And so it begins.

And so it begins. England (and Wales) under the frequently outstanding leadership of one of the world’s great but possibly most under-appreciated female players – Heather Knight –  enter the ring. They enter with some expectation draped around them; England are surely one of three major contenders for the tournament, alongside the hosts, Australia, and India.

After the extraordinary opening game of this #T20WorldCup it feels again like the odds have narrowed: deliciously so. The third defeat for the Southern Stars in fifteen days being something of a jolt not just to them, but to the whole course of the conversation. Australia *really are beatable*. The likely procession really may not be so simple. It makes for a better tournament, surely?

We all knew that the alleged nature of T20 predisposes towards a greater possibility for crazy, fate-defying drama: that allegation – not without its flaws – proved true (or as true as anything) with an Indian win, in the opening fixture. A win that was something of a horror-show for the Aussies. All Out, with just two players passing double-figures. More than that, perhaps, All Out shell-shocked. What a way to begin.

So England and India are entitled. They know, now, that they really are contenders; because they are the other world powers and because Australia are flawed, too. In a tournament that may, unfortunately be somewhat blighted by nerves and under-achievement (god I hope not!), the unpeeling of legitimate Aussie pomp opened up, from the outset, all manner of wonderful opportunities: who though, can take them?

England are strongish and well organised. They have nevertheless also shown a softish underbelly, a propensity for collapses in confidence, but often Knight’s resilience has seen them through – if not solo, then alongside the gutsiness exemplified by Brunt and/or the sheer threat posed by the young off-spinner, Ecclestone. Throw in Beaumont’s brightness and Wyatt’s flair and yes, England are strongish… but things can go either way.

They should be too strong for today’s opponents, South Africa.

Having watched Eng v Women Proteas shorter-format fixtures live over the last year or two, my central memory is that there remains a distance between them, in terms of around quality: not a chasm, but a meaningful gap, in England’s favour. The question will therefore be whether the sprint that is T20 might be dominated by an individual, to the exclusion of the normal, regular, predictable measures of team performance.

Is it possible that Lee, or Wolvaardt, or Kapp could do something irresistible? Of course it is. Strap in.

 

Van Niekerk wins the toss and inserts England, predictably. The England line-up is stacked with batting, again, with Beaumont likely to come in down the order – again. Glenn and Ecclestone will provide their spin.

Jones and Wyatt, who have both been struggling for form, stride out. Interestingly, Mlaba – left-arm spin – will open. Nice, challenging idea but the third delivery is a poor full-toss, dispatched for four, then Jones follows with a peach of a lofted straight drive. Encouraging start, for England – nine off the over.

Now it’s the mighty Kapp; experienced and often formidable. She beats Jones, first up but again the England opener replies, driving uppishly but safely through midwicket for four. 13 for 0 after 2. Finally, Wyatt will get to face.

Now, enter Ismail – one of the swiftest bowlers around. Wyatt drives solidly for one. Then Jones cuts nicely for four more; good start, from her, so far. Apropos bugger all, quite nice to have Alan Wilkins on comms. Jones not middling everything – and things going a little ‘aerial’ but 21 for 0 off 3 is good. Jones has 20 of them.

But Jones miscues Kapp and is caught, easily, at mid-off. The pace of her knock was fine, again, but again she has been dismissed a tad sloppily. She needs to do more; lots of twenties but too few innings getting built. Enter Sciver.

Aaaaargh. Wyatt promptly follows, infuriatingly. Yet again, she pumps a very poor, wide, over-full delivery from Khaka, to point. Awful dismissal and another failure, from what seemed a promising beginning. Yet again, Knight comes in to salvage a potential problem period. Chaka is visibly lifted – as are the South Africans generally – and England’s best two must gather. 28 for 2, after 5.

Conditions: the pitch looks true. Some taper in the air, for Khaka and Kapp, certainly, but it’s looking conducive to decent scoring – meaning 140/150, ideally, I’m guessing(?) 130 already looking more realistic.

Power play score of 31 for 2 is lowish, courtesy those dismissals, so Knight and Sciver will need to accelerate soonish. My personal view is that the Jones/Wyatt combo cannot continue to fail with impunity. Get Beaumont back in there.

Sciver club-drives Khaka for four, a welcome release. The fielders looking sharp. Mild pressure from the Proteas. Van Niekerk will bowl the 9th.

Knight attacks. She booms downtown but perhaps under-estimates the athleticism of Ismail, who takes a fine, running catch. BIG MOMENT. Huge requirement for Sciver to perform, now. She is joined by Wilson, who has impressed, of late, fortunately. Important moment in the game.

Wilson living dangerously, by repeatedly sweeping Mlaba and then dancing down and missing by miles. The keeper couldn’t gather: more pressure. England ‘doing an Australia’, here – looking scrambled.

Sciver gets a freebie, an awful full-toss from Mlaba which she can swing over mid-on. 50 up after 10, but this means there’s much work to do, for England. The concern may be that of the remaining batters, only Sciver feels truly explosive. Or rather the likes of Beaumont and Brunt may not be able to sustain a real assault – which may be necessary. If not that, a brilliant performance in the field becomes essential: meaning pressure. (In truth this feels a likely scenario: England under-achieve with the bat but come through with a good bowling effort).

With England at a relatively measly 60, after 12 overs, a tense affair seems inevitable. Note Knight seems to operate well, under those circumstances – as do her principal bowlers. Meanwhile Wilson and Sciver, without really flowing, continue to nudge England forward.

Ismail will bowl the 14th over – her third. Boundaries remain a rarity: meaning the England coaching staff may be considering changes in batting order. Ismail is cramping Sciver with some skill. 69 for 3 at the end of the over. Ouch. Major work required.

Van Niekerk has only conceded 13 from her first three overs; she will bowl out, now. She claims Wilson, who simply lacks the power (and/or timing) to drive for six, over the onside. Ismail takes another simple catch. On the plus side, this brings in the bullish Brunt. 72 for 4… and trouble?

Sciver smashes Mlaba for six, then four. Brunt must join in. They must get ten an over – to post 130-odd, you would think.

Sciver cheekily lifts Khaka over the keeper. Brunt is scurrying with intent. Better, from England. 98 for 4 off 17. Genuinely solid performance, this, however, from South Africa.

As I say this they fluff a fairly straight-forward run-out opportunity, after a great throw from Kapp: awkward but not gathered, allowing the dive to render Sciver safe.

Ismail claims Brunt, slashing a bouncer to the fielder. England pass the 100. Can Sciver and Beaumont burst for the line?

No. Chaka bowls a peach of a slower-ball/leg-cutter to bewitch her and clatter the off-stick. Great ball and a fine innings – 50 – by far the most significant contribution of the England innings, from the tall, talented and increasingly influential number 3.

Winfield goes promptly, caught behind square off Khaka, who by now has 3 for 25. Kapp will bowl the last, with England at 115 for 7. Beaumont strikes her for four, before attempting to charge a bouncer! Dot ball. Then an lbw review , for a delivery which strikes the admittedly diminutive batter’s hip. High? Nope. Out.

Two new batters, then, in Shrubsole and Ecclestone. No further dramas. England finish on 123 for 8. Substantially below par but credit the Proteas for an excellent, consistent display. Think the game is probably still live but England behind in the game, no question. If one or more of the South Africans get in – look out.

Final thought over the break: genuinely hope that ‘under-achievement’ doesn’t become too prevalent a theme, in this tournament. Nerves overcoming talent can be dramatic, of course, but if repeated, it can undermine the legitimacy of elite sport.

Shrubsole, inevitably, for England. Second ball(!) Lee swings and escapes, with a miscued skier, straightish. Appreciable inswing evident; just three from the over. Now Brunt. She gets outswing. Good over – big appeal, come the last ball but we are at 5 for 0 after 2.

Van Niekerk is fortunate, to survive an awful hack on the charge but Lee lacks similar good fortune. She miscues to Winfield and in truth it felt imminent, given the rather reckless approach, early on, from both Proteas openers. Shrubsole already looks on it. 6 for 1 after 3.

Kapp has joined van Niekerk. Sciver will bowl to the former. Good over but she will be forgiven for thinking Winfield might have done better with a lofted drive from Kapp. Catchable, for a great athlete – Winfield palmed it for four.

Shrubsole continues into her third over. Wow. Van Niekerk absolutely booms her over midwicket, for a mighty, mighty six. She follows that with a slightly streaky four forward of square leg. Good come-back, from South Africa. 21 for 1 from 5.

Brunt will return to conclude the power-play. Fine over but Kapp drives square, beautifully, on the up, to close it out. Ecclestone will bowl the 7th.

The Winfield ‘drop’ feeling biggish, as the Proteas settle, a touch. (They hardly have to race at this. They have limited batting strength so it’s imperative for England to take wickets. South Africa have only to retain their composure… and build a partnership or two). Nasser Hussain on comms putting the opposite view – that they should maybe get themselves ahead of the run rate – but this is a lowish total. Composure, for me, is the key.

Glenn, then Sciver. A quietish moment. Kapp and Van Niekerk are in – 19 and 22, respectively – as we reach 47 for 1 after 9. Glenn again.

Tidy enough but something needs to give. Fifty up and a rare misfield from Brunt. 54 for 1 – England were three down, at the same stage. It’s England who need some drama. Ecclestone, to spear them in.

Kapp gets Glenn away, the leg spinner dropping a little short and offering just enough width to open up the covers. Four. Glenn is getting just a smidge of turn, on occasion, but hardly threatening. 66 for 1 after 12: importantly, the run rate has just lifted to 7.4. Key phase – in comes Brunt once more.

It’s a strange, cautious affair: England focused (but not inspired); South Africa watchful. Fran Wilson makes a superb stop to deny Kapp a four, off Sciver – maybe that might lift the bowling unit? It’s tight. 74 for 1 after 14. 50 needed off 36.

Shrubsole, again. Bowling ver-ry straight. Van Niekerk miscues but again finds the wide open spaces. Run rate over 8. South Africa need a boundary and the captain finds it, sweeping for six – the second time Shrubsole’s been dispatched. 11 from the over. It’s tight.

Van Niekerk goes after Glenn; the first ball goes over extra cover for four. But what’s this? Glenn has Kapp with a simple return catch. Good innings of 38; deliciously, none of us can tell if it will be enough. The young Tryon joins van Niekerk.

Immediately, Ecclestone gets the South African opener, flashing rather lazily to point. That really is a moment. Two brand new batters at the crease. “Wicket dot dot. Wicket dot dot”, confirms Nasser. Great over – 91 for 3, with the required rate suddenly up at 11. 33 from 18, to be precise.

Oof –  a streaky four, through the keeper, Jones. Then two mishits – one safe, one behind, for four. South Africa riding their luck: and again, as Winfield drops what appears to be a sitter. (Only explicable if she genuinely didn’t pick it up: but her earlier drop makes one think she rather lost her nerve, as well as her bearings). She is a rather wooden fielder, unfortunately.

Ecclestone will bowl the penultimate over. Yet again a mishit from Tryon falls safe. There are a lot of jangled nerve-ends, out there. (And in here).

Finally, Tryon connects. Six. Following ball, Jones fluffs a stumping chance. Ball after – bowled. Out-standing, from Ecclestone, under hugely testing circumstances. Nine needed from the last, with Brunt to steam in. Who knows, who knows?

A single just about scuttled. Eight from five. Brunt goes leg-side; another single. Third ball… du Preez booms over midwicket for six! Then a full-bunger, dispatched! THE PROTEAS ARE THERE!! A tense, tense game, with another shock result: England beaten.

Initial reaction, after congratulating the South Africans for a pret-ty complete performance, is that again, following the defeat of Australia by India, this adds real edge, early doors, to the competition. This must be good. England must now execute (as they say) without further significant error.

Arguably, unlike the Australian’s poor effort, this was not a spectacular down-turn in performance, not freakishly skittish; it just wasn’t good enough, from Heather Knight’s side. Strategy-wise, despite theoretically packing the batting, England fell well short. Wyatt and Jones both, ultimately, failed again – or failed to go on  – and momentum never developed, against some good bowling from Khaka, Kapp and co.

For me Beaumont at six has always been a nonsense and I call again for her to go back up top. Sure, Tammy can ‘finish’, she can do the 360 scurry; but she is a proven opener and, critically, she will throw her wicket away a whole lot less cheaply than either Wyatt or Jones, if given that responsibility. The new coach (Lisa Keightley) has overthunk this: there *should be* consequences for serial failure – especially when the dismissals are so frequently so crass. Beaumont goes back to open with one of the incumbents dropping into a dasher/finisher role.

But hey – all of that is with my England fan’s head on. Let’s conclude with a closing word or two about South Africa. Great win, for them – an almost flawless performance in the field, in particular. Congratulations.

 

The Big Dance.

So Oz fell over: or, o-kaaay, stumbled. At the all-dancing opener to a hugely anticipated T20 World Cup, in front of a crowd of 13,000-plus, the Southern Stars tripped where they had been expected to sashay in style.

India – India whom we knew were a threat, but India the ‘not-that-great in the field’ – beat them, ultimately with some ease, as a truly poor Australian batting performance degenerated into the female equivalent of a Dad Dance. Ugly-ish; un-coordinated; arrhythmic.

Those of us confined to grey, sodden West-Walian climes at least had the prospect of a helpful, brekkie-time watch. (Those of us recovering from an op’ and therefore *not actually in work* had, in fact, the opportunity to enjoy the whole whatever-it-was. And it was… what?)

It was smile-inducing, at about 7.30, Greenwich. Daft and colourful and good-natured, with some young bloke in a near-Hawaiian shirt imploring us to (you guessed it) “get up and da-ance”. I didn’t, but felt suitably buoyant, as I rushed the family porridge and swished through the weekly recycling trauma, with the front door kissing hard in the wind and the bin-men grinding ominously down the road.

Finally set, about the same time as the Indian openers, I eagerly awaited the evocative words “Molly Strano” on a loop from the various comms-peeps; for the craic, the sheer, extravagant 0z-ness of it. Molly Strano. Great name. Huge shame, for the injured Vlaminck, of course but Moll…

The game, the game, though: likely to be proper-competitive but ending with a home win – the Southern Stars being unquestionably the strongest side in the tournament and India being yes, a threat, but also something of a squad on the up, rather than yaknow, complete. India… facing Molly Strano.

Then multiple wowsers. The powerful prodigy that is Verma intercedes early, across our expectations. Strano and then Perry may not be *actually dismissed* but they are a tad stung, as the young opener clouts and cuts in the power-play. Her theoretically senior partner, Mandhana, can quietly prod away as the explosive youth bolts the innings forward: 40 for 0 off 4. Indian support going ballistic; Lanning looking a little concerned, perhaps?

But then, inevitably, Australia do their thing. Mandhana – who never got going – is lbw to Jonassen and Verma is picked up at mid-on, off Perry. The left-arm offie has turned nothing, as usual but her deadly consistency and commendable nous, combined with good length from Perry, has stalled any potential charge. Normal service.

42 for 3 becomes 47 for 3 when that other Indian Superstar, the captain, Harmanpreet Kaur charges wildly at Jonassen, in pursuit of a ‘statement’. It’s a crass error and a crass dismissal, as the ball smooths past the unsightly heave before defeating Healy’s glove… a-and dribbling back from her pad to hit the stumps. Shocker. I thought the game might have gone, right there.

Instead Rodrigues and Sharma re-build – stoically rather than emphatically, in truth. Sharma remains undefeated on 49 at the close of innings, supported by a muted 9 from Krishnamurthy. The total of 132 for 4 feels twenty short.

Rodrigues made 26 off 33 and Verma 29 from 15. In short, on a slowish but not apparently turn-tastic strip, you imagined a comparatively uninspired India behind in the game, particularly as Australia bowl and field better, traditionally. Perhaps wiser to put this the other way – that India’s fielding is ordinary and their bowling may rely on a pitch more helpful than this one. Maybe.

As Healy starts up, looking if not imperious then closer to her pugnacious best than of late, the signs are that though the Indian spinners might make this competitive, Australia will simply have too much. But hang on. Without, in my view, the visitors bowling bewildering beauties, Mooney, Lanning, Haynes, find themselves back in the pavilion. For 6, 5 and 6, respectively. Yes but this only brings in Perry, right? Perry makes 0.

Not in any way looking to denigrate a good bowling performance, here. The impishly wonderful Poona Yadav finished with 4 for 19 from her 4 overs; I loved that. Likewise Sharma and Shikha Pandey (who took 3 for 14 off 3.5) deserve bundles of credit. It’s just that The Story felt very much about a) a defeat for Aus and b) specifically, the opening up of a frailty we maybe thought this undeniably accomplished Southern Stars Posse had grown through. They were, in short, nervy and deeply vulnerable under pressure; some of them shockingly so. And this was their third T20 defeat in the last 15 days.

Healy made 51 and Gardener 34. Yet even Gardener, known for her dynamism and god-given ability to GO BIG, under pressure, rather fizzled. Take away those 85 runs and the contribution of the rest is exposed: 28 from t’other eight batters. All out, 115. Wow.

So this was an extraordinary start – many might argue an ideal start in terms of opening up the tournament. Australia will likely still go through but they will have to be positive-aggressive (who-knows, run-rate may be important) and they will probably have to beat New Zealand, as well as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Excitingly then, it’s immediately all kinds of tasty, in Group A: the Almost Unbeatables got beat. And whilst we know that theoretically T20 is the format where expectation can be brutally usurped, and we’re at some level prepared for that, the extent to which Australia fluffed/bottled or misplaced it – whatever it is – means we’re already into something that feels new. The adrenalin is pumping nicely.

When their outstanding captain Harmanpreet Kaur threw away her wicket, leaving India at not many for 3, having lost their two most essential (nay iconic) players, this scenario did not seem likely. Perry, Lanning, Healy and co with the proverbial ‘work to do?’ Surely not. Aus have way too much quality. Aus bat long and bat with intent.

Not sure anybody expects India to go on and win this at a cruise as a result of this one, relative upset – England may have something to say about that, for starters – but clearly Yadav and Verma have put delicious wee markers down. “We’re here! Come, watch us dancing.”

 

 

 

 

 

Hunches.

Ok some hunches – you know hunches, you *luuuurvv* hunches, right? Moments of crash-bang-walloptastic insight offered up only to you, by the gods of knowledge, because your instincts (yes, you and only you!) – are fab-yoo-luss.

Only you could see that she/he had to go with the off-spinner, or should nev-ver have swept off that length because you could see what was gonna happen. Plain as, that this pitch makes a nonsense of ‘positivity’; that this pre-meditation was unnecessary madness. So have to say something.

Hunches are about knowing what will happen – what the destiny of these things was – but also swilling the juicy juice of opinion around. Joining with the banter; getting disproportionate and daft and earnest and noisy, maybe. But knowing all along that you may be talking utter cobblers.

So, doesn’t matter that there’s an inevitable smattering of opprobriating “ahs”, when you’re wrong. When the offie bowls, predictably, like a donkey but then claims the critical scalp. The hunch was precious and invigorating, to you and to the beer snake that is the raillery around it. Maan, you meant it; maaan you were wrong; cheers – onwards.

Hunches, predictions, forecasts, opinion. What a great way of showing off, exposing yourself, joining the can-can. Here’s some around England Women Cricket, following last night’s win against India. (May write about the *actual game*, later – if the energy holds.

  • Amy Jones. Will be, or should be somewhat troubled by her trot of form. (12 runs in 3 innings, I think). And more so because she keeps getting out ‘badly’. However the new coach has worked with her prior to her England gig, (WBBL) and will therefore hopefully know her and what makes her tick. Reckon therefore, that because Jones a) can play – can be dynamic and even dominant – and b) she can ‘keep, my hunch is she stays.
  • Whether she stays as an opener, with or without Wyatt, may be another question. Plainly the thinking is that because Knight (in particular) is wonderfully consistent, having backbone, maturity and increasingly the capacity to rescue-through-charging, relative flakiness – i.e. Jones, Wyatt – can be tolerated ahead of her. I also note that the presence of the generally redoubtable Beaumont also enables higher-risk cricket up front.
  • So, both Jones and Wyatt stay in the T20 side, for the upcoming World Cup; both may be a tad fortunate, but they are both what we hunchers call ‘players’.
  •  If we take it that the promotion of Brunt was very much a temporary measure – to try to break up the Indians’ plans for control – then what’s the batting line-up going to be, come that tournament?
  • I really might reinstate Beaumont as an opener (we can’t keep ‘recovering’) and drop Jones down. Wyatt and Beaumont, followed by Sciver, Knight, Jones. (Actually think there’s a case for Knight ahead of Sciver, who is less stoic and less reliable than her skipper – or certainly feels it, in that familiar 30 for 3 zone. Hang on… think Sciver warrants a hunch – maybe a techno-hunch – of her own.
  • Nat Sciver may be England’s best all-round athlete. You have to rate her for the whole package. But (just me?) or does it feel like given that spectacular raw material, she is marginally under-achieving?
  • Batting-wise, her way of playing is to play through the leg-side. She swishes (I know, pejorative) across the line pret-ty constantly, often to great effect, because she has talent and timing and can therefore a) ‘get away with it’ b) pierce the field, such is her level of control: (usually).
  • Now of course the traditionally-received wisdom is that against high quality bowling, playing across the line is likely to prove risky. And that Sciver’s bat-swing, itself, being so frequently in or close to pull-shot-mode, is likely to make her vulnerable to miscues, as well as being lbw or bowled. The modern game profoundly challenges this wisdom: but my hunch remains that Sciver will be intermittently spectacular rather than consistently, durably brilliant at international level. In short, she may not be an ideal 3, or even 4, in a team that starts with a stutter.
  • Knight likes 4, I think, and she’s probably earned the right to choose. Hmm. Maybe then, in a World Cup Beaumont really should get that opening slot back, to fix at least two relative bankers in the top four. (Wyatt and Jones being fine players… but not bankers, right?) Meaning my choice would be Beaumont, Wyatt, Sciver (with some misgivings) and Knight, top four. Followed by either Jones, or Wilson – who is finding some nice form at a good time.
  • Über-hunch, however is that Keightley will stay with Wyatt, Jones, Sciver, Knight, Wilson but this may be subject to what happens in the second Tri-nations fixture against Australia and then in the final of that mini-tournament – which I expect England to be contesting.
  • World Cup-wise, England’s fixtures run South Africa, Thailand, Pakistan, West Indies in the first phase of the tournament. So full team/best team out from the off and maybe not much scope for tinkering other than in the Thailand fixture, where you wouldn’t rule out a throughly guns-blazing approach.
  • But this is all batting. What else?
  • Let’s talk about pitches – or the pitches. So far, the Tri-nations, as so-o often in the women’s game – has featured lifeless matts. Seamers bowling ‘variations’, cos no pace or carry. Spinners getting a little help, maybe, but generally slowish, medium-grippy affairs. I kinda hope that for the sheer lols of it, the Aussies have a secret plan to show us these bland carpets before unleashing some zingtastic strips that will make Vlaeminck thrillingly unplayable in the World Cup. But that’s more a hope than a hunch.
  • Bowling-wise, England have most bases covered, barring the express pace one – although they are hardly alone on that. Selection will chiefly a matter of how many seamers, given the pitch conditions. I like Glenn, the leg-spinner, like the variation and wicket-taking potential her selection might bring, but she may lose out more often than not – probably to Davies, who will join Brunt and Shrubsole on the seamers’ roster.
  • Ecclestone’s general excellence and threat now being established, she must play in all cases. Sciver and Knight will no doubt make their contributions. As a bowling unit, even where conditions may not entirely suit, England have tended to compete grittily and well – very much in the image of the skipper.
  • The third discipline – fielding. Only Australia get close to England’s increasingly focused level. Yes there will be some errors but these are fewer and more heavily offset by a strong, consistent attention – to intention.
  • Wilson, Wyatt and Sciver are often brilliant, Brunt is brave and fixated and the general, professional vibe continues to improve. There is committed strategy and mostly good athleticism and improving catching in the field. Australia are at a a ver-ry similar level, arguably higher but even the other leading nations – principally West Indies and India – are significantly behind, giving the two Ashes foes a powerful advantage going into the tournament proper.
  • Expect an England Australia Tri-nations final… and for one of them to be crowned World T20 Champions on the 8th of March. Oz rightly favourites but England may be shaping up to be legitimate contenders. Hunch? They might win it!

 

One memory from an ordinary game. Brunt, bowling, really not liking a return catch that hurt the hand… then catching a dolly back to her the following ball. Roaring, intimidatingly loudly, to the skies, to the universe, to the batter – though not quite at her – as Krishnamurthy departs. Tough competitor.

 Maybe a second – Also involving Brunt. Sciver – her fiancé, remember? – plays Sharma rather beautifully and straight. As the bowler falls into her follow-through, she gets something on the ball… which ricochets inevitably onto the stumps… running out The Intended One, by a mile. Ah.

No hiding from the fact that this was no thriller: some decent quality from Sciver, during the chase for a low total – 123 for 6. Winfield rather laboured the ball, uppishly, towards mid-off, to win the game, ultimately. She should have been caught. Walking off, or reflecting, both sides will be thinking “we need to be better than this”.

Wot, no Kiwis? Australia v England. Women’s T20 international.

England are batting and Perry will bowl four straight, with predictably excellent control. The visitors persist with the somewhat under-pressure Jones, and the slighter but notably athletic and always-positive Wyatt.

Perry stifles Jones in particular, with Wyatt looking both dynamic and slightly vulnerable, (as per, arguably). The Southern Star’s über-star will finish her spell, absurdly, with 1 for 9 off 4, and with England seemingly flummoxed. Wyatt is Perry’s one wicket, brilliantly caught by Mooney, with the opener playing uppishly through cover-point: another poorish dismissal, from the England point of view.

There is a similarly disappointing end for Jones. She has made a ver-ry scratchy 10 off 24 balls when run out. Exceptional fielding, in truth, from Jonassen but pressure plainly did for the opener again – an unnecessary scramble speaking of scrambled minds.

Have said before that I rate Amy Jones; having seen her live several times her power and confidence can really flow, making her a genuine candidate for a top-of-the-order spot. But she is appearing a tad unfocused, frail, even – a tad close to playing herself out of the team. One can argue either she needs ‘a rest’, or that the coaching team need to get around her.

Sciver is possibly under-achieving, too, though not under threat of de-selection. A fine athlete and all-rounder, in at three, with perhaps a little to prove to justify that ranking. Facts don’t ever reveal everything but try these: Sciver is out for 4 off 9 balls and England are 39 for 3 after 8.4 overs at the moment of her dismissal, caught Perry, skying, at mid-off.

The power-play overs were disastrous, then, for England, or seemed to be, until Knight got a hold on this. She is lucky to escape after skying Wareham but soonish, as so often, the skipper wills a way back. Knight will need to find a partner for the rebuild: on this occasion, it will be Wilson. From 3 for not much, the two of them get to 3 for 90 (as the Aussie commentators have it) at 15 overs.

Schutt and Kimmince lead out the death overs. Hugely encouragingly for England, Knight and Wilson continue their charge, hitting hard, skilfully and with intent.

Jonassen, the left-arm offie, will bowl the 18th. No let-up. Wilson goes to 20 runs off 8 balls in a fine, dynamic streak; at the other end the skipper promptly gets to 50, off Kimmince. It’s a dream of a pitch for the batters but this is still Australia; they are helpless, it seems.

Schutt drops Wilson and then Knight clouts her for six twice in the final over. This is potentially important stuff: the best team in the world getting unceremoniously unpicked, in the second half of the game.

Finally Knight is caught for a magnificent 78 – her highest T20 score. Meanwhile the psychological stuff feels as meaningful as the 158 on the board.

Wilson has landed and finishes on 39 not out. Her captain has again sent out the strong message that she is not only an accomplished, determined bat, but has developed herself into a player capable of sustained aggression against this – the best bowling attack on the planet.

The reply. Davies is in for the injured Shrubsole. Healy welcomes her with two boundaries but then miscues to mid-off, where Brunt retreats to take a controlled catch.

Gardner joins Mooney. She smashes hard at Wilson, at point, where the fielder stops, superbly, before throwing to the wrong end: Gardner would have been stranded by a distance had the throw arrowed back to the keeper. Mooney and Gardner build.

Rightly, Knight is ringing the changes – these are good batters, threatening to wrestle the initiative early, very much in the Australian tradition. But Glenn claims Gardner when Knight pouches a steepler. A good, competitive game is brewing, here: Australia have lots of batting, mind – Lanning is in.

She cannot persist; out for a single, edging Ecclestone painfully on. Australia three down… but this means Perry and Mooney is looking ominously set.

Perry makes a solid start but Glenn has her leg before for 18. And when Haynes steers the England leggie straight back for a simple caught and bowled, Australia are wobbling materially.

When Sciver draws a stumping, Brunt takes a stunning catch teetering over the rope and Australia find themselves needing eleven an over with just three batters remaining, this seems over. Sutherland has other ideas.

Her partner Wareham makes a smallish contribution – six – before being bowled but the youngster blazes fearlessly on. What follows is one of those fabulous periods where everything but the batter becomes an irrelevance. She is in. She will hit. The total will come to her, whatever.

18 off 8 becomes 8 off 5, becomes a Super over! Absolutely stunning stuff from the young Australian seamer, on debut. She had no right to fetch the contest back from where her team – senior players, all and worldies, mostly – had landed her. Wonderful sport for the neutral and enjoyable (kindof) for the rest of us.

So a Super Over with no Kiwis! Should reduce the level of tragedy to something bearable, at least(?) Let’s see.

Ecclestone will bowl, for England. First ball is a potential stumping – not out. Not sure if the delay unsettles Healy and Gardner, or whether we can entirely credit Ecclestone, but the Southern Stars struggle, rather, to lay a glove on the bowling. Some nerves there, surely, but surprisingly little in the way of clean, confident hitting.

Fair play to the young off-spinner for holding her nerve, she remains a relative newcomer herself – twenty years of age. To have been chosen for this responsibility, as a slow left-armer, in this moment, versus this Australia, speaks volumes. Ecclestone, despite being an ordinary fielder, would probably drop into most peoples’ World XI, I reckon: possibly alongside just her skipper, from this England side. So some bowler.

Australia, scuttling rather than blasting, make eight, leaving Knight and Wyatt with nine for victory.

Perry, naturally. Knight scuffs a single, as does Wyatt, before the captain connects twice, consecutively. Single; single; four; four. And a roar of delight. Heather Knight; captain fantastic, again.

After the mild disappointment of their defeat to India yesterday, in a game they will feel they should have won, this will feel invigorating to all in the England camp. The two days have shown them to be an organised and improving outfit in the field – significantly better than India and maybe now right up alongside today’s opposition – and, crucially, capable of competing in terms of durability and dynamism, with those Southern Stars.

There are inevitably things to work on; chiefly the tendency to gift too many cheapish wickets through poor shot selection &/or execution but the Wilson innings and the win, the win(!), alongside Knight’s further, emphatic statement of quality augur well. I suspect some consideration of Jones’s position may arise, potentially, with Beaumont returning to an opening slot, but hey, after a win against the Aussies maybe Lisa Keightley (an Aussie herself, of course) will opt for a cool beer, a smile and a dance round the barbie.

Highlights Reel, as does the memory. Universe Podcast looks back on a year of cricket – mine, 2019.

A meander through my personal highlights, with particular attention on the games I actually attended. Vaguely chronological but with the inevitable @cricketmanwales-stylee diversions.

So, unreliable memories around both England men and women’s international fixtures, plus KSL and Blast19 stuff. Some thoughts on coaching – on the England men’s batting – and ‘philosophical’ notions around approach and responsibility. Finally, I fall into a realisation that my ‘Day of the Year’ may have been…

well go listen and find out. And please do RT if you find it at all listenable.

 

*Note: plank that I am I started to say something about Sophie Ecclestone but then drifted. What I was going to add was that she is clearly a talent – already our (England’s) go to bowler when Knight needs to make something happen. (Not bad for a 19/20 yr-old). She isn’t a great fielder but one of my abiding memories of a difficult Women’s Ashes for England was that Ecclestone offers something.

Simmer Down.

Same squad. Did you groan or nod knowingly? You in the  Loyalty Camp or the Give the Arrogant Buggers a Short Sharp Shock Department?

As with (dare I say it?) a particular current political issue, voices are being raised – rather more than perspicacious argument. Things are polarised: why would this be, I wonder?

a) Because we care about England Cricket – Test Cricket. How it’s curated and organised, even.

b) We (to quote a bloggist of some occasional repute) All Know Better than the England Coach.

And of course c) because we’re all on twitter.

So, some arguments, 👇🏻 I hope.

England have lost the Ashes, or at least the Aussies have retained them, convincingly, being unarguably the better side. In today’s real world, this means that an inquest is inevitable.

(This is not the same as to say that said inquest wouldn’t have happened in times past: it just wouldn’t have happened at the same transparently foamtastic pitch).

I mention this because it may be instructive to all of us to reflect on how much bawling, actually, is appropriate and necessary and proportionate, here. And because I am preparing to battle against my own, broiling prejudices, right now.

England – manifestly pret-ty ordinary at test cricket England, yes? – have been beaten. Live with it, or view it with interested non-volcanism before discussing amongst peers? How’s that for a thought?

Except no. England – m.p.o.a.t.c. England – have been beaten at home, by a relatively average Australia, despite literally changing the ball to make sure things went their way. Plus *that sense* that our lot might be (whisper it) prima donnas, the ab-so-lute jessies!  None of the idle, cosseted bass-teds can be bothered ta learn the forward-bloody-defensive!

This is how it starts, yes? I mean IS YOUR MOMENTUM BUILDING BECAUSE MINE SURE AS HELL IS!!

Ahem. Look it was the Ashes. Australia were unspectacular – other than a couple of guys – and we, England, had just, in orgasmically scream-your-head-off hysteria, only gone and WON THE BLOODY WORLD CUP!! And yet!

Okay. No more capitals, I promise. Let’s try to find an argument or twelve. Let’s start with the Anderson Thing – the ball.

If opting to play at Edgbaston first was Phase 1 of the Grand Ashes Plan then Phase 2 was when England reverted to what they hoped would be Anderson-friendly Dukes’ balls, of a certain vintage – plainly to try and gain a wee advantage over our visiting cousins.

Naturally, other seamers might well have also benefitted from these air-dancing beauties but in James Anderson England will have believed they had the greatest exponent of swing bowling of these particular pills, in the history of the universe.

They will have banked on him being raw unplayable at Edgbaston – to kickstart the Ashes campaign – and probably also at Headingley and Old Trafford. And this would sort Ausbloodystralia, Smith included. And then there was suddenly no Jimmy.

(There is a counter-thread, as always, here. Folks always seek advantages and yup, all of us are tribal. Early doors, for example, Australia rather cutely inserted several key players into our County Championship: handy-enough dress-rehearsal time, perfectly legit. Should we be counting, might that acclimatisation make it one-all, would you say?  Certainly qualifies as a Cunning Plan. But hey, the games beyond the games are endless – maybe that’s another post?)

But back to the England Squad, selected today, for the final test, at the Oval. Same squad, a zillion possible meanings.

Does it mean that Bayliss and Root and Ed Smith (and Graham Thorpe if he’s still in position) are bonkers-in-love or thrall with Rooooot (as captain) and Bairstow and Buttler as Established Players? Maybe.

Does it mean that Foakes and Curran and the likes of Sibley and Pope are being cruelly under-considered? Maybe. Or there may be perfectly mature and viable discussions going on. Or rank delusion and selfishness and feeble eschewal of responsibility? All this is possible; as is the notion that Smith might be a kind of occasionally-inspired but controlling fascist-in-shades.

Where then, to start? With Root. Batting less convincing, captaincy mixed: that the consensus? So – in the absence of obvious candidates, maybe? – he stays as skipper, shortish-term and gets shifted back to batting at four. But he is, or continues to be – for want of a better phrase – on trial, in respect of his captaincy. This means other stuff.

(Let’s stick with the hypothetical line-up rather than the culture. And kindof ignore or subsume the horses-for-courses considerations around the next fixtures that might colour decision-making and selection).

Bairstow and possibly Buttler get dropped, with the expectation that they will, in time, having shown excellence in County Championship, be ‘restored’. If they don’t show the technique and the hunger for the longer format, then hey, maybe they are White Ball Players – job done. Foakes, widely regarded as the best ‘keeper on the planet and, having already shown what I am crassly going to call test mentality, gets in.

As, quite possibly does Curran, who despite his lack of killer pace has shown more born-to-it, test-winning mentality than almost anybody for a decade, in the short time he’s been on the scene. Curran, with his starry, gutsy, implacable brilliance only stays out of an absolute worldie of a team; a team waaaay better than this England; or a team playing a test in which you absolutely know he won’t bowl.

Weirdly – or not- this mini-clear-out, as well as sending important messages around complacency and competition, also repositions the coaching philosophy towards recognition for those who seem to get test cricket – those who have temperament. Meaning Leach and Overton earn the right to regular inclusion, or regular, meaningful consideration.

I could write thousands of words about Roy – & probably should. Just not now: he goes.

The Roy issue is inseparable from philosophical stuff – batting culture. (Did I say that Thorpe goes? Or is it enough that Ed Smith and possibly the wee man deliver a rocket? This is competitive sport, after all. Obvious failings get addressed). Some may say none of this – his failures – have been Roy’s fault and weirdly there may be some traction in that. However, did the fella not look flukily out of his depth for much of the match against Ireland?

As outsiders, we cannot know what’s been said by Smith, Bayliss, Thorpe, Root, when the “how do we approach this(?)” discussions have taken place, so maybe this culling of key staff is premature. Many would argue that this fuzziness around batting policy has been central to England’s problems… but it’s hard to imagine the actual conversations.

Could be Bayliss has been so-o falling over himself to be Of the Age that he really has been quietly inviting Roy, Bairstow and Buttler to go out there and express themselves. *Barfs into bin*. Could be that Thorpe (he is still in post, yes? Happy to be corrected on this) has been spending lots of time on technical stuff but is essentially saying the same thing.

If these guys actually believe that simplistic, macho nonsense then neither of them has any place being anywhere near an international test side. (Okay, I don’t actually mean that but you know what I mean?)

Thorpe, a fine player and no doubt a fabulous, committed bloke, is on drugs if he thinks that talent and intent make application and temperament redundant, in high-order test batting. (Incidentally I don’t think he does view things that way  but his problem is the players have wafted us in that direction. Problematically).

I am familiar with the idea that coaches now look to offer support to players who themselves take ownership of their   activity. Coaches now barely instruct, barely demonstrate: all this I understand and applaud. However, *if* there is patently a problem both in approach and execution – as there was, in the Ashes, with most of the England batting – then surely it is the job of the coach to facilitate remedies.

This might mean more, focussed, technical work or it might mean an instruction, an expectation, a bollocking. It seems unlikely, given the persistent errors and repetition of brain-fades, that strong enough words or good enough questions were forthcoming. Bayliss is off but Thorpe goes too.

If Roy was selected entirely on the basis that he should ‘believe in his talent and go after the bowling’ (and was told that), this was foolish, arguably arrogant but nevertheless a legitimate approach. It just proved – predictably – non-viable. If he was, as he latterly appeared, unsure of what his role was then this again reflects badly on the coaches, as well as himself. If at no stage did somebody say to the entire batting group ”right. Stay in there! Everybody’s job is just to stay in there”, then well, I give up.

Test Cricket is wonderfully complex. But the central requirement, in certain phases of certain games, to hold, to stall, to ‘survive’ and then re-gather is hardly a difficult one to grasp. Clearly there was some excellent Aussie bowling but I barely know any England (and Wales) supporter who wasn’t a tad embarrassed by the un-smartness of England’s approach. Fans and former players felt that England – that the ECB – have gotten caught out, for disrespecting the test format.

So we will judge according to how mad we got. How infuriated by Roy’s wildness, or Bairstow’s technical-tactical myopia, or Buttler’s gifted non-stickability. And whilst we might grudgingly accept that in life it’s good to get or to offer a second chance, most of us will be raising our eyebrows at a squad unchanged.

 

 

In answer to the question “Where were you?”

Ok so things can be too much. Sun. Alcohol. Events.

And then maybe you can get mixed up.

Who knows, really?

I can already feel the creep of history, or at least that slightly creepy feeling – “where were you?” And I know somewhere down the line I’ll just forget. So maybe this is my document, this is where I mark something.

Ben Stokes. Crazy, wonderful, tattooed euphoria and a free glass of chilled white from young Tom, behind the bar, at KandaBongoMan. In the batty, dusky dark, by the batty oaks and the solemn stones and the cows, actually, and the stage.

Stage? Yes. Empty but still ‘Once in a LIFE-timing’ at us before the band appear.

Band? Yes. Because from Ben Stokes we go here, blasting through the silent uplands (no cars, even though Bank Holiday) to the ridicuvenue, in the ancient valley under Carn Ingli. Then, over a glass, we catch our breath whilst contemplating said cows, said stones.

We can’t believe we’ve seen that. Tom the barman, recognising the All Stars hoodie, asks me did I see it. (I’m guessing he’s mid-twenties: I’m not. He’s saying he may never have seen a better day’s sport in his life, I’m putting it instinctively top three. Then we talk about coaching – he’s played for Llanrhian CC so we’re into family business. I strongly recommend the ECB Coaching Pathway, (honest), tell him to get on it, rapidly and then I confess I did neck the wine, pretty much).

Top three in my lifetime, off the the top of my head. But any need to delve too deep or go through some anal countback-thing? (And erm, can I say that?) What’s to be gained by unpicking the blurry wonder of it?

Bugger I’m torn on this. Do have that deliciously satiated feeling – Stokes is already forever and the minutiae will come back unbidden in joyful time. Sometimes we force when we reflect, yes? Plus the band are on.

So on the one hand I plain refuse to prepare the ground for those “it was right up there with blah di blah” conversations: I forget, anyway! The drama around Stokes – the non-catches, the Lyon’s Fumble, the bent or malfunctioning umpire – stands gloriously, kaleidoscopically alone and in the huddle with the greats, already. It’s seeping in (but) we will remember, individually.

Conversely, I need to see some of this again. How in god’s name did it actually happen? From Buttler/Woakes, how the hell did that happen?

I am dancing with my wife. I am thinking, I am wondering  how it is that spangly guitar and mysteriously ungraspable vocals can sustain such insuperable upfulness. When KandaBongoMan may, for all I know, be singing about vice and trauma.

How can things get so deliciously, defiantly, wonderfully twisted? Could it be, could it actually be that there is something invincible about (yaknow) the human spirit?

Phew. I know nothing and it’s great.

Cobblers.

It’s only sport. Given that I’ve spent most of the last 48 hours doing the family visiting-thing at our local Emergency Unit I should be well-placed to remember that – to engage Philosophically Proportionate Mode. Ain’t always easy, though, eh?

Not when after what feels like a lifetime of trying to click into hospital wifi/phone signal you snatch a buffertastic update or two on the cricket and it unleashes a Ragin’ Fury, near as dammit. (Diversion but… was it Desperate Dan who flew into Ragin’ Furies? Or who? Fluttering right out there at the shadowy extremes, that one). Anyway, one minute we’re eyeballing a heart monitor, the next I’m watching Jason Roy ‘dance down’.

Dance down? Was more like a paralytic meander – a pre-chunder slalom to the pub khazi. With added air-punch. A catastrophically uncool Dad Dance, under a cruelly searching spotlight. (O-kaaay. Did say Ragin’ Fury).

But maybe that’s not how you saw it? Maybe you either drift easily, in that flow of positivity – that ‘this is what he does’ argument, or you really deeply commit to the idea that Roy, having been selected for his brilliance as a gladiatorial, instinctive smiter of absolutely bloody everything anyone slings down at him, is ab-so-lutely entitled to do what it says on his tin.

I say cobblers to that. I could try and be more measured – for fear of sounding reactionary, for fear of losing half my followers, for fear of stirring philoso-hostilities – but that would be a betrayal of my own instinct. Where many are saying ‘express yourself’ I say cobblers. Where that lazy-macho coaching mantra swoops in, defending the gutsiness, the stay-trueness, the incomparable and essential free-spiritedness of the batsman, I say cobblers.

Why? Because not then. Because embarrassingly stupid. Because repercussions on team-mates, because ushering in terminal momentum against. Because there’s an Ashes maybee already on the line. Because Smart Cricket you utter donkey, not mindlessly Positive Cricket.

*However, note not inconsequential footnote to follow…* dude, once you’ve been in there for two hours and have 78 not out and that wonderful eye is in and the game is petering out, then maybe. Maybe clatter that chirpy Australian barsted to the boundary, then.

Expect there were discussions, pre that knock – and probably pre the Roy selection. Fair enough. “Jase, you’re in there to blaze a trail, whenever possible”. But if there were no caveats – cobblers. Ridiculous.

Why? Because Test Cricket: a test over time. Meaning sometimes a test of skill and patience as well as hand-eye.  Meaning bravado can be earned or ‘expressed’, possibly but is measurably, in this genre of the game, more likely to be exposed for the cowardly fraud it so often is. If Root or Bayliss waived away all or any responsibility to contemplate erm, responsibility – cobblers.

The shot itself was a wildish, unbalanced hack. Roy’s exit, sharpish, utterly castled, smacked of humiliation and therefore offered the gift of triumph to the bowler, to Australia – stupid and irresponsible in a moment that calls for intelligence, for smart cricket.

So if Bayliss defends him, out of duff loyalty or (worse still), because Positive Cricket was the agreed approach… cobblers. They have insulted our intelligence. For all that they might argue that their way is the way of courage, it’s the way of the fool who hides behind the easy, unthinking swipe.

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.

Day 3, Taunton. #WomensAshes.

 

Bright, refreshing and loo-king good as we approach start-time, in Taunton. Players out there, enjoying the breezy sunshine: what a bonus it would be, for all of us, to be able to enjoy long periods of play.

The forecast, which has been ‘evolving’ pretty constantly over the hours, is now suggesting – wait for it – a full day’s play! So we may get a match, a contest of some sort, even though we think we know which direction the honours will be heading.

Doom-mongers may possibly be juggling: might England be better slinking away after two more rain-affected days,  as opposed to enduring sustained cricket (and potentially a torrid time) against a roaring Australian attack? Meaning there is an argument that Psychological Damage is in play, here. But whether they stand and fight, as it were, or merely see out the next day or two (with or without meteorological interference), England may suffer a further knock to their collective belief.

My hunch is that rather than do the Sensible But Dangerous Thing – i.e. try from the outset to force the score, because they have to win – England will, when the time comes, inevitably look to settle in during a Trauma Avoidance Phase. (Even given that imperative to get big runs early, is it not human nature, when confronted with the very real possibility of a humiliation, to mitigate against that… a bit? ) 10.54am. We’ll soon find out.

It will be Marsh to Jonassen. We can safely assume it won’t be long before Australian batters *challenge* the England bowling, eh?

Brunt, from beneath us, at the Pavilion End. Quietish. Mooney and Jonassen ‘having a look’, for a bit. As soon as they feel comfortable they must surely launch. Then I might, on the fall of a wicket, throw Gardner in there with licence to go absolutely wild in the jungle – as it were – look to really stick it to England, whilst keeping them hanging on for that declaration.

Not knowing is kindof undermining, yes? All speculation and probably cod-psychology. Loyal followers will know I major in that. 👊🏻

Brunt slaps one in against Mooney. Leg stump. Hits Mooney in the ribs. Next ball is too full and the batter on-drives for four. 349 for 5 at the end of the over. Lots of cloud cover, again.

Imagine Brunt is a player that the opposition (any opposition) loves to hate. But I like her bullish, gruntaciousness – her Fast Bowler Attitude.

As I write this she draws a loose-ish shot, from Jonassen and Sciver takes a sharp catch – yes, a sharp catch! – at gully. Not an earth-shattering moment (repeat, already feels like the game is gone) but a good one, for England. End of the 138th and Australia are 356 for 6 – enter Molineux.

Half-decent runout opportunity – not taken. Marsh, the gatherer, is only ten yards away from the sticks as the batter scrambles. Would have been out. Missed.

Laura Marsh continues, in tandem with Brunt. Mostly tightish, the both of them. Shrubsole is the first change, for Brunt. When she goes full, full, Mooney again drives confidently through mid-on: four more. In bright sunshine, now, with a strongish cross-wind assisting any potential in-swing, for the bowler. 370 for 6.

Undignified miscue, from Molineux, off Shrubsole spirals up and over mid-on, having struck high on the bat. Landed safely. Then Mooney lifts one up and over Ecclestone, again finding the wide-open spaces.

Soon after, England concede four overthrows as Marsh, probably thinking the ball may hit the stumps, allows it to pass. More damagingly, Ecclestone has not backed-up. Have previously identified the young spinner as a relatively weak fielder, I will not revisit that issue again just now.

The debutant Molineux middles a beauty out behind point for four, from Shrubsole. Might that be the sign for her to go up a notch?

Marsh is still there, at the River End and getting a little dip and turn. She is offering a question or two rather than a threat, though, I’d say. Know Australia have a bunch of left-handers but find it notable that Marsh has bowled as many as 33 overs, *so far*.

Ecclestone replaces Shrubsole. Bowls a maiden, including one which although well left, by Molineux, pressured the off-stick. Despite the goodish, consistent work from Marsh, I fancy Ecclestone is a more likely wicket-taker, now. Go figure.

Drinks, at 388 for 6, with 148 overs bowled in the innings.

As we resume, Molineux dances down to Marsh, again slightly miscues the lofted drive but gets enough of it to clear the offside field.

The longer the game goes on, clearly the more urgency affixes to the England response. Think maybe Australia like the sound, the feel of that; it may open the door to the collapse they will be hoping to stir. So on Australia go, with Mooney clouting two successive fours off Ecclestone. We go through the 400 mark.

Fifty partnership is also up, after Molineux beats Knight in the covers. *Do wonder* if it was stoppable but another  nice shot from the young debutant – into her twenties, now.

But no further. Ecclestone beats her with the flight, rocking back, bowled, on 21. Encouraging knock, though, from Molineux. 408 for 7. This brings in Gardner, whom I like as a batter and bowler. She may, if she gets in, be *entertaining*.

Scivers slings an awful one substantially down leg. The breeze may have been a factor… but pretend it didn’t happen?

Mooney rushes then dives through for her fifty. Safe, despite the throw coming in from Brunt. Has played well – intelligently.

Then drama. The batters get the signal to really go. Mooney swings and edges, high, high behind the keeper and behind Amy Jones. But Jones races back intently and clutches on: best bit of fielding we’ve seen. With that excellent catch, Lanning calls her team in, one eye on the time – 12.35ish. Australia have declared on 420 for 8.

We look forward to an intense period… and to seeing the young quick, Vlaeminck, as well as wossername? Perry. And maybe Schutt. England will have a deeply, richly nervy 15 minutes to ‘survive’. Unsurprisingly, it’s going to be Perry, from the River End.

Jones looks tall. She raises that bat characteristically high in the ready position: she can leave the first one. The fourth she tries to clip off the hip, making no contact but offering the chance for a leg-stretch. Bye and England are off.

Fifth ball does for Beaumont, almost. Is full, swings away and the opening bat is lucky, arguably, to miss it. Final delivery is a sharpish bouncer – maybe to *ask questions* of that thumb?

Like Schutt a lot but mildly disappointed that she follows:  we’ll have to wait, for Vlaeminck. However when we see how much in-swing Schutt is getting, it all makes perfect sense. Going to be tough, this, for the locals.

Too right it is. An absolute worldie (from Perry, need I say?) does for the generally wonderful and watchful Beaumont. Swings and nips away, I think, off the pitch, a little. Byootiful ball. Given that Beaumont is often England’s most durable batter, this is a disaster. 1 for 1.

Rightly, maybe, Knight will come in at 3. She will see out that third over – the final one before a no-doubt shell-shocked England retreat to try to force down some fodder. I’ll do the same. We can only reflect on another moment of real quality from Ellyse Perry… and look forward to (or fear) the afternoon/evening sessions. Bon appetit?

Post-lunch, predictably, a quiet period. England’s charge to glory on hold 😉. No, what I mean is, no further wickets. However much Jones and Knight are conscious of that need to come over all over defiantly positive, they are going to sit a while. They do. Australia are persisting with Perry, from the River End and Schutt, with her trademark Adam Ant smear, from the pavilion.

Knight (actually) goes to 15 not out in decent time, off 23 balls and having taken two fours off Perry in the ninth over. Very different shots, too; straight on-drive and lovely easy cut behind point. Dare we say she looks well set? (*Fatal*).

First change is Molineux, for Schutt. She is left-arm, finger-spinning. Bit like Gordon’s action, kindofan eleven o’clock sling. She is followed by Vlaeminck.

She no-balls. Then slaps one ver-ry wide past Healy’s legside dive. She will be nervy and it’s showing. Another one is fired substantially down to leg.

Know what, I’d rather she keeps running in to her max and doesn’t stress too much about the rangefinder. Reckon Lanning and the rest will be encouraging her to do just that and keep believing. Even after Knight dispatches her through extra for four. Keep believing, you beautie.

At the other end, Molineux has just turned one almost twice as far as any of the England spinners. Which woke Jones right up. But no dramas. At the end of Vlaeminck’s next over – the thirteenth, a maiden to follow that wayward first effort – England are 40 for 1. The young quick is bowling around 71/2/3 mph.

Liking Molineux, coming around to the slightly becalmed Jones. The batter tries to break out and is fortunate to survive a medium-reckless thrash-drive to off. Falls out beyond the circle of fielders.

Vlaeminck cannot sustain the pressure, Knight glancing from the hip and finding Schutt at fine leg. A misfield goes to the rope. Fifty up in the over. Jones still not looking entirely in her flow but when Molineux offers a full-toss, she gratefully accepts. Four straight. We are 55 for 1, as the batters take a wee drink.

Jonassen, from the river. Pie, short, dispatched, by Jones, followed by a drive for four more, through mid-off. A third poor, short delivery is similarly dispatched. Thirteen, from the over and a significant if temporary lightening of English worries. The Trauma is being avoided. (For now).

Ah. Another peach, from Molineux. Flighted, dipped and turned past the outside edge. A reminder of how precarious things can be. Both batters looking largely settled… but that was a fabulous, challenging delivery. At 22 overs – and Proper Drinks – England are a now creditable 80 for 1.

Hah. We might argue that the drinks break, the break in concentration, does for Knight. And/or we might congratulate Molineux, who has the England skipper l.b.w. sweeping a full, straight ball. Certainly think that the young spinner has shown well – and therefore maybe has earned the wicket. 80 for 2.

England have to win this, somehow. Which means that Australia have to bat again. Much discussion around this, in the Media Centre.

So, for England to be proactive towards the possibility of a win, they will have to declare, early, because otherwise, there is no time. (Know we’re talking longshots here and that it’s probably more likely that England will be dismissed than force the issue through declaring. Up to Australia, of course, whether they then look to amble towards a draw or accept the challenge and chase a win). Time is everything – or time and the willingness or otherwise to offer or accept the gamble.

Amy Jones, who has had a difficult time, earlier in the series but who can, as they say ‘play’, hoists Molineux confidently straight, for four, to go to fifty. Then she clubs her through cow corner to take England to 95 for 2.

From the opposite end, it will be Gardner, for her first foray in Tests. She tends to spin it. Bold flight but nothing too alarming for the batters, first up.

Jonassen has switched to the Pavilion End. England get to 100, for 2, in the over.

Gardner, returning, does get meaningful spin. Elwis, now on 6, almost embarrassed.

Minutes later, that same batter is run out, following good work from Bolton. Tightish but she was out by a few inches on the bat-slide. Elwiss made 9 from 39, so her contribution was on the quiet side: the incoming Sciver will have to contend with the returning Perry. Could be a fascinating phase; arguably England’s most dynamic two batters in… and the Aussies ‘up and about’.

In fact Perry’s first over back is mixed; no-ball, straining for pace but also a shortish, sharp one that nips back and buries itself into Jones’s thigh. As we approach tea, the ‘goddess’ of yesterday (and yesterday’s blog) will follow Jonassen for a further over – her seventh. She comes around to Jones and offers width, with fielders in the third man through to extra cover sector. Bait not taken and we retire for further refreshment with the home side at 118 for 3.

Did I mention Kangaroo Man, yet? Nope.

Earlier, whilst perambulating with my new soul-sis’ Selina Steele (of Aus News Corp) we found ourselves in conversation with a young geezer in a shockingly yellow kangaroo suit. Asyado. Turns out he was on his ‘stag day’: he had asked for a Cricket Day Out but the forfeit – insisted upon by Best Man etc – was the costume. The groom-to-be is English. Weirdly, he appeared to be sober.

After the resumption, Jones advances to Molineux and drives uppishly, looking to ‘move things along’. She miscues a little and finds Haynes at mid-off. Easy, waist-high catch. 119 for 4.

Taylor – traditionally, the no. 3 bat, remember – may need to do something special. She gets a freebie from Molineux which she clatters on the full through midwicket. She cannot, however, go on.

Tucking the bat behind the front pad, she is plumb, to the off-spinner, who is having a good day. Plenty of bat on the ball but plainly after pad. Taylor has undone herself a little and may have exposed England, now: this on a pitch that is no minefield. Brunt is in and she is a fighter but this feels like a tipping point.

After 50 overs, England are 140 for 5 and the chatter may be turning more again to that Widening Gap Theory. The home team have looked comfortable enough on occasions but have again proved vulnerable to the test-over-time experience. Some good, solid cricket rather than absolutely inspired cricket is proving enough, for Australia.

Brunt is morally defeated twice in a row by Molineux but the ball finds a way to fine leg, bringing up the 150. It’s beautiful and bright, momentarily. Pity we Meedya Types have no sight of the iconic Church of St James’s which sits to our left – it must be looking splendiferous.

With Australia palpably, might we say terminally on top, Brunt and Sciver are seeing things through. Which means time disappears.

Because this suits nobody (really) Sciver goes after Molineux, smashing her rather unconvincingly and aerially towards Perry. Ver-ry tough to see (even with replay) whether that was a genuine chance. Whatever, Sciver endures.

Soon after, another pearler from Molineux draws an edge which falls narrowly short of Lanning at slip. We go to more drinks with England hanging on; 168 for 5 the score.

Vlaeminck is back for the 61st. Bowls a couple of genuine bouncers and is consistent; will settle her, you would think.  Minutes later, Brunt is the first to hook one at head height. She controls it well.

Sciver has played incredibly straight by her whip-wristed standards so I applaud her fifty, in the 65th over. Brunt, her partner, is on a princely (princessly?) 14 off 67 balls. This is not Brunt-like but can only reflect the state of the game, which is not exactly on pause but almost, despite the theoretical urgency.

Are England now seeing out today? On the basis of what? Is the main driver here (as I may have suggested earlier) Trauma Avoidance? It’s both a nonsense and a completely natural instinct. ‘We do not want a whitewash. We won’t let these buggers crush us. A worthless draw is *actually not worthless*’.

Gardner is back. Her first ball turns and ricochets off Brunt’s carefully applied bat… and pad… and dribbles through onto the stumps. 189 for 6.

Shrubsole is in. Not entirely confident that she’s in the kind of nick that will restore some English Pride but she has previous; she has shown a certain level of grit. Just not recently, from memory.

Gardner has her first Test Wicket, then. And now she can go on to enjoy and even luxuriate in Australia’s utter dominance. She can flight it, rip it with rare freedom. Look out – I think there may be more to come from that arm of hers. 192 for 6.

Ditto most of this, for Molineux. She can toss it up without issue. To Shrubsole she now has four fielders around the bat and we have already seen that she can spin it. Tellingly, Sciver has disappeared, whilst being not out.

New ball is due – not taken. I might have thrown it the other debutant, Vlaeminck, just for the craic. To our left on the the tellybox a lot of conversation about how disappointing England’s lack of ambition has been – as well as re- their inability to bat for more than a couple of  sessions. Get all that but would just note that some of those dissing the lack of dynamism were maybe not the most enterprising themselves when out there in the kit.

There are 11 Aussies glaring at Shrubsole from within about fifteen yards as she faces Molineux’s last delivery of the day. And it’s pret-ty similar as Gardner loops down the   ensuing and final over. Helmet and shin-pads are donned as yet another fielder hauls up ‘intimidatingly’ close. Dot ball. As anti-climaxes go, this was, erm, a worldie.