Thursday, 13 September 2012

Robert Croft starts his new career

Some old hacks say that there are no characters in the game today. Nonsense.

The statistics tell only part of the story. They don't convey the enthusiasm which Robert Croft brought to the dressing-rooms of both England and Glamorgan and which promises to inspire the next generation of players as he takes up coaching full-time. If you have the chance, listen to Steve Watkin's contribution to yesterday's "Good Evening, Wales", about half-way in.

Through ill-health, I missed the glorious finish to Croft's playing career in Cardiff, but at least I saw his last day on his "home" ground of Swansea: also a victory for the county.

The debate that started on Radio Wales about Glamorgan's best player always seemed pretty pointless. Even comparisons with Don Shepherd as the county's other great off-spinner are impossible because the latter played in an era when there were many more county matches, so his haul of 2218 wickets is unlikely to be exceeded. Only the subjective evidence of a batsman whose career spanned the end of Shepherd's career and the beginning of Croft's as to who he would rather face on a slow turner at St Helen's would be of any use.

I have been privileged to have seen both and would not like to separate them. I am glad that my life in Wales has included all of Robert Croft's career. As a member of the county for most of that time, I have enjoyed both highs and lows but through all the frustrations of Glamorgan's performances, Robert Croft was a rock. He did not play often enough for England - indeed, he could have played more for the county in a period when the selectors did not realise what a potent weapon spin was.

In addition to his coaching duties, Croft will be contributing more to broadcast coverage of cricket. Over the last few years, Welsh-speakers have been the major beneficiaries of his views on games in which he has been taking part shown on S4C. One hopes that he will have time to take his turn in the rota of expert summarisers on Radio Wales or even Test Match Special.

If his judgement of his young charges is sound, the future of the county's spinning department is in good hands. The excellent Dean Cosker will, one hopes, be around for a while yet. In a radio interview earlier in the month, Croft was generous towards the lads he has already started coaching. One other remark in that interview stood out for me: the reason for his retirement. Going downstairs in the morning after a day in the field, he said, reminded him that he was forty-two years old. I remember Don Shepherd being quoted as saying something similar: "it gets you in the legs". Well, Robert Croft will have more time for his fishing and rest for his legs in future. He deserves it.

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