Tough Questions.

After what felt a truly galling day for those of us who follow and support England Women, an inquest. Because we’re angry as well as disappointed, right?

I get that anger is not typically the most helpful medium through which to search for progress. Indeed I have been wondering if Mark Robinson – Head Coach – has been able to stifle his own, inevitable fury in order to facilitate the next fightback, or if he, like my good self, has allowed himself the expression of that rage, before his players as well as privately.

The Ashes may have gone. Australia are effectively five points clear after two relatively close but relatively poor-quality contests.

So, will the England de-brief have been (or will the de-brief be) a painfully-forensically chilly room, where Tough Questions, direct questions are asked? Of the captain; of the world’s best swing-bowler; of everybody who wasn’t Tammy Beaumont yesterday. Surely?

The air may have have been blue or just raw and icy. The coach may or may not have crossed that line into the near-personal; “how fit are you? How much have you been listening? What the hell were you thinking?” Or, probably more likely, he may have simply hosted a deep-dive of a conversation into ‘all of it’. Both the Ashes Predicament and the nature of yesterday’s defeat point to an urgent bit of soul-searching.

Having been close enough to this group to have heard the whispers, I know they are genuine, committed athletes and that they know, as professionals that there are expectations around not just performance but re-calibration, agility, intelligence-around-performance. Let’s start with the captain.

Knight came in after Amy Jones inexplicably dived/dove right into a trap – driving uppishly straight at the only fielder in the midwicket parklands. (Good cricket, good placement from Australia but poor from the England opener). Beaumont was already looking rather fine: she went on to make a magnificent century that outclassed and embarrassed the efforts of her colleagues.

Knight entered early, as it were, due to the absence of Sarah Taylor: contrary to that which follows, I think this is not a bad idea, even when Taylor is selected – the captain in at three.

Of course Knight was conscious of her own failure in the previous game and of England’s subsequent collapse and underachievement. So she was in some sense entitled to play with caution. But she fell into some strange, depressing funk – ‘Knight’s circumspect start’, they called it on SkySportsMix – where she stalked painfully from 3 off mid-twenties balls… to 9 off 32… to 13 off 37.

(At this point Beaumont was 29 off 24 and had already achieved major moral victories against Perry, Schutt & co. She was playing the lead with the kind of ease that may only occur once or twice in a career, against the Aussies. *All Knight had to do* was back her up and rotate the strike in her direction).

Instead Knight died a hideous, protracted death – and maybe, early though it was, the spirit in the innings died with her. At 16 off 42, she nearly advanced at Gardener, swung hard, hoisted high and was out for nowhere near enough.

Given the context, it was pretty near criminal. The bowling had been goodish but hardly unplayable – witness Beaumont’s knock. More infuriatingly, the complete absence of inclination to take ones, here and there, beggared belief, given a) Knight’s quality b) the imperative to do that. It was an extraordinary stall and it did have an effect on subsequent partnerships.

Heather Knight’s work has often been characterised by a kind of heroic calm and determination. She has and will again lead, through thick and thin. She will know this was bloody thin.

Other players got in a bit but failed to go on. The recalled Wyatt brought her usual vim but could not persist. Neither of the experienced Brunt nor Shrubsole looked like countering: Ecclestone could bring no boom.

If you seek out the detail from the scorecard or the burgeoning stats industry you will find more, more unfortunate numbers. The essence being a rather pitiful stasis: no meaningful partnerships, no fours in the last eight zillion overs. From being set – via Beaumont’s brilliance – for a possible 270, England made 217. Hence the use of the word ‘galling’.

Rude and ridiculous to offer no credit here, to Australia. Let’s be clear, I rate them and always made them favourites for this Ashes series. Schutt is class, Perry is class – though she was fascinatingly unthreatening yesterday. Australia are the best and they may again be moving away from the pack.

Kimmince, I have always felt *has something* – though yesterday she benefitted from some ordinary batting, from England. Overall, though – and this is part of the concern, for England – Australia will be frustrated to have only have played in patches, in this series, so far.

A further word about England – and those Tough Questions. It needs a preface.

Anya Shrubsole is the best female swing bowler in the world: (Schutt feels different – sharper and less mercurial). I’ve been a huge fan ever since I saw her in Cardiff, during a male-female Eng/Aus double-header, out-swing all the blokes. Shrubsole swung it so far she could barely control it but it was a revelation.

In the last two games the England World Cup-winning star has dropped two return catches; the kind of catches that fall into the non-negotiable category. She will be mortified – she looked mortified – and she will be back but does Mark Robinson have the right to look straight at her and refer to her fitness, her weight and the possibility of a link to poorish or decreased concentration? After all it’s often said in both amateur and professional sport that fitness and conditioning are central to maintaining both good concentration and good decision-making.

Is all that a Tough Question too far, or is that merely what professionalism brings? (Discuss).

In any case, England lost a game that they needed to win, that a particular player made available to them.

Because this is top-level sport, Tammy Beaumont has every right to feel somewhat betrayed by what she might feel, momentarily, in her anger, was her colleagues’ professional incompetence. Because this is sport, I hope and expect the clan will re-gather… and go like hell once more.

Oh us of little faith.

Remember when it got dangerous? Oooh all of a week ago? Loads of us did it. Overtly, covertly, angrily, quietly, seething or braying or tutting. We all knew we were More Right Than Morgan, on this one.

How could England’s myopic Brand of Cricket not lead to some level of come-uppance? How could Eoin’s icy, almost-surly sermonising not breed a nose-thumbing response from the universe? We all knew there would be some payback for his sub-cricketty, soundbitey positivity; for the audacity of the man; for his Irishness, for god’s sakes!

England could never have just the one way. It’s not intelligent enough, not seemly enough – plus nothing can be that simple! Mainly, then, amongst the pomp and bluster, this idea that you can’t be so brittle about stuff.

But then Jonny got mad, courtesy of yet more mouth-shooting from our friend Vaughanie, firing, once again, on all twelve brain cells. And Roy got fit – enough. And the arguments got yaknow, dispatched.

Or did they?

Fact: England are in the semis. Fact: they did it Eoin’s Way. Or did they?

Certainly everything about Roy & Bairstow’s magnificent charges-straight-through-the-effing-mountain spoke of the brand – the utter lack of fear and/or negativity.

We don’t need to have crunched the numbers to feel the step-change back… and forward, on the Brand Express. Both the flametastic Yorkshireman and his returning partner drilled that tunnel again, the former with his diamond-edged fury-disc, the latter with his trusty wonder-sabre.

But it wasn’t all boom. It wasn’t possible. There was scratchiness and (more from India than the Kiwis) there was quality opposition making things tougher… or complicated. So Stokes, for example, had to do some Proper Batting and certain periods needed to be seen through.

Maybe it’s good that England arguably under-achieved a smidge, with their totals. Two truckloads of 400 and maybe the mantra might have to be caveated – if you can do that stepping-back, that re-considering, that qualifying thing to a mantra?

(Maybe the essence of any brand flirts with dumbness, or lack of intelligence, because of this imperative towards the magical brevity/positivity combo? Maybe everybody from Saatchi & Saatchi to Eoin Morgan have known that all along? Maybe we’re just not getting that Captain Boom is a step ahead – that he knows absolutely that 84.6% of his media appearances are 96.5% charade? Interesting thought, perhaps?)

Interesting but nowhere near as much fun as getting mad-outraged and bawling on twitter. Or writing something in the comments section. Or blaming Nintendo, or the Kardashians.

England are in the semis. What’s more, they are in there with momentum. What’s more more, is that significant contributions have been spread across the team; Woakes and Archer, Buttler and Stokes doing something either deeply or supremely validating or actually wonderful and uplifting in the moment. So confidence should have steepled – should be back to the absurdly high level we’ve experienced for the last year or four.

I have always argued against ‘dumb machismo’ and still do. Because sport is predicated on intelligences as much as skills. Because half the fun and half the winning is about responding to fortune or change – and this surely implies, suggests, demands the application of everything in the psychological sector, including, often crucially, the implementation of Plan B or Z. Jeesuss, right now. Under pressure.

Too often, I reckon, players or coaches get caught up in the excitement or ‘flow’ of things: they say stuff about ‘expressing themselves’ which of course has some truth in it but may not be smart enough, either in the teeming, challenging, complicated moment or for the exposition of playing philosophy – brand.

The particulars of international cricket at the mega and micro-level include so many variables, so many forces inputting their fields of influence on the action that it is a) tempting and b) probably right to seek out simplicity and clarity. However, whilst accepting this, is it not prudent to explore, prepare, ‘facilitate’ for life beyond the soundbite?

Whether or not Morgan and England are suss to this is part of the fascination. Whether or not Bairstow blasts and Roy carves, I wish England well.

 

Making *things* irrelevant. (Nice one, Fran).

The Women’s World Cup is drawing a lot of flak – funny that. Depressingly it’s not just the dumb middle-aged blokes who know nothing about football but also their youngish, similarly lazy equivalents. (On my twitter, young sporty lads giving it the sloppy, arrogant thumbs-down).

Some are more appreciative of the really accomplished passing football being played by most teams – best exemplified, arguably, by Netherlands, Germany, USA, England, France but also executed by many of the lower-profile nations.

Personally I’ve enjoyed the level of comfort in possession many of the players are displaying: the building from the back, the lack of longball-as-first-resort. Tempted to say this is waaay better than many England Men’s sides have managed until the ‘culture-changes’ of the last few years but that would of course be a calamitous o.g. – we need to keep the men out of this.

Women’s sport is different and there is no value in comparing, either explicitly or ‘subconsciously’, though that is challenging, in all honesty, for a middle-aged dumbo like myself. Plenty decades have loaded up the assumptions and prejudices in my own personal ether but  I am trying to pick a way, judge a way through that, without entirely denying myself the right to criticise: the thinking being that genuinely fair comment (should I ever achieve that) actually respects the validity/quality of the sport and makes issues of gender/sex/sexual politics irrelevant.

Flick the switch and relax. Put the telly on. Ooh, bo-nusss! England Women v Windies Cricket is on Sky Sports Mix, which is available free, to the Walton household. And I have time to watch some of it. And OMG… FRAN WILSON!

A diversion, kindof.

Last week I blagged my way in to the car park at Worcester County Cricket Club (I do have accreditation but didn’t *actually have* parking sorted) and swung stylishly and maybe a tad smugly to a halt next to a biggish 4 x 4, from which England players were decanting themselves. One of them was Fran Wilson. I don’t know any the players personally, despite having watched them a fair bit live over the last couple of years, but particularly it felt like I don’t know Fran Wilson… because she’s hardly played. I was tempted to wish her all the best but from a strange fella in a car park… how?

For me this adds a further dimension to the moment (captured above, though surely you’ve seen it, yes?) that you may and probably should revisit whenever anyone says anything.

Says anything about women’s sport. Or maybe about women? Or maybe about racism or homophobia, or maybe when somebody is cruel or stoopid or in any sense prejudiced. Either point them to it or revisit yourself, to bolster your faith in stuff. Because the world gets better at moments like this.

Fran – the same Fran that jumped out of that car, that I nearly said hello and good luck to – did something very special for us, by being very natural (for her).

She dived. She instinctively, stunningly, magnificently dived. Crucially, she caught a missile. She made a beautiful, undeniable, joyful thing-of-a-movement. She was perfectly, athletically human and the only judgement anyone can ever make about it is that was a staggering catch. No qualifications.

We can swat away the comparisons with Ben Stokes. We can swat away everything. This is simple (if statements of this quality and magnitude can be simple?) and wonderful.  She literally reached, stretched, re-invented or maybe denied the limits. Fran absolutely excited us and there’s something magic and electrifyingly pure about that feeling.

Is it okay to say I/we loved it? I think so, I hope so. I really hope we can de-clutter this, to celebrate it. It may be unwise, it may be wrong for this oldish geezer to gush like this so clumsily. But for how it looked, for how it lit up an instant and for what it says, I loved it.

Worcester. England Women versus West Indies Women.

Prologue: in which we say something about Duckworth-Lewis-Stern. Something shortish – if you want something longish, try this – the how-it-works view from our friends at Wikipedia.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duckworth–Lewis–Stern_method

D-L-S is plainly a pret-ty sophisticated mathematical approach to the complicated problems around weather, runs, wickets, opportunities, likelihoods. And there’s no way I personally could come up with something better – I’m going to singularly fail, here, to offer any *solutions*.

However on this occasion, in Worcester, it felt like D-L-S squished the game stone dead… erm, disproportionately so. (Probably an ill-chosen word but that’s how it felt).

Windies were in second place, it’s true, from the start of their reply but after the day’s second rain-break they were gone, under the re-calculation. With no chance. Consequently, they chose not to play – the game died. A day later, this still feels unfortunate.

Here’s my live view of the event…

Worcester, with the Cathedral just showing off. Ridicuglorious pealing of joyful bells – the whole repertoire.

Sunshine. The West Indies women in bright, sunshiney trackies, rolling abart on things designed to roll you about ‘til you’re athletically disposed. *Note that these could probably only be used (on grass, in the UK) four times a year, when the sun is shining… and when there are bells*.

Just been told it’s Pentecost; or something. Which may explain…

The Windies Women (are we going to call them that?) are continuing with their pre-warm-up. I daren’t describe it, for fear of diplomatic incident – the level of laid-backness is that ‘Caribbean’. England, meanwhile are doing some keepie-uppie football stuff but fluffing most of the tricks, to be honest.

It’s a beautiful day – the kind that might be difficult to ‘snap out of’, or into, or whatever. Gonna walk back to the car to see if the shades lens that fell out on the M4 is in there somewhere. Need that. The outdoor Press Box Thing here is currently pointing straight at the sunshine-in-the-clouds. Wonderfully and almost painfully so.

Okaaay. Before I do that walkabout we have a fairly extraordinary musical stand-off(?) between (yaknow) The Cathedral and The Mighty Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart, no less – on the stadium PA. Not sure if this a Complete Sacrilege, or not… but on balance, I’ll forgive the camponologists. Amazing start – and we’re still forty minutes away from the cricket!

The toss. Knight wins it and decides to bat. Fair enough. Good conditions – bright and dry. Taylor, who would also have batted, reports the only change to either team – Cooper is in, for Henry.

About to start. Tempted not to mention it (think that’s *the way* of these things?) but will mention briefly that there is no real crowd, to speak of. Disappointing doesn’t cover it. ‘Twill be a great day. Onwards.

Connell opens for West Indies. Powerful-looking but first ball is cut away by the diminutive Beaumont, despite decent bounce. Two scored. Later in the over some challenging pace (and that waist-high bounce) flummoxes the recently-excellent Jones, who is lucky to survive.

Matthews will take the second over, bowling her off-spin off a longish run… in a cap. Beaumont gets a streaky four but again, despite what appear to be ideal batting conditions, ‘questions are asked’. 7 for 0 off 2.

Connell comes in steadily, you would say, but is bowling fairly swiftly, slamming the ball in there: the bulk of deliveries being played from the chest area. Jones seems a tad discomfited by this, especially when they’re straight: Beaumont’s timing the cuts/glides easily enough when there is width.

Jones lifts Matthews over midwicket but without any real conviction or timing. Welcome run, though, as early on she has none of the fluency and confidence her recent performances have featured.

With width, it is noticeable that both batters are finding life easier – runs being taken behind point, characteristically, off Connell. Matthews, meanwhile, must be turning it somewhat (tough to see from our skewed viewpoint) because she has had two or three medium-strength appeals denied.

Finally Jones dispatches her over the top for four and we are at 26 for 0 off 6. England have persisted, reasonably calmly, though not untroubled. Now can they go on?

Some danger signs, for the visitors, as Beaumont smoothes a beauty over long-on then cuts past backward point. She is now 27 off 31 and visibly has brewed more intent.

Connell is into her fifth over and Beaumont is rocking back nicely to cut – four more. The England player does look good off the back foot now.

Naasira the West Indies Media Officer confirms to me that Henry IS playing. Just before the start, Cooper had a knee issue: the teams consulted and Windies were allowed to make that late change. All this because a) I was confused b) Henry is now bowling; more right-arm quickish.

She bowls ver-ry full, to Beaumont, who narrowly clears mid-off. The power-play concludes with England on a goodish but maybe slightly fortunate 45 for 0. The match may need a wicket or two.

A change, as Stacy-Ann King comes in. Left-arm, medium-pace. Jones remains, struggling somewhat on 12 off 22 balls. (Who’d have thunk it?) Conditions still fine; some cloud but bright and still.

It’s Jones, though, who strokes fluently through midwicket for 2, to bring up England’s 50. Twelve overs.

Shot of the day as Beaumont cut-drives through point – hard. King may need to be careful, Jones is also looking to go after her. (Whisper it but Naasira did mention that King may be vulnerable).

In truth, though, this doesn’t yet feel like a run-fest: something out there is not that easy. Despite this, when a wicket falls, or when the batters reach a score, the prevailing, low-key dynamic may feel some pressure, you suspect.

A good catch, from Hayley Matthews, diving forward, disposes of Jones, who will be disappointed with her contribution: 18, misfiring. Henry the bowler. Taylor up next but Henry fails to test her, firing wide. Weirdly – and zeppelin-like – dark, dark clouds are creeping over us.

The temperature has dipped and a shower seems possible but not certain. The statuesque Taylor, seemingly a foot taller than her partner, seems into her stride well enough. But this is still a contest, alright; no sense that England are storming ahead.

At drinks, they are at 73 for 1 (i.e. after 16). Coats and hoodies are being ‘popped on’ all round the ground. A-and rain! Seemd ver-ry unlikely an hour ago but it’s here – and there’s no wind. Could be a while, unfortunately.

Apparently there’s something of a controversy over the late change of personnel, for Windies. But I can EXCLUSIVELY REVEAL (because I’m sitting next to Naasira!) that captains, match referee etc etc all discussed and agreed the issue, just before the match started. So there. Move on, you twitterers.

12.50. Rain has stopped but the outfield will be wet. Not seen an accuweather forecast or equivalent but feels reasonable to start shifting covers *if* the skies are going to stay clear. Meanwhile, hot drink and biccies…

12.55. Groundstaff back on, re-coiling pipes and beginning to gather covers in (I think). *Although* umpires (now out) are under a brolly – and there is still a touch of drizzle. We wait a tad longer.

Latest: “further inspection at 1.30”. If it stays dry til then, I reckon we should start pretty promptly after that.

Lo-o-ng chat with Naasira, about lotsastuff – some of which it would be indiscreet to share. She is of Indian descent, living in Antigua but travelling with Windies Women as Media Officer. We break off because the guys are brushing off the covers and generally mopping up. And now the umps are walking out to look… it’s 13.30pm.

Can’t see why we couldn’t start at 14.00, currently. *However*, word is “another further inspection” at that time.

14.11. No announcement yet but feels like re-start should be imminent. Windies players out warming up again, slamming things, dancing, throwing, high-catching.

Confirmed that a) we re-start at 2.30 and b) it’s a reduced game – 41 overs. Could argue this gives Windies an advantage, *knowing* there’s a reduction; but might make this a tighter game(?)

Not easy for either side to get the flow going again, immediately – maybe particularly for the batters. Hope Beaumont goes on to a biggish score – she’s looked consistently good, here. Obviously Taylor is a real talent – arguably the biggest England has – but can she go out again and switch the Full-on Dynamic button within an over or two? We’ll see, soon enough.

The umps lead them out. 25 overs to come in the innings. There are a few more here to see them, too, now.

Stacy-Ann King starts, with a loosener: one to Taylor. Beaumont likewise, pushes out through the covers. Bright, now. Quite rightly, the batters have upped the ante on the running-between-the-sticks front but just three from the over.

Henry resumes, again bowling for the blockhole, or certainly very full. When she goes shorter, Beaumont kisses her down through fine leg, for two and reaches her 50 in the process. We all smile as cathedral bells ring out *at that very moment*. Good knock -alleyluyah.

Taylor yet to make a mark on this. Sensing this (I’m guessing) she looks to flip one over her shoulder… but na. Keep it simple but hit, Sarah. 😉

With Fletcher in for her first over of right-arm wrist-spin, Taylor shuffles well outside of off and sweeps/scuffs her to fine leg. Okaaay but still not in her flow, it seems. Taylor has 13 from 18.

Windies skipper Stafanie Taylor has an over, backed up by more spin from Fletcher. England are running well but  this is hardly explosive stuff – for which we must credit the visitors, of course, as well considering how conditions *may be*. (We are still under five an over as the 23rd comes to a close – 109 for 1, England).

Fletcher is getting a little spin. Not clear that this is responsible but Taylor miscues and is caught by the juggling King. Next ball, the googly does for Beaumont. Big change in the game… and nice bowling!

So Sciver is in with Knight and both are on nought. And England must attack. Taylor mirrored Jones in that she never really got going. Sciver has their power and aggression and the captain, Knight has a fine temperament. Somehow, they need to reboot the innings.

Like that this feels even, at 127 for 3, after 27. Windies are having enough moral victories – Knight sweeps straight to fine leg twice, Sciver miscues. Then the taller woman does connect, for a rare boundary. The run rate is raised a tad. Sciver is charging and driving; Knight beats the fielder at fine leg.

Ah. Then Knight is bowled, by Fletcher. (14 off 18 balls). On the plus side, for England, this brings together their most dynamic duo – Wyatt joining Sciver, with about ten overs remaining. Both are sharp and athletic and both like to attack, so there really may be an upside to the event.

Big fan of Wyatt. If she can judge this and use the overs (whilst bringing that extra zing) then this may be a crucial period. Sciver looks up for it.

Aaah. Wyatt (again, I’m tempted to add) is out before making that telling contribution. Dancing down to Taylor, she is caught off a thick edge at backward point. Just me, or does she do that gifting the wicket too early thing too often? Could be that the spinners are really offering a challenge, here, but feels frustrating to see Wyatt go so prematurely. In comes Brunt. We are 156 for 5 off 33.

Sciver is really in. Driving nicely and striking the ball hard – as she does. Immediately before drinks (at 34 overs) she push-drives with power and economy through mid-off; four, taking her to 32 off 30. Several more overs of that nature and the Windies may have to go some.

Matthews has her. Admittedly Sciver is swishing across the line again (inside-edging on) but Ecclestone and Marsh may be thinking there *really is* something out there for us spinners.

Five overs remaining and Connell brings back some pace. Six off the over and we sit at 185 for 6, with Shrubsole and Brunt now looking to find something telling, late-on.

Shrubsole strikes lustily for the first six of the innings but then Brunt – who to be fair has contributed a swift 23 – splices to Matthews at point, off Connell. Ecclestone comes in at a round 200 for 7.

Shrubsole is giving everything the heave. The bells – unbelievably – are still going at it relentlessly. Matthews is still bowling in that cap.

Shrubsole goes aerial again – another six. And another – from Ecclestone!

Connell will bowl the last – and Shrubsole will cuff the first, shortish delivery to third man for four. The next two are fuller and less costly. The fourth is dispatched over the bowler’s head for four and the fifth driven for one before Ecclestone bullies the final delivery through midwicket for a hard-run two.

England finish on 233 for 7, with Shrubsole having snatched a satisfyingly brutal 32 off 16. With help for the bowlers out there – and given *recent events* – it feels enough.

Something you probably won’t read in The Guardian…

At the outset of the reply I am thinking maybe I need to chill. So there may be less… words… here. Long day and a longish drive home.

Brunt opens. Shrubsole follows – bowling characteristically full, and hoping for something through the air. Decent LB shout, for one that hits Matthew’s toes… but then two consecutive fours, either side. 10 for 0 after 2.

Dark clouds easing in again, from the same, unhelpful direction. Could be a bit nip and tuck. Meanwhile – blessem – both Brunt and particularly Shrubsole are ‘putting it in’, to no avail.

Shrubsole seems to be going flat out. (Heather Knight suggests, incidentally, post-match, that the hugely talented swing-bowler may not have bowled that way, last time out and words may have been said. Fair enough). Brunt responds with a leg-cutter slapped in there – unlucky not to find the edge. Looking skywards, I think we may get away with it on the weather front (excuse the pun) but… I’m not betting on that.

England’s World Cup hero(ine) gets her reward. Has Cooper LBW for 6, in her second over. In Shrubsole’s third, she gets that classic in-swinger going again and draws an edge from Matthews. Regulation catch for Taylor, going away to her right. Windies are 23 for 2 and it’s greyish – for them and in terms of the atmospheric conditions.

Cross is in for Brunt. She has Kyshona Knight driving, high, to Brunt at mid-off. Her fellow quick takes a good catch, leaving the West Indies in real trouble at 23 for 3. Decent ball – may have left her – but extravagant shot at this stage.

It looks like a Shrubsole sky. Predictably she continues into her fifth over. No more drama; Ecclestone will replace her to bowl the 12th. Stafanie Taylor drives her majestically through extra cover.

When Cross returns, again bowling generously full, she draws a crucial error from the Windies captain, who hoists her over midwicket… almost. Sciver leaps to snaffle a really good catch at full stretch. 32 for 4. Light, light rain.

Which becomes heavier. And we stop. At 17.25. 13 overs bowled. Not clear-cut, immediately, if that will be ‘it’ – however, it’s possible. Perhaps the game had gone from Windies, in any case? Already?

Latest is we re-start at 6.15pm if no more rain. (And it looks like no more rain. For a while. Probably). Meanwhile, I’m livestreaming Eng v Scotland in the Womens World Cup. Asyado. 👊🏻

It’s plainly unfortunate when games are broken up like this. Hard to bat through – harder still when the run-rate calculations are adjusted for Duckworth-Lewis. Fielders can re-focus pretty sharpish, I reckon, bowlers too. If you’re batting and the conditions are ‘in your head’ a little and the pitch *is actually* a tad sticky or inconsistent, that’s tough. Whatever, we’re back on and the sky has cleared.

The new calculation is for a 28 over reply, in which the Windies must score 209 to win. By my reckoning that means the visitors must gather 176 in 15 overs. And my brain hurts. Ecclestone starts.

Whilst I’m trying to get my head round whether Windies simply play out the overs as a kind of batting practice (rather than go all-out and get out, chasing about 12 an over) Laura Marsh will get her first bowl of the day.

She beats Nation first up but the ladies in maroon, it’s already clear, will not be charging at this. On the one hand – fair enough. On the other, we now have a non-match. As I said, unfortunate.

Marsh bowls Nation with a nicely-flighted one, drawing the inside edge. The left-handed Kyshona Knight joins us and the bowler goes round.

Ecclestone again. Flattish, as per. But the run-rate is flatlining.

Campbelle finally clubs a shortish one from Ecclestone for four through midwicket, to raise fifty for Windies and after that 20th over they are 51 for 5. Sciver’s energy in the field is outstanding, given where we’re at.

Heather Knight fancies a wee bowl, so has one. Her players are still admirably switched-on: brisk and vocal in the field. Meanwhile my head’s on the M4, or rather the M5 then the M4. Homeward in about fifteen minutes; four overs.

Firstly, Marsh again. Bouncing in, bowling with a little loop, or dip: or is that the same thing? Starting to feel like a long day.

Knight returns, as the skies darken a little once more. To her credit, she is visibly irritated at herself for bowling a marginal wide, down leg.

Cross will bowl the last over from the New Road End. Campbelle and Knight (Kyshona) remain.

Soon Heather Knight will see us out. There is  a tickle of rain, as rather hilariously, the batters risk a quick single. Less hilariously, my dart for the M5 is delayed as we take a second and third look at some antics on the boundary. Four? No four? Who cares?

Knight bowls Campbelle for 29, with the very last ball. And it is raining. And England won, by 100-odd. Sure they were ahead, throughout and therefore the Windies ‘have only themsleves to blame’. But it doesn’t *feel entirely like that*. Those calculations interfered, somewhat.

 

 

 

Warming up, with the Bharat Army.

Have seen India live – i.e. their cricket team(!) – a few times, now. Always fun. Yesterday no different, in that respect.

So happened that five minutes after I chose my seat in the Cathedral Road Stand (under the Media Centre, behind the bowlers arm), The Most Charismatic & Photogenic Indian Superfan came and sat down next to me.

Meaning if you saw some weirdly incongruous, tanned but unmistakably white bloke on the telly or on ‘insta’, next to the man with The Face & The Conch… well that was me. Sorry. If I photobombed any or all of the zillion selfies that the magnificently generous Bharat Army icon endured, I apologise. I sought nothing – was merely there in the first place.

My day then, was all about that happy coincidence. Rolling with the flags and the Bharat Army vibe. Reflecting now – and at the risk of patronising folks I simply don’t know – it was great. I expect it will be one of the highlights of my summer. Funny people, utterly charming people, Proper Cricket People. A refreshing, uplifting experience in the context of a currently depressing racial-political context. Thank you, guys.

Here’s how the *actual match* seemed…

 

Indian Superfan. Drawn to me, in an uncanny, unspoken non-ritual. Or maybe just wants, like me, to sit straight behind the bowler’s arm. Either way, he makes me look painfully pallid in every respect, what with his strikingly extravagant face-art. But inside… we are one. 😉

Cardiff. Coolish and both bright and cloudy. There’s a rain delay, after about four balls. More folks joining us, under the Media Centre, opposite the river. Including two ver-ry cool-looking guys who are (it turns out) Bharat Army hierarchy. I wonder about interviewing them but frankly bottle it.

The ball, meanwhile seems barely to be deviating despite that early cloud, rain. Some green in the pitch – and one goes through low – but no bowlers’ paradise, here. That how this World Cup’s gonna be? That how the white ball is? Just mainly hit through it: things may be difficult to time just now but reckon once you’re in…

Kohli, in soon enough, is fortunate very early on – edges through slips. Rohit, opposite, is similar in terms of relative discomfort.

A slow start, then and it’s one of those conflicting occasions where it’s hard to put your finger in what it is that’s so difficult but evidently, this is not easy for the batsmen. There is barely a timed aggressive shot in first ten overs.

Kohli gets through, having offered more than one ‘chance’ via the vacant first slip corridor: he looks almost human, today. He is bowled on 47.

13.30 and a Dhoni six over midwicket. Crowd full-throated, now. (Incidentally, had first thought the Indian mums/grans/daughters quota noticeably bigger than for the England equivalent…but maybe not).

But – sitting amongst them – there is that lovely, enthusiastic, engaged, 3-generations thing going on with the Indian support. Plus the most delightfully polite exchange of “excuse mes” as people trundle apologetically across your line of view or nudge past your beleaguered knees. Great fans.

176 for 4 after 32 (at the second drinks break). Rahul – like Kohli hardly fluent, earlier – has found a way to 68 not out.

200-up in the 36th. 37th & Dhoni explodes. Impudent swipe behind square for four, violent clonk over mid-on for six. Crowd loving it; he is plainly the Other God.

94 metre club-sweep from Dhoni immediately follows the milestone. He & Rahul looking comfortable, now, finally. Score could go VERY BIG, you sense, if they want it.

Mid-afternoon and somehow reassurring and appropriate to see Dhoni batting in a cap. Still moving pretty well, but *does look* like the clubbiest kind of god – also reassuringly.

Rahul goes to 88 with another edge – flailing somewhat, outside off. No slip, no catch.

Spin bowling for Bangladesh feels mixed – neither penetrative nor restrictive, particularly. On another day, they’re going at 20 an over. However their left-arm quick is admirably ardent, in the 41st. Sharp, committed.

Rahul bowled somewhat behind his legs, for 108. Good rather than majestic, today; appreciation and excitement, as this brings in Hardik Pandya.

Okaaay, it’s kindof a friendly but Bangladesh fielding has been ordinary. Dhoni profits from some dilatory stuff at mid-off; moves to 79 in the 45th. Hundred very much there if he wants it.

A brilliant fielder (unlike Liton, by the looks) might have him at long on, moments later. Tough chance lips out.

Some prolonged erm, drama as Hardik is cleared on review, after it became clear the ball pitched outside leg.

After 48 overs, Ind have 327 for 6, with Dhoni facing on 99. Boom. Straight drive, for six, into the river!

Dhoni, sumptuous in those later overs, is eventually bowled for 113. Jadeja fills his boots (as it were) by contributing a swift 11 as India finish on 359 for 7. Think Bangladesh have used 9 bowlers.

All things considered? India good, plainly, but 400 good? 400 to-win-against-somebody-really-tasty good? Not sure about that. Two centurions here but still 350 felt a touch lite. Could be the whole warm-up scenario but #CWC19 will likely demand early and sustained dynamism, if not outright violence.

India start their defence of the total with two slips, to Shami. Bumrah – whom I’ve come to watch – bowls the second over, wheeling and lashing.

Liton and Soumya cope. It would figure that batting conditions might be a tad more favourable, what with bright skies and a drying breeze now, and this is generally confirmed, during the first phase of the reply.

However, in his second over, Bumrah bowls an absolute peach – fiery, bouncy but not that short – which zips through where that second slip had been. 31 for 0 after 4.

There’s something richly appealing about an action as distinctive as Bumrah’s. That stalking; that skipping; the exaggerated uncurling. It’s not beautiful – quite – but it’s really him… and it’s quick. I really like that he doesn’t look like he’s ever been significantly tampered with by some coach.

At the other end, Shami is also putting it in, with little reward. 36 for 0 after 7. In the field the intensity and quality does feel a notch higher than an hour or two ago.

Whistles, in the sunshine. Real shiny whistles, Indian whistles, cajoling rather than cat-calling. Non-stop virtually; telling the lads that we’re with them. Children, mainly. Somewhere between charming… and harmless.

Eventually, Bumrah’s sheer energy and persistence pays off. Soumaya caught behind of something that *just lifts* again. 49 for 1.

Wow. He follows that up with a magnificent, druggy, slower-ball(?) yorker that irresistibly rushes the base of the stumps. Fabulous. Shakib must defend the hat-trick ball. Wide of off.

After 13, Bangladesh are at 62 for 2, with the game poised, progressing but by no means aflame. Goodish crowd, with the heavily-outnumbered Bangladeshis now vocal – and sunshine.

At the Powerade Hydration Break 🤷🏻‍♂️ (15 overs) , we have moved on to 74 for 2.

In bright, late-afternoon sunshine, Dhoni is keeping in sub-Steve McQueen shades and no cap. 100-up, for 2, in the 20th. Lukewarm: we wait. And wait.

150 for 2 off 27, with Jadeja on from the River End. Looking easy for the batsmen, who are beginning to lift the tempo and the Bangladeshi contingent. Still low-key but a friendly-competitive finish seems entirely feasible.

Jadeja reaching high with that left hand of his, then bowling flightless, sharpish and full. Chahal offering something rounder and loopier at the other end. Keeping the lid on this, currently.

Good, long chat with Rakesh from the Bharat Army. They’re now quite a mob – a business, in fact, with more than 11,000 fans booked through them for the upcoming Cricket World Cup. Bright, capable bloke; tells me they have staff in several countries dealing with travel, tickets, merchandise etc. Wish them well – feel under-qualified to *actually join* but…

At 191 for 5, off 36, it feels like India’s greater variety and quality of spin bowling may be telling. Though maybe not by much. Until Kuldeep Yadav’s left-arm leggies suddenly take over.

(At this point – another two-in-two – the Bharat Army hoiked up a giant banner, occluding the *actual playing surface* for some minutes. So an announcement: normal service will be resumed when the flag is lowered)…

When I emerge, it’s 216 for 8. (Did hear another roar). And a steward is insisting on the Army rolling up the banner. He is polite rather than officious, roundly, comically booed… but obeyed. We move on, in more sunshine, with the game surely now won.

I note that as so often, it is leg-spin that has gripped and turned the drama, here – batsmen having rarely been genuinely troubled by the seamers, save for a moment or three of real quality from Bumrah. Bangladesh need 130 from the last five overs… and here come the quicks to see them off.

They don’t, in fact. Chahal has Shaif slicing tamely to gully  – 262 for 9 – then Jadeja will bowl the last.

There have been three two-in-two’s in the innings, which maybe characterises the rather bitty nature of the Bangladeshi batting, today. Could be that this is how #CWC19 may be, for them – occasional glory, general disappointment?

No further score is added before a scrambled & reviewed runout brings the match to a close. Words for today? Good-natured, ‘sunny’, affable, enjoyable. Very cricketty -in a warm-up kindofaway.

#England. #CWC19.

The England Squad for #CWC19 is as follows;

Eoin Morgan (Middlesex) Captain

Moeen Ali (Worcestershire)

Jofra Archer (Sussex)

Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire)

Jos Buttler (Somerset)

Tom Curran (Surrey)

Liam Dawson (Hampshire)

Liam Plunkett ((Surrey)

Adil Rashid (Yorkshire)

Joe Root (Yorkshire)

Jason Roy (Surrey)

Ben Stokes (Durham)

James Vince (Hampshire)

Chris Woakes (Warwickshire)

Mark Wood (Durham).

Inevitably, perhaps, the omissions – in particular that of Willey – are making as much noise as the selections.

Denly, the outstanding-but-maybe-not-good-enough-at-the-spinning-thing bloke is the other to miss out, again, some will argue cruelly. Let’s start with these guys – with the ‘negatives’.

Willey, with the ball, is consistent, effective and if there is *any help at all*, around, will make that relatively turgid (white) new ball swing, a little. Given the significance of both his contribution to this squad over a period of some years and the critical accident of his birth – left-handedness – there has been a ver-ry powerful argument in his favour. And yet…

The talk had been that he would miss out. Despite his authentic international quality, the brutal facts are that Archer is sprinkled with more in the way of Star Quality, he is quicker (as is Wood) and anyway the past, however worthy, can sometimes get yaknow, bulldozed.

We can be certain that as well as following their hunches about personal chemistry etc, etc, the England coaching squad (in our minds, as big as the playing squad and similarly tooled-up with every aid, stat and projected nuance) will have looked at the *implications* around a single-angled seam attack.

Presumably, ‘on balance’ they felt that Willey was a notch down on Wood, Archer, Plunkett and Woakes and the leftiness factor, though discussable, was not key. It should be noted, too, that to think of this as a straight Willey v Archer (or A.N. Other Seamer issue) may be unhelpful or unwise. It’s all about the blend: of skills, challenges and yes, personalities. It’s mad-complex, wonderful-complex, it’s deeply human, all this; that’s why coaching at any level is such a privilege, such a responsibility, such a joy.

I hope Willey can manage to avoid breaking ranks and blurting out something understandably loaded with what passes for grief, in sporting circles – at least in the short term. There’ll be time to write the book about this ‘betrayal’ later.

Denly is different. In the sense that if he didn’t feel, on the occasions that he was hoiked or simply estranged from the list of Morgan’s bowling options, that he was scampering nowhere, Denly should have known he was an outlier.

Yes, he may have wanted (and felt he deserved) a slot as a batsman in his own right… but no. Simply too much quality around and in front. Despite the impressive combination of calm and aggression with the bat, recently, Denly, (or maybe the name Denly?) in a spectacular squad, looked a tad one-dimensional.

Both these guys will be ‘devastated’ – or that’s what their books or serials in the cricket press will say.

Weirdly, I wonder if they will both be looking at Dawson and thinking WTF? He may be the one player in the squad who – despite flying at the next level down and acquitting himself reasonably well with England before injury struck – looks like an ordinary international player as opposed to a Guy Who Could Own This Bloody Event.

Dawson is, however, a left-handed all-rounder. And he may have a perfect temperament. And other stuff we don’t know about.

As a spinner who barely spins it, he may be fortunate: the first thing I think about when I look at his name on this list is that he won’t play much. That may not have been true of Willey… and it may have been have been true of Denly. Mean anything? Who knows?

On the plus side, we could write a shimmering opus. Archer *has something*; Wood is lovable and sometimes infectiously-scarily-good – and can be wonderfully, defiantly heavetastic in the tail. There are issues around fitness for both of these two gentlemen but – if available and ready – they give the squad (any squad) a lift.

The loyalty/steady squad argument around Archer has plenty of virtue. Making late introductions is controversial and possibly divisive. But this is a matter of management. Sport is tough, it ain’t no democracy and decisions have to be made. Bayliss could have quite legitimately stood up and said “this lad Archer is a genius but his time will come later”. He didn’t, so live with it.

Amongst the other seamers, Plunkett is often consistently, intimidatingly good, ball in hand and will likely get you 20, sharpish, should he need to stride out to bat. Curran is so-o fabulous at nearly everything it feels appalling to drop in the thought that should we get a spell of High Summer, his relative lack of pace may expose him. So ignore that. Look forward instead to a series of swashbuckling or icily brilliant contributions – if and when he gets picked!

Of the remainder, only Vince remotely approaches the borderline category. But the fella has quality; even the propensity to score only 35 is not a huge negative, in this format, with Morgan, Buttler, Stokes etc next in! Plus of course he will be effectively reserve opener, one would think.

Those unquestioned above are; Root, Morgan, Moeen Ali, Rashid, Buttler, Bairstow, Roy, Stokes, Wood, Woakes. Think I’ve probably set out their names because I like the look of them… and they were Must Haves.

Will they win? Absolutely impossible to tell. Too many variables, some good opposition and plenty of individuals who may take a game away from anyone. England, however, are probably the best team in the world. They seem unlikely to freeze and they have tremendous depth – particularly batting-wise. May their faith carry them through.

Bigger than the Winning.

Winning is great. It’s gratifying and exciting and sometimes it replenishes us. Sometimes, too, it does that Stamp the Dirt Down thing where we relish the defeat of an old foe or maybe just the bunch of bastards who actually tried to start a fight, in our local league game, or wherever.

We may or may not allow ourselves to recognise the moral/ethical dimension(s) around that win: we may be too drunk, too thinly happy, or too desperate for the points to care. But mostly I think we do care about the quality of winning – the cut of the contest.

I don’t buy this stuff from footie pundits, for example, about fans ‘only caring’ about the table, or the silverware. Call me deluded but I reckon most of us are better than that. (I know there are dangers, here – chiefly the very real possibility that I’m going to sound pompous or judgemental or superior… but bugger it I can live with that. To strip out the aesthetic & emotive characteristics or attributes from sport is just pitifully stupid, surely?)

It’s true that I’m a certain age. It’s true that (despite that) I know naff all about philosophy and yet it feels absurd not to offer the observation that winning/losing/playing has inherently some qualitative richness that arises and transfers because of deepish appreciations – some of which are instinctive (arguably) – and yet also complex, profound and abstract.

Wow. What a game that was. Can hardly believe it. Danny was sensational, Sarah unbeleeeeeevable and what a joy to see the youngster do that! What was the score, again?

To strike the ball like that, to there, with that level of control; ridiculous. To fling yourself, like that – bloody ex-traor-dinary. To come back from there… fantastic.

Drama and heroics (true heroics!) and crazy-commitment and these zillion gifts to sport trump or kaleidoscopically locate mere victory. For me. Always have.

Call me old-fashioned – call me anything you like. Winning is great but to say it is everything makes Jeremy Kyles of all of us. It’s crass, it’s stupid and though it may be *popular*, it’s a simple travesty.

Why all this psycho-cobblers? Not sure. Other than I’ve been loving the cricket – the England v Pakistan One-Dayers. Went to Cardiff, listened to the others on the radio, chiefly. Happy to out myself as both a lover of 50 over cricket and of the Sound Of Things.

We might hear, we might accept that these matches have been ‘yet more proof’ that the game has turned boomtastically in the batters favour: debatable, perhaps and plainly dependent on ground and atmospheric conditions… but let’s move on. Other than that, they’ve felt roundly magnificent.

What’s not to like about the combination of fearlessness and sheer, finely-honed class of, well, most of the England line-up in this format? Buttler is an obvious, mercurial worldie-of-a-gem but Morgan and Root and Bairstow and Buttler are extraordinarily good, too, yes?

A really good Pakistan side, offering some real quality themselves with both bat and ball are being pret-ty serenely seen off. But the games have been contests. The level of entertainment has been fantastic. The level of skill – skill, not just blasting to the boundary – from Roy and the rest has been quite wonderful to watch. Pakistan have made a genuine contribution – one which I genuinely think has been appreciated by both sets of fans.

But England have won – and England have a real chance of winning the upcoming tourney. All this is fandabbydozy. But mainly, or especially, or significantly… because of the manner of all this. There’s something beautiful – yes, beautiful – about how this has been.

Okaaay there’s a smidge of partisanship in any statement of that sort but these games have been overwhelmingly fine; positive and richly enjoyable to the extent that any watcher or listener of any persuasion would surely have been captivated, captured by the quality of the action. And this could be bigger than the winning.

Pakistan are more than decent. It may be that their fielding has been too ropey and their batting a touch lacking in extravagance but these are relative: relative to a magnificently good team… who happen to be England. And that inevitable tribal-fixation-thing – supporting, being ‘of’ something – is only a part of a wonderful, winning whole.