Ashes? What Ashes? The Champions Trophy comes to Cardiff

With the hype surrounding this year’s Ashes double-header between England and Australia already building you could be forgiven for forgetting there is more to cricket. But before we jump aboard the emotional roller-coaster which will surely accompany ten back-to-back Ashes Tests there is the small matter of the ICC Champions Trophy to consider.

Second only to the Cricket World Cup in terms of prestige, the Champions Trophy features the top-eight one-day international sides in the world. They are split into two groups of four with the top two in each group progressing to the semi-finals.

The tournament will be held at three venues: The Oval in South London, Edgbaston in Birmingham and, in a significant coup for Welsh cricket, Cardiff’s SWALEC Stadium. The SWALEC will host five games over the course of the tournament, starting with world champions India against South Africa on June 6 and including England v New Zealand on June 16 and a semi-final on June 20. Holders Australia will also play two warm-up games in Cardiff ahead of the tournament, against West Indies on June 1 and India on June 4.

Given rugby’s status as the Welsh national sport and the recent footballing success of Cardiff and Swansea, those involved with cricket in Wales know it is important to make the most of this three-week window when the eyes of the world will be on the SWALEC.

The Champions Trophy visits Cardiff Castle. Picture courtesy of Huw John Photography.

The Champions Trophy visits Cardiff Castle. Picture courtesy of Huw John Photography.

Former Glamorgan and England cricketer Robert Croft, now a coach at the county side, believes having some of the best cricketers in the world on display in Cardiff will be a major boost for the sport in Wales. He said: “The ICC Champions Trophy fixtures in Cardiff are very exciting for everyone here at the Glamorgan and in Wales. It’s a great opportunity for us in Wales. It’s a great opportunity for some of the players, spectators and coaches and particularly for youngsters.

“The opportunity to come and see the best players in the world in Cardiff is the stuff of dreams. If you had told me when I first started playing for Glamorgan that we would have the likes of MS Dhoni, Chris Gayle and AB De Villiers playing here I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s a great opportunity to bring your kids to see these greats of the game on your doorstep.”

Peter Hybart, chief executive of Cricket Wales, which overseas the recreational side of the game, agreed the tournament will be a great opportunity to get more young people involved in cricket. He said: “That shop window is so important. I think it will help clubs in their recruiting of youngsters. If you turn the clock back to 2005 and that wonderful Ashes series there’s a link there to more youngsters getting involved in the game.”

After Cardiff hosted the first Test of the 2009 Ashes series Glamorgan reported engagement with more than 65,000 children and young people in Wales.

Andrew Hignell, Glamorgan archivist and first team scorer, also drew parallels with the 1999 Rugby World Cup, where Wales was the principal host nation. He said: “I know that led to a resurgence in Welsh rugby and maybe the likes of Sam Warburton and the current generation of very good, young Welsh rugby players first got interested because of that boost from the 1999 World Cup. And does that mean in 12, 13, 14 years time there’s going to be another golden generation coming through at Glamorgan? That would be very exciting if it were to happen.”

Robert Croft added: “Hopefully there will be kids out there that will come and see their first taste of cricket, and they will be inspired to play the game like I was when I first used to watch the game. We want young people in Wales to see these players and maybe a couple of them will go on to play for Glamorgan themselves and maybe play on the international stage as well.”

Robert Croft poses with the Champions Trophy. Picture courtesy of Huw John Photography.

Robert Croft poses with the Champions Trophy. Picture courtesy of Huw John Photography.

Glamorgan have struggled in recent years, both on the pitch and financially, and Alan Hamer, the club’s chief executive, knows the benefits of hosting a major tournament. The Champions Trophy is expected to generate a seven-figure sum for Glamorgan. Because the ICC hires the stadium for the tournament, which does not happen for other international matches, the club itself does not keep gate receipts. But this also means it does not have to pay operational costs while continuing to keep profit from the bars.

Mr Hamer said: “The club cannot solely rely on Glamorgan membership and gate receipts to pay the bills and this is where international cricket plays an important role. Hosting international cricket is extremely important to our finances, but it also plays an important role in raising the profile of the game in Wales.”

With an estimated global audience of more than 100 million people expected to watch the first match on television the tournament is also a showcase for Wales as a nation. Tickets for the tournament have been selling well – the India v South Africa game has already sold out – and final preparations are being put in place at the SWALEC.

Mr Hamer added: “We’ve earned the right to stage this event on the back of how we’ve staged international cricket over the past five years. We’ve been preparing for the Champions Trophy for over a year and everything is on track to deliver a high-quality tournament.”

Sometimes seen as an unnecessary duplication of the Cricket World Cup, the Champions Trophy is in some ways a superior tournament. It features only the top-eight ranked one-day teams in the world, so it is both shorter than the protracted World Cup and free of uneven contests in the early stages.

This year’s tournament will be the seventh Champions Trophy since its inception in 1998, but it will also be the last. From 2017 the new ICC World Test Championship will take its place in the cricketing calendar. But Cardiff will remain a venue for top-level international cricket. The SWALEC will host an ODI between England and Australia on September 14 and the stadium has been awarded its second Ashes Test for 2015.

Mark Wallace benefit year gets underway

Glamorgan captain Mark Wallace began his benefit year with a curry and quiz night at the Museum of Welsh Cricket on Friday night. The event also featured a question and answer panel session with Wallace’s former colleagues, Steve James and Adrian Shaw, and current team mate Dean Cosker.

After brief introductions from Dr Andrew Hignell, museum curator, and Ian Williams, chairman of Mark Wallace’s benefit committee, the evening got underway. It consisted of four quiz rounds – the first focused on Glamorgan’s 1997 County Championship-winning side, the second a general sports round, then a general knowledge round and finally the obligatory picture round – broken up by a couple of video clips from the 1997 season and question and answer sessions with the panel, during which members of the audience asked the panellists a wide range of questions.

The 1997 championship-winning side at Cardiff. Picture courtesy of Glamorgan CCC / Huw John.

The 1997 championship-winning side at Cardiff. Picture courtesy of Glamorgan CCC / Huw John.

The 1997 side was a popular topic of conversation. Steve James, who averaged 68 that summer, said there were a number of factors behind the team’s success: “We had a good side who had been maturing for a number of years and several players had their best ever seasons. The signing of Waqar Younis was also very exciting – that was something we had been missing. Duncan Fletcher’s fielding drills also brought a real energy to the team.”

Dean Cosker, who was only a youngster at the time, added: :”It was a fantastic bowling unit. I was a bit in awe of them. It was only my second year and it was a great learning curve. Duncan Fletcher took the younger guys in the squad under his wing but he left the senior guys to get on with it. His man management abilities went unnoticed but they were really important.”

There were also fond recollections of the day the championship was clinched at Taunton. James, who hit the winning runs, said: “We needed 11 to win and I should have been out twice! I didn’t even know how many we needed when I clipped the ball to the boundary. I turned round and half of Wales was on the field!” He also explained how he had his bat and a souvenir stump taken from him in the ensuing pitch invasion, although the former was returned to him following an appeal in the South Wales Echo a few weeks later.

Glamorgan fans celebrate at Taunton after winning the title. Steve James lost his bat in the melee. Picture courtesy of Glamorgan CCC / Huw John

Glamorgan fans celebrate at Taunton after winning the title. Steve James lost his bat in the melee. Picture courtesy of Glamorgan CCC / Huw John.

Adrian Shaw said while the first few hours following the victory were pretty euphoric he later had a bit of a comedown: “I had an anti-climactic moment about 11 or 12 o’clock. It was a bit strange really.”

Shaw also had some interesting views on modern cricket, and particularly the amount of money paid to young players nowadays: “I believe money corrupts everything. Money has gone up astronomically and there’s an impatience with committees now for players to develop. People now don’t understand the development of players – we’ve been getting rid of players at 19, 20, 21, which didn’t used to happen.

“I’m wary of the money that’s floating around in county cricket – there’s too much being paid to players who don’t deserve it.” Shaw made it clear he was not against paying top money to proven international cricketers, for example new Glamorgan signing Dirk Nannes, rather the idea of young, unproven players landing lucrative contracts from the start of their careers.

Another controversial issues also discussed was the idea Glamorgan had previously developed the SWALEC Stadium for Test cricket at the expense of the team itself, something which James and Shaw both agreed with.

James said: “I disagreed with Glamorgan going to Test level. The side got neglected after 2004 and all the focus was on the Ashes Test.” Shaw added: “We overreached ourselves. We should have looked to be a successful middle-tier county. I always held reservations  about the idea that when everything was up and running it would be fine.”

Mark Wallace, centre, with Gareth Rees, left, and Dean Cosker, right. Picture courtesy of Glamorgan CCC / Huw John.

Mark Wallace, centre, with Gareth Rees, left, and Dean Cosker, right. Picture courtesy of Glamorgan CCC / Huw John.

It was refreshing to hear former professional sportsmen speak so openly and honestly, but there were plenty of positive comments as well, particularly in relation to the beneficiary himself. All three panellists paid tribute to Mark Wallace, with Shaw calling him “an all-round good egg”, “a consumate professional” and “Glamorgan’s best-ever wicketkeeper-batsman”. The fact Wallace received such glowing praise from his team mates, both former and current, spoke volumes about the esteem in which he is held.

The evening concluded with the awarding of some bottles of wine to the winners of the quiz and a few words from Wallace. He thanked the panellists and Dr Hignell and presented them with small tokens of appreciation before finishing with a few positive words about the team ahead of the upcoming season: “We’re a better team than a lot of people think we are, which is a good position to be in. It’s certainly better than being a worse team than people think you are. We’re quite excited about what we can do this season.”

For information about future events in Mark Wallace’s benefit year click here.

Cricketer of the Week: Dale Steyn

After a short hiatus Cricketer of the Week is back! And what better way to kick things off again than with a remarkable spell of hostile fast bowling from the finest practitioner of the art today; Dale Steyn.

Steyn ripped through the Pakistan order in a devastating spell of 6 for 8 from 8.1 overs in the first Test in Johannesburg as the visitors were skittled for 49 in the first innings. It was Steyn’s twentieth five-wicket haul in Tests and also his best figures on South African soil to date.

Check out highlights of Steyn’s performance here, and keep an eye out for a couple of great takes by AB de Villiers behind the stumps. With bowlers of the calibre of Steyn and Vernon Philander South Africa look capable of being the dominant force in world cricket for a good while yet.

A batsman's worst nightmare. Thanks to rosswebsdale for the image.

A batsman’s worst nightmare. Thanks to rosswebsdale for the image.

An evening with Jim Pleass

On Januray 14 guests at the Museum of Welsh Cricket were fortunate enough to spend an hour being entertained by Jim Pleass, the last surviving member of the first Glamorgan team to win the County Championship in 1948. Jim spent the evening talking with Dr Andrew Hignell, the museum’s curator, about his early life in Cardiff, his time with Glamorgan and his experiences during the Second World War; he was in the Royal Corps of Signals and took part in the D-Day landings.

Jim was born in Splott Road, Cardiff, on May 21 1923, the son of an insurance manager. His first love was football, not cricket. He played as a right-winger and represented Fairwater Boys and Canton High School before joining Cardiff Corinthians FC. He even went on to make two appearances for Cardiff City. During the summer he would play cricket for his school on a Saturday morning and then again for a club  team in the afternoon. He also began to take an interest in Glamorgan CCC and saw them draw against the touring Australians at Swansea in 1938.

Jim Pleass in 1949.

Jim Pleass in 1949.

Before Jim made the step up to first class cricket, however, war intervened. He initially joined the Home Guard in 1939 but later switched to the Royal Signals as a wireless operator. It was in this capacity that Jim found himself part of the Normandy landings in June 1944. He was in the first wave of boats that landed at around 6am on D-Day itself. They came under heavy German fire and Jim had a near-miss when a boat in front of his hit an underwater mine. Once he got ashore it was his job to establish a line of communication with the battleships in the Channel. After his work was done he was was able to return to Southampton, rather than pushing on into France. He later spent time in Italy, India and Singapore, where he even managed to fit in a spot of cricket.

After the war Jim returned to Cardiff and resumed playing football and cricket. An excellent run of form in club cricket in 1947 caught the attention of Glamorgan and Jim made his debut for the county against Derbyshire that summer. He said he was only told he was playing by Johnnie Clay the day before the game!

Aside from his batting Jim was also renowned for his fielding ability and he became a key member of Glamorgan’s famous “leg trap”. Outstanding fielding was a hallmark of Wilf Wooller’s championship-winning side of 1948. Jim remembered fondly the moment the championship was clinched at Hampshire: Welsh umpire Dai Davies famously declared “That’s out and we’ve won” on giving the last Hampshire batsman out lbw, something Jim attested to hearing from his position in the field. He also described the reception the team got at Cardiff station on their return, when several thousand people turned out to welcome their heroes home, something you couldn’t envisage happening for a championship-winning team nowadays.

Jim Pleass batting against the South Africans in 1951.

Jim Pleass batting against the South Africans in 1951.

Another highlight of Jim’s career was being part of the Glamorgan side that beat the visiting South Africans at Swansea in 1951, the only county side to achieve this feat. Jim himself made an important 29 in the second innings as Glamorgan won by 64 runs, bowling the visitors out for 83 in the final innings to claim a memorable victory and spark a pitch invasion. Another of Jim’s personal triumphs came in 1955 when he was the first Glamorgan player to score a century on Yorkshire soil, making 102* at Harrogate in the Welsh team’s first ever victory in Yorkshire.

Jim’s first-class career ended in 1956 but he went on to captain Cardiff CC and also had a spell on the Glamorgan committee and as chairman of the Glamorgan Former Players Association. He also worked as an insurance broker in Cardiff for many years.

It was a pleasure to hear Jim speak about both his wartime experiences, something which understandably many people do not find easy, and his cricket career. It was particularly amusing to hear him dismiss all the protective equipment close-fielders and batsmen wear in the modern game – certainly not the case in his day!

On January 29 Dr Andrew Hignell will be giving a talk at the Museum of Welsh Cricket entitled “Allan Watkins – A Glamorgan Great”. For more information click here

New exhibit to honour Glamorgan great

Allan Watkins, the great Welsh all-rounder who passed away in 2011, has been honoured with a special display at the Museum of Welsh Cricket.

Watkins was part of the first Glamorgan side to win the County Championship in 1948 and that same year he became the first Glamorgan cricketer to appear in an Ashes Test when he made his debut in the final match of the series against Australia at The Oval.

The museum display features a number of items kindly loaned to Glamorgan Cricket by the Watkins family. These include Allan’s England blazer and cap from the MCC tour to South Africa in 1948/49 during which he became the first Glamorgan player to score a century in international cricket when me made 111 in the fourth Test against the hosts at Ellis Park, Johannesburg.

Allan Watkins' sons admire the display.

Allen and David Watkins admire their father’s display.

The Watkins family said: “We are very honoured and grateful that our father’s contribution to cricket in Wales is being recognised in such a wonderful way. We hope that the many visitors to the Museum will enjoy seeing these items about our late father.”

David Watkins, Allan’s youngest son, said the exhibition reinforced his father’s legacy and the family were “getting prouder by the year”. Eldest son Allen also praised the “tasteful and fitting” nature of the display.

Youngest daughter Jane, who is too young to remember her father as a cricketer, said it was very poignant to see the esteem in which he was and still is held and described the display as “illuminating and thrilling”.

Speaking about the museum generally Allan’s eldest daughter, Judith, said: “It’s fantastic. It’ll be a great place to bring the children and grandchildren.”

Dr Andrew Hignell, Glamorgan’s archivist and museum curator, was responsible for selecting the items for the display. He said: “We are very grateful to Allan’s family for their kindness in loaning these items which will be on display in the museum for the next nine months. It’s very fitting that, in this, the 125th year of the club’s existence, we should be celebrating the outstanding achievements of this great Welsh cricketer and sportsman.”

On 29 January Dr Hignell will be giving a talk at the museum entitled “Allan Watkins – A Glamorgan Great”. For more information click here.

Cricketer of the Week: Vernon Philander

The South African seamer was today ruled out of the second Test against New Zealand in Port Elizabeth, which starts on Friday, with a hamstring injury. While you would still fully expect the hosts to triumph they will certainly miss Philander, particularly after his performance in the first Test in Cape Town last week where he took figures of 5-7 from six overs as South Africa decimated New Zealand in the first innings. The Black Caps were all out for 45, the lowest Test total by any team since 1974.

Since making his Test debut against Australia at Cape Town in November 2011 Philander has an incredible 74 wickets from just 13 matches at a remarkable average of 17.40. He has eight five-wicket hauls to his name already and finished 2012 as the fast bowler with the second highest number of wickets in the year (43, five fewer than James Anderson but Philander also played five fewer matches). Still only 27, he is likely to be a fixture in the South African line-up for years to come.

Vernon Philander

Philander in action for Somerset in last year’s County Championship. Thanks to little-pete for the image.

2012 Review of the Year

With 2012 now behind us Back In The Hutch takes a look at some of the highs and lows of the past 12 months (and yes, this does involve Gangnam Style) and makes some predictions for the year ahead.

2012: The Highs

From and England and Wales perspective the highlight of 2012 was undoubtedly England’s recent 2-1 series win over India. After losing the first Test in Ahmedabad by nine wickets few would have predicted the visitors would overturn the deficit and record a first series win in India since 1984/85. Central to the victory was Alastair Cook, who took to the Test captaincy like a duck to water and quickly calmed any fears about the detrimental effect Andrew Strauss’ departure could have on the team. Equally as  important was the successful “reintegration” of Kevin Pietersen into the fold after a period in exile following the text message scandal during the summer. All seems to have been forgiven and England finished the year in a much stronger position than they started it.

In the wider international context one of the abiding memories of 2012 will surely be West Indies’ triumph in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in October, with Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels both starring in the tournament. The Windies became the only team to win the World Cup, Champions Trophy and World T20 outright and celebrated with an impromptu rendition of Gangnam Style on the outfield. For a team which has been in decline for the past few years this could well be the boost they need to start heading in the right direction again.

2012 will also be remembered for some remarkable feats of batsmanship. In Tests Australian skipper Michael Clarke hit 1595 runs at an average of 106.33 with five centuries (including three doubles and a triple), while Hashim Amla terrorised England during the summer with 482 runs in three Tests at 120.50 including an unbeaten 311 at The Oval, the highest ever score by a South African. Amla was similarly prolific in one-day cricket, making 678 runs in 10 matches at 84.75 with England again bearing the brunt of his assault. Virat Kohli also cemented his reputation as one of the most dangerous one-dayplayers in the world with five centuries and 1026 runs at 68.40 in 17 matches.

Hashim Amla batting was a familiar sight during the summer.

Hashim Amla batting was a familiar sight during the summer. Thanks to Hugh Chevallier for the image.

In terms of fast bowlers Vernon Philander continued his rapid rise to prominence with 43 Test wickets at a shade over 21 from nine matches while James Anderson deserves a special mention for his efforts in the Middle East and subcontinent, places traditionally unkind to seamers. As for the spinners Saeed Ajmal bamboozled England in the UAE with his mix of doosras, teesras and god-knows-what-other-sras and Rangana Herath was often the only Sri Lankan who looked like taking a wicket; he finished the year with the most Test wickets (60, at an average of 23.61). Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar bowled superbly in tandem against India.

2012: The lows

England began the year in desperately disappointing fashion, losing four consecutive Tests against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They were also soundly beaten at home by South Africa, who took their place at the top of the Test rankings, and there was the added distraction of the unsavoury Kevin Pietersen saga. England’s women also suffered disappointment in 2012, losing the World T20 final to arch-rivals Australia by four runs. But the men’s team seem to be back on the right track while the women will soon have the chance for revenge when they begin their defence of the World Cup in India in January.

India also suffered a wretched year, particularly in Tests. Not only did they lose all three of their away matches, stretching their losing streak away from home to eight games, but they also lost a home series for the first time since 2004. At the time of writing they have also just lost a home ODI series to Pakistan, their first defeat in a home bilateral series for more than three years. It was particularly sad to see Sachin Tendulkar struggle so much, and the great man recently announced his retirement from one-day cricket in the hope his Test career can continue a little while longer.

Several other greats of the game announced their retirement in 2012: Indian duo Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, Australians Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey (the latter is currently playing in his final Test), South African wicketkeeper Mark Boucher and of course England captain Andrew Strauss have all been seen for the last time, in the longest form of the game at least.

Andrew Strauss was one of several big names to retire in 2012. Thanks to HNM_1977 for the image.

Andrew Strauss was one of several big names to retire in 2012. Thanks to HNM_1977 for the image.

One of the year’s great tragedies was the death of former Surrey and Glamorgan batsman Tom Maynard, aged just 23, in June. In the past week the cricketing world has also been saddened by the deaths of two highly respected and much-loved figures; the former England captain Tony Greig and journalist and former President of the MCC Christopher Martin-Jenkins. All will be greatly missed.

2013: ???

2013 is already underway; what will it bring? Time for a few hasty Back In The Hutch predictions. England will continue on their upward trajectory, sweeping aside New Zealand at home before claiming a first 50-over trophy with a win in the Champions Trophy in June and then going on to win back-to-back Ashes series home and away (you heard it here first). South Africa will keep their grip on the Test championship mace, at least for as long as Jacques Kallis is still playing, while India’s decline in the five-day game will continue. Pakistan and the West Indies will improve while Sri Lanka and New Zealand will struggle. Bangladesh will probably stay the same, no disrespect intended. With no Olympics or Euros to overshadow it cricket is set for a great year. Bring it on.