Glamorgan return to Neath this week for their Royal London Cup matches against Lancashire on Wednesday 17 August and Hampshire on Friday 19 August. (writes Andrew Hignell)
The Welsh county last played a one-day game at The Gnoll on 28 August 1994 when they beat Leicestershire in a Sunday League contest by 33 runs, thanks to 49 from Steve James plus a return of 5/36 from Steve Barwick whose clever off-cutters bamboozled the visiting batters. In all, Glamorgan have staged a dozen List A matches at the Neath ground, starting with their Gillette Cup quarter-final against Worcestershire in 1963 – a contest which saw Tom Graveney score a typically elegant 93, whilst Jack Flavell claimed 5/43 as Worcestershire completed a 46-run victory.
Euros Lewis top-scored for Glamorgan in the 1963 contest against Worcestershire with his 78 remaining as the highest List A score for the Welsh county at Neath. Three visiting batters have scored one-day hundreds at the ground, with Mark Waugh making an unbeaten 112 for Essex in the Sunday League contest in 1989 before the following year Somerset’s Graham Rose scored 138 and Jimmy Cook 136* in a remarkable 40-over game which saw the West Country side post a mammoth 360-3.
Like many of the grounds where Glamorgan have played The Gnoll is the home to both Neath Rugby and Cricket Club. The name of the ground is believed to be a derivation from the word 'knoll', meaning a small round hill, as the first building in the area was situated on the circular mound on the hill to the north of the town. By the 17th century, a small castle and country house had been built on the hillside, and from 1710 onwards it became the home of the Mackworth family, who were wealthy industrialists and owned the town's copper works. In 1811 the Gnoll Estate was purchased by Henry Grant - the first mayor of the town – and it was Grant who allowed ball games to be played on the meadows below Gnoll House.
The first record of cricket in Neath dates back to the mid-1840's, and in 1848 a cricket club was formed, based at The Gnoll. During the middle of the 19th century, more housebuilding took place on Grant's land, but he refused to sell the cricket field, and the club went from strength to strength. A number of quite prestigious fixtures were held during the next few years as Alex Cuthbertson, a local solicitor, helped to arrange three-day fixtures in 1855 and 1856 between an Eleven of All-England and a XXII of Neath and District.
However, the club subsequently ran into financial problems, and in 1863 were reformed as Cadoxton CC by JTD Llewelyn, the cricket-loving industrialist and sporting benefactor from Penllergaer House who twenty-five years later was instrumental in convening the meeting at The Angel Hotel in Cardiff at which Glamorgan County Cricket Club came into being. Llewelyn also helped to fund special exhibition games at The Gnoll, with arguably the most famous of these taking place in May 1868 when a XXII of Cadoxton challenged the United South of England. WG Grace was in the English side, yet for once in his career, he bagged a pair, dismissed in both innings by George Howitt, Cadoxton's guest professional.
Neath can also boast another key figure in Glamorgan’s history as ‘Tal’ Whittington, a solicitor in the town, acted as Glamorgan’s Honorary Secretary in the years after the Great War and was instrumental in securing the requisite number of fixtures for the Club to enter the County Championship in 1921. Several Neath-born players subsequently played for Glamorgan in the County Championship with two – Cyril Walters and Tony Lewis – also going on to captain England.
The ground staged its inaugural first-class fixture against Essex in 1934 and a series of annual games were subsequently staged by Glamorgan at The Gnoll until 1973. By this time, Glamorgan had built an Indoor School at Neath, hoping that the purpose-built complex would act as the club`s winter coaching base in the west. Opened on 28th October, 1954, the Indoor School was opened by Bob Wyatt, and in the subsequent years, a host of young Glamorgan cricketers have been groomed in the nets over the winter months and the fine facilities have been used by the county club in their pre-season activities.
During the early 1980's various industrial regeneration schemes began in the Neath Valley, and the Neath Development Partnership began to promote tourism and recreation in the area. They viewed county cricket as the perfect vehicle for promoting their activities and, after receiving a sponsorship package of around £320,000, Glamorgan staged their matches in 1985, 1989 and 1993 against Australia at The Gnoll. The game in 19885 saw Javed Miandad and Younis Ahmed add 306* for the third wicket, with Javed hitting a superb double century, whilst in 1993 Matthew Maynard scored a brilliant hundred before lunch as the batter regained a place in the England side.
The most recent first-class contest at The Gnoll, in 1995, also featured an Australian team as Glamorgan met the Young Australians with the touring team including Ricky Ponting, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist and Stuart Law, in addition to Matthew Elliott and Michael Kasprowicz who each played with distinction for Glamorgan.