A Different Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gone quiet. Five to eleven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking of tiredness, off to get a little air…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Early Season’.

Extraordinary times. Driving through an apocalyptic hailstorm in LLandewi Velfrey en route to (you guessed it) some cricket coaching stuff in Carmarthen. Cursing the mysterious disappearance of my Cricket Wales bobble hat just when I needed it most: fellow coach Rhys wearing headgear that could only have been stolen from an un-horsed Cossack. Under 12 boys activated, entertained and warmed, over two goolie-shrinking hours.

Or over to Ynystawe, where the Girls’ Pathway coaches still haven’t thawed out from the previous four days of Siberian action. Misdirected by the reassuring local, out front of his house, wheelbarrowing purposefully but plainly confusing clubs. No dramas; soon find myself encouraging and offering throwdowns – because surely we’re all cold? – without wanting to disturb the quiet vibe. Needing now somehow to suppress my own energetic thrum but still remain temperate. And then forty overs umpiring. ‘Early Season’.

I love this early season. The madness, the toeness, the fingersness; the ecstatic, yellow, wintry lightness. Spectacular. Ridiculous. Impossible and re-connecting. Re-grooving. The Return of The Evening. The return of playing and missing and of wild but innocent leg-side wides: dozens of them. Junior flocks – like dumb, frozen seagulls, gathered in the ring. (Hey. Are their feet *actually frozen?*)

On the Bigger Stage it snowed, too. Yorkshire. Glam punching but then snuffed out, more in fact by that wintry quilt than by Big Bro’ Root. The forecast – chez Roots and countrywide – sunny but cold. Soon enough back to Sophia Gardens ‘gainst the Southern Softies from Hove… and what do we have? It’s sunny but cold. The pitch is a road and all is well. Glam 30-odd for 3. Then recover. Then as the shadows lengthen…

Defiant defeat?

Wow. Extraordinary. Incredible stadium, remarkable occasion, fraught and bristling with tension and the day/night excitement that still feels thrillingly new. Cricket of a blindingly compelling kind – certainly early-doors. Something about the change of format has made the drama necessarily keen, colorific, sharp. This is not to say of course that the future is orange but much of the tanginess here seems conducive to great sport: floodlights often being central – or at least atmospherically ‘supportive’.

England win the toss and inevitably choose to bat. Wags on twitter are soon suggesting this was in the expectation of killer spells from Jimmy and Broady come the evening. (Yes, this evening).

Only Crawley seemed to have a plan to thwart that admittedly perverse subterfuge. He batted like a god. It was the sort of performance that you suspect will ink him in the starting line-up for a decade. The strikingly tall youngster – well, 23? – struck the ball around the ground with ludicrous ease on a pitch that was soon to get far, far into the heads of his comrades. His innings may yet prove to have been a dream brought on by 4am starts and Covid Protocols and weird, distracting (and surely similarly untrue?) allegations around PPE contracts and Brexit traumas: certainly it was different level, if not unbelievable.

The quality of stroke-making was soft-pink purrfect; beyond purple. Having faced the first ball after returning from self-inflicted injury, Crawley steered the ball around, middling a series of drives and pushes. Neither Ishant nor Bumrah troubled him at all: he was effective and watchful against Patel and Ashwin, only being beaten by the rarish unplayable delivery – mainly from the left-armer – who found spite and alarming deviation in the dusty surface. Zak Crawley made 53 before being lbw to Patel. Everything about it – context, particularly – smacked of real quality.

Shortly before the Root dismissal (which preceded Crawley’s), I had texted my son to say that England may need a 200 from Crawley and ‘even on this surface, I’m not ruling it out’. Optimistic, for sure but did give the sense of something rather special happening. Elsewhere, earlier, both Sibley and Bairstow had made errors to goodish but not remarkable deliveries and then Root misjudged Ashwin. That pattern continued.

England the team, became frazzled, as a unit. True it was a challenging strip again and true the opposition are both probably a better line-up and certainly better equipped for this wicket but hey – this is Test Cricket. Everywhere you go the conditions are set up to exploit home advantage and/or visitor vulnerability. That’s Test Cricket. In this case India again bowled ver-ry skilfully on a dry pitch. And England fell into frazzlement.

Pope seemed lost amongst a surfeit of theories (or something), though this is not to single him out. England, the team could not seem to find either a ‘way of playing’ – I get that sometimes you can’t – or that precious gift of separating the moments so that each ball can be played on its merits.

From 73 for 2, with Root and Crawley beginning to emerge, England capitulated to 112 all out. Arguably nobody got out to an absolute jaffa; it was more of a series of misjudgments from guys who were either outright bewildered by the variety and intensity of the spin-bowling, or who could not break the hold the pitch itself had, as chief protagonist, over proceedings.

Let’s repeat: India are a strong side and this is their patch. So this was tough. But was it an underachievement, from England? Surely. I went from thinking that this was a 200 pitch (when Root got out) to wondering if India, had they batted first up, might have got 350. Pointless but true. And the thought that the home side may have a stronger advantage in the batting than in their bowling also landed – possibly weirdly, given the early rout.

So what could England have done? Gambled less, selection-wise? (Bairstow at 3, in Test Cricket, is a gamble, as was not opting for Woakes or Bess, to shore up the batting). In fact, there is an argument that opening with Crawley was a gamble, given his recent absence. Lots of eggs appeared to be being lobbed into the Jimmy/Broady/Archer basket. In terms of strategy and/or technically, that failure to separate events – and therefore let the onrushing collapse in – felt important. What we might call negative momentum or infectious failure set in, somewhat. Sometimes it takes bullish individuals or very clear-sighted individuals to burst through that. England found none, today.

Positivity gets so heavily conflated with dumb machismo that I rarely see it as a way forward. But if positivity meant advancing down the pitch to squish the turn and break up the bowler’s dominance then maybe. Throw in some movement deep, deep into the crease to play late and square and who knows? Maybe you find a way.

Every route has its risks and it’s up to the player to manage them with intelligence and skill. Crawley’s sublime ball-striking suggested it was not unthinkable to choose your moment to break out with confidence. England needed to find a way not just to score but to accept the challenge before them – even if that meant only defiant defeat. What happened felt disappointingly more like a kind of compliance.

Here’s what we should have done…

Hmm. If I cruise through my diary for the year soon to be known as Two Thousand and *insert expletive* Twenty, what will it tell me? Given my creeping facility to fail to remember, will it direct and prompt towards some kind of legitimate reflection? Or will I need wikibloodypedia to cross-check why everything stopped at a particular date?

Tell you what. Let’s have an ungentlemanly agreement that particular dates didn’t matter: that the unkempt ‘schedule’ of events – so redolent, don’t you think, of a certain foppish barnet? – is only to be referred to where it suits our – or my – pleasure. Because blanks may be good, and factoids slippery.

JAN: Normally a quiet month, in any case. Do sometimes support the very wonderful Lady Taverners, by hosting or umpiring and chirpily chivvying along some Secondary School Girls’ Cricket Action. Great, when it happens, that lovely mixture of spookily competitive teens who ‘play’ – their word – and their more or less committed peers.

In recent years I’ve typically volunteered myself to be the Guy Who Goes Outside (On The Tennis Courts). This is madness, in January, but the gals love it and we just can’t accommodate all those who want to play inside what we call The Dome – the inflatable sports hall-thing at the local high school.

This year, my diary tells me, I had a hernia op on Jan 13th, so I missed out in any case. (The op I actually rather enjoyed – weird, I know – because it went well and – weirder still – I wanted to savour that whole drift into unconsciousness, post receiving the knockout gas. I remember trying to count into and be aware of those seconds before disappearing into slumberville. Was it going to be disorienting and bumpy, or smooth? Could I hold off the anaesthetic and dance round some faerie landscape? Would I turn out to be Ben Stokes… and is everything else a travesty?)

Turns out I remember nothing of the actual moment of disappearing. Ho-hum. Enjoyed the bantz with the staff beforehand – and grateful to them for their professionalism and good humour. Within a very few weeks they would be gearing up to grit out dark times: I was incredibly fortunate to get that operation before Normal Service was lost to all of us.

FEB: 18th and I go to The Sloop, the seaside hostelry in North Pembs that somehow ticks the strikingly efficient pub-grub tourist-eatery box and the locals’ local. Both sleepy and rammed with local sportsmen, fishermen, occasional rock/film stars, The Sloop manages to host a Welsh-speakers corner and all you buggers from Guildford.

Anyway, I was there for the AGM of the Mighty Cows – Llanrhian CC. Again felt like a privilege to be able to piggyback (via my volunteering and Proper Cricket Wales Work) the outstanding, generous work of the Cow Stalwarts. My contribution here was to try to politely bully the club into getting folks on the upcoming Foundation One Coaching courses: like most clubs in the universe, they need to train up more players or members to bring on the next generation. Think my intervention may have spurred some profitable action on this, but Covid has certainly blurred the timeline.

Diary also notes ‘Chance to Shine blog’, for 21st. Just had a look. Think this is an error… the post is about India v Aus women, opener for the T2O World Cup. Can’t trust anyone or anything, eh?

Then WOW. Tuesday 25th Feb and I’m into Lamphey Community Primary. A delightful dinky-wee school in a small village in South Pembs. The Head is a personal friend and a spectacular advocate for sport. Their hall is a tiddler but we start what proves to be a series of animated weekly sessions in there – the weather not playing ball.

I’m with Years 2/3/4. We conjure up (between us) some proper energy and enthusiasm, despite the folded dining tables and encroaching benches. No scope even for tennis ball-based games; no matter – the spongeball shuttles, swerves and shuffles are smiley enough. Am ultimately proud of the feisty level of activity we achieve: from memory only on a couple of days could we break out into the yard. Given the daft time of year and all, this was an energising start to the 2020’s school delivery.

Two days later and I’m into Caer Elen, the Welsh language primary in Haverfordwest. My children went to the school’s predecessor – Glan Cleddau – where I somehow became a Parent Governor, so I have a particular connection. I know and rate plenty of the teachers; my son grew up surfing with the secretary’s. Such is life in small communities, eh? I give it plenty and the weeks are fabulous and productive… until.

MARCH: There is now a spectre looming. The memo’s suggest I am calling schools (or still contemplating that) to try to set up sessions. 4th March I start up in Pembroke Dock Community School. I have gushed elsewhere about this establishment so will encapsulate: should get the Chance To Shine ‘School of the Year’ every year. I get three weekly visits in before the broiling beast does for us. Thurs 19th March the diary barks out CANCELLED CORONAVIRUS over the theoretical week four, at Caer Elen.

APRIL: Who knows? Should be on a charge towards All Stars, club activity with sun on our grateful backs. But nope. Extraordinary to flick through the days and weeks and see those schools, sessions, commitments that could not be fulfilled. Not even sure if I can unravel the written word: did we really lose the whole bloody lot? Cilgerran, Croesgoch, Fenton, Prendergast, Sageston – all skittled? And all the ‘Progress Sessions’ – i.e. pre-All Stars club support missions – emphatically yorked? Christonnnabike!

MAY: Diary entry feels especially poignant: ‘Under Nines Festival @ Haverfordwest’. Should’ve been a gateway for tinyish peeps; their critical first experience of matches. (In truth, although these are organised games between groups, the vibe is beautifully unthreatening. P.A.R.T.I.C.I.P.A.T.I.O.N. is absolutely key and these are generally tremendously positive, well-judged occasions. Gutting to lose them: there are none, throughout the summer).

I *should be* hosting inspiring assemblies and burning through blisteringly entertaining Road Shows: can’t. No Waldo Williams, no Narberth. I justify my (part-furloughed) existence with social media stuff and joining Whatsapp groups or Zoom calls to demystify ‘updates.’ The whole process of accurately informing our Cricket Wales Community Where We’re At begins. Half-term comes and goes – doesn’t matter.

JUNE: More voids where schools and festivals should be. There must surely be some recreational cricket(?) – acksherly I’m not sure – there’s nothing in my bible, so who can tell? No sign either of the pro’ cricket I should be planning to traduce via my blogs. Blimey. Think I even have a few days off CW media duties; this really is unheard of.

Brief re-wind because somewhere stuff is happening. March: Aus women have steamrollered India, in a bumper home win, at the T20 World Cup. I wrote about it. April: I interview Andrew Salter . May: I fall into Youtube. June: I really start to confuse the years – both in my diary and in what I may loosely refer to as Real Life. July: Shouldn’t I be planning trips? Why is there nothing? I have some recollection of fiddling around the ECB Media Accreditation page but at what point does the inevitable shrinking-down to A-list bubbles occur?

I know I have no chance of gaining access to international or indeed any other high-profile fixtures, now. I have no illusions about my relative centrality to cricket reportage. I’m a very fortunate hanger-on, tolerated by good folks at the ECB who suddenly need to reduce the media clan attending fixtures. So I’m gone, and no issues. Can’t get live access to Western Storm, either – had targeted that, a little. (Again, no issues – just very much hope to be back when things open out again).

End of AUG: HOW DID WE GET HERE?!? I follow Storm v Vipers livestream and then things funnel back to Zoom calls and more, careful de-ciphering of government/Welsh Government/Sport Wales advice on what’s do-able and how. I must also be booting down the motorway because…

SEPT: Speed Awareness Course, 14th – online. Then GOR BLIMEY: September 15th 2020… and I’M BACK IN!! Pembroke Dock Community School. The first of six, weekly visits. Now spending the whole day at schools, so as to reduce travel and therefore risks to everybody. Have a ver-ry clear memory of my first session back. It was so brilliant and crisp and rallying that I wrote about it: expect to post into Chance to Shine’s Case Studies once Pembs Sport have used it.

Life gets temporarily busy. After that full day of coaching I have a Cricket Wales Comms Zoom. 17th and I’m in Golden Grove, where the unthinkable happens – we get away with five consecutive weeks of activity outside, only dodging apocalyptic hailstorms twice, from memory. Stunningly engaging cricket-based games, both on grass(!) and the playground. Intense, given six sessions in the day, but massively gratifying. Looking back, feels like something rather profound was achieved, and defied.

I’m test-driving some learning and intuitions around offering children space to engineer their own games. This following chatter amongst Chance to Shiners and Create Development gurus. And specifically after a chinwag with another Head, who reminded me that whilst kids are being heavily stifled re physical play, (because Covid, because schools can’t condone traditional grappling) so “Guys ‘n Gals Like Me” become important as stimulators of appropriate activity, owned and developed by the children. In other words, maybe it’s become part of our job (in the Covid era) to prompt schoolchildren towards inventing or extending games themselves. I try to build my sessions towards this aspiration, by asking (them) “how do we make this work?” and “how do we make this fun?”

Sorry if that’s all a bit niche but if it’s true that children are unable or less able to physically act, or interact, there may be important repercussions, over time. And that becomes territory for teachers and maybe particularly for Sports Development Peeps like me.

Sept 27th, had hoped to be reporting live, in my own inimitable fashion, on the Rachel Heyhoe-Flint Trophy Final. Couldn’t. Blogged, watching a stream. 28th some geezer came to sweep the chimney and nearly demolished the house. (OK, exaggerate but wow, it was like a Surrealist Performance Art-fail. Dislodged the cawl, left kit by the fire and smeared the curtains with soot. Only some of this makes the diary).

OCT: After half-term am still in schools, though inevitably it’s feeling like borrowed time. I have spent £23.97 on industrial-strength sanitiser, for the kit I take in. Am sanitising between every group – spraying balls, bats, etc and squirting alcohol-gel on my hands. Feels near bomb-proof.

Remarkabkle times, though: still musing on the level of psychological impact on four-year-old Sara and Dafydd, of their teacher presenting from behind a mask, all day, every day. (Maybe none – but fascinating?) Nevertheless, the work in schools continues to be rewarding and effective in a way I’ll never be able to reflect on the Chance to Shine monitoring system, or anywhere else. I know and the teachers know the children are loving it: good enough?

NOV: Caer Elen cancel the 2nd because we’re narrowly out of a lockdown (I think). But I can return to finish my allotted six full days of delivery. Uniformly excellent: great, engaged children – years 4 and 6 – plus outstanding, informed support from staff. The availability of an immaculate and biggish sports hall unquestionably helped: we ventilated it well, sanitised religiously so sessions were busy, enjoyable, stirring, even. Thursday 19th and St Oswald’s, quite rightly, cancel. Now begins the winter.

DEC: There are more Zooms, with various colleagues. I am drafted back into the Regional Pathway, after a sabbatical couple of years but then the winter nets become a further victim. Remain philosophical about all that was inevitably lost: know that I have given a reasonable account of myself both in schools and in terms of work delivered. Can hope to fulfil my contractual obligations and personal aspiration to enthuse the universe… but a barely credible year.

Some cricket happened but I didn’t see it in the flesh. No friendly hellos with George Dobell or Dan Norcross. No Bristol, Worcester, Cardiff, or Taunton. No Edgbaston. Instead, long quiet walks. Wet beaches. A kind of philosophical re-calibration. Books and writing. Family.

Something else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cool Catchers… plus!

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

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

#howdowemakethiswork?


Feet Up Time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.