Cricket: Bloom time for daffodil county
Glamorgan are set to win cricket's county crown for the first time in nearly 30 years. Alan Wilkins, who played for the club from 1975 to 1980, reveals how also-rans have been transformed into champions-elect.
The Gillette Cup final of 1977 against Middlesex is the match that many remember for the astonishing six hit by Mike Llewellyn off John Emburey over the Lord's pavilion. The memories for me, however, take in the changing times of those past two decades, from the evening before that one-day final when a committee man had appropriated my hotel room, to the class of '97 who strut the motorways in a fleet of Mercedes Benz sponsored cars and are now poised to bring the Championship back to Wales for the first time in 28 years.
It has taken Glamorgan all that time to lose their Cinderella tag and become one of the most professional outfits on and off the field. Apart from the two one-day triumphs, loyal Welsh cricket supporters have endured a sea of mediocrity when the Glamorgan ship, season after season, has drifted between currents of failure and frustration.
Attempts by the club's administration to steer towards respectability have produced some spectacular blunders, but the lessons have been learned. It will be by design, not chance, if Glamorgan win this season's County Championship to add to their triumphs of 1948 and 1969.
Glamorgan cricket has long lived in the shadow of Welsh rugby but guided, forever it seems, by the late Wilfred Wooller. For half a century Wilf Wooller was one of the greatest and most colourful figures in Welsh sport. He captained Glamorgan for 14 years, taking the club to its first Championship title. No one was more proud of the Glamorgan daffodil on his chest than the "Skipper" who went on to become the club's secretary and president before he died at the age of 84 in March this year.
The present captain, Matthew Maynard, used to spend hours talking cricket with Wooller. It is no surprise, therefore, that the same dashing leadership has been passed on. Maynard should have had more Test opportunities, but, for him, leading Glamorgan to its third Championship title carries more personal weight.
Not only would it be a personal triumph for Maynard, but the club's coaching personnel would look back with a sense of achievement in someone who was taken on to the staff at the age of 18 and proceeded to score a breathtaking century in his first Championship match.
Maynard's success story contrasts vividly with some other signings. Too many ageing players in the 70s and 80s managed to find a place in the Glamorgan convalescent home.
The club's nursery required a complete overhaul and it began with Tom Cartwright, signed from Somerset in 1977, who gradually took up the coaching reins and is now the national coach for Wales. Peter Walker, the director of cricket for the Cricket Board of Wales, has been another major influence.
A coaching structure which has nurtured the likes of Robert Croft, Steve James, Adrian Dale, Huge Morris, Tony Cottey, Steve Watkin and Darren Thomas is backed by a sound commercial and financial operation. James has scored seven Championship hundreds this season, while Watkin has again been a model of durability and reliability.
There is, however, another important factor which has been a barometer of consistency throughout the club's existence and that is the stoical support of the Welsh public - those hardy folk who have given their time, their money, their sympathy, and their backing over so many barren years. Following the 1993 Sunday League title win the club's membership climbed to a record 13,500. That figure is now just over 11,000, but membership funds have increased.
Those fans have appreciated some great overseas players, in particular Vivian Richards, who inspired the '93 team, and now Waqar Younis, revered by Welsh youngsters countrywide.
Moments of triumph for Glamorgan cricket have been too few. To a man this side feels that the time has arrived. Not since Tony Lewis led Glamorgan to its second Championship title has everything been more in place for a third, and a patient public will be there to acclaim it.
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