Cobblers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Bristol. #WomensAshes. Crazy Dance.

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

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

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

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

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

My live report follows…

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3, Taunton. #WomensAshes.

 

Bright, refreshing and loo-king good as we approach start-time, in Taunton. Players out there, enjoying the breezy sunshine: what a bonus it would be, for all of us, to be able to enjoy long periods of play.

The forecast, which has been ‘evolving’ pretty constantly over the hours, is now suggesting – wait for it – a full day’s play! So we may get a match, a contest of some sort, even though we think we know which direction the honours will be heading.

Doom-mongers may possibly be juggling: might England be better slinking away after two more rain-affected days,  as opposed to enduring sustained cricket (and potentially a torrid time) against a roaring Australian attack? Meaning there is an argument that Psychological Damage is in play, here. But whether they stand and fight, as it were, or merely see out the next day or two (with or without meteorological interference), England may suffer a further knock to their collective belief.

My hunch is that rather than do the Sensible But Dangerous Thing – i.e. try from the outset to force the score, because they have to win – England will, when the time comes, inevitably look to settle in during a Trauma Avoidance Phase. (Even given that imperative to get big runs early, is it not human nature, when confronted with the very real possibility of a humiliation, to mitigate against that… a bit? ) 10.54am. We’ll soon find out.

It will be Marsh to Jonassen. We can safely assume it won’t be long before Australian batters *challenge* the England bowling, eh?

Brunt, from beneath us, at the Pavilion End. Quietish. Mooney and Jonassen ‘having a look’, for a bit. As soon as they feel comfortable they must surely launch. Then I might, on the fall of a wicket, throw Gardner in there with licence to go absolutely wild in the jungle – as it were – look to really stick it to England, whilst keeping them hanging on for that declaration.

Not knowing is kindof undermining, yes? All speculation and probably cod-psychology. Loyal followers will know I major in that. 👊🏻

Brunt slaps one in against Mooney. Leg stump. Hits Mooney in the ribs. Next ball is too full and the batter on-drives for four. 349 for 5 at the end of the over. Lots of cloud cover, again.

Imagine Brunt is a player that the opposition (any opposition) loves to hate. But I like her bullish, gruntaciousness – her Fast Bowler Attitude.

As I write this she draws a loose-ish shot, from Jonassen and Sciver takes a sharp catch – yes, a sharp catch! – at gully. Not an earth-shattering moment (repeat, already feels like the game is gone) but a good one, for England. End of the 138th and Australia are 356 for 6 – enter Molineux.

Half-decent runout opportunity – not taken. Marsh, the gatherer, is only ten yards away from the sticks as the batter scrambles. Would have been out. Missed.

Laura Marsh continues, in tandem with Brunt. Mostly tightish, the both of them. Shrubsole is the first change, for Brunt. When she goes full, full, Mooney again drives confidently through mid-on: four more. In bright sunshine, now, with a strongish cross-wind assisting any potential in-swing, for the bowler. 370 for 6.

Undignified miscue, from Molineux, off Shrubsole spirals up and over mid-on, having struck high on the bat. Landed safely. Then Mooney lifts one up and over Ecclestone, again finding the wide-open spaces.

Soon after, England concede four overthrows as Marsh, probably thinking the ball may hit the stumps, allows it to pass. More damagingly, Ecclestone has not backed-up. Have previously identified the young spinner as a relatively weak fielder, I will not revisit that issue again just now.

The debutant Molineux middles a beauty out behind point for four, from Shrubsole. Might that be the sign for her to go up a notch?

Marsh is still there, at the River End and getting a little dip and turn. She is offering a question or two rather than a threat, though, I’d say. Know Australia have a bunch of left-handers but find it notable that Marsh has bowled as many as 33 overs, *so far*.

Ecclestone replaces Shrubsole. Bowls a maiden, including one which although well left, by Molineux, pressured the off-stick. Despite the goodish, consistent work from Marsh, I fancy Ecclestone is a more likely wicket-taker, now. Go figure.

Drinks, at 388 for 6, with 148 overs bowled in the innings.

As we resume, Molineux dances down to Marsh, again slightly miscues the lofted drive but gets enough of it to clear the offside field.

The longer the game goes on, clearly the more urgency affixes to the England response. Think maybe Australia like the sound, the feel of that; it may open the door to the collapse they will be hoping to stir. So on Australia go, with Mooney clouting two successive fours off Ecclestone. We go through the 400 mark.

Fifty partnership is also up, after Molineux beats Knight in the covers. *Do wonder* if it was stoppable but another  nice shot from the young debutant – into her twenties, now.

But no further. Ecclestone beats her with the flight, rocking back, bowled, on 21. Encouraging knock, though, from Molineux. 408 for 7. This brings in Gardner, whom I like as a batter and bowler. She may, if she gets in, be *entertaining*.

Scivers slings an awful one substantially down leg. The breeze may have been a factor… but pretend it didn’t happen?

Mooney rushes then dives through for her fifty. Safe, despite the throw coming in from Brunt. Has played well – intelligently.

Then drama. The batters get the signal to really go. Mooney swings and edges, high, high behind the keeper and behind Amy Jones. But Jones races back intently and clutches on: best bit of fielding we’ve seen. With that excellent catch, Lanning calls her team in, one eye on the time – 12.35ish. Australia have declared on 420 for 8.

We look forward to an intense period… and to seeing the young quick, Vlaeminck, as well as wossername? Perry. And maybe Schutt. England will have a deeply, richly nervy 15 minutes to ‘survive’. Unsurprisingly, it’s going to be Perry, from the River End.

Jones looks tall. She raises that bat characteristically high in the ready position: she can leave the first one. The fourth she tries to clip off the hip, making no contact but offering the chance for a leg-stretch. Bye and England are off.

Fifth ball does for Beaumont, almost. Is full, swings away and the opening bat is lucky, arguably, to miss it. Final delivery is a sharpish bouncer – maybe to *ask questions* of that thumb?

Like Schutt a lot but mildly disappointed that she follows:  we’ll have to wait, for Vlaeminck. However when we see how much in-swing Schutt is getting, it all makes perfect sense. Going to be tough, this, for the locals.

Too right it is. An absolute worldie (from Perry, need I say?) does for the generally wonderful and watchful Beaumont. Swings and nips away, I think, off the pitch, a little. Byootiful ball. Given that Beaumont is often England’s most durable batter, this is a disaster. 1 for 1.

Rightly, maybe, Knight will come in at 3. She will see out that third over – the final one before a no-doubt shell-shocked England retreat to try to force down some fodder. I’ll do the same. We can only reflect on another moment of real quality from Ellyse Perry… and look forward to (or fear) the afternoon/evening sessions. Bon appetit?

Post-lunch, predictably, a quiet period. England’s charge to glory on hold 😉. No, what I mean is, no further wickets. However much Jones and Knight are conscious of that need to come over all over defiantly positive, they are going to sit a while. They do. Australia are persisting with Perry, from the River End and Schutt, with her trademark Adam Ant smear, from the pavilion.

Knight (actually) goes to 15 not out in decent time, off 23 balls and having taken two fours off Perry in the ninth over. Very different shots, too; straight on-drive and lovely easy cut behind point. Dare we say she looks well set? (*Fatal*).

First change is Molineux, for Schutt. She is left-arm, finger-spinning. Bit like Gordon’s action, kindofan eleven o’clock sling. She is followed by Vlaeminck.

She no-balls. Then slaps one ver-ry wide past Healy’s legside dive. She will be nervy and it’s showing. Another one is fired substantially down to leg.

Know what, I’d rather she keeps running in to her max and doesn’t stress too much about the rangefinder. Reckon Lanning and the rest will be encouraging her to do just that and keep believing. Even after Knight dispatches her through extra for four. Keep believing, you beautie.

At the other end, Molineux has just turned one almost twice as far as any of the England spinners. Which woke Jones right up. But no dramas. At the end of Vlaeminck’s next over – the thirteenth, a maiden to follow that wayward first effort – England are 40 for 1. The young quick is bowling around 71/2/3 mph.

Liking Molineux, coming around to the slightly becalmed Jones. The batter tries to break out and is fortunate to survive a medium-reckless thrash-drive to off. Falls out beyond the circle of fielders.

Vlaeminck cannot sustain the pressure, Knight glancing from the hip and finding Schutt at fine leg. A misfield goes to the rope. Fifty up in the over. Jones still not looking entirely in her flow but when Molineux offers a full-toss, she gratefully accepts. Four straight. We are 55 for 1, as the batters take a wee drink.

Jonassen, from the river. Pie, short, dispatched, by Jones, followed by a drive for four more, through mid-off. A third poor, short delivery is similarly dispatched. Thirteen, from the over and a significant if temporary lightening of English worries. The Trauma is being avoided. (For now).

Ah. Another peach, from Molineux. Flighted, dipped and turned past the outside edge. A reminder of how precarious things can be. Both batters looking largely settled… but that was a fabulous, challenging delivery. At 22 overs – and Proper Drinks – England are a now creditable 80 for 1.

Hah. We might argue that the drinks break, the break in concentration, does for Knight. And/or we might congratulate Molineux, who has the England skipper l.b.w. sweeping a full, straight ball. Certainly think that the young spinner has shown well – and therefore maybe has earned the wicket. 80 for 2.

England have to win this, somehow. Which means that Australia have to bat again. Much discussion around this, in the Media Centre.

So, for England to be proactive towards the possibility of a win, they will have to declare, early, because otherwise, there is no time. (Know we’re talking longshots here and that it’s probably more likely that England will be dismissed than force the issue through declaring. Up to Australia, of course, whether they then look to amble towards a draw or accept the challenge and chase a win). Time is everything – or time and the willingness or otherwise to offer or accept the gamble.

Amy Jones, who has had a difficult time, earlier in the series but who can, as they say ‘play’, hoists Molineux confidently straight, for four, to go to fifty. Then she clubs her through cow corner to take England to 95 for 2.

From the opposite end, it will be Gardner, for her first foray in Tests. She tends to spin it. Bold flight but nothing too alarming for the batters, first up.

Jonassen has switched to the Pavilion End. England get to 100, for 2, in the over.

Gardner, returning, does get meaningful spin. Elwis, now on 6, almost embarrassed.

Minutes later, that same batter is run out, following good work from Bolton. Tightish but she was out by a few inches on the bat-slide. Elwiss made 9 from 39, so her contribution was on the quiet side: the incoming Sciver will have to contend with the returning Perry. Could be a fascinating phase; arguably England’s most dynamic two batters in… and the Aussies ‘up and about’.

In fact Perry’s first over back is mixed; no-ball, straining for pace but also a shortish, sharp one that nips back and buries itself into Jones’s thigh. As we approach tea, the ‘goddess’ of yesterday (and yesterday’s blog) will follow Jonassen for a further over – her seventh. She comes around to Jones and offers width, with fielders in the third man through to extra cover sector. Bait not taken and we retire for further refreshment with the home side at 118 for 3.

Did I mention Kangaroo Man, yet? Nope.

Earlier, whilst perambulating with my new soul-sis’ Selina Steele (of Aus News Corp) we found ourselves in conversation with a young geezer in a shockingly yellow kangaroo suit. Asyado. Turns out he was on his ‘stag day’: he had asked for a Cricket Day Out but the forfeit – insisted upon by Best Man etc – was the costume. The groom-to-be is English. Weirdly, he appeared to be sober.

After the resumption, Jones advances to Molineux and drives uppishly, looking to ‘move things along’. She miscues a little and finds Haynes at mid-off. Easy, waist-high catch. 119 for 4.

Taylor – traditionally, the no. 3 bat, remember – may need to do something special. She gets a freebie from Molineux which she clatters on the full through midwicket. She cannot, however, go on.

Tucking the bat behind the front pad, she is plumb, to the off-spinner, who is having a good day. Plenty of bat on the ball but plainly after pad. Taylor has undone herself a little and may have exposed England, now: this on a pitch that is no minefield. Brunt is in and she is a fighter but this feels like a tipping point.

After 50 overs, England are 140 for 5 and the chatter may be turning more again to that Widening Gap Theory. The home team have looked comfortable enough on occasions but have again proved vulnerable to the test-over-time experience. Some good, solid cricket rather than absolutely inspired cricket is proving enough, for Australia.

Brunt is morally defeated twice in a row by Molineux but the ball finds a way to fine leg, bringing up the 150. It’s beautiful and bright, momentarily. Pity we Meedya Types have no sight of the iconic Church of St James’s which sits to our left – it must be looking splendiferous.

With Australia palpably, might we say terminally on top, Brunt and Sciver are seeing things through. Which means time disappears.

Because this suits nobody (really) Sciver goes after Molineux, smashing her rather unconvincingly and aerially towards Perry. Ver-ry tough to see (even with replay) whether that was a genuine chance. Whatever, Sciver endures.

Soon after, another pearler from Molineux draws an edge which falls narrowly short of Lanning at slip. We go to more drinks with England hanging on; 168 for 5 the score.

Vlaeminck is back for the 61st. Bowls a couple of genuine bouncers and is consistent; will settle her, you would think.  Minutes later, Brunt is the first to hook one at head height. She controls it well.

Sciver has played incredibly straight by her whip-wristed standards so I applaud her fifty, in the 65th over. Brunt, her partner, is on a princely (princessly?) 14 off 67 balls. This is not Brunt-like but can only reflect the state of the game, which is not exactly on pause but almost, despite the theoretical urgency.

Are England now seeing out today? On the basis of what? Is the main driver here (as I may have suggested earlier) Trauma Avoidance? It’s both a nonsense and a completely natural instinct. ‘We do not want a whitewash. We won’t let these buggers crush us. A worthless draw is *actually not worthless*’.

Gardner is back. Her first ball turns and ricochets off Brunt’s carefully applied bat… and pad… and dribbles through onto the stumps. 189 for 6.

Shrubsole is in. Not entirely confident that she’s in the kind of nick that will restore some English Pride but she has previous; she has shown a certain level of grit. Just not recently, from memory.

Gardner has her first Test Wicket, then. And now she can go on to enjoy and even luxuriate in Australia’s utter dominance. She can flight it, rip it with rare freedom. Look out – I think there may be more to come from that arm of hers. 192 for 6.

Ditto most of this, for Molineux. She can toss it up without issue. To Shrubsole she now has four fielders around the bat and we have already seen that she can spin it. Tellingly, Sciver has disappeared, whilst being not out.

New ball is due – not taken. I might have thrown it the other debutant, Vlaeminck, just for the craic. To our left on the the tellybox a lot of conversation about how disappointing England’s lack of ambition has been – as well as re- their inability to bat for more than a couple of  sessions. Get all that but would just note that some of those dissing the lack of dynamism were maybe not the most enterprising themselves when out there in the kit.

There are 11 Aussies glaring at Shrubsole from within about fifteen yards as she faces Molineux’s last delivery of the day. And it’s pret-ty similar as Gardner loops down the   ensuing and final over. Helmet and shin-pads are donned as yet another fielder hauls up ‘intimidatingly’ close. Dot ball. As anti-climaxes go, this was, erm, a worldie.

 

Tough Questions.

After what felt a truly galling day for those of us who follow and support England Women, an inquest. Because we’re angry as well as disappointed, right?

I get that anger is not typically the most helpful medium through which to search for progress. Indeed I have been wondering if Mark Robinson – Head Coach – has been able to stifle his own, inevitable fury in order to facilitate the next fightback, or if he, like my good self, has allowed himself the expression of that rage, before his players as well as privately.

The Ashes may have gone. Australia are effectively five points clear after two relatively close but relatively poor-quality contests.

So, will the England de-brief have been (or will the de-brief be) a painfully-forensically chilly room, where Tough Questions, direct questions are asked? Of the captain; of the world’s best swing-bowler; of everybody who wasn’t Tammy Beaumont yesterday. Surely?

The air may have have been blue or just raw and icy. The coach may or may not have crossed that line into the near-personal; “how fit are you? How much have you been listening? What the hell were you thinking?” Or, probably more likely, he may have simply hosted a deep-dive of a conversation into ‘all of it’. Both the Ashes Predicament and the nature of yesterday’s defeat point to an urgent bit of soul-searching.

Having been close enough to this group to have heard the whispers, I know they are genuine, committed athletes and that they know, as professionals that there are expectations around not just performance but re-calibration, agility, intelligence-around-performance. Let’s start with the captain.

Knight came in after Amy Jones inexplicably dived/dove right into a trap – driving uppishly straight at the only fielder in the midwicket parklands. (Good cricket, good placement from Australia but poor from the England opener). Beaumont was already looking rather fine: she went on to make a magnificent century that outclassed and embarrassed the efforts of her colleagues.

Knight entered early, as it were, due to the absence of Sarah Taylor: contrary to that which follows, I think this is not a bad idea, even when Taylor is selected – the captain in at three.

Of course Knight was conscious of her own failure in the previous game and of England’s subsequent collapse and underachievement. So she was in some sense entitled to play with caution. But she fell into some strange, depressing funk – ‘Knight’s circumspect start’, they called it on SkySportsMix – where she stalked painfully from 3 off mid-twenties balls… to 9 off 32… to 13 off 37.

(At this point Beaumont was 29 off 24 and had already achieved major moral victories against Perry, Schutt & co. She was playing the lead with the kind of ease that may only occur once or twice in a career, against the Aussies. *All Knight had to do* was back her up and rotate the strike in her direction).

Instead Knight died a hideous, protracted death – and maybe, early though it was, the spirit in the innings died with her. At 16 off 42, she nearly advanced at Gardener, swung hard, hoisted high and was out for nowhere near enough.

Given the context, it was pretty near criminal. The bowling had been goodish but hardly unplayable – witness Beaumont’s knock. More infuriatingly, the complete absence of inclination to take ones, here and there, beggared belief, given a) Knight’s quality b) the imperative to do that. It was an extraordinary stall and it did have an effect on subsequent partnerships.

Heather Knight’s work has often been characterised by a kind of heroic calm and determination. She has and will again lead, through thick and thin. She will know this was bloody thin.

Other players got in a bit but failed to go on. The recalled Wyatt brought her usual vim but could not persist. Neither of the experienced Brunt nor Shrubsole looked like countering: Ecclestone could bring no boom.

If you seek out the detail from the scorecard or the burgeoning stats industry you will find more, more unfortunate numbers. The essence being a rather pitiful stasis: no meaningful partnerships, no fours in the last eight zillion overs. From being set – via Beaumont’s brilliance – for a possible 270, England made 217. Hence the use of the word ‘galling’.

Rude and ridiculous to offer no credit here, to Australia. Let’s be clear, I rate them and always made them favourites for this Ashes series. Schutt is class, Perry is class – though she was fascinatingly unthreatening yesterday. Australia are the best and they may again be moving away from the pack.

Kimmince, I have always felt *has something* – though yesterday she benefitted from some ordinary batting, from England. Overall, though – and this is part of the concern, for England – Australia will be frustrated to have only have played in patches, in this series, so far.

A further word about England – and those Tough Questions. It needs a preface.

Anya Shrubsole is the best female swing bowler in the world: (Schutt feels different – sharper and less mercurial). I’ve been a huge fan ever since I saw her in Cardiff, during a male-female Eng/Aus double-header, out-swing all the blokes. Shrubsole swung it so far she could barely control it but it was a revelation.

In the last two games the England World Cup-winning star has dropped two return catches; the kind of catches that fall into the non-negotiable category. She will be mortified – she looked mortified – and she will be back but does Mark Robinson have the right to look straight at her and refer to her fitness, her weight and the possibility of a link to poorish or decreased concentration? After all it’s often said in both amateur and professional sport that fitness and conditioning are central to maintaining both good concentration and good decision-making.

Is all that a Tough Question too far, or is that merely what professionalism brings? (Discuss).

In any case, England lost a game that they needed to win, that a particular player made available to them.

Because this is top-level sport, Tammy Beaumont has every right to feel somewhat betrayed by what she might feel, momentarily, in her anger, was her colleagues’ professional incompetence. Because this is sport, I hope and expect the clan will re-gather… and go like hell once more.

Oh us of little faith.

Remember when it got dangerous? Oooh all of a week ago? Loads of us did it. Overtly, covertly, angrily, quietly, seething or braying or tutting. We all knew we were More Right Than Morgan, on this one.

How could England’s myopic Brand of Cricket not lead to some level of come-uppance? How could Eoin’s icy, almost-surly sermonising not breed a nose-thumbing response from the universe? We all knew there would be some payback for his sub-cricketty, soundbitey positivity; for the audacity of the man; for his Irishness, for god’s sakes!

England could never have just the one way. It’s not intelligent enough, not seemly enough – plus nothing can be that simple! Mainly, then, amongst the pomp and bluster, this idea that you can’t be so brittle about stuff.

But then Jonny got mad, courtesy of yet more mouth-shooting from our friend Vaughanie, firing, once again, on all twelve brain cells. And Roy got fit – enough. And the arguments got yaknow, dispatched.

Or did they?

Fact: England are in the semis. Fact: they did it Eoin’s Way. Or did they?

Certainly everything about Roy & Bairstow’s magnificent charges-straight-through-the-effing-mountain spoke of the brand – the utter lack of fear and/or negativity.

We don’t need to have crunched the numbers to feel the step-change back… and forward, on the Brand Express. Both the flametastic Yorkshireman and his returning partner drilled that tunnel again, the former with his diamond-edged fury-disc, the latter with his trusty wonder-sabre.

But it wasn’t all boom. It wasn’t possible. There was scratchiness and (more from India than the Kiwis) there was quality opposition making things tougher… or complicated. So Stokes, for example, had to do some Proper Batting and certain periods needed to be seen through.

Maybe it’s good that England arguably under-achieved a smidge, with their totals. Two truckloads of 400 and maybe the mantra might have to be caveated – if you can do that stepping-back, that re-considering, that qualifying thing to a mantra?

(Maybe the essence of any brand flirts with dumbness, or lack of intelligence, because of this imperative towards the magical brevity/positivity combo? Maybe everybody from Saatchi & Saatchi to Eoin Morgan have known that all along? Maybe we’re just not getting that Captain Boom is a step ahead – that he knows absolutely that 84.6% of his media appearances are 96.5% charade? Interesting thought, perhaps?)

Interesting but nowhere near as much fun as getting mad-outraged and bawling on twitter. Or writing something in the comments section. Or blaming Nintendo, or the Kardashians.

England are in the semis. What’s more, they are in there with momentum. What’s more more, is that significant contributions have been spread across the team; Woakes and Archer, Buttler and Stokes doing something either deeply or supremely validating or actually wonderful and uplifting in the moment. So confidence should have steepled – should be back to the absurdly high level we’ve experienced for the last year or four.

I have always argued against ‘dumb machismo’ and still do. Because sport is predicated on intelligences as much as skills. Because half the fun and half the winning is about responding to fortune or change – and this surely implies, suggests, demands the application of everything in the psychological sector, including, often crucially, the implementation of Plan B or Z. Jeesuss, right now. Under pressure.

Too often, I reckon, players or coaches get caught up in the excitement or ‘flow’ of things: they say stuff about ‘expressing themselves’ which of course has some truth in it but may not be smart enough, either in the teeming, challenging, complicated moment or for the exposition of playing philosophy – brand.

The particulars of international cricket at the mega and micro-level include so many variables, so many forces inputting their fields of influence on the action that it is a) tempting and b) probably right to seek out simplicity and clarity. However, whilst accepting this, is it not prudent to explore, prepare, ‘facilitate’ for life beyond the soundbite?

Whether or not Morgan and England are suss to this is part of the fascination. Whether or not Bairstow blasts and Roy carves, I wish England well.

 

Making *things* irrelevant. (Nice one, Fran).

The Women’s World Cup is drawing a lot of flak – funny that. Depressingly it’s not just the dumb middle-aged blokes who know nothing about football but also their youngish, similarly lazy equivalents. (On my twitter, young sporty lads giving it the sloppy, arrogant thumbs-down).

Some are more appreciative of the really accomplished passing football being played by most teams – best exemplified, arguably, by Netherlands, Germany, USA, England, France but also executed by many of the lower-profile nations.

Personally I’ve enjoyed the level of comfort in possession many of the players are displaying: the building from the back, the lack of longball-as-first-resort. Tempted to say this is waaay better than many England Men’s sides have managed until the ‘culture-changes’ of the last few years but that would of course be a calamitous o.g. – we need to keep the men out of this.

Women’s sport is different and there is no value in comparing, either explicitly or ‘subconsciously’, though that is challenging, in all honesty, for a middle-aged dumbo like myself. Plenty decades have loaded up the assumptions and prejudices in my own personal ether but  I am trying to pick a way, judge a way through that, without entirely denying myself the right to criticise: the thinking being that genuinely fair comment (should I ever achieve that) actually respects the validity/quality of the sport and makes issues of gender/sex/sexual politics irrelevant.

Flick the switch and relax. Put the telly on. Ooh, bo-nusss! England Women v Windies Cricket is on Sky Sports Mix, which is available free, to the Walton household. And I have time to watch some of it. And OMG… FRAN WILSON!

A diversion, kindof.

Last week I blagged my way in to the car park at Worcester County Cricket Club (I do have accreditation but didn’t *actually have* parking sorted) and swung stylishly and maybe a tad smugly to a halt next to a biggish 4 x 4, from which England players were decanting themselves. One of them was Fran Wilson. I don’t know any the players personally, despite having watched them a fair bit live over the last couple of years, but particularly it felt like I don’t know Fran Wilson… because she’s hardly played. I was tempted to wish her all the best but from a strange fella in a car park… how?

For me this adds a further dimension to the moment (captured above, though surely you’ve seen it, yes?) that you may and probably should revisit whenever anyone says anything.

Says anything about women’s sport. Or maybe about women? Or maybe about racism or homophobia, or maybe when somebody is cruel or stoopid or in any sense prejudiced. Either point them to it or revisit yourself, to bolster your faith in stuff. Because the world gets better at moments like this.

Fran – the same Fran that jumped out of that car, that I nearly said hello and good luck to – did something very special for us, by being very natural (for her).

She dived. She instinctively, stunningly, magnificently dived. Crucially, she caught a missile. She made a beautiful, undeniable, joyful thing-of-a-movement. She was perfectly, athletically human and the only judgement anyone can ever make about it is that was a staggering catch. No qualifications.

We can swat away the comparisons with Ben Stokes. We can swat away everything. This is simple (if statements of this quality and magnitude can be simple?) and wonderful.  She literally reached, stretched, re-invented or maybe denied the limits. Fran absolutely excited us and there’s something magic and electrifyingly pure about that feeling.

Is it okay to say I/we loved it? I think so, I hope so. I really hope we can de-clutter this, to celebrate it. It may be unwise, it may be wrong for this oldish geezer to gush like this so clumsily. But for how it looked, for how it lit up an instant and for what it says, I loved it.

#England. #CWC19.

The England Squad for #CWC19 is as follows;

Eoin Morgan (Middlesex) Captain

Moeen Ali (Worcestershire)

Jofra Archer (Sussex)

Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire)

Jos Buttler (Somerset)

Tom Curran (Surrey)

Liam Dawson (Hampshire)

Liam Plunkett ((Surrey)

Adil Rashid (Yorkshire)

Joe Root (Yorkshire)

Jason Roy (Surrey)

Ben Stokes (Durham)

James Vince (Hampshire)

Chris Woakes (Warwickshire)

Mark Wood (Durham).

Inevitably, perhaps, the omissions – in particular that of Willey – are making as much noise as the selections.

Denly, the outstanding-but-maybe-not-good-enough-at-the-spinning-thing bloke is the other to miss out, again, some will argue cruelly. Let’s start with these guys – with the ‘negatives’.

Willey, with the ball, is consistent, effective and if there is *any help at all*, around, will make that relatively turgid (white) new ball swing, a little. Given the significance of both his contribution to this squad over a period of some years and the critical accident of his birth – left-handedness – there has been a ver-ry powerful argument in his favour. And yet…

The talk had been that he would miss out. Despite his authentic international quality, the brutal facts are that Archer is sprinkled with more in the way of Star Quality, he is quicker (as is Wood) and anyway the past, however worthy, can sometimes get yaknow, bulldozed.

We can be certain that as well as following their hunches about personal chemistry etc, etc, the England coaching squad (in our minds, as big as the playing squad and similarly tooled-up with every aid, stat and projected nuance) will have looked at the *implications* around a single-angled seam attack.

Presumably, ‘on balance’ they felt that Willey was a notch down on Wood, Archer, Plunkett and Woakes and the leftiness factor, though discussable, was not key. It should be noted, too, that to think of this as a straight Willey v Archer (or A.N. Other Seamer issue) may be unhelpful or unwise. It’s all about the blend: of skills, challenges and yes, personalities. It’s mad-complex, wonderful-complex, it’s deeply human, all this; that’s why coaching at any level is such a privilege, such a responsibility, such a joy.

I hope Willey can manage to avoid breaking ranks and blurting out something understandably loaded with what passes for grief, in sporting circles – at least in the short term. There’ll be time to write the book about this ‘betrayal’ later.

Denly is different. In the sense that if he didn’t feel, on the occasions that he was hoiked or simply estranged from the list of Morgan’s bowling options, that he was scampering nowhere, Denly should have known he was an outlier.

Yes, he may have wanted (and felt he deserved) a slot as a batsman in his own right… but no. Simply too much quality around and in front. Despite the impressive combination of calm and aggression with the bat, recently, Denly, (or maybe the name Denly?) in a spectacular squad, looked a tad one-dimensional.

Both these guys will be ‘devastated’ – or that’s what their books or serials in the cricket press will say.

Weirdly, I wonder if they will both be looking at Dawson and thinking WTF? He may be the one player in the squad who – despite flying at the next level down and acquitting himself reasonably well with England before injury struck – looks like an ordinary international player as opposed to a Guy Who Could Own This Bloody Event.

Dawson is, however, a left-handed all-rounder. And he may have a perfect temperament. And other stuff we don’t know about.

As a spinner who barely spins it, he may be fortunate: the first thing I think about when I look at his name on this list is that he won’t play much. That may not have been true of Willey… and it may have been have been true of Denly. Mean anything? Who knows?

On the plus side, we could write a shimmering opus. Archer *has something*; Wood is lovable and sometimes infectiously-scarily-good – and can be wonderfully, defiantly heavetastic in the tail. There are issues around fitness for both of these two gentlemen but – if available and ready – they give the squad (any squad) a lift.

The loyalty/steady squad argument around Archer has plenty of virtue. Making late introductions is controversial and possibly divisive. But this is a matter of management. Sport is tough, it ain’t no democracy and decisions have to be made. Bayliss could have quite legitimately stood up and said “this lad Archer is a genius but his time will come later”. He didn’t, so live with it.

Amongst the other seamers, Plunkett is often consistently, intimidatingly good, ball in hand and will likely get you 20, sharpish, should he need to stride out to bat. Curran is so-o fabulous at nearly everything it feels appalling to drop in the thought that should we get a spell of High Summer, his relative lack of pace may expose him. So ignore that. Look forward instead to a series of swashbuckling or icily brilliant contributions – if and when he gets picked!

Of the remainder, only Vince remotely approaches the borderline category. But the fella has quality; even the propensity to score only 35 is not a huge negative, in this format, with Morgan, Buttler, Stokes etc next in! Plus of course he will be effectively reserve opener, one would think.

Those unquestioned above are; Root, Morgan, Moeen Ali, Rashid, Buttler, Bairstow, Roy, Stokes, Wood, Woakes. Think I’ve probably set out their names because I like the look of them… and they were Must Haves.

Will they win? Absolutely impossible to tell. Too many variables, some good opposition and plenty of individuals who may take a game away from anyone. England, however, are probably the best team in the world. They seem unlikely to freeze and they have tremendous depth – particularly batting-wise. May their faith carry them through.