Taunton.

Arrived early. On the muggy side of warm – so perfect. Summery. Feels like a big runs day but who knows? Certainly hope that India can find another level of dynamism, otherwise this could be one-sided again.

13.09 and quite vigorous warm-ups going on. Do wonder if (on a day like today) this is *entirely necessary*, to this level but hey ho – folks getting paid to organise this stuff. View from our corner is loveleeee… but askew… and not clear if we will hear announcements or see screens all that easily. No matter. Somerset is showing off and the afternoon/evening should be fantastic.

Ecclestone, Beaumont and others involved in fielding/catching rotation. Perfectly good drills going on but slight concern that these days become ver-ry long – for blokes and gals – if the warm-up stuff takes hours. Difficult to sustain energy and concentration to a maximum, endlessly, yes? Actively enjoy watching the pre-game activity. Not remotely being critical: just hope these guys are considering this angle.

13.28. Journos slapping on the sun-lotion: that soft creamy smell. Nice – as is the wee breeze wafting into our open marquee. Might be coffe time. (Instant – can’t have everything). On the team news front, England predictably are unchanged after the procession in Bristol. India make three changes: Raut, Vastrakar and Bisht are hoiked, replaced by Jemima Rodrigues, Poonam Yadav and Sneh Rana. Ooh: thunder flies.

13.52 and the Big Question is whether India can lift themselves into another, more boomtastic cultural orbit – much like the England men did some years ago? India (women) have looked lamentably behind the contemporary process, seemingly unable to shift at a rate beyond four an over, for any meaningful period. Given the resources available to the national governing body, this is an extraordianry failure.

How much of that is down to raw sexism and under-valuing of the women’s pathway is open to debate. I find it incredible that one of the world powers in the game cannot (apparently) find batters who can biff to international white-ball standards. We can’t rule out arrogance and conservatism amongst leading and established players but for the youngster, Verma, to be burdened with so much pressure as the sole attacking batter seems crazy.

India are batting and Brunt has opened to Mandhana. Peach of an away-swinger, early. India’s left-hander responds with a sweetly-struck boundary. The Indian dressing room is stationed twenty yards to my right. On the balcony, they liked that.

Okaaay, I’ll level with you, friends. Wifi carnage – or not updating carnage is intervening, here. Am a tolerant bloke but this is a test. Most of the last X paragraphs have been re-written at breakneck speed because the f***ers would ‘t update on my laptop. There may be a agap here because I can’t catch up – am switching back to The Old Way; punching stuff out on the ipad…

*Stuff we missed. Winfield-Hill drops Verma! Mandhana is OUT! (Plays on, to Kate Cross, for 22). Then India’s junior worldie blasts on, joined by Rodrigues. After 14 overs, India are 66 for 1, with Verma 41 already and her partner yet to score. The *day itself* is simply wonderful: so gawd knows what the seagulls are complaining about, so bitterly.

Rodrigues steadies her nerves (two fours) but then perishes to Cross, hoisting a leading edge out to Brunt. 76 for 2 in the 16th. Having made a good start, can India press on, with Mithali Raj supporting or ideally contributing to a further, dynamic partnership? They plainly need that – and it’s what they’ve lacked. As Raj faces Shrubsole, Cross wanders back to her fielding post with 2 for 11. Important moment?

Big, confident shout from Ecclestone, as Verma advances. Was she stumped? Jones seems keen but we await a review, from the square-leg ump. Takes some time to confirm. MASSIVE. 77 for 3. Verma made another tremendously watchable 44. England had built some pressure: she tried to respond with her trademark aggression but Ecclestone has done for her. Think most of us in the ground are now wondering if the visitors might subside, from here? With the conditions so magnificent it would feel like a crime, should the game be shortened by feeble batting.

But perhaps I do protest the visitors’ potential weaknesses too much? Hope so.
Oof! The ball bursts through Winfield-Hill’s hands, having been slashed at by Raj. Cross the unfortunate bowler but the pace off the bat barely makes that a chance. The Ecclestone and Cross combo is working well, for England. We have effectively two new batters – Harmanpreet Kaur and Mithali Raj – so (even though these two are Indian Icons, of a sort) the home side will look to continue and indeed tighten the squeeze. After 19 overs, the visitors are 81 for 3.

A change. Sciver is in. Lots of chat around Mithali’s role and whether she can transform her traditional, admittedly stylish batting into something 2021-worthy. As she plays out a maiden with carefully-steered defensive shots, we do wonder. A half-volley (from Cross) arrives, to the rescue. 85 for 3, off 20. I’m still squinting, as I peer out there. Summertime Spectacular. It’s Ecclestone, now, who’s first in the line of view. Cross is again racing in; the England left-armer is her deep third man. On the radio, Alex Hartley is notably critical of Raj’s continuing circumspection.

Sciver looks to be bowling at a reasonable lick but Raj pulls for four – to loud cheers, from her colleagues on the balcony. Slower one from the bowler. 94 for 3 from 23. So back to four an over. Time for Sarah Glenn. Could be interesting: she can spin it and of course this ground *has been known* to support slow bowling. To be honest, no screens available and the angle of the dangle makes guesswork of any possible deviation.

India have gone past 100. Kaur and Raj persist but they will know that after settling they must go again. Another moment of elegance, from Mithali Raj. Four, Sciver – mixing it up – having erred a little.

Have successfully called up Sky Sports on laptop, so now – for now – have visuals. Will report asap on degree of spin, or otherwise, from Glenn. Meanwhile, it’s Sciver banging one in there, to Raj, who has moved to 20. The bowler is an experienced and skilful operator: pace up and down and wrist position variable. Good, fair pitch, so trying to present different, sometimes subtly different challenges.

First look at Glenn with the benefit of telly. Hah! A full toss – clumped away – so no spin. Then, despite that cocked wrist and that turned hand, very little spin available, it seems. Brunt will offer a radically different contest. No obvious threat there but this may be okay, for England, if that run rate can remain subdued.

So what’s possible, or likely? 120-odd for 3 after 29 overs. Who’s to come? There *are batters* but how many of them can turbo-boost the innings? Deepti Sharma, possibly. Not clear the others can sustain any necessary barrage. If India use the overs it’s feeling like 220, to me. (That’s five an over from hereon in). India need significantly more. England I think will get that in 40 overs. Maybe less. Let’s see.

The England bowling has been goodish but not immaculate. Ditto the fielding. Glenn has offered a few outside or on leg stump and Brunt’s loopy slower-one is wide and hittable. Both Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur are set, so theoretically in a position to cut loose themselves. Raj smashes one back, low, to Glenn: another theoretical catch but not sure Chris Jordan would have taken that one. 139 for 3 after 32 overs. Drinks. Afterwards the visitors must surely push?

They do. Skier. Cross gets a caught and bowled. Harmanpreet gone, for 19. Sinking feeling? In the sense that I/we don’t want India to be all out 200, yes. But let’s be positive: Deepti Sharma, one of the visitor’s finest is joining us. She is tough, she can hit, she will get – i.e understand – what’s needed. Cross bursts in and bowls at 69mph, according to the gun.

Shrubsole is back, to try to capitalise. She – if the speed-gun is right? – also fires in two at 68/69 mph. (Possible but 64 or 5 is usual). 150 for 4 after 35, so run rate 4.29. Not enough. Mithali has 47, currently, from 69 – not bad, by her standards… but this may be the issue.

Hmm. Speed-gun. Saying 70 mph. It’s warm and Cross is trying but I wonder. Raj gets a free hit but Cross throws in a slower-ball bouncer which Raj cannot hit: it hits her, in fact, on the grill.

Sharma couldn’t score off her first five balls so no surprises that number six goes. Middled through midwicket; four, Shrubsole the bowler. Then she reaches, rather for another pull and cloths it aerially but safely towards the fielder in the deep. But we’re on the edge of something, you sense.

Yup. 160 for 5 as Deepti chips Cross rather cheaply to that same area, where Dunkley catches routinely. Pleased for Cross. Waxed lyrical about her movement and her flow previously: then – Bristol – she got little reward. Today her 4 for 30 will surely give her a fillip? With Sharma’s departure so my angst rises. Fear 200 all out and a short, non-competitive game. Rana had joined Raj, who is now just the one short of her half-century.

Rana takes Shrubsole up and over – barely – for a marginal miscue to long-on. Four. Cross returns, and looks fully extended in a good way. Rana plays a tad early and another skier flies up to Knight. It’s a dolly but the skipper juggles almost comically, before claiming the five-for for the elated bowler. 168 for 6. Good from England but the feeling rises that they have not needed to be special.

A minor lift for India, as Mithali Raj gets to her 50. 80 balls. Taniya Bhatia, diminutive and no doubt a little deflated, is in. Time for Ecclestone to mop up. Not immediately.

Sciver, from the Ian Botham Stand End. Slow then bouncy. Sharp and also cunning. Gets one to duck in, to Bhatia – hits pad. Another surge in the sun and the heat. 177 for 6 after 42.

Ecclestone. Single for Raj, downtown but Bhatia falls, caught behind, nicking. Seven down and likely to finish 70 or more behind a par score? Not a great look, for India. Bhatia made 2; done by a quicker ball, bowled full, setting her back there. Pandey is in.

She looks strong but Sciver knows too much – or at least draws another nick. Wide one and the batter swings and edges to the keeper. Ouch. This is almost cruel, now. 181 for 8 as the veteran Goswami lopes in. It may not get any easier for the visitors, as Brunt will bowl the 45th. Overall run rate 4.1. But five wickets lost for 36 in the last 11 overs.

Brunt is getting a bit of movement off the pitch: like India needed that, now. Over survived. Sciver is bowling out of the back of her hand – Goswami reads it. Then she goes one better – although Beaumont, at point, should have stopped it. A rare four.

Wee break as Raj gets some attention – not clear what the issue is. Brunt will bowl to her partner.

Misfield by Dunkley precipitates chaos… and a possible run out. The fielder firstly recovers to athletically save the four, then hurls in. Jones claims and knocks over the sticks (maybe with her elbow) but Raj has to go. Start the car. India are 195 for 9.

Mithali Raj proceeded pretty serenely – as she tends to – towards her 59. No issues with her consumption of balls today, effectively, as her anchor role was utterly central. But even she will have to look at just how the necessary dynamism is to be generated. Currently it isn’t there… and neither is the ability to withstand this admittedly strong (and strongly mixed) England attack.

We started by saying four an over is unacceptable – is an irrelevance, as England are showing, nowadays. Of course it is both politic and wise to throw in the qualification that only one team has batted here, so far. But the overwhelming likelihood is that the second team – England – will make mincemeat of this target.

Brunt is in, from the Marcus Trescothick Pavilion. Extravagant slower ball beats everything. Goswami is showing a little spirit but her principle task begins in about twenty minutes or so. The tall opening bowler may need to eviscerate half the England line-up for her side to have any chance. We reach the final over: Ecclestone will conclude.

India do reach the 220 suggested by yours truly. Credit to them for that. Goswami has made 19 and Poonam Yadav 10 when the latter is bowled, charging the final delivery. 221 all out at the close.

Do I win a fiver for that?

We resume, without Mithali Raj, who had been having some treatment on her neck, late-on during the Indian innings. Has ‘tweaked something’. Winfield-Hill and Beaumont will start the charge, for England – and I do expect it to be something of a charge. Goswami is creamed, classically, through the covers by Winfield-Hill, in the first over.

Pandey has a boldish appeal, first up, to Beaumont. Denied and they don’t review. Clutch of early wickets essential, naturally: don’t see it because the pitch is true and slowish. Plus the bowling isn’t, in my expectation going to be special – or special enough. So should be a cruise, or a blast, for the home side.

The openers will want to make a decent dent in the Indian total and then explode. If they get out then ditto for Knight, Sciver and Jones. Dunkley will probably be in at six but frankly I’m not sure she will bat. (I’m not that sure Sciver will bat – in at four, behind Knight, in all probability).

Aware how arrogant this might sound if something extraordinary happens but the batters named are so thoroughly grooved and professional that there’s not much wriggle-room there towards any diplomatic niceties. Goswami goes too wide and Beaumont clatters to the boundary. Pleasant evening. High sixties, some cloud, token, welcome breeze.

Pandey is getting some in-swing. So Beaumont is watchful. England are 13 for 0 after 4. From our position, Goswami looks enormous. She looked liked she meant it with the bat and she’s pumped, here.

Too right. She bowls Beaumont, with a full one which may have just left the England opener. Great ball – killer length. Disappointing for the batter – inevitably – but maybe crucial to the spectacle? 16 for 1 as Heather Knight strides in.

Pandey must back her partner up. She looks committed, as always but the skipper drills her beautifully along the deck for four, through extra cover. Quite a start. But fair play, the bowler responds by beating her: cruelly she also beats the keeper, meaning four more to the total. A slightly petulant throw from Pandey, which struck Knight on the pad references the bowler’s anger. India are up for it, which is good – which is right.

Huge appeal for a possible caught behind. Nope. Great stop at mid-on. Anxiety, verbals, *competitive cricket*. It has, of course, to last.

Knight, in particular, seems well-suited to seeing this out. She is classy, stoical, consistently durable. Winfield-Hill is leaving, then threading a near-yorker through midwicket for a boundary. England are 34 for 1 after 8. It brightens again – stunningly.

It’s not exactly a storm… but England are weathering it. They can inch happily forward before they go, at a moment of their choice. Our first spin, from Deepti Sharma, from the Marcus Trescothick End. Slowish and loopy. Bats left-nanded but bowls right arm off-breaks. Appeals, loudly – but it may have been an invention. Knight looks keen to race those singles. We will have spin twins: Poonam Yadav. She. Is. Tiny.

Seems weird on this majestic, cider-drinker’s dream of a night, but the lights are on. Go figure. Perhaps they help Winfield-Hill see this one: boom! Six, straight. Exciting. First six of the day: *statement*. Nine from the over.

Love the way Knight runs. She ‘hares’: not at all elegantly but with a kind of desperate determination. Says everything about her deep energy. But… she slashes just a little at Poonam Yadav and the ball is sailing short. Easy catch for Goswami at mid-off. The England captain has rather thrown that away for 10. England 49 for 2.

Sciver joins Winfield-Hill, who may throttle back a touch. Or not. She unceremoniously clonks Yadav for four. Bold – and beautifully executed. With lots of runs needed – despite that low target – had thought that we might get half an hour’s ‘re-building’, from England.

Next over and Winfield-Hill again punishes Sharma. Edgy, but brilliant. She has 31 and Sciver 2 as we break for drinks with the home side at 60 for 2.

Sciver is tall and athletic and hits hard. She gets runs. Winfield-Hill is looking both bullish and stylish, somehow. If the two of them get comfortable this may spell trouble, for India. So changes. Sneh Rana is in. The England opener is striking her cleanly. Thought strikes I *really should be* drinking cider… but I barely drink pints, these days and never the applestuff.

If India are to have any chance you would think they must shift these two, plus Jones, plus Dunkley. None of the remaining batters are utter bunnies but the current and next two would expect to score a few on here, today. Jones has quality (and strokes) and Dunkley still has a point to prove. The lull that is developing – if lulls can do that – suggests that a Cruise to Victory By Umpteen Wickets becomes more likely. So the contest, if there is to be one, needs a wicket. Sciver eases back to Rana and takes an easy single. 81 for 2 after 18.

Pandey is in from the Botham Pavilion. Fast arm. Drama! Winfield-Hill caught behind, by Bhatia, standing up. She made 42.

More drama!! Sciver has lofted one towards mid-off. Huge but maybe contrived celebration? Long wait, during which we look behind us at the temporary screen. Clear that India are having the proverbial larf: bounced, in front, clearly – and the fielder will have known it. Bit naughty, arguably, although pretty much everybody does it. Weirdly, that may fuel the anger and determination of both sides. At least, at 85 for 3, it feels like we may see a contest.

Jones is a player but we’ve seen her throw her wicket away. She may not want to do that, now. Sun still bright and warm; conditions fabulous. Runs are there but there is also some real intent, in the field. Similar focus from the batters, mind, as Sciver clips to leg and absolutely bullets to get that second.

Wow. That energy from India is seeping through – affecting stuff. Sciver has edged behind! Has this ‘non-contest’ turned? No review needed – Sciver has walked and we are 92 for 4. Dunkley is into something of a maelstrom: huge test of nerve, for her. She misses the first ball.

A Bath Gin balloon has loomed rather ominously into view. It will pass over or very close to the ground within a minute or so. Bet they can hear the chat from the fielders, up there.

We have one of those wonderful situations where runs are not that difficult to come by (really) but composure is. This is Dunkley’s first ODI. Amy Jones is relatively experienced but (without being at all malicious) I’m unclear on her temperament. She likes to flow – she can do that thing. Whether she can dig in, first, before building, we shall see. Good job I decided earlier not to drive back to Pembs, tonight.
Likely be here til 9.30.

England reach the 100 in the 25th over, to significant applause, meaning they (too) are suddenly finding that four an over barrier a challenge. Have no idea what happens from here, now. Thought Sciver and Winfield-Hill might finish this, half an hour ago!

Couple of encouraging signs, for Jones. Skilful hands and power, too as she batters two boundaries before dinking neatly down to fine leg and bolting for two more. There is a *possible* caught and bowled when she smashes back to Rana at catchable height but it’s fiercely struck. Jones has gone to 19 and Dunkley 6 as Poonam Yadav continues.

Rightly, the ball is being hit with some intent and singles are being raced. Sometimes slightly scarily. Mini break-out as Jones biffs to the boundary. Pressure and pressure-release, now – just as it should be. Couple of errors in the field: not much doubt that England are the better outfit in that respect. (mind you, etc etc)…

Deepti Sharma is greeted with a cut to the boundary. Mixed over, in truth. Dunkley will have enjoyed a couple of solid strikes. 131 for 4, off 28.

Comfort break – as so often – brings a wicket. Jones, surprisingly, is caught, off Yadav, by the sub, Yadav. 133 for 5 as the indomitable Brunt enters the fray.

Brunt can bat but can also be impulsive. She won’t like that a game she will think England should have put to bed is still live. This *is*, as Izzy Westbury has just said on radio, “all about temperament” now.

We are looking straight into a sinking sun. It’s above backward point as Goswami runs in to Brunt. Defended. Every boundary a mini-triumph, now – even when miscued. Dunkley gets Yadav away – just. Have liked Goswami’s spirit, today. She’s in again now and slapping it hard. Pad. Brunt matches her for grit: all day. However, the fiery England bowler almost falls, as the sub fielder gets a hand to a sharp cut, flashing over her head. Another escape and another ratcheting-up of the tension.

After 33 overs, England are five down, with a fairly straightforward run rate to overcome. But this is less than the half of it. We are in wild territory. Dunkley relieves just a little of the angst, by thrashing a six, off Pandey. Stunner. Still those verbals remain, out on the park – essential, surely, for India to keep the revs high?

Deepti Sharma is the latest change, from the Ian Botham Stand. Brunt clips her to leg. With a theoretical 15 overs remaining, England have 157 for 5. They need 222 to win. Do the math.

Brunt battles to get Yadav away for four more. The light is an issue in the sense that the sun is blazing but shadows – and the evening – are falling gently. Poonam Yadav is bowling so slowly it’s scary. You, as batter, can invent a thousand evils as the ball loops tantalisingly towards you. Much discussion, presumably around whether the Best Bowlers bowl now – given the lowish requirement. It’s Rana.

My latest dangerous opinion is that Brunt is likely to bring this home – quite possibly with Dunkley. Brunt is amongst the toughest, the most competitive out there. You just know she thinks England are waay the better team (and she may be right).

Poonam Yadam follows again. There’s an uneasy ease in the game. Dunkley hits Rana for four to go to 43 – may have been another misfield. That hurts. The over closes with another confident straight drive, for a single, from Dunkley. 39 overs done. 178 for 5. More balls available than runs needed: should be – ahem – a doddle. The mighty Goswami might have other ideas.

Could be her re-appearance precipitates an unseemly scramble, for a single. All safe. We have a review but it feels like another phoney war. Umpire seemed clear it was pad… and he was right. Touch of late-in-the-day purple breaking out, in the sun. Deepti Sharma has it to her right, as she comes in from the Ian Botham Stand End.

38 needed for the win as we enter the 41st. Inching home, England, with Dunkley close to a very impressive 50. Pandey offers some pace, and Dunkley can cuff it away to third man, for four. She will be thrilled to get to 53. Light going, now – sun dipping – it’s that batty time. (There must be plenty bats, local, what with cathedrals and all about).

Brunt has all the feels, now, as she gets Sharma away, through point. Four. It’s happening. India have battled better and longer and to greater effect than some of us thought probable but this is done. The event and the series needed this to be a contest and it has been. A wildish, eccentric, noisy, brash one. As a ripple of applause – a noticeably more comfortable ripple – goes round the ground, for the England 200, we start to think of home.

Goswami still offers, followed by Deepti Sharma but Dunkley’s contribution has been decisive. Brunt is enjoying a slap to leg – just for a single. The sun is finally below stand height, behind long-on, as Rana wheels in. In every sense, things are closing.

Time for a little more boom. With less than 20 needed, Dunkley carts Goswami to midwicket for another four. But mostly it’s bits and pieces.

Rana must try to avoid being clattered for the grandstand finish. She manages.

Four needed, off Sharma – two taken. Then one.

Brunt should finish this. She does. Her emphatic pull and characteristic fist-pump are the last of it. A scrambling, flighty, gallumping, consistently inconsistent game which re-establishes at least a little credibility for India – when they might have had none. Fifteen balls remaining, five wickets unspent, England the winners. The ground is an indescribable glory, bathed in arrogant, defiant, humble, disappearing sun. Trainwards, with haste.

Bristol. With hope in our hearts…

Big Call. Not getting paid is only a wee part. Love the opportunity – the privilege – of being able to report back to the universe the gambol that is international cricket but driving *lots* into the likelihood of a significantly rain-affected match is challenging. Even I – or is it mainly I, given that the other guys ‘n gals are gainfully employed? – do have those ‘how to justify’ conversations with myself. As usual, the inviolable optimism thing kicked in. I thought about a return to slumberville (in sunny Pembrokeshire) but na: up, shower and off for 7.15am. Because you do, yes?

So Bristol – in the knowledge of rain – but with hope in my heart. Lights on. At 10.31am. Coolish windyish. No precipitation, currently. Heather Knight has won the toss and England will bowl first. Team news: Sarah Glenn and Fran Wilson are in, for England; Ekta Bisht, for India.

This means that Dan(n)i Wyatt is dropped. Strongish signal from the coach: Wyatt has been a good contributor for some years; great fielder – maybe England’s most athletic? – and proactive, attacking batter. But her dismissals – too often after about 20-odd ‘positive’ yet maybe streak-tastic runs – were prone to be howlers. Caught somewhat sloppily at cover or extra; flashing without convincing. Coach Lisa Keightley is pushing the expectation buttons, a little. ‘We have to be dynamic but effective… and consistent’. Thus the standards are raised: rightly.

England’s black tee-shirts (in case you can’t read them) say ‘We stand together against sexism/ableism/racism etc’. Worthy and pointed, given the ongoing discussions and indeed investigations into race etc, within the game. In other news, I am the only media person in the room – which is large and deliberately well-ventilated – not wearing a coat. (#FirstWorldProblems?) As we approach the start of play it appears we will get going on time, with a decent prospect for play, initially…

Brunt will open to Smriti Mandhana: two Big Guns. Full toss but extravagant swing. Single, bringing Verma into this. No slip. 3 from the over. First ball suggested Shrubsole will be *in the game*. She is, but Mandhana clips her easily enough to square leg, for another single.

Tiny bit full and the inswinger is beautifully eased past mid-on, for four, by Verma. Quality. 8 without loss after 2, India. Decent start from both sides, in fact.

Little bit of shape in the air again, from Brunt – who tends to get a bit less than Shrubsole. Mandhana untroubled. First short one slammed in: no real bounce but Verma doesn’t deal with it entirely comfortably. Swished rather, slightly aerially, behind square.

Shrubsole getting those length/line calculations right, now. The wind is assisting her inswing, coming in obliquely from our left as we sit in the Bristol Pavilion End. Touch of width offers Mandhana the chance to stay deep and cut through point: boundary.

Gear-change. Verma blazes Brunt up and over mid-off, before guiding behind point – 8 runs to the total. But then the young Indian star comes over all agricultural, heaving rather wildly, cross-batted. The mishit flies straight to Shrubsole at mid-on, who takes the catch watchfully. Big Moment – and a bit of a gift. Verma gone for 15.

Poonam Raut has joined Mandhana. Conditions breezy but perfectly playable; light fair. After 6 overs, India are 23 for 1. Decent shout from Brunt against Raut. Live it looked too high and Knight discounts the review for that reason.

Shrubsole into her fourth. Noticeable that she is bowling more cross-seamers/straight balls than in her first two overs. A Plan, or more because it’s tough to control that inswing in this wind?

Interestingly, Knight stays with Brunt into her fifth. India not exactly stalled… but the scoring rate around three, per over. Review. Redfern had given it out after a looooong look but it’s missing. Raut stays. We remain 27 for 1 after 9.

Not for long. Shrubsole’s bold, full length claims Mandhana. The batter had rather ambitiously eased back to look to cut square but the ball simply flies through. Castled. England in the proverbial box seat at 27 for 2 in the 10th over. The elegant left-hander had made 10, from 25. Skipper Mithali Raj joins Raut. Time for Sciver from the Ashley Down Road End. Two in the blockhole.

Shrubsole will bowl her sixth. She’s having a right giggle with Ecclestone, posted at mid-off. No wonder the bowler’s happy: she has 1 for 13 from that opening bundle.

India really do need to break out and Raut makes a start. Drives through the covers for four. Knight remains in there, though, for Sciver – at slip. Raut leans in again and strokes through cover; four more. Sciver responds with a genuine bouncer. 41 for 2, off 13. Cross for Shrubsole, from the pavilion.

Biggish shout, first ball. Going over. Do like the way Cross maintains her form, through delivery. There is a wee sense though, that she needs to do more with the ball, to be a top-level threat. She can find bounce, sometimes, but minimal swing or cut off the pitch.

Sciver, meanwhile, is going short against Raj, who misjudges and turns her body to take the blow. Ouch. Symptomatic, maybe, of a relatively flat-footed start, from India. Advantage England at drinks: 45 for 2 after 15. Noon, and it’s brightened, if anything, out there.

Cross. Glanced, with care, through the vacant slip area by Mithali Raj. Just the one. Full delivery is steered nicely through extra cover by Raut – 50 up. Sciver bounces the diminutive Raut. The rate of scoring plainly has to rise. Sciver again slaps one in there… but Poonam is not for biting. 53 for 2 after 17.

Mithali edges Cross wide of Knight at first/second slip. The bowler is very much doing that ‘plugging away’ thing, to some effect.

62 for 2 after 20 and we have Ecclestone, from Ashley Down. And a question: who’s going to bring the boom, for India? This has been too pedestrian for too long. Will an incoming Harmanpreet or Deepti Sharma bring something *refreshing?* Or will a message (or threat) from the coach change the vibe? Bit flat, currently – which is just what England want, of course.

A drive through the covers reminds us that a) there is a crowd b) Indians are mad for it and c) Raj and Raut do get it. Can that mini-statement be sustained?

Ecclestone has Winfield-Hill at slip but a couple of singles send her back to deepish gully. Accuweather (I’m looking and comparing with Met Office about every three seconds) suggesting we better look out from around 2 pm. 60 per cent chance of rain, thereafter. Best hope is showers – or that the marginally more optimistic Met Office offer is closer to the truth of it. Or that we get lucky.

Wow. Raut swings Cross with some violence over midwicket. Would be a fairly hearty wallop to claim a six… but it lands only a teeny bit short, if at all. (Looked to have clonked the barrier, live and not that clear on our replay – which admittedly is breaking up). India need more of this aggression but it comes with a risk: Poonam Raut miscues Cross to Ecclestone at mid-off. 83 for 3, in the 26th. The Raj/Raut partnership had reached 50 but India needed to shake this up. Enter Harmanpreet Kaur.

Glenn – the leg-spinner – will have a go from the Ashley Down Road End. She can spin it but not much sign of grip there. Back to Ecclestone. She draws a faint edge from Kaur and Jones pockets, behind the sticks. That feels significant: difficult not to immediately pile on the meteorological qualifications but 80-odd for 4 off 27 leaves India in a hole. Except the incoming Deepti Sharma has often evidenced great grit… and proper dynamism. She will need both here, to keep her side in the match. Approaching 1 pm. Weather good, England way ahead.

Predictably, Sharma steps down to Ecclestone and middles. Four, high, and beautifully straight. Then Raj does the same to Glenn. India recognise we’re in a pivotal moment. Runs must come. Can the England spinners keep their discipline? Good test upcoming.

Ecclestone – who is brilliant – isn’t flawless. One or two legside wides have crept in. Boisterous verbals and hoots as India get to 100… but in the 32nd over. Meaning run rate still barely above 3. Drinks and time to re-consider. Still no threat to play.

Like the balance that Glenn brings to the England side. Tough to keep the leg-spin option both threatening and consistent but she has made a good start to her international career; appearing to have the durability you *just might need* as a potential victim of a mid-innings onslaught. But a change; Brunt has switched and now returns from underneath us in the Bristol Pavilion End. Her first ball again has a little shape. Aware I’m a bit relentless with my Brunty-lurv but she’s looking fit, strong, determined and has shown great hands in the field as well as being focussed and economical with the ball.

Tellingly, Deepti Sharma – after having made a brief statement of positivity, early doors – has 18 off 36, as I write. Mithali Raj has 46 off 90. Do the math.

Sharma spoons one, aerially, down to fine leg – falls just short. Could be the fielder didn’t pick it up, immediately. Brunt a tad unimpressed. Again she invites a biff to leg, going shortish on or around leg stump. Then short over off stump, to Mithali. No dramas. 134 for 4 after 40.

Deepti sweeps Glenn to fine leg and beats Beaumont’s dive. Then thrashes forward past mid-off. Raj dances down and pushes for 1 to take herself to 47. Better, from the visitors. Shrubsole is back.

She is unceremoniously slapped over midwicket for four. The crowd – well most of it – love that. Raj beyond 50. Wonderful response, from Shrubsole, who surely has Sharma plum, with a ver-ry full one? Yes. Gone for a goodish 30 (which may have needed to be 50, off the same number of balls). India 149 for 5 in the 42nd. We appear to have technical issues with Sue Redfern’s links to the outside world.

Vastraka must defend one on middle, from Shrubsole, first up. She does. And now Cross has changed ends. Oops. Except she hasn’t. It’s Sciver. She bounces Vastrakar and the batter takes her on, slapping it tennis-style through midwicket for four. Quick glance at the telly to my left confirms that the run rate is currently 3.64. Not enough: hence that palpable urgency from the visitors, now.

Raj heaves Shrubsole over her shoulder, without really connecting. Vastrakar follows that with an emphatic straight drive, high, for four more. Then a mis-hit drive flies out through backward point. And a poor one from Shrubsole – best part of a foot wide – is merely helped over fine leg. Big, helpful over, for India. 171 for 5. Sciver – so miserly in the Test – is tasked with holding the charge.

Knight then turns to Ecclestone: five overs remain. Time stands still… as Mithali Raj just gets it all wrong… to a floaty one which proceeds untroubled to the stumps – the batter having presumably changed her mind then offered no meaningful stroke. Bit weird but massive, for England. Strong contribution from the Indian captain but she leaves us, on 72. End of the 46th and the visitors are 181 for 6. To make matters worse, Vastrakar promptly clatters the ball into her own foot and is clearly in some discomfort. Brunt from the Ashley Down Road End.

Loose one clips the pad and trundles off down, for leg byes. (All donations gratefully received). Feeble slice goes crushingly close to Knight, at extra cover. Vastrakar got the memo and has reached 15 off 16. Three to come, 191 for 6: back to Ecclestone.

Vastrakar has fallen on her face, trying to reverse the left-arm offie. She is plum and ball-tracking confirms. 192 for 7. Shikha Pandey has not much time to do quite a lot.

Ah. With things moving on, we have failed to welcome Taniya Bhatia, who preceded Pandey into the fray. Forgive us. Brunt will bowl the penultimate over, running in towards us, from the Ashley Down Road End. Dot balls.

The bowler, typically, is outwardly angry with a minor mis-field, from Dunkley but then – again typically – gathers to bowl an extravagant, loopy, slower ball. It’s wide but Jones gathers and stumps… or does she? Painfully close. Given out, eventually. Bhatia not hugely impressed but has to depart for 7. 197 for 8. India will barely get past 200: Ecclestone will close this out.

Goswami is in. Ecclestone beats her. Then Cross can’t quite get hold of a boom to deep mid-on. An un-explosive end to a moderate batting performance leaves England needing 202 to win this. Feels like only the weather – or *adjustments* because of weather – might prevent a home win, here. Food. Tasty beef tagine. Thankyou, guys!

The teams return. Winfield-Hill will face Goswami: Beaumont the other opener for England. No immediate threat from the skies. Great ball which leaves Winfield-Hill and ‘deserves’ an edge; finds none. Then two runs off a slight inside tickle; ball theoretically driven but instead squeezes out towards the square leg boundary. Beaumont will face Pandey.

Stifled shout. Nothing. Then follow-up is a big inswinger – doing too much? – which precipitates an unconvincing scramble for a single. But we have a review. Missing by miles. Pandey looking strong and committed but strays too straight: clipped squarish for two more. The legside wide and another tickle towards the 45 brings England to 9 without loss after 2 but there will be some encouragement for India, there.

Beaumont gets off the mark with a gift, from Goswami. Shortish ball sits up around leg stump; turned away for one with some ease. Winfield-Hill then creams one forward of point, before going aerial over midwicket – both boundaries. Good energy about the England pair, here. 22 for 0 after 4. Weather helpful.

Slightly from nowhere, Winfield-Hill nicks one and is gone for a briskish 16. Possibly left her a touch: the Indians’ delight tells you know they needed that. Enter the captain. With pleasing symmetry – almost – Lizzie on my right is saying ‘the rain is starting in 16 minutes’. (I’m guessing not but who am I to contradict our friends at Accuweather?)

Wide one from Pandey is satisfyingly clattered through the covers, by Beaumont. And another. 32 for 1 after 6, England. Great running and awareness from Knight and her partner brings another two, off the hip, sprinted. Then the cleanest of strikes from Knight races away through cover. The heavens remain supportive but plainly the home side is looking both to stay ahead of any potential Duckworth-Lewis issue and, ideally, streak to victory uninterrupted.

Knight steers another beauty through cover: four more. This is Proper White-ball Cricket. Beaumont’s flourish pops the ball down, up and then over the bowler and her stretch and clout through cover brings up 50. Exhibition stuff, this.

Finally, a moral victory from Vastrakar… but Beaumont’s missed it. 52 for 1 after 8. First view of Bisht’s fairly eccentric round-arm off-spin. Interesting – and good call to make the change. Sharma will become her spin-twin. Between them they have serious work to do: England have proceeded beyond 60 in just 10 overs. Beaumont again effects the drive-block which pings off the deck in front of her toes, before looping up and over the bowler for another boundary. She’s having fun, alright. (So am I: really would have been *so-o easy* to take the negative view of those very negative weather forecasts, this morning).

Beaumont can do no wrong: she smashes Bisht over mid-off. After 12 overs, England have maintained their six-an-over run rate, with Beaumont on an excellent 39 off 35 and Knight on 13 off 16. Very good all-round performance, this, from the home side.

Bisht is bowling around, approaching obliquely. No meaningful turn for her. Knight ver-ry cutely guides her, with soft hands, down to fine leg: a kind of no-follow-through paddle. Two.

Brief quiet period but the batters are even now alive to gently-nurdled singles: in utter control. Drinks and England are strolling home on 82 for 1. Weather is with them – if anything, improving. At this rate they will only need another twenty overs. (*Fatal*).

Gor blimey. Absolute peach, from Bisht – it looped, it span – it bowls Knight. Exceptional delivery. Gone for 18; delight for the visitors. But this brings in Sciver, who is entirely likely to be looking to re-state England’s dominance. Let’s see.

With the skies brightening – really! – it feels like we will see a game completed. We need 20 overs minimum, for that but I’m lumping on a single block of continuous, enjoyable action. India need further breakthroughs to make this competitive: reckon most of us in the ground would like to see a tightening before any sun-drenched denouement. (*Fatal revisited).

Sciver claims four – twice. The second being a notably intimidating dance down towards Bisht. Then Beaumont stoops and sweeps to fine leg, beating the fielder, to get to her 50. Fine knock. England reach 100 in the 19th over – so going at five. Not unthinkable that they might get to 202 in 35/36 overs – certainly if these two build a further partnership.

Harmanpreet Kaur will turn her arm over, from the Ashley Down Road End. She nearly makes something happen immediately but Ekta Bisht makes a right mess of a top-edged sweep… and drops Sciver. Poor effort, in truth. England are fully 40 runs ahead of where India were at the 20 over stage. Pooja Vastrakar joins us and slings one down at 67mph, to start: wonder if England might quite like that bit of pace back on the ball?

Beaumont middles one powerfully to square leg but just for the single. Vastrakar responds with a nice, floaty yorker which the England opener keeps out. Erm… the lights are on BUT I’M NOT SURE WE NEED THEM. Brighter than at any stage.

Vastrakar looks a really good athlete but England have statements to make. Both batters looking to strike and follow-through. Nice contest – and good over. 115 for 2 after 23.

Pandey is back, from Ashley Road. She gets away with a short, wide one: Sciver unable to time it. Then a deceptive slower ball. Followed by another, rather frustrated-looking miss. And a review, for a possible outside-edge. (Given not out). No contact: Sciver remains – but does she remain frustrated?

No. On-drive for four. Bisht has changed ends. Poor one is easily biffed away behind square – Beaumont going to 63. Fifty partnership up, as Pandey is cut wide for the one. No ball bowled – free hit. (Hit firmly but mid-on gets there). Repeat repeat: no ball, free hit. This time no mistake, from Sciver. Tennis-batted to the mid-on boundary. 141 for 2 after 28. 61 needed: greyer but from inside seems okay, still, weather-wise.

Beaumont blams the most fabulous, classical off-drive over extra cover… twice. The second is close-ish to the fielder but was such an elegant strike the marginal mis-time feels forgivable. Sharma switches to Ashley Down. Sciver is advancing but not beating mid-on. End of the over and England need just 49 from 120 balls. Ah. Speck of rain and the groundsmen are getting ready.

Sciver connects as fine rain suddenly sweeps in. Four. Will they just continue… or will it get too messy out there?

Anything could happen but it appears – as the players bizarrely take drinks – to have stopped raining. The third umpire is on and having discussions with the on-field officials. It’s playable and we go on. With Sharma. Sciver goes to 51, with a two to square leg. Everything points to fireworks and Sciver dances down, before clattering over mid-on. Four. When Sharma drops short, she is punished once more – it’s gunned to square leg, hard. 176 for 2, with 32 overs bowled. Last rites.

Harmanpreet Kaur has the unenviable job of stepping up from the Bristol Pavilion Stand End. Sciver dismisses a poor one to fine leg. Then the coup de wotnots: an extravagantly maker’s-name-tastic straight six. 15 needed as we enter the 34th. The batters hug… because that was a smiley moment, for England.

Goswami, from Ashley Down. Beaumont, with that characteristic low centre of gravity, pulls for four. Nine required. Harmanpreet is methodically, if not theatrically drying the ball but the singles are being picked off. Until Beaumont enjoys the moment yet more, heaving Kaur over long-on for another tremendous 6. The scores are level.

We finish with a wide. (Hmm. Would Harmanpreet do that deliberately?) No matter. This has been a hammering, a compleat performance from Ingerland (and Wales) and a particularly enjoyable day. They lose only two wickets in their reply, having bowled and fielded with genuine application, skill and consistency. They look a good side. Gratifying for all of us who have travelled to watch; it’s been a Day That Might Not Have Been. India have work to do: specifically they must find a higher tempo with the bat. On – and home – smiling.

Things of interest.

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

It’s cooler/breezier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We may never know.

Hey. What’s the forecast? Anybody?

A Different Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gone quiet. Five to eleven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking of tiredness, off to get a little air…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘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.

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.

Something else.

October the something-or-other. ‘Strictly’. Some cricket club gets going, in Wales – welcome, you guys at Wild Boar Centurions! – with a first ever match, against Ammanford. Today. In mid-October. In a generally mad and frankly worrying universe, this is mad and wonderful.

There’s absolutely a post in that, it’s ‘my territory’ – the brillness and the lush defiance cricket/sport can offer – but this isn’t that post.

Instead I’ve been thinking about The Blend; the idea that sports teams are about somehow selecting the Right Mix, possibly more than anything else. Or maybe I’ve just fallen into luxuriating in cod psychology yet again, because I love all that speculative cobblers around those fabulous unknowables. (The frisson, fascination and sheer fun of picking teams, at any level, is pretty intoxicating, yes?)

Could it be that Player X, despite not being as good or effective as Player Y as an individual, will either contribute more, in the round, or facilitate success better, or more, in others, than Player Y might? And why and how might this happen? And – c’mon – how knowable is this? All that.

If we single out cricket here, the richness arguably multiplies, because it’s such an extraordinary mix of the single effort (in the radically diverse moment) and the team contribution. The game is massively ‘in your own head’ but the bantz, the sledging, the backing-up, the long wait to bat filled with platitudes or contemplation or out-of-tune humming all point to character and sensibility being bloody important. Of course wankers can be great cricketers but mostly you want, you need good people.

I think Mark Wood is almost certainly a good person. In fact, he’s the reason I’ve wandered into this. Him; the daft, horsey, singer-from-the-stands. Mark Wood the better-adjusted Gazza.

So selection (for England) and Mark Wood. Let’s draw in on that. What is his value, how does he measure up – what are the stats? And how do we quantify or appreciate his contribution to the life of the squad? (And what does that last sentence even mean?)

Stats bore me but I did look – you have to. Not just because this is the age of the stat: even if you remain the touchy-feely sort of professional coach, still following hunches and intuitions about personal qualities and/or character under fire, you pore over statistics because they can provide a key, to advantage, to revelation, to improved likelihoods.

The bowling stats on Mark Wood, for England, are maybe better than you might expect – that is if you were expecting (as I think you might) relatively high-cost wickets and relatively mixed run-rates. (ESPNcricinfo data here – https://www.espncricinfo.com/england/content/player/351588.html).

Wood is good… his performances tend to support a strong case for inclusion in all formats but naturally, in his case, concerns over sustained fitness are a significant part of his own particular selection mix. As, of course, are the alternative candidates and the necessary thinking around (‘scuse the pun) horses for courses – venues. These things always matter: stats matter. But so does personality, or lack thereof.

I’m really fascinated by this idea that fabulous, maybe funny, maybe larger-than-life but generous, as opposed to egotistical souls, can add an extra dimension – one that by its very nature can’t be measured.

Wood’s brilliance seems to me partly about singing and dancing. About being daft enough to belt out “Jerooo-sal-emm”, solo… (https://twitter.com/englandcricket/status/1279011276199469057?lang=en) whilst extravagantly waving a humble broom with a flag on it, in an empty Ageas Bowl. How many runs/wickets/lols is that worth? How do moments like that affect the quality of an experience – a tour, or a few weeks under lockdown? How does the coach decide upon the value of stuff like that?

The answer, like every answer, depends. Upon the presence or absence of that kind of inspiration, or wit, or mad, bloody generosity elsewhere in the squad. In that sense it can be quantified, arguably. Maybe the great coach, sensing a surfeit of blandness elsewhere – Root? Pope? Buttler? Name your own – intuits that the moment will come when the gamble on Wood (or whoever) comes off: when a tour is ‘made’, either in the playing sense or in terms of joy and memory, by a heroic effort – Wood can certainly do that – or by a song and dance.

There are no conclusions here, because mercifully I’m not picking the team. I love picking teams but at their glorious apex they tend to be regional juniors. So waddoo I know, eh?

I know nothing but I do suspect that stats really aren’t everything – even now. At every level, part of the art of coaching (and part of the magic of the game) revolves around reading human nature. You need batters and bowlers but you also need folks who are really something else.

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?


Feet Up Time?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m ‘avin’ a luvverly day. Feet up – literally – with TMS on the telly; absolutely minimal chores. A few brews (big mug of Earl Grey, scandalously adulterated with this month’s accessory, ‘Oatly’, plus the regular tipple of boiling water with lemon), all this with absolutely no requirement to re-hydrate… ‘cos manifestly no action. Typically, friends, I do act.

So a lovely but unusual day; or three; so far.

Normally I really do have more in common with Alan Ball (’66) than Alan Brazil (2020) but right now I’m in *Porkerville, Loungeaboutville, even (every now and again) Getwaitedonhand&footville. It’s weird and guilt-inducing; thank god it’s going to be temporary.

(*Sorry. On the inflammatory side of unnecessary. But anyone else actually worried about Big Al’s size/complexion/volume and rather fearful proximity to Serious Health Issues? I like the man – despite not agreeing with many of his worldly opinions – and genuinely worry).

Anyway: done me tendons. Think the Doc at Withybush Hospital said tibularis posterium or near as dammit but we’re basically talking ankle. And, with apologies, because it’s likely to be the most entertaining part of this blogette, I’m afraid I’m going to describe how this entirely banal situation arose.

We have a dog, called Aino (Eye-noo), due to Finnish connections I won’t bore you with. Aino (or possibly Äino, which I kinda prefer, for its snowy exoticism), is much loved. I slept on the floor for days, alongside her, when she first waddled in to our lives as a tiny pup-let; ostensibly to ‘help her settle’ but quite possibly because she was so-o gorgeously cuddletastic I just wanted to be there. She came to work with me, when I was landscaping, pre-Cricket Wales days. Sleeping in the cab, frolicking on the lawns, entrancing most of the customers.

Aino is now ten. She’s well but starting, finally, after a wonderfully romp-full decade, to slow down. And, more pertinently to this story, she’s had a sporadically dodgy back. So, given that and the recent, increasingly rather profound challenge to our olfactory senses emerging unmistakably from the Aino zone, I lifted her into the bath. Then I swished and splashed and shampooed as she wallowed.

Then it happened. There was soapy stuff on the floor. The athlete Walton, getting into what might be the ideal position to lift – knees bent, levers sprung – was sadly unaware of said spillage. From then on, we’re talking something out of Hanna-Barbera. Mid-lift, the left ankle heads for Ireland with the right resolutely anchored in Pembs.

In truth it wasn’t one of those orgasmo-traumatic affairs. (I may have expelled something, but it was neither a howl, nor an expletive). I did note some feeling or other but it was hardly tectonic. After the cartoonised parting of the legs, I even walked behind the pooch, holding the towel over her back, to prevent the cataclysmic shake-out whilst exiting the building. I accompanied her across the road – well, hobbled, but I thought that was mostly about having bare feet – so that she could roll in the grass in the sunshine, before I returned to the sanctuary of the settee. Where I have remained, pretty much, for two (or is it three?) days.

About twenty minutes post The Incident I was wincing a little. An hour later could’t walk… at all and the family were beginning to mention the W word.

Withybush is our hospital. It ain’t perfect but it’s ours, and it’s precious. Like most outposts of the NHS it’s been under threat – more than that, been actively been undermined – for a decade or more, by both Welsh Government policy and by the clowns in Westminster. In view of the particular circumstances, I called reception to ask if there were Covid Protocols in place that I needed to know about, before coming in to A & E.

There were but in short, they worked… and I signed in and, remarkably, given that my last visit (potential hernia check) lasted five hours, saw a doctor within half an hour. Done.

He was great, the whole signing-in through a temporary wind-tunnel thing was great and the diagnosis and the genial re-hab demo’s were impressively, even charmingly comprehensive. “Tendons. Take real care with you’re re-hab: typically people (of my age, implied) can fail to return to sporting activity after this injury, because (implied) they don’t look after their recovery”. Consequently, feet up, icing, settee, etcetera.

So it is from that noble but admittedly well-worn corner of the room that I now attend – deliberately – to not very much. Except cricket, social media and lifting of generous mugs.

*And yet*. It dawns on me that it’s nearly August. And again, mysteriously, that perennial low-burning question of whether or not I might actually play, has been ‘complicated’.

Traditionally, the issue has resolved itself (in the negative) by the combined weight of family responsibilities and volume of coaching. But over the last couple of years I’ve subconsciously or otherwise move a tad closer, theoretically, to playing, by relinquishing Regional Coaching. Last year, I shifted up into Actively Considering Playing Mode, but carried a hernia through the (coaching) season – so no chance. In 2020 I felt similarly disposed to turning out before the tendon-squishing. But hey; are we seeing a pattern, here?

I am. And sadly there is one, obvious, oven-ready conclusion. I’m past it.

Not going to put a figure on it but I’m oldish… but genuinely reasonably fit. I’m no freak – other than in terms of energy – but I still feel I can (for example) field like most thirty-year-olds. Not flawlessly, not exceptionally, but with a goodish level of athleticism and a daft level of commitment. Because I can… and I bloody love it.

I’ve never been much of a bat (although can bluff a bit, if the bowling ain’t too sharp) but have always loved bowling. I still love the feel of a new ball in my hand and still, laughably, embarrassingly, picture myself getting that cherry, first up and being a Real Threat to the Opposition – any opposition – even though this is plainly delusional. (If I do play, I do run in pathetically hard – not that you’d notice – because it feels right and offers a kind of six-times-an-over fitness test, which I love).

I’ve played almost no cricket for decades. After being told by my PE teacher that I should play county cricket, as a teen (because of that bowling), work, football then family life got almost entirely in the way of cricket. So it never really happened, as a player. Friendlies, festivals or pub cricket, sometimes with years in between.

I hugely enjoyed a handful of occasional games for Haverfordwest 4ths a few years back, having coached juniors at the club for several years but was neither available nor good enough to go much higher than that, by then. Didn’t matter that other things took precedence; I was just tremendously grateful to play those few games – genuinely. There are some fabulous cricket people at the club and alongside Llanrhian CC, where I have been privileged to spend a good deal of time over the last few years, either volunteering or with my Cricket Wales hat on, H’west remains a contender for a Possible Return.

But that injury/those injuries: the time necessary to recover fully, now. The risk that a rash decision might even conceivably impact more widely on my quality of life, which is all about romping the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and coaching kids with ridiculous, infectious energy. Would be crazy to rush anything, in a shortened season, eh?

So o-kaaay. No rushing back. Feet up, both metaphorically and in reality. Drink some tea, listen to TMS, get fed and watered a little.

Two things have struck me. Firstly that it really is important to play whilst you can. Secondly, that all that stuff you hear from other people about knowing when to quit is pret-ty unhelpful: because it’s personal, all this, the circumstances are yours alone. What I do may well be linked to whether my son – who is now loving his cricket but working away – plays as an occasional extra at Llanrhian. If he does, I’d be substantially more likely to gear up for a gig as The Bloke They Call When They’re Crazy-Short. But can I control any of that? Nope.

Re-hab, then and patience. Be at ease with this. It may be out of my hands.

I feel spookily calm about the possibilities here, despite all the sentiment swirling around. Being unable to know what will happen isn’t ‘killing me’ – no, not at all. It doesn’t stop me, in fact, from being clear on something critical: that I absolutely do want to make playing possible again. So I’ll get fit to walk, then fit to run, and take it from there.