Coaching: a fabulous crisis.

We can’t pretend nothing’s changed; everything’s changed. McCullum plays baseball cum tennis, with hands eight feet apart, off a wide, elasticated base. Pietersen says ‘kiss the ball’ – it’s all about head – and forget (or trust?) your feet. Nye Donald (a fair symbol for the next, irresistible generation?) has high, twitchy hands, intent on pulls and slaps – and he’s opening. The old certainties are buried.

Or are they?

All of us coaches at all of our levels are scrambling across the fallen masonry. It’s the age of the positive, the pre-emptive counter-attack, the bomb squad. Levels of change, development or challenge have become become so-o tectonically shifted it’s become unthinkable to deal in classical batting… or has it?

A series of Sky Sports Masterclasses have felt central to the annihilation of all we knew; or maybe they’ve simply enacted the moment of kerrplunk. Hussein and Key and Vaughan and Warne; McCullum and Pietersen most memorably perhaps; bawling, often brilliantly, from the war-zone.

We can revel in, learn from or capitulate to this fabulous carnage but whether we work with elite players, juniors or clubbies we have to find a way to move forward through it.

How then, in what feels like a period of peak anarchy, can we generalise or theorise or point to ways that work? When the kiwi great has made a nonsense of a hundred years of good practice? When the South African-English-South African grenades the notions around footwork being key? Is there a coach, in fact, when there are no wisdoms left unravelled? Or what is now sayable, deliverable or true, that the artist previously known as Coach might deal in?

For years there’s been a drift away from the instructional, or that which might be demonstrated by the coach. (And yes, I guess I am talking about batting, largely, here). The much-maligned ECB Coach Education programme, which I am happy to report has seemed somewhere between useful and really good, to me, has moved on dramatically and with some intelligence.

The essential ECB shift towards ‘core principles’ – i.e. allowing batters/players to find a way that works after offering areas of consideration – is bold, positive, liberating, generous. It challenges the coach to ask brilliant, helpful questions rather than regurgitate conditioned ‘knowledge’. It implicitly understands there are revolutions going on and that the genius of individual expression trumps all… or can.

Frankly I’m not in a position to know if things have very recently been further moderated towards freer interpretations of what batters should do – my most recent series of ECB Workshops being undertaken a couple of years ago. I don’t doubt, despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, that the enlightenment (if that’s what it is) continues.

There are naturally a zillion views on the move towards sound but negotiable concepts – cricket coaches being a fascinatingly opinionated bunch. Many have been bolshy about the perceived drift away from expert, cricket-specific coaching and towards what we might call generic skills moderation. Others see that casting off of the coach’s ego and his or her need to directly instruct as a seminal step towards the holy grail of enabling the player to understand, to learn, to own the development. There is much talk of empowerment. 

But let’s get to those masterclasses. Not that they’re the sole agents of change here but they do represent something of the crazy, immediate, polemical, possibility-heavy now. I’m going to look briefly at McCullum’s and KP’s.

The New Zealand skipper, Ar Brendon, is loved and respected for his freewheeling boldness. He is Everybody’s Brendon – SooperMac, never mind BMac. He’s (almost literally, given that scything swing of the bat) put all-comers to the sword, most notably the Aussies in that barely believable, record-breaking century in Christchurch in 2016. McCullum brought some of that fearless twinkle to the Sky Sports studio for the masterclass included below.

http://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12345/10941493/brendon-mccullum-in-the-zone-for-batting-masterclass-at-lords

The Christchurch innings was the embodiment of the shock of the new. It was brash to the point of lurid, it was dancing on graves; maybe it underlined some profound stuff about the age of instagram and fake news, who knows? I’m still reeling. However we view it – and I do know people who see it as some kind of sacrilege – it mattered.

In the masterclass McCullum shows us and talks about his stance, his grip, his set-up. His hands are crazily far apart, with his apparently emphatically dominant right obscenely ready to hoik to leg. His feet are wide, legs bouncy and bent. He looks like a wild child ready to spring and slap. The whole smacks of latent, instinctive action – an unleashing. Grown-up, traditional, straight-batted cricket seems unthinkable from here. He is re-inventing the game.

McCullum does nothing in these few minutes on Sky Sports to diminish our love for his openness, sportiness, generosity of spirit. How wonderful that in trampling the textbooks, his radicalism seems utterly predicated on a kind of glorious old-school honour; Brendon being game.

Pietersen, of course, is different – and he posits a different technical challenge to coaches. Firstly (and generally) it is noticeable that KP, unsurprisingly, is preachier here, more didactic than McCullum. This may be because he feels more wronged, more traduced(?) KP shows us The Model, or possibly A Model, in a way the New Zealander doesn’t.

This model is based on head position – almost to the exclusion of other considerations. It’s implied that feet, for example, don’t matter because they will follow naturally, given assumptions around athleticism, balance, flow. If the head goes to the ball, the striking should be good and consistent and powerful. Just kiss the ball.

Many of us will relish the simplicity here – one of the great pitfalls of coaching surely being that thing where you give the player forty-two things to think about instead of two. Possibly because there are other coaches within earshot; other better-qualified coaches, so the urge to let rip with everything you’ve ever heard anyone good say about issue z proves irresistible. (I know this happens: have seen it, done it.)

KP has something fascinatingly clear and pure around which his processes crystallise. This is arguably to be envied; whether it is to be followed will depend on the coach… and the individual being coached.

http://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12123/10965314/watch-kevin-pietersens-batting-masterclass-from-the-oval-on-saturday

The views of KP & McCullum, together with the other contributors on Sky are of course hugely welcome contributions but they do both enrich and un-pick our coaching almanac. The social media world, likewise pours opinion into the flux. So, where are we?

I’ve asked some leading coaches to comment on where coaching is at, following on from all this traumatic/brilliant/befuddling/game-changing stuff. And I’d like to throw this open to all.

Coaches, friends, players: why not stick something in the comments here about what gets you going… or what you’d like to torch?

The questions are merely a way into this: I don’t claim they’re the smartest or most important; I just thought they’d get coaches fairly promptly into the mix of philosophical and technical worlds thrown against each other through (for example) the Sky Masterclasses. Please do have your say on these or anything else about how coaches respond. 

MAYBE SUGGEST THE QUESTIONS US COACHES MOST URGENTLY NEED TO ASK OURSELVES(?)

1. Given the radical approach of someone like Brendon McCullum – crazy grip, wide, bouncy, pro-active stance – what do we coaches do with a player who can make the unorthodox work ?

Encourage him or her? Talk about potential flaws? What?

2. Is it still ‘our place’ to mainly guide players towards traditional skills and movements? Straight bats/still heads etc. Or how/when do we intervene?

3. KP talks in his masterclass about ‘kissing the ball’ – meaning his key focus is getting head to the ball – almost to the point of forgetting or not worrying about feet. Presumably the assumption is they will take care of themselves. How do you feel about this?

4. McCullum talks about his hands being quite far apart on the bat and demonstrates a set-up that simply doesn’t fit with traditional, straight-batted cricket. But clearly he has lit up all formats in recent years, with his freewheeling, sporty approach. Does this raise any issues with you?

5. Finally, is there anything you think we need to add in or take out of our ‘textbooks’, our overall view of what constitutes good batting practice – or is there simply no single way to go now, in the light of contemporary, revolutionary changes?

 

Go on. Stick your oar in.

Rain Dance.

Five o’clock. Sharp and very cool shower. The Glammy players, out having what seems a very informal net, are unmistakeably wincing. The groundsmen are cursing. The sky suggests it may change.

It does. Twenty past and the clouds are still swarming to my left, over and behind the pavilion – in fact over and beyond everywhere. Clouds. Now though, they threaten a good deal less.

Glammy seem relaxed: nattering or stretching.

The opposition are going through a batting drill where throwdowns are launched from about twelve yards, rather than twenty-two – presumably to cheat the senses and buy time for the bigger challenge, the longer distance. Hogan and Rudolph and co operate nearby, in their own world; building. I like these moments.

Set warm-ups are marked out: the strength and conditioning stuff precedes. Lunges. Choreographed stretches. Directed, building towards dynamic movements – hurdles, half-sprints then seamlessly into football.

I happen to know football so I could (if the mood took) dismember the footie confidence of some of these pro athletes. (Some of them are hopeless). But they seem to love it – or get into it – and it’s visibly, audibly a larf as well as a way towards freer movement. There’s good, smiley energy about. The coach is laughing.

Post the Swalec Champions League, it’s concerted fielding practice, for both sides. Gearing up and focussing. Long high catches and sharp pick-up and throws.

Run their best batsman out! GET KLINGER OUT!!

That’s what I’d be bawling – in fact I may be, in the Press Box as the adrenalin begins to fizz.

Out there, quietly striking moment(s) as Klinger, the Gloucestershire skipper and batting lynchpin tai chi’s alone at the crease; dancing, cutting, driving; visualising the shots. I can feel them as he does it: it’s real.

Finally we are left with Croft overseeing Van der Gugten and De Lange’s game-intensity bowl-off. Van der Gugten, in particular, steaming in hard and targetting middle stump – with off and leg splayed out, enticingly.

Glamorgan win the toss and choose to bowl. There’s a shower before they can.

As the players enter the pitch… it’s horrible. Back to that coolish, hardish squally autumnal garbage. Cruel. Glamorgan adjust their caps and race boldly, purposefully to their positions. Van der Gugten will open up.

First ball a wide down leg. And the second. Not much in either but not what you want. Followed by an angry short one. Four off the over.

Hogan. Second ball, wide down leg. Note square leg and third man deep for both opening bowlers. No early aggression from the batsmen. Salter nearly pouches a full-length dive at point: can’t hold on. Half-chance at best. 8 for 0 after 2.

Finally Mustard finds the boundary, straight, off Van der Gugten, who is bowling quickly – or at least getting great carry. Rain has cleared, lights are on. Mustard steers a six wristily last ball of the third – 18 for 0.

Klinger booms one straight off Hogan but it plugs, comically, in the damp and he can only run two. This surely cannot be a hugely high-scoring affair – the air is chunky and cool, the ground inevitably still moist. Wisely, despite not looking that swift, the Gloucester openers grab their share of quick singles where possible. We are 36 for 0, off 5.

Wagg, coming round, starts with a legside wide. Marginal again but not a theme Croft will be revelling in. However there is a relative lack of fireworks, considering Klinger’s reputation for vulcanism. Wagg notably drops his pace (or varies it) and 45 for 0 off 6 feels… even.

Salter takes a steepler confidently to get Klinger – Meschede the bowler. Next ball is a shocker of a full-toss, summarily dismissed for six by Mustard. 54 for 1, then, off 6.

Salter round the wicket to the left-handed Mustard. (Got to be a condiment-related joke on there). No major dramas.

Meschede gets three consecutive overs but Glos seem to be able to pick him off, despite his ability to mix things up. He didn’t feel all that convincing, to me, his goodish figures flattering him somewhat.

Salter on the other hand seemed pretty tidy – but inevitably Mustard picks him up over long on for six, as I type these words. A further four from Cockbain rather spoils the off-spinners figures. 0-28 off 3.

Ingram steps up to bowl the fourteenth. Claims a wicket – again nonchalantly taken out in the deep by Salter – for six runs scored. Then de Lange.

Ingram’s legspin takes some tap, unsurprisingly, in the sixteenth, as Gloucestershire look to up the ante. Donald drops a regulation catch off de Lange in the next and after seventeen the visitors are 129 for 3.

Thereafter Donald almost makes amends with a good, forward, stooping catch, first ball of the eighteenth – Hogan the bowler. Later the lanky Australian strikes again with a stonking yorker but the detail drifts because it’s gone grey and cold and sinister again…

Hogan claims a third victim in the over as Perera steers to deep mid-off, where Miller calmly obliges. De Lange takes the nineteenth, pumped and quick.

Hogan, it is, who has further success, though – bowling Roderick then effecting the run-out of the incoming Taylor. Suddenly it’s 145 for 8. Hogan claims his five-fer with the last ball as Taylor is caught at gully.

150 for 9, which feels frankly difficult to judge – Glamorgan having done generally well, Gloucester having done… similarly.

The reply. Donald bangs the first delivery from Taylor for four through midwicket, the second is tickled straight behind for four more and the third is dispatched behind square. Wow. Oh – and it’s raining. To a slightly worrying degree. So Glammy will look to stay ahead.

Next, Donald is undone, mistiming and fending disappointingly to mid-off (did it stick in the pitch? He seems to imply so). 19 for 1 off 2. In comes the ‘worldie’, Ingram. Conditions are not good.

Ingram strokes his first ball elegantly for nought but the second emphatically for four, over extra cover. But conditions are tough. Maybe the lights make it seem more dramatically unhelpful than it is… but it’s not helping anyone. Given the rivalry here, a rain-affected game would devalue any bragging rights significantly.

Rudolph is yorked by Perera. The umpires talk… and we’re off. There is some disquiet – on and off the pitch. 32 for 2 off 5.

There follows a minor classic in rain-dancing. It’s clearly off due to rain then entirely feasible then it rains. Then umpires have a look and we’re on at 9.15… then it rains. Meanwhile Glamorgan are 5 runs down on the Duckworth-Lewis. We wait – some resigned, some tense, all helpless.

Twenty-past nine and the umpires have rightfully called it off. Some of us have just missed the last train home. Klinger won’t care… and good luck to him.

 

And now they’re gonna believe me.

World Cup Winners. Not a phrase us sporty-peeps are all that used to. Mainly because our media and our heads are dominated by footie – by the epic failure of England. England Men. In football. In World Cups or Europeans.

But who cares about them?  Certainly I care waaaay less than I once did.  Let me dispatch that whole industry of trauma with a flourish, with some disdain, with a few bullet-points.

I care less because;

  • of politico-philosophical stuff about disassociating myself from the Posh South of England
  • because of the rank dishonesty and/or meanness of spirit/anti-sportness football wallows in
  • (but much more importantly) because other sports and other kinds of people seem better. More entertaining; more fun; more worthy(?) of our support.

Post the 2012 Olympics magnificent, generous, friendly, articulate athletes – proper humans who could talk engagingly even though they were world stars – lit up the footie-player-heavy universe.  They were lovely as well as gobsmackingly talented.  They were real and rounded.

Fast forward or maybe re-wind just a few days.  Focus (finally, yes?) on a particular sex. Throw your arms around or share the joy around Anya S, Sarah T, Heather Knight and that daft bugger Dani Wyatt with her twitter and her Proper Sense of Humour!

Read the backstories about shared houses and shared disappointments or challenges. Get the whole idea that there’s been a tough revolution going on – one where these tremendous women have been through major, testing stuff.  And now look at them.  Listen.  Get to know them.  This is England Cricket.  These are our World Cup Winners.  How great is that?

I need to acknowledge coupla things.  Firstly, I’m a dumb bloke.  Secondly, there are people who think this dumb bloke is as bad as the rest of them: somewhere on that patronising/sexist/misogynist spectrum.  Meaning I should be keeping my mouth shut.

I’m not going to because I know (actually) that I try pret-ty hard to be careful and reasonable with what I say… and I know however flawed I may be I am genuinely committed to some vague-ish but powerfully-felt ideas about equality.  I’ll get stuff wrong but as a geezer and a coach I do not entirely lack political sensitivity and do try to make things better.

By that I mean specifically supporting women and girls into cricket – or in cricket.  Apologies for the digression.

England’s World Cup win is a gift as well as a wonderful moment, a triumph.  The manner of victory was intoxicating and gut-churning and all those things that characterise truly fabulous sport.  It was unbelievable, dream-like, horrendous, glorious, daft, moving, nerve-shredding.  The actual match was extraordinary and captivating.

So the drama – the sport – was as magical as sport can be be but the levels of interest and coverage also went off the scale in a way that must surely mark a new phase; ‘just the start of the story’ as described by the outstanding Ebony Rainford-Brent.  Cricket needed that, the universe needed that and we Community Cricket Coaches needed that to really move things forward.

This is what’s exciting.  I hope it doesn’t sound too worryingly cynical if it feels like we all – not just those of us work in cricket – have to use this.  It’s BIG.  BIGGER THAN CRICKET. I’ll not wade into the wider debates just now but I do hope there will be an unstoppable energy around this event, feeding into rilly profound developments ‘elsewhere’.

I personally have been enthusing folks for bats and balls and stuff for about ten years. For the last four, for a living.  I am absolutely clear that us Cricket Wales coaches (who spend much of our times in Primary Schools and clubs) have actively set out to make girls feel like this is their game.  The argument can certainly be made that we could have done more but one of the central messages we’ve been trying to put out there is exactly that: girls, you can do this – it’s yours!

We in the Community Team run what we call cricket assemblies, generally alongside or in the middle of a series of school cricket sessions.  The centrepiece of these assemblies tends to be a shortish video, supplied to us by Chance to Shine, the treble-fabulous cricket charity, one of our sponsors.

I very often bring out a film that was made a few years back, showing India winning a World Cup, amongst other buzztastically uplifting cricket-scenes.  The presentation (bit concerned about that word, in fact) features a Jesse J soundtrack and the challenge is laid to the teacher and/or learning assistant to name the singer and the song – Domino.

I encourage the kids to sing along and if the hwyl with the staff is good to ‘dance around a bit’.  If the teachers get the points for identifying the singer/song then the kids get unholy amounts of points for knowing the words.

We have a bit of fun and maybe a quiz or a relatively ‘educational’ discussion around what we’ve seen.  Which countries were playing?  Recognise anybody – any flags?  I big up the notion that cricket can feel like this then I always ask a few of the girls present

was it all blokes?’  (The film has clips of England Women in action).

When the girls say ‘NO!’  I ask the class

who’s the best team we’ve got?

A question that throws them, admittedly but soon enough the lads start saying Chelsea, Manchester Utd, Swansea, or Scarlets or Ospreys.  I let them shout them out and we have a giggle or two around that – especially, obvs, at the Chelsea fan’s expense.

I then tell everybody that there’s a very strong argument that the best and most successful team we have (acknowledging the brilliance of our cyclists and rowers, maybe) might really be England (and Wales!) Women’s Cricket side.  Because a) they are right up there on the world stage b) because they do win things.

I’ve been saying this fairly convincingly for four years. Now, these classes – these girls – are gonna believe me.

I will again look them in the eye and say

girls. This is your game. Cricket is a fan-tastic game… and it’s yours every bit as much as it’s mine… or his… or his.

Bristol-bound.

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

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

Emphatic in the end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

How did I get here?

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

How did I get here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Another statement.

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

So breeeeeeaaaaathe. So relaaaaaaax. Then on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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