Friday 8 April heralds the long-awaited return of a cherished friend, an absence barely appeased by Ashes glory and the World Cup during the cold winter/early spring days. But the traffic lights light up joint red and amber with anticipation, as green for go on the County Championship season lingers ever-so-teasingly.
If I had a bet with myself that I’d get through this preview without mentioning a winter of upheaval and discontent at the SWALEC, I’d be paying out already. It’s been documented and mocked; analysed and regretted… there simply is nothing more to add. Except that we finally get to see whether change was for the better.
Glamorgan take to the field at Grace Road first up, against a Leicestershire team that – less than a year ago – crumbled to a 10-wicket defeat in a remarkable game where the Dragons conceded a first innings lead of 125. Any chance of a repeat is slim, not least because the dynamic of the batting line-up is radically different.
Last year, Mark Cosgrove gave bowlers a lot to think about, and Gareth Rees some freedom at the other end. Rees averaged a decent 35.95 in 2010, but 2011 is likely to call for an even greater contribution from the southpaw – certainly more than the two centuries that were attained last summer.
Will Bragg looks set to have a chance to stake his claim as a Glamorgan opener before new skipper Alviro Petersen comes in at number three. Bragg bagged a total of 56 runs at 14.0 across four innings in 2011; Petersen is new to the county scene. One of these will need to fill a 1,200-run gap left by Cosgrove. Ominous.
A worry is that the South African will be beckoned from the pavilion with double figures still an ambition. Glamorgan’s thwarted promotion bid last summer was – in part – down to an inability to rack up batting bonus points. Worcestershire in second racked up six more; Middlesex in seventh recorded four more.
Last week’s friendly against Cardiff UCCE didn’t instil much confidence with the bat. Robert Croft is now in his 58th consecutive season but was still needed to ton up in the first innings, while Mark Wallace is never shy of chipping in. But asking the lower middle order perform regular rescue acts is not a way forward.
If the batting card does end up being more miss than hit (literally), Glamorgan is fortunate to have arguably one of the strongest bowling attacks in Division 2. Key man will be James Harris, fresh from a stint on international duty in the West Indies and topping last season’s averages with 63 at 20.52.
But he will be supported by new recruit Graham Wagg, while Huw Waters is coming off the back of figures against Cardiff UCCE that reads 8-4-6-5. Then you have Dean Cosker and the aforementioned – and wily – Croft as the spin twins. Taking 20 wickets won’t be as much a problem as keeping them intact…
There is another man, however, who I am proposing as Glamorgan’s most crucial player this year – Jim Allenby. The all-rounder won’t bowl at Grace Road due to recent surgery, but he is a guy capable of taking a nifty three-fer with the ball (41 at 21.58) or an imperious ton with the bat (933 runs at 44.42).
Oh, and Matthew Mott has finally arrived to lead the coaching side of things. I am inclined to think that he has proved himself in Australian domestic cricket. I am also inclined to think that Glamorgan is an entirely different challenge. But I am yet again inclined to think that he could be a decent acquisition all-told.
The Glamorgan hierarchy wants promotion to Division 1. And it wants improved performances in limited overs competitions. The latter is for another day, for the main business of the LV County Championship is where it is at. Not, as I suspect many will be tempted to focus on, the IPL. BRING ON THE SUMMER!