T20 International: Carnival or cricket?

Laugharne & Hundleton Cricket Club: T20 Swalec Stadium

THE NATIONAL T20 I NTERNATIONAL between England and South Africa attracted over 15,000 spectators to the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff last Sunday (Jun 25) who were entertained royally by a performance that could have graced the West End stage.

Cricket can no longer be the pastime of the gentry, enjoyed of an afternoon on a village green in Middle England, where the Lord of the Manor XI played his workers; winning of course, with his grace ensuring he scored runs and took wickets to rapturous applause from the gathered throng of villagers, many of whom either work for him or had someone who worked for him.

This quintessential snapshot of cricket is a generation once removed and there is more chance of the noble game being played on the moon before its return.

Cricket is rich in history and the T20 format is heavy in entertainment value and rewards, for the England and Wales Cricket Board, Glamorgan County Cricket Club and the players. The bandwagon that is T20 sees players making a living at this format of the game, travelling to the Caribbean for the Calypso League, Australia for the Big Bash and the Indian Premier League. Adorned by those who follow the game these can live long in retirement.

Cricket is a sport; to achieve such rewards requires determination, success and luck. Ask thirty six year old Kevin Pieterson, or his mouthpiece Piers Morgan for their views on T20 cricket, some three years after Pietersons sacking by the ECB. A maximum of four hours game time compared to those who play ‘Test’ or County cricket, with seven hours of cricket each day, over four or five consecutive days.

T20 in Cardiff is an advert for the Capital City and Wales. Supported by the Welsh Government and the quango, ‘Visit Wales’ the influx to the economy goes beyond a matchday, with supporters returning on family holidays. That investment is the cricket, in a stadium designed to accommodate 16,000 people with an infrastructure to support it.

The SWALEC stadium has pedigree for producing the product, the recent ICC Champions games bear testament. Supporters follow the brand ‘Team England (and Wales) but they follow also the trail to Cardiff. The experience is everything and Cardiff is an attractive enticement; an International ground in the heart of a City.

Getting to game isn’t easy from west Wales, as Larter and Chris Williams [Lawrenny Cricket Club], testify as their National Express bus leaves half an hour after the end of play, to Kilgetty before taking the train to Narberth, and acquiring the ‘Family Taxi Service’ home. Plans can be made as the game will finish at the designated time of 5:40pm; short, sharp, full on razzmatazz and T20 appeal is unquestionable.

South Africa elected to field in overcast conditions series decider. Mangaliso Moshele dropped the old fashioned ‘Up N Under’ from Alex Hales as a passionate Wenglish crowd erupted. Morne Morkel squared the game accompanied by blaring music, flame throwers, TV replays and card waving, finger pointing spectators; 13-1 for cricket lovers but marketed to the Satellite spectator. This carnival of cricket appeals to all ages, where gender plays no part. Greeting the two teams entrance were Cricket Wales Girls teams.

England have rested skipper Eoin Morgan with the score at 1:1 in the series; baffling as their next ‘white ball’ game is 83 days away. But it hands Dawid Malan [Middlesex] his debut. He scored his first international run courtesy of a ‘six’; no mean feat on this stage when the ball is coming at 90mph. Small margins dictate a win or loss; South Africa’s fielding, particularly Andile Phehlukwayo was gifting the game to England as Malan became the highest scoring England T20 debutant.

The crowd, knowledgeable of the ‘stage play’ being performed to realise its building to a crescendo witness South Africa ensure the ‘Lions’ roar becomes croaky on 165-5 as the ‘Up N Unders’ were now being held. England closed on 181-8, which most of the crowd feel will be enough; just.

England resume with 22 – year- old Tom Curran milking the crowd for all his worth as he dive bombs in celebration of a wicket. Performances and charisma put bums on seats and Curran is the marketing gurus pin up as he ignites Wenglish choir. The Lager helps, both for those deep notes and for the attuned ears, and now the enigmatic conductor, AB Devilliers arrives.

AB lays bare the challenge to youngster Crane, where AB will do well to maintain South Africa’s record of 14 victories from the last sixteen series deciders. Half way stage and the visitors require 118 from 60 balls. AB dumps Cranes first four balls: 4,6,6,1. From the last ball he pings it to the hands of in front of the Fosters stand, to ‘Queens Another One Bites the Dust’. Number 44 Crane comes of age as he grows to ten foot tall on the back of the singing, becoming a giant in the Land of my Fathers. He’ll be back to Cardiff again; perhaps even beyond if he can persuade mum and dad to come on holiday.

England safely secure the ‘Up N Unders’ and the Boks have lost their spring, allowing the hosts Union Jack pyjama kit to shine brightly as the catching culprits at the crease for South Africa seek redemption. Adam Ants 1981 ‘Stand and Deliver’ as the mathematics show two runs a ball required for victory. On-field wickets only count in this game, although Moshele was superbly caught in the crowd by a paying spectator. His moment in the limelight shared on the Big Screens around the ground and Channel 402 across the World. Tick the box on that bucket list challenge before ‘Bomber Curran’ has one more finale as the game ends, 162-7.

Winners? England, by 19 runs, taking the series 2-1. Debutant Dawid Malan as man of the match. 15,000 supporters, a smiling CEO of Glamorgan Hugh Morris and those vendors trading within the stadium.

‘Hey Jude’, this crowd will also tell you it’s the business in and around Cardiff this weekend who will also be winners. Beyond this, Visit Wales and the Welsh Government will have statistics to prove the games true value, after the obligatory ‘Mexican Wave’ concludes.