Universe Podcast: “Let’s get at it”. #InspiringGenerations – the launch.

Wrote a demon blog and t’internet ate it. So rambled, below, on the theme of the ECB Action Plan 2109 – specifically the ‘Transforming Women’s & Girls’ Cricket’ tome, released and placed before the media on Tuesday.

There are ‘qualifications’, here, which I hope are decipherable. Chiefly, though, there is a genuine hope and even belief  that the massive commitment of funds really will change levels of awareness and participation: that the commitment to supporting and re-structuring (which may be politically/philosophically questionable to some) will at least work, significantly, in terms of the ‘gender re-balance’ that Clare Connor and others have spoken of.

Makes me smile that much of this feels driven by the need to keep pace or catch up with the Aussies – fair dinkum to them for blazing the trail for women professionals, in particular. But I don’t work and am not particularly likely to work at the elite end of the game. I’m a grassroots geezer and proud of it. What feels good to me is that because of the holistic, wholesale, humongousness of this project, many wee female humans will register cricket in a way that simply hasn’t happened, previously. The girls I coach will feel the sport-tastic blur going on above them. Love that.

In short, despite ab-so-lutely acknowledging concerns about the implications around new tournaments, new regions, I am buzzing – this does feel like a transformation. It’s right that we pour resources into W & G Cricket; it will be liberating, inspiring and blood-dee exciting. Just like sport should be.

 

*Note. Fully intend to get back into gathering in guests for the Universe Podcast ver-ry soon!

Below are some of the key commitments, from the ECB: copied & pasted from the “Transforming Women’s & Girls’ Cricket document”.

£20m investment by 2021.

171% total funding increase for girls’ County Age Group (CAG) Cricket.

8 new regional teams for elite domestic cricket.

500k girls in primary schools to receive a great cricket experience.

40 new professional contracts for female cricketers.

2,000(!) female South Asian All Stars Activators trained by 2024.

Final note; belatedly remembered (and am reminded, re-reading the document) that Women’s IT20 comes to Brum, in the Commonwealth games in 2022. Edgbaston could do a great job of showcasing that: see you there!

 

Highlights Reel – as does the memory. Universe Podcast looks back on a year of cricket – mine, 2019.

A meander through my personal highlights, with particular attention on the games I actually attended. Vaguely chronological but with the inevitable @cricketmanwales-stylee diversions.

So, unreliable memories around both England men and women’s international fixtures, plus KSL and Blast19 stuff. Some thoughts on coaching – on the England men’s batting – and ‘philosophical’ notions around approach and responsibility. Finally, I fall into a realisation that my ‘Day of the Year’ may have been…

well go listen and find out. And please do RT if you find it at all listenable.

 

*Note: plank that I am I started to say something about Sophie Ecclestone but then drifted. What I was going to add was that she is clearly a talent – already our (England’s) go to bowler when Knight needs to make something happen. (Not bad for a 19/20 yr-old). She isn’t a great fielder but one of my abiding memories of a difficult Women’s Ashes for England was that Ecclestone offers something.

#Edgbaston. #FinalsDay.

How, how, how does this keep happening?!?  🤷🏻‍♂️

Another extraordinary day of cricket. ‘Belonging’, ultimately, to Harmer, the Eagle’s skipper, who bowled like a demon in both their matches and also saw them home so dauntlessly with the bat.

But this felt bigger even than that: bigger than the personal joy. The South African offie and his batting partner Bopara did, of course, stretch the dramatic-elastic to its ecstatic breaking-point. They did heave the entertainment to another level – remarkably.

But the nature of this Edgbaston Gig itself had already revealed itself in the scrumptious, autumnal sun. The colour, in every sense. The daft, boozy boisterousness. The singalongtastic vibe. More importantly perhaps, the edgy, competitive cricket.

Peter Moore’s Outlaws had cataclysmically imploded. (That presser was painful viewing, people). Falcons, too, had faltered cruelly. The pitch drew some flak but still, somehow, in those wonderful external playing conditions, before that shiny-happy crowd, this event was simply never going to fail. Because Finals Day. Because Edgbaston. There really was something inevitably sensational about all this.

So Harmer’s Day, for sure. But also both another general triumph, for Warwickshire County Cricket Club and something of a gauntlet thrown down to events *in the pipeline*. 

Here’s how the day felt, from 9 a.m to 10 p.m. Live.

 

Outlaws v Rapids.

Crazy-sunny: ridiculously, as per last year, when the Brum skyline looked splendidly leafy and shiny and the bowl in front of us radiated searingly cosmic light straight  back up at us. Wow. What a view. Thankyou, Edgbaston.

I’m back then and so is the great celestial orb-thing. And maan what a difference it makes.

The day is warm, by 9.30, but it is also set up. Fifty feet below me, Outlaws and Rapids are going through their early moves; nice collect/cross over/throw drill to my left, overseen by the fella Moores and some running and squatting over to my right, with Moeen’s Posse. Stadium stirring quietly but ubiquitous bouncy pop already blaring. Great scene.

10.30. Notts have won the toss and put Rapids in to bat. In other tactical news, I am alternating peppermint tea with coffees: this is a really long day.  👊🏻

Luke Wood – left-arm over, quickish – starts with a full-toss, to Rutherford, which he blocks for nought. The sun really does illuminate the pitch: strip looks brownish and dry. Wood, straining for pace, bowls a leg-side wide. Wessels drives nicely to cover for three and Rapids make a solid start – 9 off the over.

Carter will bowl his right arm off-spin from the Pavilion End. Rutherford miscues him over Hales but the former England man retreats to make the catch high above his head. 10 for 1. Enter Moeen.

Ali drives his second ball comprehensively, majestically into the stand over long-on… then re-plays the shot for a further six, just clearing the rope this time. As if we didn’t love him enough!

Wessels drives Wood fabulously through the covers for four more, before patting away an angry beamer. No ball and Free Hit. We are 32 for 1 after 3. Ground 80% full already.

Gurney comes in for Carter: starts with a poor wide. Ali goes to 20 off 7 by dispatching the left arm quick to the spot which will surely be re-named Moeen’s Corner immediately after the game. (Long-on, by the Sky Pod).

Ah. Cancel or delay that naming ceremony. Carter, returning having switched ends, bowls the Rapids skipper, swishing hard across the line. 40 for 2 and Parnell has joined Wessels. Playing conditions are an absolute dream.

Wood again. Poorish full-toss pushed easily through mid-off. Four. Another beamer defended, power-play done and Rapids are 54 for 2. Early feel is that somebody may go very big very quickly on this pitch.

Lots of changes from Christian. Patel tries a wheel, then Mullaney. Anything to break things up, or prevent The Emergence of The Groove. Mullaney’s canny medium-pace does okay.

Wessels – very open in his stance, bit ungainly – sweeps Patel to break out. Striking flatter-than-flat, sharpish ‘spin’ from Our Samit. 69 for 2, after 9.

Mullaney will go again. Parnell may not really connect but does lift him for six over long-off. Bowler has his revenge, mind, as Parnell *doesn’t quite get there*. Sliced, and Christian is watchful in retreat. Rapids are 76 for 3 at the halfway mark.

Good few minutes for the Outlaws skipper, as he has Cox caught behind off an under-edge, in his first over. Ground pret-ty much full now and the colour and the noise brewing nicely.

Patel switches ends. D’Oliveira drives him nicely and slaps him to leg – but not for boundaries, importantly. 88 for 4 after 12; Wessels has 34.

Mullaney bowls him, leg stump. Could be the pressure to reach the rope does the batsman; there has a been an absence of fours and sixes – or the sense that Rapids need more – over the last few overs. A kind of quiet pressure.

Carter benefits too. D’Oliveira tries to hoist him to Cow but is bowled by a ball that may have only marginally turned. Good time for the Outlaws as the score has fallen away to 92 for 6: Barnard and Whitely are both new to the crease.

Gurney, from the Birmingham End. Then a stunning moment, as Joe Clarke runs out Barnard with a brilliant, timely throw from point. (Timely in the sense that it already felt like a possible game-changer, or winner). Really high quality piece of fielding, bringing Mitchell in a good deal earlier than Rapids might have liked. 108 for 7 after 16, Whiteley having boomed a defiant six.

The same batsman gives Mullaney similar treatment, next over. Six, four, six, one. Nice, clean striking. It’s felt like a 180-odd pitch from early on: 160 now seems *possible.* Gurney comes in to bowl the 18th at 125 for 7.

Wood misfields at point – the first error I can remember – but then nearly runs out Whiteley. Gurney is taking the pace off, to Mitchell. Shocker of a wide, at Whiteley – both a beamer and genuinely wide. 132 at the end of the over.

Wood. Running in, going quickish. Patel, meanwhile, rubber-stamps his cult status with the Hollies, by hoofing back a beachball to beery approval. Good over; concedes just the five runs.

Gurney, predictably, will take the last. Shocker: full-toss down leg. Then beats the swing, from Whiteley. Then an awful wide, to off. Then Whiteley is caught at deep square.

Enter Brown. Mitchell is facing: he smashes Gurney for six before falling, caught at deep cover.

A single is scurried off the last to post a slightly underwhelming 147 for 9, for the Rapids. Could of course be proved badly wrong but still guessing somebody may get 180 or more on this strip, in this sunshine. (Proved wrong on this. No team could sustain the onslaught throughout their effort. Pitch *really gripped* as the day progressed and pressure unquestionably played a part).

The reply. Moeen will lead from the front. He almost has a wicket with each if his first four balls, what with miscues and a half-decent l.b. shout. Three from the over but no losses for Outlaws. (Rapids will need those losses rapidly, yes?)

Parnell is in and lively. Hits the swivelling Nash on the back. The batsman has his measure, though, striking four boundaries from the over, including an irresistible, sweetly-timed pull to leg for six. 21 for 0 after 2.

Hales straight-drives Morris classically for a further six. Rapids dare not let these two guys get in: 29 for 0 after 3.

Another change as Brown comes in, running towards us. Over the wicket, very straight initially. Remember him having a great day here, last year. Just the four from the over.

Hales drives Morris uppishly but beautifully through extra-cover for four. Quality. Moeen has a few quiet words with his bowler but Hales simply readjusts his feet and places t’other side of cover for a further boundary – ominously. 44 for 0 as Barnard joins us.

Moeen, at mid-off as per, makes the most obvious fielding error so far, allowing Hales to take four more.

The wicket the Rapids now urgently need, comes, as Nash is caught sweeping off Barnard. With Hales already on 27 off 19, there is a sense Rapids will need to make further inroads. Duckett – no slouch – joins Hales, as Moeen returns from the Pavilion End.

Review for a stumping, as Hales appears to come forward to Ali. Foot never raised behind, so the batsman stays. 55 for 1 after 7.

In comes Mitchell, with his slammy seam-spin. Six from the over. Followed by Barnard, whom Duckett cheekily lifts over the keeper, for four. Keeper is up, to Hales, despite the bowler’s pace.

Somehow Hales levers out what feels like an excellent, straight yorker for six. (Bowling can really be tough, in this format, eh. As if to emphasise the point, Duckett switches hands to ludicrously hoik-reverse D’Oliveira for four, in the next over).

At 83 for 1, Outlaws look well-set at the halfway mark – Rapids were 76 for 3. Runrate is a very do-able six-point-something. Hope the energy in the stadium doesn’t drain too much should Moeen and co depart early.

(Talking of energy, the bloke sat three foot two to my left appears to be *actually asleep*. Recognise him… but also not sure who he is… and may not split on him even if I did!)

Duckett nearly contrives to get himself run out: Moeen, who is bowling again, may need Outlaws to gift him something – and then some.

Hales again places the ball skilfully wide of extra, off Brown: Four. Then cuts to reach an untroubled 50. The guy is good; for all the issues around him, it seems entirely likely that a return to England white-ball cricket is on the cards at some stage. 99 for 1 after 13.

Moeen, who has bowled 3 overs for 9 runs thus far, will bowl his last towards us in the Media Centre. Hales swings, edges and is caught by the juggling keeper.

The Rapid’s captain will finish with 1 for 13: great effort but Parnell, following, may have to nail another victim, you suspect. Christian, who has bags of experience, and Duckett should see Outlaws home. (Hah. *Fatal*).

It’s quietish but calmish, out there. As if Outlaws are playing within themselves, or in the expectation of a victory. Non-explosive, then.

Comedy moment as Duckett shapes to lift behind himself and Cox behind the sticks reads it, throws up both mitts and almost palms an unlikely catch.

Soon after the same batsman will ease Barnard rather contemptuously behind square for four. Cute – great hands. Outlaws will need 26 from the last 3 overs: hardly a cruise but plenty of guys in reserve and this does look a pitch that you can score quickly on. Parnell will bowl left-arm round from the Birmingham End.

Christian ab-so-lutely crucifies a fullish delivery over square-leg for six. Then bundles a single. Duckett brings out the soft-handed scoop-pat behind to surely make this safe – 13 only required. Then 12, from the remaining 2 overs.

Pat Brown needs a hat-trick: plus. It’s thankless.

With the sun a-blazing, it could be that we shouldn’t be ruling out Divine Intervention (or something) but..

Hah! With Moeen reaching high, high, to claim the catch at mid-on, the Rapids have made a start. Or have they? 9 needed off 9.

Barnard booms high. Wessels catches and literally takes a bow, at long-off. Then (scrambled minds?) Mullaney is run out chasing a two he doesn’t need. In short, Duckett and Patel must find seven runs from the last over. Suddenly, a proper tingle. Parnell to bowl.

Patel is facing and he misses the first. Crowd involved. He slices away the second, for a single, meaning Duckett, on 48, will face. He also misses but they scurry a single off his pads. 5 from 3.

Patel plays a nervy half-pull, aerially but safe and they run two. And a single from the next means TWO REQUIRED FROM THE LAST BALL. How did we get here?!?

Hilariously – and stupidly, in my view – an Outlaw message is sent out but the umpire quite rightly sends the messenger back, much to the crowd’s enjoyment. Endless wait before the last ball… which Parnell pulls out of, mischievously.

Another nerve-jangler of a wait before DUCKETT MISSES THE LAST BALL! Ridiculously, the Rapids have won it, by one run. Magic and tragic. Spectacular and ludicrous. I repeat, Moeen’s Rapids have bloody won it!

 

Falcons v Eagles.

Distracted somewhat by the Peter Moores press conference… which I’d like to watch through, but then abscond from. Moores sincere, open and sincerely angry – no surprise, given what he’s just seen from his players.

Eagles to bat, then, with Delport and Westley to open. The former top-edges Van Beek in the second over but the ball finds safety in the covers. 14 for 0 off 2.

Rampaul looks strong: he slaps in a bouncer which Delport hooks, with control but little violence. Westley pulls for four. The Eagles openers are racing singles.

Hudson, from the city end, goes for 14, as Eagles move to 37 for no loss at the end of the 4th. Van Beek, following and going short of a length, initially, is a little tidier. 45 for 0 after 5.

Delport has 31 off 18: he rather flukes another four, edging Hudson behind. We have major fun, in the Hollies, centred on more Beach Ball Action. 56 for 0 as the power-play closes.

Hughes enters, from the Pavilion End. Westley almost lifts directly to long-on. Huge, sustained cry of “we want our ball back” from my right. Daft error from Du Plooy, at extra, almost gifts Eagles a boundary. It’s rowdy, already.

(The Hollies, on Finals Day, is different-level daft. ‘Mexicans’ to well, everything and everyone. Hilarious – in a loud, loud kindofaway).

Delport has 50 off 28. Then Eagles have 78 off 8. Falcons need something.

They have it. Delport departs, caught booming, off Hughes. 55 off 31 a decent contribution. Lawrence joins Westley.

Critchley’s up-and-over leg-spin is not troubling the batsmen unduly. Eagles reach 91 for 1 by the mid-way point.

Lawrence then Westley both look to slug over Cow Corner. The bowler smartly adjusts, going wide outside off and Lawrence miscues to deepish gully for 3. Enter ten Doeschate.

Reece is bowling left-arm round, from the Birmingham End. Medium-pace. He has the experienced South African leg before, third ball. Feels important. The incoming Bopara may need to re-claim the initiative, here. (Note the match programme describes his role as ‘middle-order accelerator. Fair enough).

100 up with a four steered through cover, off Hughes. Still beautiful and bright, out there. Another sleeper in the Media Centre. What’s up with these guys?!! 😂

Reece has Westley caught sweeping, for a steady 39. 107 for 4, with Wheater joining Bopara. Again, good running from the Eagles, who get two, square – and then the same to mid-wicket.

Critchley has changed ends. We can now see he is getting some spin. Bopara has to be watchful. The bowler is a little unlucky to concede through the keeper.

Satisfyingly, we are 123 for 4 off 15. 180 possible? More from Reece.

Wheater should maybe be run-out by Hughes but bold running again favours the Eagles. More drinks.

Critchley will finish his spell from beneath us. Wheater bunts for one. A real pie – full full-toss – escapes immediate punishment but draws the Free Hit. Wheater can only club to long-off for a single. We are 137 for 4 with 3 overs to come.

Rampaul returns, from the city. Another well-run two. Bopara maybe gets too cute – stepping outside leg then across, to scoop. The miscue goes to hand, leaving the bowler fist-pumping to the crowd. Walter – left-handed – joins Wheater.

Eagles are 145 for 5 with twelve balls remaining. The umpires are having words with Falcon’s skipper, Godleman. Reece will bowl the penultimate, from the Pavilion End.

Wheater survives a close-ish potential stumping but no dramas. 150 up but again the innings has failed to accelerate. Credit some decent bowling but maintain (despite the evidence!) that a performance-that-builds could find 170-180, here. Rampaul for the last.

Eagles finish on a round 160 for 5, the bowler denying further boundaries with some full deliveries aimed into the heels.

 

The reply.

Reece edges Porter fortuitously for four, first ball. Then drives through mid-wicket for four more. He keeps going – smashing the next over Cow Corner for six. Quite a start.

The next is drilled hard back at the bowler, catching both him and the umpire on the way through for a single. Fifteen, from the over, all from the left-handed Reece. Beard will follow.

Reece lifts him calmly to long-on for four, before being stunningly caught behind, by the diving Wheater. 19 for 1, as Madsen walks in there to join his skipper, who has barely faced.

Porter is in from the city end. Bowls around to the left-handed Godleman but the angle works against the bowler, as one towards leg slides away to the boundary. Godleman then stun-drives the follow-up beautifully for four, through extra-cover. Falcons are 30 for 1 after 3.

The Eagles captain turns his first delivery markedly, bowling his opposite number comprehensively: Harmer is notably pumped. Du Plooy joins Madsen. He is promptly beaten by another goodish off-break but has not left his ground – not out on review. The Hollies are loving The Proclaimers.

Our first look at Nijjar, from the Birmingham End. Madsen likes what he sees, going immediately four, six. *Things move on* – as they do, in this format. A sweep for four then a miss and Madsen is gone, for 17. Hughes will come in at 48 for 3. Game broiling early.

Bopara. 50-up during the over. Firm cut for four, from Hughes – touch aerial but safe. 59 for 3 as the power-play concludes.

Absolute peach, from Harmer, sees off Du Plooy. Flighted and turned – just beautiful. Wow. Next ball does for Dal. The Eagles skipper is on a hat-trick… but no.

Great over, nevertheless, leaving Falcons struggling on 67 for 5. Still plenty of overs remain – twelve – but do Derby have the batting?

Bopara, from the Birmingham End. Critchley and Hughes the batsmen. Quiet over.

Harmer’s figures flash up as he starts his third over; 3 for 6. Another decent over and Falcons are 78 for 5 after 10. (Eagles were 91 for 1). We’ve seen already that complacency is ill-advised but when Nijjar bowls Critchley the Eagles are emphatically on top.

Smit joins Hughes, who has 22 from 19 at this point. The Hollies also like Human League, apparently. Enter Lawrence, from the Pavilion End. Can barely remember a boundary.

An idiosyncratic action, for sure, has Lawrence, but again he applies the squeeze. Falcons 85 for 6, after 12.

Nijjar will bowl his last from the city. He deceives Hughes and Wheater does the rest; stumped, for 23. This is in danger of being that most unfortunate of things, the tame exit, for Derbyshire Falcons.

Hudson-Prentice is in but Lawrence bowls him, with another fine off-break: clearly the ball is gripping. 91 for 8. Extravagant turn evident: wondering if that may be key, or whether cooler, dewier(?) conditions might mitigate against, later?

Bopara is back, under no pressure. He races to collect and throws down the stumps but Van Beek is home.

Essex concede their first boundary in an age as Smit brings up the 100 with a sweep behind square. Then the same batsman launches a straight six – again off Lawrence. *Something special* needed but very recent history arms us all against excluding anything-&-everything, yes? Delport will bowl the 17th, with 51 required.

A scratchy four leaves us at 43 needed from 18 balls. Again Harmer draws the wicket, Smit reversing to point. Rampaul and Van Beek must then, find something pret-ty extraordinary.

The former at least launches one – six over midwicket. Harmer comes back with a delicious, looping number that gets right into the blockhole. The run-rate is 20-odd so Delport has merely to keep it on the strip, you would think.

Cue the wide.

Rampaul lofts one out to the in-rushing long-off and the catch is taken. Essex Eagles reach the final, 34 runs the winning margin. A much-needed break, for all of us.

Brief reflections. The hospitality for us mediapeeps is outstanding here and should be placed on the record. (Thank you, you Edgbastonians).

Hearing whispers from players that batting did become more challenging as the pitch dried and the ball turned. Certainly Harmer and Lawrence enjoyed themselves: will be fascinating to see how things develop, as we lose the light and gain some autumnal dew.

Regarding the schedule, three games is again going to feel like a lot… but this is arguably about a particular kind of stamina, as well as bursts of instinctive or tactical brilliance. So utterly meaningless to draw comparisons of any sort with the #KSL equivalent. I’ve enjoyed both.

 

The Final Countdown…

Both captains have had a good day, so far but which will make *that call?* And given that conditions are going to go from balmy Arabia to Autumnal Brummie Dewfest what will they opt for? Toughish call but guessing folks will insert the opposition.

Harmer wins and chooses to bowl. Good luck to both. Deep breath and we go again, soonish.

Predictions-wise, am loathe to do it. Harmer presumably thinks that Lawrence and himself can get some meaningful turn – available before the dark descends but less so afterwards(?) – and this may be important. Particularly so if combined with the ball sliding on helpfully for his batters, later. But this is a tad unknowable. Whatever, the teams are out!

The Rapids again send out Rutherford and Wessels. The former will face Lawrence. Big spin, for the bowler but he’s wide – too wide. He draws an edge – it runs away through vacant slip.

Then the breakthrough. Big off-break simply too good, for Rutherford. 5 for 1 and Moeen is in, to huge applause. A mistimed sweep draws half an appeal but the ball is adjudged to have pitched down the leg-side. It’s already clear that batting may not be easy: Moeen is beaten more than once and pushes aerially twice, without consequence.

Cook, coming in from the Birmingham End, is cut away by Wessels, for four. There is some lateral movement for Cook’s medium-pacers, too, but when he drops short Moeen swishes him to midwicket: four. Great hands from the Rapid’s captain as he eases away through point for four more.

Batting will be a challenge but men in blue have found 23 for that one down, in the first two overs. Beard runs in as the dusk begins to come.

The National Anthem. Weirdly.

Little sloppy, from the bowler – a further wide. No boundaries in the over, mind. It’s raining in Pembrokeshire, apparently.

Cook is in again and going fullish, straightish, to Ali. Moeen gets hold of the shorter one; six over mid-wicket. Delport saves four with a particularly sharp stop at point. 36 for 1 after 4.

Lawrence is back from the Pavilion End. Moeen again lifts, somewhat, towards point: safe. Wessels misses out on a full-toss. Guessing 90% of the crowd are still with us. Good stuff, there, from the Eagles offie – only two from the over.

Bopara will come round to Moeen from the city end. The batsman is watchful then electrifying, heaving for six over mid-wicket. Nine from the over: power-play done, Rapids at 47 for 1.

Harmer, who bowled so expertly earlier, is in from underneath us. There is turn again. Wessels collars him, however, for six. We’re really seeing the lights, now – the floodlights, I mean.

Bopara continues. Once more Moeen connects with a shorter one, but deep mid-wicket can comfortably gather in. We are at 60 for 1 after 8.

Harmer also continues. Some mediocre throwing coming in, from the Eagles. Big Moment as Moeen is defeated by the spin and only succeeds in dinking rather feebly back to the bowler. Harmer must dive but it’s straightforward enough. In comes Cox.

Ugghh. The newcomer looks to sweep a full-toss and is l.b.w. Meaning Harmer is on his second potential hat-trick of the day. He will come around, to Parnell.

Impassioned shout, as the batsman is beaten and ball strikes pad. Not out. But 62 for 3 after 9 feels different. Harmer’s decision at the toss gonna be key, we reckon? Early. Nijjar from the Birmingham End.

Parnell slaps him straight for six, before getting a faint tickle behind for four. That mysterious purple-dark is around us as we reach half-way. 75 for 3.

Harmer persists and beats Parnell. Then errs to leg, drawing wide-plus-runs, as it were. It seems the bowler can get away with being slightly short, such is the degree of turn available. Another killer ball beats the outside edge and we await the review.

Parnell is not out.

Lawrence. Again a slight sense that the out-fielding is just a touch out of sorts. Partnership beginning to form, here – Wessels has 24 and Parnell 19 as we finish the 12th. 89 for 3, the Rapids.

Predictably, Harmer will bowl out. He has a further strong appeal – denied. The Eagles skipper is celebrating soon enough: arm ball scuttles through Parnell. 3 for 16 the bowler’s figures.

Mitchell engineers a boundary through third man, off Nijjar – fine shot. Eagles on top, marginally, however.

Bopara from the Pavilion End. 100 up as Mitchell guides behind point. Ones being taken. Poor ball is dispatched calmly behind square for four. 107 for 4 after 15. Meaning what? 150? That should make a game of it, methinks.

Harmer can’t quite get to one at the boundary edge but the wicket comes anyway. Wessels run out – just – by a fine throw, for a solid-enough 31. Whitely joins Mitchell. 113 for 5 after 16.

Lawrence returns for the 17th. We are dark, now. He goes wide across Mitchell: firstly the batsman misses. Then four, then caught behind point. Importantly, Eagles now have two new batters to bowl at, at a crucial time. Delport will bowl the 18th – his first.

An awful short one is deservedly carted to leg. Six. But Whiteley can only hoist to long-on. Seven down. Barnard has joined D’Oliveira. 130 for 7 with two overs to come.

Nijjar has switched ends for the penultimate over. The batsmen race two. No dramas – goodish, from the bowler. Bopara will follow.

D’Oliveira can’t time it. Barnard scoops weirdly behind, straight to Harmer. Enter Brown.

Bopara bowls a loose one which defeats everything – Wheater included. Four. Then D’Oliveira heaves to forty-five (for four) before holing out to deep mid-wicket, last ball. 145 for 9 the total.

The final knock – Westley and Delport march out. Moeen will lead again, for the Rapids. Not expecting as much spin as Harmer and Lawrence but Mo should ask the proverbial questions, yes?

Sure enough Delport mistimes one and Ali concedes just the single. Game on. Morris will follow from the Birmingham End.

Cute slower ball befuddles the batsman, Westley. But the next is smoothed through mid- on for the first boundary of the innings. Lots of consulting with his skipper, from Morris – Moeen remains close by, at mid-off. He comes around and goes quick, at Delport. 8 for 0 after 2.

More pace as Parnell joins from beneath us. The left/right batting combo means lots of movement in the field. A loose full-toss draws the error; Delport picking out the fielder – Clarke – at long-on. 9 for 1.

Wheater is in. Another loose one from the bowler – half-volley on leg – is timed nicely, running away for four through mid-wicket. 16 for 1 after 2.

Brown will bowl the third. Medium-strength appeal for l.b. – denied. A shade to leg, in all likelihood. Swingannamiss from Wheater draws a gasp or three – was *adjacent*.

We are 20 for 1 after 4. (Rapids were 36 for 1 at the same stage). Westley clubs Morris out to deep midwicket for two, then drives with some style through extra. The first Mexican Wave fails, in the Hollies.

Barnard rushes in, from the Birmingham End. Three come short of a length before a fuller one finds the top edge. The bowler is unlucky to concede four, aerially,  through gully. 36 for 1 at the end of the power-play.

D’Oliveira will bring leg-spin from the Pavilion End. Goodish – limited damage – six from the over.

Now Mitchell. Slow-medium. Vulnerable? Lols – bowls Wheater with an off-break! Lawrence in at four, for Eagles.

D’Oliveira continues. Fifty up in the over, which is again looking tidy enough. Lawrence needs to counter and he does, with a classic, lofted off-drive for six. 59 for 2 as we enter the 10th, with Mitchell.

Rapids reached 75 for 3 at halfway; Eagles are 12 down on that figure – hardly terminal – with a wicket in hand. Could get tense: let’s hope?

Parnell, returning, draws a slightly miscued pull and a wicket. Good hands (just) from the inrushing Brown. Lawrence is joined by ten Doeschate.

Moeen is in from the Birmingham End. Lowish, flattish and claiming the wicket: ten Doeschate drilling straight to mid-on. 76 for 4, now, Eagles. The fella Bopara – incoming – may need to do something.

Brown from under my nose. Easing it through. Moeen talking to him before every ball. Nine p.m. Ground still 90% full.

Moeen once more, city lights behind him. Lawrence hoists ver-ry high, towards Wessels. With the boundary *in attendance* the catch is claimed. 82 for 5. Walter joins Bopara.

Moeen maintains the squeeze. He has 2 for 13 from 3. Eagles need 60 from 36 balls. Do-able but testing.

Barnard fires in an excellent yorker. And another. A length ball then beats the left-handed Walter. Bopara must break out.

Barnard over-pitches but Bopara is lucky to edge though first slip, for four. However the stroke that follows is a classic cover drive. Four more. 97 for 5, off 15.

Moeen again. Beats Walter but there is no stumping. 100 up at the mid-point of the over. Bopara digs deep to lever one out over long-off. Six. 39 needed, from 24 balls.

Brown from the Pavilion End. Dot ball. Precious. Bopara again responds, middling hard and flat over mid-wicket. Six more. Proper Finish brewing. Scoreboard tells the watching universe that Eagles are only a run behind at this moment.

Walter can’t time it but scuttles for one. Bopara has one meaning he keeps the strike. 116 for 5 after 17.

Parnell has changed ends but bowls one down leg for a wide. ‘Sweet Caroline’. Bloody daft but also somehow poignant.

Really quick one whistles past Walter’s off-stump. Another one finds the pad – maybe off an inside edge? Bopara takes a two at the end of the over when one might have been better. 23 to win it, from 12.

Brown again. Single, to Walter. My hunch? That Bopara will get Eagles there. He smashes one towards deep mid-wicket but the fielder’s hands are sure. Just the one.

Now Walter contributes, clubbing down the ground for four. But Brown does him, next ball. Biggish inside edge, to be fair but the ball strikes those stumps, sure enough. 129 for 6. 17 needed from 8.

Make that 13 from 7. Skipper Harmer has immediately clonked one downtown for four. The Eagles man also connects with the follow-up but can only find the fielder at long-off. Meaning he will face Parnell, with his side needing 12 from the over. A single gives Bopara the strike.

Parnell slaps one in short of a length and it works. Bopara gets just the one. 8 from 3 becomes 6 from 2. Harmer facing. He clubs downtown for four!

EAGLES NEED TWO FROM THE LAST BALL!!

Parnell is doubled-over with exhaustion, or tension, or something. Doesn’t augur well, to be honest.

With the field up, Harmer gets enough of it to win this thing! The ball rolling tantalisingly behind point for four.

Eagles have won, dramatically – their first Blast trophy. Somebody may need to buy their skipper a bevvy. The day, the event, the drama has been stonking again. Well done to everybody. Oh to be an Eagle tonight!

 

May reflect further. May also collapse. Certainly going outside to take a picture or two, before retreating to my room coupla miles down the road. Thank you for your company.  A RT  would be lovely.  👊🏻

 

Simmer Down.

Same squad. Did you groan or nod knowingly? You in the  Loyalty Camp or the Give the Arrogant Buggers a Short Sharp Shock Department?

As with (dare I say it?) a particular current political issue, voices are being raised – rather more than perspicacious argument. Things are polarised: why would this be, I wonder?

a) Because we care about England Cricket – Test Cricket. How it’s curated and organised, even.

b) We (to quote a bloggist of some occasional repute) All Know Better than the England Coach.

And of course c) because we’re all on twitter.

So, some arguments, 👇🏻 I hope.

England have lost the Ashes, or at least the Aussies have retained them, convincingly, being unarguably the better side. In today’s real world, this means that an inquest is inevitable.

(This is not the same as to say that said inquest wouldn’t have happened in times past: it just wouldn’t have happened at the same transparently foamtastic pitch).

I mention this because it may be instructive to all of us to reflect on how much bawling, actually, is appropriate and necessary and proportionate, here. And because I am preparing to battle against my own, broiling prejudices, right now.

England – manifestly pret-ty ordinary at test cricket England, yes? – have been beaten. Live with it, or view it with interested non-volcanism before discussing amongst peers? How’s that for a thought?

Except no. England – m.p.o.a.t.c. England – have been beaten at home, by a relatively average Australia, despite literally changing the ball to make sure things went their way. Plus *that sense* that our lot might be (whisper it) prima donnas, the ab-so-lute jessies!  None of the idle, cosseted bass-teds can be bothered ta learn the forward-bloody-defensive!

This is how it starts, yes? I mean IS YOUR MOMENTUM BUILDING BECAUSE MINE SURE AS HELL IS!!

Ahem. Look it was the Ashes. Australia were unspectacular – other than a couple of guys – and we, England, had just, in orgasmically scream-your-head-off hysteria, only gone and WON THE BLOODY WORLD CUP!! And yet!

Okay. No more capitals, I promise. Let’s try to find an argument or twelve. Let’s start with the Anderson Thing – the ball.

If opting to play at Edgbaston first was Phase 1 of the Grand Ashes Plan then Phase 2 was when England reverted to what they hoped would be Anderson-friendly Dukes’ balls, of a certain vintage – plainly to try and gain a wee advantage over our visiting cousins.

Naturally, other seamers might well have also benefitted from these air-dancing beauties but in James Anderson England will have believed they had the greatest exponent of swing bowling of these particular pills, in the history of the universe.

They will have banked on him being raw unplayable at Edgbaston – to kickstart the Ashes campaign – and probably also at Headingley and Old Trafford. And this would sort Ausbloodystralia, Smith included. And then there was suddenly no Jimmy.

(There is a counter-thread, as always, here. Folks always seek advantages and yup, all of us are tribal. Early doors, for example, Australia rather cutely inserted several key players into our County Championship: handy-enough dress-rehearsal time, perfectly legit. Should we be counting, might that acclimatisation make it one-all, would you say?  Certainly qualifies as a Cunning Plan. But hey, the games beyond the games are endless – maybe that’s another post?)

But back to the England Squad, selected today, for the final test, at the Oval. Same squad, a zillion possible meanings.

Does it mean that Bayliss and Root and Ed Smith (and Graham Thorpe if he’s still in position) are bonkers-in-love or thrall with Rooooot (as captain) and Bairstow and Buttler as Established Players? Maybe.

Does it mean that Foakes and Curran and the likes of Sibley and Pope are being cruelly under-considered? Maybe. Or there may be perfectly mature and viable discussions going on. Or rank delusion and selfishness and feeble eschewal of responsibility? All this is possible; as is the notion that Smith might be a kind of occasionally-inspired but controlling fascist-in-shades.

Where then, to start? With Root. Batting less convincing, captaincy mixed: that the consensus? So – in the absence of obvious candidates, maybe? – he stays as skipper, shortish-term and gets shifted back to batting at four. But he is, or continues to be – for want of a better phrase – on trial, in respect of his captaincy. This means other stuff.

(Let’s stick with the hypothetical line-up rather than the culture. And kindof ignore or subsume the horses-for-courses considerations around the next fixtures that might colour decision-making and selection).

Bairstow and possibly Buttler get dropped, with the expectation that they will, in time, having shown excellence in County Championship, be ‘restored’. If they don’t show the technique and the hunger for the longer format, then hey, maybe they are White Ball Players – job done. Foakes, widely regarded as the best ‘keeper on the planet and, having already shown what I am crassly going to call test mentality, gets in.

As, quite possibly does Curran, who despite his lack of killer pace has shown more born-to-it, test-winning mentality than almost anybody for a decade, in the short time he’s been on the scene. Curran, with his starry, gutsy, implacable brilliance only stays out of an absolute worldie of a team; a team waaaay better than this England; or a team playing a test in which you absolutely know he won’t bowl.

Weirdly – or not- this mini-clear-out, as well as sending important messages around complacency and competition, also repositions the coaching philosophy towards recognition for those who seem to get test cricket – those who have temperament. Meaning Leach and Overton earn the right to regular inclusion, or regular, meaningful consideration.

I could write thousands of words about Roy – & probably should. Just not now: he goes.

The Roy issue is inseparable from philosophical stuff – batting culture. (Did I say that Thorpe goes? Or is it enough that Ed Smith and possibly the wee man deliver a rocket? This is competitive sport, after all. Obvious failings get addressed). Some may say none of this – his failures – have been Roy’s fault and weirdly there may be some traction in that. However, did the fella not look flukily out of his depth for much of the match against Ireland?

As outsiders, we cannot know what’s been said by Smith, Bayliss, Thorpe, Root, when the “how do we approach this(?)” discussions have taken place, so maybe this culling of key staff is premature. Many would argue that this fuzziness around batting policy has been central to England’s problems… but it’s hard to imagine the actual conversations.

Could be Bayliss has been so-o falling over himself to be Of the Age that he really has been quietly inviting Roy, Bairstow and Buttler to go out there and express themselves. *Barfs into bin*. Could be that Thorpe (he is still in post, yes? Happy to be corrected on this) has been spending lots of time on technical stuff but is essentially saying the same thing.

If these guys actually believe that simplistic, macho nonsense then neither of them has any place being anywhere near an international test side. (Okay, I don’t actually mean that but you know what I mean?)

Thorpe, a fine player and no doubt a fabulous, committed bloke, is on drugs if he thinks that talent and intent make application and temperament redundant, in high-order test batting. (Incidentally I don’t think he does view things that way  but his problem is the players have wafted us in that direction. Problematically).

I am familiar with the idea that coaches now look to offer support to players who themselves take ownership of their   activity. Coaches now barely instruct, barely demonstrate: all this I understand and applaud. However, *if* there is patently a problem both in approach and execution – as there was, in the Ashes, with most of the England batting – then surely it is the job of the coach to facilitate remedies.

This might mean more, focussed, technical work or it might mean an instruction, an expectation, a bollocking. It seems unlikely, given the persistent errors and repetition of brain-fades, that strong enough words or good enough questions were forthcoming. Bayliss is off but Thorpe goes too.

If Roy was selected entirely on the basis that he should ‘believe in his talent and go after the bowling’ (and was told that), this was foolish, arguably arrogant but nevertheless a legitimate approach. It just proved – predictably – non-viable. If he was, as he latterly appeared, unsure of what his role was then this again reflects badly on the coaches, as well as himself. If at no stage did somebody say to the entire batting group ”right. Stay in there! Everybody’s job is just to stay in there”, then well, I give up.

Test Cricket is wonderfully complex. But the central requirement, in certain phases of certain games, to hold, to stall, to ‘survive’ and then re-gather is hardly a difficult one to grasp. Clearly there was some excellent Aussie bowling but I barely know any England (and Wales) supporter who wasn’t a tad embarrassed by the un-smartness of England’s approach. Fans and former players felt that England – that the ECB – have gotten caught out, for disrespecting the test format.

So we will judge according to how mad we got. How infuriated by Roy’s wildness, or Bairstow’s technical-tactical myopia, or Buttler’s gifted non-stickability. And whilst we might grudgingly accept that in life it’s good to get or to offer a second chance, most of us will be raising our eyebrows at a squad unchanged.

 

 

Knighthood? / Hold My Beer.

Heather is a particular kind of name, is it not? Speaks of Englishness and church-going families and quiet, erudite children. Or is that just me? Best move on.

Heather Knight is English. In fact she’s the England Captain (did you know?) having attended Cardiff MCC University en route into the game. Now the England Captain in cricket – Women’s Cricket. And she just did something, something pret-ty phenomenal.

We’re in Hove – where else? The sun is shining and there’s a particular crowd; smallish but by no means insulting, keen but by no means raucous. It’s the #KSLFinalsDay.

Heather’s team, Western Storm, have just struggled to contain the opposition, Southern Vipers, as they post a challenging score in the season finale – the final, defining, ‘all-important’ shoot-out.

(Vipers have amassed a total of 172 runs off their 20 overs. This is a major bundle and would in most circumstances signal a cruise to victory. However there are *things*. Firstly Storm are a hugely robust outfit, in a really good way. Secondly, they did haul the game back towards themselves, late-on. Thirdly, they have Heather).

Knight is the captain, remember – and she Captains Ingerland. And Wales. This same England that was so utterly outclassed by the Australian tourists recently that the Ashes was not so much surrendered as gift-wrapped and übered across with a sweet card from Marks & Sparks, signed ‘Much love, Heather & the girls’.

The result of this rather painful and prolonged public humiliation was the Coach of Ingerland losing his job and the ECB shuffling out some bulletins to quell the mounting unrest over The Widening Gap between Us and Oz. We can only imagine that Heather Knight’s position was ‘discussed’ during this accountability review: she was, after all, more at the helm than the coach, you might argue.

Knight did no doubt endure some tough questions, as well some Dark Nights of the Soul. How could she not have a blub into the cushion, or squeeze the dog just a touch too hard, in melancholy distraction? England’s performances, as well as the system were brutally unpicked, perhaps most painfully – though justifiably – by former colleagues now in the media corps. In short it’s been a bloody tough few months, for Heather.

Except. Except she has had Western Storm.

Western Storm have smashed it. They won all nine of their first nine fixtures in the Kia Super League before losing in the last, rain-affected game, to Yorkshire Diamonds. They were durable and deep, as a squad. Having contacts in the camp, I am sensing that they were also a proper posse, with the kind of comradeship that only sometimes accompanies big-shot, international sporting coalitions. And of course they were led by Heather Knight.

Knight has just become the highest scorer in the Kia Super League – the only woman to pass the 1,000 runs mark. She has been absolutely central to the stonking Storm campaign, in 2019. In the final, yesterday, against Southern Vipers, she blasted and clipped and drove to 78 not out to claim a) the trophy and b) the Player of the Match award. But there is & was more.

The nature of Knight’s performance was somewhere between fine and phenomenal. After her side had scrambled, clawed at the air and generally under-achieved more than a little, in the field, she rose to it.

Set an intimidatingly steep total and after losing her Indian Superstar of a bat, Mandhana, to a nervy pat to mid-on, first ball, Knight marched briskly in, early. Must have been scary: must have *asked questions*. Pah. I soon noted (in my epic blog, one post back, free-to-air!) that Knight ‘looks goodish’.

Starting (or re-starting) with Priest, she knows she must get after the bowling from the outset, such is the required run-rate. Priest, without ever looking classically smooth is going well – dispatching Wyatt, in particular, with some intent. But Wellington, the young Australian leg-spinner removes Knight’s partner with a peach that loops, turns and enables the stumping.

I remember clearly noting that despite the gathering pressure, Knight swept Wellington immaculately for four, immediately post that potentially key dismissal. Wilson then joined her and joined in with the essential urgency, making a timely 18 before holing out to Wyatt in the deep. Luff cannot sustain the momentum, though and goes, off the glove, bringing in another ‘Overseas’, Deepti Sharma.

Sharma is a fine, international player who has been twiddling her bat for two months; barely required as Storm stormed. Now, she and her skipper have proper work to do.

I thought for two or three overs that Sharma looked out of nick. But she, alongside her increasingly imperious, captain, accumulated runs. They had to. Quickly.

Knight got to fifty. She played what I described as the shot of the day, cracking an absurdly sweet cover drive to the boundary. She was absolutely on it, finding that almost dreamlike focus, staying in there, quietly relentless.

From the blog:

You feel that if Knight stays there, Storm get this. And I reckon she knows that.

Knight hit three towering, lusty,

boomtastic sixes on the way to 78 not out and to the trophy. There was or there became something of a Stokes-level of inspiration, of capture-of-destiny about the proceedings. (Knight doesn’t hit that many sixes – she’s ‘not that powerful’. But she found a way; reinvented herself; had no choice).

It was a Captain’s Knock… and then some. It was remarkable, in that it was initially shockingly unlikely and then in terms of its gathering brilliance. She defied. She clonked. She led.

I hope to god Knight actually loved it, in the moment. Because it soared, entertained and vindicated… and proofed her utterly against doubt and against The Doubters. And it’s hard to know what Heather is actually thinking: I hope there was scope for enjoyment – during as well as after.

It was, in a joyous and electrifying way, cricket and drama of the very finest variety. It scoffed at the very idea that Heather – the athlete, the champion, the leader – might be in any sense bland. How sensational that sport can do that? How gratifying that quality sometimes tells?

#KSLFinalsDay. The final final.

An adventure, as always loaded up with expectation, adrenalin, hope, memory. To unfamiliar but not entirely unknown Sussex. To the place where bruv number 2 did some college, where we stalked past a bombed hotel(!) – where we partied.

But that really was long ago. So who knew Brighton had hills? I remember the Grand Regency Architecture Thing but not the hills. I remember shingle. And no question of cricket.

The now is different. I’m here because I follow women’s cricket some, because there’s Welsh interest, because I got accreditation. I’m expecting an event but with that gentler thrum; with its own authentic, romantic force and quality.

On the long train-ride in I’m picturing a win for Western Storm and want that, in a non-partisan kindofaway. But there is space in the daydream for some brilliance from Wyatt, Beaumont and somebody less familiar. I’m really hoping to learn something.

The whole thing’s a huge indulgence – a bloggist’s folly. It’s for me and for registering a tiny voice.

I hope too, that it makes explicit something of the value of the women’s game. Here’s how Sunday in Hove went…

First thoughts? Wow. What a day. Hove has kicked back into summery stuff, after last evening’s autumnal grey. The ground is looking low and somehow both open for light but also cwtched rather romantically into the groovicious near-seafront. For Hove, for Brighton, make no mistake, is pret-ty groovy.

Yesterday, having walked into the 1st Central County Ground for the first time, I tweeted two, instinctive words. Autumn… and Shrubsole. Because it was autumn yesterday and because I imagined Our Anya swinging it about three foot two. Even the white thing. Today is very different. Today is absolutely beautiful.

11 am. A further wander round confirms it really is sickeningly pleasant – and ideal for the athletes. Sure the Vipers & Lightning Posses are ‘warming up’ but this may be as much about culture as necessity. Wyatt and Beaumont and the rest are surely expelling nerves as much as *actually preparing*, which could be done in about two minutes flat, I reckon, today. (O-kaaay. I know this isn’t entirely true. But you get my drift, yes?)

So sun. Sun and a light breeze. And a straw-coloured deck and boundaries in and summery toons from those ubiquitous, faintly sinister black speakers. Cricket weather to the beatific max.

But predictions? Storm are outstanding and also durable, somehow. Lightning are absolutely flying – six wins on the bounce. Vipers have Beaumont, Bates and Wyatt. So how, in a 20 over format, are we reasonably going to predict anything?

Storm should be advantaged in that they sit out the first game – the ‘semi’. All the Stormtroopers power and energy can therefore be focussed on that single, final effort. (I think this may tell. This and the fact that I suspect they have marginally the strongest squad).

I break off briefly to guffaw at the Vipers S & C Coach (I think) who joins in the end of a movement drill to throw hopelessly and wusstastically at a single stump. And I really do mean wusstastically).

…Then I break off into Proper Cricket, if I may?

Elwiss has won the toss for Lightning and has chosen to bat: Daggers on comms describing it as a ‘good-looking strip’, or similar. So in half an hour Vipers will bowl at Loughborough Lightning and the #KSLFinalsDay will be underway.

A further distraction before we return to those non-predictions. Charlotte Edwards – Lottie to most – is looking cool and authoritative in her Vipers clobber, as she belts some forward drives at rotating catchers. Demanding stuff, with few catches taken because of the sharpness of the striking. Closing out with respectful rather than pally high- fives. Could she be the next England Coach? Clearly she’s a front-runner.

But predictions. I predict any of these three teams could win this. Because talent everywhere and because the nature of T20 cricket. Wyatt could win this on her own; as could Knight, Priest, Shrubsole, Jones, Atapattu etc etc (pick your own).

I am expecting key contributions from those named whilst *looking out for something fabulous* from Smriti Mandhana with the bat, Wilson in the field, Lauren Bell with the ball. Plus did I mention Tammy Beaumont, yet? If not, let’s note to the universe that she has the talent and the mentality to go big on a Big Stage. Flipping through the programme, I’m going for Storm, because they feel deeper.

11.50 and the sun really does break through again, after twenty minutes of moodier climes. I’m really ready to enjoy this: as always, wish there slightly more here to appreciate. Minor grump: as so often the mood music (😂) and announcements are shockingly, embarrassingly, unnecessarily too loud. Hang the DJ.

Tash Farrant will open, for Vipers, Atapattu to face.

We’re not behind the bowler’s arm, in the Media Centre so difficult to see how much shape there was from Farrant – suspect some. But no real threat. Eight come from the over including a full-toss, last ball, dispatched straight for four.

From the Cromwell Road End, excitingly, it’s Lauren Bell. Bell is strikingly tall and slim – and eighteen years of age. And notably quicker than Farrant. She beats the openers twice, with pace and a touch more bounce, conceding just the four runs in the over. Good start.

Farrant, returning, goes full but is smartly driven for four, by Jones. There is generous applause for some neat outfielding from Bell – the crowd is building, encouragingly. We are 20 for 0 after 3. Little bit of swing available from both ends, track looking benign and maybe slowish.

Bell, whose run-up features something of a deceleration pre- gather, it seems, is looking committed. But she bowls a second wide – this time down leg. Jones, though, offers a gift, stepping out wide looking to invent something over fine leg. Daft and unnecessary and out, bowled.

Wyatt will bowl the 4th, with Adams joining Atapattu. Good energy, as always from the England dasher, who is looking to tweak it for Atapattu’s edge. 23 for 1 at the end of her over.

Bell returns for her third and gets Atapattu in front. Lovely, full delivery which swings just enough – late. Big moment? Enter the skipper Elwiss.

Unfortunately the young quick messes up the rest of the over. Two no-balls followed by a wide. Cue the mutterings about not winning anything with kids. 33 for 2 as the powerplay ends.

Wellington, who is watchable; big-turning leggies possible. Adams rather lamely lifts the second one out through cover… but safely. Then she paddles one fine for four. Turn, though. 39 for 2.

Off-spin, from the other end, with Morris.  Just as I am about to note the complete absence of power-hitting so far, Elwiss clouts her straightish for four.

Wellington in for more. Elwiss and Adams, experienced both, have upped the ante. Sharper running, heavier hitting. Elwiss again strikes hard for four, evading the diving Bell. 56 for 2 after 9 as Bates tries her medium-pacers from Cromwell Road. A wide to leg but overall a tidy start.

Elwiss greets the returning Wyatt with another aggressive blow for four before Adams carts her for the first six of the innings. Good spell this, for Lightning, after a slowish beginning. 76 for 2 after 11.

Farrant has changed ends and will be looking to re-apply some control. Better than that. A rash second run means Elwiss is short, and gone for a goodish 28. Lightning are 85 for 3 after 12. Game feels even.

Bates takes a cool catch at fine leg, to remove Adams, again for 28, Wellington the bowler. Importantly, there are now two new batters at the crease – Freeborn and du Preez. Excellent, competitive game brewing.

Bell will bowl her final over but starts with a wide outside off. Another wide one is eased for four. A third is (actually for the second time) smashed straight back at her; too brutally to offer a catch, you would say. Then another wide. Bell finishes with 2 for 23; decent, for sure but maybe not entirely reflecting how mixed her contribution was. She is a talent, and this is a big stage but there was some loose stuff in there.

Bates returns from in front of us and du Preez lifts her impressively for six, before smashing another one back at the bowler, again un-catchably. Freeborn joins in with a further pull for four, bringing us to 110 for 4 after 15. Good total now in sight.

Particularly as du Preez booms Morris for the third six of the innings – this one to square leg. Morris has her revenge, mind, as Wyatt takes a comfortable catch immediately after. Enter Gunn.

The first really poor bit of fielding as Kelly dives over one, allowing the boundary. Vipers have been generally pretty sharp out there. As if to emphasise this, Wyatt takes another catch in the deep with some style – Freeborn the victim. As we start the 18th, Lightning will be 127 for 6.

Manifestly poor calling and running sees Gardner run out for 0. Gunn maybe culpable there. The veteran cuffs one through square leg by way of apology. 133 for 7 with 2 overs remaining.

Beaumont (I’m afraid) looks to have slightly bottled a sharpish catch to mid-off. At the very least, she misjudged it. The Vipers captain is rightly angry, as will be her bowler, Farrant. Can Gunn and Glenn take their team to 150 and beyond? It feels *that kind of pitch*.

Maybe not. Morris takes a steepler to remove Glenn, off Bates. Then Wyatt again swallows another blow to deep midwicket – Higham gone. Bates promptly bowls Gordon, rather humiliatingly, to finish the action at 143 all out. Vipers are in it but seem 20 short; expecting a Proper Game, though.

Interestingly, Atapattu will open for the Lightning: Bates facing. Third ball is threaded beautifully through the covers for four. Wyatt takes a wild swing and is hugely fortunate to clip it over her own right shoulder for four: Atapattu not that impressed with the chase and dive at the boundary edge. Me neither.

Gunn will bowl the second. Wyatt picks her off to leg for four. There is a wide, to off and an ambitious slap over mid-on that brings six. Followed by another, more controlled, over extra. Wyatt has 18 off 6 and the Vipers are 29 for 0 off just 2 overs.

Lightning change; Glenn will bring her leg-spin to try and break the momentum. Decent over, conceding just the five runs.

Bates clatters one inelegantly through the hands of mid-on for four before clearing that same fielder more convincingly: Atapattu the bowler on both occasions. Vipers have raced to 45 for 0 off the first 4 overs. Slightly worryingly, this with Bates looking slightly out of touch, so far.

*Fatal*. The opener creams one over mid-on for a further boundary. 50 up. When Wyatt skilfully cuts to third man for four more, then the angst becomes palpable. 57 for 0 after 5, with Lightning unable to check the onslaught.

Gardner brings more pace but no relief, Bates pull-driving through mid-on. Then rather cruelly, Gunn’s lack of athleticism is highlighted as she drops a goodish chance over the boundary, to groans from the crowd. The opening six overs have brought 70 runs but 0 wickets. Wow.

What can Gordon do?

Bates whips her hard through midwicket for four. But the left-arm offie bowls her with a beauty to offer some hope. 76 for 1. Beaumont mistimes her first ball but escapes with a nick through slip.

Glenn has changed ends. Wyatt, trying to force a wide one, overbalances. She is stumped. 78 for 2. Timely and critical response from the bowling side. Two new batters at the crease as Bouchier joins her captain, Tammy Beaumont.

A great throw from Gordon has Beaumont scrambling but she’s in. 80 for 2 as the Scot returns from in front of us. It’s not the most beautiful of actions but Gordon does deceive people and revs on the ball means she does tend to get some turn.

Elwiss from the Cromwell Road End. But Beaumont relishes that extra bit of pace and cuts superbly and crisply for four. However Bouchier is run-out to bring Lightning back into the game, at 92 for 3.

Beaumont, who may now be key, skilfully guides Gordon to fine leg for four, before check-driving through the offside cordon. Great stuff and the 100 is up.

Elwiss. Beaumont swings herself off her feet, comically – no consequence, save for the giggles. Then a short one is mishit when pulled… but into safety. 105 for 3 after 12; Lightning were 85.

Classy, wristy, timed clip through midwicket from Beaumont is shockingly misfielded by Higham but then the skipper is gone, inside-edging Gunn onto the sticks. From nowhere, that: Beaumont made 24. Wellington joins Morris.

After 14 overs it boils down to 30 runs required from 36; 6 wickets remaining. Eminently do-able, you would think but credit Lightning for narrowing the game, somewhat. Gordon will bowl.

Three dot balls help. Four. Five. Two off the last. Fine effort from Gordon means there is just a tad more tension in the air. 28 off 30.

Elwiss, the captain is in again. Wellington – who can bat – steers the third ball over mid-off. Four. Then a strangely nervy edge flies out towards point… to safety.

Maybe it gets to Morris. She plays extravagantly across a straight one and is bowled. Five down. And a near run-out follows. Atapattu will bowl the 17th, with 20 required.

She starts with an extraordinarily slow one, which concedes just the one, surprisingly. But nerves are a factor here. Another scramble to get home. Three overs, fifteen runs, for the final.

Gunn, from Cromwell Road. Another über-slow delivery – bold. A hoist to leg invites a catch. A tough one… not taken by du Preez. Then another one drops just short. The batters negotiate the over, just about, and nine are needed from the last two. Glenn will bowl the penultimate.

Wellington reverse-sweeps, executing precisely. Four. Job done?

The tall legspinner does well enough, in truth but cannot entirely stop the runs. Scholfield pulls her convincingly for four to settle it.

Vipers are through, at 145 for 5, with an over spare. One of those games that seemed done early, with almost arrogant ease, went closer. Wyatt’s dynamism and consistently fine catching the difference?

 

THE FINAL.

Vipers will bat, Tammy Beaumont having won the toss and chosen that route. We have a little more cloud than earlier and that has affected the temperatures negatively, a tad. Whether this suits the likes of Shrubsole, for Storm, we’ll soon find out: expect her to bowl soon enough. Game on any moment…

Wales’ offie Claire Nicholas will bowl first up, Bates to face. Single taken. Wyatt again partnering Bates. Four from the over. Now Davies from the Cromwell Road End. Storm notably vocal and energetic in the field.

First boundary is a nicely-judged cut behind point, from Wyatt. Freya Davies has a lovely high hand and dynamic approach. There is a little bounce for her but when she goes full Bates straight-drives for four. 14 for 0 after 2.

Nicholas again. Wyatt advances but misses. Not the next time. Half the universe was sensing a Wyatt Break-out and it comes, sure enough. Six over midwicket. Bates joins in by slashing a wide-ish one through extra. 26 for 0 after 3.

More spin, different spinner as Sharma – surprisingly still only 21 – comes in. Luff might have stopped the sweep but four is taken, followed by four more driven past mid-off. 37 for 0 off 4. Goodish start for the Vipers but no alarms yet for Storm. Davies has changed ends.

Wyatt slogs but with purpose – through extra cover and then over it. What a #KSL she’s having! Clean hitting so limited risk. Then a cute swish of a cut – four more. Could be Wyatt won the semi with a charge to 28: suddenly she has 35 here. Vipers 53 for 0 after 5. Time for Shrubsole.

Knight stops brilliantly at mid-off. Bates edges behind, safely. A wider one is driven out through extra again, signalling danger, for the Storm. Chanceless and positive, so far, for Vipers; 62 for 0 a good return for the powerplay.

Odedra starts with a sloppy one to leg. Wide. Then a slow-mo moment. Firstly her run-up is slowish. Then the delivery is miscued, highish in the bat and the ball loops, painfully slowly away from the bowler. She seems to be *not quite there* – but no. She surges and dives to take a stunner of a one-handed catch, bringing a burst of applause. Bates gone.

But this brings in Beaumont. Wyatt, meanwhile is purring, cutting exquisitely behind square for four. Change again as Knight brings herself in for the eighth.

These batters may be England’s two finest – particularly in the shorter formats. They can scurry, they have skilful hands and what they lack in raw power they tend to make up for in timing and/or invention. Hands are switched, minds are twitchy and alive. Wyatt gets to 50 off 27 with Sharma now bowling from in front of us in the Media Centre.

Storm, led by Priest behind the wicket, are still on it. Verbal, attentive. But Luff lets them down. Bottling (possibly) a well-struck pull to the deep – certainly making a hash of a genuine chance.

Shrubsole draws a glaring error from Beaumont but the ball loops safe. Typically the Viper’s skipper recovers immediately, to guide to third man for four. After ten overs, the batting side are relatively comfortable, on 99 for 1. Shrubsole’s two overs have been decent rather than threatening.

Nicholas has Beaumont in knots but she escapes as the ball skirts everything. Again the batter responds with cruel efficiency; beautiful hands cut and lift high over cover for four. 106 for 1 after 11.

Oh calamity! Odedra spills a clear chance at third man. Mandhana drops the next – even easier – at mid-off. Infuriating and simply not good enough, from either. An awful couple of minutes, culminating in an utter pie from the no-doubt infuriated skipper, carted waaay over Cow Corner by a grateful Wyatt. Momentum strongly with Vipers, now.

Storm need a gift or need to make something happen. Big Score Pending. Beaumont dismisses one to leg, to emphasise the point. 124 for 1 after 13. Meaning close to 200 possible.

Davies is back again. But wow. Beaumont has found Exhibition Mode. Picks one up (and then some) from off her toes: it soars for six, winking back at the gawping fielders. Huge statement of quality.

But finally, somebody holds a catch. Shrubsole, who claims Wyatt, inevitably within a whisker of the boundary. Wyatt made an outstanding 73 and is already a strong candidate for Player of the Match.

Oh jaysus. The previously magbloodynificent Beaumont has only gone and run-out Bouchier for 0. Hideous, hideous episode.

Can Sharma capitalise? No. But she can do that annoying thing where she pulls out of her delivery; neither mankad-attempt (quite) nor genuine issue… just, yeh, irritating.

Possible change in things as Beaumont edges high off Shrubsole and another catch is held. Morris joins Wellington and we are 141 for 4, after 16. It brightens again.

The Aussie (Wellington) reverse-sweeps Sharma for four. Morris sweeps more conventionally, with the same result. 153 for 4, with 3 to come.

Nicholas will bowl. Shrubsole, not a great athlete, dives awkwardly to prevent a straight four but fails. The off-spinner has Wellington l.b.w. before bamboozling the incoming Scholfield with the final delivery. 158 for 5 as Davies comes prancing in.

A sweetly-struck clip to backward square is competently taken by Luff. What really might have been 184 is 164 for 6 as Shrubsole prepares to bowl the last.

A relatively low-key final over suits the Stormtroopers and Shrubsole delivers, bowling to her field and claiming a further wicket. Rudd does spoon her up and over for a cheeky last-ball four but the total of 172, despite being pret-ty impressive, may not be as utterly out of reach as seemed possible when Wyatt and Beaumont were unpicking the attack.

So excellent work from Vipers, mixed effort from Storm… and let’s hope for a thrilling contest.

Priest will face Farrant. Little bit of in-swing still there. Wide, to Mandhana. Then drama. Mandhana rather carelessly lifts one towards mid-on. It seems clear that Kelly has misjudged it but no. She launches forward late to take a fine, if somehow also non-stylish catch! Gift, for Vipers. 2 for 1 after 1.

Lauren Bell is in at Priest. Single. Knight will now face. The finest of edges beats the sprawling keeper – four. Then an l.b. appeal – but na. Followed by a flourish of the hands and four through forty-five.

Bell loses that line again, though, for a biggish leg-side wide… followed by a clear offside wide… and a marginal leg-side wide. Another looong over finishes with Storm on 16 for 1.

Priest middles Farrant through midwicket for a mighty four. Knight looks goodish early, too, timing through the same area.

Bates, going slightly wide, has Priest missing rather strangely, twice. A straighter one is clubbed downtown for four. It may be cooler out there but the day – suddenly the September day – could still hardly be better. Wyatt will bowl the fifth; off-spin from around.

There is talk that Wyatt might yet break into the (Very Occasional) Test side, should her bowling develop. She does give it a decent tweak. But Priest helps herself to something short and something wide, for three boundaries, in total.

Bell going yorker length. But then overdoes it – full toss clumped for four by Priest. 50 up, in the over and the powerplay concludes on that figure, for 1 down. Enter Wellington, with her right-arm leggies.

This young woman has something. A real beauty loops and turns sharply, exposing Priest for the stumping. 50 for 2, bringing Wilson to the crease. Rather beautifully and atmospherically, we have shadows.

Courageously and with conviction, Heather Knight is sweeping Wellington. Connects for four. Good contest.

Bell is back and placing it there but still apparently challenging Wilson, who falls, making the shot. Bell contributes to the extras column again, with another no-ball – her fourth or fifth, I think, of the day. Free hit makes only one.

Wilson steps out to claim another boundary off the youngster. We are 66 for 2 after 8.

The same batter times another sweep, off Wellington, moving to 8. Knight at this point has an authoritative 23 off 21, which becomes 27, with the stroke of the day, a fabulous cover drive.

Wilson responds with a straight drive for four off Morris’s opener. This is brewing nicely, now. Decent shout for l.b.w. – umpire not interested and of course no DRS. Comms inform us Vipers were 99 for 1 after 10 overs: Storm are 80 for 2.

Hah. Did the announcement prompt the blow to the extra boundary, from Knight? Maybe not. But it’s a sign that there’s a) some catching up to do b) the batters are on it. Given that the Vipers’ innings did slightly peter out, this feels a contest – particularly with both Knight and Wilson striking so cleanly.

Ah. Wilson holes out to Wyatt, inevitably, in the deep, off Farrant, for 18. Luff joins her captain, with 83 needed, off 53. That captain again responds, with a towering, swept six, to square leg. 98 for 3, off 12.

Wellington drops short, Knight cuts and Tarrant misfields. Four. Luff, though, is caught behind, presumably off the glove, bringing in Sharma. Knight needs a partner to help her shine.

Bell misfields, poorly, as Sharma reverse-sweeps. Four. 10 off the over.

Morris now, to Sharma as we build to what we hope will be a grand finale – for this tournament, the Super League, remember. A loose ball is carted to leg. Knight has 50.

Bates, from in front of us. Medium pace. Short. Again thrashed with confidence for six, by Knight. Eleven from the over, 46 needed from 30. *Quietly exciting*.

Bell, with a job to do, from the Cromwell Road End. A test.

Single. Single. Six, again from Knight, who may be on for something extraordinary, here. Then more issues for the unfortunate young bowler. In short a Significantly Costly Over. Things have narrowed to 29 from 24 as Wellington steps up to the plate once more.

You feel that if Knight stays there, Storm get this. And I reckon she knows that. A poor, poor, nervy ball from Wellington… is missed. Six only, from the over.

23 from 18. Wonderful and tense. Knight must get the strike – Sharma has 21, somehow but at this point is missing as much as hitting.

Wyatt is bowling the 18th. Sharma sweeps ver-ry fine, for four. Then hoists, straight, for FOUR! I’m too scrambled to count but I think that over went for 11. STORM NEED TWELVE FROM TWELVE TO TAKE THE TROPHY.

I’ll have what Sharma’s drinking. She’s *found something*  and found another four, through midwicket. Bates must stem the tide. Two great balls might help. A smooth but blistering drive over extra won’t – won’t help the Vipers. Sharma and Knight look to be taking this home, magnificently.

THE CAPTAIN, HEATHER KNIGHT, BLAZES OVER STRAIGHTISH MID-OFF… AND WESTERN STORM HAVE ONLY GONE AND DONE IT!! Wow. What a fab-yoo-luss finish.  Fabulous from Knight, from Sharma (actually), fabulous from Wyatt, earlier, fabulous for women’s cricket. Brilliant, enjoyable sport. Wow.

Right. *Takes deep breath*. Forgive any typo’s. I’m off to wish Sparky O’Leary all the best. Will be back to reflect, no doubt. 

Final Word has to be for Heather Knight. And maybe for Danni Wyatt. The former played something of an Innings For the Ages to bring Western Storm home, in the final. It was controlled, it was powerful in every sense, it was classy. She hit three thrillingly-timed sixes as well as did the glueing-the-whole-effort-together thing. Magnificent and utterly vindicating, after a heavily challenging season – a season that might have buried plenty of  the rest.

Wyatt – voted Player of the Series in this last KSL – was again the dasher on the day with the bat, playing two hugely entertaining knocks. She also seemed to take about thirty catches in the deep, where again she looked to be playing at a simply higher level. She’s a gem, she’s a laff and she’s worth travelling to watch. Now… I travel home.

 

Cobblers.

It’s only sport. Given that I’ve spent most of the last 48 hours doing the family visiting-thing at our local Emergency Unit I should be well-placed to remember that – to engage Philosophically Proportionate Mode. Ain’t always easy, though, eh?

Not when after what feels like a lifetime of trying to click into hospital wifi/phone signal you snatch a buffertastic update or two on the cricket and it unleashes a Ragin’ Fury, near as dammit. (Diversion but… was it Desperate Dan who flew into Ragin’ Furies? Or who? Fluttering right out there at the shadowy extremes, that one). Anyway, one minute we’re eyeballing a heart monitor, the next I’m watching Jason Roy ‘dance down’.

Dance down? Was more like a paralytic meander – a pre-chunder slalom to the pub khazi. With added air-punch. A catastrophically uncool Dad Dance, under a cruelly searching spotlight. (O-kaaay. Did say Ragin’ Fury).

But maybe that’s not how you saw it? Maybe you either drift easily, in that flow of positivity – that ‘this is what he does’ argument, or you really deeply commit to the idea that Roy, having been selected for his brilliance as a gladiatorial, instinctive smiter of absolutely bloody everything anyone slings down at him, is ab-so-lutely entitled to do what it says on his tin.

I say cobblers to that. I could try and be more measured – for fear of sounding reactionary, for fear of losing half my followers, for fear of stirring philoso-hostilities – but that would be a betrayal of my own instinct. Where many are saying ‘express yourself’ I say cobblers. Where that lazy-macho coaching mantra swoops in, defending the gutsiness, the stay-trueness, the incomparable and essential free-spiritedness of the batsman, I say cobblers.

Why? Because not then. Because embarrassingly stupid. Because repercussions on team-mates, because ushering in terminal momentum against. Because there’s an Ashes maybee already on the line. Because Smart Cricket you utter donkey, not mindlessly Positive Cricket.

*However, note not inconsequential footnote to follow…* dude, once you’ve been in there for two hours and have 78 not out and that wonderful eye is in and the game is petering out, then maybe. Maybe clatter that chirpy Australian barsted to the boundary, then.

Expect there were discussions, pre that knock – and probably pre the Roy selection. Fair enough. “Jase, you’re in there to blaze a trail, whenever possible”. But if there were no caveats – cobblers. Ridiculous.

Why? Because Test Cricket: a test over time. Meaning sometimes a test of skill and patience as well as hand-eye.  Meaning bravado can be earned or ‘expressed’, possibly but is measurably, in this genre of the game, more likely to be exposed for the cowardly fraud it so often is. If Root or Bayliss waived away all or any responsibility to contemplate erm, responsibility – cobblers.

The shot itself was a wildish, unbalanced hack. Roy’s exit, sharpish, utterly castled, smacked of humiliation and therefore offered the gift of triumph to the bowler, to Australia – stupid and irresponsible in a moment that calls for intelligence, for smart cricket.

So if Bayliss defends him, out of duff loyalty or (worse still), because Positive Cricket was the agreed approach… cobblers. They have insulted our intelligence. For all that they might argue that their way is the way of courage, it’s the way of the fool who hides behind the easy, unthinking swipe.