By Jonathan Twigg
DEBATE rages in Wales at present, where rugby has infiltrated the summer domain of cricket, which has held unparalleled dominance of the summer sunshine.
There has been a culture change, whereby summer tours and early season fixtures of the traditional winter sports means earlier starts.
Look no further than next seasons football league championship season for Swansea City, starting on Saturday (Aug 5) until Sunday (May 26) 2019.
The outcry from the boundary ropes comes more about how mini ruby has become a summer sport, bulldozered through, as opposed to negotiated.
WRU figurehead in this Ryan Jones, former Wales captain and British Lion parading the paraphernalia, Cricket Wales Development Officer Keri Chahal, having face to face meetings to form common ground.
The winner, undoubtedly now rugby as their mini game is happening in front of our eyes, but has cricket lost?
Not looking at the participation statistics in the new ‘All Stars’ programme, where children bestowed in blue attire are bouncing around cricket fields in the sunshine, the magic there to entice the next generation.
What sells it to parents, who undoubtedly influence their siblings? The paradox of ‘I played the game, so you must do also’ may live in both sports, but it’s more than that.
Attendances at international matches, in cricket’s case by supporting England, well the England and Wales Cricket Board side, the pathway? Saturday (Jun 16) saw them rock up in Cardiff, rugby capital of Wales, the Swalec Stadium to be precise, skirting the River Taff through Bute Park, the hosts leading a five match series against Australia 1-0.
Sell out you would think? Far from it; the Principality Stadium, bestowed with a retractable roof, unequivocally is, if Australia are the visitors, the Swalec attracted around 13,000, a fifth of their rugby rivals capacity.
Does cricket lack that panache to attract the floating spectator, often then with the family in tow? The game has stand out stars, opening batsman Jason Roy pulverising the Aussie attack, the Richardson’s, Jhye and Kane, of no blood synchronisation, a rarity in this sport for two with the same name to be sharing the new ball. Root 66, the featured face of the cricketing market, Joe, England Captain present, alongside former Glamorgan opening bowler Alex Wharf, making his ODI debut, as an umpire.
Coloured clothing, blue against yellow for the 11am start, the Aussie public back home having a choice of watching cricket, World Cup football against France, or rugby as the Wallabies welcomed Ireland to Melbourne.
Cricket is sensational down under, the viewing figures from Saturday would make an interesting comparative, lifting some of the ‘doom and gloom’ emanating from our ‘middle England’ type dulcet tones of the cricketing ‘I know best brigade’.
Food for thought, or is it time for the Blazers and prawn sandwiches to be confined to the attic, relics of periods passed? 100 ball ‘City’ cricket is another gurus dream, not welcomed by the current ‘Blazers’, where Saturday’s game produced 102 runs for one wicket, from just a third of the games total deliveries.
Believe me, there was a following of supporters, some perhaps beer monsters, in fancy dress but the majority of paying punters here, at £65 were from a generation brought up on John Arlott, a commentator remembered with fondness, his soupy‑thick Hampshire vowels drawling “we take life too lightly and sport too seriously.”
‘Wise up or weep’ is the cry for cricket, as this game on paper had everything, including the proverbial rain, which has so impacted the winter sports programme to influence the thinking of the WRU game management board.
England’s batsman rattled up for the first time in history five consecutive 50 plus run partnerships with stand in skipper Josh Butler ‘ramping’ sixes over the wicket keepers head; text book they are not but part of the modern game as he brought up his own 50 in the forty first over, with 17 runs in five balls!
What are the indicators for success? Tactical understanding from a blooded skipper Tim Paine, Jason Roy 120, Josh Butler 91 not out and Johnny Bairstow 42, in England’s highest ever ODI total of 342-8, where the expectation nowadays is 300 plus. Certainly, making sunshine on a rainy day sings Zoe, although those in the know were drumming Mambo number 5 with a cucumber sandwich during the interval.
Australia, looking to save some grace on a day when their rugby and football comrades were dispensed made a fist of it, Maxwell striking 31 alongside Glamorgan star Shaun Marsh.
Marsh handled the pressure but the crowd sensed the game slipping into the memory bank, in the lowering sunlight, buoyed by the beach ball antics of amongst others, Baywatch, tennis players and the Smurfs who embraced the evening’s ambiance, before the jobsworth lumbered in.
Marsh passed 2000 white ball runs on his way to 131, the end coming through Roy’s match winning catch to secure the star player award as over 600 runs were chalked in the scorebook. Something was missing, no pyrotechnics from which to salivate. Down to the pitch maybe, a slow burner typifying middle England in the centre of Wales, or is the product label just too predictable. Maybe a famous son of Yorkshire can answer that, after all he was called upon to ring the five minute ‘bell’ to signal the start of play.
That Yorkshireman; Neil Warnock; the irony, Manager of the newest Premier League football team, Cardiff City, promoted last season from the Championship, brought in for ‘iconic value’. Can the traditional sports share the space before time is called one wonders, with no frills, no fuss, depicted serenely by Arlott.
That memory is worth a toast, of his favourite Beaujolais tipple, for this is cricket as we know it, but for how much longer?
Swans grab last gasp play-off spot
WAYNE ROUTLEDGE’s last-gasp header saw Swansea City secure a play-off spot with a handsome away victory over 10-man Reading on a dramatic Wednesday night (July 22).
Steve Cooper’s side knew they had to win at the Madejski Stadium to have any hope of a top-six finish, and Rhian Brewster’s 10th goal of the season gave them an ideal start.
The sending off of Yakou Meite then gave the Swans a man advantage, but the Royals equalised before the half through a George Puscas penalty.
The Swans restored their lead through a classy finish from substitute Routledge, before Liam Cullen showed great composure to steer in his first goal for the club.
And when Routledge popped up at the death to complete his brace it put the Swans into the top six as Forest suffered a 4-1 defeat at home to Stoke, meaning Swansea got into the play-offs on goal difference.
The Swans started on the front foot, with centurion Connor Roberts having particular joy down the right-hand flank.
Brewster then nearly threaded Conor Gallagher in on goal after fine work by Andre Ayew, before Roberts hit a strike into the ground and over the bar after Jake Bidwell had made the overlap on the opposite flank.
The hosts responded by having a good spell of possession, probing and asking a few questions of their own.
But the visitors hit the lead in the 16th minute through Brewster. The striker picked the ball up some 30 yards out and got the ball out of his feet before smashing a long-range drive that completely deceived Rafael in the Reading goal.
John Swift curled a free-kick over at the other end, while more good work by Roberts could not quite end with Bidwell getting on the end of a deep cross before Rafael made a hash of dealing with a Gallagher cross.
Swift headed straight at Erwin Mulder from a good counter on the half-hour mark, with Ayew quickly advancing up the field to work Rafael again.
Opportunities were coming at both ends, with Mulder called into action again as Meite took aim from the left side of the area.
Swansea were riding their luck a little and had a let-off when a sliced clearance landed on top of the bar.
Matt Grimes had a free-kick pushed away by Rafael before the home side were reduced to 10 men after Meite had pushed Mike van der Hoorn in the face after a tussle for the ball.
But the hosts made light of the numerical disadvantage by levelling after Bidwell was adjudged to have fouled Andy Rinomhota, with Puscas beating Mulder – who got a hand to the strike – from the spot.
However, the Swans should have led at the break. Ben Cabango’s shot was blocked and fell to Jay Fulton, but the Scot pulled his shot wide of the target.
Rafael pushed away an Ayew drive right on half-time, with Swansea frustrated that referee Stephen Martin did not award them a penalty of their own as Fulton went down under a challenge from Omar Richards.
With Cardiff winning and Nottingham Forest losing, Cooper knew goals were needed and he made two changes at the break.
Yan Dhanda came on for Fulton, while Routledge replaced van der Hoorn, and they were immediately on the front foot.
With Swansea committing so many players forward, Reading looked to sit deep and play on the break and they proved resolute as the visitors battled to find a way through.
Grimes curled a free-kick wide of the target and Gallagher also threatened from distance, but the hour mark came and went without any clear-cut chances to show for their dominance of possession and territory.
However, when they did craft a sight of goal they took the chance clinically. Grimes produced a lovely ball, and Routledge controlled superbly to loft the ball over Rafael and into the net.
Unfortunately for the Swans, that goal went in moments after Forest had equalised against Stoke, which appeared to put a sizeable dent in their playoff aspirations.
Nevertheless, Cooper’s side continued to search for more goals in the hope events in the East Midlands would turn back in their favour.
They so nearly made it 3-1 with 17 minutes to play as lovely link play from Rutledge and Bidwell ended with Ayew steering just wide.
The situation was changing all the time, and Stoke retook the lead at Forest to leave the door ajar for the Swans.
And, when Stoke scored a third at the City Ground and Cullen coolly fired home his first senior goal for the club with six minutes remaining, they suddenly only needed a goal to finish in the play-off places.
Grimes had a deflected shot tipped over but the Swans then got the goal they needed in stoppage time as Routledge popped up to nod in at the far post, with Stoke’s fourth goal putting the matter beyond doubt a few moments later to spark delighted celebrations among Cooper, his players and his staff.
Glamorgan launch new kit
GLAMORGAN Cricket has unveiled its new Vitality Blast playing kit for the 2020 season.
Designed by the Club’s official kit supplier, Masuri, alongside Glamorgan’s management, players and coaches, the brand-new Vitality Blast strip contains a subtle Welsh twist.
Fitting Glamorgan’s traditional colour schemes, the top is dark navy with a tonal dragon across the front – a nod to the old Glamorgan nickname and the Welsh identity – while a sharp yellow trim on the neck and sleeves frames the top.
The famous ‘Daff’ sits on the heart of the shirt, with MiPost’s strong Welsh brand centre-stage. Appearing on the collars are the logos of ‘Official Players Car Partner’, Mon Motors and Welsh company, Philtronics Solutions, with Discover Leeks on the right sleeve and SA Group on the back.
The famous Aston Martin logo features on both side of the Glamorgan T20 cap, as they continue their ongoing support of the club.
Head of Commercial, Huw Warren, said: “We’ve enjoyed working with Masuri throughout the design process and together developed an exciting new kit we’re sure our supporters will love with its strong connections with Wales.
“Our Masuri kits have always been hugely successful with players and fans alike and we look forward to continuing our commercial partnership with them.
“We can’t wait to see our players wearing the new kit when the Blast gets underway later this summer.”
Masuri CEO, Sam Miller, said: ‘’Once again it has been a pleasure working with the team at Glamorgan to bring this year’s kit to life, and we are looking forward to seeing it in use during the much anticipated Vitality Blast this year.’’
Wembley trip for Giggs’ men
CYMRU will travel to Wembley Stadium on Thursday 8 October for a home nations international against England.
Ryan Giggs’ side will return to action this autumn for the first time in 10 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kicking off with the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League campaign. The match against England will be one of two additional international matches scheduled as triple headers in October and November. In keeping with current Government guidelines, this fixture is scheduled to be played behind-closed-doors.
Since their first encounter in 1879, England are Cymru’s second oldest opponents with 102 matches in total producing 14 wins, 21 draws and 67 defeats. Cymru’s last visit to Wembley Stadium was in 2011 for a UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier, with Ashley Cole scoring in a 1-0 defeat.
Ryan Giggs’ side will be using this match to prepare for the rescheduled EURO 2020 finals next summer where they hope to return to Wembley, one of the host stadiums, for the latter stages of the tournament.
Looking ahead to the autumn, Cymru are in Nations League Group B4 alongside Bulgaria, Finland and the Republic of Ireland with fixture dates as follows:
Thursday, 3 September – Finland v Cymru (7:45pm)
Sunday, 6 September – Cymru v Bulgaria (2:00pm)
Sunday, 11 October – Republic of Ireland v Cymru (2:00pm)
Wednesday, 14 October – Bulgaria v Cymru (7:45pm)
Sunday, 15 November – Cymru v Republic of Ireland (5:00pm)
Wednesday, 18 November – Cymru v Finland (7:45pm)
All fixtures are scheduled to be played behind-closed-doors for the foreseeable future.
The FAW will continue to adhere to relevant Government guidelines and supporters will be notified should arrangements change and tickets become available.
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