The Big Dance.

So Oz fell over: or, o-kaaay, stumbled. At the all-dancing opener to a hugely anticipated T20 World Cup, in front of a crowd of 13,000-plus, the Southern Stars tripped where they had been expected to sashay in style.

India – India whom we knew were a threat, but India the ‘not-that-great in the field’ – beat them, ultimately with some ease, as a truly poor Australian batting performance degenerated into the female equivalent of a Dad Dance. Ugly-ish; un-coordinated; arrhythmic.

Those of us confined to grey, sodden West-Walian climes at least had the prospect of a helpful, brekkie-time watch. (Those of us recovering from an op’ and therefore *not actually in work* had, in fact, the opportunity to enjoy the whole whatever-it-was. And it was… what?)

It was smile-inducing, at about 7.30, Greenwich. Daft and colourful and good-natured, with some young bloke in a near-Hawaiian shirt imploring us to (you guessed it) “get up and da-ance”. I didn’t, but felt suitably buoyant, as I rushed the family porridge and swished through the weekly recycling trauma, with the front door kissing hard in the wind and the bin-men grinding ominously down the road.

Finally set, about the same time as the Indian openers, I eagerly awaited the evocative words “Molly Strano” on a loop from the various comms-peeps; for the craic, the sheer, extravagant 0z-ness of it. Molly Strano. Great name. Huge shame, for the injured Vlaminck, of course but Moll…

The game, the game, though: likely to be proper-competitive but ending with a home win – the Southern Stars being unquestionably the strongest side in the tournament and India being yes, a threat, but also something of a squad on the up, rather than yaknow, complete. India… facing Molly Strano.

Then multiple wowsers. The powerful prodigy that is Verma intercedes early, across our expectations. Strano and then Perry may not be *actually dismissed* but they are a tad stung, as the young opener clouts and cuts in the power-play. Her theoretically senior partner, Mandhana, can quietly prod away as the explosive youth bolts the innings forward: 40 for 0 off 4. Indian support going ballistic; Lanning looking a little concerned, perhaps?

But then, inevitably, Australia do their thing. Mandhana – who never got going – is lbw to Jonassen and Verma is picked up at mid-on, off Perry. The left-arm offie has turned nothing, as usual but her deadly consistency and commendable nous, combined with good length from Perry, has stalled any potential charge. Normal service.

42 for 3 becomes 47 for 3 when that other Indian Superstar, the captain, Harmanpreet Kaur charges wildly at Jonassen, in pursuit of a ‘statement’. It’s a crass error and a crass dismissal, as the ball smooths past the unsightly heave before defeating Healy’s glove… a-and dribbling back from her pad to hit the stumps. Shocker. I thought the game might have gone, right there.

Instead Rodrigues and Sharma re-build – stoically rather than emphatically, in truth. Sharma remains undefeated on 49 at the close of innings, supported by a muted 9 from Krishnamurthy. The total of 132 for 4 feels twenty short.

Rodrigues made 26 off 33 and Verma 29 from 15. In short, on a slowish but not apparently turn-tastic strip, you imagined a comparatively uninspired India behind in the game, particularly as Australia bowl and field better, traditionally. Perhaps wiser to put this the other way – that India’s fielding is ordinary and their bowling may rely on a pitch more helpful than this one. Maybe.

As Healy starts up, looking if not imperious then closer to her pugnacious best than of late, the signs are that though the Indian spinners might make this competitive, Australia will simply have too much. But hang on. Without, in my view, the visitors bowling bewildering beauties, Mooney, Lanning, Haynes, find themselves back in the pavilion. For 6, 5 and 6, respectively. Yes but this only brings in Perry, right? Perry makes 0.

Not in any way looking to denigrate a good bowling performance, here. The impishly wonderful Poona Yadav finished with 4 for 19 from her 4 overs; I loved that. Likewise Sharma and Shikha Pandey (who took 3 for 14 off 3.5) deserve bundles of credit. It’s just that The Story felt very much about a) a defeat for Aus and b) specifically, the opening up of a frailty we maybe thought this undeniably accomplished Southern Stars Posse had grown through. They were, in short, nervy and deeply vulnerable under pressure; some of them shockingly so. And this was their third T20 defeat in the last 15 days.

Healy made 51 and Gardener 34. Yet even Gardener, known for her dynamism and god-given ability to GO BIG, under pressure, rather fizzled. Take away those 85 runs and the contribution of the rest is exposed: 28 from t’other eight batters. All out, 115. Wow.

So this was an extraordinary start – many might argue an ideal start in terms of opening up the tournament. Australia will likely still go through but they will have to be positive-aggressive (who-knows, run-rate may be important) and they will probably have to beat New Zealand, as well as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Excitingly then, it’s immediately all kinds of tasty, in Group A: the Almost Unbeatables got beat. And whilst we know that theoretically T20 is the format where expectation can be brutally usurped, and we’re at some level prepared for that, the extent to which Australia fluffed/bottled or misplaced it – whatever it is – means we’re already into something that feels new. The adrenalin is pumping nicely.

When their outstanding captain Harmanpreet Kaur threw away her wicket, leaving India at not many for 3, having lost their two most essential (nay iconic) players, this scenario did not seem likely. Perry, Lanning, Healy and co with the proverbial ‘work to do?’ Surely not. Aus have way too much quality. Aus bat long and bat with intent.

Not sure anybody expects India to go on and win this at a cruise as a result of this one, relative upset – England may have something to say about that, for starters – but clearly Yadav and Verma have put delicious wee markers down. “We’re here! Come, watch us dancing.”

 

 

 

 

 

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”.

Wot, no Kiwis? Australia v England. Women’s T20 international.

England are batting and Perry will bowl four straight, with predictably excellent control. The visitors persist with the somewhat under-pressure Jones, and the slighter but notably athletic and always-positive Wyatt.

Perry stifles Jones in particular, with Wyatt looking both dynamic and slightly vulnerable, (as per, arguably). The Southern Star’s über-star will finish her spell, absurdly, with 1 for 9 off 4, and with England seemingly flummoxed. Wyatt is Perry’s one wicket, brilliantly caught by Mooney, with the opener playing uppishly through cover-point: another poorish dismissal, from the England point of view.

There is a similarly disappointing end for Jones. She has made a ver-ry scratchy 10 off 24 balls when run out. Exceptional fielding, in truth, from Jonassen but pressure plainly did for the opener again – an unnecessary scramble speaking of scrambled minds.

Have said before that I rate Amy Jones; having seen her live several times her power and confidence can really flow, making her a genuine candidate for a top-of-the-order spot. But she is appearing a tad unfocused, frail, even – a tad close to playing herself out of the team. One can argue either she needs ‘a rest’, or that the coaching team need to get around her.

Sciver is possibly under-achieving, too, though not under threat of de-selection. A fine athlete and all-rounder, in at three, with perhaps a little to prove to justify that ranking. Facts don’t ever reveal everything but try these: Sciver is out for 4 off 9 balls and England are 39 for 3 after 8.4 overs at the moment of her dismissal, caught Perry, skying, at mid-off.

The power-play overs were disastrous, then, for England, or seemed to be, until Knight got a hold on this. She is lucky to escape after skying Wareham but soonish, as so often, the skipper wills a way back. Knight will need to find a partner for the rebuild: on this occasion, it will be Wilson. From 3 for not much, the two of them get to 3 for 90 (as the Aussie commentators have it) at 15 overs.

Schutt and Kimmince lead out the death overs. Hugely encouragingly for England, Knight and Wilson continue their charge, hitting hard, skilfully and with intent.

Jonassen, the left-arm offie, will bowl the 18th. No let-up. Wilson goes to 20 runs off 8 balls in a fine, dynamic streak; at the other end the skipper promptly gets to 50, off Kimmince. It’s a dream of a pitch for the batters but this is still Australia; they are helpless, it seems.

Schutt drops Wilson and then Knight clouts her for six twice in the final over. This is potentially important stuff: the best team in the world getting unceremoniously unpicked, in the second half of the game.

Finally Knight is caught for a magnificent 78 – her highest T20 score. Meanwhile the psychological stuff feels as meaningful as the 158 on the board.

Wilson has landed and finishes on 39 not out. Her captain has again sent out the strong message that she is not only an accomplished, determined bat, but has developed herself into a player capable of sustained aggression against this – the best bowling attack on the planet.

The reply. Davies is in for the injured Shrubsole. Healy welcomes her with two boundaries but then miscues to mid-off, where Brunt retreats to take a controlled catch.

Gardner joins Mooney. She smashes hard at Wilson, at point, where the fielder stops, superbly, before throwing to the wrong end: Gardner would have been stranded by a distance had the throw arrowed back to the keeper. Mooney and Gardner build.

Rightly, Knight is ringing the changes – these are good batters, threatening to wrestle the initiative early, very much in the Australian tradition. But Glenn claims Gardner when Knight pouches a steepler. A good, competitive game is brewing, here: Australia have lots of batting, mind – Lanning is in.

She cannot persist; out for a single, edging Ecclestone painfully on. Australia three down… but this means Perry and Mooney is looking ominously set.

Perry makes a solid start but Glenn has her leg before for 18. And when Haynes steers the England leggie straight back for a simple caught and bowled, Australia are wobbling materially.

When Sciver draws a stumping, Brunt takes a stunning catch teetering over the rope and Australia find themselves needing eleven an over with just three batters remaining, this seems over. Sutherland has other ideas.

Her partner Wareham makes a smallish contribution – six – before being bowled but the youngster blazes fearlessly on. What follows is one of those fabulous periods where everything but the batter becomes an irrelevance. She is in. She will hit. The total will come to her, whatever.

18 off 8 becomes 8 off 5, becomes a Super over! Absolutely stunning stuff from the young Australian seamer, on debut. She had no right to fetch the contest back from where her team – senior players, all and worldies, mostly – had landed her. Wonderful sport for the neutral and enjoyable (kindof) for the rest of us.

So a Super Over with no Kiwis! Should reduce the level of tragedy to something bearable, at least(?) Let’s see.

Ecclestone will bowl, for England. First ball is a potential stumping – not out. Not sure if the delay unsettles Healy and Gardner, or whether we can entirely credit Ecclestone, but the Southern Stars struggle, rather, to lay a glove on the bowling. Some nerves there, surely, but surprisingly little in the way of clean, confident hitting.

Fair play to the young off-spinner for holding her nerve, she remains a relative newcomer herself – twenty years of age. To have been chosen for this responsibility, as a slow left-armer, in this moment, versus this Australia, speaks volumes. Ecclestone, despite being an ordinary fielder, would probably drop into most peoples’ World XI, I reckon: possibly alongside just her skipper, from this England side. So some bowler.

Australia, scuttling rather than blasting, make eight, leaving Knight and Wyatt with nine for victory.

Perry, naturally. Knight scuffs a single, as does Wyatt, before the captain connects twice, consecutively. Single; single; four; four. And a roar of delight. Heather Knight; captain fantastic, again.

After the mild disappointment of their defeat to India yesterday, in a game they will feel they should have won, this will feel invigorating to all in the England camp. The two days have shown them to be an organised and improving outfit in the field – significantly better than India and maybe now right up alongside today’s opposition – and, crucially, capable of competing in terms of durability and dynamism, with those Southern Stars.

There are inevitably things to work on; chiefly the tendency to gift too many cheapish wickets through poor shot selection &/or execution but the Wilson innings and the win, the win(!), alongside Knight’s further, emphatic statement of quality augur well. I suspect some consideration of Jones’s position may arise, potentially, with Beaumont returning to an opening slot, but hey, after a win against the Aussies maybe Lisa Keightley (an Aussie herself, of course) will opt for a cool beer, a smile and a dance round the barbie.

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.

 

 

Knighthood? / Hold My Beer.

Heather is a particular kind of name, is it not? Speaks of Englishness and church-going families and quiet, erudite children. Or is that just me? Best move on.

Heather Knight is English. In fact she’s the England Captain (did you know?) having attended Cardiff MCC University en route into the game. Now the England Captain in cricket – Women’s Cricket. And she just did something, something pret-ty phenomenal.

We’re in Hove – where else? The sun is shining and there’s a particular crowd; smallish but by no means insulting, keen but by no means raucous. It’s the #KSLFinalsDay.

Heather’s team, Western Storm, have just struggled to contain the opposition, Southern Vipers, as they post a challenging score in the season finale – the final, defining, ‘all-important’ shoot-out.

(Vipers have amassed a total of 172 runs off their 20 overs. This is a major bundle and would in most circumstances signal a cruise to victory. However there are *things*. Firstly Storm are a hugely robust outfit, in a really good way. Secondly, they did haul the game back towards themselves, late-on. Thirdly, they have Heather).

Knight is the captain, remember – and she Captains Ingerland. And Wales. This same England that was so utterly outclassed by the Australian tourists recently that the Ashes was not so much surrendered as gift-wrapped and übered across with a sweet card from Marks & Sparks, signed ‘Much love, Heather & the girls’.

The result of this rather painful and prolonged public humiliation was the Coach of Ingerland losing his job and the ECB shuffling out some bulletins to quell the mounting unrest over The Widening Gap between Us and Oz. We can only imagine that Heather Knight’s position was ‘discussed’ during this accountability review: she was, after all, more at the helm than the coach, you might argue.

Knight did no doubt endure some tough questions, as well some Dark Nights of the Soul. How could she not have a blub into the cushion, or squeeze the dog just a touch too hard, in melancholy distraction? England’s performances, as well as the system were brutally unpicked, perhaps most painfully – though justifiably – by former colleagues now in the media corps. In short it’s been a bloody tough few months, for Heather.

Except. Except she has had Western Storm.

Western Storm have smashed it. They won all nine of their first nine fixtures in the Kia Super League before losing in the last, rain-affected game, to Yorkshire Diamonds. They were durable and deep, as a squad. Having contacts in the camp, I am sensing that they were also a proper posse, with the kind of comradeship that only sometimes accompanies big-shot, international sporting coalitions. And of course they were led by Heather Knight.

Knight has just become the highest scorer in the Kia Super League – the only woman to pass the 1,000 runs mark. She has been absolutely central to the stonking Storm campaign, in 2019. In the final, yesterday, against Southern Vipers, she blasted and clipped and drove to 78 not out to claim a) the trophy and b) the Player of the Match award. But there is & was more.

The nature of Knight’s performance was somewhere between fine and phenomenal. After her side had scrambled, clawed at the air and generally under-achieved more than a little, in the field, she rose to it.

Set an intimidatingly steep total and after losing her Indian Superstar of a bat, Mandhana, to a nervy pat to mid-on, first ball, Knight marched briskly in, early. Must have been scary: must have *asked questions*. Pah. I soon noted (in my epic blog, one post back, free-to-air!) that Knight ‘looks goodish’.

Starting (or re-starting) with Priest, she knows she must get after the bowling from the outset, such is the required run-rate. Priest, without ever looking classically smooth is going well – dispatching Wyatt, in particular, with some intent. But Wellington, the young Australian leg-spinner removes Knight’s partner with a peach that loops, turns and enables the stumping.

I remember clearly noting that despite the gathering pressure, Knight swept Wellington immaculately for four, immediately post that potentially key dismissal. Wilson then joined her and joined in with the essential urgency, making a timely 18 before holing out to Wyatt in the deep. Luff cannot sustain the momentum, though and goes, off the glove, bringing in another ‘Overseas’, Deepti Sharma.

Sharma is a fine, international player who has been twiddling her bat for two months; barely required as Storm stormed. Now, she and her skipper have proper work to do.

I thought for two or three overs that Sharma looked out of nick. But she, alongside her increasingly imperious, captain, accumulated runs. They had to. Quickly.

Knight got to fifty. She played what I described as the shot of the day, cracking an absurdly sweet cover drive to the boundary. She was absolutely on it, finding that almost dreamlike focus, staying in there, quietly relentless.

From the blog:

You feel that if Knight stays there, Storm get this. And I reckon she knows that.

Knight hit three towering, lusty,

boomtastic sixes on the way to 78 not out and to the trophy. There was or there became something of a Stokes-level of inspiration, of capture-of-destiny about the proceedings. (Knight doesn’t hit that many sixes – she’s ‘not that powerful’. But she found a way; reinvented herself; had no choice).

It was a Captain’s Knock… and then some. It was remarkable, in that it was initially shockingly unlikely and then in terms of its gathering brilliance. She defied. She clonked. She led.

I hope to god Knight actually loved it, in the moment. Because it soared, entertained and vindicated… and proofed her utterly against doubt and against The Doubters. And it’s hard to know what Heather is actually thinking: I hope there was scope for enjoyment – during as well as after.

It was, in a joyous and electrifying way, cricket and drama of the very finest variety. It scoffed at the very idea that Heather – the athlete, the champion, the leader – might be in any sense bland. How sensational that sport can do that? How gratifying that quality sometimes tells?