Day 4. The (non)denouement?

So back again. With another full day of cricket possible. The overwhelming likelihood of a draw hasn’t entirely thrown a blanket over us Meedya Peeps’ enthusiasms – in fact the various theories about what the teams have been trying to do, these last coupla days, have kept discussion lively – but inevitably the prospect of a slow grind towards anti-climax does challenge/will challenge our levels of attention, no doubt. Forgive us.

I do hope to stay with it. In fact, I may note to the universe that I expect to be less critical of a slide towards no-result than some of my eminent colleagues have been. (Go read the previous blogs… and maybe compare).

Check my twitter. Pre their stretching of muscles etc etc, England had a circular pow-wow in front of us. (Have posted an admittedly rather ordinary pic). Impossible and inappropriate to eaves-drop but it had the look of a Proper Moment, where Robinson (the coach) may have *had words*. I liked the look of it.

Have no idea what he said – and could speculate and may, later – but I liked the look of it. The coach should be shaping the will, the aura, the direction of all of this. Not just for today or even for this series: England must find or re-discover their intent. Robinson has therefore to both host and lead discussions.

Hearing right now from the ICC statistician Marion Collin that today’s game MUST LAST at least 91 overs. There is no option for a handshake (over a draw) before that. I have also heard from a ver ver reliable source, that Australia will not shake until the latest possible second. Because they want(ed) to win… a contest.

There will be flak flying if this does peter out. The media are already pretty feisty about lack of ambition (actually from both sides). Could also be that the teams will be blaming each other – that this might introduce a little spite – if we spend all day in Doursville. Soon find out. Molineux is opening up to Sciver.

Quiet over, in which England get to 200, for 6. Then Perry, from the river. 7-2 field with about 42 hectares unprotected between Schutt, at fine leg and Molineux at mid-on. Guessing Perry might mostly bowl wide of off.

Molineux bewilders Shrubsole into a play and a miss. Some turn. Then the batter fails to connect with a ver-ry short one – a gift. The general vibe is erm… relatively non-dynamic, maybe especially from Sciver. Weirdly.

Sciver responds to my barb with a four, swung to leg.  👊🏻

Shrubsole takes 7 off an over from Perry without looking entirely fluent before advancing-but-missing against Molineux. Good ball beats her and she is easily stumped, by Healy. No blame attached in terms of Shrubsole’s intent but for me she has not looked like a mid-order bat. Molineux now has four wickets and looks likely to claim a five-fer on debut. England 214 for 7.

Marsh has joined Sciver. They are looking to both survive and to score. Fair enough. Gardner is the first bowling change, for Perry.

Sciver charges and lifts elegantly, with power, over the bowler’s head: an emphatic four. Marsh follows that with a nice back-drive off a short ball from Molineux. Decent, now, from England. The bowler responds with a teaser that again spins and beats the outside edge. Some good, watchable cricket just now.

Gardner spins it and so does Molineux. Enjoying watching. England aware (of course) of that imperative to get to 271 pronto so some expansive shots punctuate the general Aussie-on-topness. Marsh (England’s last batter?) feasts on a rare full-toss from the right-handed bowler, ushering it confidently through the covers. 238 for 7.

Vlaeminck is back, from the River End. Good to see. She hustles then runs and lashes it through nice and quick. Second ball is a medium-intimidating bouncer, which Marsh steps away from. I’m guessing the batter is actually finding this a little scary. Good over.

The youngster’s next over – bowled largely around the wicket – again has Marsh hopping. She survives, having played more than one delivery with both feet off the ground and England are 242 for 7 at drinks. The lights flutter into action as clouds waft across.

Jonassen, who has bowled tidily but less threateningly (for me) than her spin partners, continues from the Pavilion End. It’s markedly cloudier but we are not expecting rain.

Vlaeminck errs to leg-stump and Sciver clips away nicely . Four to fine leg, taking the batter to 86. Sciver’s done well but has remained a notch down on that idealised Dynamism Quotient. But okaay, there is context here.

Sciver goes. Firstly she does that familiar, snatchy-wristy thing where she plays way across a straight one: on this occasion the leading edge loops high but straight beyond the bowler – Jonassen – to safety. Then, however, she misjudges and plays on, agonisingly. 252 for 8.

Vlaeminck at Marsh, then the incoming Ecclestone. Wow. A short of half-tracker! But harmless. The bowler does stray a little – that’s her reputation – and another one down leg is neatly dispatched, by Ecclestone. Four.

Swift word about Tayla Vlaeminck. And Fast Bowling. Great to see her racing in but did you know that she’s been through a whole series of operations? Find that rather depressing – the thought that everybody bowling quick finishes up significantly hurt by the process. Cricket must do this Looking After The Quicks thing so-o much better.

Three boundaries bring England to the brink of the follow-on total of 271. (Two to Marsh then a blow over the top, from Ecclestone). Soon we’ll know how England intend to erm, chase out a win, from here.

Drama drama. England go past that key figure but to general incredulity in the Media Centre, they do not immediately declare. Two mins later, however, Marsh is l.b.w. sweeping to Jonassen… and Knight calls them in! We’ll get a few overs in before lunch. (5, it turns out).

Really interestingly, Rachael Haynes is opening, with Healy. Ecclestone first, for England, from below us in the Pavilion End. Refreshingly tense first over: appeals, misses and scratchy-nervy batting.

Nice bit of swing for Brunt. She could be a threat. Healy is watchful.

When she breaks out, off a wide one, Beaumont cannot stop the square-drive. Should have. The frustration for England is compounded when Healy encourages the next delivery round the corner and Taylor’s dive to leg is beaten. Four more. 8 for 0 off 2.

You’ve got to love Brunt. (Well, maybe you haven’t but) she’s Fully Committed. She’s bowling full and well and *believing*. She’s even managing a pret-ty convincing glare, at Haynes. It may all well be fraudulent but I like it.

Notable that Ecclestone has led this ahem *charge*. Not bad for a young ‘un. Plainly Robinson recognises she is a prime threat – one to be trusted with a huge moment, even if it turns out to be a charade of a huge moment. Ecclestone ahead of Shrubsole, partly of course because she is ver-ry different (and because of conditions) but also because Ecclestone has landed, as a force. Australia go for their tuna salad at 13 for 0.

Extraordinary start, after lunch! Marsh claims both Healy and Haynes! Fabulous delivery, in particular to claim Healy – angled across but straightened sharply. Haynes l.b.w. to something a little less explosive.

Extraordinary (with all due respect) to find Marsh this unplayable but as she comes back for her second over – after a decent one from Ecclestone – she is feeling kindof thataway. It means a real spike, of course, in the intensity.

Ecclestone has a big shout. Knight lung-burstingly chases a lost cause. The crowd stir. Australia are genuinely finding it tough, amassing a ver-ry streaky 23 for 2 in the first ten overs.

Huge appeal – but one that built, suspiciously, I thought – as Ecclestone beats Lanning. Not given; correctly. Note again that England have THREE spinners plus Heather Knight in the side… for this moment, precisely? It’s tough, right now, for both Perry and Lanning – and they’re decent, right?

14.15 with Aus now at 43 for 2. We may be kidding ourselves but this feels like competitive cricket – meaningful cricket. Credit to both sides, on that.

Ecclestone going well enough but Marsh has been exceptional. And turning it more than I remember. An England appeal-fest in progress: Ecclestone is denied one that, on review, was on the money. Unfortunate.

Knight has been doing that Trescothick kneeling-at-second-slip routine. Almost looks comical – maybe especially with her exceedingly grubby-looking sweater. Australia are now 50 for 2 and their lead is 195 runs.

Slight sense that Ecclestone may just be tiring. Dragging down a couple and they are tending to get punished. Marsh will continue from the River End but do wonder if we may see a change (from underneath us) next over. As I say this – not before, I promise – Gordon is warming up.

Gordon to come, then. Mixed, from the Scot. At least three four-balls – one of which is dispatched. But also the wicket of Lanning, off possibly the worst pie of the century, slung loose and highish: Elwiss takes a decent catch at extra cover. Horror-show for the Australian skip, delight and some embarrassment, may-beee, for the bowler?

The visitors suddenly three down… but over 200 ahead. So this may all be a charade, yes? But here, at this moment,with the action in front of us, it feels like an entertaining day of Test Cricket – it really does. Mooney and Perry mean it… and so do England.

Elwiss replaces Marsh, the thinking surely being that her medium-pacers may grip in the surface a tad more than Shrubsole’s. (We haven’t seen Shrubsole yet, this innings). Perry has by this stage engineered her way to 37 and Mooney has 18.

Double-change, thereafter, as Ecclestone returns, starting with a loosener which Perry can scuff away to fine leg.

Sense that Australia are beginning to raise it; not remotely boomtastically yet… but a tad. Mooney we know can smash – and often does, in shorter format cricket. Against Ecclestone, she whips one to leg, only to see it stick in either Beaumont’s grateful hands, or her midriff, or both. Gone. Beaumont does three laps of Somerset in delight. 105 for 4.

So conditions have been relatively testing for batters. Even Perry has had to ‘work at this’: she even has a moment of concern, or two – the latest over a possible run-out, which she narrowly survives. Then she gets to fifty, again with a fluent cut off Brunt.

Many of my colleagues protest when this isn’t the cue for a declaration. At 132 for 4, with Australia 278 ahead – and with England needing about 7 an over through the remaining overs – why wouldn’t Lanning call them in? Because they want a handful more, before they try to make another statement, against an England batting line-up out in the middle… but hopeless. Plenty mind-games. Tea.

For me, plenty folks in the Press Corps and on telly (or both) are being overly bullish about the Playing To Win, Or Not thing. Think it’s interestingly macho – and yes, a fair few of them are women – but not sure they are allowing enough for a) human nature b) human frailty c) the needle in play, here d) that thing where you do the last thing your opponent (your enemy?) wants. I think Aus will declare, here. Soon.

Shrubsole and then Elwiss after tea. Jonassen – a more-than-decent bat – punishes the latter for four and move to 18. Shrubsole, who is of course not now bowling in Hoof-friendly conditions, seems out-of-sorts.  My hunch is we may go back to Marsh and Ecclestone, imminently.

We have a break, for an injury to Taylor,  affecting her shoulder or upper chest. But she will continue.

Shrubsole bowls a goodish yorker which Perry gets something on… but it squeezes past Taylor and on to the boundary. Perry has 64 and the lead goes to 300.

Presently – sorree but we are all drifting a wee smidge now – Knight comes in from the river for her first go. Her second ball is a foot down leg. Her third has Jonassen, plumb. 168 for 5, Jonassen made 37, tidily enough.

So The Change works again. Hilariously, Knight’s final ball surpasses the earlier contestant for Worst Ball of the Century and the incoming Molineux absolutely carts it to Cow Corner for four.

Shrubsole is still with us and follows. She’s persevered and she beats Perry outside off.

Wilson, on for Taylor, is nearly at the centre of the action – or phoney-action(?) Molineux, who has mistimed more than once, chips Knight towards her, at cover. Wilson reaches high but the movements seem off-kilter. She gets a hand to the ball but cannot hold on. Mildly amusing that the England skipper’s lack of zip, pace, spin and particularly bounce is creating issues, here.

Gordon is in from the Pavilion End. She continues, in short, to offer too many full-tosses and is punished again, by Molineux. Australia lead by 340, at 195 for 5.

Mostly, Perry and Molineux are both looking comfortable. The latter creams one through cover; she has 28. We *just don’t know* what’s been said in the Australian dressing-room but that declaration still ain’t a -comin’. Is Lanning really going to bat through? Find that difficult to believe.

Increasingly expansive now, Molineux, in swinging across to leg, is ultimately bowled off the pad, by Gordon. Gardner has a look at Gordon for one ball, then strikes her for the first six of the match, straight back over her head. Fabulous.

The scoreboard suggests 18 overs remain. Perry, on 76 has shown fascinatingly little inclination to charge towards her hundred – which again looked there for the taking. Gardner, meanwhile, is charging… and out, caught, by Beaumont, for 7. We look to the sidelines, as Perry twiddles her bat, mid-pitch. Lanning is apparently asking a question, or awaiting an answer.

The captains have agreed on the draw: Australia have retained the Ashes.

The circumstances are extraordinary but I am not as outraged as many in the Media Posse. Not sure what this says about my judgement but I’m generally comfortable being something of an outlier. I hope I’ve covered the thinking behind my thinking. Congratulations Australia – see you in Bristol.

Reflecting over a much-needed glass of red. (Cheers).

Still more at ease with the alleged Aussie cop-out than some and don’t support the idea that this has been damaging to Test Cricket for Women.

It may not have been as bold as some might have liked but maybe give the players, the captains, the coaches a little slack on that? Dynamically edgy cricket is of course desirable but how often are we actually going to see that, in Tests, realistically?

There’s an argument that the relative ‘slowness’ of Test Cricket is part of what makes it what it is.  (Again I stress that this may not be ideal, or what the game either ‘needs’ or should aspire towards but *maybe* neither Lanning nor Knight have entirely traduced the essence of all that, here?)

So. There has been in my view both some ver-ry astute and legitimate criticism… and some posturing around this. I’ve enjoyed – yes, enjoyed – a good deal of what I’ve seen. The obvious imperfections of the third and fourth days really haven’t turned me off: indeed, I hope Women’s Tests can grow, from this.

#WomensAshes. *Decider?*

Shrubsole bowls short & wide second-up and is crunched for four by Healy. Then a big inswinger draws a big shout. Healy then drops and runs. We’re off.

We’re off in what may already be The Decider. A fielding error from Sciver gifts Healy a four but Cross and Shrubsole are looking hopeful: there is a little on offer, in the air. Cross’s line and length is impeccable. 9 for 0 after 2.

Healy, though – surely one of the best players in the world? – is unforgiving. When Cross does stray to leg stump, she is lofted over mid-wicket. But a full, straightish one almost catches the batter on her crease: big shout, not out.

Predictably, Bolton is playing second fiddle. But when Shrubsole goes very full, the left-hander drives beautifully straight for four: not that Shrubsole will mind that sense of her reaching forward too much.

21 for 0 after 6. On the one hand, Australia untroubled; on the other, both bowlers swinging that ball.

A burst of drama. Shrubsole, coming in for her fourth, has Bolton leg before. Questionable? Her next delivery swings alarmingly in at the incoming Lanning and the next is a peach – again, an inswinger par excellence. Could Shrubsole be back to her best, here? Wicket maiden.

Healy, superbly, breaks out with another commanding off-drive. Given the help the bowlers are getting this is impressive, from her, so far. It’s a good contest. Liking the outswing/inswing combo from Cross and Shrubsole, against Healy’s in-form punchiness and now the perennially outstanding Lanning.

Another irritating error in the deep, as Jones – a keeper, remember? – fumbles Healy’s boom to leg over the boundary. The Aus opener is well set, at 35. Time for Ecclestone to change this.

Commentary on SkySportsMix noting a dip in the quality of England’s intent, in the field. They may be right and it may be fatal: Healy could take this series away from England, now, you think – particularly with her skipper there to back her up.

Ecclestone bowls a good over but with no reward. The second change is Sciver. We are 53 for 1 after 12, with Healy on 41.

Ecclestone in again, flighty and fuller than she often bowls. Don’t mind that – first over was on the challenging side of good. However, Lanning takes it on, driving two successive boundaries through the covers. Australia doing that positivity thing *so well*, even under a little pressure.

Guessing Knight and Robinson have called for the bowlers to stay full, to believe, if there’s some help there. (There is, they are, but Australia are absolutely up to it). Impressive, from the visitors. 73 for 1 after 14.

Healy hammers a poor, short one from Ecclestone through square leg: it’s her 50 and it’s been brilliant. When Lanning dismisses Sciver to backward point and then square leg, the sense *really is* that Australia are storming away: dangerous times, for England.

Rightly, Knight looks to mix things up. Marsh is in. They (England) have to rob a wicket, you feel, as both batters are spookily in. It may be that Lanning miscues Marsh but  the boundary brings the 100, for just that one down.

Are Australia bringing their A Game, at the crucial moment? Does seem that way.

Clearly that sentence may not age well… but as Healy pummels another four (off a shocker of a half-tracker) English Anxieties are not so much creeping… as Edvard Munching. 117 for 1 with the Southern Stars really, really shining. Lanning now has 50, off 50 balls, Healy 62 off 61. Runrate is 5.5. Textbook.

From nowhere – although does it feel like this is what Healy does? – a wicket. The utterly dominant opener heaves Sciver’s short one to Wyatt in the legside deep. A gift, a disappointment for Healy but she knows there is quality to come. Perry strides in.

Wow. Lanning misjudges an innocuous short-pitched delivery from Sciver and is gone, off a leading edge, caught at short cover. Another streaky wicket for the England all-rounder but by jimminy, she’ll take it. Haynes is in, at 154 for 3.

Knight is bowling and it’s a bit mixed. Awful wide one down leg nearly has the batter falling over, so hard does Haynes swing.

From the other end, Sciver draws a very thin edge from Perry – snaffled, inevitably by Taylor at the stumps. Extraordinary turnaround. On a fabulous track, this is amazing – as is the mini-package of Perry dismissals on the telly. A legside stumping and two wide balls edged.

Australia are 165 for 4 after 30 overs. If we did that thing where we now double the possible number of runs… but no. With Healy and Lanning there, 330 might have been possible. Now it feels as though England might even bowl the Aussies out! The A Game I spoke of earlier is looking more C+ again.

Against the grain, Mooney swings Marsh high over mid-on. A further reminder that Australia will not be dictated to. Another small but not inconsequential error in the field as point dives over a cut from Haynes – Shrubsole hauls it in. Game feels in the balance again but England must be sharper in the field, to make good on this fightback.

A quiet period. Marsh and Sciver but I agree with Edwards (on TV) who is calling for Shrubsole. Maybe a tad conservative, from Knight, this.

Cross is back. She got some outswing earlier but was relatively expensive. With nothing in the air to help her, now, she still gets Mooney playing around a straight one – lbw. 188 for 5. Maybe now we’ll see Shrubsole from the other end?

Marsh will continue, to Haynes – who has been joined by Gardner.

Extraordinary-but-true. I go off to coach some juniors at this point and when I return – as I walk in the door – Fran Wilson is just being bowled and England are 40 for 7, in their reply. Australia have set a target of 270.

The Inquest (that began for many of us after the previous encounter, in Leicester) is well and truly on. In the car, on the radio, Westbury was shell-shocked, Rainford-Brent articulate as we all look for things to say that are both fair  without being overly insulting.

Shrubsole is bowled, by Perry, who now has 6 for 22, I think. England 45 for 8.

I haven’t at this point seen either the final few overs of the Aus innings or the catastrophic start to the reply from the hosts. Not sure now, if I want to.

This is extraordinary – and humiliating. If there is (and there always is) some fascination and some learning in this massacre, it may centre around the following;

  • there may not be a huge amount of difference in the quality of individuals between these two sides… but there is some.
  • Australia significantly underachieved in the first two ODI’s – despite winning them both.
  • Now that two or three of Australia’s world-class players have played up to their level – I’m thinking Healy, Lanning, Perry – England have been brutally exposed.
  • Specifically the fraught and overlapping areas around game plan, execution and mental toughness appear critical – cruelly so.

(Ecclestone goes, caught for 0).

  • It may be unhelpful, it may even be misguided to generalise about deeply internal things but it seems that (again) Australia have risen as the challenge becomes more pressured… and England (again?) have not.
  • The language around this will therefore become unfortunate, no doubt. Because disappointment, because anger and even resentment over apparent incompetence or unsuitability given a highish level of resources. England have ‘capitulated’; England have been ‘abysmal’; England have failed.

There will be questions – I asked some tough ones in my last blog. Robinson and Knight will be under the cosh, the ‘Loughborough Bubble’ will be much-discussed and other, more hurtful stuff about the resilience and desire of most of the individuals in the England side will be spiralling about. Inevitably.

Indisputably, Australia are better. They really are to be congratulated for their quality and their mindset. And maybe particularly the fact that they appear to be able execute on that mindset. Healy is brilliant but also bold; even when the team is stuttering, somebody *actually does* counter-attack.

In the field they are a notch up on England both with their bowling and ground work – generally. (Or they have been today – when it really mattered). And maybe they are more aggressive, ‘philosophically’ and in terms of strategy than Knight?

Heather Knight is trusty and accomplished; on times she is heroic in that particulary quiet, English way. But *there is an argument* that her schtick is possibly a touch banal; all that saying the right stuff, repeating the inoffensive half-truths about approach, motivation, execution. Now that the smalltalk has been trampled, she may lack the charisma to hoist her side back towards respectability, never mind competitiveness.

In the short-term, of course England have nowhere else to go. They cannot make wholesale changes; they will not, at this time, fire the skipper. This squad is ver-ry close to England’s best: somehow they have to find something – have to get real, have to dig in.

Because today Perry has murdered any pretence. (See, told you the language might lurch towards the unfortunate). In the void where England were supposed to be, that sense that Australia might show up soonish (and smash English pretensions) has rushed in, cruelly – magnificently.

Marsh is out, for a creditable 21, lbw but England are all out for 75. Ashes gone; not mathematically gone – much worse perhaps?

Tough Questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chanceless at Coffs Harbour.

This is the first of two posts, covering Coffs Harbour in the 2nd AusvEng One Day International. For the England batting innings, go to ‘Outplayed’…

 

Australia, in the middle of our night. On the telly. Deep dark quiet: nerves. What feels like inevitable sunshine – although (seemingly ludicrously from my settee) rumours of a possible thundershower later. The dog stretches. Shrubsole to open, off a short-looking run.

A nervy, wide one – not called. Healy and Bolton for the Australians. Two runs off the third ball, which is short and steered easily through the covers. No great pace.

Brunt looks sharper but her first delivery is dispatched through cover for four by Healy. There is a little away swing for Brunt, who thought she may have a decent lb shout… but no.

Nine off the first two overs. Pitch looking good, the ball just doing a little in the air. Shrubsole beats the left-handed Bolton but then strays marginally down leg and is clipped neatly for four more. Australia appear generally untroubled.

Brunt staying full, looking to draw that swing but offering some hittable stuff off the pads. 16 for 0 off the first four and no dramas for the home side. The inswing/outswing (Shrubsole/Brunt) combination looking more threatening on paper than in reality.

England going to have to stay patient, by the looks of the early overs: Australia move untroubled to 21 for 0.

Brunt bowling notably fewer slower balls, today. Took the pace off a good deal more, in the first game. She applies herself, as always but to little effect: good strip, this.

Gunn to bowl the ninth. Tall, slightly awkward-looking arms into the delivery but hugely experienced and patient, you would hope. Good call by Knight  – England doing okay but it was time for a change. Gunn, as so often, drops nicely onto a line and length. Double-change, in fact, as Sciver replaces Brunt.

The bespectacled (do we still say that?) Bolton shows first sign of frustration, having been stalled for some time: miscues a pull off Sciver. England now applying some pressure – 30 for 0 off 9.

Healy answers with a four to square-leg, off Gunn. Entirely chanceless game, so far but with the run-rate below four, England may not mind the lack of penetration.

Sciver bowls wide of off and Bolton – whom Alison Mitchell feels is ‘struggling to get the ball off the square’ – flukes one to third man for four. A rare boundary – only five scored, from the first twelve overs. Game yet to find an urgent gear and therefore feeling even enough. Bolton has 24 only off 50 balls at the end of the 13th.

Healy fires the first shot in anger. Or rather simply goes for the first big shot. Succeeds beautifully, straight-driving    Sciver for six. Rightly, she backs that up with four more to leg then a two. Sciver, rattled, bowls a pie of a full-toss and this is also smashed over midwicket for four. Important over yields 17 much-needed runs and changes the energy.

66 for 0 off 16. Drinks. Lack of wickets clearly put the home side in a strong position… but they will be looking, naturally, to dominate from here. Healy looking well capable of that – Bolton less so.

Ecclestone, the eighteen-year-old spinner, brought in. Arguable that Knight might have shuffled things more, earlier: presumably the England skipper content enough with the run-rate remaining below four? Three off the over, backed up by a further change – Hartley from the other end.

Immediately she draws Healy into a rash shot – a rather clubbed effort falls narrowly short of mid-on. The intent is there, though; Healy collects two boundaries, one of which Gunn should surely have stopped at the boundary. Mixed, at best from, Hartley: runs look easier to come by with the reduction in pace. Knight would have wanted more. Healy reaches 50.

Another misfield yields four off a wide on from Ecclestone. England cannot afford sloppiness in the field, in a game they have to win, with wickets looking hard to come by.

Run-rate at 4.83 after 18. No wickets down, the innings remaining chanceless.

Bolton has been out of sorts, but reverse-sweeps Hartley for four. Challenge seems to be about whether or not England can remain calm and focused. They plainly lack a threat, here. ; will be fascinating to see if Australia are similarly blunted by the pitch. Early days but the signs are the home side should get into the high 200s.

From nowhere, Ecclestone’s arm-ball bowls Healy. Huge moment, as the right-hahder had seemed much more bullish than her lartner. 100 up, though, in the 21st, as Perry has joined Bolton.

Flight, now but some width, from Ecclestone. She’s drifting to leg a tad but Australia’s burst has been checked by the wicket.

Shocker from Hartley – almost a foot down leg – is rightly and easily clipped for four by Perry. Skipper will be having words, you suspect. Frustrating. Not enough control and very little in the way of meaningful spin – from either end.

Knight may be a less dynamic captain than her opposite number, judging by the first game and a half. Haynes was busy and pro-active first-up. Sense is Knight letting things ‘take their course’. 112 for 1 off 24.

Hartley misfields a drive off her own bowling – Perry gets four. England average in the field, as they were in the opening match. Work to do, there.

Shrubsole back for the 27th. Feels right, with Aus too comfortable (albeit non-dynamic) against the two left-arm orthodox spinners. Bolton’s relative lack of fluency the chief plus-point for England.

Ecclestone persists. Has flight but still minimal turn. Suspicion is she might vary things a tad more. Horrible pie absolutely boomed over midwicket for six by a grateful Perry, who has moved to 30 in goodish time.

Next over Shrubsole oversteps but negates the free hit to Perry with a fine yorker: one of few moral victories for the England attack. Big fan of Anya Shrubsole but she is is very much in containing mode here.

Re-enter Sciver, for the 30th. Bolton finally claims her 50: welcome but slowish and rather scratchy. 90 balls. Signs, now, that Australia looking to go; Bolton flays Shrubsole straight for four. 300 on? England may be in trouble – not unreasonably alarmist to suggest the series may be on the line here. Meaning real pressure.

Bolton is suddenly, post mid-pitch conflab, looking to hit everything – most of it through leg. Sciver coming round to her, which may be making the left-hander’s job easier. England need to find something.

Hartley bowls Bolton; a simple case of agressive run-chasing gifting the wicket. The opener’s contributed 66 off 100, 63 of these alongside a very controlled-looking Perry – so two strongish partnerships.

Villani is next. England have bowled two out but still failed to produce any further clearcut chances. May be reading too much into this but gut feeling is this doesn’t augur well: not for now, not for the Ashes.

Write that sentence and Knight dives to her left to clutch a fine catch, off Gunn. Villani. Can England now capitalise? 143 for 3, in the 35th.

Another *monent* Brunt, returning, fails to take a catchable caught and bowled. Perry clonked one straight back at her: Brunt will hate that! 187 for 3 off 37, first clear opportunity engineered… and missed.

With Aus skipper Haynes starting brightly alongside Perry, the home side may be targetting 280 plus, now. Reckon they’ll get 260, no problem but weather may become a factor – social media full of dark warnings re the cloudcover. England must claim wickets, you feel.

Brunt drops just a little short and Haynes pulls her disdainfully to the square-leg boundary. Exhibit K – good pitch, this. Charlotte Edwards joins the chorus of those wondering why England opted to bowl. My hunch is that Knight may be happier chasing, because she’s by nature somewhat conservative. Her team need a lift.

Perry, meanwhile, has another fifty – and the 200 is up, in the 40th. She never fails.

Into the last ten, all the pressure on the fielding side. 7.24 a.m. here in sleepy Pembrokeshire – and the pitch dark just coming alive with grey-pink and birdsong. Magic time.  I have porridge on the go.

13 off Shrubsole’s over – the 43rd. Haynes has 46 from 30, including a towering, sweetly-struck six off a fullish delivery from England’s World Cup-winning heroine. Australia get back on a charge and 285 is absolutely gettable.

Brunt is in and mixing it. Predictably taking the pace off but also bowling those looping attempted cutters. Tremendous competitor.

Gunn is back, too and also ‘looping.’ Perry charges, misses and is stumped, sharply, by Taylor, who has stayed up throughout. 250 for 4 in the 46th. Haynes is hit on the neck by an incoming throw that Taylor cannot gather. Only a flesh-wound; the skipper barely flinches.

Another drop – a shocker, I’m afraid – from Beaumont in the deep costs four… as well as Haynes’s wicket. (The Australia captain has been outstanding again, here – going 4,6,4 but that was awful, for England).

The controversy around Haynes’s appointment being dismissed as easily as the England bowlers now. Haynes batting inventively, dynamically and with power – none of which could be said about her opposite number, Knight, in the opening match of the series. Australia looking way ahead on 285 for 4 off 48.

Blackwell balloons one out to Brunt, off Gunn, in the last over but that loss feels meaningless. As does the wicket of McGrath who joins Haynes with four balls remaining but is caught off a top edge two balls later. Haynes drives the last for two and Australia finish on 296 for 6. As if things weren’t looking tough enough, for England, rain seems imminent…

 

 

 

 

 

Patterns of play.

In the depths of our night the feeling that there was some pattern at work was discomfiting – but maybe it did help to keep me awake.

England had started in good then dominating style, with both Beaumont and Winfield looking comfortable against the Australian attack, establishing something spookily close to a measure of control. However – do I need to say ‘this being England?’ – the calm authority of the opening exchanges was fairly promptly pret-ty profoundly undermined, almost shockingly.

In short Beaumont swished to mid-off then Taylor and/or Winfield contrived to leave the latter absolutely stranded for the most infuriating of self-inflicted run-outs: just as utter control had been re-established, just as Australia approached peak Where Do We Go From Here?

This happens, in sport, I know. You’re cruising then you’re stomping off inconsolable towards a bollocking or an icy stare. And okay maybe Beaumont had taken herself beyond criticism because of the statement she made – which stands. And Taylor and Winfield were hardly failures, eh? But this is The Ashes and we’re in pursuit not just of excellence but momentum… because that will get us through the long nights and ma’an we wanna win this!

At about 1.30 a.m. our time, England had a real chance to crack on with some style towards the dreamland of unanswerable primacy. If Beaumont hadn’t reached and slapped; if Taylor had merely called with any degree of sureness and watchfulness; if England had continued to make good choices.

Watching live, even from a zillion miles away, the sense that these key wickets were against the grain of things was palpable. Sure the young leg-spinner Wellington turned the ball thrillingly and testingly, but one way or another – and there were times when this was pure good fortune – England were surviving it. Schutt and Perry had been playable.

It seemed (unless I was dreaming?) that any one from Beaumont, Winfield and/or Taylor might go on and dismiss the home side’s leading threats… and then some. Winfield’s presentation of the bat had been notably beautiful: Beaumont had played confidently and with intermittent aggression.

Because this is sport and this is England, things changed; the pattern developed. The killer touch – or more exactly the killer mentality to see this out was lost. Australia capitalised.

Heather Knight may need to look pretty hard at her own contribution with the bat. Along with the obviously gifted Sciver she underachieved, failing to read the mood or counter in any way Australia’s resurgence: worse, making that resurgence possible. Contrast this with Haynes’s dynamic fielding and skippering of her own side: the middle-late overs were something of a walkover in favour of Lanning’s medium-surprising replacement.

It was galling stuff because England had earned the right to go on, to release the flow genuinely and decisively early. More – they had the luxury of doing this in a measured way. Taylor and Sciver really might have feasted on a true pitch, as the bowling unit blunted itself against their patience then their power.

In fact as things progressed that tendency to allow the opposition back in overtook any English ebullience. Clearly we need to credit the Australians for their persistence and their cool, but the English middle order rather shrank from the task. Wickets predictably fell. I rate Brunt for her bullishness, maturity and spark but as she strode to the crease I could not see anything other than a fizzle-out. So it was.

(Before England’s spikiest quick strode out there I tweeted as follows;

Strong hunch is that #Brunch won’t go well & that #Eng may really underachieve. Really hope I’m wrong.

#WomensAshes

Took no pleasure in that).

Hey let’s look at the positives. For England, chiefly that half the team got in and should therefore be less nervy next time around. For Australia and for cricket, great that we may have another star leg-spinner to enjoy and (in Gardner) more stylish-but-undeniably-punchy positivity to appreciate. Plus the match was evenly-matched, meaning the series may be tense and competitive. Let’s hope so. This was a good opener.