Ask a Glamorgan diehard such as myself, and there is only one answer - “Robert Croft” – an off spinning hero of county and country through good times and bad, the shirt number being adopted by Crofty himself in tribute to the legendary names of the past who have worn the number 10 jersey in the red of Wales. Indeed, Welsh folk hero Max Boyce once sang about a mythical outside half factory in the West Wales valleys from which Crofty hails and still lives.
Crofty’s recent achievement of passing 1,000 first class wickets is a notable one in the modern game, especially now with only 16 Championship games a season. When he achieved this landmark he became the first Welshman to do so alongside 10,000 first class runs, and that is why he is worthy of this amongst many tributes.
Crofty’s debut in 1989 was in a very different looking county game, a game of 3 day matches, a game of Gooch and Botham. 19 seasons on and Croft may wonder what has changed at Glamorgan, rock bottom of the Championship, then as now, and a team of talented youngsters making their way in the game but struggling to compete with the seasoned pros of the county circuit, ditto.
Robert Croft in bowling action - the first Welshman to pass 10,000 first class runs and 1,000 wickets
This, however, fails to take into account the period in between. Crofty led the singing on the Canterbury balcony in 1993 as a Viv Richards inspired Glamorgan clinched their first Sunday League triumph. The success was repeated in 2002 and 2004, the latter under Croft’s captaincy.
Croft’s all round ability was also a key element in the Welsh county’s Championship triumph of 1997, only the third time that the pennant had crossed over the Severn Bridge. 54 wickets in that season averaging just over 23 supported the wonderful opening pair of Waqar and Steve Watkin, and in the title clinching game at Taunton, Crofty attacked with the bat, hitting a rapid 86 in failing September light.
An all round performer
Croft’s 1,000 first class wickets have been well documented elsewhere statistically. Briefly, he’s the ninth person to represent Glamorgan to achieve this and only Andrew Caddick amongst current county cricketers can also claim 1,000 victims.
During the recent 2007 season he once again passed 500 runs and 50 wickets, and provided some much needed stability to troubled Glamorgan. Croft’s century versus Nottinghamshire at his beloved Swansea in June was a major factor in the season’s solitary Championship win.
Critics point to a poor career bowling average of just over 37, and the statistics don’t usually lie. In recent years however, he has taken much of the flak flying at a desperately inexperienced and, at present, inadequate Welsh attack. Fifty overs an innings by him has not been uncommon as seasoned county batsmen have feasted on Glamorgan’s poor fare.
A British Lion
Croft’s success at Glamorgan over the years did not go unnoticed by the England selectors. In all he played 21 tests and 50 ODIs, with most recognition gained during David Lloyd’s spell as coach, where he was a regular fixture in the limited overs side of the late nineties.
In tests, Croft gained most success abroad, suitably consistent with his analogy that playing for England was like playing for the British Lions touring rugby side (with Glamorgan equating to Wales of course). His best moments came in New Zealand in 1996/97 (with a test best 5 for 97) and Sri Lanka 2000/01. In home tests, though, he’s best remembered for a match saving partnership with Angus Fraser at Old Trafford versus South Africa in 1998.
In all honesty, he was probably not quite good enough as a test bowler; he looked ordinary against Australia for example, and fell out of favour during the Hussain/Fletcher era. Croft was never bosom pals with Hussain and it seemed that Croft’s refusal to tour India in 2001 (following the 9/11 terrorist atrocities) put him in Fletcher’s bad books (his fellow abstainer was Caddick ironically).
Croft earned himself a recall for the Sri Lanka series in late 2003, but was made to sit out the three tests and carried the drinks whilst the inferior Gareth Batty, rejected by two counties, plied his trade. Touring supporters, amongst them ex Glamorgan stalwart and tour host Peter Walker, were astounded. So it seems was Croft and he called time on his England ambitions.
Croft took over the Glamorgan captaincy in 2003, taking over when Steve James was forced to retire prematurely as a result of injury. Despite a successful 2004, with a Championship promotion and a Twenty 20 semi final to compliment the National League triumph, his tenure as captain was mixed.
Unfortunately it coincided with the break up of the county’s ‘golden generation’. Partner in crime Tony Cottey, plus Steve Watkin and Hugh Morris had already long vacated the dressing room and joining James in retirement were Adrian Dale, and most crucially Matthew Maynard. Strong characters both, Maynard and Crofty never really saw eye to eye, but hugely respected each other’s talent and value to the Glamorgan cause.
A dire 2005 season in Championship Division One, was followed by one scarcely any better in Division Two. The one day form had tailed off too, and, in September 2006, Croft resigned as skipper as he felt as though he could take the side no further, and some suggested that he had ‘lost’ the dressing room. It hurt a proud Welshman.
Croft bowls to the classical off spinner's field at Colwyn Bay
Not finished yet
Whilst many of us were ‘ticking off’ the wickets as Robert moved closer to the magical 1,000, it was also with some dread that we saw him achieve it in late season. Rumours circulated that with the landmark Crofty may hang up the boots and commence a much anticipated career in broadcasting. Already a regular summariser on Sky’s county cricket coverage, a fluent Welsh speaker would surely find gainful employment in the BBC Wales Sports’ department.
It was a relief to many of us to hear him say in September;
“I'd like to play for as long as I can and be there when Glamorgan turn their fortunes around” (Source: BBC Sport online).
Crofty passes 38 next May, and, in the opinion of his county wicket keeper Mark Wallace, is bowling better than ever. He’s contracted for next season, and I’ve little doubt that, barring injury, he’ll still be playing at 40. In a very young Glamorgan side, that’s no bad thing.
Nonetheless, we should continue to enjoy him while we can;
"To me, Glamorgan are the best team in world cricket and it means so much to me to represent them," Croft recently told BBC Sport Wales.
Robert Croft is a Welsh number 10 as great as many of those rugby players of days gone by that he so admires.
Let us salute Crofty - a real hero of Glamorgan and Wales.