It is 20 years this week since Glamorgan last conquered cricket by winning the County Championship – a happy anniversary for Matthew Maynard and his team. In an exclusive interview for Dai Sport the victorious former captain and England batsman, now director of cricket at Somerset, tells Alun Rhys Chivers how Glamorgan became champions.
Ron Davies may have declared September 19, 1997 “a very good morning in Wales” but September 20 was an equally good day for the thousands of Welshmen who made that now famous pilgrimage to Taunton.
The new optimism across Wales filtered down to an expectant crowd at the home of Somerset County Cricket Club, where the 11 players on the Glamorgan side were about to achieve something only achieved by 22 Glamorgan players before them, and something which hadn’t been emulated for 28 years.
The race for the County Championship title came down, ultimately, to a shoot-out between Glamorgan and Kent but as Matthew Maynard recalls, it was in Glamorgan’s hands.
“We lost a game against Worcestershire at their place, but the positive nature of how we went about chasing the last innings total, although we didn’t get it, I thought that sent a great message,” he says.
Victory over Surrey meant that their opponents’ title hopes were effectively over, and then, says Maynard, “a crucial game against Essex because, although we played some really good cricket, it was quite a tough run chase and things went in our favour.”
Glamorgan, having posted 361 in their first innings, restricted Essex to 169 in theirs, before Essex scored 340 following on, to set Glamorgan a target of 148.
Maynard and Tony Cottey added 124 for the fourth wicket to seal the win, but the captain admits, “it was quite a scary kind of moment, chasing a smallish total.”
And so to Taunton, where Glamorgan knew that a victory would put them in the driving seat after Kent had beaten a weakened Surrey side.
“That was going into our third day here,” says Maynard. “It looked like Kent were going to win and we knew we had to push it.”
And so, having restricted Somerset to 252, Glamorgan posted a mammoth 527 in their first innings, thanks in no small part to Maynard’s own 142 – which he says is “definitely up there in the top three or four innings I played for Glamorgan” – and 165 by Hugh Morris, who, the captain says “was brilliant at the top of the order, as he had been all year.
“He’d had something like 1,300 or 1,400 runs. He was an incredible asset for us. His innings was of huge importance, with [Andrew] Caddick steaming in, and Hugh saw off that new ball which he did so often, and went on to get a hundred himself, a really valuable innings.”
After that captain’s innings from Maynard came the bizarre realisation that he had struck no singles whatsoever – all his runs had come in twos, threes and boundaries.
“I was seeing the ball well,” he admits, “I’d come off the back of some good scores, up at Worcester (161 not out) and I backed that up with two good scores against Essex (71 and 75), so I was full of confidence.”
But there had also been contributions of 86 from Robert Croft and 53 not out from Adrian Shaw in the middle-order. Somerset could only manage 285 in their second innings as the Taunton light began to fade quickly.
Just 11 runs, then, for a historic win, knocked off comfortably as Steve James glanced the winnings runs down to fine-leg before what seemed like the whole of Wales poured onto the hallowed turf.
It was only then that it became apparent that it would be Morris’s final fling in a Glamorgan shirt, as he retired to pursue a job offer with the ECB.
“He was a big loss for us,” says Maynard. “He told us at the end of that game that he was retiring from the game and it was a huge shock to us all and he was sorely missed because he was such a great player.”
Although, as Glamorgan lost some valuable experience, so they gained some new blood in a promising crop of youngsters which included Darren Thomas and Dean Cosker.
But a central figure, as Maynard is keen to point out, was also wicketkeeper Adrian Shaw who had controversially replaced revered gloveman Colin Metson during that season.
“He wasn’t as good a gloveman,” admits Maynard, “but he was a much better person to have in the team. He was such a team-oriented man.
“A lot revolved around Adrian Shaw in how he kept the boys going in a long session, just with his humour and enthusiasm for the game, which was superb.”
But there were two other key figures without whom Glamorgan may well have struggled to go up that extra gear needed for Championship success.
The first was the Pakistani fast bowler Waqar Younis – “the icing on the cake”, according to Maynard.
“To have Waqar there just gave the lads belief from the outset and there were a couple of games where he really influenced us.”
In what was maybe his best fortnight in a Glamorgan shirt at the end of June, Waqar took 7-25 against Lancashire at Aigburth in Liverpool before ripping through Sussex to take 8-17.
“At Aigburth, we’d set them about 260 and he ran through them. It was an incredible response from him. He got seven in that game and eight in the next innings against Sussex down at Swansea. Unbelievable skill.”
Maynard also recalls a performance against Essex where he put an over-confident Ronnie Irani in his place.
“Irani whacked him back over his head and just stood there, really arrogant. That fired Waqar up and the next ball, Ronnie’s stumps were all over the place!”
With 68 wickets, Waqar was one of four bowlers, – along with Steve Watkin (61), Robert Croft (54) and Darren Thomas (53) to go past the 50 mark.
“To have four bowlers all take 50+ wickets and then young Dean Cosker take 30-odd was testament, really, to our skill levels,” adds Maynard.
Behind the scenes, there was one man who ultimately masterminded Glamorgan’s success. Enter Zimbabwean-born head coach Duncan Fletcher.
“I’d seen him the year before when he was coach of South Africa A and they were playing Glamorgan. I didn’t play in the game but I went down early to see how they prepped and at the end of the day, it was a different level of professionalism, I suppose.
“We were good, but he brought an extra couple of per cent to our fielding, the way we’d do our fielding drills, we were sharper than we’d been before because he demanded intensity.”
Having gained a reputation for being “a bit grumpy”, that couldn’t be further from the truth, according to Maynard.
“He actually brought a lot of humour to our dressing room and we had a good laugh with him. All the way through, he knew the time to criticise and have a go at the players and wake them up, but also when to support and help them through. He was a great acquisition for us and went on to be a great England coach as well.”
At the end of the match at Taunton, ‘Fletch’ was presented with a Welsh rugby shirt – the ultimate indicator that he’d been accepted into the ranks – and the celebrations, literally, went on long into the night – and into the next day!
“I don’t think you realise the enormity at the time,” reflects Maynard. “It probably doesn’t sink in until much later. The celebrations were fantastic. We had that night and I remember coming back to my village and going to the rugby club. They were delighted with our achievement and that ended up being quite a day. I only went over to see the boys playing rugby and I ended up almost being carried home at 8 o’clock at night after a few beers!”
The one-division County Championship has long since become a thing of the past. The bright lights and glitz of the T20 Blast are what get bums on seats inside the modern-day county ground.
But for the thousands who made the trip to Taunton, where Maynard now plies his trade as Somerset’s Director of Cricket, it is doubtful that even a victory at the showpiece T20 Blast Finals Day at Edgbaston this year could have come close to replicating the Welsh pride and ‘hwyl’ a whole nation felt on that very good day at Taunton.