Paul Newman: Knives Out For The Man Trying To Sell Tests In Cardiff
Knives out for the man trying to sell Tests in Cardiff
Updated: 01:06 BST, 5 May 2011
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Paul Russell sits forward, his smile replaced by a frown.
'The challenge we have now is to make sure we are not seen as a one - trick pony, ' says Glamorgan's colourful and controversial chairman.
'Our second Test is more important than our first.
Is Cardiff a true location for international cricket? The stakes could not be higher.'
Man on a mission: Glamorgan chairman Paul Russell
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Russell is the man who defied the sceptics by not only transforming sleepy Sophia Gardens into the swanky Swalec Stadium but, with breathtaking audacity, taking the Ashes to Wales.
Now he has to overcome the odds again by repeating the success of that first Test against Australia in 2009.
Cardiff, where the Welsh embraced England in their battle with Ricky Ponting, is the venue for the first Test against Sri Lanka this month.
Only the locals do not seem quite so enthusiastic this time. Ticket sales are poor and the viability of Britain having nine international venues may again come into question.
'It's enormously important that people support this game,' says Russell, who is 'fresh' from a winter of turmoil for his beloved Glamorgan.
'It will emphasise the legitimacy of our business model.
If we cannot sell Cardiff as an international venue, then that business model doesn't work. For some reason the public don't seem to rate Sri Lanka as an attractive proposition. We have to overcome that.'
It is another battle for a 62-year-old who is used to fighting them.
And winning them. We are sitting in his beautiful home near Stratfordupon- Avon, a testament to his success in the city before devoting his life to Glamorgan cricket.
He may be based in the Midlands now but Russell is Wales through and through, a Glamorgan supporter since he first saw them play New Zealand at the Cardiff Arms Park when he was nine.
This is a man who is not afraid to ruffle feathers.
There were plenty who did not share his vision for Cardiff, plenty who thought Glamorgan should remain a homely club rather than a challenger to the established Test grounds. Russell has made plenty of enemies but the man has been a Daily Mail reader since 1961 and a devotee of the late, great Ian Wooldridge so he can't be all bad.
Let him have his say.
'I once worked for a clever man who said that when you are a pioneer you get used to having arrows in your chest - it's the knives between your shoulder blades that hurt,' says Russell. 'We had an enormous amount of bad publicity about the Ashes coming to Cardiff and the most difficult thing was getting people to share our vision - you were one of those who wrote an article criticising the decision but you were less beastly than most!
Now we are at the second stage. If it transpires that people do not want Cardiff as an international venue, to me it will be like people saying they don't love their wife!'
Last stand: James Anderson (left) and Monty Panesar shake hands after England's dramatic draw at Cardiff
Emboldened by being less beastly than most, I move on to Glamorgan's winter of discontent.
Jamie Dalrymple was sacked as captain, Matthew Maynard quit as director of cricket and his son Tom left for Surrey in sympathy. Just to rub it in, Maynard Jnr scored a century on his return to Cardiff last week.
'I was advised by the people I'd appointed that we were doing things the wrong way and a change of leadership was needed,' insists Russell.
'Matthew had a fundamental objection to what I was doing and would not accept we needed to remove Jamie as captain. He put out a public statement that if Jamie was removed he would resign. It was a public suicide note.'
An overseas captain was sought.
'An international agent came up with four names, three of which we pursued.
Graeme Smith wanted to play in the IPL while Ricky Ponting would not make a decision as to whether he wanted to retire from international cricket until it was too late. Alviro Petersen impressed from the beginning.'
The South African was appointed and Maynard quit, ok-wiki.ru making way for Colin Metson. Russell is troubled by the departure of a man he considered a friend.
'I really, really, really did not want Matthew to leave,' says Russell.
'He is an iconic figure here. He is Glamorgan. But doing nothing wasn't an option. I couldn't sit back as chairman and say, "It's got nothing to do with me".
It is my earnest desire that Matthew and Tom return to Glamorgan one day.'
That will not happen, surely? 'I think it can happen,' insists Russell, who intends to stand down as chairman later this year but wants to remain heavily involved.
'I speak as someone with an ex-wife. For the first couple of years things were difficult but then I understood the mistakes I made. One hopes that one day the mistakes I've admitted to will be reciprocated by Matthew and we will come together again.
'One of your colleagues asked me if I sleep at night.
Yes I do, I sleep like a baby because everything I've done I perceive to be in the best interests of Glamorgan. I first saw them in 1958 and I've been watching them since, following them in any way I could when I worked abroad. There is nothing like it.'
For now, though, Russell is concerned over how to put thousands of Welsh backsides on seats on May 26.
'England are third and Sri Lanka are fourth in the rankings. It should be a good game and the sun is shining but for some reason it's a hard sell.'
Russell is used to hard sells. But it has not deterred him so far.
SCOUTING REPORT: VARUN CHOPRA (WARWICKSHIRE)
Spectacular start: Warwickshire batsman Varun Chopra
I see a Warwickshire batsman has made quite a stir in the early weeks of the season. Is it Ian Bell or Jonathan Trott?
It's a 23-year-old who, if he carries on in the same way, will soon be challenging to become a third batsman from Edgbaston in England's line-up.
Tell me more…
Well, Varun Chopra has made a spectacular start to the season, becoming the first Warwickshire man to score double centuries in successive Championship matches and following it up with a limited-overs hundred against Leicestershire in the Clydesdale Bank 40.
Where did he come from?
Barking, originally, before making his mark at Essex and as England Under 19 captain. The late Joe Hussain, father of Nasser and a prolific provider of talent, once quietly said that Chopra would be better than Ravi Bopara.
Joe coached both of them as kids.
So why has it taken him so long?
Varun failed to nail down a regular place at Essex in all competitions, so last year he followed the path successfully taken by Nick Knight in swapping Chelmsford for Edgbaston. Injury restricted his opportunities in 2010 but he is making up for lost time now.
Sounds like Andy Flower will soon come knocking.
He will have to wait for an England chance, because there are so many potential international players queuing up.
But no batsman has reached a thousand first-class runs before the end of May since Graeme Hick in 1988 so that is something to aim for in the short term. And the boy will do it classily, too. He has a cover drive to die for and cuts with the precision of a sharp knife.
Sounds just as promising as that other emerging Warwickshire talent, Chris Woakes.
Not quite, but he is not far behind.
THE GOOD AND BAD FROM DAVID LLOYD'S WEEK
Good point: Ravi Bopara has come in this year with a century
People have been asking me who will be England's No 6 now Paul Collingwood has retired but there might be two places up for grabs if Kevin Pietersen doesn't prove his fitness and form before the first Test on May 26.
Ravi Bopara has come in this year with a century while Eoin Morgan hasn't come in at all because he has been at the IPL. That's a cross next to his name. It all points to Bopara.
I love county cricket but the nature of my job means that I don't see too much of it.
I've seen two domestic games so far and I just wonder if there is the intensity and the energy I see at international level. I am challenging the county captains - make sure your players match the intensity and energy of England.
NEWMAN'S TALKING POINT
FOR the second year running the ECB gambled by filling April with Championship cricket and for the second year running they have been blessed with dry weather and some outstanding matches.
Who needs the IPL when the Championship is so clearly alive and well?