Day 4. The (non)denouement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3, Taunton. #WomensAshes.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I mention Kangaroo Man, yet? Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Day 2, Taunton. #WomensAshes.

Got soaked – and I do mean soaked – yomping through Bristol en route. But arriving in Taunton, having seen streaky trainscapes and mizzly skies, the outlook is better. To the extent that as I walk in the ground, the outer covers are being removed.

Ten minutes later, Mark Robinson is on his knees pummelling the strip, whilst talking to his skipper. An 11 o’clock start – inconceivable as I trudged towards Temple Meads – is possible.

Tammy Beaumont is directly in front of us, doing some fielding drills. Not hiding that thumb (the one that was x-rayed) following an issue at short-leg, yesterday. She could be so-o important, when England bat.

10.50 and the remainder of the wicket covers are wheeled off. To be honest we aren’t clear (us meedya daarlinks) if they are going for an 11 a.m. start but clearly that is possible.

Yup. Fairly remarkably, we are going to start (after an interminable ‘Jerusalem’), on time. Nobody is here.

Haynes slashes one through about third slip, off Shrubsole, who starts from the River End. (There is no third slip). Brunt will follow from the Pavilion: some swing available. Weather is such that a batting collapse – or two – is thinkable.

Nobody’s told Perry. She is up on her toes and just easing Shrubsole through extra. Fine shot for four. Decent comeback from the England seamer, mind: beats the outside edge with one that holds its line. 274 for 3 after 103 overs. Perry has 89, Perry 58.

Early signs are that Australia are negotiating what should be their spell of maximum difficulty. Which means more bother for England. Not much wrong with what Brunt and Shrubsole are doing… but it’s not stirring either Perry or Haynes, to be honest.

First change is Nat Sciver, from the River. Feels like she owes us a performance: significant talent, arguably under-achieving a tad? The lights are on. Perry drives Sciver very straight and goes to 95.

Some encouragement for Sciver as she gets some lovely, late-ish swing to draw a swing and a miss. Beautiful ball – no joy. Ecclestone will follow Sciver: lights are on but there is (I kid you not) some Proper Bright Sky around now. Alongside those clouds.

Oof. Ecclestone drops a gift, from Haynes. A mis-hit pull to square leg and the offie misjudges it really rather badly. She is developing really well as a bowler but I’m afraid – having seen her on numerous occasions now, live – she is consistently below-standard in the field.

Ecclestone will be hurt by that and it will hurt England. As a team, they have not been great, over the last day and a bit (or maybe over the series, so far?)

Ah. As if to emphasise the point, Perry gets to her hundred via an overthrow. Another genuinely Different Class-type of performance but in the perverse universe we all inhabit, it does now feel a bit like England are conspiring in their own downfall – ‘inviting’ those bad reviews. I’m going to steer clear of that stuff (for now) and just say that England have not been good, when they *really needed to be*.

Almost ludicrously, the day is brightish as Australia go beyond 300. At drinks at the end of the end of the 116th over, they are 301 for 3, with Perry on 102 and Haynes on 72.

Changes. Gordon then Laura Marsh will have a dash. Or rather an amble. (To be fair, no criticism implied: England’s energy is inevitably down a notch but nobody’s entirely going through the motions). Perry, attempting to sweep Marsh, gets both an edge and a wee boink on the helmet but the deflections don’t go to hand. England need about six flukes but no real dramas occurring. Dark clouds creeping towards us.

Possible run-out but Sciver’s throw is ordinary – as is the gather at the stumps. Was Perry scrambling; not a full-on chance, arguably but another mis-execution. That same batter then creams one from Marsh over mid-off. Stylish. *Statement*.

Gordon is persisting but it just seems the batters’ call as to what level of drama ensues. We’re beginning to see a lift in the general dynamism; surely won’t be long before we see a Proper Onslaught. Maybe straight after lunch?

Perry clubs Marsh away through midwicket for four. Moments later, again rolling those wrists a little, she picks out Heather Knight, who takes a sharpish catch, before throwing the ball up and away in relief – and maybe a little (self-directed) anger? Perry leaves us with 116 to her name. Mooney is in.

As we approach lunch and those aforementioned clouds come across us, my best guess is that we may escape rain. But I’ve not won a bet since I backed Red Rum, Spanish Steps and Money Market in the same National, so make of that what you will. 😉

Still a slip and a silly-mid-off as Marsh comes in to Haynes. The batter has made few errors; now she is punished, swishing across Marsh – she is l.b.w. and Australia are 335 for 5. Mini-opportunity for England, with two newish batters in and a short, possibly nervy period before lunch.

Belatedly, we get a review suggesting Haynes had been unfortunate. The ball hit her glove on the way through to the pad. Tough one for the ump to see but yet more ammo in the DRS debate.

Gordon’s 11 o’clock offies see us through, Mooney blocking watchfully. At lunch, Australia are 341 for 5 and despite those wickets, they are absolutely in command.

Good work from the guys from the Met Office. Predicted a spike in the likelihood of precipitation at 1.00p.m. Right on cue, it rains.

13.44. Still rain. Some sense that it may be brightening: therefore my next ridicu-bet is we re-start around 3pm. What can England hope for? When everything points to the game and the Ashes being gone? Eek. The talk amongst the journo’s is mainly about a Widening Gulf – expect those headlines.

But playing for pride isn’t an entirely vacuous concept. England must do that and salvage a draw. They must not capitulate, when the time comes to bat. The bigger issues around selection, preparation, the women’s game generally will and should be debated soonish – after the further inquest that will follow this match. Right now they have to bloody-well dig in, sharpen their senses, take that deep, deep breath and re-grasp the challenge.

In a nutshell, Australia are better (but) England obviously are not doing themselves justice.

14.29 and things are billowing. Tarpaulinacious things – covers. Because The Lads are hoisting and removing them. Jee-sus, my 3pm could be in with a shout! Hold the front page!!

Okaay. Just drifted past… and there is the lightest touch of rain. And despite England’s vigorous warming-up a medium-real threat of more, soonish, I fear. 15.10pm.

15.12 – covers going back on. Significant delay now looking likely.

Zummerzet Media Man, Spencer, telling us tea being taken now with a view to a 4pm re-start. 17 overs lost if we do get going again at that time – seems plausible.

Ah. Bit more rain, then…

Interestingly, plenty Aussies out in the elements; two doing timed interval running. Are they trying to intimidate us? Whilst we eat cake and stuff?

16.10 and it’s unknowable but increasingly unlikely, I think that they’re going to get back out there. Quantocks are shovelling dank grey slabs of air up and at us. Forecast has twitched further into the Sorry Mate But Dodgy Zone. Which leaves us where?

With less time in the game. With less chance for a glorious England recovery(!) and plainly increased inclination towards a brief boomathon from any returning Aussie batters, followed by extremely testing times for Beaumont, Jones et al.

Shame if the weather actually does puts the kai-bosh on possibilities like this: would have been good to see Australia charge from about 3pm this afternoon, then declare on 480 and look to bowl England out twice, pronto. (The vibe around the game suggests that this scenario would have been more likely than a noble and gritty rearguard action: England seem vulnerable rather than yaknow – defiant).

16.26pm. Now it’s siling down. No word yet but prospects of a resumption rapidly reducing to nil. I, meanwhile, am contemplating another sodden yomp.

Just realised I’ve said ver-ry little about Ellyse Perry. This is partly because she is the story YET AGAIN. And therefore it’s hard to say anything new, or insightful, or worthy of your time. But I’ll say this; Perry is extraordinary; fluent in 46 of the 46 cricket languages. Fluent in the other 678 sporting tongues, too. Moves, concentrates, reacts, flows like a goddess. Is, surely, a goddess? It is absolutely our privilege to be watching.

#CWC19. Also known as The World Cup Final. Blimey.

#CWC19. Also known as The World Cup Final. Blimey.

Rain, apparently, at Lord’s but gloriously rosy here. And if there’s a delayed start then I’ll just do another wash, or take another meander to the clifftop – yaknow, to settle the dog’s nerves. But if they do start on time… I’ll be ready.

Flying solo due to family jaunt abroad: muggins stayed to work a bit and look after aminals. Food is cooked, alcohol available but thinking may hold fire on that for a celebroglass tonight, maybe; before snoozing, exhausted.

Anger is an energy and I hope not to be too angry. Writing is energy-sapping, in fact – not that I’d be so dumb and haughty as to court sympathy for that. It’s just that I know I’m gonna be knackered, later. Especially starting now – before 9 a.m. Another schoolboy error.

So a very few words before kick-off.

Look, England have stormed into this final and they should win it. The sense is that they have irresistible quality – particularly in the case of Roy, Bairstow, Archer and Woakes. In other words when they start.

Then they have All The Other Guys – Stokes, Buttler, Morgan, Rashid – it surely adds up to too much? Even allowing for the statesmanlike brilliance of Williamson and the genuine excellence of Boult and his co-seamers?

There is of course some hope – some real hope – for New Zealand. They are tough, they compete, they find a way, to a remarkable extent; it’s pretty much a national characteristic to defy the odds, the numbers, the demographic and the Way Things Really Should Be.

Today it may be their best hope is that the dampness around and the greyness forecast facilitates something outrageous from those seamers; England at 30 for 4, followed up or preceded by another uber-gritty kiwi knock, clawing their way to another ludicrous victory. Good luck to them.

Good luck to them but I think they’ll get beat. I think they won’t get all of Roy and Bairstow and Root and Morgan and Buttler early enough, or shockingly enough, to throw this England off-course. England are the best at this format and I expect them to come through.

If the day was brighter I might be more bullish on this; the imperious Roy might be both predictably violent and un-get-outtable, too – ditto Bairstow. England might ‘do another Australia’ and smash their opposition. Feels possible but less likely, looking at skies, social media and tv. Still. Surely it’s got to be England? (Ahem, *fatal*) and it may just be a question of how big the margin is.

Toss delayed 15 mins… Kiwis win and decide to bat. Boldish.

Minor-or-possibly major that Wardy (who we know is excellent) does that Forgetting The Women thing, saying all-too-blithely “of course England have never won the World Cup”. Ah. But some brilliant stuff on the tellybox – with Will Greenwood notably, inspiringly honest.

Now the pre-amble does feel a bit of an amble. When the body really wants to sprint from the starting-blocks. Bring ’em out, you umpires!

Reckon that is a bold call, to bat, from Williamson. Must know that Woakes and Archer should be pret-ty tasty in the first ten overs: that the match could be over, as that Australia game was, in the first 40 minutes. Gamble, certainly.

Anthems. Wow. Forgot Curry was in the England squad; decent player to have on the sidelines. Another reminder of the depth of the home side?

Guptil will face Woakes. Swung a mile. Wide. Then he bowls conservatively – holding back that same outswinger. Guptil slashes at him, gets bottom edge. Then four through gully – aerial.

Interesting over. Woakes plainly bowled within himself after that first, outrageous delivery. Guptil proactive or outright aggressive, in manner. Gambling. Now Archer.

Understated start from Archer but then drama as Guptil is beaten… but without the edge that England claimed. Wisely, Morgan opts not to review – great call from umpire Erasmus.

Woakes has Nicholls… not. Height saves him: beauty of a delivery that comes back through the gate but review saying it’s over those stumps. Moral victory for Woakes. 10 for 0 after 3 and you would say that New Zealand are ahead on points, by virtue of surviving the early moments. Does feel like England are looking for control rather than racing in.

Guptil guides Archer over third man for six, then booms him back over his head. He’s suddenly 17 off 15 and the start really is made, now, for the kiwis. Archer a tad short and a tad below-par. Could be nerves, of course.

Woakes in for his third, is looking better without threatening. 24 for 0 after 5 and maybe this is just want the contest needs – a contest?

Archer in again and bowling at 90mph, then 92. But still not entirely discomfiting Nicholls. Reckon the visitors will be ver-ry content with 26 for 0 after 6.

Woakes bowls fuller than Archer. Guptil, looking to go across the line, somewhat, misses and is out lbw after a confirmatory review. Important – and tribute to Woakes’s ability to stay cool, stay disciplined when others might be straining harder for the magic ball. Williamson is in at 29 for 1. Fine over finishes with an absolute peach that Williamson follows but does not touch – quite.

After 8 overs New Zealand are 30 for 1, with the runrate understandably lowish but having avoided the kind of carnage that might have killed off the game – what with England’s batting, the Barmy Army, thirty years of hurt and all that. They’re in it but Nicholls is having to graft – not entirely convincingly – for his 10 runs (off 26). There is still some swing, for Woakes, as well as a bit of nip off the surface.

33 for 1 off 10 leaves things fairly even, you would think. England will expect more than that from their openers but Williamson, well, he’s him, eh? If the game turns tight and tactical there may be no-one better.

A rare gift from Woakes is clubbed away to point, by a no-doubt relieved Nicholls. Looking at the batting to come (which lacks the heft of the opposition line-up, yes?) he may have an important role to play. Taylor and Neesham may bring something but somebody is going to need to stay, for New Zealand, you suspect.

In comes Plunkett, from the Pavilion End. Nicholls pulls him, safely, forward of square, for two. Six, in total, from a fairly mixed over. Score predictor is 295, interestingly enough. That would be a challenge.

Woakes finishes with another good over – just the one from it and New Zealand 47 for 1 after 13. It’s a rather low-key game, at the moment. That may be to the credit of the men-in-black and it is surely to their advantage as we start. But is it enough?

Plunkett’s second over goes for 7. Wood will come in. As he did against the Aussies, he bowls an extravagant outswinger – again uncontrollably – for an encouraging(?) wide. Next two balls are also leaving the batsman, Williamson. Wood is running in with real vim, here and the ball is hooping for him: must find a touch more control.

On balance you would say this is a decent bowling performance from England, so far, rather than a great one. Given the visible encouragement here, for the seamers, the thought does arise that Henry and Boult really could out-bowl their oppo’s and therefore make something extraordinary happen.

Plunkett concedes another four, to Nicholls, who now has 31 off 45. Williamson, meanwhile, has 9 from 30.

Good over from Wood. New Zealand are 70 for 1 after 17. Williamson predictably looking quietly determined.

Rashid. First sign of aggression – albeit classically executed – as Williamson dances down to the leggie. The skipper then chips one up and over midwicket; seven from the over.

Nicholls guides one beautifully through backward square off Wood, who is banging it in. Now the opening bat looks to be finding his flow. Wood responds with a great bouncer under the chin. His last ball flies through at 93 mph; the lad’s really trying.

Williamson won’t let Rashid settle. First ball middled over mid-on for four. 91 for 1 after the first 20. Poised.

Poised in the sense that New Zealand have gotten to 100 one-down. And therefore might go on. Unknowable of course, how many England might be but the pitch is now looking relatively benign. So if Roy & Bairstow did fail, you do wonder if somebody like Stokes or Buttler – remember him? – might prosper, to telling effect. In fact my hunch (for now, this moment*) is that Buttler is gonna win this thing…

Plunkett back in, for a mini-spell, I’m guessing.

HUGE MOMENT. Plunkett beats Williamson and Morgan is convinced. Reviews instantly. Williamson is out, off a goodish length ball. 133 for 2 with the Main Man gone. A charge goes round the ground – round the country. Second look confirms it was a great ball; killer length, little bit of bounce, hits medium-highish on the bat. 103 for 2, off 23.

More from Rashid. And Plunkett. Good, quietish spell, for England.

Nicholls gets to 50 off 71 balls. Excellent, determined effort. However, Plunkett is asking more and better questions, now.

Nicholls is watchful but not watchful enough, apparently. Plunkett finds the killer length again and bowls him off the inside edge. 118 for 3. If you read the fine piece by Vitushan Ehantharajah the other day you will also know that Our Liam kinda deserves his moment. Delighted for him. 122 for 3 off 28 and the game has swung back towards England. Morgan has the field in saving ones and the energy is up – on and off the park.

Plunkett is staying beautifully full and straight to the newcomer, Latham. His bowling is freeing up Rashid, now. The spinner seems more confident, has more tricks. Three from his over and a subtle tightening continues.

In comes Stokes – which I can live with – but he may gift a few runs, for all his Bothamesque threat. Four singles from the over.

Another drama vacuum – mostly, again, in a good way, for England. As Stoakes finishes his second we sit at 141 for 3, from 33. New Zealand will know that a significant gear-change will be necessary – but when?

Wood puts that question on the back-burner, claiming Taylor lbw. Erasmus took a looooong look, as there is always a query re height, with Wood but right or wrong, the decision will stand. No reviews remaining.

Enter Neesham. Wood is enjoying this, now.

Major, for England that both Plunkett and Wood have joined the proverbial party. Both can provide the right batsman with ammunition – what with all that pace an bounce – but latterly they have bowled consistently well.

Stokes continues. Neesham is not intimidated and 11 come from the over. 152 for 4 from 35.

Wood concedes just the one then Plunkett replaces Stokes. Latham picks one up and almost claims six. He then creams Wood through extra-cover in the next over. New Zealand need some of this. Wood responds again, with a bouncer.

Latham is fortunate to survive an ugly hoik to leg against Plunkett: no contact. The Black Caps must be looking to go on the offensive, partly because conditions appear to be favouring batsmen more than earlier. Neesham strikes for four. Can they get nearer to 280 than 250?

Ah. With ‘soft wickets’, maybe not – maybe neither. Neesham has lofted Plunkett straight to the grateful Root, at mid-off. Miscue; absolute gift. The fella de Grandhomme can hit. He may have to. Plunkett now has three; his contribution, in a World Cup Final, may be critical.

In his next over, Plunkett starts with a pearler, beating de Grandhomme all-ends-up outside the off-stick before bouncing him, advancing. It’s a great over; he finishes 3 for 42 from 10. Outstanding.

Archer is back. To no great effect, in truth. Then Wood. 196 for 5, off 43. Latham and de Grandhomme have now both had a decent look at this; can they engineer say eight an over to raise that challenge beyond 250-260? 200 up with six and a half overs remaining.

Disappointingly, Archer bowls three wides in the over. He’s been ordinary, by his standards, today.

Wood is in for his final over. Again it’s goodish and quick but Latham does clout one, for six. 10 overs 1 for 49 for the northern quick; honourable effort.

Archer then does find his groove. Bowls an over to make most of us smile. Sharp, slower, loopy, bouncy, crafty, delicious. Just the three from it – the 45th over.

In comes his strike partner. A slow, slower ball suckers de Grandhomme, who dinks off a leading edge to mid-off. Six down, now, with Woakes having claimed his second. 220 for 6 with just 3 overs remaining. Santner will join Latham.

Woakes reviews one around leg-stump, against Latham. A long-shot; the third umpire confirms it was pitching outside leg. However, the squeeze is still applied… until, with the bowler trying to do something tricksy, he slams one down leg, Buttler can’t stop it and five go to the score.

Short-lived respite. Next ball another miscue brings another dolly for the sub fielder Vince. Latham gone. Henry defiantly clubs one to cow corner for a rare breakout: four.  238 for 7 as Archer steps up to bowl the last.

A marginal wide, for height, is backed up by a straight one. Beamer-full, actually, but legal and straight enough to account for Henry; bowled. 240 for 8 as Boult strides out – no doubt nervously, Archer having been brilliant for the last four overs. 241 (for 8) is the total for England to chase.

Boult has ‘something to bowl at’ but England have done enough there, you’d think. They have time, as they did against Australia, to settle and then build. They need less than five an over. So start in Test Match Mode… and then build.

I understand that pressure can accumulate but 240 is not a huge target – not when you have Root and Stokes to dig in, if necessary and Morgan and Buttler to blast you home. I repeat my (*fatal*) prediction that England will win and that they can probably choose how to do it – by bringing the boom, or with discipline and maybe even some restraint.

WOW. Decent appeal first ball. Williamson reviews. Given not out. Stays with umpire’s call. Roy incredibly fortunate but the rules say he’s in. But that is a MASSIVE MOMENT right there. Fabulous, testing over from Boult – predictably.

Henry looking hungry for it, too. Absolutely crucifying Roy, early on. Roy responds with a beautifully blocked straight drive. Four. 5 for 0 after 2; England could easily be 2 down. Great sport.

Bairstow scuffs one back behind himself to get off the mark. Boult beats Roy but the England star then drills him out through cover and then plays a classical forward-defensive for a single. Proper Contest.

Henry at Roy. Again a real test; maybe we should note that already this final is, refreshingly, patently a real contest between bat and ball. Maybe that’s a legacy we might want to hold onto?

Bairstow’s quick hands are being made to look snatchy and nervy. He does get a boundary but he’s nowhere near being into his rhythm. Boult errs, though, offering a full-toss with enough width for Bairstow to push through extra-cover. It’s middled – maybe the first one. Another four.

Roy follows suit, driving Henry for a further boundary. England don’t have much control but their gambol is paying off, so far.

But then not. Roy goes at another full one from Henry and is caught, low, behind. No less than the bowler’s start has deserved. Leg-cutter does for the batsman. 28 for 1. In comes Root, sees out the over – the sixth.

So it’s the Yorkshiremen. Bairstow still bit twitchy, Root ab-so-lutely the bloke you’d want to call on, for nearly every eventuality.

Bairstow on-drives nicely for another four. Might he find a way towards some form? Might Root’s presence help – the characteristic turnover, the energy, the robustness? Important phase as we approach bowling changes.

Staggering delivery from Henry. Utterly unplayable away-swinger, draws no contact. Ball still hooping.

Short one from Boult offers a chance to Bairstow – taken. He pulls emphatically to square leg for four. Root seems in decent nick but Henry does him with that leg-cutter en route to an impressive maiden. 39 for 1 after 10.

Next it’s de Grandhomme. Bairstow misjudges the pace and lofts short of mid-off, slightly disconcertingly. Bairstow doesn’t learn. Last ball of the over he dinks it straight back to the bowler. Shockingly, he can’t hold on to a relatively simple catch.

Three consecutive maidens but no joy, for Williamson and co. England under the cosh, make no mistake. Root – who always gets to thirty before you’ve noticed he’s in, is 2 off 20. Bairstow is on a scratchy 19 from 34. 42 for 1, off 13.

A typical over. Bairstow beaten twice but then clips one brilliantly off his toes, for four. Then an awful-looking slash draws another inside edge past his own stumps. Fortunate again. New Zealand have bowled better than England, thus far.

Finally, some Rooooott, from Root. Lovely drive through off, for two, then a deft wee chop towards third man. Encouraging.

Ferguson. He draws less bounce than Bairstow expects and almost finds an under-edge. Ferguson hits 93 mph – as Wood had. Root takes on the short one – well fielded at backward square.

You don’t very often see Root discombobulated but here come two such moments. First he charges de Grandhomme rather wildly and misses: second immediately subsequently he’s out caught behind. We really are game on, now, at 59 for 2. England really need this drinks break!

Morgan joins Bairstow. What a challenge for the England captain. If he gets his aggressive head on, you fear it might be trouble: he might say “it’s the only way I know”.

Morgan dances down to de Grandhomme and the bowler slings it wide – so wide that the England man can hardly reach it. He still levers it up and over mid-off but not without risk.

Tellingly, Bairstow is unable to accept a gift from de Grandhomme; a loopy full-toss that most of us woud have dispatched – at the club, maybe not here – to the boundary. Then a precious boundary comes, drilled, emphatic.

It can’t last. Bairstow plays on. Made a ver-ry mixed 36 in difficult circumstances. England are in some trouble, at 71 for 3. What was my hunch about Buttler, again?

Stokes has made a virtue of patience, for the last year or more. He has been watchful and mature. England need that now, surely? Otherwise the dream is gone.

Stokes, too, looks nervy. Charges and misses. Stays and misses. And this is against de Grandhomme (with all due respect). So the scrambled minds in the moment and the ascending run-rate are beginning to conspire against the home side. Pressure.

Morgan is hit on the helmet, by Ferguson, who is still bowing quickly but without the control of either Henry or Boult. A bouncer lauches over the ‘keeper and away.

Great point, on commentary. England are “charging and hitting” (and missing too much) rather than say charging and picking the gap. Agree. There’s insufficient craft from the batters, against admittedly good bowling. Pressure. 86 for 3 after 23.

Neesham is in. First ball and Morgan has hoisted it unconvincingly out over cover. He’s out caught, by Ferguson, diving superbly forward. In comes a bloke name of Buttler. England 86 for 4.

Crazy-early but Buttler looks good. Much work to be done.

Lord’s is quiet: just think back at how Edgbaston sounded, the other day! Lord’s is quiet.

Neesham is going well enough. The required rate is up to a run a ball. We may have heard this before in some other context but New Zealand – the minnows, the underdogs, the unfancied – are bossing a world final. Fabulous.

De Grandhomme, absurdly, is still bowling maidens. It’s 98 for 4 after the 27. There is no sign of any counter-attack from Stokes and Buttler; they clearly hope to persist over time and gather hopes incrementally.

The hundred comes up with a defiant thrash from Stokes, off Neesham. Clubbed straight for four. 106 for 4 off 28. It may be important that Buttler seems unruffled, able to pick his shots, roll those handsome wrists. Something special may be necessary, here; he will know that.

In his final over, de Grandhomme’s off-cutter befuddles Buttler, who is almost bowled, almost caught behind. Extraordinary spell from the medium-pacer. Nobody, in fact, has got after him in the whole tournament.

Boult is back. With a softer, less responsive ball, what can he do? As we enter the last 120 balls, England need 127 more runs. Santner will partner Boult. The batsmen ‘have a little look’.

Buttler cuts loose a little. Slices Boult out over point, where Guptil is groping at the air. Four. Santner’s flattish, shortish fingerspin is unthreatening but tidy eough. His second over only yields two to the England cause. When will the batsmen raise their level? As Henry returns, it feels like Stokes is looking to hit harder.

On this pitch, I’m not sure I agree with the sky caller’s assertion that 8 an over is no problem for England, over the last ten overs. Could be right – could be wrong. (Clearly, mostly, you’d back Stokes and Buttler to make that… but Biggish Call, on this pitch, in a World Cup Final).

The maths mean little compared to the minds. Buttler has middled most everything, whilst being conservative. Stokes has been steady-in-a-good-way. Can they fix their focus and play expansively as squeaky bum-time approaches? Win predictor has England 62% New Zealand 38%. Feels tad generous to the home side.

Review for lb against Buttler. Looks down leg. Is. The batsman is safe. Just two, from Henry’s over, mind. 143 for 4 after 36.

In comes Ferguson. Bowls wide and Buttler, reaching, crunches to the boundary. One big over might change the feel of this, dramatically – either way.

Neesham. Draws an error of timing, from Stokes, who nearly chops on. Noting – without irony – that there have been no sixes in this England knock. It’s tense.

Buttler lifts the crowd with a straight drive for four. 156 for 4 off 38. Meaning 86 needed off 72 balls.

Stokes hauls one through leg for another four – again not truly timed – but precious. If England do win this, we’ll be calling him ‘mature’ and ‘heroic’, you watch. (Some turnaround). Partnership now 76.

Henry has Stokes hopping, or arching rather, to avoid being reckless off the short one. Buttler, meanwhile, is inching closer to a kind of ease waaay beyond anyone else in the game. Undemonstrative, today, but none-the-less class.

Finally, some extravagance. Buttler dances away then flips high over his left shoulder for another boundary. Nerveless and exquisite.

Into the last ten overs. Seven-plus per over required. The batsmen are in control… but clearly must find boundaries with real regularity. Ferguson still bending his back.

69 from 54 needed. Neesham in again. Stokes finds a two. Then a great yorker nearly unseats him, almost comically. Just four from the over.

The tension can only grow; who can handle it best?

Ferguson concedes singles either side of a dot ball bouncer. Then Buttler shimmies again and flips it passed the vacant leg-slip area. Four. Off middle stump. Remarkable. 59 off 42.

Boult, from the Nursery End. Buttler blazes him over extra cover for four and goes to fifty. (And I take personal credit for this, yes?) The bowler is searching for the blockhole and finding it but there’s some good batting going on here. Stokes goes to 50, too, in the over.

Stokes is pulling Ferguson with extreme care. One. Buttler frees himself and booms over mid-off. Four. Slashes the next wide and third mannish… eventually confirmed as two. Then an attempted ‘stand and deliver job’ – misses.

Then… a miscue to the fielder in the deep. Caught. 196 for 5 and the twist this drama needed. Woakes must play a further part. 46 needed off 30. England have to deal in boundaries.

Woakes goes nuclear – understandably – but simply heaves it skywards. The keeper nearly fluffs it, in truth, but does hold on. Wow. Plunkett may have to smite a blow or two. He does hit four, off Ferguson.

34 needed off 18 balls now and the momentum firmly with New Zealand. Boult must deliver in every sense: so too Stokes, who smashes a four through midwicket. Plunkett is heaving manfully but failing to middle. Then missing. Then a full-toss is smashed for two, straight. Great yorker to finish. 24 needed off the last two overs. It’s a lot.

It will be Neesham. Plunkett gets one. One, from Stokes. Plunkett gone, driving high to mid-off. Dot ball but Stokes gets the strike. He must hit a six, you feel – rapidly. New Zealand must win this now.

Incredibly, Boult ‘catches’ Stokes but has one foot on the boundary – so 6! But Archer’s castled next ball!! With still 15 required from the last over. New Zealand must win this now!

Boult bowls two beauties- cramping Stokes. Third ball – six! Then a moment that will live forever. Stokes strikes out into the deep, then races back. On the way back the incoming ball hits the entirely innocent batsman… and goes for four – meaning six to the score. 3 needed from 2 deliveries. Unreal does not cover it.

Rashid is sacrificed in the run for two. Stokes remains on strike, for the last ball, with 2 required to win the World Cup.

AND WE GO TO A SUPER OVER!!

Wonderful madness. Maybe we should accept the wonderful madness of it, re-write the rules and share the trophy?

Let me share something with you, friends. If this was football – and penalties – I’d be walking. It just feels too much of a lottery. But this, although similar… this, I’m staying for.

Stokes and Buttler will bat for England. Boult to bowl. Wildish slice for three from Stokes. Single from Buttler. Four, through midwicket, from Stokes. Single. (Archer is warming up). A superb, wristy flick through midwicket by Buttler and England have a tasty 15 runs in their Super Over. Over to you, Mr Archer…

Our Joffra was magnificent in his later overs; tricksy as well as quicksy. Come on, my son!!

Need the loo, dog needs a walk but maybeee we’ll just hang on in there, eh? Through the interminable ads, asitappens..

Guptil and Neesham, for the Black Caps. They may be thinking England scored no sixes. They may just be shitting themselves. They will almost certainly want this done.

Archer, around, to Neesham. Bowls a wide. Two scrambled off the next. Neesham smashes the next ball into the crowd. Only 7 needed from 4, now. Roy misfields and they run 2. England throw to the wrong end, scrambled, on the next. 3 needed off 2. A single. 2 needed off the very last.

Guptil is run out!!! UNBEBLOODEEBeeeLIEVABLE. Staggering, staggering sport. Tremendous, powerful resolve and artistry, at times from New Zealand. Magnificent heart from England. Both cruel and deliriously beautiful. Ridiculous. Ridiculous.

What a contribution New Zealand have made! What a preposterous, soaring, mind-scrambling game. At the end of this, probably the Best Team in the World have won the trophy; maybe this is good? But even in their moment of utter, flabbergasting joy, England will surely be raising a glass to the guys from the other side.

Bravo, gentlemen, to all.

Tough Questions.

After what felt a truly galling day for those of us who follow and support England Women, an inquest. Because we’re angry as well as disappointed, right?

I get that anger is not typically the most helpful medium through which to search for progress. Indeed I have been wondering if Mark Robinson – Head Coach – has been able to stifle his own, inevitable fury in order to facilitate the next fightback, or if he, like my good self, has allowed himself the expression of that rage, before his players as well as privately.

The Ashes may have gone. Australia are effectively five points clear after two relatively close but relatively poor-quality contests.

So, will the England de-brief have been (or will the de-brief be) a painfully-forensically chilly room, where Tough Questions, direct questions are asked? Of the captain; of the world’s best swing-bowler; of everybody who wasn’t Tammy Beaumont yesterday. Surely?

The air may have have been blue or just raw and icy. The coach may or may not have crossed that line into the near-personal; “how fit are you? How much have you been listening? What the hell were you thinking?” Or, probably more likely, he may have simply hosted a deep-dive of a conversation into ‘all of it’. Both the Ashes Predicament and the nature of yesterday’s defeat point to an urgent bit of soul-searching.

Having been close enough to this group to have heard the whispers, I know they are genuine, committed athletes and that they know, as professionals that there are expectations around not just performance but re-calibration, agility, intelligence-around-performance. Let’s start with the captain.

Knight came in after Amy Jones inexplicably dived/dove right into a trap – driving uppishly straight at the only fielder in the midwicket parklands. (Good cricket, good placement from Australia but poor from the England opener). Beaumont was already looking rather fine: she went on to make a magnificent century that outclassed and embarrassed the efforts of her colleagues.

Knight entered early, as it were, due to the absence of Sarah Taylor: contrary to that which follows, I think this is not a bad idea, even when Taylor is selected – the captain in at three.

Of course Knight was conscious of her own failure in the previous game and of England’s subsequent collapse and underachievement. So she was in some sense entitled to play with caution. But she fell into some strange, depressing funk – ‘Knight’s circumspect start’, they called it on SkySportsMix – where she stalked painfully from 3 off mid-twenties balls… to 9 off 32… to 13 off 37.

(At this point Beaumont was 29 off 24 and had already achieved major moral victories against Perry, Schutt & co. She was playing the lead with the kind of ease that may only occur once or twice in a career, against the Aussies. *All Knight had to do* was back her up and rotate the strike in her direction).

Instead Knight died a hideous, protracted death – and maybe, early though it was, the spirit in the innings died with her. At 16 off 42, she nearly advanced at Gardener, swung hard, hoisted high and was out for nowhere near enough.

Given the context, it was pretty near criminal. The bowling had been goodish but hardly unplayable – witness Beaumont’s knock. More infuriatingly, the complete absence of inclination to take ones, here and there, beggared belief, given a) Knight’s quality b) the imperative to do that. It was an extraordinary stall and it did have an effect on subsequent partnerships.

Heather Knight’s work has often been characterised by a kind of heroic calm and determination. She has and will again lead, through thick and thin. She will know this was bloody thin.

Other players got in a bit but failed to go on. The recalled Wyatt brought her usual vim but could not persist. Neither of the experienced Brunt nor Shrubsole looked like countering: Ecclestone could bring no boom.

If you seek out the detail from the scorecard or the burgeoning stats industry you will find more, more unfortunate numbers. The essence being a rather pitiful stasis: no meaningful partnerships, no fours in the last eight zillion overs. From being set – via Beaumont’s brilliance – for a possible 270, England made 217. Hence the use of the word ‘galling’.

Rude and ridiculous to offer no credit here, to Australia. Let’s be clear, I rate them and always made them favourites for this Ashes series. Schutt is class, Perry is class – though she was fascinatingly unthreatening yesterday. Australia are the best and they may again be moving away from the pack.

Kimmince, I have always felt *has something* – though yesterday she benefitted from some ordinary batting, from England. Overall, though – and this is part of the concern, for England – Australia will be frustrated to have only have played in patches, in this series, so far.

A further word about England – and those Tough Questions. It needs a preface.

Anya Shrubsole is the best female swing bowler in the world: (Schutt feels different – sharper and less mercurial). I’ve been a huge fan ever since I saw her in Cardiff, during a male-female Eng/Aus double-header, out-swing all the blokes. Shrubsole swung it so far she could barely control it but it was a revelation.

In the last two games the England World Cup-winning star has dropped two return catches; the kind of catches that fall into the non-negotiable category. She will be mortified – she looked mortified – and she will be back but does Mark Robinson have the right to look straight at her and refer to her fitness, her weight and the possibility of a link to poorish or decreased concentration? After all it’s often said in both amateur and professional sport that fitness and conditioning are central to maintaining both good concentration and good decision-making.

Is all that a Tough Question too far, or is that merely what professionalism brings? (Discuss).

In any case, England lost a game that they needed to win, that a particular player made available to them.

Because this is top-level sport, Tammy Beaumont has every right to feel somewhat betrayed by what she might feel, momentarily, in her anger, was her colleagues’ professional incompetence. Because this is sport, I hope and expect the clan will re-gather… and go like hell once more.

Oh us of little faith.

Remember when it got dangerous? Oooh all of a week ago? Loads of us did it. Overtly, covertly, angrily, quietly, seething or braying or tutting. We all knew we were More Right Than Morgan, on this one.

How could England’s myopic Brand of Cricket not lead to some level of come-uppance? How could Eoin’s icy, almost-surly sermonising not breed a nose-thumbing response from the universe? We all knew there would be some payback for his sub-cricketty, soundbitey positivity; for the audacity of the man; for his Irishness, for god’s sakes!

England could never have just the one way. It’s not intelligent enough, not seemly enough – plus nothing can be that simple! Mainly, then, amongst the pomp and bluster, this idea that you can’t be so brittle about stuff.

But then Jonny got mad, courtesy of yet more mouth-shooting from our friend Vaughanie, firing, once again, on all twelve brain cells. And Roy got fit – enough. And the arguments got yaknow, dispatched.

Or did they?

Fact: England are in the semis. Fact: they did it Eoin’s Way. Or did they?

Certainly everything about Roy & Bairstow’s magnificent charges-straight-through-the-effing-mountain spoke of the brand – the utter lack of fear and/or negativity.

We don’t need to have crunched the numbers to feel the step-change back… and forward, on the Brand Express. Both the flametastic Yorkshireman and his returning partner drilled that tunnel again, the former with his diamond-edged fury-disc, the latter with his trusty wonder-sabre.

But it wasn’t all boom. It wasn’t possible. There was scratchiness and (more from India than the Kiwis) there was quality opposition making things tougher… or complicated. So Stokes, for example, had to do some Proper Batting and certain periods needed to be seen through.

Maybe it’s good that England arguably under-achieved a smidge, with their totals. Two truckloads of 400 and maybe the mantra might have to be caveated – if you can do that stepping-back, that re-considering, that qualifying thing to a mantra?

(Maybe the essence of any brand flirts with dumbness, or lack of intelligence, because of this imperative towards the magical brevity/positivity combo? Maybe everybody from Saatchi & Saatchi to Eoin Morgan have known that all along? Maybe we’re just not getting that Captain Boom is a step ahead – that he knows absolutely that 84.6% of his media appearances are 96.5% charade? Interesting thought, perhaps?)

Interesting but nowhere near as much fun as getting mad-outraged and bawling on twitter. Or writing something in the comments section. Or blaming Nintendo, or the Kardashians.

England are in the semis. What’s more, they are in there with momentum. What’s more more, is that significant contributions have been spread across the team; Woakes and Archer, Buttler and Stokes doing something either deeply or supremely validating or actually wonderful and uplifting in the moment. So confidence should have steepled – should be back to the absurdly high level we’ve experienced for the last year or four.

I have always argued against ‘dumb machismo’ and still do. Because sport is predicated on intelligences as much as skills. Because half the fun and half the winning is about responding to fortune or change – and this surely implies, suggests, demands the application of everything in the psychological sector, including, often crucially, the implementation of Plan B or Z. Jeesuss, right now. Under pressure.

Too often, I reckon, players or coaches get caught up in the excitement or ‘flow’ of things: they say stuff about ‘expressing themselves’ which of course has some truth in it but may not be smart enough, either in the teeming, challenging, complicated moment or for the exposition of playing philosophy – brand.

The particulars of international cricket at the mega and micro-level include so many variables, so many forces inputting their fields of influence on the action that it is a) tempting and b) probably right to seek out simplicity and clarity. However, whilst accepting this, is it not prudent to explore, prepare, ‘facilitate’ for life beyond the soundbite?

Whether or not Morgan and England are suss to this is part of the fascination. Whether or not Bairstow blasts and Roy carves, I wish England well.

 

Making *things* irrelevant. (Nice one, Fran).

The Women’s World Cup is drawing a lot of flak – funny that. Depressingly it’s not just the dumb middle-aged blokes who know nothing about football but also their youngish, similarly lazy equivalents. (On my twitter, young sporty lads giving it the sloppy, arrogant thumbs-down).

Some are more appreciative of the really accomplished passing football being played by most teams – best exemplified, arguably, by Netherlands, Germany, USA, England, France but also executed by many of the lower-profile nations.

Personally I’ve enjoyed the level of comfort in possession many of the players are displaying: the building from the back, the lack of longball-as-first-resort. Tempted to say this is waaay better than many England Men’s sides have managed until the ‘culture-changes’ of the last few years but that would of course be a calamitous o.g. – we need to keep the men out of this.

Women’s sport is different and there is no value in comparing, either explicitly or ‘subconsciously’, though that is challenging, in all honesty, for a middle-aged dumbo like myself. Plenty decades have loaded up the assumptions and prejudices in my own personal ether but  I am trying to pick a way, judge a way through that, without entirely denying myself the right to criticise: the thinking being that genuinely fair comment (should I ever achieve that) actually respects the validity/quality of the sport and makes issues of gender/sex/sexual politics irrelevant.

Flick the switch and relax. Put the telly on. Ooh, bo-nusss! England Women v Windies Cricket is on Sky Sports Mix, which is available free, to the Walton household. And I have time to watch some of it. And OMG… FRAN WILSON!

A diversion, kindof.

Last week I blagged my way in to the car park at Worcester County Cricket Club (I do have accreditation but didn’t *actually have* parking sorted) and swung stylishly and maybe a tad smugly to a halt next to a biggish 4 x 4, from which England players were decanting themselves. One of them was Fran Wilson. I don’t know any the players personally, despite having watched them a fair bit live over the last couple of years, but particularly it felt like I don’t know Fran Wilson… because she’s hardly played. I was tempted to wish her all the best but from a strange fella in a car park… how?

For me this adds a further dimension to the moment (captured above, though surely you’ve seen it, yes?) that you may and probably should revisit whenever anyone says anything.

Says anything about women’s sport. Or maybe about women? Or maybe about racism or homophobia, or maybe when somebody is cruel or stoopid or in any sense prejudiced. Either point them to it or revisit yourself, to bolster your faith in stuff. Because the world gets better at moments like this.

Fran – the same Fran that jumped out of that car, that I nearly said hello and good luck to – did something very special for us, by being very natural (for her).

She dived. She instinctively, stunningly, magnificently dived. Crucially, she caught a missile. She made a beautiful, undeniable, joyful thing-of-a-movement. She was perfectly, athletically human and the only judgement anyone can ever make about it is that was a staggering catch. No qualifications.

We can swat away the comparisons with Ben Stokes. We can swat away everything. This is simple (if statements of this quality and magnitude can be simple?) and wonderful.  She literally reached, stretched, re-invented or maybe denied the limits. Fran absolutely excited us and there’s something magic and electrifyingly pure about that feeling.

Is it okay to say I/we loved it? I think so, I hope so. I really hope we can de-clutter this, to celebrate it. It may be unwise, it may be wrong for this oldish geezer to gush like this so clumsily. But for how it looked, for how it lit up an instant and for what it says, I loved it.