Ashes Churn.

So we’re all exasperated and hurt, then. And that hurt may be good. We may yet bawl or bundle People towards Progress. Maybe. In a tidal wave of New Year Resolutions, Harrison will confess whilst weeping pitifully, Private Schools will be abolished, the MCC Members will swap the daft yellow and red stuff for hair shirts and the Tory Party will disintegrate in shame. Because Things Can Only (and Must Only) Get Better, right? And This Means Everything.

The Brit Universe is g-nashing over the Ashes. We’re all Experts and we’re All Legitimate Fans and we All Attend County Champs Games, Regularly, Jeff. We all have The Right To The Loudest Opinion, Ever. (Me included). Our exclusive claim on Knowing is being Twittered and Vodcasted to the heavens. Our brilliance and their dumbness is Completely Obvious, Maureen, in a brutally sweeping, sexually-charged and capitalised kindofaway. Because this is righteously simple.

Except it’s not.

Coaching and Coaching Philosophy is/are not simple. Strategic planning and respectful scheduling are not simple. Mental Health is not simple. Daft, daft games are not simple.

Let’s start with coaching – coaching and captaincy and the art of deciding.

Interesting that the likes of Rob Key – medium-intelligent voice, close to the action – has been so-o clear that Silverwood is utterly ‘out of his depth’. Others make the argument that Giles, in gathering power in to the former England paceman/enforcer, has put his Head Coach in a suffocating head-lock: just too much to do, think about, organise, decide upon. Certainly most of us outsiders can find a favourite clanger for this series, whether it be that first Test selection or the return of Crawley, or the dropping of Burns. There is plenty scope for gleeful dismemberment of Silverwood’s more contentious calls.

Now I’m not a prevaricator by nature but I’m less sure than some of you that Silverwood has to go. And I’m less sure again that despite Root being an average captain rather than a brilliant one, he should join his gaffer on the Discarded on Merit pile.

Firstly, not been close to Silverwood, so not seen how his interactions with players are. Secondly, have disagreed with several of the decisions around selection/toss/strategy but that can happen with good coaches, too, right? (‘Game of opinions, Dave’). Forty-ninethly, although it plainly might be that he’s not up to it – and of course the woeful capitulation is traditionally laid essentially at the gaffer’s door, in elite sport – only Farbrace springs immediately to mind as a preferred candidate… and he… yaknow… was there before, pretty much. So in short I guess I’m thinking the summary execution of Silverwood and Root might feel righteous but achieve not so much.

(Sixty-twothly – and the absence of similar views make me fear that I may be missing something here – what about Thorpe? Has G Thorpe Esq not been batting coach for like, years? Why no grief in his direction? Even if he’s the Greatest Bloke Ever, or whatever, does he not hold a hoooge chunk of responsibility? Is he not the ultimate in You Had One Jobbery? Don’t geddit: how he seems to escape scrutiny. Good luck to him… but seems extraordinary).

But breeeeeeathe. Zooming out, there are cultural issues, from shamefully-distracted money-driven policy to exclusion by malice, stealth and/or by toff-dom. Privilege still waiving its todger at us, like some Eton-educated clown. In *that matrix*, bonuses get paid to *this ECB*: the universe really is that warped. But let’s get back to coaching – to batting – because despite what the needier, more distracted corners of Twitter are saying, it was England’s batting that decided the Ashes.

Understandably, there have been some pointed and intelligent reflections on both the technical specifics and wider framing of batting skills and/or the coaching thereof. It’s not just embittered former internationals who are saying the modern player lacks discipline and the modern coach is typically twiddling his/her way through a kind of woke manual. But even this preciously guarded, pleasingly heartfelt ‘debate’ needs to take care around over-simplification.

Yes, it is true that the ECB Coaching Pathway shifted away from instructive, demonstrative coaching towards ‘Core Principles’ and ‘player ownership’. The coach has been invited to be less of an auteur/maestro and more of a skilled inquisitor: the argument being that the traditional format of oldish blokes barking instructions at more or less intimidated ‘pupils’ was a crass way and an ineffective way for players to *actually learn*. (I have some sympathy with this view). But could be that this Generous Modern Way works great for Dynamos but less well for Dom Sibley. (In other words, maybe this is complex and maybe entitlements and protocols and levels of both enquiry and expectation are so bloo-dee different that it’s a nonsense to only approach from the one, holistically-nourishing angle, or imagine that things don’t change as you clamber up the performance ladder?)

It seems absolutely right for a cheery old sod like me to be inspiringly lovely and friendly and encouraging, as I trip out my rhetorical questions to Llanrhian Juniors. But it may be okay – not ideal, but okaaay – for an England coach to shout, swear and tear strips off players who don’t effing get it. Elite sport is, perhaps regrettably, tough. You are gonna have to be a robust individual: tough enough to bear the #bantz and the barrage of bouncers. Tough enough to ‘wear a few’, on and off the pitch. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect that amongst the essential support, camaraderie and joy, there will be challenge, discomfort even, on the road to (their) learning.

Top end cricket – especially Test Cricket, especially batting? – is surely about the ability to resist, to offer sustained and disciplined excellence. You hope, (I imagine) that you can break through into the peace of playing your game. But there may be a period – a cruel period – of mindful doggedness on the way there.

This tour – again – the England batters got nowhere near. Except Root. And sometimes Malan. The rest looked generally shot, or technically ill-equipped to compete. Rightly then, we are asking about what Test Batting needs to look like. Deliciously, once the rage subsides, we may need to consider whether levering-back towards particular ways is wise or possible – or what, precisely, we proscribe against. Just how orthodox is the fella Smith, for Aus, for example?

Against a good Aussie team, not a great one, neither England’s will nor skill seemed up to it. So we’re all angry, we’re all piling in on Silverwood, Harrison, Giles. Fair enough. But as we tear through issues around bat pathway and summer schedules and the dispiriting mean-ness of everything, let’s get our brainy heads on; before the Ashes Churn gets going again.

Love. Fear. Grief. And another incredi-chapter.

It’s hard to be strategic when there’s so-o much love about. And fear. And grief. How, exactly, do we manage a way through an Away Series, in Oz? With all that inconvenient turning of the earth stuff? And the disorientating, electrifying, fecund stillness – the night, outside? Loveliness, but then with the bastards down there bouncing down the corridors of our Proper Sleep-time, squeezing off fire-extinguishers like drunken bladdy students. And winning – always winning. How do we manage against that?

Can only be instinct – unless you’re one of the comparatively few who really can watch through the night and either sleep or work through the day. I can’t; can only do some. So like most of the Pom Universe I swerved Day 3 entirely and gathered to watch Day 4. That made sense.

England had a sniff. After Root and Malan had restored some pride, and Hameed had offered some hope, it made sense to invest in Day 4. Let’s do this.

Minor tactical kip during the late afternoon: fitful but hopefully restorative, or enabling of a long overnight haul. ‘Social’ quietly fizzing with suitably modest hypotheses, around ‘building’, or ‘extending’ and just maybe ‘constructing a total’. Then pundits on the telly-box being bundled into That Conversation: the one where it’s considered that England might yet steal a bladdy win.

They’d have to ‘start again’; then ‘see off the new ball’; then ‘build’. ‘Obviously Root and Malan can play… can take this on… but don’t forget how Stokes and Buttler in particular can push on – can take a game away from you’.

Have no idea if these conversations *actually happened*. Or if I was already dreaming. Pretty sure I watched as Malan got tangled-up, to the often innocuous-looking but persistently troubling Lyon. Certain I saw an absolute peach, from the miraculously recovered Hazlewood – who may have never been injured, despite the twelve hours of relentless and generally circular ‘discussion’ from our frankly embarrassingly wearisome local hosts. (Less is more, gentlemen). That peach deserved to register and it did – accounting for the England captain

The Root dismissal has come to feel central to everything: if our friends at Wisden are to believed he has scored 1100 more runs than the next England bat in this calendar year. ELEVEN FUCKING HUNDRED: he has 1,544. Burns, remarkably, is next, on 492. Plainly, on this occasion, the skipper erred again, fishing gently but fatally for one that simply shouldn’t have tempted him: certainly not at that stage.

The dismissal of Pope, soon after, for 4, trying to cut a ball that bounced a little, from Lyon, who has made a career out of top-spin/over-spin, meant not just that the game was almost done but barely credibly, it was almost done before the new ball had been taken. Understandably, even the pundits before us with worthwhile collections of brain-cells had been singling out that period (after ten overs or so of old-ball phoney-war) as critical. But no. Even they (even I) had underestimated England’s capacity to be England.

Extraordinarily, my Original Plan to hit the hay, come what may, after the morning’s session in Brisbane, worked out supremely: just not in the way any of us had foreseen. We foresaw a slaughter (probably), once Hazlewood and Cummins and Starc had the new cherry. Nope. Not to be. Those seamers had some joy, inevitably but it was the old pill – and the old-school non-spinning spinner – what done it, essentially. Four-fer, for Nathan Lyon, ultimately, taking him beyond 400 Test wickets. And another incredi-chapter in the book of England Ashes traumas.

Hello Chance to Shine.

I’m not a suit kindofaguy. Nor a shirt man, if the truth be told. So an awards gig at Lords was always going to be a challenge, not just in sartorial terms but in terms of politesse and reigning in the urge to eat like a rabid horse, as per.

Did buy a suit – the other wearable one being procured for the Two-tone era, *first time around*, from Camden Lock Market – was on the shabby side of chic. Did buy a tie and went the strong colours route on a dangerously perfunctory whim. Alleged mate on the Twitters referenced John Lydon and know what? I can live with that. Anger is an energy but so is being you.

I say this because I won an award, at the Chance to Shine wonderbash, and I reckon this resulted from some half-decent, energetically honest sessions of cricket-based games, delivered to kids over a decade or so. Honest in the sense that I poured myself in there – not to be arrogant, or even necessarily central – but to authentically be the daft-but-friendly bloke that I am. To be the fella that really does love this game and is bloody determined that you will get it too.

Back in the mists of time I had been volunteering at Haverfordwest Cricket Club in West Wales, supporting my son, initially. He had wanted to follow some mates and ‘try proper cricket’. I threw the ball back five times then got bundled towards the coaching pathway, which I loved. Years later (and in the loveliest of expectation-vacuums) a job came up, with Cricket Wales. Coaching. Cricket… like, as a job!

Ridiculously, after a mainly practical interview where I remember doing the Embarrassing Rick Thing, wildly bouncing balls off a Crazy-Catch trampette in a hall in Milford Haven and generally foaming with enthusiasm, I got the nod. Community Cricket Coach for Pembrokeshire. Wow.

Then came years of learning, actually. Much of it inevitably ‘on the job’ but a genuinely appreciable amount via Chance to Shine and/or Cricket Wales training. Because coaching really isn’t playing, right? It isn’t even the transfer of your knowledge of the game, to other parties. Or not just that. It’s both bigger (and more theoretical/abstract) than that and more personal – more about impacting upon people.

Over time, as a Community Coach, you assimilate not just the team ethos, the essence of the role but look to embody something of the responsibility. Being deeply aware of the brilliance of the coaching posse I had fallen into, I think I did take a few conscious breaths, roll up my sleeves and determine to work with (dare I say it?) honour as well as skill and humour. I think I did that regularly, over the years, to re-charge and re-commit.

Best explain a little – can see this begins to sound like some weird, corporate mission-speak.

We coaches are trained to deliver outstanding, open, generous, entertaining, themed – i.e. developmental – cricket-based sessions, to groups of children. We are trained around disability issues, around inclusion, around how to offer a fabulous game suitably brilliantly. There is a Chance to Shine curriculum which has been ver-ry skillfully put together to maximise accessibility in the widest, most wonderful sense.

Typically, a bundle of children receive a bundle of sessions, so that their familiarity, then comfort, then enjoyment of the games can develop. Even a comedian like me is spookily mindful of strategies towards advancement/refinement/recalibration. Are these kids happy and engaged to the right level? Who needs a different challenge – a different ball? Who needs encouragement? I’m nutshell-averse but in short how do we make this session work… for this/that child? It’s a tremendous, intoxicating challenge and one I will always view as a privilege: the cricket offer.

But coo, suddenly there I am, on a stage, in a room which is palpably full of love for a daft game. Two hundred people. One generous, supportive vibe.

Laura Cordingley has spoken well and boldly about responsibilities we all share. I’m behind her on that mission towards fairness and respect and opportunity – there’s no question the whole room is. Then I’m thinking of my mates and colleagues at Cricket Wales; how this absurdly Rick-centric moment can only really be understood as a team award, for Martin Jones, Sean Evans, Jamie Griffiths, Geraint Leach, Terry Dixon and all the rest of our guys and gals. The CW Community Coaching Team.

Aatif Nawaz is asking me a question about how we sustain a child’s interest in cricket… and it’s a duff question… and we both realise it… but I’m the one who has to fend. I get away with it, narrowly. I’m hoping he won’t ask about my wee mate Gethin*, featured in the film that’s just been playing to the room. Entirely possible I might blub, trying to relay something of the utter joy and rich satisfaction that’s accompanied our mutual gambol into cricketstuff.

(*It’s both incidental and not, that Gethin is significantly visually impaired and that he’s been a fantastic, inspiring comrade during our spells together at Neyland Community Primary. He’s been nonchalantly smashing through the metaphorical walls around his disability. I had heard he’d contributed to the video for my award: hadn’t seen it ‘til moments before I went on stage).

Aatif makes some reference to my ill-timed transfer across to my new employers, Sport Pembrokeshire. We share a joke but I make clear my continuing commitment to cricket and to its multifarious pathways. I dismount the stage mercifully without catastrophe.

Returning to my seat, alongside my son, a largish glass of white finds itself inhaled. The stupendous Mr Stuart Priscott – Operations Manager, Chance to Shine – comes over and notably warmly and sincerely shakes my hand. “You’re a good man, Rick”, he says. That’ll do me.

My thanks go to all at Chance to Shine and Cricket Wales. Here’s the wee film they made of me ‘in action’…

Azeem Rafiq: cricket must change.

Everything is interpretation – we get that. But surely there was only one, broad understanding of Azeem Rafiq’s extraordinary testimony today: that he is a good, generous man. A man who has flaws; a man who has demons, even*, but essentially a lovely, honest, concerned human. Some guy looking for a pitch, a game, a place where everyone can play as equals.

In front of the Parliamentary Committee convened to discuss and examine racism in cricket, Rafiq dug deep, often, to give a good account of himself. Palpably emotional and yet determined – without any whiff of self-aggrandisement whatsoever – to be “a voice for the voiceless”, the former Yorkshire cricketer ground a way through a series of bitterly hurtful memories. Insults, both petty and outrageous; blandishments and outright subversion from those he thought were there to represent him; the bulwark that is white exceptionalism and/or supremacy. He was heroic: you could feel both how vulnerable the man has been and how cruelly this further, sustained gathering of his wit, courage and equanimity has challenged him personally and his family life. It really did feel like he was ploughing on for other people.

Most of all, the bloke sounded almost unbelievably fair. Those who have read George Dobell’s tweets and reports over recent months/days/hours will know that the man giving evidence first-up, today even tried to make sure that one of the chief protagonists on the other side – Gary Ballance – was going to be forewarned of the incoming storm, so as not to suffer the kind of deep disquiet that has so traumatised him. Wow. Azeem, maybe they, maybe we don’t deserve you.

Having watched every moment of the Barnsley-born player’s evidence, I’m happy to argue that this awesome level of generosity may be typical of him: speculative, accepted, but how else to view the general flow of his magnanimity? Time and again he tried to de-personalise this – to talk about institutional or cultural practice not individual transgressions. Of course certain individuals were appallingly culpable but Rafiq pointed more to the milieu, the matrix, the banter-heavy context in which the unforgivable was passing as the norm. (On this particular theme, it feels not inappropriate to note that the Zimbabwean-born player who may have been most obviously and persistently guilty of racism did not accept the invitation to attend).

Other high profile people are being clawed into this, now. I’m pretty sure the need for *stories* centring on them may be unhelpful but appreciate and support the imperative towards a clear-out of lazy or manifestly prejudiced ideology and practice. I have been around one or two of those in the firing line and am unsurprised by allegations against some… but relatively concerned for one or two others who I sense *may* be being traduced. But hey, my hunches and the protestations of a bunch of senior white blokes are not fundamental, here. We need to hear the voices who have been denied, or truly oppressed.

It is certain that today was a Big Day in terms of exposing the thin, t-shirt diplomacy and corporate box-ticking around race as the tokens and funder-driven frauds they have been. That should be massive. Azeem Rafiq’s role has been likewise historic, tectonic and somehow beautifully (if agonisingly) selfless. The churn that may result will be the deep, painful but necessary angst and enquiry that must precede real change. The suspicion that this is a societal problem and that therefore it lies within other sports too may be more of a distraction than a signpost towards wider revisions (which must also come). Cricket has been found out. Cricket must act.

*Those ‘demons’. It remains unclear to me how troubling drink is in this story – if at all. (More likely it’s a minor example of the dirty tricks employed against The Accuser?)

Azeem Rafiq’s strikingly poignant admission that he lapsed into drinking alcohol in a feeble and inevitably unsuccessful attempt to be one of the lads appeared to haunt him more than any possible lapse into dependency or brief, clannish indulgence might have done. His ‘frailty ‘in this regard is forgiven – and indeed respected – in this quarter. Booze, machismo and ‘tribalism’ are so often a gateway into prejudice, eh?

England Australia.

It was impeccable. It was dramatic. It was about as perfect a start, for England, as us dream-shy Poms could have imagined. Warner gone; Smith gone; Maxwell gone – all before the powerplay was done.

Strategic change and same old Woakesy. Beautiful but metronomic bowling and a stonking catch. Rashid, then a perspiring but impressively concentrated Jordan. Australia an extraordinary 21 for 3 after 6 testing overs for our Antipodean friends.

Then in comes Adil again… and the googly absolutely decimates Stoinis. Close to catastrophic this, for the green ‘n gold.

But Finch remains – so Moeen again held back. Livingstone comes in to add further variety and challenge the Aussie skipper’s outside edge. There is spin… but it’s mainly just that critical bit of nibble that’s told. Plus that increasingly important length – too short to drive, but cramping the pull. Exemplary, from England; sustained excellence which Livingstone (the part-timer-plus) admirably maintains, via that ambitious mix of leggies, offies and pretty much everything in between. After 10 overs the batting side – if not shell-shocked, then breathy and 64% baffled – are 41 for 4. Mills.

A touch of inswing, still. A peach of a slower-ball. Goes short and wide; Wade, not entirely convincingly, back-cuts for four, with Moeen almost hopeful. Finally an authentically poor ball, as Mills back-of-the-hands one wide to leg. Eight from the over. The World’s Noisiest Host assaults us again. Livingstone offers a rare bit of air, Wade clumps downtown but Roy can take a comfortable, if overhead catch. 51 for 5.

As Agar joins Finch, and the line-ups flash up on screen again, the length of the Aus tail again draws comment. O-kaaay this is T20 and anybody can clatter a few but this is surely ominous? Rashid continues the strangle; flighting now, getting turn that Agar, certainly, is barely surviving. Wow. 57 for 5 after 14.

Mills is furious with himself as Finch breaks out: two boundaries in two. The over goes for 10. Further discussion on whether Morgan will completely exclude Moeen from proceedings, on the ground that Finch may eat him up. Hmm.

Jordan will bowl the 16th. Australian pundits crediting the Poms with high-level skills and application, here – fair dinkum. But also urging the batters towards explosivity, on the grounds that they simply must get to 110-20 to have any chance in the game. Finch does smash a wide one behind point, for four. The bowler responds with a good yorker but the captain will keep the strike with a single. 75 for 5 with 16 gone.

Agar gets the first 6… then the second, Woakes missing yorker length. Finally some pressure on an Englishman. Cruelly for the bowler, who has completely unzipped the batter, a near l.b. flies down to the rope – meaning 17 from the over. Meaning Aus may yet get to 120-something. Perhaps. Mills, at 96 for 5.

Pace off. Defeats Finch but no dramas. Then Agar middles but flattish out to deep square: Livingstone pouches. 98 for 6, off 17.4. Could they even be bowled out?

Cummins – so probably not. Classical straight drive – defiantly exaggerating the ‘straight’ bit: six. Then nutty, ridiculously-timed, fore-arm hoik waaaay into the crowd over deep square; six more. Finch follows the mood but a slight outer-edge: Bairstow rushes in to claim. 110 for 7; 18.1. Starc joining Cummins.

Briefly. Jordan clears out the latter so we have two guys on nought, in the 19th… and a hat-trick ball. Zampa pushes safely out. 111 for 8 as Jordan comes around to Starc. Two? No. Zampa refuses. (Do not under-estimate the contribution that England’s intensity in the outfield has made to this. They look like a team that just doesn’t make mistakes: consequently no relief).

Mills will bowl the last. He goes for that exaggerated slower one but Starc gets most of it – or enough. Four, straight. Later, a scramble and Zampa can’t make his ground.119 for 9. Off-line: Starc twists to carve Mills behind for six more. Starc is caught behind, off the last. So Australia all out for 125: commanding, from England.

Stuff you won’t read in The Guardian. I needed a brew/cake/something. Nothing in. Broke the land speed record to the next village to buy coffee and a previously test-driven vegan pastie. (Curried job. Phworr!) Get back and spill all the bloody coffee all over the gearstick whilst clambering hastily out. Utter night mare… and I miss most of the first two overs.

They are uneventful, England quite rightly easing their way in. But Roy (of course) will be wanting to make a statement. He does, belting Cummins for a huge six. 27 for 0, after 3. Agar will bowl the fourth.

Roy and Buttler will love a cruise – particularly in this fixture – but they will also enjoy some psychological point-scoring. Buttler dances and clobbers Agar for six, over long-off. 37 for 0 after 4 and England in danger of racing ahead. These openers look comfortable – making a mockery of that which went before. Even Hazelwood’s very skilled, expertly targeted yorker gets worked away for three.

Great running, too, from England. And not running… as Starc gets levered to the horizon.. twice. Buttler absolutely killing it, against one of the world’s great quicks. Dreamland, for Morgan’s Men as they see out the powerplay at 66 for no wicket; the highest total for the tournament so far. Sweet, sweet, sweet.

Zampa will need to find something special – initially against Roy. Second ball is reviewed, after two impudent reverses. Looks close live. It was. Roy is gone – rather wastefully, you feel. (He will know a spirit-crushing 10 wicket win may have been on there). Enter Malan, who may be the ideal candidate to steer this home. England are 68 for 1, with 7 gone.

Malan cuts Starc gloriously and clips to leg. Buttler booms a full-toss. Run rate above ten: Zampa needs a four-wicket maiden. Watson on comms hugely generous but has no choice: this is becoming a performance for the ages. Buttler is back to his ridicu-best; six more. Malan is stroking. 15 from the over, 97 for 1 from 9. An obliteration in progress. Buttler has 62 from 28 balls, at this point.

But some joy, for Oz. Malan tickles a (straight) arm-ball from Agar behind and is gone. (Like Roy, he will feel he has missed out badly). The punchy Bairstow yomps out, looking determined, as always.

He gets an awful ball, plainly down leg, which Agar has the audacity to appeal. Third ball is clipped neatly to midwicket for a single. Tip and run and we have 99 for 2 after 10. The announcer has been doing more coke. Buttler remains undistracted, smashing Zampa over long-on – another 90 metre wonder.

Bairstow joins in, clubbing with forearms then sweeping expansively: both sixes. It’s a massacre. 20 from the over; 119 for 2 with just 7 needed, from 54 balls. Four of them come as Agar grabs some turn but beats everyone – even slip. The game is up when Bairstow eases out through point. An astonishing 50 balls to spare.

In the book it will say ‘8 wicket win’ but this performance will be remembered (I suspect beyond the Pom Fraternity) as an icon of brutal, barely-relenting brilliance in this format. All and any upcoming opponents now really have been warned. The Law of Averages (or Something) may yet intervene to thumb its nose at the notion of an English procession through the tournament but this group of players have proved again that they are exceptional. As an England fan I know it’s *fatal* to write the words… but what else is there? They are, they have to be favourites to win this thing.

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!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09y4ck8

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!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09y4ck8

Worcester.

#FirstWorldProblems. Can’t hardly see my screen, such is the intensity of the sunlight. But hey, can’t start with a mither about the spectacular Rick-directed brightness. Even if it has bundled me into breaking out the dodgy cap… and even if I am now squirming, just a little, in our outdoor cabin/glasshouse. Worcester, right now, you are quirky and beautiful and – as we say in Wales – bluddy lush, mun.

New Zealand win the toss and opt to field. Two changes, for England – Wyatt and Farrant in.

Interestingly, Wyatt, collecting her 200th England cap today, will bat at seven. Lots of talk about rotation and ‘workload’. Tiny crowd in, all things considered. (Sunday; good value day out, in bright sunshine; competitive international fixture in prospect). Kerr will bowl to Winfield-Hill. Beaumont the other opener. Slightly surreal situation where I have BBC Radio on – for the cricket – and 5 metres to my right (but indoors) Alison Mitchell and Georgia Adams are doing it live.

Captain Sophie Devine will follow Kerr’s quiet opener. Beaumont greets her with a classical forward drive, beating mid-off. Four. Then a full delivery on leg stick is clipped away and a third boundary comes via a full-toss, through extra. Ah. Then, having biffed 12 runs off 6 deliveries, Beaumont rather shockingly leaves one… and is bowled. She a) mis-read the angle a little and b) wasn’t ready for the critical but minor twitch off the pitch. Off stump pinged. 14 for 1. Drama Overload, early-doors.

Kerr is back for the third. The unflappable, irresistible, quietly magnificent Heather Knight (no pressure!) is in.

More action in the next over, again bowled by Devine. Winfield-Hill lifts over point then hits shot of the day – early shout but may not be beaten – creaming one out between the offside fielders. Eased out, in fact, beautifully. Five overs done and the home side are 27 for 1. Time for Tahuhu.

Out on the field I’m thinking the temperature is about 70 degrees. Where the (three of us) Written Press People are sitting it’s into the 80s. #Justsaying. We are all wearing dodgy caps but still squinting from beneath their plainly inadequate peaks. The day is ridiculous; again. Whilst we’re digressing I note that Bromsgrove School are sponsoring something down here: their logo is up on the scoreboard. Have been there on junior tours. Three cricket pitches and a general embarrassment of riches.

Did I mention we’re viewing from third man? (Right hand bat). Knight pulls Tahuhu hard, for four. 45 for 1 after 8, with both batters looking tidy. Fifty is up as Kerr strays narrowly but beats everything. The trashy metal pillar with its peeling paint and stubborn permanence, blocking my view of mid-off and the cathedral… will only be mentioned once.

Winfield-Hill really does clatter Tahuhu over square leg, for a one-bounce four. Ten over powerplay done, England 59 for 1.

Rowe joins us for the 11th, from the New Road End. A floaty away-swinger draws a nick, from Knight: gone, caught Martin, for 18. (It did swing late – so great ball, first up). Sciver will join Winfield-Hill. Mixed over, ultimately, containing two wides and a worldie. Tahuhu follows.

Winfield-Hill again pushes neatly through the covers. With Beaumont and Knight both gone, she will feel England need her to go big. Might make sense for her to bat through whilst the likes of Sciver and Wyatt bring some boom.

*Except* that the Mighty Sciver is leaving us, having tamely chipped to cover, off the outer edge. Again Rowe the successful bowler. 67 for 3 and New Zealand back in the game. Amy Jones – who is by nature a positive or attacking player – will be conscious that a Proper Partnership is needed. Credit to the Ferns, who are again looking organised, committed and a threat. Devine returns, to look to press home the recent advantage.

Another sloppy dismissal. Jones has tried a wristy flick but merely dinked one straight to midwicket. Given the context, poor. 68 for 4 so England in some minor grief. Dunkley will have a further opportunity to fill that post-collapse ‘saviour’ role. (Henry Moeran informs us that England have fallen into a 3 for 89 off 22 balls-sized hole, of late). Strikes me again that New Zealand – the away side – are here to compete.

Dunkley takes Rowe for four. A trainer brings on water – and no doubt *messages*.

Alex Hartley is suddenly bit mortified she said “brain fart” on the radio – describing that Beaumont dismissal. Izzy Westbury meanwhile is waxing lyrical about the delivery, from Sophie Devine. Genuinely encouraging to see and hear the comm-box – doorway, 3.25 metres to my right – owned by young women.

Coo. The stand is now just offering a little protection from the glare. Still magical conditions out where it matters. Oh – and the crowd has grown, too. Significantly.

Quiet period – as there was, mid-innings, in the previous game of the series. Dunkley air-shotting and Winfield-Hill weirdly missing from the action. The England pair may yet ‘see this out’ but it’s a battle, currently. W-H has 30 from 49 and Dunkley is on 10, off 24. Tahuhu goes short and is pulled – but just for the single.

The bowler repeats that shortish one and Dunkley gets in a mess; succeeding only in scuffing it from high on the bat to the catcher at midwicket. She’s drawn lots of lurv, this season, for her strong contributions with the bat (in domestic formats) plus her fielding has been highly-rated, but live, for England, I’ve not been that convinced, by Dunkley. Even when she allegedly carried England through, at Hove. Batting a touch scratchy, fielding mixed: possible rather than nailed-on ‘international’ is my view, thus far – outlier though that makes me.

Another decent ball gets another ugly wicket. 85 for 5; enter Dani Wyatt . Our first sight of Kasperek in the match. Wyatt is another ‘natural counter-attacker’: am fascinated to know what her coach Keightley might have said (if anything) before she marched out. Only 20 overs into the event.

Wyatt rises to her tiptoes and cuts Tahuhu neatly for four. Genuine, quick bouncer follows. The batter ducks. Another short one is clonked forward of square, raising two more, before the hundred is up, in this the 22nd over. (So run-rate mediocre… and credit New Zealand as well as indifferent batting).

Cloud cover has increased by 39.4%. No idea if that was forecast – don’t think we’re expecting any rain – but England might want to draft Shrubsole back in, sharpish.

25 overs in – so halfway. England 110, which is probably 30 runs light of where they’d like or expected to be. 5 down. Assuming they use the overs, a total of around 250 seems not unthinkable. It may be enough. For the home side to get beyond that this Wyatt/Winfield-Hill axis may need to persist and then flourish. It could. In any event we’re back to thought that White Ferns compete well, with the ball. For the sake of the game and the series, I hope they can do the same with the bat.

Satterthwaite joins, W-H seems becalmed. Then disaster. Wyatt pulls Kasperek and the batters set off. Two is questionable; or questioned; or risked; or out of the question. Utter howler on the communications front: both batters finish up at the same end. Village? Oh yes. It’s Winfield-Hill who has to walk. After 28 overs, with Charlie Dean now in there with Wyatt, England are in bother at 122 for 6.

To her credit, Wyatt is sweeping Satterthwaite ambitiously. Four behind square.

Meteorologically, the sky is falling in, to match the English innings. Low, decidedly grey cloud over most of the ground. Significantly more bowler-friendly (theoretically) than a couple of hours ago. Interestingly, the Ferns are going with spin through this ‘seamers’ dream’.

Dean, now on 8, plays and misses at Kasperek. Then gets a fine, fine edge which is given after review. 134 for 7 as Ecclestone walks out there. Good running brings a rare three, behind. With under-achievement now seeming inevitable, for England, so our speculation about what seems likely, from New Zealand, becomes increasingly pertinent. Truth is… hard to know. (Always hard to know, of course, but today from this batting line-up – which to be honest, we still know comparatively little about – hard to know). England will probably bowl and field well. The rest – guesswork.

Kerr is in from New Road. The rate of scoring is only about 4 per over. Wyatt waits then cuts away behind square. Four. She now has 35.

Ecclestone – who is a swiper and clubber rather than a genuine bat – clumps Kasperek towards cover and it falls just short. Then Wyatt clouts over extra and Devine is scurrying back there… but again, safe – rather narrowly. Tense. Not sure you would bet on the home side using the overs.

Rowe is back for the 35th over, with England 144 for 7. Ecclestone clubs her short one directly to midwicket. Sloppy again? I would say so. Cross edges her first ball finely and safely. Moments later, reaching at Kasperek, she edges and finds gully. 146 for 9. Whatever happens next – and it *is entirely possible* that England blow the Ferns away as the afternoon turns to evening – this is close to humiliating, for Knight’s team. A whole series of ver-ry poor dismissals.

Farrant has joined Wyatt with a remarkable 15 overs remaining. 150 up before Farrant clips away a leg-side full-toss. Rowe is soon met with a violent straight hit, middled, from Wyatt – the game’s first six. I have on occasion been critical of Wyatt’s capacity for gifting her wicket. *Ironies*. Today she may get to 50 whilst effectively being both the anchor and the sticking-plaster. (I have never doubted that she is a player).

Tahuhu is back and Farrant, who I note *carries the bat like a bowler, whilst running between the sticks*, stands firm. And wow… the sun is back. Really back, blazing again from our right.

Rowe, to try to end this, from New Road. Bowls another wide. Farrant has 11 and Wyatt 45. Weather-wise, we’re back where we started – in Near Wild Heaven. Rowe returns to Wide Hell, sadly – despite showing promise, has bowled manifestly too many. 171 for 9 as Tahuhu comes in for the 40th over. Farrant looks, or is trying to look unflustered but seems a little racy, somehow. Flicks at one down leg but the snick falls short of Martin.

Prolonged and hearty applause, as Wyatt reaches 50. Likewise when she booms Rowe over mid-off for her second six. Fine, lone knock, enjoyed and appreciated.

Farrant edges Rowe but again the ball drops short of the keeper. So things feel precarious. Wyatt back-cuts Tahuhu but Green makes an outstanding diving stop at the boundary. May have to start calling Tarrant ‘plucky’. Has 21. May have been a case for getting Kerr and Devine on 5 or 6 overs ago. Kerr will bowl the 43rd.

200 will feel like a ‘milestone’. England approaching. The 50 partnership is up; could be major in the game. Can Kasperek break this open? Not immediately; Wyatt successfully dropping and scampering. But then… yes. Farrant is caught by Green at mid-on, unable to power up and over. England 197 all out: disappointing from them. Good, from the White Ferns.

The White Ferns Reply.

Sciver, first up, for England, in returning cloud, with Suzie Bates to face. Lauren Down the other batter. Quiet over, then Farrant, whom I suspect may swing it. The rather mean thought(?) has occurred that *whatever happens*, we will be travelling to our homes come about 5.30pm. Winfield-Hill draws generous applause with a bold, successful diving stop.

Sciver is doing that exaggerated vertical pistons thing and searching for a full length. No dramas. 10 for 0 after 3. A shower feels not impossible, suddenly. Bit unfortunate that the screen opposite us, from which we’ve had the benefit of replays, is no longer offering footage. Would be good to see if Farrant, in particular, is getting anything through the air. If she is, it’s not troubling Bates, who has moved to 19. (As I finish this sentence, we get stump-cam, then four seconds of video, then back to zilch. More #firstworldproblems).

Bates cracks Sciver through the covers for four more. 33 for 0 after 7. Perfect, for the Ferns. Farrant will continue but I’m guessing there may be changes after this over. Indeed there are; Kate Cross, from the Diglis End, for starters. Bates ungenerously whips her for four. But the Slightly Sloppy Wicket theme recurrs, as Bates drives straight to Wyatt. The catch is reviewed but confirmed, despite unconvincing angles and picture clarity. Probably out, I would say. 40 for 1 as Farrant comes in again.

Down goes to 11 with a nicely-focussed off-drive, for four. 44 for 1, at 10 overs completed. Imagine Farrant feels – or her skipper does – that there’s still something in this for her. She gets a sixth over.

My feeling is that Cross is a bowler of good spells and not so many killer balls. And that she also tends to offer width – and boundaries, to off. Happening here, a little. She almost gets a caught and bowled, as Down pushes. 62 for 1 after 13. Comfortable, for New Zealand. Ecclestone will look to disturb the relative peace.

She does. Green is caught by a ver-ry watchful Charlie Dean. Ball steepled to long-on. Wicket out of nowhere? Ecclestone’s your gal. Satterthwaite comes in at 63 for 2. A thin rain is falling – not enough, for now, to interrupt the game.

It may, however, have interrupted the White Ferns’ concentration. Down is lbw to Cross and does not review. 63 for 3. Devine time.

They’re starting from scratch together but Satterthwaite and Devine might manage this situation better than most. Have quality; have experience. Drinks break whilst we contemplate what that might mean. 73 for 3 after 16, New Zealand.

Cross, once more. Devine crunches her square but Beaumont’s hands are good. No run. Sciver can’t match that. She dives over a drilled drive and it goes for four. Not had a great time of it, today, the all-rounder. Just heard on social that Jimmy Greaves has died. Sad moment; he was a genius on the pitch and a character in our lives off it.

*Almost something* as Wyatt is throwing at the bowler’s end with Devine looking stranded, following yet another communications failure. Wyatt is probably England’s best fielder but the throw is missing and Cross can’t haul it in. An escape, for the Ferns.

Satterthwaite fails to make the best of that escape. She slashes at Cross and is caught sharply behind by the consistently excellent Jones. Halliday has joined Devine. Dean will bowl her first from the Diglis End. Devine sweeps her powerfully, for four. Twice. Ten from the over, 100 up, 4 down, as we go into the 22nd.

The screens are now helpfully telling us that the White Ferns need three point something-something runs per over. And it’s raining finely again. And the game feels quiet rather than tense. For now. Little bit surprised that the umpires are allowing the players to go off – the rain really seems ver-ry minor*. Maybe they’re hearing that it will persist. 111 for 4 after 24 overs, at the break of play.

*Update. I’m both wrong and right. It’s minor but it’s too prolonged and uncomfortable to play through. We wait. Just heard about that Hammers Icon, Noble. Eek-face emoji running rampant on the Twitters, I imagine?

Further update: ‘unexpected shower sets in’ shock. No floodlights. Game under some threat…

It’s cleared – or clearing. We could start in 15 minutes but we *are starting* in 35, apparently. Stand by your beds.

Slightly reduced game, due to time lost/no lights/autumnal wotsits. 42 over game, now and New Zealand need 72 to win. So a round 4 an over will get the visitors home. That shortened game favours them in the sense that you would think their 6 remaining wickets can survive the overs. But let’s see.

Sciver will start us off. Jumpers on, now, for most. Coolish and the surface will be slightly damp. Imagine England will have to bowl them out to win this(?) Two from the over.

Now from our left, at the New Road End, it’s Ecclestone. Sharp reflexes from the bowler, last ball; one single conceded. Then *moment*. Sciver gets straight through Devine. Difficult to be sure but appeared that the batter mistimed the stroke, going gently across the line. Devine made 28 and her team need 66. Dean comes in: is Ecclestone changing ends, or being ‘saved?’

Thick edge from Martin but the next ball bowls her. Some revs evident, but no turn. 121 for 6, she’s gone for 6. Dean thrilled.

The incoming Rowe drives competently past Knight – who is maybe a little wooden – and gets the boundary. Then more Sciver. No dramas.

Back to Dean, with the tension just beginning to ratchet up. Nice, free action. Singles. The sense that Halliday may be more vulnerable than Rowe. 30 0vers; 12 remain. 52 to win this. Cross will return from the Diglis End. Starts with a yorker, kept out, by Halliday. Inside edge brings one, to fine leg. Dean races around to protect that same boundary – successfully.

Halliday, crouching and fending unconvincingly, is struck on the helmet by a good length delivery, from Cross. Minor delay but she seems okay. No question that Rowe is presenting the bat better than her partner… but not well enough. Dean has her lbw. Flighted delivery which turned just a tickle – hitting leg. Kasperek joins Halliday at 135 for 7.

First ball she utterly mistimes… and misses… but survives. Encouraging wee spell for Dean, acknowledged by the crowd (us) as she returns to third man. (*Spoiler alert*: she will finish with a four-fer). Halliday swivels to pick Cross up very fine and the ball flies, from the hip to the boundary. Run rate just creeping against the Ferns, now but still below 5, so hardly insurmountable. Dean is holding steady. 145 for 7 off 34. Meaning 38 required, off 8 overs. Ecclestone.

Two dot balls. Single. Dot ball. Halliday advances and slices a touch. Lots of side-spin as the ball sinks into the boundary markers. Halliday has a precious 29, without looking entirely in her flow. Dean is in to her now. The ball is fired in, a little and flashes past the bat. Halliday cannot regain her ground as the keeper Jones pounces. Tahuhu – who batted notably well in the last game – is in.

Big Day for Dean, then – something of a breakthrough day. The momentum is with England as Ecclestone comes in again but she knows boundaries must not come. If Kasperek and Tahuhu can keep their composure they will feel that this is still within reach… but it’s now undeniably tense. Three dot balls from Dean then an l.b. shout. Given and not reviewed. 161 for 9. Kerr joins Tahuhu. Slight hunch that the latter could still win this with a few well-timed blows… but England clear favourites.

Farrant. Is edged through the keeper! Then bowls a touch short and may be fortunate to concede just the single. The left-arm seamer closes this out, though, as Tahuhu guides a full one straight to the England skipper at catching mid-off. Very generous applause for both sides as they depart from the outfield. Another tightish game – albeit reduced – won by England with 14 runs to spare. Importantly, another contest.

The White Ferns have been well in both of these two one-day matches, before fading or lacking the batting depth to earn the victories. (In truth, this was the prime concern for those of us trying to stay relatively neutral – the fear that if Bates and Devine and A. N. Other didn’t carry the innings, the side might prove vulnerable. So it has proved). New Zealand will not be liking the sense that they are threatening to be a good side.

England, meanwhile, have been pressured to the point that they, despite an apparent wealth of talent, looked an ordinary batting unit, rescued only by a fine, belated partnership between Wyatt and Farrant. There were serial errors in the innings, suggesting scrambled minds and a worrying contagion: this is a concern for them. Good work in the field has bailed them out, again, here.

The series needs the White Ferns to bat longer, bat more dynamically. England need to assert some authority – if indeed they have it – or check their assumptions about where they sit in the world game. The Keightley Era feels a bit neurotic.

#FinalsDay. (Men). #Edgbaston.

Wow. Energising breeze-in to a comfy parking-slot, embarrassingly nearby. Sun’s already vanquished that pesky misty dew. Waltz up to Media Level and… wow. Edgbaston does it again. Zingtasticly resplendent stadium; cavernous and stunning and guarded, rather weirdly but quietly-gloriously, by epic trees – Cricket Ents? – screening the mid-skyline, leaving only the grandest of glassy, concretey poseurs to peek in towards us. Plus *facilities* already revealing themselves. Food; info; screens; people who look like they will help. A magnificent privilege, every year.

9.45. Somerset pace bowlers already working towards some heat on a side wicket. Hawks guys using tapes to measure out run-ups on the match pitch. Big Name Journos assembling close by. Some are delightful, some are – yaknow – ‘cool’. (Never been a networker). As in life, speak to everyone who seems friendly; leave the others alone, eh? Mason Crane, I think – in cap and full trackie – is turning the ball markedly on a strip directly (directly) under my nose. Impressive and mildly exciting. Somerset take on Hamps Hawks in the first game.

The carrot-and-coriander (crypto-Glamorgan) sausage is tasty and welcome but the bun is a disappointing duffer. Loading up on food and coffee *seems* like a good idea – monster of a day ahead. (Actually I know gallons of coffee is going to make my once-svelte belly bloat like hell but forgot to bring a knife and a lemon and asking for them would plainly single me out as the Psycho Health Fascist in the bunch. Which I am not).

Hawks doing that tripartite warm-up thing where you rotate through fielding drills, in groups of four or so. Keeper being worked individually. That practice strip underneath me is well lively. Watching the ball swing some but turn pret-ty square. Doubt the main pitch will be quite as bowler-friendly but we live in hope. Somerset have won the toss and chosen to field. Hampshire, the Official Programme tells me, are playing in their eighth final in twelve years.

When we finally get going, it’s the returning Overton charging in, with some menace, through the post-pyrotechnic mist. Good pace. Vince and Albert look to be seeing it out but Vince utterly mistimes the final ball, dinking it back (as opposed to slapping it back) to the bowler. Overton can’t hold on. Big Chance. Albert takes Davey for four, square, in the next but then the bowler a) nearly bowls him and b) has a decent l.b. shout against. Batters advancing but we have seen little in the way of clean hitting. Albert, frustrated, tries to invent something but can only tamely mis-scoop behind. Gone for 5. Hawks are 8 for 1 after 2.

Make that 8 for 2. Vince is cutting something too close and also edging to the keeper. Overton the bowler. Weatherley comes in under early pressure. He slog-sweeps, boldly, just evading the fielder at deep square. Six runs. Bright sunshine and the ground about 35% full. Tom Prest has yet to face as Weatherley sweetly clumps Davey for another six, then drives him straight for four. Brilliant start from the batsman, given the moment he was pitched into. When Prest finally gets a look, it’s brief. Davey delivers a peach, full and doing a little off the surface: batter gone for nought. Hampshire in some grief at 26 for 3 as Overton races in again, for the 5th.

Weatherly goes to 23 off 12, steering to the boundary. Ground filling rapidly. Dawson has joined us.

There is a prolonged ‘discussion’ out there as wicketkeeper Banton takes a skier, running twenty yards. Dawson – experienced and streetwise – is vigorously *having words* and we are guessing it may be about fielders moving… but unclear. After an age, the batsman is given not out and a free hit signalled. (No audio in the press box so you may be ahead of me, on this)*. Van der Merwe is bowling from the City End – tidily enough, three from the over. 49 for 3 now, after 7.

*Update. Marchant de Lange apparently guilty of not moving back into the ring. Oof. The big man will be off somebody’s Christmas card list.

Dawson flips an ugly, wristy leading edge towards Gregory but the Hampshire skipper can’t quite get there. Maybe he should have done… but doesn’t matter. Green’s slower-ball yorker soon defeats the fella – bowling him classically ‘all ends up’. Given the influence Liam Dawson tends to have, on proceedings, this feels pivotal. By the time Goldsworthy has wheeled/slung his way through a further over of mid-innings spin, Hawks are beyond 70, but 4-down. Bigger Picture Styleee, we’ve seen enough to hope that today won’t all be about brazenly smashing through the line: the bowlers are in it.

Goldsworthy is. He has McManus – another catch for Banton, semi-juggling. 80 for 5, in the 13th. Marchant de Lange is next in, for the first time, from beneath us. Biggish appeal, but clearly missing. Weatherley persists, joined most recently by Fuller. Mixed over culminates in a high full-toss, merely parried to safety. 84 for 5.

Fuller strikes Goldsworthy through extra, for four: he will need to support his partner. Weatherley gets through to his fifty via a very scratchy single; in truth it may have been a second fairly ordinary piece of fielding by Gregory, who *really might* have run him out. Instead the Hawks’ sole major contributor (so far) has 50 off 38. De Lange, revisited. Bowling 90-plus. No fireworks, however.

Poorish, wide ball from van der Merwe spins even wider but Fuller gets a little on it… and 100 is up. Shocking full-toss is summarily dispatched into the crowd but a calamitous mix-up between the batters yields a soft wicket. That of Fuller, who made 22. 112 for 6, as De Lange comes in for the 18th.

Wood heaves him, slightly toe-ending to deep midwicket, where the fielder, absolutely racing round can only get a hand to it. Four. Next ball is clubbed, downtown. Six. The final delivery is also powered into the crowd. All Fuller, all crucial. 130 for 6. Davey will return – changing ends – for the penultimate over.

Davey again finds something: stonkingly full and straight delivery. Wood’s 18 off 6 has been thrilling but he must leave us. Currie joins Weatherley. Davey does him with the same delivery, second ball. Brilliant stuff. The incoming Crane has one to face. He scuffs and scuttles for two. We are 135 for 8 as De Lange runs in… to try and redeem himself. (Am amazed he gets to bowl this).

First two balls get battered contemptuously, by Weatherley, for six but his genuinely superb contribution ends with a skier to long-on. Innings closes with another run-out, on 152 all out.

Feels competitive, because only De Lange was subjected to a sustained barrage: elsewhere the bowling looked too good or too difficult to hit, without some care. We may, as a result, have a day where scores are lowish but drama is heightened by the relative un-freedom of the batters. Often the guys with the wood can let it flow, violently, through the line, in the knowledge that things will tend work out for them. Not quite like that, here.

The Reply.

Wood opens for the Hawks, with Banton and Smeed in there for Somerset. Just the one from the over. Smeed crunches the first boundary through extra, from Wheal. Notable that good yorkers have, apparently, some value – who knew? 8 for 0 off 2. A touch more cloud?

Prest is in athletically to pouch Banton, in the deep. Goodish hit but not pure enough. Van der Merwe will join Smeed. I pause to note that there are about FIFTY journos in the media centre, today. At the England matches I’ve been attending, there have been 5-8 and I expect that to hold for tomorrow’s game in Worcester. What could the erm, *issue* be, I wonder?

A long umpire’s review, because it was close. It was close but Vince did indeed pick up the low, low scudder and thereby claim the wicket of van der Merwe, for 2. Smeed responds by lifting Currie for four, over mid-off. 28 for 2 after 5.

Short-lived joy for the west-country supporters, as the same batsman swishes across left-armer Wood, a little, to pick out a grateful Vince (again), chest-high. 30 for 3 after the powerplay. Mason Crane.

A run-out! Goldsworthy is out, sprinting into the void. Messy gets marginally worse, as Lammonby plays and misses one which does straighten, and is plumb. 34 for 5 and time for the skipper – Gregory – to man up. More spin, from Dawson.

Great chorus of “OH – RAVI BO-PAA-RAA” from the Hollies. Long day for all of us but surely a killer for many of them? Meanwhile, with Somerset at 48 for 5 at the halfway mark, and the required rate now already just over 10, Abell and Gregory – fine players both – may have to find something special. The relative quiet in the game will not suit them.

Error at the boundary edge gifts a four. More needed. Abell slog-sweeps Dawson, with commitment and no little style, for four more. Singles/twos won’t do this, so they must be thinking two boundaries per over: they have to hit.

Currie is in and backward point is almost in the game, for the cut. Falls a foot short. We have a partnership building but it may lack the necessary dynamism: expect them to launch, of course but is this enough? A six helps… but Gregory falling to Dawson, mistiming, via the pad, doesn’t. Green is here, at 79 for 6, with the bowler’s energy fizzing.

Crane will bowl the 15th, with Somerset needing plenty. Crowd fully involved, now, sun and cloud still local: great scene. Runs but not enough.

Wood from under my left foot. Evidently ‘difficult to get away’. Has figures of 1 for 8 from his 3 overs, so far. 100 is up and Abell’s 50 with it as Currie bowls from the City End. But it’s 50 and “by-ee” as Abell is easily caught in the deep, by Fuller. 105 for 7 after 17, meaning 46 needed from 18 balls.

Wheal beats Overton but there is no nick. Green swings hard and gets enough to beat backward square leg, then guns a loose full-toss over midwicket for six. 35 from 14. Yorkers still featuring. A second, poor full-toss is swung into the Hollies.

Woods has changed ends to bowl the 19th but even he gets no respect. Six. Green. Interesting.

Next ball is swung to the same precinct but mishit. The fielder seems unsure of the trajectory… or something. Down it goes; single scored. Somerset in the game?

YES! Green goes to 35 from 17 by clipping and hoisting over mid-wicket – just. 12 from 8 needed, suddenly.

The heroics – well, Green’s – are over. Shortish one clubbed to long on. Caught with some ease. Overton dribbles one out to make two possible… and gets there. 10 needed from the last. Entirely possible, except Davey is facing – on nought.

Single to midwicket. Wheal goes yorker-length again and only one is possible. Beautiful swing of the bat lifts the third ball up and over and safe. Six. So JUST THREE NEEDED FROM TWO BALLS! Field come in and Davey flicks nonchalantly to leg. Fabulous game, won by Somerset, by two wickets.

Much-needed food. Mascot race. Rest.

SHARKS v SPITFIRES.

The lively Garton, leggy, left-handed, starts with a wide, to leg. Crawley is facing, with Bell-Drummond at t’other end. A second wide is worse – further astray – and not that quick, so nerves, presumably. Six come from that mixed over.

Wiese starts with a full (attempted) leg-cutter but Crawley, charging, hoiks the second away, agriculturally, for our first boundary. Bell-Drummond then guides one to fine-leg for four more, before pulling squarer. 22 for 0 after 2. Brisk start.

Garton finds his range, castling Crawley. (Felt like he was getting too greedy too early). A Plan, no doubt, but he was halfway down the strip for most of his shortish innings. Made 9, from 9. Denly joins Bell-Drummond. Jordan’s direct hit is typically brilliant but to no effect. Tymal Mills – quickish, natural length shortish – will come in from under the media centre. The runs continue to come: 18 from the over. 44 for 1 after just 4. The lovely, wider sunshine is back, flooding. A further change from the City End; Jordan.

He’s going at 84/85 mph, straightish but Bell-Drummond check-cuts one out through cover. Four. Fifty is up, in the over. When Garton returns Denly looks to hoist him classically straight but the bat twists; he finds mid-on and the hands of one of the great fielders in the world game – yup, Chris Jordan. Something of a gift. 53 for 2 after 6.

Sam Billing is in and the youngster Lenham will have a bowl. No major dramas: Kent are going at 8.5 an over. They may be thinking they don’t need to go too big too early. The ‘police’ are chasing ‘burglars’ around the Hollies as Bell-Drummond gets to a beautifully well-judged 50. I put my shades back on – yes, indoors. The carnival is building.

Beer is bowling his second over of leg-spin from in front of us. Getting some turn, in fact. Spitfires get to 82 for 2 at the halfway. Bopara-time, evidently.

The still-influential all-rounder comes at us from the City End. Right arm, medium; mixing it up. Escapes with a full-toss that should have been dispatched… but is belatedly called high… so free hit. Six to square leg. Sharks *really won’t* want Billings to get in alongside his partner – who now has 62.

He doesn’t. Bopara bowls him. 93 for 3, then, as Mills returns, to bowl the 12th. 180 feels possible, and 170 likely.

OOF. Splash of colour and light and the wickets are splayed. Leaning has come and gone – second ball – to the England leftie. Cox joins, Mills bowls a fabulous, searching, quick one and finds an edge: caught behind. Two-in-two and we may need to re-calculate. Except the mighty Stevens, D, is the man in to face the hat-trick ball. (And c’mon, the man’s a legend). He watches the delivery scoot past.

96 for 5 after 12. Still think Sharks will want best part of 80 from the last 8 overs. Bell-Drummond is well in; Stevens is a legend. Let’s see.

100 up after 12.3. Bell-Drummond using Jordan’s pace – caressing. We’re at the stage where the Hollies is erm, a protagonist. Hilarious; daft; noisy; good-humoured. God help the stewards down there.

More soft hands, from Bell-Drummond. Kisses quite deliberately through the keeper. Then Stevens bludgeons over mid-off. Bopara the victim, both times. Five overs remain with Kent Spitfires sitting on 122 for 5. Garton in.

A wide one is thick-edged wide of third man. Four to Stevens, who now has 20. B-D flicks one to 45, high, looping. Could be Lenham misjudges a little. In any case he dives and misses. Four more.

We may all have been wondering if Bell-Drummond would raise his century but the answer is no. He drills Garton straight to Bopara at deep mid-wicket. Gone for an outstanding, skilful 82. Stewart has joined Stevens. Jordan has joined the Slam in the Yorkers Society, with some success. 143 for 6 after 17. (Note it’s 15.45 and the cut-off time is 15.53. Meaningless?)

Stewart can’t hit Mills, which means that Stevens probably must. But just for one. Massive cheer for ‘Ronald McDonald’, to my right… don’t ask.

Spitfires have just spluttered a tad. 150 up but minor under-achievement seems likely. So Stevens scoops cheekily for four. Then smashes but just for two, to deep extra. Jordan’s last ball he does nail. Clean hit through that same extra-cover area. 160 for 6; 6 balls remaining.

Mills finds the edge, first up. Stewart gone for 3, caught by Salt, at the wicket. Qais then runs himself out – not bargaining for Steven’s intransigence. The veteran slams four more over point. We finish with 168 for 8, with Stevens in on 47 from 28.

The reply, from Sussex Sharks.

Denly to Salt and Wright – an experienced threesome. The bowler turns one big but nine runs come from the over. Then a significant change-up as Klaasen comes in; left-arm, quick, but swinging significantly wide. Called. Salt comes at the bowler and cuffs him sharply to leg, for four. Slowish off-cutter does for Salt: edged through to the keeper Billings.

Denly again – a ‘part-timer’ but a bloke who does give it a tweak. Bopara and Wright will be watchful. 26 for 1 after 3. Milnes, who has star quality, will follow.

First ball is clipped neatly enough square, for one. Thick edge then flies over point – safely. Two. Ground almost full; day spectacular, still. As is (I kid you not) the very next ball. Milnes castles Knight with a pearler, to substantial exhilaration.

Stewart is in from the City and hurrying the batsmen. The left-handed Rawlins sees him out, rather. 37 for 2 after 5. Killer back-of-the-hand yorker from Klaasen leaves the same batter on his backside… but in. Good contest again, between bat and ball.

There’s been a minor lull in the stroke-making. The kind that makes batters feel they have to have a go. Rawlins does – fatally – slashing wide and easy out to deep point. By no means an easy catch, mind: excellent agility and great hands from Leaning. 39 for 3, then, as Wiese stomps in: a single added before the fielding side wave farewell to those powerplay restrictions.

But life is cruel, eh, because it’s just too easy for some. Take Darren Stevens. He’s in. He’s taking a wicket. First ball. *Shakes head and makes wtf gestures*. Ridiculous. But also completely predictable.

Qais applies further angst to the Sharks’ camp. Absolute stonker of a leg-spinner takes the edge and shifts Bopara. Billings jubilant to snaffle it – always a big wicket that one. 57 for 5, at this point.

We get to halfway. The run-rate is 10-plus. Ward is in – has 20 – and Garton fresh. Spitfires ahead in the game *but yaknowww*…

The day beginning to slough away its warmth. Garton smashes a way a drag-down, from Qais. His fellow spinner, Leaning, will make the next breakthrough: Ward clumping to the fielder. 89 for 6 after 13.1. A round 80 needed, from 41 balls. Chris Jordan has marched out. Garton drives Leaning beautifully through the covers, to the boundary. Can the two frontline bowlers rise to this?

Qais returns from the City End, with the asking-rate beyond 12. So there must be drama and urgency, or capitulation. Garton flukes an edge behind, for four then extends through to get past long-off, narrowly, for another. Last ball of the over is struck with sweet emphasis into the crowd beyond midwicket. 57 from 30.

Milnes is in to, erm, the national anthem. Of England. Garton – plainly a danger – swishes and times it for six more, over backward square. It can’t last. The Sharks’ quickie is undone by the Spitfires’; caught cutting to backward point. Fabulous, stylishly defiant innings of 41 from 23. Beer joins Jordan. 16 overs done: 2 a ball needed, precisely. 48 from 24. (We do like a bit of symmetry, eh?)

Stewart, from the City. Shadows. Jordan gets all of a short one. Six. Ten from the over.

Klaasen gets biffed back straightish, by Beer. Four. But Jordan can only slash a steepler straight to long-off. Presently (as I think they used to say?) we get to a place where the Sharks need 30 from the last 2 overs. Mills – not known for his batting prowess – is in there alongside Beer. All manner of milling/boozy-related headlines are becoming possible but what will actually happen?

Predictably, Milne is too good for Mills, bowling him with a floaty one. 23 needed, from 7. Young Lenham is greeted by a quicker, fuller one which he keeps out.

Last over feels a formality and is. A short one steered gently round the corner by Lenham is catching practice for Qais and the game belongs to Kent. Klaasen the wicket-taker. We have a Spitfires v Somerset final. The light is already leaving us, my energy is challenged but I’m up for it if you are? Some deeeep breaths – and cakes* – and then we go again.

*Did I mention the hospitality here is world-class? I should. It is, and the staff here have my heartfelt thanks.

THE FINAL – SOMERSET v KENT SPITFIRES.

Somerset have won the toss and opted to field. We have lights – I mean lights that are now earning their living – against a darkening sky. Some of the crowd (I’m guessing 20%*) have left. No changes to either side.

Craig Overton is opening up, from the City End. Crawley will face, with Bell-Drummond partnering. Second ball struck sweetly through mid-wicket, across the cooling carpet, for four. Davey, who bowled outstandingly in the earlier game, is in and also getting some bounce – again almost troubling Bell-Drummonds’ glove.

*Correction. Only about 5 % have left. The buggers were loitering, endlessly around the various bars.

Crawley (who *has something*, yes?) flicks Overton to 45 for four. Could be ver-ry good viewing if he finds his flow. 19 for 0 after 3.

Davey once more. Lights leaning in, now. He tries the yorker but B-D unceremoniously clubs him downtown. Six. Strangely – or maybe not, these days – not middled. Gregory makes another error in the field – his third, at least. Weird: Crawley gets two more. Overton will bowl a third, running towards us.

Crawley pushes calmly straight to go to 22 from 14. Looking decent.

Sixth over. Van der Merwe spears one in sharpish, flattish and Bell-Drummond can only slap it to mid-on. 44 for 1 as Denly joins us. Extraordinarily, he hoists the spinner high, high and way over Abell’s left shoulder, first up. The fielder legs it and measures a brilliant diving catch – a magical, possibly inspirational moment. We have a hat-trick ball, for Sam Billings. He survives it. 46 for 2 after the powerplay.

More spin, from Goldsworthy – a left-armer and off-spinner. 50 up. Five from the over. The left arm spin-theme continues, with van der Merwe. A poor, short delivery is inexplicably drilled by Billings to the man at mid-off: awful and wasteful. He will be furious. Gone for 2. Proper Dusk is with us, at 7.17pm. Leaning has joined Crawley and Goldsworthy maintains the cackhanders’ hold on the innings.

Crawley breaks out with a clump through mid-wicket. Four. No flight whatsoever from Goldsworthy, just a conservative, disciplined firing-in. 62 for 3 after 9.

Van der Merwe, zesty and irritating, bustles in once more. Flat period, for Spitfires. 65 for 3 at halfway implies 150 rather than the 170 they may be looking for. Power-hitting imminent, surely?

Green is bringing some pace from the City and Gregory is drying the ball, now, with a towel. Poor, waist-high delivery is buffed away rather than punished… but free hit ensues. Kent can’t cash in.

When Goldsworthy switches ends and drops one short, Crawley reaches and pulls, unconvincingly. Finds the fielder. He made 41 from 32 but the innings tapered somewhat. Cox is the new man. Another short delivery dies in the pitch, outside off. If the batsman hadn’t committed early to a reverse, you feel it might have been a real gift. Instead – air-shot. Somerset will be loving the lack of fluency, here.

Green goes full and straight, Leaning drives sharply back at him and the bowler can’t unfurl his arms. Half-chance at best.

A much-needed boundary as a top-edgy effort swings up and over to fine leg. Van der Merwe will come in for his fourth… and bowl a loose wide. Low energy effort from the batting side, now, which must mean it feels tricky out there. 3 for 19 from the spell from the canny left-armer. Darkness around.

Goldsworthy will likewise see out his overs. Again it will be air-less and fired-in too short to be charged. The 100 is up, for 4 in that 15th over. (105, in fact, as Goldsworthy tosses back the ball). 140 likely? Over to Davey.

The necessary clutch of Kent boundaries seem almost unthinkable. Davey is mostly pace-off: a slower-ball bouncer – which may have been accidental – draws another error. Leaning can only miscue to Green at mid-wicket. What can Darren Stevens do?

De Lange bowls an off-cutter at his nose. Stevens steps back calmly enough and glides it to fine third man, for a single. Cox swings straight through but mistimes a little: gets enough of it to clear mid-on. Bits and pieces when they need to find some serious boom. It must be tricky, out there. 118 for 5 after 17.

Craig Overton will bowl his final over from underneath us. Cox cuts and Gregory can’t get there – four. First six for an age is neatly taken in the stand beyond long-on. A short-of-a-length ball biffed primary-school style but ver-ry welcome to the Spitfire Posse.

De Lange bowls a notably swift one at Stevens. Comprehensively beaten but it was on sixth stump. But Cox really gathers one in, to clear the mid-wicket boundary with something to spare. The Stevens Myth, however will gather no further tonight – not with the bat, at least – as he is run out by Overton, scampering for an unlikely two. We are at 149 for 6 as Davey sets for the final over.

A further run-out does for Stewart but Cox gets to a gritty and sporadically explosive 50 and beyond, for the Spitfires. They bring the game back to the opposition, as it were, by posting 167 for 7, with Cox not out, off 28. That may well be competitive.

THE SOMERSET REPLY.

Denly. Under-rated, as a bowler? I’ve often thought so. His second ball at Banton turns a mile and the opener is stumped. 1 for 1 after 1. Now Klaasen from under Our Stand. Full and swinging but despite the bawling, significantly down leg. Goldsworthy waits on the next one and cut-glides it away to get off the mark. Later in the over he looks to leg but finds only the leading edge and the ball loops cruelly to point. With Smeed now joined by Abell, Somerset are 3 for 2 after 2.

Denly, from the City End. Abell appears both watchful and fraught as he turns one high and awaaay… narrowly evading the outfielder. Four. Then four again. Smeed – who has barely had a look – gets a gift. Short one. Denly disconsolate as the ball sails into the stand at square leg.

Stewart will bring some pace. Billings’ trainers meanwhile are screaming at the universe and somehow it’s only just getting to me. WE ARE O-RANGE, WE ARE O-RRAAANGE! Five from the over. More firepower from the city as Milnes comes in. Wide one gets hit alright but extra cover can parry and limit the damage. 32 for 2 after 5.

Abell skilfully glides Klaasen down past third man for four. Then cuts over backward point. Then flicks from the hip, fine. Welcome runs. Sprinting between the wickets has been a feature of the day. No more so than when Abell and Smeed burst to two right here, right now. 47 for 2 from the powerplay overs.

Qais Ahmad will bring his extravagant leggies from the City End. (He’s been warming up, comically vigorously, for some time). Smeed can’t exploit the drag-down. Eight, from a mixed over. Next up, Stevens. The de-celerating middle-phase of his run-up is mildly fascinating: can almost hear him saying “steady on, lad. Started too bloody quick!”

Qais draws Abell into a mishit: thick outside edge flies straight to backward point. Lammonby – who failed in the semi – comes in. Abell made 26. More from Stevens as we approach halfway.

The Old Fella’s doing plenty with his hands but not much off the pitch. He’s knuckly, wristy and full of fingers around that metronomic length. 71 for 3 at 10 overs. 97 required.

More from Denly. Sharp turn beats the batsman utterly but the next delivery holds the drama – and the fascination. It’s clubbed away, Cox takes the catch but Bell-Drummond, slipping, is in contact with both with colleague and the boundary. We all look at it seventy times before the fortunate batsman is given not out.

Funny ole world. Cox is palpably angry as he takes an uncontroversial (and he thinks valedictory) catch moments later. Smeed made 43 and The Fates (and the Blokes Arguing About the Laws) can settle again. The skyscrapers of the central city have done that thing where they slip away, as our lights blaze and fore-shorten the bowl before us. Stunning scene.

Denly will bowl his third: run-rate approaching 11. Another genuine leg-spinner beats Lammonby and strikes pad. Given. 89 for 5, after 13. Van der Merwe is the new bat, joining his captain, Gregory, who has 5. Stevens runs in, then stalls, and bowls.

It had to happen! We have our first ridicu-relay-catch of the day. Cox somehow retrieving from somewhere in Flintshire to flip the ball back into play. Gregory the man out, caught Milnes (gobsmacked), bowled Stevens. Probably the most astonishing moment of the whole event. You will see on your ‘socials’.

When van der Merwe booms a hopeless full-toss straight to extra cover Ahmad’s joy is tempered by sheer embarrassment. But this means 97 for 7… and it could be the game.

Overton can play but both Green and himself are newly-in, and they need more than 70 from the remaining 5 overs. And Stevens will be looking to strangle this.

Overton responds with a classical straight hit, for six. Then a freakish four in t’other direction, as he under-edges past Billings’ left knee. Still, as Milnes rejoins, the Spitfires require the small matter of 58 runs from 24 balls. Green is beaten for sheer pace. Possible nail-in-coffin moment as Overton spoons, rather, to long-on. Straight-forward catch. Speed gun not suggesting Milnes going at full tilt but the ball looks to be gathering zip off the deck.

Stewart, for the 18th. Booming chorus of you-know-what… but wonderfully, knowingly, good-naturedly daft. A nineth wicket comes as Green edges almost square. 120 for 9, with de Lange in but hope surely gone, for Somerset? Milnes will bowl the penultimate and seek a final scalp to cap off an often sensational season. Neither batter can lay the proverbial glove on him.

43 required from the 20th over, Stewart to bowl. An anti-climax, of sorts but try telling that to Stevens/Billings/Cox et al. It’s been a fine day with a clear winner: Kent Spitfires. Davey and de Lange will like that they both hit a six in that final over but tight bowling and *relatively* challenging conditions stymied batting onslaughts generally, and undermined confidence and fluency with the wood. Somerset were not alone in struggling to counter that. We saw quality innings but not many – or not many which blew holes in the contests. Perhaps that’s the way it should be?

Discuss.