Saturday, 24 October 2015

21 St Helen's cricket ground

21. St Helen’s Cricket (photos: Parkhouse, Pressdee, cricket ground) - 24 October

A blue plaque outside St Helen’s rugby clubhouse celebrates Swansea’s initial wins over the three major southern hemisphere sides, but St Helen’s is also famous for cricket.

As early as 1785 Swansea had a cricket club, though mainly for the gentry, and £2,000 was spent in 1848 to transform a sandbank into what became St Helen’s ground.  The South Wales Cricket Club staged an exhibition match there against the touring Australians as early as 1878.  Ten years later Sir John Talbot Dillwyn Llewelyn of Penllergare was instrumental in forming Glamorgan County Cricket Club, and became its first chairman; it played in the Minor Counties Championship.

Closely associated with St Helen’s was W.J. Bancroft, Glamorgan’s first regular professional player.  Besides gaining 33 rugby caps between 1889 and 1900, he played for Glamorgan 230 times between 1889 and 1914.  In later years among the youngsters whom Billy Bancroft used to coach at St Helen’s was the elegant Swansea-born batsman Gilbert Parkhouse, who played for England.                      

In 1921 Glamorgan became the 17th county admitted to the County Championship and thus could play first-class cricket.  The Welsh county was often out of their depth in the competition, but there were signs of brilliance.  In 1927 Nottinghamshire visited St Helen’s needing merely to draw the game to clinch the County Championship: they lost by an innings, and Lancashire became champions.

On the north side of the ground the original 1880’s pavilion was demolished and replaced in 1924; later concrete terracing was built in front which obscured the lower floors.  After a cheap dismissal a batsman’s climb up the pavilion’s 72 steps must seem endless.

St Helen’s had good access to public transport with a Mumbles Railway stop outside, and could attract large crowds.  Glamorgan was fortunate to be allotted the August Bank Holiday weekends for games against the tourists - 25,000 were in St Helen’s to see the famous victory by 64 runs over the 1951 touring South Africans, when off-spinner Jim McConnon took six wickets, including a hat-trick. 

With the sandy soil the pitch could assist spin bowlers, and during the 1960s the combination of Port Eynon-born off-spinner Don Shepherd with the slow left arm spin of Mumbles-born Jim Pressdee often caused difficulties for batsmen in those days of uncovered pitches.  They each took nine wickets in an innings when Yorkshire visited St Helen’s in 1965.  That decade saw the two famous victories over the Australian tourists, who in 1964 arrived from the Manchester Test Match having retained the Ashes when their captain Bobby Simpson had scored a triple century.  They were hitherto unbeaten on the tour, but Glamorgan won an absorbing match by 45 runs.  For good measure four years later the Welsh side, captained by Don Shepherd, repeated the victory on the next Australian visit. 

A few weeks later, West Indian Garfield Sobers hit the maximum six sixes off a Malcolm Nash over - a world record.  Usually a left-arm pace bowler, Nash had the very respectable figures of 4 wickets for 64 runs when he started an experimental over of left-arm spin.  The fifth ball bowled was caught on the boundary, but the fielder Roger Davis had crossed the boundary rope, so it counted as another six.  BBC Wales outside broadcast cameras were covering other events, but happened to return to the cricket, and fittingly former Glamorgan captain Wilf Wooller was commentating from the gantry high above the Mumbles Road end. 

Yet the Welsh county could demonstrate an erratic streak, as in 1972 when after Alan Jones and Roy Fredericks had opened with a then record 330 runs for the first wicket against Northants, Glamorgan managed to lose the match!                       

But nowadays, in spite of the sterling efforts of The Balconiers, St Helen’s usually hosts just one first-class game each year. 

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