Thinking soft.

With the Ashes won in a fashion that Michael Crawford might recognise – three parts drama to two trauma – we’re maybe entitled to settle back and think. Think hard. Or perhaps, given that following England’s recent upward curves and voluptuous positives implies pleasures yet to come, think softish.

Thinking soft can be good. It might mean transitioning smoothly over data or cruising serenely past spent or failed plans; understanding enough of the detail but still oozing good-naturedly through. Sure there must be the (real and necessary) obsessing over individual form or technique but there are bigger essences too. In fact there are whorls if not worlds of issues that resist Venn diagrams and/or the clasp of the Stat Man. These range from human foibles to philosophical matters – issues of approach.

Suddenly the game of cricket went both ape-shit and plural. We know this. It’s now certifiable to consider or (ahem) approach Test Matches in the same way you think about One-Dayers or T20. They are increasingly massively different animals and right here, right now is where England need to show us all they get that, because painfully obviously, until about a couple of months ago, they didn’t.

This is e-nor-mous, a-morphous and bloody gooey stuff, right? Sorting your approach, your way in, your (hah!) ‘exit strategy’.

It’s also why we all have to summon the energy to recognise and/or execute the fag end of this Aussie tour to the max. England, in particular, have to cast off any jadedness and grab hold again. They are mid-revolution in a generally good way and must must must find the energy to validate themselves in the carve-up that is short format cricket.

The ‘Top Two or Three Inches’ become ever more crucial. Mind games. For the coach, the ability to cut through to the players, to stir them. (When the game is about instinct, stir the instincts). For the players, that confidence thing; to see ball, hit ball. Essential. Electrifyingly different, though, from Test Cricket.

Post any series is a good time for closing your eyes and trawling gently through notions around character, comfort, suitability; the aftermath (if that’s what it is) of an Ashes Series, with its unparalleled frisson, being surely the ripest of moments to go walkabout into the team psyche?

I’m hoping Messrs Bayliss and Farbrace have the clarity of purpose and the time to go meandering just now – sometimes you really do need to circulate freely before landing somewhere honest – somewhere rewarding. I picture them bolting through the airheads at some gathering, in the knowledge that somewhere (in the kitchen, maybe?) there’s a profound and rewarding conversation to be had.

Everything these days is said to be – or said to need to be – ‘holistic’. Do you get me when I say I wish the England gaffers space for exactly that holistic look at… everything? Because time and judgments are tight. There’s faaaar too much, in fact, going on. Pressures are acute. Progress needs to be evidenced. Hence, for balance and for sanity and (I would argue) for productivity, some need for anti-machismo, anti-drive, anti-measure; some need, in fact, for softness – understanding.

Let’s get back to the prosaic before I get carted away.

It’s likely that the further we drift beyond this extraordinary Ashes the more ordinary we will judge it to be; particularly in terms of quality. But my point here is certainly not to downgrade any achievement for England. In fact let’s re-state the brilliance of a win against opposition who strutted into their warm-up games confident of their own, world-beating status and seemingly on the brink of a more or less crushing re-assertion of Aus Power. Pre the Welsh opener, England fans (let’s be honest) had retreated into Please God No mode, having rehearsed disappointments ready for public consumption after a solid and possibly humiliating pasting.

‘Twas not to be. Instead Cardiff – a city that knows how to host sporting stuff – provided the extravagant launch-pad for a surprise.

So how to build on this? How to not only fine-tune the personnel but truly develop a squad, or squads? How to (or whether to?) fashion policy which both challenges and encourages players towards a) team goals and b) improvement. It will be fascinating to see how the England coaches do what all of us coaches are meant to do – facilitate the expression of talent, join the dots between, blend – in the coming weeks and months. Not least because there can be no pretence now that cricket is but a single game.

We’re rushing breathlessly towards a series of One-Day and T20 Ashes encounters that will again re-calibrate our senses around short format cricket. Massively exposed, hugely competitive, economically necessary. Games which may leave us all exhausted but significantly more clued in to just how far England have travelled from their immediately brain-dead past.

The Ashes were almost a triumph; they were certainly a win against the head. It feels almost cruel that Bayliss/Farbrace and some of our proud protagonists have such an important and ludicrously different challenge so immediately ahead… but they do.

The sense is that Bayliss was employed with one eye on his nous for short format cricket; indeed the multi-counterintuitive fact may be that the ECB have excelled themselves by appointing the (apparently) born-to-be-conservative Strauss and that unassuming Farbrace/Bayliss combo and in doing so quietly but efficiently delivered us into the throes of the contemporary game dynamic and well-equipped. (And whilst we’re back-slapping the Old Farts maybe we should note that – as previously described – ECB Coach Education itself has been transformed towards the dynamic new era in a similarly seminal way… but let’s not go there too. Enough praise for one day.)

England Cricket has shifted forwards in terms of this flawed positivity thing: forward ‘cos we just beat the Aussies. We have talent and importantly we have fellas supporters might or already do love. (Rooooot, most obviously – and Stokes.) Things are medium rosy. But, as always, there is a huge amount of sorting out to do.

Key may be the general understanding that the three major international formats have separated and that this needs thinking about. Intelligently. Simply daft to equate ‘backing yourself’ with being good cricket for every situation. ( I imagine the Australians thought that pushing hard and looking to counterattack whilst under the proverbial cosh was good cricket; that ‘making a statement’ would be ‘massive’. I fear they may not be alone in letting their testosterone flood their finer faculties on that one.)

No, England want appreciation as well as power, sense as well as toughness, cuteness as well as dynamism. Because this is about range now – diversity and choice.

Passing the Stokes Test.

Amongst the fabulous torrent of superlatives issuing forth after the recent (Stokes?) Lords Test, a common theme emerged. Even the cynics spoke of ‘bathing’ or inferred in some way both the warming and the cleansing of the sport. I, in my provincial innocence, tweeted about the ‘warm afterglow’. We were irresistibly drawn into hopeful and strangely moralistic dangles outside off stump. It was bloody lovely.

The drama itself was top level. Hikes in emotion and that mix of colossal heaving to the boundary and quietly magnificent recovery; both sides contributing. For England fans the possibly epoch-changing gear-change in the batting and the batting line-up. Stokes/Buttler/Moeen Ali. Six seven eight. Not so much an order as a challenge, a warning – an opportunity. For the first time in aeons Our Lot were proper slapping the opposition across the fizzog with a Gunn and Moore gauntlet;

I say. You blackcap people.We’re comin’ to avago… and we think we’re (ahem) ‘ard enough.

Now you don’t have to be a season-ticket-holder at Lords or anywhere else to know that this may not always work out; Ali’s bowling may be a liability/the slash-and-burn positivity may fall on its arris. But after years of talk this felt like the right kind of walk – a hearty, twenty-first century gambol, in fact. Shrewd – clearly Moeen can bat at an opener’s watchful rate if the young bucks get blown away – but essentially liberating. I think that’s where all this warm glow stuff comes from.

For us to have arrived here so immediately after an unrelenting period of negativity and uproar is remarkable. Who’s remembering messy departures and unpromising arrivals now? Who’s even remembering that South African bloke with his flamingo shot? We (because surely we’re entitled to claim some involvement in this – some credit even, right?) we the people have surged forward and up alongside Rooty and Cooky and the New Botham. Something about this New England represents us better and blow me we’re queuing round the block.

This marvellous confluence of form and fight must feel hugely gratifying to both Mr Strauss and the largely unheralded Mr Farbrace. Am I alone in wondering where and how exactly that perennial but thin claim towards positivity turned into Stokes/Buttler/Ali? Was that a Strauss/Farbrace/Cook combo or just the coach, effectively? Whomever or however that may prove to be a big moment – it certainly feels like one.

The beauty of all this upfulness may be that necessary caveats around caution and patience may be reduced to an irrelevance if the side continues to believe. The structure as well as the personnel are in place.  Conditions have changed,freeing up instinctively/naturally bold players to do their thing.  How many times have we heard this spoken of only to be bitterly disappointed come the moment?

There are delicious ironies here – quirks of fate and form and of the game.

Weirdly and wonderfully the loosening of responsibility made possible by the inclusion of classically Test-worthy players like Cook, Ballance (actually, surely?) and Bell, end-stopped by Moeen at eight, really should now produce both results and refreshing, energising cricket. Because Root/Stokes/Buttler have insurance; the blend is there.  Thus trad virtues – early watchfulness/straight bats – beget revolution.

In the gloriously honeyed present it feels as though with the dynamic new era pressures to win may actually fall, as fans buy in enthusiastically to committed, attacking sport.  Punters really will roar approval at the aspiration as well as the execution.  If that isn’t win-win for the management I don’t know what is?

With Cook returning to traditionally superb levels with the bat and Root making a mockery of the notion that this is a serious and difficult business expectations might justifiably rise. But consider how equipped this side now looks to man up and give it some, should they ever be hooo… I dunno… 30-odd for 4. Some bloke with attitude might just sidle on out and not so much counter-attack as lay waste to whatever comes his way. Before you know it the crowd’s behind him and crushing defeat becomes national festival.

This latter phenomenon is a significant boost. Cricket on the front pages; cricket as plainly outstanding sport. The feeling (dare we hope?) that this is only the beginning of a long and spectacular summer for the English game. Even if Tests to come prove too much.

It’s simply illogical to expect even a revitalising England to win series against the mighty Aussies and the pretty damn near mighty South Africans. But that may not matter so much as the permanent switching over into a game that is contingent more on the intelligent expression of talent than the (mere) ‘tactical’ occupation of the crease or use of the time. So even if our batting does underachieve – or more likely the bowling attack proves vulnerable – meaningful progress and great entertainment are feasible if the positive life-force continues to pulse.

What augurs well on this is the change of guard amongst the hierarchy. Those who viewed Strauss as a conservative may have underestimated him. I was amongst those who feared his administration might reflect too closely his rather dour brilliance as a batsman. However the confirmation that Farbrace and above him Bayliss will lead the England posse forward surely implies yet greater dynamism and a closer link to what we might term short-format, ‘aggressive’ philosophies. Strauss has effectively sanctioned this – striking out from his first over – and fair play to him on that.

So there’s a good vibe going. Even in the knowledge that bigger tests approacheth. Bigger tests featuring brash and (probably) moustachioed Australians confident of asking a few questions/getting under our skin/blowing us away. It’s possible. It’s possible but the Bigger Question – there’s always a Bigger Question, right? – is whether we blink.

Will we still believe enough to counter with undeniable force? When the inevitable squeeze is applied? Will we select in order to play that way? Is it too much to ask of Stokes and Buttler that they bury their fear and play with some intelligence but masses of faith? What’s the quality of our commitment?

Following Lords these are live questions – meaning there is some real prospect that the changes are real. Say it quietly to start but England are daring to march. Led unsurprisingly and unflinchingly by Stokes.

Talking Balls.

I’m a cricket coach and I’m proud of that.  I light up kids, I encourage them and I challenge them in a soft-centred,  role-model-conscious kindofaway.  I’ve got better at what I do, partly because I’ve really got stuck into Coach Education (I realise this is the un-sexiest thing you’ve read this month but bear with me) and partly because I’m just keen.

Keenness is good, right?  Sometimes it can take you beyond the presumed limits of your gifts.  Sometimes it’s infectious.  Sometimes as a coach  – and maybe as a bloke, too – it carries you through.  When maybe something’s drifting away or when a wee child is struggling to get there.  Good energy gets you through  – and gets them comfortable or maybe even elated.  I do that good energy thing a lot.

I’m boring you with this because I’m entitled to. Because I was on the radio.  I could go treat some lesser mortal like dog pooh or snort some Colombian Marching Powder from a rolled-up fifty parn note in the Khazi of some modish hotel but no… I’m throttling back and just boring you.  With my thing on the radio.

It’s here, on 56 mins in.  Meaning I’m following Jimmy Hendrix and followed by Prince.  So I could do anything, right?  If I wanted?

Clearly there are Things I should’ve Said.  Plenty, in fact, given that the hope was we’d talk about what kind of work we in Cricket Wales do to fire up and challenge children.

Truth is I was given no real chance to expound the virtues of my/our training around Physical Literacy (wolf whistle pullease!) or draw distinctions around (linear?) games and games devised or developed by said children.  Un-beleeeeevably, the opportunity to pontificate about our expertise in engineering that wonderful release and then entry into classroom work that is evidenced by Education Professionals was denied me.  By Peter Moores and Andrew Strauss.

I’m hardly going to remedy all of those omissions here.  Instead I’m just going to ask you to listen to what me and Griff rabbited on about.  Later I might go off on one further about What Cricket Does.  Because I can.  Right?