I shall start on a high – 1969. That crucial Middlesex match at Swansea occurred close to my O-level results and I spent nearly three days watching the game with some delight without the threat of re-sits. I remember the great Carwyn James arriving to see the last hour or two on one day, watching closely and chain smoking.
Then there was that unforgettable Essex match and its close final day, minutes even: another three full days of great cricket, watched with fellow schoolboys from Gowerton Grammar School [the alma mater of Don Shepherd and Rowe Harding]. After Ossie`s run for a neat pick-up and throw, Eifion removed the bails and we were all running on to congratulate the victors. The sixth form started very shortly afterwards. In fact, the distraction of the cricket meant that I returned to school undecided as to what subjects to follow!
Soon afterwards, Alan Jones started coaching us indoors in a local college at Gorseinon, using tennis balls in a gym. Afterward we played rather competitive 5 a side football. I was felled to the hard floor by larger player and Alan was quite shocked but came to aid my recovery, saying in his gentle Welsh that I would soon be a useful cricketer, which was enough to get me on my feet again despite the trauma. He lived nearby and I was amazed one Sunday evening to see him sitting down on his garden seat with Colin Cowdrey. It was a wonderful experience to watch his career develop, from opening with the elegance of Gilbert Parkhouse, the careful craftsmanship, professionalism and smile of Bernard Hedges and, as a contrast, to the more dour but patient Alwyn Harris.
At school, we were also allowed to go to the indoor nets at Neath, where Phil Clift, a young Kevin Lyons, Eifion Jones and Tony Cordle gave us useful advice. Tony`s faster ‘yorker’ ball would usually humiliate us. He was another popular figure and once gave an excellent after dinner talk to the Gowerton School reunion dinner. Peter Walker was another impressive and inspirational figure. Often the saviour of the team with his bat and array of attacking strokes such as the rare cut-drive suited to his height, to his extraordinary catching reflexes and anticipation. He could do it all, and did!
Tony Lewis was inspirational. I first saw him going the crease wearing his Cambridge blue sweater and entertained us with his lofted drives. My father said he is a man to watch for the future and explained the significance of the sweater. Even when fielding he had a charming smile. And what a stroke player he was, including a guileful late cut and leg glide.
And to have achieved great success later in life not only in cricket internationally but in supporting Wales in the Arts and Tourism. He (white shirt sleeves rolled up) and Alan Jones struck a record partnership at St Helen`s against Somerset in fine weather on a perfect pitch. Bill Alley was bowling and he deliberately conceded a run from his own bowling to give Glamorgan a bonus point, and hopefully a declaration! To see opponents near the boundary was often interesting…..even Trevor Bailey could be quite amusing with the adjacent crowd of supporters.
He, Don and Peter, really did raise the stakes in those years under his captaincy, following the earlier example of Ossie Wheatley. Ossie gave us all an important lesson that it was not too late to retire – just modify your approach and success might follow!
Don Shepherd was another local hero and had a wonderful Gower lilt: the peninsula retained its own separate dialect until the early twentieth century, but the lilt remained after that. What a splendid role model he was in terms of hard effort, maintaining accuracy and his charming sporting personality: even when he came in to bat, you could expect some fun and a wide smile.