He has that rare gift of being great company – blokey, funny, slightly mischievous – and reflective, authoritative. (Often the former qualities get in the way of those latter ones, right?)

Built strongly, with powerful limbs and an arse the size Divine Comedy’s small country – that’s JD. Talented, yes; likeable immediately, loved and respected once known.

Last night they/we crowded in to show we rate him. The great and good and the brilliant – that third category including former Eng player and selector Geoff Miller, who ‘spoke’ magnificently and hilariously but was also visibly touched and proud to be able to support.

Phil Steele and Robert Croft also made notable, generous contributions to the evening’s entertainment. Jokes and stories were shared, stuff was sold or auctioned. All the accoutrements of a do of this nature were in place … plus that something else I hope you, at your club, maybe, or in your own way, have experienced. Goodwill of the very highest order.

I was there. In the building – table 16 – of about 50-odd. All of us feeling something poignant and wonderful and important. Something (with all due respect) more profound and nourishing than the significant pile of moolah we raised. Something well-earned and personal, something ab-so-lutely centred… around our own outstanding bloke. John Derrick.

 

Nailed it.

It’s about seizing your opportunity, right? Everything is. From winning the egg and spoon cos Emily tripped… to going through the group phase.

Tonight Glamorgan – they of tremendous white-ball surge complicated by oddly disfunctional 4-day form – can seize the day/egg/whatever by beating near-neighbours Somerset, before a home crowd, in cloudy/balmy Cardiff.

Come 6pm, with the Mochyn Ddu appropriately buzzing and the expectation just beginning to fizz, the Swalec looks, feels, sounds up for it.

Robert Croft is bundling his guys through a carousel of spookily match-relevant warm-ups. (Principally a rotation of catching/throwing fielding drills post the inevitable footie.) With bowlers having a thrash at what bowlers do (too).

Two things struck me as interesting here. Tait looked to be moving less than fluently – if not quite wincing then certainly stiff-backed – and there was a notably significant amount of care taken over measuring run-ups.

I wondered if Tait was leading this latter obsession, as Alpha Male in the pack. Were the other seasoned or less-seasoned pro’s simply falling in line behind the Aussie rocket-man… or was it nothing. Was it just me, *looking for meanings* to report?

Pre-game I did, as I do, look more at the Glammy Posse. But I did also note that as the Somerset bowlers warmed up, the ball was shifting around off the practice pitch. Noticeably. Who knows, at 18.43, if that means anything?

Glammy have opted to bowl. Hogan opens and first ball there’s a not entirely appreciative aaah in the Media Centre as van der Hugten appears to misjudge the flight of a ball eased out at him at Third Man. We thought maybe he could’ve got there. Somerset take seven off the over.

Then the Australian-Dutchman or Dutch-Australian charges in himself, from the Cathedral Rd End. He tests Jayawardene, threatening his heart, before the brilliant Sri Lankan carts him… before he’s caught! Almost too much drama too early; the visitors are 17 for 1 come the end of the second over.

Then Salter (Pembrokeshire’s finest!) stunningly and emphatically runs out Allenby in the third to peg Somerset back further, lifting the crowd to roars of approval. His side engulf him and the hwyl is notably up. The sun genuinely does burst through as if to confirm Glammy’s brightness.

Interestingly but not unusually Tait steps up several overs in. I’m personally struck by the relative ugliness of his movement but waddoo I know? He blasts out Trego’s off stump sharpish. Then soon after he has Hildreth dropped on nought by Wallace. Important, we wonder?

Van der Gugten, meanwhile, is apparently both in form and in favour. He opened up and before you can say Salford van Hire he’s switched ends to cruise then bolt belatedly to the crease from the Taff End. This is the seventh.

Tait is hit for successive fours in the 8th, by Myburgh. The game feels punchy-counterpunchy beyond the point at which Myburgh falls, caught Backward Point with Somerset at 70 for 4.

Whilst we are wondering where this leaves the Match Situation much sustained entertainment is provided by an encroaching squirrel. On the pitch for an age, poor love;  well, certainly long enough to have set up its own twitter account.

So, how to describe Tait’s movement? Steyn he ain’t – he’s more like an ageing knight- complete with armour. He walks/jogs like a bloke who’s either not a great athlete, or he’s suffered a few knocks in the jousts along the way.

Tait’s back in particular looks worryingly brittle but this may be the inevitable consequence of barely generating a gallop before absolutely hurling ’em down at 85-90 mph. His action appears almost all upper-body (or right shoulder) hoiking – as I’m sure they call it the trade.

Bit rich from an ageing seamer like myself to poke holes in the guy but Tait’s lack of agility both interests and slightly concerns me: late on his inability to sprint and reluctance to dive cost Glammy on one occasion in particular. Is he always this uncomfortable or is he struggling through something?

I must add that Tait contributed, significantly, with ball in hand.

(Fairly occasional) wrist-spinner Ingram bowls Rouse and at the halfway mark Somerset are 91 for 5. Glammy’s fielding generally has been good but not flawless. The feeling is they have to make the wickets column count – Somerset having maintained a half-decent scoring rate.

Rudolph brings himself on: 13 over score is 112 for 5.

Ingram has Gregory dancing down, with a ball that bewitches him by going straight on: Wallace juggling copiously before whipping off the bails.

Now, with the proverbial Not A Lot To Come the question lurches towards whether Glammy can kill this thing quickly? The answer comes back yes… probably, as Ingram dives rather theatrically to collect a c&b – in a double-wicket maiden that really should be The Defining Moment.

We’re in  the 15th – from Wagg – when Tait’s aforementioned lack of agility is responsible for an obvious missed catch at shortish fine leg. He does look like a man suffering back pain to me. He lumbers. However Tait is watchful and composed under the next one from Green, soon enough. In truth it’s the kind of catch you or I would have taken. (Yes really!)

Hilariously, the Glammy fans launch into an Icelandic (or Motherwellian) Hooh. It kinda peters out early but will surely be making an appearance at every sporting occasion near you for the next two/three years.

Donald then collects an easy one – steered thoughtfully straight at him by topscorer Hildreth – out to deepish midwicket. Wagg the bowler, the score now 131 for 8.

In truth throughout the Somerset innings, it’s been hard to get a grip on what things mean. They’ve scored reasonably freely; wickets have fallen. We can’t be sure if this a 140 or 170 wicket.

Distractions beyond the squirrel include Hogan ‘s disproportionately long legs. Could be the Glammy kit’s horizontal stripes don’t do him any favours in this regard but there are times when the two halves of his body do not appear to belong to the same bloke.

Also, we witnessed one of the shortest bouncers we’ve ever seen – courtesy of Graham Wagg. Inevitably, the ball having taken four minutes after the bounce to reach him, the batsman mistimed his shot woefully. Dot ball. Could this mark the origins  of another Cunning Plan, I wonder?

The crowd are enjoying it. In particularly fine voice to ‘500miles’. No doubt excitedly ready to Proclaim victory?

A second brilliant runout – this time from van der Gugten –  claims the final wicket and Somerset are all out for 152. Meaning runs on the board; quite a lot of them. An unquantifiable bundle of them. Still don’t know where the game’s at.

Allenby – former Glammy player who left under circumstances that were regarded by many as rather messy – opens up for Somerset. Followed by van Meekeren. Glammy bustle rather than bludgeon. 11 for nought after 2.

There’s another immediate change as Gregory comes in. Wallace is struggling to time the ball. Lloyd appears initially not much better: he slashes at one which almost carries to Jayawardene at slip. Almost. Wallace finally connects nicely enough with a pull to backward square leg and follows that with a steer over point before skying one rather painfully and departing medium crestfallen. The score moves on to 33 for 1 after 4. About par?

About nine (p.m.) and Lloyd now also gone. Golden Boy Donald in. Crowd launching into Sweet Caroline. Glammy 2 down, needing just over seven an over. Good right/left combination with Ingram at the other end. The universe is thinking Glamorgan should be okay.

Donald and Ingram continue in mature, skilled, play-within-ourselves-but-get-this-thing-done mode, punctuated by an occasional piece of violent exuberance. It’s excellent. It does feel like they may win this themselves…

Donald has a characteristic slaaaap across to midwicket. He part smothers, part smooths it out there. In the 15th over, that one shot threatens to dismiss tonight’s opposition. Thought strikes they won’t be the last.

Had been 108 for 2 off 12. Then 134 for 2 off 16.

Ingram finally goes for 54, slightly miscuing. Shame he couldn’t be there to the death but again he’s provided the spine to the innings.

With only a dozen needed at this point, the skipper – now entering – should be the ideal man to nudge this to a conclusion. This hasn’t exactly been a procession but the crowd take the opportunity to express the pre-triumphant moment, like many before them, with a cacophonous ‘Hey Jude.’

Glammy get home. Ultimately that young lad Donald has carried his bat for 44 and in the process again looked classy rather more than he has looked belligerent (as he was up in Conwy earlier in the week.)

#YoungNye once more contributed with a calm and control that will have folks talking about him: folks who select the national team, probably. The win ensures that Glamorgan have a quarter final in the bag and need only to win once more (or for Middlesex to lose) to nab that heavily-prized home fixture in the next phase. Good night, then, for Crofty and co.

Finally I am reliably informed that Glammy have attracted greater numbers this t20 season than last. Quite right too. And that 7,596 attended tonight’s fixture. The Swalec did sound like a place where a kosher and indeed biggish sports event was occurring. Which is nice – and necessary.

#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.

 

What we know is…

Okay so what’ve you heard? I’ve heard Freddie (sounding convincingly like he was trying to convince himself that England would win) saying England will win. I’ve heard saddish news (which may or may not be *important*) about The Rhino. I’ve read a zillion ‘head-to-heads’ or low-downs or updates or ‘inside-the-camp’ briefings so like you, my dear sagacious friends, #Ashes-wise, I could barely be wiser. And yet…

I love that we’re all clue-less. Or if not clueless then pasting up the photofits from twelve different crime-scenes. I wallow in the anticipation – contingent as it is on striving to know. I *live off* the hilarious earnestness of our building up and deconstructing. I smile at the kooky/quirky/pompous/belligerent/mindless genius of it all.

Don’t you? Surely this pre-comp festival of hunch and cod-psychology is essential to the enjoyment of the thing – this very particular thing? Throw in the spice – the low-burning, barely understood Empire v Banished Reprobate animosity – lace with alcoholically-fuelled #bantz and the thing stirs itself nicely. Nicely into a frenzy.

This is a proper rivalry. Hence the piquancy and the obsession around lapses or choreographed ‘dips’ into sledging. (How much energy has already been expended by both camps and both sets of supporters on the import or otherwise of verbals, by the way?!? Record-breaking levels of talk about talk.)

I’ve pontificated elsewhere on this site about some concerns I have about bitterness undermining the event but promise to refrain again from mentioning the SOC words. Sledging cannot affect this match more than about 2% either way… and if you’re wondering why that figure well… I just made it up. As part of my *rationale*.

Look let’s get real. This time around, Australia are right into comic-book machismo mode. Replete with tattooed quickies and objectionably feisty fronter-upper/upper-cutter. Johnson – having been woeful last time in Cardiff – has morphed into He Who Must Be Feared and Warner has filled out as a batsman but inevitably failed or more likely chosen not to grow up.

So us Poms/Taffs can’t stand him, for a start. And we will relish the opportunity to guffaw passionately at any ill-luck that might come, with v-flicking relish, Warner’s way. Smith and to a lesser extent Clarke may feel like key wickets but when Warner cops it he’ll get a Valleys Welcome back to the pavilion. People get that he’s at the apex of feeling between the teams and that he likes being there; Australians will fist-pump every four emphatically dispatched and yeh… the locals will give him a welcome.

There is therefore an argument that Warner is ‘what the Ashes is all about’. Let’s go past that.

Johnson, arguably in contrast, has changed and developed, becoming, a symbol of the Australian (great word alert!) attack… and of the scarily brutal soul it wants /needs to project. He has rebuilt himself, much to his credit, from the wayward slinger whom I saw at Cardiff last time.

Then he was sharp but almost embarrassingly off-target. I watched from behind that arm as he floundered; my central memory is simply that he was fortunate not to concede more wides. Now Johnson runs in with more things pumping vertically and levers alarmingly and consistently violently where he wants to lever. He’s been arguably The Force in world bowling over the last two years; fair play to him.

We know there is scar tissue in the England camp following MJ’s assault on their senses in recent encounters. (Poor loves.) But the possibility that this really may be a new England provides us with exhilarating scope to cobble deliciously daft theories on the consequences of the advent of 21st Century thinking within ECB.

Could the ‘freeing up’ of the limited over squad and the ‘refreshing new outlook’ of England Cricket generally undermine Johnson’s spell over them willowy Poms? Could the Express Yourself mentality get England past that rabbit-in-headlights-with-feet-planted-in-concrete blockage; that fear of the man? Could those without the scar tissue stand up? And what’s Broad gonna do – run?!? The Mitchell Johnson howitzer-moment(s) will be worth the entry fee alone: he may have something to say with the bat too.

As I write I can only surmise that Wood will get a slot in the England bowling line-up but I hope he does. He may not disturb the peace of the Australian top end but he will offer a little variety, a little surprise even, which I suspect England may need. Plus there’s something profoundly pleasing about seeing some bloke bowl bloody lively off a run-up from within the same county. Plus I like horses.

For Wood, many would argue Rashid. In the sense that he is something new and offers something new. He may be high-risk; he may get flailed mercilessly around the park; he may ‘simply not be ready for it’. Who knows? But he represents something bold and recently that boldness did change the momentum around the England side both on and off the pitch; remarkably so.

Whether Rashid plays in Cardiff or not, pretty much the only universally-accepted fact in world history seems to be that he should have got a game or two in the West Indies. And that may or may not count for anything.

Let’s get back to the quickies – or in England’s case, the reasonably quickies. If there is no major help for the seamers from conditions (and if there is this may play right into Starc/Johnson and co, yes?) Anderson and Broad will need to really find something. Weirdly, like Johnson you can’t help wondering if they’re just beyond this. Or beyond their best. Will the uniqueness of the Ashes challenge – all that wild, magnificent, centrifugal, focusing/disorienting force! – reinvent England’s senior pairing? Or will the Aussies simply be too proficient? Too skilled at batting?

Broad and Anderson’s commitment is unlikely to be in question but they are known quantities; I wonder then, that much may fall on the emotive capabilities of the management team around them. Bayliss and Farbrace, I’m imagining, may need the Churchillian rhetoric to spike their dander.

But no. Maybe things are too sophisticated now (with all due respect) to summon beaches and blitzes. Instead I’m picturing Bayliss sweetly leading some cute visualisations or planting some very shrewd plans – calmly.

Rooty and Stokesy will bring the chirpiness and the spunk. Cooky will absent himself from all the banter… and let his batting do the talking. But you knew all that. Like me you know loads of stuff about the Ashes.

So let me finish with a question to you.

Could it be that positivity from England might stun or even bring down the rampaging beast that was/is Aussie cricket?

I’m in the ‘Gawd Only Knows’ camp on that one.