Here’s what we should have done…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, maybe: yes, even.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are general points and specific events here, yes?

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

Nasty? What the F…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So. Am I dreaming?

?

Something else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#RHFTrophyFinal. #Edgbaston.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool Catchers… plus!

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

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

#howdowemakethiswork?


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

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

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

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

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

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

Live blog below.

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

But to the cricket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feet Up Time?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m ‘avin’ a luvverly day. Feet up – literally – with TMS on the telly; absolutely minimal chores. A few brews (big mug of Earl Grey, scandalously adulterated with this month’s accessory, ‘Oatly’, plus the regular tipple of boiling water with lemon), all this with absolutely no requirement to re-hydrate… ‘cos manifestly no action. Typically, friends, I do act.

So a lovely but unusual day; or three; so far.

Normally I really do have more in common with Alan Ball (’66) than Alan Brazil (2020) but right now I’m in *Porkerville, Loungeaboutville, even (every now and again) Getwaitedonhand&footville. It’s weird and guilt-inducing; thank god it’s going to be temporary.

(*Sorry. On the inflammatory side of unnecessary. But anyone else actually worried about Big Al’s size/complexion/volume and rather fearful proximity to Serious Health Issues? I like the man – despite not agreeing with many of his worldly opinions – and genuinely worry).

Anyway: done me tendons. Think the Doc at Withybush Hospital said tibularis posterium or near as dammit but we’re basically talking ankle. And, with apologies, because it’s likely to be the most entertaining part of this blogette, I’m afraid I’m going to describe how this entirely banal situation arose.

We have a dog, called Aino (Eye-noo), due to Finnish connections I won’t bore you with. Aino (or possibly Äino, which I kinda prefer, for its snowy exoticism), is much loved. I slept on the floor for days, alongside her, when she first waddled in to our lives as a tiny pup-let; ostensibly to ‘help her settle’ but quite possibly because she was so-o gorgeously cuddletastic I just wanted to be there. She came to work with me, when I was landscaping, pre-Cricket Wales days. Sleeping in the cab, frolicking on the lawns, entrancing most of the customers.

Aino is now ten. She’s well but starting, finally, after a wonderfully romp-full decade, to slow down. And, more pertinently to this story, she’s had a sporadically dodgy back. So, given that and the recent, increasingly rather profound challenge to our olfactory senses emerging unmistakably from the Aino zone, I lifted her into the bath. Then I swished and splashed and shampooed as she wallowed.

Then it happened. There was soapy stuff on the floor. The athlete Walton, getting into what might be the ideal position to lift – knees bent, levers sprung – was sadly unaware of said spillage. From then on, we’re talking something out of Hanna-Barbera. Mid-lift, the left ankle heads for Ireland with the right resolutely anchored in Pembs.

In truth it wasn’t one of those orgasmo-traumatic affairs. (I may have expelled something, but it was neither a howl, nor an expletive). I did note some feeling or other but it was hardly tectonic. After the cartoonised parting of the legs, I even walked behind the pooch, holding the towel over her back, to prevent the cataclysmic shake-out whilst exiting the building. I accompanied her across the road – well, hobbled, but I thought that was mostly about having bare feet – so that she could roll in the grass in the sunshine, before I returned to the sanctuary of the settee. Where I have remained, pretty much, for two (or is it three?) days.

About twenty minutes post The Incident I was wincing a little. An hour later could’t walk… at all and the family were beginning to mention the W word.

Withybush is our hospital. It ain’t perfect but it’s ours, and it’s precious. Like most outposts of the NHS it’s been under threat – more than that, been actively been undermined – for a decade or more, by both Welsh Government policy and by the clowns in Westminster. In view of the particular circumstances, I called reception to ask if there were Covid Protocols in place that I needed to know about, before coming in to A & E.

There were but in short, they worked… and I signed in and, remarkably, given that my last visit (potential hernia check) lasted five hours, saw a doctor within half an hour. Done.

He was great, the whole signing-in through a temporary wind-tunnel thing was great and the diagnosis and the genial re-hab demo’s were impressively, even charmingly comprehensive. “Tendons. Take real care with you’re re-hab: typically people (of my age, implied) can fail to return to sporting activity after this injury, because (implied) they don’t look after their recovery”. Consequently, feet up, icing, settee, etcetera.

So it is from that noble but admittedly well-worn corner of the room that I now attend – deliberately – to not very much. Except cricket, social media and lifting of generous mugs.

*And yet*. It dawns on me that it’s nearly August. And again, mysteriously, that perennial low-burning question of whether or not I might actually play, has been ‘complicated’.

Traditionally, the issue has resolved itself (in the negative) by the combined weight of family responsibilities and volume of coaching. But over the last couple of years I’ve subconsciously or otherwise move a tad closer, theoretically, to playing, by relinquishing Regional Coaching. Last year, I shifted up into Actively Considering Playing Mode, but carried a hernia through the (coaching) season – so no chance. In 2020 I felt similarly disposed to turning out before the tendon-squishing. But hey; are we seeing a pattern, here?

I am. And sadly there is one, obvious, oven-ready conclusion. I’m past it.

Not going to put a figure on it but I’m oldish… but genuinely reasonably fit. I’m no freak – other than in terms of energy – but I still feel I can (for example) field like most thirty-year-olds. Not flawlessly, not exceptionally, but with a goodish level of athleticism and a daft level of commitment. Because I can… and I bloody love it.

I’ve never been much of a bat (although can bluff a bit, if the bowling ain’t too sharp) but have always loved bowling. I still love the feel of a new ball in my hand and still, laughably, embarrassingly, picture myself getting that cherry, first up and being a Real Threat to the Opposition – any opposition – even though this is plainly delusional. (If I do play, I do run in pathetically hard – not that you’d notice – because it feels right and offers a kind of six-times-an-over fitness test, which I love).

I’ve played almost no cricket for decades. After being told by my PE teacher that I should play county cricket, as a teen (because of that bowling), work, football then family life got almost entirely in the way of cricket. So it never really happened, as a player. Friendlies, festivals or pub cricket, sometimes with years in between.

I hugely enjoyed a handful of occasional games for Haverfordwest 4ths a few years back, having coached juniors at the club for several years but was neither available nor good enough to go much higher than that, by then. Didn’t matter that other things took precedence; I was just tremendously grateful to play those few games – genuinely. There are some fabulous cricket people at the club and alongside Llanrhian CC, where I have been privileged to spend a good deal of time over the last few years, either volunteering or with my Cricket Wales hat on, H’west remains a contender for a Possible Return.

But that injury/those injuries: the time necessary to recover fully, now. The risk that a rash decision might even conceivably impact more widely on my quality of life, which is all about romping the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and coaching kids with ridiculous, infectious energy. Would be crazy to rush anything, in a shortened season, eh?

So o-kaaay. No rushing back. Feet up, both metaphorically and in reality. Drink some tea, listen to TMS, get fed and watered a little.

Two things have struck me. Firstly that it really is important to play whilst you can. Secondly, that all that stuff you hear from other people about knowing when to quit is pret-ty unhelpful: because it’s personal, all this, the circumstances are yours alone. What I do may well be linked to whether my son – who is now loving his cricket but working away – plays as an occasional extra at Llanrhian. If he does, I’d be substantially more likely to gear up for a gig as The Bloke They Call When They’re Crazy-Short. But can I control any of that? Nope.

Re-hab, then and patience. Be at ease with this. It may be out of my hands.

I feel spookily calm about the possibilities here, despite all the sentiment swirling around. Being unable to know what will happen isn’t ‘killing me’ – no, not at all. It doesn’t stop me, in fact, from being clear on something critical: that I absolutely do want to make playing possible again. So I’ll get fit to walk, then fit to run, and take it from there.

Being Naughty.

A Tweet. Set me off. On a trail that may be irreverent and ill-judged.

Forgive me. I’m neither trying to offend nor in any sense under-estimating the importance of the #Covid19 protocols. (Friends, I’ve spent most of the last several months imparting the details of those very protocols to the good people of Wales). I get that this stuff is important: I get that it’s life and death, potentially.

And yet

Jofra’s nipping ‘off to the flat’. Indeed that whole, daft-but-also-massively-irresponsible thing. Can that not be a source of comedy, too? It was, on twitter. Is it bad that I laughed at some of that? If you think so, maybe leave me now… and all the best.

In response to a tweet from Barney Ronay, yer man @DavidJMcGaughey said… leading me to say…

All of which is silly-blokey (I get that) but got me thinking about other breakouts, or potential breakouts.

So purely for laughs, a wee list of who/how-they-might… break the shackles of responsibility of such-and-such. Because (however irresponsibly) I am clear that we like a rebel, when it comes down to it. Even if they might cost us a Test Match.

  • Beefy the obvious place to start. There’s no doubt a library full of more or less outrageously beeftastic Breakouts. (I speak as the brother of a cub reporter who was on the scene moments after Sir Ian *had a quiet word* with a young gentleman after an evening’s entertainment in Scunthorpe – this in Botham’s football-playing days. Not that this would be the most dramatic or news-worthy of his extra-curricular activities).
  • But what would be the classic Botham Breakout? And who else/how else might the Collective Bubble of Responsibility be pricked? Who are or were the scallywags – your scallywags?
  • Weirdly, my own first thought was Derek Randall, but this may have been more about my memory of his agreeably mischievous fizzog than any propensity of his for tunnel-digging. But, if pushed, I see ar Derek climbing out the hotel window with remarkable agility, scooting gleefully down a drainpipe or six, before meeting a couple of other reprobates at a rum bar in Kingstown, or supping pints of mild at a regular haunt in downtown Nottingham. He could do that and still field like a god, following morning.
  • Gatting. And maybe Gooch. Both stodgier, arguably more lugubrious sorts and obviously both generally loaded down with more responsibility than Randall. But I see them rather bullishly defying the curfew – perhaps with despairing coach or media man watching on – before they march off in search of Quality Nosh and a large glass of red. Perhaps in Australia… which would up the ‘bollocks to everything and everyone’ factor. Not mentioning South African rebel tours; unforgivable and not funny.
  • Not even sure of they were mates but somehow see Flintoff and Harmison out on the illicit razz, too. Having successfully done the weasling out, post a zillion faux-Parachute Regiment signals down the hotel corridor. Maybe Simon Jones is there, baseball cap reversed, squeezing Harmison’s buttock’s and giggling, as they slide past The Gaffer’s Room? Whichever way, this is mission on for a properly savage piss-up: probably in New Zealand, I’m thinking. (Who cares if that figures? It happened).
  • Oooh Robin Smith. Must have been guilty but probably in the Botham scenario. So likely a serial offender.
  • These are all relatively old guys, partly, of course, because I am. There is an issue, in the modern era, clearly – the volume and omnipresence of Media People both in the England Squad Support Group and in the Press Corps around it. So loads of people to potentially grass you up. I know some of the latter and I can exclusively reveal that some of them would absolutely love it if player X or Y either led or joined in with a breakout. I know I would. (Do I need to reiterate my acknowledgements that of course we’re not talking Covid-like situation, here and this is not remotely in that league of serious? No? Good. Onwards then with a couple more.
  • There surely remain Likely Lads, *even now* – witness Stokes/Hales and everything. (Broadly, I think thank god for that).
  • However booze is still central to relaxation, in a way that maybe doesn’t reflect that well on any of us. Testosterone is similarly plainly a factor un-dimmed by years of training, non-negotiable behaviours, ‘protocols’. Young men, cooped up? Horny and bit restless? No wonder nightclubs loom largish in the imagination.
  • Hmm. So in the current England squads, who are the ones, what are the odds?
  • Should I risk a Breakout Rating, based on almost nothing but headshot, body-language, levels of barking-ness?
  • Yes. Yes I should risk that. Here it is; selected individuals… because, whatever…
  • Joe Root. Has that potential to be a right Mister Clean but end of a tour, hauled out or called-out by feisty comrades? 5-10.
  • Eoin Morgan. As with Root, strong sense of responsibilities. Might go wild in or against Ireland, possibly? 6-10.
  • Jofra Archer. Guilty as charged, regrettably. Beyond that, could be a laff, you suspect, on a team rampage. 10-10.
  • Mooen Ali. Wonderful, charming, rooted bloke. Religious and humble. There have to be doubts about corruptibility quotient. 2-10
  • Jimmy Anderson. Presents often as a miserable bugger. See him staring into a glass, maybe… ver-ry late… possibly melancholically, ‘flying solo?’ Tough call this but going with 7-10 on the basis that he might throw a defiant strop somewhere along the line.
  • Jonny Bairstow. Contender. Temperamental. Red hair. Yorkie. “Don’t tell me I can’t goo sup a pint!” 8-10.
  • Stuart Broad. Coo. Relatively, a sophisticate. But also ‘opinionated’ – and likely to think he’s earned the right to a wee indiscretion. 7-10.
  • Rory Burns. Part of the New Breed? Spent half his life in the classroom with a meedya advisor? Possibly. Frankly have no idea – 5-10.
  • Currans. Sharp, determined-maybe-ruthless, professional. Have haircuts, though – so nightclubs? 7-10
  • Joe Denly. It may be over but… outstandingly solid team man. If someone else leads… 6-10.
  • Ben Foakes. Too good-looking not to want to slurp a cocktail and boooo-geeeee! 6-10.
  • Jack Leach. Sense of humour, recently a student; dark, bald, be-spectacled horse. 7-10.
  • Ollie Pope. Can he even drink yet? 4-10
  • Jason Roy. Full of himself. Might smuggle something IN, then lead a breakout. 9-10.
  • Ben Stokes. Oof. Does seem scarily mature, these days. 2-10?
  • Chris Woakes. Seems great lad. So fun. So draggable outtable? 7-10.
  • Mark Wood. Magnificently certifiable. Possibly been selected to be a one-man Social Committee. Hope he has crates of Newkie Brown secreted under the bed. 9-10.

Jofra was daft and unprofessional. Not at all suggesting his ‘offence’ in this moment equates to the light-hearted frolic above. He will pay a particular price, for a particular indiscretion, understand that. But are there not times when breaking out can be fair enough – can contribute to team mood… and therefore to success? I can’t help hoping so.

#Lockdown Ramble.

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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