Simmer Down.

Same squad. Did you groan or nod knowingly? You in the  Loyalty Camp or the Give the Arrogant Buggers a Short Sharp Shock Department?

As with (dare I say it?) a particular current political issue, voices are being raised – rather more than perspicacious argument. Things are polarised: why would this be, I wonder?

a) Because we care about England Cricket – Test Cricket. How it’s curated and organised, even.

b) We (to quote a bloggist of some occasional repute) All Know Better than the England Coach.

And of course c) because we’re all on twitter.

So, some arguments, 👇🏻 I hope.

England have lost the Ashes, or at least the Aussies have retained them, convincingly, being unarguably the better side. In today’s real world, this means that an inquest is inevitable.

(This is not the same as to say that said inquest wouldn’t have happened in times past: it just wouldn’t have happened at the same transparently foamtastic pitch).

I mention this because it may be instructive to all of us to reflect on how much bawling, actually, is appropriate and necessary and proportionate, here. And because I am preparing to battle against my own, broiling prejudices, right now.

England – manifestly pret-ty ordinary at test cricket England, yes? – have been beaten. Live with it, or view it with interested non-volcanism before discussing amongst peers? How’s that for a thought?

Except no. England – m.p.o.a.t.c. England – have been beaten at home, by a relatively average Australia, despite literally changing the ball to make sure things went their way. Plus *that sense* that our lot might be (whisper it) prima donnas, the ab-so-lute jessies!  None of the idle, cosseted bass-teds can be bothered ta learn the forward-bloody-defensive!

This is how it starts, yes? I mean IS YOUR MOMENTUM BUILDING BECAUSE MINE SURE AS HELL IS!!

Ahem. Look it was the Ashes. Australia were unspectacular – other than a couple of guys – and we, England, had just, in orgasmically scream-your-head-off hysteria, only gone and WON THE BLOODY WORLD CUP!! And yet!

Okay. No more capitals, I promise. Let’s try to find an argument or twelve. Let’s start with the Anderson Thing – the ball.

If opting to play at Edgbaston first was Phase 1 of the Grand Ashes Plan then Phase 2 was when England reverted to what they hoped would be Anderson-friendly Dukes’ balls, of a certain vintage – plainly to try and gain a wee advantage over our visiting cousins.

Naturally, other seamers might well have also benefitted from these air-dancing beauties but in James Anderson England will have believed they had the greatest exponent of swing bowling of these particular pills, in the history of the universe.

They will have banked on him being raw unplayable at Edgbaston – to kickstart the Ashes campaign – and probably also at Headingley and Old Trafford. And this would sort Ausbloodystralia, Smith included. And then there was suddenly no Jimmy.

(There is a counter-thread, as always, here. Folks always seek advantages and yup, all of us are tribal. Early doors, for example, Australia rather cutely inserted several key players into our County Championship: handy-enough dress-rehearsal time, perfectly legit. Should we be counting, might that acclimatisation make it one-all, would you say?  Certainly qualifies as a Cunning Plan. But hey, the games beyond the games are endless – maybe that’s another post?)

But back to the England Squad, selected today, for the final test, at the Oval. Same squad, a zillion possible meanings.

Does it mean that Bayliss and Root and Ed Smith (and Graham Thorpe if he’s still in position) are bonkers-in-love or thrall with Rooooot (as captain) and Bairstow and Buttler as Established Players? Maybe.

Does it mean that Foakes and Curran and the likes of Sibley and Pope are being cruelly under-considered? Maybe. Or there may be perfectly mature and viable discussions going on. Or rank delusion and selfishness and feeble eschewal of responsibility? All this is possible; as is the notion that Smith might be a kind of occasionally-inspired but controlling fascist-in-shades.

Where then, to start? With Root. Batting less convincing, captaincy mixed: that the consensus? So – in the absence of obvious candidates, maybe? – he stays as skipper, shortish-term and gets shifted back to batting at four. But he is, or continues to be – for want of a better phrase – on trial, in respect of his captaincy. This means other stuff.

(Let’s stick with the hypothetical line-up rather than the culture. And kindof ignore or subsume the horses-for-courses considerations around the next fixtures that might colour decision-making and selection).

Bairstow and possibly Buttler get dropped, with the expectation that they will, in time, having shown excellence in County Championship, be ‘restored’. If they don’t show the technique and the hunger for the longer format, then hey, maybe they are White Ball Players – job done. Foakes, widely regarded as the best ‘keeper on the planet and, having already shown what I am crassly going to call test mentality, gets in.

As, quite possibly does Curran, who despite his lack of killer pace has shown more born-to-it, test-winning mentality than almost anybody for a decade, in the short time he’s been on the scene. Curran, with his starry, gutsy, implacable brilliance only stays out of an absolute worldie of a team; a team waaaay better than this England; or a team playing a test in which you absolutely know he won’t bowl.

Weirdly – or not- this mini-clear-out, as well as sending important messages around complacency and competition, also repositions the coaching philosophy towards recognition for those who seem to get test cricket – those who have temperament. Meaning Leach and Overton earn the right to regular inclusion, or regular, meaningful consideration.

I could write thousands of words about Roy – & probably should. Just not now: he goes.

The Roy issue is inseparable from philosophical stuff – batting culture. (Did I say that Thorpe goes? Or is it enough that Ed Smith and possibly the wee man deliver a rocket? This is competitive sport, after all. Obvious failings get addressed). Some may say none of this – his failures – have been Roy’s fault and weirdly there may be some traction in that. However, did the fella not look flukily out of his depth for much of the match against Ireland?

As outsiders, we cannot know what’s been said by Smith, Bayliss, Thorpe, Root, when the “how do we approach this(?)” discussions have taken place, so maybe this culling of key staff is premature. Many would argue that this fuzziness around batting policy has been central to England’s problems… but it’s hard to imagine the actual conversations.

Could be Bayliss has been so-o falling over himself to be Of the Age that he really has been quietly inviting Roy, Bairstow and Buttler to go out there and express themselves. *Barfs into bin*. Could be that Thorpe (he is still in post, yes? Happy to be corrected on this) has been spending lots of time on technical stuff but is essentially saying the same thing.

If these guys actually believe that simplistic, macho nonsense then neither of them has any place being anywhere near an international test side. (Okay, I don’t actually mean that but you know what I mean?)

Thorpe, a fine player and no doubt a fabulous, committed bloke, is on drugs if he thinks that talent and intent make application and temperament redundant, in high-order test batting. (Incidentally I don’t think he does view things that way  but his problem is the players have wafted us in that direction. Problematically).

I am familiar with the idea that coaches now look to offer support to players who themselves take ownership of their   activity. Coaches now barely instruct, barely demonstrate: all this I understand and applaud. However, *if* there is patently a problem both in approach and execution – as there was, in the Ashes, with most of the England batting – then surely it is the job of the coach to facilitate remedies.

This might mean more, focussed, technical work or it might mean an instruction, an expectation, a bollocking. It seems unlikely, given the persistent errors and repetition of brain-fades, that strong enough words or good enough questions were forthcoming. Bayliss is off but Thorpe goes too.

If Roy was selected entirely on the basis that he should ‘believe in his talent and go after the bowling’ (and was told that), this was foolish, arguably arrogant but nevertheless a legitimate approach. It just proved – predictably – non-viable. If he was, as he latterly appeared, unsure of what his role was then this again reflects badly on the coaches, as well as himself. If at no stage did somebody say to the entire batting group ”right. Stay in there! Everybody’s job is just to stay in there”, then well, I give up.

Test Cricket is wonderfully complex. But the central requirement, in certain phases of certain games, to hold, to stall, to ‘survive’ and then re-gather is hardly a difficult one to grasp. Clearly there was some excellent Aussie bowling but I barely know any England (and Wales) supporter who wasn’t a tad embarrassed by the un-smartness of England’s approach. Fans and former players felt that England – that the ECB – have gotten caught out, for disrespecting the test format.

So we will judge according to how mad we got. How infuriated by Roy’s wildness, or Bairstow’s technical-tactical myopia, or Buttler’s gifted non-stickability. And whilst we might grudgingly accept that in life it’s good to get or to offer a second chance, most of us will be raising our eyebrows at a squad unchanged.

 

 

Knighthood? / Hold My Beer.

Heather is a particular kind of name, is it not? Speaks of Englishness and church-going families and quiet, erudite children. Or is that just me? Best move on.

Heather Knight is English. In fact she’s the England Captain (did you know?) having attended Cardiff MCC University en route into the game. Now the England Captain in cricket – Women’s Cricket. And she just did something, something pret-ty phenomenal.

We’re in Hove – where else? The sun is shining and there’s a particular crowd; smallish but by no means insulting, keen but by no means raucous. It’s the #KSLFinalsDay.

Heather’s team, Western Storm, have just struggled to contain the opposition, Southern Vipers, as they post a challenging score in the season finale – the final, defining, ‘all-important’ shoot-out.

(Vipers have amassed a total of 172 runs off their 20 overs. This is a major bundle and would in most circumstances signal a cruise to victory. However there are *things*. Firstly Storm are a hugely robust outfit, in a really good way. Secondly, they did haul the game back towards themselves, late-on. Thirdly, they have Heather).

Knight is the captain, remember – and she Captains Ingerland. And Wales. This same England that was so utterly outclassed by the Australian tourists recently that the Ashes was not so much surrendered as gift-wrapped and übered across with a sweet card from Marks & Sparks, signed ‘Much love, Heather & the girls’.

The result of this rather painful and prolonged public humiliation was the Coach of Ingerland losing his job and the ECB shuffling out some bulletins to quell the mounting unrest over The Widening Gap between Us and Oz. We can only imagine that Heather Knight’s position was ‘discussed’ during this accountability review: she was, after all, more at the helm than the coach, you might argue.

Knight did no doubt endure some tough questions, as well some Dark Nights of the Soul. How could she not have a blub into the cushion, or squeeze the dog just a touch too hard, in melancholy distraction? England’s performances, as well as the system were brutally unpicked, perhaps most painfully – though justifiably – by former colleagues now in the media corps. In short it’s been a bloody tough few months, for Heather.

Except. Except she has had Western Storm.

Western Storm have smashed it. They won all nine of their first nine fixtures in the Kia Super League before losing in the last, rain-affected game, to Yorkshire Diamonds. They were durable and deep, as a squad. Having contacts in the camp, I am sensing that they were also a proper posse, with the kind of comradeship that only sometimes accompanies big-shot, international sporting coalitions. And of course they were led by Heather Knight.

Knight has just become the highest scorer in the Kia Super League – the only woman to pass the 1,000 runs mark. She has been absolutely central to the stonking Storm campaign, in 2019. In the final, yesterday, against Southern Vipers, she blasted and clipped and drove to 78 not out to claim a) the trophy and b) the Player of the Match award. But there is & was more.

The nature of Knight’s performance was somewhere between fine and phenomenal. After her side had scrambled, clawed at the air and generally under-achieved more than a little, in the field, she rose to it.

Set an intimidatingly steep total and after losing her Indian Superstar of a bat, Mandhana, to a nervy pat to mid-on, first ball, Knight marched briskly in, early. Must have been scary: must have *asked questions*. Pah. I soon noted (in my epic blog, one post back, free-to-air!) that Knight ‘looks goodish’.

Starting (or re-starting) with Priest, she knows she must get after the bowling from the outset, such is the required run-rate. Priest, without ever looking classically smooth is going well – dispatching Wyatt, in particular, with some intent. But Wellington, the young Australian leg-spinner removes Knight’s partner with a peach that loops, turns and enables the stumping.

I remember clearly noting that despite the gathering pressure, Knight swept Wellington immaculately for four, immediately post that potentially key dismissal. Wilson then joined her and joined in with the essential urgency, making a timely 18 before holing out to Wyatt in the deep. Luff cannot sustain the momentum, though and goes, off the glove, bringing in another ‘Overseas’, Deepti Sharma.

Sharma is a fine, international player who has been twiddling her bat for two months; barely required as Storm stormed. Now, she and her skipper have proper work to do.

I thought for two or three overs that Sharma looked out of nick. But she, alongside her increasingly imperious, captain, accumulated runs. They had to. Quickly.

Knight got to fifty. She played what I described as the shot of the day, cracking an absurdly sweet cover drive to the boundary. She was absolutely on it, finding that almost dreamlike focus, staying in there, quietly relentless.

From the blog:

You feel that if Knight stays there, Storm get this. And I reckon she knows that.

Knight hit three towering, lusty,

boomtastic sixes on the way to 78 not out and to the trophy. There was or there became something of a Stokes-level of inspiration, of capture-of-destiny about the proceedings. (Knight doesn’t hit that many sixes – she’s ‘not that powerful’. But she found a way; reinvented herself; had no choice).

It was a Captain’s Knock… and then some. It was remarkable, in that it was initially shockingly unlikely and then in terms of its gathering brilliance. She defied. She clonked. She led.

I hope to god Knight actually loved it, in the moment. Because it soared, entertained and vindicated… and proofed her utterly against doubt and against The Doubters. And it’s hard to know what Heather is actually thinking: I hope there was scope for enjoyment – during as well as after.

It was, in a joyous and electrifying way, cricket and drama of the very finest variety. It scoffed at the very idea that Heather – the athlete, the champion, the leader – might be in any sense bland. How sensational that sport can do that? How gratifying that quality sometimes tells?

#KSLFinalsDay. The final final.

An adventure, as always loaded up with expectation, adrenalin, hope, memory. To unfamiliar but not entirely unknown Sussex. To the place where bruv number 2 did some college, where we stalked past a bombed hotel(!) – where we partied.

But that really was long ago. So who knew Brighton had hills? I remember the Grand Regency Architecture Thing but not the hills. I remember shingle. And no question of cricket.

The now is different. I’m here because I follow women’s cricket some, because there’s Welsh interest, because I got accreditation. I’m expecting an event but with that gentler thrum; with its own authentic, romantic force and quality.

On the long train-ride in I’m picturing a win for Western Storm and want that, in a non-partisan kindofaway. But there is space in the daydream for some brilliance from Wyatt, Beaumont and somebody less familiar. I’m really hoping to learn something.

The whole thing’s a huge indulgence – a bloggist’s folly. It’s for me and for registering a tiny voice.

I hope too, that it makes explicit something of the value of the women’s game. Here’s how Sunday in Hove went…

First thoughts? Wow. What a day. Hove has kicked back into summery stuff, after last evening’s autumnal grey. The ground is looking low and somehow both open for light but also cwtched rather romantically into the groovicious near-seafront. For Hove, for Brighton, make no mistake, is pret-ty groovy.

Yesterday, having walked into the 1st Central County Ground for the first time, I tweeted two, instinctive words. Autumn… and Shrubsole. Because it was autumn yesterday and because I imagined Our Anya swinging it about three foot two. Even the white thing. Today is very different. Today is absolutely beautiful.

11 am. A further wander round confirms it really is sickeningly pleasant – and ideal for the athletes. Sure the Vipers & Lightning Posses are ‘warming up’ but this may be as much about culture as necessity. Wyatt and Beaumont and the rest are surely expelling nerves as much as *actually preparing*, which could be done in about two minutes flat, I reckon, today. (O-kaaay. I know this isn’t entirely true. But you get my drift, yes?)

So sun. Sun and a light breeze. And a straw-coloured deck and boundaries in and summery toons from those ubiquitous, faintly sinister black speakers. Cricket weather to the beatific max.

But predictions? Storm are outstanding and also durable, somehow. Lightning are absolutely flying – six wins on the bounce. Vipers have Beaumont, Bates and Wyatt. So how, in a 20 over format, are we reasonably going to predict anything?

Storm should be advantaged in that they sit out the first game – the ‘semi’. All the Stormtroopers power and energy can therefore be focussed on that single, final effort. (I think this may tell. This and the fact that I suspect they have marginally the strongest squad).

I break off briefly to guffaw at the Vipers S & C Coach (I think) who joins in the end of a movement drill to throw hopelessly and wusstastically at a single stump. And I really do mean wusstastically).

…Then I break off into Proper Cricket, if I may?

Elwiss has won the toss for Lightning and has chosen to bat: Daggers on comms describing it as a ‘good-looking strip’, or similar. So in half an hour Vipers will bowl at Loughborough Lightning and the #KSLFinalsDay will be underway.

A further distraction before we return to those non-predictions. Charlotte Edwards – Lottie to most – is looking cool and authoritative in her Vipers clobber, as she belts some forward drives at rotating catchers. Demanding stuff, with few catches taken because of the sharpness of the striking. Closing out with respectful rather than pally high- fives. Could she be the next England Coach? Clearly she’s a front-runner.

But predictions. I predict any of these three teams could win this. Because talent everywhere and because the nature of T20 cricket. Wyatt could win this on her own; as could Knight, Priest, Shrubsole, Jones, Atapattu etc etc (pick your own).

I am expecting key contributions from those named whilst *looking out for something fabulous* from Smriti Mandhana with the bat, Wilson in the field, Lauren Bell with the ball. Plus did I mention Tammy Beaumont, yet? If not, let’s note to the universe that she has the talent and the mentality to go big on a Big Stage. Flipping through the programme, I’m going for Storm, because they feel deeper.

11.50 and the sun really does break through again, after twenty minutes of moodier climes. I’m really ready to enjoy this: as always, wish there slightly more here to appreciate. Minor grump: as so often the mood music (😂) and announcements are shockingly, embarrassingly, unnecessarily too loud. Hang the DJ.

Tash Farrant will open, for Vipers, Atapattu to face.

We’re not behind the bowler’s arm, in the Media Centre so difficult to see how much shape there was from Farrant – suspect some. But no real threat. Eight come from the over including a full-toss, last ball, dispatched straight for four.

From the Cromwell Road End, excitingly, it’s Lauren Bell. Bell is strikingly tall and slim – and eighteen years of age. And notably quicker than Farrant. She beats the openers twice, with pace and a touch more bounce, conceding just the four runs in the over. Good start.

Farrant, returning, goes full but is smartly driven for four, by Jones. There is generous applause for some neat outfielding from Bell – the crowd is building, encouragingly. We are 20 for 0 after 3. Little bit of swing available from both ends, track looking benign and maybe slowish.

Bell, whose run-up features something of a deceleration pre- gather, it seems, is looking committed. But she bowls a second wide – this time down leg. Jones, though, offers a gift, stepping out wide looking to invent something over fine leg. Daft and unnecessary and out, bowled.

Wyatt will bowl the 4th, with Adams joining Atapattu. Good energy, as always from the England dasher, who is looking to tweak it for Atapattu’s edge. 23 for 1 at the end of her over.

Bell returns for her third and gets Atapattu in front. Lovely, full delivery which swings just enough – late. Big moment? Enter the skipper Elwiss.

Unfortunately the young quick messes up the rest of the over. Two no-balls followed by a wide. Cue the mutterings about not winning anything with kids. 33 for 2 as the powerplay ends.

Wellington, who is watchable; big-turning leggies possible. Adams rather lamely lifts the second one out through cover… but safely. Then she paddles one fine for four. Turn, though. 39 for 2.

Off-spin, from the other end, with Morris.  Just as I am about to note the complete absence of power-hitting so far, Elwiss clouts her straightish for four.

Wellington in for more. Elwiss and Adams, experienced both, have upped the ante. Sharper running, heavier hitting. Elwiss again strikes hard for four, evading the diving Bell. 56 for 2 after 9 as Bates tries her medium-pacers from Cromwell Road. A wide to leg but overall a tidy start.

Elwiss greets the returning Wyatt with another aggressive blow for four before Adams carts her for the first six of the innings. Good spell this, for Lightning, after a slowish beginning. 76 for 2 after 11.

Farrant has changed ends and will be looking to re-apply some control. Better than that. A rash second run means Elwiss is short, and gone for a goodish 28. Lightning are 85 for 3 after 12. Game feels even.

Bates takes a cool catch at fine leg, to remove Adams, again for 28, Wellington the bowler. Importantly, there are now two new batters at the crease – Freeborn and du Preez. Excellent, competitive game brewing.

Bell will bowl her final over but starts with a wide outside off. Another wide one is eased for four. A third is (actually for the second time) smashed straight back at her; too brutally to offer a catch, you would say. Then another wide. Bell finishes with 2 for 23; decent, for sure but maybe not entirely reflecting how mixed her contribution was. She is a talent, and this is a big stage but there was some loose stuff in there.

Bates returns from in front of us and du Preez lifts her impressively for six, before smashing another one back at the bowler, again un-catchably. Freeborn joins in with a further pull for four, bringing us to 110 for 4 after 15. Good total now in sight.

Particularly as du Preez booms Morris for the third six of the innings – this one to square leg. Morris has her revenge, mind, as Wyatt takes a comfortable catch immediately after. Enter Gunn.

The first really poor bit of fielding as Kelly dives over one, allowing the boundary. Vipers have been generally pretty sharp out there. As if to emphasise this, Wyatt takes another catch in the deep with some style – Freeborn the victim. As we start the 18th, Lightning will be 127 for 6.

Manifestly poor calling and running sees Gardner run out for 0. Gunn maybe culpable there. The veteran cuffs one through square leg by way of apology. 133 for 7 with 2 overs remaining.

Beaumont (I’m afraid) looks to have slightly bottled a sharpish catch to mid-off. At the very least, she misjudged it. The Vipers captain is rightly angry, as will be her bowler, Farrant. Can Gunn and Glenn take their team to 150 and beyond? It feels *that kind of pitch*.

Maybe not. Morris takes a steepler to remove Glenn, off Bates. Then Wyatt again swallows another blow to deep midwicket – Higham gone. Bates promptly bowls Gordon, rather humiliatingly, to finish the action at 143 all out. Vipers are in it but seem 20 short; expecting a Proper Game, though.

Interestingly, Atapattu will open for the Lightning: Bates facing. Third ball is threaded beautifully through the covers for four. Wyatt takes a wild swing and is hugely fortunate to clip it over her own right shoulder for four: Atapattu not that impressed with the chase and dive at the boundary edge. Me neither.

Gunn will bowl the second. Wyatt picks her off to leg for four. There is a wide, to off and an ambitious slap over mid-on that brings six. Followed by another, more controlled, over extra. Wyatt has 18 off 6 and the Vipers are 29 for 0 off just 2 overs.

Lightning change; Glenn will bring her leg-spin to try and break the momentum. Decent over, conceding just the five runs.

Bates clatters one inelegantly through the hands of mid-on for four before clearing that same fielder more convincingly: Atapattu the bowler on both occasions. Vipers have raced to 45 for 0 off the first 4 overs. Slightly worryingly, this with Bates looking slightly out of touch, so far.

*Fatal*. The opener creams one over mid-on for a further boundary. 50 up. When Wyatt skilfully cuts to third man for four more, then the angst becomes palpable. 57 for 0 after 5, with Lightning unable to check the onslaught.

Gardner brings more pace but no relief, Bates pull-driving through mid-on. Then rather cruelly, Gunn’s lack of athleticism is highlighted as she drops a goodish chance over the boundary, to groans from the crowd. The opening six overs have brought 70 runs but 0 wickets. Wow.

What can Gordon do?

Bates whips her hard through midwicket for four. But the left-arm offie bowls her with a beauty to offer some hope. 76 for 1. Beaumont mistimes her first ball but escapes with a nick through slip.

Glenn has changed ends. Wyatt, trying to force a wide one, overbalances. She is stumped. 78 for 2. Timely and critical response from the bowling side. Two new batters at the crease as Bouchier joins her captain, Tammy Beaumont.

A great throw from Gordon has Beaumont scrambling but she’s in. 80 for 2 as the Scot returns from in front of us. It’s not the most beautiful of actions but Gordon does deceive people and revs on the ball means she does tend to get some turn.

Elwiss from the Cromwell Road End. But Beaumont relishes that extra bit of pace and cuts superbly and crisply for four. However Bouchier is run-out to bring Lightning back into the game, at 92 for 3.

Beaumont, who may now be key, skilfully guides Gordon to fine leg for four, before check-driving through the offside cordon. Great stuff and the 100 is up.

Elwiss. Beaumont swings herself off her feet, comically – no consequence, save for the giggles. Then a short one is mishit when pulled… but into safety. 105 for 3 after 12; Lightning were 85.

Classy, wristy, timed clip through midwicket from Beaumont is shockingly misfielded by Higham but then the skipper is gone, inside-edging Gunn onto the sticks. From nowhere, that: Beaumont made 24. Wellington joins Morris.

After 14 overs it boils down to 30 runs required from 36; 6 wickets remaining. Eminently do-able, you would think but credit Lightning for narrowing the game, somewhat. Gordon will bowl.

Three dot balls help. Four. Five. Two off the last. Fine effort from Gordon means there is just a tad more tension in the air. 28 off 30.

Elwiss, the captain is in again. Wellington – who can bat – steers the third ball over mid-off. Four. Then a strangely nervy edge flies out towards point… to safety.

Maybe it gets to Morris. She plays extravagantly across a straight one and is bowled. Five down. And a near run-out follows. Atapattu will bowl the 17th, with 20 required.

She starts with an extraordinarily slow one, which concedes just the one, surprisingly. But nerves are a factor here. Another scramble to get home. Three overs, fifteen runs, for the final.

Gunn, from Cromwell Road. Another über-slow delivery – bold. A hoist to leg invites a catch. A tough one… not taken by du Preez. Then another one drops just short. The batters negotiate the over, just about, and nine are needed from the last two. Glenn will bowl the penultimate.

Wellington reverse-sweeps, executing precisely. Four. Job done?

The tall legspinner does well enough, in truth but cannot entirely stop the runs. Scholfield pulls her convincingly for four to settle it.

Vipers are through, at 145 for 5, with an over spare. One of those games that seemed done early, with almost arrogant ease, went closer. Wyatt’s dynamism and consistently fine catching the difference?

 

THE FINAL.

Vipers will bat, Tammy Beaumont having won the toss and chosen that route. We have a little more cloud than earlier and that has affected the temperatures negatively, a tad. Whether this suits the likes of Shrubsole, for Storm, we’ll soon find out: expect her to bowl soon enough. Game on any moment…

Wales’ offie Claire Nicholas will bowl first up, Bates to face. Single taken. Wyatt again partnering Bates. Four from the over. Now Davies from the Cromwell Road End. Storm notably vocal and energetic in the field.

First boundary is a nicely-judged cut behind point, from Wyatt. Freya Davies has a lovely high hand and dynamic approach. There is a little bounce for her but when she goes full Bates straight-drives for four. 14 for 0 after 2.

Nicholas again. Wyatt advances but misses. Not the next time. Half the universe was sensing a Wyatt Break-out and it comes, sure enough. Six over midwicket. Bates joins in by slashing a wide-ish one through extra. 26 for 0 after 3.

More spin, different spinner as Sharma – surprisingly still only 21 – comes in. Luff might have stopped the sweep but four is taken, followed by four more driven past mid-off. 37 for 0 off 4. Goodish start for the Vipers but no alarms yet for Storm. Davies has changed ends.

Wyatt slogs but with purpose – through extra cover and then over it. What a #KSL she’s having! Clean hitting so limited risk. Then a cute swish of a cut – four more. Could be Wyatt won the semi with a charge to 28: suddenly she has 35 here. Vipers 53 for 0 after 5. Time for Shrubsole.

Knight stops brilliantly at mid-off. Bates edges behind, safely. A wider one is driven out through extra again, signalling danger, for the Storm. Chanceless and positive, so far, for Vipers; 62 for 0 a good return for the powerplay.

Odedra starts with a sloppy one to leg. Wide. Then a slow-mo moment. Firstly her run-up is slowish. Then the delivery is miscued, highish in the bat and the ball loops, painfully slowly away from the bowler. She seems to be *not quite there* – but no. She surges and dives to take a stunner of a one-handed catch, bringing a burst of applause. Bates gone.

But this brings in Beaumont. Wyatt, meanwhile is purring, cutting exquisitely behind square for four. Change again as Knight brings herself in for the eighth.

These batters may be England’s two finest – particularly in the shorter formats. They can scurry, they have skilful hands and what they lack in raw power they tend to make up for in timing and/or invention. Hands are switched, minds are twitchy and alive. Wyatt gets to 50 off 27 with Sharma now bowling from in front of us in the Media Centre.

Storm, led by Priest behind the wicket, are still on it. Verbal, attentive. But Luff lets them down. Bottling (possibly) a well-struck pull to the deep – certainly making a hash of a genuine chance.

Shrubsole draws a glaring error from Beaumont but the ball loops safe. Typically the Viper’s skipper recovers immediately, to guide to third man for four. After ten overs, the batting side are relatively comfortable, on 99 for 1. Shrubsole’s two overs have been decent rather than threatening.

Nicholas has Beaumont in knots but she escapes as the ball skirts everything. Again the batter responds with cruel efficiency; beautiful hands cut and lift high over cover for four. 106 for 1 after 11.

Oh calamity! Odedra spills a clear chance at third man. Mandhana drops the next – even easier – at mid-off. Infuriating and simply not good enough, from either. An awful couple of minutes, culminating in an utter pie from the no-doubt infuriated skipper, carted waaay over Cow Corner by a grateful Wyatt. Momentum strongly with Vipers, now.

Storm need a gift or need to make something happen. Big Score Pending. Beaumont dismisses one to leg, to emphasise the point. 124 for 1 after 13. Meaning close to 200 possible.

Davies is back again. But wow. Beaumont has found Exhibition Mode. Picks one up (and then some) from off her toes: it soars for six, winking back at the gawping fielders. Huge statement of quality.

But finally, somebody holds a catch. Shrubsole, who claims Wyatt, inevitably within a whisker of the boundary. Wyatt made an outstanding 73 and is already a strong candidate for Player of the Match.

Oh jaysus. The previously magbloodynificent Beaumont has only gone and run-out Bouchier for 0. Hideous, hideous episode.

Can Sharma capitalise? No. But she can do that annoying thing where she pulls out of her delivery; neither mankad-attempt (quite) nor genuine issue… just, yeh, irritating.

Possible change in things as Beaumont edges high off Shrubsole and another catch is held. Morris joins Wellington and we are 141 for 4, after 16. It brightens again.

The Aussie (Wellington) reverse-sweeps Sharma for four. Morris sweeps more conventionally, with the same result. 153 for 4, with 3 to come.

Nicholas will bowl. Shrubsole, not a great athlete, dives awkwardly to prevent a straight four but fails. The off-spinner has Wellington l.b.w. before bamboozling the incoming Scholfield with the final delivery. 158 for 5 as Davies comes prancing in.

A sweetly-struck clip to backward square is competently taken by Luff. What really might have been 184 is 164 for 6 as Shrubsole prepares to bowl the last.

A relatively low-key final over suits the Stormtroopers and Shrubsole delivers, bowling to her field and claiming a further wicket. Rudd does spoon her up and over for a cheeky last-ball four but the total of 172, despite being pret-ty impressive, may not be as utterly out of reach as seemed possible when Wyatt and Beaumont were unpicking the attack.

So excellent work from Vipers, mixed effort from Storm… and let’s hope for a thrilling contest.

Priest will face Farrant. Little bit of in-swing still there. Wide, to Mandhana. Then drama. Mandhana rather carelessly lifts one towards mid-on. It seems clear that Kelly has misjudged it but no. She launches forward late to take a fine, if somehow also non-stylish catch! Gift, for Vipers. 2 for 1 after 1.

Lauren Bell is in at Priest. Single. Knight will now face. The finest of edges beats the sprawling keeper – four. Then an l.b. appeal – but na. Followed by a flourish of the hands and four through forty-five.

Bell loses that line again, though, for a biggish leg-side wide… followed by a clear offside wide… and a marginal leg-side wide. Another looong over finishes with Storm on 16 for 1.

Priest middles Farrant through midwicket for a mighty four. Knight looks goodish early, too, timing through the same area.

Bates, going slightly wide, has Priest missing rather strangely, twice. A straighter one is clubbed downtown for four. It may be cooler out there but the day – suddenly the September day – could still hardly be better. Wyatt will bowl the fifth; off-spin from around.

There is talk that Wyatt might yet break into the (Very Occasional) Test side, should her bowling develop. She does give it a decent tweak. But Priest helps herself to something short and something wide, for three boundaries, in total.

Bell going yorker length. But then overdoes it – full toss clumped for four by Priest. 50 up, in the over and the powerplay concludes on that figure, for 1 down. Enter Wellington, with her right-arm leggies.

This young woman has something. A real beauty loops and turns sharply, exposing Priest for the stumping. 50 for 2, bringing Wilson to the crease. Rather beautifully and atmospherically, we have shadows.

Courageously and with conviction, Heather Knight is sweeping Wellington. Connects for four. Good contest.

Bell is back and placing it there but still apparently challenging Wilson, who falls, making the shot. Bell contributes to the extras column again, with another no-ball – her fourth or fifth, I think, of the day. Free hit makes only one.

Wilson steps out to claim another boundary off the youngster. We are 66 for 2 after 8.

The same batter times another sweep, off Wellington, moving to 8. Knight at this point has an authoritative 23 off 21, which becomes 27, with the stroke of the day, a fabulous cover drive.

Wilson responds with a straight drive for four off Morris’s opener. This is brewing nicely, now. Decent shout for l.b.w. – umpire not interested and of course no DRS. Comms inform us Vipers were 99 for 1 after 10 overs: Storm are 80 for 2.

Hah. Did the announcement prompt the blow to the extra boundary, from Knight? Maybe not. But it’s a sign that there’s a) some catching up to do b) the batters are on it. Given that the Vipers’ innings did slightly peter out, this feels a contest – particularly with both Knight and Wilson striking so cleanly.

Ah. Wilson holes out to Wyatt, inevitably, in the deep, off Farrant, for 18. Luff joins her captain, with 83 needed, off 53. That captain again responds, with a towering, swept six, to square leg. 98 for 3, off 12.

Wellington drops short, Knight cuts and Tarrant misfields. Four. Luff, though, is caught behind, presumably off the glove, bringing in Sharma. Knight needs a partner to help her shine.

Bell misfields, poorly, as Sharma reverse-sweeps. Four. 10 off the over.

Morris now, to Sharma as we build to what we hope will be a grand finale – for this tournament, the Super League, remember. A loose ball is carted to leg. Knight has 50.

Bates, from in front of us. Medium pace. Short. Again thrashed with confidence for six, by Knight. Eleven from the over, 46 needed from 30. *Quietly exciting*.

Bell, with a job to do, from the Cromwell Road End. A test.

Single. Single. Six, again from Knight, who may be on for something extraordinary, here. Then more issues for the unfortunate young bowler. In short a Significantly Costly Over. Things have narrowed to 29 from 24 as Wellington steps up to the plate once more.

You feel that if Knight stays there, Storm get this. And I reckon she knows that. A poor, poor, nervy ball from Wellington… is missed. Six only, from the over.

23 from 18. Wonderful and tense. Knight must get the strike – Sharma has 21, somehow but at this point is missing as much as hitting.

Wyatt is bowling the 18th. Sharma sweeps ver-ry fine, for four. Then hoists, straight, for FOUR! I’m too scrambled to count but I think that over went for 11. STORM NEED TWELVE FROM TWELVE TO TAKE THE TROPHY.

I’ll have what Sharma’s drinking. She’s *found something*  and found another four, through midwicket. Bates must stem the tide. Two great balls might help. A smooth but blistering drive over extra won’t – won’t help the Vipers. Sharma and Knight look to be taking this home, magnificently.

THE CAPTAIN, HEATHER KNIGHT, BLAZES OVER STRAIGHTISH MID-OFF… AND WESTERN STORM HAVE ONLY GONE AND DONE IT!! Wow. What a fab-yoo-luss finish.  Fabulous from Knight, from Sharma (actually), fabulous from Wyatt, earlier, fabulous for women’s cricket. Brilliant, enjoyable sport. Wow.

Right. *Takes deep breath*. Forgive any typo’s. I’m off to wish Sparky O’Leary all the best. Will be back to reflect, no doubt. 

Final Word has to be for Heather Knight. And maybe for Danni Wyatt. The former played something of an Innings For the Ages to bring Western Storm home, in the final. It was controlled, it was powerful in every sense, it was classy. She hit three thrillingly-timed sixes as well as did the glueing-the-whole-effort-together thing. Magnificent and utterly vindicating, after a heavily challenging season – a season that might have buried plenty of  the rest.

Wyatt – voted Player of the Series in this last KSL – was again the dasher on the day with the bat, playing two hugely entertaining knocks. She also seemed to take about thirty catches in the deep, where again she looked to be playing at a simply higher level. She’s a gem, she’s a laff and she’s worth travelling to watch. Now… I travel home.

 

In answer to the question “Where were you?”

Ok so things can be too much. Sun. Alcohol. Events.

And then maybe you can get mixed up.

Who knows, really?

I can already feel the creep of history, or at least that slightly creepy feeling – “where were you?” And I know somewhere down the line I’ll just forget. So maybe this is my document, this is where I mark something.

Ben Stokes. Crazy, wonderful, tattooed euphoria and a free glass of chilled white from young Tom, behind the bar, at KandaBongoMan. In the batty, dusky dark, by the batty oaks and the solemn stones and the cows, actually, and the stage.

Stage? Yes. Empty but still ‘Once in a LIFE-timing’ at us before the band appear.

Band? Yes. Because from Ben Stokes we go here, blasting through the silent uplands (no cars, even though Bank Holiday) to the ridicuvenue, in the ancient valley under Carn Ingli. Then, over a glass, we catch our breath whilst contemplating said cows, said stones.

We can’t believe we’ve seen that. Tom the barman, recognising the All Stars hoodie, asks me did I see it. (I’m guessing he’s mid-twenties: I’m not. He’s saying he may never have seen a better day’s sport in his life, I’m putting it instinctively top three. Then we talk about coaching – he’s played for Llanrhian CC so we’re into family business. I strongly recommend the ECB Coaching Pathway, (honest), tell him to get on it, rapidly and then I confess I did neck the wine, pretty much).

Top three in my lifetime, off the the top of my head. But any need to delve too deep or go through some anal countback-thing? (And erm, can I say that?) What’s to be gained by unpicking the blurry wonder of it?

Bugger I’m torn on this. Do have that deliciously satiated feeling – Stokes is already forever and the minutiae will come back unbidden in joyful time. Sometimes we force when we reflect, yes? Plus the band are on.

So on the one hand I plain refuse to prepare the ground for those “it was right up there with blah di blah” conversations: I forget, anyway! The drama around Stokes – the non-catches, the Lyon’s Fumble, the bent or malfunctioning umpire – stands gloriously, kaleidoscopically alone and in the huddle with the greats, already. It’s seeping in (but) we will remember, individually.

Conversely, I need to see some of this again. How in god’s name did it actually happen? From Buttler/Woakes, how the hell did that happen?

I am dancing with my wife. I am thinking, I am wondering  how it is that spangly guitar and mysteriously ungraspable vocals can sustain such insuperable upfulness. When KandaBongoMan may, for all I know, be singing about vice and trauma.

How can things get so deliciously, defiantly, wonderfully twisted? Could it be, could it actually be that there is something invincible about (yaknow) the human spirit?

Phew. I know nothing and it’s great.

Cobblers.

It’s only sport. Given that I’ve spent most of the last 48 hours doing the family visiting-thing at our local Emergency Unit I should be well-placed to remember that – to engage Philosophically Proportionate Mode. Ain’t always easy, though, eh?

Not when after what feels like a lifetime of trying to click into hospital wifi/phone signal you snatch a buffertastic update or two on the cricket and it unleashes a Ragin’ Fury, near as dammit. (Diversion but… was it Desperate Dan who flew into Ragin’ Furies? Or who? Fluttering right out there at the shadowy extremes, that one). Anyway, one minute we’re eyeballing a heart monitor, the next I’m watching Jason Roy ‘dance down’.

Dance down? Was more like a paralytic meander – a pre-chunder slalom to the pub khazi. With added air-punch. A catastrophically uncool Dad Dance, under a cruelly searching spotlight. (O-kaaay. Did say Ragin’ Fury).

But maybe that’s not how you saw it? Maybe you either drift easily, in that flow of positivity – that ‘this is what he does’ argument, or you really deeply commit to the idea that Roy, having been selected for his brilliance as a gladiatorial, instinctive smiter of absolutely bloody everything anyone slings down at him, is ab-so-lutely entitled to do what it says on his tin.

I say cobblers to that. I could try and be more measured – for fear of sounding reactionary, for fear of losing half my followers, for fear of stirring philoso-hostilities – but that would be a betrayal of my own instinct. Where many are saying ‘express yourself’ I say cobblers. Where that lazy-macho coaching mantra swoops in, defending the gutsiness, the stay-trueness, the incomparable and essential free-spiritedness of the batsman, I say cobblers.

Why? Because not then. Because embarrassingly stupid. Because repercussions on team-mates, because ushering in terminal momentum against. Because there’s an Ashes maybee already on the line. Because Smart Cricket you utter donkey, not mindlessly Positive Cricket.

*However, note not inconsequential footnote to follow…* dude, once you’ve been in there for two hours and have 78 not out and that wonderful eye is in and the game is petering out, then maybe. Maybe clatter that chirpy Australian barsted to the boundary, then.

Expect there were discussions, pre that knock – and probably pre the Roy selection. Fair enough. “Jase, you’re in there to blaze a trail, whenever possible”. But if there were no caveats – cobblers. Ridiculous.

Why? Because Test Cricket: a test over time. Meaning sometimes a test of skill and patience as well as hand-eye.  Meaning bravado can be earned or ‘expressed’, possibly but is measurably, in this genre of the game, more likely to be exposed for the cowardly fraud it so often is. If Root or Bayliss waived away all or any responsibility to contemplate erm, responsibility – cobblers.

The shot itself was a wildish, unbalanced hack. Roy’s exit, sharpish, utterly castled, smacked of humiliation and therefore offered the gift of triumph to the bowler, to Australia – stupid and irresponsible in a moment that calls for intelligence, for smart cricket.

So if Bayliss defends him, out of duff loyalty or (worse still), because Positive Cricket was the agreed approach… cobblers. They have insulted our intelligence. For all that they might argue that their way is the way of courage, it’s the way of the fool who hides behind the easy, unthinking swipe.

#Bristol. #WomensAshes. Crazy Dance.

Disclaimer: England won. England won and this changes some things… but not everything. The Widening Gulf may still be there; that key separation around being able to Execute Skills Under Pressure may still be there – or has been sufficiently present to be considered problematic, for England. Stuff still needs to be done.

But what stuff? It feels like the ECB has been revisiting the structural elements to all this, as the Ashes has collapsed around the home team. (That a fair description?) The brilliance and consistency and conviction of the the Australians has made further conversations around structure and development inevitable, given the blindingly obvious superiority of a) their team and b) the Oz Opportunity, for professional women cricketers. Note has been taken; the Australian system, with dozens more pro’ players and significantly better playing environment is undeniably better than the ECB’s. Endof.

It may therefore be ironic but it’s surely true that the Ashes walloping has stirred change that may be positive, in England and Wales. Who knows, we may even follow the Australians into further steps towards equal pay, equality of resource – who knows? At base level there will be, there has to be something of a shift: I think we’ve seen and heard already that slightly embarrassed process shuffle from its seat.

There will also be a de-brief on playing standards, players individually, selection, coaching, etc. Rightly. Broadly, it’s likely that the England squad is pret-ty close to the right squad – though admittedly this is partly by dint of the fact that there are (by Australian standards) so few candidates out there. Robinson should be given a polite going-over, to keep him honest and focused – likewise Knight – and then the work should start again. 

Let’s not fall entirely into doom and gloom. She ain’t a perfect cricketer but at 19/20 Sophie Ecclestone is a worldie of a spin-bowler. And Beaumont is quality, and Sciver, Jones, Knight, Shrubsole and Brunt have quality. And last night, before a goodish, engaged crowd, Mady Villiers made a notable introduction to the game at the highest level – made us smile, in fact, such was the delightful, unbridled joyfulness of her burst of wickets. So women’s cricket in England and Wales is gonna be okay, I reckon.

My live report follows…

 

 

Bristol is glorious – often is. But today it’s warm and cidery-by-the-river and cosmopolitan and trashy and musical. And glorious.

I’m at The Cricket, in Ashley Down, above the allotments and the friendly, noisy, smoky barbers and the skips and taxis of St Pauls and City Road. Find it hard to describe why I like this ground so much but there’s something about the sky, the light, the wrap-aroundness that appeals. Plus maybe it’s always seemed to be cosmically sunny whenever I’ve been here. ‘Tis, this afternoon.

Tough to know how sunny the general or individual dispositions might be, in the England camp. It’s so-o lovely a scene that it’s hard to imagine the ongoing Real Ashes Trauma is scarring every moment, even now, for Robinson, Knight, et al. Hope not.

Whatever happens, tonight this is done. Whatever baggage they’re carrying, this is sport, there’s another chance, the conditions are great, there’ll be a crowd – and lights!

As I enter the stadium, Kirsty Gordon and A.N. Other are doing timed circuits around the boundary – suggesting they’re not playing, I imagine. (Gordon not actually in this T20 squad but there have been whispers she may play tonight as things get rotated a little. Honestly too far away to be clear on the second player). Haven’t heard any other team news.

Just been for another wee promenade. Ver-ry pleasant evening, with some breeze. Temperature at 18.15 dipping under 70 degrees F, I reckon.

Now some Proper News. Team for England includes Shrubsole for Elwis and Raf Nicholson’s pal Mady Villiers for Laura Marsh.

Australia have won the toss and chosen to have a bowl. Some cynics in the Media Centre suggesting they may be looking to blast England out and scoot off, sharpish. Hoping that’s not how it turns out – none of us need (or rather women’s cricket doesn’t need) another massacre.

Aus have looked happy and relaxed as they gathered then endured “Jerusalem”. Inevitably, Perry will open. She bowls with that slowish, grooved approach then slams it down. First thought is the pitch looks slowish… but that could be premature. Six runs from the over and no dramas for either Wyatt or Beaumont.

Wyatt dances down to Schutt’s second ball and slashes it through point for four. Not entirely without risk – slightly aerial – but runs. It feels like the kind of evening (or time of evening) where there just may not be much through the air for the bowlers; however Schutt does get that inswinger going, very full, and it rather fortuitously slides past the keeper’s left hand, off I know not what, for four more. 17 for 0 off 2, suddenly.

Perry concedes a front-foot no-ball, marginally, and Wyatt  carts the free-hit bouncer skywards for one. The dynamic (when on it) batter then glides a beautiful cut away before launching Perry over the covers for six! England are a reasonably tasty 28 for 0 off 3 overs.

Schutt is replaced by Jonassen. Beaumont tries to lift a wristy clip up and over mid-on but merely finds Mooney. Gone for 5. Enter the skipper at three, again.

Wyatt is going well, not just belligerently. There are drop-and-runs and sharp rotations.

Schutt has changed ends. Wyatt gets cute, flipping her over her shoulder to fine leg, before the bowler has her revenge. Bowls her, as the opener tries to make room that kindof isn’t there: good ball that may have carried straight on. Wyatt made a swiftish 20 but was she racing a little too much, again?

England are 40 for 2 at the end of the power-play. That’s goodish provided Knight and Sciver can form a partnership, you suspect.

Kimmince follows Jonassen. Kimmince has all kinds of tricks but this pitch is looking pret-ty benign, to me. *Tries not to think of what Healy/Lanning may yet do*.

Sciver is slightly cramped, pulling and swishing. She gets a top edge and skies, behind. Caught, third man. Not good.

Have moaned a bit before about Sciver’s propensity to try to stick everything through midwicket. Caught her out here again. Just don’t know if the coach – any coach – should be *having words* about this. Plainly it’s ‘the way she wants to play’: plainly, against good bowling, she mishits too often, as a result.

Vlaeminck is in from the Pavilion End – from underneath us. Brisk. Bounces Knight. Then the England captain plays a particularly inelegant air-shot. An appeal follows, for one obviously tailing down to leg, before Knight absolutely smokes a similar delivery for six, forward of square. England are 61 for 3 off 10. It’s entertaining.

Jones, who needs something from this series, is flummoxed by Jonassen and almost run-out. She does greet the incoming Wareham with a beautiful, controlled lofted drive for four, mind, before sweeping to the fine leg boundary. Should be confidence-building. 76 for 3 after 12.

Kimmince bowls a shocker down to leg – wide. Jones visibly ‘stands and delivers’ to haul one over extra. Knight clouts one straight, aerial but safe. England are hitting. But do they have the power of the line-up to come?

Knight’s running looked poorish to me, tonight: she may be carrying a ‘hammy’ apparently. She is run out going for a second that was maybe never on AGAINST PERRY; felt like a bad misjudgement. When her partner Jones also departs shortly afterwards, for 19, edging to Healy, things have suddenly started to crumble. 84 for 5, England, off 14.

Suddenly we have Brunt and Winfield picking up the pieces: Schutt returns at the Ashley Down Road End. The sense is that 150 – possibly more – is a minimum to make this competitive.

Wareham’s legspin is comparatively unthreatening. In fact all the spin has been that way – hence the likelihood that one or more of the women in yellow may go decisively big.

Both Brunt and Winfield prove willing. Willing to heave. Gardiner is clumped sweetly to square leg by the latter, then driven up and over mid-off for a further four. Experienced players, both, these two realise a Grand Finish is an absolute must. 116 for 5, after 18.

Schutt will bowl the penultimate but she starts with a yorker around the ankles which escapes everything and scuttles for four. Brunt dispatches the follow-up magnificently for six! 13 from the over.

Jonassen will have the last over. A hilarious, cheeky, defiant reverse-sweep goes to the third man boundary. Also hilariously (for the locals) Jonassen fluffs TWO successive run-outs as the batters charge. Innings closed on 139 for 5. An honourable effort… which feels 20 short as we dart for coffee.

During the break I begin to question this assumption – if that’s what it is – that Aus will chase this down with some ease.  Mainly because the evening is closing in. It’s cooler and already markedly less bright. Of course fielding may be less easy as time progresses but could batting be more of a caper, too? Reckon Australia will have enough but let’s see.

Kate Cross will open for England. She starts with what looks like an attempted leg-cutter but it’s wide, legside. Third and fourth ball are both dragged down – deliberately or otherwise – and runs come. A poor over, in truth, with 8 conceded.

Shrubsole will follow from the pavilion but she also drops short and is punished. England need a moment, here, already: Shrubsole settles and nothing further conceded. Brunt replaces Cross immediately and she too mixes up the length. (There must be plan to invite cuts/pulls/aerial slashes but Healy and Mooney commit no early indiscretions).

Healy booms Shrubsole over extra and you might say it’s not an entirely clean hit – and therefore there is some risk. But it’s four.

First blood, though to Brunt and England. Mooney is caught in the proverbial several minds and serves one up – a dolly – to short cover. This, of course, brings in Lanning. Healy almost offers something similar, again off something back-of-a-length but escapes. Ecclestone will bowl the sixth with Australia 27 for 1.

The young offie’s reputation for making something happen is again enhanced when, with Lanning drawn forward, the ball strikes pad momentarily before bat. Out l.b.w. Yes, Lanning!

Big moment in the game and in the career of Mady Villiers, follows. Her first bowl in international cricket and it’s only Perry down yon end. A single is taken. Seconds later Healy strikes back fairly sharply to the bowler – sharp but catchable – but the young spinner can’t snaffle hold. The over is okay but that may prove key.

Cross again, from the Ashley Down Road End. Tidyish. In fact, without remotely being a strangulation, this is a low-key knock, so far, from the visitors.

Villiers again and again she’s drawing an error from Healy. This time it’s ‘fatal’. A rather mistimed off-drive goes comfortably to hand. The celebrations are a delight for us Poms but they are repeated soon after! Gardner comes down but misses and Jones is swift to execute the stumping. (The ball did nothing except *may-bee* slide on a touch). Australia are actually scrambling a tad, here.

Perry responds by stroking Ecclestone straight for six – just. 54 for 4.

Villiers, coming around to Perry, is looking comfortable – as are England. Australia really do have work to do to change the momentum but both Haynes and Perry have both experience and Proper Quality. Goodish over sees the Southern Stars on 57 for 4 after 12.

Shrubsole is back from the Bristol Pavilion End and Perry greets her with two ver-ry different boundary shots. (Straight drive, clip through midwicket, piercing the field superbly). England’s World Cup heroine has been targeted, rather, in this series – indicative perhaps, of the levels of both skill and confidence the Stars bring to their game.

Hey. Did I mention there is a crowd, here, tonight? Lovely to see and hear; it can only be supportive of England’s effort.

And that effort is so often personified by the punchy, impassioned Brunt, who has Haynes caught by Wyatt as she hauls to leg. 79 for 5 now, Australia, needing 61 from 33 balls.

Perry can play a bit – she’s on 33 – and the incoming Jonassen has a cool head – but with five overs remaining, England are favourites.

Villiers will bowl her fourth and final over from underneath us. For the first time, she is dispatched, imperiously, by Perry, for six. Haynes then drills one that I personally think the diving (or flopping) Ecclestone should have stopped. (Have majored before on Ecclestone’s fielding so will move swiftly on).

It’s dusky now. Ecclestone will bowl the 17th, with the lights making a real contribution. Very much to the bowler’s credit, she has Perry flustered three times, the batter unable to clatter some yorker-length deliveries.

We’re back to Cross, for the 18th. 100 is up but they require 40 from 14. The ‘goddess’ (see previous blogs) gets another 50. Ecclestone is in again for the penultimate over, with England in command.

Perry begs to differ. She drives straight and high for six. 28 from 8 needed. Jonassen, going for the reverse-sweep, falls l.b.w.  and that may be that. Aus 112 for 6, with 28 required off 7. Didn’t expect this but we’ll take it. 👊🏻

Immediately, Kimmince falls the same way, pulling to leg, plumb: Ecclestone’s reputation goes up a further notch. Brunt has 23 runs to play with as she runs in for the last. The newcomer Wareham can only top-edge to mid-on, for nought. Brunt is erm, bruntaciously pumped.

Perry looks to have tweaked a muscle in the scramble for a run that’s never there but claims her ground in the end. Schutt clouts one out to midwicket and finishes with an off-drive past mid-off. But HOLD THE FRONT-PAGE, England have won it, with something to spare. The unbeatable, magnificent Perry has 60 not out and Schutt has 8. At 122 for 8, Australia are 17 runs short.

Tonight can be seen as both a dead rubber and a significant return, from England. It will matter significantly to their players and to their coaching staff, who have been inserted decisively beneath the microscope, following a profoundly disappointing Ashes series.

I can only imagine that ‘conversations’ will still take place but there may be a little less bite in them. And it may well be helpful that there is no avoiding wide-ranging discussion around structure as well as selection, fitness, ability to execute – the Widening Gulf between Aus at no. 1 and Eng at no. 2 being generally recognised as directly related to better support for and organisation of women’s pro’ cricket Down Under.

In short, there is more to say about both the cricket matches and the various cricket environments, the forces shaping what we’ve seen during this series. *May well* say some of that very soon. Final word, though, is for the visitors. Australia have been excellent; they are a team, they have depth but they have special individuals.

One of them spoke in impressively accomplished style (be-medalled, on the podium) about how enjoyable a journey this Ashes has been – how good it’s felt, because of crowds, facilities and performances. Ellyse Perry (I’m sure you’re listening) I’m a dumb, middle-aged Pommie bloke but I hope you really have enjoyed it. Your team is outstanding, your performances have been ridicu-fab, so go, go, go have a beer and a crazy dance round the outfield.

Universe Podcast/codcast. @cricketmanwales is in the kitchen with the #WomensAshes.

Could only be me. Could only be some daft bloke in his kitchen, trying to make sense of the #WomensAshes.

A ramble, then; a further adventure into longish yomps through Bristol and cod-psychological retrospectives on Eng Women Cricket, on Lanning… and on everything.

Have a listen?

 

*Important note – important to me, anyways*. I use the phrase “even though it’s the women’s game” here. This – I am about to argue – is not remotely the diabolically sexist remark some may fear. Why? Because what I mean is “even though it’s the women’s game – and as we know in a sexist universe it ain’t gonna be funded and supported to the level of the men’s game…” blah di blah.

Hope that’s understood that way because despite my middle-aged blokeyness and the inevitable baggage that brings with it, I am hoping, in my imperfect way, to make arguments FOR equality and respect for women in sport and beyond.

But back to the blog… and to the issues I look to discuss.

Shots fired? Some. But maybe more ‘issues raised’, as follows – or these are some of the things that fascinated, or struck, or tickled me.

  • England’s ‘mis-execution’.
  • Aussie superiority – the reasons why?
  • Perry’s genius.
  • Cultural differences.
  • Structural differences.
  • Fitness/agility/execution/performance.
  • England’s alleged lack of dynamism.
  • Australia’s alleged lack of dynamism.
  • That thing about The Women still needing to ‘legitimise their game’. (Cobblers!)
  • Prospects for Test Cricket for women.

And on the cooking front? Hilarious-but-true, kinda ‘caramelised’ the onions and distractedly dropped about a tonne of bouillon in there, so the alleged veg soup turned out brownish and over-salty. Metaphor for my life.

 

Since I wrote and recorded this, further interrogation of All Things England Women, for broadly failing to rise to the challenge and specifically getting ab-so-lutely Lanninged, at Chelmsford.

On the one hand this has been deeply disconcerting – you suspect *to the extent that* the ECB have been stirred into a series of declarations around policy/intent on professional cricket for women. On the other, just WOW: can we just pause to enjoy the exhilarating, stylish and entertainingly boomtastic way in which the Australian skip and her colleagues went about squishing England? Fortress Chelmsford was in shock. Aus did that thing of finding another level, that probably most of us (pommies) were fearing or waiting for. Either way it was magnificent.

So all the questions feel more urgent. And maybe most positively, the discussions regarding development and structure have exploded. Suddenly Women’s County Cricket has a partial reprieve and ‘commitment’ and ‘investment’ are re-promised.

In terms of the actual cricket, either this Ashes really will be a massacre, or perhaps England, or an England player or two, freed-up by the refreshingly-sexy pliably-rubbery deadness of the last two fixtures, will clonk some defiance into these strangely inequitable times. I’ll be in Bristol to see the last T20, so let’s hope for something there, eh?