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.