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September 19, 2013
When it comes to sport, the Welsh tend to sing whether they are winning or not. Glamorgan supporters have not had too much to fill their lungs about in recent times but, on Saturday, they will make their first trip to Lord's for a domestic one-day final in more than a decade. The home of cricket may need soundproofing.
Nottinghamshire are favourites to win the Yorkshire Bank 40, having cruised through the group stage and thrashed perennial nearly men Somerset in their semi-final, but Glamorgan are quite happy to be overlooked by the bien pensants. In truth, this is unfamiliar territory for both sides - it will be the third Lord's final appearance in Glamorgan's history and only Nottinghamshire's fifth, their most recent coming in 1989 - but while Notts have a surfeit of England internationals to call upon, their opponents are largely unsung outside of Cardiff.
There will surely be an ode or two composed to Michael Hogan - the tournament's leading wicket-taker - or Jim Allenby if Glamorgan manage an upset. The starting XI may be a little light on homegrown players (Allenby and Hogan are Australian) but Simon Jones will always be a household name in Wales. It is eight years since he last played for England, eight years since he became an Ashes winner, yet there are still those who whisper reverentially about his piston right shoulder and powers of reverse swing.
Jones could be about to pull on a Glamorgan shirt for the final time - he announced his retirement from first-class and List A cricket last week, though hopes to maintain the club as part of a T20 portfolio - and he says they are happy to accept the underdog tag. "That's just the way it is but we relish that, we love a challenge and hopefully we'll surprise a few people," he said.
"It's a bit of a Welsh trait, isn't it - we're tigers, as a nation. Welsh sport is really looking up, with the rugby, with the football and now we're in a Lord's final. We're obviously the only Welsh team in the County Championship and it's something we're very proud of, once you put on a Glamorgan shirt it's something that you treasure. We play cricket with passion and I think that's a big key for us."
The focus at Glamorgan over the last few years has been on making their ground a credible international venue but while the faithful require their churches, it is silver rather than glass and steel that they worship. Beaten finalists in the Benson & Hedges Cup in 2000, Glamorgan won the National League in 2002 and 2004 before a lean spell, pock-marked by upheaval on and off the pitch. The YB40 campaign, building on some encouraging form in the Friends Life t20, hints at the green (and yellow) shoots of making the county competitive again.
"It's been a tough time," Jones said. "We had a lot of success in the early 2000s, the last time we won a major cup was in 2004, so it's been a long time coming. We've had to rebuild, we lost a lot of senior players in the early 2000s - Matt Maynard, Steve James, Adrian Dale, Steve Watkin, Robert Croft, Tony Cottey. These guys are huge for Glamorgan, so we were in the process of rebuilding and it is flourishing now. It has taken that time to find a settled team and have the squad of players that play the brand of cricket that we like playing."
A recognition that a successful Glamorgan, incorporating local talent, was needed to maintain public interest in the sport in Wales has driven the current strategy, which involves balancing experienced signings like Allenby, Hogan and Murray Goodwin with promising young players such as Ben Wright, Mike Reed and Andrew Salter. Jones, who counts himself among the "old buggers", believes that the team in one-day cricket has just "clicked", but they won't be getting ahead of themselves, despite an impressive semi-final victory over the holders, Hampshire.
"We've got the blend of youth and experience right in the team. We're not going to get giddy and go to Lord's with our heads swelling because that's the wrong way to approach a final. We're going to go in there level-headed, prepare like we have and see where that takes us. We've got a lot of self-belief but we have the utmost respect for Nottinghamshire."
Should he make the starting XI as expected, this will be Jones first Lord's final appearance. To achieve that with Glamorgan, the county that made him and where he returned two years ago after spells with Worcestershire and Hampshire, is a "special, special feeling". He says of the current team: "We're a great bunch of lads, we've worked hard for each other all year and it's nice to get a bit of credibility back. Hopefully we can go there and express ourselves and keep on playing the way we have."
Would victory be a new career high? Jones isn't ruling it out. "The Ashes is history, but the feeling I think I'd have if we can win will be up there with the Ashes, maybe bigger. Because when you play with England you've got the cream of the crop from around the county circuit and are expected to win. Glamorgan have put out a Welsh team who fight hard and work hard and, yes, we have a lot of talent but people have always doubted us and I think that's the key for us. We've proved a lot of people wrong and that's why I'm so happy."
Simon Jones was speaking ahead of the Yorkshire Bank 40 final at Lord's on Saturday, September 21. Tickets are available from tickets.lords.org
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Alan Gardner
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