First up… plus.

Trains don’t always ease inviolably, powerfully, unarguably through the countryside. This one does. Temple Meads to Newquay – though I’ll only enjoy that first, woody, sunkissed, quietly triumphant forty minutes -before the cricket.

The lustrous green and baking haylage turns to… Taunton. Shockingly, my first Taunton. For a much-anticipated festival to which I am kinda proud and excited to #showup for. EngvSAvNZ, in what promises to be spectacular conditions. Grab a coffee and let’s get into this.

Somerset do support – there is a culture for that here, for simply getting cricket. When I arrive, 11.20-ish, the word is that a complete sell-out is possible. How fabulous would that be? I quickly establish that the lovely Raf Nicholson is, indeed, a Raff, as opposed to a Rav, as she might be in Wales. I’m settled, almost behind the bowler’s arm.

Enjoy, as always, the warm-ups. Especially the potential frisson frenzy as England bats undergo a medium-stressed net *immediately next to* the charging South African pace bowlers. Then the daft but visibly enjoyable footie keepy-uppies. Then some really challenging boundary catches: England showing good hands, good agility and real commitment.

Ntozakhe opens. Shocker of an early dismissal for Wyatt. Truly awful mis-club of a tame, wide ball. She’ll be rightly furious. Taylor is in for the last ball of the first over.

Enter Kapp, off a reduced run, bowling medium-quick. Taylor is gifted a legside boundary then follows that up with another, confidently despatched. England have started now.

Or maybe not. Two chances follow in quick succession; Beaumont drilling one hard at mid-off’s feet, then dancing down and missing. She gets away with both. After 4, Taylor having majestically drilled then cut Kapp for further, successive fours, England are a decent 29 for 1.

Beaumont follows that with a classic, lofted straight drive which long-on can’t get to. The see-sawing of fortunes and confidences continues, though, as Beaumont miscues Ntozakhe just over the bowler’s head. Things feel strangely mixed: confirmed as Taylor doinks Ismail’s very first delivery to point, via the top of the bat-face. Gone for 20.

Skipper van Niekerk is in for the 9th. I’m really hoping now, to see a fluent, full-blooded, next-level innings from Sciver. Feels like she needs that – and we know she’s got it in her. Beaumont, meanwhile, is scurrying and placing competently.

Mali offers something different. Not quick but maybe a little swing – or certainly something leg-cutterish which challenges the swinging across-the-line tendency.

In the 12th, she has Sciver caught in the deep, swatting big, swatting across. Just me, or does the England allrounder really need to make a very strong contribution, soonish? Not that her place is under threat… but she keeps under-achieving, given all that talent. Brunt is in, and she’ll need to substantially raise the energy and momentum.

She fails. Instead she plays and misses off Mali and is comprehensively stumped. South Africa almost certainly ahead, with England on 93 for 4, as Knight marches in. Not exactly panic stations, for England; more ‘concentrate then build powerfully’ mode.

At 122 for 4 after 17, with Beaumont and Knight bustling, typically, rather than booming, the likely score of 150 feels undercooked by twenty-plus. Meaning good job done by South Africa – meaning we have a real game ahead of us.

Another error in the field both costs South Africa a key wicket and gifts a precious boundary. (The visitors might have pocketed four additional wickets and saved twenty runs but for some troublingly poor fielding). Even if they go on to win – and I personally think they will – the coach will be *having words*, alright.

The Beaumont knock (solidly skilful rather than flawless and truly dynamic) is snuffed out by Ismail, who bowls her off the pads. In comes Jones and she and Knight cart and race through to 160 for 5 down at the close. This I like, in terms of a contest.

Fabulous moment, early in the reply, as Shrubsole cleans out Wolvaardt with *the most gorgeous* inswinger. Absolute class.

However – rightly and predictably – South Africans Lee and Luus set about the target with some purpose; violence, even. Knight responds by mixing up the bowling. We’re at 50 for 1 after 6.

Gunn is in. Last time I saw this it was a clear signal for the opposition to attack. Surprisingly, Lee plops one straight back at the bowler, who is maybe a tad sluggish, clawing but not catching. Can hear Sky commentary suggesting Gunn may be a decent option on this pitch; hope she is but fear she may again prove too hittable.

Talking of which, Ecclestone is heaved contemptuously over the square-leg rope before dragging one shockingly down to offer an easy four.

After Hazell serves up the tenth, South Africa are easing away at 84 for 1. Significantly, England’s fielding has been almost as disappointing as their opponents. Shrubsole, I’m afraid, is having a mare.

Ecclestone concedes another six to Lee – who has blazed to 67, including six sixes – come the end of the 12th, which costs 13 runs. England facing a pasting, here.

Shrubsole offers a glimmer, by removing the seemingly immovable Lee – caught deep-midwicket. England need an avalanche of wickets, mind, to haul this back. 120 for 2, off 14. Gunn returns.

*Thinks*… if, as seems likely, England lose, will the gaffer (Mr Robinson) politely ask his side if they may have been a little complacent, going in to this? Wyatt’s early horror-show plus other unconvincing or ill thought-out contributions will demand enquiry.

In fact the coast home for the visitors doesn’t quite materialise; or as Brunt sees out a goodish 16th over the momentum has maybe twitched. Gunn has the following over, which is quietish and includes a painfully cruel leading edge which loops back over the exasperated bowler.

But Gunn follows that with a wide full toss – despatched. Just 20 need from the last three overs.

Oof. Ecclestone bowls van Niekerk first ball of the over. Then dot ball… and the crowd are really back into this. Especially when Ecclestone also bowls Tryon – with one that looked a bit shortish, ‘live’. A game: what a bonus!

Shrubsole will bowl the penultimate over and (firstly) Brunt can’t stop a drilled drive for four then (secondly) Sciver spills a regulation catch at mid-on. If I’m the fielding coach I’m ab-so-lutely fuming.

Time has stopped; or warped; or coughed up All The Drama Ever. It’s mad and it’s magic and it leaves us, remarkably, with South on 152 for 4, needing 160, with six delivers remaining. Bloo-dee Hell.

Luus swings Brunt out backward square-legwards first up. Towards the fielder. It’s wide enough; it’s four. Next ball is cut through cover: South Africa have levelled.

Nope, they’ve won. In style, Luus hauling yet another six to square leg. England have a) done well to render this remotely close b) played relatively poorly, all-round. Tough ask to pick themselves up after that and go again.

 

Longish break – really nice to luxuriate in that. Then lovely to see England gals out and back into a visibly gigglacious footie circle-keepy-uppie effort. The disappointment gone, apparently. Hope it really is – genuinely hope they can enjoy all this. It’s both serious and a game, eh? As Vaughanie would say – ‘on, on!’

 

 

 

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