Awards Season.

Awards Season. Meaning mixed feelings, right? Because most of us know that should we actually win something, there are always so-o many people who are worthier/better/better qualified in every way. And sometimes (let’s be honest) people get ‘recognised’ when actually they are sheisters or monsters or simply there and have somehow endured over time.

But c’mon, fortunately, it’s often the reverse. People get fleetingly recognised when they should be hugged and hoisted and fed with booze or chocs or given everlasting Gunn and Moore or Gray Nicholls contracts; they get waaay less than they deserve – under-recognised. I know loads of these people. People whose goodness and commitment is real.

Some of these people have won awards; some are up for awards this winter. I personally may even see some of them pick up some trophy – hope I do.

Some of you will know I bang on a fair bit about the importance of sport, of activity. I’m fully aware how cornball all this can sound, particularly in the context of the endless schmatzfest/tritefest/pompfest that is social media, which I contribute so readily-heavily to. But the thing is we really do have to gear up and get real around this: society must have a strategy, a compulsion, an irresistible way-in and lifelong relationship with movement… like the guys and gals at the sports awards.

Doesn’t, of course, have to be sport. Doesn’t have to be competitive. But movement, activity, the sense that doing stuff is the essential and natural way to be, simply has to be built-in to all of us. Not most – all.

This becomes massive in the sense that it means national and local governments must address it as urgently as we, as individuals, must. If the first job of government is to keep citizens safe then maybe this notion might include the responsibility to steer citizens away from the self-harm that (for example) indolence or dietary ignorance engender. (Yup *can of worms* provocatively opened).

If that responsibility feels a tad mushy for Rule One then okay let’s stick it into Rule Two: ‘Government must provide direction and support around Wellness’.

For me that’s a reasonably agreeable purpose, in every sense, for Politics.

It may even be that the next phase for where we’re at demands that urgent consideration be given to what the necessary levels of opportunity and provision look like – and possibly how, if at all, this strategy is braced with compulsion/coercion. (I get that we’d all prefer inspiration to compulsion but… how to make the resolutely non-doers doers?)

I need to divert into politics here – forgive me. My own view is that our current government is disgracefully adrift and indeed indifferent of the issues here in much the same way as it is re Climate Change. Being arguably amoral and unarguably in thrall to shockingly narrow,  mindlessly pro-capitalist views, they lack both the understanding and the vision to change things. So we drift towards calamity: there’s an emergency but no response.

Of course many of us do the same, as individuals – drift, I mean. It’s easier. Plus things conspire (food/agriculture industry, Right Now This Instant culture, political expediency, lobbyists) towards a depressingly rudderless status quo.

Weird mind, that whilst in terms that the Honourable Leadership might understand, we clearly cannot afford to be a fat, sedentary nation, there is still no determined grasping of that thorny issue of ownership of said inactivity. Unforgivable, or understandable, given the political dangers?

Rule 3 might be ‘Governments must lead’. Transformations can and must begin in early years, maybe somehow at home as well as in schools, with a radical re-positioning of activity close to the centre of everything ‘educational’. This, obviously, is government-level stuff,  it has to be that way – has to be led.

However, if there is a ‘we’, the people, then we have to accept some responsibility alongside The Few (who can actually legislate). That bit is tough – especially the desire/compulsion towards wellness amongst those of us who lack familiarity or confidence around sport. Understand that. We do, all of us though, need to acknowlege that the conversation around obesity, diabetes, etc bloody-well has to happen. And then we need that to lead somewhere.

The difficulty (or the question) appears to be that if there is such a thing as society then does that society has every right to expect

a) the chance to be well?

b) Individuals to commit towards wellness?

These can be worryingly divergent aspirations. Fully accept that (as with capitalism) some people are much better equipped to ‘succeed’ and that therefore extra support must be in place to bear those who are struggling towards a better place. But we do need them to get on that journey – to get active on that. Fair enough?

Sports Awards; this is where we came in, remember? People being recognised for coaching, playing, enabling activity. People who are kinda wonderfully and disproportionately positively tipping the balance, god bless’em. People actually reclaiming words like value and inspiration from sheisters who glibly stick them into adverts or company policy, or blogs.

Sounds feeble to say we need these folks more than ever but there is some truth in that, given the chronic – and it is chronic – state we’re in. How can there be anything ahead of general and individual wellbeing, in the queue of priorities? How do us sportyfolks lobby harder?

Most of those slipping shyly onto stages before humbly acknowledging those acknowledging them won’t be dwelling especially on the philosophical import of what they do: or the societal impact, or even the physical good. They’ll be there because they love sport and can’t stop, or even contemplate stopping. Why would they?

Let’s raise a cheer, or a (yaknow) sensible glass, to those who are leading the movement.

All Stars.

Pleased to see there’s been a reasonable lump of coverage for the All Stars Project over recent weeks; it really is significant, I think. Certainly in terms of bringing the precious ‘new families’ that we’ve heard so much about, into the game. Whatever we may think of, or read into that apparently central plank of the ECB strategy, All Stars has delivered strong numbers, for our sport: in Wales, 3,505 sign-ups over 118 centres.

A twitter-friend of mine and cricket-writer (Rob Johnston) wondered whether the project might indeed be more important than The Hundred? Interesting thought.

Whether you load that thought up with political/philosophical vitriol around the depth or quality of experience and the implications for Everything Else… is up to you. I want to keep this simple – or rather to leave you with a restoratively uncluttered message – that All Stars has been, will be, is really, really good. It’s All Stars I want to talk about, in the end.

You may know that much of the thinking behind All Stars came from a) large, hairy and fearless market research b) Australia. A particular bloke name of Dwyer was drafted in to brutally challenge the status quo and deliver a new vision. (Actually the first bit of that is untrue: he did brutally challenge but that was not necessarily the brief. Interestingly, possibly fascinatingly for those suspicious of the current direction of travel, Dwyer left – I believe before his contract was up).

It’s important, at the outset, in the wider context of so much controversy and opinion, that All Stars is recognised as merely a part of the whole re-invention of the Cricket Offer: part of Cricket Unleashed, part of the warp-factor-ten departure into the unknown. Theoretically and I think in reality, AS does have stand-alone qualities – the specific age-group, the immediacy, the impact of kitted-out kids – but it would surely be unwise to imagine it travelling radically solo. It’s not.

All Stars exists in and because of the context of more opportunities for girls and women. In the context of ‘community’ activity and retention projects for those teens drifting from the game. In the context of City Cricket/The Hundred.

I’m not wading in to the relative value, wisdom or centrality of any of these other things now: most of us have lived off those arguments for the last year. Instead I’m going to try to say why All Stars is pretty ace: in a bullet-point or two.

  • The prequel. Noting that All Stars has been generally supported by 4-6 weeks cricket-based activity in local Primary Schools, aimed at enthusing kids for the game (via the outstanding Chance to Shine curriculum) before offering that link to AS in clubs. Part of the generally impressive #joinedupthinking. But back to the activity proper…
  • It’s ace value. Despite blokes like me fearing that £40 was going to feel too much for most parents down our way, AS is undeniably good value – and parents forked out. The kids get kit worth about £20 and eight typically well-run, skilfully-themed sessions (which tend to be an absolute blast, for kids and coach alike). Those people still weirdly imagining this is an earner for the ECB need to get a grip, to be honest: it’s a massive investment in change and development, not at all – certainly in the short term – an ‘earner’. Costs have been set at a minimum, I imagine: of course there are some families who will regrettably be put off by the £40… but very few… and some clubs will underwrite that, if necessary.
  • The actual sessions are ver-ry cute – in a really good way. This has not been flung together. The target age-group (5-8, boys and girls) is guided through an hour or more (generally more) of movement, games and skills; the time fizzes and charges as much as the children do. It’s infectious and purposeful and liberating in a way that the three letters F.U.N. cannot do justice to: and yet it is precisely that – naive, anarchic, noisy, edgy fun. Brilliantly so, in my experience.
  • The quality of enjoyment thing. I may be repeating myself but what I saw, as an Activator and coach, was ace to the point of affecting – and I am clear most parents felt that too.
  • The family thing – 1. Okay, so if one of the key aspirations for the whole ECB cricket-makeover is to ‘burst the bubble’ in which cricket sits, vis-a-vis who knows, plays and gets the game, then obviously All Stars sits comfortably within that. The target group is children still finding stuff. Plainly, the ECB would be grateful if some of these children – perhaps the majority – emerge from non-cricketing families. That’s happening. Because of skilful marketing, smart imagery, the ‘non-threatening’, non-technical nature of the offer. Headline figures for AS in Wales last year suggested 71% coming from a non-cricketing background… which is not far short of phenomenal. I’m hearing also – also significantly – that around 35% of our Wales 2018 All Stars are girls.
  • The family thing – 2. Activators (i.e. those who led the AS sessions) were trained to encourage parents to take part. In fact a key part of the marketing whole was this idea that families might reclaim a special hour of family time through participating (at a level they were comfortable with). This interaction with non-qualified agents – hah! Mums, dads!! – was rightly to be gently monitored by the Activator, but opened up a new dimension to the proceedings. Our sessions started with family members ‘warming up’ their All Star; often mums or dads or siblings stayed involved, offering practical help and encouragement. This cuts right across the traditional practice of Level 2 Coaches ‘running things’. I am not remotely looking to undermine that practice or the quality thereof when I say that in my experience the active support of family members was not only essential in practical terms but absolutely key to the feel and the enjoyment of our sessions. I soon gathered five or six sub-Activators who were lovely, intelligent, generous, capable people and I hope and expect that they may support the project – and what is now their club! – next year. This ‘loosening-up’ was done by design, in the knowledge that it might/should work at this age-group; it did.
  • The gentle prod thing. Did you know you can pre-register for AS 2019? You can.

 

Finally, something minor-league weird. I am still wearing a rather faded rubber bangle – the kind we were giving out in schools during the Chance to Shine sessions which preceded our signposting of kids over to All Stars Cricket. I am still wearing it… since April, maybe?

This may mean something worrying about absence of a life in my life, but maybe only if we overthink stuff, eh? I’m not wistfully stroking it or anything. It’s just still there. It says ALL STARS CRICKET and ALLSTARSCRICKET.CO.UK.

I think of our sessions at Llanrhian CC and how crazy-but-happy the kids were… and how wonderful the families were… and how blessed we all were, with that sun. So I guess that’s the explanation? If we need one?

 

 

 

Great week.

Been involved in two events this last week, with a particular character – or so you might think, when I put the labels on. S.E.N and #Disability, or #insportseries.

Unravel that with me.

S.E.N, as many will know, stands for Special Educational Needs and therefore referred, in our case, to Primary School children who have a range – an extraordinary, fascinating range – of issues or needs. (Written on this before, in particular this idea that somewhere in the cloud of embarrassment, prejudice, guilt(?) and awkwardness around ‘needs’ maybe there’s a rich opportunity for us Normal Folks to challenge our own complacency or sheer ignorance; our awarenesses and comfort around Special Needs being often woefully inadequate).

Having confirmed my own frailties in those terms – I, too am relatively twitchy or clumsy in this environment – I’m going to leave it to experts in the field to unpick the differences, subtle or otherwise, between S.E.N and Disability, because a) despite some really excellent and relevant Coach Education, I am not an expert or specialist in this field and b) in reality, as coaches, we don’t typically know very much about what kinds of issues the individuals attending are going to present: we live off our wits.

Before people start kicking off about dangerously inadequate preparation, I should say that what feels like a responsible and reasonable amount of information-sharing and risk-assessment does take place. We just don’t get much detail. So us coaches do inevitably experience that ‘okaaaay, how do I need to pitch this game to this individual?’ moment as the participants arrive. It’s a brilliant, energising test for us; one that hopefully transfers into sharply-focused but engaging (and seemingly relaxed) sessions.

In absolutely glorious sunshine, at Haverfordwest CC, we Cricket Wales people, in tandem with our colleagues at Sport Pembrokeshire, hosted an event for the S.E.N. Units of the county: Primary.

We were well-staffed. We gathered in good time and set up five or six possible areas with different challenges, games or themes. We talked quite a lot about what was going to feel appropriate, how we might rotate groups through, how big those groups might be or ideally should be. We checked for flexibility within games – for the capacity to recalibrate higher or lower – for both difficulty and to accommodate talent and ambition. Then groups arrived.

I recognised a few children from previous events but generally we were into  New Territory – all of us. There was a certain delay as schools arrived separately and (given the epic sunshine) awnings or gazebos and/or similar were set up. There was too much drift so I cut through the formalities, grabbed a group of children and bundled them over to my throwing game. We were off.

I think maybe you set out on days like these, with the fear of making a calamitous and deeply patronising error; or twelve. There is certainly scope for that, right? So what you do (I do) is get the antennae up. Get looking, get listening. Talk the same way, act the same way but get the antennae up for issues of understanding and movement. Get right on all that and offer somebody something different – quietly – if that’s necessary.

We had a laugh. The kids were great; engaged, smiling, contributing to the banter, the shape of the game. ‘Course they were. There were children that could launch an overarm throw, there were those that wandered in and out of the playing area, unable to fulfil the mission but visibly enjoying some activity. Honestly, in the sunshine, they were brilliant – it was brilliant. Periodically, another group came in.

In other ‘zones’ children boomed balls off teas, or caught big balls, small balls, teddies, spiky things, beanbaggy things, foamtastic things. Elsewhere they played nonstop cricket – with or without a helping hand. There were pitstops for drinks and sarnies and more bantz.

It’s going to sound weirdly self-congratulatory if I describe it as something of a triumph but (with apologies) it really was. Not my triumph but everybody’s. Everybody including the sun’s.

My abiding memory is of a fellow coach, who shall remain nameless. This particular bloke is a powerfully experienced cricket bloke and longtime coach and supporter and administrator of the game. He’s been there… but not, as he said, in ‘situations quite like this’. As we packed up and chatted, it was striking that the level of enjoyment  – their’s, his – had been something of a revelation to him.

Three days later we were again involved, supporting an event at Pembroke Leisure Centre. This was an #insportseries Disability/Community event, open to all but shared that schools/learning feature in the sense that children with carers or support staff were brought in to take part. Again the weather was spectacular – almost too hot.

My first memory of this occasion was of a single, tall, strongly-built young man appearing early on at my shoulder, being a quiet presence and me not sure, initially, whether he was (as it were) a candidate for action, or not. Fortunately, my instinct to offer a ‘quick game’ (anyway) proved helpful… and off we went, with other children soon joining.

Here’s where things became profoundly different to that Primary School event earlier in the week, in a way I happily admit, I hadn’t, in my medium-crass naivety, foreseen.

Firstly that biggish young man, then others were really good – to the extent that I could, should, did coach them as opposed to simply hosting a game. (Doh… of course they were!)

Specifically, we got into bowling… because they could really bowl. We got into high hands and following through, with me being careful and even apologetic about being boring and coachy but having no choice because the players were driving us thataway, because they were good. There was also that hike in the attention-span in the players and their capacity to make and sustain their own game. I may have underestimated that, too.

I still have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I reckon I did okay because I know these youngsters did enjoy what they/we did. On the other I have to think about where my expectations were at that first moment. I did not, in truth, as I breezed in to that event, expect to be delivering stuff that I might share with an able-bodied county-level player. I was wrong – and how great is that?

This event, like the one in Haverfordwest, was a notable success – funded and supported strongly, visible and diverse. As well as presenting a range of activities, somebody (Angela Miles?) had the nous to invite Rob Evans and Gareth Davies from the current Wales rugby squad, much to the delight of our participants and many of the on-site and suddenly inquisitive Pembroke School children. Both these guys did a fine and generous job of circulating, encouraging and just being nice to anyone in the vicinity. (Chapeau, gentlemen, enjoy Croatia!)

I wandered through to check out the whole festival, from wheelchair rugby to rifle-range. Outstanding. On a personal note it was fabulous to see such an impressive turnout of Sport Pembrokeshire staff; was proud to muck in alongside to make our own, Cricket Wales contribution. It’s been a great week.

 

A bloggist’s indulgence.

Some of you will know that I work full-time for the mighty Cricket Wales – and that I love that. I coach, I write/faff about with Soshul Meedya stuff: I love the crazy diversity of it and dizzily-happily pour myself in there.

I also do this blogging thing, absolutely as an indulgence; absolutely because it’s a cathartic soul-shifting and lifting release; absolutely because I want to make some contribution to the fabulous sporty din that all of us bawl and wallow and giggle through. It’s showing off, of course but (as a great mate and soul-brother said recently, when I wondered aloud about stopping) it’s ‘a creative outlet I need’.

I know it’s hideously arty to talk about this so I’m not going any further with any cod-therapeutic explanations. I’m sticking mainly to practical issues – the weighing and balancing, the justifying – in the hope that some folks might identify with something and (ideally) feel supported.

Maybe I should add that I am myself supported by a) the mere existence of a rich blogosphere where far nobler, more talented and more legitimate Cricket People offer up their stories b) my superiors at Cricket Wales who respect and encourage my writing and ver-ry rarely try to direct it and c) by established folks already ensconced or essential to the contemporary cricket media. These factoids are important.

However – did you guess? – things aren’t straightforward. Because I have a wonderful family, who are sporty but not especially crickety. Because my time is not my own. Because Pembrokeshire fab-you-luss Pembrokeshire is waaay out west and therefore often a hike away from the action. Because nobody is paying me to write.

In short, I really do have to justify any trip away to cover cricket.

This week I had hoped to (firstly, as always, without any bitterness or complaint) see out all my Cricket Wales responsibilities and maybe go to Edgbaston today and Bristol tomorrow, to do a cricketmanwales.com number on the men’s then womens’ internationals.

In fact I didn’t get accreditation for Eng v Aus (men) at Edgbaston, unsurprisingly; that fixture will be heavily attended by journo’s/writers with way more clout than myself; I have no gripes on that front. I did, however, get clearance to attend the womens’ tri-international in Bristol.

The truth of it is that significantly less frontline journo’s will attend the latter. From experience, I guess Adam Collins, Melinda Farrell, Alison Mitchell, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Isa Guha will be there but most of them will be involved in commentary and/or punditry rather than ‘simply writing’.

Don’t please abuse me if I miss somebody out, here – this is not supposed to be an exhaustive list, much less a Who’s Who. Raf Nicholson and Syd Egan will probably be there and Jamie Ramage, I reckon. But there will be less demand for seats – in the Media Centre as well as in the stands. That’s the reality.

In fact I can’t now go to Brizzle due to Cricket Wales commitments – which always come first and which I utterly respect. However, because fewer people read my posts about Eng Women than about Other Cricket Stuff, I was looking pret-ty hard at whether I could *justify* another trip, anyway, despite the fact that I really enjoy these games and actively want to support womens’ cricket – believe it or not.

There are financial implications. There are family issues around me disappearing ‘for nothing’. I was having to juggle that stuff.

As so often, I may have been unwise, in sharing this. Clearly I would be delighted if somebody – some media institution – would bung me a coupla quid to cover games that I can get to, working around my Cricket Wales schedule. (Could be this is somewhere between unlikely and im-bloody-possible. In which case there is thinking to be done). One is philosophical.

Look set aside any opinion around or even intelligent judgement of my blogs; I naturally accept that is entirely feasible that they are mindlessly anarchic piles of crap. That being said it strikes me as unfortunate that my own – admittedly crass, admittedly limited – market research delivers (arguably) a fairly stark return re- the value of Womens’ International Cricket.

I do have to think on this but my strong inclination is to continue to #showup, as much as I can… and let the therapy flow.

 

Worcester.

8.40 a.m at Temple Meads and the train is rumbling agreeably in the sunshine. Cloud, yes, but the day is erring towards generous, cricket-appropriate offerings. I have a virgin century of minutes between me and New Road, in which to enjoy what I imagine will be mostly delightful-but-posh England.

It was green and buttercup full. It was chestnut-horsey. It was Yatey and Cam, rather serenely, malvernaciously lush; I liked it. Even when it turned greyer, four foot three from Worcester.

Brisk yomp to the ground, now equipped with the information that England are batting first. Smallish crowd have bundled through that hibernation-void-thing where womens’ cricket has laid up, these last few months, to stand and cheer, as the players stride out. Amy Jones faces the first ball, from Ismail. It’s full and it beats her.

I’m just querying Jones’s deep sit into her stance when she  uncoils a dynamic drive through extra cover for the first runs; four. She follows this up with a pull through midwicket, picking up the short ball encouragingly early; four more.

Beaumont gets off the mark with a streaky single to fine leg, off Kapp. Jones – in danger already of being affectionately labelled Jones the Bat – majestically clonks Kapp for another four through off. Outstanding start from her.

*Diverts briefly*. You may know me as an alarmingly positive geezer – I think I am. However I am again disappointed by the lack of support for this game. Sounds naff but the feeling has to be that these women simply deserve better. 13 for 0 off three, Jones has twelve of them. Really like her calm.

Beaumont is quality – we’ve seen that over the last year – but she’s mistiming here. No slips already though, for Kapp and then likewise for Ismail. Interesting.

In the fifth, Ismail gets one past the previously excellent Jones: scoots through her defences, bowled. The batter will be gutted with her swiftish 19; she’d looked in and confident. Enter Taylor.

Nice variety of length from the South African quick; certainly not afraid to go very full. Incoveniences Taylor but she squeaks a single to fine leg . Big Moment as shortly afterwards, Taylor is caught in front: killer length. England are 25 for 2 in the seventh over.

The incoming Knight gets off the mark with a half-volley past extra but is then also lbw, this time off a visibly pumped Kapp. Blimey. Trouble. Maybe particularly because Beaumont has hardly put a foot right yet. Some very strong players back in the pavilion; palpable sense that Sciver has to take up residence.

Did I say, by the way, that sitting out it’s coolish? Have my All Stars jacket on – mind you, did arrive in optimistically summery shorts and polo.

Sciver gets going with a twiddle down wide of fine leg before a flukey under-edge beats the keeper. Fielding been blighted by two or three fairly crass errors, already, in fact – later it generally rallies.

Hey. Maybe they don’t need the fielders, anyway?Beaumont skittled off another inside edge by the newly arrived Khaka.

All change on the bowling front as the slightish, smallish Ntozakhe offers the first spin. Sciver and Wyatt set about rebuilding, after 11.53, in sunshine – or at least brighter conditions.

Disaster – or maybe ‘disaster?’ – as Scivers mistimes one coming across her from Khaka, spooning it to midwicket. (On reflection it may be that Sciver made it look like it was coming across her, by doing that characteristic swing-across-the-line thing. Whatever. Horrible dismissal at a cruel time). England have bombed to 61 for 5 in the 17th. We’ve all gone quiet.

Almost unbelievably, Wyatt then cracks one straight at cover; again Khaka is the bowler. This is close to embarrassing, now; embarrassingly irresponsible. Please god the current, experienced pairing will play with some circumspection for ten overs. Otherwise England may be 100 all out.

Come the end of the 19th, Khaka is 3 for 13. On the plus side, more folks have joined us in the crowd.

Kapp changes ends, for the 23rd, with the score at 67 for 6. She generates good, slingy power, hurrying and then beating Brunt off a ten pace run. Ntozakhe continues, for her seventh. The game has gone to sleep, in a good way, for England.

Ismail returns after the one over from Kapp, with Brunt and Gunn exuding or projecting calm. Brunt just about keeps the lid on her predilection towards violence, as Ntozakhe wheels away at her.

Tryon becomes the game’s fifth bowler in the 26th, bundling in, rather, to offer left arm medium pace (plus?) Our first musically-enhanced boundary for aeons comes from the other end, mind, as Brunt sweeps the spinner forward of square leg.

Next over Gunn chips Tryon to backward point and England sink further. 80 for 7. England’s opening bowlers (Shrubsole has joined us) now need to bat for twenty overs, near enough, to give us a match. Ouch. Ntozakhe has walked through her potentially vulnerable ten overs of offspin for 21 runs.

Van Niekerk bowls the 34th and the changes continue as Ismail returns to partner her. But England’s miseries are compounded by a runout; Shrubsole departing for 7. (It was tightish but why the risk? We need something remarkable to happen, now, for this to be any kind of contest. Don’t we?) 97 for 8.

Ismail – fine, fine athlete – scents blood and is racing in to slap it in there. Brunt cops a bouncer.

To (theoretically) finish this sharpish, Kapp is back, too. However no immediate dramas. There is some irony in the cheers for the England 100. Feels like South Africa have been good but England somewhere between mediocre and bloody foolish.

Tryon and Khaka return, to mix this up. I wonder though, if the Ismail/Kapp combo *might actually* have closed this out but this is admittedly a hunch, given that Khaka’s figures seem to suggest she too, is a singular threat.

Marsh nearly offers another friendly leading edge to the onside field, off Tryon but it falls short. Brunt is going well, on 31, at this point.

England get to 148 in the 45th, as Brunt skilfully guides Ismail to third man. A slightly laboured ver-ry much slower ball then deceives Marsh, who is bowled for 15. Big question is… can Brunt get to a heroic 50?

150 up in the next, from Van Niekirk. Ismail returns to try to bounce out Ecclestone – nearly succeeding, as the England number 11 (/71) edges one highish behind. Fortunately Brunt gets back on strike and charges Kapp to drive straight for four and a well-appreciated fifty: she goes on to claim 13 runs from the over.

The day has brightened, or re-brightened as innings closes at a creditable 189 for 9. Brunt is undefeated on her highest score in any format – 72. Don’t expect this to be enough but given where England were… this is Bruntastic.

The break. So some other stuff…

The improved and expanded contracts for England Women announced yesterday are, of course, welcome. They represent meaningful lumps of money that may be the difference between living reasonably comfortably (as an elite athlete) and not. The notion that an increased number of our leading players will be on professional contracts is a) an important, further step forward and b) maybe more palatable than the idea that parity with The Men is some distance away.

The rather fascinating context to all this remains utterly framed by the (in this instance) magnificently prescient Australian authorities, who – despite the recent developments in England – have about four times as many women players on pro contracts as the ECB do. And be on better contracts.

In short things are better than they were but… yaknow.

The Big improved Picture suggests that we still lack a total commitment to broadening and deepening a substantial ‘viable’ pool of women professionals. This is achievable but implies funding a further hike in activity in the levels below, as well as paying more professionals a living wage – a wage commensurate to their level.

The money is surely there; the Aussies are kinda doing it; it’s right. Let’s join in.

Cows and buzzards and crows.

It’s hard to judge the impact of things, eh? Because we don’t know what people are thinking and in any case surely market research is heavily flawed, or skewed? Questions too obvious, contexts too directed, intelligence too dubious. Figures – even figures – are arbitrary.

Cricket is being measured and moaned about again: it always was and is and maybe the attention is good – or at least potentially good. The Profile is all. The Argument validates Life Itself.

I love that people care so much about cricket – about anything. They dwell on it, or in it, bawling or beaming or nagging away. The mad-wonderful truth could be, can be that cricket is the matrix within which they express their extraordinary brilliance or passion or flair or psychosis. Measure the massiveness of that.

So, I acknowledge figures more than I trust them. I believe in the truth of the madness. And yet.

We Community Coaches, in Wales and elsewhere have been working mainly recently on the huge All Stars Cricket project. I say huge because from the inside it feels big – and yet I’m not aware of as much hoopla around it this year as last. (Has the level of investment in media-stuff dipped? I don’t know).

In 2017 All Stars felt incontrovertibly a once-in-a-lifetime size commitment, a genuine game-changer’ in terms of investment and impact. 2018 feels maybe less extravagantly present but actually I’m clear it’s acting powerfully and it’s not just the figures that bear this out: it’s the experience.

I’m shockingly biased and shockingly pro-cricket but please hear me out; I’m in there, I know something of this. All Stars is a grower, on me, and in terms of its force.

I led the delivery of the (parallel) Chance to Shine cricket curriculum in Pembrokeshire schools in the winter and early spring, and now act as an Activator (meaning I run the All Stars sessions) at a local village club.

Village? Na, on reflection it’s a magical, seemingly movable speck on the rural landscape (for no-one can find it) nestling against a farm, overlooked only by cows and buzzards and crows. It’s idyllic on heartwarming drugs. It’s Llanrhian. Thursday nights the place is wild.

Wales-wide, there are more than 3,200 children signed up to All Stars, this year. (They tell me this is a thousand more than last year). At Llanrhian we have 26, which between you and me, is almost too many.

This signing-up thing is significant in several respects. Children pay £40, for an 8-week, informal course-with-benefits. They get clobber – bat, ball, t-shirt, etc, etc – but they as a family are kindof invited to commit. Commit the money, the time… and then maybe commit to joining in a little, at the sessions.

The design and the marketing raison-d’etre here speaks of gathering families in – ideally ‘new’, non-cricketing families – to a fun-but-guided sporty, family experience. The aspiration is towards not just providing good healthy fun but also the possibility for really rich shared time.

Some parents will instinctively get this; that this rather profound benefit may be there. Others will be too shy or too deep into the i-phone to notice. Fair enough. The All Stars sessions will be frothing over with good energy into which the parents can dip, or contribute, if they so choose.

I have some fantastically bright and busy and yes ‘boisterous’ kids in my group. The quality of listening is mixed, so I’ve already press-ganged in some support. It’s also – two sessions in – feeling part of the process that some parents (maybe surprised at the drift amongst some of their children?) are starting to wander in to games, to join in, in a way that they sense is helpful.

Hope this doesn’t sound like I’m either abrogating my responsibilities as coach, or endangering relationships, here: I remain aware of the issues around both safeguarding and control. It’s just that careful encouragment of positive interactive activity (which turns into family or truly social activity) really might be the icing on this Starry cake. I’m certainly hoping so… and working towards that. Watchfully.

Look, if, despite the cost and investment in time, a thousand more children have been signed up this year in Wales, and if what they tell me is true regarding 71% of All Stars children last year coming from new, uncricketing families, then I think we can put big ticks in the plus column. The data is positive – and there’s plenty more where that came from.

But we need more than that. We need recounted experiences, facts about feelings.

One example. I can tell you, I have seen that many children were, until All Stars or Chance to Shine lessons in schools, relatively or entirely unfamiliar with the feeling of bat in hand. Patently and understandably, this, in my experience, is the case. That’s changing or changed, because All Stars/Chance to Shine interventions have been huge. More children are getting to know the game.

Secondly, the glee factor – remember that? Kids are going ballistic in a wonderfully liberated way, at our All Stars sessions. It’s noisy and daft and over-the-top because the Stars are absolutely loving it. We’re setting them loose more than we’re directing them. I had one lad last week turn up with his broken arm in plaster: Dad said ‘there was no way he was going to miss it!’ Marley grinned and grabbed a ball.

Just this week we (Cricket Wales) Cricket People are trumpeting #4millionNotOut to celebrate that number of children receiving Chance to Shine cricket in some form. A big PR thing has gone off on our patch – da iawn, Milly-May, in Port Talbot! – so we’re full of ourselves, over that one. Doesn’t matter if this figure is less than football or rugby, or more than tennis or netball. Four million cricketing events. Plus the weight of All Stars on top; recently, now, next few weeks, all over – this matters.

The ECB decided that a monster wedge needed to go into junior cricket. Something transformative. A bubble had to be burst, the game had to be shared. Cricket was wonderful but was nearly out of time – or out of its time? Money to Chance to Shine was doubled, to raise the profile in Primary Schools and then something major had to be done to get new families into clubs.

All Stars is no panacea: said before that I know enough folks in cricket admin who fully accept that retention of fourteen/fifteen year-olds and of course the very shape and format of cricket itself are equally acutely important. Of course they are.

But both at the input-of-juniors level and culturally, All Stars is, in it’s gambolling, free-form, radical and hearty-risky way, opening up both the game of cricket and possibilities and understandings for coaching activity itself. This is profound. Slightly crazy, immeasurably good stuff often is, right?

This is your banner.

The dawn of another county season does bring that slight relief; that things roll on, without *too much* change. Sure, it’s crazy and unsustainable and the apocalypse may well be coming but somehow we made it through. Unwrap your sandwich – coo, beef, there’s posh! – unfurl your paper; get the gloves and the spare jumper(s) out a-and smile.

Re Yorkshire playing 2 home games in April, two in September and one back end of August… don’t go there. Re the stampede of ‘city-based action’ about to swallow up the shires… don’t go there. Enjoy the glorious understated present in that unique, cricketty way: block the rest.

Okaaay you won’t be able to unthink the universe and probably somebody will want to talk but you could – you could – find a refuge in Row Z. You could be that island.

You don’t have to acknowledge that as with everything, there are the two choices: fight like hell or render yourself immune. In this moment (damn right) you’re entitled to enjoy the uncluttered, beautiful, peaceful, restorative now for what it is.

It is precious. It’s maybe an indulgence but hey – no guilt. Going to County Cricket (and obviously by this I mean the longer format of the game) is a kind of political defiance anyway. Being there at any stage, for a four-dayer, marks you out as a soulful sort. You are silently strident, even when choosing not to (yaknow) campaign. You – unlike most – are there. This is your banner. You – unlike most – are defying the drift to dumbness.

Good shot, son. Four.

Hmmm. Tad smug-sounding? To be clear I mean the universal drift or slump, via gaming/crap tv/the instant hit of faux, colorific joy/the short format everything for the (allegedly) submissively unintelligent. The spawn of Education-by-Numbers crunched by Estyn & Ofsted… and Mackie Effing Dee’s. Erm… is that clearer?

Did I say that out loud?!?

‘Cultural’ dumbness, then. The sort you don’t have to be smug about opposing to oppose… but you may finish up sounding that way, eh? The sort that County Cricket fans defy with every fibre, with every no-ball they note, with every paper they rustle.

Hello mate. Yeh good, ta. 

To be clear I mean precious in the joyful, innocent way and political in the philosophical sense: seeing big pictures, feeling the value of things.

Yeh – heard that. Crazy. Can’t see it, myself – let the man write.

But the world conspires against – and you know it. The ECB is broadening access, demystifying stuff. Understand that, but in the process – or possibly by design – the market (which may never have really sustained County Cricket) has shifted, is diametrically opposed, is storming away.

Just don’t know what the thinking is. That’s why I’m hiding back here – not sure I wanna talk about it!

Nothing personal! Have a good day, mate.

So, if the universe can see no further than family-friendly boomathons which leave Proper Cricket exposed – because an indulgence, because ‘a relic with no real audience’ – what’s to be done? What’s the argument?

Will join you for a pint, later. Watching and reading, first!

Firstly, maybe this idea of the market as god might be unpicked, somewhat. The Market is a woefully unintelligent concept, especially if thought of as Actual Bums on Actual Seats. (That is, even if we accept that County Cricket attendances at grounds are somewhere between poor and pitiful, this does not entirely describe support for the game).

Secondly, crowds do not (either) entirely describe the value of the sport. Things aren’t always either simple or measurable.

Thirdly, how does The Market assess the link between four-day cricket and Tests? Critical? Fascinating? Irrelevant? Does it even recognise the eight zillion technical, tactical, psychological, philosophical step-changes up from one to t’other? Does The Market care?

Eighty-ninethly, surely there are multiple markets and things can be monetised in different ways? And/or parts of the game that are bouyant can support parts of the game that are not – make them better, even – so that they move towards a) being more watchable, maybe and b) being sustainable within the whole?

But… hang on. I swore blind I wasn’t gonna get into any of this! Dave… pass the sandwich. Pass the sandwich.

And County Cricket is already broadening, demystifying, shaping up! Okay, the T20 Blast is not perfect, but it’s good! It’s a strongish revenue stream and it’s county-based – and therefore important to existing supporters. I slightly fear all this spectacular dynamism – all these Spectaculars – are an over-reaction, given the progress that was being made.

Did I say that out loud again?

Here’s something: warning, it may be kinda subtle.

Many of you attending County Cricket on this opening day will not be wholly involved with the cricket… but you will be wholly involved with the experience. I wonder if Ofsted or the Ministry for Sport have an algorithm for that?

Wrong mustard, mate, for me…