Defiant defeat?

Wow. Extraordinary. Incredible stadium, remarkable occasion, fraught and bristling with tension and the day/night excitement that still feels thrillingly new. Cricket of a blindingly compelling kind – certainly early-doors. Something about the change of format has made the drama necessarily keen, colorific, sharp. This is not to say of course that the future is orange but much of the tanginess here seems conducive to great sport: floodlights often being central – or at least atmospherically ‘supportive’.

England win the toss and inevitably choose to bat. Wags on twitter are soon suggesting this was in the expectation of killer spells from Jimmy and Broady come the evening. (Yes, this evening).

Only Crawley seemed to have a plan to thwart that admittedly perverse subterfuge. He batted like a god. It was the sort of performance that you suspect will ink him in the starting line-up for a decade. The strikingly tall youngster – well, 23? – struck the ball around the ground with ludicrous ease on a pitch that was soon to get far, far into the heads of his comrades. His innings may yet prove to have been a dream brought on by 4am starts and Covid Protocols and weird, distracting (and surely similarly untrue?) allegations around PPE contracts and Brexit traumas: certainly it was different level, if not unbelievable.

The quality of stroke-making was soft-pink purrfect; beyond purple. Having faced the first ball after returning from self-inflicted injury, Crawley steered the ball around, middling a series of drives and pushes. Neither Ishant nor Bumrah troubled him at all: he was effective and watchful against Patel and Ashwin, only being beaten by the rarish unplayable delivery – mainly from the left-armer – who found spite and alarming deviation in the dusty surface. Zak Crawley made 53 before being lbw to Patel. Everything about it – context, particularly – smacked of real quality.

Shortly before the Root dismissal (which preceded Crawley’s), I had texted my son to say that England may need a 200 from Crawley and ‘even on this surface, I’m not ruling it out’. Optimistic, for sure but did give the sense of something rather special happening. Elsewhere, earlier, both Sibley and Bairstow had made errors to goodish but not remarkable deliveries and then Root misjudged Ashwin. That pattern continued.

England the team, became frazzled, as a unit. True it was a challenging strip again and true the opposition are both probably a better line-up and certainly better equipped for this wicket but hey – this is Test Cricket. Everywhere you go the conditions are set up to exploit home advantage and/or visitor vulnerability. That’s Test Cricket. In this case India again bowled ver-ry skilfully on a dry pitch. And England fell into frazzlement.

Pope seemed lost amongst a surfeit of theories (or something), though this is not to single him out. England, the team could not seem to find either a ‘way of playing’ – I get that sometimes you can’t – or that precious gift of separating the moments so that each ball can be played on its merits.

From 73 for 2, with Root and Crawley beginning to emerge, England capitulated to 112 all out. Arguably nobody got out to an absolute jaffa; it was more of a series of misjudgments from guys who were either outright bewildered by the variety and intensity of the spin-bowling, or who could not break the hold the pitch itself had, as chief protagonist, over proceedings.

Let’s repeat: India are a strong side and this is their patch. So this was tough. But was it an underachievement, from England? Surely. I went from thinking that this was a 200 pitch (when Root got out) to wondering if India, had they batted first up, might have got 350. Pointless but true. And the thought that the home side may have a stronger advantage in the batting than in their bowling also landed – possibly weirdly, given the early rout.

So what could England have done? Gambled less, selection-wise? (Bairstow at 3, in Test Cricket, is a gamble, as was not opting for Woakes or Bess, to shore up the batting). In fact, there is an argument that opening with Crawley was a gamble, given his recent absence. Lots of eggs appeared to be being lobbed into the Jimmy/Broady/Archer basket. In terms of strategy and/or technically, that failure to separate events – and therefore let the onrushing collapse in – felt important. What we might call negative momentum or infectious failure set in, somewhat. Sometimes it takes bullish individuals or very clear-sighted individuals to burst through that. England found none, today.

Positivity gets so heavily conflated with dumb machismo that I rarely see it as a way forward. But if positivity meant advancing down the pitch to squish the turn and break up the bowler’s dominance then maybe. Throw in some movement deep, deep into the crease to play late and square and who knows? Maybe you find a way.

Every route has its risks and it’s up to the player to manage them with intelligence and skill. Crawley’s sublime ball-striking suggested it was not unthinkable to choose your moment to break out with confidence. England needed to find a way not just to score but to accept the challenge before them – even if that meant only defiant defeat. What happened felt disappointingly more like a kind of compliance.

Due Diligence.

A reminder: there’s an important difference between ‘being stranded/going nowhere’ and battling it out. And the latter is often a key, to Test Match cricket. Also it may be that Sibley was picked for exactly those qualities of durability and enduro-stoicism. (Lawrence wasn’t… but read on).

Also note: lodged this baby at 11.15 am, our time. But things move fast, eh?

England are getting battered, in the second Test, at Chennai. All out for less than 140. After Burns’ error – plainly Ishant set him up skillfully but for him not to see off the decent but hardly world-beating delivery that then arrowed predictably inwards, was an ordinary bit of batting – Sibley and Lawrence applied themselves with some rigour. As per what it says on their tin: “bat long”. The Burns wicket looked a combination of nerves, early-doors wooden-ness and technical issues around his extraordinary set-up and bat-swing but I’ll let better minds than mine un-pick all that and move forward.

Some commentators have said that Lawrence was stuck from the outset: I disagree. He played diligently and with care for an hour or so – as did Sibley – looking relatively untroubled. I’m not even convinced that for much of the morning period he found it difficult to score. He just felt that was secondary. Only towards the end of his occupation did it feel that the alleged imperative to tick over got to him – and he looked more susceptible to angst. The moment of his dismissal was then a classic case of bowler-induced mind-boggling, as Ashwin stepped away to up the drama for a final ball before lunch that would claim the young England man’s wicket.

Even that cruel and untimely blow does not mean Lawrence’s first innings knock was without consequence or value, despite his dismissal being for just 9 runs. Any allegation that he ‘ate up 20 balls’ before scoring is a nonsense: part of the job was manifestly to consume deliveries, ease the pain and soften the ball. Any notion that what his captain chose to do was essentially wiser or better is spurious… or at least open to intelligent debate. (Root came out sweeping – sweeping Ashwin, hard and early. Fair enough. Legitimate; bold; a gamble. It didn’t work but you can see why he thought the game demanded a response. And I get there’s an argument that Root went ‘positively’ precisely because the scoring rate was low).

There was bound to be, on this pitch, against this attack, something a sense of vigil about England’s response to the intimidating effort from Rohit Sharma, Rahane and Pant – all of whom got past fifty on the surface. Lawrence and Sibley together looked to begin that vigil, knowing they were on the back foot, with conditions and now crowd conspiring against them. Sibley appears to be born for this potentially crushing scenario: he has the physical and psychological attributes of a low-octane bear. His talent is for appearing unperturbed; munching through time and task.

You can’t help but feel that Lawrence’s job had inevitably been made harder by the third ball exit of Burns. It is likely that this pointed him towards a slightly more conservative approach, even allowing for any possible psychological conditioning around mindset, and/or the independence of all things. I thought Sibley and Lawrence did okay, in the (let’s be honest) inevitably challengingly fraught period after the departure of Burns. Sure it might have been better if they rotated the strike/scored more. Sure this meant that pressure wasn’t released. But they prepare for precisely these moments; they are experts, or developing expertise, in hardcore sport. What we saw from them at the height of this grilling was as encouraging as it was disappointing, in my view.

Foakes finished up highest scorer. After his predictable excellence behind the sticks, does this reinforce any case for selecting him regularly or permanently, in the Test side? Quite possibly. Does this means that Buttler gets dropped? Not necessarily. There are options.

The fitness of Stokes might be influential. If Stokes can play a full part in the bowling unit then things may be less complex – or controversial. He continues at five, with Pope staying in there at six and Foakes batting seven. If Moeen stays pickable (and I hope he does) then there is ample batting (and spin, for most situations, with Ali and Root) plus three specialist bowler slots. It’s not like-for-like – Buttler is arguably unique – but you are effectively just changing keepers. So minimal disruption. England get a better wicketkeeper and possibly a more durable, though less mercurial bat.

Despite Buttler’s obvious brilliance, I might ‘drop him’ into a purely white-ball role. He plays everything, short-format-wise and maybe succeeds Morgan as skipper. He wouldn’t want to drop out of Test contention and he wouldn’t. You review: you look at form, experience and suitability for particular series. Currently I’d say keep it simple, get Foakes in the team. If Pope doesn’t come through then maybe Buttler bats six.

Great teams have fantastic subs, or twelfth men or women. We are already seeing that this England Squad is exactly that, rotating to maintain balance, quality and wellbeing in the age of Shedloads of Action and (incidentally) a plague. Oh – and remember currently the fella Crawley is out: he’s looked a million dollars, on times. Something always has to give.

I Die by the Sword.

Great moments in sport? Root gets to 200, in Chennai, with a six. Oh – and it’s his 100th Test.

That’s the blog done, right there. Except you’d feel short-changed. So bit more. From my notes, some thoughts.

  1. Stokes gets another Bumrah Wonderball – that not-incredibly-quick-but-still screaming, inswinging yorker – whilst still on nought. Survives.
  2. 16th ball, Stokes clangs Ashwin for a straight six. Ridiculous.
  3. Already clear (by about 97th over) that Stokes/Ashwin or Stokes/Anybody is gonna be a Proper Contest. England’s wiry talisman is already looking a) bloody determined b) at the pitch, which features real rough-stuff short of a length, outside of his off-stick. England 280-something for 3 and you can almost feel the intense dance-off going on between the leftie’s attacking instincts and his obvious concern about those iffy areas on the strip. Which way will he go? When it’s obvious England must get to 500? But he’s going to have to contend with who-knows-what?
  4. We know what. Ashwin spins one. No sign of Nadeem but as he’s the one who’ll be plopping the bombs into the mix it surely can’t be long. (Interestingly, Knight on Channel Four comms talks about Kohli maybe missing a trick, here. The left arm spinner is held back, when despite his less-than-convincing performance yesterday, he has the angle to bring that rough into play. We don’t see him ’til the 103rd over).
  5. Stokes does look both nerveless and like he knows the import of the moment. Ishant is bowling well – he bowls with diligence and skill right through the innings, despite little help from the pitch for the seamers. Root and Stokes look well capable. We wait.
  6. Nadeem is in and Stokes answers with an early reverse sweep. Then Root sweeps the same bowler for four. Fascinating first over suggesting punch and counter-punch.
  7. 104th over and the 300 comes up, following two consecutive fours for Stokes, off Ishant. (The bowler did little wrong). Stokes is now 26 from 40 and Root has 142.
  8. In the 106th, Nadeem finally finds the jack-in-the-box; the ball erupting. Stokes seems almost shocked – though he’s been heavily preparing for it. He (still) sweeps the next ball, to make his statement, connecting o-kaaay rather than emphatically. We have the two contradictory senses; that the batsmen are both looking to Go Big and that something is about to happen, for Nadeem.
  9. Fifty partnership is up, off 107 balls.
  10. I am thinking about Leach. And about what he is thinking. The pitch may be made for him.
  11. First of two poor reviews, for India. Ashwin should have seen the ball was nowhere near the glove, as Stokes swept. Soon afterwards Nadeem seems unluckier when Root finally misses but the ball is tracked bouncing over. More of a let-off, for England but Root sweeps the next ball competently away. Engrossing stuff: mind games at close to maximum.
  12. 111th over. Stokes seems bit frazzled; opting now to hit through his troubled or troubling patch. Root gets to 150; another truly outstanding knock. 326 for 3 at drinks. When we resume two further reverses get Stokes to 50.
  13. 115th over and a further explosion off the pitch, on a length for the right-arm spinner Sundar. Like outrageous – bounce and bite. Smacks of a fourth innings nightmare and possibly some major anarchy even before that. Probably an “OK that settles it, I Die By The Sword” moment, for Stokes.
  14. With England on 387, Stokes goes fearlessly aerial again. This time Pujara, despite making a horrible hash of it, holds on, in the deep. It’s been another memorable effort from England’s tattooed hero: he goes for 82 typically colourful runs, off 118. Enter Pope.
  15. In many ways a fabulous time for the young talent to come in… and yet conditions, he knows, will be testing. He’s away, with a nicely cuffed cut for 4, off Nadeem. He also has Bumrah to contend with.
  16. Pope’s low, wide base the subject of some analysis on comms. It is striking. Much talk from ex-pro’s about how good the lad is. Suspect he will get a longish run at this number 6 berth; quite rightly. Technique, quality and mentality all appear to be in place. In ahead of Buttler (or Foakes) makes sense.
  17. After the 400 comes up, with Root on 175 from 312 and Pope inching in on 5 from 20, acute tiredness kicks in upon your local correspondent. (Up at 3.45 last two nights – c’mon). No notes and *possible snoozing* until that other poor review, again from Ashwin, this time against Pope, who is not out.
  18. Thereafter, a late fightback from India and some deserved reward for Ishant, who has run in proudly and with real discipline for two days. England lose Pope for a decent-but-not-sparkling 34, Buttler for 30, Archer first ball. Oh – and Root gets that double with a ridicu-six, before finally falling lbw to Nadeem, for 218. Bess – predictably, that’s why he’s there – does an excellent delaying/irritating/accumulating job and the doughty Leach is well, doughty. With just Jimmy to come, England are boasting an encouraging 555 for 8. India have plenty of batting… but can they bat on this pitch?

Back!

England’s day? Probably but that wonderball from Bumrah to finish the opening joust tilts the balance back towards tetchy equilibrium, methinks. If a heroically solid Sibley could have seen that final over out – and the signs were that he probably would – then the visitors would feel relatively in command. But now if an early wicket falls tomorrow, England might be looking at 350 rather than the 500+ they will feel they must aim for.

I thought the Slowish But Admirably Purposeful One would make it through, such was his focus. Bumrah’s electrifying yorker did for that theory. It had been a day when India’s main men predictably performed and their allegedly lesser lights, predictably, did not: Washington Sundar and Shahbaz Nadeem failing to back up the largely consistent work of Ishant, Ashwin and Bumrah. Not that England raced away at any stage. More that the (likely) England plan to single out or pressurise the relative newcomers worked pretty well; breaking up the continuity of the home team’s effort.

After a creditable start from Burns and Sibley had kept the metaphorical crowd quiet, there was an explosion of drama towards lunch. Then later a boom at the close. In between, the England skipper had simply stayed in his richly productive groove. Now, plainly, if some combination of Root, Stokes, Pope and/or Buttler get in, their stroke-making may at the very least make this First Test safe. They *might* even rip this right out of India’s reach. Exciting. But hey; read how it all seemed live, from 4 am. It was a genuinely absorbing day.

So we’re back, wonderfully, in penetrating sunshine. Or it feels that way, at 4 am, here. All-comers welcome to make an early brew and wipe away the sleep. Free cricket is back.

Chennai from some angles looking like a cubist Ageas Bowl: the pitch inevitably dry but – word is – holds some patchy grass. Seems barely concievable and let’s not be expecting too much, as Sharma lollops in to Burns. There’s a chance, strictly speaking, early, as Burns middles a glance low and behind but it barely counts as an error from batsman or keeper. We all settle.

Bumrah partners Ishant with his walk/gallop/slam. Immediately it’s fascinating to see how conditions dictate: it being understood that there will be minimal lateral movement so yaknow, bowl at the sticks. Both bowlers do their job of offering no width, with a field set straight and extra man or men to leg. A huge, delicious contrast to options in the UK.

We get quiet cricket, which is of course fabulous, for England. Slowish accumulation but both Sibley and Burns look focused, with the former’s hands-away-from-body quirk rarely feeling any kind of issue. Burns, meanwhile, looks taut, muscular and determined. 16 for 0 after 7 brings in Ashwin for Bumrah but no alarms.

Bumrah will switch and Sharma will rest and the only nervy moments for us sleepy folks back home are a couple of medium-iffy singles, one of which raises a genuine smile from both batsmen – who seem in, despite their racing hearts. Sibley threads Ashwin beautifully through midwicket for four to go to 19, from 48. Ideal. Without offering major freebies in the field, the home side are hardly flawless. Nadeem’s weird potential ankle-breaker at the boundary – stepping onto the escaping ball – not the only moment to rile Kholi.

Both England openers have their quirks but both build their particular groove with real conviction. The introduction of Nadeem (left arm spin) for the 17th over offers Sibley a rare opportunity to free hands and cut square, for four. The fifty (51) arrives on 19.3 overs, for no loss.

Shortly afterwards Burns *really does* charge Ashwin, dispatching him powerfully, through wide mid-on, for the morning’s boldest moment. It’s followed by the ugliest, for England, as the left-hander conjures a ridicu-sweep – a reverse – against India’s leading spinner and succeeds only in flipping the ball up, to the incredulous but grateful keeper. Unthinkable, heinous error from Burns, who is gone for 33.

Somebody somewhere will make the argument that the shot was on. That he was trying to lift the momentum, having established some meaningful initiative. Cobblers. We are just before lunch in the first knock of a Test Match against INDIA – at their place. Your next bat is a brilliant novice. Put the bloody shot away until you’re on 164 for 0.

Lawrence comes in, suddenly exposed… and is nailed by a slanted-in in-swinger, from Bumrah, fifth ball. Probably reversed. England go from 63 for 0 to 63 for 2. Lunch.

In other news, by 7 am I’m through two cups of tea and a hot lemon. And two toasted tea-cakes. (I may be telling you this because we’re into another quiet period). Root & Sibley now nudging this forward. Kohli in an extraordinarily straight catching position as Sharma comes in to Sibley. Ver-ry close to the cut strip. 78 for 2 after 34.

Some sense in the 35th over that Ashwin is finding something. Touch of spin, certainly and that flow that comes with a breakthrough, perhaps? Beats Sibley’s outside edge. Softer ball now but reverse evident, as Ishant follows. A shout against Root but the ball’s doing too much – so no review. Conditions may be bat-friendly but India look increasingly on it. Patience and grit imperative, from England.

“Something’s happening, pressure’s building” says the excellent Butcher, on comms. It’s true that both Ishant Sharma and Ashwin are testing the batsmen. Great spell of Test Cricket. Meanwhile, in Pembrokeshire, it’s effing plastering down. 81 for 2 off 38. Sibley’s looking less comfortable against Ashwin. Nadeem will bowl the 40th.

The left-armer looks like he’s going to spin it – and we’re hearing that he’s using the breeze well – but he’s not finding a consistent furrow, here. Washington Sundar follows him but Root advances, with care, and drives for four, through extra. Could the bowling changes offer respite, for Root and Sibley? How important will that be?

92 for 2 after 42. Sibley has 35 off 131. Have no problem with that. Build.
Ah – Root reverses Washington Sundar. Well-executed, picked the right line, but bold. Sibley then crunches Nadeem through midwicket for four. Possibly England looking to cash in on the less illustrious bowlers? Team plan? Bold. 100 up, two down. Game poised.

A false shot from Sibley against Washington. Leading edge. But he follows with the kind of free-flowing hoik over square leg that makes you think that England are looking to put some pressure on the new boys. Root confirms this to take the partnership past fifty, sweeping Nadeem hard, for four. Real arm-wrestle for domination going on right now. 114 for 2, as Nadeem, foolishly, no-balls. A peach of a clip for Sibley closes the over: boundary. He has 48 and England are 119 for 2 off 48.

Bumrah needs to return. He does. No dramas, two from the over. Ashwin joins his A-List bowling partner. Poor misfield gives Sibley an impressive fifty. Impressive not just for that trademark stickability: he’s waited, stayed honest and picked up enough boundaries (7) to avoid an innings stall. 51 off 153. Good work.

Wonder-combo, from Bumrah, who offers a slower ball then disguises the fast yorker. Sibley has to drop the bat, sharpish. He does it. Just: thrilling escape. Bumrah now a proper handful.

Rare poor, short delivery from Ashwin crashed angrily to square leg by the England skipper. Next delivery is again shortish; Root dances again and clatters, again convincingly, through extra. He is 44 from 95. England are 138 for 2. TV focuses on the quality of the ball; soft with seam gone fluffy.

Ishant still manfully producing deliveries which nip either way, a little. He has 9 overs, 0 for 12. Ashwin will bowl the last over before tea. Excellent session for England: 73 runs from 30 overs, no losses. A nice round 140 for 2 after 57 overs. Puts them ahead. With Stokes, Pope and Buttler in the queue, they will be feeling good.

Ishant Sharma will open up after the break. He turns Root around and draws an edge. Narrowly fails to carry: another fine ball that left Root a touch off the pitch. One from the over. Nadeem follows. He drops one short but escapes with just the single, to Root, who had struck hard, into the ground. The captain then cuts away and with Washington failing rather weakly to retrieve, he moves beyond 50 yet again. 51 off 110, to be precise. England on 148 now, for 2.

Ishant bowls a rare bouncer (and no-balls). Root plays classically high-to-low and is a tad unfortunate not to claim four more. Great response, mind, from Ishant, who threatens the edge with one that holds its line.

Nadeem offers a further short one, to Sibley. Cut away behind square for four. Root is inevitably catching him, score-wise but this is such an important knock for Sibley – and the tour, you suspect. With 62 overs done, Root has 56 off 117 and Sibley 60 from 200 balls. The partnership is now worth 96.

Bumrah returns, with the game moving gently against him. Root middles a slightly widish one but finds point, before caressing a pearler through the covers – possibly the shot of the day. It brings him up to Sibley’s score, of 60. 100 partnership now up. If England get signicantly beyond 200 for 2 before the new ball – which seems likely – then India will really need to find something… at the end of a long day. (They might, of course: Ishant has looked consistently good and Bumrah, without being the unplayable magician England may have feared thus far, has that magnificent propensity).

Sundar Washington isn’t helping: pie down leg easily dismissed with another aggressive sweep, from Root. Four. A further sweep garners two more, so six from the over as Root gets to 70. 177 for 2. Twelve overs to the new ball.

A little frustration creeps in, for Sibley, who advances and drives hard, for no runs. But he soon puts the fury away and drops on anything on a line and length. Defence very much intact. Root finally makes an error on the sweep, top-edging fortuitously into space around mid-wicket. Two balls later he crunches Nadeem defiantly for four more, with the same shot. 185 for 2 after 71.

Pant, in desperation, having raced twenty yards and flung off a glove, tries for a *ver-ry ambitious* run-out. Misses by miles. Overthrows. Oh. And it’s Nadeem’s fourth no-ball as well. Insult to injury. Shortly afterwards, it’s 200 for 2, off 73.4, with Washington Sundar bowling. Root goes into the nineties with a gorgeous, slightly short-armed punch through mid-wicket, for four. Absolute class. Drinks.

Delightfully late cut gets Root four to third man. 98. What a knock this has been! Increasingly bright, confident and expansive. Sibley also grabs a boundary from Sundar, collaring the 150 partnership as he does so. 214 for 2, off 76, with Sibley retaining the strike. When Nadeem again drops short, the opener cuts hard to the boundary: he has 76. Both players plainly looking to cash in before any new ball – now probably only 3 overs away.

Root drives straight, for 1. Sibley takes 2. We await The Moment. Misfield offers Sibley 4 more – swept, emphatically. Finally Root tickles one to fine leg to claim a genuinely fine century, in his one hundredth Test. The man’s in sensational nick: fabulous to watch, again.

Ashwin will bowl the 79th – presumably to loosen him up for the new ball?
In the 80th, bowled by Sundar, Root absolutely bolts a two, with notable energy. Ashwin and Virat have a prolonged chat; to break up the game as much as search for any immediate breakthrough. Clearly this is *all about* the new ball. At that 80 over mark, England are 235 for 2. Now: deep breath and start again.

Sod’s law; India, who have been unhappy with this ball for thirty overs, now pass up the opportunity to change it. Mind games. Weirdly, Ashwin gets freakish bounce and turn – I think for the first time today – and that soft old ball races away to leg for four byes. (Lols). Enter, belatedly, the new ball.

Ishant Sharma, deservedly, will take it. First ball swings – early and harmlessly. Third ball is smoothed out through extra cover: ball was widish but confidently dispatched. Over seen out without difficulty but there was inevitably a little more bounce, plus that possibility for regulation swing.
Bumrah next. Two good balls (holding their line) beat Root. He will need to re-focus, as will Sibley. 249 for 2, off 83, now.

Different level of carry, for Ishant but Sibley happy to leave and see out the day. Root gets a touch of cramp, whilst defending Bumrah, who is looking sharpish, again. Runs have slowed, which is fine – to be expected, even – but with ball generally finding the middle of the bat and Sibley back to his doughty, defensive best, no issues. 250 up and 5 overs remaining. England have eyes on survival and the proverbial ‘platform’. One suspects that we’ll see Ashwin come in, to see if he can disrupt the (slow)flow, or even break the partnership, which may approach 200 by the close.


Sure enough, we have Ashwin, for the 87th. Hilarious drama, as Root finishes the over flat on his backside, with Kohli offering brief cramp-relief, the batsman having smashed Ashwin for six! Inevitably it’s the first maximum (o-kaaay, I know) of the innings and it intrudes rather shockingly into what appeared to be the natural retreat into overnight safety. Extraordinary.

We arrive at the final over, with the 200 partnership now up, off 365 balls. Sibley will face. His head could barely be more over the ball as he drops into forward or back defence mode. But a fast yorker may have nailed him! We await the review…

Another stunning toe-crushing ball, swinging in late. Looked tight. Would be cruel to lose any batsman now… but that’s how it is. Sibley gone for a tremendously important, if typically unattractive knock. He made 87 before that Bumrah screamer exposed him.

England finish on 263 for 3 at end of play. Their day but gutting for Sibley. On the place side, Stokes knows what’s ahead of him and has the evening to gather. Another Big Day tomorrow. The home will be looking for their B-List bowlers – Nadeem, Washington Sundar – to provide better consistency through the game. England will be hoping for 500.

Here’s what we should have done…

Hmm. If I cruise through my diary for the year soon to be known as Two Thousand and *insert expletive* Twenty, what will it tell me? Given my creeping facility to fail to remember, will it direct and prompt towards some kind of legitimate reflection? Or will I need wikibloodypedia to cross-check why everything stopped at a particular date?

Tell you what. Let’s have an ungentlemanly agreement that particular dates didn’t matter: that the unkempt ‘schedule’ of events – so redolent, don’t you think, of a certain foppish barnet? – is only to be referred to where it suits our – or my – pleasure. Because blanks may be good, and factoids slippery.

JAN: Normally a quiet month, in any case. Do sometimes support the very wonderful Lady Taverners, by hosting or umpiring and chirpily chivvying along some Secondary School Girls’ Cricket Action. Great, when it happens, that lovely mixture of spookily competitive teens who ‘play’ – their word – and their more or less committed peers.

In recent years I’ve typically volunteered myself to be the Guy Who Goes Outside (On The Tennis Courts). This is madness, in January, but the gals love it and we just can’t accommodate all those who want to play inside what we call The Dome – the inflatable sports hall-thing at the local high school.

This year, my diary tells me, I had a hernia op on Jan 13th, so I missed out in any case. (The op I actually rather enjoyed – weird, I know – because it went well and – weirder still – I wanted to savour that whole drift into unconsciousness, post receiving the knockout gas. I remember trying to count into and be aware of those seconds before disappearing into slumberville. Was it going to be disorienting and bumpy, or smooth? Could I hold off the anaesthetic and dance round some faerie landscape? Would I turn out to be Ben Stokes… and is everything else a travesty?)

Turns out I remember nothing of the actual moment of disappearing. Ho-hum. Enjoyed the bantz with the staff beforehand – and grateful to them for their professionalism and good humour. Within a very few weeks they would be gearing up to grit out dark times: I was incredibly fortunate to get that operation before Normal Service was lost to all of us.

FEB: 18th and I go to The Sloop, the seaside hostelry in North Pembs that somehow ticks the strikingly efficient pub-grub tourist-eatery box and the locals’ local. Both sleepy and rammed with local sportsmen, fishermen, occasional rock/film stars, The Sloop manages to host a Welsh-speakers corner and all you buggers from Guildford.

Anyway, I was there for the AGM of the Mighty Cows – Llanrhian CC. Again felt like a privilege to be able to piggyback (via my volunteering and Proper Cricket Wales Work) the outstanding, generous work of the Cow Stalwarts. My contribution here was to try to politely bully the club into getting folks on the upcoming Foundation One Coaching courses: like most clubs in the universe, they need to train up more players or members to bring on the next generation. Think my intervention may have spurred some profitable action on this, but Covid has certainly blurred the timeline.

Diary also notes ‘Chance to Shine blog’, for 21st. Just had a look. Think this is an error… the post is about India v Aus women, opener for the T2O World Cup. Can’t trust anyone or anything, eh?

Then WOW. Tuesday 25th Feb and I’m into Lamphey Community Primary. A delightful dinky-wee school in a small village in South Pembs. The Head is a personal friend and a spectacular advocate for sport. Their hall is a tiddler but we start what proves to be a series of animated weekly sessions in there – the weather not playing ball.

I’m with Years 2/3/4. We conjure up (between us) some proper energy and enthusiasm, despite the folded dining tables and encroaching benches. No scope even for tennis ball-based games; no matter – the spongeball shuttles, swerves and shuffles are smiley enough. Am ultimately proud of the feisty level of activity we achieve: from memory only on a couple of days could we break out into the yard. Given the daft time of year and all, this was an energising start to the 2020’s school delivery.

Two days later and I’m into Caer Elen, the Welsh language primary in Haverfordwest. My children went to the school’s predecessor – Glan Cleddau – where I somehow became a Parent Governor, so I have a particular connection. I know and rate plenty of the teachers; my son grew up surfing with the secretary’s. Such is life in small communities, eh? I give it plenty and the weeks are fabulous and productive… until.

MARCH: There is now a spectre looming. The memo’s suggest I am calling schools (or still contemplating that) to try to set up sessions. 4th March I start up in Pembroke Dock Community School. I have gushed elsewhere about this establishment so will encapsulate: should get the Chance To Shine ‘School of the Year’ every year. I get three weekly visits in before the broiling beast does for us. Thurs 19th March the diary barks out CANCELLED CORONAVIRUS over the theoretical week four, at Caer Elen.

APRIL: Who knows? Should be on a charge towards All Stars, club activity with sun on our grateful backs. But nope. Extraordinary to flick through the days and weeks and see those schools, sessions, commitments that could not be fulfilled. Not even sure if I can unravel the written word: did we really lose the whole bloody lot? Cilgerran, Croesgoch, Fenton, Prendergast, Sageston – all skittled? And all the ‘Progress Sessions’ – i.e. pre-All Stars club support missions – emphatically yorked? Christonnnabike!

MAY: Diary entry feels especially poignant: ‘Under Nines Festival @ Haverfordwest’. Should’ve been a gateway for tinyish peeps; their critical first experience of matches. (In truth, although these are organised games between groups, the vibe is beautifully unthreatening. P.A.R.T.I.C.I.P.A.T.I.O.N. is absolutely key and these are generally tremendously positive, well-judged occasions. Gutting to lose them: there are none, throughout the summer).

I *should be* hosting inspiring assemblies and burning through blisteringly entertaining Road Shows: can’t. No Waldo Williams, no Narberth. I justify my (part-furloughed) existence with social media stuff and joining Whatsapp groups or Zoom calls to demystify ‘updates.’ The whole process of accurately informing our Cricket Wales Community Where We’re At begins. Half-term comes and goes – doesn’t matter.

JUNE: More voids where schools and festivals should be. There must surely be some recreational cricket(?) – acksherly I’m not sure – there’s nothing in my bible, so who can tell? No sign either of the pro’ cricket I should be planning to traduce via my blogs. Blimey. Think I even have a few days off CW media duties; this really is unheard of.

Brief re-wind because somewhere stuff is happening. March: Aus women have steamrollered India, in a bumper home win, at the T20 World Cup. I wrote about it. April: I interview Andrew Salter . May: I fall into Youtube. June: I really start to confuse the years – both in my diary and in what I may loosely refer to as Real Life. July: Shouldn’t I be planning trips? Why is there nothing? I have some recollection of fiddling around the ECB Media Accreditation page but at what point does the inevitable shrinking-down to A-list bubbles occur?

I know I have no chance of gaining access to international or indeed any other high-profile fixtures, now. I have no illusions about my relative centrality to cricket reportage. I’m a very fortunate hanger-on, tolerated by good folks at the ECB who suddenly need to reduce the media clan attending fixtures. So I’m gone, and no issues. Can’t get live access to Western Storm, either – had targeted that, a little. (Again, no issues – just very much hope to be back when things open out again).

End of AUG: HOW DID WE GET HERE?!? I follow Storm v Vipers livestream and then things funnel back to Zoom calls and more, careful de-ciphering of government/Welsh Government/Sport Wales advice on what’s do-able and how. I must also be booting down the motorway because…

SEPT: Speed Awareness Course, 14th – online. Then GOR BLIMEY: September 15th 2020… and I’M BACK IN!! Pembroke Dock Community School. The first of six, weekly visits. Now spending the whole day at schools, so as to reduce travel and therefore risks to everybody. Have a ver-ry clear memory of my first session back. It was so brilliant and crisp and rallying that I wrote about it: expect to post into Chance to Shine’s Case Studies once Pembs Sport have used it.

Life gets temporarily busy. After that full day of coaching I have a Cricket Wales Comms Zoom. 17th and I’m in Golden Grove, where the unthinkable happens – we get away with five consecutive weeks of activity outside, only dodging apocalyptic hailstorms twice, from memory. Stunningly engaging cricket-based games, both on grass(!) and the playground. Intense, given six sessions in the day, but massively gratifying. Looking back, feels like something rather profound was achieved, and defied.

I’m test-driving some learning and intuitions around offering children space to engineer their own games. This following chatter amongst Chance to Shiners and Create Development gurus. And specifically after a chinwag with another Head, who reminded me that whilst kids are being heavily stifled re physical play, (because Covid, because schools can’t condone traditional grappling) so “Guys ‘n Gals Like Me” become important as stimulators of appropriate activity, owned and developed by the children. In other words, maybe it’s become part of our job (in the Covid era) to prompt schoolchildren towards inventing or extending games themselves. I try to build my sessions towards this aspiration, by asking (them) “how do we make this work?” and “how do we make this fun?”

Sorry if that’s all a bit niche but if it’s true that children are unable or less able to physically act, or interact, there may be important repercussions, over time. And that becomes territory for teachers and maybe particularly for Sports Development Peeps like me.

Sept 27th, had hoped to be reporting live, in my own inimitable fashion, on the Rachel Heyhoe-Flint Trophy Final. Couldn’t. Blogged, watching a stream. 28th some geezer came to sweep the chimney and nearly demolished the house. (OK, exaggerate but wow, it was like a Surrealist Performance Art-fail. Dislodged the cawl, left kit by the fire and smeared the curtains with soot. Only some of this makes the diary).

OCT: After half-term am still in schools, though inevitably it’s feeling like borrowed time. I have spent £23.97 on industrial-strength sanitiser, for the kit I take in. Am sanitising between every group – spraying balls, bats, etc and squirting alcohol-gel on my hands. Feels near bomb-proof.

Remarkabkle times, though: still musing on the level of psychological impact on four-year-old Sara and Dafydd, of their teacher presenting from behind a mask, all day, every day. (Maybe none – but fascinating?) Nevertheless, the work in schools continues to be rewarding and effective in a way I’ll never be able to reflect on the Chance to Shine monitoring system, or anywhere else. I know and the teachers know the children are loving it: good enough?

NOV: Caer Elen cancel the 2nd because we’re narrowly out of a lockdown (I think). But I can return to finish my allotted six full days of delivery. Uniformly excellent: great, engaged children – years 4 and 6 – plus outstanding, informed support from staff. The availability of an immaculate and biggish sports hall unquestionably helped: we ventilated it well, sanitised religiously so sessions were busy, enjoyable, stirring, even. Thursday 19th and St Oswald’s, quite rightly, cancel. Now begins the winter.

DEC: There are more Zooms, with various colleagues. I am drafted back into the Regional Pathway, after a sabbatical couple of years but then the winter nets become a further victim. Remain philosophical about all that was inevitably lost: know that I have given a reasonable account of myself both in schools and in terms of work delivered. Can hope to fulfil my contractual obligations and personal aspiration to enthuse the universe… but a barely credible year.

Some cricket happened but I didn’t see it in the flesh. No friendly hellos with George Dobell or Dan Norcross. No Bristol, Worcester, Cardiff, or Taunton. No Edgbaston. Instead, long quiet walks. Wet beaches. A kind of philosophical re-calibration. Books and writing. Family.

The Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct re-visited. Or something.

Blimey, did I really just write that? Am I really going back there?!? And if I do, am I not going to update that campaign title? ‘Cos half the universe won’t get that it was always a tad ironic – or at least knowing – and therefore not the weirdly Victorian-sounding hosting-place for laughably anachronistic ideals that it may seem to Younger Earthlings.

But hold up. Is there really any need to gather up the ancient arguments for something so dispiritingly passé as fairness?

Well, maybe: yes, even.

And can I actually do this without referring to either Mo Salah or England’s finest Harry Kane, having seen neither of the games, over the weekend, that so inflamed that wonder of moral and intellectual discourse, the Twittersphere?

Yes, I can. And will. Almost. (OK. I’m hardly gonna mention Salah. Too much obvious racism in the mix: maybe go there another day).

Again, sagacious readers, upon this very weekend, there were yet more penalty incidents and claim and counter-claim around ‘cheating’ and/or skilful ‘drawing’ of error and ‘foul’. Of course there were. Tribal fury was again whipped up, immediately and gun-totingly, as it seems to be in political and everyday life – worryingly.

But as my learned friend Michael Vaughan – he of the blunderbuss-tastic and mind-numbingly polarising missives – might say, “on, on!!”

Okay I’ll cough. I had neither seen Sunday’s (Kane) backing-in thing nor the Salah moment, having swerved Sky Sports for economic and family reasons. At this juncture I remain blissfully opinion-free on the Liverpool man’s re-appearance in the cross-hairs but *courtesy of Twitter* I have been reminded of some of ‘Arry’s Previous and want to address that, before I revisit the idea/ideals of the CFGC.

There is always context and here is mine. Firstly, I’ve written before, on this – you got that, right? (Go search bowlingatvincent.com for The CFGC). Secondly, yeh – on, on!!

Think Kane is a ver-ry fine all-round player but dislike his cynicism. Even buy into the idea (somewhat), that as England skipper he has certain responsibilities. He has every right as a player targeted for his threat, to look after himself, be street-wise, even. But this does not include looking for and exaggerating contact, or backing dangerously in to a defender about to legitimately jump at his back.

(Follow the link below to see highlights of the Spurs/Brighton fixture of yesterday, including the moment when Kane drew a controversial penalty by sidling in to Lallana’s airspace).

https://www.skysports.com/watch/video/sports/12121403/bale-scores-the-winner-as-spurs-beat-brighton

Of course this incident was unique in the one sense but also… just not. We know Kane does this, to a) draw free-kicks for his side; b) retaliate, possibly; c) put markers down; d) intimidate &/or hurt defenders. It’s about gaining advantage as well as getting topside of an individual opponent.

In a previous generation, Alan Shearer might have simply whacked the Number 5, elbowed him, or body-checked him late; all ways of ‘reminding’ opponents they were in a game; all now impossible, or heavily policed by the 24 cameras and indeed the general non-contact nature of Premier League football.

There are general points and specific events here, yes?

My general point includes (yet more own goal-tastically) that Kane does have responsibilities as England skipper: he is massively high profile. Broadly, he is cynical – almost classically so, in the modern way. I personally would go so far as to say he disrespects the game by repetitively seeking to draw fouls or pens, or (to use the Shankly’s phrase) “getting his retaliation in first”. Kane knows full well that his watchful and deliberate way of backing in to a centre-back might well leave the opposition player crumpled in a heap, after a fall they cannot control. He does know that, which is why it’s both dangerous and bloody nasty.

Nasty? What the F…?

Evidence from a game against Burnley is more damning than the sly shuffle into Lallana. This (below, below) has cropped up again on my Twitter feed and informs my moralistic fury more significantly than the Brighton pen – absurd though that was.

In the challenge against Burnley it’s surely undeniable that Kane is seeking to topple the player over the ‘back’ that he is making?

Either the referee or one of the assistants (or VAR!) should see that. Anybody who knows footie, I would argue, knows that. So it’s malicious – it has intent. Kane is timing his encroachment in, to make the player over-balance – at height. It’s what most of us would call a Bad Challenge. In rugby the equivalent would draw a red. Here I’d settle for a yellow against Kane, plus a referral to my (ahem) panel, who may or may not rejoice under the name under the Campaign For Gentlemanly Conduct.

I know many will see the arguments above as evidence of my delusional superannuation and distance from the game. ‘Hopeless – different generation’. Or they’ll assume I’m Arsenal. (Steady on).

I’m oldish but not that Old School, except, I confess, when it comes to sportsmanship. I don’t believe that sport is all about gallantry ffs – hah! I can hardly write the word! – but I reckon sport without some abiding sense of fairness and decency is palpably the poorer. And I don’t care where that places me.

Rules or laws are there to make games playable and to make them fair. Fairness matters – no matter how much it might make the contemporary dressing-room smirk.

The Tottingham and England captain is plainly not alone in being a serial offender against sportsmanship: the Premier League is awash with exaggeration and worse. I genuinely regret singling out Harry Kane: that was circumstance – topicality. I do however still hold with the idea that elite football needs a body to hold players (&/or other protagonists) accountable. Because otherwise the cynicism, the bad-feeling eats away.

Yonks ago I wrote about the notion that a panel, probably of former players, might be set up to look at contentious issues, in order to look at what we might call behavioural stuff, as well as the validity of decision-making. (Perhaps it might even stand aside from the rights and wrongs of pens and cards, other than to judge on qualities of intention, fairness, etc). The three or four ex-players involved might be empowered to (for example) retrospectively fine or ban players who transgress known and accepted boundaries. So Player X cannot be that cynical, that nasty, that fake, that prone to make him or herself prone.

I think this is not only do-able but important. Granted, my original idea (meant as I said as a wee provocation), that we might use a sort of conceptual extension of the old Ungentlemanly Conduct rule is an increasingly flawed notion. It sounds unhelpfully antiquated and begs an immediately negative riposte in the era of a healthily thriving WSL. But you surely get my drift?

Three panellists: maybe Shearer, Lineker, Alex Scott? Or similar. With the power to both call out and penalise cheating or more nuanced offences against sport. With a unashamedly pro-fairness agenda. Armed with a totting-up procedure, which leads to bans against repeat offenders. Keeping, or making the game as honest as possible?

So. Am I dreaming?

?

Something else.

October the something-or-other. ‘Strictly’. Some cricket club gets going, in Wales – welcome, you guys at Wild Boar Centurions! – with a first ever match, against Ammanford. Today. In mid-October. In a generally mad and frankly worrying universe, this is mad and wonderful.

There’s absolutely a post in that, it’s ‘my territory’ – the brillness and the lush defiance cricket/sport can offer – but this isn’t that post.

Instead I’ve been thinking about The Blend; the idea that sports teams are about somehow selecting the Right Mix, possibly more than anything else. Or maybe I’ve just fallen into luxuriating in cod psychology yet again, because I love all that speculative cobblers around those fabulous unknowables. (The frisson, fascination and sheer fun of picking teams, at any level, is pretty intoxicating, yes?)

Could it be that Player X, despite not being as good or effective as Player Y as an individual, will either contribute more, in the round, or facilitate success better, or more, in others, than Player Y might? And why and how might this happen? And – c’mon – how knowable is this? All that.

If we single out cricket here, the richness arguably multiplies, because it’s such an extraordinary mix of the single effort (in the radically diverse moment) and the team contribution. The game is massively ‘in your own head’ but the bantz, the sledging, the backing-up, the long wait to bat filled with platitudes or contemplation or out-of-tune humming all point to character and sensibility being bloody important. Of course wankers can be great cricketers but mostly you want, you need good people.

I think Mark Wood is almost certainly a good person. In fact, he’s the reason I’ve wandered into this. Him; the daft, horsey, singer-from-the-stands. Mark Wood the better-adjusted Gazza.

So selection (for England) and Mark Wood. Let’s draw in on that. What is his value, how does he measure up – what are the stats? And how do we quantify or appreciate his contribution to the life of the squad? (And what does that last sentence even mean?)

Stats bore me but I did look – you have to. Not just because this is the age of the stat: even if you remain the touchy-feely sort of professional coach, still following hunches and intuitions about personal qualities and/or character under fire, you pore over statistics because they can provide a key, to advantage, to revelation, to improved likelihoods.

The bowling stats on Mark Wood, for England, are maybe better than you might expect – that is if you were expecting (as I think you might) relatively high-cost wickets and relatively mixed run-rates. (ESPNcricinfo data here – https://www.espncricinfo.com/england/content/player/351588.html).

Wood is good… his performances tend to support a strong case for inclusion in all formats but naturally, in his case, concerns over sustained fitness are a significant part of his own particular selection mix. As, of course, are the alternative candidates and the necessary thinking around (‘scuse the pun) horses for courses – venues. These things always matter: stats matter. But so does personality, or lack thereof.

I’m really fascinated by this idea that fabulous, maybe funny, maybe larger-than-life but generous, as opposed to egotistical souls, can add an extra dimension – one that by its very nature can’t be measured.

Wood’s brilliance seems to me partly about singing and dancing. About being daft enough to belt out “Jerooo-sal-emm”, solo… (https://twitter.com/englandcricket/status/1279011276199469057?lang=en) whilst extravagantly waving a humble broom with a flag on it, in an empty Ageas Bowl. How many runs/wickets/lols is that worth? How do moments like that affect the quality of an experience – a tour, or a few weeks under lockdown? How does the coach decide upon the value of stuff like that?

The answer, like every answer, depends. Upon the presence or absence of that kind of inspiration, or wit, or mad, bloody generosity elsewhere in the squad. In that sense it can be quantified, arguably. Maybe the great coach, sensing a surfeit of blandness elsewhere – Root? Pope? Buttler? Name your own – intuits that the moment will come when the gamble on Wood (or whoever) comes off: when a tour is ‘made’, either in the playing sense or in terms of joy and memory, by a heroic effort – Wood can certainly do that – or by a song and dance.

There are no conclusions here, because mercifully I’m not picking the team. I love picking teams but at their glorious apex they tend to be regional juniors. So waddoo I know, eh?

I know nothing but I do suspect that stats really aren’t everything – even now. At every level, part of the art of coaching (and part of the magic of the game) revolves around reading human nature. You need batters and bowlers but you also need folks who are really something else.

#RHFTrophyFinal. #Edgbaston.

I write live, to try to capture the moment. That’s pressurised, but feels honest, in all its clunky, vulnerable wildness. Reading back yesterday’s typically flawed, typically immature piece, I’m a little struck by the potential for negativity – or the possibility that the experience may be read as overly ‘mixed’. Some of it *was mixed* but maybe it’s only now, hours later, that I can see that it felt that way partly because the whole occasion was hollowed out somewhat – inevitably so – by the void where the crowd should have been. Stupidly, having been so excited (and maybe confused) by the Weird Empty Stadium Phenomenon, I only really see that ‘flatness’ now!


So read on, in the understanding that it was a genuinely good day at The Cricket; that I’m still a bit high on that view, that closeness, that privilege. Edgbaston in the autumn sun; Adams threatening to do an Adams. Langston looking quality; Taylor’s joy. Women Professional Cricketers, coached by women. More markers thrown down, more progress. All utterly ace.

So when the eagle landed, it was a-flapping just a wee bit: road closures ensnaring me in an increasingly alienating Brum. Cruel, as it had all started so well, with a spookily trouble-free cruise in yesterday and a deliciously quiet overnight in a ver-ry decent but inevitably budget-tastic room in a central, theoretically convenient hotel.

After being charmingly temperature-frisked, I’m in, with time to slurp a little orange juice and get set. Beth Langston will open to Georgia Adams, Diamonds having won the toss. On it. Full, straight, defended.

Good over, from, Langston. Notable for challenging line and length and the volume of chirpiness from her comrades-in-arms. (Of course that wouldn’t, ordinarily, be audible. But hey, it’s a beautiful day, now. Let’s not get caught up in that Covidness thing). It really is a beautiful day: I feel privileged to be here, in a great stadium, watching cup-final cricket.

Final ball of the third over, from the immaculate Langston, tails away in the air just a little. First sign of meaningful swing: previously she’s drawn a touch of grip with leg-cutters but the strip looks batter-friendly, early-doors.

Linsey Smith is backing Langston up, with her gentle left arm offspin. I’m looking gun-barrel straight down the pitch: she’s varying more than turning. Vipers reach a sedate but untroubled 7 for 0 after 4.

It’s a goodish, steadyish start from both sides. Adams perhaps a tad streaky with a four down through third man, off Smith. Good focus from bowlers and fielders. Doesn’t at this stage feel like a day for dramatic collapses, said he, knowing this is *fatal*: Adams is magnificently poised in her forward defence, off Langston, as if to emphasise the point. Impressed, by the bowler’s consistency and courageous fullness. If there was any help she would be a right handful.

First change is Phoebe Graham, for Smith. She drops short, to Adams, who clubs her, without timing, over midwicket for four. The light is now almost indescribably wonderful. Coolish, yellow, autumnal – deeply, energisingly fabulous. A touch of away-swing, for Graham but it strays: wide. 23 for 0, after 8.

So slowly, slowly from Southern Vipers but could it already be critical that Adams, who has a pret-ty staggering 460 runs already in her six innings in the tournament, is looking set, on 17? The counter-argument is that Diamonds have shown great discipline, so far. There may even be a subtle squeeze on; certainly that energy and volume in the field is strong.

Ah. Two successive boundaries – the second of which should plainly have been stopped by the unconvincingly flopping Graham – feels like a mini-breakout. Important period, now, as we segue from steadyish start to full-on partnership, from these openers. 35 for 0, after 10.

Enter Levick; she of the effective but idiosyncratic legspin-from-over-the-shoulderdom. She flips one out, first up; it turns but is cut away for four. The over does mark a change, however – a different kind of challenge, at the right time. And there is turn.

Some of you will know that I’m an honorary West-Walian, and therefore ‘my teams’ are Glamorgan and, more relevantly Western Storm. Storm (second in the group behind Vipers) are strongish, with a competitive bowling attack. Georgia Adams utterly dismissed them, with a haughty 154 not out, in one of the crunch matches from the qualifying stage. At 65 for 0, with the Vipers’ skipper on an increasingly imperious 44, you can’t help but wonder…

Gunn has joined with Graham, who continues to toil away, full and generally straight, from beneath us in the Media Centre. McCaughan, to put Adams’ influence into perspective, is on 13 at this point.

Just a sense now, that Graham is beginning to get found out. McCaughan, no doubt conscious of that discrepancy in terms of her contribution, hoists twice, aggressively to leg, for two boundaries, in the 18th over. Gunn, who let’s be honest, has made a career out of doing this, will need to steady the proverbial ship. She can’t prevent the 50, mind, for Adams. 82 for 0, off 19.

So. Very true strip: might this all be about run rate? Or is the inviolable nature of the Vipers batting going to be simply at a different level to the Diamonds? As I write, the current run rate is 4.25 per over but we can only imagine that, should Adams and McCaughan persist *or not*, the Vipers can really launch, from here. 93 for 0, from 22.

Gunn is as quietly, doughtily consistent as we might expect. Despite seeming hittable, she mixes up those variations and plops it relentlessly where she wants to. With Adams on top of her game, Gunn has conceded only 13 from 5 overs. Smith, from the other end, must try to match that miserliness.

The ton is up after 23, bringing the first real drama. McCaughan, understandably chasing a poor, wide one from Smith, is nicking a fine top edge behind. Gone for 35. Pleasing symmetry to the scoreboard at 100 for 1. Enter the powerful Bouchier.

Diamonds tie Bouchier down – or rather the newcomer fails to find enough of the singles that are available – and we have a quietish period, broken only by lovely hands from Adams, who cuts deftly to third man.

Gunn continues, from the Birmingham End (formerly the City End). Bouchier drives nicely through extra cover – four.

Graham beams Bouchier (for a no ball), which is almost taken by a diving midwicket. The free hit is missed entirely, by the swinging Adams. Then we have Levick, returning for Gunn. Adams somehow finds the gap between the two players backward of square on the offside circle. Four. 128 for 1 after 29. Run rate 4.4.

Feels like Graham has bowled about twenty overs but she’s back from in front of us for her eighth. Sun still shineth. Bouchier places her with consumate style and ease through extra… twice. Tremendous stuff. 137 for 1 as we reach that allegedly key 30 over mark. Could Southern Vipers double this tally and get to 270-odd? Quite possibly.

Bouchier – who can hit – signals her intent by fearlessly clouting Levick over mid-off then mid-on, for two, then four. Four more, then as a teeny deflection beats the keeper. Just what the Vipers need.

The Diamonds’ skipper Armitage has an answer: brings herself on, bowls a half-tracker which Bouchier inexplicably clubs to midwicket. Clanger, but more symmetry of a sort as we are 150 for 2. And good to see that there’s still a place for dodgy leggies.

Dean has joined Adams but strong feeling that Bouchier has blown a huge opportunity, there. Suspect that somebody with her level of dynamism might blow this final right open, today. Instead, more drama, as Armitage has Dean in front, sweeping. 155 for 3, run rate 4.8, and legspin from both ends as Levick continues from the Birmingham End.

A true surface, but as so often, the leggies are making things happen, with their higher revs. Scolfield has come and gone, chipping Armitage rather feebly, to midwicket.

What was that I was saying about collapses? Game transformed: both through goodish slow bowling and batting error. And there’s more! Foolishly, Adams hoists Levick unecessarily to cow corner and is gone. Fine innings but ill-timed departure. Suddenly 165 for 5 and this is something of a crisis, for Vipers. Two newcomers at the crease, Diamonds glinting confidently if not brazenly, in the sunshine.

Rudd attempts the sweep against Levick and is gone. LBW, for just the 1. Wheels a-rolling down that road. Vipers coach Charlotte Edwards will be seething, no doubt, inside. Her openers got 80 and 35 and suddenly this – 172 for 6.

Edwards’ opposite number, Danielle Hazell, will be proud of how her side have ground their way back into this. 260 seemed very likely, an hour ago. Now – though this is still possible – 200 all out seems the likelier prospect. Norris and Windsor have to find that balance between batting out and batting with intent. Those legspinners meanwhile, are in metaphorical clover. 176 for 6, after 39, as we break briefly once more, for sanitisation. Run rate 4.5.

Hmm. Langston returns, from the City. Not sure if I wouldn’t have kept right on with the double leggies. Clearly Armitage thinks the Vipers’ tail may crumble against the undoubted quality of Langston’s pace. (The Diamond’s captain does however continue from beneath us, in the Media Centre, troubling the left-handed Norris).

OMG. Can feel Charlotte Edward’s fury from up here, as a shocker of a run-out befalls her side. Poor, poor misjudgement and Norris – miles out at the bowler’s end – has to walk. 189 for 7.

Dan Norcross has just dropped in to reflect on that Bouchier Moment: a ‘crucial gift from an utter pie’ – or similar. Predictably, at this late stage in the innings the calamities pile up, as Langston’s yorker is just too good for Monaghan. 191 for 8 as we enter the 44th, with Armitage still wheeling. Deliciously for the Diamonds skipper, she can play with this now: hoist, loop, play. Oh to be a leggie in the the sun, with your oppo’s in turmoil, and the pitch assisting.

Charlotte Taylor is facing Langston. Run rate back to 4.3. What’s possible? An all out, or 220-30?

Last four overs, with Langston in to Taylor. 206 on the board. Driven to deep point. One. Then smashed agriculturally but effectively downtown, for four. No ball and free hit. Windsor, who has battled to 32, on strike. One to mid-off. Seven from the over.

Gunn, from our end. Characteristic steady hoist-and-drop. On the spot with no pace on the ball. Smart. Good bowling but Taylor has to do more with it. Two only, from the over. 215 for 8.

Langston in for her tenth – the penultimate. Single. Slower-ball leg-cutter too full – but just a single. Clip to leg for another one. Another attempted leg-cutter, badly miscued but a fumble allows two. Single taken to mid-on but possible run-out… given. Great throw from Kalis shifts Windsor for a creditable 37. Last bat in is Lauren Bell.

Gunn will see this out, from the beneath Media Centre. Light remains unstintingly beautiful. Poor ball down leg is unpunished, save for that wide – signalled. Third ball also a legside wide – unforgivable, frankly. Then Bell picks up another slow, loopy number, striking straight and high for four.

Ironically perhaps, when Bell subsequently connects more sweetly and clears to leg, she is neatly and mercilessly caught. Innings done, with a ball, to spare; Vipers 231 all out. Surely a lowish total but what can the likes of Taylor and Dean make of it? Or could Bell blast away at the Diamonds higher order? We’ll see, soon enough. Advantage plainly with the North.

Lauren Bell will open, to Winfield-Hill. Starts with a quickish legside wide. Skies remain clear as glass, though the cameramen are saying it’s cool out there. Armitage is the other opener; she pushes gently out to a full one and it eases through the covers for four. Seven from the over.

Norris will partner Bell, with her left arm round. My view of this is perfection. As previously I can confirm ver-ry little going on through the air but that change of angle, plus her tidy line is asking a question or two.

Good diving stop from Bouchier at extra cover prevents a boundary, off Bell, who is threatening to find her rhythm. Pace at 66mph – close to where Brunt and Shrubsole are bowling, for England. When Norris returns, she repeatedly beats Armitage, who seems to be struggling to find her timing, thus far. 13 for 0 after 4.

Did I mention the outfield? Quick, certainly, despite the coolness of late season. Things roll away as you run after. And did I mention we’re IN the Media Centre, not braving the cold, like the poor sods at Derby over the recent period? (The Media Centre at Edgbaston is huge and luxurious compared to most county grounds: you do feel like a celebrity just walking in the place. I feel a tad guilty, even). 27 for 0, after 6.

Bell bowls her 3rd/possibly4th wide, before straying to leg stump, allowing the fine glance for four. Early days but Dynamos are ahead of the run rate at just beyond 5s. Enter Bouchier for Norris.

Run out chance as Winfield-Hill almost strands herself. But next ball – out the back of the hand, wide-ish – the Vipers’ opener miscues direct to extra cover for a simple catch. 36 for 1. From ‘nowhere’: simply a case of the bowling change *affecting things.* As Kalis joins Armitage, the bowler tries an extravagant outswinger. On the one hand, it really does swing – appreciably – but as she starts it around that blue line, the wide is emphatically conceded.

I’m not clear that Bell has really been troubling the batters but clearly her skipper disagrees. She stays on for her fifth over, which again starts with a big wide, to leg. Could be there is still just a wee bit of inswing, for the Vipers’ quick, in which case I defer to Adams’ judgement: suspect this will be the last we see of Bell, though, until late in the game. Especially as she concedes a further wide. 46 for 1, after 9. More, from Bouchier.

Two wides from Bouchier, meaning 9 so far. Not exactly killing Vipers (and just three from the over) but not ideal.

First sight of spin, as Taylor comes in from the city. She offers a little width and after mid-off rather dives over a strongish drive, Taylor concedes nine in the over. Scholfield follows Bouchier but Armitage dismisses her over midwicket for six, nudging that run rate further in the Diamonds favour. The scoreboard tells us too, that that after 12 overs, the team from the North are 22 runs ahead.

But then drama, as an appeal for a stumping looks close. But no. Foot never really departed ground. 68 for 1 it remains.

Taylor may be deceptive… or something. She looks to be offering too much width, too often but Armitage weakly dinks her out to cover and she is gone, for 26. What in tennis might be termed an unforced error. 78 for 2, then, after 15.

Dean is in, from beneath us. A calamitous misunderstanding between the batters leads to a ver-ry close runout call, which (after an age) goes in the Vipers’ favour. There’s a whiff of VAR cock-up in the air, as this really could have gone either way. Big Moment and Diamonds – from cruising – are 79 for 3 and stumbling, you feel. 153 needed.

When Taylor skids one through Macdonald’s defences, first ball, the switch in momentum is striking… but will it be decisive? Still early. A Proper Tight Game may be broiling away, here. The massively experienced Gunn is in, for the Diamonds. They may need her calm.

Dean is bowling with a nice arc and getting a smidge of offspin. She has conceded just the five runs from her two overs. Similarly, Taylor’s flatter, sharper ones are now troubling Kalis. That is, until another weak, wide delivery offers an easy cut away to third man, for four. 88 for 4, after 19. As Dean bowls a horror-ball waay short and wide to leg, we have the situation where it feels like neither side has the strangle on this: on the plus side, that points to more drama and a close finish – ideally.

Gunn short-arm jab-drives Taylor straight up and over for four. Little real flow or power, but controlled, if a little out of context, somehow. But next up, the former England stalwart mistimes a sweep and is l.b.w. to one that may have turned a little. Diamonds now in some strife at 95 for 5.

Kalis remains, on 20 but has been mixed, in truth. In the midst of what is now plainly a defining period, her partner Heath may need to take the proverbial ‘look at herself’, having swung Taylor out to deep midwicket – this for the spinner’s fourth wicket. 96 for 6 – and something approaching carnage. Enter Smith.

Looking again, closely, at Taylor, who is described as r/a medium, in my notes (from ESPNcricinfo from memory), it’s clear that she is, very much to her credit, really mixing this up. Some leggies, some cutters and it’s reaping the rewards. At the 25 over mark – halfway, of course – she has 4 for 30.

The Diamonds must find 128 runs: time is not heavily against them but the wickets column may be. A situation that is not helped by Smith falling promptly l.b.w. to Dean, for 7.

Unsurprisingly, as Langston enters to bat, Lauren Bell, with seven wickets down and blood in the water, re-enters to bowl. As she does so, the magbloodynificent staff here at Edgbaston swoop in to provide yet more food and drink. Like I said, I almost feel guilty sitting here. (Thank you all!)

Dean continues. Again that mixture of lovely, free rhythm – and wides. But Diamonds remain stalled. Langston and Kalis are strong experienced players but the odds are stacked.

A brief check – on myself, as much as anything. I note to the universe that though the scene may still look glorious – and it really does! – it will be bloody parky out there and therefore the playing of consistent cricket, to a high standard is gonna be a challenge. We’ve seen something of a mixed bag, with some real quality at times. The theme of wickets being offered rather cheaply as opposed to earned with brilliance may have been a little caught up in the imminent approach of October. Conditions. Not. That. Easy.

Scholfield is bowling the 34th and both Kalis and Langston are battling. Kalis goes to 45 with a cut through third man. End of over leaves 75 required – not unthinkable. But Taylor is back from the Birmingham End. Can she claim her fifth and settle this, effectively?

Answer in the affirmative. Langston goes, caught in front for an honourable 21. The seamer Graham joins us. 72 required.

Norris from in front of us. Kalis cuts behind square to reach 50. Good effort. The same player follows that with an aggressive hoist over mid-wicket. She couldn’t, could she?!? 61 required.

More from Taylor. She draws a tame-ish miscue from Kalis, attempting that glorious, defiant charge: easily pocketed at mid-off. Taylor has 6 for 34 as Katie Levick – the number eleven, remember – marches out. I confess my mind is on the four hour drive home… and the prospect of reaching Pembs at a genuinely civilised hour.

Appeal for a stumping, off Dean – not out. The over survived. Bell – something of a minor disappointment – will be busting a gut to claim the final wicket. (She has none, so far). She bowls another wide. Then Armitage dives over one she should stop – four, straight. Over survived. Now Dean, for her final over.

Dot ball. Single to leg. Single to extra. Dot ball. Near-chance as the ball flies to midwicket – hand on ball but not claimed. Over survived.

Bell is hoisted safely to backward square for one. Dot ball. Edge to third man – single. Legside glance for one. Wide. Dot ball. Single. 44 needed from 54 balls.

Bouchier. Medium pace. Graham slashing rather – mistiming. Then a neat clip to leg for four. A good yorker, defended by Levick. Over survived. 39 from 48.

Adams, the skipper, from the city. Incre-di-bly slow. Defended. Then thinned, high, high, high enough for mid-off to run around. Caught. Out. And the Rachel Heyhoe Flint Trophy winners… are Southern Vipers! Strongest team in the tournament – deserved. Celebrations ongoing.

Player of the Final Award inevitably goes to Charlotte Taylor. Swift assessment of the game overall might be that it was no classic, that Adams looked the real deal with the bat and that (obviously) the grip in the pitch favoured the slow bowlers. Diamonds did well enough to get within 40 runs in the end. Minor sub-plot, those hoping (like Bell – I guess I’m thinking specifically of her) to be pushing for England places need to do more, do better, do the Disciplined Threat thing. Elsewhere, Adams and Langton, with bat and ball respectively, looked to have a high level of quality.

Hey. Might be worth noting – and I don’t mean this negatively – that most of England’s (& Wales’s) best players were absent. The quality of outfielding was often good, the seam bowling was maybe nearer to decent-plus than striking – Langston excepted, possibly? Spin, in particular via the visibly popular Taylor, was king. (Or queen). In terms of the narrative, Bouchier’s Moment will continue to frustrate her, even though it proved relatively inconsequential. However she did contribute – fielding like demon as well as looking dynamic with wood in hand. Bouchier is A Player.

On that bombshell, forgive me but I’m outtahere. Best part of four hours to drive: thank you to those who have read &/or supported. Forgive any bloopers. May yet tidy further and add a word or two. Have enjoyed; Edgbaston is always a treat; women’s cricket is strong and getting stronger. 💪🏻 💥 👊🏻

Cool Catchers… plus!

Some thoughts on coaching, from a Community Cricket Coach just returned to action.
What does it feel like, ‘going back?’
What are the real differences, in the Covid Universe?
Given that (as a ver-ry fine Headteacher just suggested to me) children “really have to find or build new Covid-aware games”, what role can we coaches play in prompting thoughtfulness and creativity, as well as those movements and skills?

Not at all saying I know the way but have a pertinent question, I reckon…

#howdowemakethiswork?


South East Stars v Western Storm. Beckenham. ‘Freezing’.

Have watched Heather Knight a fair bit – live. For England, for the Storm. She is both an outstanding player and a gathering force.

By that I mean she has added a boomtasticism to her game that she may once have lacked. As though somebody warned her there was a danger she may seem too old-school, too one-dimensional – a bit like a typical England Captain in virtually any era pre- this volcanic present. Knighty the honest plodder-plus. Heather the Redoubtable but Predictable.

I of course have absolutely no idea if she *has actually had* conversations of this sort, merely rehearsed them with herself, or been blissfully ignorant of the discussion (should it actually exist). Whatever. If it was in the ether or in the dressing-room the universe has been asking questions – as though or because her genuinely gutsy stoicism and durability and consistency were no longer enough.

For what – 18 months? – Heather Knight has been answering powerfully. Possibly most noticeably in last seasons KSL Finals Day, when most of us ran out of superlatives. She is manifestly NOT just a steady bat, now. As well as being a shrewd, implacable competitor she has other, more expansive, more entertaining gears. The England captain is an ace as well as a brick.

But coming into this New Era and specifically this #RHFTrophy, just how much of the upgrade would we need to see? At a decidedly parky Beckenham, I imagined a throttled-back H would do it: a steady steering job. So it proved. But as a frost-bitten Mark Church enthused… this was, predictably, a masterclass.

Live blog below.

Watching via live-stream (though I do hope to be able to attend #StormTroopers home games, Covid-protocols permitting): also following various key twitter feeds, asyado. Don’t need to be Hercule Poirot to deduce that conditions are testing: ‘freezing’ to quote Raf Nicholson, whom I imagine to be ‘huddled’ in a safely-distanced kindofaway avec her fella Syd in the rather alarmingly shaky depths of Mark Church’s boundary-side tent.

But to the cricket.

George and Shrubsole for Storm, versus Smith and Capsey, for Stars. It’s proper baltic.

Western Storm cope better and wickets fall – Smith, Capsey, Dunkley in the first twelve overs. All a tad clumsy from the batting side – though Shrubsole does well to catch Dunkley, off Nicholas. To be fair, it’s hard to say how much of this is skill, how much nerves and how much weather-induced misjudgement. Interestingly, neither Shrubsole – who as she sometimes does, looks a little laboured – nor George feel all that threatening. Holding your form in any discipline is plainly a challenge.

New Storm Head Coach Mark O’Leary will have been delighted by his side’s fielding, for the first twenty overs plus: almost flawless. Bowling-wise, meanwhile, it continues to be one of those days where things *just happen*.

Ultimately, Hennessy finishes up with a four-fer, without (it seemed, from the distance of live-stream) doing that much. This not remotely meant as a put-down, just hard to equate the performance with the stats, as is so often the case.

Fi Morris however, looked both nervy and also tasty – is this a word I can use? – in the sense that she really got some spin. Despite the inevitable inconsistencies, Morris found enough beauties to befuddle the batters. She deservedly takes the key wicket of Susie Rowe, after the Stars player had, mid-innings, been single-handedly stalling the Storm charge towards a seemingly invincible position. Fair play to the off spinner for giving the ball a legitimate tweak in the gale, and to O’Leary and/or captain Sophie Luff for persisting with her when the occasional wide crept in.

As Southby joins Farrant, the team in Glammy clobber are 109 for 7 and – dare I say it – struggling in a way not entirely unfamiliar for the men of that Welsh county.

With the departure of Rowe, Katie George returns, as if to bundle the home side out pronto: the thinking being that her sharpish left arm over may be too much for the Stars’ tail to cope with. But it is Morris who strikes again, with a peach of an off-break that, turning profoundly, completely unpicks Southby’s forward defence. 113 for 8. The sense builds that Western Storm may, despite difficult conditions for every facet of the game – it is cold, it is windy – cruise quietly but stylishly to an easy win.

A further but necessary reminder that bowling anything in a strongish, gusty blow is tough. Morris, whom I am already suspecting might be a real influence in the Storm’s campaign, has now nevertheless wheeled down a few full-tosses and a wide or two. But with the live-stream camera flapping about like a recalcitrant seagull on the roof of commentator’s Mark Church’s gazebo, I am watching Fi Morris and thinking ‘has quality’. Be really interesting to see if she can maintain or surpass this impression, should the autumn winds ever abate.

Farrant is fortunate to survive an airy miscue. Keeper Wraith, who looks accomplished (despite the etc etc), can’t race across as the ball loops infuriatingly high to off, but safe. Claire Nicholas returns, for the 37th, starting with another full-toss. 124 for 8, now.

As we approach what feels like The End, it seems that Storm must win this. ‘Fatal’, naturally, to speculate but think a low total plays right into the hands of the visitors particularly because Heather Knight is back with them; as with the rest of the England players she is available for the first two #RHFlintTrophy matches.

The England skipper has a fabulous, stoic temperament and can certainly play the slow and steady role: in fact, as I have argued on previous occasions, she can also now do a compelling upgrade in terms of dynamism, should the need, the urgency be there. (This doesn’t appear likely, currently – although, with Farrant and Davies gritting their teeth and picking off Nicholas a little, the Stars total has reached 156 for 8 as we enter the last five overs).

Importantly, Farrant has now been dropped twice in the previously impressively attentive Storm Troopers field. As Hennessy returns to bowl the 47th and with the sun brightening, it feels if you can survive the cold and be watchful in the wind, batting is almost certainly a tad less fraught than South East Stars have generally made it made it look… and yet… might we have a game?

Davies is bowled by Hennessy. That partnership (of 49) with Farrant may be the difference between a competitive game and and a stroll. Let’s hope.

Gibbs joins Farrant. Cruelly for her, a horror-show of a muddle with the newcomer leaves her run out for 37, and closes the innings at 166 all out. Advantage Storm, unquestionably, but there is now, that ‘total to bowl at’.

Knight opens, with Fi Morris. They proceed relatively comfortably to 35 without loss, after 10 overs. Then 50 for 0, in the 14th. Both openers are despatching the loose one and being watchful; judging things nicely. When Davidson-Richards slings one especially wide to leg, her body-language and that of some of her comrades seems understandably muted. (This is what Knight can do. She takes a further single and moves to 32 not out).

Responding, Grace Gibbs beats Knight, wide-ish of off – no result. Morris then pulls a genuinely short ball, with good control. And a further leg side wide. There may be time left in the game but the Stars are in danger of being ground down, early. 71 for 0 after 17.

Morris looks in good nick with the bat as well as the ball. Unhurried, compact but looks to have flow in reserve. But slightly ignominiously, having been given a warning in the previous over, she is run out: critical wicket, ‘from nowhere’. Morris – who made 27, from 60 – is replaced by Luff.

Sophia Dunkley is bowling goodish, controlled leg-spin but Knight (what did I tell yas?) is through to her 50. She appears to have an ominous amount of time to pick her shots. With the experienced Luff alongside her, there is no sense that the door, having been opened by the Morris dismissal, will now be hoofed down by an inspired Stars line-up. Church, describing the Knight knock as an ‘absolute masterclass’, captures the mood.

Enter Bryony Smith, as Stars mix it up again. She drags one down, then gets one to turn. A leg-side wide ticks the scoreboard over past the ton; 100 for 1 after 24.

Smith and Dunkley – both England-quality players – work well, in tandem, to the extent that the former forces an error from Luff. She is caught miscuing, by Farrant, moving backwards, to bring in Hennessy at 102 for 2, in the 26th. Knight remains at 62. Nice moment in the match as the two Stars spinners are now asking some decent questions… but only the most apocalyptic collapse could deny Knight and Western Storm the victory, surely? The quiet chat between Knight and her new partner should re-settle the destiny of the game, you would imagine. Hennessy proceeds, calmly.

Smith bowls a maiden and the run rate has temporarily stalled. Dunkley floats one up, boldly, but Knight drives through the covers for four – first ball. Then a pull follows – also four. Heather Knight (suddenly in the rain) appears to be re-stating her dominance.

Her partner won’t match that level of skill or composure. She swishes rather, across another full leg-spinner from Dunkley and only succeeds in hoiking it high to mid-off. Out. Hennessy out for six.

Freya Davies, formerly of Western Storm, returns, as her captain Farrant no doubt thinks this is the moment to batter away at that metaphorical door. Wraith has joined Knight, who now need 45 to win it. Maiden. Credit to South East Stars, who are certainly not capitulating. More rain… but they seem determined and able to play on through.

Wraith makes a promising start: looks confident, looks positive. We are 129 for 3 as Knight parries away the last of Davies’ deliveries in the 34th over. Knight is 74 not out with 38 required.

Farrant bowls Wraith. Hmmm. A wicket maiden ensues. Could be that Storm have failed, relatively, to engineer the strike towards the enduring Knight. Can George now quietly rotate things so that her senior partner can see this out? Davies from the other end.

George is solid in defence to a full one from Davies. 132 for 4 after 36. Knight has the strike. Poor error as Stars are penalised for having too many players in the deep in the powerplay – meaning no ball and free hit. Knight biffs it but can only chase out a single.

Farrant is offering some variations but Knight will wait and play late; two through the covers. She has 80. We are into the 38th over with only 28 needed.

Davies again. Knight may be experiencing some discomfort; she kicks out that right leg as if to stretch something. The bowler falls short and George encourages it round the corner with some stye; four. Then clips another one from her hip for a further two, behind square. Erroneously, you feel, Davies drops short again, allowing another flick to leg; in truth George is furious that she misses out on the boundary.

Warrant concedes an early four and the thing feels done. Fifteen required as Knight takes guard again. Single. She will miss out on her century now but the England captain will again be the key protagonist. Again she looks a class above – simply too good to get out.

A cool reverse-sweep despatches Hannah Jones’ first to third man. Ouch. Heavy rain. George – looking to get the win ASAP – booms left and right as the bowler struggles to grip the ball.

Finally, appropriately, Knight launches one over mid-on to claim the decisive runs. Western Storm are deserved winners, by six wickets, with Heather Knight not out 91 and Katie George likewise undefeated on 19.

Excellent performance in truly challenging conditions, for the #StormTroopers: they might arguably have won it earlier but this was a convincing victory and an encouraging start in the #RHFlintTrophy. Noteworthy that other England players have been influential elsewhere, today. But that’s as it should be. Be good to see other players taking the lead when the women’s internationals start.
Now. Where’s me soup?