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From CricketForce to Ashes

Posted in NatWest CricketForce 2009

What a difference a year makes! NatWest CricketForce 2008 came and went, we took a breath and then we began again. We thought we had peaked in April last year with nigh-on 300 volunteers and the transformation of an untidy meadow into something resembling a cricket ground.

We witnessed the power of NatWest CricketForce harnessing the effort, determination and desire of a community coming together to realise a single goal. I think it was the picket fence that made the difference, snaking its way two thirds the way around the ground, a permanent record of an historic day and the symbol of cricket wherever she is played around the globe.

There were other signs too. The square was seeded and the first symbolic shoots were bravely poking through.

By early September the first red cherry was bowled in anger at a pensive club 13-year-old. The bowler? A burly club first teamer well into his forties. This might not be warfare, but it was cricket, it was serious.

The challenge thrown down by the brash Lisvane CC youth to the experienced, wily adult first team demanded nothing less. A nation….. well ok, the club….. ok mainly just the groundsman, held his breath.

Would the bounce be true? Would the ball get off the ground? Or would it just roll along the newly laid square to nestle against the boot of its young intended victim. The moment was tangible, the pressure unbearable, then a collective sigh breathed out and time and the universe began to move in unison once more as the 13-year-old crashed the half volley through the covers towards the newly painted picket fence. A new era was underway.

As the nights drew in the Lisvane Club Committee sharpened their pencils and put aside wistful memories of that Indian Summer’s day when briefly time stood still. So much work had been corralled and directed into developing the ground.

Outside things were looking pretty darn good. In the clubhouse we had done our best but six years neglect is not easy to put right even if you have Dave Leighton on your side. The changing rooms still needed to be put out of their misery.

Many respected professionals had taken a look and all emerged shaking their heads. Intensive care was considered but demolition would be the kindest thing. We needed somewhere for our mowers and roller and we had big ideas for practice nets and a scoreboard. So back to the font we went this time to plead our case for a grant and an interest free loan.

We knew our case was reasonable. We had just brought cricket back into the east of Cardiff. An audience of 100,000 and us the only game in town. But we also knew we had to provide a compelling argument with the cold wind of recession blowing through the economy and the purse strings becoming tighter.

We also knew that this was no free lunch and we would have to fund a high proportion of the costs ourselves. Furthermore the ECB would not want us bankrupt to do it so it had to be sustainable. We scratched our collective heads and produced our designs and our costings and, most importantly, our justification. A “Pavilion Club” monthly lottery was set up with a target of 200 members to pay back the loan and at Christmas time we had the best present of all.

The man from the ECB he said, “YES!”. Well actually it was Fiona Prescott, our wonderfully helpful and efficient Research and Development Manager who worked tirelessly with us to ensure we met every criteria and ticked all the boxes.

Building work began just as 2008 gave way to the New Year. The weather was kind as the new footings went in and the machine shed sprung up out of the ground. Work on the changing rooms was slower as we had to partially preserve what we had in this ecological corner of St Mellons Golf Club.

Our target was to complete in time for the new season but we had a philosophy to follow too. CricketForce had taught us something and that was not to pay for something when you could beg for it! Tim Mathias gave his architectural and project management skills for nothing, Macob provided scaffolding free of charge and Celtech Consultancy Ltd provided building inspection services.

By NatWest CricketForce 2009 the final tiles were being grouted in the changing rooms and the clubhouse and machine shed were complete ready for the season. The building was designed to be functional but nevertheless there was just enough inspiration left over to ensure that we motivated our membership to provide the funding for the five year interest free loan. By common consent the ground is a “Real beauty!”

Some good weather at the start of the season meant that progress on the pitch matched that off it but we had not really taken time out to celebrate the progress we had made. We needed a grand opening to our grand design and who better to invite than the people who had first made it all possible.

The historic Ashes Test in Cardiff in July became the catalyst for an invitation, celebrity Twenty20 cricket match on the eve before. We invited Mike Gatting and Dave Leighton back and were delighted when they immediately accepted. Glamorgan and England opening batter Steve James had moved in just across the road and had taken to an afternoon stroll with his family each Saturday while our third and fourth XIs laboured in the middle.

He was a natural to captain the host side. He also immediately accepted and the spirit of CricketForce 2008 was still alive.

Frantic plans were made for Tuesday July 7 with club second team skipper Gary Israel at the fore. The experience of a year before stood us all in great stead as publicity was arranged, guests were invited and catering organised.

The only thing left to chance was the weather as the whole city buzzed with the prospect of an Ashes Test Match commencing the following day. The day dawned heavy with the rain left over from the previous day when our game with an Australian touring party was called off.

But the rain cleared by lunchtime and the sun did the rest so that by the time our guests arrived the ground was looking its brilliant best.

First Mike Gatting arrived closely followed by Dave Leighton. Were they impressed? I think so. The club house was finished and the ground looked immaculate with picket fence completed all the way round.

A cursory start had been made to the practice nets before the money ran out, for now at least, but they will be finished and the scorebox was half built in need of the hoped for donated electronic scoreboard.

Everything else was picture-perfect. The media turned up in force with BBC’s Wales Today going out live across the nation from our cricket ground and First Minister Rhodri Morgan came along to see what all the noise was.

The match passed off with little incident most notable for an unbeaten 66 from Steve James who proved that he has lost little of his batting prowess and almost 500 supporters turned out to enjoy the occasion.

As we looked around at the sight it was time to think back over the extraordinary past 12 months, take a short breath and then begin again. What a difference can be made in a year when a cricket club comes together. The Ashes had come to Cardiff and cricket had come back to Llwynarthen. Old Father Time looks on in wonder.