#WT20 – good & not so.

Unashamedly blasting this out. Amorphous wotnots and occasional insights, I hope. Reflections. Dangerously off-the-top-of… my barnet. ‘S fine, because nobody will read it – because it’s about The Wimmin.*

So GOOD – & less good – lumped together. Bit like the tournament; maybe *like any tournament?*

Memo to self- and to you, sagacious friends – don’t go comparing it to the blokes. It’s different.

  • Australia. Their surge towards completeness. Different level of preparation, intensity & often – quality.
  • Perry & Schutt didn’t blow people away but they were still imposing; as was the team. Clearly it was Healy’s tournament (except for that weirdly dysfunctional final, keeping-wise!) but it was the team, actually, that crushed the opposition.
  • Generally better fielding and more threatening bowling. Generally more dynamic batting – power play batting from a different universe to most teams. T20 cricket from a different, newer, more dangerous era.
  • ‘Course India beat them so arguably that’s cobblers… maybe. (But not for me). It wasn’t just during the final that Oz were mostly competing at a higher level.
  • Is it good, or bad, that Aus appear to be out-cooling and out-boshing all of us on the investment in the women’s game front? No argument. 1. Fair play and congratulations. 2. Might this lead to Grand Prix-like processions to victory? (The ECB may come under pressure if the ‘re-organisation’ of the women’s schedule here stalls the recent surge towards higher standards and greater depth).
  • But back to #WT20. England were mixed – from Aus-like in their cruising past poorish opposition – to periodically awful in the field.
  • On the one hand it’s absolutely right to note that the absence of their toughest competitor (Brunt) and a truly fine keeper and stylish bat (Taylor) would hurt any team. But as England are resourced and prepared in a way that probably only second to Australia, we’re entitled to judge them pret-ty keenly, yes?
  • Amy Jones. Did a goodish job behind the sticks (as good as most international keepers?) and pressed the I’m Here! it’s Me! button, whilst batting.
  • Jones looked technically strong and crucially more dynamic than most of her team-mates during the international season, without quite building that seminal knock. (She got 20-30s when I saw her live but oozed something authentic and encouraging). A good deal of that landed in the World Cup: a strong #WBBL could see her fully ‘emerged’.
  • Tactically, Mark Robinson and co were again strikingly bold – fielding a zillion spinners, insisting that Beaumont and Wyatt charge early. Only during the final did Wyatt get into the or her game, though, whilst Beaumont felt out of rhythm – was scratchy, when she needs to be timing the ball to generate runs around the place at a decent rate. (She is not as powerful as some other high-order players, obvs).
  • Of course the spin-fest was a reaction or an expectation around pitches – which were widely regarded as disappointing. I respect Robinson’s gutsy hunch but was it just me that thought somebody was gonna cut through the slow-bowling ‘stranglehold’ and see that actually none of the England spinners turned it very much… and only Ecclestone bowled with that searching pace… and therefore they were rather fortunate not to get carted? (Poor generalisation maybe but ‘twas how I felt).
  • The Scots import Gordon did well, mind. Not spectacular, not hugely threatening, but did well.
  • Sciver is plainly ‘our’ Perry. Athlete. She grows into the role, fair play. Did particularly well to fill the Brunt-shaped hole, first up. Infuriates me with her bat-swing, mind – so unnecessarily hoiktastic and across the line – but hey-ho, she’s well within her rights to go with something she’s comfortable with, I guess. It just smacks of somebody who finds it all rather easy, overthinking and clumping everything to leg. But she’s a star.
  • Shrubsole bowled again, at times, more skilfully and with more raw swing than anyone else on the planet. She is class. She is class but still looks if not hurt, then less mobile and agile than would be ideal.
  • The Fielding. We ain’t necessarily comparing them to the blokes when we say that the fielding was – in the tournament generally – not good enough. Appreciate standards are improving. Appreciate Wyatt, Sciver, Knight, Beaumont, a bunch of Australians and plenty other individuals look like athletes in the field and are consequently great to watch. But despite the upward curve on this, too many players are simply not looking like international-class athletes – and this is important.
  • It’s important not just in the way the game is received, broadly but also in how matches seem, live. Running, fielding, catching, throwing can be electrifyingly central to the drama. Currently, obviously, they are let-downs too often, undermining the spectacle, the theatre of all this.
  • I know that work is going on to improve fielding work everywhere and that increased professionalism will change this.
  • *Also*. I’m slightly fascinated to know whether Robinson’s reference to ‘tears’ has related to some fairly brutal laying down of expectation regarding fielding skills. He will know that only about four of five of his players are good enough, out there. Do wonder how England staff bundle that forward, what level of urgency they insist upon, what pressure is being applied?
  • Like Robinson, I think I’m looking to judge the players as international-class athletes rather than women. But we’re both men of a certain age… and maybe likely to mess that one up, here and there.
  • Hey but not going to finish on a negative. I’ve loved the ambience and the actual cricket during 2018 and (acksherly) I spend half my coaching life actively supporting girls into cricket. Tomorrow I’m coaching the next, female generation and bloody looking forward to it.
  • I hope they will see more (or more of) Kaurs or Scivers or Taylors or Perrys: that their lives will be enriched and excited by stars they come to look up to.

 

*Accept that some folks will read some or all of this as somewhere between dubious and misogynist. Can live with that.

I’ve enjoyed travelling and supporting women’s international cricket and know my *intentions* are sound. Do regard it as maybe the most excitingly, richly-developing sporting phenomenon on the planet, right now. Hope to be able to see England Women on several occasions next season.

England snuffed out.

Installed. Fire lit. Dog snoring. Let’s get into this!

Molineux; assaulted by Wyatt. Wow. Twelve off the first – including a four and six. Star quality from England’s dasher. But oof, then Schutt nearly has her, slashing to backward point. 14 for 0 after 2 and an electrifying start has been dragged back a tad by Aus.

Perry. The World’s Greatest. Superb first ball then has Beaumont surely caught behind from the next? But no – highish but regulation catch fluffed by Healy. Minor shockwave goes round. Beaumont visibly struggling.

Schutt benefits. Beaumont miscues up, up, up and is gone for a disappointing, unconvincing handful – caught mid-off. Pitch looks slow and awkward again, mind, for batters. Nasser on commentary rightly notes the obvious nerves.

England have obviously had a Leg It Like Hell For Singles policy during WT20. It fails them – possibly crucially – as the in-form Jones is run out ‘by a country mile’ when gambling to Wareham. Great throw utterly exposes the risk – and undermines the innings.

Kimmince bowls two wides and England are 36 for 2 come the end of the powerplay.

Wyatt drives Perry hard, through wide mid-off. She’s not been flawless but these are important runs, given the nervous stuff from her colleagues.

Sciver must fire, you suspect, but her tendency to swing across the line finds her out, too. LBW, controversially, as she clearly feels she’s hit it, to Perry. Fortunately for England, this brings in Knight – their most level-headed player.

Wow (again). Wyatt blazes rather carelessly back at Kimmince but the bowler drops an admittedly sharp catch. After 8 England are 48 for 3. Frenetic is the word – from both sides.

Another error by both, as Knight and Wyatt utterly miscommunicate, leaving the skipper stranded. But Healy fluffs the stumping.

It’s so nervy it’s hard to guesstimate a good score. You wonder if Wyatt is steeling herself to go long – perhaps because England may not bat, as a team, that long – and she may therefore need to. Removing her helmet at 10 overs for a much-needed drink, she looks maybe more hot-and-bothered than icily determined. Knight, you feel, only does icily determined: a partnership – this partnership – may be key.

My hunch that Wyatt seems close to burned-out was right. She flays straight to Lanning at extra cover. Unsurprisingly, Lanning makes no mistake. Winfield – a former opener, remember – whom we’ve seen virtually nothing of, with the bat, in the tournament, joins Knight.

Par score might be 130, I reckon… but England may be shy of that.

Big Moments. Healy’s having a mare but she may possibly have asked for the review against Winfield, who was struck on the pad before cuffing away to off: she’s out. This brings in Dunkley who gets the dreaded GD – meaning two-in-two for Wareham.

So England in major strife. Not much batting left, 6 overs to come.

Perhaps I do Shrubsole (who has joined Knight) a disservice? And what she lacks in fluency she likely makes up for in grit and experience. Vice Captain and Captain to the rescue?

Blimey. Perry fails to get in swiftly enough to snaffle Shrubsole in the deep. Nasser clear England (who are 6 down) should be all out if chances had been taken. He’s right; Australia have been poor. But Perry gets another, easier chance – not good, from Shrubsole, this – and collects. With Hazell in, England are 86 for 7 after 16.

Knight drives for 6 but is caught charging Gardner again next ball. 98 for 8. Feels markedly short but who knows, Shrubsole may yet have a further dramatic role to play.

Ecclestone – an ordinary bat and ordinary athlete (to be blunt)  – is run out blamelessly in the final over and Hazell falls LBW to Schutt. Total reached is 105 all out. Would be quite something if England could bring this anywhere close. Anya, over to you.

They start with a risky single, off Sciver. Home. Comms on the telly have talked non-stop about a) weird Aus fielding and b) a soap-bar of a ball. Feels tense. Are folks really nervous or are conditions that tough? Difficult to know.

Healy, inevitably, releases. Two consecutive fours clattered to leg. Slightly worryingly, Shrubsole has dropped the second of these short and then spent an age faffing with her footholds. She is unfortunate that the umpire wrongly gives a wide against her but the over costs 14 precious runs, ultimately. Enter Ecclestone.

She turns it. Good over but leaks a boundary last ball. Australia 21 for 0 after 3.

The changes continue, with Hazell in. I personally question her quality (and certainly her level of threat) but Knight and presumably Robinson must respect her experience: lets see.

6 off the over, Aus remaining untroubled. Ecclestone looks a tad more challenging – quicker, more spin – but hey, somebody must break through, for England, more than once. Urgently.

They do. Ecclestone bowls Healy, for 22, off 20. Enter Gardner. Will she be bullish and brilliant, or will nerves turn her brain to mush? (Spot of wishful thinking but either feels possible).

Excellent over for England – can they maintain this mini-squeeze? They turn back to Shrubsole.

Little swing for England’s Finest, however. She looks a little deflated, in truth – particularly as she strays slightly to leg, defeating Jones behind the sticks.

Having entered the contest as Knight’s most deadly weapon, Shrubsole, after two of our four overs, feels neutralized – either by the dew, nerves, or factors unknown. At the end of the powerplay Australia are easing through at 37 for 1.

Gordon does okay again but concedes 7 from the 7th.

From nowhere, the seemingly innocuous Hazell, pushing one out wide, has Mooney caught behind. Hmmm. Good over follows; Australia 47 for 2 off 8.

Ecclestone backs up her spin partner but Lanning does spank her over mid-off – more in a polite-ish reminder kindofaway than in outright, incontrovertible violence – mid-over.

Hazell is in again but concedes two boundaries; one a glorious drive, the second a slightly top-edged swing to leg. 60 for 2 after 10, with plenty of batting to come, you would think.

Lanning dismisses a wide one from Gordon to the point boundary. Looking at the bench and a scorecard proffering Perry at number 7(!) and this surely now, is slipping away from England. No… it’s gone.

Knight takes the 12th over herself but hoiks one well outside leg. Wide. Could be that the ball (which is receiving a huge amount of attention) is likewise slipping. Next, the captain flings down a horrible full-toss which Gardner smashes over midwicket for six.

The Aus batter does the same to Gordon, signalling a charge to the line. 19 only, needed, off 43… so Gardner repeats, more beautifully and more emphatically. To Make The Statement.

50 partnership. Lanning and Gardner moving through the gears, closing out – snuffing out England.

In mitigation of what appears a muted performance from the team in red, it’s plain by now that this is a particularly difficult time to bowl and field, with towels out every ball; but Knight remember did choose to bat. (Discuss?)

The ifs and buts will inevitably include discussion around the absences of two of England’s most influential players (Brunt and Taylor)but Australia are – India game notwithstanding – the best.

Gardner cuts Shrubsole and the scores are level. Lanning tips and runs to Sciver and they are deservedly champions, with 4.5 overs remaining, by 8 wickets. 106 for 2.

There’s been talk of an aspiration to dominate for a period of years – Perry, notably, has spoken this way – and looking at the margin of victory here and the depth and power of this Australian group, such talk does not feel innapropriate. Congratulations to them: the world game must chase – hard.

 

 

 

 

 

All Stars.

Pleased to see there’s been a reasonable lump of coverage for the All Stars Project over recent weeks; it really is significant, I think. Certainly in terms of bringing the precious ‘new families’ that we’ve heard so much about, into the game. Whatever we may think of, or read into that apparently central plank of the ECB strategy, All Stars has delivered strong numbers, for our sport: in Wales, 3,505 sign-ups over 118 centres.

A twitter-friend of mine and cricket-writer (Rob Johnston) wondered whether the project might indeed be more important than The Hundred? Interesting thought.

Whether you load that thought up with political/philosophical vitriol around the depth or quality of experience and the implications for Everything Else… is up to you. I want to keep this simple – or rather to leave you with a restoratively uncluttered message – that All Stars has been, will be, is really, really good. It’s All Stars I want to talk about, in the end.

You may know that much of the thinking behind All Stars came from a) large, hairy and fearless market research b) Australia. A particular bloke name of Dwyer was drafted in to brutally challenge the status quo and deliver a new vision. (Actually the first bit of that is untrue: he did brutally challenge but that was not necessarily the brief. Interestingly, possibly fascinatingly for those suspicious of the current direction of travel, Dwyer left – I believe before his contract was up).

It’s important, at the outset, in the wider context of so much controversy and opinion, that All Stars is recognised as merely a part of the whole re-invention of the Cricket Offer: part of Cricket Unleashed, part of the warp-factor-ten departure into the unknown. Theoretically and I think in reality, AS does have stand-alone qualities – the specific age-group, the immediacy, the impact of kitted-out kids – but it would surely be unwise to imagine it travelling radically solo. It’s not.

All Stars exists in and because of the context of more opportunities for girls and women. In the context of ‘community’ activity and retention projects for those teens drifting from the game. In the context of City Cricket/The Hundred.

I’m not wading in to the relative value, wisdom or centrality of any of these other things now: most of us have lived off those arguments for the last year. Instead I’m going to try to say why All Stars is pretty ace: in a bullet-point or two.

  • The prequel. Noting that All Stars has been generally supported by 4-6 weeks cricket-based activity in local Primary Schools, aimed at enthusing kids for the game (via the outstanding Chance to Shine curriculum) before offering that link to AS in clubs. Part of the generally impressive #joinedupthinking. But back to the activity proper…
  • It’s ace value. Despite blokes like me fearing that £40 was going to feel too much for most parents down our way, AS is undeniably good value – and parents forked out. The kids get kit worth about £20 and eight typically well-run, skilfully-themed sessions (which tend to be an absolute blast, for kids and coach alike). Those people still weirdly imagining this is an earner for the ECB need to get a grip, to be honest: it’s a massive investment in change and development, not at all – certainly in the short term – an ‘earner’. Costs have been set at a minimum, I imagine: of course there are some families who will regrettably be put off by the £40… but very few… and some clubs will underwrite that, if necessary.
  • The actual sessions are ver-ry cute – in a really good way. This has not been flung together. The target age-group (5-8, boys and girls) is guided through an hour or more (generally more) of movement, games and skills; the time fizzes and charges as much as the children do. It’s infectious and purposeful and liberating in a way that the three letters F.U.N. cannot do justice to: and yet it is precisely that – naive, anarchic, noisy, edgy fun. Brilliantly so, in my experience.
  • The quality of enjoyment thing. I may be repeating myself but what I saw, as an Activator and coach, was ace to the point of affecting – and I am clear most parents felt that too.
  • The family thing – 1. Okay, so if one of the key aspirations for the whole ECB cricket-makeover is to ‘burst the bubble’ in which cricket sits, vis-a-vis who knows, plays and gets the game, then obviously All Stars sits comfortably within that. The target group is children still finding stuff. Plainly, the ECB would be grateful if some of these children – perhaps the majority – emerge from non-cricketing families. That’s happening. Because of skilful marketing, smart imagery, the ‘non-threatening’, non-technical nature of the offer. Headline figures for AS in Wales last year suggested 71% coming from a non-cricketing background… which is not far short of phenomenal. I’m hearing also – also significantly – that around 35% of our Wales 2018 All Stars are girls.
  • The family thing – 2. Activators (i.e. those who led the AS sessions) were trained to encourage parents to take part. In fact a key part of the marketing whole was this idea that families might reclaim a special hour of family time through participating (at a level they were comfortable with). This interaction with non-qualified agents – hah! Mums, dads!! – was rightly to be gently monitored by the Activator, but opened up a new dimension to the proceedings. Our sessions started with family members ‘warming up’ their All Star; often mums or dads or siblings stayed involved, offering practical help and encouragement. This cuts right across the traditional practice of Level 2 Coaches ‘running things’. I am not remotely looking to undermine that practice or the quality thereof when I say that in my experience the active support of family members was not only essential in practical terms but absolutely key to the feel and the enjoyment of our sessions. I soon gathered five or six sub-Activators who were lovely, intelligent, generous, capable people and I hope and expect that they may support the project – and what is now their club! – next year. This ‘loosening-up’ was done by design, in the knowledge that it might/should work at this age-group; it did.
  • The gentle prod thing. Did you know you can pre-register for AS 2019? You can.

 

Finally, something minor-league weird. I am still wearing a rather faded rubber bangle – the kind we were giving out in schools during the Chance to Shine sessions which preceded our signposting of kids over to All Stars Cricket. I am still wearing it… since April, maybe?

This may mean something worrying about absence of a life in my life, but maybe only if we overthink stuff, eh? I’m not wistfully stroking it or anything. It’s just still there. It says ALL STARS CRICKET and ALLSTARSCRICKET.CO.UK.

I think of our sessions at Llanrhian CC and how crazy-but-happy the kids were… and how wonderful the families were… and how blessed we all were, with that sun. So I guess that’s the explanation? If we need one?

 

 

 

…Australia reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are Mexican Waves. Committed Mexican Waves – intermittently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Wake-up call.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 for 0, after 4.

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

Ground now 84% full. Plus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the ether.

Update: questions remain, following this extraordinary, garish, polarising Trauma of the Now. The role of the much-loved Boof may be chief amongst them, even if we accept that his six, soon-to-be-iconic words (“wtf is going on?!?”) are accepted as key to his innocence in the moment of ball-tampering. 

What  I’m wondering is – given the obviousness of Warner as a long-term arse – why no sense that he, at any stage, has been reminded of his responsibilities, reined in, by his coach, fellow players… or anyone else?

Fans have hated Warner (strong word but justified in this extreme case), for aeons. His cheap, unnecessary malevolence has been plain to followers of the game around the world. So in the whorl of emotions and reactions around the powerful conclusions from Sutherland’s enquiries, perhaps it might be wise to reflect some on that ‘environment’ thing? Again, this may bring us back to Boof… and to the Cricket Australia hierarchy more widely.

 

Here’s wot I wrote as the story was breaking…

 

So the world’s exploded into a rage that we really don’t need to add into. But we will anyway… because #sandpapergate.

The thing is hatred is a strong, ugly, unhelpful emotion and it can’t be good that there’s so much of it about: and yes this applies generally but let’s stick to cricket – to the cricket ether. 

Warner. Raw truth is Warner has been hated pretty much across the globe for some years. Ye-es, there is an argument that he is feared by opposition fans because he’s a threat, a player but let’s not be so daft as to think that the hatred is arising solely or even mostly from that; it’s not. It’s stoked by the persistent, cheap, boorish-aggressive behaviour of the player – of Warner. Warner carrying the flag for a country (or maybe just a squad?) who pride themselves on being the toughest.

Davy boy is the attack-dog, the snarling soul, the little big man, leaping and punching hysterically, hatefully sending all-comers off. He is Aussie Toughness personified.

Forgive us our feebleness but some of us don’t think real toughness is the same as Davy’s loudness, as his crassness, as being most-intimidating-in-a-foul way. We reckon the essence of real toughness is often a kind of quiet.

So this Aussie notion of ‘going to war’ and getting into the heads of your opposite numbers through erm, a game of cricket feels pitifully weak, as understandings of toughness go, to us. As a concept it feels weak, indulgently, incriminatingly weak, weak intellectually, morally and in terms of modelling.

Hang on, did I say morally? Haha! Yes! Because however hilarious and pompous these, my concepts are, I’m going to plant a flag round this baybee:

there is always a moral and/or behavioural dimension to sport – particularly at the representative level. It may even define the thing… as sport.

So, no surprises that an evidently persistent – and therefore presumably coached and intentionally ‘confrontational’ approach – has blown up in the faces of the aggressors. Whether this is traceable to a sort of natural justice, righteous sports-karma or simply and only to Bancroft’s exposed intervention is for you honourable sleuths to decide: I’m less interested in the timeline of events than the haul towards progress, here.

Aus cheated and were caught. And hoisted.

Previously, South Africa and their fans have been guilty of ugliness, belligerence, foul sportsmanship. (This may have been the spark but #sandpapergate is, we all agree, inexcusable, irrespective, yes?)

Before these guys… well, again, make your own chart. Kohli may be guilty, Anderson may be guilty, Broad, Atherton, Henry VIII: the video, the betamax, the whisper, the quill records the mortal wrong. Blimey. Where do we go from here?

Maybe we gather our wits. Maybe we penalise Smith, Warner, Bancroft and (after further, prompt enquiries), their coach. Maybe then we have an intelligent review of the strengths and weaknesses of where we’re at, with a view to legislating and/or recalibrating the Preamble to the Laws? Or we scrap them and determine to be contemporary in our judgement.

Said many times I fully accept that the volume of guffawing around the Spirit of Cricket means we have to be ver-ry careful of anything that sounds or feels like historic posturing. Like it or not, the universe will not blithely accept stuff that feels preachy, sanctimonious, archaic. Even if that stuff reflects good.

The Aussies cheating should be the catalyst not for Furious of Fremantle to scream ‘but what about?… but for calm reflections on effective ways forward. In the blur around this one despicable act, there must be a way to account for or prepare a response to (for example) Warner and Rabada’s ill-discipline – to cultural over-zealousness, to the prevailing macho-mania.

It could be of course, that the necessary weaponry is in place. That umpires and match referees, never mind the ICC or individual national authorities can sort this. Let’s hope that in the inevitable charge towards Decisive Action, we don’t fall into the trap of demanding consistency, when the situations demand intelligent, individual appreciation. (I say this in the knowledge that high profile former players and pundits alike will bawl out for that comforting c-word – naively, in my view).

This won’t be easy. We’ve heard too many braying about the stifling of characters in the game or ‘sanitising’ the great confrontations for this to be straightforward. But anyone with more than a handful of braincells must surely see that a) plain cheating is wrong and b) bitterness and x-rated conflict are not essential to the drama of great sport. Yes that sense that feelings are running high can be exhiliratingly present… but no, no, NO, this is not the object, the pretext for indulgence.

There is tellingly little sympathy around, for Smith, Warner and Bancroft. Even on their home patch, apparently. Whatever happens next – and there will be somebody, somewhere, right? – this is one of the great, self-inflicted booboos in modern sport. Outsiders view it as the biter bit, par excellence, relishing the fall of these particularly prickly protagonists.

We need to convert this relish over to energetic renewal. If Australia at large really is mortified, then the onus may be on them to start the ball rolling on the cultural education front. But when the immediate concern is for #sandpapergate, will Cricket Australia be bold or generous enough to make the link between broad (but weedy, but spiteful) confrontationalism and hollowed-out sport? I hope so.

 

What do we call this?

Okay. Maybe you’re centre-midfield on a parks pitch in North Lincolnshire and it’s down to you. This. The ball plummeting towards, their grizzly number six feeling for your presence, aware you’re the one who can head. You’re gonna not so much head as clear out the universe, power through, make the most intimidating statement ever made in sport.

This only works if you bawl something as you leap; something kinda specific. Something like ‘RICKY’S UP!’ – which may on the page sound cheesy but in the moment, no. The two syllables of the name project, control, make real the intervention in a way that RICK just couldn’t. It would be ricdiculous. The words, the sound, the something… decide.

Everybody who knows footie – knows sport – understands this. The words in the event are massive. What you call yourself, what you get called, how you’re spoken of , is critical. Not possible to be bona fide without (weirdly, mainly) two syllables.

Of course this is why we get Gazzas and Glendas and (don’t worry I’m coming to cricket now) Rootys, Cookies, Jimmys. Cobblers to any other cultural-sociological considerations, it’s about what naturally fits, then. So I can be as Rick as I want but if I plant the ball majestically wide of cover’s left hand somebody on the boundary’s going to mutter ‘shot, Ricky!’ If the England number three does that beautiful unfurling thing through extra-cover, Farbrace is going to rumble ‘played, Vincey!’ as he’s stirred to his feet.

How else, though, is the gorgeous-but-infuriating Hants bat spoken to, or of?

When he strides back to pavilion, eyes down, caught at slip, what else could it be from Bayliss but ‘what the **** was that, Vincey?’

Actually it could be lots of things. It could be silence, for one. Bayliss may choose a later opportunity, maybe to ask a wiser, more searching question. Like ‘where do you think we are with the dismissals, Vincey*? In terms of pattern?’ And then they together choose what to work on.

*Could be of course that in the real world moment there’s another nickname. Not in there – don’t know. I’m betting it’s two syllables, mind. Vince is worth talking about; with yaknow, words.

Clearly there’s a lot of chat around all those starts, all those frustrating, demoralising finishes. (Sometimes I wonder if they’re worse for us poor buggers watching than for him!) Plus a rich vein of psycho-gubbins around personality, freedom, responsibility and yes, that coaching framework. There’s a documentary series, never mind a blog around What, Exactly, Vincey Should Do: for now, I’ll stick with the former.

Some are fascinatingly clear that what they deem a ‘failure to learn’ simply disqualifies him already; however he might purr, this cat ain’t suitable for Test Cricket. Others argue that the problem isn’t so much centred on poor choices as kindof disproportionately fiercely-punished non or near-execution. Failing to execute shots he very often plays. Outside off-stump. Imperiously.

From memory I think I’ve only seen one media name blame technical issues for Vince’s predicament. Chiefly he’s getting slaughtered for going there at all, given we’re under, or about to be pitifully legs and arms akimbo under the cosh. There may actually be something comical about the level and intensity of verbals aimed at the rather serene-looking strokemaker but head-in-talons at the unbe-leeee-vably serial transgression across the Don’t Play Eet Less Ya’ve To Principle, us nighthawks – Yorkie nighthawks? – have typically stooped full-tilt into raging fury. Perspective? Proportion? Intelligent Investment? Na.

Here’s a thing, though. Plenty of us have woken the dog – quite possibly immediately before the offending nick of the wide-ish one behind – with a snortaciously approving ‘Yesss, Vincey’ as the ball raced to the off-side fence. We’ve muttered something about ‘class’ – and I don’t mean his private schooling in medium-luxurious Wiltshire. Thus many a dark, dark December night has felt defined (or possibly caricatured?) by the cruel see-sawing between expressive pomp and dumb, tribal humiliation.

Incidentally, I wonder how many of us have marked a beautifully squeezed J.V. drive with a follow-up aimed (in increasing order of spitefulness) at Starc(k)y, Smithy or War-ner? And is there something else about doubling up – going bi? Bitterness? Bile? Emphasis? Certainty?

See, I am more sure of my two syllable hypothesis than any of the Vince cricket-things. He’s a fabulously gifted player – milky, honeyed, rich, pure. And yet we wonder either if no-one’s home, if nothing’s been said or if our fears about the empowerment of players through (ahem) *personal discovery* have in his case reached an epic high, or low?

Freedom for learning is a gift and a blessing. It’s also very much at the forefront of contemporary coaching philosophies. They change. The need to decide stuff arguably doesn’t.

Vincey, come out and tell us: what’s been said?