I Die by the Sword.

Great moments in sport? Root gets to 200, in Chennai, with a six. Oh – and it’s his 100th Test.

That’s the blog done, right there. Except you’d feel short-changed. So bit more. From my notes, some thoughts.

  1. Stokes gets another Bumrah Wonderball – that not-incredibly-quick-but-still screaming, inswinging yorker – whilst still on nought. Survives.
  2. 16th ball, Stokes clangs Ashwin for a straight six. Ridiculous.
  3. Already clear (by about 97th over) that Stokes/Ashwin or Stokes/Anybody is gonna be a Proper Contest. England’s wiry talisman is already looking a) bloody determined b) at the pitch, which features real rough-stuff short of a length, outside of his off-stick. England 280-something for 3 and you can almost feel the intense dance-off going on between the leftie’s attacking instincts and his obvious concern about those iffy areas on the strip. Which way will he go? When it’s obvious England must get to 500? But he’s going to have to contend with who-knows-what?
  4. We know what. Ashwin spins one. No sign of Nadeem but as he’s the one who’ll be plopping the bombs into the mix it surely can’t be long. (Interestingly, Knight on Channel Four comms talks about Kohli maybe missing a trick, here. The left arm spinner is held back, when despite his less-than-convincing performance yesterday, he has the angle to bring that rough into play. We don’t see him ’til the 103rd over).
  5. Stokes does look both nerveless and like he knows the import of the moment. Ishant is bowling well – he bowls with diligence and skill right through the innings, despite little help from the pitch for the seamers. Root and Stokes look well capable. We wait.
  6. Nadeem is in and Stokes answers with an early reverse sweep. Then Root sweeps the same bowler for four. Fascinating first over suggesting punch and counter-punch.
  7. 104th over and the 300 comes up, following two consecutive fours for Stokes, off Ishant. (The bowler did little wrong). Stokes is now 26 from 40 and Root has 142.
  8. In the 106th, Nadeem finally finds the jack-in-the-box; the ball erupting. Stokes seems almost shocked – though he’s been heavily preparing for it. He (still) sweeps the next ball, to make his statement, connecting o-kaaay rather than emphatically. We have the two contradictory senses; that the batsmen are both looking to Go Big and that something is about to happen, for Nadeem.
  9. Fifty partnership is up, off 107 balls.
  10. I am thinking about Leach. And about what he is thinking. The pitch may be made for him.
  11. First of two poor reviews, for India. Ashwin should have seen the ball was nowhere near the glove, as Stokes swept. Soon afterwards Nadeem seems unluckier when Root finally misses but the ball is tracked bouncing over. More of a let-off, for England but Root sweeps the next ball competently away. Engrossing stuff: mind games at close to maximum.
  12. 111th over. Stokes seems bit frazzled; opting now to hit through his troubled or troubling patch. Root gets to 150; another truly outstanding knock. 326 for 3 at drinks. When we resume two further reverses get Stokes to 50.
  13. 115th over and a further explosion off the pitch, on a length for the right-arm spinner Sundar. Like outrageous – bounce and bite. Smacks of a fourth innings nightmare and possibly some major anarchy even before that. Probably an “OK that settles it, I Die By The Sword” moment, for Stokes.
  14. With England on 387, Stokes goes fearlessly aerial again. This time Pujara, despite making a horrible hash of it, holds on, in the deep. It’s been another memorable effort from England’s tattooed hero: he goes for 82 typically colourful runs, off 118. Enter Pope.
  15. In many ways a fabulous time for the young talent to come in… and yet conditions, he knows, will be testing. He’s away, with a nicely cuffed cut for 4, off Nadeem. He also has Bumrah to contend with.
  16. Pope’s low, wide base the subject of some analysis on comms. It is striking. Much talk from ex-pro’s about how good the lad is. Suspect he will get a longish run at this number 6 berth; quite rightly. Technique, quality and mentality all appear to be in place. In ahead of Buttler (or Foakes) makes sense.
  17. After the 400 comes up, with Root on 175 from 312 and Pope inching in on 5 from 20, acute tiredness kicks in upon your local correspondent. (Up at 3.45 last two nights – c’mon). No notes and *possible snoozing* until that other poor review, again from Ashwin, this time against Pope, who is not out.
  18. Thereafter, a late fightback from India and some deserved reward for Ishant, who has run in proudly and with real discipline for two days. England lose Pope for a decent-but-not-sparkling 34, Buttler for 30, Archer first ball. Oh – and Root gets that double with a ridicu-six, before finally falling lbw to Nadeem, for 218. Bess – predictably, that’s why he’s there – does an excellent delaying/irritating/accumulating job and the doughty Leach is well, doughty. With just Jimmy to come, England are boasting an encouraging 555 for 8. India have plenty of batting… but can they bat on this pitch?

Back!

England’s day? Probably but that wonderball from Bumrah to finish the opening joust tilts the balance back towards tetchy equilibrium, methinks. If a heroically solid Sibley could have seen that final over out – and the signs were that he probably would – then the visitors would feel relatively in command. But now if an early wicket falls tomorrow, England might be looking at 350 rather than the 500+ they will feel they must aim for.

I thought the Slowish But Admirably Purposeful One would make it through, such was his focus. Bumrah’s electrifying yorker did for that theory. It had been a day when India’s main men predictably performed and their allegedly lesser lights, predictably, did not: Washington Sundar and Shahbaz Nadeem failing to back up the largely consistent work of Ishant, Ashwin and Bumrah. Not that England raced away at any stage. More that the (likely) England plan to single out or pressurise the relative newcomers worked pretty well; breaking up the continuity of the home team’s effort.

After a creditable start from Burns and Sibley had kept the metaphorical crowd quiet, there was an explosion of drama towards lunch. Then later a boom at the close. In between, the England skipper had simply stayed in his richly productive groove. Now, plainly, if some combination of Root, Stokes, Pope and/or Buttler get in, their stroke-making may at the very least make this First Test safe. They *might* even rip this right out of India’s reach. Exciting. But hey; read how it all seemed live, from 4 am. It was a genuinely absorbing day.

So we’re back, wonderfully, in penetrating sunshine. Or it feels that way, at 4 am, here. All-comers welcome to make an early brew and wipe away the sleep. Free cricket is back.

Chennai from some angles looking like a cubist Ageas Bowl: the pitch inevitably dry but – word is – holds some patchy grass. Seems barely concievable and let’s not be expecting too much, as Sharma lollops in to Burns. There’s a chance, strictly speaking, early, as Burns middles a glance low and behind but it barely counts as an error from batsman or keeper. We all settle.

Bumrah partners Ishant with his walk/gallop/slam. Immediately it’s fascinating to see how conditions dictate: it being understood that there will be minimal lateral movement so yaknow, bowl at the sticks. Both bowlers do their job of offering no width, with a field set straight and extra man or men to leg. A huge, delicious contrast to options in the UK.

We get quiet cricket, which is of course fabulous, for England. Slowish accumulation but both Sibley and Burns look focused, with the former’s hands-away-from-body quirk rarely feeling any kind of issue. Burns, meanwhile, looks taut, muscular and determined. 16 for 0 after 7 brings in Ashwin for Bumrah but no alarms.

Bumrah will switch and Sharma will rest and the only nervy moments for us sleepy folks back home are a couple of medium-iffy singles, one of which raises a genuine smile from both batsmen – who seem in, despite their racing hearts. Sibley threads Ashwin beautifully through midwicket for four to go to 19, from 48. Ideal. Without offering major freebies in the field, the home side are hardly flawless. Nadeem’s weird potential ankle-breaker at the boundary – stepping onto the escaping ball – not the only moment to rile Kholi.

Both England openers have their quirks but both build their particular groove with real conviction. The introduction of Nadeem (left arm spin) for the 17th over offers Sibley a rare opportunity to free hands and cut square, for four. The fifty (51) arrives on 19.3 overs, for no loss.

Shortly afterwards Burns *really does* charge Ashwin, dispatching him powerfully, through wide mid-on, for the morning’s boldest moment. It’s followed by the ugliest, for England, as the left-hander conjures a ridicu-sweep – a reverse – against India’s leading spinner and succeeds only in flipping the ball up, to the incredulous but grateful keeper. Unthinkable, heinous error from Burns, who is gone for 33.

Somebody somewhere will make the argument that the shot was on. That he was trying to lift the momentum, having established some meaningful initiative. Cobblers. We are just before lunch in the first knock of a Test Match against INDIA – at their place. Your next bat is a brilliant novice. Put the bloody shot away until you’re on 164 for 0.

Lawrence comes in, suddenly exposed… and is nailed by a slanted-in in-swinger, from Bumrah, fifth ball. Probably reversed. England go from 63 for 0 to 63 for 2. Lunch.

In other news, by 7 am I’m through two cups of tea and a hot lemon. And two toasted tea-cakes. (I may be telling you this because we’re into another quiet period). Root & Sibley now nudging this forward. Kohli in an extraordinarily straight catching position as Sharma comes in to Sibley. Ver-ry close to the cut strip. 78 for 2 after 34.

Some sense in the 35th over that Ashwin is finding something. Touch of spin, certainly and that flow that comes with a breakthrough, perhaps? Beats Sibley’s outside edge. Softer ball now but reverse evident, as Ishant follows. A shout against Root but the ball’s doing too much – so no review. Conditions may be bat-friendly but India look increasingly on it. Patience and grit imperative, from England.

“Something’s happening, pressure’s building” says the excellent Butcher, on comms. It’s true that both Ishant Sharma and Ashwin are testing the batsmen. Great spell of Test Cricket. Meanwhile, in Pembrokeshire, it’s effing plastering down. 81 for 2 off 38. Sibley’s looking less comfortable against Ashwin. Nadeem will bowl the 40th.

The left-armer looks like he’s going to spin it – and we’re hearing that he’s using the breeze well – but he’s not finding a consistent furrow, here. Washington Sundar follows him but Root advances, with care, and drives for four, through extra. Could the bowling changes offer respite, for Root and Sibley? How important will that be?

92 for 2 after 42. Sibley has 35 off 131. Have no problem with that. Build.
Ah – Root reverses Washington Sundar. Well-executed, picked the right line, but bold. Sibley then crunches Nadeem through midwicket for four. Possibly England looking to cash in on the less illustrious bowlers? Team plan? Bold. 100 up, two down. Game poised.

A false shot from Sibley against Washington. Leading edge. But he follows with the kind of free-flowing hoik over square leg that makes you think that England are looking to put some pressure on the new boys. Root confirms this to take the partnership past fifty, sweeping Nadeem hard, for four. Real arm-wrestle for domination going on right now. 114 for 2, as Nadeem, foolishly, no-balls. A peach of a clip for Sibley closes the over: boundary. He has 48 and England are 119 for 2 off 48.

Bumrah needs to return. He does. No dramas, two from the over. Ashwin joins his A-List bowling partner. Poor misfield gives Sibley an impressive fifty. Impressive not just for that trademark stickability: he’s waited, stayed honest and picked up enough boundaries (7) to avoid an innings stall. 51 off 153. Good work.

Wonder-combo, from Bumrah, who offers a slower ball then disguises the fast yorker. Sibley has to drop the bat, sharpish. He does it. Just: thrilling escape. Bumrah now a proper handful.

Rare poor, short delivery from Ashwin crashed angrily to square leg by the England skipper. Next delivery is again shortish; Root dances again and clatters, again convincingly, through extra. He is 44 from 95. England are 138 for 2. TV focuses on the quality of the ball; soft with seam gone fluffy.

Ishant still manfully producing deliveries which nip either way, a little. He has 9 overs, 0 for 12. Ashwin will bowl the last over before tea. Excellent session for England: 73 runs from 30 overs, no losses. A nice round 140 for 2 after 57 overs. Puts them ahead. With Stokes, Pope and Buttler in the queue, they will be feeling good.

Ishant Sharma will open up after the break. He turns Root around and draws an edge. Narrowly fails to carry: another fine ball that left Root a touch off the pitch. One from the over. Nadeem follows. He drops one short but escapes with just the single, to Root, who had struck hard, into the ground. The captain then cuts away and with Washington failing rather weakly to retrieve, he moves beyond 50 yet again. 51 off 110, to be precise. England on 148 now, for 2.

Ishant bowls a rare bouncer (and no-balls). Root plays classically high-to-low and is a tad unfortunate not to claim four more. Great response, mind, from Ishant, who threatens the edge with one that holds its line.

Nadeem offers a further short one, to Sibley. Cut away behind square for four. Root is inevitably catching him, score-wise but this is such an important knock for Sibley – and the tour, you suspect. With 62 overs done, Root has 56 off 117 and Sibley 60 from 200 balls. The partnership is now worth 96.

Bumrah returns, with the game moving gently against him. Root middles a slightly widish one but finds point, before caressing a pearler through the covers – possibly the shot of the day. It brings him up to Sibley’s score, of 60. 100 partnership now up. If England get signicantly beyond 200 for 2 before the new ball – which seems likely – then India will really need to find something… at the end of a long day. (They might, of course: Ishant has looked consistently good and Bumrah, without being the unplayable magician England may have feared thus far, has that magnificent propensity).

Sundar Washington isn’t helping: pie down leg easily dismissed with another aggressive sweep, from Root. Four. A further sweep garners two more, so six from the over as Root gets to 70. 177 for 2. Twelve overs to the new ball.

A little frustration creeps in, for Sibley, who advances and drives hard, for no runs. But he soon puts the fury away and drops on anything on a line and length. Defence very much intact. Root finally makes an error on the sweep, top-edging fortuitously into space around mid-wicket. Two balls later he crunches Nadeem defiantly for four more, with the same shot. 185 for 2 after 71.

Pant, in desperation, having raced twenty yards and flung off a glove, tries for a *ver-ry ambitious* run-out. Misses by miles. Overthrows. Oh. And it’s Nadeem’s fourth no-ball as well. Insult to injury. Shortly afterwards, it’s 200 for 2, off 73.4, with Washington Sundar bowling. Root goes into the nineties with a gorgeous, slightly short-armed punch through mid-wicket, for four. Absolute class. Drinks.

Delightfully late cut gets Root four to third man. 98. What a knock this has been! Increasingly bright, confident and expansive. Sibley also grabs a boundary from Sundar, collaring the 150 partnership as he does so. 214 for 2, off 76, with Sibley retaining the strike. When Nadeem again drops short, the opener cuts hard to the boundary: he has 76. Both players plainly looking to cash in before any new ball – now probably only 3 overs away.

Root drives straight, for 1. Sibley takes 2. We await The Moment. Misfield offers Sibley 4 more – swept, emphatically. Finally Root tickles one to fine leg to claim a genuinely fine century, in his one hundredth Test. The man’s in sensational nick: fabulous to watch, again.

Ashwin will bowl the 79th – presumably to loosen him up for the new ball?
In the 80th, bowled by Sundar, Root absolutely bolts a two, with notable energy. Ashwin and Virat have a prolonged chat; to break up the game as much as search for any immediate breakthrough. Clearly this is *all about* the new ball. At that 80 over mark, England are 235 for 2. Now: deep breath and start again.

Sod’s law; India, who have been unhappy with this ball for thirty overs, now pass up the opportunity to change it. Mind games. Weirdly, Ashwin gets freakish bounce and turn – I think for the first time today – and that soft old ball races away to leg for four byes. (Lols). Enter, belatedly, the new ball.

Ishant Sharma, deservedly, will take it. First ball swings – early and harmlessly. Third ball is smoothed out through extra cover: ball was widish but confidently dispatched. Over seen out without difficulty but there was inevitably a little more bounce, plus that possibility for regulation swing.
Bumrah next. Two good balls (holding their line) beat Root. He will need to re-focus, as will Sibley. 249 for 2, off 83, now.

Different level of carry, for Ishant but Sibley happy to leave and see out the day. Root gets a touch of cramp, whilst defending Bumrah, who is looking sharpish, again. Runs have slowed, which is fine – to be expected, even – but with ball generally finding the middle of the bat and Sibley back to his doughty, defensive best, no issues. 250 up and 5 overs remaining. England have eyes on survival and the proverbial ‘platform’. One suspects that we’ll see Ashwin come in, to see if he can disrupt the (slow)flow, or even break the partnership, which may approach 200 by the close.


Sure enough, we have Ashwin, for the 87th. Hilarious drama, as Root finishes the over flat on his backside, with Kohli offering brief cramp-relief, the batsman having smashed Ashwin for six! Inevitably it’s the first maximum (o-kaaay, I know) of the innings and it intrudes rather shockingly into what appeared to be the natural retreat into overnight safety. Extraordinary.

We arrive at the final over, with the 200 partnership now up, off 365 balls. Sibley will face. His head could barely be more over the ball as he drops into forward or back defence mode. But a fast yorker may have nailed him! We await the review…

Another stunning toe-crushing ball, swinging in late. Looked tight. Would be cruel to lose any batsman now… but that’s how it is. Sibley gone for a tremendously important, if typically unattractive knock. He made 87 before that Bumrah screamer exposed him.

England finish on 263 for 3 at end of play. Their day but gutting for Sibley. On the place side, Stokes knows what’s ahead of him and has the evening to gather. Another Big Day tomorrow. The home will be looking for their B-List bowlers – Nadeem, Washington Sundar – to provide better consistency through the game. England will be hoping for 500.

#RHFTrophyFinal. #Edgbaston.

I write live, to try to capture the moment. That’s pressurised, but feels honest, in all its clunky, vulnerable wildness. Reading back yesterday’s typically flawed, typically immature piece, I’m a little struck by the potential for negativity – or the possibility that the experience may be read as overly ‘mixed’. Some of it *was mixed* but maybe it’s only now, hours later, that I can see that it felt that way partly because the whole occasion was hollowed out somewhat – inevitably so – by the void where the crowd should have been. Stupidly, having been so excited (and maybe confused) by the Weird Empty Stadium Phenomenon, I only really see that ‘flatness’ now!


So read on, in the understanding that it was a genuinely good day at The Cricket; that I’m still a bit high on that view, that closeness, that privilege. Edgbaston in the autumn sun; Adams threatening to do an Adams. Langston looking quality; Taylor’s joy. Women Professional Cricketers, coached by women. More markers thrown down, more progress. All utterly ace.

So when the eagle landed, it was a-flapping just a wee bit: road closures ensnaring me in an increasingly alienating Brum. Cruel, as it had all started so well, with a spookily trouble-free cruise in yesterday and a deliciously quiet overnight in a ver-ry decent but inevitably budget-tastic room in a central, theoretically convenient hotel.

After being charmingly temperature-frisked, I’m in, with time to slurp a little orange juice and get set. Beth Langston will open to Georgia Adams, Diamonds having won the toss. On it. Full, straight, defended.

Good over, from, Langston. Notable for challenging line and length and the volume of chirpiness from her comrades-in-arms. (Of course that wouldn’t, ordinarily, be audible. But hey, it’s a beautiful day, now. Let’s not get caught up in that Covidness thing). It really is a beautiful day: I feel privileged to be here, in a great stadium, watching cup-final cricket.

Final ball of the third over, from the immaculate Langston, tails away in the air just a little. First sign of meaningful swing: previously she’s drawn a touch of grip with leg-cutters but the strip looks batter-friendly, early-doors.

Linsey Smith is backing Langston up, with her gentle left arm offspin. I’m looking gun-barrel straight down the pitch: she’s varying more than turning. Vipers reach a sedate but untroubled 7 for 0 after 4.

It’s a goodish, steadyish start from both sides. Adams perhaps a tad streaky with a four down through third man, off Smith. Good focus from bowlers and fielders. Doesn’t at this stage feel like a day for dramatic collapses, said he, knowing this is *fatal*: Adams is magnificently poised in her forward defence, off Langston, as if to emphasise the point. Impressed, by the bowler’s consistency and courageous fullness. If there was any help she would be a right handful.

First change is Phoebe Graham, for Smith. She drops short, to Adams, who clubs her, without timing, over midwicket for four. The light is now almost indescribably wonderful. Coolish, yellow, autumnal – deeply, energisingly fabulous. A touch of away-swing, for Graham but it strays: wide. 23 for 0, after 8.

So slowly, slowly from Southern Vipers but could it already be critical that Adams, who has a pret-ty staggering 460 runs already in her six innings in the tournament, is looking set, on 17? The counter-argument is that Diamonds have shown great discipline, so far. There may even be a subtle squeeze on; certainly that energy and volume in the field is strong.

Ah. Two successive boundaries – the second of which should plainly have been stopped by the unconvincingly flopping Graham – feels like a mini-breakout. Important period, now, as we segue from steadyish start to full-on partnership, from these openers. 35 for 0, after 10.

Enter Levick; she of the effective but idiosyncratic legspin-from-over-the-shoulderdom. She flips one out, first up; it turns but is cut away for four. The over does mark a change, however – a different kind of challenge, at the right time. And there is turn.

Some of you will know that I’m an honorary West-Walian, and therefore ‘my teams’ are Glamorgan and, more relevantly Western Storm. Storm (second in the group behind Vipers) are strongish, with a competitive bowling attack. Georgia Adams utterly dismissed them, with a haughty 154 not out, in one of the crunch matches from the qualifying stage. At 65 for 0, with the Vipers’ skipper on an increasingly imperious 44, you can’t help but wonder…

Gunn has joined with Graham, who continues to toil away, full and generally straight, from beneath us in the Media Centre. McCaughan, to put Adams’ influence into perspective, is on 13 at this point.

Just a sense now, that Graham is beginning to get found out. McCaughan, no doubt conscious of that discrepancy in terms of her contribution, hoists twice, aggressively to leg, for two boundaries, in the 18th over. Gunn, who let’s be honest, has made a career out of doing this, will need to steady the proverbial ship. She can’t prevent the 50, mind, for Adams. 82 for 0, off 19.

So. Very true strip: might this all be about run rate? Or is the inviolable nature of the Vipers batting going to be simply at a different level to the Diamonds? As I write, the current run rate is 4.25 per over but we can only imagine that, should Adams and McCaughan persist *or not*, the Vipers can really launch, from here. 93 for 0, from 22.

Gunn is as quietly, doughtily consistent as we might expect. Despite seeming hittable, she mixes up those variations and plops it relentlessly where she wants to. With Adams on top of her game, Gunn has conceded only 13 from 5 overs. Smith, from the other end, must try to match that miserliness.

The ton is up after 23, bringing the first real drama. McCaughan, understandably chasing a poor, wide one from Smith, is nicking a fine top edge behind. Gone for 35. Pleasing symmetry to the scoreboard at 100 for 1. Enter the powerful Bouchier.

Diamonds tie Bouchier down – or rather the newcomer fails to find enough of the singles that are available – and we have a quietish period, broken only by lovely hands from Adams, who cuts deftly to third man.

Gunn continues, from the Birmingham End (formerly the City End). Bouchier drives nicely through extra cover – four.

Graham beams Bouchier (for a no ball), which is almost taken by a diving midwicket. The free hit is missed entirely, by the swinging Adams. Then we have Levick, returning for Gunn. Adams somehow finds the gap between the two players backward of square on the offside circle. Four. 128 for 1 after 29. Run rate 4.4.

Feels like Graham has bowled about twenty overs but she’s back from in front of us for her eighth. Sun still shineth. Bouchier places her with consumate style and ease through extra… twice. Tremendous stuff. 137 for 1 as we reach that allegedly key 30 over mark. Could Southern Vipers double this tally and get to 270-odd? Quite possibly.

Bouchier – who can hit – signals her intent by fearlessly clouting Levick over mid-off then mid-on, for two, then four. Four more, then as a teeny deflection beats the keeper. Just what the Vipers need.

The Diamonds’ skipper Armitage has an answer: brings herself on, bowls a half-tracker which Bouchier inexplicably clubs to midwicket. Clanger, but more symmetry of a sort as we are 150 for 2. And good to see that there’s still a place for dodgy leggies.

Dean has joined Adams but strong feeling that Bouchier has blown a huge opportunity, there. Suspect that somebody with her level of dynamism might blow this final right open, today. Instead, more drama, as Armitage has Dean in front, sweeping. 155 for 3, run rate 4.8, and legspin from both ends as Levick continues from the Birmingham End.

A true surface, but as so often, the leggies are making things happen, with their higher revs. Scolfield has come and gone, chipping Armitage rather feebly, to midwicket.

What was that I was saying about collapses? Game transformed: both through goodish slow bowling and batting error. And there’s more! Foolishly, Adams hoists Levick unecessarily to cow corner and is gone. Fine innings but ill-timed departure. Suddenly 165 for 5 and this is something of a crisis, for Vipers. Two newcomers at the crease, Diamonds glinting confidently if not brazenly, in the sunshine.

Rudd attempts the sweep against Levick and is gone. LBW, for just the 1. Wheels a-rolling down that road. Vipers coach Charlotte Edwards will be seething, no doubt, inside. Her openers got 80 and 35 and suddenly this – 172 for 6.

Edwards’ opposite number, Danielle Hazell, will be proud of how her side have ground their way back into this. 260 seemed very likely, an hour ago. Now – though this is still possible – 200 all out seems the likelier prospect. Norris and Windsor have to find that balance between batting out and batting with intent. Those legspinners meanwhile, are in metaphorical clover. 176 for 6, after 39, as we break briefly once more, for sanitisation. Run rate 4.5.

Hmm. Langston returns, from the City. Not sure if I wouldn’t have kept right on with the double leggies. Clearly Armitage thinks the Vipers’ tail may crumble against the undoubted quality of Langston’s pace. (The Diamond’s captain does however continue from beneath us, in the Media Centre, troubling the left-handed Norris).

OMG. Can feel Charlotte Edward’s fury from up here, as a shocker of a run-out befalls her side. Poor, poor misjudgement and Norris – miles out at the bowler’s end – has to walk. 189 for 7.

Dan Norcross has just dropped in to reflect on that Bouchier Moment: a ‘crucial gift from an utter pie’ – or similar. Predictably, at this late stage in the innings the calamities pile up, as Langston’s yorker is just too good for Monaghan. 191 for 8 as we enter the 44th, with Armitage still wheeling. Deliciously for the Diamonds skipper, she can play with this now: hoist, loop, play. Oh to be a leggie in the the sun, with your oppo’s in turmoil, and the pitch assisting.

Charlotte Taylor is facing Langston. Run rate back to 4.3. What’s possible? An all out, or 220-30?

Last four overs, with Langston in to Taylor. 206 on the board. Driven to deep point. One. Then smashed agriculturally but effectively downtown, for four. No ball and free hit. Windsor, who has battled to 32, on strike. One to mid-off. Seven from the over.

Gunn, from our end. Characteristic steady hoist-and-drop. On the spot with no pace on the ball. Smart. Good bowling but Taylor has to do more with it. Two only, from the over. 215 for 8.

Langston in for her tenth – the penultimate. Single. Slower-ball leg-cutter too full – but just a single. Clip to leg for another one. Another attempted leg-cutter, badly miscued but a fumble allows two. Single taken to mid-on but possible run-out… given. Great throw from Kalis shifts Windsor for a creditable 37. Last bat in is Lauren Bell.

Gunn will see this out, from the beneath Media Centre. Light remains unstintingly beautiful. Poor ball down leg is unpunished, save for that wide – signalled. Third ball also a legside wide – unforgivable, frankly. Then Bell picks up another slow, loopy number, striking straight and high for four.

Ironically perhaps, when Bell subsequently connects more sweetly and clears to leg, she is neatly and mercilessly caught. Innings done, with a ball, to spare; Vipers 231 all out. Surely a lowish total but what can the likes of Taylor and Dean make of it? Or could Bell blast away at the Diamonds higher order? We’ll see, soon enough. Advantage plainly with the North.

Lauren Bell will open, to Winfield-Hill. Starts with a quickish legside wide. Skies remain clear as glass, though the cameramen are saying it’s cool out there. Armitage is the other opener; she pushes gently out to a full one and it eases through the covers for four. Seven from the over.

Norris will partner Bell, with her left arm round. My view of this is perfection. As previously I can confirm ver-ry little going on through the air but that change of angle, plus her tidy line is asking a question or two.

Good diving stop from Bouchier at extra cover prevents a boundary, off Bell, who is threatening to find her rhythm. Pace at 66mph – close to where Brunt and Shrubsole are bowling, for England. When Norris returns, she repeatedly beats Armitage, who seems to be struggling to find her timing, thus far. 13 for 0 after 4.

Did I mention the outfield? Quick, certainly, despite the coolness of late season. Things roll away as you run after. And did I mention we’re IN the Media Centre, not braving the cold, like the poor sods at Derby over the recent period? (The Media Centre at Edgbaston is huge and luxurious compared to most county grounds: you do feel like a celebrity just walking in the place. I feel a tad guilty, even). 27 for 0, after 6.

Bell bowls her 3rd/possibly4th wide, before straying to leg stump, allowing the fine glance for four. Early days but Dynamos are ahead of the run rate at just beyond 5s. Enter Bouchier for Norris.

Run out chance as Winfield-Hill almost strands herself. But next ball – out the back of the hand, wide-ish – the Vipers’ opener miscues direct to extra cover for a simple catch. 36 for 1. From ‘nowhere’: simply a case of the bowling change *affecting things.* As Kalis joins Armitage, the bowler tries an extravagant outswinger. On the one hand, it really does swing – appreciably – but as she starts it around that blue line, the wide is emphatically conceded.

I’m not clear that Bell has really been troubling the batters but clearly her skipper disagrees. She stays on for her fifth over, which again starts with a big wide, to leg. Could be there is still just a wee bit of inswing, for the Vipers’ quick, in which case I defer to Adams’ judgement: suspect this will be the last we see of Bell, though, until late in the game. Especially as she concedes a further wide. 46 for 1, after 9. More, from Bouchier.

Two wides from Bouchier, meaning 9 so far. Not exactly killing Vipers (and just three from the over) but not ideal.

First sight of spin, as Taylor comes in from the city. She offers a little width and after mid-off rather dives over a strongish drive, Taylor concedes nine in the over. Scholfield follows Bouchier but Armitage dismisses her over midwicket for six, nudging that run rate further in the Diamonds favour. The scoreboard tells us too, that that after 12 overs, the team from the North are 22 runs ahead.

But then drama, as an appeal for a stumping looks close. But no. Foot never really departed ground. 68 for 1 it remains.

Taylor may be deceptive… or something. She looks to be offering too much width, too often but Armitage weakly dinks her out to cover and she is gone, for 26. What in tennis might be termed an unforced error. 78 for 2, then, after 15.

Dean is in, from beneath us. A calamitous misunderstanding between the batters leads to a ver-ry close runout call, which (after an age) goes in the Vipers’ favour. There’s a whiff of VAR cock-up in the air, as this really could have gone either way. Big Moment and Diamonds – from cruising – are 79 for 3 and stumbling, you feel. 153 needed.

When Taylor skids one through Macdonald’s defences, first ball, the switch in momentum is striking… but will it be decisive? Still early. A Proper Tight Game may be broiling away, here. The massively experienced Gunn is in, for the Diamonds. They may need her calm.

Dean is bowling with a nice arc and getting a smidge of offspin. She has conceded just the five runs from her two overs. Similarly, Taylor’s flatter, sharper ones are now troubling Kalis. That is, until another weak, wide delivery offers an easy cut away to third man, for four. 88 for 4, after 19. As Dean bowls a horror-ball waay short and wide to leg, we have the situation where it feels like neither side has the strangle on this: on the plus side, that points to more drama and a close finish – ideally.

Gunn short-arm jab-drives Taylor straight up and over for four. Little real flow or power, but controlled, if a little out of context, somehow. But next up, the former England stalwart mistimes a sweep and is l.b.w. to one that may have turned a little. Diamonds now in some strife at 95 for 5.

Kalis remains, on 20 but has been mixed, in truth. In the midst of what is now plainly a defining period, her partner Heath may need to take the proverbial ‘look at herself’, having swung Taylor out to deep midwicket – this for the spinner’s fourth wicket. 96 for 6 – and something approaching carnage. Enter Smith.

Looking again, closely, at Taylor, who is described as r/a medium, in my notes (from ESPNcricinfo from memory), it’s clear that she is, very much to her credit, really mixing this up. Some leggies, some cutters and it’s reaping the rewards. At the 25 over mark – halfway, of course – she has 4 for 30.

The Diamonds must find 128 runs: time is not heavily against them but the wickets column may be. A situation that is not helped by Smith falling promptly l.b.w. to Dean, for 7.

Unsurprisingly, as Langston enters to bat, Lauren Bell, with seven wickets down and blood in the water, re-enters to bowl. As she does so, the magbloodynificent staff here at Edgbaston swoop in to provide yet more food and drink. Like I said, I almost feel guilty sitting here. (Thank you all!)

Dean continues. Again that mixture of lovely, free rhythm – and wides. But Diamonds remain stalled. Langston and Kalis are strong experienced players but the odds are stacked.

A brief check – on myself, as much as anything. I note to the universe that though the scene may still look glorious – and it really does! – it will be bloody parky out there and therefore the playing of consistent cricket, to a high standard is gonna be a challenge. We’ve seen something of a mixed bag, with some real quality at times. The theme of wickets being offered rather cheaply as opposed to earned with brilliance may have been a little caught up in the imminent approach of October. Conditions. Not. That. Easy.

Scholfield is bowling the 34th and both Kalis and Langston are battling. Kalis goes to 45 with a cut through third man. End of over leaves 75 required – not unthinkable. But Taylor is back from the Birmingham End. Can she claim her fifth and settle this, effectively?

Answer in the affirmative. Langston goes, caught in front for an honourable 21. The seamer Graham joins us. 72 required.

Norris from in front of us. Kalis cuts behind square to reach 50. Good effort. The same player follows that with an aggressive hoist over mid-wicket. She couldn’t, could she?!? 61 required.

More from Taylor. She draws a tame-ish miscue from Kalis, attempting that glorious, defiant charge: easily pocketed at mid-off. Taylor has 6 for 34 as Katie Levick – the number eleven, remember – marches out. I confess my mind is on the four hour drive home… and the prospect of reaching Pembs at a genuinely civilised hour.

Appeal for a stumping, off Dean – not out. The over survived. Bell – something of a minor disappointment – will be busting a gut to claim the final wicket. (She has none, so far). She bowls another wide. Then Armitage dives over one she should stop – four, straight. Over survived. Now Dean, for her final over.

Dot ball. Single to leg. Single to extra. Dot ball. Near-chance as the ball flies to midwicket – hand on ball but not claimed. Over survived.

Bell is hoisted safely to backward square for one. Dot ball. Edge to third man – single. Legside glance for one. Wide. Dot ball. Single. 44 needed from 54 balls.

Bouchier. Medium pace. Graham slashing rather – mistiming. Then a neat clip to leg for four. A good yorker, defended by Levick. Over survived. 39 from 48.

Adams, the skipper, from the city. Incre-di-bly slow. Defended. Then thinned, high, high, high enough for mid-off to run around. Caught. Out. And the Rachel Heyhoe Flint Trophy winners… are Southern Vipers! Strongest team in the tournament – deserved. Celebrations ongoing.

Player of the Final Award inevitably goes to Charlotte Taylor. Swift assessment of the game overall might be that it was no classic, that Adams looked the real deal with the bat and that (obviously) the grip in the pitch favoured the slow bowlers. Diamonds did well enough to get within 40 runs in the end. Minor sub-plot, those hoping (like Bell – I guess I’m thinking specifically of her) to be pushing for England places need to do more, do better, do the Disciplined Threat thing. Elsewhere, Adams and Langton, with bat and ball respectively, looked to have a high level of quality.

Hey. Might be worth noting – and I don’t mean this negatively – that most of England’s (& Wales’s) best players were absent. The quality of outfielding was often good, the seam bowling was maybe nearer to decent-plus than striking – Langston excepted, possibly? Spin, in particular via the visibly popular Taylor, was king. (Or queen). In terms of the narrative, Bouchier’s Moment will continue to frustrate her, even though it proved relatively inconsequential. However she did contribute – fielding like demon as well as looking dynamic with wood in hand. Bouchier is A Player.

On that bombshell, forgive me but I’m outtahere. Best part of four hours to drive: thank you to those who have read &/or supported. Forgive any bloopers. May yet tidy further and add a word or two. Have enjoyed; Edgbaston is always a treat; women’s cricket is strong and getting stronger. 💪🏻 💥 👊🏻

South East Stars v Western Storm. Beckenham. ‘Freezing’.

Have watched Heather Knight a fair bit – live. For England, for the Storm. She is both an outstanding player and a gathering force.

By that I mean she has added a boomtasticism to her game that she may once have lacked. As though somebody warned her there was a danger she may seem too old-school, too one-dimensional – a bit like a typical England Captain in virtually any era pre- this volcanic present. Knighty the honest plodder-plus. Heather the Redoubtable but Predictable.

I of course have absolutely no idea if she *has actually had* conversations of this sort, merely rehearsed them with herself, or been blissfully ignorant of the discussion (should it actually exist). Whatever. If it was in the ether or in the dressing-room the universe has been asking questions – as though or because her genuinely gutsy stoicism and durability and consistency were no longer enough.

For what – 18 months? – Heather Knight has been answering powerfully. Possibly most noticeably in last seasons KSL Finals Day, when most of us ran out of superlatives. She is manifestly NOT just a steady bat, now. As well as being a shrewd, implacable competitor she has other, more expansive, more entertaining gears. The England captain is an ace as well as a brick.

But coming into this New Era and specifically this #RHFTrophy, just how much of the upgrade would we need to see? At a decidedly parky Beckenham, I imagined a throttled-back H would do it: a steady steering job. So it proved. But as a frost-bitten Mark Church enthused… this was, predictably, a masterclass.

Live blog below.

Watching via live-stream (though I do hope to be able to attend #StormTroopers home games, Covid-protocols permitting): also following various key twitter feeds, asyado. Don’t need to be Hercule Poirot to deduce that conditions are testing: ‘freezing’ to quote Raf Nicholson, whom I imagine to be ‘huddled’ in a safely-distanced kindofaway avec her fella Syd in the rather alarmingly shaky depths of Mark Church’s boundary-side tent.

But to the cricket.

George and Shrubsole for Storm, versus Smith and Capsey, for Stars. It’s proper baltic.

Western Storm cope better and wickets fall – Smith, Capsey, Dunkley in the first twelve overs. All a tad clumsy from the batting side – though Shrubsole does well to catch Dunkley, off Nicholas. To be fair, it’s hard to say how much of this is skill, how much nerves and how much weather-induced misjudgement. Interestingly, neither Shrubsole – who as she sometimes does, looks a little laboured – nor George feel all that threatening. Holding your form in any discipline is plainly a challenge.

New Storm Head Coach Mark O’Leary will have been delighted by his side’s fielding, for the first twenty overs plus: almost flawless. Bowling-wise, meanwhile, it continues to be one of those days where things *just happen*.

Ultimately, Hennessy finishes up with a four-fer, without (it seemed, from the distance of live-stream) doing that much. This not remotely meant as a put-down, just hard to equate the performance with the stats, as is so often the case.

Fi Morris however, looked both nervy and also tasty – is this a word I can use? – in the sense that she really got some spin. Despite the inevitable inconsistencies, Morris found enough beauties to befuddle the batters. She deservedly takes the key wicket of Susie Rowe, after the Stars player had, mid-innings, been single-handedly stalling the Storm charge towards a seemingly invincible position. Fair play to the off spinner for giving the ball a legitimate tweak in the gale, and to O’Leary and/or captain Sophie Luff for persisting with her when the occasional wide crept in.

As Southby joins Farrant, the team in Glammy clobber are 109 for 7 and – dare I say it – struggling in a way not entirely unfamiliar for the men of that Welsh county.

With the departure of Rowe, Katie George returns, as if to bundle the home side out pronto: the thinking being that her sharpish left arm over may be too much for the Stars’ tail to cope with. But it is Morris who strikes again, with a peach of an off-break that, turning profoundly, completely unpicks Southby’s forward defence. 113 for 8. The sense builds that Western Storm may, despite difficult conditions for every facet of the game – it is cold, it is windy – cruise quietly but stylishly to an easy win.

A further but necessary reminder that bowling anything in a strongish, gusty blow is tough. Morris, whom I am already suspecting might be a real influence in the Storm’s campaign, has now nevertheless wheeled down a few full-tosses and a wide or two. But with the live-stream camera flapping about like a recalcitrant seagull on the roof of commentator’s Mark Church’s gazebo, I am watching Fi Morris and thinking ‘has quality’. Be really interesting to see if she can maintain or surpass this impression, should the autumn winds ever abate.

Farrant is fortunate to survive an airy miscue. Keeper Wraith, who looks accomplished (despite the etc etc), can’t race across as the ball loops infuriatingly high to off, but safe. Claire Nicholas returns, for the 37th, starting with another full-toss. 124 for 8, now.

As we approach what feels like The End, it seems that Storm must win this. ‘Fatal’, naturally, to speculate but think a low total plays right into the hands of the visitors particularly because Heather Knight is back with them; as with the rest of the England players she is available for the first two #RHFlintTrophy matches.

The England skipper has a fabulous, stoic temperament and can certainly play the slow and steady role: in fact, as I have argued on previous occasions, she can also now do a compelling upgrade in terms of dynamism, should the need, the urgency be there. (This doesn’t appear likely, currently – although, with Farrant and Davies gritting their teeth and picking off Nicholas a little, the Stars total has reached 156 for 8 as we enter the last five overs).

Importantly, Farrant has now been dropped twice in the previously impressively attentive Storm Troopers field. As Hennessy returns to bowl the 47th and with the sun brightening, it feels if you can survive the cold and be watchful in the wind, batting is almost certainly a tad less fraught than South East Stars have generally made it made it look… and yet… might we have a game?

Davies is bowled by Hennessy. That partnership (of 49) with Farrant may be the difference between a competitive game and and a stroll. Let’s hope.

Gibbs joins Farrant. Cruelly for her, a horror-show of a muddle with the newcomer leaves her run out for 37, and closes the innings at 166 all out. Advantage Storm, unquestionably, but there is now, that ‘total to bowl at’.

Knight opens, with Fi Morris. They proceed relatively comfortably to 35 without loss, after 10 overs. Then 50 for 0, in the 14th. Both openers are despatching the loose one and being watchful; judging things nicely. When Davidson-Richards slings one especially wide to leg, her body-language and that of some of her comrades seems understandably muted. (This is what Knight can do. She takes a further single and moves to 32 not out).

Responding, Grace Gibbs beats Knight, wide-ish of off – no result. Morris then pulls a genuinely short ball, with good control. And a further leg side wide. There may be time left in the game but the Stars are in danger of being ground down, early. 71 for 0 after 17.

Morris looks in good nick with the bat as well as the ball. Unhurried, compact but looks to have flow in reserve. But slightly ignominiously, having been given a warning in the previous over, she is run out: critical wicket, ‘from nowhere’. Morris – who made 27, from 60 – is replaced by Luff.

Sophia Dunkley is bowling goodish, controlled leg-spin but Knight (what did I tell yas?) is through to her 50. She appears to have an ominous amount of time to pick her shots. With the experienced Luff alongside her, there is no sense that the door, having been opened by the Morris dismissal, will now be hoofed down by an inspired Stars line-up. Church, describing the Knight knock as an ‘absolute masterclass’, captures the mood.

Enter Bryony Smith, as Stars mix it up again. She drags one down, then gets one to turn. A leg-side wide ticks the scoreboard over past the ton; 100 for 1 after 24.

Smith and Dunkley – both England-quality players – work well, in tandem, to the extent that the former forces an error from Luff. She is caught miscuing, by Farrant, moving backwards, to bring in Hennessy at 102 for 2, in the 26th. Knight remains at 62. Nice moment in the match as the two Stars spinners are now asking some decent questions… but only the most apocalyptic collapse could deny Knight and Western Storm the victory, surely? The quiet chat between Knight and her new partner should re-settle the destiny of the game, you would imagine. Hennessy proceeds, calmly.

Smith bowls a maiden and the run rate has temporarily stalled. Dunkley floats one up, boldly, but Knight drives through the covers for four – first ball. Then a pull follows – also four. Heather Knight (suddenly in the rain) appears to be re-stating her dominance.

Her partner won’t match that level of skill or composure. She swishes rather, across another full leg-spinner from Dunkley and only succeeds in hoiking it high to mid-off. Out. Hennessy out for six.

Freya Davies, formerly of Western Storm, returns, as her captain Farrant no doubt thinks this is the moment to batter away at that metaphorical door. Wraith has joined Knight, who now need 45 to win it. Maiden. Credit to South East Stars, who are certainly not capitulating. More rain… but they seem determined and able to play on through.

Wraith makes a promising start: looks confident, looks positive. We are 129 for 3 as Knight parries away the last of Davies’ deliveries in the 34th over. Knight is 74 not out with 38 required.

Farrant bowls Wraith. Hmmm. A wicket maiden ensues. Could be that Storm have failed, relatively, to engineer the strike towards the enduring Knight. Can George now quietly rotate things so that her senior partner can see this out? Davies from the other end.

George is solid in defence to a full one from Davies. 132 for 4 after 36. Knight has the strike. Poor error as Stars are penalised for having too many players in the deep in the powerplay – meaning no ball and free hit. Knight biffs it but can only chase out a single.

Farrant is offering some variations but Knight will wait and play late; two through the covers. She has 80. We are into the 38th over with only 28 needed.

Davies again. Knight may be experiencing some discomfort; she kicks out that right leg as if to stretch something. The bowler falls short and George encourages it round the corner with some stye; four. Then clips another one from her hip for a further two, behind square. Erroneously, you feel, Davies drops short again, allowing another flick to leg; in truth George is furious that she misses out on the boundary.

Warrant concedes an early four and the thing feels done. Fifteen required as Knight takes guard again. Single. She will miss out on her century now but the England captain will again be the key protagonist. Again she looks a class above – simply too good to get out.

A cool reverse-sweep despatches Hannah Jones’ first to third man. Ouch. Heavy rain. George – looking to get the win ASAP – booms left and right as the bowler struggles to grip the ball.

Finally, appropriately, Knight launches one over mid-on to claim the decisive runs. Western Storm are deserved winners, by six wickets, with Heather Knight not out 91 and Katie George likewise undefeated on 19.

Excellent performance in truly challenging conditions, for the #StormTroopers: they might arguably have won it earlier but this was a convincing victory and an encouraging start in the #RHFlintTrophy. Noteworthy that other England players have been influential elsewhere, today. But that’s as it should be. Be good to see other players taking the lead when the women’s internationals start.
Now. Where’s me soup?

New, from the Universe Podcast: we talk life outside cricket, with Glamorgan’s Andrew Salter.

Andrew Salter is a ver-ry capable all-round cricketer, bowling zingy off-spin, batting astutely mid-late order and fielding energetically, for Glamorgan Cricket. I know the bloke a little – Pembrokeshire connection.

The mighty Universe Podcast, part-furloughed, caught up with him via satellite at his home in Cardiff. (Well, okaaaay, via FaceTime… but then, having neither shaved nor bathed in recent memory, plumped for a purely audio version for this esteemed website).

Being aware of the various strings to Salter’s bow, this honourable bloggist-reporter meandered beyond mere cricket. But hey – go listen. Could be I add some further reflections having listened back, myself.

*Apologies for differential volume(s). We ain’t the BBC*. Couldn’t be in the same room, for obvious reasons… and am too dumb to do a trial run.

 

 

A few reflections and some information. Some of you will be aware that Salts was an England age-group skipper – and therefore his ambition here, emphatically re-stated, to get himself in contention for an England slot, is neither entirely delusional nor some bland auto-response. Given that he apparently repeated that focus ON STAGE, whilst receiving an award from the PCA, I think we can assume this ‘quietish’, un-starry young man possesses more drive than might be immediately apparent. (And this is not a cue for motorbike metaphors – promise).

Salter does have a strongish all-round game. He’s looked the part in the Blast, in particular, where his intelligent variations on the flattish off-spin theme have seen him feel central to Glam’s attack, on a good night. (I say this picturing his best chance for breaking into the elite-elite set-up as the shorter formats: in simple terms, the guys ahead of him in the pecking order don’t feel completely out of reach – not the off-spinners, arguably. His four day/potential Test game is goodish but it may be that Leach and Bess and Moeen are more decisively ahead of him, currently. But great to hear him so intent on providing competition to these guys, over time).

Vis-a-vis the Baffle Culture sideline, similarly encouraging – wonderful, even – to hear Salter describe that whole falling in love again thing? Maybe as an impressionable youff, he saw Beckham cruising some exotic block in groovy gear and began to dream. Some years later he’s plainly grafted hard to learn Essential Motorbike Stuff to the extent that he can now legitimately position himself as a potential entrepreneur in the industry *as well* as being a genuine biker, out riding and loving a cruise round the Welsh landscape. I doff my helmet to him.

I approached this interview hoping and expecting a multi-dimensional chinwag: without being entirely crass I know Salts is no mug.  But I may have under-estimated his knowledge, his growth and his commitment to well, everything.

Turns out he is the articulate, rounded individual I expected but with added extra gears: richer layers on the extra-curricular front and a refreshingly flinty drive for his own cricket career. (Soz; those biker metaphors). I wish him well with both the now unravelled Baffle culture and with his ambitions at Glamorgan and beyond. He really is a a good guy, working hard at all of this. 

 

Now what?

Eve of Easter. Sun blazing. Barely a motor about, not that we get many but blimey this is extraordinary – idyllic actually, with all due respect to the grockles that prop up our entire county, year on year. The shingle, artfully dolloped around our tiny front garden, is baking; the dog is maybe overheating. Junior (well, six foot four) Walton’s smiliferous uni’ dance-music swells at an appropriately easy pitch for a thoughtful lounge. Proper indulgence.

Where we are (forgive us) the Covid-19 situation really does feel like a phoney war. We’re aware of both ‘some Pembrokeshire cases’ and also also of our responsibilities but frisson around exercising is at an entirely lower level than it might be around Bute Park, Cardiff – to take a random example from the known world.

Now that we’re barred from walking the coast path, we generally yomp about a mile and a quarter to a favourite beach along the road, but in doing so don’t tend to see a single vehicle and only occasionally another couple or family taking their own, equivalent quiet promenade.

Big tides so the beach is a zillion, golden, slumbering cricket-pitches at low water. We tramp like sedately ecstatic lurv-zombies the entire width, more than once, unashamedly breasting through the one hour limit our sagacious minister(s) may or may not have made available for Daily Soul-Maintenance. Done this three times this week; estimated duration six hours. Seen five people, total.

But what else? What else for you? What’s it like?

I’m working a bit, on media/social media stuff. This should constitute about a third of my weekly graft – the remainder being the Community Coach role. Doing no coaching in schools or anywhere else, for obvious reasons. So if I was so inclined, things could be pret-ty sedentary: only (and this is not a boast) I don’t do sedentary.

Have no viable garden – or at least genuinely not viable for most ball games. (This probably accounts for current, high step numbers on the roads). Am honestly outstanding at clattering my way into or through jobs, so been on that – garden, kitchen, garage – and will return. But it’s the pleasurable and the healthy stuff we need to get to yes? What do you do? What can, or do we do? I’m gonna tell you some of my restorative strategies and by all means send me yours.

Restorative bloody Strategies! Who am I kidding? Like you miserably shapeless lot, I am almost exclusively following instinct. Working pretty good, mind.

Prepare to be shamed, bored, amused or utterly gobsmacked by the torrent of indulgobollocks about to spew forth. Cos it’s all about What I Done, Lately. (*Of course I have some faint hope it may either make you laugh, or get you off yer arse, thereby neatly dodging the allegation that this is all a bit me, but hey).

Those of you who know me will maybe take the following without too much offence:  that I’m such a shamelessly persistent clown I really don’t care what you might think. This – by that I mean this blog – is about entertaining ourselves, getting stuff done, not about whether I happen to be good at something. To my mind, the ‘me’ is taken right out of this: it is, therefore, merely an offering.

Hey but let me start with something kosher – something that seems relevant, that figures.

Two or three times in the last fortnight I’ve ambled across the road into the dingletastic field opposite, armed with three coloured hoops, two newish sidearms and a bag of balls. Purpose? Being to get somewhere near competent with the slingers. Have gone up to the almost-flat-but-still-unhelpfully-tussocky heights a hundred and thirty-seven yards from the front door, paced out a pitch length and laid the hoops out. Then slung.

Awful, so far. Too many snatched, accidental bouncers: line okay but if I had been in a net with a group of juniors (let’s say), I’d be banged up unceremoniously by now, for Affray With a Sidearm. So work to do; which is fine in the current time-rich era, yes? May need to look at a couple of videos but will be back up there soonish, trying to hook into a groove: consistency is tough.

The other stuff is both daft and almost ludicrously ‘creative,’ darlings, so now strap in for the cringeathon: some surreal slings of fortune and geography bundled in here, which I hope may be diverting.

Great mates have a caravan on the sweet, relatively unobtrusive wee site down close to our beach. (‘Our Beach’ – lols!) The owners can’t use it as the site, like the county, is effectively sealed-up. They are, however, well up for me checking it over and using it discreetly as a retreat or for any legal purpose, particularly as this has involved heroic clearing-out of 14 million flies that had recklessly expired over the winter/early spring. (What is it with caravans and flies, by the way? Had to wade in to a mincemeat horror-show, which has taken several visits to clear).

Whatever. This caravan has become a haven for two alarmingly healthy pursuits but before I spill the wotsits on those, I feel the urge to say, rather intently, that I’m not looking to escape from anyone or anything (thank you ver-ry much) when I ‘nip down’ there. Relationships all good. Just living in a tiny house – as we do – it makes practical sense.

But what does? Yoga and guitar.

Eh?

Yoga I’ve been doing, clunkily and inconsistently for a couple of years but I now really get it. Guitar, well as the angriest of youffs emerging from the punk epiphany, I acquired a fairly horrible Gibson Les Paul copy and, flukily, a marvellous Ibanez acoustic, before becoming a half-decent rhythm-geetar strumster. Criminally, I stopped playing, almost completely, about twenty years ago.

Some of you will be aware that my wife is often referred to as The Finest Yoga teacher in Wales ‘cos, yes… she is. For twenty years, hugely to her credit, she restrained herself completely from bundling me towards the classes she teaches in nearby Haverfordwest, Narberth and St Davids but finally that wall of restraint (or restraining wall?) crumbled. Not sure quite how, fascinatingly, but I found myself attending sessions and did so with little enjoyment for about eighteen months. This despite being aware that yoga was blindingly obviously something that might benefit a berk like me: I’m 84% fast-twitch fibres. Mostly, life is lived in an optimistic rage. Plus, me back is stiff.

Eventually another wall (or something) broke – or, on reflection, I lump-hammered my way through it. Whether it was working with the breath, just finding myself less gutty and bloated, or something mystical about rhythms and space, couldn’t tell you. But eventually I have begun, despite the continuing lack of flow in my super-annuated, sporty-but-brittle frame, to enjoy yoga. So I’ve been doing some on my own, down the caravan.

Bethan’s classes continue, via the grace of Facebook Live but because we really do live in a tiny house, I can’t work alongside her, out of view. In time I’ll get back to going to classes but for now I stroll beatifically down the van with my iPad, from which an emailed practice can be conjured. (Did I mention, by the way, that caravans these days are more like apartments? Smart). So picture me, silently, unhindered and (ahem) unselfconscious, as I inhale, pause, move, in the medium-copious ‘living area’. Like a cross between Peter Crouch mid-robot and erm… a ballerina.

I’m going down there nearly every day, just now, to ‘do something’. Having had a hernia op’ some months ago – and therefore a yoga gap – I’m building back up towards the 75 or 90-minute sessions typical of a Bethan W class.

But my retreats to the caravan aren’t just about yoga, or even just about that yoga/guitar combo. I am kinda rehabilitating my fingers to the strings and re-engaging the muscle memory for chords: I’m also going to try to learn a few songs. And I’m also trying to write a few songs. This means, among other things, singing.

Real blokes don’t sing, do they? Or not whilst sober – not in front of people. But hang on; let’s go back a little.

Writing songs; song-writing. Shocking truth is I’ve always felt I should or could have done that… but only played at it. Intently, once or twice, but never with any discipline. There was a time when there were fantastic people around me – I make no apology for calling them soulbrothers – who might have joined with a committed rock and roll adventure: didn’t happen.

Not at all saying it’s likely to happen now. Not even remotely suggesting that what I’m doing is good. (It’s at least as likely to be raw embarrassing and I really am fine with that). I’m just saying I’m actually trying, over a period of time, to *finish* some songs – or get them to a place where they feel done.

I know plenty folks live via fixations or aspirations towards Pole Stars or Intentions but I’ve never worked like that: (you?) I lack the Ambition Gear Thing and I suspect this is something I’m perversely proud of.

Right now what feels clear and ‘important’ to me is the instinct to create something while the time and opportunity is there. Broadly, that’s it. There’s flow and energy around so I’m using it. Specifically, this means re-learning the guitar – which I know I can do – honing and crafting some ideas into song lyrics – which maybe I really can’t – and either finding my voice and performing – doubt it – or passing the songs on if there’s any real merit in them, to someone who can perform. Or… leaving them in the metaphorical cupboard, which is fine, particularly if they’re *finished*.

What’s both great and scary is I really do not know if the proto-songs are garbage. And I’m more sure than not that my singing is pret-ty embarrassing. And I’m recording, as part of the challenge! But maybe the result doesn’t matter? Maybe this is a truly developmental experience, whatever?

Yes. Emphatically yes.

The caravan and the glorious, generous, idyllic solitude makes it possible to bawl out loud, bollocks up the guitar, grimace or preen to the mirror. (I do all three). Mainly I forget the words and fear I’m sounding ‘like James Blunt’s dad’ – think it’s likely I look like him.

But none of this matters. The ludicrous nerves(!), even when flying utterly solo; the angst about how lyrics might be understood – would people get the irony, here? – all that is clearly strikingly testing, but great. Part of the newness and growth.

(Re-cap: I’m a reasonably oldish geezer who feels about 34. I get that every word of this is ridiculous – and beginning to sound like some self-help guide – but the point is I’m bloody invigorated by this challenge. Being unsure of whether you really are a complete embarrassment but ploughing on, anyway, is a manifestly edgy place to be, believe me. I recommend it).

I have four songs or song lyrics which feel close enough for rock and roll. I hope to practice versions of them all, over the next few weeks. Could well be they never get aired outside that caravan: who cares? In a month my guitar will be on the up and that will feel good. The documents that are my songs will be there, good or bad, but there.

Have tumbled into a longish read – apologies. Ditto for the extravagant indulgences. Hope that some of this resonates in some way: I think it’s about committing, about making your contribution and just not worrying about where it might sit in the hierarchy of things. There is no good or bad that can undermine the brilliance of your commitment.

So, what’s your guitar, your yoga? Get to it, c’mon. With me. We can support each other, okay?

A-one-two-three-four go!

 

 

 

 

The World Cup Final.

Post-game. Raising my mug of hot lemon to an impressive, not to say ruthless Australian performance. Talk about ‘turning up’. Talk about ‘executing’. Something of a classic, in those terms, on a historic day, with more eyes upon them than ever seemed possible a year or two ago. Important that this showpiece got some real quality: of course for neutrals or newcomers it may have been better if India could have played to a similar, competitive level. But they couldn’t and didn’t. From the very first over in the field, India contributed to the Australian surge. Unwillingly, of course; they entered this sumptuous arena determined to make their own, proud statement. But they couldn’t.

We will never know how much of this ultimately one-sided affair was the result of Indian nerves and/or under-achievement in the mega-glare of #T20WorldCup and #InternationalWomensDay: such things aren’t measurable. More generous to switch the discussion towards the undeniable brilliance of Healy, in particular, and her opening partner, Mooney.

Whilst we need to tread carefully around the word glory we might comfortably use its adjective to describe Alyssa Healy’s skill and confidence, here. She was ridiculous, she was spectacular, she ran away with it. Let’s all enjoy that thrillingly positive achievement. For India, let this be a step along the way.

Here’s the live blog…

Up in time for the anthems. They were brief but not so brief as to obscure the fact that Australia share with England that Obvious Duffer title, eh? Then a few minutes of tracking around the crowd as India gather and Healy and Mooney stride out. New territory for all of us, pretty much, a women’s cricket event with a stonking crowd – important and wonderful.

Sharma is in and the ball is gone. Four, Healy connecting well enough, through the on-side. Better still, the brilliant right-hander creams one through the covers and cuts sweetly, gently behind square. But there is a mini-drama, early, as Shafali Verma, the young superstar standing out on that edge of the circle drops a sharpish but eminently catchable effort, fifth ball. It was Healy… and that could be big. So instead of grabbing back the initiative, India concede 14 from the over.

With Shikha Pandey conceding 9 from the next and Healy utterly disrespecting the concept of ‘nerves’, the Southern Stars take flight. They are 32 for 0 after 3, after Sharma is again expensive.

Rajeshwari Gayakwad will try her luck for the fourth. She drops Mooney.

Ah. Have expressed concerns recently about the quality of the Indian fielding: in short it’s often mixed – certainly at a lower level than Australia and England, for example. Would be a real shame if this became a theme that the sexists and the moaners could latch onto again. When Poonam Yadav painfully dives over a routine stop, suspect I’m not the only one to wince. Awful, from the women in blue, so far.

Finally something for the fielding side to cheer, as Gayakwad completely unpicks Healy but the off-spinner misses off by an inch. Australia finish the power play on 49 for 0.

Poonam Yadav is in. Can she find some of that magic – plainly India need something.  Quietish over, which is a minor victory. Then Healy explodes into Gayakwad, striking two thunderous sixes, one of which, measured at 83 metres, being the most boomtastic of the tournament. With Mooney now also set, Australia reach 79 for 0 after 9 overs. Dreamland, for the home coach and the home fans.

Healy gets to an outstanding fifty from 30 balls. No doubt watching hubby will claim the credit – or perhaps hubby’s coach?!?

It becomes an exhibition. Healy is dispatching at will, Mooney contributing heavily. Australia soar past the hundred partnership. They are 114 off 11 as 23 come from the over. Remember Healy came into this allegedly out of form: when she is out, inevitably caught at long on, she has amassed 75 from 39 balls. In the World Cup Final. Stunning and brilliant – match-winning, you suspect.

So how does Harmanpreet Kaur drag her team back into this? You feel that just ‘weathering this storm’ and re-gathering to go huge during their own knock is simply not an option. They (India) have to counter NOW, but this is easier said. Mooney and Lanning seem determined to power on. With Australia on 135 for 1 after 14, 200 actually feels possible. Mooney gets to fifty.

Of course Mooney and Lanning can afford, as it were, to charge everything. Wickets do not matter. The game can be mercilessly buried.

Healy in interview is saying “I think we can get 200”. She may be right. As a relative neutral here, I am thinking a) that the Australians are showing great quality (and this is good, for the game) but also b) that an absolute massacre (which we might be foolish to rule out) would be erm, unhelpful.

Lanning is out, for 15, caught at square leg. 154 for 2, off 16.2. Can the change come? Sharma follows up by beating the newcomer Gardner, a small reminder that there’s theoretically a contest, here. When the ‘replay’ comes, two balls later, and Gardner is comprehensively stumped, perhaps… yaknow, perhaps? 157 for 3 after 17, with Haynes joining Mooney.

Poonam Yadav, who has become something of a world-wide cult figure over recent weeks, has the dubious privilege of bowling the 18th. All the tricks, now, from Australia – and ver-ry good running. Yadav goes around. Haynes steps wide outside off, looking to slog to leg; succeeds only in swishing onto her stumps. 176 for 4.

Carey fends the final ball of the over to safety and the drama subsides a little.

Australia finish on 184 for 4, with Mooney having batted through for an almost flawless 78. If the final four or five overs may have represented a minor fightback from the visitors then let’s hope for a competitive second phase.

Verma looked nervy to the point of shell-shocked, in the field, making multiple errors. She may need to throw off those horrors and grasp the moment, for India to have any chance. To be blunt, that seems unlikely, to me. They have some quality but not the depth of the Southern Stars batting line-up.

The sixteen-year-old will face: how about that, in front of 90-odd thousand? Schutt will bowl. Wonderfully-but-alarmingly, Verma straight-drives, classically straight, but highish. First ball! She ‘escapes’, or at least it feels that way, so dangerously bold was that option. Two balls later, she is gone, caught in the crease, nicking one behind: arguably the prime threat snuffed out.

The elegant Smriti Mandhana remains, of course, and there is batting to come, but it’s been Verma who has been the driver for most of the dynamism we’ve seen, of late, from India. Jonassen is in.

Then something unfortunate. Bhatia, who has looked nervous, misses a sweep and the ball appears to strike her helmet. I am honestly not clear if it’s nervous upset or possible concussion that forces her to retire hurt – but she does. It gets worrying (predictably?) when her replacement, Rodrigues, has to walk, for nought.

India at 8 for 2, then, with their two great players in about as much poop as you could ever imagine – cricket-poop, anyway. A World Cup Final. A huge score on the board. Wickets early. Sadly, they (to use Nasser Hussain’s word) “crumble”. Mandhana directs straight to mid-off, where Carey takes a simple catch.

When Harmanpreet Kaur is caught on the boundary, off Jonassen and India fall to 30 for 4, the bowler’s celebration shows you she thinks it’s all over. I think she’s right. Deepti Sharma has shown some form with the bat, as well as ball, and Krishnamurthy may offer something, but with the power play done, four down and relatively little remaining ‘in the shed’, we can only hope that embarrassment can be avoided.

We get to 47 for 4 after 9. Molineux bowling, Mexican Wave a-rolling. Veda Krishnamurthy strikes defiantly downtown, stylishly, but the ball plugs, rather, and the boundary is easily saved. Cut to Shafali Verma, looking inconsolably glum, in the dug-out.

We have a great, full stadium, with the homers loving it and the thousands of Indian fans in manifest pain. Australia are doing a professional job, now – seeing it out. Jonassen takes a good catch at full stretch above her head, to dismiss Krishnamurthy: Kimmince the bowler. 59 for 5. A reminder that mostly the Stars look like pro’ athletes in the field, whereas this is simply not the case with their opposition.

Australia are the best side in the world: I personally feel that England are second-best, largely because they field to a level that bears comparison to the Aussies.

It may be unfair and unwise to extrapolate this argument further but here goes. My hunch has been very much that England might provide tougher opposition in this final, than India. England are better in the field than India; they are more durable, batting-wise too, currently – Knight and Sciver in particular being consistent and resilient where Mandhana and Kaur have looked comparatively flimsy of late. This is not to say that this event is somehow diminished. The finalists are both world powers in the game and the losers are, in goodish time, closing the gap: just not today.

Jonassen is bowling the 16th; steady as she goes. 88 for 5.

Depth Sharma clouts Carey to deep mid-on, where Mooney calmly takes. Australia may run through them now, possibly. Pandey has joined Richa Ghosh, who has 12. Schutt will be back for the next. Crowd confirmed as 86,174: that’s THE MESSAGE, yes?

Mooney takes another excellent catch running backwards: it’s Shikha Pandey, gone for 2. With nothing to lose (as it were) Richa Ghosh swings high but holes out to Carey: 96 for 8 with Schutt now wondering if she can really make her mark, after what feels like a relatively quiet tournament. (In truth she will finish as leading wicket taker – without being at her peak, in my view). Another skier… but it falls just safe.

Hard to keep up, as Mooney takes another catch, off Jonassen, to leave India nine-down. The Aus support-team all on their feet as we enter the final over and the roar builds again. Schutt to close. Poona Yadav obliges, spooning her to leg, where Gardner races in confidently to make the grab. Australia have won it by 85 runs.

Many, many positives. This crowd – the whole visibility of this event, on #InternationalWomensDay. Australia consistently ver-ry good, today; India under-achieving. May reflect more, later: it may take a good walk on the Pembs Coast Path to wipe away the sight of Shafali Verma, under peaked cap, turning away tearfully from the action, during that last over. But hey, she’s sixteen; she’ll be back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Universe Podcast/codcast. @cricketmanwales is in the kitchen with the #WomensAshes.

Could only be me. Could only be some daft bloke in his kitchen, trying to make sense of the #WomensAshes.

A ramble, then; a further adventure into longish yomps through Bristol and cod-psychological retrospectives on Eng Women Cricket, on Lanning… and on everything.

Have a listen?

 

*Important note – important to me, anyways*. I use the phrase “even though it’s the women’s game” here. This – I am about to argue – is not remotely the diabolically sexist remark some may fear. Why? Because what I mean is “even though it’s the women’s game – and as we know in a sexist universe it ain’t gonna be funded and supported to the level of the men’s game…” blah di blah.

Hope that’s understood that way because despite my middle-aged blokeyness and the inevitable baggage that brings with it, I am hoping, in my imperfect way, to make arguments FOR equality and respect for women in sport and beyond.

But back to the blog… and to the issues I look to discuss.

Shots fired? Some. But maybe more ‘issues raised’, as follows – or these are some of the things that fascinated, or struck, or tickled me.

  • England’s ‘mis-execution’.
  • Aussie superiority – the reasons why?
  • Perry’s genius.
  • Cultural differences.
  • Structural differences.
  • Fitness/agility/execution/performance.
  • England’s alleged lack of dynamism.
  • Australia’s alleged lack of dynamism.
  • That thing about The Women still needing to ‘legitimise their game’. (Cobblers!)
  • Prospects for Test Cricket for women.

And on the cooking front? Hilarious-but-true, kinda ‘caramelised’ the onions and distractedly dropped about a tonne of bouillon in there, so the alleged veg soup turned out brownish and over-salty. Metaphor for my life.

 

Since I wrote and recorded this, further interrogation of All Things England Women, for broadly failing to rise to the challenge and specifically getting ab-so-lutely Lanninged, at Chelmsford.

On the one hand this has been deeply disconcerting – you suspect *to the extent that* the ECB have been stirred into a series of declarations around policy/intent on professional cricket for women. On the other, just WOW: can we just pause to enjoy the exhilarating, stylish and entertainingly boomtastic way in which the Australian skip and her colleagues went about squishing England? Fortress Chelmsford was in shock. Aus did that thing of finding another level, that probably most of us (pommies) were fearing or waiting for. Either way it was magnificent.

So all the questions feel more urgent. And maybe most positively, the discussions regarding development and structure have exploded. Suddenly Women’s County Cricket has a partial reprieve and ‘commitment’ and ‘investment’ are re-promised.

In terms of the actual cricket, either this Ashes really will be a massacre, or perhaps England, or an England player or two, freed-up by the refreshingly-sexy pliably-rubbery deadness of the last two fixtures, will clonk some defiance into these strangely inequitable times. I’ll be in Bristol to see the last T20, so let’s hope for something there, eh?