It’s not cricket

There are sports where Wales participates as Wales (eg: football, rugby) and sports where Wales participates as Britain (eg: athletics, tennis), but there is only one sport where Wales participates as England: cricket.  This bizarre and humiliating anomaly stands out like a sore thumb yet passes without comment in Cardiff’s corridors of power.  The Assembly government, Sport Wales (the former Sports Council of Wales), the BBC and the Western Mail never mention it and, when asked the key question “Why is there no Welsh international cricket team?”, feign surprise as if the thought had never occurred to them.  Here we have the very last remnant of 550 year-old annexed Wales, the Wales that was meant to be eliminated linguistically, culturally and geographically, unrepresented on flags and maps and consigned to oblivion.  ‘Welsh cricket’, that  supreme oxymoron, is the final fortress of thoroughly colonised Wales where arrogant martinets can strut their stuff, feather their nests and govern with a rod of iron to enforce their one overarching purpose: the thwarting of Welsh actualisation.

Let’s examine the facts.  The International Cricket Council (ICC) has 105 members.  There are just 10 full members, entitled to play test matches.  These include impoverished Bangladesh, where there wasn’t even a cricket league until 1974, and African disaster zone Zimbabwe, where reverse sweeps to deep fine leg are a low priority to the starving populace.  Wales, with more cricket clubs per square mile than anywhere else on Earth, with a network of long-established competitive local leagues the length and breadth of the country, with a ready-made spectator base that loves its cricket, and with a back catalogue of great individual players who would have graced the international game, should have been an ICC full member long ago and, over the years, would have done rather well.  But no, that’s not for the likes of us; we know our place.

Then there are the 36 associate members, entitled to play in one-day internationals and the cricket world cup.  Giants of the game like Jersey, who don’t do badly in their grudge-match against Guernsey, the Cayman Islands, always able to rustle up 11 tax lawyers, and European countries like Scotland, Ireland and Holland where, respectively, tossing the caber, hurling and korfball are bigger summer sports than cricket.  Could Wales possibly play against these second-raters please?  Certainly not!  And as for joining the 59 affiliate members ranging from Austria to Turkey via Mexico and Panama, places where cricket exists in name only, don’t get uppity Taffy – just be grateful for the occasional walk-on part as cheerleader to the dashing, naturally masterful English.

To that end, the Sophia Gardens cricket ground was rebuilt to host England test matches and one-day internationals in 2009.  Thus here, in the centre of Cardiff, is the only sports stadium in the world purpose-built to host another country’s sporting events.  It was paid for with £6 million in unsecured loans from Rodney Berman’s malleable LibDem Council plus a straight gift of £3 million from Rhodri Morgan’s dopey Labour government.  It contravened the lease of Sophia Gardens, given to Cardiff by the Bute Estate in 1858 as a public park protected from development.  It drove a coach and horses through the park’s listed status, setting a precedent for the nibbling away of Bute Park on the other side of the river.  It failed Design Council criteria for a well-designed building fitted to its environment, plonking a cheap-looking eyesore in beautiful arboreal surroundings.  It ignored the infrastructure issues of having 16,000 people descend on the mere 100 extra parking spaces provided.  It has been lambasted by independent consultants for its unviable business plan and wildly over-exaggerated claims of economic benefits.  It was steamrollered through the Council in defiance of fierce local opposition.  And to rub in the tawdry motives at work, the ground was renamed the Swalec Stadium after the energy company bought naming rights for 10 years, the only test venue to be pimped in this way ( “In Swalec we have a sponsor who represent the best Wales can offer,”  proclaimed Glamorgan chairman Paul Russell of a company owned by Scottish & Southern Energy and run from Reading).  This – gag reflex – Swalec Stadium is a scandalous waste of precious Welsh resources, a betrayal of Cardiff and its people and a profound insult to Wales.

The lackeys of the leisure economy, stooges of the service sector and harlots of the hotel industry hype up the venue in the usual exhausted jargon, unable to grasp that presenting Cardiff to the world as an outstation of England does serious damage to the city’s single distinguishing feature and guaranteed selling-point, its position as capital of Wales.  To treat Cardiff as a mere set of geographical co-ordinates with plenty of spare beds and Wales as a blank canvas with no needs of its own is an approach that has been binned in other spheres, but lives on with grim resolve among the British Nationalists who control cricket in Wales.  It’s time to introduce you properly to the baddies: step forward Glamorgan County Cricket Club.

Cricket was the first organised sport to appear in Cardiff, in 1819, and by 1867 it was being played as an upper-crust pursuit for “gentlemen” on the northern section of what was then called Little Park, later to be renamed Arms Park.  The Cardiff Cricket Club, formed in 1845 as a private club for the Marquis and his aristocratic chums, established a permanent home on this Bute land, but the rising new breed of hard-headed industrialists and middle-class businessmen in Cardiff began to reject the old amateurish attitude.  In 1888, at a meeting in the Angel Hotel, they formed Glamorgan Cricket Club and secured an Arms Park tenancy from the Bute Estate.  By 1897 the club had risen to minor county level with Joseph Brain (1863-1914) of the brewing dynasty overseeing its transformation into a professional operation.  As the coal port reached its mercantile zenith, the ornate 1904 Arms Park pavilion had established itself as Cardiff’s equivalent of the Twickenham grandstand: the spiritual home of the Conservative Party in Wales.  Glamorgan became a first-class county in 1921 under the leadership of Norman Riches (1883-1975), a well-to-do Cardiff Tory with a big dental practice in Dumfries Place.  At this point only England, Australia and South Africa played international test matches, while Wales, never referred to as a ‘nation’, was taken to be nothing more than a semi-detached region of England.  However, between 1923 and 1930 the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), short of competition in a sport that didn’t reach beyond the ex-possessions of the British Empire, allowed Wales to play 16 first class matches, which included some notable successes against touring sides.  But Glamorgan CCC didn’t like it.  The Wales team was strangled at birth.  In the same way that Cardiff’s local politicians, both Labour and Tory, opposed the setting up of a Welsh Assembly because it would diminish their power and importance, Glamorgan’s committee men opposed a Welsh cricket team because they knew it would overshadow them. They determined that Glamorgan itself would substitute for Wales and soon the club, uniquely in the County Championship, was playing some home matches in other counties altogether, from Monmouthshire to Denbighshire.  Meanwhile, Wales was given ‘minor county’ status by the MCC, a situation unimaginable anywhere else in the world: try to get your head around England being a feeder club for Middlesex and you’re getting warm.  The  template was set and over 80 years later nothing has changed; the flanelled fools have remained in charge.

Throughout the decades the leading figures at Glamorgan have been cast from the same mould: posh, privately-educated reactionaries with an elemental aversion to the very idea of Wales.  Maurice Turnbull (1906-1944), Wilf Wooller (1912-1997), Ossie Wheatley, Tony Lewis and Hugh Morris all denied Wales and all landed themselves top jobs with the MCC or as test selectors or on sports’ quangos as their reward.  Glamorgan has been used over and over again as a vehicle for the personal advancement of the few and, since the move to Sophia Gardens in 1967 when the WRU and Cardiff RFC began to upgrade the Arms Park, it has increasingly not been about cricket at all, but property development, hospitality packages, conference facilities, catering and marketing.  The arrival of Tredegar-born steel magnate David Morgan in 1980 accelerated this trend as he rose through the ranks to become club chairman before pulling out the ultimate plum in 1997 when he got his feet under the table at the newly-formed replacement of the old Test & County Cricket Board, the ECB.

What does ECB stand for?  The England & Wales Cricket Board.  Why no ‘W’ in the acronym? For the same reason the England cricket team is not called ‘England & Wales’, or even ‘England (and Wales)’: in St John’s Wood they reckon it would cheapen the brand.  Anyway, isn’t it concession enough to give the loyal principality a little mention in the full ECB title?

Having built his career in cricket administration on the very absence of Wales that consequently over-elevates Glamorgan,  Morgan rose to the ECB chairmanship in 2003 and, higher still, the presidency of the ICC in 2008.  World cricket was thus being run by a Welshman, albeit one for whom Welshness was just an escape route to better things – an attitude one thought had died out with Henry Tudor (1457-1509). Meanwhile, back at Sophia Gardens, Chair Paul Russell and Chief Executive Mike Fatkin, unable to compete financially with the big English counties, abandoned the hard work of player development, as witnessed by Glamorgan’s all-time worst season of 2007 when they finished bottom of every competition entered, and staked all on attracting big-revenue England test matches to Cardiff. Thanks to Lord’s bending over backwards to award tests to Sophia Gardens to underline Wales’ status as an English possession, this was achieved for the short-term (until 2015) but only at the cost of entrenching complete dependence on being picked as a test venue in the future – something that can’t be guaranteed, especially when those obliging Welshmen at the ECB hang up their old school ties. The matches played so far have clarified what Cardiff will have to suffer until at least 2015. The ECB’s fanciful notion that the Welsh people would put aside Red Dragons and Daffodils for five days and bedeck themselves in the Red Rose and the Cross of St George to cheer on Good Old England has not materialised. Instead the crowd is the execrable, boorish ‘barmy army’, arriving via the Severn Bridge, with Welsh involvement restricted to pushing the hostess trolley and mopping up Gloucestershire vomit.

Ah, I hear the deluded cry, but Welshmen can still play for the England team! The facts show how extremely unlikely that is. In the entire history of international cricket only 15 have ever played for England and the most capped of all, Robert Croft, only got 21 caps. Compare that with football over the same period: because we have our own team over 800 Welshmen have played international football so far, with Neville Southall’s 92 caps the current record. In football, where Wales has autonomy, there are possibilities for every kid who kicks a ball. In cricket, where Wales has anonymity, such possibilities are denied to generation after generation. And we end up with nothing more than the unedifying sound of the Welsh Whinge as yet again the England selectors overlook a Welsh player.  Emrys Davies (1904-1975), Roger Davis, Alan Jones, Closs Jones (1911-1989), Eifion Jones, Willie Jones (1916-1996), Jim Pressdee, Alan Rees, Don Shepherd and Darren Thomas should all have had long international careers – and would have, had they been, say, Indians – but they didn’t get so much as a single cap between them. Those are just the well-known Glamorgan names ignored, to the bafflement and impotent fury of the Welsh cricketing public. Then there are the countless numbers who had no incentive to improve, or who would have risen to the challenge of test cricket, or who turned their backs on the sport altogether.

When I collar people in pubs about this issue, nobody can justify the lack of a Wales cricket team. The final argument I hear from diehard Anglo-addicts goes something like: “Wales would be crap.” West Indies took a decade before winning a series, Sri Lanka had to endure years as whipping-boys, Bangladesh have won just three of the 73 tests they have played so far and Ireland have beaten Pakistan in the limited overs code. Had these countries adopted the institutionalised defeatism so prevalent in Wales they wouldn’t have bothered getting into their starched whites, and the world of cricket would be immeasurably poorer. Cowering behind England because we might lose is a strategy that, if extrapolated beyond Wales, would bring world sport to an end. In any case, the self-loathers of Wales are wrong. The first time Wales did get to play an international recently – a one-day ‘exhibition’ match against an England XI at Sophia Gardens in 2002 – Wales won by eight wickets in front of a sell-out crowd. A Welsh cricket team would actually become a force in the game over time as the country geared up to the challenge of producing international players rather than county journeymen, and eventually would be perfectly capable of matching the achievements of New Zealand, another country of 3 million people where cricket is the main summer sport.

To recap: there is no advantage to England in the current arrangement, since they rarely pick a Welsh player and have excellent test venues aplenty; and there is no advantage to Wales in the current arrangement, since it denies us identity, experience, visibility and revenue. The conclusion is inescapable: there is no Welsh international cricket team simply because a tiny cabal of rich British Nationalists say there shall not be.

At Glamorgan CCC things go from bad to worse. The financially stricken club have racked up £10 million in debts and keep having to go cap in hand for bailouts from the Council and the ECB. Riven by internecine warfare that has seen a revolving-door of chairmen and chief executives (currently Barry O’Brien and Alan Hamer), Glamorgan subsist entirely on sporadic windfalls from England’s appearances in Cardiff, while in cricketing terms they are the County Championship’s perpetual Cinderellas steadily amassing an embarassing collection of wooden spoons. It is for this sorry farrago that Wales has been sacrificed.

What needs to happen is for Wales to cede from the ECB, as Scotland did in 1992 (they were immediately accepted as an ICC member and Scottish cricket has been on the upturn ever since). Glamorgan will try to block such a move. They already do, with pre-emptive strike scare stories about the loss of block grant from Lord’s and being kicked out of the County Championship (big deal – perhaps the other 12 counties of Wales might get a look in if Wales had its own Championship). As more and more people in Wales question the wisdom of being England’s dumb bit-on-the-side for evermore, rest assured that Glamorgan will fight to the last barricade to maintain their untenable position as not so much the tail that wags the dog, more the tail that wags the whole damn kennel. You can tell they’re getting nervous: they now call their team in the ‘T20’ competition the ‘Welsh Dragons’ in a brazen attempt to sustain their status as Wales-by-proxy.  How about this: instead of Wales-by-proxy, let’s just have Wales. The Assembly, legally and morally bound to promote and enable Wales, not England, should intervene, strip Glamorgan of all its vetoes, subsidies and special privileges, and impose a Wales cricket team.