Cricket: Glamorgan's blind-side run

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The Independent Online
While the two superpowers of the early Nineties, Middlesex and Essex, are once more disputing the leadership of the County Championship, tucked in behind them in third place are Glamorgan, virtually nobody's favourites when the season began, but so far enjoying the benefit of a couple of excellent close-season signings.

There was never any doubt that Waqar Younis was the world's best fast bowler, but a spate of injuries made him a gamble as overseas player, not to mention that he might find it hard to generate enthusiasm for county cricket. But so far, on both counts, so good.

Perhaps watching his side being bowled out for 31 by Middlesex three weeks ago provided Waqar with the sort of challenge to his pride he needed. In the next game he produced career-best figures of 7 for 25, including a hat-trick, against Lancashire (all out 51) and then 8 for 17 this weekend against Sussex (all out 54) as Glamorgan secured their second consecutive win.

Surprisingly, he was not among the wickets as Sussex were bowled out for 67 in their second innings, 22-year-old Darren Thomas instead leading the way with 5 for 24, a performance that will have given enormous pleasure to Glamorgan's other significant signing. Duncan Fletcher stole in almost unnoticed as their new coach this season, but his profile seems certain to rise.

The 48-year-old former Zimbabwe captain has made his mark as director of coaching with Western Province in South Africa, a side he has helped transform into Castle Cup champions. He is now on a one-year contact with Glamorgan, with an option for a further year, and after watching Waqar's spell on Friday, he was happy to talk about his new job.

"I didn't like the approach of coming in and saying, `right, this is how it's going to be done' - I'd rather do it the quiet way," he said. "Come in and get the thing going as a unit, and try and change a few things as you go along."

There are two particular areas where he hopes to make an impression. "The way people play spin bowling is important. Sweeping is the shot of the future and it's got to be played a lot. On the fielding and field placings, there are certain things we've tried to work at in South Africa, which they seem to agree on here."

Fletcher is reluctant to draw too many direct comparisons with Western Province. "You're not comparing apples with apples," he says. "Western Province was pretty successful, quite financially strong. Glamorgan are not one of the top sides on the county scene at the moment but I think they've really got their act together. The side's very well-balanced, and signing Waqar shows they really want to get somewhere."

As English cricket contemplates its navel more than ever before, Fletcher is of the opinion that there is too much of it. "We're playing and travelling all the time and I don't think guys can be mentally attuned and keen to play the game all the time. The one area I find a bit of a problem is practice. As a coach, you're reluctant to change things because the next game is always just around the corner. If you try and change something and it doesn't work, you don't know if a player's out of form, or whether he just hasn't been able to work on the change you've made."

The Castle Cup in South Africa is run along identical lines to the Sheffield Shield in Australia, with eight first-class games a season and only 10 one-day games in addition. It now seems only a matter of time before the County Championship is split into two divisions.

"I would split it into two equal leagues," Fletcher says. "The idea of a First and Second Division worries me because some counties might fall away. But if it's felt there aren't enough cricketers to support 18 sides, then maybe some clubs should fall away."