Friday, 10 July 2015

Cardiff

Much has been said about the pitch for the first Test in Cardiff. When we saw Mitchell Starc's fourth ball of the match bounce twice on the way through to Brad Haddin, we either thought that this was a Sabina Park mark two, or had about as much life as the Athens bond market. Yet for me, this has been a brilliant Test wicket so far from an English point of view, and Cardiff should be applauded for producing such a pitch. A decent batting track where runs have come at around four an over, will no doubt become more bowler friendly as it wears.

The SWALEC
Much of the moaning about the pitch seems to have come from the southern hemisphere, although the first signs of English moaning has us labelled 'whinging Poms'. The fact that we haven't prepared a track with trampoline bounce so that Mitchell Johnson can take the heads off of our top five seems to have irked those from Down Under somewhat. Why should we? The Aussies always play their first one in the stronghold of Brisbane, where they haven't lost since Captain Cook touched down at Botany Bay. Or something like that.

Cardiff for me has been the perfect venue. The crowd, albeit split between many from the West Country and the Welsh for Test cricket, are knowledgeable, passionate and love their cricket. The Middle Stump has always attracted a large following from South Wales, and they are great fun. Differing vastly from the demographic of a London or South East cricket crowd, they are down to earth and there doesn't seem to be the snootiness of other grounds. No red chinos here, the Glammy support has always been a mixture of the well heeled from Llandaff, Pontcanna and Radyr along with those who travel in from the Valley towns. On my last visit to the SWALEC, the latter were out in force; groups of rugby playing lads in the winter, following the summer sport and downing the local cwrw (beer) as if it was going out of fashion. Their renditions of "Bread of Heaven" and "Delilah" have been a wonderful backdrop to the cricket. In the ground made famous by Alan and Simon Jones, the dulcet tones of Tom have been ringing out.


Alan's brother belts out Delilah

It is one of the most beautiful walks to a cricket ground in the world. From the city centre, the walk through Bute Park following the trail of the River Taff is absolutely stunning. One thing that always does make me chuckle though is whenever a six is hit, someone always says "he's hit that all the way into the Taff" no matter where it goes in the ground. I suppose it is commentator's licence and sounds better than when one clears the media centre to say that rather than, "it's gone all the way into Sport Wales National Centre" or "into Y Mochyn Du" pub which lies behind.

The panoramic shots from Sky TV have been wonderful following the Taff all the way past the Millenium Stadium, out to Cardiff Bay, over Penarth and into the Bristol Channel. Spectacular views of Cardiff Castle and the Caerphilly Hills the other way, have shown the scenery that surrounds the Welsh capital. Brad Haddin should know after his first day fumble, that the oldest record shop in the world is here. Founded in 1894, when Brad was in his youth, he will be pleased to know that it is called....Spillers Records.

The SWALEC itself isn't the most beautiful of venues, but the people make it. In a way, like the city of Cardiff itself. Cardiff reminds a bit of Dublin, in the fact that there are far prettier cities in the world, but the warmth of the people, and the nightlife make this a great place to visit. One thing that does strike you about the ground is the rectangular shape. It is huge square of the wicket, yet the straight boundaries are tiny. You could say they are only a few Tony Cottey lengths away from the square. On three sides the stands bank up, yet the lower stand on the Taff End, makes the ground seem lop sided.


Spiller?

One gentleman who was particularly warm was the barman in O'Neills in St Mary Street when I last visited who not only poured me two pints of lager, but gave me £22 change back from the twenty pound note that I gave him. I invested my spoils in a late night kebab from Caroline Street aka Chippy Lane, where the locals gorge themselves on fast food after a night out, in a similar fashion to Joe Root and the Australian bowling. The other thing that struck me about St Mary Street, was the ambulances lined up waiting to cart people off to hospital. Like a sort of medical vulture, circling the wildebeeste, they save the locals the aggravation of dialling 999, and no doubt cut their 'attending the scene' time figures too!

Cardiff should host Test cricket. Partisan support, a low bouncing pitch yet still a great batting track, and not an empty seat in the ground has ensured that this is a difficult place to come for those not used to English, or Welsh conditions. The pitch should deteriorate but that is what you want out of a Test pitch. The crowd have been fantastic and I am sure England have loved playing there.

As they say in these parts, I loves the 'Diff.

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