Things of interest.

Enjoy the period pre-game. Interesting, as a coach – at an alaaaarmingly lower grade – to watch warm-ups/drills/inter-reactions/relationships. In the minutes so far, having arrived at the ground about 9.30, I have noted…

It’s cooler/breezier.

Amy Jones doing individual (keeping) drills, early doors.

Goswami going through extensive high-stepping and groin-opening stuff.

How bad a lot of these players (and coaches) are at footie.

How far Deepti Sharma was behind two of her senior colleagues, over a 4x 20 metre shuttle run.

How lovely and genuinely comradely some of the chats around the edges seem, between opposing players.

How prevalent general movement and co-ordinating with bigger balls/different balls/football and rugby balls is. How coaching is both sophisticated and pleasingly generic and ‘sporty’. But also how long the day is, for these players.

Encouragingly, despite the pressures, how many laughs the players are enjoying. After all, The Craic has to be central, right?

How well wrapped-up, the Indian players, in particular, are needing to be, this morning. Temperature with breeze factored in – they call it ‘feels like’, do they not? – about 13 degrees, I reckon. (Bring a coat).

I’ve been sitting like Billy-no-Mates somewhat apart from my colleagues in the Media Centre, in order to benefit from both the cooler, fresher air coming in through the open door and to get a view straight down the strip. (Always do that if possible). Wednesday I really needed that air-flow. Today I may have to shift into the warm!

Looking out there at the wind; blowing almost straight down the ground, from the Ashley Down Road End towards my open door in the Bristol Pavilion. A cross-wind might have assisted Shrubsole’s sexy inswing and arguably Brunt’s less dramatic away-movement/leg-cutters. Interesting to see which ends these players choose or get directed towards.

Hunch is that Cross – who, without looking extravagantly threatening, seemed to be finding her flow as things progressed, yesterday – will run in from Ashley Down and try to generate some decent pace. Don’t expect her to open, by any stretch, but have genuinely enjoyed watching her particularly fluent approach and delivery, so far. Could be that she is doing less with the ball than Shrubsole and Brunt, but she has something and imagine she could get on a roll, somewhere, because of that groove and her natural athleticism (whatever that is).

10.56 am. I reckon there are about 70 people in the crowd.

Day for bowlers, you would think, but two decent bats out there at the start, for India. Deepti Sharma and Harmanpreet Kaur. Sciver, interestingly, will open to Sharma. Lights on. One slip and a gully. No dramas.

Early review, for Ecclestone. Full, catching Kaur half-forward. Live, looked out and the umpire has to signal her error. Out. Harmanpreet has to exit before adding to her score: she departs on 4. This will be very watchable: Ecclestone twirling expectantly, with fielders around the bat. Tough period ahead, for India, surely?

Wondered if Sciver had started (from opposite me) with a view to bowling as quickly as possible; she is, after all, a very good athlete. Not looking that she’s got that instruction so far. Lowish 60s on the speed-gun. Ecclestone, meanwhile, is doing her thing, with obvious relish. She spirals one very full again, at Bhatia, who promptly misses it by miles – bat half-tucked, behind the pad – and is out, lbw, after reviewing. Messy morning looms large, for the visitors, who have yet to score. They remain on 187, now for 7.

Rana troubles the scorers for 2 but there are four close catchers around her. She sees Ecclestone’s over out.

More Sciver. Jones comes up to the stumps. Sharma is now 20 balls without scoring – but looks calmish. She clips one to leg for a single. The bad news is that this means she must face Ecclestone. Strangely, the tall spinner offers a real gift, dropping outside leg; the balls sits up and Sharma can slap it away with ease, for four. Poor ball. 194 for 7 after 66. Quite rightly, Knight changes Sciver – on this occasion, for herself.

The skipper drops onto a tidy line and length: maiden.

Ecclestone returns and finds an absolute peach, biting – spitting, maybe – and turning to find the edge. Jones juggles, rather but pouches. Rana, who had looked relatively secure, is gone for 2. 197 for 8 and India still need 50 to avoid the follow-on. Knight comes around, to the left-handed Sharma. Guessing the batter doesn’t like the silly mid on and off, posted. She swings hard at successive balls, scoring two to midwicket off the second. Sharma – now 10 – is only the third Indian bat to reach double-figures: weirdly, the first two (Mandhana and Verma) almost reached 100.

Ecclestone has 4 for 70 at this point. Vastraka has joined Sharma and will now face. Sharma may have *taken the view* that boom-time arriveth. She swings hard at Knight and the visitors go through the 200-mark. Could India possibly save the follow-on? Seems unlikely but Deepti Sharma has quality and grit. Quite a challenge, though, to garner runs without gifting chances and whilst farming the strike with real care.

Vastraka takes advantage of another slightly short and wide one, from Ecclestone, who has been good but not immaculate. Four through the covers. At drinks – presumably hot drinks? – we are 207 for 8. Knight may have a wee concern that more pace on the ball might precipitate easier runs but I would get Shrubsole on, pronto.

Instead we get Dunkley. Right arm leg-spin. Quite a moment for her. Generous spin but too straight and Vastraka can connect hard, for a single. Then for four. First ball spin was encouraging but 10 come from the over. A dilemma, then.

We still have Ecclestone from this Pavilion End. She errs to leg and is punished, by Deepti Sharma. It’s not a great over, in truth. India have closed that follow-on calculation right down: need only 23, now, to get there. Brunt replaces Dunkley after that single over. She is predictably on the money but Vastraka defends her competently.

Shrubsole has done a little warming-up but Knight sticks with Ecclestone at the Pavilion End. (I may not have done). Sharma takes her for four through the covers. 230 for 8, 17 needed… and we have a ball change. Brunt will like the feel of that. Two slips and a gully come in.

They are superfluous. Brunt bowls Vastrakar with a beaut that clips the top of off. Classic stuff from a fabulous bowler. Big Moments, these: Goswami intrudes and pinches a single. A smidge of rain on the glass may add a further, less welcome dimension.

Could come over all smug, here but will merely report that Anya Shrubsole has come on and comprehensively bowled Goswani to finish off the Indian innings. All out 231. Surely they will be re-inserted? (They have been).

Brunt will re-engage, with Mandhana. What a prospect. A little width is penalised – four, to backward point. Then Verma eases one through midwicket; four more. Nine off the over, rather incongruously. Can Shrubsole keep it tighter or apply some real pressure? A little. Two from the over for a nicely-timed clip through midwicket.

Verma steers Brunt beautifully passed mid-off for four more: god what a player, she is! Early but this is a thoroughly impressive start by these openers, in near-feverish conditions. England could barely have had tails raised higher and yet India have flown to 25 for 0. Fabulous.

*Moment:* Mandhana steers a wide tempter from Brunt to Sciver, at second slip. It’s held and she’s gone, for 8. Lunch, with that counter-punch from England feeling ver-ry significant…

Your author takes the opportunity during the break to leg it to his digs – 387 yards – and grab a hoodie and a pair of jeans. (It really has gotten parky in the Press Box). There is a tickle of rain but it really is questionable as to whether a delay is called for. But we do have a delay.

13.59 and they appear to be preparing to shift the pitch covers. It’s categorically not raining. Some dryish applause as the wee blue Kubota(?) trundles off with the three-piece pitch protector in tow. An encouraging start. Now the lads are thwacking away at the bowlers’ marks with that prehistoric-looking tamper weapon-thing. As they do that, we hear the announcement for a re-start at ten past two. Looking around, it appears we should get a decent tranche of play – although given the strength of the breeze, we can’t rule out the possibility that weather might blow in.

Can confirm that Chris Watts and Sarah Redfern – the umps – are marching out…

Interestingly, Deepti Sharma has been promoted to join Verma out there. Left-hand right-hand combination? Presumably. Sharma will face Brunt. Long sleeves aboundeth, on the jumper front, in the field. So coldish.

Verma eases Shrubsole to midwicket for a single, taking her to 21. Brunt bowls a 68mph yorker, to Verma; watchfully kept out. A careless throw from Brunt strikes Verma – ‘not a great look’ according to Henry Ooosits, on TMS. Few immediate alarms, meaning England may need to engage their more patient gears. More cloud.

Brunt bounces Verma – but wide. 9 overs in and we have a kind of calm, which will absolutely suit India, and disappoint England just a little. 33 for 1. The umpires, erm… swap a hat – no, two, floppy hats – for caps. Verma beautifully guides Shrubsole to third man: soft, delicious hands. Jones is standing up, to Shrubsole, for Verma. Boom – the youngster cuts to the boundary, and that fabulous, nutty sound rings out: middled. Brunt responds with an arcing, middle-stump-threatening delivery which is just defended.

Verma repeats that wristy cut behind square: again timed, again four. She has 35 in quick time. The pitch is still holding up: i.e. no major inconsistencies. Slowish, yes, offers a little but absolutely fair to the batters. (This does not, of course excuse the original sin… but let’s not re-visit that again). Change is needed, for England and they turn to Ecclestone, from the Bristol Pavilion End.

I rather hope they give Dunkley another go from Ashley Down. Sure she got collared but her very first delivery span notably sharply. She might surprise somebody, or change something. Brunt is endlessly scraping away at her footholds down t’other end. She will continue.

Verma takes a wild swing: misses. The thought strikes that if something flies to slip it might take some catching – cold hands.

Kate Cross, for the first time today. Sky looking bit intimidatingly grey – but not necessarily rain-filled – behind her. Suddenly the ball is behind her. Verma steps out and crunches an extraordinary, straightish on-drive for four. But good response from the bowler, who draws an edge that Jones must surely catch, if she were standing back. She’s not. First slip can’t get there and it flies away once more. Utter hunch but I think Cross should be asked to plug away for eight overs. (Except ah – precipitation may intrude).

Looks and feels like October out there now. The umpires have consulted but plough on. May not be long. Consulting again… and they’re off. 15.10. Fair enough; it’s suddenly not pleasant. India 57 for 1, with Verma on 46 and Deepti Sharma still on 1.

15.29 and the covers are off again. We await the resumption. Stadium Announcer tells us that will be at 15.40.

Kate Cross will get us going – she has balls remaining from prior to the interruption. Feel a little for all the players but the batters now have poorish light to contend with, as well as cold, wind, a newish ball and the undeniably intimidating match situation. Sharma’s answer is to drive classically out through the covers, for four. Stunning. (Re- the light, it does feel a bit like the floodlights are carrying the load here, as opposed to merely supporting the celestial bounty from the sidelines). Ecclestone, from the Pavilion. No dramas.

Verma, on 47, is potentially a single blow away from her second fifty of the match. Cross is bowling at 68mph to her partner, Deepti Sharma, who has 8. At the start of the day I noted how far behind her comrades Sharma was, during a series of shuttle runs – suggesting a relatively ordinary level of fitness. Nothing wrong with her technique, nor her application. Despite being overshadowed by the precocious Verma, she has contributed significantly, here. With that thought Verma gets through to her second half-century of the game, off only 63 balls, having scored ten fours. Outstanding stuff.

Ecclestone is unable – temporarily? – to make anything happen. I’d give Dunkley a go… but we have thin rain, sadly. Off again. 16.03. Hot brew and a scone would be nice: will be able to find the former, easily enough. Tea has been taken, we hear.

The groundsmen – and it does appear to be all men – are really wrapping the square up. The rain persists but it’s not exactly persisting it down: cue nudge/wink emoji. In fact it looks marginally better, out there, without being *encouraging*.

16.50. Time yet, for things to change but it’s looking stubbornly dank, behind the Ashley Down flats – and that’s where the weather’s coming from. It’s neither raining nor drying and I’m not sure quite where that leaves us. Light within the stadium feels viable (almost) but the backdrop is concrete-grey. Meanwhile, we eat crisps.

17-something. The Stalling (as my movie about all this, starring Reese Witherspoon and Dan Norcross will be called) goes on. It’s a tricksy, moody, unsettling little number, characterised by prickly inactivity. (Don’t panic: it’s an allegory. No rain here, for forty minutes but no signs of restorative life. Kinda makes no sense but also makes sense. Folks sit around in anoraks, looking moody. Folks eat crisps).

In the end, an End. The day is called – off. Wonder if this really happened, for real cricketing reasons… or did the umpires just want to get tanked-up before the England game?

We may never know.

Hey. What’s the forecast? Anybody?

A Different Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gone quiet. Five to eleven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking of tiredness, off to get a little air…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bristol.

Speaking as a middle-aged bloke, it’s easy to imagine a middle-aged bloke being at the centre of this. Not that I know – but it figures. So an oversight. Or an accidental something-or-other; a situation that just suddenly cropped-up. And before you know it, there’s no time to sort this thing out – to prep a new strip.

We may never know the sequence of events, or non-events, nor the trail of guilt or error. It could be that there’s a twenty-four year-old woman at the heart of this… but it’s doubtful, eh? It seems more likely – indeed it seems fairer to say – that the overwhelmingly likelihood is that this Bristolian Farce-For-Our-Ages (Still) is just another reminder that this is a sexist universe and that either some donkey didn’t get it, or there was a further, depressingly familiar outbreak of broader, cultural slackness. AKA sexism. And ultimately a Test Match pitch that somebody forgot.

Let’s be plain, then and move on. It’s a travesty and an embarrassment and a deep insult to women’s international cricket that the first Test Match in aeons will be played on a used pitch. It’s both utterly ludicrous and entirely predictable: elite women’s sport as an afterthought. Apologies have been made but another marker has been spilled: despite the tremendous increase in resource and quality, women’s cricket is still likely to be disrespected by those that are its guardians. Probably, because most of them are middle-aged blokes.

Please god let the pitch turn out to be an irrelevance to the contest. Too often dull, lifeless strips undermine the quality of the action and fuel the negativity around long-form cricket for women. How erm, unfortunate that we face this prospect, in Bristol, before we even start. In conclusion, I note to the universe that this is England’s first Test since 2019… and the first for India – a World Power in the game, right? – since November 2014.

OK. Slate. Clean. On with the cricket.

England have won the toss and will bat. It’s a sublime day. The Indian players – taking a few catches below me as I write – look resplendent in the shiniest, most Persiltastic whites you can imagine. Only the blaring music feels a tad jarring on such a wonderfully pristine day for traditional, longform cricket. Winfield-Hill will face the first ball, from Goswami, who looks substantial, as she races in, past Beaumont.

Quiet over, in which a clip to leg from Winfield-Hill goes close-ish to short square leg. Single taken. Pandey – looking sharpish and bowling generously full – follows from The Ashley Down End. No dramas.

Biggish shout in the fourth over, as Pandey beats the bat and strikes pad. First thought, high-ish. Pandey is bowling to three slips and a gully, point, mid-off, mid-on, shortish square-leg and fine leg. Winfield-Hill gets her away through extra cover. When Goswami returns and someone underneath our Media Centre distracts the batter, the bowler rather charmingly invites them to move along, with a relatively unironic “excuse me”.

Arguably the first sign of aggression comes from Beaumont, dropping confidently onto a short one from Pandey and pulling for four. Shortly afterwards I have a great view of an alleged nick from Beaumont precipitating a strong appeal from the same bowler. Live, I saw and heard nothing. At the end of the 6th, England are 12 for 0, and relatively untroubled.

The signs are that this should be a batting day… but then Goswami does draw an edge… but claims no reward. (In truth the tv in the Media Centre ain’t working, so we have no replays. Can’t be sure if the nick carried. Reading updates elsewhere, it plainly did, but Mandhana fluffed it rather badly). In other news, the recent changes to Covid regs may have substantially reduced attendance, here, but again we have a disappointingly small gathering. Given the rarity of these events and the quality of the day, it seems extraordinary, to me. Hey ho.

We have Old School Test Cricket – and what a real pleasure that is. Persistence. Relative quiet. Intrigue. Application from both sides – the long view. Beaumont and Winfield-Hill are raising that bat high but watchfully and presenting with care. The run rate is about 2.5. (Of course as I write this Vastrakar – in for Pandey – drops one short and WH dismisses it to the boundary, in front of square. She has 18 to her partner’s 13: 31 for 0 after 12).

When Goswami provides the same ammunition to Beaumont, she also guns it away, with some contempt. Is her spell feeling a tad long, now? Seventh over – so maybe. It’s Vastrakar (who had replaced Pandey) who is changed, in fact. Slow right arm, from Rana; flighty, teasing nicely. Drinks at 39 for 0.

Pandey has changed ends and is now bowling from underneath us. She looks strong but is she already running in with a little less verve? Unconfirmed.

Winfield-Hill arguably should do better than to drive two successive and invitingly short balls from Rana to extra cover: two four-balls, possibly.

In other other news, I missed the England cap presentation to Sophia Dunkley, due to a wee bit of administrative faffing pre-the media accreditation presentation to Yours Truly. But I wish to record my sense that the world just got a little better (with the first black woman garnering an England Test cap). Congratulations to her.

Possible gear-change, from England, as both batters look to capitalise on the benign conditions. As Rana completes the 18th, England reach 57 for 0, with Beaumont now 28 and WH 29 – so no extras. Vastrakar is now in again, having changed ends.

Winfield-Hill thrillingly smashes her over deep square: a ball only apparently a smidgeon short of a decent length, dispatched with real gusto. (It’s her second ‘maximum’, in fact). But from nowhere, the England opener falls to a fine diving catch from the keeper. Vastrakar had gone almost yorker length; the edge was audible and Bhatia flew to her right to gather. Quality moment and you sense it may be important in terms of bringing the visitors back into the game.

Knight, the outstanding England captain is in and Rana is challenging the inside edge, with her energetic off-spin. 70 for 1 after 22 and we have a fabulous scene and a spike in the intensity as Vastraskar re-joins. Beaumont, with that characteristic, wristy flourish, bludgeons her back straight, for four, passed Mandhana’s vain dive.

The changes keep on coming – understandably – as Goswami comes in from the Ashley Down End. Drops short and Beaumont clubs her for four through midwicket. More have joined us to sit in the sunshine; there is a light breeze but I am personally sitting close to the open door of the press box a) to get as close as possible to the line of the pitch and b) because it’s almost uncomfortably warm. That Dudley Platypus geezer (photographer) has just wandered back in, blowing hardish and commenting on the airlessness out there.

Knight appears untroubled. When Vastrakar offers just a little width, she crunches her through the covers to get off the mark with an emphatic boundary.

We approach lunch. Goswami continues. She is doing that grunting/manifestly imagining a wicket every other delivery thing – making everything, rather wonderfully, an ‘effort ball’. Do not question her heart.

Deepti Sharma will squeeze one in before the break. To say she is a spinner of the gently-paced variety is in no way to under-estimate her. Sharma is quality. Sure enough, mid-over she gets startlingly extravagant bounce and turn, beating Beaumont and the keeper. Difficult to interpret that one delivery as *a sign*, but it will encourage the Indian spinners, certainly. England are 87 for 1 after 27 at the end of an intriguing, watchable session. I am wondering what the craic is re- food and Covid and all…

Oooh.It’s there. Curry. Tidy!

Almost ready for the resumption. Great nosh, by the way – thanks to the local Hospitality Posse. Nip out, onto the balcony out front, have a look around and am struck by the fact that I could pretty much count the entire crowd. Don’t want in any any way to sponsor negativity but Jesus. These players deserve better. Onwards. Goswani. From Ashley Down.

I am a HUGE FAN of Heather Knight. Knowing her and respecting her quality and temperament, I am hopeful that she may go big, here – the unknowns around possibly significant spin/bounce/turn notwithstanding. Deepti Sharma will return promptly, from this Bristol Pavilion End, to investigate those possibilities. I watched the two of them win the WSL together, a year or two back, at Hove.

Eek, possibly, as it appears that Heather Knight, too, may be batting on an off-stump guard…

Beaumont goes through to a deserved 50 with a tickly paddle-sweep. Good applause. No sense that the pitch is a concern: certainly not to Tammy Beaumont. Blimey. Hearing on Test Match Special that Goswami has only played 11 Tests – despite having played for her country for 20 years! Crazy. Little bit of spin, for Sharma.

I like that the veteran – as plenty of the pundits are calling her – Goswani – is staying boldly full. However, if she offers width or gets it marginally wrong, there are opportunities. Knight takes one, easing her behind point for four. After 34 of the theoretical 100 overs in the day, England have passed the 100 mark, for just the one wicket down. Clearly they are ahead but the fielding side appear chirpy and present – encouragingly so.

Pandey is running in, for the 37th. Towards 70 mph. Spearing them in towards off. That sense of continued, grooved application – even though there is minimal encouragement. Batters seem set and concentrated. Sky open and blue. Rana follows and will give some air. Hiding her grip. Could be Sharma is getting more bite.

Pandey hits Beaumont with a throw. It’s more automatic-aggressive than outright nasty. The batter had come forward, dropped the ball on the pitch then retreated as the bowler picked up. No realistic chance for a run out but you could see why Pandey would send the reminder. Beaumont drives a wide one past cover to finish the over: saw no sign of verbals or smug glances. Bit more cloud, bit more breeze, I think.

Knight cuts Rana, with beautifully soft hands, through the vacant third man area. Four. She goes to 25. Beaumont is 61. The captain – in her 100th game as skipper – pushes out through extra cover for a further single and at drinks England are 125 for 1.

Resuming, Knight slashes rather, at a wideish, fullish one from Pandey. It flies over Verma at slip – unclear if she gets a hand on it. Four… but a case of the break almost bringing a wicket?

Vastrakar, from Ashley Down. Decent pace. Two yorkers – make that three. She’s trying.

One of the shots of the day as Beaumont wristily threads Rana through to the midwicket boundary. Peach. She goes to 65. Some chat on’t radio about not fulfilling the scheduled overs. Get that but surely it’s such a rare gig, this Women’s Test thing, that there is barely a precedent or guide to what’s a reasonable expectation? Similarly the suggestion that England could maybe get on with it a little more simply may be unrealistic – or bit macho, as it were? This is a Test Match. The pacing of things is different. Shedloads of time for acceleration, in this innings.

Vastraka over-pitches and Knight cashes in. Four through extra. But hold up – DRAMA. From nowhere, Beaumont flips one to short leg, off bat and pad. Rana the bowler. Excellent catch from Verma, diving in bravely. Beaumont made a very creditable 66. Sciver is in.

Sciver is a fine athlete and genuine all-rounder. Might well make a World XI. She can score quickly – not that we expect her to do that here and now.

Hey apropos bugger all: how fabulous is Alex Hartley, on BBC comms? Hilarious and delightful.

Goswami is dropping short and Sciver is punishing her. Left and right. Either side of the wicket, consecutive boundaries. England go past 150. Knight, for me one of the most consistent of world cricket, is approaching 50 and Sciver seems in already. They also appear to have received the memo about some degree of acceleration. Runs aren’t exactly flowing but bats are following through, notably. Over to Deepti Sharma to try and break up the developing flow: she comes in from the Ashley Down Road End. Tea approaches.

Poor communication should put the batters in trouble but a weakish throw means Sciver escapes. Would have been a criminal waste. Good that England are into One Day Mode, running-wise but there are limits, ladies. Tea, with the home side on 162 for 2, off 55.

Erm, 45 overs to go?!? Cannot be. Temperature has dropped. Best get a coffee.

Deepti Sharma will start us up. Touch of spin. Some immaculate defence from Sciver. Spin from both ends – it’s Rana from the Pavilion. (Has someone had a word about the over rate?) Quietish re-start.

Knight, almost inevitably, gets to 50, pushing between extra and mid-off. She has been error-free, calm, steady. Next over and she brings out the reverse-sweep, for two – playing off middle. Six-three legside field for both bowlers: both spinners are of course right arm off-spin. Sunshine in and out a little, now.

Harmanpreet Kaur is wheeling her arm over from the Pavilion End. Sciver uses the depth of the crease to cut her for four, bringing up the 200 for the home side. The batters remain patient rather than urgent… which is fine by me. These two know when and how to go after it. Weather may well be a factor later in the Test but they will be confident, now, that England can cut loose when they have built that proverbial platform. It’s likely that Knight and co are already thinking that they will look to bat just the once and hope the change in conditions (with the weather) assists them in the field. Seems reasonable; feels likely.

Sudden thought. The ball is turning just a little. I fancy Ecclestone – quite possibly the most threatening spin bowler on the planet – may have a significant role to play, over the later stages.

Kaur tempts Sciver into an on-drive, straight to mid-wicket. Sharma, moving forward, spills a relatively straightforward chance. Huge moment and – arguably – not a great look for the game. Feels like things are happening a little – or might – and that the batter’s control is less complete. In being relatively cautious – or prudent – England may now be conceding the initiative, somewhat. (Ebbs and flows? Subtle-ish changes in momentum? The very essence of Test Cricket, yes?)

Bright again as Sharma returns from the Pavilion End. Wales are just about to kick-off – yup, multi-tasking – and we have 90 mins to play here, too. (Meaning a shortfall on those overs). Knight is into her eighties, Sciver, her forties. The latter appears to miss a straight full-toss. Reviewed by the batters. Ball strikes the boot… and is hitting. Sciver gone for 42. Amy Jones, ver-ry accomplished stroke-maker, joins Knight.

So it’s 232 for 3, as Sharma comes in for the 75th over. We are either looking at a quiet hour – this will suit England – or a late come-back from the visitors. Expecting the former but wouldn’t rule out a further breakthrough as one or both of the batters is either squeezed into an error or lashes out to a poor delivery. In short, there are possibilities.

I’m wrong. Jones has played rather tamely across one that turns, gently, from Rana. England review but denied. A decent but hardly electrifying ball: Jones will be disappointed. 236 for 4: now the slowish scoring becomes an issue – or may. India are roused, England stalled. The Plan – to Go Big – is under challenge.

Sharma comes around to Knight, with the incoming debutant, Dunkley surely a wee bit nervy? Single. Lots of chat and four catchers in and around. Dunkley sees out the over.

Knight into her nineties. Dunkley gets off the mark. Then the skipper pushes hard at one from Rana and is lucky to see the edge flash through slip. An error and a concern but on the plus side she now needs only five to reach the ton.

But the skipper seems suddenly scrambled. She plays clumsily around another ver-ry slow one from Sharma and may be LBW. Umpire’s call… and she called out. Knight gone, for that 95 and England in a little bother, suddenly, at 244 for 5. May yet prove to be competitive but feels a radical under-achievement given where we were an hour ago. Elwiss joins Dunkley.

As it’s transpired, then, those voices calling for more positivity from England, once that good start had been established, may have been right. Instead they allowed India to garner some degree of control, before nabbing those wickets. As long as England kept out the visitors, then their stately progress ‘worked’. Not now.

Especially not now Deepti Sharma has brilliantly caught Elwiss, low down, at slip, off Rana! Sharp, sharp catch and sharp shift in momentum, as the sixth wicket falls. 251 on the board, 40 minutes play left. Where might we be, come 6.30? Brunt is in, Dunkley has only 3 and England are under siege.

The extraordinary truth may be that part of the issue, for England, is that Sharma has been bowling so slowly that the batters are flummoxed whilst waiting. You can hear their hearts pounding from the press box: they have the time to play about fourteen shots but then fail to time the one they need. Sharma and Rana have done well but the confusion engendered seems – as it so often does – wonderfully disproportionate. The result? Wickets falling and two short legs in for two new batters.

A welcome breakout for Dunkley when Sharma finally plops one too far, too wide. Driven for four. At 6pm 15 overs remain, for the last 30 mins. With the two spinners on, might we get ten of them? (Been a long day, so forgive the poor guesswork). Will naturally depend on boundaries scored/wickets taken and any bowling changes which may accompany the new ball. England will look to hold and India to attack: should be fascinating.

With that rampant speculation, Goswami returns, from the Bristol Pavilion End. But Brunt is nothing if not a fighter… and Dunkley can – as they say – hold a bat. Things calm a little. Sharma switches ends. The sun brightens. Brunt advances.

New ball taken. Can see it shining in Goswani’s ample palm. She fires two down leg. It’s a mixed over – that change in feel not, on this occasion, inspiring the bowler to greater focus or success. Next up Rana, with the batters looking composed, now, and determined. Great contest, to finish a particularly intriguing day. Brunt has experience and grit in spades but Dunkley is acquitting herself with quiet distinction, here. Conditions remain glorious.

Time for Pandey. Big, gathering appeal. India review but my first instinct – na. Inside edge. Proves to be. Time for one more?

Yes. Rana, with Dunkley facing. Wonder if she knows – or cares – that Gareth Bale just did a Chris Waddle? (Dreadful pen, Gareth bach). Dunkley sees it out.

England 259 for 6, at the close. Appreciative applause, and rightly so. Game better poised than it might have been if England’s early dominance had remained unchecked. Let’s doff our caps towards the Indians’ sustained efforts, which leave us ready for an exciting and possibly match-defining morning ahead.

Erm. What’s the weather doing?

‘Early Season’.

Extraordinary times. Driving through an apocalyptic hailstorm in LLandewi Velfrey en route to (you guessed it) some cricket coaching stuff in Carmarthen. Cursing the mysterious disappearance of my Cricket Wales bobble hat just when I needed it most: fellow coach Rhys wearing headgear that could only have been stolen from an un-horsed Cossack. Under 12 boys activated, entertained and warmed, over two goolie-shrinking hours.

Or over to Ynystawe, where the Girls’ Pathway coaches still haven’t thawed out from the previous four days of Siberian action. Misdirected by the reassuring local, out front of his house, wheelbarrowing purposefully but plainly confusing clubs. No dramas; soon find myself encouraging and offering throwdowns – because surely we’re all cold? – without wanting to disturb the quiet vibe. Needing now somehow to suppress my own energetic thrum but still remain temperate. And then forty overs umpiring. ‘Early Season’.

I love this early season. The madness, the toeness, the fingersness; the ecstatic, yellow, wintry lightness. Spectacular. Ridiculous. Impossible and re-connecting. Re-grooving. The Return of The Evening. The return of playing and missing and of wild but innocent leg-side wides: dozens of them. Junior flocks – like dumb, frozen seagulls, gathered in the ring. (Hey. Are their feet *actually frozen?*)

On the Bigger Stage it snowed, too. Yorkshire. Glam punching but then snuffed out, more in fact by that wintry quilt than by Big Bro’ Root. The forecast – chez Roots and countrywide – sunny but cold. Soon enough back to Sophia Gardens ‘gainst the Southern Softies from Hove… and what do we have? It’s sunny but cold. The pitch is a road and all is well. Glam 30-odd for 3. Then recover. Then as the shadows lengthen…

Defiant defeat?

Wow. Extraordinary. Incredible stadium, remarkable occasion, fraught and bristling with tension and the day/night excitement that still feels thrillingly new. Cricket of a blindingly compelling kind – certainly early-doors. Something about the change of format has made the drama necessarily keen, colorific, sharp. This is not to say of course that the future is orange but much of the tanginess here seems conducive to great sport: floodlights often being central – or at least atmospherically ‘supportive’.

England win the toss and inevitably choose to bat. Wags on twitter are soon suggesting this was in the expectation of killer spells from Jimmy and Broady come the evening. (Yes, this evening).

Only Crawley seemed to have a plan to thwart that admittedly perverse subterfuge. He batted like a god. It was the sort of performance that you suspect will ink him in the starting line-up for a decade. The strikingly tall youngster – well, 23? – struck the ball around the ground with ludicrous ease on a pitch that was soon to get far, far into the heads of his comrades. His innings may yet prove to have been a dream brought on by 4am starts and Covid Protocols and weird, distracting (and surely similarly untrue?) allegations around PPE contracts and Brexit traumas: certainly it was different level, if not unbelievable.

The quality of stroke-making was soft-pink purrfect; beyond purple. Having faced the first ball after returning from self-inflicted injury, Crawley steered the ball around, middling a series of drives and pushes. Neither Ishant nor Bumrah troubled him at all: he was effective and watchful against Patel and Ashwin, only being beaten by the rarish unplayable delivery – mainly from the left-armer – who found spite and alarming deviation in the dusty surface. Zak Crawley made 53 before being lbw to Patel. Everything about it – context, particularly – smacked of real quality.

Shortly before the Root dismissal (which preceded Crawley’s), I had texted my son to say that England may need a 200 from Crawley and ‘even on this surface, I’m not ruling it out’. Optimistic, for sure but did give the sense of something rather special happening. Elsewhere, earlier, both Sibley and Bairstow had made errors to goodish but not remarkable deliveries and then Root misjudged Ashwin. That pattern continued.

England the team, became frazzled, as a unit. True it was a challenging strip again and true the opposition are both probably a better line-up and certainly better equipped for this wicket but hey – this is Test Cricket. Everywhere you go the conditions are set up to exploit home advantage and/or visitor vulnerability. That’s Test Cricket. In this case India again bowled ver-ry skilfully on a dry pitch. And England fell into frazzlement.

Pope seemed lost amongst a surfeit of theories (or something), though this is not to single him out. England, the team could not seem to find either a ‘way of playing’ – I get that sometimes you can’t – or that precious gift of separating the moments so that each ball can be played on its merits.

From 73 for 2, with Root and Crawley beginning to emerge, England capitulated to 112 all out. Arguably nobody got out to an absolute jaffa; it was more of a series of misjudgments from guys who were either outright bewildered by the variety and intensity of the spin-bowling, or who could not break the hold the pitch itself had, as chief protagonist, over proceedings.

Let’s repeat: India are a strong side and this is their patch. So this was tough. But was it an underachievement, from England? Surely. I went from thinking that this was a 200 pitch (when Root got out) to wondering if India, had they batted first up, might have got 350. Pointless but true. And the thought that the home side may have a stronger advantage in the batting than in their bowling also landed – possibly weirdly, given the early rout.

So what could England have done? Gambled less, selection-wise? (Bairstow at 3, in Test Cricket, is a gamble, as was not opting for Woakes or Bess, to shore up the batting). In fact, there is an argument that opening with Crawley was a gamble, given his recent absence. Lots of eggs appeared to be being lobbed into the Jimmy/Broady/Archer basket. In terms of strategy and/or technically, that failure to separate events – and therefore let the onrushing collapse in – felt important. What we might call negative momentum or infectious failure set in, somewhat. Sometimes it takes bullish individuals or very clear-sighted individuals to burst through that. England found none, today.

Positivity gets so heavily conflated with dumb machismo that I rarely see it as a way forward. But if positivity meant advancing down the pitch to squish the turn and break up the bowler’s dominance then maybe. Throw in some movement deep, deep into the crease to play late and square and who knows? Maybe you find a way.

Every route has its risks and it’s up to the player to manage them with intelligence and skill. Crawley’s sublime ball-striking suggested it was not unthinkable to choose your moment to break out with confidence. England needed to find a way not just to score but to accept the challenge before them – even if that meant only defiant defeat. What happened felt disappointingly more like a kind of compliance.

Due Diligence.

A reminder: there’s an important difference between ‘being stranded/going nowhere’ and battling it out. And the latter is often a key, to Test Match cricket. Also it may be that Sibley was picked for exactly those qualities of durability and enduro-stoicism. (Lawrence wasn’t… but read on).

Also note: lodged this baby at 11.15 am, our time. But things move fast, eh?

England are getting battered, in the second Test, at Chennai. All out for less than 140. After Burns’ error – plainly Ishant set him up skillfully but for him not to see off the decent but hardly world-beating delivery that then arrowed predictably inwards, was an ordinary bit of batting – Sibley and Lawrence applied themselves with some rigour. As per what it says on their tin: “bat long”. The Burns wicket looked a combination of nerves, early-doors wooden-ness and technical issues around his extraordinary set-up and bat-swing but I’ll let better minds than mine un-pick all that and move forward.

Some commentators have said that Lawrence was stuck from the outset: I disagree. He played diligently and with care for an hour or so – as did Sibley – looking relatively untroubled. I’m not even convinced that for much of the morning period he found it difficult to score. He just felt that was secondary. Only towards the end of his occupation did it feel that the alleged imperative to tick over got to him – and he looked more susceptible to angst. The moment of his dismissal was then a classic case of bowler-induced mind-boggling, as Ashwin stepped away to up the drama for a final ball before lunch that would claim the young England man’s wicket.

Even that cruel and untimely blow does not mean Lawrence’s first innings knock was without consequence or value, despite his dismissal being for just 9 runs. Any allegation that he ‘ate up 20 balls’ before scoring is a nonsense: part of the job was manifestly to consume deliveries, ease the pain and soften the ball. Any notion that what his captain chose to do was essentially wiser or better is spurious… or at least open to intelligent debate. (Root came out sweeping – sweeping Ashwin, hard and early. Fair enough. Legitimate; bold; a gamble. It didn’t work but you can see why he thought the game demanded a response. And I get there’s an argument that Root went ‘positively’ precisely because the scoring rate was low).

There was bound to be, on this pitch, against this attack, something a sense of vigil about England’s response to the intimidating effort from Rohit Sharma, Rahane and Pant – all of whom got past fifty on the surface. Lawrence and Sibley together looked to begin that vigil, knowing they were on the back foot, with conditions and now crowd conspiring against them. Sibley appears to be born for this potentially crushing scenario: he has the physical and psychological attributes of a low-octane bear. His talent is for appearing unperturbed; munching through time and task.

You can’t help but feel that Lawrence’s job had inevitably been made harder by the third ball exit of Burns. It is likely that this pointed him towards a slightly more conservative approach, even allowing for any possible psychological conditioning around mindset, and/or the independence of all things. I thought Sibley and Lawrence did okay, in the (let’s be honest) inevitably challengingly fraught period after the departure of Burns. Sure it might have been better if they rotated the strike/scored more. Sure this meant that pressure wasn’t released. But they prepare for precisely these moments; they are experts, or developing expertise, in hardcore sport. What we saw from them at the height of this grilling was as encouraging as it was disappointing, in my view.

Foakes finished up highest scorer. After his predictable excellence behind the sticks, does this reinforce any case for selecting him regularly or permanently, in the Test side? Quite possibly. Does this means that Buttler gets dropped? Not necessarily. There are options.

The fitness of Stokes might be influential. If Stokes can play a full part in the bowling unit then things may be less complex – or controversial. He continues at five, with Pope staying in there at six and Foakes batting seven. If Moeen stays pickable (and I hope he does) then there is ample batting (and spin, for most situations, with Ali and Root) plus three specialist bowler slots. It’s not like-for-like – Buttler is arguably unique – but you are effectively just changing keepers. So minimal disruption. England get a better wicketkeeper and possibly a more durable, though less mercurial bat.

Despite Buttler’s obvious brilliance, I might ‘drop him’ into a purely white-ball role. He plays everything, short-format-wise and maybe succeeds Morgan as skipper. He wouldn’t want to drop out of Test contention and he wouldn’t. You review: you look at form, experience and suitability for particular series. Currently I’d say keep it simple, get Foakes in the team. If Pope doesn’t come through then maybe Buttler bats six.

Great teams have fantastic subs, or twelfth men or women. We are already seeing that this England Squad is exactly that, rotating to maintain balance, quality and wellbeing in the age of Shedloads of Action and (incidentally) a plague. Oh – and remember currently the fella Crawley is out: he’s looked a million dollars, on times. Something always has to give.

I Die by the Sword.

Great moments in sport? Root gets to 200, in Chennai, with a six. Oh – and it’s his 100th Test.

That’s the blog done, right there. Except you’d feel short-changed. So bit more. From my notes, some thoughts.

  1. Stokes gets another Bumrah Wonderball – that not-incredibly-quick-but-still screaming, inswinging yorker – whilst still on nought. Survives.
  2. 16th ball, Stokes clangs Ashwin for a straight six. Ridiculous.
  3. Already clear (by about 97th over) that Stokes/Ashwin or Stokes/Anybody is gonna be a Proper Contest. England’s wiry talisman is already looking a) bloody determined b) at the pitch, which features real rough-stuff short of a length, outside of his off-stick. England 280-something for 3 and you can almost feel the intense dance-off going on between the leftie’s attacking instincts and his obvious concern about those iffy areas on the strip. Which way will he go? When it’s obvious England must get to 500? But he’s going to have to contend with who-knows-what?
  4. We know what. Ashwin spins one. No sign of Nadeem but as he’s the one who’ll be plopping the bombs into the mix it surely can’t be long. (Interestingly, Knight on Channel Four comms talks about Kohli maybe missing a trick, here. The left arm spinner is held back, when despite his less-than-convincing performance yesterday, he has the angle to bring that rough into play. We don’t see him ’til the 103rd over).
  5. Stokes does look both nerveless and like he knows the import of the moment. Ishant is bowling well – he bowls with diligence and skill right through the innings, despite little help from the pitch for the seamers. Root and Stokes look well capable. We wait.
  6. Nadeem is in and Stokes answers with an early reverse sweep. Then Root sweeps the same bowler for four. Fascinating first over suggesting punch and counter-punch.
  7. 104th over and the 300 comes up, following two consecutive fours for Stokes, off Ishant. (The bowler did little wrong). Stokes is now 26 from 40 and Root has 142.
  8. In the 106th, Nadeem finally finds the jack-in-the-box; the ball erupting. Stokes seems almost shocked – though he’s been heavily preparing for it. He (still) sweeps the next ball, to make his statement, connecting o-kaaay rather than emphatically. We have the two contradictory senses; that the batsmen are both looking to Go Big and that something is about to happen, for Nadeem.
  9. Fifty partnership is up, off 107 balls.
  10. I am thinking about Leach. And about what he is thinking. The pitch may be made for him.
  11. First of two poor reviews, for India. Ashwin should have seen the ball was nowhere near the glove, as Stokes swept. Soon afterwards Nadeem seems unluckier when Root finally misses but the ball is tracked bouncing over. More of a let-off, for England but Root sweeps the next ball competently away. Engrossing stuff: mind games at close to maximum.
  12. 111th over. Stokes seems bit frazzled; opting now to hit through his troubled or troubling patch. Root gets to 150; another truly outstanding knock. 326 for 3 at drinks. When we resume two further reverses get Stokes to 50.
  13. 115th over and a further explosion off the pitch, on a length for the right-arm spinner Sundar. Like outrageous – bounce and bite. Smacks of a fourth innings nightmare and possibly some major anarchy even before that. Probably an “OK that settles it, I Die By The Sword” moment, for Stokes.
  14. With England on 387, Stokes goes fearlessly aerial again. This time Pujara, despite making a horrible hash of it, holds on, in the deep. It’s been another memorable effort from England’s tattooed hero: he goes for 82 typically colourful runs, off 118. Enter Pope.
  15. In many ways a fabulous time for the young talent to come in… and yet conditions, he knows, will be testing. He’s away, with a nicely cuffed cut for 4, off Nadeem. He also has Bumrah to contend with.
  16. Pope’s low, wide base the subject of some analysis on comms. It is striking. Much talk from ex-pro’s about how good the lad is. Suspect he will get a longish run at this number 6 berth; quite rightly. Technique, quality and mentality all appear to be in place. In ahead of Buttler (or Foakes) makes sense.
  17. After the 400 comes up, with Root on 175 from 312 and Pope inching in on 5 from 20, acute tiredness kicks in upon your local correspondent. (Up at 3.45 last two nights – c’mon). No notes and *possible snoozing* until that other poor review, again from Ashwin, this time against Pope, who is not out.
  18. Thereafter, a late fightback from India and some deserved reward for Ishant, who has run in proudly and with real discipline for two days. England lose Pope for a decent-but-not-sparkling 34, Buttler for 30, Archer first ball. Oh – and Root gets that double with a ridicu-six, before finally falling lbw to Nadeem, for 218. Bess – predictably, that’s why he’s there – does an excellent delaying/irritating/accumulating job and the doughty Leach is well, doughty. With just Jimmy to come, England are boasting an encouraging 555 for 8. India have plenty of batting… but can they bat on this pitch?

Back!

England’s day? Probably but that wonderball from Bumrah to finish the opening joust tilts the balance back towards tetchy equilibrium, methinks. If a heroically solid Sibley could have seen that final over out – and the signs were that he probably would – then the visitors would feel relatively in command. But now if an early wicket falls tomorrow, England might be looking at 350 rather than the 500+ they will feel they must aim for.

I thought the Slowish But Admirably Purposeful One would make it through, such was his focus. Bumrah’s electrifying yorker did for that theory. It had been a day when India’s main men predictably performed and their allegedly lesser lights, predictably, did not: Washington Sundar and Shahbaz Nadeem failing to back up the largely consistent work of Ishant, Ashwin and Bumrah. Not that England raced away at any stage. More that the (likely) England plan to single out or pressurise the relative newcomers worked pretty well; breaking up the continuity of the home team’s effort.

After a creditable start from Burns and Sibley had kept the metaphorical crowd quiet, there was an explosion of drama towards lunch. Then later a boom at the close. In between, the England skipper had simply stayed in his richly productive groove. Now, plainly, if some combination of Root, Stokes, Pope and/or Buttler get in, their stroke-making may at the very least make this First Test safe. They *might* even rip this right out of India’s reach. Exciting. But hey; read how it all seemed live, from 4 am. It was a genuinely absorbing day.

So we’re back, wonderfully, in penetrating sunshine. Or it feels that way, at 4 am, here. All-comers welcome to make an early brew and wipe away the sleep. Free cricket is back.

Chennai from some angles looking like a cubist Ageas Bowl: the pitch inevitably dry but – word is – holds some patchy grass. Seems barely concievable and let’s not be expecting too much, as Sharma lollops in to Burns. There’s a chance, strictly speaking, early, as Burns middles a glance low and behind but it barely counts as an error from batsman or keeper. We all settle.

Bumrah partners Ishant with his walk/gallop/slam. Immediately it’s fascinating to see how conditions dictate: it being understood that there will be minimal lateral movement so yaknow, bowl at the sticks. Both bowlers do their job of offering no width, with a field set straight and extra man or men to leg. A huge, delicious contrast to options in the UK.

We get quiet cricket, which is of course fabulous, for England. Slowish accumulation but both Sibley and Burns look focused, with the former’s hands-away-from-body quirk rarely feeling any kind of issue. Burns, meanwhile, looks taut, muscular and determined. 16 for 0 after 7 brings in Ashwin for Bumrah but no alarms.

Bumrah will switch and Sharma will rest and the only nervy moments for us sleepy folks back home are a couple of medium-iffy singles, one of which raises a genuine smile from both batsmen – who seem in, despite their racing hearts. Sibley threads Ashwin beautifully through midwicket for four to go to 19, from 48. Ideal. Without offering major freebies in the field, the home side are hardly flawless. Nadeem’s weird potential ankle-breaker at the boundary – stepping onto the escaping ball – not the only moment to rile Kholi.

Both England openers have their quirks but both build their particular groove with real conviction. The introduction of Nadeem (left arm spin) for the 17th over offers Sibley a rare opportunity to free hands and cut square, for four. The fifty (51) arrives on 19.3 overs, for no loss.

Shortly afterwards Burns *really does* charge Ashwin, dispatching him powerfully, through wide mid-on, for the morning’s boldest moment. It’s followed by the ugliest, for England, as the left-hander conjures a ridicu-sweep – a reverse – against India’s leading spinner and succeeds only in flipping the ball up, to the incredulous but grateful keeper. Unthinkable, heinous error from Burns, who is gone for 33.

Somebody somewhere will make the argument that the shot was on. That he was trying to lift the momentum, having established some meaningful initiative. Cobblers. We are just before lunch in the first knock of a Test Match against INDIA – at their place. Your next bat is a brilliant novice. Put the bloody shot away until you’re on 164 for 0.

Lawrence comes in, suddenly exposed… and is nailed by a slanted-in in-swinger, from Bumrah, fifth ball. Probably reversed. England go from 63 for 0 to 63 for 2. Lunch.

In other news, by 7 am I’m through two cups of tea and a hot lemon. And two toasted tea-cakes. (I may be telling you this because we’re into another quiet period). Root & Sibley now nudging this forward. Kohli in an extraordinarily straight catching position as Sharma comes in to Sibley. Ver-ry close to the cut strip. 78 for 2 after 34.

Some sense in the 35th over that Ashwin is finding something. Touch of spin, certainly and that flow that comes with a breakthrough, perhaps? Beats Sibley’s outside edge. Softer ball now but reverse evident, as Ishant follows. A shout against Root but the ball’s doing too much – so no review. Conditions may be bat-friendly but India look increasingly on it. Patience and grit imperative, from England.

“Something’s happening, pressure’s building” says the excellent Butcher, on comms. It’s true that both Ishant Sharma and Ashwin are testing the batsmen. Great spell of Test Cricket. Meanwhile, in Pembrokeshire, it’s effing plastering down. 81 for 2 off 38. Sibley’s looking less comfortable against Ashwin. Nadeem will bowl the 40th.

The left-armer looks like he’s going to spin it – and we’re hearing that he’s using the breeze well – but he’s not finding a consistent furrow, here. Washington Sundar follows him but Root advances, with care, and drives for four, through extra. Could the bowling changes offer respite, for Root and Sibley? How important will that be?

92 for 2 after 42. Sibley has 35 off 131. Have no problem with that. Build.
Ah – Root reverses Washington Sundar. Well-executed, picked the right line, but bold. Sibley then crunches Nadeem through midwicket for four. Possibly England looking to cash in on the less illustrious bowlers? Team plan? Bold. 100 up, two down. Game poised.

A false shot from Sibley against Washington. Leading edge. But he follows with the kind of free-flowing hoik over square leg that makes you think that England are looking to put some pressure on the new boys. Root confirms this to take the partnership past fifty, sweeping Nadeem hard, for four. Real arm-wrestle for domination going on right now. 114 for 2, as Nadeem, foolishly, no-balls. A peach of a clip for Sibley closes the over: boundary. He has 48 and England are 119 for 2 off 48.

Bumrah needs to return. He does. No dramas, two from the over. Ashwin joins his A-List bowling partner. Poor misfield gives Sibley an impressive fifty. Impressive not just for that trademark stickability: he’s waited, stayed honest and picked up enough boundaries (7) to avoid an innings stall. 51 off 153. Good work.

Wonder-combo, from Bumrah, who offers a slower ball then disguises the fast yorker. Sibley has to drop the bat, sharpish. He does it. Just: thrilling escape. Bumrah now a proper handful.

Rare poor, short delivery from Ashwin crashed angrily to square leg by the England skipper. Next delivery is again shortish; Root dances again and clatters, again convincingly, through extra. He is 44 from 95. England are 138 for 2. TV focuses on the quality of the ball; soft with seam gone fluffy.

Ishant still manfully producing deliveries which nip either way, a little. He has 9 overs, 0 for 12. Ashwin will bowl the last over before tea. Excellent session for England: 73 runs from 30 overs, no losses. A nice round 140 for 2 after 57 overs. Puts them ahead. With Stokes, Pope and Buttler in the queue, they will be feeling good.

Ishant Sharma will open up after the break. He turns Root around and draws an edge. Narrowly fails to carry: another fine ball that left Root a touch off the pitch. One from the over. Nadeem follows. He drops one short but escapes with just the single, to Root, who had struck hard, into the ground. The captain then cuts away and with Washington failing rather weakly to retrieve, he moves beyond 50 yet again. 51 off 110, to be precise. England on 148 now, for 2.

Ishant bowls a rare bouncer (and no-balls). Root plays classically high-to-low and is a tad unfortunate not to claim four more. Great response, mind, from Ishant, who threatens the edge with one that holds its line.

Nadeem offers a further short one, to Sibley. Cut away behind square for four. Root is inevitably catching him, score-wise but this is such an important knock for Sibley – and the tour, you suspect. With 62 overs done, Root has 56 off 117 and Sibley 60 from 200 balls. The partnership is now worth 96.

Bumrah returns, with the game moving gently against him. Root middles a slightly widish one but finds point, before caressing a pearler through the covers – possibly the shot of the day. It brings him up to Sibley’s score, of 60. 100 partnership now up. If England get signicantly beyond 200 for 2 before the new ball – which seems likely – then India will really need to find something… at the end of a long day. (They might, of course: Ishant has looked consistently good and Bumrah, without being the unplayable magician England may have feared thus far, has that magnificent propensity).

Sundar Washington isn’t helping: pie down leg easily dismissed with another aggressive sweep, from Root. Four. A further sweep garners two more, so six from the over as Root gets to 70. 177 for 2. Twelve overs to the new ball.

A little frustration creeps in, for Sibley, who advances and drives hard, for no runs. But he soon puts the fury away and drops on anything on a line and length. Defence very much intact. Root finally makes an error on the sweep, top-edging fortuitously into space around mid-wicket. Two balls later he crunches Nadeem defiantly for four more, with the same shot. 185 for 2 after 71.

Pant, in desperation, having raced twenty yards and flung off a glove, tries for a *ver-ry ambitious* run-out. Misses by miles. Overthrows. Oh. And it’s Nadeem’s fourth no-ball as well. Insult to injury. Shortly afterwards, it’s 200 for 2, off 73.4, with Washington Sundar bowling. Root goes into the nineties with a gorgeous, slightly short-armed punch through mid-wicket, for four. Absolute class. Drinks.

Delightfully late cut gets Root four to third man. 98. What a knock this has been! Increasingly bright, confident and expansive. Sibley also grabs a boundary from Sundar, collaring the 150 partnership as he does so. 214 for 2, off 76, with Sibley retaining the strike. When Nadeem again drops short, the opener cuts hard to the boundary: he has 76. Both players plainly looking to cash in before any new ball – now probably only 3 overs away.

Root drives straight, for 1. Sibley takes 2. We await The Moment. Misfield offers Sibley 4 more – swept, emphatically. Finally Root tickles one to fine leg to claim a genuinely fine century, in his one hundredth Test. The man’s in sensational nick: fabulous to watch, again.

Ashwin will bowl the 79th – presumably to loosen him up for the new ball?
In the 80th, bowled by Sundar, Root absolutely bolts a two, with notable energy. Ashwin and Virat have a prolonged chat; to break up the game as much as search for any immediate breakthrough. Clearly this is *all about* the new ball. At that 80 over mark, England are 235 for 2. Now: deep breath and start again.

Sod’s law; India, who have been unhappy with this ball for thirty overs, now pass up the opportunity to change it. Mind games. Weirdly, Ashwin gets freakish bounce and turn – I think for the first time today – and that soft old ball races away to leg for four byes. (Lols). Enter, belatedly, the new ball.

Ishant Sharma, deservedly, will take it. First ball swings – early and harmlessly. Third ball is smoothed out through extra cover: ball was widish but confidently dispatched. Over seen out without difficulty but there was inevitably a little more bounce, plus that possibility for regulation swing.
Bumrah next. Two good balls (holding their line) beat Root. He will need to re-focus, as will Sibley. 249 for 2, off 83, now.

Different level of carry, for Ishant but Sibley happy to leave and see out the day. Root gets a touch of cramp, whilst defending Bumrah, who is looking sharpish, again. Runs have slowed, which is fine – to be expected, even – but with ball generally finding the middle of the bat and Sibley back to his doughty, defensive best, no issues. 250 up and 5 overs remaining. England have eyes on survival and the proverbial ‘platform’. One suspects that we’ll see Ashwin come in, to see if he can disrupt the (slow)flow, or even break the partnership, which may approach 200 by the close.


Sure enough, we have Ashwin, for the 87th. Hilarious drama, as Root finishes the over flat on his backside, with Kohli offering brief cramp-relief, the batsman having smashed Ashwin for six! Inevitably it’s the first maximum (o-kaaay, I know) of the innings and it intrudes rather shockingly into what appeared to be the natural retreat into overnight safety. Extraordinary.

We arrive at the final over, with the 200 partnership now up, off 365 balls. Sibley will face. His head could barely be more over the ball as he drops into forward or back defence mode. But a fast yorker may have nailed him! We await the review…

Another stunning toe-crushing ball, swinging in late. Looked tight. Would be cruel to lose any batsman now… but that’s how it is. Sibley gone for a tremendously important, if typically unattractive knock. He made 87 before that Bumrah screamer exposed him.

England finish on 263 for 3 at end of play. Their day but gutting for Sibley. On the place side, Stokes knows what’s ahead of him and has the evening to gather. Another Big Day tomorrow. The home will be looking for their B-List bowlers – Nadeem, Washington Sundar – to provide better consistency through the game. England will be hoping for 500.

Here’s what we should have done…

Hmm. If I cruise through my diary for the year soon to be known as Two Thousand and *insert expletive* Twenty, what will it tell me? Given my creeping facility to fail to remember, will it direct and prompt towards some kind of legitimate reflection? Or will I need wikibloodypedia to cross-check why everything stopped at a particular date?

Tell you what. Let’s have an ungentlemanly agreement that particular dates didn’t matter: that the unkempt ‘schedule’ of events – so redolent, don’t you think, of a certain foppish barnet? – is only to be referred to where it suits our – or my – pleasure. Because blanks may be good, and factoids slippery.

JAN: Normally a quiet month, in any case. Do sometimes support the very wonderful Lady Taverners, by hosting or umpiring and chirpily chivvying along some Secondary School Girls’ Cricket Action. Great, when it happens, that lovely mixture of spookily competitive teens who ‘play’ – their word – and their more or less committed peers.

In recent years I’ve typically volunteered myself to be the Guy Who Goes Outside (On The Tennis Courts). This is madness, in January, but the gals love it and we just can’t accommodate all those who want to play inside what we call The Dome – the inflatable sports hall-thing at the local high school.

This year, my diary tells me, I had a hernia op on Jan 13th, so I missed out in any case. (The op I actually rather enjoyed – weird, I know – because it went well and – weirder still – I wanted to savour that whole drift into unconsciousness, post receiving the knockout gas. I remember trying to count into and be aware of those seconds before disappearing into slumberville. Was it going to be disorienting and bumpy, or smooth? Could I hold off the anaesthetic and dance round some faerie landscape? Would I turn out to be Ben Stokes… and is everything else a travesty?)

Turns out I remember nothing of the actual moment of disappearing. Ho-hum. Enjoyed the bantz with the staff beforehand – and grateful to them for their professionalism and good humour. Within a very few weeks they would be gearing up to grit out dark times: I was incredibly fortunate to get that operation before Normal Service was lost to all of us.

FEB: 18th and I go to The Sloop, the seaside hostelry in North Pembs that somehow ticks the strikingly efficient pub-grub tourist-eatery box and the locals’ local. Both sleepy and rammed with local sportsmen, fishermen, occasional rock/film stars, The Sloop manages to host a Welsh-speakers corner and all you buggers from Guildford.

Anyway, I was there for the AGM of the Mighty Cows – Llanrhian CC. Again felt like a privilege to be able to piggyback (via my volunteering and Proper Cricket Wales Work) the outstanding, generous work of the Cow Stalwarts. My contribution here was to try to politely bully the club into getting folks on the upcoming Foundation One Coaching courses: like most clubs in the universe, they need to train up more players or members to bring on the next generation. Think my intervention may have spurred some profitable action on this, but Covid has certainly blurred the timeline.

Diary also notes ‘Chance to Shine blog’, for 21st. Just had a look. Think this is an error… the post is about India v Aus women, opener for the T2O World Cup. Can’t trust anyone or anything, eh?

Then WOW. Tuesday 25th Feb and I’m into Lamphey Community Primary. A delightful dinky-wee school in a small village in South Pembs. The Head is a personal friend and a spectacular advocate for sport. Their hall is a tiddler but we start what proves to be a series of animated weekly sessions in there – the weather not playing ball.

I’m with Years 2/3/4. We conjure up (between us) some proper energy and enthusiasm, despite the folded dining tables and encroaching benches. No scope even for tennis ball-based games; no matter – the spongeball shuttles, swerves and shuffles are smiley enough. Am ultimately proud of the feisty level of activity we achieve: from memory only on a couple of days could we break out into the yard. Given the daft time of year and all, this was an energising start to the 2020’s school delivery.

Two days later and I’m into Caer Elen, the Welsh language primary in Haverfordwest. My children went to the school’s predecessor – Glan Cleddau – where I somehow became a Parent Governor, so I have a particular connection. I know and rate plenty of the teachers; my son grew up surfing with the secretary’s. Such is life in small communities, eh? I give it plenty and the weeks are fabulous and productive… until.

MARCH: There is now a spectre looming. The memo’s suggest I am calling schools (or still contemplating that) to try to set up sessions. 4th March I start up in Pembroke Dock Community School. I have gushed elsewhere about this establishment so will encapsulate: should get the Chance To Shine ‘School of the Year’ every year. I get three weekly visits in before the broiling beast does for us. Thurs 19th March the diary barks out CANCELLED CORONAVIRUS over the theoretical week four, at Caer Elen.

APRIL: Who knows? Should be on a charge towards All Stars, club activity with sun on our grateful backs. But nope. Extraordinary to flick through the days and weeks and see those schools, sessions, commitments that could not be fulfilled. Not even sure if I can unravel the written word: did we really lose the whole bloody lot? Cilgerran, Croesgoch, Fenton, Prendergast, Sageston – all skittled? And all the ‘Progress Sessions’ – i.e. pre-All Stars club support missions – emphatically yorked? Christonnnabike!

MAY: Diary entry feels especially poignant: ‘Under Nines Festival @ Haverfordwest’. Should’ve been a gateway for tinyish peeps; their critical first experience of matches. (In truth, although these are organised games between groups, the vibe is beautifully unthreatening. P.A.R.T.I.C.I.P.A.T.I.O.N. is absolutely key and these are generally tremendously positive, well-judged occasions. Gutting to lose them: there are none, throughout the summer).

I *should be* hosting inspiring assemblies and burning through blisteringly entertaining Road Shows: can’t. No Waldo Williams, no Narberth. I justify my (part-furloughed) existence with social media stuff and joining Whatsapp groups or Zoom calls to demystify ‘updates.’ The whole process of accurately informing our Cricket Wales Community Where We’re At begins. Half-term comes and goes – doesn’t matter.

JUNE: More voids where schools and festivals should be. There must surely be some recreational cricket(?) – acksherly I’m not sure – there’s nothing in my bible, so who can tell? No sign either of the pro’ cricket I should be planning to traduce via my blogs. Blimey. Think I even have a few days off CW media duties; this really is unheard of.

Brief re-wind because somewhere stuff is happening. March: Aus women have steamrollered India, in a bumper home win, at the T20 World Cup. I wrote about it. April: I interview Andrew Salter . May: I fall into Youtube. June: I really start to confuse the years – both in my diary and in what I may loosely refer to as Real Life. July: Shouldn’t I be planning trips? Why is there nothing? I have some recollection of fiddling around the ECB Media Accreditation page but at what point does the inevitable shrinking-down to A-list bubbles occur?

I know I have no chance of gaining access to international or indeed any other high-profile fixtures, now. I have no illusions about my relative centrality to cricket reportage. I’m a very fortunate hanger-on, tolerated by good folks at the ECB who suddenly need to reduce the media clan attending fixtures. So I’m gone, and no issues. Can’t get live access to Western Storm, either – had targeted that, a little. (Again, no issues – just very much hope to be back when things open out again).

End of AUG: HOW DID WE GET HERE?!? I follow Storm v Vipers livestream and then things funnel back to Zoom calls and more, careful de-ciphering of government/Welsh Government/Sport Wales advice on what’s do-able and how. I must also be booting down the motorway because…

SEPT: Speed Awareness Course, 14th – online. Then GOR BLIMEY: September 15th 2020… and I’M BACK IN!! Pembroke Dock Community School. The first of six, weekly visits. Now spending the whole day at schools, so as to reduce travel and therefore risks to everybody. Have a ver-ry clear memory of my first session back. It was so brilliant and crisp and rallying that I wrote about it: expect to post into Chance to Shine’s Case Studies once Pembs Sport have used it.

Life gets temporarily busy. After that full day of coaching I have a Cricket Wales Comms Zoom. 17th and I’m in Golden Grove, where the unthinkable happens – we get away with five consecutive weeks of activity outside, only dodging apocalyptic hailstorms twice, from memory. Stunningly engaging cricket-based games, both on grass(!) and the playground. Intense, given six sessions in the day, but massively gratifying. Looking back, feels like something rather profound was achieved, and defied.

I’m test-driving some learning and intuitions around offering children space to engineer their own games. This following chatter amongst Chance to Shiners and Create Development gurus. And specifically after a chinwag with another Head, who reminded me that whilst kids are being heavily stifled re physical play, (because Covid, because schools can’t condone traditional grappling) so “Guys ‘n Gals Like Me” become important as stimulators of appropriate activity, owned and developed by the children. In other words, maybe it’s become part of our job (in the Covid era) to prompt schoolchildren towards inventing or extending games themselves. I try to build my sessions towards this aspiration, by asking (them) “how do we make this work?” and “how do we make this fun?”

Sorry if that’s all a bit niche but if it’s true that children are unable or less able to physically act, or interact, there may be important repercussions, over time. And that becomes territory for teachers and maybe particularly for Sports Development Peeps like me.

Sept 27th, had hoped to be reporting live, in my own inimitable fashion, on the Rachel Heyhoe-Flint Trophy Final. Couldn’t. Blogged, watching a stream. 28th some geezer came to sweep the chimney and nearly demolished the house. (OK, exaggerate but wow, it was like a Surrealist Performance Art-fail. Dislodged the cawl, left kit by the fire and smeared the curtains with soot. Only some of this makes the diary).

OCT: After half-term am still in schools, though inevitably it’s feeling like borrowed time. I have spent £23.97 on industrial-strength sanitiser, for the kit I take in. Am sanitising between every group – spraying balls, bats, etc and squirting alcohol-gel on my hands. Feels near bomb-proof.

Remarkabkle times, though: still musing on the level of psychological impact on four-year-old Sara and Dafydd, of their teacher presenting from behind a mask, all day, every day. (Maybe none – but fascinating?) Nevertheless, the work in schools continues to be rewarding and effective in a way I’ll never be able to reflect on the Chance to Shine monitoring system, or anywhere else. I know and the teachers know the children are loving it: good enough?

NOV: Caer Elen cancel the 2nd because we’re narrowly out of a lockdown (I think). But I can return to finish my allotted six full days of delivery. Uniformly excellent: great, engaged children – years 4 and 6 – plus outstanding, informed support from staff. The availability of an immaculate and biggish sports hall unquestionably helped: we ventilated it well, sanitised religiously so sessions were busy, enjoyable, stirring, even. Thursday 19th and St Oswald’s, quite rightly, cancel. Now begins the winter.

DEC: There are more Zooms, with various colleagues. I am drafted back into the Regional Pathway, after a sabbatical couple of years but then the winter nets become a further victim. Remain philosophical about all that was inevitably lost: know that I have given a reasonable account of myself both in schools and in terms of work delivered. Can hope to fulfil my contractual obligations and personal aspiration to enthuse the universe… but a barely credible year.

Some cricket happened but I didn’t see it in the flesh. No friendly hellos with George Dobell or Dan Norcross. No Bristol, Worcester, Cardiff, or Taunton. No Edgbaston. Instead, long quiet walks. Wet beaches. A kind of philosophical re-calibration. Books and writing. Family.