When I watched Moeen cart the Windies for 61 off 14 deliveries in Bristol and Gayle smash Ball in Southampton, the sense that something wonderfully unavoidable had happened was unavoidable. Admittedly we were in silly season – Ingerland in the autumn, with the visitors surely neck-deep in thermals – but did this account, in any way, for the co-bubbling of fate and freakishness? I think not.
In both cases I was privileged to be right behind the unlucky bowlers’ arms – behind the lustrous glass of the Media Centre – having mildly subverted the seating plan so as to maximise the seeing-and-explaining quotient: hopefully. Lil’ ole brilliant me, easing my way into that totemic roost to savour, discern, dismantle and demystify the event better than everybody, because I have The View That Makes This Possible.
Don’t hold your breath, people.
I’m not exactly sure where the respective coaches were, during these timeless, chartless, thrillingly renegade moments. I’m guessing either raising a discreet hipflask or patting cold, co-old water against their ashen cheeks, depending on their batting/receiving status. Or lost, fumbling for some cosmic but transferable truth. Something in the moment lurched or levered us towards dumb, ecstatic diversions – but from where, or to where?
Slap! Time bent! Kaboom! Things redefined. Now fetch that ball please?
I’m wondering about fields of influence, here: also – what were the coaches thinking? And were these developments actually developments – from what did they actually spring?
But back to the coaches. Were they exploding in rage at the mind-boggling, plan-defying incompetence of their miserable, ungrateful pie-chuckers… or (miraculously) doing some eye-rolling, centre-testing ce sera? Were they even watching – could they watch it all through live – or did they slink off, sighing, accepting or determined, towards their branded lap-tops?
Actually, they may have made notes – I’m sure they did – on every ball punished; this being the difference between the level they work at and most of us.
Sure, later, foolish to rule out a secretive flick through the ECB/WICB manuals in search of half-remembered buttresses around Player Ownership: paragraph six, Problem Solving – down to them. Or meetings where nothing was said.
Dealing with the runaway moment is a profoundly philosophical challenge: the coach might recall and indeed be comfitted by this widely accepted notion – that players must execute, must own, must accept that ‘coaching is not about answering’. It’s players who do the playing.
Bayliss or Farbrace or Radford or Simmons or Springer or Law, Estwick or Einstein. Excuse the pun but no matter – no matter whom: each and every one useless, hopeless, atomised – as were we all – irrelevant, in the warp of the event. Moeen decided what would happen. As did Gayle.
The England man was in a rich vein of form, which helps. He is a beautiful striker of the ball but in interview after the Bristol game, claimed not to see himself as a bringer of undeniable, match-winning carnage.
Grounded, humble, Moeen is good on the self-awareness front; he knows he tends to be a threat of the groovicious variety; that he makes strokes more often than he explodes.
Initially, he was doing the day job, alongside Chris Woakes, England having revisited their tendency for gifting clutches of wickets: Moeen with that responsible head on, with an agreeably stoic partner, quietly rescuing.
Looking back, the fact that the word ‘circumspect’ was used in the press to describe how Ali’s subsequently historically outrageous innings began, seems appropriately ludicrous. Thirty-nine in thirty-nine balls, as rebuild mode was dutifully engaged, following the about-par-for-England loss of three wickets for eleven runs.
At Southampton a few days later I again found my way into the perfect spot, by now slightly curious as to why other, senior scribes seem so ambivalent towards magisterial stump-to-stump-hood; when it seems a denial of the most fundamental privilege to be seated anywhere else.
(I pictured either a ruthless policing of the accommodation or some Media Cool that I am as yet unaware of. Turns out that most journos simply watch reasonably well… but then turn to the TV screens left and right to check for turn, appeals, seam, etc. Hope I never lose the naïve compulsion to froth from on high, straight, straight in line).
Windies batted first at the Ageas; meaning some bloke called Gayle. Meaning also a fabulous test for the likes of Ball and Curran – the latter making his debut. However, it was the taller-bouncier former who opened up, almost certainly in the knowledge that I was immediately above and behind, monitoring like a twitchy but medium-scholarly hawk.
Ball I hope won’t mind me saying that he is relatively inexperienced, at this level. In a curvaceous, duplicitous, space-bent universe the allegation that he had played, before this game, just the fifteen One-Day Internationals might pass for a fact. At the moment the inevitably altitudinous young man first raced in towards Gayle, I have to confess I was unaware of this number: I’m not that big on numbers.
I watched Ball intently and continued to do so, throughout his spells. Partly because this was an obvious test of how he is in the environment, partly because I was a bowler (at a distressingly lower level) and partly because the whole Ball equation here was loaded to the max with Gayleness.
Dear reader, it may not surprise you to learn that I am no scientist: and yet I do wonder. Especially when prompted (by my son) towards the deep, dark, black-holed mysteries personified and neatly packaged into the seminal ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’ – this being a sort of fine convenience store of a place where staggeringly heavy stuff can be swept trolley-wards in (ahem) relatively good time.
(Did you guess? I’ve been doing precisely this kind of shopping around now).
Consequently it occurs to me that there are correlations both broad and specific between the General Theory of Relativity and what Gayle and Moeen did. Let me deal with a specific one first.
Einstein proved time at height travels marginally more swiftly than time at sea-level. Ball is twelve foot seven. No wonder then, that his contribution in Southampton was shredded by Forces Beyond His Control.
I will return to this (probably) after sharing the following general observation, from the rear cover of Carlo Rovelli’s extraordinary book, as though it translates across, uniting in glorious revelation our Moeen/Ball/Gayle/Einstein Axes.
‘By God, it’s beguiling!’ – Michael Brooks, New Statesman.
The Ageas, first over. Ball to Gayle. Crowd keyed, batsman waiting. Nottinghamshire’s finest bounds in, puppyish but also committed. Repeatedly, the ball skits or pads pretty much exactly where the bowler would want. There is an incremental incidence void. Gayle defends, defends, before being comprehensively beaten by an absolute pearler – the fifth – which gets unplayably lively from that killer length. Then more justified caution – and a maiden.
Those of you who follow these things will of course know that Gayle, despite the reputation for vulcanism, is quite prepared (well-prepared, in fact) to wait. Tempting but reprehensible then, to assume that his nation as a whole or Gayle in particular may be preparation-averse, or in some way less sharp than England or Australia when it comes to planning. Just read around.
The West Indies have been ahead of the game. The carving folks about has been less ‘instinctive’ than you think. Gayle and Hope and Lewis are as stat-aware and marginal gains/run-rate savvy as anyone. As noted elsewhere, white-ball cricket has become their currency.
So maybe no dramas, for Gayle to simply hold, when the first over from Ball is commendably lively and accurate. The record will show that the Universe Boss can and will wait.
At The Ageas, the opening four overs from Ball and Curran yielded but nine runs to Hope and Gayle. The combination of goodish bowling and circumspection from the batsmen should on reflection have been neither the surprise nor minor disappointment it was received as. The crowd’s readiness for intensity was merely stalled.
Back at Bristol, Moeen’s gone beyond big. He’s gone beyond any previously-known ‘zone’. With the crowd utterly participant – and yet irrelevant, like the bowler, the moon and the stars – he follows some flow, ‘keeps his shape’, re-invents or slashes through to something new and deeper. Cummins and Holder merely feed the narrative.
Earlier, Cummins had bowled Root with a peach and seemed to be finding something. Yet Moeen dismissed him and his captain as though the Windies process was mindless. As though they weren’t scrambling through a repertoire of deeply considered defensive options – Death Bowling Brought Forward.
But what were or are the options? When there is very little help from that dull, white ball?
Laser-guided Yorkers, straight or wide. Variations. Taking some pace off, trying for some cut. Sudden venom; bluff. Percentages – knowing where Moeen is likely to hit – so field placement; then bowling to that field. Looking in-cred-ibly hard at the foot movement, reading the pre-meditation. In the age of T20 (and the laptop) international teams are covering and knowing this stuff like never before.
Anyone who has seen and heard Holder in interview will know his side are unlikely to be short of an intelligent voice. Yes, flusteration might have taken hold but there is time, between deliveries, for re-commitment to plans or discussion and re-focus.
Moeen smashed all of this consideration into the middle of next week. True, Root and Stokes may have been instrumental, in their partnership of 132, towards his stunning acceleration: had they not provided the platform, blah di blah. But the fella from Brum created his own event.
Things went pear-shaped for Ball but it was different. Or was it?
The universe knew that the longer its boss was forced to wait, the surer it was that boom-time would come. Somewhere something triggers and Gayle, miscuing, clubs one over midwicket before battering one straight for six. I note both that one delivery is clearly but marginally over-pitched and that there is an ‘utter energy change, irrespective’.
Curran is less heavily targeted. Ball retains the responsibility from beneath me but is heaved over extra, first delivery in the next, then top-edged for four. The plainly unfit Windies talisman has burst through to 40 (out of 52) by the end of the seventh over, dismissing the ball at will to the boundary.
Curran eventually has Gayle caught, superbly but in the finger-ends, by Plunkett.
Ball’s initial five over spell defies characterisation; he opened up brightly and with discipline and he may not have strayed far from that. The lines between him straying into the batsman’s natural arc and not were lost in the mercifully temporary evisceration. It felt, during the barrage, that the batsman (for it was a one-man assault) had simply chosen a moment from which to launch – as opposed to an individual, or individual delivery, to persecute.
Gayle’s was an all-out, conceptual explosion in the sense that every ball would receive the same brutal treatment with barely an ‘unless’ in sight.
This is not to entirely exonerate Ball. Though I liked his continued commitment and apparently unwavering spirit, he offered just a few here and there – and was punished, crazy-disproportionately at times, because.
With specialist knowledge and specialist coaching and the scope these days to practice almost endlessly the death (or power-play) skills, a worldie of a thrash might be expected, predicted and prepared for. Particularly, of course, when Christopher Henry Gayle is amongst the chief protagonists. Cricket provides for almost every indulgence.
Brathwaite knew a lot about what Stokes would do in that ecstatic car-crash in Kolkata – and vice-versa. Cummins and Holder are pret-ty familiar with Moeen and Ball with Gayle. Much has been anticipated and rehearsed. How fabulous that despite the wonders and luxuries of cricket science it can be true and real and undeniable, when bat is swung, that all considerations become an irrelevance.
Ball: 10 overs, 1 maiden, 1 for 94.
Gayle: 40 off 29.
Moeen Ali: 102 off 57.