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Croft the all-round pride of Llanelli

By Edward Bevan

12 February 1997

ROBERT CROFT was described as England's catalyst in their victory against New Zealand at Wellington where, on Sunday evening, he took three wickets without conceding a run in 14 balls to initiate a collapse which left the home team in disarray.

The Glamorgan off-spinner was especially pleased with the way he dismissed Stephen Fleming, the elegant New Zealand left-hander, who scored a century in the Auckland Test.

``I set him up with two arm balls, pressurised him with four close fielders, pulled my deep square-leg in and then tossed one up. He could not resist the challenge and skied a return catch.''

Exemplary figures of three for 19 from 20 overs vindicated his recall to the Test team after his surprising omission at Auckland.

``I was very disappointed, especially after I had taken more wickets than anyone in the two Tests in Zimbabwe, but you get on with the job in hand - to support your team-mates and also hope to force your way back into contention.''

Croft, from Hendy, a West Wales village near Llanelli - renowned more for producing Welsh rugby internationals than England Test cricketers - experienced a similar disappointment during the 1994 season when he was dropped by Glamorgan.

``In retrospect Hugh Morris's decision made me a harder cricketer. Although I had been on two England A tours, I was taught not to take anything for granted, even if what happened was the worst feeling in the world.'' His first class debut in 1989 followed a schoolboy career during which he represented Welsh Schools at every age level.

He never played at school due to lack of facilities but, fortunately, his ability was recognised at Swansea Cricket Club, who recommended him to Glamorgan.

He was talented enough to represent Llanelli Schools at rugby and he formed a useful partnership with Colin Stephens, a future Wales outside-half, before concentrating on cricket.

The decision to change his action last winter - ``a slight modification of the angle at which I run in my approach to the stumps, and also to use a different grip'' - was done without consultation, a theory which has paid dividends.

Although his wife Marie was not allowed to accompany Croft on tour, his grandmother has travelled 12,000 miles from Wales to Wellington, and she shared his triumph on Sunday evening, which set up a rare England overseas victory.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:00