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Paul Edwards at Cardiff
September 12, 2012
Kent 170 (Northeast 62, Croft 5-31) and 33 for 2 trail Glamorgan 390 (Allenby 125*, Walters 63, Bragg 59, Coles 4-76) by 187 runs
Robert Croft's run-up is seven paces long, as it has been for many seasons now. It perhaps lacks a little of the spring it once possessed, for its owner is in his 43rd year; indeed, unkind observers might label Croft's approach to the wicket something of a shuffle. But the vital pivot in the delivery stride and the hard spin imparted to the ball remain. There is much more than an echo of the boy in the man. Even as he makes ready to leave the game as a player, Croft is still a devilishly effective cricketer,
Anyone who thought that the offspinner's selection for this match was merely a kind gesture towards a retiree, an indulgent acknowledgement of his 24 seasons in Glamorgan's service, should have been at Cardiff on the second day of this match. Bowling from the River Taff End, Croft put all his skills to his beloved county's use for the penultimate time and took 5 for 31 in 11.5 accomplished overs. In doing so, he helped ensure that Kent's always slim hopes of being promoted into Division One became gossamer-thin in Sophia Gardens' evening sunshine.
By the close, Graham Wagg had removed both Rob Key and Daniel Bell-Drummond and Kent still need 187 runs even to make Glamorgan bat again. It is surely a hopeless position for a team who need to win this game to have a chance of going up. Croft will not be playing in Division Two next year; Kent will be, though.
The cricket played by Glamorgan in the second half of this day was exhilarating and faintly wonderful. Just before tea Kent were in a reasonable position, having lost only Key and Bell-Drummond - for the first time in the day - in scoring 137 runs; their chances of overhauling Glamorgan's first-innings 390 were not negligible. Then Croft induced Sam Northeast to play back when he should have gone forward and Trevor Jesty sent the opener on his way with 62 runs to his name. Before Northeast's dismissal, Kent's chances were heading south; after his departure they went west completely.
The play after tea was as dramatic as any seen at Cardiff this season - and it may also have occasioned whoops of joy from the Derbyshire and Yorkshire dressing-rooms. Seven wickets fell for 30 runs in nine overs, four more to Croft and the rest to the rangy seamer Michael Reed, who finished with 3 for 39 and would have led his team off the field had not a chap 18 years his senior bagged that honour.
Glamorgan's fielders backed up the pair in a manner that suggested they knew this was a special occasion and they had better be on their best behaviour. Third slip Stewart Walters scooped up a ball which had been parried by his neighbour Will Bragg to get rid of Mike Powell; Jim Allenby then celebrated his 30th birthday by pouching catches to remove first Brendan Nash off Croft and then Darren Steven and Matt Coles off successive balls from Reed.
Punctuating these successes, Croft grabbed a return catch given by Geraint Jones as the wickets fell faster than the delighted diehards trying to fill in their scorecards could write them down. The last two successes were also claimed by Croft, thus completing the 51st five-wicket return of his great career: James Tredwell was lbw and Charlie Shreck holed out at long-off. Kent had lost their last eight wickets for 33 runs in 12.1 overs. In less than an hour the work of five months lay in tatters and Croft could reflect that at least he was bidding farewell as a player in a game that actually mattered.
In one respect Wednesday's cricket was suffused with sentiment - Croft's many skills will not be seen again in county cricket - but in another, the softer emotions had nothing to do with it: Kent's batsmen would have torn him apart if they could. But they couldn't because he was too good for them.
"I am quite tired, I don't know why because I haven't bowled a lot," Croft said as he sat in the pavilion after the day, the Glamorgan cap sitting snugly on the head of a cricketer who has worn it with such pride. "Maybe it's the emotion catching up with me.
"I am starting to feel a little more of a tingle now, I guess. But it's nice to be in the team on merit and not because someone wants to give you a game. At the end of this week I'll feel half full and half empty: full of the memories and empty because there'll be no more games to play."
There are, though, eight more wickets to take and it is doubtful if they will be surrendered easily. Key's men will be hurting and they will be clinging to hopes of miracles. It is unlikely that Glamorgan supporters have quite seen the last of Croft. Although he has taken 1,173 first-class wickets, Glamorgan's talisman may be needed to begin that seven-pace run-up a few more times yet. One doubts he will be found wanting.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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