Cricket in Wales comes under the jurisdiction of the England & Wales Cricket Board, (acronym ECB not EWCB), which took over responsibility for the game from the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1997.
Within Wales amateur cricket is organised into a North Wales Premier Cricket League and a South Wales Cricket League, both of which consist of 12 teams that play each other every season. Several of these teams have featured prominently over the years in the Village Cricket Cup, competing against 300 teams from across the British Isles to play in the final at the home of cricket, Lord’s. Past Welsh winners include St. Fagans, Gowerton, Sully Centurions, Marchwiel, and Ynystawe.
Professional cricket in England and Wales is represented by the 18-team County Championship. Glamorgan has been the sole Welsh member since joining in since 1921, winning the competition on three occasions 1948, 1967, and 1997 (weeks after the devolution vote!). Over this period of nearly 100 years more than a dozen Glamorgan cricketers have represented England. One of these Tony Lewis captained the England team on eight occasions, leading the MCC party that toured India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 1972-73. The best-know Glamorgan Test players, apart from Lewis, are Maurice Turnbull, Gilbert Parkhouse, Allan Watkins, Jeff Jones, Greg Thomas, Hugh Morris, Simon Jones, Robert Croft, and Steve Watkin. Wilfred Wooller, the Glamorgan captain in the 1940s and 1950s, was never capped but was an England selector for many years.
Cricket has been expanding internationally and the number of first-class international sides has grown. Twelve countries have full membership of the ICC – England, Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Ireland, and Zimbabwe. In addition, there are 93 associates in countries where cricket is firmly established but not yet ready for full membership. These include Scotland and the Netherlands, both of which regularly host international sides, though generally only for One Day International matches (ODI). Zimbabwe, for example, is touring the Netherlands and Ireland this year and Scotland has played ODIs at home against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and has fixtures in August against Papua New Guinea and Oman in India. Ireland famously defeated the West Indies side in its pomp at Sion Mills in 1969 and now play in the European Cricket Championship. Ireland has also graduated to full Test match status with a fixture against Pakistan and is hence on a journey to appearing regularly at the highest level of cricket.
Cricket has been played in Wales since at least the first recorded match in Pembrokeshire in 1763 (several years ahead of Scotland). There are 230 amateur clubs in Wales compared with 140 in Scotland, (which like Wales has its own league) and an estimated 14,000 Welsh-based players. Yet the highest level of representation Wales achieves is as “Wales Minor Counties” in the English Minor Counties, Western Division, a sort of second division to the County Championship.
So, why has Wales not moved like other countries to full cricket status as an associate member of the ICC, remaining instead in quasi-feudal status in the England cricket set-up? When Ireland in 1993 and Scotland in 1994 moved out of the ambit of “English” cricket to create separate associations for the development of the game in their countries, why was Wales left behind?
Interestingly, Wales has had international cricket sides at various points throughout the past 100 years and they have had some notable successes. Wales played England three times in 50-over matches between 2002-2004 and even managed to win the first encounter to the amazement of all. A Welsh side also appeared 16 times in the 1920s playing among others New Zealand (drawing) West Indies (winning) and South Africa (losing). A Welsh team also featured in the ICC Trophy in 1979, and in a Triple Crown championship with Scotland and Ireland between 1993 and 2001.
Several attempts have been made over recent years to argue the case for a Wales cricket team, including not surprisingly by Plaid Cymru. In a Senedd debate in 2013 both Conservatives and Labour members lent their support to the idea of a revived Welsh side, and the case was made again in 2015 by Bethan Jenkins (as she then was) of Plaid Cymru. In 2017, First Minister, Carwyn Jones, called for the re-introduction of a Welsh One Day team.
Why have these calls never borne fruit? The answer lies mainly with Glamorgan County Cricket Club which has consistently opposed the idea of a Welsh team on the grounds that it could compromise its finances and its position within the English County Championship. Cricket Wales has also opposed independent status arguing it is preferable to play a major role within the ECB. Glamorgan chief executive Hugh Morris has argued that a Wales national team does not make any sense “financially” whatsoever.
In addition, both Cardiff City Council and the Welsh Government would argue inclusion within the ECB is a very useful peg on which to build Cardiff’s reputation as a sporting hub capable of attracting large number of high-spending UK and overseas visitors to England matches. These include games in the Ashes series against Australia, and against other full Test sides, in one day internationals or the present Cricket World Cup. (Such events do not come cost-free, however, as the right to stage must be bid for and won against the main English venues which are willing to pay large sums to do so.) A similar strategy has seen costly efforts put behind attracting other international sporting events, such as the European Champions League football, to the Principality Stadium.
Hugh Morris, understandably given his position as Glamorgan CEO, sees a Welsh side put into the field by a Wales Cricket Board as a threat to Glamorgan’s continued existence even. “We would lose our stadium. We would lose our players. I have not seen a business plan to see how it can work. We are very much wedded to the England and Wales Cricket Board in terms of finances”, he is quoted, rather dramatically, as saying. He went onto declare he could not see how Glamorgan and Wales could be natural bedfellows. Wales, he argued, would be playing in an ICC league with other countries, and at the same time as Glamorgan.
Would Glamorgan have to leave or be forced to quit the county championship as some fear? There are currently non-represented English counties – Devon, Lincolnshire, Cumbria, Berkshire perhaps – which might welcome the chance to take the county’s place in the County Championship if Welsh cricket was separated from the English set-up. But this sounds very much like special pleading. Wales has an international football side, and this has not prevented Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County and Wrexham from playing in the English football professional system so why need Glamorgan lose its place in the county championship?
Again, would Glamorgan necessarily be weakened by the emergence of a Welsh side competing independently? Several decades ago, Glamorgan consisted mainly of Welsh players plus a few overseas stiffeners. Today the side is almost entirely composed of cricketers from outside Wales and a handful of Welsh players, so a Welsh team would hardly be drawing on the same resources. Nor need matches be played in Cardiff in competition with Glamorgan. Swansea has a long tradition of support for cricket and lost out, much to its chagrin, to Cardiff when Glamorgan decided to concentrate most fixtures at Sophia Gardens. Swansea could be the new home of Welsh cricket. Matches could also be played in other venues around Wales, as was previously the Glamorgan practice.)
Surely, with a genuinely Welsh side playing in Wales in fixtures against other nations interest in the game in Wales and participation (by men and women) could only grow? This could ultimately benefit Glamorgan and perhaps generate a larger cohort of players locally who might go on to play professionally for the county.
A Welsh side would also give Welsh-qualified Glamorgan players – and there are still a few despite the internationalisation of the county side in recent years – the opportunity to play international cricket for a Wales team. Though they qualify to play for England at present it is only every few years that a Glamorgan player manages to break into the side and no Welsh player is currently in that position. The very best players might still choose to do so. After all, England’s One-Day captain, Eoin Morgan is an Irish national with a Welsh surname.
And let’s face it Glamorgan has not been pulling up trees in the English cricket system since it last won the championship more than 20 years ago, finishing bottom of Division Two last year (i.e eighteenth out of eighteen in English first class cricket) with just two wins all season. Perhaps too much time and effort has been put into creating a stadium fit for Test matches and ODIs to the detriment of cricket in Wales generally. (Thankfully, Glamorgan are doing a lot better this year and if current form is maintained could challenge for promotion to Division One.)
England might indeed stop playing Test matches or ODIs in Cardiff if there were a separate Wales side. But is the role of super-host the best we can hope for when Scotland and Ireland, both with smaller cricket-playing populations, build their game and international reputation? At least some of the revenue that would be turned away if Wales left the England and Wales Cricket Board to set up its own board (and lost the right to host England matches) could be recouped through Welsh international matches.
The current World Cup which brings together the ten best one day cricket countries, has shown how much pride can be derived by the smaller countries from appearing in tournaments such as these, and occasionally outplaying the more senior sides – Afghanistan came close to winning their match against India. Surely it would be good to see Wales attempting over time to qualify for such an event and regularly playing the shorter versions of the game against comparable countries such as Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and some of the aspiring African and Asian nations. This could serve as an encouragement to young people to take up the game and help to raise performance standards throughout the sport in Wales.
We can agree in congratulating Glamorgan Cricket club on successfully hosting matches at the Cricket World Cup and England Test matches over a number of years but also argue that Wales could take much greater pride in an event such as the Cricket World Cup if a Wales team was represented in this and other international cricket tournaments.
The creation of a new independent Wales Cricket Board could help to stimulate the game among both men and women in Wales, further helping the ambition to create a healthier and fitter Wales.
Sport Wales should ted to conduct a feasibility study into whether the time is now right for Wales to break away from the England and Wales Cricket Board and set up its own cricket authority without jeopardizing Glamorgan’s position in the County Championship.
Who knows, we might even beat the West Indies again one day?
June 27th, 2019