Know what’s great? Sport.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radio Humberside Interview: The Dots Will Not Be Joined.

I was born and brought up in Grimsby and the surrounding area. Sport at home, with mates, in the local schools and amateur leagues played a massive role in making me who I am: learning to value folks through football/cricket/whatever.

I try to explain this, here – but hey, am not gonna disguise the fact that this a good old-fashioned sales-pitch for the new book. Along the way, there is the odd… yaknow, *insight*.

Go to 3 hrs 20: long show!

Books, eh?

Today is a diabolical-but-groovetastic day. Absolutely chucking it down, in Pembs, with a gale blowing but also PUBLICATION DAAAAY for my new book, ‘The Dots Will Not Be Joined’.

Am going to write about the process that’s gotten that baby out there: a) because somebody asked me about it, b) because it’s too crappy a day to go out for a celebration walk and c) in the full knowledge of this writer’s ver-ry personal circumstances. That is, my extreme, unhelpful kaleidofunktatious niche-dom. Meaning I know exactly how out there my book is, and my approach is.

Lockdown Project. That what it was. Had sadly separated from my wife – amicable, but not, frankly, my call – and had chosen to move out so as to avoid disruption for the two gals in my life. Was fortunate to have a friend’s caravan to shift into. (Was actually like a small apartment: all mod cons and then some. Some space and time, in fact). So wrote.

There is actually an e-book of my blogs already out there but this was the first Proper Job. As always, it started with anarchy and stories rolling out. (I know some will say that this is how it finished up! Fair enough). I knew I wanted to write about the stuff I care about and can trust myself to be honest with. Believe me, I work as hard at this as Proper Writers but the difference may be that I am both letting things flow – i.e. I suppose, not over-thinking – and then re-writing heavily and honourably but without being intimidated by judgements from out there.

I do not care about the perceived wisdoms of the publishing industry or the What Constitutes Real Writing Industry. Experience – and the experience of brilliant but ‘ordinary’ friends – tells me that there’s a whole lot of private school twattery wafting around those corridors. There is, of course, also plenty genuine diversity, too but broadly – c’ mon – publishing is controlled by more or less posh (or privileged) white people. Like most of the universe. In my daft way I oppose that, and therefore this hugely contentious paragraph is in solidarity with a flimsy but heartfelt notion that things need to be more open.

But enough politics, for now. I began to gather a collection of stories – memories, mainly – which felt true, and which sang the same love-song to sport, transformation, growth. Short chapters seemed right but then the core (maybe) needed to be big, hopefully strongish chapters where I was coaching in Primary Schools. (For ten years, this has been my life). I wanted mischief and I wanted to annihilate that obsession with a single narrative so (absolutely) I welcomed in the music, the art, the philosophical ‘diversions’. My lawns aren’t ordered; my matrix isn’t serene and elegant and sharply-honed. The world is madness. So, the material was gathered: trust your instincts.

Not entirely sure how early I knew I was writing a book – as opposed to blogs – but it was early. I started to look at modes of publishing, and spoke to people. Advice was very much to try to get an agent; some publishers simply don’t read unless you have one. Also approach publishers, get somebody behind you.

I tried both, possibly a wee bit half-heartedly. A) Because low expectations of success (because I’m me). B) Because quite clear I didn’t want some over-educated Herbert encouraging me to tone this or that down, or ‘be mindful of running ahead of your audience’. C) Because that all takes many weeks, and the nature of the writing is kinda urgent. *Also*, this idea that it still typically takes you a year or more to get a book published, in 2021, is plainly laughable. Soonish, for this latter concern – and in the surprising absence of interventions from Penguin or Noel Gay – I resolved to go the self-publishing route.

It’s been brilliant. For me, anyway.

Not sure where I plucked Grosvenor House from – could have been some recommendation (hah!) in The Guardian – but they’ve been excellent in every respect. Timely, clear, helpful. Me and the teamster Julie have become email compadres because she’s been on it in a friendly and really efficient way. When I unloaded My Particular Angle on her she was ver-ry clear that although the world and his wife has written a book during lockdown the process could be complete in X months – forget how many.

(I repeat that my strong conviction was that though there is airy/longish-term philosophical meandering in the book, it is largely a thing of the now; therefore time felt important. Generally, if you do all the editing/checking – and of course Grosvenor House offer all these services, which I politely declined – then you can get a book out in close to a month, in Normal Times. The Dots Will Not Be Joined took longer, in the Covid log-jam but but the time-scale was still good).

Let’s wind back a little. Costs. I am medium-skint so both wanted and needed to avoid ‘extras’. Like editing and all those things that most writers think – or are led to think – are essential. Of course they are essential; the careful, careful, more-or-less brutal cutting and looking and feeling-out. That is essential. Whether you feel comfortable doing that yourself is an important personal choice. But for me it is/was a choice. I didn’t just choose not to have ‘professional help’ there because of the relatively minor amount of money it involved. I wanted the book to sound like me, being honest, maybe with some edges unsmoothed.

It cost me £795 to get the Publishing Agreement. This provided for all services to get the book out there, including;

Provision for ISBN number – crucial, I’m told.

All typesetting, including to-ing and fro-ing of sample pages until the author is satisfied: an electronic full proof to be achieved within 30 working days of receipt of author’s approval… before continuing to complete the printing process.

To manufacture copies on demand, having supplied Amazon and ‘all major retailers and wholesalers in the UK’ with the book’s metadata – i.e. essential blurb.

To list the book with Nielsen Book Data.

To make two royalty payments per year: one in June, t’other in December.

To provide 5 copies free of charge to the author and place copies at the six national libraries of the UK. Also, at the Publisher’s discretion, to distribute free copies ‘as the publisher deems necessary’. (Hopefully to stimulate interest).

This isn’t, for obvious reasons, the whole document but in short you get your book out there, for £795. If you want a hardback, there is a further charge (around £100, from memory). Images a fiver each. I opted to swerve hardback but to produce an e-book – I guess for environmental reasons – costing a further £200. (I know I’m not likely to retrieve that money from that source but it did feel the right thing to do). I have also ordered some copies for myself – to place in local independent bookshops – at a cost of just over £4 per book, delivered to Pembs.

If I have understood it correctly, the split goes like this: if the book is a 250 page black and white paperback, costing £10, the publishers will get £4.15 and the wholesaler/retailer £4.00. The writer will get £1.85.

In my case I set the price at £8.50 originally, because that felt right – meaning a royalty of £1.20-something per book sold. I have recently been informed that this figure has been reduced, just a little, by increasing production and publishing costs. Fair enough. In response I have increased the book price to £9.00, because I reckon I deserve (and will need) the increased royalty of £1.70-odd.

So that’s the nuts and bolts of it. About a thousand sobs to get your book out.

I knew from the moment of inception that I would very unlikely to make that money back: do the math, in my case that’s 600 sales, give or take. But this has never been about the money. Nor any distant possibility of fame. It has, of course on one level been about the possibility of some kind of breakthrough… though into what, who knows? But friends I can look you in the eye and tell you that I may be the least materialist(ic) guy you’re gonna meet this week. This has not been about that. It’s about contributing to the bantz; sharing some stories; making a real, honest document, however wild and indulgent it may seem to some. I’ve loved this process so far. And I really do recommend self-publishing, and Grosvenor House in particular.

Finally, daft not to include a link to book sales: though of course I wish it didn’t have to be the way of the monstrous online retailer. (Predictably, the Publishing Universe is tilted every bit as much towards the rich and famous as the Capitalist Status Quo: those with resources get their books into shops. The rest of us need benefactors – in my case the Twitter Bighitters that may possibly lift sales towards that trigger-point which releases, via algorithm, copies into Waterstones and the rest. We deal-less, agent-less plebs can only hope to break through into shops if plenty folks buy early, on-line).

So. Wish me luck?

‘The Dots Will Not Be Joined’. Radio Humberside interview.

I was born and brought up in Grimsby and the surrounding area. Sport at home, with mates, in the local schools and amateur leagues played a massive role in making me who I am: learning to value folks through football/cricket/whatever.

I try to explain this, here – but hey, am not gonna disguise the fact that this a good old-fashioned sales-pitch for the new book. Along the way, there is the odd… yaknow, *insight*.

Go to 3 hrs 20: long show!

Day Four.

The first thing I’m going to do, friends – unashamedly – is to point you towards my blistering England Scotland footie-blog. Deserves your attention.

It’s here –

Then I’m going to air the notion that I may not follow the action with the same live-frenzy I usually bring. Genuinely haven’t decided on that yet. Not at 10.26.

Heather Knight just hurt her hand in the slip-cordon warm-up. Has stepped out, waving it. May be a very temporary issue…

10.39. Knight bowling unencumbered – although how can we tell? (Lols). Coolish again but lighter breeze than yesterday. We know it’s a relatively lifeless track but again might expect some help through the air, for the seamers. Maybe. Having said that, expect Ecclestone to have a busy day.

India are 80-odd behind so expect them to manage the first hour or two before even contemplating sustained ‘positivity’. May not be in Verma’s nature to build slowly but she will presumably have been reminded that her personal contribution could be central to the outcome. Players are out.

Cross has three balls to bowl, from last night’s curtailed stint. Hilariously, one of the England women just barked “get two wickets, get the whole packet!” Second ball is 69mph. Then Ecclestone, from under the pavilion. Thought she was good but not relentlessly so, yesterday. She spears one significantly down leg.

Shrubsole replaces Cross at the Ashley Down Road End. Sharma is watchful.

OK. Is it incredible, or bold, or daft, that Verma firstly magnificently clubs Ecclestone straight, for six, but then falls, miscuing, to deep mid on? Whichever way, Verma’s contribution is over – and that feels big. England had been honest but unthreatening, ’til that moment.

Brunt’s stunning catch – she raced and dived forward, having seemingly either misjudged the flight or not picked up the ball, early on – was her second sensational moment of the game. (The first had been her treble-fabulous delivery to bowl Vastrakar, in the first innings). On intervention number two, hmm, perhaps too extravagant to describe it as a knockout blow… but man it was impressive. India, as we move forward with Punam Raut joining Sharma, are two-down, for 106. Raut faces a review, very early but Ecclestone’s ball is tracking on passed leg stump.

Different vibe as Brunt comes in from Ashley Down. Raut remains nervy – or looks that way. Pushes and misses, looking rather wooden. Survives. India still trail by 56 as Brunt draws an edgy on-drive to complete the over.

Let’s return to the Verma dismissal. There really is a case to answer – an argument – that it was reckless. As there is a case that ‘this is how she plays’. It strikes me as neither negative nor unreasonable to suggest that because of the match situation, it was unwise. Show us your expansive game when the time is right: if the coach, or your family or your fans are bawling, now, not to worry and the ‘time is always right, (to be positive)’ then they, too, are being unwise. Meanwhile, Raut is battling to muster some defiance and a slightly greater burden has fallen upon Deepti Sharma. 112 for 2, after 36 overs of the innings, with a theoretical 97(!) remaining today.

False-shots alert, from Raut. Off both Ecclestone and Brunt. But boundaries too – she cuts the tall off-spinner, to go to 17. Brunt absolutely slaps down an angry bouncer: there are whoops and mischievous giggles.

12.01. 125 for 2. Winfield-Hill clapping and encouraging. My first mint tea of the day… after two or three coffees. Brunt the Magnificent still believing she’s about to make something happen – any second. And of course, she does. LBW review. Big nick, so Raut not out. But something happened.

Enter Kate Cross, from the Bristol Pavilion End, I believe for the first time. Pleasing sight but she has not carried the same level of threat as Shrubsole or (particularly) Brunt. No matter. If she can settle I fancy she might induce a further error. We have a drinks break. And a helicopter going over. Refreshed, Heather Knight is in: four, through midwicket.

Deepti Sharma, understandably, has dropped anchor and is now 34 from 121 deliveries. Hoots of near-derision, as Raut looks to paddle Knight – possibly over her own head. She flops, mistiming, but not fatally. The fielders love it. Lights have been on all morning: it remains cool and the breeze may have risen a tad but there seems no threat to play, currently. Easy breakout, for Deepti, as Knight sticks one a foot to leg; gentle waft fine-ish for four. The partnership is approaching fifty – so relative calm, here.

Punam Raut incongruously bursts through that, by booming Cross for four more over mid-on. Ball in her arc.

Sciver. Ashley Down. 12.50. India only ten short of the follow-on. Deepti has an almost completely untroubled 48. Lunch at 13.15 but food has arrived, in here. (Nom, nom)…

Very generous applause, for Sharma’s fifty. 203 minutes, 157 balls: precious, in the context of the game. Sciver is bowling with real economy, conceding only 1 run from 4 overs. She bangs in two wide bouncers to conclude: Sharma doesn’t remotely bite. India reach the follow-on score and Sharma may be celebrating by cuffing Ecclestone powerfully square to the on-side boundary.

But as with Verma the boom precedes the bust. She goes again, swinging to leg but only succeeds in inside-edging onto her stumps. Bit unlucky, but England aren’t feeling too much sympathy. They leap in delight, and holler their congratulations once more, to their worldie of a slow left-armer. 171 for 3, India, with Deepti Sharma departed for 54. Lunch taken.

England huddle seemed in good spirits before the resumption. And Ecclestone’s unfinished over/odd-ball-out greeted with enthusiasm. Then Sciver, from Ashley Down. Sky looks a little more open but it still feels cool – long jumpers job. The icon that is Mithali Raj has joined Punam Raut.

Fielders around the bat are lively and encouraging. We’re alternating Sciver and Ecclestone: the occasional bumper from the former.

*Big Moment*. Live, Ecclestone appears to tickle the outside-edge of Mithali’s bat: the ball strikes the stumps on the way to being caught, by Jones. Except there was (now we see it on the telly) no edge. So bowled. Exciting and confusing at the same time: particularly so, with a review interfering, as it were. 175 for 4 now, India, a mere 10 ahead. Notable that Sciver has bowled 6 overs for 1 run – so a squeeze on. Meaning energy and verbals in the field.

Harmanpreet Kaur is in and forward-defending. But another plan comes to fruition – elsewhere. That bouncer thing. Sciver slaps another one in, at Raut, who slow-motion-pulls it straight to square leg. Easy catch, after 39 runs scored.

As Ecclestone returns from the pavilion end it’s now Vastrakar who must hold. Five wickets down and a win for England feeling possible – particularly with two new batters in. Some confusion, even in the scorebox and Media Posse, about whether this is Vastrakar swatting Ecclestone for two consecutive pulled fours. Some effort, from Sciver to have poured out 9.3 overs, so far, at 1 for 1. Phenomenal accuracy. She gets to the end of her tenth over, for no further concessions. (Earlier in the match, skipper Knight was sitting smugly at 2 for 1 after 6 overs; expecting some #bantz around this). Talking of Knight, she’s in, from the Ashley Down Road End. India lead by 23 at this point.

The captain strikes! Vastrakar simply misjudges a straight one – doing that airy, head-up swinganamiss thing – and she has to leave us, for 12. England’s grip is unmistakably tightening. Enter Rana, who is greeted with the friendliest of full-tosses; no run.

Couple of gifts: firstly Ecclestone to Rana then Knight to Kaur. Both legside boundaries. May not matter but who knows? Brunt jogs off to the khazi. Skies feel steady: not exactly bright but trustworthy enough, methinks.

Oof. Harmanpreet Kaur swishes early and gets a leading/top edge to Ecclestone. The ball travels implausibly high, vertically, before Jones pouches with almost apologetic ease. Weird one but more great news, for England. As I finish that sentence the opposition are 200 exactly, for 7, Pandey having joined Rana and pinched a single. Greyer, suddenly but with India only 35 ahead this can only be heading one way. (*Fatal).

I’d give Brunt a go, from Ashley Down: it goes without saying that Ecclestone will continue from underneath us – and she does. She has four close catchers again and there is lots of chat. Short and wide, though and Rana cuts with some style, for four. New over: the skipper fails to remove herself.

Knight is having fun. *All manner* of variations, including width, loop, pace or otherwise. Then she gets big turn – and reviews. May have been hitting but given not out and hitting pad outside off. Testing times, for Pandey and Rana. 209 for 7, at the over, 44 ahead. Still the Ecclestone-Knight axis. Half-chance, or less, as Pandey drills Ecclestone to silly mid-off. Ball may have struck the ankle – it certainly didn’t fall to hand.

Because I am a man of *huge influence*, Brunt, from the Ashley Down Road End. To Rana. New ball taken. Methinks this could be the beginning of the end but England have 3 wickets to take and towards 50 runs runs to amass, as it stands. Another pearler – that loopy away-swinger – beats the bat. Slight sense that there may be weather around, or that the possibility for weather may be more strongly present. Shrubsole. Brunt hares then launches after a cover drive, yet again showing that uber-intense commitment of hers. Can’t haul it in but things are happening. The new cherry threatens to deliver.

15.24, so not oodles of time left in the Test but you would think enough. Pandey and Rana are proving game but if there are no interruptions England will expect to be chasing a smallish total for victory. Unless…

Extravagant inswing, from Shrubsole but overdone. Rana can clip away, for four. That delivery enough to suggest that England seamers can resolve this, soonish. One more wicket and home. Unless.

Brunt, again. Falling over with the effort. Trying to win it by sheer force of personality – and she might. Over to Shrubsole – and an interestingly united shout, for a nick… which never was. (Denied, on review). Fair play, Rana has proceeded to 21. Pandey has 6 and we are half an hour from tea, as Sciver comes back to replace Brunt. My hunch is that Shrubsole may yet bowl somebody from this Bristol Pavilion End but she may tire – Knight may need Ecclestone, soonish.

Or, conversely, Sciver’s accuracy may draw something. Here she gets a thickish outside edge for no reward. Four more, to Rana. Pandey joins in by placing Shrubsole out through cover. Then to third man. Important runs. The lead has extended to 71 – so a meaningful lump of batting, now.

After what felt like a mini-hiatus, a breakthrough for Sciver. In truth it’s a ball which leaks down leg, but Jones dives athletically and low, to snaffle a wee glance from Pandey. Huge. Eight down, India, on 240, 75 the lead. Bhatia is joining Rana. England must pounce, now, to make this theirs. Otherwise, could be wonderfully tense.

Ecclestone is back, to much applause, having changed ends. Newish ball, a spirited group to urge her on – could be entertaining. It is: fielders *interested* as Bhatia cuts/pushes, with little control. A loud but optimistic (and unsuccessful) appeal brings tea. ‘Poised’ probably doesn’t cover it.

Umps out for the last session. Whatever happens, what a great Test it’s been! Brunt bowls a loosener to Bhatia. Then a thick outside edge past gully. Then the bowler is furious, having offered a leg-stump gift. We’re at that stage where everything means something. If India can go on for ten overs, they’ll probably save it. Ecclestone.

Rana – very much to her credit – goes to 40, back-driving Ecclestone. Mini-calm again, then Sciver is back to try to crack this open. Nope. A floaty, wide one outside off is beautifully eased out through extra cover for four. Lovely shot, Rana. Two short ones. 267 for 8. Lead of 102.

Time may be stalling but Rana persists… and gets to a heroic 50, increasing the Twitchiness Factor around the ground. A little angst surely brewing in the stands and amongst those England players? Ecclestone still has four fielders around the bat but she is being picked off, a little. Things may change minute-by-minute but not clear where a wicket is coming from again, now. Rana cuts beautifully and connects sweetly with another wide-ish one, from Sciver – four more.

Change – or possibly two changes needed. Knight will have a go. (Will she also give Dunkley another dash? I would. Might be a bold one; might be just the curve-ball the moment needs). A look at the scoreboard reinforces that sense that something may need to be risked. Bhatia now 20 undefeated and Rana 60. Odds shifted towards a draw. Unless.

An unlikely 300 comes up, for India, courtesy of another clip to fine leg, by Rana. The talk in the press box, with 25 overs (minus two for the change) remaining, is around the likelihood or timing of an early handshake. Only if England plunder two wickets in two balls – give or take – does the 144 needed now seem gettable. Funny how these things creep up on you, but hey – that’s Test Cricket. If we do indeed wind down to something of an anti-climax I still feel that this has been a really good contest. Both sides will have come out of it with plenty of those proverbial ‘positives’.

Drinks. An opportunity for conversations. The Indian support staff are all in coats and hats but they’re looking justifiably chirpy. The batters are actually having a bit of a thrash, now – partly because Ecclestone is losing her consistency. These are long days. England will probably feel that this is a match they might have won – indeed, they should feel that. But we were told that India bat deep and when they needed to – that is, in this second dig – they have done that. They are to be congratulated.

Kate Cross is having a run. Appeals, but it’s well down leg. It feels, in any case, that we’re seeing out time, now – that this is practice. Cross may not see it that way; she bursts in with characteristic commitment and no little grace. No joy. We await some sign that *things are agreed*.

Imagining Knight is continuing (to bowl herself) rather than (say) Dunkley to avoid possible trauma to the leg-spinner. Other views are available: one being that because Dunkley’s very first ball turned pret-ty dynamically, she could have been an option, at various points in the game. Okay, her single over was punished but she may, given her point of difference, have broken the concentration or the impasse, possibly. If the batters set off to expose and target her then a) this is part of the game and b) she’s gotta learn to cope with that – strategise around it. But hey – another opinion. Instead, Elwiss is getting a trundle. Medium pace (plus), right arm.

Cross is getting a mini-spell. She bowls a nice leg-cutter that draws an edge, which flies directly onto Jones’s calf, behind the stumps. (Jones standing up, not a chance – too low, too sharp). Elwiss too, is into some flow. Bowling around 64mph, in fact, so briskly enough. Little expectation of a wicket, however.

At 344 for 8, following a lusty blow for four from Bhatia, agreement is reached. (Not clear who effectively called it). Despite the last hour or more of phoney war, this has been a competitive and enjoyable game to watch: something of a privilege, for me, to have attended the last two Test Matches for England women, in their entirety. May there be many more. Thanks to all at Gloucester Cricket, for their hospitality and to you, for your company.

On that bombshell, I’m off to chill, *quite possibly* without checking this over for that one, final time. Forgive me.

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?


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?