Reminders.

Know what’s great? Sport.

I shouldn’t need any reminders but I just had one, so without breaching too many confidences, here’s another personal gambit.

In a week where I attended a rather depressing BBC cricket writing thing – on Zoom, all about cramming things down, writing one-sentence paragraphs and therefore, inevitably falling in line with the murderous, soulless brevity of Online Reality – an actual game of cricket was like a quiet marvel. It was slow; it was warm; it was generous. It smelt of humans, not algorithms.

The game was a competitive friendly, between Mainly Good 40-odd Year-olds and Us. (Us being Mainly Good 60 Year-olds). I was the newcomer and – as it turned out – The Impostor. Mad keen but less agile and less able than I’d hoped. Kindof expecting to be able to wing it, through energy and effort but unable to claw my way back up to the level of these skilled, experienced guys. Plus crocked: I didn’t realised how crocked ’til now.

It’s only after I started calculating the Waltonian cricket absence – twelve years since my last competitive game, I reckon – that I begin to cut myself some slack, on what felt like a poor performance. I used to be okaaay. I used to be able to really bowl, at some pace, leg-cutters a speciality. (*Coughs*). You wouldn’t have known, I fear.

I’ve done some nets with stars (and I do mean that, in every sense) of the local Seniors scene but of course there’s nothing like playing. All those unique movements. All that adjustment for bounce, turf, speed, quality of roll. All that running and bending down. And bowling. Wonderful, balletic, deathly movements. I’ve been yomping the Coast Path for years, coaching for years, even (recently) enjoying some practice with my son, in the hope and knowledge that the day must come. But there’s nothing like playing.

Now that I’m still hobbling badly, two full days later, with a proper hospital-sized concern about my right achilles, as well as a decent crop of entirely predictable and indeed appropriate aches and pains, things have landed. Of course I should have bowled off about four paces not sixteen. Of course I should have stopped bowling when *that wee twinge* announced itself, gently at first, in my second over. Of course I should have gone round against their left-hander but…

Calculations suggest it may be 12 years since I played a proper game. So I’m not going to change anything, once I’ve marked out that run. No sir. Just kee-ping it sim-ple. And ignoring that ankle (and yaknow, everything).

Everybody’s hurting, fer chrisssakes. Push on, boyo. Bowl, you gret wazzuck. What’s that one compelling truism in the pile of platitudinous crap? (WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING!!)

Try. Look how hard all these magnificent, stupid old buggers are trying!

*Lump-in-throat moment* Blimey, yeh, look at ’em. We’ve barely met yet we’re a team. A bloody team! There’s no choice – crack on, mun.

We lost… and it didn’t matter. I only knew, when I pitched up, about four of our players… and it didn’t matter. Game-wise the sunny ambience/honourably competitive combo-thing was humming in the air; balanced; beautiful; idyllic and ideal. It was a real welcome. I got battered but was encouraged, throughout, by patently better men and players. We held our own, enough, as a side, because some of our lads took us within 30-odd of their 242. (40 overs).

In the bar it felt good. We had a few laughs and the unspoken awareness that we had ju-ust begun to morph into another ridicubrotherhood – though in defeat – bounced or spread agreeably round the room. Strangers brought together: that corny, wonderful, sporting cobblers.

But when and how, exactly, did that start? (There’s another post on that!) Could be we felt it on the outfield from the first lumber. It *really can* transmit subconsciously, eh – or somehow? From the first ball – before then? – there was something. Body-language. Verbals. Team Humour.

Maybe it passed or blossomed in the friendly exchanges over our modest consumption of alcohol. (This was no riot). Maybe with the quiz card, or during the Few Words from captain and visiting stalwart – who knows? It was quiet, undeniable magic, with the Pembrokeshire sunshine and the open doors and the guys all ‘suffering’ or recovering: blokes who can really play being good to those who possibly can’t.

I got an award – an allegedly cuddly duck, in take-no-prisoners yellow. I hadn’t batted, on merit, but had probably made the telling contributions in our defeat. So fair cop. We go again, god-willing, on Thursday.

The Revolution According to Anya Shrubsole.

There will be some words but not, let’s be honest, that many. (Wonder why that is?)

After 14 years, Anya Shrubsole, MBE, is hanging up those clodhoppers – at international level, anyway. She has left rather magnificently, with characteristic intelligence and healthy self-awareness. Her career in the game will continue, and I have no doubt she will continue to be a significant threat to batters, quite possibly for some years. But there is a rare-ish consensus that despite being just 30, this was the time. Why would that be?

I’ve been more outspoken (some would say brutal) about Shrubsole’s fitness, than most. I’ve tried to judge her as an international athlete as opposed to a woman and *in that context* been clear that her conditioning has been unacceptable for some time. (Get that some think I’m just another misogynist; politely disagree). Now plenty of folks seem to be gently agreeing, or perhaps more exactly accepting that with the fabulous development of the game now including/demanding significantly higher standards of movement, agility and (obviously) fielding, generally, Anya has become exposed.

In her farewell statement, she says

To have been involved in women’s cricket at a time of such growth has been an honour but it has become clear to me that it is moving forward faster than I can keep up with, so it is time for me to step away.

She’s right. Her bowling – even without being quick – is still often outstanding, and uniquely bananalicious. (Shrubsole has swung the ball better and further than almost any bowler on the planet, for a decade). In-swingers. Beauties. Australia may have made her look eminently or reasonably playable, over the last few months but the sheer voluptuousness of that arc through the air has been simply too much for many international opponents, for aeons.

Right now it maybe that things have crept against her even on this – although I am clear that it is fundamentally the conditioning thing that has nudged her aside. Because all standards are going dizzily skyward, the sense that she is *relatively* one-dimensional, bowling-wise, has been developing. She of course can and does vary pace and mixes up deliveries a little but that killer inswing has always been the weapon. Of late, the likes of Healy, Lanning and Mooney looked like they could read it.

It will be fascinating to see if Shrubsole can remain a force in the formats she continues to grace. Will more bats more confidently swing through? Dunno… but openly hope Anya doesn’t get entirely found out – she’s too good and her contribution’s been too magnificent for that.

I first saw Anya Shrubsole live at Glamorgan CC, for a double-header against Australia. This was 2015, I think: (go check, there’s a blog pretty much dedicated to her performance). The women’s *scene* had begun to reveal its potential to me and I knew a little… but WOW. Sitting directly behind her as she ran in, possibly on my first visit to the Glam Media Centre, was deliciously memorable. The amount of swing Shrubsole got that day was a bloody revelation (to me). She struggled to contain it but got a three-for, again from memory, including some of those Ozzy Superstars.

I know I wrote that she was the best or most exciting bowler on the day (when the blokes played too, right?) It really could be that the Ole Partnership of Brunty and Shrubbers grabbed a hold of me right there and then: I’ve been attending England Women internationals ever since.

So – despite being critical – I’m gonna miss this woman. For her very English doughtiness and rather moody, schoolmistress-like air, in the field. For her late-order batting grit. But mainly for the world-beating, sometimes thrillingly late-looping bowling. For that, Shrubsole will always be special; will always be a leader, in fact, of The Revolution.

Different Level.

Let’s start with a minute’s applause, for an Australian side we freely acknowledge to be a worldie – even those of still somewhat trapped by that feeble, generational tribalism-thing, that puts an anchor on pro-Aus warblature. They are different level; they’ve proved it; it’s a triumph for all of them. Their seemingly impregnable mentality is a powerful, impressive, undeniable bloc, that even us Poms have to defer to and respect.

So where’s it come from? From Mott’s shrewd leadership – and Lanning’s. Via deep, committed investment, both financial and in terms of planning, to make the execution possible. From a spectacular group of talented and resilient players. From things strategised, then ‘allowed to happen’, or nurtured, rather than directed or coached, entirely – because, maybe, they can’t be coached. Plenty of this is supra-sport, beyond measurement, ownership or even explanation. How fabulous is that?

Australia are all of those juggernaut-tastic things the media and the fans are calling them. It’s great that a truly ground-breaking squad has demonstrated their brilliance so emphatically… and gone and won the bloody thing. This is what Sporting Justice ought to look like: the best winning, fair and square (and ideally with some style). All. Boxes. Ticked.

But where does this leave England? In credit, firstly, in the sense that they have fought back from some degree of humiliation (never mind disappointment) in the early rounds of this tournament. They were distressingly poor, particularly in the field, for a nerve-jangling and near-‘fatal’ period. A way back (and forward, obvs) was found.

Interesting to note Ecclestone’s lurv-note to her skipper, in this regard. Sophie notably keen to big up ‘Trevor’ for guiding/chivvying/leading the group back into contention. For England to win a series of sudden-death matches and then stay ahead of the Australian run-rate for thirty-odd overs, chasing a ridicu-total in the World Cup Final is no mean feat. To smash South Africa in the semi is no mean feat. Ecclestone publicly lumped a lot of the credit for the honourable resurgence at her captain’s feet.

There are rumours around the obvious potential retirees – Brunt and Shrubsole. The latter was tearful both before and after the game: no wonder. Shrubsole had a goodish semi and final but her conditioning and the feeling that more teams will find her out more easily as time and skill-levels fly on and up, work against her keenly now. Yes she is still taking wickets but a wee slackening in pace is inevitable. That together with raised expectations and the urgent need to enact the succession planning we can only imagine has been at the forefront of the coaching groups’ minds for some time point to an international retirement soon. It’s time.

Brunt is older but a different animal. Fitter and more adversarial than Shrubsole – generally in a good way – the long-time Pack Leader may still have the energy and the skills to compete for a place. (Whether this is either the right thing, or helpful to either party is something those of us the outside would be foolish to judge upon). My daft guess is that both opening bowlers may retire – possibly from all cricket – with Shrubsole moving into a coaching role, maybe within a shortish time-frame. (She just strikes me as a thoughtful one, and someone who might impart valuable stuff with some dexterity. Brunt is allegedly a lovely, ‘soft’, warm human away from the battle but somehow I don’t see her settling back into stuff, away and without direct involvement in that mortal combat).

The World Cup Final, perhaps inevitably, laid bare some of the concerns, for England. What happens when early wickets don’t tumble, for the bowling unit? What happens if Sciver, striding out to bat, can’t find her Superwoman suit? How can Brunt be batting 7? What level *really*, are Dean and Cross working at, ball-in-hand?

We cannot address any of these issues without re-stating the specialness of Australia; without revisiting the clear yellow water between Oz and everybody else. But let’s assume – as England will – that they are the standard to which they aspire. Simply no point in aiming towards Indian or South African ‘ceilings’: how well Ecclestone – to take the extreme and uppermost example – goes against that second tier, is irrelevant to progress. England must address the towering spinner’s relative failure to impact the fixtures against Australia. (Go look at the stats. Interesting).

Watching Ecclestone go for 70-odd in her ten overs (again) was no real surprise – Australia, we know, are *that good* – but Keightley and co (as well as the bowler) must look at the specifics around that, as well as the general impregnability of the Australian line-up. All of us with an opinion to hurl were saying, before the game, that England must find a way to knock over seven or eight Aussie wickets to stand any chance. It didn’t happen. Three toughish chances were dropped and by the time wickets fell, a platform the size of a South Sea island had been built.

It may have been that Lanning, Mooney and Perry didn’t need that incredi-base to free them up – such is their confidence and skill. But having a mighty lump of runs behind you does *change things*. I might have gone in there and fearlessly biffed a few, in those last ten overs. Australia, without me, struck 120 runs off the last 60 balls(!) Strewth. No wonder the record books were exploding.

Final thought on the Australian batting. Perry. This may be sentimental but how wonderful to see her just do enough, in her limited time at the crease, to offer a wee sense of her choiceness, her flow. Unwise words both but she remains a goddess of the game, a natural – as demonstrated by her exhibition in the field, where she gathered and threw splendidly.

To England, and particulars of their game. Wyatt could not maintain her own, superlative form, of the semi and, despite being England’s best fielder, she dropped a sharpish chance, at point. (That, in hindsight seems a little symbolic… and despite the Independence of All Things, it felt a little like that precipitated further drops from Sciver and Beaumont). Opening-up, as always, Beaumont fell earlyish, too, again playing across – something she may need to re-address. Early-doors, England stayed ahead of the run-rate, but a killer partnership never seemed likely: compare and contrast(?)

Knight could not resist: England’s platform was therefore creditable but wobbly. Jones, joining Sciver, found a few shots but fell off again. Dunkley, in at 6, felt like the last significant protagonist… with a zillion runs still to make. When she was bowled, rather unsatisfactorily, behind here legs, Sciver, going mightily once more, looked stranded – or likely to be so.(As she approached her hundred, this tingled, uncomfortably).

Ultimately, Sciver nailed an extraordinary second century against This Australia, in the tournament: defiance, and then some.

Brunt went, Dean offered meaningful but sadly un-sustainable support and Cross and Shrubsole went cheaply. In short justice was done, and by about the right margin. Another Australian Team For the Ages had powered home, with Healy playing the kind of knock that even Poms like me might raise a glass to.

On a spectacular day, the team in blinding yellow had re-invented the possibles again. Thrillingly.

Universe podcast, : #CWC22, five dangerous themes.

Get that Twitter doesn’t do irony, so expect to be in trouble again, creditibility-wise, as I tear into Media Coverage by erm, ranting unrehearsed. (Do like a bitta mischief. 🤓)

However, there is the occasional worthwhile obsevation, in here, I venture. So have a listen?

Point 1 is about the very mixed coverage – so mainly pointing at Sky… but not just them. Clearly there are some brilliant broadcasters out there but it pisses me off we don’t see too much of them (for women’s coverage).

Do I need to add that clearly there are some brilliant women broadcasters… but that as per the blokes, some are either shockingly bland, air-headed or dull? And we deserve better. So hang the producers. This is not about the sex of the people; it’s about their quality… or the quality of some of them. Loads of viewers reach straight for the mute button: that ain’t right.

Points 2-5 are probably less contentious. I talk about cricket. But yeh, go see. Or listen.

Footnote: should have mentioned Kate Cross, in here. Good athlete, good, consistent bowler and great Team Member. Her nibbly wee fifth-stumpers may well contribute, should England prosper. (Have a slight fear Aus may target her, precisely because of that consistency but really hope she goes well).

Changes.

Unwise, to write whilst disappointed to the point of anger. (Unwise, actually, to get angry about sport, eh?) But I suspect that the three consecutive defeats in this #CWC22 have left those of us that are bothered about Eng Women* starting the Working Week in a right mood.

(*Nobody was watching, live, in the ground. Media coverage, though growing, will be miniscule compared to male equivalents. So yeh I’m bit cheesed orff; ’bout everything).

Lets draw up a swift Mitigating Circumstances column. To draw some of the venom. England have been pretty bad because:

Demoralised by a higher level Australian side, in a concerningly one-sided Ashes tour.

Bubbles/travel/boredom/homesickness.

Erm… something else?

These appear to be reasonably meaningful factors but do they account for manifestly below-par performances against West Indies and South Africa and that undeniable sense that England are in something of a mess? It’s right to acknowledge improvements elsewhere – ‘smaller nations’ catching up – but should that equate to or account for a steepish decline in performance levels for Heather Knight’s side?

The answer to that latter question is ‘maybe’; or, ‘it could’. Because pressure. Pressure from the rails, from under your collar, from inside the mind. England *suddenly feeling* vulnerable when they should still feel better, more solid, empowered. Because England are the second best side in the world. Meaning the answer to that question is also ‘no’.

South Africa have just beaten England in a tense but not exceptional match – certainly not, quality-wise. Player of the Match Marizanne Kapp may have thanked “her saviour” immediately after the game but she might have thanked any one a series of England fielders who again either spurned catches/stumpings or dived over balls that might have been stopped. Sour grapes? (Possibly: I’m soured, but I’m not sure anyone beyond Ecclestone can be satisfied with their contribution in the field. Given this is where England have stayed ahead of those developing sides – through what we might broadly call professional intensity and execution – the persistently shoddy work from England has felt genuinely galling).

Read the specifics of the match elsewhere. South Africa won it and deserved to win it but England’s batting was timid and one-dimensional and their fielding was badly off. Beaumont dropped an easy catch and was again, like her team-mates, ‘mixed’ – prone to dive over or past the ball. Jones, behind the sticks, was alarmingly in and out, Brunt and Shrubsole again relatively impotent.

The latter is somehow shielded from criticism (and there may be reasons for this) but it feels entirely reasonable to note that as a full-time professional athlete, in a universe where expectations have dramatically changed for the better, she is two stones too heavy… and this patently affects her fielding… and maybe to a lesser extent her bowling.

I have always been a huge fan – have gone on the record many times, to that effect. But it is not acceptable, any longer, that prime, professional athletes are so badly out of condition. This is one reason why Shrubsole should retire (and I expect her to) after this tournament; whatever happens over the remaining games. Anya Shrubsole has been a glorious intoxicant in the game, for a decade and more – arguably the best swing bowler in the world for much of that period. Now she should go.

Given that Shrubsole’s long, long-term partner is in a similar ‘twilight phase’, there’s a really fascinating link between the men and women’s international sides in respect of their opening bowlers. But I’m not going there. Katherine Brunt is (I repeat, like her colleague) one of the greats. Powerful, punchy but also loaded to the gills with a rare guilefulness, Brunt has had a low-key tournament. Could be powers fading. Could be tiredness.

There has been, quite rightly, talk of a double replacement or retirement, here. The Pretenders – notably Bell and Wong – have been drawing support concomitant to the criticism of the coach, in the absence of opportunity or ‘succession planning’. Brunt remains better and certainly more consistent than both… but sure, that proverbial clock is ticking.

All of which brings me back to the coach, Lisa Keightley. She’s done her work quietly, in the background: despite being drawn to more obviously charismatic characters, I have no issue with that. (Clearly, you don’t have to be an extrovert to be somebody people or players will follow). And yet I think she should go. The team energy has been somewhere between frail and limp, too often. There are simply too many errors going on. It feels – whatever that means – like the team lacks character. All of that is the coach’s responsibility: they are charged with making the environment.

We all have our own ideas about selection – that’s part of the joy of this, yes? My own admittedly left-field opinion, following a night in Hove where she did that thing where something ver-ry special gets announced, is that Mady Villiers had to be a fixture in this side. Maybe for that stunning, invigorating brilliance in the field alone. And Shrubsole should have been rotated in and out, or possibly simply de-selected, to bring on the newbees and recognise the modern realities re athletic non-negotiables. And, somehow, the likes of Beaumont and Jones and even Brunt should have been challenged more directly to perform or buck up, with the bat.

The squad’s felt too cosy; too willowy, even. Coach must not allow that to happen. Wyatt and Jones and Winfield-Hill endlessly gifting poor, premature dismissals to the opposition. Woeful catching becoming, or feeling predictable. Confidence paper-thin. For an age, Knight’s doughtiness, Beaumont’s application and Sciver’s power have carried the team – kept that chasing pack chasing. Now England look caught.

There is a chance that England could yet qualify. A slim one. If they do then they will be a threat, should they play to their maximum. So far, plainly, they have been devastatingly short of that aspiration. They will feel shrivelled and beaten in every sense…. and I guess I’m not helping here.

Pressure is real and not real. Keightley and Knight have to engineer the most astonishing of revivals. I hope they do it. If they don’t, then of course there must be changes.

Another field.

Just me, or did everything go foggy? Just not sure if I’m seeing straight, or walking straight. As though I’m foot-dragging, head-down – as though some impenetrable gloom is settling.

Could be the whole Ukraine shitshow, of course. Undoubtedly is. That’s monstrous and unsettling, even from this (my/our) safe distance. Cruel. But something else, something that’s going to sound on the one level insultingly melodramatic, set me off walking – quite literally – towards some light and some respite, yesterday. Deaths from another field.

My hands are up. I’m plainly one of the Poms that bridled when Marsh or Warne did their lary Australian thing: when they so mischievously and powerfully stoked our feeble, tribal Brit-dom. Couldn’t stand them, in the day. Too ‘in yer face’ – too Ozzy. Spent years if not decades fighting back the open vitriol against a painfully endless series of Australian Super-teams. Often it broke through and I’d be bawling at the telly like some inflamed, proto-Barmy Army clan-member, high on beer or anger or jealousy. Rod Marsh was a bull with gloves on; Warne a chopsy bamboozler. The bastards always beat us and generally smashed us. Because they were bloody sensational.

Warne is rightly being talked about in a different way. He was in a category of one. Dazzling, touched by something ver-ry special: a blonde ringmaster. Marsh was less extravagantly gifted but in terms of team humour and durability, equally a force. They were both macho men, with arses like rhinos and that toughened rhino-like skin: kings of fierce banter and apex-predator confidence. I went walking yesterday to mourn them… and to escape the crushing poignancy of our own family losses to cardiac arrest.

Then suddenly the cricket was back. Australia versus England – beautifully or cruelly(?)- in the Women’s World Cup, no less.

Earlier the fabulously dramatic (though mixed quality) New Zealand v West Indies match had cut through the seemingly universal melancholy. The White Ferns (hosts) had contrived to lose three wickets in the last over, needing only six runs to win; Deandra Dottin taking the whole “hold my beer” schemozzle to a different stratum, by returning to the match to twist the fates. Incredible, but (with all due respect) something of a warm-up act for the Ashes re-run.

In Hamilton, England chose to bowl and Brunt and Shrubsole executed, certainly with regard to control, without making the breakthroughs that were always likely to be necessary against the world’s best. Healy scored at a decent rate but was mis-timing, on a pitch that the distinctively discerning Nasser Hussain – how brilliant?!? – described, within a matter of overs as challengingly ‘tacky’. (He went on to relate just how Kate Cross’s modus operandum – length, in particular – might be central to proceedings. The fact that she didn’t quite prove him right does nothing to undermine the sparkling acuity of his observations). Haynes battled stodgily through, early on, Healy was out miscuing before Australia engaged Bat Long In Order To GO BIG mode- as they so often do.

Lanning made 86 and Haynes an increasingly dynamic 130 as the Southern Stars (are they still calling themselves that?) posted an intimidating 310 for 3. Tellingly, they had made 100 runs from the final 60 balls, with both Perry and Mooney contributing to the concluding burst. It was always likely to be too much.

England are good and were good, in that first knock. But not special. Ecclestone – a worldie of a bowler but an average, if improving fielder – might possibly have claimed two catches. Given that these were offered by Lanning and Haynes before they really opened up, this bloody hurt. Players of that quality really are going to cash in and build, if you gift them lives.

Not that England didn’t compete. Beaumont, Knight, Sciver and to a lesser extent Dunkley and Brunt can be pret-ty content with their contributions with the bat. But this is not the case – again – with Winfield-Hill, Jones and Wyatt, all of whom did that *slightly predictable* under-achievement thing.

Get that it’s hugely insulting to question anyone’s mettle… but this may be where we are with those individuals. Unquestionably players but too often(?) unable to demonstrate the toughness or resolve or whatever it is, to contribute under manifest pressure. (Unconvinced? I’ve watched them live, multiple times. You can feel it coming.).

Jones is fortunate in the sense that she is a relative fixture on account of her primacy as a ‘keeper. But she’s been infuriating, more often that not, with the bat. Can hit strikingly purely but so-o often swings without timing or sufficient confidence across the line – miscuing to the fielder. Winfield-Hill can be classical and doughty and sometimes stylishly expansive… but rarely gets past 30. Weirdly, it may be that she surrenders her place to the mercurial, popular and sometimes thrillingly positive Wyatt, who opened for an extended period before a drop in her form.

On paper England bat deep but in practice, against Real Contenders, there are questions arising. It’s true, I think that despite the development of historically less powerful (cricketing) nations, Keightley’s crew are still more professional and more accomplished than everyone else in this comp – hence the unwanted moniker as ‘The Best Side in the World That Isn’t Australia’. But there is a gap there that the Australian-born England coach will be, must be seeking to close. That gap feels more about temperament than quality, to me.

I don’t enjoy any implication that despite the presence and quality of Beaumont, Knight, Sciver and Brunt, England may lack character, but (despite posting a strong total against the world’s best side!) it sometimes registers like this. Meaning the mix needs a further shake; or particular individuals need to graft, force, grit their way back into some international form. Quite a task to do that, mid-competition.

We can’t finish on a negative, after England got within a handful of runs of a record target. Good game. Encouraging game. Next stop for the ‘Pommie Wimmin?’ Exhilarating, undeniable brilliance. Please.

Ashes Churn.

So we’re all exasperated and hurt, then. And that hurt may be good. We may yet bawl or bundle People towards Progress. Maybe. In a tidal wave of New Year Resolutions, Harrison will confess whilst weeping pitifully, Private Schools will be abolished, the MCC Members will swap the daft yellow and red stuff for hair shirts and the Tory Party will disintegrate in shame. Because Things Can Only (and Must Only) Get Better, right? And This Means Everything.

The Brit Universe is g-nashing over the Ashes. We’re all Experts and we’re All Legitimate Fans and we All Attend County Champs Games, Regularly, Jeff. We all have The Right To The Loudest Opinion, Ever. (Me included). Our exclusive claim on Knowing is being Twittered and Vodcasted to the heavens. Our brilliance and their dumbness is Completely Obvious, Maureen, in a brutally sweeping, sexually-charged and capitalised kindofaway. Because this is righteously simple.

Except it’s not.

Coaching and Coaching Philosophy is/are not simple. Strategic planning and respectful scheduling are not simple. Mental Health is not simple. Daft, daft games are not simple.

Let’s start with coaching – coaching and captaincy and the art of deciding.

Interesting that the likes of Rob Key – medium-intelligent voice, close to the action – has been so-o clear that Silverwood is utterly ‘out of his depth’. Others make the argument that Giles, in gathering power in to the former England paceman/enforcer, has put his Head Coach in a suffocating head-lock: just too much to do, think about, organise, decide upon. Certainly most of us outsiders can find a favourite clanger for this series, whether it be that first Test selection or the return of Crawley, or the dropping of Burns. There is plenty scope for gleeful dismemberment of Silverwood’s more contentious calls.

Now I’m not a prevaricator by nature but I’m less sure than some of you that Silverwood has to go. And I’m less sure again that despite Root being an average captain rather than a brilliant one, he should join his gaffer on the Discarded on Merit pile.

Firstly, not been close to Silverwood, so not seen how his interactions with players are. Secondly, have disagreed with several of the decisions around selection/toss/strategy but that can happen with good coaches, too, right? (‘Game of opinions, Dave’). Forty-ninethly, although it plainly might be that he’s not up to it – and of course the woeful capitulation is traditionally laid essentially at the gaffer’s door, in elite sport – only Farbrace springs immediately to mind as a preferred candidate… and he… yaknow… was there before, pretty much. So in short I guess I’m thinking the summary execution of Silverwood and Root might feel righteous but achieve not so much.

(Sixty-twothly – and the absence of similar views make me fear that I may be missing something here – what about Thorpe? Has G Thorpe Esq not been batting coach for like, years? Why no grief in his direction? Even if he’s the Greatest Bloke Ever, or whatever, does he not hold a hoooge chunk of responsibility? Is he not the ultimate in You Had One Jobbery? Don’t geddit: how he seems to escape scrutiny. Good luck to him… but seems extraordinary).

But breeeeeeathe. Zooming out, there are cultural issues, from shamefully-distracted money-driven policy to exclusion by malice, stealth and/or by toff-dom. Privilege still waiving its todger at us, like some Eton-educated clown. In *that matrix*, bonuses get paid to *this ECB*: the universe really is that warped. But let’s get back to coaching – to batting – because despite what the needier, more distracted corners of Twitter are saying, it was England’s batting that decided the Ashes.

Understandably, there have been some pointed and intelligent reflections on both the technical specifics and wider framing of batting skills and/or the coaching thereof. It’s not just embittered former internationals who are saying the modern player lacks discipline and the modern coach is typically twiddling his/her way through a kind of woke manual. But even this preciously guarded, pleasingly heartfelt ‘debate’ needs to take care around over-simplification.

Yes, it is true that the ECB Coaching Pathway shifted away from instructive, demonstrative coaching towards ‘Core Principles’ and ‘player ownership’. The coach has been invited to be less of an auteur/maestro and more of a skilled inquisitor: the argument being that the traditional format of oldish blokes barking instructions at more or less intimidated ‘pupils’ was a crass way and an ineffective way for players to *actually learn*. (I have some sympathy with this view). But could be that this Generous Modern Way works great for Dynamos but less well for Dom Sibley. (In other words, maybe this is complex and maybe entitlements and protocols and levels of both enquiry and expectation are so bloo-dee different that it’s a nonsense to only approach from the one, holistically-nourishing angle, or imagine that things don’t change as you clamber up the performance ladder?)

It seems absolutely right for a cheery old sod like me to be inspiringly lovely and friendly and encouraging, as I trip out my rhetorical questions to Llanrhian Juniors. But it may be okay – not ideal, but okaaay – for an England coach to shout, swear and tear strips off players who don’t effing get it. Elite sport is, perhaps regrettably, tough. You are gonna have to be a robust individual: tough enough to bear the #bantz and the barrage of bouncers. Tough enough to ‘wear a few’, on and off the pitch. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect that amongst the essential support, camaraderie and joy, there will be challenge, discomfort even, on the road to (their) learning.

Top end cricket – especially Test Cricket, especially batting? – is surely about the ability to resist, to offer sustained and disciplined excellence. You hope, (I imagine) that you can break through into the peace of playing your game. But there may be a period – a cruel period – of mindful doggedness on the way there.

This tour – again – the England batters got nowhere near. Except Root. And sometimes Malan. The rest looked generally shot, or technically ill-equipped to compete. Rightly then, we are asking about what Test Batting needs to look like. Deliciously, once the rage subsides, we may need to consider whether levering-back towards particular ways is wise or possible – or what, precisely, we proscribe against. Just how orthodox is the fella Smith, for Aus, for example?

Against a good Aussie team, not a great one, neither England’s will nor skill seemed up to it. So we’re all angry, we’re all piling in on Silverwood, Harrison, Giles. Fair enough. But as we tear through issues around bat pathway and summer schedules and the dispiriting mean-ness of everything, let’s get our brainy heads on; before the Ashes Churn gets going again.

Worcester.

#FirstWorldProblems. Can’t hardly see my screen, such is the intensity of the sunlight. But hey, can’t start with a mither about the spectacular Rick-directed brightness. Even if it has bundled me into breaking out the dodgy cap… and even if I am now squirming, just a little, in our outdoor cabin/glasshouse. Worcester, right now, you are quirky and beautiful and – as we say in Wales – bluddy lush, mun.

New Zealand win the toss and opt to field. Two changes, for England – Wyatt and Farrant in.

Interestingly, Wyatt, collecting her 200th England cap today, will bat at seven. Lots of talk about rotation and ‘workload’. Tiny crowd in, all things considered. (Sunday; good value day out, in bright sunshine; competitive international fixture in prospect). Kerr will bowl to Winfield-Hill. Beaumont the other opener. Slightly surreal situation where I have BBC Radio on – for the cricket – and 5 metres to my right (but indoors) Alison Mitchell and Georgia Adams are doing it live.

Captain Sophie Devine will follow Kerr’s quiet opener. Beaumont greets her with a classical forward drive, beating mid-off. Four. Then a full delivery on leg stick is clipped away and a third boundary comes via a full-toss, through extra. Ah. Then, having biffed 12 runs off 6 deliveries, Beaumont rather shockingly leaves one… and is bowled. She a) mis-read the angle a little and b) wasn’t ready for the critical but minor twitch off the pitch. Off stump pinged. 14 for 1. Drama Overload, early-doors.

Kerr is back for the third. The unflappable, irresistible, quietly magnificent Heather Knight (no pressure!) is in.

More action in the next over, again bowled by Devine. Winfield-Hill lifts over point then hits shot of the day – early shout but may not be beaten – creaming one out between the offside fielders. Eased out, in fact, beautifully. Five overs done and the home side are 27 for 1. Time for Tahuhu.

Out on the field I’m thinking the temperature is about 70 degrees. Where the (three of us) Written Press People are sitting it’s into the 80s. #Justsaying. We are all wearing dodgy caps but still squinting from beneath their plainly inadequate peaks. The day is ridiculous; again. Whilst we’re digressing I note that Bromsgrove School are sponsoring something down here: their logo is up on the scoreboard. Have been there on junior tours. Three cricket pitches and a general embarrassment of riches.

Did I mention we’re viewing from third man? (Right hand bat). Knight pulls Tahuhu hard, for four. 45 for 1 after 8, with both batters looking tidy. Fifty is up as Kerr strays narrowly but beats everything. The trashy metal pillar with its peeling paint and stubborn permanence, blocking my view of mid-off and the cathedral… will only be mentioned once.

Winfield-Hill really does clatter Tahuhu over square leg, for a one-bounce four. Ten over powerplay done, England 59 for 1.

Rowe joins us for the 11th, from the New Road End. A floaty away-swinger draws a nick, from Knight: gone, caught Martin, for 18. (It did swing late – so great ball, first up). Sciver will join Winfield-Hill. Mixed over, ultimately, containing two wides and a worldie. Tahuhu follows.

Winfield-Hill again pushes neatly through the covers. With Beaumont and Knight both gone, she will feel England need her to go big. Might make sense for her to bat through whilst the likes of Sciver and Wyatt bring some boom.

*Except* that the Mighty Sciver is leaving us, having tamely chipped to cover, off the outer edge. Again Rowe the successful bowler. 67 for 3 and New Zealand back in the game. Amy Jones – who is by nature a positive or attacking player – will be conscious that a Proper Partnership is needed. Credit to the Ferns, who are again looking organised, committed and a threat. Devine returns, to look to press home the recent advantage.

Another sloppy dismissal. Jones has tried a wristy flick but merely dinked one straight to midwicket. Given the context, poor. 68 for 4 so England in some minor grief. Dunkley will have a further opportunity to fill that post-collapse ‘saviour’ role. (Henry Moeran informs us that England have fallen into a 3 for 89 off 22 balls-sized hole, of late). Strikes me again that New Zealand – the away side – are here to compete.

Dunkley takes Rowe for four. A trainer brings on water – and no doubt *messages*.

Alex Hartley is suddenly bit mortified she said “brain fart” on the radio – describing that Beaumont dismissal. Izzy Westbury meanwhile is waxing lyrical about the delivery, from Sophie Devine. Genuinely encouraging to see and hear the comm-box – doorway, 3.25 metres to my right – owned by young women.

Coo. The stand is now just offering a little protection from the glare. Still magical conditions out where it matters. Oh – and the crowd has grown, too. Significantly.

Quiet period – as there was, mid-innings, in the previous game of the series. Dunkley air-shotting and Winfield-Hill weirdly missing from the action. The England pair may yet ‘see this out’ but it’s a battle, currently. W-H has 30 from 49 and Dunkley is on 10, off 24. Tahuhu goes short and is pulled – but just for the single.

The bowler repeats that shortish one and Dunkley gets in a mess; succeeding only in scuffing it from high on the bat to the catcher at midwicket. She’s drawn lots of lurv, this season, for her strong contributions with the bat (in domestic formats) plus her fielding has been highly-rated, but live, for England, I’ve not been that convinced, by Dunkley. Even when she allegedly carried England through, at Hove. Batting a touch scratchy, fielding mixed: possible rather than nailed-on ‘international’ is my view, thus far – outlier though that makes me.

Another decent ball gets another ugly wicket. 85 for 5; enter Dani Wyatt . Our first sight of Kasperek in the match. Wyatt is another ‘natural counter-attacker’: am fascinated to know what her coach Keightley might have said (if anything) before she marched out. Only 20 overs into the event.

Wyatt rises to her tiptoes and cuts Tahuhu neatly for four. Genuine, quick bouncer follows. The batter ducks. Another short one is clonked forward of square, raising two more, before the hundred is up, in this the 22nd over. (So run-rate mediocre… and credit New Zealand as well as indifferent batting).

Cloud cover has increased by 39.4%. No idea if that was forecast – don’t think we’re expecting any rain – but England might want to draft Shrubsole back in, sharpish.

25 overs in – so halfway. England 110, which is probably 30 runs light of where they’d like or expected to be. 5 down. Assuming they use the overs, a total of around 250 seems not unthinkable. It may be enough. For the home side to get beyond that this Wyatt/Winfield-Hill axis may need to persist and then flourish. It could. In any event we’re back to thought that White Ferns compete well, with the ball. For the sake of the game and the series, I hope they can do the same with the bat.

Satterthwaite joins, W-H seems becalmed. Then disaster. Wyatt pulls Kasperek and the batters set off. Two is questionable; or questioned; or risked; or out of the question. Utter howler on the communications front: both batters finish up at the same end. Village? Oh yes. It’s Winfield-Hill who has to walk. After 28 overs, with Charlie Dean now in there with Wyatt, England are in bother at 122 for 6.

To her credit, Wyatt is sweeping Satterthwaite ambitiously. Four behind square.

Meteorologically, the sky is falling in, to match the English innings. Low, decidedly grey cloud over most of the ground. Significantly more bowler-friendly (theoretically) than a couple of hours ago. Interestingly, the Ferns are going with spin through this ‘seamers’ dream’.

Dean, now on 8, plays and misses at Kasperek. Then gets a fine, fine edge which is given after review. 134 for 7 as Ecclestone walks out there. Good running brings a rare three, behind. With under-achievement now seeming inevitable, for England, so our speculation about what seems likely, from New Zealand, becomes increasingly pertinent. Truth is… hard to know. (Always hard to know, of course, but today from this batting line-up – which to be honest, we still know comparatively little about – hard to know). England will probably bowl and field well. The rest – guesswork.

Kerr is in from New Road. The rate of scoring is only about 4 per over. Wyatt waits then cuts away behind square. Four. She now has 35.

Ecclestone – who is a swiper and clubber rather than a genuine bat – clumps Kasperek towards cover and it falls just short. Then Wyatt clouts over extra and Devine is scurrying back there… but again, safe – rather narrowly. Tense. Not sure you would bet on the home side using the overs.

Rowe is back for the 35th over, with England 144 for 7. Ecclestone clubs her short one directly to midwicket. Sloppy again? I would say so. Cross edges her first ball finely and safely. Moments later, reaching at Kasperek, she edges and finds gully. 146 for 9. Whatever happens next – and it *is entirely possible* that England blow the Ferns away as the afternoon turns to evening – this is close to humiliating, for Knight’s team. A whole series of ver-ry poor dismissals.

Farrant has joined Wyatt with a remarkable 15 overs remaining. 150 up before Farrant clips away a leg-side full-toss. Rowe is soon met with a violent straight hit, middled, from Wyatt – the game’s first six. I have on occasion been critical of Wyatt’s capacity for gifting her wicket. *Ironies*. Today she may get to 50 whilst effectively being both the anchor and the sticking-plaster. (I have never doubted that she is a player).

Tahuhu is back and Farrant, who I note *carries the bat like a bowler, whilst running between the sticks*, stands firm. And wow… the sun is back. Really back, blazing again from our right.

Rowe, to try to end this, from New Road. Bowls another wide. Farrant has 11 and Wyatt 45. Weather-wise, we’re back where we started – in Near Wild Heaven. Rowe returns to Wide Hell, sadly – despite showing promise, has bowled manifestly too many. 171 for 9 as Tahuhu comes in for the 40th over. Farrant looks, or is trying to look unflustered but seems a little racy, somehow. Flicks at one down leg but the snick falls short of Martin.

Prolonged and hearty applause, as Wyatt reaches 50. Likewise when she booms Rowe over mid-off for her second six. Fine, lone knock, enjoyed and appreciated.

Farrant edges Rowe but again the ball drops short of the keeper. So things feel precarious. Wyatt back-cuts Tahuhu but Green makes an outstanding diving stop at the boundary. May have to start calling Tarrant ‘plucky’. Has 21. May have been a case for getting Kerr and Devine on 5 or 6 overs ago. Kerr will bowl the 43rd.

200 will feel like a ‘milestone’. England approaching. The 50 partnership is up; could be major in the game. Can Kasperek break this open? Not immediately; Wyatt successfully dropping and scampering. But then… yes. Farrant is caught by Green at mid-on, unable to power up and over. England 197 all out: disappointing from them. Good, from the White Ferns.

The White Ferns Reply.

Sciver, first up, for England, in returning cloud, with Suzie Bates to face. Lauren Down the other batter. Quiet over, then Farrant, whom I suspect may swing it. The rather mean thought(?) has occurred that *whatever happens*, we will be travelling to our homes come about 5.30pm. Winfield-Hill draws generous applause with a bold, successful diving stop.

Sciver is doing that exaggerated vertical pistons thing and searching for a full length. No dramas. 10 for 0 after 3. A shower feels not impossible, suddenly. Bit unfortunate that the screen opposite us, from which we’ve had the benefit of replays, is no longer offering footage. Would be good to see if Farrant, in particular, is getting anything through the air. If she is, it’s not troubling Bates, who has moved to 19. (As I finish this sentence, we get stump-cam, then four seconds of video, then back to zilch. More #firstworldproblems).

Bates cracks Sciver through the covers for four more. 33 for 0 after 7. Perfect, for the Ferns. Farrant will continue but I’m guessing there may be changes after this over. Indeed there are; Kate Cross, from the Diglis End, for starters. Bates ungenerously whips her for four. But the Slightly Sloppy Wicket theme recurrs, as Bates drives straight to Wyatt. The catch is reviewed but confirmed, despite unconvincing angles and picture clarity. Probably out, I would say. 40 for 1 as Farrant comes in again.

Down goes to 11 with a nicely-focussed off-drive, for four. 44 for 1, at 10 overs completed. Imagine Farrant feels – or her skipper does – that there’s still something in this for her. She gets a sixth over.

My feeling is that Cross is a bowler of good spells and not so many killer balls. And that she also tends to offer width – and boundaries, to off. Happening here, a little. She almost gets a caught and bowled, as Down pushes. 62 for 1 after 13. Comfortable, for New Zealand. Ecclestone will look to disturb the relative peace.

She does. Green is caught by a ver-ry watchful Charlie Dean. Ball steepled to long-on. Wicket out of nowhere? Ecclestone’s your gal. Satterthwaite comes in at 63 for 2. A thin rain is falling – not enough, for now, to interrupt the game.

It may, however, have interrupted the White Ferns’ concentration. Down is lbw to Cross and does not review. 63 for 3. Devine time.

They’re starting from scratch together but Satterthwaite and Devine might manage this situation better than most. Have quality; have experience. Drinks break whilst we contemplate what that might mean. 73 for 3 after 16, New Zealand.

Cross, once more. Devine crunches her square but Beaumont’s hands are good. No run. Sciver can’t match that. She dives over a drilled drive and it goes for four. Not had a great time of it, today, the all-rounder. Just heard on social that Jimmy Greaves has died. Sad moment; he was a genius on the pitch and a character in our lives off it.

*Almost something* as Wyatt is throwing at the bowler’s end with Devine looking stranded, following yet another communications failure. Wyatt is probably England’s best fielder but the throw is missing and Cross can’t haul it in. An escape, for the Ferns.

Satterthwaite fails to make the best of that escape. She slashes at Cross and is caught sharply behind by the consistently excellent Jones. Halliday has joined Devine. Dean will bowl her first from the Diglis End. Devine sweeps her powerfully, for four. Twice. Ten from the over, 100 up, 4 down, as we go into the 22nd.

The screens are now helpfully telling us that the White Ferns need three point something-something runs per over. And it’s raining finely again. And the game feels quiet rather than tense. For now. Little bit surprised that the umpires are allowing the players to go off – the rain really seems ver-ry minor*. Maybe they’re hearing that it will persist. 111 for 4 after 24 overs, at the break of play.

*Update. I’m both wrong and right. It’s minor but it’s too prolonged and uncomfortable to play through. We wait. Just heard about that Hammers Icon, Noble. Eek-face emoji running rampant on the Twitters, I imagine?

Further update: ‘unexpected shower sets in’ shock. No floodlights. Game under some threat…

It’s cleared – or clearing. We could start in 15 minutes but we *are starting* in 35, apparently. Stand by your beds.

Slightly reduced game, due to time lost/no lights/autumnal wotsits. 42 over game, now and New Zealand need 72 to win. So a round 4 an over will get the visitors home. That shortened game favours them in the sense that you would think their 6 remaining wickets can survive the overs. But let’s see.

Sciver will start us off. Jumpers on, now, for most. Coolish and the surface will be slightly damp. Imagine England will have to bowl them out to win this(?) Two from the over.

Now from our left, at the New Road End, it’s Ecclestone. Sharp reflexes from the bowler, last ball; one single conceded. Then *moment*. Sciver gets straight through Devine. Difficult to be sure but appeared that the batter mistimed the stroke, going gently across the line. Devine made 28 and her team need 66. Dean comes in: is Ecclestone changing ends, or being ‘saved?’

Thick edge from Martin but the next ball bowls her. Some revs evident, but no turn. 121 for 6, she’s gone for 6. Dean thrilled.

The incoming Rowe drives competently past Knight – who is maybe a little wooden – and gets the boundary. Then more Sciver. No dramas.

Back to Dean, with the tension just beginning to ratchet up. Nice, free action. Singles. The sense that Halliday may be more vulnerable than Rowe. 30 0vers; 12 remain. 52 to win this. Cross will return from the Diglis End. Starts with a yorker, kept out, by Halliday. Inside edge brings one, to fine leg. Dean races around to protect that same boundary – successfully.

Halliday, crouching and fending unconvincingly, is struck on the helmet by a good length delivery, from Cross. Minor delay but she seems okay. No question that Rowe is presenting the bat better than her partner… but not well enough. Dean has her lbw. Flighted delivery which turned just a tickle – hitting leg. Kasperek joins Halliday at 135 for 7.

First ball she utterly mistimes… and misses… but survives. Encouraging wee spell for Dean, acknowledged by the crowd (us) as she returns to third man. (*Spoiler alert*: she will finish with a four-fer). Halliday swivels to pick Cross up very fine and the ball flies, from the hip to the boundary. Run rate just creeping against the Ferns, now but still below 5, so hardly insurmountable. Dean is holding steady. 145 for 7 off 34. Meaning 38 required, off 8 overs. Ecclestone.

Two dot balls. Single. Dot ball. Halliday advances and slices a touch. Lots of side-spin as the ball sinks into the boundary markers. Halliday has a precious 29, without looking entirely in her flow. Dean is in to her now. The ball is fired in, a little and flashes past the bat. Halliday cannot regain her ground as the keeper Jones pounces. Tahuhu – who batted notably well in the last game – is in.

Big Day for Dean, then – something of a breakthrough day. The momentum is with England as Ecclestone comes in again but she knows boundaries must not come. If Kasperek and Tahuhu can keep their composure they will feel that this is still within reach… but it’s now undeniably tense. Three dot balls from Dean then an l.b. shout. Given and not reviewed. 161 for 9. Kerr joins Tahuhu. Slight hunch that the latter could still win this with a few well-timed blows… but England clear favourites.

Farrant. Is edged through the keeper! Then bowls a touch short and may be fortunate to concede just the single. The left-arm seamer closes this out, though, as Tahuhu guides a full one straight to the England skipper at catching mid-off. Very generous applause for both sides as they depart from the outfield. Another tightish game – albeit reduced – won by England with 14 runs to spare. Importantly, another contest.

The White Ferns have been well in both of these two one-day matches, before fading or lacking the batting depth to earn the victories. (In truth, this was the prime concern for those of us trying to stay relatively neutral – the fear that if Bates and Devine and A. N. Other didn’t carry the innings, the side might prove vulnerable. So it has proved). New Zealand will not be liking the sense that they are threatening to be a good side.

England, meanwhile, have been pressured to the point that they, despite an apparent wealth of talent, looked an ordinary batting unit, rescued only by a fine, belated partnership between Wyatt and Farrant. There were serial errors in the innings, suggesting scrambled minds and a worrying contagion: this is a concern for them. Good work in the field has bailed them out, again, here.

The series needs the White Ferns to bat longer, bat more dynamically. England need to assert some authority – if indeed they have it – or check their assumptions about where they sit in the world game. The Keightley Era feels a bit neurotic.

#FinalsDay. (Men). #Edgbaston.

Wow. Energising breeze-in to a comfy parking-slot, embarrassingly nearby. Sun’s already vanquished that pesky misty dew. Waltz up to Media Level and… wow. Edgbaston does it again. Zingtasticly resplendent stadium; cavernous and stunning and guarded, rather weirdly but quietly-gloriously, by epic trees – Cricket Ents? – screening the mid-skyline, leaving only the grandest of glassy, concretey poseurs to peek in towards us. Plus *facilities* already revealing themselves. Food; info; screens; people who look like they will help. A magnificent privilege, every year.

9.45. Somerset pace bowlers already working towards some heat on a side wicket. Hawks guys using tapes to measure out run-ups on the match pitch. Big Name Journos assembling close by. Some are delightful, some are – yaknow – ‘cool’. (Never been a networker). As in life, speak to everyone who seems friendly; leave the others alone, eh? Mason Crane, I think – in cap and full trackie – is turning the ball markedly on a strip directly (directly) under my nose. Impressive and mildly exciting. Somerset take on Hamps Hawks in the first game.

The carrot-and-coriander (crypto-Glamorgan) sausage is tasty and welcome but the bun is a disappointing duffer. Loading up on food and coffee *seems* like a good idea – monster of a day ahead. (Actually I know gallons of coffee is going to make my once-svelte belly bloat like hell but forgot to bring a knife and a lemon and asking for them would plainly single me out as the Psycho Health Fascist in the bunch. Which I am not).

Hawks doing that tripartite warm-up thing where you rotate through fielding drills, in groups of four or so. Keeper being worked individually. That practice strip underneath me is well lively. Watching the ball swing some but turn pret-ty square. Doubt the main pitch will be quite as bowler-friendly but we live in hope. Somerset have won the toss and chosen to field. Hampshire, the Official Programme tells me, are playing in their eighth final in twelve years.

When we finally get going, it’s the returning Overton charging in, with some menace, through the post-pyrotechnic mist. Good pace. Vince and Albert look to be seeing it out but Vince utterly mistimes the final ball, dinking it back (as opposed to slapping it back) to the bowler. Overton can’t hold on. Big Chance. Albert takes Davey for four, square, in the next but then the bowler a) nearly bowls him and b) has a decent l.b. shout against. Batters advancing but we have seen little in the way of clean hitting. Albert, frustrated, tries to invent something but can only tamely mis-scoop behind. Gone for 5. Hawks are 8 for 1 after 2.

Make that 8 for 2. Vince is cutting something too close and also edging to the keeper. Overton the bowler. Weatherley comes in under early pressure. He slog-sweeps, boldly, just evading the fielder at deep square. Six runs. Bright sunshine and the ground about 35% full. Tom Prest has yet to face as Weatherley sweetly clumps Davey for another six, then drives him straight for four. Brilliant start from the batsman, given the moment he was pitched into. When Prest finally gets a look, it’s brief. Davey delivers a peach, full and doing a little off the surface: batter gone for nought. Hampshire in some grief at 26 for 3 as Overton races in again, for the 5th.

Weatherly goes to 23 off 12, steering to the boundary. Ground filling rapidly. Dawson has joined us.

There is a prolonged ‘discussion’ out there as wicketkeeper Banton takes a skier, running twenty yards. Dawson – experienced and streetwise – is vigorously *having words* and we are guessing it may be about fielders moving… but unclear. After an age, the batsman is given not out and a free hit signalled. (No audio in the press box so you may be ahead of me, on this)*. Van der Merwe is bowling from the City End – tidily enough, three from the over. 49 for 3 now, after 7.

*Update. Marchant de Lange apparently guilty of not moving back into the ring. Oof. The big man will be off somebody’s Christmas card list.

Dawson flips an ugly, wristy leading edge towards Gregory but the Hampshire skipper can’t quite get there. Maybe he should have done… but doesn’t matter. Green’s slower-ball yorker soon defeats the fella – bowling him classically ‘all ends up’. Given the influence Liam Dawson tends to have, on proceedings, this feels pivotal. By the time Goldsworthy has wheeled/slung his way through a further over of mid-innings spin, Hawks are beyond 70, but 4-down. Bigger Picture Styleee, we’ve seen enough to hope that today won’t all be about brazenly smashing through the line: the bowlers are in it.

Goldsworthy is. He has McManus – another catch for Banton, semi-juggling. 80 for 5, in the 13th. Marchant de Lange is next in, for the first time, from beneath us. Biggish appeal, but clearly missing. Weatherley persists, joined most recently by Fuller. Mixed over culminates in a high full-toss, merely parried to safety. 84 for 5.

Fuller strikes Goldsworthy through extra, for four: he will need to support his partner. Weatherley gets through to his fifty via a very scratchy single; in truth it may have been a second fairly ordinary piece of fielding by Gregory, who *really might* have run him out. Instead the Hawks’ sole major contributor (so far) has 50 off 38. De Lange, revisited. Bowling 90-plus. No fireworks, however.

Poorish, wide ball from van der Merwe spins even wider but Fuller gets a little on it… and 100 is up. Shocking full-toss is summarily dispatched into the crowd but a calamitous mix-up between the batters yields a soft wicket. That of Fuller, who made 22. 112 for 6, as De Lange comes in for the 18th.

Wood heaves him, slightly toe-ending to deep midwicket, where the fielder, absolutely racing round can only get a hand to it. Four. Next ball is clubbed, downtown. Six. The final delivery is also powered into the crowd. All Fuller, all crucial. 130 for 6. Davey will return – changing ends – for the penultimate over.

Davey again finds something: stonkingly full and straight delivery. Wood’s 18 off 6 has been thrilling but he must leave us. Currie joins Weatherley. Davey does him with the same delivery, second ball. Brilliant stuff. The incoming Crane has one to face. He scuffs and scuttles for two. We are 135 for 8 as De Lange runs in… to try and redeem himself. (Am amazed he gets to bowl this).

First two balls get battered contemptuously, by Weatherley, for six but his genuinely superb contribution ends with a skier to long-on. Innings closes with another run-out, on 152 all out.

Feels competitive, because only De Lange was subjected to a sustained barrage: elsewhere the bowling looked too good or too difficult to hit, without some care. We may, as a result, have a day where scores are lowish but drama is heightened by the relative un-freedom of the batters. Often the guys with the wood can let it flow, violently, through the line, in the knowledge that things will tend work out for them. Not quite like that, here.

The Reply.

Wood opens for the Hawks, with Banton and Smeed in there for Somerset. Just the one from the over. Smeed crunches the first boundary through extra, from Wheal. Notable that good yorkers have, apparently, some value – who knew? 8 for 0 off 2. A touch more cloud?

Prest is in athletically to pouch Banton, in the deep. Goodish hit but not pure enough. Van der Merwe will join Smeed. I pause to note that there are about FIFTY journos in the media centre, today. At the England matches I’ve been attending, there have been 5-8 and I expect that to hold for tomorrow’s game in Worcester. What could the erm, *issue* be, I wonder?

A long umpire’s review, because it was close. It was close but Vince did indeed pick up the low, low scudder and thereby claim the wicket of van der Merwe, for 2. Smeed responds by lifting Currie for four, over mid-off. 28 for 2 after 5.

Short-lived joy for the west-country supporters, as the same batsman swishes across left-armer Wood, a little, to pick out a grateful Vince (again), chest-high. 30 for 3 after the powerplay. Mason Crane.

A run-out! Goldsworthy is out, sprinting into the void. Messy gets marginally worse, as Lammonby plays and misses one which does straighten, and is plumb. 34 for 5 and time for the skipper – Gregory – to man up. More spin, from Dawson.

Great chorus of “OH – RAVI BO-PAA-RAA” from the Hollies. Long day for all of us but surely a killer for many of them? Meanwhile, with Somerset at 48 for 5 at the halfway mark, and the required rate now already just over 10, Abell and Gregory – fine players both – may have to find something special. The relative quiet in the game will not suit them.

Error at the boundary edge gifts a four. More needed. Abell slog-sweeps Dawson, with commitment and no little style, for four more. Singles/twos won’t do this, so they must be thinking two boundaries per over: they have to hit.

Currie is in and backward point is almost in the game, for the cut. Falls a foot short. We have a partnership building but it may lack the necessary dynamism: expect them to launch, of course but is this enough? A six helps… but Gregory falling to Dawson, mistiming, via the pad, doesn’t. Green is here, at 79 for 6, with the bowler’s energy fizzing.

Crane will bowl the 15th, with Somerset needing plenty. Crowd fully involved, now, sun and cloud still local: great scene. Runs but not enough.

Wood from under my left foot. Evidently ‘difficult to get away’. Has figures of 1 for 8 from his 3 overs, so far. 100 is up and Abell’s 50 with it as Currie bowls from the City End. But it’s 50 and “by-ee” as Abell is easily caught in the deep, by Fuller. 105 for 7 after 17, meaning 46 needed from 18 balls.

Wheal beats Overton but there is no nick. Green swings hard and gets enough to beat backward square leg, then guns a loose full-toss over midwicket for six. 35 from 14. Yorkers still featuring. A second, poor full-toss is swung into the Hollies.

Woods has changed ends to bowl the 19th but even he gets no respect. Six. Green. Interesting.

Next ball is swung to the same precinct but mishit. The fielder seems unsure of the trajectory… or something. Down it goes; single scored. Somerset in the game?

YES! Green goes to 35 from 17 by clipping and hoisting over mid-wicket – just. 12 from 8 needed, suddenly.

The heroics – well, Green’s – are over. Shortish one clubbed to long on. Caught with some ease. Overton dribbles one out to make two possible… and gets there. 10 needed from the last. Entirely possible, except Davey is facing – on nought.

Single to midwicket. Wheal goes yorker-length again and only one is possible. Beautiful swing of the bat lifts the third ball up and over and safe. Six. So JUST THREE NEEDED FROM TWO BALLS! Field come in and Davey flicks nonchalantly to leg. Fabulous game, won by Somerset, by two wickets.

Much-needed food. Mascot race. Rest.

SHARKS v SPITFIRES.

The lively Garton, leggy, left-handed, starts with a wide, to leg. Crawley is facing, with Bell-Drummond at t’other end. A second wide is worse – further astray – and not that quick, so nerves, presumably. Six come from that mixed over.

Wiese starts with a full (attempted) leg-cutter but Crawley, charging, hoiks the second away, agriculturally, for our first boundary. Bell-Drummond then guides one to fine-leg for four more, before pulling squarer. 22 for 0 after 2. Brisk start.

Garton finds his range, castling Crawley. (Felt like he was getting too greedy too early). A Plan, no doubt, but he was halfway down the strip for most of his shortish innings. Made 9, from 9. Denly joins Bell-Drummond. Jordan’s direct hit is typically brilliant but to no effect. Tymal Mills – quickish, natural length shortish – will come in from under the media centre. The runs continue to come: 18 from the over. 44 for 1 after just 4. The lovely, wider sunshine is back, flooding. A further change from the City End; Jordan.

He’s going at 84/85 mph, straightish but Bell-Drummond check-cuts one out through cover. Four. Fifty is up, in the over. When Garton returns Denly looks to hoist him classically straight but the bat twists; he finds mid-on and the hands of one of the great fielders in the world game – yup, Chris Jordan. Something of a gift. 53 for 2 after 6.

Sam Billing is in and the youngster Lenham will have a bowl. No major dramas: Kent are going at 8.5 an over. They may be thinking they don’t need to go too big too early. The ‘police’ are chasing ‘burglars’ around the Hollies as Bell-Drummond gets to a beautifully well-judged 50. I put my shades back on – yes, indoors. The carnival is building.

Beer is bowling his second over of leg-spin from in front of us. Getting some turn, in fact. Spitfires get to 82 for 2 at the halfway. Bopara-time, evidently.

The still-influential all-rounder comes at us from the City End. Right arm, medium; mixing it up. Escapes with a full-toss that should have been dispatched… but is belatedly called high… so free hit. Six to square leg. Sharks *really won’t* want Billings to get in alongside his partner – who now has 62.

He doesn’t. Bopara bowls him. 93 for 3, then, as Mills returns, to bowl the 12th. 180 feels possible, and 170 likely.

OOF. Splash of colour and light and the wickets are splayed. Leaning has come and gone – second ball – to the England leftie. Cox joins, Mills bowls a fabulous, searching, quick one and finds an edge: caught behind. Two-in-two and we may need to re-calculate. Except the mighty Stevens, D, is the man in to face the hat-trick ball. (And c’mon, the man’s a legend). He watches the delivery scoot past.

96 for 5 after 12. Still think Sharks will want best part of 80 from the last 8 overs. Bell-Drummond is well in; Stevens is a legend. Let’s see.

100 up after 12.3. Bell-Drummond using Jordan’s pace – caressing. We’re at the stage where the Hollies is erm, a protagonist. Hilarious; daft; noisy; good-humoured. God help the stewards down there.

More soft hands, from Bell-Drummond. Kisses quite deliberately through the keeper. Then Stevens bludgeons over mid-off. Bopara the victim, both times. Five overs remain with Kent Spitfires sitting on 122 for 5. Garton in.

A wide one is thick-edged wide of third man. Four to Stevens, who now has 20. B-D flicks one to 45, high, looping. Could be Lenham misjudges a little. In any case he dives and misses. Four more.

We may all have been wondering if Bell-Drummond would raise his century but the answer is no. He drills Garton straight to Bopara at deep mid-wicket. Gone for an outstanding, skilful 82. Stewart has joined Stevens. Jordan has joined the Slam in the Yorkers Society, with some success. 143 for 6 after 17. (Note it’s 15.45 and the cut-off time is 15.53. Meaningless?)

Stewart can’t hit Mills, which means that Stevens probably must. But just for one. Massive cheer for ‘Ronald McDonald’, to my right… don’t ask.

Spitfires have just spluttered a tad. 150 up but minor under-achievement seems likely. So Stevens scoops cheekily for four. Then smashes but just for two, to deep extra. Jordan’s last ball he does nail. Clean hit through that same extra-cover area. 160 for 6; 6 balls remaining.

Mills finds the edge, first up. Stewart gone for 3, caught by Salt, at the wicket. Qais then runs himself out – not bargaining for Steven’s intransigence. The veteran slams four more over point. We finish with 168 for 8, with Stevens in on 47 from 28.

The reply, from Sussex Sharks.

Denly to Salt and Wright – an experienced threesome. The bowler turns one big but nine runs come from the over. Then a significant change-up as Klaasen comes in; left-arm, quick, but swinging significantly wide. Called. Salt comes at the bowler and cuffs him sharply to leg, for four. Slowish off-cutter does for Salt: edged through to the keeper Billings.

Denly again – a ‘part-timer’ but a bloke who does give it a tweak. Bopara and Wright will be watchful. 26 for 1 after 3. Milnes, who has star quality, will follow.

First ball is clipped neatly enough square, for one. Thick edge then flies over point – safely. Two. Ground almost full; day spectacular, still. As is (I kid you not) the very next ball. Milnes castles Knight with a pearler, to substantial exhilaration.

Stewart is in from the City and hurrying the batsmen. The left-handed Rawlins sees him out, rather. 37 for 2 after 5. Killer back-of-the-hand yorker from Klaasen leaves the same batter on his backside… but in. Good contest again, between bat and ball.

There’s been a minor lull in the stroke-making. The kind that makes batters feel they have to have a go. Rawlins does – fatally – slashing wide and easy out to deep point. By no means an easy catch, mind: excellent agility and great hands from Leaning. 39 for 3, then, as Wiese stomps in: a single added before the fielding side wave farewell to those powerplay restrictions.

But life is cruel, eh, because it’s just too easy for some. Take Darren Stevens. He’s in. He’s taking a wicket. First ball. *Shakes head and makes wtf gestures*. Ridiculous. But also completely predictable.

Qais applies further angst to the Sharks’ camp. Absolute stonker of a leg-spinner takes the edge and shifts Bopara. Billings jubilant to snaffle it – always a big wicket that one. 57 for 5, at this point.

We get to halfway. The run-rate is 10-plus. Ward is in – has 20 – and Garton fresh. Spitfires ahead in the game *but yaknowww*…

The day beginning to slough away its warmth. Garton smashes a way a drag-down, from Qais. His fellow spinner, Leaning, will make the next breakthrough: Ward clumping to the fielder. 89 for 6 after 13.1. A round 80 needed, from 41 balls. Chris Jordan has marched out. Garton drives Leaning beautifully through the covers, to the boundary. Can the two frontline bowlers rise to this?

Qais returns from the City End, with the asking-rate beyond 12. So there must be drama and urgency, or capitulation. Garton flukes an edge behind, for four then extends through to get past long-off, narrowly, for another. Last ball of the over is struck with sweet emphasis into the crowd beyond midwicket. 57 from 30.

Milnes is in to, erm, the national anthem. Of England. Garton – plainly a danger – swishes and times it for six more, over backward square. It can’t last. The Sharks’ quickie is undone by the Spitfires’; caught cutting to backward point. Fabulous, stylishly defiant innings of 41 from 23. Beer joins Jordan. 16 overs done: 2 a ball needed, precisely. 48 from 24. (We do like a bit of symmetry, eh?)

Stewart, from the City. Shadows. Jordan gets all of a short one. Six. Ten from the over.

Klaasen gets biffed back straightish, by Beer. Four. But Jordan can only slash a steepler straight to long-off. Presently (as I think they used to say?) we get to a place where the Sharks need 30 from the last 2 overs. Mills – not known for his batting prowess – is in there alongside Beer. All manner of milling/boozy-related headlines are becoming possible but what will actually happen?

Predictably, Milne is too good for Mills, bowling him with a floaty one. 23 needed, from 7. Young Lenham is greeted by a quicker, fuller one which he keeps out.

Last over feels a formality and is. A short one steered gently round the corner by Lenham is catching practice for Qais and the game belongs to Kent. Klaasen the wicket-taker. We have a Spitfires v Somerset final. The light is already leaving us, my energy is challenged but I’m up for it if you are? Some deeeep breaths – and cakes* – and then we go again.

*Did I mention the hospitality here is world-class? I should. It is, and the staff here have my heartfelt thanks.

THE FINAL – SOMERSET v KENT SPITFIRES.

Somerset have won the toss and opted to field. We have lights – I mean lights that are now earning their living – against a darkening sky. Some of the crowd (I’m guessing 20%*) have left. No changes to either side.

Craig Overton is opening up, from the City End. Crawley will face, with Bell-Drummond partnering. Second ball struck sweetly through mid-wicket, across the cooling carpet, for four. Davey, who bowled outstandingly in the earlier game, is in and also getting some bounce – again almost troubling Bell-Drummonds’ glove.

*Correction. Only about 5 % have left. The buggers were loitering, endlessly around the various bars.

Crawley (who *has something*, yes?) flicks Overton to 45 for four. Could be ver-ry good viewing if he finds his flow. 19 for 0 after 3.

Davey once more. Lights leaning in, now. He tries the yorker but B-D unceremoniously clubs him downtown. Six. Strangely – or maybe not, these days – not middled. Gregory makes another error in the field – his third, at least. Weird: Crawley gets two more. Overton will bowl a third, running towards us.

Crawley pushes calmly straight to go to 22 from 14. Looking decent.

Sixth over. Van der Merwe spears one in sharpish, flattish and Bell-Drummond can only slap it to mid-on. 44 for 1 as Denly joins us. Extraordinarily, he hoists the spinner high, high and way over Abell’s left shoulder, first up. The fielder legs it and measures a brilliant diving catch – a magical, possibly inspirational moment. We have a hat-trick ball, for Sam Billings. He survives it. 46 for 2 after the powerplay.

More spin, from Goldsworthy – a left-armer and off-spinner. 50 up. Five from the over. The left arm spin-theme continues, with van der Merwe. A poor, short delivery is inexplicably drilled by Billings to the man at mid-off: awful and wasteful. He will be furious. Gone for 2. Proper Dusk is with us, at 7.17pm. Leaning has joined Crawley and Goldsworthy maintains the cackhanders’ hold on the innings.

Crawley breaks out with a clump through mid-wicket. Four. No flight whatsoever from Goldsworthy, just a conservative, disciplined firing-in. 62 for 3 after 9.

Van der Merwe, zesty and irritating, bustles in once more. Flat period, for Spitfires. 65 for 3 at halfway implies 150 rather than the 170 they may be looking for. Power-hitting imminent, surely?

Green is bringing some pace from the City and Gregory is drying the ball, now, with a towel. Poor, waist-high delivery is buffed away rather than punished… but free hit ensues. Kent can’t cash in.

When Goldsworthy switches ends and drops one short, Crawley reaches and pulls, unconvincingly. Finds the fielder. He made 41 from 32 but the innings tapered somewhat. Cox is the new man. Another short delivery dies in the pitch, outside off. If the batsman hadn’t committed early to a reverse, you feel it might have been a real gift. Instead – air-shot. Somerset will be loving the lack of fluency, here.

Green goes full and straight, Leaning drives sharply back at him and the bowler can’t unfurl his arms. Half-chance at best.

A much-needed boundary as a top-edgy effort swings up and over to fine leg. Van der Merwe will come in for his fourth… and bowl a loose wide. Low energy effort from the batting side, now, which must mean it feels tricky out there. 3 for 19 from the spell from the canny left-armer. Darkness around.

Goldsworthy will likewise see out his overs. Again it will be air-less and fired-in too short to be charged. The 100 is up, for 4 in that 15th over. (105, in fact, as Goldsworthy tosses back the ball). 140 likely? Over to Davey.

The necessary clutch of Kent boundaries seem almost unthinkable. Davey is mostly pace-off: a slower-ball bouncer – which may have been accidental – draws another error. Leaning can only miscue to Green at mid-wicket. What can Darren Stevens do?

De Lange bowls an off-cutter at his nose. Stevens steps back calmly enough and glides it to fine third man, for a single. Cox swings straight through but mistimes a little: gets enough of it to clear mid-on. Bits and pieces when they need to find some serious boom. It must be tricky, out there. 118 for 5 after 17.

Craig Overton will bowl his final over from underneath us. Cox cuts and Gregory can’t get there – four. First six for an age is neatly taken in the stand beyond long-on. A short-of-a-length ball biffed primary-school style but ver-ry welcome to the Spitfire Posse.

De Lange bowls a notably swift one at Stevens. Comprehensively beaten but it was on sixth stump. But Cox really gathers one in, to clear the mid-wicket boundary with something to spare. The Stevens Myth, however will gather no further tonight – not with the bat, at least – as he is run out by Overton, scampering for an unlikely two. We are at 149 for 6 as Davey sets for the final over.

A further run-out does for Stewart but Cox gets to a gritty and sporadically explosive 50 and beyond, for the Spitfires. They bring the game back to the opposition, as it were, by posting 167 for 7, with Cox not out, off 28. That may well be competitive.

THE SOMERSET REPLY.

Denly. Under-rated, as a bowler? I’ve often thought so. His second ball at Banton turns a mile and the opener is stumped. 1 for 1 after 1. Now Klaasen from under Our Stand. Full and swinging but despite the bawling, significantly down leg. Goldsworthy waits on the next one and cut-glides it away to get off the mark. Later in the over he looks to leg but finds only the leading edge and the ball loops cruelly to point. With Smeed now joined by Abell, Somerset are 3 for 2 after 2.

Denly, from the City End. Abell appears both watchful and fraught as he turns one high and awaaay… narrowly evading the outfielder. Four. Then four again. Smeed – who has barely had a look – gets a gift. Short one. Denly disconsolate as the ball sails into the stand at square leg.

Stewart will bring some pace. Billings’ trainers meanwhile are screaming at the universe and somehow it’s only just getting to me. WE ARE O-RANGE, WE ARE O-RRAAANGE! Five from the over. More firepower from the city as Milnes comes in. Wide one gets hit alright but extra cover can parry and limit the damage. 32 for 2 after 5.

Abell skilfully glides Klaasen down past third man for four. Then cuts over backward point. Then flicks from the hip, fine. Welcome runs. Sprinting between the wickets has been a feature of the day. No more so than when Abell and Smeed burst to two right here, right now. 47 for 2 from the powerplay overs.

Qais Ahmad will bring his extravagant leggies from the City End. (He’s been warming up, comically vigorously, for some time). Smeed can’t exploit the drag-down. Eight, from a mixed over. Next up, Stevens. The de-celerating middle-phase of his run-up is mildly fascinating: can almost hear him saying “steady on, lad. Started too bloody quick!”

Qais draws Abell into a mishit: thick outside edge flies straight to backward point. Lammonby – who failed in the semi – comes in. Abell made 26. More from Stevens as we approach halfway.

The Old Fella’s doing plenty with his hands but not much off the pitch. He’s knuckly, wristy and full of fingers around that metronomic length. 71 for 3 at 10 overs. 97 required.

More from Denly. Sharp turn beats the batsman utterly but the next delivery holds the drama – and the fascination. It’s clubbed away, Cox takes the catch but Bell-Drummond, slipping, is in contact with both with colleague and the boundary. We all look at it seventy times before the fortunate batsman is given not out.

Funny ole world. Cox is palpably angry as he takes an uncontroversial (and he thinks valedictory) catch moments later. Smeed made 43 and The Fates (and the Blokes Arguing About the Laws) can settle again. The skyscrapers of the central city have done that thing where they slip away, as our lights blaze and fore-shorten the bowl before us. Stunning scene.

Denly will bowl his third: run-rate approaching 11. Another genuine leg-spinner beats Lammonby and strikes pad. Given. 89 for 5, after 13. Van der Merwe is the new bat, joining his captain, Gregory, who has 5. Stevens runs in, then stalls, and bowls.

It had to happen! We have our first ridicu-relay-catch of the day. Cox somehow retrieving from somewhere in Flintshire to flip the ball back into play. Gregory the man out, caught Milnes (gobsmacked), bowled Stevens. Probably the most astonishing moment of the whole event. You will see on your ‘socials’.

When van der Merwe booms a hopeless full-toss straight to extra cover Ahmad’s joy is tempered by sheer embarrassment. But this means 97 for 7… and it could be the game.

Overton can play but both Green and himself are newly-in, and they need more than 70 from the remaining 5 overs. And Stevens will be looking to strangle this.

Overton responds with a classical straight hit, for six. Then a freakish four in t’other direction, as he under-edges past Billings’ left knee. Still, as Milnes rejoins, the Spitfires require the small matter of 58 runs from 24 balls. Green is beaten for sheer pace. Possible nail-in-coffin moment as Overton spoons, rather, to long-on. Straight-forward catch. Speed gun not suggesting Milnes going at full tilt but the ball looks to be gathering zip off the deck.

Stewart, for the 18th. Booming chorus of you-know-what… but wonderfully, knowingly, good-naturedly daft. A nineth wicket comes as Green edges almost square. 120 for 9, with de Lange in but hope surely gone, for Somerset? Milnes will bowl the penultimate and seek a final scalp to cap off an often sensational season. Neither batter can lay the proverbial glove on him.

43 required from the 20th over, Stewart to bowl. An anti-climax, of sorts but try telling that to Stevens/Billings/Cox et al. It’s been a fine day with a clear winner: Kent Spitfires. Davey and de Lange will like that they both hit a six in that final over but tight bowling and *relatively* challenging conditions stymied batting onslaughts generally, and undermined confidence and fluency with the wood. Somerset were not alone in struggling to counter that. We saw quality innings but not many – or not many which blew holes in the contests. Perhaps that’s the way it should be?

Discuss.

Things you need to know.

Pre-game:

Weighted balls are in.

Hopping is in.

Sunshine and clouds are in.

The Lads – Henry C and a clutch of the England backroom staff – are going through their own warm-up. Separate from them silly gals. Serious keepie-uppie football. Lasting waaaay longer than them silly gals did. The Lads, however, are shite, or medium-shite. (The Girls, meanwhile, are – yaknow – international athletes).

New Zealand (again) look a really well-drilled outfit. Shockingly, I don’t even know who their coaching team is led by*… but they are notably well-organised, focussed and impressively on it, in their warm-ups. And it’s a whole-team effort, somehow, neatly put together and overseen by the several coaches. (My strong feeling is that this groove has begun to transfer across to the matches: the IT20 series built into an excellent, competitive bundle essentially because New Zealand grew).

*Checked. Bob Carter.

12.30 to 50-odd. Lovely longish chat with Neneto Davies, from the ACE Programme, set up to support Afro-Caribbean cricketers. He’s based in London but there’s been a PR thing here, today, as the new Bristol ACE scheme gets off the ground. Good guy; wish him well.

Missed the toss. Slightly surprised to hear that White Ferns won it and chose to bowl. Imagine that as well as that ‘let’s take a look at this’ angle, they think bowling/fielding may get more difficult later, with a damp ball(?)

First over, Devine bowling. Beaumont and Winfield-Hill in there for England. 5 scored. Bright sunshine with cloud over to our right. (‘We’ in the media centre, facing the iconic – well, almost – Ashley Down End flats).

Devine’s second over she gets notable away-swing. But starts it too wide, so signalled by the ump.

First *moment* sees Beaumont dropped, at slip. Given her record and her form, this could be really bad news, for the visitors. Streaky-but-swiftish, as opposed to an absolute gift.

Kerr is partnering Devine. The generally rather classical Winfield-Hill swishes across somewhat, scuffing to third man for a single. Beaumont shows her immediately how to do it, by adjusting her feet and straight-driving past extra cover for a quality four. Out-of-the-manual: gorgeous. I’ve moved outside the media centre – too muggy, indoors, despite being on the empty side – and the sun is beating down on my back… and then not. (Yup. Clouds).

Devine is struggling for line. Wides now plural. The World’s Most Annoying Pigeon is cooing extravagantly monotonously about four-foot-six behind me… or under me, or entirely in my head. Weird, empty fury building but Winfield-Hill remains undisturbed; drives out through the offside. Four more. 30 for 0 after 5, England.

Discussed the *crowd issue* with a young woman journalist. We reckon maybe 400-500 in, now – looked ver-ry unpromising, earlier. Beautiful day. Good contest in prospect. Some world-class players. I just don’t get it. Think we both concluded that it’s a sexist universe and barely improving. (It does improve as the day goes on but I find the attendance figure of 1200 and something quite difficult to believe).

Things just got better for White Ferns. Winfield-Hill tickles one that’s fairly substantially down the leg side and – ah! – is caught behind. Awful way to get out, maybe particularly when you’re looking well set? Whatever, out she goes, for a now pregnable but previously pretty impregnable-looking 21.

Rowe is in for Devine and has claimed the wicket; Tahuhu is in from in front of us, under the press box. Ten overs done and England are 47 for 1. The quietly, stoically, passively-measuredly-Englishly magnificent Heather Knight is the new bat.

Rowe is tall and rather imposing. Is getting some bounce to go with that pace. Beats Beaumont but Knight offers the blade confidently and finds the wee gap between point and cover: four more. End of the thirteenth and the home side have 59, for 1. Light breeze quite welcome; from long off to third man as we look at Beaumont, towards those flats. The batter drives square and holds the pose – boundary through point.

Our first spin, as Kasperek replaces Rowe. The bowler had a good IT20 series – leading wicket-taker but (without being ungenerous, this is really not my intention), I was never quite clear (despite being at two of the three short-format matches), if she *really bowled well*, or not.

Distracted again, at some length, to talk Cricket Development stuff with the ACE guys. (Their coach starts work, in Bristol, on Monday). Lots of this my territory – going into schools, trying to be that friendly, hopefully inspiring geezer that gathers kids in to the game. Really do wish them all well; seem really good people, which always helps.

22nd over and Devine has changed ends. Looks strong and determined but Beaumont is looking increasingly settled and her skipper is amongst the world’s best at enduring then cashing-in. So New Zealand must make something happen soonish, you sense. They review for lbw, strangely – or so it seems – because bowler not interested, initially. Beaumont has played defensively but her bat is tucked. Pad first and out. The opener made 44: 109 for 2.

Plusses and minuses? Out goes a very fine opener: in comes the world’s best all-rounder: Sciver. She defends Devine stoutly. We get to halfway and England are Nelson for 2. So steady progress but hardly bolting along. White Ferns applying themselves – as they do. Good game brewing?

Oof. Sciver tries to glide one, with soft hands, through third man but plays on. Sloppyish, arguably. Could be ver-ry big, in the match. 113 for 3: England bat deepish, theoretically but New Zealand unquestionably ahead in the game, now. Amy Jones – fine, positive player – is joining Knight. General thought: this is a good batting track, with runs *available*.

Satterthwaite has entered the fray from Ashley Down. Drags one down a little and Knight accepts the gift – four through the covers. (The England captain has moved, as she does, undramatically to 44. Yet again we may be seeing a telling contribution).

Or not. As Jones is bowled, hurried, by Tahahu so the contribution from Knight may become less relevant – or not. Feels possible that her side may even capitulate, here, meaning that she may be unable to significantly affect the Destiny of Things. But that may be premature. England 132 for 4, after 30. Perhaps the drinks break will allow the home side to breeeaaaathe and re-group? Major work to be done.

Knight gets to 50 in the 31st. Dunkley, who has had a solidly encouraging summer (but not entirely convinced me, if I’m honest), must remain watchful alongside.

Over 32, Kerr in, with only a third man and a 45 in the deep. Poorish ball, to be honest, but Dunkley is caught at the wicket, glancing to leg. (Glove, I think). What was I saying about capitulation? Brunt – whom I rate, but would be batting lower than 7 in a doctor Rick XI – has to yomp out there. 140 for 5, now, after 32. Trouble.

Alex Hartley and Steve Finn have joined me out on the balcony. (When I say ‘joined me’, this is more a figure of speech than a statement of fact. Incredibly, they appear not to know who I am). The sun remains warm. A dangerous hunch wafts in: New Zealand get to whatever total is set, with a single wicket down. Maybe worse still, the ridicu-hunch that this Keightley Era is going to be frustrating and under-achieving, ultimately: a thought that’s been broiling quietly with me, for some months.

A potentially ‘terminal’ running-out of Knight, as non-striker, via the outstretched hand of the bowler, is up on the screen to my right. Thank Christ – not out. The game might have been done. Instead we remain 147 for 5.

Good to see Brunt slap a short one from Tahuhu confidently to leg. England must do more than survive this. Soon she will be booming a violent straight drive, for four. The England pace bowler is one of the great competitors in world cricket – and I do mean that – and she is beginning to counter the White Fern momentum: as she must. (My reservations about her batting 7 were about her recent form with the wood, as well as the cultural imperative towards stacking the line-up).

Brunt is struck in front but reviews *absolutely immediately*. Predictably, on investigation, she is shown to have edged it. Finn – departed – is talking articulately on the wireless about England needing to have an aggressive period ‘as opposed to limping towards a semi-competitive total’. Dead right… but *has dangers*. Knight and Brunt might be thinking of targeting best part of a hundred from the last ten overs. Might need to be thinking that.

Devine bowls the 40th over and Brunt bludgeons her for two, over extra, then gloves one for four, behind. Helpful. 174 for 5. Do think anything shy of (an admittedly unlikely) 260 will feel manifestly light. Good yorker from Rowe almost unzips Knight but the response is bold: four over mid-off. An essential 50 partnership is up as Knight smashes a poor full-toss from Devine, square. Knight is 71 as we get through the 42nd.

Some more leg-spin, from Kasperek. Knight unfurls a beauty of a reverse to claim four more, then the 200 is up. I’m out of the sunshine, finally but the ground is still bathed. Lovely scene; shame more aren’t here to enjoy it. The ACE guys are jostling and gathering: taking what I imagine might be awestruck kids out onto the pitch at the innings break.

Brunt and to a lesser extent Knight are hitting hard… and mostly middling. When the former edges thinly, she is happy to see the ball loop swiftly enough up and over to the fine leg boundary: fortunate but safe. 213 for 5 after 45. The skipper has 81 so is on for a ton. Brunt has 36.

Devine is as important to the White Ferns as Knight is to England. She is in from underneath us for the next – from which 8 runs come. 260 do-able(?)

Kasperek will bowl her final over, from Ashley Down. Brunt shuffles early before clattering straight back over the bowler for a particularly emphatic boundary. 228 for 5.

Suddenly, Knight’s work is done. Caught and bowled Kasperek for a flawless 89. Feels bit cruel. Ecclestone, who is a hitter but no stylist, has come in.

England’s momentum is stalled further as Brunt is cleaned out, advancing. Good straight ball from Kerr. Genuinely worthy and typically battling contribution of 43, from England’s bowling ace.

Cross enters and rather brilliantly – deftly, absurdly confidently – flips to fine leg, for four, first up. Ridiculous, and unthinkable even a year or two ago. Devine switches ends again and takes the pace off. Then re-injects it, to Ecclestone, who booms and is caught. Or not. No ball!

A wicket comes, however, as Cross slightly tamely reaches and lobs to cover. Dean – the debutant – will get a brief knock. 240 for 8, England, as we welcome Kerr for the final over.

Dean’s stay really may be brief as she is given lbw… but eventually reviews. Gone, for a single. Enter Davies. 241 for 9 becomes all out, same score, as Ecclestone is exposed halfway down the track. No blame attached – she was quite rightly looking to get a couple more hits.

That England total is a poor one, irrespective of what follows: this is a 300 pitch. Hey ho, the ACE guys and a bundle of grinning kids, now on the outfield – are having their Moment In the Sun. I will enjoy that as I grab some nosh.

Final word, for now. The wonderful and mighty Sophie Devine has *come straight back out* to get her eye in, with the bat. Bringing me neatly back to that hunch… that the White Ferns might win this at a ridicu-canter. Let’s see.

The Reply.

Brunt maiden then Sciver, for England. Bates and Down will surely be more ‘patient’ here than a very patient thing? Take root for 30 overs. Chill, then shake-out, mid-wicket, shouting “na-ner-na-ner-ner!” before charging towards a crushing win. Or not. White Ferns will love a crushingly dull start.

They don’t get it. Sciver has Bates caught at a slightly wide first slip – Knight collecting competently. After 4 overs the visitors are 2 for 1.

Sciver and Brunt are applying the squeeze that England need but for now, New Zealand barely need to care. (After 6 overs the scoreboard has cranked asthmatically over to 5 for 1. Paralysis, but for the game situation, which makes it quietly o-kaaay… for both sides).

Sciver is still bowling with Knight at effectively second slip and Winfield-Hill at fourth. She beats Down on the inside but the ball died, rather than did something. First change will be Cross, for Brunt, from the Ashley Down Road End. Green goes to 9, with a little width on offer: square, our first boundary.

No change at this end, as Nat Sciver continues, with a disciplined, fourth-stump kindofa line. Down has a weird, wild slash at one – first sign of frustration and nerves? Could be. ‘Something in the head’ gives and she’s edging behind, next ball. Now that perfectly acceptable stasis lurches a tad towards (potential) crisis. 17 for 2 after 10 overs – and yes you read that right. England have been ver-ry efficient. Now the Ferns must battle.

Satterthwaite – theoretically the third of the BIG THREE, for New Zealand – joins Green. Freya Davies will run in from almost directly in front of us, to challenge her. Right arm over, with a distinctive, backward-leaning approach, Davies makes no further inroads.

Cross is coming in fluently, from t’other end. She bowls boldly full and gets the reward – Knight taking a sharp catch at slip, low down. Green gone, Devine is in and missing her first ball… but it’s going down. Clutch period right now, meaning we’ve gone from stately cruise to Squeaky Bum Time alarmingly swiftly – certainly from the White Ferns’ point of view. 33 for 3, in the 17th.

Yet there are plusses, for New Zealand. Right/left combination and two of their finest out there, together. Time in the game. Big ask but these are Big Players. Proper Sport, upcoming.

Sixteen overs in, drinks break. Lights on. 57 for 3; Satterthwaite 13 and Devine on 11. Dean gets a bowl – her first, ever, in this shirt – and in the fabulous sunshine. We get into another quiet period… but this now suits England more than the visitors, arguably(?) Beaumont makes a notably fine stop at backward point to deny runs.

Dean is bouncing in confidently enough; putting some revs on the ball but finding no meaningful spin. This area – as many of you will know – is balloon central. Globes appearing, mysteriously and beautifully to our right. Oh – and we have shadows.

First sight of Ecclestone, in the 20th over. No dramas.

As we go on, so the fascination grows, or changes, without revealing. Both batters into their 20s. Run rate rising (of course) but not unthinkable *if these two stay together*. (163 off 29, needed). Mostly, the two batters are good – were always expected to be key, or important. So this slow game is a Slow Burner. For now. Pleasing symmetry as we have equidistant globes floating over deeeeeep fine leg and deeeeeeep third man. Must be stunning up there.

Cross comes in for Dean at Ashley Down. Just to break things up and maybe invite the unforced error. Devine defies. Courageous, floaty leg-cutter, from Cross. Patience from both sides. Who will twitch?

Arguably Satterthwaite. She charges and biffs Ecclestone straight – but aerial. Winfield-Hill is no sprinter but not sure if even Villiers or Wyatt would have gotten there. (Neither are playing, of course). Ball plugs, harmlessly. 97 for 3 after 26. Run-rate required, about 6 an over. Heat gone or going from the day.

Another teaser brings up the 100. Fortuitously. Wicked, flying edge loops tantalisingly towards Ecclestone. Like W-H, she is not one of England’s more dynamic fielders. She can’t get there – and again, Dina Asher-Smith may not have done. Generally, England’s fielders looking spookily, healthily fixated, particularly as Ecclestone whirls towards the crease. Remarkable, synchronised ‘walking-in’ going on. Tempted to film it.

Cross again bowls full. Devine clubs it but not cleanly. We have a great angle to see it fly – straight – to – mid-off. With time – bewitchingly – slow-ing – down. Easy catch; huge moment. The White Ferns’ anchor gone for 34. Enter Martin, with *stuff to do*. Satterthwaite has 44; her new partner may need to match that.

She can’t. On 9, she miscues a slightly half-hearted sweep and dollies to leg gully: Ecclestone the bowler. Ferns’ hopes fading with the light? Would appear so. 124 for 5 in the 32nd, as we break again. Halliday the new batter. She’s a leftie.

She’s gone, first ball. Maybe it squirted through a little but Halliday got nothing on it. Life is cruel. Rowe, the tall quick, must bat as Brunt returns, having bowled four consecutive maidens in her first spell. The universe is suddenly(?) conspiring pret-ty heavily against an away-win, here. 127 for 6, after 33. 115 required, so towards 7 per over needed.

Fuller one has Ecclestone appealing – confidently. (Looked out, first shuftie). Wrong. Missing, because no turn. Rowe continues.

Brunt slaps a loose one down leg, to Satterthwaite. Wide. 19.14 hours and dusky – or approaching. Satterthwaite drops and scuttles through, for her fifty: Rowe has to stretch but does get there. But Brunt – who has that Not To Be Denied look about her – is not to be denied. Has Rowe plum the very next ball. Knight promptly and wisely takes the opportunity to give newcomer Dean another dart. Kerr is facing in rapidly fading light, with hopes all but extinguished. Quiet over.

Her next is unquiet because it brings Dean’s first international wicket – that of Kerr, bowled. Hugs and giant smiles. Ooh. The smiles are temporarily parked as Tahuhu responds with successive boundaries, but Dean is in that magic book.

A game I thought might be a run-fest may conclude with a chase failing to get much beyond 150. England were ver-ry light, score-wise: now the opposition trail behind. Where does that all leave us? This is all false-leads and dummy denouements.

Tahuhu brings some encouraging defiance, for the Ferns. It’s a free hit but she is hitting. The stadium announcer reminds us that England were not that much ahead of the current New Zealand score, of 170 for 8. (A mere 4 runs, extraordinarily). Surely this can’t lurch away from Knight and co? Surely? As the dark lands gently – like a balloon, perhaps? – Davies pipes up.

It’s a “no”. A truly delicious slower ball does for Tahuhu, who made a valiant and entertaining 25: she is comprehensively bowled. Last bat in there is Kasperek. She cheekily scoops Ecclestone; not entirely convincingly but the subsequent boundary, square to off, is pleasingly legit. Might the innings get to 200? Does it make any difference? Maybe.

194 for 9 after 43. So 48 needed off 42 balls. A breeze, in other formats, other scenarios. Here it feels low on frisson because – well, Kasperek and against the grain of everything. (But is there grain?) Ecclestone, predictably, concedes just the one from the over, thereby shutting that proverbial silo-door-thing.

Kasperek edges Cross for four: somehow, 200 passed. 45 overs done and 41 needed (from 30 balls). Brunt. Surely? Surely we are done?

Boundaries. Plural. Satterthwaite’s composure the opposite of unruffled. Except great ball beats her but no dramas. We have that thing where the drama-vacuum is stealthily – without twitching, or revealing or offering or denying – threatening mega-drama. The media centre is quiet because, well, WHAT DARE WE WRITE?!? (And naturally Yours F Truly is most likely to Come A Cropper here, writing foolishly, masochistically live).

Except it was never in doubt. Because run-out: Kasperek short as a killer throw came in. Winfield-Hill delivering.

To add to the surreal almost-fraught/almost-faux-ness of everything, the monitors in the media centre cut out at The Critical Moment… so we grievously stressed scribes missed out on the review. A VAR-like, tension-deflating, was it yes/was it no moment intervenes. We can only be sure when the England players bounce, *out there*. All oddly appropriate, somehow.

So England batted unconvincingly, largely – were at least 30 short – but won by 30 runs.

Keightley might argue, if we hear her – and we often don’t – that squad rotation played a role in the partial misfire. And it could be. The White Ferns might counter that they were never out of it. And it could be. A bigger crowd might actually have made the event spicier and the drama (or potential drama) juicier or more likely. Who knows? This was a bewildering, elusive un-feast of a game: almost satiating, almost starving us. I may need a kebab.

In the Uncertainty Vortex, some factoids. Heather Knight was Player of the Match – deservedly. New Zealand bowled and fielded well; plainly forced the England underachievement with the bat. Contraflow? Neither side scored enough runs on this pitch (whatever that means).

Post-game.

Hunches? The early wicket – the failure – of Bates, feels/felt important.

The England middle order remains fickle but their squad depth may prove critical.

Villiers should be in this side, never mind this squad. It doesn’t lack quality but shots of brilliance make a difference.

*However*, the coach has every right – indeed, has a responsibility – to build an extended, experienced group… before settling and being clear upon her best eleven.

I am not clear what any of this means. And I blame the game.