Neal’s found new cricketing life with Wales over 50s
At 53 years of age Neal Williams still plays an influential role as a wicketkeeper/batsman with the second team at Cresselly Cricket Club but over the past year has also found a new notch on his cricket bat because he has done really well as a run-maker with the Welsh over 50s teams.
Neal started out in the Welsh set-up on the suggestion of Cresselly colleague Richard Harris, who has been heavily involved with Wales seniors for a number of years - and a string of impressive scores soon showed the Welsh selectors that Neal certainly has something to offer!
Late recruit from golf
And Neal's performances have been all the more impressive because he was a late recruit to cricket because up until the age of 37 he was a very keen golfer.
In fact, Neal's job then was as a greenkeeper at Woodbury Park Golf Club, Near Exeter, which was owned by Nigel Mansell, who played his golf there.
That experience certainly held him in good stead since coming to our county and living in Jeffreyston because he established his own gardening business in the surrounding area - and helps out at Cresselly's smashing cricket ground whenever he can.
Loved all ball sports as a youngster
He came to Pembrokeshire because his wife Christine originally hails from Saundersfoot and although not a keen sports follower herself has always given Neal every support, as has his daughter Rhiannon (12).
Neal also enjoyed every ball sport in his own school days at Columpton and Tiverton in Devon, turning out at scrum half or full back in rugby and as goalkeeper for the football team - and as well as cricket in the summer months he also enjoyed tennis, badminton and table tennis.
Starting out in golf
But golf quickly became his favourite sport as he caddied for his dad Tom from a relatively young age at Tiverton Golf Club.
"I started playing when I was 15 after regularly practising my swing with dad's clubs in the garden - and after starting out off a handicap of 28 I eventually played off seven at my best.
"I represented Devon at junior level as well as competing in all the club competitions, and representing Tiverton in the Devon League.
"But then I suffered from a bad back which stopped me playing and I took up cricket almost by chance when a work colleague told me he played for Abbotskerswell and invited me along for a game.
Chance start in cricket
"I was given a warm welcome, took to it straight away and worked my way into the first team which played in the 'A' Division of the Devon League, which was about the same standard as Pembrokeshire's top two sections.
"We played league cricket on Saturdays and had friendlies every Sunday, which eventually became league cricket too - and one highlight was reaching the final of the Brockman Cup.
Neal had a couple of centuries during Abbotskerswell's centenary season in 1999 but in 2006 they came to Pembrokeshire and he joined Cresselly as the nearest available club.
Met up with ‘Spam’ in Cresselly
"The first person I met there was Phil 'Spam' James, a great club character who sort of took me under his wing, whilst current chairman Richard Arthur gave me every chance when he was captain of the second team.
"It is a club full of characters and I've really enjoyed my time there ever since, quite happy to play in the second team and enjoy five or six Alec Colley Cup Finals at Pembroke.
"We had a really good run of five wins on the trot, and in the third of them, against Burton, I was chosen as man of the match after scoring 94 in the first innings and I also kept wicket for two innings!"
Neal has also scored a few hundreds for Cresselly, the most recent during this season where he batted throughout the 45 overs of the innings against Stackpole and ended up on 141 not out.
"I was shattered," he admitted later, "and had to keep wicket but only for 42 overs because Stackpole passed our total with ease!"
Invited to join Wales set-up – and loved it!
He started out with the Wales Over 50s teams last July when Cresselly colleague Richard Harris invited him to take part and he played alongside Steve Jones (Burton) and Paul Webb (Whitland) for the second team, which plays in the Southern Counties Senior Championships, with Paul wife's Janice as scorer.
He made his debut against Somerset at Ledbury CC and scored 54 in an opening stand of 110 as we won the match.
"After that I played another four games, the last two in the league season, where I managed another half century and 20-odd to help the team into the semi-finals.
"Then I had 72 against Bedfordshire in the semi-final and 51 against Hampshire in the final at Trowbridge in Wiltshire, which we won."
Regular this season
Neal has also played most of the games again this season, starting out with 84 runs in an opening stand of 210 with Paul Donovan (Tata Steel) against Swindon in Wiltshire – but his best week undoubtedly came towards the end of the season, when he scored 105 not out in another game against Wiltshire, but this time at Croesyceiliog in Gwent where he shared a useful stand with Paul Mansbridge (Saundersfoot) as Wales won comfortably.
“This earned me speedy selection for the Wales ‘A’ team in the ECB Competition against Stafford at Parkridge Cricket Club where Leighton O’Connor (Whitland) and Richard Harries were also involved.
“We were in real trouble at 17 for 4 when I came in at No 6 so I was delighted with my unbeaten 74 in a team tally of 163 all out – but really disappointed that we lost!
Neal also played for the senior side against Shropshire at Panteg CC but only managed a single in a rare failure for Wales!
“I knew my run of good scores had to end sometime,” admitted Neal, “and it certainly did just that there!”
And finally . . .
It says a great deal for Neal’s modesty that he still loves playing for Cresselly Seconds but says that when the current crop of talented juniors beginning to break through in the third XI are ready to move up he will be more than happy to drop down to the thirds and put his wealth of experience to good effect there.
“I just love playing,” said Neal. “and it will be nice to put something back into a club that has been good to me.”
Small wonder then that Cresselly chairman Richard Arthur told us,
“Neal Williams is a wonderful club man who never gives less than 100% on the field and helps in any way he can off it.
“We are very lucky he joined us.”
High praise indeed from someone who knows his local cricket and we can only join him in wishing Neal continued enjoyment, with his club and with Wales Seniors!