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.

Gunslingers’ reprieve. Or should they sling the gunners?

So much for the unflattering, post-game, post cliff-walk ramble – above, obvs.

Here, below, is the live blog of the game… which you maybe should be reading first?

Wyatt will face Diana. A little outswing, watchfully played square. Then no ball, meaning Jones gets the benefit of a free hit. She misses and misses out, moving in rather wooden fashion across the ball.

Then drama. Jones advances, plays towards midwicket, misses again and is given leg before. Looked straight but she was advancing. Tense wait. Out!

So the clamour for Beaumont, led, or okaaaay indulged in profoundly by yours truly – check out previous post(s) – will go on. Worse still, for England, a frazzled Wyatt slap-dinks Aiman straight to cover… but cover apparently simply can’t see it! Wyatt survives, for now. Un-be-lieeeeeevable. What we used to call ‘heart-attack material’, in our less socially-aware moments, for the coach and the bench.

This may be current specialism, nay obsession, but let’s try and deal with this swiftly. These are pret-ty embarrassing frailties – England should be two-down yet again, for less than ten. Wyatt and Jones (the gunslingers, yes?) would be dropped or shaken up by many international coaches. *But* these further failures are a) interpretable b) mid-tournament and c) in the squad context where Jones and Wyatt are theoretically England’s most dynamic opening pair. And d) they somehow got to 21 for 1 after 2 overs in this game. So there *are arguments*.

Some might still argue this is simple: *raises hand*. One of them must be dropped or dropped down to take a bit of the heat off Sciver and Knight. (The counter-argument might be that Sciver and Knight appear to be so-o brilliantly nerveless that the ‘appalling indulgence that is Wyatt and Jones’ is, yaknow, indulge-able). My guess is that Keightley sees it simply: ‘Dani and Amy are my best, up front, they stay up front’.

Sciver moves smartly to 15, then 19. 40 for 1 off 4.

Diana Baig bowls full, to draw out that smidge of swing. Her three overs in the power play have been consistently good, deserving, arguably, of rather more than 1 for 17, which is plainly tidy enough.

Then wow. Wyatt is caught yet again behind point. Humiliatingly? I think so. Rate her as a wonderful athlete and good, attacking bat but that – whatever has been said by coaches or colleagues – is unforgivable, in my view. I repeat, speaking as a fan of hers, at this level, that’s shocking. That she will be hurting (and her batting coach hurting) is irrelevant: it’s un-for-givable. To let the right hand flow through too early, so often, is amateurish; endof.

Meanwhile (as I rage) Knight has just sublimely driven Aliya wide of extra-cover for four. Real statement of quality. England 62 for 2 after 8.

At the halfway mark, England will be happy enough with 74 for 2. Shortly after, Sciver, over-balancing, is stumped Sidra, bowled Aliya. But Knight persists and a strongish score looks on. Wilson has joined her captain.

100-up in the 14th, as Wilson telegraphs but then beautifully executes a reverse-sweep for four. Nadir Dar’s thinking she has Knight, two balls later, mind, but a regulation high catch is fumbled at the midwicket boundary. Big Moment. (Pakistan’s fielding in the game was below the retired level).

Wilson has been in decent knick, with the bat and she looks ready to contribute. She’s not a power-hitter but can dance and cut and sweep. At 115 for 3 after 15 and with the partnership developing, England should be looking towards 160, here.

Diana is back for the 16th. Knight sweeps with some power but the fielder should stop the boundary. More intrigue as Diana drops her hands towards a bulleting drive from Knight but can’t, understandably, hold on. Suddenly the England captain is on 49: the 50 arrives with a further sweep to deep square leg.

Bismah is lobbing them up there: discussion on comms is whether she is actually slower than Poonam Yadav! Incredibly, she probably is. With so much time to hit, both Knight and Wilson seem guilty of over-thinking it – there are two near-catches and a possible run-out in the over, along with nine runs. But it’s unhelpfully, distractingly messy.

Aiman also drops a tough return catch – again it’s Knight who benefits. Runs are coming but fewer boundaries than England might like. May not be a disaster that, swinging, Wilson is deceived and bowled by a slower one, from the seamer. Wilson made a perfectly acceptable 22 off 19 but can the incoming Beaumont bring the real blaze? 139 for 4, after 18.

Inevitably, it’s Knight who answers the call to go big, monstering Nida straight for six. And Beaumont reverses for four, before slogging out to a juggling Muneeba, who holds on. (Feel sorry for Beaumont. Outstanding, reliable player being shafted, somewhat, by policy). Next up, the skipper is expertly taken out at long-on, for an excellent 62. She again has lived up to the Proper England Captain label: resolute, stoic-when-necessary, powerfully consistent, incredibly bland, in interview. Huge fan.

Brunt comes in, shuffles pseudo-positively forward, is defeated and stumped. Winfield and Ecclestone scurry briefly; the total amassed is what we might call medium-formidable. 158 for 7. Should probably be enough but in fact the last four overs felt an under-achievement from an English point of view. Certainly, given the smallish ground (or surface area, as it were), there might have been more boundaries, ideally. But hey, this is a pressure game, what matters is the win.

Shrubsole is coming round to Muneeba – the left-hander. Tantalisingly, she finds the outside edge twice in the first three balls. Does’t quite carry to slip on either occasion. Javeria cuts smartly behind point, where Wilson dives to gather. Just one from the over.

Brunt. A little mixed. Muneeba muscles one unconvincingly for four before the bowler strays leg-side. Touch of shape, in the air. No major dramas – 7 for 0 after 2.

Upcoming, mini-masterclass from Shrubsole. Muneeba clonks her for four but the truly outstanding swing bowler nails her next up, with a beauty. Unclear if the wind assisted but the delivery arcs gently in to the batter, when she might have every expectation that Shrubsole’s natural movement is t’other way. Comprehensive, stump-clattering victory for the longterm England star. Enter Bismah.

Pakistan are battling here, mind. A decent smattering of boundaries and some inconsistency from the bowlers keep this in the balance, through the powerplay. Brunt is too straight, or wide and Ecclestone may be troubled by the wind. The Pakistan bench are wrapped in towels – it’s blowing, it’s coolish.

Brunt breaks her duck for the tournament – painfully so, for Bismah. The ball appears to strike both thumb and bat before looping gently up for Jones to gather behind in comfort.

When Glenn responds to being dispatched for four by cleaning out Javeria Khan, the initiative has turned, sharply, in England’s favour. Pakistan are 41 for 3, after 7.

The leg-spinner is soon celebrating again, despite Winfield once more failing to claim a catch. (The fielder is having an exacting time, so far, in the tournament: here she cannot throw herself forward to make the grabbable grab). No matter. Pakistan appear in trouble as Glenn knocks back Iram Javed’s leg stump, with a straightish one.

When Ecclestone has Nida Dar l.b.w in the next, this feels almost done. Pakistan 51 for 5.

Glenn returns, tidily once more. No extravagant turn but nice, confident, consistent flight. The run rate has rocketed up to 11.7, meaning Pakistan have to find something pret-ty extraordinary. Just doesn’t seem possible. The game is ticking over gently. 59 for 5 as Ecclestone sees out an uneventful 12th over.

Glenn gets a third as Omaima Sohail advances but miscues: Ecclestone taking a tricky catch retreating and reaching. A very encouraging win now seems certain, for England.

Fair play to Aliya. She welcomes Sciver back by smashing her downtown, for six. Nine runs from the over, 71 for 6. Now Shrubsole, whom you’d think would be fancying this?

No joy. No swing, so the bowler is now ‘mixing things up’ but to no dramatic effect. Knight brings herself back, concedes six runs in bits and pieces – that’ll do. 84 for 6 with just four overs remaining. 75 needed.

Brunt is struggling…and hating that. Big, slower-ball wide to start. Cut for four, rather dismissively, by Aliya. The one gem Brunt throws down there – a peach of a loopy slower-ball, which absolutely undoes the batter – is nicked infuriatingly behind for runs.

Ecclestone fires one straight through Sidra Nawaz, mind – which may not restore Brunt’s equilibrium (if Brunt ever does equilibrium). 101 for 7. Aliya battles on admirably, at this stage, on 35 from 29 but this feels death-throwsy. Ecclestone finishes on 4 overs, 2 for 12. Outstanding.

Shrubsole will bowl the 19th. Again it’s apparent that it’s tough to keep things tidy in this wind. (Half the smallish crowd are deeply wrapped in blankets by this stage). A straight, slow delivery does for Aliya Riaz, who can be well-satisfied with her contribution of 41. Next up Shrubsole has Diana caught and bowled, raising her 100th T20 wicket. One more to claim? Brunt will look to deny her bowling partner that further privilege.

So it proves, the Angry Yorkie beating the left-handed Sadia Iqbal’s swish, and claiming the tenth wicket, leg before. England have won it by a distance – by 42 runs, Pakistan all out 116, with two balls remaining. The side, led so well again by Heather Knight, despite having issues up front, may be breaking into a more purposeful stride. Bring on the Windies Women: a win and the semis await.

 

Headline: “Gunslingers shoot feet again!”

It’s fast becoming a cliché to dwell on the alleged loveliness of the Thailand women’s cricket team – or at least, or most obviously, their smile-tastic skipper, Sornnarin Tippoch. I’m going to do it, anyway, just briefly, in the knowledge that some may construe this as raw patronisation but still hoping that widespread recognition of that real of sense of a team playing their hearts out and revelling in the wider import of the occasion renders something worthwhile, here. Thailand are going all-in on this: it’s endearing, it’s proper sport.

Zoom in and on: a strong cross-wind blows across the Manuka Oval, Canberra, as the theoretically dynamic but most certainly currently vulnerable England opening pair stride out. (*Please note: I rate this current opening pair; they have quality. But there are buts, just now…)

Did I say vulnerable? Ah. Jones is out SECOND BALL – having mistimed a cut on the first. It’s a shocker. She is stumped, a mile out, failing to connect with a comparatively benign delivery from Boochatham. It maybe looked worse than it was – speaking as it did of scrambled mind – but whichever way we view it, this was another jolt of a start. England 1 for 1 after the first over, with Sciver having joined Wyatt.

Lateh offers Sciver a waist-high full bunger, which the in-form number three ruthlessly pumps to the square leg boundary, for the first four. Nerve-settler, perhaps? Not for Wyatt. Barely credibly, she slashes a drive aerially towards cover, where Liengprasert takes a fine, low catch, coming in.

Truly excellent effort from bowler and fielder but in the context, this feels more extraordinary, more notable from the England standpoint.

Wyatt had connected well enough, as is often the case with her dismissals but why strike out at catchable height? Early on? When you must feel that you owe your compadres an innings or two? When this is Thailand, with all due respect, and therefore a much-needed confidence-boost is surely on offer? When presumably the coach – even a coach who might be saying “keep believing; play your way” – must also be saying “give yourself a chance; there will be runs here”.

In short, both openers did a lousy job again.

Fully understand that it’s entirely legitimate to argue that pressure is a construct best dealt with on an individual basis and therefore either Wyatt or Jones or both might be best served eventually by simply re-doubling their commitment to ‘positive cricket’- to ‘belief’. This can be argued… but I think it’s cobblers. Their own confidence is being picked apart by poor choices and poor execution: more matters of judgement than intent. The result is (amongst other things) that Wyatt and Jones are potentially undermining the position of Sciver and Knight: there is also strongish case that there should be consequences for serial failure in the context of international sport. *Plus* good players – most obviously Beaumont – are being denied an opportunity.

It will be really interesting to see if the coach’s pride or stubbornness gets in the way of apparent common sense, on this – or what? (Not that we are likely to find out). This is rich territory.

Keightley may feel she has made an absolute commitment of some sort – she may have even given the current openers assurances that they will play, ‘because they’re the best’ and because ‘this is the way the group needs to approach things’. We can’t know. (It’s fascinating but also infuriating, for many of us, yes?) The noise around the issue is at best a distraction: I’m guessing I’m not the only one leaking energy around this.

Anyway, England are 7 for 2 as Knight walks in there. She’s an angel if she’s not cursing her lot.

Lateh follows up her wicket with two poor wides, outlining, perhaps, the mixed quality and comparatively slim top-level international experience of the underdogs: Sciver profits. The wind does seem a factor, possibly making all three disciplines a tad trickier. The pitch is true but with noticeably lower bounce, predictably, than that track out in Perth. Knight and Sciver, to their credit, settle early: England reach 45 for 2 at the end of the powerplay.

Gradually, this becomes a procession. Both batters get to fifty, before Knight absolutely explodes, unanswerably. From about the fifteenth over, the captain throws her hands at pretty much everything, connecting with an impressively high proportion. Thailand prove a little more fallible than in their opening match, bowling wider, maybe, and allowing one or two more ground-fielding errors to creep in. But they are facing two worldies building something powerful, now.

After 17 overs England are 138 for 2, with Sciver on 52 and Knight 78. Liengprasert almost claims Knight at the boundary but that swirling wind makes the grab eminently droppable; in fact two, similar potential catches are spilled over the rope. (To be fair, the second one did so much in the wind that nobody could have hauled it in – and it did go for six). The England captain is slashing and heaving now in the honourable club tradition… and getting away with it. Sciver is still playing cricket; dynamically, as is her wont.

Having moved to a 100 partnership off 79 balls, England race on to 176 with no further loss at the close, with Knight on 108 and Sciver 59. A total significantly beyond reach for this opposition, facing this England attack.

This was Sciver’s second fifty in the tournament: her skipper, out early, driving hard but insufficiently far in her previous knock, reached her century in the final over, before celebrating by clattering Suttiruang for another straight six. Little to enjoy, then, for the Thai players, other than the moment that their hugely likable captain, Tippoch, channeled Malinga by dropping her arm to shoulder height and landing one on middle. As if she needed us to love her more!

Chantham and Boochatham will face Shrubsole, with the wind heavily assisting her generally mercurial inswing: like she needed the help. Sadly for us romantics the England bowler nails the latter, lbw, facing her first delivery. Moments later huge, late swing defeats the incoming Koncharoenkai but the ball flashes down leg, beating, in its increasingly absurd arc, the befuddled keeper, Jones. A predictably challenging start for the batters but Chantam is looking the part. She will go on to make a creditable 32 before being dismissed lbw, by Ecclestone.

The issue was always going to be lack of depth, in the Thai batting line-up. So it proves, with only Koncharoenkai (12) and Chaiwai (19) making worthwhile contributions. Thailand have already offered enough: wonderful commitment and energy, outstanding awareness of this World cup as an opportunity in which to develop and yes, enjoy. Rather stumbling towards 78 for 7, today, against an experienced and luxuriously-resourced England side was neither a surprise nor a failure, however disappointed they might feel.

Sure they weren’t absolutely on it, in the field, in the way they might have hoped. But the early drama, with Wyatt and Jones departed so soon may in itself be a validatory, dare I say characteristically worthy contribution to the narrative of the whole event. But oops; that’s twice I’ve invoked romance and this is almost certainly ill-considered. I rate Thailand for their cricket, for the competitive charge that has brought them to Australia; for the additional, proper-quality cricket they have yet to deliver.

Reflecting on a substantial win and being unashamedly anglo-centric (until somebody pays me to write neutral columns, of course), I’m drawn back to the beginning: forgive me. Wyatt and Jones. They may sound like a couple of deadly gunslingers but – just now? No.

It’s not just that of late they are dropping the outstanding Sciver and the magnificently stoic Knight in the poop, time after time. It’s the manner in which this is occurring: in a word – needlessly. Wyatt typically getting caught between extra and point, before she’s ‘got going’. Jones finding a way to get out just as you sense she may be in.

All this is now BIG in the media corps: I’ve been saying for ages that as a pair, despite being genuinely talented and theoretically ideal openers, they are currently too vulnerable, too slack, too unreliable to start the England innings together.

Now I know stats may disprove almost any theory predicated upon observation – upon feel, judgement, experience – and I accept the role that recorded truths (statistics) have to play, in the modern game. Some revelations can prove vital. However, despite knowing that this will inevitably condemn me to allegations of out-of-time-ism, I confess to having misgivings about stats generally, or the use or ‘over-use’ of the stuff.

Stats can be facts but they can also be interpretative material. Coaches can be leant on, impressed or bewildered and undermined, even, if a bullish culture exists around having to ‘come over all modern’ (and use modern tech to the full). Interpretation can be flawed.

I have no doubt that there are situations where assistant coaches or statisticians, feeling the need to justify their graft (or out of arrogance, or out of insecurity), ladle on particular plans for this or that when in fact any good coach left to their own devices would simply know that Player X can or will do this, or that. And that therefore the stats are background noise – are un-directional, unhelpful, subversive,even. Cultural innovation can be necessary but maybe it can also smother the instincts, cloud the issues.

In the case of Wyatt, I wonder why somebody – presumably her coach Lisa Keightley –  can’t just say “listen mate, you’re a great player but if you get caught flashing through the covers again I’ll crap in your trainers : there’s time, even in bladdy T20, to get yourself in. SMASH THE BALL INTO THE BLOODY GROUND).

Keightley may have done this. Likewise she may have urged Jones, in no uncertain terms, towards retaining her focus. “Stop those gifts, mate”.

Pressure makes folk daft, we know that. But international players should not be daft, repeatedly, without re-engaging fundamental intelligences. Or if they are, there should be consequences.

My suspicion is that the batters and possibly the coach have simply made all of this waaaay toooo complicated – most likely by over-thinking something or everything, possibly because there are too many voices in their ears. Why not simply be positive and game-wise at the same time? Build towards extravagance? Play yourself in, enough?

 

 

 

 

Catching up.

Ok so by now, as early as it seems, I should have delivered some cricket sessions into schools. Not dozens of them, not yet, but some.

(The truth is, I/we Community Coaches need to get into schools promptly after Christmas, to make it possible to strike off the required number of Cricket Wales/Chance to Shine sessions and Roadshow visits, in the season). I’ve been skiving, having had a hernia op’ a month ago but now I’m pret-ty close to action stations once more. This means getting on the phone to schools and scheduling-in a significant bundle of visits.

Almost without exception this is on the exciting side – yes, really! – of pleasurable because, strangely, I tend to get a genuine welcome from the Head’s, receptionists or teachers that pick up the phone. (Plus I’m honestly, perennially hot-to-trot to actually do the cricket). After eight or nine years of Community Coach-dom, I know most folks I’m dealing with and they tend to be keen to get me back in there.

Apologies if this sounds like arrogance. If you spoke to my magnificent colleagues on the Cricket Wales Community Coach Posse, I reckon they’d tell you the same. We are a goodish bunch of well-trained people who deliver well-judged, skilful and sometimes downright inspired cricket-based sessions. More often than not, staff recognise the activity as highish-quality recreation-plus, which stimulates a properly diverse range of challenges – appropriate, liberating challenges. This isn’t about me. It’s about what we do… which is good. So, most schools are more than receptive.

I wouldn’t personally want to be a salesman; that whole cold-calling thing is so-o unappealing, but fortunately it’s rare that I have to Sell The Idea and/or go through the whole spiel about how free, fab and holistically-tuned-in to the curriculum it is. On occasions, because of the pressures around timetabling, that embarrassing sense of a plainly sympathetic Headmaster/mistress battling against school targets is lurking. I think, from memory, that twice in my Cricket Wales career I’ve been politely turned away; “just can’t fit it in”. On one single occasion an utterly stressed-out teacher was rude to the point of hostile: but this individual was really, honestly, barely in control.

I’m phoning, now, in brief, with a reasonable level of confidence that most schools will want ‘The Cricket Man’: indeed I am proud to be offering the Chance to Shine scheme. By the way, we have to record our delivery (on t’internet, asitappens) and it’s always heartening to see those sessions rack up – heartening and essential, in terms of our funding streams. In the next two or three weeks, I will be booking in virtually the whole bundle of work for the year. On the one hand that feels a tad intimidating; on the other, positive – electrifying, even.

Let’s zoom out, briefly. I’m acutely aware of the argument that rather than funding Community Coaches, the cricket-sympathetic universe might be better advised to get more cricket on free-to-air TV. It might be ‘more impactful’. Almost impossible to prove or dis-prove that theory, I imagine. Hmm.

Don’t want to get too heavily drawn into this, but whilst accepting the need for more FTA cricket I would politely note that probably the most significant contribution us coaches make is to light up kids, for sport, in a way that is more about personal contact than anything we could ever measure.

I am consciously trying, in my sessions, to get it into the heads of Sara and Joe that this is a wonderful thing, this cricket: a laugh, a real buzz, something irresistible. I am looking to load up the moment with so much F.U.N. and so much movement and so much achievement – great shot; great catch, great effort! – that something gets captured.

Hard to avoid either sounding glib or pompous but like our footballing, netballing or rugby counterparts, us Community Coaches are looking to build a real-life, in-the-flesh, personal, inspirational experience; something which grabs a hold of the child’s imagination. Something better than the telly, even.

Footnote to that: very often (yes ver-ry often) I am aware of moments or sessions where profound stuff like the ridiculous aspirations crassly outlined above actually happen. To be honest, I think that’s why I can do the cricket sales pitch into schools if I need to.

 

Hunches.

Ok some hunches – you know hunches, you *luuuurvv* hunches, right? Moments of crash-bang-walloptastic insight offered up only to you, by the gods of knowledge, because your instincts (yes, you and only you!) – are fab-yoo-luss.

Only you could see that she/he had to go with the off-spinner, or should nev-ver have swept off that length because you could see what was gonna happen. Plain as, that this pitch makes a nonsense of ‘positivity’; that this pre-meditation was unnecessary madness. So have to say something.

Hunches are about knowing what will happen – what the destiny of these things was – but also swilling the juicy juice of opinion around. Joining with the banter; getting disproportionate and daft and earnest and noisy, maybe. But knowing all along that you may be talking utter cobblers.

So, doesn’t matter that there’s an inevitable smattering of opprobriating “ahs”, when you’re wrong. When the offie bowls, predictably, like a donkey but then claims the critical scalp. The hunch was precious and invigorating, to you and to the beer snake that is the raillery around it. Maan, you meant it; maaan you were wrong; cheers – onwards.

Hunches, predictions, forecasts, opinion. What a great way of showing off, exposing yourself, joining the can-can. Here’s some around England Women Cricket, following last night’s win against India. (May write about the *actual game*, later – if the energy holds.

  • Amy Jones. Will be, or should be somewhat troubled by her trot of form. (12 runs in 3 innings, I think). And more so because she keeps getting out ‘badly’. However the new coach has worked with her prior to her England gig, (WBBL) and will therefore hopefully know her and what makes her tick. Reckon therefore, that because Jones a) can play – can be dynamic and even dominant – and b) she can ‘keep, my hunch is she stays.
  • Whether she stays as an opener, with or without Wyatt, may be another question. Plainly the thinking is that because Knight (in particular) is wonderfully consistent, having backbone, maturity and increasingly the capacity to rescue-through-charging, relative flakiness – i.e. Jones, Wyatt – can be tolerated ahead of her. I also note that the presence of the generally redoubtable Beaumont also enables higher-risk cricket up front.
  • So, both Jones and Wyatt stay in the T20 side, for the upcoming World Cup; both may be a tad fortunate, but they are both what we hunchers call ‘players’.
  •  If we take it that the promotion of Brunt was very much a temporary measure – to try to break up the Indians’ plans for control – then what’s the batting line-up going to be, come that tournament?
  • I really might reinstate Beaumont as an opener (we can’t keep ‘recovering’) and drop Jones down. Wyatt and Beaumont, followed by Sciver, Knight, Jones. (Actually think there’s a case for Knight ahead of Sciver, who is less stoic and less reliable than her skipper – or certainly feels it, in that familiar 30 for 3 zone. Hang on… think Sciver warrants a hunch – maybe a techno-hunch – of her own.
  • Nat Sciver may be England’s best all-round athlete. You have to rate her for the whole package. But (just me?) or does it feel like given that spectacular raw material, she is marginally under-achieving?
  • Batting-wise, her way of playing is to play through the leg-side. She swishes (I know, pejorative) across the line pret-ty constantly, often to great effect, because she has talent and timing and can therefore a) ‘get away with it’ b) pierce the field, such is her level of control: (usually).
  • Now of course the traditionally-received wisdom is that against high quality bowling, playing across the line is likely to prove risky. And that Sciver’s bat-swing, itself, being so frequently in or close to pull-shot-mode, is likely to make her vulnerable to miscues, as well as being lbw or bowled. The modern game profoundly challenges this wisdom: but my hunch remains that Sciver will be intermittently spectacular rather than consistently, durably brilliant at international level. In short, she may not be an ideal 3, or even 4, in a team that starts with a stutter.
  • Knight likes 4, I think, and she’s probably earned the right to choose. Hmm. Maybe then, in a World Cup Beaumont really should get that opening slot back, to fix at least two relative bankers in the top four. (Wyatt and Jones being fine players… but not bankers, right?) Meaning my choice would be Beaumont, Wyatt, Sciver (with some misgivings) and Knight, top four. Followed by either Jones, or Wilson – who is finding some nice form at a good time.
  • Über-hunch, however is that Keightley will stay with Wyatt, Jones, Sciver, Knight, Wilson but this may be subject to what happens in the second Tri-nations fixture against Australia and then in the final of that mini-tournament – which I expect England to be contesting.
  • World Cup-wise, England’s fixtures run South Africa, Thailand, Pakistan, West Indies in the first phase of the tournament. So full team/best team out from the off and maybe not much scope for tinkering other than in the Thailand fixture, where you wouldn’t rule out a throughly guns-blazing approach.
  • But this is all batting. What else?
  • Let’s talk about pitches – or the pitches. So far, the Tri-nations, as so-o often in the women’s game – has featured lifeless matts. Seamers bowling ‘variations’, cos no pace or carry. Spinners getting a little help, maybe, but generally slowish, medium-grippy affairs. I kinda hope that for the sheer lols of it, the Aussies have a secret plan to show us these bland carpets before unleashing some zingtastic strips that will make Vlaeminck thrillingly unplayable in the World Cup. But that’s more a hope than a hunch.
  • Bowling-wise, England have most bases covered, barring the express pace one – although they are hardly alone on that. Selection will chiefly a matter of how many seamers, given the pitch conditions. I like Glenn, the leg-spinner, like the variation and wicket-taking potential her selection might bring, but she may lose out more often than not – probably to Davies, who will join Brunt and Shrubsole on the seamers’ roster.
  • Ecclestone’s general excellence and threat now being established, she must play in all cases. Sciver and Knight will no doubt make their contributions. As a bowling unit, even where conditions may not entirely suit, England have tended to compete grittily and well – very much in the image of the skipper.
  • The third discipline – fielding. Only Australia get close to England’s increasingly focused level. Yes there will be some errors but these are fewer and more heavily offset by a strong, consistent attention – to intention.
  • Wilson, Wyatt and Sciver are often brilliant, Brunt is brave and fixated and the general, professional vibe continues to improve. There is committed strategy and mostly good athleticism and improving catching in the field. Australia are at a a ver-ry similar level, arguably higher but even the other leading nations – principally West Indies and India – are significantly behind, giving the two Ashes foes a powerful advantage going into the tournament proper.
  • Expect an England Australia Tri-nations final… and for one of them to be crowned World T20 Champions on the 8th of March. Oz rightly favourites but England may be shaping up to be legitimate contenders. Hunch? They might win it!

 

One memory from an ordinary game. Brunt, bowling, really not liking a return catch that hurt the hand… then catching a dolly back to her the following ball. Roaring, intimidatingly loudly, to the skies, to the universe, to the batter – though not quite at her – as Krishnamurthy departs. Tough competitor.

 Maybe a second – Also involving Brunt. Sciver – her fiancé, remember? – plays Sharma rather beautifully and straight. As the bowler falls into her follow-through, she gets something on the ball… which ricochets inevitably onto the stumps… running out The Intended One, by a mile. Ah.

No hiding from the fact that this was no thriller: some decent quality from Sciver, during the chase for a low total – 123 for 6. Winfield rather laboured the ball, uppishly, towards mid-off, to win the game, ultimately. She should have been caught. Walking off, or reflecting, both sides will be thinking “we need to be better than this”.

Universe Podcast, with Kim Thomas, Golf Professional.

The Universe Podcast ain’t hard-hitting journalism – even when it’s about hard hitting. It’s a forum for friendly stuff; like conversation about sport; like maybe an insight or twelve, either fluked by Himself Himself (@cricketmanwales), or, more likely, via the greater intelligence and experience of an honoured guest. This edition is very much the latter.

Kim Thomas – pictured at the British Open, commentating for ESPN – is a mate of mine but more importantly or relevantly a Golf Professional. He played on The European Tour, he teaches, he commentates. He is man with stories galore and real expertise, from technical matters to matters of preparation, psychology, skills. We spoke about most of this, with Kim – as an accomplished broadcaster – seamlessly crossing from subject to subject, as I a) prompted and b) thought “hell fire, mun, we could talk for days on this… and this”.

It was great. Enjoyable and genuinely fascinating, perhaps particularly (as you will hear) because of obvious parallels between Kim’s experience in golf and that of the mighty cricketmanwales.com multinational corporation’s vast hinterland – i.e. you/yours, dear reader… in cricket.

Golf faces many of the same challenges as our own magnificent sport. Cultural stuff out there in the universe and pressures around time, loyalty, relevance, in a dumbed-down world. Listen and you’ll see.

You’ll see, too, I think, why I’m already planning a Round Two with Kim, at some stage, to draw out more stories and more thoughts on coaching/teaching/mentality – how and why sport works. Meantimes, plug in, friends… and please do RT if you enjoy.

 

Listening back. Might add…

  • Kim *really does* have masses of golf stories – why wouldn’t he, after 40-odd years playing, teaching and commentating on the game?
  • He is still both teaching – he tends to use that word rather than ‘coaching’ – as well as doing the media work.
  • As a coach myself, I am clear that Kim has more to say on coaching methodology and player mentality in particular (and has the experience and authority to be genuinely worth listening-to) so we may well, in time, revisit that area. 
  • KT says at one point “a lot of bad swings make a lot of money”. And also that “the golf has to be creative”. Love that – the idea that for all the alleged essentials, the ‘building blocks’, the stuff the coach is trying to drill, individual idiosyncrasies and the ability to FEEL, are still central. This is not, in any way to denigrate the role of the coach; on the contrary, it suggests the coach teacher/mentor must be able to recognise and support the creative instinct… *whilst enabling consistency*. (Therefore the coach must be listening, must be patient, must be brilliant and generous).
  • Golf is not cricket, and vice-versa, and I am not blithely suggesting that coaching one is the same as coaching t’other. Or that the mental challenges are the same. But plainly there are parallels – in my view this is rich territory.
  • Finally, we could and arguably should have discussed some more the ways in which both games are approaching the challenges slung at us by universal cultural/societal changes. Certainly in cricket changes in format are underway but they are also polarising, controversial – alienating, even, to some. There are powerful arguments for a re-boot but how to do this without traducing the great traditions?  More parallels: golf, too, is both soul-searching and wondering how to go forward. These are exciting, testing times.

Universe Podcast: “Let’s get at it”. #InspiringGenerations – the launch.

Wrote a demon blog and t’internet ate it. So rambled, below, on the theme of the ECB Action Plan 2109 – specifically the ‘Transforming Women’s & Girls’ Cricket’ tome, released and placed before the media on Tuesday.

There are ‘qualifications’, here, which I hope are decipherable. Chiefly, though, there is a genuine hope and even belief  that the massive commitment of funds really will change levels of awareness and participation: that the commitment to supporting and re-structuring (which may be politically/philosophically questionable to some) will at least work, significantly, in terms of the ‘gender re-balance’ that Clare Connor and others have spoken of.

Makes me smile that much of this feels driven by the need to keep pace or catch up with the Aussies – fair dinkum to them for blazing the trail for women professionals, in particular. But I don’t work and am not particularly likely to work at the elite end of the game. I’m a grassroots geezer and proud of it. What feels good to me is that because of the holistic, wholesale, humongousness of this project, many wee female humans will register cricket in a way that simply hasn’t happened, previously. The girls I coach will feel the sport-tastic blur going on above them. Love that.

In short, despite ab-so-lutely acknowledging concerns about the implications around new tournaments, new regions, I am buzzing – this does feel like a transformation. It’s right that we pour resources into W & G Cricket; it will be liberating, inspiring and blood-dee exciting. Just like sport should be.

 

*Note. Fully intend to get back into gathering in guests for the Universe Podcast ver-ry soon!

Below are some of the key commitments, from the ECB: copied & pasted from the “Transforming Women’s & Girls’ Cricket document”.

£20m investment by 2021.

171% total funding increase for girls’ County Age Group (CAG) Cricket.

8 new regional teams for elite domestic cricket.

500k girls in primary schools to receive a great cricket experience.

40 new professional contracts for female cricketers.

2,000(!) female South Asian All Stars Activators trained by 2024.

Final note; belatedly remembered (and am reminded, re-reading the document) that Women’s IT20 comes to Brum, in the Commonwealth games in 2022. Edgbaston could do a great job of showcasing that: see you there!

 

Highlights Reel, as does the memory. Universe Podcast looks back on a year of cricket – mine, 2019.

A meander through my personal highlights, with particular attention on the games I actually attended. Vaguely chronological but with the inevitable @cricketmanwales-stylee diversions.

So, unreliable memories around both England men and women’s international fixtures, plus KSL and Blast19 stuff. Some thoughts on coaching – on the England men’s batting – and ‘philosophical’ notions around approach and responsibility. Finally, I fall into a realisation that my ‘Day of the Year’ may have been…

well go listen and find out. And please do RT if you find it at all listenable.

 

*Note: plank that I am I started to say something about Sophie Ecclestone but then drifted. What I was going to add was that she is clearly a talent – already our (England’s) go to bowler when Knight needs to make something happen. (Not bad for a 19/20 yr-old). She isn’t a great fielder but one of my abiding memories of a difficult Women’s Ashes for England was that Ecclestone offers something.

#Edgbaston. #FinalsDay.

How, how, how does this keep happening?!?  🤷🏻‍♂️

Another extraordinary day of cricket. ‘Belonging’, ultimately, to Harmer, the Eagle’s skipper, who bowled like a demon in both their matches and also saw them home so dauntlessly with the bat.

But this felt bigger even than that: bigger than the personal joy. The South African offie and his batting partner Bopara did, of course, stretch the dramatic-elastic to its ecstatic breaking-point. They did heave the entertainment to another level – remarkably.

But the nature of this Edgbaston Gig itself had already revealed itself in the scrumptious, autumnal sun. The colour, in every sense. The daft, boozy boisterousness. The singalongtastic vibe. More importantly perhaps, the edgy, competitive cricket.

Peter Moore’s Outlaws had cataclysmically imploded. (That presser was painful viewing, people). Falcons, too, had faltered cruelly. The pitch drew some flak but still, somehow, in those wonderful external playing conditions, before that shiny-happy crowd, this event was simply never going to fail. Because Finals Day. Because Edgbaston. There really was something inevitably sensational about all this.

So Harmer’s Day, for sure. But also both another general triumph, for Warwickshire County Cricket Club and something of a gauntlet thrown down to events *in the pipeline*. 

Here’s how the day felt, from 9 a.m to 10 p.m. Live.

 

Outlaws v Rapids.

Crazy-sunny: ridiculously, as per last year, when the Brum skyline looked splendidly leafy and shiny and the bowl in front of us radiated searingly cosmic light straight  back up at us. Wow. What a view. Thankyou, Edgbaston.

I’m back then and so is the great celestial orb-thing. And maan what a difference it makes.

The day is warm, by 9.30, but it is also set up. Fifty feet below me, Outlaws and Rapids are going through their early moves; nice collect/cross over/throw drill to my left, overseen by the fella Moores and some running and squatting over to my right, with Moeen’s Posse. Stadium stirring quietly but ubiquitous bouncy pop already blaring. Great scene.

10.30. Notts have won the toss and put Rapids in to bat. In other tactical news, I am alternating peppermint tea with coffees: this is a really long day.  👊🏻

Luke Wood – left-arm over, quickish – starts with a full-toss, to Rutherford, which he blocks for nought. The sun really does illuminate the pitch: strip looks brownish and dry. Wood, straining for pace, bowls a leg-side wide. Wessels drives nicely to cover for three and Rapids make a solid start – 9 off the over.

Carter will bowl his right arm off-spin from the Pavilion End. Rutherford miscues him over Hales but the former England man retreats to make the catch high above his head. 10 for 1. Enter Moeen.

Ali drives his second ball comprehensively, majestically into the stand over long-on… then re-plays the shot for a further six, just clearing the rope this time. As if we didn’t love him enough!

Wessels drives Wood fabulously through the covers for four more, before patting away an angry beamer. No ball and Free Hit. We are 32 for 1 after 3. Ground 80% full already.

Gurney comes in for Carter: starts with a poor wide. Ali goes to 20 off 7 by dispatching the left arm quick to the spot which will surely be re-named Moeen’s Corner immediately after the game. (Long-on, by the Sky Pod).

Ah. Cancel or delay that naming ceremony. Carter, returning having switched ends, bowls the Rapids skipper, swishing hard across the line. 40 for 2 and Parnell has joined Wessels. Playing conditions are an absolute dream.

Wood again. Poorish full-toss pushed easily through mid-off. Four. Another beamer defended, power-play done and Rapids are 54 for 2. Early feel is that somebody may go very big very quickly on this pitch.

Lots of changes from Christian. Patel tries a wheel, then Mullaney. Anything to break things up, or prevent The Emergence of The Groove. Mullaney’s canny medium-pace does okay.

Wessels – very open in his stance, bit ungainly – sweeps Patel to break out. Striking flatter-than-flat, sharpish ‘spin’ from Our Samit. 69 for 2, after 9.

Mullaney will go again. Parnell may not really connect but does lift him for six over long-off. Bowler has his revenge, mind, as Parnell *doesn’t quite get there*. Sliced, and Christian is watchful in retreat. Rapids are 76 for 3 at the halfway mark.

Good few minutes for the Outlaws skipper, as he has Cox caught behind off an under-edge, in his first over. Ground pret-ty much full now and the colour and the noise brewing nicely.

Patel switches ends. D’Oliveira drives him nicely and slaps him to leg – but not for boundaries, importantly. 88 for 4 after 12; Wessels has 34.

Mullaney bowls him, leg stump. Could be the pressure to reach the rope does the batsman; there has a been an absence of fours and sixes – or the sense that Rapids need more – over the last few overs. A kind of quiet pressure.

Carter benefits too. D’Oliveira tries to hoist him to Cow but is bowled by a ball that may have only marginally turned. Good time for the Outlaws as the score has fallen away to 92 for 6: Barnard and Whitely are both new to the crease.

Gurney, from the Birmingham End. Then a stunning moment, as Joe Clarke runs out Barnard with a brilliant, timely throw from point. (Timely in the sense that it already felt like a possible game-changer, or winner). Really high quality piece of fielding, bringing Mitchell in a good deal earlier than Rapids might have liked. 108 for 7 after 16, Whiteley having boomed a defiant six.

The same batsman gives Mullaney similar treatment, next over. Six, four, six, one. Nice, clean striking. It’s felt like a 180-odd pitch from early on: 160 now seems *possible.* Gurney comes in to bowl the 18th at 125 for 7.

Wood misfields at point – the first error I can remember – but then nearly runs out Whiteley. Gurney is taking the pace off, to Mitchell. Shocker of a wide, at Whiteley – both a beamer and genuinely wide. 132 at the end of the over.

Wood. Running in, going quickish. Patel, meanwhile, rubber-stamps his cult status with the Hollies, by hoofing back a beachball to beery approval. Good over; concedes just the five runs.

Gurney, predictably, will take the last. Shocker: full-toss down leg. Then beats the swing, from Whiteley. Then an awful wide, to off. Then Whiteley is caught at deep square.

Enter Brown. Mitchell is facing: he smashes Gurney for six before falling, caught at deep cover.

A single is scurried off the last to post a slightly underwhelming 147 for 9, for the Rapids. Could of course be proved badly wrong but still guessing somebody may get 180 or more on this strip, in this sunshine. (Proved wrong on this. No team could sustain the onslaught throughout their effort. Pitch *really gripped* as the day progressed and pressure unquestionably played a part).

The reply. Moeen will lead from the front. He almost has a wicket with each if his first four balls, what with miscues and a half-decent l.b. shout. Three from the over but no losses for Outlaws. (Rapids will need those losses rapidly, yes?)

Parnell is in and lively. Hits the swivelling Nash on the back. The batsman has his measure, though, striking four boundaries from the over, including an irresistible, sweetly-timed pull to leg for six. 21 for 0 after 2.

Hales straight-drives Morris classically for a further six. Rapids dare not let these two guys get in: 29 for 0 after 3.

Another change as Brown comes in, running towards us. Over the wicket, very straight initially. Remember him having a great day here, last year. Just the four from the over.

Hales drives Morris uppishly but beautifully through extra-cover for four. Quality. Moeen has a few quiet words with his bowler but Hales simply readjusts his feet and places t’other side of cover for a further boundary – ominously. 44 for 0 as Barnard joins us.

Moeen, at mid-off as per, makes the most obvious fielding error so far, allowing Hales to take four more.

The wicket the Rapids now urgently need, comes, as Nash is caught sweeping off Barnard. With Hales already on 27 off 19, there is a sense Rapids will need to make further inroads. Duckett – no slouch – joins Hales, as Moeen returns from the Pavilion End.

Review for a stumping, as Hales appears to come forward to Ali. Foot never raised behind, so the batsman stays. 55 for 1 after 7.

In comes Mitchell, with his slammy seam-spin. Six from the over. Followed by Barnard, whom Duckett cheekily lifts over the keeper, for four. Keeper is up, to Hales, despite the bowler’s pace.

Somehow Hales levers out what feels like an excellent, straight yorker for six. (Bowling can really be tough, in this format, eh. As if to emphasise the point, Duckett switches hands to ludicrously hoik-reverse D’Oliveira for four, in the next over).

At 83 for 1, Outlaws look well-set at the halfway mark – Rapids were 76 for 3. Runrate is a very do-able six-point-something. Hope the energy in the stadium doesn’t drain too much should Moeen and co depart early.

(Talking of energy, the bloke sat three foot two to my left appears to be *actually asleep*. Recognise him… but also not sure who he is… and may not split on him even if I did!)

Duckett nearly contrives to get himself run out: Moeen, who is bowling again, may need Outlaws to gift him something – and then some.

Hales again places the ball skilfully wide of extra, off Brown: Four. Then cuts to reach an untroubled 50. The guy is good; for all the issues around him, it seems entirely likely that a return to England white-ball cricket is on the cards at some stage. 99 for 1 after 13.

Moeen, who has bowled 3 overs for 9 runs thus far, will bowl his last towards us in the Media Centre. Hales swings, edges and is caught by the juggling keeper.

The Rapid’s captain will finish with 1 for 13: great effort but Parnell, following, may have to nail another victim, you suspect. Christian, who has bags of experience, and Duckett should see Outlaws home. (Hah. *Fatal*).

It’s quietish but calmish, out there. As if Outlaws are playing within themselves, or in the expectation of a victory. Non-explosive, then.

Comedy moment as Duckett shapes to lift behind himself and Cox behind the sticks reads it, throws up both mitts and almost palms an unlikely catch.

Soon after the same batsman will ease Barnard rather contemptuously behind square for four. Cute – great hands. Outlaws will need 26 from the last 3 overs: hardly a cruise but plenty of guys in reserve and this does look a pitch that you can score quickly on. Parnell will bowl left-arm round from the Birmingham End.

Christian ab-so-lutely crucifies a fullish delivery over square-leg for six. Then bundles a single. Duckett brings out the soft-handed scoop-pat behind to surely make this safe – 13 only required. Then 12, from the remaining 2 overs.

Pat Brown needs a hat-trick: plus. It’s thankless.

With the sun a-blazing, it could be that we shouldn’t be ruling out Divine Intervention (or something) but..

Hah! With Moeen reaching high, high, to claim the catch at mid-on, the Rapids have made a start. Or have they? 9 needed off 9.

Barnard booms high. Wessels catches and literally takes a bow, at long-off. Then (scrambled minds?) Mullaney is run out chasing a two he doesn’t need. In short, Duckett and Patel must find seven runs from the last over. Suddenly, a proper tingle. Parnell to bowl.

Patel is facing and he misses the first. Crowd involved. He slices away the second, for a single, meaning Duckett, on 48, will face. He also misses but they scurry a single off his pads. 5 from 3.

Patel plays a nervy half-pull, aerially but safe and they run two. And a single from the next means TWO REQUIRED FROM THE LAST BALL. How did we get here?!?

Hilariously – and stupidly, in my view – an Outlaw message is sent out but the umpire quite rightly sends the messenger back, much to the crowd’s enjoyment. Endless wait before the last ball… which Parnell pulls out of, mischievously.

Another nerve-jangler of a wait before DUCKETT MISSES THE LAST BALL! Ridiculously, the Rapids have won it, by one run. Magic and tragic. Spectacular and ludicrous. I repeat, Moeen’s Rapids have bloody won it!

 

Falcons v Eagles.

Distracted somewhat by the Peter Moores press conference… which I’d like to watch through, but then abscond from. Moores sincere, open and sincerely angry – no surprise, given what he’s just seen from his players.

Eagles to bat, then, with Delport and Westley to open. The former top-edges Van Beek in the second over but the ball finds safety in the covers. 14 for 0 off 2.

Rampaul looks strong: he slaps in a bouncer which Delport hooks, with control but little violence. Westley pulls for four. The Eagles openers are racing singles.

Hudson, from the city end, goes for 14, as Eagles move to 37 for no loss at the end of the 4th. Van Beek, following and going short of a length, initially, is a little tidier. 45 for 0 after 5.

Delport has 31 off 18: he rather flukes another four, edging Hudson behind. We have major fun, in the Hollies, centred on more Beach Ball Action. 56 for 0 as the power-play closes.

Hughes enters, from the Pavilion End. Westley almost lifts directly to long-on. Huge, sustained cry of “we want our ball back” from my right. Daft error from Du Plooy, at extra, almost gifts Eagles a boundary. It’s rowdy, already.

(The Hollies, on Finals Day, is different-level daft. ‘Mexicans’ to well, everything and everyone. Hilarious – in a loud, loud kindofaway).

Delport has 50 off 28. Then Eagles have 78 off 8. Falcons need something.

They have it. Delport departs, caught booming, off Hughes. 55 off 31 a decent contribution. Lawrence joins Westley.

Critchley’s up-and-over leg-spin is not troubling the batsmen unduly. Eagles reach 91 for 1 by the mid-way point.

Lawrence then Westley both look to slug over Cow Corner. The bowler smartly adjusts, going wide outside off and Lawrence miscues to deepish gully for 3. Enter ten Doeschate.

Reece is bowling left-arm round, from the Birmingham End. Medium-pace. He has the experienced South African leg before, third ball. Feels important. The incoming Bopara may need to re-claim the initiative, here. (Note the match programme describes his role as ‘middle-order accelerator. Fair enough).

100 up with a four steered through cover, off Hughes. Still beautiful and bright, out there. Another sleeper in the Media Centre. What’s up with these guys?!! 😂

Reece has Westley caught sweeping, for a steady 39. 107 for 4, with Wheater joining Bopara. Again, good running from the Eagles, who get two, square – and then the same to mid-wicket.

Critchley has changed ends. We can now see he is getting some spin. Bopara has to be watchful. The bowler is a little unlucky to concede through the keeper.

Satisfyingly, we are 123 for 4 off 15. 180 possible? More from Reece.

Wheater should maybe be run-out by Hughes but bold running again favours the Eagles. More drinks.

Critchley will finish his spell from beneath us. Wheater bunts for one. A real pie – full full-toss – escapes immediate punishment but draws the Free Hit. Wheater can only club to long-off for a single. We are 137 for 4 with 3 overs to come.

Rampaul returns, from the city. Another well-run two. Bopara maybe gets too cute – stepping outside leg then across, to scoop. The miscue goes to hand, leaving the bowler fist-pumping to the crowd. Walter – left-handed – joins Wheater.

Eagles are 145 for 5 with twelve balls remaining. The umpires are having words with Falcon’s skipper, Godleman. Reece will bowl the penultimate, from the Pavilion End.

Wheater survives a close-ish potential stumping but no dramas. 150 up but again the innings has failed to accelerate. Credit some decent bowling but maintain (despite the evidence!) that a performance-that-builds could find 170-180, here. Rampaul for the last.

Eagles finish on a round 160 for 5, the bowler denying further boundaries with some full deliveries aimed into the heels.

 

The reply.

Reece edges Porter fortuitously for four, first ball. Then drives through mid-wicket for four more. He keeps going – smashing the next over Cow Corner for six. Quite a start.

The next is drilled hard back at the bowler, catching both him and the umpire on the way through for a single. Fifteen, from the over, all from the left-handed Reece. Beard will follow.

Reece lifts him calmly to long-on for four, before being stunningly caught behind, by the diving Wheater. 19 for 1, as Madsen walks in there to join his skipper, who has barely faced.

Porter is in from the city end. Bowls around to the left-handed Godleman but the angle works against the bowler, as one towards leg slides away to the boundary. Godleman then stun-drives the follow-up beautifully for four, through extra-cover. Falcons are 30 for 1 after 3.

The Eagles captain turns his first delivery markedly, bowling his opposite number comprehensively: Harmer is notably pumped. Du Plooy joins Madsen. He is promptly beaten by another goodish off-break but has not left his ground – not out on review. The Hollies are loving The Proclaimers.

Our first look at Nijjar, from the Birmingham End. Madsen likes what he sees, going immediately four, six. *Things move on* – as they do, in this format. A sweep for four then a miss and Madsen is gone, for 17. Hughes will come in at 48 for 3. Game broiling early.

Bopara. 50-up during the over. Firm cut for four, from Hughes – touch aerial but safe. 59 for 3 as the power-play concludes.

Absolute peach, from Harmer, sees off Du Plooy. Flighted and turned – just beautiful. Wow. Next ball does for Dal. The Eagles skipper is on a hat-trick… but no.

Great over, nevertheless, leaving Falcons struggling on 67 for 5. Still plenty of overs remain – twelve – but do Derby have the batting?

Bopara, from the Birmingham End. Critchley and Hughes the batsmen. Quiet over.

Harmer’s figures flash up as he starts his third over; 3 for 6. Another decent over and Falcons are 78 for 5 after 10. (Eagles were 91 for 1). We’ve seen already that complacency is ill-advised but when Nijjar bowls Critchley the Eagles are emphatically on top.

Smit joins Hughes, who has 22 from 19 at this point. The Hollies also like Human League, apparently. Enter Lawrence, from the Pavilion End. Can barely remember a boundary.

An idiosyncratic action, for sure, has Lawrence, but again he applies the squeeze. Falcons 85 for 6, after 12.

Nijjar will bowl his last from the city. He deceives Hughes and Wheater does the rest; stumped, for 23. This is in danger of being that most unfortunate of things, the tame exit, for Derbyshire Falcons.

Hudson-Prentice is in but Lawrence bowls him, with another fine off-break: clearly the ball is gripping. 91 for 8. Extravagant turn evident: wondering if that may be key, or whether cooler, dewier(?) conditions might mitigate against, later?

Bopara is back, under no pressure. He races to collect and throws down the stumps but Van Beek is home.

Essex concede their first boundary in an age as Smit brings up the 100 with a sweep behind square. Then the same batsman launches a straight six – again off Lawrence. *Something special* needed but very recent history arms us all against excluding anything-&-everything, yes? Delport will bowl the 17th, with 51 required.

A scratchy four leaves us at 43 needed from 18 balls. Again Harmer draws the wicket, Smit reversing to point. Rampaul and Van Beek must then, find something pret-ty extraordinary.

The former at least launches one – six over midwicket. Harmer comes back with a delicious, looping number that gets right into the blockhole. The run-rate is 20-odd so Delport has merely to keep it on the strip, you would think.

Cue the wide.

Rampaul lofts one out to the in-rushing long-off and the catch is taken. Essex Eagles reach the final, 34 runs the winning margin. A much-needed break, for all of us.

Brief reflections. The hospitality for us mediapeeps is outstanding here and should be placed on the record. (Thank you, you Edgbastonians).

Hearing whispers from players that batting did become more challenging as the pitch dried and the ball turned. Certainly Harmer and Lawrence enjoyed themselves: will be fascinating to see how things develop, as we lose the light and gain some autumnal dew.

Regarding the schedule, three games is again going to feel like a lot… but this is arguably about a particular kind of stamina, as well as bursts of instinctive or tactical brilliance. So utterly meaningless to draw comparisons of any sort with the #KSL equivalent. I’ve enjoyed both.

 

The Final Countdown…

Both captains have had a good day, so far but which will make *that call?* And given that conditions are going to go from balmy Arabia to Autumnal Brummie Dewfest what will they opt for? Toughish call but guessing folks will insert the opposition.

Harmer wins and chooses to bowl. Good luck to both. Deep breath and we go again, soonish.

Predictions-wise, am loathe to do it. Harmer presumably thinks that Lawrence and himself can get some meaningful turn – available before the dark descends but less so afterwards(?) – and this may be important. Particularly so if combined with the ball sliding on helpfully for his batters, later. But this is a tad unknowable. Whatever, the teams are out!

The Rapids again send out Rutherford and Wessels. The former will face Lawrence. Big spin, for the bowler but he’s wide – too wide. He draws an edge – it runs away through vacant slip.

Then the breakthrough. Big off-break simply too good, for Rutherford. 5 for 1 and Moeen is in, to huge applause. A mistimed sweep draws half an appeal but the ball is adjudged to have pitched down the leg-side. It’s already clear that batting may not be easy: Moeen is beaten more than once and pushes aerially twice, without consequence.

Cook, coming in from the Birmingham End, is cut away by Wessels, for four. There is some lateral movement for Cook’s medium-pacers, too, but when he drops short Moeen swishes him to midwicket: four. Great hands from the Rapid’s captain as he eases away through point for four more.

Batting will be a challenge but men in blue have found 23 for that one down, in the first two overs. Beard runs in as the dusk begins to come.

The National Anthem. Weirdly.

Little sloppy, from the bowler – a further wide. No boundaries in the over, mind. It’s raining in Pembrokeshire, apparently.

Cook is in again and going fullish, straightish, to Ali. Moeen gets hold of the shorter one; six over mid-wicket. Delport saves four with a particularly sharp stop at point. 36 for 1 after 4.

Lawrence is back from the Pavilion End. Moeen again lifts, somewhat, towards point: safe. Wessels misses out on a full-toss. Guessing 90% of the crowd are still with us. Good stuff, there, from the Eagles offie – only two from the over.

Bopara will come round to Moeen from the city end. The batsman is watchful then electrifying, heaving for six over mid-wicket. Nine from the over: power-play done, Rapids at 47 for 1.

Harmer, who bowled so expertly earlier, is in from underneath us. There is turn again. Wessels collars him, however, for six. We’re really seeing the lights, now – the floodlights, I mean.

Bopara continues. Once more Moeen connects with a shorter one, but deep mid-wicket can comfortably gather in. We are at 60 for 1 after 8.

Harmer also continues. Some mediocre throwing coming in, from the Eagles. Big Moment as Moeen is defeated by the spin and only succeeds in dinking rather feebly back to the bowler. Harmer must dive but it’s straightforward enough. In comes Cox.

Ugghh. The newcomer looks to sweep a full-toss and is l.b.w. Meaning Harmer is on his second potential hat-trick of the day. He will come around, to Parnell.

Impassioned shout, as the batsman is beaten and ball strikes pad. Not out. But 62 for 3 after 9 feels different. Harmer’s decision at the toss gonna be key, we reckon? Early. Nijjar from the Birmingham End.

Parnell slaps him straight for six, before getting a faint tickle behind for four. That mysterious purple-dark is around us as we reach half-way. 75 for 3.

Harmer persists and beats Parnell. Then errs to leg, drawing wide-plus-runs, as it were. It seems the bowler can get away with being slightly short, such is the degree of turn available. Another killer ball beats the outside edge and we await the review.

Parnell is not out.

Lawrence. Again a slight sense that the out-fielding is just a touch out of sorts. Partnership beginning to form, here – Wessels has 24 and Parnell 19 as we finish the 12th. 89 for 3, the Rapids.

Predictably, Harmer will bowl out. He has a further strong appeal – denied. The Eagles skipper is celebrating soon enough: arm ball scuttles through Parnell. 3 for 16 the bowler’s figures.

Mitchell engineers a boundary through third man, off Nijjar – fine shot. Eagles on top, marginally, however.

Bopara from the Pavilion End. 100 up as Mitchell guides behind point. Ones being taken. Poor ball is dispatched calmly behind square for four. 107 for 4 after 15. Meaning what? 150? That should make a game of it, methinks.

Harmer can’t quite get to one at the boundary edge but the wicket comes anyway. Wessels run out – just – by a fine throw, for a solid-enough 31. Whitely joins Mitchell. 113 for 5 after 16.

Lawrence returns for the 17th. We are dark, now. He goes wide across Mitchell: firstly the batsman misses. Then four, then caught behind point. Importantly, Eagles now have two new batters to bowl at, at a crucial time. Delport will bowl the 18th – his first.

An awful short one is deservedly carted to leg. Six. But Whiteley can only hoist to long-on. Seven down. Barnard has joined D’Oliveira. 130 for 7 with two overs to come.

Nijjar has switched ends for the penultimate over. The batsmen race two. No dramas – goodish, from the bowler. Bopara will follow.

D’Oliveira can’t time it. Barnard scoops weirdly behind, straight to Harmer. Enter Brown.

Bopara bowls a loose one which defeats everything – Wheater included. Four. Then D’Oliveira heaves to forty-five (for four) before holing out to deep mid-wicket, last ball. 145 for 9 the total.

The final knock – Westley and Delport march out. Moeen will lead again, for the Rapids. Not expecting as much spin as Harmer and Lawrence but Mo should ask the proverbial questions, yes?

Sure enough Delport mistimes one and Ali concedes just the single. Game on. Morris will follow from the Birmingham End.

Cute slower ball befuddles the batsman, Westley. But the next is smoothed through mid- on for the first boundary of the innings. Lots of consulting with his skipper, from Morris – Moeen remains close by, at mid-off. He comes around and goes quick, at Delport. 8 for 0 after 2.

More pace as Parnell joins from beneath us. The left/right batting combo means lots of movement in the field. A loose full-toss draws the error; Delport picking out the fielder – Clarke – at long-on. 9 for 1.

Wheater is in. Another loose one from the bowler – half-volley on leg – is timed nicely, running away for four through mid-wicket. 16 for 1 after 2.

Brown will bowl the third. Medium-strength appeal for l.b. – denied. A shade to leg, in all likelihood. Swingannamiss from Wheater draws a gasp or three – was *adjacent*.

We are 20 for 1 after 4. (Rapids were 36 for 1 at the same stage). Westley clubs Morris out to deep midwicket for two, then drives with some style through extra. The first Mexican Wave fails, in the Hollies.

Barnard rushes in, from the Birmingham End. Three come short of a length before a fuller one finds the top edge. The bowler is unlucky to concede four, aerially,  through gully. 36 for 1 at the end of the power-play.

D’Oliveira will bring leg-spin from the Pavilion End. Goodish – limited damage – six from the over.

Now Mitchell. Slow-medium. Vulnerable? Lols – bowls Wheater with an off-break! Lawrence in at four, for Eagles.

D’Oliveira continues. Fifty up in the over, which is again looking tidy enough. Lawrence needs to counter and he does, with a classic, lofted off-drive for six. 59 for 2 as we enter the 10th, with Mitchell.

Rapids reached 75 for 3 at halfway; Eagles are 12 down on that figure – hardly terminal – with a wicket in hand. Could get tense: let’s hope?

Parnell, returning, draws a slightly miscued pull and a wicket. Good hands (just) from the inrushing Brown. Lawrence is joined by ten Doeschate.

Moeen is in from the Birmingham End. Lowish, flattish and claiming the wicket: ten Doeschate drilling straight to mid-on. 76 for 4, now, Eagles. The fella Bopara – incoming – may need to do something.

Brown from under my nose. Easing it through. Moeen talking to him before every ball. Nine p.m. Ground still 90% full.

Moeen once more, city lights behind him. Lawrence hoists ver-ry high, towards Wessels. With the boundary *in attendance* the catch is claimed. 82 for 5. Walter joins Bopara.

Moeen maintains the squeeze. He has 2 for 13 from 3. Eagles need 60 from 36 balls. Do-able but testing.

Barnard fires in an excellent yorker. And another. A length ball then beats the left-handed Walter. Bopara must break out.

Barnard over-pitches but Bopara is lucky to edge though first slip, for four. However the stroke that follows is a classic cover drive. Four more. 97 for 5, off 15.

Moeen again. Beats Walter but there is no stumping. 100 up at the mid-point of the over. Bopara digs deep to lever one out over long-off. Six. 39 needed, from 24 balls.

Brown from the Pavilion End. Dot ball. Precious. Bopara again responds, middling hard and flat over mid-wicket. Six more. Proper Finish brewing. Scoreboard tells the watching universe that Eagles are only a run behind at this moment.

Walter can’t time it but scuttles for one. Bopara has one meaning he keeps the strike. 116 for 5 after 17.

Parnell has changed ends but bowls one down leg for a wide. ‘Sweet Caroline’. Bloody daft but also somehow poignant.

Really quick one whistles past Walter’s off-stump. Another one finds the pad – maybe off an inside edge? Bopara takes a two at the end of the over when one might have been better. 23 to win it, from 12.

Brown again. Single, to Walter. My hunch? That Bopara will get Eagles there. He smashes one towards deep mid-wicket but the fielder’s hands are sure. Just the one.

Now Walter contributes, clubbing down the ground for four. But Brown does him, next ball. Biggish inside edge, to be fair but the ball strikes those stumps, sure enough. 129 for 6. 17 needed from 8.

Make that 13 from 7. Skipper Harmer has immediately clonked one downtown for four. The Eagles man also connects with the follow-up but can only find the fielder at long-off. Meaning he will face Parnell, with his side needing 12 from the over. A single gives Bopara the strike.

Parnell slaps one in short of a length and it works. Bopara gets just the one. 8 from 3 becomes 6 from 2. Harmer facing. He clubs downtown for four!

EAGLES NEED TWO FROM THE LAST BALL!!

Parnell is doubled-over with exhaustion, or tension, or something. Doesn’t augur well, to be honest.

With the field up, Harmer gets enough of it to win this thing! The ball rolling tantalisingly behind point for four.

Eagles have won, dramatically – their first Blast trophy. Somebody may need to buy their skipper a bevvy. The day, the event, the drama has been stonking again. Well done to everybody. Oh to be an Eagle tonight!

 

May reflect further. May also collapse. Certainly going outside to take a picture or two, before retreating to my room coupla miles down the road. Thank you for your company.  A RT  would be lovely.  👊🏻

 

Simmer Down.

Same squad. Did you groan or nod knowingly? You in the  Loyalty Camp or the Give the Arrogant Buggers a Short Sharp Shock Department?

As with (dare I say it?) a particular current political issue, voices are being raised – rather more than perspicacious argument. Things are polarised: why would this be, I wonder?

a) Because we care about England Cricket – Test Cricket. How it’s curated and organised, even.

b) We (to quote a bloggist of some occasional repute) All Know Better than the England Coach.

And of course c) because we’re all on twitter.

So, some arguments, 👇🏻 I hope.

England have lost the Ashes, or at least the Aussies have retained them, convincingly, being unarguably the better side. In today’s real world, this means that an inquest is inevitable.

(This is not the same as to say that said inquest wouldn’t have happened in times past: it just wouldn’t have happened at the same transparently foamtastic pitch).

I mention this because it may be instructive to all of us to reflect on how much bawling, actually, is appropriate and necessary and proportionate, here. And because I am preparing to battle against my own, broiling prejudices, right now.

England – manifestly pret-ty ordinary at test cricket England, yes? – have been beaten. Live with it, or view it with interested non-volcanism before discussing amongst peers? How’s that for a thought?

Except no. England – m.p.o.a.t.c. England – have been beaten at home, by a relatively average Australia, despite literally changing the ball to make sure things went their way. Plus *that sense* that our lot might be (whisper it) prima donnas, the ab-so-lute jessies!  None of the idle, cosseted bass-teds can be bothered ta learn the forward-bloody-defensive!

This is how it starts, yes? I mean IS YOUR MOMENTUM BUILDING BECAUSE MINE SURE AS HELL IS!!

Ahem. Look it was the Ashes. Australia were unspectacular – other than a couple of guys – and we, England, had just, in orgasmically scream-your-head-off hysteria, only gone and WON THE BLOODY WORLD CUP!! And yet!

Okay. No more capitals, I promise. Let’s try to find an argument or twelve. Let’s start with the Anderson Thing – the ball.

If opting to play at Edgbaston first was Phase 1 of the Grand Ashes Plan then Phase 2 was when England reverted to what they hoped would be Anderson-friendly Dukes’ balls, of a certain vintage – plainly to try and gain a wee advantage over our visiting cousins.

Naturally, other seamers might well have also benefitted from these air-dancing beauties but in James Anderson England will have believed they had the greatest exponent of swing bowling of these particular pills, in the history of the universe.

They will have banked on him being raw unplayable at Edgbaston – to kickstart the Ashes campaign – and probably also at Headingley and Old Trafford. And this would sort Ausbloodystralia, Smith included. And then there was suddenly no Jimmy.

(There is a counter-thread, as always, here. Folks always seek advantages and yup, all of us are tribal. Early doors, for example, Australia rather cutely inserted several key players into our County Championship: handy-enough dress-rehearsal time, perfectly legit. Should we be counting, might that acclimatisation make it one-all, would you say?  Certainly qualifies as a Cunning Plan. But hey, the games beyond the games are endless – maybe that’s another post?)

But back to the England Squad, selected today, for the final test, at the Oval. Same squad, a zillion possible meanings.

Does it mean that Bayliss and Root and Ed Smith (and Graham Thorpe if he’s still in position) are bonkers-in-love or thrall with Rooooot (as captain) and Bairstow and Buttler as Established Players? Maybe.

Does it mean that Foakes and Curran and the likes of Sibley and Pope are being cruelly under-considered? Maybe. Or there may be perfectly mature and viable discussions going on. Or rank delusion and selfishness and feeble eschewal of responsibility? All this is possible; as is the notion that Smith might be a kind of occasionally-inspired but controlling fascist-in-shades.

Where then, to start? With Root. Batting less convincing, captaincy mixed: that the consensus? So – in the absence of obvious candidates, maybe? – he stays as skipper, shortish-term and gets shifted back to batting at four. But he is, or continues to be – for want of a better phrase – on trial, in respect of his captaincy. This means other stuff.

(Let’s stick with the hypothetical line-up rather than the culture. And kindof ignore or subsume the horses-for-courses considerations around the next fixtures that might colour decision-making and selection).

Bairstow and possibly Buttler get dropped, with the expectation that they will, in time, having shown excellence in County Championship, be ‘restored’. If they don’t show the technique and the hunger for the longer format, then hey, maybe they are White Ball Players – job done. Foakes, widely regarded as the best ‘keeper on the planet and, having already shown what I am crassly going to call test mentality, gets in.

As, quite possibly does Curran, who despite his lack of killer pace has shown more born-to-it, test-winning mentality than almost anybody for a decade, in the short time he’s been on the scene. Curran, with his starry, gutsy, implacable brilliance only stays out of an absolute worldie of a team; a team waaaay better than this England; or a team playing a test in which you absolutely know he won’t bowl.

Weirdly – or not- this mini-clear-out, as well as sending important messages around complacency and competition, also repositions the coaching philosophy towards recognition for those who seem to get test cricket – those who have temperament. Meaning Leach and Overton earn the right to regular inclusion, or regular, meaningful consideration.

I could write thousands of words about Roy – & probably should. Just not now: he goes.

The Roy issue is inseparable from philosophical stuff – batting culture. (Did I say that Thorpe goes? Or is it enough that Ed Smith and possibly the wee man deliver a rocket? This is competitive sport, after all. Obvious failings get addressed). Some may say none of this – his failures – have been Roy’s fault and weirdly there may be some traction in that. However, did the fella not look flukily out of his depth for much of the match against Ireland?

As outsiders, we cannot know what’s been said by Smith, Bayliss, Thorpe, Root, when the “how do we approach this(?)” discussions have taken place, so maybe this culling of key staff is premature. Many would argue that this fuzziness around batting policy has been central to England’s problems… but it’s hard to imagine the actual conversations.

Could be Bayliss has been so-o falling over himself to be Of the Age that he really has been quietly inviting Roy, Bairstow and Buttler to go out there and express themselves. *Barfs into bin*. Could be that Thorpe (he is still in post, yes? Happy to be corrected on this) has been spending lots of time on technical stuff but is essentially saying the same thing.

If these guys actually believe that simplistic, macho nonsense then neither of them has any place being anywhere near an international test side. (Okay, I don’t actually mean that but you know what I mean?)

Thorpe, a fine player and no doubt a fabulous, committed bloke, is on drugs if he thinks that talent and intent make application and temperament redundant, in high-order test batting. (Incidentally I don’t think he does view things that way  but his problem is the players have wafted us in that direction. Problematically).

I am familiar with the idea that coaches now look to offer support to players who themselves take ownership of their   activity. Coaches now barely instruct, barely demonstrate: all this I understand and applaud. However, *if* there is patently a problem both in approach and execution – as there was, in the Ashes, with most of the England batting – then surely it is the job of the coach to facilitate remedies.

This might mean more, focussed, technical work or it might mean an instruction, an expectation, a bollocking. It seems unlikely, given the persistent errors and repetition of brain-fades, that strong enough words or good enough questions were forthcoming. Bayliss is off but Thorpe goes too.

If Roy was selected entirely on the basis that he should ‘believe in his talent and go after the bowling’ (and was told that), this was foolish, arguably arrogant but nevertheless a legitimate approach. It just proved – predictably – non-viable. If he was, as he latterly appeared, unsure of what his role was then this again reflects badly on the coaches, as well as himself. If at no stage did somebody say to the entire batting group ”right. Stay in there! Everybody’s job is just to stay in there”, then well, I give up.

Test Cricket is wonderfully complex. But the central requirement, in certain phases of certain games, to hold, to stall, to ‘survive’ and then re-gather is hardly a difficult one to grasp. Clearly there was some excellent Aussie bowling but I barely know any England (and Wales) supporter who wasn’t a tad embarrassed by the un-smartness of England’s approach. Fans and former players felt that England – that the ECB – have gotten caught out, for disrespecting the test format.

So we will judge according to how mad we got. How infuriated by Roy’s wildness, or Bairstow’s technical-tactical myopia, or Buttler’s gifted non-stickability. And whilst we might grudgingly accept that in life it’s good to get or to offer a second chance, most of us will be raising our eyebrows at a squad unchanged.