Glamorgan gamble on pitch to end bleak start to Croft era
Essex 29 for 1 trail Glamorgan 260 (Cooke 63, Napier 5-82) by 231 runs
The sun was shining for most of the day in Cardiff as Glamorgan took on Essex but the outlook is very gloomy. The home side sit at the bottom of the County Championship table and are already 50 points off the solitary promotion spot that is available to them. The last time a season started this poorly was Glamorgan's most recent appearance in Division One of the Championship in 2005 where the side won only once and lost 14 times. But that was in the rarefied air of the top flight, this is in a second division in which there is no real stand out team.
Having taken a punt on preparing as green a pitch as you will ever see in County Championship knowing full well that Essex would put them into bat, they started off well enough. At lunch they were 91 for 1 with Mark Wallace and Chris Cooke both looking secure enough. It looked horrible but the surface had pace, carry and even bounce. Then the inevitable Glamorgan collapse happened, something that has become so familiar for this team this year. Their average score when the fifth wicket has fallen this season is just 135. This time they lost six wickets for 73 to find themselves scrambling for late-order runs to rescue their innings.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. The off-season departure of Toby Radford as coach and the ushering in of Robert Croft as a replacement was meant to be the making of this team. There are few people that are as inspiring for Glamorgan supporters as Croft, barring maybe Don Shepherd. If anyone was going to bring Welsh pride to a club that craves just that it was Croft. Quite why Glamorgan seem so short of confidence in 2016 is not clear, but Croft admitted it was a major problem in a supporters Q&A session in the lunch interval today.
"Confidence has been low and by our own admission there's too many of us not performing, junior and senior players, and it's the role of every player and every coach to try and turn that around," he said.
"Losing the first game here [against Leicestershire] affected confidence and we've missed Colin Ingram [who is injured], but I'm not in the business of excuses and our performances from every player and coach is not good enough at the moment and we have to dig deep."
This game against Essex is Glamorgan's sixth match of the season, they are yet to win and are the only team that have lost more than one match. They suffered their third loss of 2016 at Gloucestershire last week and it was as close to a metaphorical kick in the nuts as cricket is capable of throwing up.
Having been in front in the game for three days they needed 269 runs to win on a decent pitch with almost a whole day to get there. They started well, an opening stand between Mark Wallace and Jacques Rudolph taking the team to 87 without loss. From there it was more farce than tragedy as eight wickets fell for 33 runs. Glamorgan eventually lost by 125 runs, in a game they had looked like winning for nearly four days, the whole thing falling apart in less than a session.
So much of cricket is about self-belief and as Croft admitted when he spoke to the county's most loyal of supporters that is missing from this team right now. As they succumbed to yet another middle-order capitulation against Essex it is difficult to know where they will find that much needed confidence boost.
There is a huge amount of goodwill towards Croft and that is still evident from the reception that he got from members today. Once he mentioned that he was a proud Welshman just like them, and wanted nothing but success for a county that he has dedicated his entire professional life to, they were as much under his control as a cricket ball during his most brilliant of bowling spells. But history and affection for a favoured son are a currency that only last for so long. Eventually this side need to start winning or the locals will become restless.
Croft was keen to point out that things weren't always rosy for him and the other great players of Glamorgan's past; that poor runs of form do happen regardless of how good your players are.
"I played in some very bad Glamorgan sides as well that had Glamorgan greats in it, and it just didn't happen at the time. We had some slumps believe you me. I believe in the players we do have and we have to turn it round," he said.
Glamorgan's director of cricket, Hugh Morris, said that results are analysed and discussed after every game but is backing and his coach and his players to come good.
"The margins between success and failure in the Championship are small particularly at this stage in the season. We're mindful it wasn't the plan to start the season the way we've done and we revaluate our performances after every game and we need to put it right," he said. "Robert Croft, his coaching team and all the players are working very hard to make sure that happens."
There is no doubting that everyone at the club is aware that this has been a terrible start to the Croft era and that they are redoubling their efforts to turn things around. The issue is that as Glamorgan were bowled out before the close - green pitch or not - and then failed to make significant inroads into the Essex top order there is little evidence that a change is just around the corner.
Peter Miller is a cricket writer and podcaster. @TheCricketGeek