Headline: “Gunslingers shoot feet again!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short, both openers did a lousy job again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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.  👊🏻

 

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?

In answer to the question “Where were you?”

Ok so things can be too much. Sun. Alcohol. Events.

And then maybe you can get mixed up.

Who knows, really?

I can already feel the creep of history, or at least that slightly creepy feeling – “where were you?” And I know somewhere down the line I’ll just forget. So maybe this is my document, this is where I mark something.

Ben Stokes. Crazy, wonderful, tattooed euphoria and a free glass of chilled white from young Tom, behind the bar, at KandaBongoMan. In the batty, dusky dark, by the batty oaks and the solemn stones and the cows, actually, and the stage.

Stage? Yes. Empty but still ‘Once in a LIFE-timing’ at us before the band appear.

Band? Yes. Because from Ben Stokes we go here, blasting through the silent uplands (no cars, even though Bank Holiday) to the ridicuvenue, in the ancient valley under Carn Ingli. Then, over a glass, we catch our breath whilst contemplating said cows, said stones.

We can’t believe we’ve seen that. Tom the barman, recognising the All Stars hoodie, asks me did I see it. (I’m guessing he’s mid-twenties: I’m not. He’s saying he may never have seen a better day’s sport in his life, I’m putting it instinctively top three. Then we talk about coaching – he’s played for Llanrhian CC so we’re into family business. I strongly recommend the ECB Coaching Pathway, (honest), tell him to get on it, rapidly and then I confess I did neck the wine, pretty much).

Top three in my lifetime, off the the top of my head. But any need to delve too deep or go through some anal countback-thing? (And erm, can I say that?) What’s to be gained by unpicking the blurry wonder of it?

Bugger I’m torn on this. Do have that deliciously satiated feeling – Stokes is already forever and the minutiae will come back unbidden in joyful time. Sometimes we force when we reflect, yes? Plus the band are on.

So on the one hand I plain refuse to prepare the ground for those “it was right up there with blah di blah” conversations: I forget, anyway! The drama around Stokes – the non-catches, the Lyon’s Fumble, the bent or malfunctioning umpire – stands gloriously, kaleidoscopically alone and in the huddle with the greats, already. It’s seeping in (but) we will remember, individually.

Conversely, I need to see some of this again. How in god’s name did it actually happen? From Buttler/Woakes, how the hell did that happen?

I am dancing with my wife. I am thinking, I am wondering  how it is that spangly guitar and mysteriously ungraspable vocals can sustain such insuperable upfulness. When KandaBongoMan may, for all I know, be singing about vice and trauma.

How can things get so deliciously, defiantly, wonderfully twisted? Could it be, could it actually be that there is something invincible about (yaknow) the human spirit?

Phew. I know nothing and it’s great.

#Bristol. #WomensAshes. Crazy Dance.

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

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

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

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

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

My live report follows…

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 4. The (non)denouement?

So back again. With another full day of cricket possible. The overwhelming likelihood of a draw hasn’t entirely thrown a blanket over us Meedya Peeps’ enthusiasms – in fact the various theories about what the teams have been trying to do, these last coupla days, have kept discussion lively – but inevitably the prospect of a slow grind towards anti-climax does challenge/will challenge our levels of attention, no doubt. Forgive us.

I do hope to stay with it. In fact, I may note to the universe that I expect to be less critical of a slide towards no-result than some of my eminent colleagues have been. (Go read the previous blogs… and maybe compare).

Check my twitter. Pre their stretching of muscles etc etc, England had a circular pow-wow in front of us. (Have posted an admittedly rather ordinary pic). Impossible and inappropriate to eaves-drop but it had the look of a Proper Moment, where Robinson (the coach) may have *had words*. I liked the look of it.

Have no idea what he said – and could speculate and may, later – but I liked the look of it. The coach should be shaping the will, the aura, the direction of all of this. Not just for today or even for this series: England must find or re-discover their intent. Robinson has therefore to both host and lead discussions.

Hearing right now from the ICC statistician Marion Collin that today’s game MUST LAST at least 91 overs. There is no option for a handshake (over a draw) before that. I have also heard from a ver ver reliable source, that Australia will not shake until the latest possible second. Because they want(ed) to win… a contest.

There will be flak flying if this does peter out. The media are already pretty feisty about lack of ambition (actually from both sides). Could also be that the teams will be blaming each other – that this might introduce a little spite – if we spend all day in Doursville. Soon find out. Molineux is opening up to Sciver.

Quiet over, in which England get to 200, for 6. Then Perry, from the river. 7-2 field with about 42 hectares unprotected between Schutt, at fine leg and Molineux at mid-on. Guessing Perry might mostly bowl wide of off.

Molineux bewilders Shrubsole into a play and a miss. Some turn. Then the batter fails to connect with a ver-ry short one – a gift. The general vibe is erm… relatively non-dynamic, maybe especially from Sciver. Weirdly.

Sciver responds to my barb with a four, swung to leg.  👊🏻

Shrubsole takes 7 off an over from Perry without looking entirely fluent before advancing-but-missing against Molineux. Good ball beats her and she is easily stumped, by Healy. No blame attached in terms of Shrubsole’s intent but for me she has not looked like a mid-order bat. Molineux now has four wickets and looks likely to claim a five-fer on debut. England 214 for 7.

Marsh has joined Sciver. They are looking to both survive and to score. Fair enough. Gardner is the first bowling change, for Perry.

Sciver charges and lifts elegantly, with power, over the bowler’s head: an emphatic four. Marsh follows that with a nice back-drive off a short ball from Molineux. Decent, now, from England. The bowler responds with a teaser that again spins and beats the outside edge. Some good, watchable cricket just now.

Gardner spins it and so does Molineux. Enjoying watching. England aware (of course) of that imperative to get to 271 pronto so some expansive shots punctuate the general Aussie-on-topness. Marsh (England’s last batter?) feasts on a rare full-toss from the right-handed bowler, ushering it confidently through the covers. 238 for 7.

Vlaeminck is back, from the River End. Good to see. She hustles then runs and lashes it through nice and quick. Second ball is a medium-intimidating bouncer, which Marsh steps away from. I’m guessing the batter is actually finding this a little scary. Good over.

The youngster’s next over – bowled largely around the wicket – again has Marsh hopping. She survives, having played more than one delivery with both feet off the ground and England are 242 for 7 at drinks. The lights flutter into action as clouds waft across.

Jonassen, who has bowled tidily but less threateningly (for me) than her spin partners, continues from the Pavilion End. It’s markedly cloudier but we are not expecting rain.

Vlaeminck errs to leg-stump and Sciver clips away nicely . Four to fine leg, taking the batter to 86. Sciver’s done well but has remained a notch down on that idealised Dynamism Quotient. But okaay, there is context here.

Sciver goes. Firstly she does that familiar, snatchy-wristy thing where she plays way across a straight one: on this occasion the leading edge loops high but straight beyond the bowler – Jonassen – to safety. Then, however, she misjudges and plays on, agonisingly. 252 for 8.

Vlaeminck at Marsh, then the incoming Ecclestone. Wow. A short of half-tracker! But harmless. The bowler does stray a little – that’s her reputation – and another one down leg is neatly dispatched, by Ecclestone. Four.

Swift word about Tayla Vlaeminck. And Fast Bowling. Great to see her racing in but did you know that she’s been through a whole series of operations? Find that rather depressing – the thought that everybody bowling quick finishes up significantly hurt by the process. Cricket must do this Looking After The Quicks thing so-o much better.

Three boundaries bring England to the brink of the follow-on total of 271. (Two to Marsh then a blow over the top, from Ecclestone). Soon we’ll know how England intend to erm, chase out a win, from here.

Drama drama. England go past that key figure but to general incredulity in the Media Centre, they do not immediately declare. Two mins later, however, Marsh is l.b.w. sweeping to Jonassen… and Knight calls them in! We’ll get a few overs in before lunch. (5, it turns out).

Really interestingly, Rachael Haynes is opening, with Healy. Ecclestone first, for England, from below us in the Pavilion End. Refreshingly tense first over: appeals, misses and scratchy-nervy batting.

Nice bit of swing for Brunt. She could be a threat. Healy is watchful.

When she breaks out, off a wide one, Beaumont cannot stop the square-drive. Should have. The frustration for England is compounded when Healy encourages the next delivery round the corner and Taylor’s dive to leg is beaten. Four more. 8 for 0 off 2.

You’ve got to love Brunt. (Well, maybe you haven’t but) she’s Fully Committed. She’s bowling full and well and *believing*. She’s even managing a pret-ty convincing glare, at Haynes. It may all well be fraudulent but I like it.

Notable that Ecclestone has led this ahem *charge*. Not bad for a young ‘un. Plainly Robinson recognises she is a prime threat – one to be trusted with a huge moment, even if it turns out to be a charade of a huge moment. Ecclestone ahead of Shrubsole, partly of course because she is ver-ry different (and because of conditions) but also because Ecclestone has landed, as a force. Australia go for their tuna salad at 13 for 0.

Extraordinary start, after lunch! Marsh claims both Healy and Haynes! Fabulous delivery, in particular to claim Healy – angled across but straightened sharply. Haynes l.b.w. to something a little less explosive.

Extraordinary (with all due respect) to find Marsh this unplayable but as she comes back for her second over – after a decent one from Ecclestone – she is feeling kindof thataway. It means a real spike, of course, in the intensity.

Ecclestone has a big shout. Knight lung-burstingly chases a lost cause. The crowd stir. Australia are genuinely finding it tough, amassing a ver-ry streaky 23 for 2 in the first ten overs.

Huge appeal – but one that built, suspiciously, I thought – as Ecclestone beats Lanning. Not given; correctly. Note again that England have THREE spinners plus Heather Knight in the side… for this moment, precisely? It’s tough, right now, for both Perry and Lanning – and they’re decent, right?

14.15 with Aus now at 43 for 2. We may be kidding ourselves but this feels like competitive cricket – meaningful cricket. Credit to both sides, on that.

Ecclestone going well enough but Marsh has been exceptional. And turning it more than I remember. An England appeal-fest in progress: Ecclestone is denied one that, on review, was on the money. Unfortunate.

Knight has been doing that Trescothick kneeling-at-second-slip routine. Almost looks comical – maybe especially with her exceedingly grubby-looking sweater. Australia are now 50 for 2 and their lead is 195 runs.

Slight sense that Ecclestone may just be tiring. Dragging down a couple and they are tending to get punished. Marsh will continue from the River End but do wonder if we may see a change (from underneath us) next over. As I say this – not before, I promise – Gordon is warming up.

Gordon to come, then. Mixed, from the Scot. At least three four-balls – one of which is dispatched. But also the wicket of Lanning, off possibly the worst pie of the century, slung loose and highish: Elwiss takes a decent catch at extra cover. Horror-show for the Australian skip, delight and some embarrassment, may-beee, for the bowler?

The visitors suddenly three down… but over 200 ahead. So this may all be a charade, yes? But here, at this moment,with the action in front of us, it feels like an entertaining day of Test Cricket – it really does. Mooney and Perry mean it… and so do England.

Elwiss replaces Marsh, the thinking surely being that her medium-pacers may grip in the surface a tad more than Shrubsole’s. (We haven’t seen Shrubsole yet, this innings). Perry has by this stage engineered her way to 37 and Mooney has 18.

Double-change, thereafter, as Ecclestone returns, starting with a loosener which Perry can scuff away to fine leg.

Sense that Australia are beginning to raise it; not remotely boomtastically yet… but a tad. Mooney we know can smash – and often does, in shorter format cricket. Against Ecclestone, she whips one to leg, only to see it stick in either Beaumont’s grateful hands, or her midriff, or both. Gone. Beaumont does three laps of Somerset in delight. 105 for 4.

So conditions have been relatively testing for batters. Even Perry has had to ‘work at this’: she even has a moment of concern, or two – the latest over a possible run-out, which she narrowly survives. Then she gets to fifty, again with a fluent cut off Brunt.

Many of my colleagues protest when this isn’t the cue for a declaration. At 132 for 4, with Australia 278 ahead – and with England needing about 7 an over through the remaining overs – why wouldn’t Lanning call them in? Because they want a handful more, before they try to make another statement, against an England batting line-up out in the middle… but hopeless. Plenty mind-games. Tea.

For me, plenty folks in the Press Corps and on telly (or both) are being overly bullish about the Playing To Win, Or Not thing. Think it’s interestingly macho – and yes, a fair few of them are women – but not sure they are allowing enough for a) human nature b) human frailty c) the needle in play, here d) that thing where you do the last thing your opponent (your enemy?) wants. I think Aus will declare, here. Soon.

Shrubsole and then Elwiss after tea. Jonassen – a more-than-decent bat – punishes the latter for four and move to 18. Shrubsole, who is of course not now bowling in Hoof-friendly conditions, seems out-of-sorts.  My hunch is we may go back to Marsh and Ecclestone, imminently.

We have a break, for an injury to Taylor,  affecting her shoulder or upper chest. But she will continue.

Shrubsole bowls a goodish yorker which Perry gets something on… but it squeezes past Taylor and on to the boundary. Perry has 64 and the lead goes to 300.

Presently – sorree but we are all drifting a wee smidge now – Knight comes in from the river for her first go. Her second ball is a foot down leg. Her third has Jonassen, plumb. 168 for 5, Jonassen made 37, tidily enough.

So The Change works again. Hilariously, Knight’s final ball surpasses the earlier contestant for Worst Ball of the Century and the incoming Molineux absolutely carts it to Cow Corner for four.

Shrubsole is still with us and follows. She’s persevered and she beats Perry outside off.

Wilson, on for Taylor, is nearly at the centre of the action – or phoney-action(?) Molineux, who has mistimed more than once, chips Knight towards her, at cover. Wilson reaches high but the movements seem off-kilter. She gets a hand to the ball but cannot hold on. Mildly amusing that the England skipper’s lack of zip, pace, spin and particularly bounce is creating issues, here.

Gordon is in from the Pavilion End. She continues, in short, to offer too many full-tosses and is punished again, by Molineux. Australia lead by 340, at 195 for 5.

Mostly, Perry and Molineux are both looking comfortable. The latter creams one through cover; she has 28. We *just don’t know* what’s been said in the Australian dressing-room but that declaration still ain’t a -comin’. Is Lanning really going to bat through? Find that difficult to believe.

Increasingly expansive now, Molineux, in swinging across to leg, is ultimately bowled off the pad, by Gordon. Gardner has a look at Gordon for one ball, then strikes her for the first six of the match, straight back over her head. Fabulous.

The scoreboard suggests 18 overs remain. Perry, on 76 has shown fascinatingly little inclination to charge towards her hundred – which again looked there for the taking. Gardner, meanwhile, is charging… and out, caught, by Beaumont, for 7. We look to the sidelines, as Perry twiddles her bat, mid-pitch. Lanning is apparently asking a question, or awaiting an answer.

The captains have agreed on the draw: Australia have retained the Ashes.

The circumstances are extraordinary but I am not as outraged as many in the Media Posse. Not sure what this says about my judgement but I’m generally comfortable being something of an outlier. I hope I’ve covered the thinking behind my thinking. Congratulations Australia – see you in Bristol.

Reflecting over a much-needed glass of red. (Cheers).

Still more at ease with the alleged Aussie cop-out than some and don’t support the idea that this has been damaging to Test Cricket for Women.

It may not have been as bold as some might have liked but maybe give the players, the captains, the coaches a little slack on that? Dynamically edgy cricket is of course desirable but how often are we actually going to see that, in Tests, realistically?

There’s an argument that the relative ‘slowness’ of Test Cricket is part of what makes it what it is.  (Again I stress that this may not be ideal, or what the game either ‘needs’ or should aspire towards but *maybe* neither Lanning nor Knight have entirely traduced the essence of all that, here?)

So. There has been in my view both some ver-ry astute and legitimate criticism… and some posturing around this. I’ve enjoyed – yes, enjoyed – a good deal of what I’ve seen. The obvious imperfections of the third and fourth days really haven’t turned me off: indeed, I hope Women’s Tests can grow, from this.

Day 3, Taunton. #WomensAshes.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I mention Kangaroo Man, yet? Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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