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.

Warming up, with the Bharat Army.

Have seen India live – i.e. their cricket team(!) – a few times, now. Always fun. Yesterday no different, in that respect.

So happened that five minutes after I chose my seat in the Cathedral Road Stand (under the Media Centre, behind the bowlers arm), The Most Charismatic & Photogenic Indian Superfan came and sat down next to me.

Meaning if you saw some weirdly incongruous, tanned but unmistakably white bloke on the telly or on ‘insta’, next to the man with The Face & The Conch… well that was me. Sorry. If I photobombed any or all of the zillion selfies that the magnificently generous Bharat Army icon endured, I apologise. I sought nothing – was merely there in the first place.

My day then, was all about that happy coincidence. Rolling with the flags and the Bharat Army vibe. Reflecting now – and at the risk of patronising folks I simply don’t know – it was great. I expect it will be one of the highlights of my summer. Funny people, utterly charming people, Proper Cricket People. A refreshing, uplifting experience in the context of a currently depressing racial-political context. Thank you, guys.

Here’s how the *actual match* seemed…

 

Indian Superfan. Drawn to me, in an uncanny, unspoken non-ritual. Or maybe just wants, like me, to sit straight behind the bowler’s arm. Either way, he makes me look painfully pallid in every respect, what with his strikingly extravagant face-art. But inside… we are one. 😉

Cardiff. Coolish and both bright and cloudy. There’s a rain delay, after about four balls. More folks joining us, under the Media Centre, opposite the river. Including two ver-ry cool-looking guys who are (it turns out) Bharat Army hierarchy. I wonder about interviewing them but frankly bottle it.

The ball, meanwhile seems barely to be deviating despite that early cloud, rain. Some green in the pitch – and one goes through low – but no bowlers’ paradise, here. That how this World Cup’s gonna be? That how the white ball is? Just mainly hit through it: things may be difficult to time just now but reckon once you’re in…

Kohli, in soon enough, is fortunate very early on – edges through slips. Rohit, opposite, is similar in terms of relative discomfort.

A slow start, then and it’s one of those conflicting occasions where it’s hard to put your finger in what it is that’s so difficult but evidently, this is not easy for the batsmen. There is barely a timed aggressive shot in first ten overs.

Kohli gets through, having offered more than one ‘chance’ via the vacant first slip corridor: he looks almost human, today. He is bowled on 47.

13.30 and a Dhoni six over midwicket. Crowd full-throated, now. (Incidentally, had first thought the Indian mums/grans/daughters quota noticeably bigger than for the England equivalent…but maybe not).

But – sitting amongst them – there is that lovely, enthusiastic, engaged, 3-generations thing going on with the Indian support. Plus the most delightfully polite exchange of “excuse mes” as people trundle apologetically across your line of view or nudge past your beleaguered knees. Great fans.

176 for 4 after 32 (at the second drinks break). Rahul – like Kohli hardly fluent, earlier – has found a way to 68 not out.

200-up in the 36th. 37th & Dhoni explodes. Impudent swipe behind square for four, violent clonk over mid-on for six. Crowd loving it; he is plainly the Other God.

94 metre club-sweep from Dhoni immediately follows the milestone. He & Rahul looking comfortable, now, finally. Score could go VERY BIG, you sense, if they want it.

Mid-afternoon and somehow reassurring and appropriate to see Dhoni batting in a cap. Still moving pretty well, but *does look* like the clubbiest kind of god – also reassuringly.

Rahul goes to 88 with another edge – flailing somewhat, outside off. No slip, no catch.

Spin bowling for Bangladesh feels mixed – neither penetrative nor restrictive, particularly. On another day, they’re going at 20 an over. However their left-arm quick is admirably ardent, in the 41st. Sharp, committed.

Rahul bowled somewhat behind his legs, for 108. Good rather than majestic, today; appreciation and excitement, as this brings in Hardik Pandya.

Okaaay, it’s kindof a friendly but Bangladesh fielding has been ordinary. Dhoni profits from some dilatory stuff at mid-off; moves to 79 in the 45th. Hundred very much there if he wants it.

A brilliant fielder (unlike Liton, by the looks) might have him at long on, moments later. Tough chance lips out.

Some prolonged erm, drama as Hardik is cleared on review, after it became clear the ball pitched outside leg.

After 48 overs, Ind have 327 for 6, with Dhoni facing on 99. Boom. Straight drive, for six, into the river!

Dhoni, sumptuous in those later overs, is eventually bowled for 113. Jadeja fills his boots (as it were) by contributing a swift 11 as India finish on 359 for 7. Think Bangladesh have used 9 bowlers.

All things considered? India good, plainly, but 400 good? 400 to-win-against-somebody-really-tasty good? Not sure about that. Two centurions here but still 350 felt a touch lite. Could be the whole warm-up scenario but #CWC19 will likely demand early and sustained dynamism, if not outright violence.

India start their defence of the total with two slips, to Shami. Bumrah – whom I’ve come to watch – bowls the second over, wheeling and lashing.

Liton and Soumya cope. It would figure that batting conditions might be a tad more favourable, what with bright skies and a drying breeze now, and this is generally confirmed, during the first phase of the reply.

However, in his second over, Bumrah bowls an absolute peach – fiery, bouncy but not that short – which zips through where that second slip had been. 31 for 0 after 4.

There’s something richly appealing about an action as distinctive as Bumrah’s. That stalking; that skipping; the exaggerated uncurling. It’s not beautiful – quite – but it’s really him… and it’s quick. I really like that he doesn’t look like he’s ever been significantly tampered with by some coach.

At the other end, Shami is also putting it in, with little reward. 36 for 0 after 7. In the field the intensity and quality does feel a notch higher than an hour or two ago.

Whistles, in the sunshine. Real shiny whistles, Indian whistles, cajoling rather than cat-calling. Non-stop virtually; telling the lads that we’re with them. Children, mainly. Somewhere between charming… and harmless.

Eventually, Bumrah’s sheer energy and persistence pays off. Soumaya caught behind of something that *just lifts* again. 49 for 1.

Wow. He follows that up with a magnificent, druggy, slower-ball(?) yorker that irresistibly rushes the base of the stumps. Fabulous. Shakib must defend the hat-trick ball. Wide of off.

After 13, Bangladesh are at 62 for 2, with the game poised, progressing but by no means aflame. Goodish crowd, with the heavily-outnumbered Bangladeshis now vocal – and sunshine.

At the Powerade Hydration Break 🤷🏻‍♂️ (15 overs) , we have moved on to 74 for 2.

In bright, late-afternoon sunshine, Dhoni is keeping in sub-Steve McQueen shades and no cap. 100-up, for 2, in the 20th. Lukewarm: we wait. And wait.

150 for 2 off 27, with Jadeja on from the River End. Looking easy for the batsmen, who are beginning to lift the tempo and the Bangladeshi contingent. Still low-key but a friendly-competitive finish seems entirely feasible.

Jadeja reaching high with that left hand of his, then bowling flightless, sharpish and full. Chahal offering something rounder and loopier at the other end. Keeping the lid on this, currently.

Good, long chat with Rakesh from the Bharat Army. They’re now quite a mob – a business, in fact, with more than 11,000 fans booked through them for the upcoming Cricket World Cup. Bright, capable bloke; tells me they have staff in several countries dealing with travel, tickets, merchandise etc. Wish them well – feel under-qualified to *actually join* but…

At 191 for 5, off 36, it feels like India’s greater variety and quality of spin bowling may be telling. Though maybe not by much. Until Kuldeep Yadav’s left-arm leggies suddenly take over.

(At this point – another two-in-two – the Bharat Army hoiked up a giant banner, occluding the *actual playing surface* for some minutes. So an announcement: normal service will be resumed when the flag is lowered)…

When I emerge, it’s 216 for 8. (Did hear another roar). And a steward is insisting on the Army rolling up the banner. He is polite rather than officious, roundly, comically booed… but obeyed. We move on, in more sunshine, with the game surely now won.

I note that as so often, it is leg-spin that has gripped and turned the drama, here – batsmen having rarely been genuinely troubled by the seamers, save for a moment or three of real quality from Bumrah. Bangladesh need 130 from the last five overs… and here come the quicks to see them off.

They don’t, in fact. Chahal has Shaif slicing tamely to gully  – 262 for 9 – then Jadeja will bowl the last.

There have been three two-in-two’s in the innings, which maybe characterises the rather bitty nature of the Bangladeshi batting, today. Could be that this is how #CWC19 may be, for them – occasional glory, general disappointment?

No further score is added before a scrambled & reviewed runout brings the match to a close. Words for today? Good-natured, ‘sunny’, affable, enjoyable. Very cricketty -in a warm-up kindofaway.

Game of Throws.

Most of you will know that I’m a Community Coach, for Cricket Wales. This means, amongst other things, that I go into schools – I typically describe myself as “the daft bugger who throws things around, with kids, in schools”.

It’s sometimes challenging but mostly so magbloodynificent I need to ramp the language over the scoreboard to describe it. Today is one of those flowtastically energising days. Sorry.

I’ve been into a Primary School, on our Chance to Shine mission, which is so multi-faceted (in a good way) I’m going to invent some swift bullet-points, to give the sense of covering it all briefly.

Frankly don’t care if this sounds like a salespitch: what happened today was mercifully and definitively beyond mere capitalism, dear friends. Here’s some edited highlights from the err, manifesto.

We Community Coaches, we Chance to Shiners aim to;

  • offer a load of sporty fun.
  • Build co-ordination around cricket-based games.
  • Build confidence through and confidence in movement.
  • Offer new stuff – skills, ‘drills’, ways in to catching, throwing, striking etc.
  • Stimulate listening skills, teamwork &/or individual application to challenges: build numeracy (yes I do mean that!) and communication skills – oracy.
  • Get familiar, or more familiar with a bat, a ball, or different bats, different balls.
  • Specifically follow, more or less, a curriculum which Chance to Shine has assembled, drawing on masses of expertise and research… and stuff.
  • In the abstract we aim (I certainly aim) to make kids laugh a bit, whilst charging round the place with purpose. Structured bursting and giggling and launching and swiping and mostly achieving something, which may or may not be measurable but may well be actually rather profound.

Hence my sickening upbeat-ness. Cos we did all that this morning. Two brilliant sessions with children from Year 2 then Year 3. Brilliant? Them – them! – not me. They lit up the place.

In my post-euphoric foolishness, I’m wondering if there might be some merit in describing what we did. So here goes.

Last week with these children, we followed the Chance to Shine model for batting games, via Striking Star and Super Skills Circuit – you can find these here and I do recommend them.

https://www.chancetoshine.org/teaching-resources

Having done the ‘get familiar with the bats’ thing, it made sense to do something different, today. So out with hoops and spots and balls, for games again developed from that C2S curriculum.

We were inside, in an average-sized school hall. I drew out a Throwing Line, with red cones, then placed three yellow hoops and a spot, about four or five metres out, parallel to the Throwing Line, spaced evenly apart. Three or four metres beyond, two blue hoops and two blue spots, again making a line, across the hall. Finally, the distant targets – four red hoops.

I welcomed the children in, in English and inadequate Welsh, as per. Then, after asking them again how they turned their ears on and warning them in the nicest possible way that the games would change, briefly described (rather than demonstrated) what we would do. We would throw underarm at the yellow targets.

What would we throw? Cricket ball-sized sponge balls and two or three significantly bigger but still unthreatening, lightweight ‘footballs’, plus a softly-spiky pink plastic ball: all of which I said I’d like to see shared around.

The children had a couple of goes before I tried that “Ok people, imagine if I was an alien and I’d just landed on Planet Har’ford; how would you explain how this underarm throw works(?)” routine. “What’s moving?”

I might now be modelling the throw but not saying anything. Instead I ask the ‘coaches’ (kids) to talk me through “pushing my palm, stepping forward, aiming with my hand-that-isn’t-throwing”. It’s a listening event and describing event, for the children; hopefully more than a demonstration.

We move on, as soon as; we want to be throwing, more, further, harder!

I ask how many points we should give ourselves for hitting the nearest (yellow) hoops ”first bounce – on the full?” Somebody confidently shouts “Ten!” Ten it is.

”So how many for the blue?”

(Somebody else). “Thir-teee!”

”And what about the red?!?”

”FIFF-TEEEE!!!”

Suddenly we have a Proper Game. In which “for a bitta fun” we can keep score if we want.

I offer them more choices; they can now throw under or overarm and they can aim at any hoop or spot. (Incidentally, if it felt necessary, I would offer the discussion about whether a blue hoop is worth more or less points than a blue spot – which is smaller. Feels unnecessary, here. Note too, that we haven’t discussed throwing overarm yet; let them launch a few first).

Surprise surprise, everybody lashes it out there in the general direction of the distant red hoops. It’s wonderful, stretchy-wild and energetic. They love it.

Before the next round of throws – just to focus the concentration a tad – I bring in A Rule. “You have to name the colour before you throw”. We go on. It’s still fairly chaotic… but great.

Next up we revisit the scoring. “Which are the easiest targets to hit? Why? So if we really were counting our score, what colour do we think might be the one where we are most likely to get some points? Or… if we are enjoying throwing harder, further (at the red, maybe) what can we do, to give ourselves every chance of hitting?”

It’s gotten tactical. They realise that. There’s that lovely sense of liberation – through the physical act of throwing – and also the whirr of cognition and ‘getting the game’.

”I’m going yellow – no, blue!”

”I’m going red. I’m still going red, because…”

It’s gotten to a point where I think there is some real value in me demonstrating an overarm throw – despite my half-decent grasp of ECBCA initiatives towards Core Principles, as opposed to old-school ‘coaching’. So I offer three suggestions; feet wide apart and in line with the target; ‘pointing’ or aiming with the non-throwing hand; throwing hand waaaaay up and back away from the face.

In my defence, as it were, I do offer this model via a story, with questions.

”Who’s got a dog, friends?

Half the class.

”Okaaay. So have I. Picture the scene, on Newgale (beach). Me and one very waggy dog and a ball. Does my dog want me to do this… (throws with hand at his ear, feebly)… or (collects ball and notably draws elbow and hand high and loooong and back, away from the head) does your dog want you to launch one?” (Launches one, to unsolicited whhooooos and whoooorrs from the kids).

”Your dog wants you to zap it. To enjoy throwing hard and far. Powerfully. Come on, let’s get wide feet, pointy hands and get that ball awaaaay from our faces. Let’s ab-so-lute-ly lash it AT THESE TARGETS!!

Typically I shift one red hoop to the furthest, furthest point and up the ante to 500 points for that one. It’s a blast – slightly wild – but my personal mission to teach the mini-universe to be able to throw, to love throwing has bounded forward… and that’s magic.

I’ve missed some details out but this is the gist of a session that I repeated, this morning. Minimal changes for Years 2 then 3. Biggish groups – 30-odd. I guarantee you that nobody felt inadequate, or left out. The level of engagement was stratospheric.

I finished both sessions with my Moving Target challenge, for a thousand points. It offers a kind of individual moment for everyone; one in which everyone Wins Big.

I walk across in front of the children, holding a hoop up at what feels like a comfortable height for their throws. One by one, they all have to throw through the hoop, as I move. Miraculously (possibly with an occasional strategic twitch from yours truly) everybody nails it! It’s crazily, dizzily, wonderfully satisfying – maybe especially for those who weren’t throwing ‘naturally?’

“A thousand points! What a way to finish!”

About fifty minutes-worth of entertaining, challenging, sometimes mind-bending Chance to Shine/CricketWales fun. With balls. And hoops. In January, in a school hall. Some educational boxes ticked but mainly, mainly a deeply pleasurable experience for all concerned; including me.

 

 

Universe Podcast 5. On writing.

Dangerously solo podcast, on writing stuff and the privileges I’ve enjoyed. Hope to god no-one feels *exposed* – not my intention. Hoping folk might be interested in the process and actuality of writing on cricket – on anything.

 

 

Big fan of Ronay and Hayward but also of Ian Herbert. Thank you to them and to George Dobell, Melinda Farrell, Dan Norcross and Adam Collins, in particular. Listen and you will see that this a) takes indulgence to a new, exotic high b) is about accreditation, style, honesty and lots of other cobblers.

Okay. Have listened back. First thing I should say is that I know it breaks all the rules: I’m not big on rules. Absurdly long – not bovvered – a zillion omissions and dubious generalities, naturally, but like it and pleased that encourager-in-chief Richard Huntington has ‘bloody loved it’. When you’re on the edges of embarrassing/‘colourful’/crazy-pretentious it helps to have an occasional, legitimising thumbs up.

Should maybe mention that I do understand that there is a significant difference between a column and a report. Even my live posts aren’t reports, eh? *Also*, I work full-time for Cricket Wales as a coach and media geezer, so when I talk about being unemployable in the mediasphere, I have the luxury of referring to possible occasional freelancing. Love my job – genuinely.

May add to this…

 

Crazy, I know.

Lunchtime in Wales. The twittersphere tells me Rashid Khan can’t play tonight for Sussex – a plus.

But given the Sharks (I kinda resent calling them that but let’s go with the faux I mean flow, eh?) have maybe the most fangtastic attack in the tournament in any case, the chances for a Middlesex win at Hove prolonging Glammy’s season remain slim, yes? Sussex still have Archer, Jordan and Mills and are therefore odds-on to endstop Eoin Morgan’s campaign with another emphatic disappointment.

Or are they?

T20 does have scope for that turn-on-a-tanneresque, wtf-acious, well I ne-ver in a-all my born days jolt. It’s arguably predicated on thrills and dramatic holy cows; lurid ones, inflatable ones – ones with a microphone or megaphone. Meaning it’s a rush. 

Me, I’m in a flush. Because if you didn’t know it, my lot – our lot – Glamorgan are scrambling. They must win tonight and hope Sussex lose.

Sussex are at home to the worst team in the division. Glam have Surrey at Sophia Gardens. There may even be a weather issue, possibly, in Cardiff, which could scupper that 2 points imperative. It’s feeling cruel and ecstatic and BIG, all this. We love it and it’s almost unbearable.

If you’re like me you start wondering fatally aloud and quite probably pontificating to people in bars, or caffs or kitchens. Trying to un-mist those memories around How, Exactly It Came To This.

We blame shot selection, rank amateurism, villageism, inexperience and the coach. We know we are right even when at our most nailed-on preposterous but our love of An Opinion drives us on. Our hunches become Mona Lisas; unshiftable and mighty and true; stars in the firmament of revelation.

This is the essence of supporting stuff: knowing that our professionals haven’t got a clue.

It’s ingloriously bastardly. It’s hilarious – it drives the coaches, players and opposition mad. The utter cobblers we come out with.

Ah but it’s rejuvenating and self-validating and joyfully daft, too. It’s the essential matrix – and you bloody coaches and CEOs and players better remember this! – without which public sport itself is dead. Fans mithering or bawling or making extraordinarily, brilliantly astute contributions. It’s the game.

Hey before I get into that pre-pre-game period – where it’s too early to get hyper and too late for calm – let me leave you with the wildest daftest contribution my own allegedly-plainly free-wheelingly absurdist cerebellum came up with the other day. During that massacre at Hove.

Staggering-but-true there was a moment in that Sussex v Glam game where the visitors were if not cruising then on that most delicious cusp. Chasing a reasonable lump, Donald and Meschede had gone in and made a magnificent start. Donald (I think) got out, bringing Ingram in. But Glam had been going at something close to 12 an over. And Ingram is almost god.

In my infinite but delusional, inexperienced, unreliable wisdom I was certain that the spectacular South African could play within himself for ten overs and still score at more than the required rate, thus guiding Glam to an uncomplicated but tremendously significant win. Instead, he crashed one to the fielder.

I tweeted something to the effect that Ingram – Glam’s rock and leader and inspiration – had arguably thrown away the campaign; right there. In a flashy, unnecessary moment. (To be fair I was careful not to accuse the man of anything but you get the drift).

I kinda love Colin Ingram but I still (secretly until now) believe he was wrong… and that my own intuit-o-cobblers was right. He’s so good he could have picked and cut and nurdled or watchfully-downwardly boomed his way to the win. He could: I believe that.

And that, my friends, is both a confession of sorts and a statement of my vain, inviolable prerogative – and yours. Over a season where eight zillion more obvious errors or misjudgements patently out-rank this embarrassing hunch of mine, we reach the last, fatal knockings with me wondering on this. Crazy, I know.

 

Come ON Glam!

 

 

The Universe Podcast 2: with Matt Thompson, Talent Programme Manager for Cricket Wales

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In the second of my amiable meanderings through what-might-turn-out-to-be the Definitive List of Movers & Shakers in Welsh Cricket, I chat to Matt Thompson, Talent Programme Manager for Cricket Wales.

Matt is a brilliant 26 year-old cricketer/lecturer/coach, with a ridiculous c.v.

Despite this, I kinda liked him. We talked the new job through – criminally unedited – plus all kinds of coach-feely other stuff.

Have a listen.