Charlotte Edwards Cup – Finals Day.

I’m never late – certainly not to The Cricket.

Was a little, today. Could write a book on the serpentine delights of Southampton On Marathon-or-something Day but will spare you, for now. Bustle into the ground, post my ‘friendly chat’ with the delightful gent ushering me in to the Media Parking Zone. Six or seven journos in, including the ever-present Raf and Syd. Doors open out to a stunning scene but the chalk-white (stadium) vista gets silver behind the gold-medal experience that is the heat. I may be a tad scorcher-averse but this is… sapping.

Eight overs in. Bell has slung down some quick deliveries off a notably long run but again has sprayed them around a tad. (For me she remains A Prospect, for now, because of that consistent inconsistency). Get that what she’s doing – bowling at full tilt – is highish tarrif stuff – but she will need to mature towards consistency to get where she wants to be.

Northern Diamonds are 54 for 2 after 10 overs. Winfield-Hill and Armitage are just getting into their twenties, runs-wise. Charlotte Taylor has returned to bowl her second over. Given that we can only imagine runs should flow on this strikingly beatific summer’s day, with a bone-dry outfield and no early horrors in the pitch, Diamonds need to cut loose, soonish. Armitage goes big, or certainly high over the bowler but long off – Norris – takes a comfortable catch. The batter made 24. Her former partner is joined by Kalis.

Vipers have been efficient enough, restricting the opposition to 81 for 3 by the time 14 overs are completed. Do the math: just under 6 per over when you feel 8 may be necessary. Elwiss is inclined to remain ungenerous. She bowls full, full and Kalis misses whilst attempting a rather clumsy scoop. 82 for 4; enter the evergreen Gunn. *Thinks: is that so obvious as to be a travesty/an outright insult? Surely the long-term England player will be thinking her side need to get 130, minimum?

Winfield-Hill – who has quality but possibly not of the explosive kind; or not characteristically – unfurls a particularly pleasing straight drive, for four. Charlotte Taylor changes ends, to join us from the Hilton Hotel. Strike rotated. Five from the over, 93 for 4 after 16.

Winfield-Hill gets to 50 with a flip to fine-leg: later in the over the 100 is up. Georgia Adams is back but W-H clatters her straight for 6, then scuffs one through extra for 4. This is what the Diamonds need… and then not. Winfield-Hill advances aggressively once more but misses the proverbial straight one. Gone for 65. The left-handed Smith has joined Gunn.

They will face Bell, in the penultimate over. Too quick for Gunn. Then a single to deep extra. And a good bitta footie from the bowler stops the drive – painlessly, it would seem. Good, bold, yorker length brings just the 4 runs all told. Norris will see us out, with 120 on the board.

Diamonds can’t surge to the line – Scholfield smartly pouches Smith. Gunn smashes a defiant 6 to get the batting side past 130 and innings closes on 135 for 6. Something… but enough? (Second dig, with conditions conspiring towards scoring?) I doubt it but let’s see.

Smith and Slater have opened for Diamonds. Vipers 13 for 0 after 2. Gunn will do her mildly eccentric thing from the pavilion, starting with a wide. McCaughan guides her, late, through third man. Four. Six from the over.

I’m working – YES WORKING!! – outdoors. Risking battery failure and terminal swelteration. Like this ground but lots of glare around, today; not a problem for the players, (I imagine) but staring round the sands is positively eye-scrunging. But hey this is all, in a word, beautiful. Sunny; warm; dreamy, even. Smith (from the Hilton) is followed by Slater from in front of the team pods. It’s cat and mousey rather than dynamic, until the bowler profits from a forward lurch, from McCaughan; she is emphatically stumped, by Heath.

Gunn has switched. Weirdly, the typically influential Adams tamely biffs her to mid-on. Gunn – lacking pace and sometimes appearing to lack threat – does that, somehow. Vipers are 34 for 2 as the powerplay draws to a close. Evens, you would say.

Slater is bowling her third: Elwiss and Scholfield at the crease. Neither are ‘in’. MacDonald will bowl her first, running right to left as I look in, from backward square leg to the right-hander. The crowd enjoys a boundary – are we clear that this is the Vipers’ home ground? – but MacDonald responds by bowling Scholfield. Discombobulated by a slower ball – or so it looked. 41 for 3; maybe we /I need to review that assumption that runs are readily available on here?

Slater, who has bowled with decent pace, left-handed, has done her work: 1 for 18, from her 4 overs. Fifty is up in the tenth over as Elwiss *gets something* on it – the ball looping behind, for a tantalising four. New batter Windsor draws generous applause for racing through for a second. 54 for 3, then at half-way: interestingly, Diamonds were 54 for 2.

I’ve described the heat as sapping; it is for me but this doesn’t make it a general truth. And yet – oops, as Elwiss is caught, in another significant blow for the home side – it seems only natural to air the thought that the side currently sitting out (South East Stars) may have a keen advantage, here. Two games in these conditions feels like a big ask.

We are 64 for 4, after 12, meaning the run-rate has suddenly spiked to above 9 and Vipers have to bring their A-game, medium-pronto. Arguably their principal batters have been and gone, so, Windsor and Norris, over to you; no pressure!

Norris edges behind. The chasing fielder looks exhausted – barely claws it in and lobs in a lacklustre throw. Right-hand/left-hand combination (that everybody currently seems to be obsessed by), for the batting side. MacDonald is back in, for her third. A streaky two to fine leg means 6 from the over; not enough. 75 for 4, off 14. 61 needed; there is pressure now, alright.

Oof. Norris is caught by Armitage off Katie Levick, close to the rope. Diamonds strong favourites to meet the Stars. Windsor drives through extra for four to move to 19. Monaghan has joined her. Five overs remain; 80 for 5; rate beyond 11. MacDonald, to finish her spell.

She rather telegraphs a ver-ry slow ball but her vociferous appeal is denied. Monaghan drives then scoops: five from the over. 85 for 5 so 51 still required. Something remarkable (and out of context with the game) essential… but unlikely. Every run roundly applauded but the locals seem sure to be disappointed and they know it. 94 for 5 with Gunn to bowl the 18th. Three out, on the on-side boundary.

Painfully slow one is wide, down leg. Then another. Extraordinarily, Monaghan falls lbw to the next. 99 for 6. Bell joins Windsor, who has a creditable 31. The tall, slim fast bowler has a heave but is bowled, first-up. Game done, if it wasn’t already.

Hat-trick ball. No dramas. 100 up, from the leg bye.

The Diamonds had seemed to lack urgency with the bat and yet they are cruising: I happily confess to a misjudgement. At no stage have their opposition meaningfully threatened them, in the chase. Windsor is gallantly diving in as the throw hits – just in. Smith is bowling the 19th. She has Windsor with the return catch. 110 for 8.

As Jenny Gunn strides over to gather for the last, the Vipers can only salvage a wee bit of pride, or exercise some brief, lusty defiance. Not to be. Chandler is run out (by a mile) and the innings subsides 18 runs short, at 117 all out. To be blunt this has neither been high quality nor a particularly compelling watch. What felt like a relative lack of dynamism from both sets of batters made for a subdued affair. It remains unclear why stroke-making proved so difficult: we can only hope that the final will offer a hike in drama, edginess, ‘action’. Meanwhile, cold water all round.

THE FINAL.

Northern Diamonds have won the toss and chosen to stick with that bat first/apply pressure approach. Be really interesting to see if they go bigger and bolder from the start – suspect they might.

The extraordinary prodigy that is Alice Capsey is opening the bowling. Aged about 9. (Ok I exaggerate but…)

Four from the over. Dobson and Heath are the batters. The Stars look all shiny and bright, in their yellow shirts. Moore concedes just the one. 5 for 0 after 2. Under my wing of the stadium, it’s cooler – mercifully. Capsey in again.

Heath strikes aerially (but safe) out to midwicket, before Dobson drives for four, to cover. Richards will offer more pace, from the Hilton Hotel End but a wee sense that Diamonds are looking to push. Plusses and minuses. Dobson is caught but two boundaries come from the over. 22 for 1 after 4.

Gibbs – also offering some pace – is in from the pavilion. She goes full and is appealing confidently for leg before. Rightly; she has the potentially crucial wicket of Winfield-Hill, for no return. Armitage will join Heath. She clips neatly through midwicket – only good fielding from Moore saves the boundary. 27 for 2 after 5.

Smith follows Gibbs. Right arm slow. Simple run out opportunity spurned. Heath has left home but the slightly wild throw allows her to recover: might have been huge. Even 5s, as Diamonds sit on 30 for 2, with 6 overs done.

Gregory offers leg-spin but her long-off rather flops over the drive, from Armitage. Heath follows that up with a further boundary and 10 runs come. The same batter has to walk soon after – blown away mid-strip, by a sharp throw, from mid-off. The game feels alive, with Stars focussed (but not always athletic) and Diamonds showing some urgency, without entirely profiting. 49 for 3, off 8.

Gregory, post the wicket, gets another go. Kalis takes a single, before Armitage late-cuts, with some dexterity, for four. There has been some mixed fielding. We get more as another outfielder dives over the ball – this time at deep point. Four more: Gregory has not been best-served by her colleagues, conceding 24 from 2.

Moore will take us to halfway, from the Hilton. Quietish over; Kalis can only biff the full-toss to deep midwicket, for one. 67 for 3 after 10 is competitive – that’s my sense. Diamonds going okay. Armitage and Kalis have had a sight of this, now – on 20 and 13, respectively. Next stop 140-something?

Smith blocks one at mid-off, at some personal cost: sore wrist. Slight stalling in this period but Diamonds are going at about 6.5 per over and will look to burst. Meaning boundaries at some premium of late; suspect that may change.

Bryony Smith will bowl her third over from under the hotel. She snaffles Kalis, from a full-toss: her good hands bring in Gunn. Armitage now has 32; these two can make a telling contribution, I reckon.

Armitage clumps Moore to the square-leg boundary. Mixed over yields 8 runs. Capsey will re-join to try to stem any flow. The 100 is up, as the youngster bowls a poor wide. Radio talking 130-something but Diamonds should press towards 140, in my view. Flurry of strokes needed: expected that earlier and could be it remains elusive. 105 for 4 on the board, with 4 overs remaining. Gunn lacks power but has experience and guile. Hope she can nick it and nudge it whilst her partner lets rip.

Boundary error gifts another four. Smith, the bowler, will not be impressed… and indeed the fielder is moved. Armitage gets to a steady, rather than demonstrative 50. 121 for 4 now, with 2 overs remaining – so 140 possible but the vibe again says less. A drag down from D-Richards is struck at the fielder.

Alice Capsey will finish this. Finally, we get a boundary, – we do feel light on those – from Gunn. Two from the last ball, to Armitage, brings up the half-century partnership. Northern Diamonds post 138 for 4, with Gunn and Armitage the not-out batters, on 22 and 59 respectively. They are in the game.

The Chase.

Linsey Smith starts, for the Diamonds, with her namesake(s? Bryony) and Cranstone to face up. Three from the over. Conditions could barely be more perfect: by that I mean *in particular* that the mugginess has subsided – the langour-o-meter is now in a substantially less negative sector.

Wonder if this might energise the cricket; not that it’s been poor… but it has maybe lacked a little vim. After Slater concedes 14, Gunn will bowl the third. Both batters showing early intent: 32 for 0 after 3.

Katie Levick will bowl the fourth. Needs to apply the anchor. Does a decent job – conceding just the two runs. Good energy from the batters – whether striking hard, or drop-and-running. Crisp, confident work – the best we’ve seen all day, arguably.

Poor fielding may encourage them. More spillage at the rope is followed by a drilled six, from Cranstone. 46 for 0 after 5 – well ahead.

Cranstone takes on Levick, too. Lofted but beyond midwicket; more runs. Fifty is up – and it feels like Stars are charging. Powerplay done, no wickets lost. Ahead. Can MacDonald change things?

Not dramatically – in fact she fails to deflect that soaring run-rate trajectory. Eight from the over, leaving Stars on 58 for 0 after 7. Next up – Armitage.

Both openers are opening up. That wonderful, woody sound of hearty, smooth hitting. Boundaries around the ground. 71 for 0, suddenly, with both batters into their thirties. The energy, quality and purpose of this period of the day may be reinforcing the argument that much of went before, batting-wise, was underachievement. This is patently a different level – a better, higher one.

Ha! *Fatal*. Cranstone is gone – crunching her own stumps – but before your correspondent chokes on his curses, Capsey is both in *and scooping the first ball for four*. So change brings no change, maybe?

But no. T’other opener, Smith has also departed. At the halfway stage, Stars are 84 for 2 – needing only 55. Hmm. Now Gibbs, rather foolishly, has come and gone, hoisting Levick to deep midwicket. She could have taken a longish look and enjoyed a trouble-free cruise.. but nope. Caught. Capsey remains.

And the wobbles continue. Davidson-Richards may be mildly shocked (given where we were) to find herself extended at all. But she is joining Capsey, Franklin having been caught Gunn, bowled Levick. Extraordinary, unnecessary jolts – born of nerves, surely?

Capsey will be delighted that Armitage has bowled her the worst ball of the day, which she can dismiss at her leisure to fine leg. Twelve overs done, 96 for 4, with Capsey now on 12 and D-Richards 5. A smidge of composure should see South East Stars home… but well, yaknow.

Time for Gunn, from the Hilton Hotel. Unforgivably (at her pace) for me, she bowls another wide, down the leg side: 100 up shortly after. 37 needed, from the 7 overs remaining. Capsey hits MacDonald over (but close to) mid-off, for four. Sure, the run rate has dropped from where it was when the openers were fizzing, but this batting partnership looks to have this covered… he said, dangerously.

Capsey has heard me. She booms confidently downtown, for four more. Stars have 5 overs to find 20. I expect them to do it in 3, max. (Capsey has heard me – again. Four more: this is brilliant, from the teenager).

Richards is joining the fun – reversing. NINE RUNS ONLY, FROM FOUR OVERS. Emphatic.

Gunn. That ridicu-slower-one comes out. Capsey is on it. Davidson-Richards reverses again, for a single. The batters are seeing Gunn out. 6, from – well, ample.

MacDonald is in from under the pavilion. Single. Then two. Fifty partnership, three needed and Richards has a dart for glory… but picks out mid-off. Gone. White will join Capsey. Dot ball. Single. Capsey to face. Appropriately, she clips neatly square, to win it for her side. The small crowd clap both sides generously from the outfield.

A lovely day, with some good cricket. Fine venue. A little disappointment that we didn’t see more high quality stroke-making but Smith and Cranstone – opening for the Stars – and Capsey, later, entertained us. The rest found it tricky. Could be that this is an ungenerous view but mostly I have form for actively supporting these players: they deserve it and it feels important. I absolutely and wholeheartedly congratulate South East Stars, as deserved winners.

What I normally do is sleep on this then add a few reflections. Having just arrived back at my son’s college digs, in Bath, you may forgive me if I continue that tradition – there being no truth in the rumour that a ver-ry pleasant café-bar lies but 75 yards away. (Cue choice of smug or smiley emoji)…

Fun with Space and Time.

When I watched Moeen cart the Windies for 61 off 14 deliveries in Bristol and Gayle smash Ball in Southampton, the sense that something wonderfully unavoidable had happened was unavoidable. Admittedly we were in silly season – Ingerland in the autumn, with the visitors surely neck-deep in thermals – but did this account, in any way, for the co-bubbling of fate and freakishness? I think not.

In both cases I was privileged to be right behind the unlucky bowlers’ arms – behind the lustrous glass of the Media Centre – having mildly subverted the seating plan so as to maximise the seeing-and-explaining quotient: hopefully. Lil’ ole brilliant me, easing my way into that totemic roost to savour, discern, dismantle and demystify the event better than everybody, because I have The View That Makes This Possible.

Don’t hold your breath, people.

I’m not exactly sure where the respective coaches were, during these timeless, chartless, thrillingly renegade moments. I’m guessing either raising a discreet hipflask or patting cold, co-old water against their ashen cheeks, depending on their batting/receiving status. Or lost, fumbling for some cosmic but transferable truth. Something in the moment lurched or levered us towards dumb, ecstatic diversions – but from where, or to where?

Slap! Time bent! Kaboom! Things redefined. Now fetch that ball please?

I’m wondering about fields of influence, here: also – what were the coaches thinking? And were these developments actually developments – from what did they actually spring?

But back to the coaches. Were they exploding in rage at the mind-boggling, plan-defying incompetence of their miserable, ungrateful pie-chuckers… or (miraculously) doing some eye-rolling, centre-testing ce sera? Were they even watching – could they watch it all through live – or did they slink off, sighing, accepting or determined, towards their branded lap-tops?

Actually, they may have made notes – I’m sure they did – on every ball punished; this being the difference between the level they work at and most of us.

Sure, later, foolish to rule out a secretive flick through the ECB/WICB manuals in search of half-remembered buttresses around Player Ownership: paragraph six, Problem Solving – down to them. Or meetings where nothing was said.

Dealing with the runaway moment is a profoundly philosophical challenge: the coach might recall and indeed be comfitted by this widely accepted notion – that players must execute, must own, must accept that ‘coaching is not about answering’. It’s players who do the playing.

Bayliss or Farbrace or Radford or Simmons or Springer or Law, Estwick or Einstein. Excuse the pun but no matter – no matter whom: each and every one useless, hopeless, atomised – as were we all – irrelevant, in the warp of the event. Moeen decided what would happen. As did Gayle.

The England man was in a rich vein of form, which helps. He is a beautiful striker of the ball but in interview after the Bristol game, claimed not to see himself as a bringer of undeniable, match-winning carnage.

Grounded, humble, Moeen is good on the self-awareness front; he knows he tends to be a threat of the groovicious variety; that he makes strokes more often than he explodes.

Initially, he was doing the day job, alongside Chris Woakes, England having revisited their tendency for gifting clutches of wickets: Moeen with that responsible head on, with an agreeably stoic partner, quietly rescuing.

Looking back, the fact that the word ‘circumspect’ was used in the press to describe how Ali’s subsequently historically outrageous innings began, seems appropriately ludicrous. Thirty-nine in thirty-nine balls, as rebuild mode was dutifully engaged, following the about-par-for-England loss of three wickets for eleven runs.

At Southampton a few days later I again found my way into the perfect spot, by now slightly curious as to why other, senior scribes seem so ambivalent towards magisterial stump-to-stump-hood; when it seems a denial of the most fundamental privilege to be seated anywhere else.

(I pictured either a ruthless policing of the accommodation or some Media Cool that I am as yet unaware of. Turns out that most journos simply watch reasonably well… but then turn to the TV screens left and right to check for turn, appeals, seam, etc. Hope I never lose the naïve compulsion to froth from on high, straight, straight in line).

Windies batted first at the Ageas; meaning some bloke called Gayle. Meaning also a fabulous test for the likes of Ball and Curran – the latter making his debut. However, it was the taller-bouncier former who opened up, almost certainly in the knowledge that I was immediately above and behind, monitoring like a twitchy but medium-scholarly hawk.

Ball I hope won’t mind me saying that he is relatively inexperienced, at this level. In a curvaceous, duplicitous, space-bent universe the allegation that he had played, before this game, just the fifteen One-Day Internationals might pass for a fact. At the moment the inevitably altitudinous young man first raced in towards Gayle, I have to confess I was unaware of this number: I’m not that big on numbers.

I watched Ball intently and continued to do so, throughout his spells. Partly because this was an obvious test of how he is in the environment, partly because I was a bowler (at a distressingly lower level) and partly because the whole Ball equation here was loaded to the max with Gayleness.

Dear reader, it may not surprise you to learn that I am no scientist: and yet I do wonder. Especially when prompted (by my son) towards the deep, dark, black-holed mysteries personified and neatly packaged into the seminal ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’ – this being a sort of fine convenience store of a place where staggeringly heavy stuff can be swept trolley-wards in (ahem) relatively good time.

(Did you guess? I’ve been doing precisely this kind of shopping around now).

Consequently it occurs to me that there are correlations both broad and specific between the General Theory of Relativity and what Gayle and Moeen did. Let me deal with a specific one first.

Einstein proved time at height travels marginally more swiftly than time at sea-level. Ball is twelve foot seven. No wonder then, that his contribution in Southampton was shredded by Forces Beyond His Control.

I will return to this (probably) after sharing the following general observation, from the rear cover of Carlo Rovelli’s extraordinary book, as though it translates across, uniting in glorious revelation our Moeen/Ball/Gayle/Einstein Axes.

‘By God, it’s beguiling!’ – Michael Brooks, New Statesman.

The Ageas, first over. Ball to Gayle. Crowd keyed, batsman waiting. Nottinghamshire’s finest bounds in, puppyish but also committed. Repeatedly, the ball skits or pads pretty much exactly where the bowler would want. There is an incremental incidence void. Gayle defends, defends, before being comprehensively beaten by an absolute pearler – the fifth – which gets unplayably lively from that killer length. Then more justified caution – and a maiden.

Those of you who follow these things will of course know that Gayle, despite the reputation for vulcanism, is quite prepared (well-prepared, in fact) to wait. Tempting but reprehensible then, to assume that his nation as a whole or Gayle in particular may be preparation-averse, or in some way less sharp than England or Australia when it comes to planning. Just read around.

The West Indies have been ahead of the game. The carving folks about has been less ‘instinctive’ than you think. Gayle and Hope and Lewis are as stat-aware and marginal gains/run-rate savvy as anyone. As noted elsewhere, white-ball cricket has become their currency.

So maybe no dramas, for Gayle to simply hold, when the first over from Ball is commendably lively and accurate. The record will show that the Universe Boss can and will wait.

At The Ageas, the opening four overs from Ball and Curran yielded but nine runs to Hope and Gayle. The combination of goodish bowling and circumspection from the batsmen should on reflection have been neither the surprise nor minor disappointment it was received as. The crowd’s readiness for intensity was merely stalled.

Back at Bristol, Moeen’s gone beyond big. He’s gone beyond any previously-known ‘zone’. With the crowd utterly participant – and yet irrelevant, like the bowler, the moon and the stars – he follows some flow, ‘keeps his shape’, re-invents or slashes through to something new and deeper. Cummins and Holder merely feed the narrative.

Earlier, Cummins had bowled Root with a peach and seemed to be finding something. Yet Moeen dismissed him and his captain as though the Windies process was mindless. As though they weren’t scrambling through a repertoire of deeply considered defensive options – Death Bowling Brought Forward.

But what were or are the options? When there is very little help from that dull, white ball?

Laser-guided Yorkers, straight or wide. Variations. Taking some pace off, trying for some cut. Sudden venom; bluff. Percentages – knowing where Moeen is likely to hit – so field placement; then bowling to that field. Looking in-cred-ibly hard at the foot movement, reading the pre-meditation. In the age of T20 (and the laptop) international teams are covering and knowing this stuff like never before.

Anyone who has seen and heard Holder in interview will know his side are unlikely to be short of an intelligent voice. Yes, flusteration might have taken hold but there is time, between deliveries, for re-commitment to plans or discussion and re-focus.

Moeen smashed all of this consideration into the middle of next week. True, Root and Stokes may have been instrumental, in their partnership of 132, towards his stunning acceleration: had they not provided the platform, blah di blah. But the fella from Brum created his own event.

Things went pear-shaped for Ball but it was different. Or was it?

The universe knew that the longer its boss was forced to wait, the surer it was that boom-time would come. Somewhere something triggers and Gayle, miscuing, clubs one over midwicket before battering one straight for six. I note both that one delivery is clearly but marginally over-pitched and that there is an ‘utter energy change, irrespective’.

Curran is less heavily targeted. Ball retains the responsibility from beneath me but is heaved over extra, first delivery in the next, then top-edged for four. The plainly unfit Windies talisman has burst through to 40 (out of 52) by the end of the seventh over, dismissing the ball at will to the boundary.

Curran eventually has Gayle caught, superbly but in the finger-ends, by Plunkett.

Ball’s initial five over spell defies characterisation; he opened up brightly and with discipline and he may not have strayed far from that. The lines between him straying into the batsman’s natural arc and not were lost in the mercifully temporary evisceration. It felt, during the barrage, that the batsman (for it was a one-man assault) had simply chosen a moment from which to launch – as opposed to an individual, or individual delivery, to persecute.

Gayle’s was an all-out, conceptual explosion in the sense that every ball would receive the same brutal treatment with barely an ‘unless’ in sight.

This is not to entirely exonerate Ball. Though I liked his continued commitment and apparently unwavering spirit, he offered just a few here and there – and was punished, crazy-disproportionately at times, because.

With specialist knowledge and specialist coaching and the scope these days to practice almost endlessly the death (or power-play) skills, a worldie of a thrash might be expected, predicted and prepared for. Particularly, of course, when Christopher Henry Gayle is amongst the chief protagonists. Cricket provides for almost every indulgence.

Brathwaite knew a lot about what Stokes would do in that ecstatic car-crash in Kolkata – and vice-versa. Cummins and Holder are pret-ty familiar with Moeen and Ball with Gayle. Much has been anticipated and rehearsed. How fabulous that despite the wonders and luxuries of cricket science it can be true and real and undeniable, when bat is swung, that all considerations become an irrelevance.

Ball: 10 overs, 1 maiden, 1 for 94.

Gayle: 40 off 29.

Moeen Ali: 102 off 57.

Coast.

Please note, sagacious reader, that this is Part 2 of my Ageas Bowl column-thing. So go read the previous blog too, eh? Maybe read it FIRST?!?

I need and deserve a break so this will be more… reflective. Less ball-by-ball action painting, more Fauvian-contemplative: or something. I need a walk, for starters.

Bairstow and Roy both put Joseph away in the second over of the reply. The former with a trademark, timed, wristy little number through midwicket, the latter with a confident pull. I do go walkabout.

Stunning gentleman parked on the stairs: suit, phone out. Friendly, passing punter chirps inoffensively, to which the man drawls ‘I am bored stiff’. Was Michael Holding. England are 61 for nought as I return.

Alarmingly early for any away support, we could be on body-language watch here. England have strolled and stroked their way to 71 for no loss, with ten gone. There’s a kindof assumption  already alighting that a humiliation looms. The visitors – new skipper and all – have to find something and not sure what the odds are on that. Perhaps that change of oeuvre – day into night – may offer them something? Time for daft speculation – scope for that in the drama-vacuum…

With Bairstow a) looking this comfortable and b) being so-o brilliantly competitive and bright and able, could he not bat high, for England… in Aus? Like unthinkably high.

Especially if there’s a post-Mbargo shiftaround, might we not opt to think of him primarily as a batter and bring in Foakes as the gloveman? (I personally think JB is so fit he may actually thrive on batting high and taking the gloves as well but this is another argument).

Bairstow is that bloody good you could stick him in at three, persist with that and he’d make a success of it – probably. Relative to other risks – like the Vince, Ballance, Malan ones, for example. Of the four, who would you most expect to get closest to doing an Ashes job, for England?

But I’ve daydreamed into a daft theory. Did I really actually write down all that stuff? Bugger. Roy has made fifty, almost contemptuously. *Drifts off again*…

Look I know there are/were issues for the Yorkie genius –  pushing at it outside off – but he’s so determined and gritty and hearty that he could surely leave stuff, leave stuff, leave stuff, if heavily instructed, until he’s ready to play? If he did manage to get set, against the Starcs and the Cummins’s, imagine how much fun being English/Welsh might be, come December?  (If this is crazy-naive, put it down to the woozifying afternoon sunshine now annointing the procession towards victory. 101 for 0, after 14).

Tempted now to relate a concern for one of our, leading media guys, having just seen him. But won’t. Instead I’ll say that this is feeling embarrassingly easy, for England. Roy has 76 and Bairstow 49. Believe me, they are coasting on the coast: a slow perusal of the Media Centre confirms the suspicion that *other things* are front and centre… and why not? The game feels gone.

The West Indies are getting battered, quietly but this does not forgive the comedy fielding. Twice outfielders make an utter horlicks of regulation gathers. Roy and Bairstow, sensing an absolute gift, play beautifully controlled, dynamic cricket, such that the natural target seems to be a ten wicket drubbing. Change in light, temperature and moisture-level seem to be the only things that can undermine England; the oppositon have become an irrelevance.

As dusk closes in, Roy, on 96,  is lb to Cummins. 158 for 1. Enter Root.

Bairstow remains. His energy remains fabulous. In particular the relentless chasing-out of singles, twos, threes. With his team way ahead, by the 25th over, he is still pressurising the fielders – simply by charging for maximum runs, time after time.

It’s a slow death, for the Windies. Root and Bairstow opt pretty entirely not to engage blast mode – just don’t need to.

Difficult to guess whether this way is more or less painful than a swift obliteration might be. Maybe the crowd get more time to enjoy more cricket, this way? Maybe an elegant but civilised flourish trumps a biffathon? Maybe I should go ask Michael Holding?

205 for 1 after 29.

In the 33rd, Root short-arm clubs Taylor through straight mid-on. It’s brutal. Next shot draws another error at the boundary – the sprawling fielder again conspiring to shove the ball over. Then Bairstow gets his ton, with an easy glide to third man.

I may have felt this before but the sense is that there’s nothing to stop England getting this for no further loss: they need less than fifty.

In the 36th, almost unbelievably, we get more charity at the boundary. I may be too knackered to count them but there have been five or six occasions where the sliding fielder has carted or cushioned the ball over the rope. A very unfunny video of this may just get played at the Windies tour debrief.

England need 15 from 82 balls. Which tells you most of what you need to know. Bairstow is now standing and hitting, triumphantly.

Root finishes it with a straight six, off Samuels. A nine-wicket win, with Bairstow there on 141 and Root 46. The headlines may revert to brutally dismissive mode around the hapless tourists… unless there are other things to talk about?

 

 

 

 

 

Brian. And BBC Solent.

Blimey. Biblical dark descendeth. After Brian at the B&B was so-o confident. After BBC Solent were so confident. Almost spookily oppressive cloud. But on the brighter side… it’s 10.20-something. Time for the natural order to sort itself yet.

The Ageas Media Centre: biggish, open, goodish. Similar to Swalec – tad smaller? Bigger than the Brightside – more spacious. By the looks of the seating order, not that rammed today.

10.40. Appreciably brighter. 11.05 begin to remove outer covers.  (They actually only shift the one). Was guessing they’re heavy-dew-wet rather than sopping but a rather worrying pool appears at mid-off during this process. (Could be the guys were a tad clumsy, to be honest. Out with the mechanical sponger-mopper-upper).

By about 11.15 the England quicks (Curran, Ball, Plunkett – no sign of Woakes) are out there, building up. Off a few paces, initally. They have cones out, at yorker length- one on middle, one very wide of off, but they are plainly not targetting them. Or if they are, we’re in trouble. Rashid works alongside. Gently.

Out of the grey… rain. Against the grain of the reports. Unfortunate. 11.50-odd, delayed start suddenly likely.

In other news, the consensus seems to be that Curran will replace Woakes but as yet unconfirmed. We lose 45 minutes – meaning with a slightly reduced lunch, a full game is possible.

12.46 and England into their footie. Interestingly(?) I haven’t heard confirmed line-ups yet… and I’m in the Media Bubble, dwarlinks! Don’t get the sense that folks or essential information are by-passing me particularly, but guessing that Woakes is out and Curran in rather than knowing that.

Really good to chat with both Adam Collins and Daniel Norcross. Unsurpringly, good guys. Had forgotten that Mr Collins had a strong Welsh connection – something he’s proud and deeply aware of. #Respect.

Abstract: it’s suggested that some of the media big-hitters here today are present more for the presser (afterwards) than for the cricket.

Opening with Ball. Full, defended by Gayle. Second very straight – defended. Third, slightly more across the batsman. Fourth down leg, fifth a pearler. Bouncy off a decent length. Final ball leg-stump – defended. Meaning we start with a maiden. Can’t last.

Curran bowls a loose, slanty wide first up. He may be getting a touch of shape in the air – away from Gayle. He does then get one to leave him sharply: good, settling delivery. Excellent start, with not the faintest hint of violence from the visitors. Two, only, off the first two.

Ball bowls another beauty at Gayle: still has three slips and they look as though they may be gainfully employed. The Universe Boss having to be respectful here; Ball right on it.

Curran courageously full, to Kyle Hope (too). Only 9 off the first 4 overs. The lack of drama is pretty- near dramatic.

Finally Gayle clubs one over midwicket (miscue) then batters one straight for six… then one over extra. Ball has actually bowled close to outstandingly well, before this but marginally over-pitches again and is again boomed straightish for six. Utter energy-change; 29 for 0 off 5.

First ball of Ball’s next over is heaved over extra cover again. Then he’s top-edged for four. Huge test for the Notts quick, who looked fabulous about ten balls ago. Gayle has not so much found him out as dismissed all considerations, before dismissing any ball to the boundary. The big man’s gone waaay beyond cricket again, racing to 40 (out of 52) by the end of the seventh.

Ultimately, Curran outfoxes Gayle, who only manages to hoist a skier whilst readjusting backwards – Plunkett taking a  difficult catch, retreating, in his finger ends. Quickfire 40 suits everybody, maybe? With the two Hopes together, West Indies are 56 for 1 after 8.

Ball has lost none of his commitment to this, even through the barrage. He returns to ask some decent questions of brother Shai. Looking straight at him, Ball appears strong,  and lively… but then he drops short and is crashed past square-leg.

Curran still going after that inswing, in the tenth. Like his boldness, his faith. Decent contrast, too, to the boomier, bouncier stuff coming down from t’other end. The Surrey dreamboat brings out that looping slower ball, too, to some effect.

Plunkett will bowl the eleventh. Strong man. Second ball *may well* have swung a tad to off. Tries it again for the fourth but jags it down leg: wide. Down to the one slip, now. His extra bounce draws an error – handle, maybe? – but Hope S escapes. Then Rashid joins.

Some turn, second ball. Straight onto a length. Varies the flight. No fireworks.

Note for Ageas People. Small scoreboard only visible from Media Centre. Not what us Giants of the Press are used to – limited info.

Plunkett draws Kyle Hope forward, unbalanced and the ball loops just enough for the stooping bowler to gather. 86 for 2, in the 15th. (On the replay, it appears the batsman’s grip failed him). Plunkett slams an emphatic, fabulous bouncer down at Samuels to finish the over.

Rashid is tidy, with a little turn, but nothing to suggest glorious spin-carnage. Thought strikes, I need to get out of this box to see if if my hunch (that this is a quietish crowd) is accurate. Could be uttter cobblers – can’t tell.

For those of you who don’t know the ground, the Ageas Bowl is nice enough: got that circus tent thing going on over the Rod Bransgrove Pavilion then two streamlined, lowish-flattish stands either side, somewhat dug in to a woody slope. Hilton Hotel and Media Centre opposite.

The ‘flanks’ are surely designed to welcome in swathes of beautiful coastal light. They are open, relatively, like sluice-gates for sunbeams. Today, there are no sunbeams – despite encouraging noises from every forecaster who ever lived. So there’s a sense of depressed possibilities, as opposed to the boundless, crystalline vistas we/you may well get on a good day. In short I bet it’s fab here in the sun.

Moeen takes over from Plunkett, bowling in tandem with Rashid. Hundred comes up – for the loss of two – in the twentieth. Limited urgency from the batsmen. I see a googly turn.

Ball has changed ends. He’s going quickish – or so it appears. Moeen persists from the pavilion end, with ver-ry little assistance from the pitch. He has a long discussion with Morgan mid-over, trying to break things up, presumably, as well as formulate a Cunning Plan for No Spin. 128 for 2 off 29.

Now Morgan has words with Ball, mid-over. Anything to mess with the admittedly quiet rhythm of things. At only 135 for 2 after 30, you would think England are well on top of this but…

Plunkett replaces Moeen. Can’t help but wonder if his power into the pitch might have been a good call for the Ashes. Hope slashes at him and Morgan puts down a difficult chance at shortish extra cover. Then a short one is pulled to square leg for a rare boundary.

Rather than retiring (as it were) Moeen has changed ends. Ripping it, he promptly deceives Samuels, who is stumped easily by Buttler. Enter the captain, Mohammed. Run-rate is currently 4.43 so will be interesting to see how/when he leads a counter. 150 up in the 34th – so soonish, you would think?

Very tight run-out call goes in favour of the batsmen. Sharp work from Morgan – borderline at first and second look.

Abstract revisited – not that I ever left Pollock territory. Morgan is ’embattled’, in terms of his batting form. However, I have heard nothing negative from the media on his captaincy. He changes things, he changes bowlers; the judgement seems good. #Respect?

Curran bowls the 38th and slants it too much down leg: is punished – deservedly. Next over, though, Hope lofts Rashid straight to Root in the deep: catch taken. West Indies 195 for 4, at this point.

Buttler puts down a diving chance off Curran. Doesn’t feel critical – tellingly? Hope S has gone quietly to 61. Last ten will be about people smashing around him, I’m guessing.

Root – who almost shelled one earlier, puts down a relatively straight-forward (though admittedly) diving catch, off Rashid. You can tell from the increase in backlift that we’re into the last thrash: eight to go, more tennis-shots, more baseball upcoming.

Hope hoiks Ball – the unlucky one? – over midwicket, moving to 72 in the process. That’s it, though, as Billings takes a well-judged catch close to the rope, off one visibly relieved bowler. 221 for 5.

Plunkett’s economy has been in rather sharp contrast to his partner Balls’s. Question is to what degree he can maintain that in these death overs? He takes some pace off, goes wide, slam-dunks it. Good over.

In the 46th, Ball goes for a wide yorker and then for the blockhole. He misses neither by more than a few inches but guess what? Two boundaries. I may be brewing a staggeringly novel hypothesis here around how life can be cruel. Then he bowls another ver-ry full one just outside leg stump… and I join the communal bollocking.

Nice test for Curran. Coming in for the 47th, with the run-rate only 5.2, five wickets in hand. Sure enough, Powell slashes with alarming but unfocussed violence at the first delivery but misses. Ambris – now on 33 – will look to maintain that level of intent.

Plunkett will bowl the 48th. Classic end-of-innings stuff. Firstly Powell picks a back-of-a-length ball early and middles for six; secondly the bowler tries a slow, slow ball which loops high, full-toss stylee into the off stick, about nine-tenths of the way up. Gone.

Second last and Curran goes for the blockhole. Concedes one. Then does Nurse with a slower one, which he survives. Then gifts him a half-volley – despatched with no little style, for six. The Surrey man may be a little unlucky next ball as Plunkett drops one across the boundary: Curran sulkily, boy-beautiful unimpressed.

Ball will bowl the last with the West Indies on 275 for 6. Challenge – both batsmen relatively ‘in’. His wide yorker is again slightly too short and is punished for four. This becomes something of a pattern – only the final delivery landing in the Bloody Awkward To Hit zone. Carnage avoided (somehow), Windies get to 288 for 6.  First guess is that’s well short.