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.

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.

The Campaign for Gentlemanly Conduct re-visited. Or something.

Blimey, did I really just write that? Am I really going back there?!? And if I do, am I not going to update that campaign title? ‘Cos half the universe won’t get that it was always a tad ironic – or at least knowing – and therefore not the weirdly Victorian-sounding hosting-place for laughably anachronistic ideals that it may seem to Younger Earthlings.

But hold up. Is there really any need to gather up the ancient arguments for something so dispiritingly passé as fairness?

Well, maybe: yes, even.

And can I actually do this without referring to either Mo Salah or England’s finest Harry Kane, having seen neither of the games, over the weekend, that so inflamed that wonder of moral and intellectual discourse, the Twittersphere?

Yes, I can. And will. Almost. (OK. I’m hardly gonna mention Salah. Too much obvious racism in the mix: maybe go there another day).

Again, sagacious readers, upon this very weekend, there were yet more penalty incidents and claim and counter-claim around ‘cheating’ and/or skilful ‘drawing’ of error and ‘foul’. Of course there were. Tribal fury was again whipped up, immediately and gun-totingly, as it seems to be in political and everyday life – worryingly.

But as my learned friend Michael Vaughan – he of the blunderbuss-tastic and mind-numbingly polarising missives – might say, “on, on!!”

Okay I’ll cough. I had neither seen Sunday’s (Kane) backing-in thing nor the Salah moment, having swerved Sky Sports for economic and family reasons. At this juncture I remain blissfully opinion-free on the Liverpool man’s re-appearance in the cross-hairs but *courtesy of Twitter* I have been reminded of some of ‘Arry’s Previous and want to address that, before I revisit the idea/ideals of the CFGC.

There is always context and here is mine. Firstly, I’ve written before, on this – you got that, right? (Go search bowlingatvincent.com for The CFGC). Secondly, yeh – on, on!!

Think Kane is a ver-ry fine all-round player but dislike his cynicism. Even buy into the idea (somewhat), that as England skipper he has certain responsibilities. He has every right as a player targeted for his threat, to look after himself, be street-wise, even. But this does not include looking for and exaggerating contact, or backing dangerously in to a defender about to legitimately jump at his back.

(Follow the link below to see highlights of the Spurs/Brighton fixture of yesterday, including the moment when Kane drew a controversial penalty by sidling in to Lallana’s airspace).

https://www.skysports.com/watch/video/sports/12121403/bale-scores-the-winner-as-spurs-beat-brighton

Of course this incident was unique in the one sense but also… just not. We know Kane does this, to a) draw free-kicks for his side; b) retaliate, possibly; c) put markers down; d) intimidate &/or hurt defenders. It’s about gaining advantage as well as getting topside of an individual opponent.

In a previous generation, Alan Shearer might have simply whacked the Number 5, elbowed him, or body-checked him late; all ways of ‘reminding’ opponents they were in a game; all now impossible, or heavily policed by the 24 cameras and indeed the general non-contact nature of Premier League football.

There are general points and specific events here, yes?

My general point includes (yet more own goal-tastically) that Kane does have responsibilities as England skipper: he is massively high profile. Broadly, he is cynical – almost classically so, in the modern way. I personally would go so far as to say he disrespects the game by repetitively seeking to draw fouls or pens, or (to use the Shankly’s phrase) “getting his retaliation in first”. Kane knows full well that his watchful and deliberate way of backing in to a centre-back might well leave the opposition player crumpled in a heap, after a fall they cannot control. He does know that, which is why it’s both dangerous and bloody nasty.

Nasty? What the F…?

Evidence from a game against Burnley is more damning than the sly shuffle into Lallana. This (below, below) has cropped up again on my Twitter feed and informs my moralistic fury more significantly than the Brighton pen – absurd though that was.

In the challenge against Burnley it’s surely undeniable that Kane is seeking to topple the player over the ‘back’ that he is making?

Either the referee or one of the assistants (or VAR!) should see that. Anybody who knows footie, I would argue, knows that. So it’s malicious – it has intent. Kane is timing his encroachment in, to make the player over-balance – at height. It’s what most of us would call a Bad Challenge. In rugby the equivalent would draw a red. Here I’d settle for a yellow against Kane, plus a referral to my (ahem) panel, who may or may not rejoice under the name under the Campaign For Gentlemanly Conduct.

I know many will see the arguments above as evidence of my delusional superannuation and distance from the game. ‘Hopeless – different generation’. Or they’ll assume I’m Arsenal. (Steady on).

I’m oldish but not that Old School, except, I confess, when it comes to sportsmanship. I don’t believe that sport is all about gallantry ffs – hah! I can hardly write the word! – but I reckon sport without some abiding sense of fairness and decency is palpably the poorer. And I don’t care where that places me.

Rules or laws are there to make games playable and to make them fair. Fairness matters – no matter how much it might make the contemporary dressing-room smirk.

The Tottingham and England captain is plainly not alone in being a serial offender against sportsmanship: the Premier League is awash with exaggeration and worse. I genuinely regret singling out Harry Kane: that was circumstance – topicality. I do however still hold with the idea that elite football needs a body to hold players (&/or other protagonists) accountable. Because otherwise the cynicism, the bad-feeling eats away.

Yonks ago I wrote about the notion that a panel, probably of former players, might be set up to look at contentious issues, in order to look at what we might call behavioural stuff, as well as the validity of decision-making. (Perhaps it might even stand aside from the rights and wrongs of pens and cards, other than to judge on qualities of intention, fairness, etc). The three or four ex-players involved might be empowered to (for example) retrospectively fine or ban players who transgress known and accepted boundaries. So Player X cannot be that cynical, that nasty, that fake, that prone to make him or herself prone.

I think this is not only do-able but important. Granted, my original idea (meant as I said as a wee provocation), that we might use a sort of conceptual extension of the old Ungentlemanly Conduct rule is an increasingly flawed notion. It sounds unhelpfully antiquated and begs an immediately negative riposte in the era of a healthily thriving WSL. But you surely get my drift?

Three panellists: maybe Shearer, Lineker, Alex Scott? Or similar. With the power to both call out and penalise cheating or more nuanced offences against sport. With a unashamedly pro-fairness agenda. Armed with a totting-up procedure, which leads to bans against repeat offenders. Keeping, or making the game as honest as possible?

So. Am I dreaming?

?

Cool Catchers… plus!

Some thoughts on coaching, from a Community Cricket Coach just returned to action.
What does it feel like, ‘going back?’
What are the real differences, in the Covid Universe?
Given that (as a ver-ry fine Headteacher just suggested to me) children “really have to find or build new Covid-aware games”, what role can we coaches play in prompting thoughtfulness and creativity, as well as those movements and skills?

Not at all saying I know the way but have a pertinent question, I reckon…

#howdowemakethiswork?


Being Naughty.

A Tweet. Set me off. On a trail that may be irreverent and ill-judged.

Forgive me. I’m neither trying to offend nor in any sense under-estimating the importance of the #Covid19 protocols. (Friends, I’ve spent most of the last several months imparting the details of those very protocols to the good people of Wales). I get that this stuff is important: I get that it’s life and death, potentially.

And yet

Jofra’s nipping ‘off to the flat’. Indeed that whole, daft-but-also-massively-irresponsible thing. Can that not be a source of comedy, too? It was, on twitter. Is it bad that I laughed at some of that? If you think so, maybe leave me now… and all the best.

In response to a tweet from Barney Ronay, yer man @DavidJMcGaughey said… leading me to say…

All of which is silly-blokey (I get that) but got me thinking about other breakouts, or potential breakouts.

So purely for laughs, a wee list of who/how-they-might… break the shackles of responsibility of such-and-such. Because (however irresponsibly) I am clear that we like a rebel, when it comes down to it. Even if they might cost us a Test Match.

  • Beefy the obvious place to start. There’s no doubt a library full of more or less outrageously beeftastic Breakouts. (I speak as the brother of a cub reporter who was on the scene moments after Sir Ian *had a quiet word* with a young gentleman after an evening’s entertainment in Scunthorpe – this in Botham’s football-playing days. Not that this would be the most dramatic or news-worthy of his extra-curricular activities).
  • But what would be the classic Botham Breakout? And who else/how else might the Collective Bubble of Responsibility be pricked? Who are or were the scallywags – your scallywags?
  • Weirdly, my own first thought was Derek Randall, but this may have been more about my memory of his agreeably mischievous fizzog than any propensity of his for tunnel-digging. But, if pushed, I see ar Derek climbing out the hotel window with remarkable agility, scooting gleefully down a drainpipe or six, before meeting a couple of other reprobates at a rum bar in Kingstown, or supping pints of mild at a regular haunt in downtown Nottingham. He could do that and still field like a god, following morning.
  • Gatting. And maybe Gooch. Both stodgier, arguably more lugubrious sorts and obviously both generally loaded down with more responsibility than Randall. But I see them rather bullishly defying the curfew – perhaps with despairing coach or media man watching on – before they march off in search of Quality Nosh and a large glass of red. Perhaps in Australia… which would up the ‘bollocks to everything and everyone’ factor. Not mentioning South African rebel tours; unforgivable and not funny.
  • Not even sure of they were mates but somehow see Flintoff and Harmison out on the illicit razz, too. Having successfully done the weasling out, post a zillion faux-Parachute Regiment signals down the hotel corridor. Maybe Simon Jones is there, baseball cap reversed, squeezing Harmison’s buttock’s and giggling, as they slide past The Gaffer’s Room? Whichever way, this is mission on for a properly savage piss-up: probably in New Zealand, I’m thinking. (Who cares if that figures? It happened).
  • Oooh Robin Smith. Must have been guilty but probably in the Botham scenario. So likely a serial offender.
  • These are all relatively old guys, partly, of course, because I am. There is an issue, in the modern era, clearly – the volume and omnipresence of Media People both in the England Squad Support Group and in the Press Corps around it. So loads of people to potentially grass you up. I know some of the latter and I can exclusively reveal that some of them would absolutely love it if player X or Y either led or joined in with a breakout. I know I would. (Do I need to reiterate my acknowledgements that of course we’re not talking Covid-like situation, here and this is not remotely in that league of serious? No? Good. Onwards then with a couple more.
  • There surely remain Likely Lads, *even now* – witness Stokes/Hales and everything. (Broadly, I think thank god for that).
  • However booze is still central to relaxation, in a way that maybe doesn’t reflect that well on any of us. Testosterone is similarly plainly a factor un-dimmed by years of training, non-negotiable behaviours, ‘protocols’. Young men, cooped up? Horny and bit restless? No wonder nightclubs loom largish in the imagination.
  • Hmm. So in the current England squads, who are the ones, what are the odds?
  • Should I risk a Breakout Rating, based on almost nothing but headshot, body-language, levels of barking-ness?
  • Yes. Yes I should risk that. Here it is; selected individuals… because, whatever…
  • Joe Root. Has that potential to be a right Mister Clean but end of a tour, hauled out or called-out by feisty comrades? 5-10.
  • Eoin Morgan. As with Root, strong sense of responsibilities. Might go wild in or against Ireland, possibly? 6-10.
  • Jofra Archer. Guilty as charged, regrettably. Beyond that, could be a laff, you suspect, on a team rampage. 10-10.
  • Mooen Ali. Wonderful, charming, rooted bloke. Religious and humble. There have to be doubts about corruptibility quotient. 2-10
  • Jimmy Anderson. Presents often as a miserable bugger. See him staring into a glass, maybe… ver-ry late… possibly melancholically, ‘flying solo?’ Tough call this but going with 7-10 on the basis that he might throw a defiant strop somewhere along the line.
  • Jonny Bairstow. Contender. Temperamental. Red hair. Yorkie. “Don’t tell me I can’t goo sup a pint!” 8-10.
  • Stuart Broad. Coo. Relatively, a sophisticate. But also ‘opinionated’ – and likely to think he’s earned the right to a wee indiscretion. 7-10.
  • Rory Burns. Part of the New Breed? Spent half his life in the classroom with a meedya advisor? Possibly. Frankly have no idea – 5-10.
  • Currans. Sharp, determined-maybe-ruthless, professional. Have haircuts, though – so nightclubs? 7-10
  • Joe Denly. It may be over but… outstandingly solid team man. If someone else leads… 6-10.
  • Ben Foakes. Too good-looking not to want to slurp a cocktail and boooo-geeeee! 6-10.
  • Jack Leach. Sense of humour, recently a student; dark, bald, be-spectacled horse. 7-10.
  • Ollie Pope. Can he even drink yet? 4-10
  • Jason Roy. Full of himself. Might smuggle something IN, then lead a breakout. 9-10.
  • Ben Stokes. Oof. Does seem scarily mature, these days. 2-10?
  • Chris Woakes. Seems great lad. So fun. So draggable outtable? 7-10.
  • Mark Wood. Magnificently certifiable. Possibly been selected to be a one-man Social Committee. Hope he has crates of Newkie Brown secreted under the bed. 9-10.

Jofra was daft and unprofessional. Not at all suggesting his ‘offence’ in this moment equates to the light-hearted frolic above. He will pay a particular price, for a particular indiscretion, understand that. But are there not times when breaking out can be fair enough – can contribute to team mood… and therefore to success? I can’t help hoping so.

Now what?

Eve of Easter. Sun blazing. Barely a motor about, not that we get many but blimey this is extraordinary – idyllic actually, with all due respect to the grockles that prop up our entire county, year on year. The shingle, artfully dolloped around our tiny front garden, is baking; the dog is maybe overheating. Junior (well, six foot four) Walton’s smiliferous uni’ dance-music swells at an appropriately easy pitch for a thoughtful lounge. Proper indulgence.

Where we are (forgive us) the Covid-19 situation really does feel like a phoney war. We’re aware of both ‘some Pembrokeshire cases’ and also also of our responsibilities but frisson around exercising is at an entirely lower level than it might be around Bute Park, Cardiff – to take a random example from the known world.

Now that we’re barred from walking the coast path, we generally yomp about a mile and a quarter to a favourite beach along the road, but in doing so don’t tend to see a single vehicle and only occasionally another couple or family taking their own, equivalent quiet promenade.

Big tides so the beach is a zillion, golden, slumbering cricket-pitches at low water. We tramp like sedately ecstatic lurv-zombies the entire width, more than once, unashamedly breasting through the one hour limit our sagacious minister(s) may or may not have made available for Daily Soul-Maintenance. Done this three times this week; estimated duration six hours. Seen five people, total.

But what else? What else for you? What’s it like?

I’m working a bit, on media/social media stuff. This should constitute about a third of my weekly graft – the remainder being the Community Coach role. Doing no coaching in schools or anywhere else, for obvious reasons. So if I was so inclined, things could be pret-ty sedentary: only (and this is not a boast) I don’t do sedentary.

Have no viable garden – or at least genuinely not viable for most ball games. (This probably accounts for current, high step numbers on the roads). Am honestly outstanding at clattering my way into or through jobs, so been on that – garden, kitchen, garage – and will return. But it’s the pleasurable and the healthy stuff we need to get to yes? What do you do? What can, or do we do? I’m gonna tell you some of my restorative strategies and by all means send me yours.

Restorative bloody Strategies! Who am I kidding? Like you miserably shapeless lot, I am almost exclusively following instinct. Working pretty good, mind.

Prepare to be shamed, bored, amused or utterly gobsmacked by the torrent of indulgobollocks about to spew forth. Cos it’s all about What I Done, Lately. (*Of course I have some faint hope it may either make you laugh, or get you off yer arse, thereby neatly dodging the allegation that this is all a bit me, but hey).

Those of you who know me will maybe take the following without too much offence:  that I’m such a shamelessly persistent clown I really don’t care what you might think. This – by that I mean this blog – is about entertaining ourselves, getting stuff done, not about whether I happen to be good at something. To my mind, the ‘me’ is taken right out of this: it is, therefore, merely an offering.

Hey but let me start with something kosher – something that seems relevant, that figures.

Two or three times in the last fortnight I’ve ambled across the road into the dingletastic field opposite, armed with three coloured hoops, two newish sidearms and a bag of balls. Purpose? Being to get somewhere near competent with the slingers. Have gone up to the almost-flat-but-still-unhelpfully-tussocky heights a hundred and thirty-seven yards from the front door, paced out a pitch length and laid the hoops out. Then slung.

Awful, so far. Too many snatched, accidental bouncers: line okay but if I had been in a net with a group of juniors (let’s say), I’d be banged up unceremoniously by now, for Affray With a Sidearm. So work to do; which is fine in the current time-rich era, yes? May need to look at a couple of videos but will be back up there soonish, trying to hook into a groove: consistency is tough.

The other stuff is both daft and almost ludicrously ‘creative,’ darlings, so now strap in for the cringeathon: some surreal slings of fortune and geography bundled in here, which I hope may be diverting.

Great mates have a caravan on the sweet, relatively unobtrusive wee site down close to our beach. (‘Our Beach’ – lols!) The owners can’t use it as the site, like the county, is effectively sealed-up. They are, however, well up for me checking it over and using it discreetly as a retreat or for any legal purpose, particularly as this has involved heroic clearing-out of 14 million flies that had recklessly expired over the winter/early spring. (What is it with caravans and flies, by the way? Had to wade in to a mincemeat horror-show, which has taken several visits to clear).

Whatever. This caravan has become a haven for two alarmingly healthy pursuits but before I spill the wotsits on those, I feel the urge to say, rather intently, that I’m not looking to escape from anyone or anything (thank you ver-ry much) when I ‘nip down’ there. Relationships all good. Just living in a tiny house – as we do – it makes practical sense.

But what does? Yoga and guitar.

Eh?

Yoga I’ve been doing, clunkily and inconsistently for a couple of years but I now really get it. Guitar, well as the angriest of youffs emerging from the punk epiphany, I acquired a fairly horrible Gibson Les Paul copy and, flukily, a marvellous Ibanez acoustic, before becoming a half-decent rhythm-geetar strumster. Criminally, I stopped playing, almost completely, about twenty years ago.

Some of you will be aware that my wife is often referred to as The Finest Yoga teacher in Wales ‘cos, yes… she is. For twenty years, hugely to her credit, she restrained herself completely from bundling me towards the classes she teaches in nearby Haverfordwest, Narberth and St Davids but finally that wall of restraint (or restraining wall?) crumbled. Not sure quite how, fascinatingly, but I found myself attending sessions and did so with little enjoyment for about eighteen months. This despite being aware that yoga was blindingly obviously something that might benefit a berk like me: I’m 84% fast-twitch fibres. Mostly, life is lived in an optimistic rage. Plus, me back is stiff.

Eventually another wall (or something) broke – or, on reflection, I lump-hammered my way through it. Whether it was working with the breath, just finding myself less gutty and bloated, or something mystical about rhythms and space, couldn’t tell you. But eventually I have begun, despite the continuing lack of flow in my super-annuated, sporty-but-brittle frame, to enjoy yoga. So I’ve been doing some on my own, down the caravan.

Bethan’s classes continue, via the grace of Facebook Live but because we really do live in a tiny house, I can’t work alongside her, out of view. In time I’ll get back to going to classes but for now I stroll beatifically down the van with my iPad, from which an emailed practice can be conjured. (Did I mention, by the way, that caravans these days are more like apartments? Smart). So picture me, silently, unhindered and (ahem) unselfconscious, as I inhale, pause, move, in the medium-copious ‘living area’. Like a cross between Peter Crouch mid-robot and erm… a ballerina.

I’m going down there nearly every day, just now, to ‘do something’. Having had a hernia op’ some months ago – and therefore a yoga gap – I’m building back up towards the 75 or 90-minute sessions typical of a Bethan W class.

But my retreats to the caravan aren’t just about yoga, or even just about that yoga/guitar combo. I am kinda rehabilitating my fingers to the strings and re-engaging the muscle memory for chords: I’m also going to try to learn a few songs. And I’m also trying to write a few songs. This means, among other things, singing.

Real blokes don’t sing, do they? Or not whilst sober – not in front of people. But hang on; let’s go back a little.

Writing songs; song-writing. Shocking truth is I’ve always felt I should or could have done that… but only played at it. Intently, once or twice, but never with any discipline. There was a time when there were fantastic people around me – I make no apology for calling them soulbrothers – who might have joined with a committed rock and roll adventure: didn’t happen.

Not at all saying it’s likely to happen now. Not even remotely suggesting that what I’m doing is good. (It’s at least as likely to be raw embarrassing and I really am fine with that). I’m just saying I’m actually trying, over a period of time, to *finish* some songs – or get them to a place where they feel done.

I know plenty folks live via fixations or aspirations towards Pole Stars or Intentions but I’ve never worked like that: (you?) I lack the Ambition Gear Thing and I suspect this is something I’m perversely proud of.

Right now what feels clear and ‘important’ to me is the instinct to create something while the time and opportunity is there. Broadly, that’s it. There’s flow and energy around so I’m using it. Specifically, this means re-learning the guitar – which I know I can do – honing and crafting some ideas into song lyrics – which maybe I really can’t – and either finding my voice and performing – doubt it – or passing the songs on if there’s any real merit in them, to someone who can perform. Or… leaving them in the metaphorical cupboard, which is fine, particularly if they’re *finished*.

What’s both great and scary is I really do not know if the proto-songs are garbage. And I’m more sure than not that my singing is pret-ty embarrassing. And I’m recording, as part of the challenge! But maybe the result doesn’t matter? Maybe this is a truly developmental experience, whatever?

Yes. Emphatically yes.

The caravan and the glorious, generous, idyllic solitude makes it possible to bawl out loud, bollocks up the guitar, grimace or preen to the mirror. (I do all three). Mainly I forget the words and fear I’m sounding ‘like James Blunt’s dad’ – think it’s likely I look like him.

But none of this matters. The ludicrous nerves(!), even when flying utterly solo; the angst about how lyrics might be understood – would people get the irony, here? – all that is clearly strikingly testing, but great. Part of the newness and growth.

(Re-cap: I’m a reasonably oldish geezer who feels about 34. I get that every word of this is ridiculous – and beginning to sound like some self-help guide – but the point is I’m bloody invigorated by this challenge. Being unsure of whether you really are a complete embarrassment but ploughing on, anyway, is a manifestly edgy place to be, believe me. I recommend it).

I have four songs or song lyrics which feel close enough for rock and roll. I hope to practice versions of them all, over the next few weeks. Could well be they never get aired outside that caravan: who cares? In a month my guitar will be on the up and that will feel good. The documents that are my songs will be there, good or bad, but there.

Have tumbled into a longish read – apologies. Ditto for the extravagant indulgences. Hope that some of this resonates in some way: I think it’s about committing, about making your contribution and just not worrying about where it might sit in the hierarchy of things. There is no good or bad that can undermine the brilliance of your commitment.

So, what’s your guitar, your yoga? Get to it, c’mon. With me. We can support each other, okay?

A-one-two-three-four go!

 

 

 

 

Stalling?

So we’ll be back, alright, but when? We just don’t know.

Let’s face it, there are a zillion things we can’t and don’t know at the moment. Please god that doesn’t mean untold stress and outright fear for too many of YOU. For me, it’s kinda fine, or rather more odd than scary, so far. Odd-arousing, ‘cos so-o extraordinary – and so consuming.

I’m well though, apparently, and so is the family – even the 92 year-old father-in-law and his 80-something year-old wife and my own 83 year-old ma. They’re all fine. To be honest, not asking for much more than that, currently. Why would I?

I get that many folks are either raw scared of the demon virus, or concerned about implications around work. I’m neither, but this is not to say that those things are immutable, or that the Walton family are going to be blasé about anything, or that I’m entirely free of doubts. This is a startling, extraordinary, medium-selectively dangerous doubt-fest, is it not?

My wife is right at this moment trying – battling, rather – to keep her yoga classes going, online, via Facebook Live. It’s going pret-ty well, I think, except for some angsty moments around punters signing in and the perennial issue at our gaff of absolutely pitiful wifi. (Have myself nipped next door to await a techno-wotsit Team Gathering, because there’s no way we could both be online for important stuff at the same time: next door is a second home and yes I do have permission).

Spent hours, ultimately, fannying about with iPad, phone and this, my wife’s secondhand Mac, whilst failing crucifyingly-painfully to join a meeting. Then more hours – I kid you not – trying to download Google Chrome, so as to offer the teeniest hope of success for the next internet fiasco. But I digress… and I’m leaking energy on stuff I hate… and this is not good. The point is, we’ve never had to do this stuff before.

My own work, right at the moment of maximum kaboom – going full-on into schools to try to entertain and capture children for cricket – is stalled, to put it mildly. Schools shut; all cricket on hold. There will be admin to do and planning – well up for all that. Plus the ‘creative thinking’ that’s so ubiquitous in team emails as the corona curve launches towards vertical. But Proper Work? Minimal, for the foreseeable.

So, for me, existential questions and practical dinkie-doos rather than medical urgencies. How are we supposed to feel about this? (Differently, I guess, like about everything else). In the face of corona-wireless – and therefore meaning-shift – is it okay to ‘carry on?’ Is it okay to loaf about a bit, consider all options and think about daft stuff like cricket? Write about it, even? Is that an acceptable way to Fill The Void? Maybe if I add rather swiftly that I want to work, I’m old-school work-ethic-tastic and proud of that?

My old man was a magnificently honest plodder and so too, my grandpa and to me it just feels right to pour in some honest, blokey graft, to whatever. Genuinely hope I can continue to do that for our cricket community – put in ‘a shift’, something that can make a difference, feel worthwhile, feel legitimately real to me. And if my hours at that coal-face are reduced then like most of the universe I’ll be all over the domestic chores: bathroom, kitchen, garage, garden: whirlwind, incoming. I’ll commit heavily to something.

But what of cricket and the larger picture? All Stars and Dynamos (the two major projects I have been/would have been working towards, as a Community Cricket Coach) will be either delayed or possibly cancelled entirely, for the season. That’s not just personally gutting, that’s potentially really significant in terms of stalling the *powerful progress* we’ve been making around bringing ‘new children’ and ‘new families’ into the game.

*In case you’re wondering, we really have been providing the local grassroots game – Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire/Swansea – with a proper boost. Uptake into junior leagues from U9s to U11s in particular (that is, the entry levels for organised games, from softball festivals to hardball cricket) has spiked strongly upwards over the last two years. This is unquestionably largely the result of Community Coaches working in schools and signposting children over to local clubs. Of course many of the clubs have been fabulously pro-active in this process… but some have not. Kids have joined in, anyway.

If the last para sounds like some sort of sales pitch then sorry but tough. It’s not  – that’s not its purpose. Not everything (in fact few things of any real import or value) are measurable, but the arrival of new kids and new teams into cricket leagues is closely tracked, inevitably, by Cricket Development Officers. Numbers are up, so the opportunity might be there to build a bright, bulkier future for junior cricket across Wales.

Of course bigger isn’t always better. And bigger can’t happen unless clubs can accommodate. And, clearly, corona pain-in-the-anus might well challenge the notion of survival, for many clubs, never mind the possibility for growth. So doubts, or yes – challenges.

After a prolonged period of (probably) no revenue, how do clubs go on?

Will we get the green light to gather again whist we still have some weather?

If not, will the hit the ECB take stymie or stall the recovery across the game? How do we choose what gets funded, in the aftermath of carnage?

How much of any of this anyway, is ultimately about dosh?

If money/funding/strategy really are critical, how much help can the ECB, Cricket Wales, Sport Wales or any other partner offer?

No idea – yet.

Contentiously… do we think that they will be trying to help the stuff that we care about? What will the priorities be?

Are the huge implications around the professional game so mind-boggling and cash-gobbling that the small potatoes, the All Stars, the Dynamos, the clubs are going to be Item 74b on the agenda?

Can’t speak for any of those aforementioned bodies, not even the one I work directly for, except to say that every individual I know at Cricket Wales is already psyching themselves up for an irresistible surge back from whatever it is we’re in. A weird, thunderously heavy stall? A brutal re-set? A death-throw? Who cares about the labels, the sequencing, the minutiae of this thing? Because there’s no perspective that ain’t scary, we’re surely liberated? We can get that full-throated roar going. We can charge out there and smash it.

How? Why? Know what, I think that’s simple. Because great people, in clubs. Because your 72 year-old scorer and our 71 year-old groundsman. Because we see the coronascumbag and we choose to deny it – though we recognise its temporary hold.

We deny not out of arrogance or through strategy but via a love of the game that will keep us (and it) alive. For I’m guessing it won’t be money that keeps either grassroots cricket or the professional game afloat, not really. It will be a relative small number of stalwarts, who ‘do everything’, who, despite being in the cross-hairs of this disease, will be quietly invincible.

So it might be irresponsible, indulged, delusional. It might be plain wrong. But I genuinely think that cricket – o-kaaay, maybe I’m talking about club cricket, the soul of cricket – will come through this relatively unchanged and unharmed. This is not to say that we won’t lose some soulbrothers and sisters along the way, or that profound adjustments and brutal cancellations aren’t going to happen: they are. But, like other sports, we just have the people, right?