Could it be?

Saturday and rain. So maybe we are in the cricket season? Maybe all that Johnson-ing and Cummings-ing and mask-wearing and deathly, transformational stuff I think I’ve been aware of is a dream. And everything is normal… because it’s raining when it should be cricket?

Sadly no. That gruelling, catastrophic plague, with its increasingly bitter hinterland of incompetence, untruth and division really is part of who we are. If we aren’t personally grieving we find ourselves raging; ardently defending our tribe in the unseemly clamour COVID-19 has hurled upon us.

Gah! I need to stay away from the political/philosophical arguments here – though I have some, believe me. (Go to @bowlingatvinny if you happen to be interested in any of that).

What I want to do instead is unashamedly dart clear, or from those deeper, darker challenges and ask some questionsnot entirely out of cowardice, although I concede that what follows might feel a tad lightweight for swerving matters of a materially more urgent and significant resonance. In short I want to get into what this means for cricket – or rather what we might usefully learn.

By this I think I mean both specific lessons or learnings for particular areas of the game and also (for want of a better word) cultural notions.

Little of this will be entirely thought-through: a) because my brain tends to storm rather than analyse at the best of times and b) because we’re in the grip of a monster that may yet re-gather against us. So forgive the bullet-points: I’m drafting whilst hiding – whilst waiting for Amazon to deliver the family masks.

In no particular order, then, questions:

  • How do we make the game more DURABLE? At pro’ and recreational level?
  • Is TV Money a (ya know) narcotic? How do we lessen the reliance/spread the risks?
  • Is it OK that the women’s pro’ game has *inevitably* been cast as the ‘natural’ second priority, after getting ‘more financially important’ blokes’ internationals and/or Blast action going?
  • For clubs, could the idea that ‘we’re all in this together’ – Cummings notwithstanding – be turned into a significant positive?

Let’s be clear at the outset that I have few answers. Patently none of us, pre- about February, were contemplating much less planning for the hellish void that fell upon every home, every workplace, every activity: we’ve all been scrambling. The closest I’m gonna get to the Blame Game is to opine to no-one in particular that would the Cruelly Forensic Truth be briefly allowed to intrude, it might understandably take the opportunity to bark at us about the quality of our contingencies – in and out of cricket. We’ve all been scrambling.

Regarding the durability or otherwise of the game, it feels like the professional cricket in the UK will pull through – whatever that means – especially if the internationals currently being fixed up go ahead. TV money and ground revenue will be reduced, naturally but ECB reserves, despite being depleted, should hold out, we are led to believe.

England games are BIG – hence the rammed schedule. This may be unhelpful in multiple respects. Certainly part of any meaningful post-trauma review must surely consider the *level to which* England fixtures prop up our cricket, generally. After this episode – assuming there is an ‘after this’ – we need to have a Plan Z as well as Plan E, yes?

Ditto re- the TV Money. The druggy, near-sexual thrill of that last TV deal may have obscured the potentially precarious nature of the relationships. In my admittedly relatively narrow experience, post-coital highs may not be the most opportune moments for judicious strategic-thinking. We need a basket of eggs (oh-oh, this a dangerous metaphor?) not, erm, a single sperm – no, EGG – to whisk up a wholesome, game-wide, risk-averse omelette. Yeh.

*Clears throat.*

The recreational game, despite being indisputably contingent upon ECB support – is that fair? – feels an island apart. There’s a contradiction-fest going on between the  reliance on funded this-and-thats and the irreplaceably central volunteer force of three magnificent but superannuated club legends who ‘keep the whole bloody thing going’.

Therefore arguably hard to square the facts(?) of both umbilical reliance on ECB and the proud tradition for independence, grit and battling against insurgent circumstance. (On that, with the game allegedly “awash with money” – and yes that is a quote from a notable C.C.C. C.E.O. – we may wonder why any strife anywhere, any time? But we are where we are).

As I write cricket clubs in Wales have been bailed-out to the tune of almost a million pounds, from ‘streams’ funded by the ECB, Sport Wales and the Welsh Government. And yet there is and will be hardship due to lack of subs/bar takings etc.

My best guess on this is that few clubs will actually fold, even if there is no competitive cricket this season, primarily because they have always fought a way through against something: shortage of money, coaches, players and/or members who will actually tend the strip, chase the subs, collect the fox shit. There is a culture of gorgeous, selfless, ridiculous, wonderful, defiant obduracy, partly because even on a sun-kissed July evening there tends to be a sense that a plague is a-brewing.

Strikes me making clubs bomb-proof or even more bomb-proof might be like battling the time-warping matter-swallowing supra-gravity around yer average black hole. And yet of course we have to go there: in our Ford Anglia and wellies; swearing and waving a stick.

The Genuinely Sustainable Club is a concept that makes no sense; defying capitalism, ‘reason’, likelihood and history.  Clubs just tend to go on, because character, because community (or individual), because love. This is not, however, an argument for inaction: on the contrary, it’s a call for lateral, radical-but-also-respectful, massive-scale, not-to-say cosmically enlightened thinking.

I have concerns about the ‘inevitable’ relegation of the women’s game. Firstly it feels morally dubious – even if it makes ‘commercial sense’. My soul yearns to prove beyond argument that this latter concept is not just ethically repugnant but simply untrue but I concede this may be a stretch. I’ll duck that one, for now, then and fall back on a statement of support. Cricket for women and girls is powerfully on the up: it must not be stalled or undermined because tough decisions have to be made. Leadership – real leadership – is often about doing things that are right as well as doing things that are prudent.

Finally (says he, as though drawing together a thread) back to clubs under the cosh.

On my twitters I’ve been seeing a certain amount of inter-club support – not just in terms of communal bantz – but also in respect of clobber/equipment/machinery. Club A struggling to get on top of outfields/strips after the floods (remember those!), Club Q pitching in to clear or offer an industrial-strength scarifier. Where sometimes the urge is to be protective or even competitive, generous streaks have been emerging.

Like that. Could we not build on that?

 

 

 

 

 

#Lockdown Ramble.

A ramble, a confessional, an indulgence: course. But also a laugh and a conversation-starter, or something which *might make you think*, I hope. Might even make you a) tell me which bands are keeping you going b) start yoga c) buy a guitar chord book d) stir yourself generally – even if it’s only to rant against my indulgences.

Or, who knows, it may even possibly make you nod in recognition at my experience of the ‘weird prejudices’ out there – the baggage all-around us, or inside of us? Or make you angry about that stuff.

Whatever, it’s supposed to stoke some activity. Please think about that bit, eh?

 

 

 

New, from the Universe Podcast: we talk life outside cricket, with Glamorgan’s Andrew Salter.

Andrew Salter is a ver-ry capable all-round cricketer, bowling zingy off-spin, batting astutely mid-late order and fielding energetically, for Glamorgan Cricket. I know the bloke a little – Pembrokeshire connection.

The mighty Universe Podcast, part-furloughed, caught up with him via satellite at his home in Cardiff. (Well, okaaaay, via FaceTime… but then, having neither shaved nor bathed in recent memory, plumped for a purely audio version for this esteemed website).

Being aware of the various strings to Salter’s bow, this honourable bloggist-reporter meandered beyond mere cricket. But hey – go listen. Could be I add some further reflections having listened back, myself.

*Apologies for differential volume(s). We ain’t the BBC*. Couldn’t be in the same room, for obvious reasons… and am too dumb to do a trial run.

 

 

A few reflections and some information. Some of you will be aware that Salts was an England age-group skipper – and therefore his ambition here, emphatically re-stated, to get himself in contention for an England slot, is neither entirely delusional nor some bland auto-response. Given that he apparently repeated that focus ON STAGE, whilst receiving an award from the PCA, I think we can assume this ‘quietish’, un-starry young man possesses more drive than might be immediately apparent. (And this is not a cue for motorbike metaphors – promise).

Salter does have a strongish all-round game. He’s looked the part in the Blast, in particular, where his intelligent variations on the flattish off-spin theme have seen him feel central to Glam’s attack, on a good night. (I say this picturing his best chance for breaking into the elite-elite set-up as the shorter formats: in simple terms, the guys ahead of him in the pecking order don’t feel completely out of reach – not the off-spinners, arguably. His four day/potential Test game is goodish but it may be that Leach and Bess and Moeen are more decisively ahead of him, currently. But great to hear him so intent on providing competition to these guys, over time).

Vis-a-vis the Baffle Culture sideline, similarly encouraging – wonderful, even – to hear Salter describe that whole falling in love again thing? Maybe as an impressionable youff, he saw Beckham cruising some exotic block in groovy gear and began to dream. Some years later he’s plainly grafted hard to learn Essential Motorbike Stuff to the extent that he can now legitimately position himself as a potential entrepreneur in the industry *as well* as being a genuine biker, out riding and loving a cruise round the Welsh landscape. I doff my helmet to him.

I approached this interview hoping and expecting a multi-dimensional chinwag: without being entirely crass I know Salts is no mug.  But I may have under-estimated his knowledge, his growth and his commitment to well, everything.

Turns out he is the articulate, rounded individual I expected but with added extra gears: richer layers on the extra-curricular front and a refreshingly flinty drive for his own cricket career. (Soz; those biker metaphors). I wish him well with both the now unravelled Baffle culture and with his ambitions at Glamorgan and beyond. He really is a a good guy, working hard at all of this. 

 

Now what?

Eve of Easter. Sun blazing. Barely a motor about, not that we get many but blimey this is extraordinary – idyllic actually, with all due respect to the grockles that prop up our entire county, year on year. The shingle, artfully dolloped around our tiny front garden, is baking; the dog is maybe overheating. Junior (well, six foot four) Walton’s smiliferous uni’ dance-music swells at an appropriately easy pitch for a thoughtful lounge. Proper indulgence.

Where we are (forgive us) the Covid-19 situation really does feel like a phoney war. We’re aware of both ‘some Pembrokeshire cases’ and also also of our responsibilities but frisson around exercising is at an entirely lower level than it might be around Bute Park, Cardiff – to take a random example from the known world.

Now that we’re barred from walking the coast path, we generally yomp about a mile and a quarter to a favourite beach along the road, but in doing so don’t tend to see a single vehicle and only occasionally another couple or family taking their own, equivalent quiet promenade.

Big tides so the beach is a zillion, golden, slumbering cricket-pitches at low water. We tramp like sedately ecstatic lurv-zombies the entire width, more than once, unashamedly breasting through the one hour limit our sagacious minister(s) may or may not have made available for Daily Soul-Maintenance. Done this three times this week; estimated duration six hours. Seen five people, total.

But what else? What else for you? What’s it like?

I’m working a bit, on media/social media stuff. This should constitute about a third of my weekly graft – the remainder being the Community Coach role. Doing no coaching in schools or anywhere else, for obvious reasons. So if I was so inclined, things could be pret-ty sedentary: only (and this is not a boast) I don’t do sedentary.

Have no viable garden – or at least genuinely not viable for most ball games. (This probably accounts for current, high step numbers on the roads). Am honestly outstanding at clattering my way into or through jobs, so been on that – garden, kitchen, garage – and will return. But it’s the pleasurable and the healthy stuff we need to get to yes? What do you do? What can, or do we do? I’m gonna tell you some of my restorative strategies and by all means send me yours.

Restorative bloody Strategies! Who am I kidding? Like you miserably shapeless lot, I am almost exclusively following instinct. Working pretty good, mind.

Prepare to be shamed, bored, amused or utterly gobsmacked by the torrent of indulgobollocks about to spew forth. Cos it’s all about What I Done, Lately. (*Of course I have some faint hope it may either make you laugh, or get you off yer arse, thereby neatly dodging the allegation that this is all a bit me, but hey).

Those of you who know me will maybe take the following without too much offence:  that I’m such a shamelessly persistent clown I really don’t care what you might think. This – by that I mean this blog – is about entertaining ourselves, getting stuff done, not about whether I happen to be good at something. To my mind, the ‘me’ is taken right out of this: it is, therefore, merely an offering.

Hey but let me start with something kosher – something that seems relevant, that figures.

Two or three times in the last fortnight I’ve ambled across the road into the dingletastic field opposite, armed with three coloured hoops, two newish sidearms and a bag of balls. Purpose? Being to get somewhere near competent with the slingers. Have gone up to the almost-flat-but-still-unhelpfully-tussocky heights a hundred and thirty-seven yards from the front door, paced out a pitch length and laid the hoops out. Then slung.

Awful, so far. Too many snatched, accidental bouncers: line okay but if I had been in a net with a group of juniors (let’s say), I’d be banged up unceremoniously by now, for Affray With a Sidearm. So work to do; which is fine in the current time-rich era, yes? May need to look at a couple of videos but will be back up there soonish, trying to hook into a groove: consistency is tough.

The other stuff is both daft and almost ludicrously ‘creative,’ darlings, so now strap in for the cringeathon: some surreal slings of fortune and geography bundled in here, which I hope may be diverting.

Great mates have a caravan on the sweet, relatively unobtrusive wee site down close to our beach. (‘Our Beach’ – lols!) The owners can’t use it as the site, like the county, is effectively sealed-up. They are, however, well up for me checking it over and using it discreetly as a retreat or for any legal purpose, particularly as this has involved heroic clearing-out of 14 million flies that had recklessly expired over the winter/early spring. (What is it with caravans and flies, by the way? Had to wade in to a mincemeat horror-show, which has taken several visits to clear).

Whatever. This caravan has become a haven for two alarmingly healthy pursuits but before I spill the wotsits on those, I feel the urge to say, rather intently, that I’m not looking to escape from anyone or anything (thank you ver-ry much) when I ‘nip down’ there. Relationships all good. Just living in a tiny house – as we do – it makes practical sense.

But what does? Yoga and guitar.

Eh?

Yoga I’ve been doing, clunkily and inconsistently for a couple of years but I now really get it. Guitar, well as the angriest of youffs emerging from the punk epiphany, I acquired a fairly horrible Gibson Les Paul copy and, flukily, a marvellous Ibanez acoustic, before becoming a half-decent rhythm-geetar strumster. Criminally, I stopped playing, almost completely, about twenty years ago.

Some of you will be aware that my wife is often referred to as The Finest Yoga teacher in Wales ‘cos, yes… she is. For twenty years, hugely to her credit, she restrained herself completely from bundling me towards the classes she teaches in nearby Haverfordwest, Narberth and St Davids but finally that wall of restraint (or restraining wall?) crumbled. Not sure quite how, fascinatingly, but I found myself attending sessions and did so with little enjoyment for about eighteen months. This despite being aware that yoga was blindingly obviously something that might benefit a berk like me: I’m 84% fast-twitch fibres. Mostly, life is lived in an optimistic rage. Plus, me back is stiff.

Eventually another wall (or something) broke – or, on reflection, I lump-hammered my way through it. Whether it was working with the breath, just finding myself less gutty and bloated, or something mystical about rhythms and space, couldn’t tell you. But eventually I have begun, despite the continuing lack of flow in my super-annuated, sporty-but-brittle frame, to enjoy yoga. So I’ve been doing some on my own, down the caravan.

Bethan’s classes continue, via the grace of Facebook Live but because we really do live in a tiny house, I can’t work alongside her, out of view. In time I’ll get back to going to classes but for now I stroll beatifically down the van with my iPad, from which an emailed practice can be conjured. (Did I mention, by the way, that caravans these days are more like apartments? Smart). So picture me, silently, unhindered and (ahem) unselfconscious, as I inhale, pause, move, in the medium-copious ‘living area’. Like a cross between Peter Crouch mid-robot and erm… a ballerina.

I’m going down there nearly every day, just now, to ‘do something’. Having had a hernia op’ some months ago – and therefore a yoga gap – I’m building back up towards the 75 or 90-minute sessions typical of a Bethan W class.

But my retreats to the caravan aren’t just about yoga, or even just about that yoga/guitar combo. I am kinda rehabilitating my fingers to the strings and re-engaging the muscle memory for chords: I’m also going to try to learn a few songs. And I’m also trying to write a few songs. This means, among other things, singing.

Real blokes don’t sing, do they? Or not whilst sober – not in front of people. But hang on; let’s go back a little.

Writing songs; song-writing. Shocking truth is I’ve always felt I should or could have done that… but only played at it. Intently, once or twice, but never with any discipline. There was a time when there were fantastic people around me – I make no apology for calling them soulbrothers – who might have joined with a committed rock and roll adventure: didn’t happen.

Not at all saying it’s likely to happen now. Not even remotely suggesting that what I’m doing is good. (It’s at least as likely to be raw embarrassing and I really am fine with that). I’m just saying I’m actually trying, over a period of time, to *finish* some songs – or get them to a place where they feel done.

I know plenty folks live via fixations or aspirations towards Pole Stars or Intentions but I’ve never worked like that: (you?) I lack the Ambition Gear Thing and I suspect this is something I’m perversely proud of.

Right now what feels clear and ‘important’ to me is the instinct to create something while the time and opportunity is there. Broadly, that’s it. There’s flow and energy around so I’m using it. Specifically, this means re-learning the guitar – which I know I can do – honing and crafting some ideas into song lyrics – which maybe I really can’t – and either finding my voice and performing – doubt it – or passing the songs on if there’s any real merit in them, to someone who can perform. Or… leaving them in the metaphorical cupboard, which is fine, particularly if they’re *finished*.

What’s both great and scary is I really do not know if the proto-songs are garbage. And I’m more sure than not that my singing is pret-ty embarrassing. And I’m recording, as part of the challenge! But maybe the result doesn’t matter? Maybe this is a truly developmental experience, whatever?

Yes. Emphatically yes.

The caravan and the glorious, generous, idyllic solitude makes it possible to bawl out loud, bollocks up the guitar, grimace or preen to the mirror. (I do all three). Mainly I forget the words and fear I’m sounding ‘like James Blunt’s dad’ – think it’s likely I look like him.

But none of this matters. The ludicrous nerves(!), even when flying utterly solo; the angst about how lyrics might be understood – would people get the irony, here? – all that is clearly strikingly testing, but great. Part of the newness and growth.

(Re-cap: I’m a reasonably oldish geezer who feels about 34. I get that every word of this is ridiculous – and beginning to sound like some self-help guide – but the point is I’m bloody invigorated by this challenge. Being unsure of whether you really are a complete embarrassment but ploughing on, anyway, is a manifestly edgy place to be, believe me. I recommend it).

I have four songs or song lyrics which feel close enough for rock and roll. I hope to practice versions of them all, over the next few weeks. Could well be they never get aired outside that caravan: who cares? In a month my guitar will be on the up and that will feel good. The documents that are my songs will be there, good or bad, but there.

Have tumbled into a longish read – apologies. Ditto for the extravagant indulgences. Hope that some of this resonates in some way: I think it’s about committing, about making your contribution and just not worrying about where it might sit in the hierarchy of things. There is no good or bad that can undermine the brilliance of your commitment.

So, what’s your guitar, your yoga? Get to it, c’mon. With me. We can support each other, okay?

A-one-two-three-four go!

 

 

 

 

Stalling?

So we’ll be back, alright, but when? We just don’t know.

Let’s face it, there are a zillion things we can’t and don’t know at the moment. Please god that doesn’t mean untold stress and outright fear for too many of YOU. For me, it’s kinda fine, or rather more odd than scary, so far. Odd-arousing, ‘cos so-o extraordinary – and so consuming.

I’m well though, apparently, and so is the family – even the 92 year-old father-in-law and his 80-something year-old wife and my own 83 year-old ma. They’re all fine. To be honest, not asking for much more than that, currently. Why would I?

I get that many folks are either raw scared of the demon virus, or concerned about implications around work. I’m neither, but this is not to say that those things are immutable, or that the Walton family are going to be blasé about anything, or that I’m entirely free of doubts. This is a startling, extraordinary, medium-selectively dangerous doubt-fest, is it not?

My wife is right at this moment trying – battling, rather – to keep her yoga classes going, online, via Facebook Live. It’s going pret-ty well, I think, except for some angsty moments around punters signing in and the perennial issue at our gaff of absolutely pitiful wifi. (Have myself nipped next door to await a techno-wotsit Team Gathering, because there’s no way we could both be online for important stuff at the same time: next door is a second home and yes I do have permission).

Spent hours, ultimately, fannying about with iPad, phone and this, my wife’s secondhand Mac, whilst failing crucifyingly-painfully to join a meeting. Then more hours – I kid you not – trying to download Google Chrome, so as to offer the teeniest hope of success for the next internet fiasco. But I digress… and I’m leaking energy on stuff I hate… and this is not good. The point is, we’ve never had to do this stuff before.

My own work, right at the moment of maximum kaboom – going full-on into schools to try to entertain and capture children for cricket – is stalled, to put it mildly. Schools shut; all cricket on hold. There will be admin to do and planning – well up for all that. Plus the ‘creative thinking’ that’s so ubiquitous in team emails as the corona curve launches towards vertical. But Proper Work? Minimal, for the foreseeable.

So, for me, existential questions and practical dinkie-doos rather than medical urgencies. How are we supposed to feel about this? (Differently, I guess, like about everything else). In the face of corona-wireless – and therefore meaning-shift – is it okay to ‘carry on?’ Is it okay to loaf about a bit, consider all options and think about daft stuff like cricket? Write about it, even? Is that an acceptable way to Fill The Void? Maybe if I add rather swiftly that I want to work, I’m old-school work-ethic-tastic and proud of that?

My old man was a magnificently honest plodder and so too, my grandpa and to me it just feels right to pour in some honest, blokey graft, to whatever. Genuinely hope I can continue to do that for our cricket community – put in ‘a shift’, something that can make a difference, feel worthwhile, feel legitimately real to me. And if my hours at that coal-face are reduced then like most of the universe I’ll be all over the domestic chores: bathroom, kitchen, garage, garden: whirlwind, incoming. I’ll commit heavily to something.

But what of cricket and the larger picture? All Stars and Dynamos (the two major projects I have been/would have been working towards, as a Community Cricket Coach) will be either delayed or possibly cancelled entirely, for the season. That’s not just personally gutting, that’s potentially really significant in terms of stalling the *powerful progress* we’ve been making around bringing ‘new children’ and ‘new families’ into the game.

*In case you’re wondering, we really have been providing the local grassroots game – Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire/Swansea – with a proper boost. Uptake into junior leagues from U9s to U11s in particular (that is, the entry levels for organised games, from softball festivals to hardball cricket) has spiked strongly upwards over the last two years. This is unquestionably largely the result of Community Coaches working in schools and signposting children over to local clubs. Of course many of the clubs have been fabulously pro-active in this process… but some have not. Kids have joined in, anyway.

If the last para sounds like some sort of sales pitch then sorry but tough. It’s not  – that’s not its purpose. Not everything (in fact few things of any real import or value) are measurable, but the arrival of new kids and new teams into cricket leagues is closely tracked, inevitably, by Cricket Development Officers. Numbers are up, so the opportunity might be there to build a bright, bulkier future for junior cricket across Wales.

Of course bigger isn’t always better. And bigger can’t happen unless clubs can accommodate. And, clearly, corona pain-in-the-anus might well challenge the notion of survival, for many clubs, never mind the possibility for growth. So doubts, or yes – challenges.

After a prolonged period of (probably) no revenue, how do clubs go on?

Will we get the green light to gather again whist we still have some weather?

If not, will the hit the ECB take stymie or stall the recovery across the game? How do we choose what gets funded, in the aftermath of carnage?

How much of any of this anyway, is ultimately about dosh?

If money/funding/strategy really are critical, how much help can the ECB, Cricket Wales, Sport Wales or any other partner offer?

No idea – yet.

Contentiously… do we think that they will be trying to help the stuff that we care about? What will the priorities be?

Are the huge implications around the professional game so mind-boggling and cash-gobbling that the small potatoes, the All Stars, the Dynamos, the clubs are going to be Item 74b on the agenda?

Can’t speak for any of those aforementioned bodies, not even the one I work directly for, except to say that every individual I know at Cricket Wales is already psyching themselves up for an irresistible surge back from whatever it is we’re in. A weird, thunderously heavy stall? A brutal re-set? A death-throw? Who cares about the labels, the sequencing, the minutiae of this thing? Because there’s no perspective that ain’t scary, we’re surely liberated? We can get that full-throated roar going. We can charge out there and smash it.

How? Why? Know what, I think that’s simple. Because great people, in clubs. Because your 72 year-old scorer and our 71 year-old groundsman. Because we see the coronascumbag and we choose to deny it – though we recognise its temporary hold.

We deny not out of arrogance or through strategy but via a love of the game that will keep us (and it) alive. For I’m guessing it won’t be money that keeps either grassroots cricket or the professional game afloat, not really. It will be a relative small number of stalwarts, who ‘do everything’, who, despite being in the cross-hairs of this disease, will be quietly invincible.

So it might be irresponsible, indulged, delusional. It might be plain wrong. But I genuinely think that cricket – o-kaaay, maybe I’m talking about club cricket, the soul of cricket – will come through this relatively unchanged and unharmed. This is not to say that we won’t lose some soulbrothers and sisters along the way, or that profound adjustments and brutal cancellations aren’t going to happen: they are. But, like other sports, we just have the people, right?

 

 

 

 

The World Cup Final.

Post-game. Raising my mug of hot lemon to an impressive, not to say ruthless Australian performance. Talk about ‘turning up’. Talk about ‘executing’. Something of a classic, in those terms, on a historic day, with more eyes upon them than ever seemed possible a year or two ago. Important that this showpiece got some real quality: of course for neutrals or newcomers it may have been better if India could have played to a similar, competitive level. But they couldn’t and didn’t. From the very first over in the field, India contributed to the Australian surge. Unwillingly, of course; they entered this sumptuous arena determined to make their own, proud statement. But they couldn’t.

We will never know how much of this ultimately one-sided affair was the result of Indian nerves and/or under-achievement in the mega-glare of #T20WorldCup and #InternationalWomensDay: such things aren’t measurable. More generous to switch the discussion towards the undeniable brilliance of Healy, in particular, and her opening partner, Mooney.

Whilst we need to tread carefully around the word glory we might comfortably use its adjective to describe Alyssa Healy’s skill and confidence, here. She was ridiculous, she was spectacular, she ran away with it. Let’s all enjoy that thrillingly positive achievement. For India, let this be a step along the way.

Here’s the live blog…

Up in time for the anthems. They were brief but not so brief as to obscure the fact that Australia share with England that Obvious Duffer title, eh? Then a few minutes of tracking around the crowd as India gather and Healy and Mooney stride out. New territory for all of us, pretty much, a women’s cricket event with a stonking crowd – important and wonderful.

Sharma is in and the ball is gone. Four, Healy connecting well enough, through the on-side. Better still, the brilliant right-hander creams one through the covers and cuts sweetly, gently behind square. But there is a mini-drama, early, as Shafali Verma, the young superstar standing out on that edge of the circle drops a sharpish but eminently catchable effort, fifth ball. It was Healy… and that could be big. So instead of grabbing back the initiative, India concede 14 from the over.

With Shikha Pandey conceding 9 from the next and Healy utterly disrespecting the concept of ‘nerves’, the Southern Stars take flight. They are 32 for 0 after 3, after Sharma is again expensive.

Rajeshwari Gayakwad will try her luck for the fourth. She drops Mooney.

Ah. Have expressed concerns recently about the quality of the Indian fielding: in short it’s often mixed – certainly at a lower level than Australia and England, for example. Would be a real shame if this became a theme that the sexists and the moaners could latch onto again. When Poonam Yadav painfully dives over a routine stop, suspect I’m not the only one to wince. Awful, from the women in blue, so far.

Finally something for the fielding side to cheer, as Gayakwad completely unpicks Healy but the off-spinner misses off by an inch. Australia finish the power play on 49 for 0.

Poonam Yadav is in. Can she find some of that magic – plainly India need something.  Quietish over, which is a minor victory. Then Healy explodes into Gayakwad, striking two thunderous sixes, one of which, measured at 83 metres, being the most boomtastic of the tournament. With Mooney now also set, Australia reach 79 for 0 after 9 overs. Dreamland, for the home coach and the home fans.

Healy gets to an outstanding fifty from 30 balls. No doubt watching hubby will claim the credit – or perhaps hubby’s coach?!?

It becomes an exhibition. Healy is dispatching at will, Mooney contributing heavily. Australia soar past the hundred partnership. They are 114 off 11 as 23 come from the over. Remember Healy came into this allegedly out of form: when she is out, inevitably caught at long on, she has amassed 75 from 39 balls. In the World Cup Final. Stunning and brilliant – match-winning, you suspect.

So how does Harmanpreet Kaur drag her team back into this? You feel that just ‘weathering this storm’ and re-gathering to go huge during their own knock is simply not an option. They (India) have to counter NOW, but this is easier said. Mooney and Lanning seem determined to power on. With Australia on 135 for 1 after 14, 200 actually feels possible. Mooney gets to fifty.

Of course Mooney and Lanning can afford, as it were, to charge everything. Wickets do not matter. The game can be mercilessly buried.

Healy in interview is saying “I think we can get 200”. She may be right. As a relative neutral here, I am thinking a) that the Australians are showing great quality (and this is good, for the game) but also b) that an absolute massacre (which we might be foolish to rule out) would be erm, unhelpful.

Lanning is out, for 15, caught at square leg. 154 for 2, off 16.2. Can the change come? Sharma follows up by beating the newcomer Gardner, a small reminder that there’s theoretically a contest, here. When the ‘replay’ comes, two balls later, and Gardner is comprehensively stumped, perhaps… yaknow, perhaps? 157 for 3 after 17, with Haynes joining Mooney.

Poonam Yadav, who has become something of a world-wide cult figure over recent weeks, has the dubious privilege of bowling the 18th. All the tricks, now, from Australia – and ver-ry good running. Yadav goes around. Haynes steps wide outside off, looking to slog to leg; succeeds only in swishing onto her stumps. 176 for 4.

Carey fends the final ball of the over to safety and the drama subsides a little.

Australia finish on 184 for 4, with Mooney having batted through for an almost flawless 78. If the final four or five overs may have represented a minor fightback from the visitors then let’s hope for a competitive second phase.

Verma looked nervy to the point of shell-shocked, in the field, making multiple errors. She may need to throw off those horrors and grasp the moment, for India to have any chance. To be blunt, that seems unlikely, to me. They have some quality but not the depth of the Southern Stars batting line-up.

The sixteen-year-old will face: how about that, in front of 90-odd thousand? Schutt will bowl. Wonderfully-but-alarmingly, Verma straight-drives, classically straight, but highish. First ball! She ‘escapes’, or at least it feels that way, so dangerously bold was that option. Two balls later, she is gone, caught in the crease, nicking one behind: arguably the prime threat snuffed out.

The elegant Smriti Mandhana remains, of course, and there is batting to come, but it’s been Verma who has been the driver for most of the dynamism we’ve seen, of late, from India. Jonassen is in.

Then something unfortunate. Bhatia, who has looked nervous, misses a sweep and the ball appears to strike her helmet. I am honestly not clear if it’s nervous upset or possible concussion that forces her to retire hurt – but she does. It gets worrying (predictably?) when her replacement, Rodrigues, has to walk, for nought.

India at 8 for 2, then, with their two great players in about as much poop as you could ever imagine – cricket-poop, anyway. A World Cup Final. A huge score on the board. Wickets early. Sadly, they (to use Nasser Hussain’s word) “crumble”. Mandhana directs straight to mid-off, where Carey takes a simple catch.

When Harmanpreet Kaur is caught on the boundary, off Jonassen and India fall to 30 for 4, the bowler’s celebration shows you she thinks it’s all over. I think she’s right. Deepti Sharma has shown some form with the bat, as well as ball, and Krishnamurthy may offer something, but with the power play done, four down and relatively little remaining ‘in the shed’, we can only hope that embarrassment can be avoided.

We get to 47 for 4 after 9. Molineux bowling, Mexican Wave a-rolling. Veda Krishnamurthy strikes defiantly downtown, stylishly, but the ball plugs, rather, and the boundary is easily saved. Cut to Shafali Verma, looking inconsolably glum, in the dug-out.

We have a great, full stadium, with the homers loving it and the thousands of Indian fans in manifest pain. Australia are doing a professional job, now – seeing it out. Jonassen takes a good catch at full stretch above her head, to dismiss Krishnamurthy: Kimmince the bowler. 59 for 5. A reminder that mostly the Stars look like pro’ athletes in the field, whereas this is simply not the case with their opposition.

Australia are the best side in the world: I personally feel that England are second-best, largely because they field to a level that bears comparison to the Aussies.

It may be unfair and unwise to extrapolate this argument further but here goes. My hunch has been very much that England might provide tougher opposition in this final, than India. England are better in the field than India; they are more durable, batting-wise too, currently – Knight and Sciver in particular being consistent and resilient where Mandhana and Kaur have looked comparatively flimsy of late. This is not to say that this event is somehow diminished. The finalists are both world powers in the game and the losers are, in goodish time, closing the gap: just not today.

Jonassen is bowling the 16th; steady as she goes. 88 for 5.

Depth Sharma clouts Carey to deep mid-on, where Mooney calmly takes. Australia may run through them now, possibly. Pandey has joined Richa Ghosh, who has 12. Schutt will be back for the next. Crowd confirmed as 86,174: that’s THE MESSAGE, yes?

Mooney takes another excellent catch running backwards: it’s Shikha Pandey, gone for 2. With nothing to lose (as it were) Richa Ghosh swings high but holes out to Carey: 96 for 8 with Schutt now wondering if she can really make her mark, after what feels like a relatively quiet tournament. (In truth she will finish as leading wicket taker – without being at her peak, in my view). Another skier… but it falls just safe.

Hard to keep up, as Mooney takes another catch, off Jonassen, to leave India nine-down. The Aus support-team all on their feet as we enter the final over and the roar builds again. Schutt to close. Poona Yadav obliges, spooning her to leg, where Gardner races in confidently to make the grab. Australia have won it by 85 runs.

Many, many positives. This crowd – the whole visibility of this event, on #InternationalWomensDay. Australia consistently ver-ry good, today; India under-achieving. May reflect more, later: it may take a good walk on the Pembs Coast Path to wipe away the sight of Shafali Verma, under peaked cap, turning away tearfully from the action, during that last over. But hey, she’s sixteen; she’ll be back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gunslingers’ reprieve. Or should they sling the gunners?

So much for the unflattering, post-game, post cliff-walk ramble – above, obvs.

Here, below, is the live blog of the game… which you maybe should be reading first?

Wyatt will face Diana. A little outswing, watchfully played square. Then no ball, meaning Jones gets the benefit of a free hit. She misses and misses out, moving in rather wooden fashion across the ball.

Then drama. Jones advances, plays towards midwicket, misses again and is given leg before. Looked straight but she was advancing. Tense wait. Out!

So the clamour for Beaumont, led, or okaaaay indulged in profoundly by yours truly – check out previous post(s) – will go on. Worse still, for England, a frazzled Wyatt slap-dinks Aiman straight to cover… but cover apparently simply can’t see it! Wyatt survives, for now. Un-be-lieeeeeevable. What we used to call ‘heart-attack material’, in our less socially-aware moments, for the coach and the bench.

This may be current specialism, nay obsession, but let’s try and deal with this swiftly. These are pret-ty embarrassing frailties – England should be two-down yet again, for less than ten. Wyatt and Jones (the gunslingers, yes?) would be dropped or shaken up by many international coaches. *But* these further failures are a) interpretable b) mid-tournament and c) in the squad context where Jones and Wyatt are theoretically England’s most dynamic opening pair. And d) they somehow got to 21 for 1 after 2 overs in this game. So there *are arguments*.

Some might still argue this is simple: *raises hand*. One of them must be dropped or dropped down to take a bit of the heat off Sciver and Knight. (The counter-argument might be that Sciver and Knight appear to be so-o brilliantly nerveless that the ‘appalling indulgence that is Wyatt and Jones’ is, yaknow, indulge-able). My guess is that Keightley sees it simply: ‘Dani and Amy are my best, up front, they stay up front’.

Sciver moves smartly to 15, then 19. 40 for 1 off 4.

Diana Baig bowls full, to draw out that smidge of swing. Her three overs in the power play have been consistently good, deserving, arguably, of rather more than 1 for 17, which is plainly tidy enough.

Then wow. Wyatt is caught yet again behind point. Humiliatingly? I think so. Rate her as a wonderful athlete and good, attacking bat but that – whatever has been said by coaches or colleagues – is unforgivable, in my view. I repeat, speaking as a fan of hers, at this level, that’s shocking. That she will be hurting (and her batting coach hurting) is irrelevant: it’s un-for-givable. To let the right hand flow through too early, so often, is amateurish; endof.

Meanwhile (as I rage) Knight has just sublimely driven Aliya wide of extra-cover for four. Real statement of quality. England 62 for 2 after 8.

At the halfway mark, England will be happy enough with 74 for 2. Shortly after, Sciver, over-balancing, is stumped Sidra, bowled Aliya. But Knight persists and a strongish score looks on. Wilson has joined her captain.

100-up in the 14th, as Wilson telegraphs but then beautifully executes a reverse-sweep for four. Nadir Dar’s thinking she has Knight, two balls later, mind, but a regulation high catch is fumbled at the midwicket boundary. Big Moment. (Pakistan’s fielding in the game was below the retired level).

Wilson has been in decent knick, with the bat and she looks ready to contribute. She’s not a power-hitter but can dance and cut and sweep. At 115 for 3 after 15 and with the partnership developing, England should be looking towards 160, here.

Diana is back for the 16th. Knight sweeps with some power but the fielder should stop the boundary. More intrigue as Diana drops her hands towards a bulleting drive from Knight but can’t, understandably, hold on. Suddenly the England captain is on 49: the 50 arrives with a further sweep to deep square leg.

Bismah is lobbing them up there: discussion on comms is whether she is actually slower than Poonam Yadav! Incredibly, she probably is. With so much time to hit, both Knight and Wilson seem guilty of over-thinking it – there are two near-catches and a possible run-out in the over, along with nine runs. But it’s unhelpfully, distractingly messy.

Aiman also drops a tough return catch – again it’s Knight who benefits. Runs are coming but fewer boundaries than England might like. May not be a disaster that, swinging, Wilson is deceived and bowled by a slower one, from the seamer. Wilson made a perfectly acceptable 22 off 19 but can the incoming Beaumont bring the real blaze? 139 for 4, after 18.

Inevitably, it’s Knight who answers the call to go big, monstering Nida straight for six. And Beaumont reverses for four, before slogging out to a juggling Muneeba, who holds on. (Feel sorry for Beaumont. Outstanding, reliable player being shafted, somewhat, by policy). Next up, the skipper is expertly taken out at long-on, for an excellent 62. She again has lived up to the Proper England Captain label: resolute, stoic-when-necessary, powerfully consistent, incredibly bland, in interview. Huge fan.

Brunt comes in, shuffles pseudo-positively forward, is defeated and stumped. Winfield and Ecclestone scurry briefly; the total amassed is what we might call medium-formidable. 158 for 7. Should probably be enough but in fact the last four overs felt an under-achievement from an English point of view. Certainly, given the smallish ground (or surface area, as it were), there might have been more boundaries, ideally. But hey, this is a pressure game, what matters is the win.

Shrubsole is coming round to Muneeba – the left-hander. Tantalisingly, she finds the outside edge twice in the first three balls. Does’t quite carry to slip on either occasion. Javeria cuts smartly behind point, where Wilson dives to gather. Just one from the over.

Brunt. A little mixed. Muneeba muscles one unconvincingly for four before the bowler strays leg-side. Touch of shape, in the air. No major dramas – 7 for 0 after 2.

Upcoming, mini-masterclass from Shrubsole. Muneeba clonks her for four but the truly outstanding swing bowler nails her next up, with a beauty. Unclear if the wind assisted but the delivery arcs gently in to the batter, when she might have every expectation that Shrubsole’s natural movement is t’other way. Comprehensive, stump-clattering victory for the longterm England star. Enter Bismah.

Pakistan are battling here, mind. A decent smattering of boundaries and some inconsistency from the bowlers keep this in the balance, through the powerplay. Brunt is too straight, or wide and Ecclestone may be troubled by the wind. The Pakistan bench are wrapped in towels – it’s blowing, it’s coolish.

Brunt breaks her duck for the tournament – painfully so, for Bismah. The ball appears to strike both thumb and bat before looping gently up for Jones to gather behind in comfort.

When Glenn responds to being dispatched for four by cleaning out Javeria Khan, the initiative has turned, sharply, in England’s favour. Pakistan are 41 for 3, after 7.

The leg-spinner is soon celebrating again, despite Winfield once more failing to claim a catch. (The fielder is having an exacting time, so far, in the tournament: here she cannot throw herself forward to make the grabbable grab). No matter. Pakistan appear in trouble as Glenn knocks back Iram Javed’s leg stump, with a straightish one.

When Ecclestone has Nida Dar l.b.w in the next, this feels almost done. Pakistan 51 for 5.

Glenn returns, tidily once more. No extravagant turn but nice, confident, consistent flight. The run rate has rocketed up to 11.7, meaning Pakistan have to find something pret-ty extraordinary. Just doesn’t seem possible. The game is ticking over gently. 59 for 5 as Ecclestone sees out an uneventful 12th over.

Glenn gets a third as Omaima Sohail advances but miscues: Ecclestone taking a tricky catch retreating and reaching. A very encouraging win now seems certain, for England.

Fair play to Aliya. She welcomes Sciver back by smashing her downtown, for six. Nine runs from the over, 71 for 6. Now Shrubsole, whom you’d think would be fancying this?

No joy. No swing, so the bowler is now ‘mixing things up’ but to no dramatic effect. Knight brings herself back, concedes six runs in bits and pieces – that’ll do. 84 for 6 with just four overs remaining. 75 needed.

Brunt is struggling…and hating that. Big, slower-ball wide to start. Cut for four, rather dismissively, by Aliya. The one gem Brunt throws down there – a peach of a loopy slower-ball, which absolutely undoes the batter – is nicked infuriatingly behind for runs.

Ecclestone fires one straight through Sidra Nawaz, mind – which may not restore Brunt’s equilibrium (if Brunt ever does equilibrium). 101 for 7. Aliya battles on admirably, at this stage, on 35 from 29 but this feels death-throwsy. Ecclestone finishes on 4 overs, 2 for 12. Outstanding.

Shrubsole will bowl the 19th. Again it’s apparent that it’s tough to keep things tidy in this wind. (Half the smallish crowd are deeply wrapped in blankets by this stage). A straight, slow delivery does for Aliya Riaz, who can be well-satisfied with her contribution of 41. Next up Shrubsole has Diana caught and bowled, raising her 100th T20 wicket. One more to claim? Brunt will look to deny her bowling partner that further privilege.

So it proves, the Angry Yorkie beating the left-handed Sadia Iqbal’s swish, and claiming the tenth wicket, leg before. England have won it by a distance – by 42 runs, Pakistan all out 116, with two balls remaining. The side, led so well again by Heather Knight, despite having issues up front, may be breaking into a more purposeful stride. Bring on the Windies Women: a win and the semis await.