#WBBLFinal. Moments.

Let’s start with this: my conviction that the dashingly, upliftingly positive upward trend in women’s cricket – women and girls’ cricket in fact – is probably the most exciting and profound development in sport, right now. Bar none. From grassroots to the elite levels, things are getting better and that fabulous, liberating wave will continue: all over.

Meanwhile, over there (Oz – the world-leaders in this wonderful romp) we find 5,368 fans and more, luxuriant sunshine. Another huge, smiley yomp forward underway, Sydney hosting its own Sixers and the Brisbane Heat in a carnival, a festival, a cup final of a day.

Could be my West-Walian vantage-point but duw, duw, bois, it looked on the blistering side of bright; weather for being hot and bothered in. Is it or was it indiscreet of me to note that even the sublime athlete that is Perry had that beads-of-sweat-on-the-forearms thing going on, whilst batting out there? Forgive me. Heat is an issue for us Brits.

She (E.A. Perry) may even have been a tad flustered by some consistently tidy bowling from Kimmince Jonassen and co; her striking rhythm appeared off. Maybe this is merely relative, given the expectation of almost absurdly serene progress in this most flurrytastic of formats but though, inevitably, she contributed, Perry looked a bit like somebody else.

She looked, in fact, like a normal batter, for much of her 33, before being caught skying a sweep by an understandably relentlessly watchful Mooney. She wasn’t then, going to take the game beyond the Heat, going to dismiss them entirely, with the bat. For the neutral, maybe this was good?

Kimmince, for me, has something. Maybe has something special – certainly that full outswinger is a real ace, especially when it grips and leaves the right-hander a touch too. Here, this Special One removes the bewildered Healy, clipping the off-stick quietly after that killer moment in the air… and off the deck. Soo-perb. Huge Wicket. Healy – a match-winner, as we know – is gone for 18 typically prompt runs.

There follows a generally lukewarm-ish effort, from the Sixers, to be honest. Credit, of course to some goodish bowling and generally attentive fielding but given the strength and dynamism of the home team’s lineup, the scoring rate was mediocre throughout – and some of this felt like lack of ambition.

Gardner, so often powerful, was mixed. Burns, McGlashan and Kapp were relatively uninfluential. It was left to van Niekerk to raise the bar towards something challenging, with a bullish 32, from 15. 131 for 7 the total.

Despite my opening paragraph (and despite the possibility that it may be unhelpful to suggest it) there may be a sense that the women’s game still needs to take most every opportunity to obliterate negativity and prejudice. So in addition to the traditional pressures accompanying a final, that imperative towards providing a great game, in front of a brilliant crowd, lurked somewhat – was in the ether. Great in terms of quality and drama… and ideally a nail-biter, a close one. We got almost all of that.

Sixers might rightly feel they can defend almost anything, anywhere, anytime, given their bowling attack. Captain Routinely Sensational and Marvellous (Perry) and her sidekick, the spiky, relentless Kapp, queen of the send-off. Two Absolute Worldies; they alone, if necessary, will keep them ‘in the contest’.

We’re into the reply. Poor Grace Harris. Seems a chirpy, entertaining sort but she’s run out literally painfully, early doors, in the Heat innings. Backing up, slipping awkwardly and twisting her knee before failing to make her ground. Soon after, Kapp is borderline abusive in sending Johnson off, bowled – a reminder that this is serious, that the juices are pulsing passionately.

As things progress, it’s tight. The Heat skipper, Short and their powerhouse Mooney are coping okay. Sixers will call upon eight bowlers, from Aley, with her slighty laboured (slightly) one-o’clock bowling arm position, guiding them in there, to the frontline four of Perry, Kapp, van Niekerk and Burns.

When Short is caught by Burns off van Niekerk, the drama focuses on Beth Mooney – remarkably so.

Mooney’s innings was almost painful to watch, it was so traumatically, memorably tough. The Heat’s keeper and key bat could barely stand, at times, due to the broiling conditions. She merely survived it, squeezing every ounce of concentration and competitive spirit into the moment after delivery: somehow, heroically – but alarmingly rosy-cheeked – clubbing the ball instinctively around.

Mooney’s condition was a) the cause of genuine concern from medical staff and b) something of a distraction in the game – hence the lack of sympathy from Healy behind the stumps, amongst others. Sixers felt, perhaps, that some of this was a deliberate breaking-up of the contest.

This, remember, is top-level competitive sport: ultimately some will regard the powerfully-built batter as an ‘absolute heroine’ and others, as an out-of-shape chancer.

The Heat are chipping away at that total but then the game shifts. They lose 3 for 5, stirring the crowd. Tension. Scrambled minds. Nerves on both sides, in fact.

What feels like an important error by Healy – failing to gather a throw with batters a-scampering – becomes unimportant as the next ball from Burns draws a successful lbw appeal.

However the Heat look to be muddling through with 15 needed from 12 and the stylish South African Wolvaardt at the crease. Harris, her partner, has seemed nervy.

More drama as Van Niekerk – her international skipper – gifts Wolvaardt a poor full toss for four but then Kapp’s brilliant arm runs her out, charging for the second run and the strike. Zoiks. It’s the WBBL semi’s revisited, with 5 needed off 6, 7 wickets down, come the last over. Kapp to bowl it.

Kimmince charges but only gets the one. Then Harris clubs one to deep midwicket… and a miscommunication (or noncommunication) on the rope – two fielders colliding – sees the Heat home in a pile of bodies.

A scruffyish finish but Brisbane Heat don’t give a toss. There’s a pretty convincing outbreak of ecstasy (and a further, more joyful pile of bodies) as they run in to celebrate a first WBBL title. Screams and rebel yells and another outstanding day for women’s cricket is done.

 

Game of Throws.

Most of you will know that I’m a Community Coach, for Cricket Wales. This means, amongst other things, that I go into schools – I typically describe myself as “the daft bugger who throws things around, with kids, in schools”.

It’s sometimes challenging but mostly so magbloodynificent I need to ramp the language over the scoreboard to describe it. Today is one of those flowtastically energising days. Sorry.

I’ve been into a Primary School, on our Chance to Shine mission, which is so multi-faceted (in a good way) I’m going to invent some swift bullet-points, to give the sense of covering it all briefly.

Frankly don’t care if this sounds like a salespitch: what happened today was mercifully and definitively beyond mere capitalism, dear friends. Here’s some edited highlights from the err, manifesto.

We Community Coaches, we Chance to Shiners aim to;

  • offer a load of sporty fun.
  • Build co-ordination around cricket-based games.
  • Build confidence through and confidence in movement.
  • Offer new stuff – skills, ‘drills’, ways in to catching, throwing, striking etc.
  • Stimulate listening skills, teamwork &/or individual application to challenges: build numeracy (yes I do mean that!) and communication skills – oracy.
  • Get familiar, or more familiar with a bat, a ball, or different bats, different balls.
  • Specifically follow, more or less, a curriculum which Chance to Shine has assembled, drawing on masses of expertise and research… and stuff.
  • In the abstract we aim (I certainly aim) to make kids laugh a bit, whilst charging round the place with purpose. Structured bursting and giggling and launching and swiping and mostly achieving something, which may or may not be measurable but may well be actually rather profound.

Hence my sickening upbeat-ness. Cos we did all that this morning. Two brilliant sessions with children from Year 2 then Year 3. Brilliant? Them – them! – not me. They lit up the place.

In my post-euphoric foolishness, I’m wondering if there might be some merit in describing what we did. So here goes.

Last week with these children, we followed the Chance to Shine model for batting games, via Striking Star and Super Skills Circuit – you can find these here and I do recommend them.

https://www.chancetoshine.org/teaching-resources

Having done the ‘get familiar with the bats’ thing, it made sense to do something different, today. So out with hoops and spots and balls, for games again developed from that C2S curriculum.

We were inside, in an average-sized school hall. I drew out a Throwing Line, with red cones, then placed three yellow hoops and a spot, about four or five metres out, parallel to the Throwing Line, spaced evenly apart. Three or four metres beyond, two blue hoops and two blue spots, again making a line, across the hall. Finally, the distant targets – four red hoops.

I welcomed the children in, in English and inadequate Welsh, as per. Then, after asking them again how they turned their ears on and warning them in the nicest possible way that the games would change, briefly described (rather than demonstrated) what we would do. We would throw underarm at the yellow targets.

What would we throw? Cricket ball-sized sponge balls and two or three significantly bigger but still unthreatening, lightweight ‘footballs’, plus a softly-spiky pink plastic ball: all of which I said I’d like to see shared around.

The children had a couple of goes before I tried that “Ok people, imagine if I was an alien and I’d just landed on Planet Har’ford; how would you explain how this underarm throw works(?)” routine. “What’s moving?”

I might now be modelling the throw but not saying anything. Instead I ask the ‘coaches’ (kids) to talk me through “pushing my palm, stepping forward, aiming with my hand-that-isn’t-throwing”. It’s a listening event and describing event, for the children; hopefully more than a demonstration.

We move on, as soon as; we want to be throwing, more, further, harder!

I ask how many points we should give ourselves for hitting the nearest (yellow) hoops ”first bounce – on the full?” Somebody confidently shouts “Ten!” Ten it is.

”So how many for the blue?”

(Somebody else). “Thir-teee!”

”And what about the red?!?”

”FIFF-TEEEE!!!”

Suddenly we have a Proper Game. In which “for a bitta fun” we can keep score if we want.

I offer them more choices; they can now throw under or overarm and they can aim at any hoop or spot. (Incidentally, if it felt necessary, I would offer the discussion about whether a blue hoop is worth more or less points than a blue spot – which is smaller. Feels unnecessary, here. Note too, that we haven’t discussed throwing overarm yet; let them launch a few first).

Surprise surprise, everybody lashes it out there in the general direction of the distant red hoops. It’s wonderful, stretchy-wild and energetic. They love it.

Before the next round of throws – just to focus the concentration a tad – I bring in A Rule. “You have to name the colour before you throw”. We go on. It’s still fairly chaotic… but great.

Next up we revisit the scoring. “Which are the easiest targets to hit? Why? So if we really were counting our score, what colour do we think might be the one where we are most likely to get some points? Or… if we are enjoying throwing harder, further (at the red, maybe) what can we do, to give ourselves every chance of hitting?”

It’s gotten tactical. They realise that. There’s that lovely sense of liberation – through the physical act of throwing – and also the whirr of cognition and ‘getting the game’.

”I’m going yellow – no, blue!”

”I’m going red. I’m still going red, because…”

It’s gotten to a point where I think there is some real value in me demonstrating an overarm throw – despite my half-decent grasp of ECBCA initiatives towards Core Principles, as opposed to old-school ‘coaching’. So I offer three suggestions; feet wide apart and in line with the target; ‘pointing’ or aiming with the non-throwing hand; throwing hand waaaaay up and back away from the face.

In my defence, as it were, I do offer this model via a story, with questions.

”Who’s got a dog, friends?

Half the class.

”Okaaay. So have I. Picture the scene, on Newgale (beach). Me and one very waggy dog and a ball. Does my dog want me to do this… (throws with hand at his ear, feebly)… or (collects ball and notably draws elbow and hand high and loooong and back, away from the head) does your dog want you to launch one?” (Launches one, to unsolicited whhooooos and whoooorrs from the kids).

”Your dog wants you to zap it. To enjoy throwing hard and far. Powerfully. Come on, let’s get wide feet, pointy hands and get that ball awaaaay from our faces. Let’s ab-so-lute-ly lash it AT THESE TARGETS!!

Typically I shift one red hoop to the furthest, furthest point and up the ante to 500 points for that one. It’s a blast – slightly wild – but my personal mission to teach the mini-universe to be able to throw, to love throwing has bounded forward… and that’s magic.

I’ve missed some details out but this is the gist of a session that I repeated, this morning. Minimal changes for Years 2 then 3. Biggish groups – 30-odd. I guarantee you that nobody felt inadequate, or left out. The level of engagement was stratospheric.

I finished both sessions with my Moving Target challenge, for a thousand points. It offers a kind of individual moment for everyone; one in which everyone Wins Big.

I walk across in front of the children, holding a hoop up at what feels like a comfortable height for their throws. One by one, they all have to throw through the hoop, as I move. Miraculously (possibly with an occasional strategic twitch from yours truly) everybody nails it! It’s crazily, dizzily, wonderfully satisfying – maybe especially for those who weren’t throwing ‘naturally?’

“A thousand points! What a way to finish!”

About fifty minutes-worth of entertaining, challenging, sometimes mind-bending Chance to Shine/CricketWales fun. With balls. And hoops. In January, in a school hall. Some educational boxes ticked but mainly, mainly a deeply pleasurable experience for all concerned; including me.

 

 

Another Year in the Life of…

Here’s the thing. In Fishguard; just finished the Christmas shopping blitz alarmingly early, by my appalling standards, largely courtesy of the town’s delightful independent bookshop. Feeling tad smug; almost triumphal, even.

(Allow me to get my retaliatory confession in early, here. Abso-lutely cough to being shockingly blokey about adventures in Retail Land. Love the family ecstatically but even this fails to de-glaze the eyes during the *buying things* process. Can only manage it in bursts).

Sometimes, however, the twitchtastic ‘yes, yes, that’s definitely it’ instinct operates on a level that really might be described as inspired. Like today. Like when I bought the flag of the European Union (£1.99) and the monkey-shaped tea strainer (4 quid) and then all those books to erm complement the previous, eye-poppingly eclectic purchases.

The Shopping. All done! And capped off with some deeply groovy dinosaur wrapping paper that will further convince the family that the descent into shambolic eccentricity continues worryingly unabated. Haha – all done!

So what better time than to retreat into the Gourmet Pig (ambient hipstertastic deli but don’t let that put you off) and flick through the diary to rustle up a few highlights? Whilst the dander is more up than Solskjaer’s: when we need some Good News, to counter the divisive disasterfest that is Brexit And All That. Let’s de-politicise the universe for a moment and remind ourselves, shall we, of the power of sport?

January. 2018. Kindof off-season for us Community Coaches but not entirely for my good self, on account of the social media role(s). So two blogs, early doors; one shamelessly backing the All Stars project, the second a weird indulgence around how you can’t own the sportsplace without being Ricky, not Rick, or Rooty, not Joe. (Go figure or go read: 40 posts during the year!)

Also some training, at what was still then the Swalec (I think), now appropriately restored as Sophia Gardens. And what we call a ‘CDO meet’, which means a conflab with my esteemed handlers, to talk about what the year is gonna look like – the actual work and the actual imperatives.

By all means picture us poring over the strategic overview in some intimidatingly businesslike office-block: in fact we met at Morriston’s caff in Carmarthen. I hasten to add that this didn’t stop us thrashing out a pret-ty comprehensive Cunning Plan; something our funders and seniors would have emphatically rubber-stamped – with or without the brown sauce.

Jan 11th and 12th the Community Team underwent further training, in Cardiff. (If this was the Create Development training, it was excellent: challenging, stimulating and a laugh – but authentic. Shout out to their guys; if you have a group of coaches you want to nudge forward or ask good questions of, seek them out).

Saturday the 13th I have a note that Barnet Newman failed twice to get his teacher’s certificate, on the grounds that he couldn’t draw stuff. This relates both to a blog I was writing about governing for culture, sport and health, and also flags up the fact that the universe can be dumb as hell… but you have to keep on, yes? Jan 15th I re-booted the Cricket Wales facebook effort.

29th I started my year of coaching by leading a session for mighty Sport Pembrokeshire; an interesting one as it gathered in children of various ages who had the ‘home educated’ label in common. Enjoyable. Predictably great, lively kids: plus helpful prep for me, as two days later I am in to the day-job with a wallop.

I start in schools ‘proper’ Wednesday Jan 31st. By this I mean in my Cricket Wales Community Coach role, supporting and supported by the fabulous Chance to Shine, bringing a considerable dollop of cricket-based games and curriculum-linked nuggets to bunches of kids over a number of weeks. Meaningful lumps of sporty-but-also-holistically-enriching development, in other words: and yes I do mean that – all of it.

Five sessions in the day, for groups of about 25-30 children, aged 5/6/7. Quite intense, despite the breaks.

Intense but rewarding. Hope this doesn’t feel indiscreet if I whisper behind my hand that this school (Pembroke Dock Community School) is something else, in a good way. Visibly, demonstrably, powerfully connected to both sport and artsy stuff as means to enliven and (that word again) enrich. This school leads the way in many respects, not least because *they* genuinely place the movement of the body and (actually) the spirit slap-bang central to the whole educational experience.

*They, obviously, being the Headmistress, Mrs Thomas and her staff. Bravo!

So what a place to start! In the deep dark winter! Weeks of back-to-back, rip-roaring, darkness-defying games. Remember being medium-shattered but inwardly grinning; school-fit; ready.

February. What we call Views training – Views being the on-line system for recording our work. Genning-up on the hows and whys of inputting data onto the site that tracks and accounts for what we do. Because quite reasonably, people are wanting to know what we’re at; how many hours are coached, who to, when?

Being from the Stiff Little Fingers school of computer (il)literacy, I have to work reasonably hard at this – get my diligent head on. It’s a chore but no complaints: no accounting, no job.

The schools work is coming at me, now. Saundersfoot, Sageston, Stepaside. Southish Pembs. Fascinatingly different but all smallish village schools. Fantastic welcome and support from staff, some of whom I know. Gratifyingly, over time, that essential and confirmatory buy-in from teachers won over by the level of engagement or sometimes sheer joy from the kids. The moments where teachers get it… are important.

Milford Juniors, as one roster of schools rolls into the next. Assemblies where I maybe have to follow the vicar, carefully transitioning from Easter to All Stars messaging, without offending or failing to ‘signpost’ children over to their local clubs.

(It’s true: we do have to execute the salespitch side of this, by presenting something All Starstastic in front of the school/staff/the extended community. On reflection, I followed two gentlemen of the cloth onto the stage during last season. Mercifully, I remain un-struck-down).

Johnston and then ‘Lady Taverners’ – meaning delivery to and supervision of Secondary School girls, who (here in Pembs) are all over the idea of practicing a bit then playing matches against other schools. Been running for years, this, at U13 and U15 level, with great support from our colleagues at Sport Pembrokeshire. It is sociable and often extra-curricular but also competitive – appropriately competitive, I would say.

Gelliswick. A new school and new to me. The Head is a friend (and former Scotland international cricketer!) so feeling good about my first visit. Weather against us and main hall unavailable so we have up to five sessions every Tuesday in a tight space. Sponge balls and multiple, diverse relays and a whole load of adlibbed ‘storytelling’ – for wee children, largely. A healthy challenge for the coach, this one.

Narberth. Suddenly a boomtown, with more galleries and foody cafés than (I dunno) Islington. The Guardianistas may be here but the school feels reassuringly untroubled by the changes all around. Lots of welsh spoken; playgrounds that feel timelessly boisterous, or quiet, or windy, or raw in another, unstable March. There most of the day, so confess did occasionally indulge in the local food emporia. Occasionally.

We’re into what we call Roadshows, now. One-off visits where we may do a session or two but will certainly look to present a snappy and engaging something-or-other before a biggish lump of children in the (All Stars) target group of 5-8 year-olds. So again being more salesperson than coach, in truth. (Prefer the other stuff, to be honest but again no complaints – it’s part of what we do). So do it well and gather some kids for the local clubs.

Have a series of Roadshows plus a final round of new schools to hit, now, as we approach the key period – before the All Stars kick-off in early May. Fenton, Neyland, Cleddau Reach, Lamphey, Penrhyn, Golden Grove. Easter, rather unhelpfully, interveneth.

Then, renewed, the final charge. Croesgoch and Ysgol Bro Dewi for my own pet All Stars project at Llanrhian CC. Soo-perb support from staff and a fair bit of decent weather just when we need it. I follow the sign-ups on the ECB system. 7, 8, 10, more.

We get to 26 All Stars, for Llanrhian. A truly exceptional number given the fabulorural nature of the schools and the club. Unthinkable without tremendous backing in every way from the schools’ staff, who have actively joined in with sessions – despite their own Welsh-language ethos and my poor, poor Welsh – and their consistent support for the notion of activity beyond school. 

Over the proverbial parrot to report that I’m going back in, in 2019, to flush out a new group of All Stars; a thought that amongst others, has kept me going through the floods and the potentially crushing gloom.

We get through to mission end. Then many of us Community Coaches lead All Stars in clubs – meaning eight weekly sessions or more.

At Llanrhian only the very first session had to retreat indoors, to the local leisure centre. Went okaaay but thank god for the glorious weather which followed. We were out on the most absurdly wunnerful Proper Rural Cricket Ground imaginable. For eight more idyllic weeks.

It was crazy, energy-sapping  but also mysteriously, undeniably restorative. It was, at the end, both absolutely necessary and incredibly hard… to stop.

But reel back a bit. Because May and June in the schools means Festival Time. Busy but easy, because the Primary School Festivals we run pretty much run themselves. Because the kids love it and the teachers, the teachers are magnificent.

These are day-long events which nail the sport-and-development-and-social-interaction combo beautifully year after year. (8 a side, batting pairs, two overs each pair; when fielding each player must bowl). Things move along – so if you get beat you’re onto the next one before you go dwelling on all that ‘negative stuff’. Actually, for me – honestly – there is no negative stuff.

Outstanding, well-structured game-days which build in brilliant, shared activity. Such a privilege to host. We ran about a dozen of these, in Pembrokeshire this year; almost all in bewitching, Australian weather.

And then it’s summer. Which is not the end of the year… but does mark a slowdown in the number of hours coaching. Autumn and winter,  I’m doing the year-round (social) media stuff, with occasional CDO meets and admin, and more Views training.

Eventually – but spookily swiftly – we’re planning the next mission. All Stars 3, in short. Schools delivery to Years 1-4 (mainly) in support of All Stars activity at local clubs.

In November I started approaching schools for that next round of action: some new, some delightfully, encouragingly familiar. Am booked into nine, so far, will be chasing other schools immediately after the festivities – 18 in total, more than last year.

It may sound glib but I am hugely thankful for the support that schools or individuals offer. The friends, the soul-brothers and sisters – the allies. This comradeship and understanding, unspoken or otherwise, is central to the work.

The work all of us Community Coaches do (and yes I am including our counterparts in other sports in this) really can, really does have a certain power. The movement and the sheer, infectious enjoyment makes children listen: this in itself becomes a profound opportunity – a gateway.

Some schools want me in pronto after Christmas, others will wait for warmer, brighter days. All will get a daft, ‘distinguished’ geezer proud to front up, to lead, to sell the game that I love and push towards that precious culture of daily, ‘natural’ activity.

So, a happy and healthy break to all. Then bring it on; I’m ready again.

Universe Podcast 5. On writing.

Dangerously solo podcast, on writing stuff and the privileges I’ve enjoyed. Hope to god no-one feels *exposed* – not my intention. Hoping folk might be interested in the process and actuality of writing on cricket – on anything.

 

 

Big fan of Ronay and Hayward but also of Ian Herbert. Thank you to them and to George Dobell, Melinda Farrell, Dan Norcross and Adam Collins, in particular. Listen and you will see that this a) takes indulgence to a new, exotic high b) is about accreditation, style, honesty and lots of other cobblers.

Okay. Have listened back. First thing I should say is that I know it breaks all the rules: I’m not big on rules. Absurdly long – not bovvered – a zillion omissions and dubious generalities, naturally, but like it and pleased that encourager-in-chief Richard Huntington has ‘bloody loved it’. When you’re on the edges of embarrassing/‘colourful’/crazy-pretentious it helps to have an occasional, legitimising thumbs up.

Should maybe mention that I do understand that there is a significant difference between a column and a report. Even my live posts aren’t reports, eh? *Also*, I work full-time for Cricket Wales as a coach and media geezer, so when I talk about being unemployable in the mediasphere, I have the luxury of referring to possible occasional freelancing. Love my job – genuinely.

May add to this…

 

#WT20 – good & not so.

Unashamedly blasting this out. Amorphous wotnots and occasional insights, I hope. Reflections. Dangerously off-the-top-of… my barnet. ‘S fine, because nobody will read it – because it’s about The Wimmin.*

So GOOD – & less good – lumped together. Bit like the tournament; maybe *like any tournament?*

Memo to self- and to you, sagacious friends – don’t go comparing it to the blokes. It’s different.

  • Australia. Their surge towards completeness. Different level of preparation, intensity & often – quality.
  • Perry & Schutt didn’t blow people away but they were still imposing; as was the team. Clearly it was Healy’s tournament (except for that weirdly dysfunctional final, keeping-wise!) but it was the team, actually, that crushed the opposition.
  • Generally better fielding and more threatening bowling. Generally more dynamic batting – power play batting from a different universe to most teams. T20 cricket from a different, newer, more dangerous era.
  • ‘Course India beat them so arguably that’s cobblers… maybe. (But not for me). It wasn’t just during the final that Oz were mostly competing at a higher level.
  • Is it good, or bad, that Aus appear to be out-cooling and out-boshing all of us on the investment in the women’s game front? No argument. 1. Fair play and congratulations. 2. Might this lead to Grand Prix-like processions to victory? (The ECB may come under pressure if the ‘re-organisation’ of the women’s schedule here stalls the recent surge towards higher standards and greater depth).
  • But back to #WT20. England were mixed – from Aus-like in their cruising past poorish opposition – to periodically awful in the field.
  • On the one hand it’s absolutely right to note that the absence of their toughest competitor (Brunt) and a truly fine keeper and stylish bat (Taylor) would hurt any team. But as England are resourced and prepared in a way that probably only second to Australia, we’re entitled to judge them pret-ty keenly, yes?
  • Amy Jones. Did a goodish job behind the sticks (as good as most international keepers?) and pressed the I’m Here! it’s Me! button, whilst batting.
  • Jones looked technically strong and crucially more dynamic than most of her team-mates during the international season, without quite building that seminal knock. (She got 20-30s when I saw her live but oozed something authentic and encouraging). A good deal of that landed in the World Cup: a strong #WBBL could see her fully ‘emerged’.
  • Tactically, Mark Robinson and co were again strikingly bold – fielding a zillion spinners, insisting that Beaumont and Wyatt charge early. Only during the final did Wyatt get into the or her game, though, whilst Beaumont felt out of rhythm – was scratchy, when she needs to be timing the ball to generate runs around the place at a decent rate. (She is not as powerful as some other high-order players, obvs).
  • Of course the spin-fest was a reaction or an expectation around pitches – which were widely regarded as disappointing. I respect Robinson’s gutsy hunch but was it just me that thought somebody was gonna cut through the slow-bowling ‘stranglehold’ and see that actually none of the England spinners turned it very much… and only Ecclestone bowled with that searching pace… and therefore they were rather fortunate not to get carted? (Poor generalisation maybe but ‘twas how I felt).
  • The Scots import Gordon did well, mind. Not spectacular, not hugely threatening, but did well.
  • Sciver is plainly ‘our’ Perry. Athlete. She grows into the role, fair play. Did particularly well to fill the Brunt-shaped hole, first up. Infuriates me with her bat-swing, mind – so unnecessarily hoiktastic and across the line – but hey-ho, she’s well within her rights to go with something she’s comfortable with, I guess. It just smacks of somebody who finds it all rather easy, overthinking and clumping everything to leg. But she’s a star.
  • Shrubsole bowled again, at times, more skilfully and with more raw swing than anyone else on the planet. She is class. She is class but still looks if not hurt, then less mobile and agile than would be ideal.
  • The Fielding. We ain’t necessarily comparing them to the blokes when we say that the fielding was – in the tournament generally – not good enough. Appreciate standards are improving. Appreciate Wyatt, Sciver, Knight, Beaumont, a bunch of Australians and plenty other individuals look like athletes in the field and are consequently great to watch. But despite the upward curve on this, too many players are simply not looking like international-class athletes – and this is important.
  • It’s important not just in the way the game is received, broadly but also in how matches seem, live. Running, fielding, catching, throwing can be electrifyingly central to the drama. Currently, obviously, they are let-downs too often, undermining the spectacle, the theatre of all this.
  • I know that work is going on to improve fielding work everywhere and that increased professionalism will change this.
  • *Also*. I’m slightly fascinated to know whether Robinson’s reference to ‘tears’ has related to some fairly brutal laying down of expectation regarding fielding skills. He will know that only about four of five of his players are good enough, out there. Do wonder how England staff bundle that forward, what level of urgency they insist upon, what pressure is being applied?
  • Like Robinson, I think I’m looking to judge the players as international-class athletes rather than women. But we’re both men of a certain age… and maybe likely to mess that one up, here and there.
  • Hey but not going to finish on a negative. I’ve loved the ambience and the actual cricket during 2018 and (acksherly) I spend half my coaching life actively supporting girls into cricket. Tomorrow I’m coaching the next, female generation and bloody looking forward to it.
  • I hope they will see more (or more of) Kaurs or Scivers or Taylors or Perrys: that their lives will be enriched and excited by stars they come to look up to.

 

*Accept that some folks will read some or all of this as somewhere between dubious and misogynist. Can live with that.

I’ve enjoyed travelling and supporting women’s international cricket and know my *intentions* are sound. Do regard it as maybe the most excitingly, richly-developing sporting phenomenon on the planet, right now. Hope to be able to see England Women on several occasions next season.

England snuffed out.

Installed. Fire lit. Dog snoring. Let’s get into this!

Molineux; assaulted by Wyatt. Wow. Twelve off the first – including a four and six. Star quality from England’s dasher. But oof, then Schutt nearly has her, slashing to backward point. 14 for 0 after 2 and an electrifying start has been dragged back a tad by Aus.

Perry. The World’s Greatest. Superb first ball then has Beaumont surely caught behind from the next? But no – highish but regulation catch fluffed by Healy. Minor shockwave goes round. Beaumont visibly struggling.

Schutt benefits. Beaumont miscues up, up, up and is gone for a disappointing, unconvincing handful – caught mid-off. Pitch looks slow and awkward again, mind, for batters. Nasser on commentary rightly notes the obvious nerves.

England have obviously had a Leg It Like Hell For Singles policy during WT20. It fails them – possibly crucially – as the in-form Jones is run out ‘by a country mile’ when gambling to Wareham. Great throw utterly exposes the risk – and undermines the innings.

Kimmince bowls two wides and England are 36 for 2 come the end of the powerplay.

Wyatt drives Perry hard, through wide mid-off. She’s not been flawless but these are important runs, given the nervous stuff from her colleagues.

Sciver must fire, you suspect, but her tendency to swing across the line finds her out, too. LBW, controversially, as she clearly feels she’s hit it, to Perry. Fortunately for England, this brings in Knight – their most level-headed player.

Wow (again). Wyatt blazes rather carelessly back at Kimmince but the bowler drops an admittedly sharp catch. After 8 England are 48 for 3. Frenetic is the word – from both sides.

Another error by both, as Knight and Wyatt utterly miscommunicate, leaving the skipper stranded. But Healy fluffs the stumping.

It’s so nervy it’s hard to guesstimate a good score. You wonder if Wyatt is steeling herself to go long – perhaps because England may not bat, as a team, that long – and she may therefore need to. Removing her helmet at 10 overs for a much-needed drink, she looks maybe more hot-and-bothered than icily determined. Knight, you feel, only does icily determined: a partnership – this partnership – may be key.

My hunch that Wyatt seems close to burned-out was right. She flays straight to Lanning at extra cover. Unsurprisingly, Lanning makes no mistake. Winfield – a former opener, remember – whom we’ve seen virtually nothing of, with the bat, in the tournament, joins Knight.

Par score might be 130, I reckon… but England may be shy of that.

Big Moments. Healy’s having a mare but she may possibly have asked for the review against Winfield, who was struck on the pad before cuffing away to off: she’s out. This brings in Dunkley who gets the dreaded GD – meaning two-in-two for Wareham.

So England in major strife. Not much batting left, 6 overs to come.

Perhaps I do Shrubsole (who has joined Knight) a disservice? And what she lacks in fluency she likely makes up for in grit and experience. Vice Captain and Captain to the rescue?

Blimey. Perry fails to get in swiftly enough to snaffle Shrubsole in the deep. Nasser clear England (who are 6 down) should be all out if chances had been taken. He’s right; Australia have been poor. But Perry gets another, easier chance – not good, from Shrubsole, this – and collects. With Hazell in, England are 86 for 7 after 16.

Knight drives for 6 but is caught charging Gardner again next ball. 98 for 8. Feels markedly short but who knows, Shrubsole may yet have a further dramatic role to play.

Ecclestone – an ordinary bat and ordinary athlete (to be blunt)  – is run out blamelessly in the final over and Hazell falls LBW to Schutt. Total reached is 105 all out. Would be quite something if England could bring this anywhere close. Anya, over to you.

They start with a risky single, off Sciver. Home. Comms on the telly have talked non-stop about a) weird Aus fielding and b) a soap-bar of a ball. Feels tense. Are folks really nervous or are conditions that tough? Difficult to know.

Healy, inevitably, releases. Two consecutive fours clattered to leg. Slightly worryingly, Shrubsole has dropped the second of these short and then spent an age faffing with her footholds. She is unfortunate that the umpire wrongly gives a wide against her but the over costs 14 precious runs, ultimately. Enter Ecclestone.

She turns it. Good over but leaks a boundary last ball. Australia 21 for 0 after 3.

The changes continue, with Hazell in. I personally question her quality (and certainly her level of threat) but Knight and presumably Robinson must respect her experience: lets see.

6 off the over, Aus remaining untroubled. Ecclestone looks a tad more challenging – quicker, more spin – but hey, somebody must break through, for England, more than once. Urgently.

They do. Ecclestone bowls Healy, for 22, off 20. Enter Gardner. Will she be bullish and brilliant, or will nerves turn her brain to mush? (Spot of wishful thinking but either feels possible).

Excellent over for England – can they maintain this mini-squeeze? They turn back to Shrubsole.

Little swing for England’s Finest, however. She looks a little deflated, in truth – particularly as she strays slightly to leg, defeating Jones behind the sticks.

Having entered the contest as Knight’s most deadly weapon, Shrubsole, after two of our four overs, feels neutralized – either by the dew, nerves, or factors unknown. At the end of the powerplay Australia are easing through at 37 for 1.

Gordon does okay again but concedes 7 from the 7th.

From nowhere, the seemingly innocuous Hazell, pushing one out wide, has Mooney caught behind. Hmmm. Good over follows; Australia 47 for 2 off 8.

Ecclestone backs up her spin partner but Lanning does spank her over mid-off – more in a polite-ish reminder kindofaway than in outright, incontrovertible violence – mid-over.

Hazell is in again but concedes two boundaries; one a glorious drive, the second a slightly top-edged swing to leg. 60 for 2 after 10, with plenty of batting to come, you would think.

Lanning dismisses a wide one from Gordon to the point boundary. Looking at the bench and a scorecard proffering Perry at number 7(!) and this surely now, is slipping away from England. No… it’s gone.

Knight takes the 12th over herself but hoiks one well outside leg. Wide. Could be that the ball (which is receiving a huge amount of attention) is likewise slipping. Next, the captain flings down a horrible full-toss which Gardner smashes over midwicket for six.

The Aus batter does the same to Gordon, signalling a charge to the line. 19 only, needed, off 43… so Gardner repeats, more beautifully and more emphatically. To Make The Statement.

50 partnership. Lanning and Gardner moving through the gears, closing out – snuffing out England.

In mitigation of what appears a muted performance from the team in red, it’s plain by now that this is a particularly difficult time to bowl and field, with towels out every ball; but Knight remember did choose to bat. (Discuss?)

The ifs and buts will inevitably include discussion around the absences of two of England’s most influential players (Brunt and Taylor)but Australia are – India game notwithstanding – the best.

Gardner cuts Shrubsole and the scores are level. Lanning tips and runs to Sciver and they are deservedly champions, with 4.5 overs remaining, by 8 wickets. 106 for 2.

There’s been talk of an aspiration to dominate for a period of years – Perry, notably, has spoken this way – and looking at the margin of victory here and the depth and power of this Australian group, such talk does not feel innapropriate. Congratulations to them: the world game must chase – hard.

 

 

 

 

 

Significant Threat.

I was there when England scuffed and skipped, fainted and feinted their way past South Africa in the World Cup semi, in Bristol. It was, as they say, dramatic – dramatically bad for one’s equilibrium – whoever you happened to be supporting.

I do realise that that was a different time, place and format but sometimes it feels like there are *themes*, eh?

In the 50 over comp Heather Knight’s posse somehow came out on top but not before most of us England fans had bawled or tutted or cut out the middle person and shat ourselves. On the one hand, the subsequent, glorious victory at Lords squishes all arguments regarding England’s durability but on the other it feels true to also characterize the side with the rider ‘likes a wobble’.

They do – and we’ve already seen that in this WT20, during the win against Sri Lanka. In this game the first ball dismissal of Wyatt precipitated some pret-ty major, visibly contagious and relatively prolonged angst. So we approach the crucial game tonight, versus *arch-enemies South Africa with hope, yes but also with fear.

(*Arch-enemies? Can we still say that?!? There is a smidge of something approaching enmity, I suspect, between these two camps).

Strangely or boldly, England retain their 3 leftie spinners: can they/ will they do that against Aus? South Africa win the toss and opt to bat.

Lee, Wolvaardt, Kapp and van Niekerk are all players; by that I mean legitimate international players, with talent and experience. The concern around them is two-fold. Where is their confidence? Can they go at this?

The answer to question two is a resounding and disappointing ‘no’. Whisper it – for fear of encouraging more, bellicose negativity from male ‘traditionalists’ – but 21 of the first 24 balls… are dot balls.

The extraordinary aggression-void has engulfed South Africa in the same way it has smothered the ambitions of other teams in the competition. To the extent that this is in danger of not feeling like a competition – more a procession, led by Australia, where nominal rivals act out the role of opponents, rather meekly.

We can hope that India, the Windies and England may yet make a nonsense of this argument: Australia may not prove to be dominant. However the gulf in terms of intent between the Southern Stars and most others is striking… and a tad dispiriting.

But back to tonight’s opener – where sadly it is again as though the powerplay doesn’t exist (for South Africa) – or at least that part of the powerplay that opens up possibilities for the batters to clatter boundaries; that actively encourages it.

I have no doubt that this side of the game will develop in good time: more importantly a notably animated Charlotte Edwards bemoaning the generally disappointing lack of ambition (in commentary on TMS) goes on to repeatedly insist that a gear-change is completely essential. That gap must close.

Meanwhile wickets fall, the runrate continues to stall. 43 for 4 after 13 – but still somehow drama-less.

Knight claims a catch. Rather cheekily, according to the replay (according to Edwards); but the current England skipper is rather fascinatingly certain, even through the re-played denial. Kidding herself, being shamelessly competitive/cynical? Who knows?

Chloe Tryon belatedly launches; smites two sixes in quick succession. Can’t sustain it – caught off Sciver, to snuff out any real hopes of approaching 100. Tunnicliffe follows Tryon to the dressing-room. I can only imagine the trauma for Proteas supporters; the unambition, the disappointment seems endless.

Last over. Shrubsole skittles Ismail, has Klaas caught next ball off a leading edge then achieves the unthinkable-but-somehow inevitable by cleaning out Fourie. Hat-trick! Sciver’s wunnerful-ludicrous figures of 4 overs, 3 for 4 will rightly draw the eye of the cognoscenti but Shrubsole, again, will make the headlines.

Innings done at 85 all out. Okaay, South Africa’s strong suit is their bowling but at this stage it feels like they are about to be crushed. Except that England do like a wobble.

The spikes in quality continue. Klaas gifts England a four with a piece of fielding that is frankly humiliating: painful to watch. Wyatt blasts away with intent and some style. A different level of commitment to run-scoring – or just running.

With an angry Ismail putting it all in there, Beaumont drives her beautifully through firstly midwicket, then extra cover. Both times for four. Proper Top Level Cricket. Important for a tournament still disentangling itself from perceived mediocrity.

General note on this: I think all of us who genuinely enjoy supporting women’s cricket struggle around how to pitch any criticism. Better for female voices to do it. It’s not easy. But clearly learning can come from criticism as well as praise.

Very much on the plus side, Dani Wyatt is energetic, watchable and – tonight – has gotten swiftly into her flow. She belts through a series of borderline singles, diving to gain her ground at some cost to her physical safety. In simple terms, there is no comparison between the approach of the English openers and the preceding South Africans.

Come the end of the powerplay, England are 41 for 0. (South Africa were 24 for 1).

The Wyatt and Beaumont partnership are past cruising, at 55 for 0. Into, or possibly disappearing towards that dreamland where Statements Are Really Made. Could they do this in 12 overs, for none down?

No. Van Niekerk’s loopy leggies get Wyatt, clunkily, behind her legs,  premeditating a sweep but ultimately looking rather daft.

Sciver does something similar, to Daniels, walking to off and being bowled leg stick. After 10, England are 59 for 2. Then Beaumont gifts van Niekerk a further wicket, booming directly to long on.

With Amy Jones now joining captain Heather Knight it does feel like England have sufficient quality remaining to find the required runs. This they do. 87 for 3, ultimately. They’ve eased there, in truth.

Maybe it’s as well that Jones and Knight – both 14 not out at the close – have had some more time in the middle. Maybe. Certainly Jones will have enjoyed clubbing Ismail so emphatically through the covers and blasting the winning runs. Likewise Knight will have loved the two beautiful straight drives she stroked – and I do mean stroked – downtown.

But there may also be that minor frustration around the possibility for a 10 wicket job. Wyatt and Beaumont were simply playing at a higher level than the South African batters. Both got themselves out in their 20s, when plainly bigger scores – and additional psychological advantages – were there for the taking.

Maybe scratch that? Maybe we should be simply enjoying a thoroughly convincing win against traditionally competitive rivals? Maybe save Ultimate Ruthlessness Mode for the teams – Windies, India, Australia – who pose the most significant threat. Maybe don’t even note in passing, that there was no discernible wobble here.

Played, England. Good to see you so focused, so positive. Good to see you enjoy the win. Move on; you’re in this, now.