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.

Bristol.

Speaking as a middle-aged bloke, it’s easy to imagine a middle-aged bloke being at the centre of this. Not that I know – but it figures. So an oversight. Or an accidental something-or-other; a situation that just suddenly cropped-up. And before you know it, there’s no time to sort this thing out – to prep a new strip.

We may never know the sequence of events, or non-events, nor the trail of guilt or error. It could be that there’s a twenty-four year-old woman at the heart of this… but it’s doubtful, eh? It seems more likely – indeed it seems fairer to say – that the overwhelmingly likelihood is that this Bristolian Farce-For-Our-Ages (Still) is just another reminder that this is a sexist universe and that either some donkey didn’t get it, or there was a further, depressingly familiar outbreak of broader, cultural slackness. AKA sexism. And ultimately a Test Match pitch that somebody forgot.

Let’s be plain, then and move on. It’s a travesty and an embarrassment and a deep insult to women’s international cricket that the first Test Match in aeons will be played on a used pitch. It’s both utterly ludicrous and entirely predictable: elite women’s sport as an afterthought. Apologies have been made but another marker has been spilled: despite the tremendous increase in resource and quality, women’s cricket is still likely to be disrespected by those that are its guardians. Probably, because most of them are middle-aged blokes.

Please god let the pitch turn out to be an irrelevance to the contest. Too often dull, lifeless strips undermine the quality of the action and fuel the negativity around long-form cricket for women. How erm, unfortunate that we face this prospect, in Bristol, before we even start. In conclusion, I note to the universe that this is England’s first Test since 2019… and the first for India – a World Power in the game, right? – since November 2014.

OK. Slate. Clean. On with the cricket.

England have won the toss and will bat. It’s a sublime day. The Indian players – taking a few catches below me as I write – look resplendent in the shiniest, most Persiltastic whites you can imagine. Only the blaring music feels a tad jarring on such a wonderfully pristine day for traditional, longform cricket. Winfield-Hill will face the first ball, from Goswami, who looks substantial, as she races in, past Beaumont.

Quiet over, in which a clip to leg from Winfield-Hill goes close-ish to short square leg. Single taken. Pandey – looking sharpish and bowling generously full – follows from The Ashley Down End. No dramas.

Biggish shout in the fourth over, as Pandey beats the bat and strikes pad. First thought, high-ish. Pandey is bowling to three slips and a gully, point, mid-off, mid-on, shortish square-leg and fine leg. Winfield-Hill gets her away through extra cover. When Goswami returns and someone underneath our Media Centre distracts the batter, the bowler rather charmingly invites them to move along, with a relatively unironic “excuse me”.

Arguably the first sign of aggression comes from Beaumont, dropping confidently onto a short one from Pandey and pulling for four. Shortly afterwards I have a great view of an alleged nick from Beaumont precipitating a strong appeal from the same bowler. Live, I saw and heard nothing. At the end of the 6th, England are 12 for 0, and relatively untroubled.

The signs are that this should be a batting day… but then Goswami does draw an edge… but claims no reward. (In truth the tv in the Media Centre ain’t working, so we have no replays. Can’t be sure if the nick carried. Reading updates elsewhere, it plainly did, but Mandhana fluffed it rather badly). In other news, the recent changes to Covid regs may have substantially reduced attendance, here, but again we have a disappointingly small gathering. Given the rarity of these events and the quality of the day, it seems extraordinary, to me. Hey ho.

We have Old School Test Cricket – and what a real pleasure that is. Persistence. Relative quiet. Intrigue. Application from both sides – the long view. Beaumont and Winfield-Hill are raising that bat high but watchfully and presenting with care. The run rate is about 2.5. (Of course as I write this Vastrakar – in for Pandey – drops one short and WH dismisses it to the boundary, in front of square. She has 18 to her partner’s 13: 31 for 0 after 12).

When Goswami provides the same ammunition to Beaumont, she also guns it away, with some contempt. Is her spell feeling a tad long, now? Seventh over – so maybe. It’s Vastrakar (who had replaced Pandey) who is changed, in fact. Slow right arm, from Rana; flighty, teasing nicely. Drinks at 39 for 0.

Pandey has changed ends and is now bowling from underneath us. She looks strong but is she already running in with a little less verve? Unconfirmed.

Winfield-Hill arguably should do better than to drive two successive and invitingly short balls from Rana to extra cover: two four-balls, possibly.

In other other news, I missed the England cap presentation to Sophia Dunkley, due to a wee bit of administrative faffing pre-the media accreditation presentation to Yours Truly. But I wish to record my sense that the world just got a little better (with the first black woman garnering an England Test cap). Congratulations to her.

Possible gear-change, from England, as both batters look to capitalise on the benign conditions. As Rana completes the 18th, England reach 57 for 0, with Beaumont now 28 and WH 29 – so no extras. Vastrakar is now in again, having changed ends.

Winfield-Hill thrillingly smashes her over deep square: a ball only apparently a smidgeon short of a decent length, dispatched with real gusto. (It’s her second ‘maximum’, in fact). But from nowhere, the England opener falls to a fine diving catch from the keeper. Vastrakar had gone almost yorker length; the edge was audible and Bhatia flew to her right to gather. Quality moment and you sense it may be important in terms of bringing the visitors back into the game.

Knight, the outstanding England captain is in and Rana is challenging the inside edge, with her energetic off-spin. 70 for 1 after 22 and we have a fabulous scene and a spike in the intensity as Vastraskar re-joins. Beaumont, with that characteristic, wristy flourish, bludgeons her back straight, for four, passed Mandhana’s vain dive.

The changes keep on coming – understandably – as Goswami comes in from the Ashley Down End. Drops short and Beaumont clubs her for four through midwicket. More have joined us to sit in the sunshine; there is a light breeze but I am personally sitting close to the open door of the press box a) to get as close as possible to the line of the pitch and b) because it’s almost uncomfortably warm. That Dudley Platypus geezer (photographer) has just wandered back in, blowing hardish and commenting on the airlessness out there.

Knight appears untroubled. When Vastrakar offers just a little width, she crunches her through the covers to get off the mark with an emphatic boundary.

We approach lunch. Goswami continues. She is doing that grunting/manifestly imagining a wicket every other delivery thing – making everything, rather wonderfully, an ‘effort ball’. Do not question her heart.

Deepti Sharma will squeeze one in before the break. To say she is a spinner of the gently-paced variety is in no way to under-estimate her. Sharma is quality. Sure enough, mid-over she gets startlingly extravagant bounce and turn, beating Beaumont and the keeper. Difficult to interpret that one delivery as *a sign*, but it will encourage the Indian spinners, certainly. England are 87 for 1 after 27 at the end of an intriguing, watchable session. I am wondering what the craic is re- food and Covid and all…

Oooh.It’s there. Curry. Tidy!

Almost ready for the resumption. Great nosh, by the way – thanks to the local Hospitality Posse. Nip out, onto the balcony out front, have a look around and am struck by the fact that I could pretty much count the entire crowd. Don’t want in any any way to sponsor negativity but Jesus. These players deserve better. Onwards. Goswani. From Ashley Down.

I am a HUGE FAN of Heather Knight. Knowing her and respecting her quality and temperament, I am hopeful that she may go big, here – the unknowns around possibly significant spin/bounce/turn notwithstanding. Deepti Sharma will return promptly, from this Bristol Pavilion End, to investigate those possibilities. I watched the two of them win the WSL together, a year or two back, at Hove.

Eek, possibly, as it appears that Heather Knight, too, may be batting on an off-stump guard…

Beaumont goes through to a deserved 50 with a tickly paddle-sweep. Good applause. No sense that the pitch is a concern: certainly not to Tammy Beaumont. Blimey. Hearing on Test Match Special that Goswami has only played 11 Tests – despite having played for her country for 20 years! Crazy. Little bit of spin, for Sharma.

I like that the veteran – as plenty of the pundits are calling her – Goswani – is staying boldly full. However, if she offers width or gets it marginally wrong, there are opportunities. Knight takes one, easing her behind point for four. After 34 of the theoretical 100 overs in the day, England have passed the 100 mark, for just the one wicket down. Clearly they are ahead but the fielding side appear chirpy and present – encouragingly so.

Pandey is running in, for the 37th. Towards 70 mph. Spearing them in towards off. That sense of continued, grooved application – even though there is minimal encouragement. Batters seem set and concentrated. Sky open and blue. Rana follows and will give some air. Hiding her grip. Could be Sharma is getting more bite.

Pandey hits Beaumont with a throw. It’s more automatic-aggressive than outright nasty. The batter had come forward, dropped the ball on the pitch then retreated as the bowler picked up. No realistic chance for a run out but you could see why Pandey would send the reminder. Beaumont drives a wide one past cover to finish the over: saw no sign of verbals or smug glances. Bit more cloud, bit more breeze, I think.

Knight cuts Rana, with beautifully soft hands, through the vacant third man area. Four. She goes to 25. Beaumont is 61. The captain – in her 100th game as skipper – pushes out through extra cover for a further single and at drinks England are 125 for 1.

Resuming, Knight slashes rather, at a wideish, fullish one from Pandey. It flies over Verma at slip – unclear if she gets a hand on it. Four… but a case of the break almost bringing a wicket?

Vastrakar, from Ashley Down. Decent pace. Two yorkers – make that three. She’s trying.

One of the shots of the day as Beaumont wristily threads Rana through to the midwicket boundary. Peach. She goes to 65. Some chat on’t radio about not fulfilling the scheduled overs. Get that but surely it’s such a rare gig, this Women’s Test thing, that there is barely a precedent or guide to what’s a reasonable expectation? Similarly the suggestion that England could maybe get on with it a little more simply may be unrealistic – or bit macho, as it were? This is a Test Match. The pacing of things is different. Shedloads of time for acceleration, in this innings.

Vastraka over-pitches and Knight cashes in. Four through extra. But hold up – DRAMA. From nowhere, Beaumont flips one to short leg, off bat and pad. Rana the bowler. Excellent catch from Verma, diving in bravely. Beaumont made a very creditable 66. Sciver is in.

Sciver is a fine athlete and genuine all-rounder. Might well make a World XI. She can score quickly – not that we expect her to do that here and now.

Hey apropos bugger all: how fabulous is Alex Hartley, on BBC comms? Hilarious and delightful.

Goswami is dropping short and Sciver is punishing her. Left and right. Either side of the wicket, consecutive boundaries. England go past 150. Knight, for me one of the most consistent of world cricket, is approaching 50 and Sciver seems in already. They also appear to have received the memo about some degree of acceleration. Runs aren’t exactly flowing but bats are following through, notably. Over to Deepti Sharma to try and break up the developing flow: she comes in from the Ashley Down Road End. Tea approaches.

Poor communication should put the batters in trouble but a weakish throw means Sciver escapes. Would have been a criminal waste. Good that England are into One Day Mode, running-wise but there are limits, ladies. Tea, with the home side on 162 for 2, off 55.

Erm, 45 overs to go?!? Cannot be. Temperature has dropped. Best get a coffee.

Deepti Sharma will start us up. Touch of spin. Some immaculate defence from Sciver. Spin from both ends – it’s Rana from the Pavilion. (Has someone had a word about the over rate?) Quietish re-start.

Knight, almost inevitably, gets to 50, pushing between extra and mid-off. She has been error-free, calm, steady. Next over and she brings out the reverse-sweep, for two – playing off middle. Six-three legside field for both bowlers: both spinners are of course right arm off-spin. Sunshine in and out a little, now.

Harmanpreet Kaur is wheeling her arm over from the Pavilion End. Sciver uses the depth of the crease to cut her for four, bringing up the 200 for the home side. The batters remain patient rather than urgent… which is fine by me. These two know when and how to go after it. Weather may well be a factor later in the Test but they will be confident, now, that England can cut loose when they have built that proverbial platform. It’s likely that Knight and co are already thinking that they will look to bat just the once and hope the change in conditions (with the weather) assists them in the field. Seems reasonable; feels likely.

Sudden thought. The ball is turning just a little. I fancy Ecclestone – quite possibly the most threatening spin bowler on the planet – may have a significant role to play, over the later stages.

Kaur tempts Sciver into an on-drive, straight to mid-wicket. Sharma, moving forward, spills a relatively straightforward chance. Huge moment and – arguably – not a great look for the game. Feels like things are happening a little – or might – and that the batter’s control is less complete. In being relatively cautious – or prudent – England may now be conceding the initiative, somewhat. (Ebbs and flows? Subtle-ish changes in momentum? The very essence of Test Cricket, yes?)

Bright again as Sharma returns from the Pavilion End. Wales are just about to kick-off – yup, multi-tasking – and we have 90 mins to play here, too. (Meaning a shortfall on those overs). Knight is into her eighties, Sciver, her forties. The latter appears to miss a straight full-toss. Reviewed by the batters. Ball strikes the boot… and is hitting. Sciver gone for 42. Amy Jones, ver-ry accomplished stroke-maker, joins Knight.

So it’s 232 for 3, as Sharma comes in for the 75th over. We are either looking at a quiet hour – this will suit England – or a late come-back from the visitors. Expecting the former but wouldn’t rule out a further breakthrough as one or both of the batters is either squeezed into an error or lashes out to a poor delivery. In short, there are possibilities.

I’m wrong. Jones has played rather tamely across one that turns, gently, from Rana. England review but denied. A decent but hardly electrifying ball: Jones will be disappointed. 236 for 4: now the slowish scoring becomes an issue – or may. India are roused, England stalled. The Plan – to Go Big – is under challenge.

Sharma comes around to Knight, with the incoming debutant, Dunkley surely a wee bit nervy? Single. Lots of chat and four catchers in and around. Dunkley sees out the over.

Knight into her nineties. Dunkley gets off the mark. Then the skipper pushes hard at one from Rana and is lucky to see the edge flash through slip. An error and a concern but on the plus side she now needs only five to reach the ton.

But the skipper seems suddenly scrambled. She plays clumsily around another ver-ry slow one from Sharma and may be LBW. Umpire’s call… and she called out. Knight gone, for that 95 and England in a little bother, suddenly, at 244 for 5. May yet prove to be competitive but feels a radical under-achievement given where we were an hour ago. Elwiss joins Dunkley.

As it’s transpired, then, those voices calling for more positivity from England, once that good start had been established, may have been right. Instead they allowed India to garner some degree of control, before nabbing those wickets. As long as England kept out the visitors, then their stately progress ‘worked’. Not now.

Especially not now Deepti Sharma has brilliantly caught Elwiss, low down, at slip, off Rana! Sharp, sharp catch and sharp shift in momentum, as the sixth wicket falls. 251 on the board, 40 minutes play left. Where might we be, come 6.30? Brunt is in, Dunkley has only 3 and England are under siege.

The extraordinary truth may be that part of the issue, for England, is that Sharma has been bowling so slowly that the batters are flummoxed whilst waiting. You can hear their hearts pounding from the press box: they have the time to play about fourteen shots but then fail to time the one they need. Sharma and Rana have done well but the confusion engendered seems – as it so often does – wonderfully disproportionate. The result? Wickets falling and two short legs in for two new batters.

A welcome breakout for Dunkley when Sharma finally plops one too far, too wide. Driven for four. At 6pm 15 overs remain, for the last 30 mins. With the two spinners on, might we get ten of them? (Been a long day, so forgive the poor guesswork). Will naturally depend on boundaries scored/wickets taken and any bowling changes which may accompany the new ball. England will look to hold and India to attack: should be fascinating.

With that rampant speculation, Goswami returns, from the Bristol Pavilion End. But Brunt is nothing if not a fighter… and Dunkley can – as they say – hold a bat. Things calm a little. Sharma switches ends. The sun brightens. Brunt advances.

New ball taken. Can see it shining in Goswani’s ample palm. She fires two down leg. It’s a mixed over – that change in feel not, on this occasion, inspiring the bowler to greater focus or success. Next up Rana, with the batters looking composed, now, and determined. Great contest, to finish a particularly intriguing day. Brunt has experience and grit in spades but Dunkley is acquitting herself with quiet distinction, here. Conditions remain glorious.

Time for Pandey. Big, gathering appeal. India review but my first instinct – na. Inside edge. Proves to be. Time for one more?

Yes. Rana, with Dunkley facing. Wonder if she knows – or cares – that Gareth Bale just did a Chris Waddle? (Dreadful pen, Gareth bach). Dunkley sees it out.

England 259 for 6, at the close. Appreciative applause, and rightly so. Game better poised than it might have been if England’s early dominance had remained unchecked. Let’s doff our caps towards the Indians’ sustained efforts, which leave us ready for an exciting and possibly match-defining morning ahead.

Erm. What’s the weather doing?

‘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.

Due Diligence.

A reminder: there’s an important difference between ‘being stranded/going nowhere’ and battling it out. And the latter is often a key, to Test Match cricket. Also it may be that Sibley was picked for exactly those qualities of durability and enduro-stoicism. (Lawrence wasn’t… but read on).

Also note: lodged this baby at 11.15 am, our time. But things move fast, eh?

England are getting battered, in the second Test, at Chennai. All out for less than 140. After Burns’ error – plainly Ishant set him up skillfully but for him not to see off the decent but hardly world-beating delivery that then arrowed predictably inwards, was an ordinary bit of batting – Sibley and Lawrence applied themselves with some rigour. As per what it says on their tin: “bat long”. The Burns wicket looked a combination of nerves, early-doors wooden-ness and technical issues around his extraordinary set-up and bat-swing but I’ll let better minds than mine un-pick all that and move forward.

Some commentators have said that Lawrence was stuck from the outset: I disagree. He played diligently and with care for an hour or so – as did Sibley – looking relatively untroubled. I’m not even convinced that for much of the morning period he found it difficult to score. He just felt that was secondary. Only towards the end of his occupation did it feel that the alleged imperative to tick over got to him – and he looked more susceptible to angst. The moment of his dismissal was then a classic case of bowler-induced mind-boggling, as Ashwin stepped away to up the drama for a final ball before lunch that would claim the young England man’s wicket.

Even that cruel and untimely blow does not mean Lawrence’s first innings knock was without consequence or value, despite his dismissal being for just 9 runs. Any allegation that he ‘ate up 20 balls’ before scoring is a nonsense: part of the job was manifestly to consume deliveries, ease the pain and soften the ball. Any notion that what his captain chose to do was essentially wiser or better is spurious… or at least open to intelligent debate. (Root came out sweeping – sweeping Ashwin, hard and early. Fair enough. Legitimate; bold; a gamble. It didn’t work but you can see why he thought the game demanded a response. And I get there’s an argument that Root went ‘positively’ precisely because the scoring rate was low).

There was bound to be, on this pitch, against this attack, something a sense of vigil about England’s response to the intimidating effort from Rohit Sharma, Rahane and Pant – all of whom got past fifty on the surface. Lawrence and Sibley together looked to begin that vigil, knowing they were on the back foot, with conditions and now crowd conspiring against them. Sibley appears to be born for this potentially crushing scenario: he has the physical and psychological attributes of a low-octane bear. His talent is for appearing unperturbed; munching through time and task.

You can’t help but feel that Lawrence’s job had inevitably been made harder by the third ball exit of Burns. It is likely that this pointed him towards a slightly more conservative approach, even allowing for any possible psychological conditioning around mindset, and/or the independence of all things. I thought Sibley and Lawrence did okay, in the (let’s be honest) inevitably challengingly fraught period after the departure of Burns. Sure it might have been better if they rotated the strike/scored more. Sure this meant that pressure wasn’t released. But they prepare for precisely these moments; they are experts, or developing expertise, in hardcore sport. What we saw from them at the height of this grilling was as encouraging as it was disappointing, in my view.

Foakes finished up highest scorer. After his predictable excellence behind the sticks, does this reinforce any case for selecting him regularly or permanently, in the Test side? Quite possibly. Does this means that Buttler gets dropped? Not necessarily. There are options.

The fitness of Stokes might be influential. If Stokes can play a full part in the bowling unit then things may be less complex – or controversial. He continues at five, with Pope staying in there at six and Foakes batting seven. If Moeen stays pickable (and I hope he does) then there is ample batting (and spin, for most situations, with Ali and Root) plus three specialist bowler slots. It’s not like-for-like – Buttler is arguably unique – but you are effectively just changing keepers. So minimal disruption. England get a better wicketkeeper and possibly a more durable, though less mercurial bat.

Despite Buttler’s obvious brilliance, I might ‘drop him’ into a purely white-ball role. He plays everything, short-format-wise and maybe succeeds Morgan as skipper. He wouldn’t want to drop out of Test contention and he wouldn’t. You review: you look at form, experience and suitability for particular series. Currently I’d say keep it simple, get Foakes in the team. If Pope doesn’t come through then maybe Buttler bats six.

Great teams have fantastic subs, or twelfth men or women. We are already seeing that this England Squad is exactly that, rotating to maintain balance, quality and wellbeing in the age of Shedloads of Action and (incidentally) a plague. Oh – and remember currently the fella Crawley is out: he’s looked a million dollars, on times. Something always has to give.

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.

Being Naughty.

A Tweet. Set me off. On a trail that may be irreverent and ill-judged.

Forgive me. I’m neither trying to offend nor in any sense under-estimating the importance of the #Covid19 protocols. (Friends, I’ve spent most of the last several months imparting the details of those very protocols to the good people of Wales). I get that this stuff is important: I get that it’s life and death, potentially.

And yet

Jofra’s nipping ‘off to the flat’. Indeed that whole, daft-but-also-massively-irresponsible thing. Can that not be a source of comedy, too? It was, on twitter. Is it bad that I laughed at some of that? If you think so, maybe leave me now… and all the best.

In response to a tweet from Barney Ronay, yer man @DavidJMcGaughey said… leading me to say…

All of which is silly-blokey (I get that) but got me thinking about other breakouts, or potential breakouts.

So purely for laughs, a wee list of who/how-they-might… break the shackles of responsibility of such-and-such. Because (however irresponsibly) I am clear that we like a rebel, when it comes down to it. Even if they might cost us a Test Match.

  • Beefy the obvious place to start. There’s no doubt a library full of more or less outrageously beeftastic Breakouts. (I speak as the brother of a cub reporter who was on the scene moments after Sir Ian *had a quiet word* with a young gentleman after an evening’s entertainment in Scunthorpe – this in Botham’s football-playing days. Not that this would be the most dramatic or news-worthy of his extra-curricular activities).
  • But what would be the classic Botham Breakout? And who else/how else might the Collective Bubble of Responsibility be pricked? Who are or were the scallywags – your scallywags?
  • Weirdly, my own first thought was Derek Randall, but this may have been more about my memory of his agreeably mischievous fizzog than any propensity of his for tunnel-digging. But, if pushed, I see ar Derek climbing out the hotel window with remarkable agility, scooting gleefully down a drainpipe or six, before meeting a couple of other reprobates at a rum bar in Kingstown, or supping pints of mild at a regular haunt in downtown Nottingham. He could do that and still field like a god, following morning.
  • Gatting. And maybe Gooch. Both stodgier, arguably more lugubrious sorts and obviously both generally loaded down with more responsibility than Randall. But I see them rather bullishly defying the curfew – perhaps with despairing coach or media man watching on – before they march off in search of Quality Nosh and a large glass of red. Perhaps in Australia… which would up the ‘bollocks to everything and everyone’ factor. Not mentioning South African rebel tours; unforgivable and not funny.
  • Not even sure of they were mates but somehow see Flintoff and Harmison out on the illicit razz, too. Having successfully done the weasling out, post a zillion faux-Parachute Regiment signals down the hotel corridor. Maybe Simon Jones is there, baseball cap reversed, squeezing Harmison’s buttock’s and giggling, as they slide past The Gaffer’s Room? Whichever way, this is mission on for a properly savage piss-up: probably in New Zealand, I’m thinking. (Who cares if that figures? It happened).
  • Oooh Robin Smith. Must have been guilty but probably in the Botham scenario. So likely a serial offender.
  • These are all relatively old guys, partly, of course, because I am. There is an issue, in the modern era, clearly – the volume and omnipresence of Media People both in the England Squad Support Group and in the Press Corps around it. So loads of people to potentially grass you up. I know some of the latter and I can exclusively reveal that some of them would absolutely love it if player X or Y either led or joined in with a breakout. I know I would. (Do I need to reiterate my acknowledgements that of course we’re not talking Covid-like situation, here and this is not remotely in that league of serious? No? Good. Onwards then with a couple more.
  • There surely remain Likely Lads, *even now* – witness Stokes/Hales and everything. (Broadly, I think thank god for that).
  • However booze is still central to relaxation, in a way that maybe doesn’t reflect that well on any of us. Testosterone is similarly plainly a factor un-dimmed by years of training, non-negotiable behaviours, ‘protocols’. Young men, cooped up? Horny and bit restless? No wonder nightclubs loom largish in the imagination.
  • Hmm. So in the current England squads, who are the ones, what are the odds?
  • Should I risk a Breakout Rating, based on almost nothing but headshot, body-language, levels of barking-ness?
  • Yes. Yes I should risk that. Here it is; selected individuals… because, whatever…
  • Joe Root. Has that potential to be a right Mister Clean but end of a tour, hauled out or called-out by feisty comrades? 5-10.
  • Eoin Morgan. As with Root, strong sense of responsibilities. Might go wild in or against Ireland, possibly? 6-10.
  • Jofra Archer. Guilty as charged, regrettably. Beyond that, could be a laff, you suspect, on a team rampage. 10-10.
  • Mooen Ali. Wonderful, charming, rooted bloke. Religious and humble. There have to be doubts about corruptibility quotient. 2-10
  • Jimmy Anderson. Presents often as a miserable bugger. See him staring into a glass, maybe… ver-ry late… possibly melancholically, ‘flying solo?’ Tough call this but going with 7-10 on the basis that he might throw a defiant strop somewhere along the line.
  • Jonny Bairstow. Contender. Temperamental. Red hair. Yorkie. “Don’t tell me I can’t goo sup a pint!” 8-10.
  • Stuart Broad. Coo. Relatively, a sophisticate. But also ‘opinionated’ – and likely to think he’s earned the right to a wee indiscretion. 7-10.
  • Rory Burns. Part of the New Breed? Spent half his life in the classroom with a meedya advisor? Possibly. Frankly have no idea – 5-10.
  • Currans. Sharp, determined-maybe-ruthless, professional. Have haircuts, though – so nightclubs? 7-10
  • Joe Denly. It may be over but… outstandingly solid team man. If someone else leads… 6-10.
  • Ben Foakes. Too good-looking not to want to slurp a cocktail and boooo-geeeee! 6-10.
  • Jack Leach. Sense of humour, recently a student; dark, bald, be-spectacled horse. 7-10.
  • Ollie Pope. Can he even drink yet? 4-10
  • Jason Roy. Full of himself. Might smuggle something IN, then lead a breakout. 9-10.
  • Ben Stokes. Oof. Does seem scarily mature, these days. 2-10?
  • Chris Woakes. Seems great lad. So fun. So draggable outtable? 7-10.
  • Mark Wood. Magnificently certifiable. Possibly been selected to be a one-man Social Committee. Hope he has crates of Newkie Brown secreted under the bed. 9-10.

Jofra was daft and unprofessional. Not at all suggesting his ‘offence’ in this moment equates to the light-hearted frolic above. He will pay a particular price, for a particular indiscretion, understand that. But are there not times when breaking out can be fair enough – can contribute to team mood… and therefore to success? I can’t help hoping so.