Rapid Ryan Higgins century adds insult to injury for Glamorgan

Gloucestershire 360 for 6 (Bracey 152, Roderick 88) v Glamorgan

Croeso I Gymru. Welcome to Wales. The friendly words beneath the red dragon greet M4 drivers after they cross the Severn Bridge immediately before the lanes narrow and average speed checks of 50mph take force. There are two parts to the message and while few ever question the warmth of said welcome at Glamorgan, the cricket has not always felt particularly Welsh.

A cynic might have thought as much again en route to the club’s newest Championship ground, Spytty Park, in Newport. The vowel-shy name is authentically, even evocatively Welsh. But it is actually closer to the land border with England than the Swalec Stadium in Cardiff, which is preparing for the World Cup later this month.

In fact, the ambiguous status of Monmouthshire as Welsh was only legally clarified in the Local Government Act of 1972, and even then, boundaries could be blurred. Mike Knight, the chairman of Newport CC, bumped into a number of visiting Gloucestershire supporters as he lapped the ground who recalled playing here in the nineties when the club featured in a league in England.

Knight smiles at the historical nuances. His greater emotion is one of pride at seeing around 1000 people enjoy the weather and the cricket almost three decades after Newport’s previous ground, Rodney Parade, was sold off after nearly a century to leave the club’s future in jeopardy. It is now the sight of a school, and, yes, Maindee Primary does offer cricket of a sort to its boys and girls.

“There are people here from Newport and Gwent,” Knight says, pointing to the ring of spectators. “We are not far from Cardiff [around 12 miles], but it is an opportunity for people to see cricket in their local area and possibly they are not comfortable going to Cardiff for whatever reason. Also, there are people here because they want to see a new venue. I understand Glamorgan’s commitment to Cardiff, but varying grounds does widen interest.”

Rodney Parade hosted its final Championship match in 1965. Glamorgan included seven Welsh-born players on that occasion. Here the total was only three: David Lloyd, from Denbigh, Jeremy Lawlor (Cardiff) and Kieran Bull (Haverfordwest). Five of the current side are not even from the same hemisphere. Some more stats: In 1965, Glamorgan used seven home venues, this season four – though the fact that they played away at Leyton, Weston-Super-Mare and Nuneaton reminds that they are hardly alone in centralising their home.

Robert Croft was sacked as head coach last year after a third poor finish in a row having tried (partly for budgetary reasons) to give young talent its head. It worked, but not often and then in fits and starts. In fact, poor results long pre-date Croft’s appointment to that post. Since 2000 when the Championship split into two divisions, Glamorgan have spent only two years in the top flight – and been relegated both times.

In his 2017 Wisden notes, Edward Bevan, the doyen and great optimist of the Glamorgan press scene, said that more local players emerged in 2016 than for many seasons. He cited Aneurin Donald, Kiran Carlson, Lukas Carey and Owen Morgan. Carlson would be playing here but for exams, while Carey is twelfth man. But Morgan is back in the second team and Donald, a prolific and exciting schoolboy batsman, was playing for Hampshire having left last season, he said, to further England ambitions.

Knight describes the Welsh representation as “a sore point” and talked about the game well below first-class level. “We are seeing the demise of cricket in schools,” he says. “If we didn’t do as a club what we do for the junior cricketers there would be no cricket in Newport, or almost nothing.

“Our next step is to try to develop an indoor cricket school here to safeguard things. We have the building. We just need some help. Our junior kids have to go to Ebbw Vale for a training session indoors in winter for their coaching. That can be impossible in the evenings and I am sure it is contributing massively to the demise of cricket in Gwent. Cardiff is nearer, but that caters for the South Glamorgan area.”

Another problem is the relatively small sector of Welsh independent schools. Hugh Morris, Glamorgan’s chief executive, estimates that only 1% of Welsh children attend private establishments compared to 7% in England. Here, at least, cricket has facilities and budgets to thrive. In June, Glamorgan are hosting a 20-over competition involving Monmouth School, Christ College in Brecon and Cardiff’s Cathedral School along with a number of Colleges to try to identify talent.

Morris played in the last Glamorgan team to win the Championship, in 1997. Bristling at suggestions the county is insufficiently Welsh he delivers a register of current officials. There is Gerard Elias, the president, who replaced the man Morris describes as “Mr Welsh Cricket,” Alan Jones. The roll continues: Gareth Williams, a Welsh-speaking chairman, Matthew Maynard, interim head coach, with fellow coaches Steve Watkin, Adrian Shaw and David Harrison.

“Do we want to get more Welsh talent in the side?” Morris answers his own question. “Yes, absolutely. Last season, we did that, we were in a position where we had to play too many youngsters and it was too early for them. But we do want to get more talent through.” Talks are ongoing with Cricket Wales over the pathway through junior levels up to the age of 17. “The will is there to have a much stronger Welsh core in the team.”

Just as the World Cup has opened opportunities for out-grounds this season, so The Hundred will force eight county sides to move 50-over fixtures from their headquarters next year. Newport want more of the action and can only hope the metaphorical sun shines on them as brightly as the real one against Gloucestershire, although it was hot work for the bowlers as James Bracey compiled 152. Glamorgan are also looking at an array of grounds with their second team this year. One of them, Pontypridd hosted Surrey on Tuesday.

As Morris spoke, Lloyd was bowling his medium pace from the opposite side of the ground, a rare example of a Welshman established in the side. His steady, all-round progress gained due reward in a ceremony in front of the pavilion before lunch when he received his County Cap. Andrew Hignell, the club historian, suggested he thus became the first North Walian by birth to be capped since the formidable Wilf Wooller, captain of the 1948 title-winning side. Well played David Lloyd, but that fact has to be an indictment of something.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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