Bristol-bound.

Who knows why, exactly, England were intent on Bristol? All the talk was of staying there – to the point where those of us born north of Filton (or Watford) feared a further outbreak of naff regionalism. What’s wrong with Derby, people?

Whatever the mindset, or the prejudice, or the preference for south-west softiedom, in the final group game Heather Knight’s Mainly Blue Army secured their stay in the artsy, freewheeling, café-rich capital of Almost Cornwall via another emphatic win.

Emphatic in the end.

The game v W Indies had gotten rather stuck, firstly when England’s batting spluttered and stalled, secondly when the opposition – kinda weirdly – forgot the object is to get runs, even when under pressure. England coasted in, towards the semi’s, towards more Bristol, as West Indian eyes glazed over in quiet submission.

Hang on, now. This under-appreciates both the fact of England topping the table come the end of the group stage and the level of their superiority (particularly in the field?) against Taylor, Dottin and co. However there may be concerns about how England batted against spin: if the West Indies had generated any kind of momentum with the bat, the spells when Fletcher’s legspin traumatised the English might have been pivotal. Ultimately, they were not.

The end-of-group-stage report, then, is stamped with a B+. Robinson’s developing posse are ahead of expectation but with a little work to do: that’s what things point to.

But let’s extrapolate around this presumption/expectation thing. One of the great things about tournaments – about sport – is surely the fabulous rich nonsense about form? About ‘the place you’re in’ as a team or player. About predictivity and quality surplanting or expressing their superiority over the now.

England, even an England who may believe in Process, not Pressure, will of course will be preparing towards A* in order to win this thing. Take care of, indeed treasure, respect, groom and perfect the process and the results tend to take care of themselves. This is the contemporary mantra, right?

Okaaay, get that but what if the knockout matches get scratchy or messy or weather-affected or fall into that mildly nauseous listlessness ‘cos somebody just can’t make it happen? Impossible (arguably) to entirely prepare for wobbly underachievement or nerve-jangled looseners flung two feet down leg. By humans.

C+ really might do it; in today’s semi against the South Africa they smashed for 370-odd against earlier; in the final beyond. Maybe?

That previous meeting – a boomathon where both sides carted the ball to the boundary with what you would imagine was confidence-building glee – will register, naturally. Player X will remember Player Y’s slower ball, or the way they shift early in the crease. Stuff will be learnt. But how great that sport won’t let it be the same, today: that the learning might be unlearned or mean nothing?

I take my seat behind the bowler’s arm at the Ashley Down Road End and reflect that in almost every sense England are ‘ahead on points’… but so what?

Bristol is fine. The outfield is lush green, with the odd pock-mark. It’s 70-odd degrees, at 10a.m. You’d say it’s a batting day and sure enough, South Africa, having won the toss, opt that way. Likely they think the track should be decent and relatively benign but may offer their spinners something in the second dig.

Brunt to open up for England. Fine leg & deep third man. Poor start – first ball raw & down leg – despatched. A wide, later. Nine off the over and not much encouragement.

Shrubsole. Touch of inswing? Retrieves things with a great over.

Brunt settles. Fuller. Beats the bat. 13 for 0 off 3.

Shrubsole continues in exemplary fashion.  Deservedly gets her woman in the fourth but… successful review from SA. No matter; she bowls Lee in the fifth. I punch the following into my notes.

Make no mistake. Shrubsole is quality. Superb, controlled spell.

Nothing, meanwhile, has happened for Brunt. Been okay but she’s frustrated. End of her fourth over she hacks at the crease with her boot.

33 for 1 off 9. 41 for 1 at 10 (first powerplay). England would surely settle for that? Few boundaries, South Africa closer to timid than watchful.

Enter Sciver. Competent. Enter Marsh. Flighty offspin – nice. Then drops one tad short. Punished.

Chetty is sharply stumped by Taylor off Sciver. We’re at 48 for 2 in the 12th, with Eng quietly dominant; young Wolvaardt cool and enviably composed but simply too passive.

We let out our first, synchronised Munchian cry as the opener tries to break out by clumping Hartley but instead offers an obvious c&b which the bowler simply isn’t sharp enough to take. Clanger.

South Africa get to 100 for 2 in the 26th.

Knight steps forward and immediately makes things happen – good and bad. Wolvaardt plays round one that barely deviates (125 for 3 in the 32nd) then the skipper drops the incoming bat next ball… but Kapp is run out in any case in the same over. Deep breath and it’s 126 for 4.

A word about the fielding. Over the whole piece it was consistently goodish but again there were poorish drops and occasionally sluggish movement – maybe particularly when a full-on dive was called for.

Into the second powerplay and it feels faaar too quiet from a South African point of view. Brunt is now bowling to her level, mixing it up. 158 for 4 at 40 feels under-par and the lack of will to accelerate feels unwise. First six of the innings comes in the 41st. (I believe, incidentally, that England struck none. Go check?)

Gunn gets a regulation c&b in the 42nd. At 170 for 6, with the runrate close to 4, on this pitch, in real heat, the consensus around me is that this is inadequate. Du Preez makes 50 but off 86 balls: it seemed too slow.

The reply. Winfield steers a four through the covers first over. Ismail second & fourth overs; fluent, athletic, to be respected. England watchful, knowing steady should see them through.

Kapp finds a decent rhythmn at t’other end. Finds the edge too but a sharp chance is dropped by the keeper. Just me, or is Winfield looking a tad wooden? 19 for 0 off 4.

Then things get a bit loose from the visitors: wides bowled down leg from Kapp, no-balls – meaning free-hits – from Ismail. Winfield takes her opportunities and suddenly England are at six-plus an over, significantly ahead.

Against the flow of it – although not entirely out of character for her innings – Winfield slashes rather lazily to gift South Africa a way back in. Caught, skied. Enter Taylor, who announces herself with a beautifully steered cover drive. 52 for 1 after 10.

Beaumont has been mixed; she is bowled Khaka on a slightly scratchy 15.

First spin in the 16th – Van Niekirk. With Taylor and Knight beginning to settle the legspinner may need to have some impact. She is controlled, in the main but no obvious threat. The experienced English pair move untroubled to 87 for 4 after 20.

Out of the blue, Knight offers an ultra-sharp chance to the keeper, off Khaka. Again not taken. Second leggie Luus is now on from the Pavillion End. Little bit of slow turn but England are (reasonably enough) playing circumspect cricket – meaning the rate of scoring has slowed a little. 100 up for 2 in the 24th.

The drift persists. The crowd become aware of the dangers implicit in England sitting on this. Ultimately the batters seem to recognise the same and look to lift the tempo, before the impressive Taylor is rather frustratingly run out on 54.

What had seemed prudent begins to seem indecisive – foolish even. Khaka’s figures (announced to some applause) of 10 overs 2 for 28 do seem more a result of lack of dynamism from England than brilliant bowling, in truth.

After 30, England are a mere 2 runs ahead. Low-grade tension broils.

Now Luus bowls an awful over but Knight inexplicably carts a full toss straight to square leg. Eng are proferring a game where it seemed there should or would be none.

Inevitably, Sciver is bowled and suddenly Eng are 146 for 5, with Brunt and Wilson new to the crease. Meaning Pressure.

A fluxxy, flashy, inconclusive period finds us at 170 for 5 off 41, with 5.5 needed per over. This is a game – a proper tense competitive one, now. A knockout.

South Africa have gone with 7-2 or 6-3 fields over these key overs. It’s worked because England have neither been brave enough to dance and pick a spot legside nor skilled enough to hit through the offside masses. When Brunt is bowled for a disappointingly subdued 12, England look in trouble. Is there a grandstand finish, or nervy calamity in the offing? And what did I say about fabulous nonsense?

Van Niekirk rings the changes every over – boldly and clearly with some success. But a possibly disoriented Kapp (a zillion changes of end) bowls two consecutive wides as Eng profit during the 45th. We’re into the excruciating, brilliant, cruel, seemingly too-directionless-to-result-in-anything end-game.

6 needed. Gunn and Wilson look to be bringing Engalnd home but then Wilson gets unnecesarily cute -scoops behind.

Last over. Can’t talk or write. Marsh bowled! 2 needed. Lols like you wouldn’t believe… and in comes Shrubsole.

A connection. 4. A game that almost got stuck violently coughs out the final drama. World Cup Final, for England.  Wonderful, messy, exhausting sport. Congratulations. C+.

 

Postscript; because I have time, unusually; because I’m a dumb bloke writing about women.

C+ sounding a bit mean? Got there because at that extraordinary end, my second thought was how Robinson might view things. (First thought was WHOOOOPPPEEE!!, by the way). I reckon he’d be ecstatic, relieved and furious.

Ecstatic and relieved to be in the final – to have achieved and possibly over-achieved(?) But also furious at some errors and I’m guessing particularly at the drift when his side batted. Robinson will know that Taylor’s excellence was nearly frittered away because his side lacked dynamism… when surely this is the one thing he has looked for?

England are morphing swiftly and encouragingly towards the athletic, skilled excellence underpinned by positivity that their coach and the world-game demands of them. In Bristol they won a gut-churningly outstanding victory without convincing us that they’re where they wanna be yet. That’s fine. The revolution – the chase – goes on.

 

 

How did I get here?

So. We’re with David Byrne, right? Scrambling for sense in a trippily colorific world. In the sunshine – or is that floodlight? – in the city – but look at all those trees! Squeezed between giddyingly gaudy, pyroclastic sport-of-the-now and the river. Wondering…

How did I get here?

No idea if Robert Croft likes Talking Heads (some would say he certainly is one) but the Glamorgan gaffer has needed to say something. His side have been alarmingly exposed too much already in the county season in a way he simply will not accept: three consecutive defeats culminating in the extraordinary but surely dispiriting pasting at Cheltenham.

My sense is that Croft is tough, however and crucially that although he must be feeling personally slighted by the suspicion recent matches have featured capitulations, he does believe in his team. Not as champions or even leading contenders but as guys building.

I’m not party to real policy – who is, amongst us scribblers? – but I am aware of a deep commitment to developing talent, with some emphasis on Welsh players. At Glam this of course flows down from the very top, Hugh Morris being emphatically behind the  notion that it’s right, as well as financially necessary, to seek after local gems; all this implies Project Patience.

Of course Big Name Signings have to be factored in and Glammy have, in the recent past gone (I’m guessing!) as big as they dare to secure the likes of Steyn and Shaun Tait to lift attendances and results. De Lange is maybe this year’s arguably slightly lower profile star but the standout signature for the tilt at glory is a re-signature, this year – that of Colin Ingram.

Which brings us to the white ball… and to the river.

Ingram is a precious talent – one that must surely have been tapped-up by pals from Pietermaritzburg, agents from Vauxhall. He is a whirlwind, a destroyer, a smiter of mighty blows. He may well, by the way, be magnificent at four, possibly five day cricket; but Ingram was made for 20 overs.

I met his father briefly at a T20 in Cardiff last year and he told me ‘he’s just loving his cricket’. Arguably flimsy evidence for me to remain hopeful that Ingram still is content at (lowly?) Glamorgan, that he knows this is his moment and that he can channel the white-heat, the adrenalin, the spectacular focus and again go beautifully monstrous.

Many will hope that Donald and Cooke pitch in with the bat and that Hogan and De Lange can be wily or sharp enough to stem the flow from t’other end, as it were. Whichever way it’s hard to escape the feeling that the season has been building (and the team shaped) towards this T20Blast competition.

There are clearly pressures around the notion that Glamorgan kinda have to be a white ball county; given current status, balance, quality – given the real world. Croft and co have looked set (and more controversially, maybe like they’re settling?) for #T20Blast for months. They fit the c.v. – they feel competitive in a way they don’t at the longer formats – and maybe I’m including 50 over cricket in that category. (*Sign of the Times* alert).

How hugely the great capitalist shadow falls across this squad/format/direction equation is another great unknowable: tonight, pre-match, I don’t care. What matters in this glassy, summery, spring-coiled moment is the degree to which Glamorgan can grab.

The game; Hampshire to bat. Coolish summer eve – pret-ty close to ideal for sport.

A look at the teamsheets suggests Hants have the weightier characters, perhaps (Abbot, Bailey, Vince, Carberry, Afridi?!?) but who knows? I can however report with some certainty that for me that everyday nervous thing is coloured up or sharpened just a tad by the feeling that Glammy must really go to work – that this is their season.

Vince had other ideas. He twitches and sprints off the mark; Hants are 40 for nothing, sharpish. But Hogan has that hand nice and high, and TVG is bowling with some venom. Salter seems purposeful. If a team can be said to share body language…

Wickets fall. Hampshire are 72 for 4 in the tenth; things poised.

Salter and TVG make for an encouragingly testing combo. The blonde bombshell accelerating in hard and zapping the deck, the Pembrokeshire twirler bustling through, changing it. Notable that Van der Gugten bowls almost entirely back of a length (or shorter) at Bailey and MacManus and that the batsmen pass on the invitation to hook big almost completely. Plans, eh?

88 for 4 off thirteen. It’s hardly explosive stuff – for all his worldly experience Bailey feels a disappointment. Hants are going at seven an over without dominating. Sixes are a rarity, control in some dispute.

Suddenly MacManus smashes two off two (sixes that is) as we  close out the 16th on 116 for 4. Gear change? Ye-es but not emphatically so: MacManus will eventually battle through to 50 and beyond without absolutely bossing the scene. (Tonight, nobody does, in fact).

Early in the seventeeth MacManus dismisses De Lange back over his head for a booming maximum. (OK, pedants, not maximum just six). The visitors are plainly heading for a goodish total but this hasn’t felt especially one-sided: given recent history might Glam settle for that? Hopefully not.

Croft’s side’s time in the field felt efficient enough rather brilliant: they were unlucky – seven or eight times miscues or aerials just fell short of the onrushing fielder. Finally MacManus holed out to a diving cover in the last over (167 for 5). A serious challenge, then.

Lloyd and Donald to open for Glammy but the former’s cutting and tickling the first ball… behind, disappointingly. Topley the bowler. In comes Ingram, already a high percentage of hopes resting on him and the young man opposite.

Sharp intake of breath as Ingram is caught, outstandingly, flaying wide, at extra cover by Berg and Glamorgan are 3 for 2 after the first over. The thought registers rather darkly that the incoming Rudolph may have to find something unexpectedly maaarvellous, here.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the dynamic Donald that takes it to the enemy. Again he appears bright and almost fearless – raising that bat intimidatingly high and baseball-like as Topley charges in. He flukes a poor four before middling a couple to leg but the intent – that waggling, pre-hook backlift – is clear and positive.

Rudolph is from another generation but can he glide through this and shepherd the innings? Be the statesman to Donald’s stag? With Glammy at 24 for 2 off four, it seems that natural Rudolph will anchor and/or thread singles whilst Donald biffs the thing around.

With Donald so obviously set up to slap everything through midwicket, I wonder if Hants might bowl full at off-stick and get him playing across. Saw no sign of that approach. He’s done, in the end by spin, in any case. When Donald is swiftly followed by Carlson – for nought – the crowd re-calibrate their optimism. Glam are 47 for 4 after 8.

When Rudolph chips the energetic Afridi to short mid-off, the Glam faithful – and those critical newcomers, on a boozy or family night out – begin to fear capitulation, which would feel disastrous for the season, never mind the night. At 54 for 5 off 10, things look bleak.

Wagg finally connects with Afridi, smashing a straight six but the runrate is above ten per over at the halfway: too much. Unless…

Glamorgan reach the hundred five wickets down at the end of the 13th. Extraordinarily, the generally dynamic Cooke has been relatively soporific – certainly compared to his partner Wagg – who sits on 43, at this point.

Afridi is bowling incredibly quick ‘legspin’. Perhaps it’s this that unsettles Cooke, who spoons to off and is caught, rather tamely. Enter Salter.

Ultimately Wagg makes a brave 50 before driving to mid-off. Salter and De Lange have no option but to blast and hope, in the last four, with 54 needed(!) However they have mixed success and Topley deceives the South African paceman with a slower ball.

TVG bolts the first ball of the 19th from Topley past midwicket for 6, keeping the game alive – as in alive-but-surely-dead? The England paceman responds with two stunning yorkers and Glam need 27 to win it from Berg’s final over.

TVG is caught at deep mid-on off the first ball. Glamorgan finish 22 short, Salter swishing his blade violently in disappointment.

The suspicion remains that Glamorgan must find some collective inspiration and look to bursts of unanswerable brilliance from Ingram, Donald (possibly) with the bat and from Van der Gugten, De Lange or Hogan with the ball.

This can happen. Croft’s job is to stimulate and support those aspirations – to help build beyond expectation.

Rain.

We’ve all been there – we may even be there now? Drumming fingers on unresponsive window, treatment table, desk or notepad. Head-on-hand on minibus backrest, or worse, in that torturous elbow/palm/ear-war against the coach window, wrist cruelly cocked; half-sleeping, beyond the jokes, beyond uncomfortable. Dying to hear. Waiting.

Waiting in the service station, or services. Buying time eating self-harming superfluous crap, waiting for that call, that definitive bloo-dee call, on or off. Thinking for the zillionth time ‘it ca-a-n’t bee thatt difficult’; angry because beyond reason; unthinkingly mad in the grey of not knowing.

Hang on, chaps. On balance, one of the more mundane breeding grounds for stultifying pain, debilitating grief and visceral malcontentment, though, yes? Agreed?

Nope. Nothing worse – never has been. Not in the wars or the famines or the queue for the khazi at Glasto. This is The Absolute Killer. Mizzle. Damping. The actuality of or malevolent possibility for puddles in the outfield or the murderously unknowable threat, degree, volume, percentage or timing of proper rain.

‘Yeh but we’ve all played in stuff like this. We’ve all splashed a bit on our run-ups. Umpire, waddya think? I’ve gone – don’t ask me, I absconded some time ago but waddya think, really? Your call entirely.’

Just let me look at you whilst you mooch round the bowling crease one more time; gauge the level of your Health and Safety obsessivity, quietly, as though in some way disinterested, when of course, this is not possible. (We both know, in some murder mystery weekend kindofaway that the moment is haunted, is probably ill and that my ‘handing over’ is merely the most cynical of reminders that by god, I am watching).

We’ve had things rained off this week. Plus I’ve just been listening to Alison Mitchell and friends (on TMS) skilfully deferring the fact of their own infinitely more significant rained-offness. And as I write, there may be a cat in the front window but it is not, I assure you, basking. The postman, handing over a damp jiffy-bag and saying ‘Girls did well yesterday’ cheerily – Girls being England Women, who smashed Pakistan all over – the postman is wet.

Our things were Primary School Festivals. I could have wept, spat, gone through any of the rituals of losing it due to rain. I’m still battling a way forward, both really – in terms of finding a practical solution – and yaknow, spiritually. This may mean the writing qualifies as therapy.

What’s fascinating (once we wipe away the skein of trauma) is how we don’t seem growed-up enough to get philosophical about this, given its obviousness, its relative prevalence, its humdrum unavoidability. It’s just rain. I’m in West Wales. (Al’s in Derby.) It’s gonna happen.

So there must be something deepish here to do with furious disappointnent and furious weediness – futility in the face of that great inscrutable-but-then-again pret-ty predictable protagonist-in-chief The Weather.

Mad that we can’t see the charm in that weather’s wondrous meanderings. (Sometimes we can but not when there’s a CRICKET FESTIVAL!!) Laughable that we can’t laff. (But ditto.) Ridicusomething that the energy burns away so fiercely when such an ocean of theoretical calm offers itself up… so soothingly, so pitter-patteringly. Come, my friend, you have time – relax!

Me, I ‘m a lover of spontaniety, colour, of stumbling through and turning over gems. I tend to foam, to respond, to stick my mitts in the soil-of-it. I hate planning, need free amorphous headspace.

You too? So why the gnashing and gnarling and seeking after black or white on this particular thing? When the essence of the universe is anarchically-beautifully stacked against – and generally I’m fine with that?

It is a cricket thing – obviously not uniquely but still, yes. The drama around rain.

Is it a learning, is it helpful or comforting that our waiting is cruelly rich? That something so crushing is yet so alive?

What’s the forecast? (Met Office/Accuweather?) How well does this drain? How far are they travelling? Are they amenable or stroppy, or what? Is the umpire a misery or… how is (s)he? Is this wind blowing that a) towards b) away c) away quick enough? Is that real sun over there or? What did Reg say? Reg knows this ground better than anyone.

Amateurs to professionals, kids to seniors stirring for relevance but rendered pathetic. Absurdly impatient or angry, in the main. Really, how many of us deal well with a rain delay, postponement or the pitch inspection that prolongs itself because we just can’t be sure?

If you’re thinking we may be moving towards some spurious guide to What We Might Do Better here, forget it. If anything, I’m moving towards the Just Experience (or maybe Luxuriate in) the Experience camp on this; on everything.

Note the quality of rain, sun, wind, moment – infuriation. The next one will be different. Do that then if you can, re-schedule.

 

 

Another statement.

Let me *work through* my angst, first. I should be sat in the Press Box at Edgbaston, today.  I should be.  But because a) I have a useless laptop b) the accreditation process is understandably medium-convoluted c) something, somewhere went wrong… I ain’t. Despite what I took to be a confirmation.

So breeeeeeaaaaathe. So relaaaaaaax. Then on.

England Aus. We think it’s an ultimate – a confluence of mighty, daft-glorious challenges unrivalled throughout the universe. We know (don’t we?) that we kid ourselves. But surely there’s something wonderful about this, as The Game takes on an exotic uberlife transcending the tradition for rationality, decency, maturity.   Perfectly reasonable, in this context, to dress as a banana, or a Mexican, or a Fish Finger, n’est-ce-pas?

We’re freed-up, even those of us who think we might yet reclaim the word ‘civilised’ into acceptable conversation, into believing we’re big enough (in the Eng Aus moment) to bark rather than park the prejudices around colonies, around deportations and stuff, and judge and enjoy, without yaknow clutter – without really offending.

Everything becomes cobblers; everything becomes inoffensive ; everything’s relative.

I find myself happy to risk alienating my sagacious Aussie oppos, rolling around in the chocolate mudbath that is the bantzfest around Poms v Shackledraggers. I’m happy to unload The Very Worst of Me on David Warner as he strides bullishly out – or sheepishly back – from the wicket. I don’t pray but I pray Starc has a mare – has a Mitchell Johnson-onna-really-bad-day kindofa spell, because that’s only right, given he’s a threat, yes? And I can do all this because it’s broadly understood.

In all seriousness, this may be sport’s finest achievement; the generous appreciation that shockingly prejudicial bawling against some bloke you *in that actual moment* hate for his squat Aussie machismo is okaaay because… this is sport. And his lot will do the same to us. And mostly this self-polices itself. (You guys put the necessary qualifications in here – I’m on a roll!)

Tuffers and Aggers on the radio get into this. Or at least they comment on the specialness of the contest, the atmosphere. Earthy, noisy, boozy Edgbaston feels the right place to have well-meant philosobantz: during a game the Aussies must win, with feelings running high over the Oz-hating English weather.

Opening over from Wood is a massacre, which like the first of the game from Ball draws no runs. Finch and Warner are wafting or worse(?) slashing at mid-air. Then bat makes scratchy contact and the Aussies find themselves at a very fortunate eleven for nought after three.

To their credit – probably, it’s beyond risky – the visitors respond by going on the attack. They go from looking flummoxed to looking a threat.

In fact a few overs further in they are flying – a real turnaround from those very early moments, when Wood in particular was close to unplayable. Suddenly the level of aggression from the Australian batsmen is extraordinary: they smash it.

Readers overs about forty may still be trying to come to terms with the notion that it’s okay thinking, from opening batters, to go all out when (actually) they’re getting mullered by the bowlers. Whether the thinking centres on limitless faith in those who follow them or a kind of cultural psychosis ingrained by a worryingly needy and/or alpha-masculine coach, who can say? But the gamble paid off, handsomely, as Finch and Smith picked off increasingly mixed bowling from Stokes and Plunkett, transforming the energy and direction of the game.

Warner was first to depart – caught behind off Wood, for 21. Never mind.

Finch followed him on 68, when there seemed more danger of Australia entering the Running Away With It and Thumbing Their Noses phase. Despite that loss, with Smith now in and cruising towards fifty – and Henriques sparkling, albeit fitfully – the gallant SD’s were surely ahead on points around twenty overs.

But then Rashid bowls a maiden: there are twitches. The England leggie is looking composed – comfortable.

Henriques has come in at 136 for 2, announcing himself with a classic square drive followed immediately by stunning pull (both for 4). He looks good but then misreads Rashid and is nonchalantly caught, low down by Plunkett. Momentum change?

No, not quite. Smith is going well and the run-rate is decent plus: England though, work at this.

Swann on Test Match Special is notably complimentary about Rashid, who looks the part and critically appears to have almost completely eliminated the shocker that any of us might despatch. *Clears throat*. Around this Rashid Axis, Plunkett fights back, Wood lurks and the team – it feels like a team effort – strikes.

England – muscular, fit-looking, on it looking England – find something. Smith lobs a daft one, then Maxwell, Wade and Starc fall almost together. Crucial wickets, crucial times.

Australia find themselves at 245 for 7 when it  might have been 300 for 2, with overs remaining. At the fifty, Morgan’s impressively determined posse keep Aus down to 277 for 9 when 340 had looked very gettable.

A brief mention for one signature moment – and yup, it could be that this is a sympathy vote thing. Roy took the kind of two-phase boundary catch previous international cricketers simply would not have contemplated. Magnificently, triumphantly. But a glorious farewell, perhaps? Who cares? In the moment even the non-bananas went bananas.

Let’s pause on this though; we need to talk about Jason, right?

If you haven’t heard he went for 4, lbw to Starc.

My hunch is a) he should probably be rested (and will probably return) b) you really could put Bairstow in there – to open. (Aggers on TMS made the reasonable point that  in the semi England’s openers will not face express pace, meaning Bairstow might be marginally less exposed should he be given that nerve-shredding job. I might add that Bairstow’s nerve and his eye seem in pret-ty good order.)

Faith in players is all very well but this is a competitive business where quite rightly there is pressure on places constantly. ‘Keeping faith’ is great but may set a dangerous precedent… and there is a tournament here to be won. I admit it’s a hunch but I’d get Bairstow in there.

Re-start post the rain and Morgan booms first two balls to the boundary. *That making a statement thing*. But the skipper is flirting with danger – witness a near-chance or two shortly after. He’s slogging and it feels closer to the reckless than the realistic end of the batting spectrum.

Whilst it works – even whilst it works – it’s bum-squeakingly dynamic entertainment: I get that this is the modern way and wait for Prince’s ‘Sign of the Times’ to boom out from the speakers.

51 for 3. Hales and Root gone. Morgan being heavily examined by the Aus quicks in rotation. Shortish. Both sweet, violent runs and rather troubling misses.

The crowd are loving it – by that I think I mean Morgan’s ballsiness. The skipper is flailing with some passion, black-eyed and beyond determined to dominate. Crucially, he’s making it work.

Well before England actually get unassailably topside, there’s a hilarious and only mildly vindictive chorus of ‘He’s going home, he’s going home, he’s going, Finch is going home!’ Great fun and fascinating to those of us who still view Warner as Offender-in-Chief against the Motherland. Theories, folks?

It’s not long before all of us – in or out of the Hollies Stand – recognise a counter-attacking classic, from Morgan & Stokes. The latter plainly world class now, the former a brave, hugely skilled slapper & manouevrer of the ball.  The hitting is largely pure, the intent raw intimidating.

To do this against a truly frightening bowling attack is really something. Aus, as Eng get to 128 for 3, look if not despondent then already unable to respond. Edgbaston, sensing England are undeniable, launches party mode.

177 for 3 and Oz, despite reverting to pace from that allegedly feared express attack, are looking impotent, almost humiliated as both Stokes and Morgan reach for their most outrageously compelling best… and maybe beyond.

The power of the hitting is frightening and visibly demoralising for those on the receiving end. The crowd of course lap it up, targetting Finch with more of those *pretty good-natured* verbals. They see the mighty Aussies have no answer. Not Cummins, not Starc, not Hazlewood. Skipper Morgan and the Million Dollar Man render them an irrelevance as they steam towards a 159-run partnership. The brummies, bless ’em, are in Absolute Dreamland.

Maxwell weirdly-comically avoiding a reasonably regulation catch only adds to the reverie – as does Cummins when palming a thunderbolt from Buttler onto the boundary rope. Guffaw, cruelly copiously, Hollies Stand? Just a little.

Against the inviolable grain, the onslaught stalls briefly with Morgan comprehensively run out for 87 from 81 balls.

Clearly the quality and timing of the partnership puts Morgan and Stokes beyond criticism… but they looked set to bring England home. Imagine how important that might have been, oh fellow students of cod psychology? To crush the Aussies, in front of a full house, whilst KNOCKING THEM OUT?!?

Crazy-churlish to allege an opportunity missed, yet I imagine I’m not the only one carrying that thought as the captain departs?

195 for 4 off 32 becomes 240 for 4. Because Stokes remains imperious and the lad Buttler has come in… and he can bat.

Fabulously, the terminal rain comes immediately as Stokes smashes a boundary, to gather his ton. That’s only right. Despite carrying a knock (remember?) the man’s played like a god for 102 undefeated. Difficult to know where to start with the positives – this really was emphatic.

Some minor faffing about, a little confusion and it’s all over, confirmed: end of innings, end of match. A blessing for the Aussies, poor loves.

 

Slaven to the rhythm(n?)

Not sure how comfortable with the idea I am, but have been slightly comparing (if that’s a thing?) my medium-local cricket team with Premier League ‘equivalents’. Something to do with straining to get or put a handle on the role or leadership style of Robert Croft. Because Glamorgan – in fact based exactly 100 miles away – is my team.

The redaction back to footiestuff – as though that’s the Natural Yardstick – concerns me a tad but put that down to historical-familial linkage. Much as the righteous heart of me turns away from the diving, the feigning, the insufferable and delusional arrogance of too many contemporary football legends, I am in it (football) for life. Without pardon.

Cricket, meanwhile, insinuated a way in subtly and built over time. I played cricket as a wee lad, loving bowling from the first moment: however post comprehensive school (for reasons I won’t bore you with now) I flitted in and out of the game, returning fleshed-out and mature to coach, work for Cricket Wales and then really get back into it in my (ahem) middle years.

I now follow Glamorgan, from my hundred mile distance, ever more keenly. The daft-beautiful tribal nonsense-thing has properly kicked in.

This feels great, if challenging. Given the voluptuous up-and-down-ness of the current Glammy trajectory, I’m Kinda Concerned, of nr Tyddewi. And I’m wondering if it’s the ubiquity of fickleness itself – or what? – that draws me towards dubious analogies with more spiteful sports… and (ya know) Slaven Bilic.

Glamorgan under Croft just sounds right – and probably is. Former player, of great distinction and unquestioned commitment. Committed welshman – plus! Croft takes his archetype shooting, fishing and singing: slings his arm round it, man-hugs it, banters with it, in the dressingroom, sportsbar, tv studio. I reckon he broods with it, whilst softly crooning Canon Lan, wader-deep in the Tawe.

This is not (I promise you) to patronise the man. Bob Croft is loved and respected by many for his flawless, brilliant, imperfect, unstill, sanguine-genuine welshness but he is Head Coach at Glamorgan because of cricket; knowledge and nous.

Croft, I have felt, has the potential to be truly inspirational – a quality many coaches simply lack. It’s not in their biology, never mind their c.v. – however impressive, however legitimising. The Glammy coach’s strengths and weaknesses will increasingly inevitably be looked at as time goes on but few will question his ability to stir the blood of his players. Which is where (probably?) Bilic comes in.

Croft and Bilic share the p-word – the one that salespeople or businesspeople who should be stood against the wall and shot increasingly claim. (Shoot them for their impudence, their lifeless, dullards’ cheek, their hard-horny-shell-like unawareness; for they know nothing of… Passion!)

The geetar-playing Croat has it. The bloke from Swansea, too. Real, human, kosher, bonafide passion – the sort that implies a degree of poetry, of creativity, as well as that thing where you’d fancy sharing a boozy night out. Bilic and Croft are bigger than their sports – and this is why we are hopeful.

Today Bilic meets/met the West Ham board, in what the papers are characterising as a) crucial talks and/or b) routine, post-season discussions. Could be that like Croft he is both loved and under some pressure. Pressure because a) it comes with the territory and b) neither fella has sufficiently gathered his troops. The Happy Hammers have barely chortled, Glammy are steepling between Ingram’s brilliance and raw uncompetitiveness. Let me say now I hope both come through it (whatever it is) and go on to glory.

But what glory? What’s possible, in the nearish future? For West Ham maybe a cup, for Glamorgan likewise? What would turning it round look like?

Notwithstanding the brave retreat currently being fought by Ingram and partner in the four-dayer against Notts, in which at this very moment Chris Cooke is currently – perhaps symbolically – being treated for a blow to the head, Glamorgan have lately too often been battered. They appear off the pace in the longer format and were frankly wildly inconsistent in the LV One Day tournament, failing to progress.

Rudolph, the captain and theoretically the international-class statesman amongst a reasonably youngish group, is also under the spotlight. More than Noble (or whoever is West Ham’s skipper) might be. The role of the cricket captain is broader and  arguably more intellectually-demanding than the fooball equivalent but shares, clearly some fundamentals. You have to play well and you have to lead.

For Rudolph, this means more than anything that he has to get runs, against the fiercest, freshest bowling the opposition can muster… and he has to keep on doing that.

At every level in cricket the performance of the opening bats is crucial – even when (as say, in junior junior games) the result just doesn’t matter. Batters three, four and five settle, their whole experience of the game is transformed positively if the openers just see it out for a while, then get comfortable.

Glamorgan have rarely been in this position. Rudolph has (from memory) one much-needed ton to his name this season but his position will, as they say, be being looked at. He cannot lead, truly, without scoring pret-ty heavily.

Croft will have a big call to make on this – assuming agreements are not already in place. He must also seriously address what feels like a team-wide tendency to either gift-wrap wickets, or concede them somewhere on that spectrum between the mad reckless and the careless. Glamorgan batters have to stay and bat. More.

Of course Croft is aware of this – and no doubt working hard, pushing his players hard. Would be fascinating to know just how much Croft is prepared to blur the lines/protect his players/genuinely accept ‘positive cricket’ and/or ‘expressing yourself’ as an explanation for near-humiliation. I imagine he gets angry but also wants that positivity, not just from his precious jewel-of-the-moment (Ingram) but from likely lads Donald, Lloyd and co.

Glamorgan’s gaffer – and the man above, the impressively assured and committed Mr H Morris – are plainly and rightfully trying to find a way through meaningful encouragement of welsh talent AND via less popular (though necessary) judicious recruitment, with presumably smaller resources than most ‘bigger’ counties. They are also clearly targetting white-ball success. You would hope that Croft’s powerful bond with the county might suit a high energy, adrenalin-rich culture:  this year’s T20 Blast is feeling important, already.

Players talk of rhythym(n)s – of feeling good. Movement feeling natural, the game flowing or feeling easy or even energising, despite the tensions. I’m not neutral here but if I was, I’d still be hoping Croft (and Bilic) can charm, bully, or conduct their men towards that magical, tuneful, expressive flow.

 

This time it’s personal. It always is.

I’m finding it difficult to bear the news about Ugo Ehiogu. Not because I knew him, or supported Villa or Boro’, or have avidly followed his life and career inside or outside of football. Something has connected, though. I am genuinely saddened and undone in a way you’re going to have to give me time to describe, at a moment when words are inadequate.

Ugo was, to me, a really good player cut cruelly, cruelly short. I know nothing of him as a person but I promise you I totally get the weight of this. The depth of the grief, the merciless bleakness – the shock. Unbelievable as it may sound, I understand. For me and mine, this is about hearts.

It’s about hearts and possibly artsy indulgences – for which I should probably apologise in advance. However I want to make a contribution here, despite the likely inappropriateness, the embarrassment, the intimidatingly personal whorl I’m about to unleash; so I’m going on.

My dad was a sportsman and (actually, I came to realise) a great human. He died of a cardiac arrest, on a badminton court, playing with his mates, on a Sunday night, aged forty-four.

It was February. It was dark, it remains a blur.

I was sixteen or seventeen. Some word had come back that something had happened and my mother was whisked off. I remember one of my three brothers quietly saying to me, as I innocently got on with the most banal of things, that ‘ this really might be significant’. I had no conception of what he meant.

My mother returned, looking both shocked and calm. Her sister – who had ‘lost’ her husband (a doctor, at 38!) to heart disease about a year before – was physically supporting her. My mum said ‘I’m sorry to tell you, kids, that he’s gone – your father’s died. And there’s never been and never will be another one like him’.

My Auntie Marie couldn’t stop herself crying ‘yes… there has been – there has been’ before we wept, together.

I carry this loss every moment of every day. I have in some sense counted the days and years ever since with a shared, maybe schizophrenic focus;

1. to pour good energy in

2. to absolutely deny the possibility – deny, deny! – that I could leave my own wife and kids in the same situation.

I notched something when I went past forty-four a dozen years ago. I notched something too, later, when I had time in the back of ambulances, then hospitals, having mysteriously ‘gone’; when we had immense banter as some bloke put a ‘tinna sardines’ (an ‘at rest’ pacemaker) into my chest. I did this/do this utterly fearlessly, because I am recognising but denying – positively – still.

My next unspoken goal is to get both my kids past their teens and into Proper Adulthood (nearly there). Then there’ll be another marker-point, another effectively sub-conscious notch, done with that same unshakeable calm. Because I am not letting anything happen to me – because I do believe that I can, by act of will, persist into daft-glorious (in my case) Oldish Age.

But what’s this got to do with anything?

Our own family tragedies changed our lives. Sounds glib? Powerfully, devastatingly, inspiringly true. We learned about accepting sadness as part of the richness. I became powerfully angry and committed and I hope inviolably generous. I became (by all means chortle) An Artist Who Responds. I lost all that crap about being ashamed to say stuff deep or loving in public. My essence became truer and more determined, better… as a way of fighting back, perhaps?

I say all this because I think maybe the universe – maybe a particular family? – needs this kind of energy, today. Hearty stuff, stuff that’s de-baggaged, de-peer-group-pressured: fearless. I also want to say something about health – what health means.

The implication here is plainly that I do believe we can make some meaningful contribution to our own state of wellness by being positive and open. Let me both re-tick that box and contradict it by saying something about lifestyle and diet.

As a mob we’re a disgrace to our wonderful planet. We’re wasters, we’re soulless, medium-heartless irriots with an insultingly low capacity to think or act well. This applies particularly pointedly to issues around health.

Where to start with the examples? Parents with young kids get masses of pretty good information about healthy eating and exercise from Primary Schools yet virtually no families eat truly well. Kids grow up on coke and fanta and Mcdonalds; they eat pre-prepared meals. Hardly anybody cooks fresh on a daily basis. No matter your budget or your background, this is unacceptable. Our hearts – our systems – are paying for this.

So I suppose this is a warning.

Let me tell you another cruel story – one I hope certain members of my own family don’t read. I have a strong, childhood memory of being slightly in awe and certainly slightly jealous of the tray on our cousins’ kitchen table. On it were always three or four bottles of what we used to call ‘pop’.

We never had pop. But they had red or excitingly lime-green or yellowish pop. Always. On their table. This was the family whose father died at thirty-eight – the doctor.

I’m going to compound my judgemental rashness here by adding in that two of the children from this family – of which there were four – are now morbidly obese, with acute diabetes. Last time I saw one of them he told me fairly cheerily he didn’t expect to see sixty.

These are brilliantly clever people. They would have to concede that they’ve been relatively advantaged. I sometimes wonder if they haven’t got my Indestructibility Thing arse about face ; that they’ve got some death-wish going on – some self-hatred, some Punishment Thing as a result of their own heart story.

Now I know I need to say something about that use of ‘morbidly obese’. I accept it sounds horrendously judgemental – possibly unacceptable. But I cannot help but feel that those that are dangerously big have to accept some level of responsibility for their predicament. (And it is a predicament.) The warnings are out there – the tragedies, too.

I suspect more families exercise well than eat well – just not well enough, often enough or with enough enjoyment. Thus, as a race, we are unfit. (Again… pejorative word! But GREAT WORD!!) We have to work on this. As a society. By pressuring government and by making good choices.

One of the things I know my old man would be pleased about is that the bottom line with the thing I do – working for Cricket Wales – is it gets people moving about the place. He’d like that.

Keith Winston Walton was

a) (briefly) British Army 400 metres/yards champ

b) skipper of Macclesfield Town

c) (I think) bold enough to turn down Manchester City as a schoolboy, because he wanted to play full-back for Sale RFC

d) generally (weirdly?) a fit bloke

e) alongside my grandpa (ex-MU)) my hero.

Make that IS my hero. He was no intellectual, he was no artist but he poured out the finest, most positive energy into the universe that you could imagine. I grieve him still, because we lost him, crazy young.

So… I know it makes sense – it’s essential – to do the Good Healthy Thing. And – whatever the reasons for their own, terrible loss – I feel, for the family of Ugo Ehiogu, I really do.

Changed my life.

I may have dreamt it – certainly as of now, I have no proof. So really I should go check, somehow. Except Tenby isn’t heavily stacked with Wisden Emporia(?) so that checking process isn’t that straightforward.

I’ve heard from medium-authoritative sources that I have a nod in this year’s Almanack; a mention.

In fact this under-characterises the moment. One of the writers/editors/compilers of that noble tome has twittered to the above effect.

Even allowing for Soshull Meedya’s capacity for fake news this surely registers as CONFIRMATION OF SOMETHING. Bugger it, I’m going to take it that way, REGISTERING MY EXCITEMENT in the only way I know how – by writing something about how this mad, deep, luscious, illusory moment feels. Sincerely – as though on drugs – as per.

But hold. Post what my yoga teacher (and wife) would sagely describe as a ‘conscious breath’ and notwithstanding the outbreak of a particularly cruel breed of dream, I feel a soundbite coming on: my life is transformed.

*That mention* is as we speak (or wash, or drive, or stare strangely obsessively into the mirror) legitimising everything, vindicating everything, making right everything, including the following;

  • all my qualities
  • all my qualifications
  • all my opinions
  • the general unattractiveness of… that face.

At a stroke all the things I ever said or will say in front of cricket people of whatever sort have a certain weight. In brief, I’m gold-plated.

So here (maybe after the conscious breath fogs the innocent glass, then passes?) are the repercussions; the unplanned, unchained, unthinkable thoughts. My ideas.

  • Enjoy.
  • Ignore.
  • Puff yer chest out, fella.
  • Shut up, you utter donkey.
  • Be really, really grateful. Fly to Australia and say thankyou to Melinda Farrell. Drive to The Midlands (I think) and give George Dobell an alarmingly familiar hug. Tweet something to @barneyronay @chrisps01 @TheMiddleStump and everybody else who’s been gracious enough to support my baby – cricketmanwales.com
  • Note to the universe that I’ve never met any of these people (and may never) so/but a) it feels good that they are palpably lovely humans and b) they’ve said nice things, which may or not be relevant to this moment.
  • Wonder who’s actually read what?
  • Kerriist!! Wonder (for a nanosecond) how embarrassing, really, some of the posts are, then swerve course to dare to contemplate whether someone might not just say

Hey @cricketmanwales not only is that bloody good but would you go to Sri Lanka/West Indies/Lords to write about it FOR US… and we’ll pay you something?

  • Wonder exactly who it is I should be offering coffees/hand relief to in order to further my prospects… and then promptly bin that notion.
  • Breathe again and know – really know – that ce sera sera and anyway my indy-looniness mitigates against most ‘opportunities’… and probably always will… and this is fine. Absolutely.
  • Sing the following into the mirror – defiantly, in the happiest of furies –

but if you can stand the test

you know your worst is better than their best!

(Human League. And me, fairly often.)

  • Wonder if this really will help with ECB Media Accreditation. Resolve to take a passport pic and get that bloody form in.
  • Return to the slight fear that I am God of the Unwise, as well as (obviously) God of the Unwise Word.
  • Then feel good. Because though of course I’ve courted retweets and bombarded the timelines of a few folks with me-ness, I know I’ve put my own voice out there. And this feels important.

Now. IS there a quality bookshop in Tenby?