Day 2, Taunton. #WomensAshes.

Got soaked – and I do mean soaked – yomping through Bristol en route. But arriving in Taunton, having seen streaky trainscapes and mizzly skies, the outlook is better. To the extent that as I walk in the ground, the outer covers are being removed.

Ten minutes later, Mark Robinson is on his knees pummelling the strip, whilst talking to his skipper. An 11 o’clock start – inconceivable as I trudged towards Temple Meads – is possible.

Tammy Beaumont is directly in front of us, doing some fielding drills. Not hiding that thumb (the one that was x-rayed) following an issue at short-leg, yesterday. She could be so-o important, when England bat.

10.50 and the remainder of the wicket covers are wheeled off. To be honest we aren’t clear (us meedya daarlinks) if they are going for an 11 a.m. start but clearly that is possible.

Yup. Fairly remarkably, we are going to start (after an interminable ‘Jerusalem’), on time. Nobody is here.

Haynes slashes one through about third slip, off Shrubsole, who starts from the River End. (There is no third slip). Brunt will follow from the Pavilion: some swing available. Weather is such that a batting collapse – or two – is thinkable.

Nobody’s told Perry. She is up on her toes and just easing Shrubsole through extra. Fine shot for four. Decent comeback from the England seamer, mind: beats the outside edge with one that holds its line. 274 for 3 after 103 overs. Perry has 89, Perry 58.

Early signs are that Australia are negotiating what should be their spell of maximum difficulty. Which means more bother for England. Not much wrong with what Brunt and Shrubsole are doing… but it’s not stirring either Perry or Haynes, to be honest.

First change is Nat Sciver, from the River. Feels like she owes us a performance: significant talent, arguably under-achieving a tad? The lights are on. Perry drives Sciver very straight and goes to 95.

Some encouragement for Sciver as she gets some lovely, late-ish swing to draw a swing and a miss. Beautiful ball – no joy. Ecclestone will follow Sciver: lights are on but there is (I kid you not) some Proper Bright Sky around now. Alongside those clouds.

Oof. Ecclestone drops a gift, from Haynes. A mis-hit pull to square leg and the offie misjudges it really rather badly. She is developing really well as a bowler but I’m afraid – having seen her on numerous occasions now, live – she is consistently below-standard in the field.

Ecclestone will be hurt by that and it will hurt England. As a team, they have not been great, over the last day and a bit (or maybe over the series, so far?)

Ah. As if to emphasise the point, Perry gets to her hundred via an overthrow. Another genuinely Different Class-type of performance but in the perverse universe we all inhabit, it does now feel a bit like England are conspiring in their own downfall – ‘inviting’ those bad reviews. I’m going to steer clear of that stuff (for now) and just say that England have not been good, when they *really needed to be*.

Almost ludicrously, the day is brightish as Australia go beyond 300. At drinks at the end of the end of the 116th over, they are 301 for 3, with Perry on 102 and Haynes on 72.

Changes. Gordon then Laura Marsh will have a dash. Or rather an amble. (To be fair, no criticism implied: England’s energy is inevitably down a notch but nobody’s entirely going through the motions). Perry, attempting to sweep Marsh, gets both an edge and a wee boink on the helmet but the deflections don’t go to hand. England need about six flukes but no real dramas occurring. Dark clouds creeping towards us.

Possible run-out but Sciver’s throw is ordinary – as is the gather at the stumps. Was Perry scrambling; not a full-on chance, arguably but another mis-execution. That same batter then creams one from Marsh over mid-off. Stylish. *Statement*.

Gordon is persisting but it just seems the batters’ call as to what level of drama ensues. We’re beginning to see a lift in the general dynamism; surely won’t be long before we see a Proper Onslaught. Maybe straight after lunch?

Perry clubs Marsh away through midwicket for four. Moments later, again rolling those wrists a little, she picks out Heather Knight, who takes a sharpish catch, before throwing the ball up and away in relief – and maybe a little (self-directed) anger? Perry leaves us with 116 to her name. Mooney is in.

As we approach lunch and those aforementioned clouds come across us, my best guess is that we may escape rain. But I’ve not won a bet since I backed Red Rum, Spanish Steps and Money Market in the same National, so make of that what you will. 😉

Still a slip and a silly-mid-off as Marsh comes in to Haynes. The batter has made few errors; now she is punished, swishing across Marsh – she is l.b.w. and Australia are 335 for 5. Mini-opportunity for England, with two newish batters in and a short, possibly nervy period before lunch.

Belatedly, we get a review suggesting Haynes had been unfortunate. The ball hit her glove on the way through to the pad. Tough one for the ump to see but yet more ammo in the DRS debate.

Gordon’s 11 o’clock offies see us through, Mooney blocking watchfully. At lunch, Australia are 341 for 5 and despite those wickets, they are absolutely in command.

Good work from the guys from the Met Office. Predicted a spike in the likelihood of precipitation at 1.00p.m. Right on cue, it rains.

13.44. Still rain. Some sense that it may be brightening: therefore my next ridicu-bet is we re-start around 3pm. What can England hope for? When everything points to the game and the Ashes being gone? Eek. The talk amongst the journo’s is mainly about a Widening Gulf – expect those headlines.

But playing for pride isn’t an entirely vacuous concept. England must do that and salvage a draw. They must not capitulate, when the time comes to bat. The bigger issues around selection, preparation, the women’s game generally will and should be debated soonish – after the further inquest that will follow this match. Right now they have to bloody-well dig in, sharpen their senses, take that deep, deep breath and re-grasp the challenge.

In a nutshell, Australia are better (but) England obviously are not doing themselves justice.

14.29 and things are billowing. Tarpaulinacious things – covers. Because The Lads are hoisting and removing them. Jee-sus, my 3pm could be in with a shout! Hold the front page!!

Okaay. Just drifted past… and there is the lightest touch of rain. And despite England’s vigorous warming-up a medium-real threat of more, soonish, I fear. 15.10pm.

15.12 – covers going back on. Significant delay now looking likely.

Zummerzet Media Man, Spencer, telling us tea being taken now with a view to a 4pm re-start. 17 overs lost if we do get going again at that time – seems plausible.

Ah. Bit more rain, then…

Interestingly, plenty Aussies out in the elements; two doing timed interval running. Are they trying to intimidate us? Whilst we eat cake and stuff?

16.10 and it’s unknowable but increasingly unlikely, I think that they’re going to get back out there. Quantocks are shovelling dank grey slabs of air up and at us. Forecast has twitched further into the Sorry Mate But Dodgy Zone. Which leaves us where?

With less time in the game. With less chance for a glorious England recovery(!) and plainly increased inclination towards a brief boomathon from any returning Aussie batters, followed by extremely testing times for Beaumont, Jones et al.

Shame if the weather actually does puts the kai-bosh on possibilities like this: would have been good to see Australia charge from about 3pm this afternoon, then declare on 480 and look to bowl England out twice, pronto. (The vibe around the game suggests that this scenario would have been more likely than a noble and gritty rearguard action: England seem vulnerable rather than yaknow – defiant).

16.26pm. Now it’s siling down. No word yet but prospects of a resumption rapidly reducing to nil. I, meanwhile, am contemplating another sodden yomp.

Just realised I’ve said ver-ry little about Ellyse Perry. This is partly because she is the story YET AGAIN. And therefore it’s hard to say anything new, or insightful, or worthy of your time. But I’ll say this; Perry is extraordinary; fluent in 46 of the 46 cricket languages. Fluent in the other 678 sporting tongues, too. Moves, concentrates, reacts, flows like a goddess. Is, surely, a goddess? It is absolutely our privilege to be watching.

#WomensAshes. Taunton.

So a walk through Bristol is my warm-up. Fifty minutes, Ashley Down to Temple Meads. Past those hillside allotments, through those muggy, mural-tastic streets, past the Extinction Rebellion Posse. Then the train.

Taunton is also muggy, with cloud but the possibility of brightness… and bugger me, England and Australia are warming up, too!

In between presentations. New caps for Jones and Gordon, of Ingerland (Scotland) and Vlaeminck, Molineux and Gardener for Australia.

Have mixed feelings about the 86 people filming and posting these presentations – the transition into a Public Event. Like the idea of a deep, rich, private moment for these players to enjoy: not the same if The Presenter has to rehearse the bloody thing for six hours, knowing half the universe is going to give them marks out of ten. Miserablist? Maybe.

Aus win the toss and choose to bat. This because the expectation is that the strip – used some weeks ago in #CWC19 – is part-worn and likely to prove testing in the fourth knock. However, it does feel like England have an opportunity to make inroads this morning; weather feels designed to accommodate Shrubsole.

Brunt opens. Bouncy job, first up – comes through above the hip. Honestly great, sitting here, to see these women in their whites, *actually doing* the Test Cricket thing. Maiden over.

Healy gets the first runs off the bat. Drive through mid-off. Some encouragement – i.e. some swing, some bounce for both Brunt and Shrubsole – as England look to make a dent in the Aus higher order. They need to, you suspect. Australia are 6 for 0 off 4.

Brunt bowls a genuine bouncer, which Healy hooks in front of square for four. Not absolutely smashed but bold shot, nevertheless. Shrubsole beats her outside edge twice, consecutively, before over-pitching in search of that swing. Healy drives her through extra for another four. 19 for 0 after 6.

If Australian see out the first hour I foresee real trouble, for England, here.

Aha. Slightly from nowhere, Brunt castles Bolton. Peach. Ver-ry full; it’s length rather than any fireworks in the air or off the pitch that do for the left-hander. Great ball.

Healy looking a million dollars. Lanning has joined her. England have a field set for Healy to drill out towards point: she keeps doing it but piercing that cordon. 33 for 1 after 8. Predict 158 for Healy, this knock. (*Fatal*).

It’s not a summer’s day, in Taunton. Which might support what Shrubsole is trying to do. But actually, she’s not hugely troubling, for either batter, just now.

Big Moment as Ecclestone comes in for the 12th. First ball turns and beats the outside edge. Healy negotiates the over.

Lanning is watchful – 0 off 13 balls – but then glides Brunt beautifully behind point to get off the mark. Four. Middled. Sweet.

Ecclestone dives after a near-chance. Can’t quite get there. Personal suspicion is that Wyatt (for example) *might have*.

Game continues and Australia proceed to 60 for 1. Sadly, Ecclestone retreats from the pitch at this point – mid-over. Huge shame for her as she looks upset… and in pain as she departs. Huge for Kirstie Gordon, who may be one of very few debutants to enter Test Cricket to complete somebody else’s over.

Healy gets to a stunningly good 50, dispatching a poorish full-toss from Gordon. Eleven fours.

Later in the over the left-arm finger-spinner gifts her a shocker of a ‘beamer’ which she also carts to the horizon. Bit worrying for the bowler… and for England. Predict 500 and-odd, for the visitors and another potential massacre, *if England aren’t ver-ry careful, now*.

Hah. The Perverse Universe. Immediately after that shocker of a prediction, Gordon bowls the two best balls of the day, to Lanning, absolutely bewildering the outside edge. No joy but immense comeback from the bowler.

Welcome news. Ecclestone is back on the park.

Gordon is still serving up a rather mixed bag. Some killer-balls but full-tosses, too. And when she tries to vary the flight from that fullish, loopyish staple, Lanning clatters the shorter, flatter one to the cover boundary. Marsh will come in to bowl the 25th over, with Australia cruising, pretty much, on 80-something for 1.

Wow. Healy just misses one, on leg stump, from Gordon. Momentary lapse and gone. She was trying to swat it away behind square: ball did very little. First Test Wicket for the Scottish spinner and Australia are 91 for 2. Enter the magnificent Perry. Farewell to my predictions – you know I didn’t *actually mean them*, right? Healy made 58 (not 158).

Aargh. Knight drops a medium-simple catch after Lanning  prods, rather, to short extra. Could be huge; the captain will rightly be furious with herself. The skies are opening up and Perry and Lanning might punish England. 100 comes up in Marsh’s over – the 28th.

From the other end, Gordon again offers a biggish full-toss. Lanning says “cheers, mate” and it’s four more. 106 for 2 at lunch. Perry has 10, Lanning has 27. I will have that lasagne, please.

Brunt will re-open proceedings. Followed by Ecclestone, which is a relief, after what looked to be an upsetting injury earlier. No drama though, yet.

Brunt is bowling with intent; short, short, sometimes. Ecclestone, mercifully, seems to be bowling with decent flow, suggesting she’s not suffering too much.

Spin twins. Ecclestone from the Pavilion, Gordon from the River End. Ball turning a touch, slowly, rather than really ragging. Have wondered aloud if Gardener, for Australia, might turn it more than anyone – thereby uncoupling the alleged advantage to Ingerland. Fielders round the bat, for Perry, just now.

Bit concerned for the safety of those close fielders, to be honest. Gordon, whilst bowling some good stuff, has also served up some slightly scary full-tosses. Beaumont, at short-leg, may need to stay vigilant. 136 for 2, after 43.

Longish, quietish spell in which Gordon and Ecclestone keep a lid on Aussie progress. But in the 50th over, the Southern Stars do get to 150… & Lanning goes to her personal 50. She’s been goodish rather than sparkling but simply enduring is powerful enough, for now. Drinks.

Marsh is next up, from the River End, inevitably. 😉 Starts with a pearler but then offers a gift down leg – four.  Charlotte Edwards on comms wondering where Shrubsole is. Decent point.

It’s maybe not ‘suddenly’ but suddenly Lanning is gone – bowled Ecclestone. Fabulous, flighted ball which carried on straight; Lanning skittled, retreating, the ball somehow beneath the swishing bat. Both a good delivery and an error, you might say. 57 for the outgoing batter: in comes Haynes, at 160 for 3.

Oof. Another near-ouch as Ecclestone drops one in and Beaumont nearly gets decapitated by Haynes. Four through midwicket. Generous cloud, now, but the horizon is bright: decent breeze will blow these tufts away soon enough.

Apropos naff all, it feels, in the context of a lot of background noise, like the match needs scores of 300 plus, to ‘legitimise’ Women’s Tests. As we enter the 60th over with the returning Shrubsole, the visitors appear to be headed for that target… or beyond… particularly if these two persist. 180 for 3 as Shrubsole hands over to Marsh.

Marsh offers a legside ball then a wide one – both boundary balls, for Haynes, who goes to 21 off 27.

When Gordon follows Marsh at that River End, she starts with another full-toss, which Perry ushers with some ease to the mid-off rope. Frustrating. Shortly after, Perry goes to another 50, untroubled. Australia 200 up, for 3 down. At tea, that becomes 203 for 3, with Perry on 51 and Haynes on 26.

The left-handed bat is dancing down, to Gordon and booming her for four. Notable in that it’s the first time that we might attribute the word ‘lusty’ or maybe ‘violent’ to the act of batting.

Healy played through, rather than clubbed or boomed, I reckon. Lanning and Perry have been relatively circumspect. That, from Haynes was a wallop.

After 73 overs, Australia have 212 for 3. With that, we are informed that today’s attendance is 2,040. For Somerset, I think that’s a significant disappointment.

Elwiss will bowl the 76th – her first. She comes around, to Haynes, with her medium-pacers. She is straight, trying for little leg-cutters, I think – and bowls a maiden.

An observation. I know these bowlers know what they’re doing but I’m wondering if two or three of them might try getting in closer to the sticks. Marsh and now Elwiss bowling from markedly wide positions. Understand they will have their reasons/preferences/plans but clearly you have to shift the ball less from a straighter delivery position to inconvenience the batter. Generally.

81st over and Shrubsole takes the new ball from the Pavilion End. Needs to make something happen. Lovely to see that cherry gleam in the sunshine… but no obvious encouragement for the England seamer, other than a tad more bounce, perhaps. 228 for 3.

Brunt has made a couple of errors in the field. Hope this has made her angry. She’s in, now. First impressions? Didn’t come through with any pace.

Apropos bugger all, (revisited), I’m sitting next to Selina Steele, from (Aus) News Corps, Izzie Westbury and Adam Collins. Know Adam *reasonably well* but only just met the two women today. Said hello to Geoff Lemon earlier. Slightly bigger media representation here than on my previous visits: that Test Thing, I suppose.

At drinks, on 86 overs, Australian are 238 for 3. There is the sense that Shrubsole is labouring a little. As are England. The visitors look well capable of seeing the day out.

Given the weather for the next day or two, things are not looking that hopeful for a strong and sustained response from Knight and co. (Hunch being that Beaumont might conceivably get a big lump of runs if the weather stayed fine but a) it won’t so b) the fear is England may get battered if they have to bat through challenging, showery conditions. Bit pessimistic but – yaknow – *recent experiences*. Plus right now a dynamic bit of fielding and/or a cockup from the batters feels implausible. This is drifting.

Ah. In addition to the doom-mongering above, hearing Beaumont has gone for an x-ray following an injury to her left thumb. Honestly, seeing her field at short-leg for hour after hour today, she’s gotten off fairly lightly.

Could be really huge, that, in terms of England’s reply. Beaumont is a fine player, she’s tough and you would have to have her playing a key role if England were to go well, here. But batting with a sore thumb… ain’t good.

95 overs. Haynes gets to 50. Australia have 259 for 3. They are bossing it. Tomorrow’s weather may yet precipitate a batting collapse (geddit?) but clearly it may also usher a second batting horror-show over the ensuing hours.

England are in some trouble. It’s also true that their ground-fielding has been average – so on most counts, they are behind. The 100 partnership between Perry and Haynes comes up.

100 overs done. 6 p.m. prompt. Australia 265 for 3, with Perry on 84 and Haynes on 54.

Unquestionably Australia’s day but with disruption likely (and therefore implosions possible) who knows what that actually means? The thinking may be that England are up against it – that their batting may be simply unable to resist an Aussie attack buoyed by a worn pitch and muggy, streaky skies. But who knows? Besides, more pertinent than any theories about whether England can hang on in there are the questions around how they might win this; for win it they must.

It’s not the Ashes (it’s a whole lot more serious than that). Maybe?

7.45 am. You – we, I – check the weather. For Edgbaston. Even though we’re not actually going (unfortunately), just because you have to, because it’s Oz… and a semi.

Met Office inconclusive; because Ingerland, because 20/30/40% chance of showers at various times.

Expectations? Mixed, in a stomach-churntastic kindofaway, again partly because this is Oz and that is especially spicy but also because us England and Wales fans know that our lot really have been outstanding for a period of time. And maybe we hold onto to those delusions about brilliance deserving reward, laughable though that is.

*Walks dog*. Begins to dwell on the Real Life Things which may inconvenience the ideal, seamless scorch-to-glory for Our Eoin and co – or rather my viewing of said phenomenon. Walk back, in truth, more than a tad concerned that I may MISS THE BLOO-DEE DENOUEMENT on account of the Cricket-in-the-Castles event I now have to attend, later! Cue additional stomach-churn…

Let’s start with a boldish one: I reckon most neutrals would have England down as a marginally better side. Better quality – ‘deeper’. However I also think it likely that most neutrals might have Australia as favourites because a) they just find a bladdy waay, mate b) Starc/Warner/maybe Finch, maybe Smith. They have worldies who seem like they just won’t fail; like they just won’t fail against England; today. 

Could be that Starc isn’t even Australia’s best bowler but he may be the one to grab hold of this thing, irresistibly. You could see him ripping out England’s Finest, especially if the conditions favour early swing – maybe if they don’t.

Starc is fearsome. I don’t personally buy his occasional slightly tawdry tough-man thing but he is fearsome and it feels like he loves the limelight, relishes and grows into the killer moment; owns it.

(Incidentally, this morning my Australian Cricket Family(!) email me some ‘semi-final prep’ which includes an interview with Starc, on his ‘Toughest Opponents’. He names AB, Steve Smith and Ricky Ponting and Virat Kohli. No brits, two Aussies. Co-incidence?)

*OK, porridge. And some down-time. In danger of peaking too early, here…*

TMS. Bayliss’s blandishments. Dull: Farbrace joking afterwards about his ‘calm’. All figures but does his extraordinary non-animation work? 

Generally, you’d have to say the white-ball culture and results are – to use that cruelly over-used word – ‘positive’. Credit the man, too, for removing any Bayliss ego from the whole coaching process: that takes some doing and it’s healthy. Whatever the broader achievements, Bayliss will know that it’s the next few days that will inevitably define him. So no pressure.

Cricket. Aus win the toss and choose to bat first. Obviously this means England will be working pret-ty heavily against the grain of the tournament.

Anthems. Awful – both. Can we not be proud of our families, friends, communities, countries without all that? Or am I just wondering because those two anthems are so duff?

Swift thought intrudes. What a stage for Joffre Archer, what an opportunity for him!

For all of them, of course: Woakes, first up. Warner drives him for four. Woakes – on his home ground, remember – settles, thereafter. Nothing else, for Warner, in the over: nothing much happening in the air, mind.

Archer bowls full and straight at Finch. HUGE LB SHOUT!! OUT!! G.D. for Finch.

This brings in Smith. Archer peppers him then draws an inside edge. Fabulous tension around; Smith and Warner in, together, with England (well, most of Edgbaston) roaring. Great, great sport. 6 for 1 at the end of the over.

Woakes bowling those disciplined lines but Warner clouts him defiantly for four. Woakes’s response is a pearler. Quicker, bouncier – Warner can only fend to slip! 10 for 2.

Huge appeal against Handscomb, first ball. Erasmus says not out… and the review stays with that umpire’s call. Wow. Such is the rawness of the excitement, half the crowd think there’s a dropped catch at point next up; in fact Handscomb has drilled the ball into the turf. Breathless, intimidating stuff and a huge, intimidating start, from England.

Archer is loving it. He is both hostile and beautifully calm – and quick. Just the one run from his second over.

Woakes in again and appealing again. Nothing given and they opt not to review;correctly, as there was an inside edge. These are tough times for the two batsmen. Movement off the pitch, some bounce and a whole lot of braying brits.

Early days – maybe too early to be thinking about how Starc and co might be on this pitch – but England could hardly have wished for anything better from a) their start b) the bowling. Both Woakes and Archer have absolutely risen to this. Handscomb absolutely guessing against Archer. 14 for 2 after 6.

He may be guessing against Archer but now he is comprehensively bowled, by Woakes. Beauty, alright but the fella looked scrambled. (Personal view but I’ve never rated him; looks really unconvincing so-o often). Aus 3 down for bugger all. Carey is in, already. Carey. Moments later and Smith is 2, off 19 balls.

Archer bounces Carey. Rather scarily, his helmet is buffeted off in the collision and he catches it. Funeee-but-scareee. The guy needs a little attention: checking the replays, he does incredibly well to catch that helmet; which may have been rolling wicketward.

Resuming, Woakes, in the ninth, is teasing Carey, slanting across and leaving him. Eventually, the batsman *actually hits one*, driving through the covers for four. But there is substantial lateral movement, now, for England’s opening bowler. How long will Morgan keep him at it?

Archer is in again for the tenth. Double-change, after this, or persist and try to crack this innings wide, wide open? Boldly, after another testing over from Archer, Morgan opts to stay with Woakes. The relative thin-ness of that Australian batting order clearly in his mind. 28 for 3 after 11.

Stokes, however, will follow at ‘Archer’s End’. Big Moment, you feel, in the game and for Ben Stokes the international bowler. He is also finding some bounce. Good over – just the one from it.

Now Wood, from the Birmingham End. He gets a ludicrous amount of swing, first up – wide. Going across Carey, with width, he beats him. Then a further wide, marginally down leg. Then one on leg stump, clipped fine, drawing an incredible stop at the boundary, by Woakes, followed by a fabulous parry by Stokes, at backward point. Proper contests all-round, here. Weird, mixed over from Wood, mind. Three wides, coupla pearlers.

Just that sense that the game is quietening, as Smith and Carey find a little comfort. (Although the latter may well be in some discomfort, following that blow to the head. He has strapping supporting that jaw, now: brave fella).

Morgan is a philosophical geezer but he will want to drive the advantage forward rather than just contain, you suspect. Imagine him silently cursing as Stokes and Wood make no further inroads. 47 for 3 after 15 and here comes Plunkett.

Smith drives him straight for four. Without being remotely dominant, it does seem like the Aussie Genius is bedding in. Wood returns and Smith slashes him to the boundary. Momentum change – a gentle one, admittedly but the visitors are re-building. Smith is ‘picking off’ Plunkett, rather. 66 for 3 after 18.

Rain is possible today but hard to predict. There is a reserve day – tomorrow – but let’s hope that DLS/weather issues just aren’t a factor. The Aus runrate is inevitably currently lowish (below 4) due to that spectacularly challenging start but who knows how Roy, Root and Bairstow may go?

Rashid is in… and Carey seems onto him, playing with growing confidence, now.

Plunkett follows… and now we are into a containment phase. Good over. Rashid will need to back that up. Minor errors in the field don’t help that suspicion that England are struggling to maintain their intensity and focus. Morgan might want a word. 87 for 3 after 22. More Plunkett.

On TMS, the excellent Farbrace noting that Carey has looked the pick of the Australian batsmen. Agree – and the bloke may have a broken jaw (which he may have to ‘keep with). Top effort.

Aus reach their 100 with no significant dramas, in the 25th over. So what might they post? 260? Weird how conditions seem so benign, suddenly. For all the flak about #CWC19 pitches it seems we are likely to get another fascinating test of skills, here. Hope so.

Rashid is getting a little turn but Carey again picks his googly and sweeps hard for four. If Smith and Carey’s concentration and patience can last, you wouldn’t rule out a genuinely BIG partnership. Their 100 hundred partnership comes up.

*Real World Interlude* . Walk the beloved pooch. Come back.

Rashid, finding his flow, his arc, his confidence, by the looks, has taken two wickets. Carey gone. Stoinis gone. 130 for 5 after 30. And Archer is back, as England look to mop this up.

Stoinis was lbw and Carey (maybe predictably?) was caught in the deep, by Vince, the sub fielder. So are we looking at Aus around 260… or all out nearer 200? Game poised.

Maxwell strikes Rashid straightish for six. Great question, though from Nasser on Sky comms. “Can he play the innings of the day, as opposed to just the shot of the day?”

150 up. Rashid still whirling away, asking those proverbial questions pointedly enough but when short clubbed away by Maxwell.

Archer draws a streaky edge from Smith… and smiles, broadly. He goes to the bouncer – too short. Huge moment as Maxwell mistimes him to cover; the ball may have stuck somewhat in the pitch, lobbing gently to a grateful Morgan. Six down. Cummins in. 157 on the board.

What a privilege, really for England to be able to field a Rashid/Archer combo. How lucky they are. As we enter the last 15 overs, neither are in completely unplayable mode… but both are throwing down some beauties and the range of questions being asked is extraordinary.

Archer has Cummins – who is no mug – befuddled. Slower balls/knuckle balls. Tough to read.

Rashid, meanwhile is into his last over. He ‘gets’ Smith with a ground-catch. Then he has Cummins (caught behind, brilliantly, by Root), before bewildering the incoming Starc for no reward.  Finishes with 3 for 54, does Rashid: got better as he went on, playing a crucial part in getting England to a situation where 200 all out is on. As did Archer, who finishes with 2 for 32. Chapeau.

Wood will bowl the 40th. He’s cranking it up and mixing it up: some at 90mph. Four from the over 175 for 7. Aus would settle for 230 or 40 now, alright. Then Plunkett: tidy. Just the one single.

Australia – and we don’t say this too often – look like they daren’t be aggressive. It’s all about nurdles and nudges, Smith and Starc intent on persisting and racing those singles. There may be no ‘charge’ because it would be sinful in the extreme not to use almost (if not every) available ball. Score predictor is saying 222 but they will be wanting 240.

186 for 7 after 43 and Wood continues, around the wicket to Starc. Second ball driven sweetly past mid-off’s left hand – a rare four. Wood responds with a great, quick bouncer. Infuriatingly, he follows that with another legside wide – typical of his day, which has been disappointing.

Plunkett has been rather similar. He concedes a six and a wide (for height) in the 45th. Sky comms: it seems questionable that Woakes hasn’t been in a little earlier. (He has four overs remaining). 14 from Plunkett’s over, relatively risk-free runs, too.

A touch belatedly then, Woakes, with Aus at 206 for 7. Smith plays the Ugliest Shot Ever across into leg, for one. Starc, now, is trying to hit. Misses, pretty much.

Appeal against Smith, last ball of the over. Reviewed. Highish. Stays with umpire’s call – not out.

Wood again. Good ball at Smith, inside-edged onto pad. Close. Some good work from Starc, in truth, and the partnership reaches 50 runs. And they have accelerated somewhat.

Wow. Stunning bit of work as Buttler collects then throws down the wicket at the bowler’s end, towards which Smith is scampering. He’s out.

Double-wow as Woakes, again finding that killer length, draws an edge from Starc. Buttler takes a regulation catch. Suddenly we have Behrendorff and Lyons facing and Aus are nine down.

And finally, some joy from Wood. He castles Behrendorff with a beauty of a yorker. Classic, uplifting finish for the locals. Australia all out for 223, with 7 balls left unused.

Surely a great start for England? Now over to Bairstow and Roy and Root – who are blessed with the knowledge that they can play no-risk cricket for 30 overs or more. (Like the first two actually will, though). That alone must make them favourites…and yet. And yet the whole history of sport.

The reply. (How nervous are we?)

Fascinating to see how well-behaved, as it were, Roy and Bairstow are. They surely just need to sit, play some Test-like Cricket and let the runs happen around that? Except this goes absolutely against everything Morgan’s been driving for four years. So we can’t know. The policy is rubbing crazily, deliciously against the reality.

Behrendorff opens then Roy is magnificently straight-batted against Starc and England are 6-0 after 2. Ditto Bairstow (who creamed one through the covers first ball) against Starc’s lesser-known partner. Two airshots from Bairstow and a maiden for the ‘other’ gangly left-arm quick.

Special, special hands from Roy as he lasers Starc out through extra-cover for four. Then the openers dart for two. Good mix of stout defence and skilled breaking-out so far, from England. Roy again drives Starc through extra-cover majestically and England are 16 for 0 after 4.

When Starc gives Bairstow a little width, the Yorkshireman clatters him to the point boundary – timed, powerful. Wow. Then Roy dismisses – and I do mean dismisses – Starc to backward square  with an absurdly sweet flick. Suddenly England 31 for 0 off 6. Danger already, for Australia. They opt for Cummins.

Four dot balls, including a good bouncer, not too high. Two from the over.

I’m wondering how Carey’s feeling? In pain, I would think? Fancy ‘keeping to Starc, with a raging headache? Behrendorff has switched ends, interestingly. Bairstow clips him for two to leg then drives past him – slightly aerially – straight for four. Almost a return catch. 40 for 0, now, after 8. England significantly ahead.

Astonshingly, Roy is almost making this look easy. (Know that’s *fatal*). He is rolling the ball wherever he wants. The fifty comes up, for no loss. Can Lyons change anything?

No. Not immediately. Because immediately, Roy smashes him for 6.

It’s going to sound provocative if I relate that England’s most profound challenge is not currently the Australian bowling…but the injury sustained to Bairstow’s groin(!) With the score having moved on to 71 for 0, the poor lad needs several minutes of (ahem) medium-personal massage. But he does resume.

The nature of what he does may be different, however. Bairstow, in his relative infirmity, may engage slog mode. He even does it to Starc – over mid-off. Roy does it, straight after, even better. We really are nearly entitled to use the word ‘romp’ here. Roy goes to 50 with another four and England are 95 for 0 at drinks. Remarkable stuff.

But there’s more. Smith thinks he’ll try and make something happen, so has ‘a little bowl’. Roy smites him for THREE CONSECUTIVE SIXES. As I walk out the door, Roy is 75 off 57 balls and England are 119 for 0.

Guess what. I’m not joking. I have to go. There’s a Cricket-in-the-Castles event, in Pembroke, I have to attend. And no, I didn’t schedule it. Back later with some gloating – I mean reflections…

I’ve been away five hours. I’ve been busy – I’ve *actually been* a star. (Fancy-dress stylee. Was ‘entertaining’ young children at the event and also being mugged by the little darlings –  mostly, amazingly, while their parents looked on). Let me grab a brew and try to make some sense of all this.

You will probably know by now that England have absolutely crushed Australia, by 8 eight wickets and that their excellence with the ball (generally) has been more than matched by their superlative batting, from Roy and Bairstow in particular. The captain and his trusty placer-and-deflector (Root) finished things off in fine style, after Roy found another level against Starc and Cummins. Australia were never in it.

Edgbaston, the place, the icon, the cauldron unquestionably played a part but the century-plus stand (again) from the opening bats decimated any hopes Australia might have had.

It was not just the runs but the how of those runs: Roy smiting and somehow flicking and carting all at the same time. Bairstow – after a watchful phase – was belligerent and brilliant as so often. Yes it was The Partnership, The Platform that made this happen but Poms will be dreaming mainly tonight about how Roy swung those deliveries away as if immune to the alleged pressures of the moment. It was utterly exceptional… and it was against Oz, and for the final.

I note, at 9.35pm, that there are highlights on Channel Four at 10pm. Maybe I’ll watch Roy’s cruel dismissal – clearly a travesty – and savour the cruise home after he and his fellow demi-god walked from the scene. Maybe I don’t need to. I saw enough and have heard enough now, to confirm this as one of the great days for British sport. Let’s hope that Sunday brings more of the same.

We can’t argue that this was a vindication for Morgan’s Way, for this batting performance once again spoke of utter fearlessness and the expression of dominance not patience. However Roy and Bairstow were sagacious enough to get themselves in before beginning to unpick, or indeed dismember the Australian attack. Once at ease on a track that only Smith and Carey amongst their opponents seemed able to read, their quality and that rare, rare confidence shone.

 

#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?