A Different Day.

In the ground, early, not just to get settled but to watch warm-ups and the pre-game rituals, which can be fascinating. Grey, heavier and cooler than yesterday – truly a different day.

In theory it should be raining but the forecast – 80% chance of – is mercifully wayward so far. So far it feels like a day that Anya Shrubsole’s dad might have conjured up, through some fiendishly exotic sorcery. (I picture him in his jim-jams in some budget hotel, dancing around the bed, waving pheasant feathers at the unresponsive ceiling). Whatever; it worked. It feels like a day for swing. It feels like England should slash and burn through the remainder of their innings, then get the ball into Brunt/Shrubsoles’ hands.

India have been doing that laps of the field thing that your Games Teacher instructed for, in 1978, when you were a pain in the arse in maths and Mr Reynolds had a quiet word. Verma and the rest of the stars trundling around gently – no doubt as a pre- warm-up warm-up.

I note England coaches in earnest conversation with their bowlers, during an early net. Quite a lot of technical and strategic information going in, it seemed. Did wonder if that might be a bit late to be adding in too many new ideas but entirely possible they were talking about films or Ford Escorts, as opposed to overloading the minds of the protagonists. Both teams are into an hour or so of heavily choreographed activity; making this a long day.

Talking of which, may yet take big chunks out – like the Proper Journos do – and write something elegant and considered and minimalist, later.

YEH, RIGHT!! (Although am gonna give myself a break or twelve. Quite intense being at this non-stop for eight or nine hours. Not, of course that I am complaining: always aware of the privilege).

Ten or so minutes out. Mildly amusing to see one of the England support coaches really struggle to cut catches towards the slip cordon: can tell you it ain’t easy to do that consistently. Shrubsole was slinging it at him – not always helpfully – and the poor sod couldn’t connect softly or skilfully or consistently enough to make it worth the fielders’ crouching. Eventually another batting coach relieved the fella. Might only have been me who saw this but now I’m calling him out to the universe! (Lols).

Gone quiet. Five to eleven.

Pandey will open, Brunt to face. Two strong, competitive women. Brunt cuts a wide one for a single. Touch of inswing on the next one, to Dunkley. We don’t have TV again, in the Media Centre, so no replays yet, but I am looking straight down the pitch and hoping to see some movement through the air and off the deck. Seems that kind of day, yes? Goswami will follow.

We have a review, from India, for an LBW. Brunt had missed one. She’d advanced but it looked straightish. Half the Media Posse leg it out to the balcony to watch the re-run on a big screen to our right. It’s confirmed; hitting. Brunt gone early for 8. Ecclestone – who we hear has been working ver-ry hard on her batting – joins Dunkley. The tall off-spinner makes a good start, dispatching Pandey to the boundary and moving to six from the over.

Skies brighten… but that could just be the lights. Dunkley gets one on leg stump, from Goswami and also finds the boundary, to square leg. Conditions-wise, no issues. Grey but (as long as light doesn’t deteriorate) seems set for a significant chunk of action, to me. (*Fatal. But by this I mean that looking around all sides of the ground, I’m thinking we stay clear of any rain for some time – possibly right through).

Rana replaces Pandey at the Bristol Pavilion End. Light breeze from her left, but barely enough to meaningfully assist her gentle but consistent off-spin. Interesting that India have turned to spin – geddit? – at both ends, early doors, with Sharma now joining from the Ashley Down Road End. She has two short legs in to gather any miscues but Ecclestone is looking spookily competent. First target (of 300) for England now just seven runs distant. Ecclestone has 9, Dunkley a solid 25.

Ok. *That pitch*. Looks quietish and unresponsive rather than utterly dead. Minor spin, very few tricks being played, to my mind, in terms of variable bounce. So not, at the moment, a concern. However, because it was a used strip from the start, the fear has been that it may die early and/or become a lottery to bat on later in the game. In short – and having made my views clear about the cultural-political howler committed, earlier – those responsible are getting away with it, for now. Let’s hope it stays that way. 300 up, for England, 7 down. The game is inching forward.

The comparative lack of dynamism from England is interesting. Are they thinking that they really might get another hundred runs and then aim to blow India away twice? Possibly – the conditions (and their personnel) might support that seam-tastic strategy. It seems certain that they are not currently looking to accelerate swiftly and ‘riskily’ before getting at India this morning. What are their weather forecasters telling them, I wonder? There are lots of factors in play, as always: it is often true, too, that the voices on comms via TV and radio are rather indulging their freedom to talk a very expansive-aggressive game. If they were on the park they might be playing less ‘positively’, you suspect.

The spinners continue. Rana gets some strong turn and reviews. Denied. Sharma drops short and Dunkley clubs away through off. Noon. The sky really may be softening, a little.

We re-start after drinks. Lots of lovely Indian voices echoing around – all audible through the open door in front of me. (Crowd again pitiful; great that the few who have come in are here… but where the hell are the rest of you? A rare, fascinating, international sporting event is unfolding before us and… where are you? Supping coffee? Clearing the garage? On Amazon, for *no real reason?* In your apathy you are contributing to the Predictable Dumbness of the Universe).

All this, probably, because the game is slowish. And I’m a medium angry geezer, by nature.

OOooh. To lift our spirits, Dunkley has smashed Rana through the off side, for four. Ah. But then she is pinned. Substantial turn – so much, again, that the review confirms that it is missing. Relief, particularly as she is approaching fifty. At the over, England are 322 for 7, with Dunkley 47 and Ecclestone on 16. Very random and unscientific but feels like both Sharma and Rana are extracting more turn now. Whether this is because they are more fully into their groove or the pitch is drying, couldn’t say.

Dunkley gets to an impressive 50, on debut. Pretty much untroubled.

There is encouragement for India but also that cruel thing where the ball is now spinning ‘too much’. They lose another review because the ball bites and surges too dramatically. No matter. Ecclestone clips to mid-on and Sharma has a deserved wicket. 326 for 8 as Shrubsole joins Dunkley. Ecclestone will be licking her lips, despite that disappointment: the two Indian offies have 3 wickets apiece, so far.

There is still no sense that England want to charge – again suggesting that they hope to build a score of sufficient magnitude that it might intimidate the opposition and precipitate a collapse or two, when the home seamers – or Ecclestone – get their mitts on that cherry. It’s a viable theory but will of course become prone to criticism if India manage the game well, from hereon in. One further thought on this: if – and it seems likely – England now start bowling at about 2.30 pm today, this may offer India the best slice of the day, conditions-wise, in which to defend the match situation. Meanwhile, Vastrakar.

Both Shrubsole and Dunkley are, in general, presenting bats with some style. But then Anya has a swish… and misses. She regains her composure and authority next up, mind, by deftly cutting through third man. Lunch approacheth, so a further change figures. It’s Harmanpreet Kaur, from Ashley Down. She’s the third off-spinner in the visitor’s ranks: have heard chat on comms about ‘lack of a point of difference’ in the Indian attack and there may be some merit in this argument. Dunkley picks her off, rather, back-driving her through extra cover for four. 347 for 8 now, England.

Oof. Shrubsole short-arm pulls Vastrakar hard, to leg. Four more. Bit counter-intuitive but England ‘looking to score’ as we get within an over or two of munchies. They are past another milestone, as the 350 comes up. Quite like that Vastraka bounces Shrubsole to finish the penultimate over before the break. Goswami in again for the last.

If there are any concerns, for England – and why would there be? – they might be around the comparative lack of success or encouragement for the seamers, so far. (England have picked four). But with Ecclestone being so brilliant, the weather still suggesting Shrubsole (in particular) might be a handful and with skipper Heather Knight a capable part-timer on the slow right arm front, the home side have much to feel good about. We break at 357 for 8, with Dunkley on 66 and Shrubsole on 16.

Pandey will get us going again, from The Bristol Pavilion End. Shrubsole nurdles. Dunkley follows and raises, by clubbing straight towards deepish mid-off – where it falls just short. The over may suggest that a gear-change is underway, from England: let’s see. Rana from beneath the flats.

Shrubsole rather inelegantly clouts over cover, for four, then dances down and strikes cleanly along the floor to the same boundary. Suddenly, we’re into a boomathon: Shrubsole smashes everything. A six, a chance – spilled – and an obvious hike in the plan. Pandey gets clattered as well as Rana. Impressive, often short-arm hitting. Almost every ball gets the treatment – or some treatment. Shrubsole has raced, now, into her 40s… and it goes on.

…Until she falls, swishing across Rana, having stormed to a belligerent 47. England promptly declare, at 396 for 9.

Entertaining stuff: intrigued to see if that very same Anya Shrubsole – arguably the greatest swing bowler in women’s cricket (worldwide), for the last decade – can extract something special from out of the Bristolian skies. Brunt, Cross and Sciver will also be a-fluttering in expectation, as will the world-beating Ecclestone.

With reference to t’other side, I for one am genuinely interested to see Verma, the prodigious short-form player, bat, for India. How will it go?

The Mighty Brunt will open, from the Ashley Down Road End. (Huge fan. Love her spikiness, her guile, her tricksy wrists). The Indian Icon, Smriti Mandhana, will face; upright, left-handed. Brunt has two slips and a gully. Maiden over. Shrubsole now, from in front of me, to the right-handed Verma. A little inswing; then a touch more. And more – beautifully controlled. This is going to be quite the examination, for the batters. Two maidens.

First run is a not-entirely-convincing pull, off a short one, from Brunt. Looked as though Mandhana almost thought better of it, halfway through the stroke. No dramas. Brunt staying boldly full, generally.

Verma gets a streaky four, off Shrubsole; outside edgy, predictably and behind. India are safe… and 6 for 0 after 4. The wily Brunt is teasing Mandhana with slightly wider, ‘driveable’ balls. The batter holds her form and her discipline. Again she takes on the pull shot and executes with care: single. Untested so far but the tall Amy Jones looks the part behind the sticks. She must be conscious of the brilliance of her predecessor – the absurdly gifted Sarah Taylor. Good energy in the field and excellent, unrewarded spell, so far, from Shrubsole.

Really good contests going on here. Verma and Mandhana plainly players, plainly determined. Being offered very little by two of the most experienced opening bowlers in the game. Shrubsole draws an inside edge but Mandhana has squirted it inadvertently down to fine leg. England admirably on it in the field, meaning Verma’s immaculate drive to the cover boundary feels like a proper breakout. India 16 for 0 after 8 overs.

Brunt is having words – as she does – after Verma runs it through about fourth slip. Nice shot but the bowler thinks Verma had no real control. It may have gotten into the young batter’s head because next ball is hoiked rather weirdly to leg… but safely. When Shrubsole returns for the tenth over there is the feeling that although England have gone well here, in every respect, the visitors may be seeing this out.

Sciver is in from Ashley Down. Natural length is a touch shorter than her colleagues, arguably; won’t swing it but may get some cut. Has also noticeably increased her pace, over the last year: bowling 67mph, now. Drinks. India on 29 for 0 after 11.

Shrubsole continues but Mandhana pulls her – emphatically, this time. Four.

Sciver to Verma, with Jones standing up. Verma clouts her for six! Wow. Extraordinary. Quality from both teams. Enter Cross, from under my personal window. (*Winking emoji*). Nice flow about her bowling but she offers an easy one, leg-side. The Threat, generally, to the batters, appears to be diminishing… which means Ecclestone, perhaps?

Not yet. Sciver is in for her third. She’s relatively expensive – perhaps trying to mix things up? – conceding 17, thus far. Back to Cross.

We’ve almost forgotten about the weather: it was supposed to be a Major Factor but my mates, the locals, who said not to stress, were right. Cloudy but perfectly acceptable. 46 without loss, India, after 16 overs. England, now, need to make something happen and Scivers almost obliges, beating Mandhana. No edge and Jones spills it, in any case.

The skies have brightened and Mandhana is classical and expansive and true, easing Cross through the covers. Then a mini-drama as the batter cloths a leading edge straight back at the bowler. Sharp but catchable: put down. Important? Probably. India have now gone past the fifty mark and England, despite applying themselves, have made no inroads. Now it is time for Ecclestone.

She comes in from under those cream and grey apartments – the ones you’d like to be in on a summer’s evening, with a match on and a *little something* in the fridge. Left arm, spearing and twisting it. Will probably get two of her overs in before tea. Then plenty after, you suspect. Maiden, then Cross.

When Ecclestone does return she flops one cruelly short: it’s a gift which Verma accepts. Four to extra. Still suspect that the England spinner will be important to any drama but maybe that’s a slow-burner of a theme? Cross, meanwhile has sent one across Mandhana and the thickish edge interests the fielder but dribbles out to the boundary. Tad unlucky, for the bowler. Best part of the day now; last over before the break and India, should they make it to tea un-breached, will be feeling a whole lot more comfortable.

Job done. Credit to the visiting openers, who both look as good as we imagined they might. 63 for 0, India.

Cross restarts. The skies are with us and therefore a full day seems likely. This runs counter to much of the chat from earlier in the piece but England rather than merely inhabiting the time appreciatively, must surely make it work, make something happen. Brunt is usually up for that kind of challenge.

She is in, now, from Ashley Down Road End. Verma is taking her on, boldly, if not impudently, much to the bowler’s obvious discontent. (Brunt is world-class at that icy stare thing; she often follows it by transgressing any icy silence). The Indian youth may be taking the Michael and there may be further to report on this. But Ecclestone is in, having changed ends, probably to offer Yours Truly a grandstand view. Oof. Mandhana back-drives her confidently. Ecclestone – even Ecclestone – can make no inroads. 26 runs have come from the last 12 balls.

Brunt is slapping it in there, to Verma. No bounce. I can hear Alex Hartley on comms suggesting that Brunt is likely to get unhelpfully or unproductively wound up, here but I’m not so sure. She can often be exquisitely skilful, even through her anger. She beats Mandhana with a pearler.

Verma, remarkably – she is seventeen, remember – swings Ecclestone fearlessly over midwicket for another four, to go beyond 50. Bloody impressive. When she finally misses one, the big shout does not precipitate a review – the ball almost certainly missing to leg. India go to 100 for 0.

Brunt is working it, approaching 70 mph and hitting the pitch hard, knowing that both batters may now respond with instinctive aggression. It’s pretty edgy stuff out there. The match situation is of course dictating that India (because they have gotten past the early dangers) should now raise the tempo. That they are doing that so brilliantly – with Mandhana now beyond the half-century – is hugely to their credit. It may also throw England’s relative conservatism with the bat into starkish relief. After 32 overs, India are 113 for 0.

Shrubsole is in, with a change of ends. No joy. Ecclestone, however, draws two consecutive errors, from Verma. Mis-hit to midwicket followed by edge to third man. The scoreboard says 0 wickets but there are a few positive signs, here, for England. Shrubsole nearly gets through Mandhana – kept low. Ecclestone is looking a little mixed but she draws a further mini-fluff, from the left-hander: the ball looping limply to the vacant silly mid-off slot. Pitch, or tiredness becoming an issue?

Talking of tiredness, off to get a little air…

Nice out there. Pleasant temperature, just enough breeze to refresh. A wider angle also meant I could see Kate Cross running in better. Lovely, free approach and you get the sense of pace much more fully, from sideways-on. Nothing in it for her but still the duty to stay disciplined and (at the very least) seek out an error. In other news, could also see Liam Cromar’s ‘loud cap’. Good to see you, even at that distance, fella.

Verma approaches a hundred, having left her partner thirty-odd runs behind. A fabulous milestone approaches. Except that this is Real Life… and in real life folks fail/falter/sky stuff… even when they seem like they can do no wrong… and they/we/Verma, actually, are/is caught, after an endless steepling, at mid-off, by Anya Shrubsole. Gone for 96. Cruel – but also life-enriching. A brilliant, exhilarating contribution, from a crazy-talented teenager. Punam Raut joins Mandhana, Cross has the wicket, 167 for 1.

Cloudier, cooler. Mandhana dismisses Cross to the boundary, moving to 76. Erm, think she then needs a wee – or she certainly gets permission to exit, briefly, in spritely fashion. England chill and ‘re-group’. Snaffle five or six quick wickets in the remaining 40 mins or so and they’re right back on top. (Cheesy grin emoji).

Heather Knight is in for her third over, the compact Raut yet to score. Watchful stuff – a leave-fest. Sciver will return, going around the wicket to Mandhana, from Ashley Down. Single taken. Raut leaves some more – fair enough. 63/64/65 mph. Not problematic, for the new batter, in truth. Into the last half-hour. Never seen Knight turn it more than about two inches, but she’s back to probe for that error. Nice to see the England players sharing a joke and a smile at the turn of the over.

Still decent energy in the field. Just as well, because *things happen*. In this case Verma-esque things – Mandhana skying high for no apparent reason and Brunt taking the catch – for her wife, asitappens. Sciver, like the rest, has been ploughing on hope rather than expectation but that compulsory application has paid in the end. Tame-ish finale to a fine knock; Mandhana gone for 78.

Knight is bowling wide of off-stump – presumably to encourage an extravagant shot or two. Instead, Pandey simply bunts a straight one directly back to her. (What was it I was saying about five or six wickets?) 179 for 3. Mithali Raj is in, alongside Raut, who has still failed to accumulate. Some frisson, then.

Raut breaks the impasse – two, through extra cover. Sciver responds with something that nips in a shade towards the off-stick. England are vocal but Sciver’s effort ball slides down leg. Ecclestone replaces her skipper… and prospers. My first (live) impression was that she wasn’t that committed to an appeal for a bat/pad but there was a clear nick and Mithali Raj must also go. 183 for 4, Raj scoring just the 2. Good player incoming, mind – Harmanpreet Kaur. Can she steady this English surge?

The home team looking justifiably jaunty as they hurry round for another over. Knight has crossed over to the Ashley Down Road End. Seven minutes remain as Raut inexplicably plays no shot and is plum. Frazzled;183 for 5. Extraordinary stuff – and quite a moment for Deepti Sharma to join us and face her former colleague (and captain) at Western Storm. England – I can hear them, clearly – are whooping and joking out there. Ecclestone will get one more shot at this.

Boom! (Or possibly). Huge appeal but there is bat there: Kaur is not out. Fabulous denouement… but I guess not if you happen to be with the visitors. Harmanpreet cuts for four. Then models her finest forward defence. And survives.

At the end of a richly entertaining day, India are 187 for 5, having been 167 for 1. They lost 5 wickets for 13, for which I claim the credit, having aired the prospect in glorious mono-colour upon these very pages. May reflect further soon… but am flitting sharpish to enjoy Bristolian hospitality of a particularly fine variety. Enjoy your evening.

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