Fundamentals.

Barney Ronay divides opinion, I believe. Some imagine him a flashy ‘one trick pony’, kicking up his metrosexual hooves as he gallops from hipster-caff to Sarf Landun bookshop, brewing arresting one-liners before unleashing them on the Great (and hopefully Grateful) Unwashed: us. (The fact that the fella supports Surrey plainly weighs against him, here).

But no. For speaking entirely frankly (and never having met the geezer), I hold the contrary view. He is brill – genuinely brilliant, entertainingly, insightfully, lasertastically so – and you are either a Dead Soul or a miserable barsted not to see it.

The man is after really capturing things (as opposed to just recording), through that coruscating wit of his. This is bold, this is generous, this is life-enhancing: it is also borne of the truly creative mind – and bollocks to you if you think that means it’s in any way bad, sad or twisted.

He is also, despite the Surrey thing – lols – a genuine cricket man, with both a personal and family interest in the game. So… why the rant? Read his column, which, incidentally is ‘straight’ and therefore won’t offend those who struggle with the sparkly bits; poor loves.

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/sep/20/surrey-cricket-production-line-county-cricket?

If you haven’t quite been arsed to read the column… you’re ver-ry naughty but here’s a precis, of sorts. Surrey are brill because they had integrity and because they train hard and well and some of this is to do with respecting traditional skills: like being able (in the traditional sense) to bat.

Which brings me to my point; which is about coaching.

I have not taken issue with the drift (is that pejorative? Okay, then shift) in ECB Coaching Principles, towards principles, as opposed to what we might call grooving or rehearsing of skills. And yes, I’m talking batting here, mainly.

The emergence, 3 or 4 years ago of Core Principles as helpful, generous, non-prescriptive, appropriate points of discussion or offering from coaches to players, in the ECB Coaching system seemed healthy, to many of us community or club coaches, at the time.

I personally, as a professional coach in the sense of working full-time in cricket – albeit typically with junior players – felt that given the revolutions ongoing in the game, it may no longer be appropriate to direct players. Coach them through their adventure, their learning, their search for that which works consistently for them (if they are reaching or wanting to reach that far)… but don’t insist on particular methods. So – principles around stillness or stability or swinging of the bat, maybe, but not ‘you have to hit the ball like this’.

As I’ve written previously it’s problematic, if not ludicrous, in the age of Pietersen then McCullum then Ingram or Whoever, to speak of universal, inviolable truths. People keep inventing stuff! It was in this context, I think, that the essence of ECB Coaching moved towards Core Principles – allowing for and respecting individual choice or brilliance or engineering of contemporary solutions.

The revolutions have continued, gathered force, even and the eyes of the world are huddled around us. To the extent that batters are received as being more somehow more guilty than ever of, or responsible for, triumphant inventions and/or crass and obvious crimes against batting. Things are different, things are crazy-present, things are polarised. In one format, things are stacked against the bowlers, in another – in September – it seems that no-one can bat for longer than five overs. Things are different.

And yet here’s an article from a very fine cricket writer, who has access to his County Cricket Club, who are Champions – deservedly – and traditional values and traditional disciplines and skills are being identified as key to the success. Ronay quotes Academy Director, Gareth Townsend –

“We’ve gone back to what you might call ‘teaching the fundamentals’, presenting the full face of the bat, playing straight.”

And again, more generally –

‘Going against trends, Surrey have made a conscious move to make defensive technique a priority in the development stages, believing that the other side, the ball-striking aspect of modern cricket, will happen in any case.’

This is music, of course to The Hundred Haters and indeed most County Championship Cricket supporters. The retreat into (or re-invigoration of) That Which We’ve Always Known. The sure knowledge that there is sure knowledge and that it must underpin the execution and the coaching of batting for any length of time.

And time is the thing, yes? With a world mitigating against, it figures that the patience and the grit and the eking out against the odds – against a swinging ball and a skilled practitioner at t’other end – might be qualities challenged by an oppressive, impatient universe. Might point inevitably towards 60-something all outs. But how great would it be if some of us could flick the vees at all this rushing-to-the-end? By coaching the batting-out… of time?

It could be that Surrey, of all people(!) have started something wonderfully unfashionable. They still have ‘haircuts’ but they also have professional pride, guts, and that profoundly unsexy attribute – stickability. They practice for it.

I have no doubt that the ECB Coaching hierarchy continually review their cultures and that they are ahead of any call to look at whether the generosity implied through Core Principles risks a slide towards sloppiness and poor technical skills. Or maybe more pointedly, towards laziness, amongst a younger generation high on The Now?

Batting long will always be an essential component of Championship or Test Cricket. It has a rare quality – impenetrable to some, quietly loved by others. I’m in that latter camp, from where I wonder perhaps, if some of that niche stuff about ‘playing straight’ might yet prove helpful to the flashing blades, in the boomathons? Congratulations to Surrey and to Mr Ronay, for digging in.

 

Final Curtains.

Going to be ‘liveblogging’ this baybee – i.e. updating throughout the day/night. So check in every hour or four?

 

I have no idea whether I will retain or continue to seek accreditation. (The latter is likely… but uncertain). If I do, and we continue to share our cricket psycho-cobblers, please do cuff me violently round my ample lugs, should I ever get complacent about stuff like this; the walk into and round to the front of the Edgbaston Media Centre – and that first look out.

9.30-odd, on a perfect September morn, with the Bungee Bouncee Thing springing joyfully in the background, and the ground quiet but for the daft footie and earnest netting and diligent marking-out, it’s a revelation, a privilege, a seminal, enduring pleasure: so hit me if I drift, friends – hit me.

The skyline is crisp and dry and leafy, actually. To the extent that the trees – proper woody, British, deciduous jobbers – *just may be* wading towards us. (This could be something to do with our elevated position – four storeys up – fetching or distorting the angles. Maybe I need to drop down into the stadium and get down and dirty with the punters and players?) Sold. I will.

10.07. Still deliciously pre- everything. About a thousand in the ground, some already indulging, rather guiltily: long day ahead. Nasser and Wardy and Trescothick (I think) mooching and pre-discussing the necessary telly-themes. Pods of elite athletes looking disconcertingly dweeby and uncoordinated around wilfully unhelpful footballs. Sunshine.

Lancs win the toss and will field against Worcester Rapids. Less bright. Did I mention I’m looking straight down the pitch… and I love that? Well I am. It’s fabulous.

10.47 and the first Sweet Caroline. Bumble down there miming wee snippets as the gathering crowd smile or bawl their way through. Bittafun, early-doors.

Lester opens up for Lancs. To Clarke. Then Moeen. Left arm over, quickish, fullish. Mo benefits from a poor misfield at extra – first 4. Dances down and clatters the next, straighter – 4 more. 9 from the over.

(#FirstWorldProblems; am trying to add an I’m At Edgbaston header pic on the blog: ‘s not having it).

Just me, or something slightly naff about that red, Lancs are sporting? Weirdly thin, washing-powder-ad stylee, for me. Second misfield gifts Mo another 1. Nerves.

Early change as Livingstone brings more pace, from our end. More nerves as he hoists an absolute shocker of a full-toss, which Ali dispatches. Follows that with a classical straight 6, then adds 4… three times! How much would we love it if Moeen went BIG, BIG? (Answer – a lot).

Balance slightly restored as Faulkner bowls Clarke to bring us to 37 for 1, in the 4th. Moeen’s got that soft hands and plenty of time thing going on, though – looking great.

Wow. Coach going apoplectic (I imagine) as a third misfield means four more through the covers. Conditions sensational – must be nerves distracting. 56 for 1 at the conclusion of the power play. Mooen on 38 from 17.

11.28, ground almost full. Shirtsleeves. Wonderful.

Less wonderfully, Moeen slightly chops across a straight drive to mid-off. Caught, on 41, when looking comfortable.

Immediately, Two Big Moments as D’Oliveira is run out and then Fell is stumped. From nowhere, having done very little right, Lancs are back in this as Rapids drop to 71 for 4 – inexplicably.

Parkinson gets one to turn best part of a foot, then bowls Whiteley for 4. Wow. 83 for 5 after 11.

Lovely to see a leggie really turn the erm, albino cherry. (Might copyright that). Still that sense that this has all *just happened*, though – i.e. that Rapids have been subjected to something profoundly mysterious – but credit the Lancs spinners, Khan and Parkinson, who are a genuine threat, here.

Clark, coming in with good energy, gets Mitchell lbw and Lightning are 97 for 6, in the 15th. Relatively deepish trouble, for Worcs?

Cox and Barnard growing into this but the innings has to explode, late on, you feel. 133 for 6 after 18.

Cox fires off with a lusty blow for 6 then a ver-ry cute reverse tickle for 4. Lester under pressure as the seamer is clouted for a further 6 over midwicket. Then again, more monstrously, into the same block but further up. Much jumping, clutching and hollering in the Hollies.

It’s Cox who tows the Rapids to 169 for 6 at the close: he has 55 not out. Can only feel (having seen Moeen cruise so majestically earlier) that this may be a tad light.

Longish chat with one of the Sussex backroom guys. He’s as deeply impressed with Dizzy G as the rest of us. Hugely generous; cool and wise; utterly trusting. The kind of bloke who *actually does* all the stuff other coaches talk about doing. I want Dizzy’s lot to win today.

Wood races in to Davies. Again, evidence that’s there’s something in this for the bowlers –  several inches of cut for the left arm quick. Can’t protect him from two late boundaries, mind: a decent first over yields 8.

In the 3rd, Davies is rather unnecessarily run out, following a misfield then a sharp throw. Lilley joins Livingstone and we are now 22 for 1.

Wood switches ends and is gallivanting towards us. He part paws, part chests-down a brutal drive from Lilley, and the trainer is on. Ultimately, no doubt sore, Wood continues.

The light – always sympathetic – switches back on up to 11. Mooen, from mid-off, doing lots of talking to his bowlers. And shuffling his field. It may be working because so far Lightning are non-thunderous.

The thing about T20 is you don’t write things like that. Because the very next ball gets absolutely smashed. 6. Coulda been 10. 44 for 1 after 5.

Cruel world. Young Brown *really puts it in there* for the Rapids, only for Lilley to unceremoniously (or worse – horribly) swat him past mid-off for 4. Next ball is similarly dispatched and the power play closes at 55 for 1.

Barnard has Livingstone caught at third man. Deserved that, the bowler, having defeated him the previous ball with a sly, slow one. Enter Buttler… and also Moeen, with the ball.

The talisman in blue – fifth bowler in the first 7 overs – traps Lilley in front with a ball that didn’t appear to deviate. Lots of love for Mo at the end of the over, with Lancs at 67 for 3 but now with Jennings and Buttler out there. Crucial period, surely?

I can confirm that Jennings is tall… and upright at the crease – although he gets lower or more dynamic or something as his innings develops.

Weird phase where both batsmen seem obsessed with reversing Moeen, to little effect. 78 for 3 after 10 – just behind the Rapids score – 92 needed. D’Oliveira becomes the 6th bowler for the 11th: again, some turn present. Both batsmen circumspect, so far.

OOf. Buttler scuffs-on, from Mo, for 12. With Jennings looking okaay but rather one-dimensional, the incoming Vilas may have to bring some boom. Game in the balance at 91 for 4, D’Oliveira finding his flow and more spin; enjoyable. We may owe the groundsman a pint for an excellent, supportive pitch.

Jennings accelerates. Two consecutive boundaries, off Mitchell. Still playing within himself but a prudent gear-change, I’d say.

Risky run again proves fatal. Vilas dives but goes and with Clark joining Jennings, Lightning need 10-plus per over. Should be fun, should be close.

Mo finishes with 2 for 16 off his 4 overs: which is outstanding, right? Brown will bowl the 17th. When Clark is run out, Faulkner comes in, with Buttler acting as runner: would he could swing that bat. Lancs will need 30 off the last 2.

Brown for the penultimate. Has Faulkner caught in the deep. 140 for 7 with Lester now in; swishes unconvincingly across the first.

Then the young paceman has his man, with a lovely, slower number, rolled out of the wrist. When Parkinson goes clouting skywards next ball… it feels done. Khan and Jennings must engineer 29 from Parnell’s last over.

Second ball disappears, bringing Jennings to his half-century but the next two stay on the island. It’s the Rapids’ game. Lancashire Lightning finish on 149 for 9. Bring on MAJOR FOOD, please… and the next one!

Wright and Salt will open for Sussex, facing Waller. 10 off the 1st, with Salt snaring 9 of them. The powerful-looking Taylor offers right-arm quick to follow but Salt connects to square leg – 4 more. He then steers rather loosely to mid-off and is gone, replaced by Evans, who steers Taylor neatly wide of that same fielder.

Wright takes on the incoming Overton. More than that, he carves him left and right – successive sixes. Evans is lbw then Rawlins skies one almost nowhere and Sharks are  74 for 3, with Wright on 34 off 20, come the end of the 8th. The sun is peeping then hiding just a little but as September days go… we’ll take it.

Friendly Geezer from Sussex Marketing saying they’ve inevitably received ‘some earache’ re- the controversial ticket-allocation for Finals Day: 500 seems an oddly low number. Explanation given was apparently that there was a fear that if the four clubs were allocated many more, then half the stadium may go after the semi’s. Get that but surely 1,000 or 1500 a better shout?

Meanwhile, Wright goes to 52, hauling Overton to leg. A spiteful beamer follows… which means a free hit… and a further 6 over long-on. 200-plus well and truly on, as the Sharks number 10 and captain struts into that Star-Player-In-Sumptuous-Mode phase. 141 for 3, off 13. Exciting stuff.

*Meanwhile*, chefs appear to be chasing pigs around The Hollies.

Wright may be 85 off 46 but Wiese is suddenly flying and purring, too. Smoothes Gregory into the highest tier over long-on, then drives through off. Irresistible. 220 entirely possible. Incredibly, could see more.

Wiese cushions Anderson for 1 to claim 50, then Wright is caught, booming to long-off, for a superb 92. The bowler has been going hard into the pitch, sometimes short, with two out on the on-side: three, in fact – two for cross-batted clubbing, plus a man at a long-on.

Taylor to Burgess, who wastes a few balls before being caught by an in-rushing deep midwicket with the score at 197. Archer goes for the dreaded GD and Jordan will join Wiese for Gregory, and the final over. Jordan sacrifices himself, meaning Beer will join us – appropriately. 200 up, 2 balls to come.

After an umpire review nails Wiese (run out), Sharks finish at 202 for 8 – great score, but Wright might be forgiven for thinking his lower-order colleagues underachieved by about 15. Whatever, Somerset must launch at this from pretty early on.

I watch the start of the reply from inside the Media Lounge, where you could sprawl – or do a 30 metre dash – should the urge take you.

Jimmy Anderson steals quietly past. Athers, bespectacled and studious with his broadsheet, is between me and the telly, such that he might be fearing my intense leering is for him. (Not so, Michael; I was trying to stay abreast of all things Archer and Millsy, honest). That and eating again, like a horse, like a man who remembers from last year that this is a very long day – I reiterate, a long day of privileges, mainly.

After the cheese and biccies (and 6 overs) Somerset are 45 for 3, with Hildreth on 14 and Abell on 3. (I am bloated and baggy-eyed, already – thanks for your concern).

Wiese takes the Most Embarrassing Catch Ever Ever, to eventually snaffle Hildreth’s looping edge and the Sussex Posse next to me are looking for the sign saying ‘Dreamland’. 53 for 4, Somerset.

Our friends in The Hollies are having fun, and quite right too. But they are also slinging balls onto the outfield every few minutes. Which is not that funny if you’re fielding… and wondering what’s underneath your ankles. Perhaps this is why the fella Abell clatters the ball violently into that particular stand?

85 for 4 at the halfway mark. The aforementioned Abell has just played two consecutive reverse-sweeps with two fielders placed precisely for that shot. Overthunk it, methinks.

Wiese puts down a relatively straight-forward chance when swooping like a gawky erm… gosling. My Sussex friends are telling me he’s not normally the Villager in the Field but it kinda goes on, as the poor fella bowls two very different but consecutive wides. Win or lose, he’ll be the bloke dropping his pint, later.

You feel Abell and Anderson may be a threat, and they set out, in the 13th, to prove that. The 100 comes up – 4 down. Mills is in for the next.

Archer contributes a clanger to the Somerset cause; the ball scooting beneath him to the point boundary.

The Cider-drinkers need  72 off the remaining 6 overs but Abell goes – a tad unfortunate to be run-out by a faint touch from Brigg’s fingers as the ball hurried past the bowler. That could be big.

It *could be* but Gregory, the skipper and one of the players of the tournament is in. Archer returns to greet him. The sky is somehow less deep, less full. It’s greyer.

Series of fine yorkers from Jordan: three optimistic appeals yield nothing but press home the Sharks advantage. Somerset need 20 an over from the last 3.

A slightly controversial no ball (for height) saves Gregory then offers him a free hit, off Archer but there’s no sense that the striking is remotely dynamic enough to make this close. Anderson is caught, for 48, last ball of the over, and Somerset need 50, off 2.

Jordan impressively cleans out Gregory with yet another yorker; Van der Merwe in – thankless, hopeless task.

Mills bowls the last, disturbing Overton’s off-stick third ball. Impressive but not perfect performance from Sussex yields a 35 run win. They will rest up for a bit – won’t we all – and charge in again at 6.45p.m. for a Mo versus Dizzy final. Ex-cellent.

I can now exclusively reveal that Jimmy Anderson likes a bitta sauce: was just pursuing some in the Media Lounge. Weirdly, didn’t recognise me. Congratulated him anyway, on his recent milestone.

In other news, I watched Dizzy chatting away with his guys during the break. Quietish, undemonstrative, mirrored a couple of batting strokes. No passionate urging or chest-pumping; almost as though he really trusts his team to make it happen.

Lights are on, for the final. They need to be. It’s going to be coolish, soonish, too. Luke Wood will bowl to Phil Salt. Drilled to mid-off; dot ball.

Two singles turned off the hip. Then Salt drills a beauty on the deck through extra-cover. 6 for 0. And Parnell.

Greeted by two extraordinary shots – Salt lifting him then slapping him straightish-offish for a pair of sixes. But hold… the daft bugger’s then run out, for not sliding the bat, when looking comfortably home! Great throw came in but that was village and the departing, cursing batsman knows it. A gift for the Rapids. 24 for 1 after the 3rd.

Wood changes ends. Has square leg back and a long on. Has that characteristic, slightly counterintuitive stroll back to his mark, walking wrong-side, as it were, – presumably to keep his approach straight(?) The trend for 1-over spells continues, with Parnell running in away from us.

Evans, then Wright remain undistracted: two sixes the result. 42 for 1 after 5.

Good spell, for Worcester – Barnard taking some pace off. Mo will reduce that velocity further as the dusk descends.

Evans has to respond and does: 6 over midwicket. But after 8, Sussex are at 56 for 1… and surely down by a few? Wright club-drives Brown before swinging him straight – for 4 on both occasions – before underlining the gear-change with a 6. Sharks countering, and Evans and Wright now ‘in’.

Ah. Except that Wright is OUT, having been bowled by Moeen, swinging too wildly, for 33. The lights have upped their game; they sting now, if you stare.

D’Oliveira finds some spin… but then the very middle of Rawlin’s bat – twice, for successive 6s. 93 for 2 after 11; feels more competitive.

Mitchell is in, with some slowish-medium. Have no issue with that. However I’m not sure we can forgive him his two wides, at that pace. (The second a shocker). Wood, following, is looking focused and somehow manfully quick. He sends one past Rawlins’ nose. 110 for 2, with 13 gone.

We then, dear friends, have a Technical Hitch, meaning I have to switch from ancient, inherited Mac, to medium dodgy ipad. Fingers crossed.

Things have progressed. Mo has finished with 3 for not-that-many, Evans is beyond 50 and the we’ve just had our umpteenth Umpire’s Review for a possible no ball around the waist. Sharks are 147 for 5, after 18.

Brown bowls the 19th: finishes with 0 for 15 off his 4 overs: good work. Sussex gonna have to bowl well, too but that’s their strong suit, arguably.

Parnell will slap it in there for the last. Archer carts the final delivery to the midwicket boundary, where the fielder takes an easy catch. 158 required for the win.

As we prepare to go again, take a look at the skyline. There’s barely a city there. Just us… and this stadium: magic. Archer prepares.

The lad looks interestingly disconsolate on his walk back. A decent over offers 5.

Could be dewy out there; two minor fielding errors. Mills bustles in – arms wrapped as per. Half The Hollies is doing a kind of comatose conga… at walking-pace.

Archer’s body-language is similarly low-key. The *actual bowling* is fine – 2 overs for 12 – but he has the look of a slightly moody teenager. 22 for 0 after 3.

Rapids, of course, don’t have to be that rapid. And they know that. Barely a swipe in anger, so far, and they’re still ahead of the run-rate. Moeen can afford to bring out his finest forward defence, to Jordan. He does.

Moeen does pick the slower one, mind, too – and heaves it over midwicket for 4. Follows that up with a slightly inside-out spooning over long-off and a further haul to leg. Advantage to Worcester after 5: 44 for 0 wicket.

Wiese is in to conclude the powerplay: it’s mixed, a poor ball down leg is rightly dismissed.

When Moeen thwacks Briggs high over midwicket, we approach crunchtime early, it seems. But the spinner has Clarke caught behind for 33 and when the incoming Fell drives Beer directly to extra-cover we find ourselves at 62 for 2, in the 8th. Briggs returns for the 9th.

*Things we maybe thought we might not say at The Cricket*: the Human League are going down well. Onwards.

D’Oliveira is stumped, off Briggs, for 10, but Moeen persists. Calmly easing through. I’m guessing 82% of the crowd is still with us.

From nowhere, Ali is gone – caught miscuing to long-off by a more than slightly jubilant Salt. Important, clearly, but Wiese’s fielding clanger a few balls later still hurts. A sort of intermittent, mid-range squeeze is on.

Whiteley breaks out with a powerful cuff to leg, off Beer. 104 for 4, off 14, with 54 needed: re-enter Jordan. Slower ones and yorkers – goodish. With the Big Guns back into this (Mills is next) this could be close. We want that, yes?

42 required, off 4. Sitting comfortably? (The Lads to my left aren’t: Sharks Media Posse). Archer is in.

Beautifully deft reverse from Cox finds the boundary. Then he drives for 4 over mid-off’s leap. Drama cranks up as a HUGE no-ball call goes against Whiteley. 127 for 5, meaning 31 needed off 3.

Jordan has changed ends. Dot ball. Full-toss to leg for 4. Tangle-almost-played-on thing. Scurry-through with no contact. Straight 6! *Possible misjudgement in the field(?)*  Over over… and 141 for 5 on the board.

Ultimately, The Golden Boy bottles it! Archer flings a horrendous beamer past Cox’s left ear and waaay past the keeper! The free hit is likewise dispatched. The follow-up likewise. Cox is pipping… everybody! (Gets coat). Tremendous, nerveless effort to bring his side home – as he did in the semi.

So Moeen – our Moeen – will be collecting the trophy. I can feel the universe smiling. Fabulous finish.

 

Morning after. Was too exhausted last night to properly big up a) Edgbaston and all who sail and steer in that crazy-wonderful boat – thank you for your generous hospitality b) that bloke Cox. Stunning, extended, dramatic, luxurious day of sport you gave us. Bravo!

 

All Stars.

Pleased to see there’s been a reasonable lump of coverage for the All Stars Project over recent weeks; it really is significant, I think. Certainly in terms of bringing the precious ‘new families’ that we’ve heard so much about, into the game. Whatever we may think of, or read into that apparently central plank of the ECB strategy, All Stars has delivered strong numbers, for our sport: in Wales, 3,505 sign-ups over 118 centres.

A twitter-friend of mine and cricket-writer (Rob Johnston) wondered whether the project might indeed be more important than The Hundred? Interesting thought.

Whether you load that thought up with political/philosophical vitriol around the depth or quality of experience and the implications for Everything Else… is up to you. I want to keep this simple – or rather to leave you with a restoratively uncluttered message – that All Stars has been, will be, is really, really good. It’s All Stars I want to talk about, in the end.

You may know that much of the thinking behind All Stars came from a) large, hairy and fearless market research b) Australia. A particular bloke name of Dwyer was drafted in to brutally challenge the status quo and deliver a new vision. (Actually the first bit of that is untrue: he did brutally challenge but that was not necessarily the brief. Interestingly, possibly fascinatingly for those suspicious of the current direction of travel, Dwyer left – I believe before his contract was up).

It’s important, at the outset, in the wider context of so much controversy and opinion, that All Stars is recognised as merely a part of the whole re-invention of the Cricket Offer: part of Cricket Unleashed, part of the warp-factor-ten departure into the unknown. Theoretically and I think in reality, AS does have stand-alone qualities – the specific age-group, the immediacy, the impact of kitted-out kids – but it would surely be unwise to imagine it travelling radically solo. It’s not.

All Stars exists in and because of the context of more opportunities for girls and women. In the context of ‘community’ activity and retention projects for those teens drifting from the game. In the context of City Cricket/The Hundred.

I’m not wading in to the relative value, wisdom or centrality of any of these other things now: most of us have lived off those arguments for the last year. Instead I’m going to try to say why All Stars is pretty ace: in a bullet-point or two.

  • The prequel. Noting that All Stars has been generally supported by 4-6 weeks cricket-based activity in local Primary Schools, aimed at enthusing kids for the game (via the outstanding Chance to Shine curriculum) before offering that link to AS in clubs. Part of the generally impressive #joinedupthinking. But back to the activity proper…
  • It’s ace value. Despite blokes like me fearing that £40 was going to feel too much for most parents down our way, AS is undeniably good value – and parents forked out. The kids get kit worth about £20 and eight typically well-run, skilfully-themed sessions (which tend to be an absolute blast, for kids and coach alike). Those people still weirdly imagining this is an earner for the ECB need to get a grip, to be honest: it’s a massive investment in change and development, not at all – certainly in the short term – an ‘earner’. Costs have been set at a minimum, I imagine: of course there are some families who will regrettably be put off by the £40… but very few… and some clubs will underwrite that, if necessary.
  • The actual sessions are ver-ry cute – in a really good way. This has not been flung together. The target age-group (5-8, boys and girls) is guided through an hour or more (generally more) of movement, games and skills; the time fizzes and charges as much as the children do. It’s infectious and purposeful and liberating in a way that the three letters F.U.N. cannot do justice to: and yet it is precisely that – naive, anarchic, noisy, edgy fun. Brilliantly so, in my experience.
  • The quality of enjoyment thing. I may be repeating myself but what I saw, as an Activator and coach, was ace to the point of affecting – and I am clear most parents felt that too.
  • The family thing – 1. Okay, so if one of the key aspirations for the whole ECB cricket-makeover is to ‘burst the bubble’ in which cricket sits, vis-a-vis who knows, plays and gets the game, then obviously All Stars sits comfortably within that. The target group is children still finding stuff. Plainly, the ECB would be grateful if some of these children – perhaps the majority – emerge from non-cricketing families. That’s happening. Because of skilful marketing, smart imagery, the ‘non-threatening’, non-technical nature of the offer. Headline figures for AS in Wales last year suggested 71% coming from a non-cricketing background… which is not far short of phenomenal. I’m hearing also – also significantly – that around 35% of our Wales 2018 All Stars are girls.
  • The family thing – 2. Activators (i.e. those who led the AS sessions) were trained to encourage parents to take part. In fact a key part of the marketing whole was this idea that families might reclaim a special hour of family time through participating (at a level they were comfortable with). This interaction with non-qualified agents – hah! Mums, dads!! – was rightly to be gently monitored by the Activator, but opened up a new dimension to the proceedings. Our sessions started with family members ‘warming up’ their All Star; often mums or dads or siblings stayed involved, offering practical help and encouragement. This cuts right across the traditional practice of Level 2 Coaches ‘running things’. I am not remotely looking to undermine that practice or the quality thereof when I say that in my experience the active support of family members was not only essential in practical terms but absolutely key to the feel and the enjoyment of our sessions. I soon gathered five or six sub-Activators who were lovely, intelligent, generous, capable people and I hope and expect that they may support the project – and what is now their club! – next year. This ‘loosening-up’ was done by design, in the knowledge that it might/should work at this age-group; it did.
  • The gentle prod thing. Did you know you can pre-register for AS 2019? You can.

 

Finally, something minor-league weird. I am still wearing a rather faded rubber bangle – the kind we were giving out in schools during the Chance to Shine sessions which preceded our signposting of kids over to All Stars Cricket. I am still wearing it… since April, maybe?

This may mean something worrying about absence of a life in my life, but maybe only if we overthink stuff, eh? I’m not wistfully stroking it or anything. It’s just still there. It says ALL STARS CRICKET and ALLSTARSCRICKET.CO.UK.

I think of our sessions at Llanrhian CC and how crazy-but-happy the kids were… and how wonderful the families were… and how blessed we all were, with that sun. So I guess that’s the explanation? If we need one?

 

 

 

The Universe Podcast 3: Ian Herbert, on the ‘Quiet Genius’ of sport.

Hold the front page! The mighty cricketmanwales.com Multinational Media Corporation has diversified. In a good, un-shouty way.

Distinguished sports journo Ian Herbert joins us and we talk sports… journalism…a-and everything. We shuffle through football history from Shankly/Paisley to Fergie to Mourinho, Klopp and Guardiola.

There are nuggets, there is experience, there is a lorryload of humility and integrity – remember that? – and there are points of view. The fella @cricketmanwales sits back and listens because Herbs actually really does know how it is/was at Anfield, Old Trafford, Maine Road/wherever it is that City play at now.

I’ll say nothing more – the man was sparklingly lucid on everything from the hows and whys of writing (and the relative value of sports-journalism) to the impenetrable, infuriating cocoons around people in elite football. Have a listen.

 

 

Okaaaay. Listened back, more than once. Am struck by several things, the first and most significant being how brilliant Herbs was/is.

Yes (he knows) he’s working for a paper many of us regard as the most poisonous rag on the planet but I do still stand by my initial reaction; that he’s a profoundly good man, absolutely committed to grafting, honouring and taking pride in the role of professional journalist. If this makes him sound Old School, then I imagine he’d live with that; however in this case the phrase does not imply any retreat into sentimentality, smugness or that mild brutalism that can come with ‘experience in the trade’. Herbs is more Ronnie Whelan than Sounness, I reckon.

Strikes me Ian Herbert is a thinker and fan and has precious banks of knowledge; some of it about the subject (football, mainly) but much of it about the process, the art of sports-writing – of journalism. Crucially, he also has seemingly limitless, top-end stories.

Those of you who know me through cricketmanwales.com or bowlingatvincent.com will I hope enjoy, as I do, the ironies around me – of all people! – hosting Herbs’s mantra about ‘3 facts per piece’. (I’m the bloke who kinda revels in being described by some respected dramaturg in my distant past as a ‘freewheeling absurdist’ and yup, that’s a fair cop: I get absolutely that the word indulgent may well have been invented with me in mind).

What Ian says about this is brilliant; it’s a key reminder and a warning for anyone who writes anything, arguably. They are actually wise words. Tell us something new – this is where the value is.

I truly heard what Herbs was saying and will genuinely carry it with me but my arguments around this are very different… because I don’t see myself as a journalist. I don’t report on things, I take diabolical liberties with words en route to an honest response to the universe – honest in the sense of being accurate to how I understand it. My writing is a flush of the un-wise, the immediate and the daft-expressionistic – which I know brings us straight back to that indulgence thing. Don’t care: it’s how I see and feel the world so elegant, clipped, economic writing would be a lie.

(All that to offer that mind-blowing contrast suggested in the podcast. Differences and yet still everything shared).

Ian Herbert also rocked it around that whole access-to-the-stars malarkey – how the Prem in particular denies the truth by denying access and discussion. He describes this superbly – go listen again.

Interesting too, how clear he is that journalists do try (inevitably fairly unsuccessfully) to prick the Mourinho/Klopp/Guardiola bubbles. But the clubs are fiefdoms and the journo’s really are herded, gagged and dismissed. (Just me, or did you feel that this almost daily charade might be central to Herbert’s ongoing quandary over which kind of journalism he should be doing? Everywhere else you get a patent love for the game).

Overall, as well as providing a window into Paisley’s socialism and Mourinho’s mania, my guest made me think pret-ty hard about my own ways, views or assumptions; in fact he really has challenged me re that ‘What Is Writing, Really?’ thing. This is healthy.

Our conversation also made me realise that maybe I really am something of an extremist – possibly worse still, an extremist-traditionalist. (I don’t see myself that way but) I’ve drifted from football, love football markedly less because I hate that strikers want to draw a pen or get the centre-back sent off, not smash it the ferkin onion bag. I can’t stand  the deception, the diving, the pretending my face just got absolutely smashed-in when, no… it just didn’t.

Herbs can live with that; or he certainly hasn’t drifted, he certainly isn’t raging angry, because of what he sees as the context – a magnificent Premier League. I, meanwhile, have to think about this.

So where are you, sagacious listeners/readers, on this continuum? Drifted, or in love?

Tell me. It may help.

 

 

 

 

Crazy, I know.

Lunchtime in Wales. The twittersphere tells me Rashid Khan can’t play tonight for Sussex – a plus.

But given the Sharks (I kinda resent calling them that but let’s go with the faux I mean flow, eh?) have maybe the most fangtastic attack in the tournament in any case, the chances for a Middlesex win at Hove prolonging Glammy’s season remain slim, yes? Sussex still have Archer, Jordan and Mills and are therefore odds-on to endstop Eoin Morgan’s campaign with another emphatic disappointment.

Or are they?

T20 does have scope for that turn-on-a-tanneresque, wtf-acious, well I ne-ver in a-all my born days jolt. It’s arguably predicated on thrills and dramatic holy cows; lurid ones, inflatable ones – ones with a microphone or megaphone. Meaning it’s a rush. 

Me, I’m in a flush. Because if you didn’t know it, my lot – our lot – Glamorgan are scrambling. They must win tonight and hope Sussex lose.

Sussex are at home to the worst team in the division. Glam have Surrey at Sophia Gardens. There may even be a weather issue, possibly, in Cardiff, which could scupper that 2 points imperative. It’s feeling cruel and ecstatic and BIG, all this. We love it and it’s almost unbearable.

If you’re like me you start wondering fatally aloud and quite probably pontificating to people in bars, or caffs or kitchens. Trying to un-mist those memories around How, Exactly It Came To This.

We blame shot selection, rank amateurism, villageism, inexperience and the coach. We know we are right even when at our most nailed-on preposterous but our love of An Opinion drives us on. Our hunches become Mona Lisas; unshiftable and mighty and true; stars in the firmament of revelation.

This is the essence of supporting stuff: knowing that our professionals haven’t got a clue.

It’s ingloriously bastardly. It’s hilarious – it drives the coaches, players and opposition mad. The utter cobblers we come out with.

Ah but it’s rejuvenating and self-validating and joyfully daft, too. It’s the essential matrix – and you bloody coaches and CEOs and players better remember this! – without which public sport itself is dead. Fans mithering or bawling or making extraordinarily, brilliantly astute contributions. It’s the game.

Hey before I get into that pre-pre-game period – where it’s too early to get hyper and too late for calm – let me leave you with the wildest daftest contribution my own allegedly-plainly free-wheelingly absurdist cerebellum came up with the other day. During that massacre at Hove.

Staggering-but-true there was a moment in that Sussex v Glam game where the visitors were if not cruising then on that most delicious cusp. Chasing a reasonable lump, Donald and Meschede had gone in and made a magnificent start. Donald (I think) got out, bringing Ingram in. But Glam had been going at something close to 12 an over. And Ingram is almost god.

In my infinite but delusional, inexperienced, unreliable wisdom I was certain that the spectacular South African could play within himself for ten overs and still score at more than the required rate, thus guiding Glam to an uncomplicated but tremendously significant win. Instead, he crashed one to the fielder.

I tweeted something to the effect that Ingram – Glam’s rock and leader and inspiration – had arguably thrown away the campaign; right there. In a flashy, unnecessary moment. (To be fair I was careful not to accuse the man of anything but you get the drift).

I kinda love Colin Ingram but I still (secretly until now) believe he was wrong… and that my own intuit-o-cobblers was right. He’s so good he could have picked and cut and nurdled or watchfully-downwardly boomed his way to the win. He could: I believe that.

And that, my friends, is both a confession of sorts and a statement of my vain, inviolable prerogative – and yours. Over a season where eight zillion more obvious errors or misjudgements patently out-rank this embarrassing hunch of mine, we reach the last, fatal knockings with me wondering on this. Crazy, I know.

 

Come ON Glam!

 

 

#Kingram at ease with his Kingdom.

Dart back from an All Stars Cricket event at Eastern Leisure Centre, supported by Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething. (More on this later). Traffic against us but we manage to get to Sophia Gardens in the nick of.

Glammy to bat, Essex open with left arm spin. Quietish first over, 6 from it.

Change of pace claims a wicket in the next – Meschede slapping Quinn rather carelessly to midwicket. However, this feels relatively non-traumatic… as the man incoming is Ingram.

However, when Donald holes out to the same bowler from one that may have stopped a touch in the pitch (and Glamorgan are 8 for 2 after 2) our nonchalance around this is challenged, somewhat. The crowd, on another delightful evening, shuffle quietly.

Ingram, predictably, lifts things. He races to 25 and, joined by Carlson, does that uniquely T20 dynamic transformation-thing. The South African is unplayable in a way that might really be pretty demoralising (already) for the Essex attack.

He is controlling at least as much as he is exploding.  He goes through 44 off 18 balls, claiming 30 off Quinn in the 6th. At the end of the power play Glamorgan sit at 71 for 2.

Carlson is caught at deep midwicket off a slight miscue, bringing some respite for the visitors; 93 for 3. The youngster had taken 11 out of the partnership’s 75. Cooke is in. Imagine he’ll be looking to lean on his bat, in the main.

We are hearing in the Media Centre that Ingram needs 15 off 6 to beat his own ridicu-record. It feels like a formality: spoiler, he doesn’t.

Cooke, perhaps sensing that he’s a comparative irrelevance, flips Bopara to deep fine leg. There’s an argument that he might have been better simply repeatedly dropping a one to get Kingram back in and maintain the momentum: this argument is strengthened when Bopara nails Selman first ball, l.b.w. and things inevitably have stalled.

113 for 5 and Wagg must face the hat-trick ball. He survives.

Essex have mixed things up and looked decent enough in the field. But Ingram has eased his way to 89, come the end of the 14th. You feel like another irresistible burst is a -coming and then… caught in the deep, off Bopara.

125 for 6, with no meaningful contribution from anyone else in the Glam line-up; this could peter out disappointingly, we fear. Wagg and Salter must produce.

Ingram (and possibly the coaches) might be forgiven for offering icy stares and swear-words all round as the innings does indeed threaten to disappear.

Extraordinarily, after 16 overs, with Salter leaving us, Ingram is the only player to breach the boundary. Killer stat, right there. A nailed-on 200 is drifting to a likely 160 as we reach 138 for 7 off 17.

Bopara, numberless, is back. Smith slashes him wide of mid-off for a much-needed four, then cuts him square for another. Follows that with a contemptuous wallop through cow corner – having picked a very slow slower ball early. Some encouragement as Glam reach 155 for 7 by the end of the 18th. Quinn will bowl the penultimate over, from the River End.

Wagg absolutely clonks him to leg, first ball – middled and massive. He’ll be looking for 20 from the over: he exceeds that by six.

Seems inadequate to talk of ebbs and flows in T20: more like raging floods and desperate micro-calms.

Late on, from nowhere, Wagg and Smith invent the second partnership this innings desperately cried-out for. 198 for 7, we finish, with both Wagg and Smith undefeated – on 53 and 22 respectively. Strangely unbalanced, that; unaccountable, somehow.

Wheater and Chopra are the openers for Essex. They have an early dig, with Hogan responding by bowling full, full, with mixed success. 23 for 0 off 2.

Smith, from the River End, slaps a couple into the deck. Wheater connects with one off a decent length to swish him through midwicket for four, but carts the next to deep square, where he is easily caught. Walter joins Chopra and we sit at 30 for 1 after 3.

Walter is six foot nine, apparently, in old money – the language of the Media Centre. In that same illuminating tongue one of us personifies him eloquently as ‘looking like a bloody monster’. (A confession, at this point: it was me).

Van der Guten replaces Hogan, running away from us but there is no further joy for Glamorgan. Hogan, in fact, has changed ends and now charges in from the tree-lined Taff. He concedes a four through midwicket but then beats Walter with a quick one outside off. Good over – 6 from it.

Van der Gugten is a touch short of luck, barrelling in and spearing for the sticks but only finding a scruffy edge past the vacant leg-slip area. Hogan has a gentle word. Last ball also squirts past the keeper’s left hand, mind. 61 for 1 off 6.

Meschede is on and immediately makes an impact, Walter being snaffled superbly at mid-on. Shadows beginning to bloom under the lights.

Ingram is in for the eighth. No real sign of spin but he bundles through relatively unscathed.

Meschede is running in with some urgency. When he drops a tad short Salter makes a good stop at backward point.  Decent spell for Glam.

Salter is in, from underneath us in the Media Centre. Looks to me that he’s really been looking to extract a wee bit more, of late; he stays flattish, quickish, understandably so, with his off-spin but there are revs on the ball. He may be a tad unfortunate that the pitch here tends to offer little in the way of assistance.

Wagg follows, losing some pace, bowling some gentle comeandhaveagoifyouthinkyou’rehardenough cutters. Smith changes ends, with things feeling ver-ry even: required rate 10 (give or take), score now 112 for 2 off 12.

Chopra has medium-quietly gone to 50 for the visitors, as dusk falls. Wagg, returning,  has his wily head on again- successfully so – until his final delivery clears the the square leg boundary.

Magic Man Ingram again stirs the relative peace, bowling ten Doeschate for 28. We welcome in Bopara, knowing that he’s, as they say, ‘well capable’.

VDG claims what may be the key wicket of Chopra, who skies one, in trying to clear his arms: Cooke pockets it watchfully. Chopra’s 54 came off 41 balls.

The evening has gone from dusky to batty. We are back with Ingram, with Zaidi and Bopara coiled. Runs come but not decisively, you feel.

VDG will bowl the 17th. Bopara steers him rather beautifully over mid-off – six. Glam need a wicket.

Zaidi does everything to offer one, firstly by swinging wildly across something which nearly cleans him out, secondly by lofting to long-on, and the grateful Smith. This will surely be close. Hogan.

Peach of a yorker then six over mid-on. Storms and calms. Much tactical rearrangement. Another good yorker. Then too much width – it’s slashed away through third man. 167 for 5, 32 off 2 needed.

Wagg in again from the river. Around the wicket. a poor full-toss gets clattered over long-on. Six. Forgiven when Harmer finds backward point next delivery. 175 for 6 at the end of a good over. Hogan has 24 to play with.

The endgame. Two boundaries, meaning 16 off 4. Becomes 14 off 3 – Bopara facing. Six! Dot ball! Dot ball to finish, Glamorgan winning by 6 runs.

Hogan has closed it out again. He may not be the biggest threat in the division but the fella is impressively, sometimes imperiously cool at the death; genuinely rate him for that. Another win for Glammy – four in four – and that Finals Day Mad Day Out may yet streak towards us – possibly literally.

 

 

 

The Universe Podcast 2: with Matt Thompson, Talent Programme Manager for Cricket Wales

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In the second of my amiable meanderings through what-might-turn-out-to-be the Definitive List of Movers & Shakers in Welsh Cricket, I chat to Matt Thompson, Talent Programme Manager for Cricket Wales.

Matt is a brilliant 26 year-old cricketer/lecturer/coach, with a ridiculous c.v.

Despite this, I kinda liked him. We talked the new job through – criminally unedited – plus all kinds of coach-feely other stuff.

Have a listen.