Glamorgan's 1997 Championship: Devolution, titles and a sing-song

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Glamorgan's 1997 Championship: James, Morris, Maynard and Croft remember the party

It was a big week for Wales, a memorable one for Glamorgan and the moment that set future England coach Duncan Fletcher on the road to the greatest Test series victory in recent history.

In the week Wales voted yes to devolution 20 years ago, Glamorgan struck their own little blow for the land of their fathers by winning the County Championship. Ironically, it was Englishman Steve James who hit the winning runs.

It was 20 September, 1997 when Wales took over Taunton cricket ground as Glamorgan beat Somerset to claim the title for the third time after successes in 1948 and 1969.

Batsmen Hugh Morris and James were mobbed as they made their elated sprint to the changing room and James lost his bat before being reunited with it a few days later following a newspaper campaign.

With celebrations in full flow, spin bowler Robert Croft led the Welsh fans in a sing-song from the Taunton balcony before sharing his hotel room with mates from his home village of Hendy.

The mastermind

Behind this great team was a soon-to-be great and famous coach.

Zimbabwean Fletcher could be seen wearing a Wales rugby shirt on the balcony drenched in champagne alongside Pakistan fast bowler Waqar Younis. A far cry from his usual studious, reserved demeanour.

He had coached a successful South Africa A trip in 1996, which included a crushing victory over Glamorgan that led to an invitation to coach the Welsh county.

Not bad for openers?

"The crowd were fantastic and so emotional," said Fletcher.

"The way the players reacted afterwards showed it was a very big moment not only for them personally, but demonstrated how patriotic they were towards the fans."

Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan with the Ashes
Fletcher says his success with Glamorgan opened the door which led to England's Ashes victory in 2005

Fletcher went on to coach England to their incredible Ashes win in 2005, but says Glamorgan was a highlight of his career.

"It was fantastic," he said. "It is right up there with anything in my career because without my stint at Glamorgan I probably would have never coached England.

"It put me on the map and people started to take notice.

"When I came over I knew hardly anything about England cricket so was coming in pretty blind.

"I didn't know what a good county side was. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised with the batch of players. The squad had youth, experience and a lot of talent."

The Taunton scenario

Glamorgan celebrate winning the 1997 County championship
Robert Croft leads the Glamorgan celebrations in Taunton in 1997

The Welsh county travelled to Taunton knowing destiny was in their own hands, but aware Kent could still win the title at the same time against Surrey.

After scoring 527 in their first innings thanks to 165 from Morris, a brilliant 142 from Maynard and 86 by Robert Croft, Glamorgan bowled out Somerset for 252 and then 285, polishing off the necessary 11 runs.

It was left to James, rather than his opening partner Morris, who was playing his last game, to seal the triumph with a boundary.

The maximum 24 points gained by Glamorgan meant Kent had to settle for second despite beating Surrey by five wickets at Canterbury. Cue the celebrations.

Hugh Morris and Waqar Younis celebrate winning the 1997 County Championship with Glamorgan
Waqar Younis wears a jester's hat and a bottle of Champagne - preferred headwear for County Championship winners

Captain Marvel

Fletcher admitted his squad peaked at the right time as all the stars aligned for a team that used only 14 players in 17 championship games.

Just two games were lost and the only major blip came when Glamorgan were inexplicably bowled out by Middlesex for 31.

Captain Maynard, Morris, James, Croft and Steve Watkin had all played for England.

They were complemented by county stalwarts such as Tony Cottey, Adrian Dale and Adrian Shaw with youngsters like Darren Thomas, Dean Cosker, Gary Butcher, Mike Powell and Alun Evans also featuring.

However, Younis was the jewel in the crown.

Glamorgan players admitted jumping up and down with giddy excitement when Maynard announced they had signed the world-class swing bowling superstar and the fans greeted the Pakistani bowler's success with the 'Waqar is a Welshman' chant.

"It was a good side and they just combined at the right times," said Fletcher.

"Matthew was an extremely good captain, his man-management style was good while as a player he was outstanding.

"For him to get that 100 in that last game showed he relished captaincy and leading from the front.

Duncan Fletcher was India coach at the time of his retirement in 2015
Duncan Fletcher was India coach at the time of his retirement in 2015

"To go along with this we had players who took on senior roles. Players like Steve James, Steve Watkin, Hugh Morris set a great example to the youngsters.

"We had Robert Croft playing regularly for England as well that year.

"We also had an outstanding overseas professional in Waqar Younis who put in great performances for the club and showed what a class act he was, while Steve Watkin was consistent all year alongside him

"We had some younger players like Darren Thomas who bowled well in spells, especially in the final match at Taunton."

Team spirit

Fletcher also praised the camaraderie in the Glamorgan side although tensions were high when Croft once cut the coach's socks during a dressing room prank that left Fletcher unimpressed.

"Team spirit was crucial to the success and most important was the work ethic," said Fletcher.

"One example was that after every game we would be playing touch rugby.

"Other sides mentioned this and they couldn't quite believe it.

"We managed to instil that if you work hard the success would come with it."

Future success?

Two difficult decades have since passed for Glamorgan, though Essex this month reminded everyone that success can come after a barren spell by lifting their first championship title in 25 years.

Hopes of Glamorgan emulating that appear a distant prospect after languishing in the second division for more than a decade and struggling to produce home-grown talent.

Morris and Croft are in charge of any revival as chief executive and head coach respectively and Fletcher has faith in two of his former charges.

"They have got two great people in charge with Hugh and Robert guiding things," said Fletcher.

Matthew Maynard
Captain Matthew Maynard was in fine form in the deciding match at Taunton

"You will be hard to find a guy who knows more about the game than Croft. He is an astute man who has a magnificent cricket brain.

"You probably have to look a bit deeper and find what cricketers are coming through the Glamorgan system. Hugh and Robert should just be putting the roof on the house and not digging the foundations.

"They have two individuals there who will be working really hard and are proud Welshmen.

"They need just a bit more time and there is a bit of luck because when I got there were a lot of seasoned, experienced players and there are not many there at the moment.

"If you are a Welshmen playing for Glamorgan you are just going to be a little more passionate than an outsider coming in.

"But you also need some outsiders because you need that cross-pollination."

Time flies

That's for the future. But Fletcher only has fond memories of the Glamorgan past he helped forge.

"It was a fantastic six months being involved with some really good cricketers," said Fletcher.

"We were beating sides with superstars.

"I enjoyed my time in Cardiff and thought it was a fantastic city and why I based myself there when I was with England.

"They were great days with wonderful memories."

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