First up… plus.

Trains don’t always ease inviolably, powerfully, unarguably through the countryside. This one does. Temple Meads to Newquay – though I’ll only enjoy that first, woody, sunkissed, quietly triumphant forty minutes -before the cricket.

The lustrous green and baking haylage turns to… Taunton. Shockingly, my first Taunton. For a much-anticipated festival to which I am kinda proud and excited to #showup for. EngvSAvNZ, in what promises to be spectacular conditions. Grab a coffee and let’s get into this.

Somerset do support – there is a culture for that here, for simply getting cricket. When I arrive, 11.20-ish, the word is that a complete sell-out is possible. How fabulous would that be? I quickly establish that the lovely Raf Nicholson is, indeed, a Raff, as opposed to a Rav, as she might be in Wales. I’m settled, almost behind the bowler’s arm.

Enjoy, as always, the warm-ups. Especially the potential frisson frenzy as England bats undergo a medium-stressed net *immediately next to* the charging South African pace bowlers. Then the daft but visibly enjoyable footie keepy-uppies. Then some really challenging boundary catches: England showing good hands, good agility and real commitment.

Ntozakhe opens. Shocker of an early dismissal for Wyatt. Truly awful mis-club of a tame, wide ball. She’ll be rightly furious. Taylor is in for the last ball of the first over.

Enter Kapp, off a reduced run, bowling medium-quick. Taylor is gifted a legside boundary then follows that up with another, confidently despatched. England have started now.

Or maybe not. Two chances follow in quick succession; Beaumont drilling one hard at mid-off’s feet, then dancing down and missing. She gets away with both. After 4, Taylor having majestically drilled then cut Kapp for further, successive fours, England are a decent 29 for 1.

Beaumont follows that with a classic, lofted straight drive which long-on can’t get to. The see-sawing of fortunes and confidences continues, though, as Beaumont miscues Ntozakhe just over the bowler’s head. Things feel strangely mixed: confirmed as Taylor doinks Ismail’s very first delivery to point, via the top of the bat-face. Gone for 20.

Skipper van Niekerk is in for the 9th. I’m really hoping now, to see a fluent, full-blooded, next-level innings from Sciver. Feels like she needs that – and we know she’s got it in her. Beaumont, meanwhile, is scurrying and placing competently.

Mali offers something different. Not quick but maybe a little swing – or certainly something leg-cutterish which challenges the swinging across-the-line tendency.

In the 12th, she has Sciver caught in the deep, swatting big, swatting across. Just me, or does the England allrounder really need to make a very strong contribution, soonish? Not that her place is under threat… but she keeps under-achieving, given all that talent. Brunt is in, and she’ll need to substantially raise the energy and momentum.

She fails. Instead she plays and misses off Mali and is comprehensively stumped. South Africa almost certainly ahead, with England on 93 for 4, as Knight marches in. Not exactly panic stations, for England; more ‘concentrate then build powerfully’ mode.

At 122 for 4 after 17, with Beaumont and Knight bustling, typically, rather than booming, the likely score of 150 feels undercooked by twenty-plus. Meaning good job done by South Africa – meaning we have a real game ahead of us.

Another error in the field both costs South Africa a key wicket and gifts a precious boundary. (The visitors might have pocketed four additional wickets and saved twenty runs but for some troublingly poor fielding). Even if they go on to win – and I personally think they will – the coach will be *having words*, alright.

The Beaumont knock (solidly skilful rather than flawless and truly dynamic) is snuffed out by Ismail, who bowls her off the pads. In comes Jones and she and Knight cart and race through to 160 for 5 down at the close. This I like, in terms of a contest.

Fabulous moment, early in the reply, as Shrubsole cleans out Wolvaardt with *the most gorgeous* inswinger. Absolute class.

However – rightly and predictably – South Africans Lee and Luus set about the target with some purpose; violence, even. Knight responds by mixing up the bowling. We’re at 50 for 1 after 6.

Gunn is in. Last time I saw this it was a clear signal for the opposition to attack. Surprisingly, Lee plops one straight back at the bowler, who is maybe a tad sluggish, clawing but not catching. Can hear Sky commentary suggesting Gunn may be a decent option on this pitch; hope she is but fear she may again prove too hittable.

Talking of which, Ecclestone is heaved contemptuously over the square-leg rope before dragging one shockingly down to offer an easy four.

After Hazell serves up the tenth, South Africa are easing away at 84 for 1. Significantly, England’s fielding has been almost as disappointing as their opponents. Shrubsole, I’m afraid, is having a mare.

Ecclestone concedes another six to Lee – who has blazed to 67, including six sixes – come the end of the 12th, which costs 13 runs. England facing a pasting, here.

Shrubsole offers a glimmer, by removing the seemingly immovable Lee – caught deep-midwicket. England need an avalanche of wickets, mind, to haul this back. 120 for 2, off 14. Gunn returns.

*Thinks*… if, as seems likely, England lose, will the gaffer (Mr Robinson) politely ask his side if they may have been a little complacent, going in to this? Wyatt’s early horror-show plus other unconvincing or ill thought-out contributions will demand enquiry.

In fact the coast home for the visitors doesn’t quite materialise; or as Brunt sees out a goodish 16th over the momentum has maybe twitched. Gunn has the following over, which is quietish and includes a painfully cruel leading edge which loops back over the exasperated bowler.

But Gunn follows that with a wide full toss – despatched. Just 20 need from the last three overs.

Oof. Ecclestone bowls van Niekerk first ball of the over. Then dot ball… and the crowd are really back into this. Especially when Ecclestone also bowls Tryon – with one that looked a bit shortish, ‘live’. A game: what a bonus!

Shrubsole will bowl the penultimate over and (firstly) Brunt can’t stop a drilled drive for four then (secondly) Sciver spills a regulation catch at mid-on. If I’m the fielding coach I’m ab-so-lutely fuming.

Time has stopped; or warped; or coughed up All The Drama Ever. It’s mad and it’s magic and it leaves us, remarkably, with South on 152 for 4, needing 160, with six delivers remaining. Bloo-dee Hell.

Luus swings Brunt out backward square-legwards first up. Towards the fielder. It’s wide enough; it’s four. Next ball is cut through cover: South Africa have levelled.

Nope, they’ve won. In style, Luus hauling yet another six to square leg. England have a) done well to render this remotely close b) played relatively poorly, all-round. Tough ask to pick themselves up after that and go again.

 

Longish break – really nice to luxuriate in that. Then lovely to see England gals out and back into a visibly gigglacious footie circle-keepy-uppie effort. The disappointment gone, apparently. Hope it really is – genuinely hope they can enjoy all this. It’s both serious and a game, eh? As Vaughanie would say – ‘on, on!’

 

 

 

…Australia reply.

Willey. To Head. (Care-ful, bach!) Two fours edgily but unfussily clipped away to leg.

Then Wood – oh and hey who doesn’t like watching Wood wheel and slam his way through off a four-inch run? Great. Hope he goes well but it’s Aus who start best – 18 for nowt off the first 2.

Willey settles, for the third and concedes just the two. ‘Tis breezy, out there but bright and beautiful, now.

In the fourth – breakthrough: Head superbly caught by Hales, barely above ground. Important and no doubt energising for England. 24 for 1: Shaun Marsh is in and of course us locals hope he fails.

Wood piling everything into it, as per. Falls flat and comically gathers with an outstretched hand. Looks like he’s having fun. Tight, good couple of overs for England. 31 for 1 off 6.

Bairstow spills a very sharp chance – Marsh! – at midwicket; Willey the unfortunate bowler. England have some measure of control.

May sound daft that I made no mention earlier of the fact that England’s score was a record, at this ground. This was a) because stats bore me and b) because I have a suspicion that Aus may really make a game of this. Let’s see, eh?

First change is Plunkett for Wood. Starts with a gift on leg stump – flicked away for four by Short. Eek – same thing two balls later. Then three off a mirror-image. Australia are 60 for 1 off 10.

Enter Moeen, from the Cathedral Road End. Poor, short delivery first up, messily misfielded by Roy, who then gets a warning from the ump for crassly launching it into the ground on the way back to Buttler.

Another miss, for England as Curran (on for Willey) spills a clip into midwicket. (Tough-but-catchable on first viewing). Next change is Root in for Plunkett, who’s been too straight, for me. Nice over from Root, in fact  – noticeably hurrying through. Part of the cat-and-mousey psychocobblers that’s going on, in this phase.

Moeen is in at a much slower tempo. Doing okay though – has Short caught at first slip by Root. 77 for 2 in the 15th puts England ahead? Stoinis joins us.

Aside. Powerful amount of pret-ty pompous exposition of knowledge/stats/history by some individuals in the Media Centre. Predictable. Painful. Onward.

*Suddenly*, Marsh has either 33, or 35 – depending which scoreboard you’re looking at. In general though,  considering there’s no great purchase to be had in another sleepy Glammy pitch, Root and Moeen are keeping this admirably tight, for England. Ish.

Rashid is in for the 19th. Things remain quietish – or at least non-violent. Then drama as the returning Plunkett has Stoinis edging on for 9. Finch is in – lower down the order than I would have him, to be honest. We are 103 for 3 after 20 – by comparison England were 124 for 2.

Marsh gets to 50 from the pieiest of pies from Rashid immediately after. Weirdly, Finch misses a very full one from the same bowler and is lb. Maxwell “may be Australia’s last chance”, (says George Dobell, behind me).

Some signs in the 26th that Marsh and Maxwell will look to ruffle Rashid. Plunkett is still probing manfully, with little luck, from the opposite River End, as the 150 comes up, in the 26th. Wisely, Rashid is replaced by Moeen, bowling around, to Marsh.

There are Mexican Waves. Committed Mexican Waves – intermittently.

Marsh is batting with ease, now. Guiding and cutting. Low-risk stuff but accumulating. Whether this is enough is the question – or whether his explosive partner can find another, more boomtastic gear? Australia look untroubled but they’re gonna have to change the dynamic here fairly promptly, you suspect. After Wood has hoiked down the 30th, they are 164 for 4. So not out of it entirely but…

Ah. That very same Mr Maxwell miscues Moeen badly, straight down Willey’s throat – if I can say that? Made 31, rather low-key runs. Straightforward catch at long on: feels terminal. England surely only have to hold their nerve to see this out? (*Fatal. 3*).

Willey is back but Marsh remains indomitable. To much consternation (in the Media Centre) there is a further drinks break. (Necessary? Appropriate, given the time of day/need to catch trains, etc etc?) Australia reach 200 in the 36th, for 4 down, meaning the required rate is around 10. Toughish, for 14 overs.

Moeen’s done okay again. 10 overs, 2 for 42. On a day when spinners could’ve really taken some hammer. Meanwhile, Marsh has gone to a fine 101, creaming Wood through midwicket. He has been untroubled throughout. Likewise, in fact, his partner Agar, who smashes Root for successive fours as Australia reach 231 for 5.

Are we done here, or what? England need a wicket to settle this. Fielding howler from Plunkett hardly bolsters England’s confidence. As Marsh absolutely smashes Wood over midwicket, we wonder again. My palms are a wee bit sweaty but this may be partly because my own last train leaves at 8.01 p.m. I may miss the bloody end of this!

Ah haaaah! Rashid, aware of this issue no doubt, bowls Agar with a sweet googly. Aus are 260 for 6, in the 43rd. Paine is in; maybe in the New Spirit of Things he might concede, saving me a stressful jog to Cardiff Central?

Nah. Marsh booms Wood for six over mid-off. All this and an unofficial drinks break. Thanks fellas. Australia need 53 off 30 – which is possible.

Off Plunkett, the ball flies horribly past and over Moeen’s head – he drops it. Next ball though, Rashid pockets an easy one at deep mid-on. Agar gone for a well-crafted 46. Next ball Plunkett bowls the outstanding Marsh with a slower one. Phew! 293 for 8. I make it Aus need 48 off 24 balls.

Tye is caught easily enough, in the deep, by Billings, off Rashid and T’other Richardson is in as last man. Roy then does that same ‘safe pair’ thing and England are home by 38 runs. Talking of running…

 

Made the train. Reflecting now on a decent rather than gloriously entertaining game. Credit to Australia for competing so fiercely – but hey, it’s what they do. Real quality from Buttler – the two consecutive ramps were ridiculous and gorgeous – and from Roy… and Marsh. However, the pitch offered little to the bowlers so maybe we might have seen more, elite-level pyrotechnics? A goodish day.

 

 

Wake-up call.

Electrifying wake-up call, occasioned by my lack of a wake-up call. No bloody alarm! 6.27! Have to be IN THE CAR, ON THE WAY TO THE STATION, by 6.45. Blimey. That’s one way to sharpen the senses.

Another, more agreeable way, is to watch the river then the estuary, then the soporific mudbanks slide past. On the train. Between Caerfyrddin a Llanelli. Mae’n hyfryd – even when resolutely grey.

A favourite journey before a favourite walk. From Cardiff Central, past the Millenium, into Bute Park, on to Sophia Gardens. Even in light rain, even with the Millenium Gates locked, to de-bar an intimate skirting of that iconic stadium. Lovely – and encouragingly bustly. Full house?

The players are warming up under that grey blanket. Footie for England then fielding/catching drills; fair amount of agility stuff then catching for the Aussies. 10.35.

Shortly afterwards Australia win what might be an important toss, given the possibility for really tricky batting conditions early, and brighter forecast later. (Having said that, the England batting lineup feels strong, what with Wood in at eleven!) Morgan has had a back spasm so Buttler will skipper England.

Lols as Neil Warnock rings the bell. Expected him to hoof it into the stand.

Richardson will open up, to Bairstow. Glides to fine leg for the first run. Ground about 58% full. Approximately. Roy leans rather beautifully into an on-drive. Four. Seven off the first over and no alarms.

T’other Richardson, from the River End. Helpfully, he has that Pirlo-thing going on. Roy cuts the fourth ball emphatically for four. As Bairstow back-drives for another boundary the early sense is of a benign batting strip. (*Fatal*). Roy has gone through a couple of pull shots a tad early but otherwise, no dramas.

17 for 0, after 4.

Bairstow sticks a beauty past extra cover and looks tasty, already. Lights are on, mind so maybe no room for complacency. Smooth-chinned Richardson sends down two quick bouncers in succession to keep the Yorkshireman honest.

Ground now 84% full. Plus.

Bairstow – no doubt to welcome the late-comers in – booms Pirlo straight down the ground for 6. Then 4. Then 4. This is not an electrifying start – 40 for 0 after 6 – but it’s been great, for England. Agar on from the Cathedral Road End: first over goes for 9.

Double-change as Stoinis comes on, to Roy, who has 18. England look dangerously good. (*Fatal revisited*).

Pirlo has changed ends: now runs in from in front of us Elite Media People, in the press box. From nowhere, he removes the imperious Bairstow (42 off 24), who edges through to the keeper. In comes Hales, who *may want* to make the most of this opportunity.

After one from Pirlo, Agar returns, bringing medium-strength sunshine. England are 75 for 1 after that 11th over. 100 comes up with a fine-looking drive through mid-off, from Roy. Hales has progressed neatly enough to 20-odd.

Tye has entered the fray but Hales and Roy remain both watchful and aggressive. The Aussie paceman goes for 11 in his  first over. At drinks, England are 112 for just the loss of Bairstow, off 18. Surely ahead on points?

At this point some bloke called Bumble sits immediately next to me: shocking bit of groupiedom but I forgive him.

Shortly afterwards, Hales is clean bowled by Richardson J. An absolute peach. Hales needed more than his 26, methinks.

Root nonchalantly flicks to fine leg for his opening runs – a boundary. Then Roy goes through to his fifty – good knock. England are 124 for 2 after 20.

We’re into something of a lull, which is clearly goodish for Aus. Roy responds by smoothing Stoinis with some intent, straight over mid-on, for six. Again it feels this pitch is on the honest-to-slow side: Root, in ver-ry carefully guiding towards third man, almost steers it to the keeper’s right hand.

At 142 for 2, we have a shower, and off they go.

One o’oclock and we’re preparing to re-lock horns. Much brighter… but there *are* clouds. Tye at it first; Roy tonks him through extra. Four – and the 150 up. Pirlo from the other (Cathedral Road) end.

Roy tennis-smashes him, almost studiously, so slow is the bounce. Next over, he ab-so-lutely carts Tye, easily, over midwicket for six.

Suddenly, a great catch from Short, off Stoinis. Pull shot from Roooot that dropped sharply in front of the fielder. Plucked it one-handed – brilliantly.

But… rain in again… until just before 2p.m.  184 for 3, off 30. Unfortunate disruption – for everybody.

Have a long, fascinating chat with Chris Waterman, who is, apparently,  a kind of educational terrorist-iconoclast. Good on ‘im. Remember when some England boss waxed lyrical about Paul Scholes ‘running round letting off his wee hand grenades’ (or similar?) Like that. Only in the House of Lords or the MCC.

2.15 and Short lobs a few slow left-arm overs. Roy and Buttler get scampering. 200 up, for 3, in the 32nd. Roy gets to a rather accomplished century in the over-after-next. Runs coming, but it’s hardly a torrent.

Ever-sensitive to that Positivity Quotient, Buttler leans coolly into a full one and it flies over mid-off. Quality. Roy gets cuter – reverse-sweeping Agar for four. Controlled upward spike? Could be. Confirmed as Roy powerfully, almost maliciously smashes Tye straight.

As rain falls again there is another stoppage but this is to attend to Paine, who has been clattered in the face by an awkward, double-bouncing delivery. Half the Aus team think they’ve been called off again but no – no actual break in play. England are 233 for 3 at this point.

Tye finally nails Roy courtesy of a great catch by the bloodied Paine, who moves really sharply to pouch one low down to his left. The keeper can’t smile, due to that cut above his norf’n sarf, but wow – top catch.

Short is on, at the River End. Expect fireworks from Billings, who faces, initially. Instead, it’s relatively conservative – not sure that will be the case if the spinner returns next over.

Agar, from the Cathedral Road, receives similar respect. Moral victory for the slowies. 250 for 4 up in the 40th.

WOW. Buttler then ramp-scoops Richardson J TWICE IN SUCCESSION  for six, before cutting through to his fifty. A moment – two – of star, star quality. Maybe the innings needs more of this, to pile the pressure on the visitors, who may well benefit from improved batting conditions?

Buttler is showing off, booming a hockey shot through extra cover. It brings out the sun.

Billings, meanwhile has been quietish. Or maybe just in the shadow of Buttlerdom? He goes, in fact, a tad unluckily but his inside edge-onto-pad-onto-stumps feels a little tame. Enter Moeen, who has had fun here before.

Ali starts with an easy pull, forward of square, off a short one from Tye. Did I say it’s kinda windy, by the way? Trees are a-dancing vigorously. Richardson J is running in hard and slapping it down with that breeze coming across him from his right. Good marks for commitment for all the Australian quicks, to be fair.

300 achieved in the 45th as Moeen doinks a single from Tye. But Mo also goes rather tamely, flipping one to deep square. Willey comes in, surely looking to garner ten plus an over off the last four?

Aus bowl a lump of shortish quickish ones and the policy is pret-ty successful – boundaries being hard to find. The anticipated 350 drifts, in a flurry of ill-timed wafts and slashes. Willey connects, off Pirlo, and then flukes a second over Paine but these are relatively isolated spikes in the run rate.

Willey kisses one high on the bat and Richardson runs across to reach for the catch. 325 for 7 feels 30 light so Buttler defiantly clouts him cross-batted for four over midwicket; middled. Plunkett, however, engineers a kamikaze schoolboy runout.

The innings closes with another biff to leg from Buttler, who gets to 91 not out as England post 342 for 8. Certainly good… but I wonder if Finch might really fancy this?

Worcester; Part Two.

Posted this immediately after the South African innings. Go back one post to check out how the England knock went.

 

Opening salvoes. Brunt first, to Lee; bowls full and straight. England seem suitably bristly and busy in the field – need to be, immediately. They are noisy and bright, knowing they must make something happen. After two fairly uneventful overs the visitors are 2 for 0.

Then the breakthrough: Wolvaardt, ball that seamed in at her. Inevitably, it’s Brunt, who sends her off before leaping in that Proper Pumped Fast Bowler stylee.

Ayup. Next over the fabulous Taylor stumps Luus, standing up to Shrubsole – confirmed by a tightish review. We going to get a game, after all?

Lee responds with the first boundary, off Brunt. And the second. South Africa are 14 for 2, off 5.

Shrubsole now getting appreciable inswing, Brunt bowling with her customary passion. Love the way the Northerner demands a wicket from herself – from everybody –  at least three times an over. Proper ‘quick’.

They really are a good combination, these two. Energy in the field remains high. But have South Africa settled? Maybe.

Predictably, Gunn is in for Shrubsole after four good overs. Equally predictably, Gunn is targeted and the runs suddenly flow. Lee and Van Niekerk are on 19 and 18 respectively after Gunn’s rather concerning first over – the tenth.

Ecclestone comes in for Brunt, at 43 for 2. Importantly, she drops onto a decent line and length but there’s a sense that the batters will counter forcefully; both striking freely against anything unworthy.

Is Gunn removed promptly, in favour of Sciver? No. Knight banks on her experience and unflappability… and Gunn settles. Important phase, in which South Africa control things, as opposed to surge ahead. After 15, they are 64 for 2.

Sciver is in for the 16th: she owes us one. Van Niekerk and Lee endure, with increasing, building authority; there are boundaries – sixes, even – as well as skilled resistance.

Things ebb and flow but as South Africa seem to have a measure of control (at 80 for 2), so it may be natural and reasonable enough to consider England’s weaknesses. Not, you understand, out of malice or premature negativity, but because the individuals, the environment must be durable to challenge. It comes with the profile, with the money, the expectation.

England are, of course pretty strong, being World Champs, but as greater investment comes in and the squad grows numerically, so the competitive nature of selection bites more brutally – or should.

Two players from the World Cup Squad missed out here, because (I’m guessing) Robinson and Knight want yet more dynamism, or a shift in the balance. At 16.26 p.m. with the South Africans having cruised through the period of second/third change bowlers, this mix feels like an area to be looked at.

Gunn, tremendous servant though she has been, is on that vulnerable cusp. But Sciver, Marsh and Ecclestone as a group did not back up the work of Shrubsole and Brunt and they, too find themselves in the Must Do Better category.

Ecclestone has to bowl well, not being a great athlete; Sciver is a real talent but we need more from her with the ball; Marsh has to play really close to her maximum in all three disciplines; Gunn is coming to the end of an illustrious career. To complete the rant, Shrubsole’s fitness is a concern: the team needs a couple more stars.

All this arises because England barely challenged Lee and Van Niekerk until Brunt then Shrubsole began the charge again – Shrubsole bowling the opposition skipper for an excellent 58. But this is not just about today.

Batting-wise, the lineup seems goodish… but they had a poor, poor day. However I don’t foresee too many occasions when all of Beaumont, Taylor, Knight and Sciver will fail.

Folks will inevitably compare today’s sloppy dismissals with The Blokes: unwise but so were the wickets – gifted away. Credit Brunt with breathing life into a performance that seemed fatally poor at 61 for 5 and then 80 for 7.

So England, in my humble view, need bowling. The fielding was good, the batting is or should be competitive at this highest level but the team lacks an edge with the ball; or rather needs more, quality options.

As Ecclestone starts the 33rd, South Africa are at 133 for 3. Minutes later, it appears Brunt has emphasised that star quality factor by executing a stirring catch deep in the outfield. It’s the sort of effort that reflects how her desire and power and athleticism set her apart. Turns out – after a long review – she never quite got there. The relieved but deserving Lee returns to her crease.

She is still there, on 77, into the 41st, as Brunt returns for her final fling at this. South Africa require just 27, with seven wickets left intact. The afternoon is now still and lovely, so if nothing changes in the next few minutes we’ll be applying the ‘s’ word to the visitors victory – serene.

Marsh is now firing them in flattish, from the New Road End but England are being quietly picked off. Occasional, incongruous music meets the boundaries that prick the calm.

Brunt is in for her last, the 43rd. She wills herself towards raising once more the contest… but it’s done.

Gunn must bowl the 45th. Her slower ball is just too slow,  too easily read and is carted to extra cover for four, leaving three needed.

Next over Lee kabooms Marsh for six to finish it. A deserved win for South Africa, who have emphatically outbowled and outbatted England. Lee is undefeated on 92 and Du Preez on 36. Whilst plainly England’s batting cost them the game, I’m left with more concerns about the bowling. Wonder if Mr Robinson feels the same?

Worcester.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The break. So some other stuff…

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

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

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

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

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

Cows and buzzards and crows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same old.

We’re all talking about the same stuff: England’s dreaming. Both in the possessive sense and the *actual*. Plus with reference to a certain J Lydon Esquire, as he snarled at the diminishing future.

England sleepwalking, England, infuriatingly, prepped and cossetted and armed to the gills with i.n.f.o.r.m.a.t.i.o.n. but somehow languidly dopey; as if nothing’s registered. As if either exhausted by all this ‘coaching’, or simply not that arsed.

I’m pretty clear, in fact that both ends of the team (all members of the team, actually) are arsed – are committed. Think Cook and then Wood. Strike you as determined, honest, committed individuals? Course they do.

Cook is about as diligent and coolly determined a bloke as you are likely to find. Wood is ballsy, witty and sharply competitive. So yes they may, in this laughably, loafingly lily-livered era have waaaay too many things too easy but this is not the same as them not caring enough (about test cricket.)

However there is an issue. Clearly. Or some issues.

When Root wafts seemingly lazily outside off, to fatal effect, we all feel both disappointment and anger because we feel let down and because most of us reckon the dismissal is poor – unacceptably poor – given the state of the game. We wonder what the hell he was thinking.

It feels extraordinary, too, that Stoneman (for example) could be so easily befuddled and bowled, when top order batsmen should base their game around impenetrable defence of the sticks. Surely that’s a given: you only get bowled by an absolute pearler? It’s a matter of pride – it’s a kindof rule. Like being watchful and respectful is a rule; or possibly two.

(Ten minutes after I write this paragraph, Stoneman is bowled again).

So, how come we’re seeing so many simple errors? And how come England haven’t addressed what appear to be strikingly recurrent issues? Are they really in dreamland?

Check out all over. Read George Dobell or listen to Michael Vaughan; there’s what we might call an intelligent consensus emerging. George has been brilliantly unpicking both the strategic shortcomings and individual issues for aeons, whilst Vaughan has rather fascinatingly veered from bolshy positivist to Sage of the Old Disciplines more recently.

What’s widely shared, is the belief that white-ball-tastic ‘freedoms’ do not always successfully transplant into the longer form. (Like WOW, who knew?!?)

It may be almost insultingly obvious to some of us, but apparently the relentlessly ‘instinctive’ batting exemplified by Buttler and co may not always be the way to go in Test Cricket. Well – *adopts the voice of his father, from 1974* – bugger me!

I do not mean to slander Buttler – or even knock his inclusion at Lords. The fella’s remarkable, touched by genius, so please understand he is merely a symbol, here. The wider point is that most of us are clear that Test Cricket demands application as well as talent. And it’s mindcrushingly astonishing that this argument seems still to have bypassed Bayliss and England.

How to explain this, though? How could even reasonably dedicated professionals fail to address stuff that’s been so blindingly obvious to most supporters and commentators for so long? Test Cricket is tough, sometimes; you have to earn your right to compete. In England, earlyish, you have to be unsexily dull, to offer more grit than colour, bat long.

The precedence of white ball cricket is surely a factor. In terms of scheduling, there can be no doubt where the ECB see the priorities moving forward. Consequently, we might argue that the majority of England players are unready for Test Cricket (now).

Bayliss and Root are most responsible for selection and state of readiness. In short I expect Bayliss to be relieved of his Test role rather soon: Root in a way is more of a concern, it feeling entirely possible that his confidence and authority are threatened by both his own and the team’s lacklustre performances. He needs not only runs but the sense that he can galvanise his team, to return swiftly.

But back to the precise hows. How can England play such dumb cricket. Unclear leadership? Too much unintelligent positivity? Nerves? That lack of application thing. All of these things and more?

Can I just try to nail something? The idea that if you rail against ‘undisciplined cricket’ you are automatically old, boring and reactionary. That you don’t get and can’t somehow enjoy Kohli or De Villiers or Stokes or Buttler at their electrifying peak. Cobblers. I (many of us) love aggressive, expressive, expansive cricket but are perdy darn sure you can’t play that way whilst wickets are tumbling early, in a five day Test Match. (You may be able to play that way at some stage in a five day Test Match but mostly you grind things out, get comfortable, secure yourself, then ‘play’).

In the current inquisition we have to acknowledge Pakistan’s good work. As I write – lunch now, Saturday – they have comprehensively outplayed England (in May, at Lords, with cloud about) in every department of the game. Chapeau.

It’s churlish at best to note that this Pakistan side is not special, that’s it’s merely goodish, proficient – that it’s performing. But Mr Bayliss and his employers do need to factor this in, however ungenerous it may seem.

This inevitably leads to more questions; about how good our best players are, for example. Root seems to be at a tipping point. When he first jogged out as skipper his boyishness, likable funkiness and joie-de-vivre seemed somewhere between encouraging and inspirational. Not so now. Patently, most England players are not as good as Root.

The level of performance in the field – though plainly not all the captain’s fault – reflects poorly on Root. Not only were catches dropped but certain field placings seemed odd (as opposed to challenging, or funky) and the (over-coached, over-discussed?) eternally-vaunted Bowling Plans seemed to fizzle to nothing. England seemed disjointed and almost dispirited, at times.

Hard to know, really, how much enthusiasm players have for their captain or coach, or whether at a deeply subconscious level they see themselves reverse-sweeping Rashid Khan for six in some cauldron on the sub-continent rather than battling it out in The Smoke, for days on end. Body language can reveal a certain amount but hey… we’re guessing.

However, it’s the job of the coach to demand focus, fitness and absolute commitment to the cause: the skipper then polices that on the pitch.  England have work to do on this. Mostly though, they have to prove to most of us that they understand the nature of Test Cricket.

All of this, in particular the widespread disappointment amongst fans, is entangled with concerns or furies about maladministration or player-comfiness or the alleged general cultural malaise. We’re angry or outraged and we really don’t like idleness – what my dad or your dad (or Sir Geoffrey) might have called ‘lack of application’.

Would be great to separate all that stuff out and really consider what’s happening on the pitch. Not easy.

As I finish, Root is re-building.