Rain Dance.

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

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

Glammy seem relaxed: nattering or stretching.

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

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

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

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

Run their best batsman out! GET KLINGER OUT!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How did I get here?

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

How did I get here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what we want.

  • for the cricket to be good
  • for girls to play – like shedloads of them
  • for the sun to shine – really
  • for (somebody like?) Mark Wood to stay fit then take International Test Cricket by storm, or signal it’s ok, for Anderson then Broad to slip into the past
  • …or, maybe just have competitive equals.
  • Also for Cummins and Starc to stay fit, bowl incredibly fast, entertain the universe but be tamed by Hameed, Jennings & Rooooot, when *that time comes*.
  • In a slightly greedy-personal way, I want the whole #AllStarsCricket/#CricketUnleashed thing to really, really transform the profile of cricket in the next two years, so that more people simply get it
  • because it’s worth getting, right, but currently there IS a smallish, arguably fairly narrow range of people who are kinda culturally-familiar with the game, so we do have to commit to something bubble-breakingly ambitious. I think that revolutionary moment is nearly upon us and I hope our commitment is kosher. Tweaking rules or formats is all very well but we have to get to more people in AS WELL.
  • So that mission. I’m proud and excited to be part of all that but c’mon, let’s all get on it?
  • On the T20 thing let’s resolve the City v Counties issue in such a way that County Cricket really benefits. Not good to have a spectacular, ‘world-class’ City T20 that further closes the door on the traditional form (which is maybe dead in the water without T20blast money?) Can’t see how two UK boomathons can co-exist, myself, so this feels like MAJOR. Major comprises, major, generous, philosophically-informed as well as commercially-driven conversations. Let’s be avvin um.
  • I would also like to play cricket… but there’s no realistic chance of that. So maybe contribute elsewhere. Coaching, social media-ing, writing. Try not to think about the pleasure of running in or fluking the occasional cover drive. In fact stop thinking about that RIGHT NOW. Work to do.
  • On the tribal front, I want a better year for Glamorgan. The fella Croft will know he needs to feed more successfully off the goodwill and bourgeoning welshnesses in and around his developing squad, because the times conspire against patience. Great that he’s actively promoting and supporting homegrown players – and I’m told that Huw Morris should also take a lot of credit for this – but clearly results must improve. Lots of us are heartened by (for example) the offer of a 3 year contract (and the security that offers) to young off-spinner Andrew Salter and by Van der Gugten’s emergence but as somebody said re another, similarly competitive industry, ‘goals pay the rent’. On the short-format front, I personally enjoyed Dai Steyn’s run-outs at The SSE Swalec and the form of his compatriot Colin Ingram and of Aneurin Donald. I think I have starts in the night, mind, around the first of those two batsmen being tempted away by a large, hairy cheque. The local lad we imagine will stay and build a wonderful welsh story…
  • Back at England level I think we are actually half-decent. We just can’t compete with India on their patch. Of course this isn’t acceptable… and we have to look at ways to get better.
  • With my Elderish Statesman wiv Worldview head on, I still wonder if there isn’t something frankly unintelligent about the drive for ‘positive cricket’ (in Tests, in particular) or at least the relentlessness of the pursuit of it. It feels ridiculous not to have real game awareness ahead of the need to fight back aggressively or ‘express yourself/back yourself’ at all times. Been mentioned before but there’s a significant clue in the label here: Test Cricket. It’s not about swapping macho gestures – although we accept absolutely that bravado or boldness will play a part. Often it’s about patience, playing within yourself, seeing things out, as opposed to needing to express some weird domination throughout every moment. This is a contest over time and that’s beautiful, unique, crafty, cerebral, tense-in-a-different way. We all get that young athletes wanna be sexy and strong – stronger than their oppo’s – but sometimes it’s dumb and counter-productive to fall for that as An Approach. It may be tempting, in a bullish cohort of Fit Young Things, to go the easy way of expressing superiority through spunkiness but hello-o you don’t have to be a reactionary retard to make the argument that this may be simplistic nonsense unworthy of high-grade sport… which demands intelligence as well as testosterone.
  • There, I did it. Got struck off David Warner’s Christmas Card list. And Michael Vaughan’s. And everyone under thirty.
  • Final word on that Culture Of thing. Get absolutely that dynamism is central to impact/saleability/maybe growth. But drama is not always poptastic and colorifically-enhanced: sometimes it’s symphonic, ma’an.
  • So I want the Wider Game to be looked after. I’m bit suspicious of the race to funkier kit – essential though that may be. I want County and Test Cricket to dig in or be propped up until we’ve kappowed that bubble of limitations and shown everybody what an extraordinary, diverse, exciting game we have. The range of possibilities, of intrigues are maybe a language that must be learned – and therefore they may demand unfashionable levels of attention – but draw folks in and make them welcome and hallelujah! Something great happens. Longer forms are worth supporting not just for sentimental reasons but because they are essential to the romance on the one hand and the learning or skill-acquisition on the other. Tests and County Cricket must be sympathetically nuanced til crowds are meaningful and/or income from the ECB or telly or T20 action means there is a secure place for the next Baby Boycs as well as the next Ben Stokes.
  • That’s all I ask
  • except, naturally, for an absurdly fit-again Dai Steyn to come steaming in from the Cathedral Rd End / an absolute production-line of great welsh cricketers / a regular & successful & appreciated slot for Andrew Salter / a mindblowing series of tons from Nye Donald…

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.

Glamorgan – the players.

If you visit Glamorgan County Cricket you may or may not come across the following people. I did – because I sought them out – having become abstractly aware of either powerfully altruistic or economically necessary forces at the club moving to accommodate, entertain and welcome the fan, the visitor.

All of which sounds like something from a pamphlet you just might not want to read. And some of which sounds like the forces – or policy – at work were unknown to me. They were, pretty much.

But get this: I knew there would be stories behind both the individuals themselves and the process of deciding what Glamorgan can or should *actually do*. I knew those stories would be seductively ‘human’ and point towards the really tough issues and choices County Cricket has to face. I was interested to know more about the process of capturing and sustaining support when the economic facts are frankly pretty scary.

I had a gut feeling that Glammy were doing lots of things right – whatever that means – but had no real concept of how any strategy they might have for ‘engagement’ (or similar) was enacted. It was somewhere between refreshingly fab and downright inspiring to see this all in action.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been to three recent #T20Blast games at SSE Swalec and this has provided the time and the contact with individuals to pull together a fair overview of the various elements we might reasonably lump under the heading Visitor Experience. Which again, unfortunately sounds like something out of a pamphlet but if I learned anything during my visits it was surely that what’s going on at Glamorgan definitely transcends well-meaning corporate dogma. Inevitably, it’s about people doing stuff naturally well.

So I’m following this up because I think the county’s energy around this is fabulous and because I met some great people trying to absolutely nail that Visitor Experience thing – under real pressure from the zillion factors challenging cricket generally and the tighter issues specific to Cardiff and/or Wales. Also… I reckon there are things which might be learnt, here.

I’ve said before that I absolutely consider myself a sportsman not a salesman but clearly have to acknowledge the drift towards either sycophancy or corporate messaging here. But I can live with the thought (your thought?) that @cricketmanwales ‘would say that’… if you will hear me out.

I am clear, in short, that Glamorgan are doing an exemplary job in many respects of trying (*trying!*) to keep their rather lovely Taff-side ship afloat. Having really looked at what’s being done, I am more committed than ever to support that mission. Having met and spoken at some length to the off-pitch players involved, I know it’s a brilliant, dynamic and what us sporty-zealots might call top-top righteous project.

Let’s meet just some of the people that might in another era be labelled The Backroom Staff. (Apologies if your kit or mine isn’t up to supporting the following slideshow. If necessary please feel free to use your imagination.)

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The Scorer.

Except he really isn’t just The Scorer. Dr Andrew Hignell is a much bigger, more all-round presence than that.  He does lead the team of scorers for Glamorgan CC but is also the archivist, museum man, the guided tour man, the lighter-up of wee visitors man. He educates, he is the voice of authority and one of the key links between incoming children and rich, often uplifting experience. Andrew Hignell, for Glammy, scores over the full three-sixty.

Like several of the good folks I spoke to, the doctor has a history in teaching. He also has a lifetime’s worth of interest – interest? Seems such an inadequate word! – in cricket. Like myself he visibly feeds off a) stories around the game and b) the broad understanding that we can make things better by offering a way into sport. Mr Hignell doesn’t need too many lessons from the Communications Posse about the ‘need to engage.’ The messages ooze from him – about opportunity, personal growth, communal expression, development – The Scorer understands life that way.

The Volunteer. (Of which there about 40, it seems.)

Typically public-spirited, open, friendly. Maybe patrolling a particular beat with a particular task; welcoming folks in, proffering freebies and yes, a smile – answering questions.

Volunteers I met included a teacher who ‘happened to be’ a big cricket fan, doing this ‘for enjoyment and to support the club’. He was gifting out luminously iconic headgear genuinely cheerily. He was talking with and listening to fans. Like a teacher free to banter. He was skilled and friendly.

Volunteers are unpaid. Some also prop up other local events/other sports, meaning they’re not necessarily cricket fans, more people who get that thing about putting something back – being sociable. They’re plainly essential and invaluable and I do know the Glammy hierarchy is conscious of how fortunate they are to have such gorgeously generous humans out there batting for them in the fanzone or at the foot of the stairs. The V men and women did tell me they love doing their occasional, part-time cricket-thing. I hope they do.

The M.C.

James is the face and the voice on #T20Blast night. Sickeningly handsome, impressively well-prepared and researched. Young but with presenting work for the ICC (amongst others) in his locker, James interacts with and leads the crowd through their evening at Glamorgan.

This isn’t just a matter of drawing out the most intimidating bawl the locals can offer their opposition. James links with the Communications Team’s work on screens and audio to try to raise the whole experience. He also conducts interviews and the like. We spoke at some length about the challenges and the need to be friendly, entertaining, professional – to in some way replicate the extravaganzatastic Sky Sports mode.

James is a free-lancer contracted in to cover the T20 games. He is not, however, a part-timer in terms of his commitment to and understanding of this unwritten(?) Glamorgan Visitor Experience project. People expect things. Crowds maybe in particular. Again, under pressure and in the spotlight it’s this young man’s job to project a kind of welcoming, entertaining Big League legitimacy. He nails it.

The Engagement Man.

Former player Mark Frost, most recently seen darting from The SSE Swalec in full black tie ‘n DJ kit to attend an awards night on Glamorgan’s behalf, is Community & Development Manager. He in fact splits his time between roles at both Glammy and Cricket Wales – it being decided a year or so ago that this literal joining of the two cricket clans would be beneficial to both.

Mark has been central to the establishment of a diverse but increasingly focussed web of activity aimed at increasing or strengthening the profile and presence of the game in Wales and (thereby) building support at Glamorgan CCC. This implies work over a spectacular range; from diversity projects to local club mentoring to sorting the blokes with the climbing wall.

Of course Mark is not alone in this. I’m singling him out partly because I have a photo of him dressed up to the proverbial nines – he collected another award for Glammy that evening, by the way – and partly because it feels like he is driving the policy towards brilliant engagement at the stadium.

I’ve not yet mentioned the 100 catering staff who were there on match-night last Friday, or the Activators, or the guys (players) signing autographs. Nor the rugby fellas, nor the receptionists battling with a failing phone system, never mind the folks whose job it is to actually organise and/or present the Glammy Show – those in Comms/Groundstaff etc. These people are all essential to the offer – the multiple award-winning offer that Glamorgan are making.

I aim to find out more about how things are decided; what the policy that I feel being played out so well looks like and where exactly it comes from. Meantimes I want to say a big thank you and an old-school-but-genuine congratulations to all those playing their part.

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.