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.

Another statement.

Let me *work through* my angst, first. I should be sat in the Press Box at Edgbaston, today.  I should be.  But because a) I have a useless laptop b) the accreditation process is understandably medium-convoluted c) something, somewhere went wrong… I ain’t. Despite what I took to be a confirmation.

So breeeeeeaaaaathe. So relaaaaaaax. Then on.

England Aus. We think it’s an ultimate – a confluence of mighty, daft-glorious challenges unrivalled throughout the universe. We know (don’t we?) that we kid ourselves. But surely there’s something wonderful about this, as The Game takes on an exotic uberlife transcending the tradition for rationality, decency, maturity.   Perfectly reasonable, in this context, to dress as a banana, or a Mexican, or a Fish Finger, n’est-ce-pas?

We’re freed-up, even those of us who think we might yet reclaim the word ‘civilised’ into acceptable conversation, into believing we’re big enough (in the Eng Aus moment) to bark rather than park the prejudices around colonies, around deportations and stuff, and judge and enjoy, without yaknow clutter – without really offending.

Everything becomes cobblers; everything becomes inoffensive ; everything’s relative.

I find myself happy to risk alienating my sagacious Aussie oppos, rolling around in the chocolate mudbath that is the bantzfest around Poms v Shackledraggers. I’m happy to unload The Very Worst of Me on David Warner as he strides bullishly out – or sheepishly back – from the wicket. I don’t pray but I pray Starc has a mare – has a Mitchell Johnson-onna-really-bad-day kindofa spell, because that’s only right, given he’s a threat, yes? And I can do all this because it’s broadly understood.

In all seriousness, this may be sport’s finest achievement; the generous appreciation that shockingly prejudicial bawling against some bloke you *in that actual moment* hate for his squat Aussie machismo is okaaay because… this is sport. And his lot will do the same to us. And mostly this self-polices itself. (You guys put the necessary qualifications in here – I’m on a roll!)

Tuffers and Aggers on the radio get into this. Or at least they comment on the specialness of the contest, the atmosphere. Earthy, noisy, boozy Edgbaston feels the right place to have well-meant philosobantz: during a game the Aussies must win, with feelings running high over the Oz-hating English weather.

Opening over from Wood is a massacre, which like the first of the game from Ball draws no runs. Finch and Warner are wafting or worse(?) slashing at mid-air. Then bat makes scratchy contact and the Aussies find themselves at a very fortunate eleven for nought after three.

To their credit – probably, it’s beyond risky – the visitors respond by going on the attack. They go from looking flummoxed to looking a threat.

In fact a few overs further in they are flying – a real turnaround from those very early moments, when Wood in particular was close to unplayable. Suddenly the level of aggression from the Australian batsmen is extraordinary: they smash it.

Readers overs about forty may still be trying to come to terms with the notion that it’s okay thinking, from opening batters, to go all out when (actually) they’re getting mullered by the bowlers. Whether the thinking centres on limitless faith in those who follow them or a kind of cultural psychosis ingrained by a worryingly needy and/or alpha-masculine coach, who can say? But the gamble paid off, handsomely, as Finch and Smith picked off increasingly mixed bowling from Stokes and Plunkett, transforming the energy and direction of the game.

Warner was first to depart – caught behind off Wood, for 21. Never mind.

Finch followed him on 68, when there seemed more danger of Australia entering the Running Away With It and Thumbing Their Noses phase. Despite that loss, with Smith now in and cruising towards fifty – and Henriques sparkling, albeit fitfully – the gallant SD’s were surely ahead on points around twenty overs.

But then Rashid bowls a maiden: there are twitches. The England leggie is looking composed – comfortable.

Henriques has come in at 136 for 2, announcing himself with a classic square drive followed immediately by stunning pull (both for 4). He looks good but then misreads Rashid and is nonchalantly caught, low down by Plunkett. Momentum change?

No, not quite. Smith is going well and the run-rate is decent plus: England though, work at this.

Swann on Test Match Special is notably complimentary about Rashid, who looks the part and critically appears to have almost completely eliminated the shocker that any of us might despatch. *Clears throat*. Around this Rashid Axis, Plunkett fights back, Wood lurks and the team – it feels like a team effort – strikes.

England – muscular, fit-looking, on it looking England – find something. Smith lobs a daft one, then Maxwell, Wade and Starc fall almost together. Crucial wickets, crucial times.

Australia find themselves at 245 for 7 when it  might have been 300 for 2, with overs remaining. At the fifty, Morgan’s impressively determined posse keep Aus down to 277 for 9 when 340 had looked very gettable.

A brief mention for one signature moment – and yup, it could be that this is a sympathy vote thing. Roy took the kind of two-phase boundary catch previous international cricketers simply would not have contemplated. Magnificently, triumphantly. But a glorious farewell, perhaps? Who cares? In the moment even the non-bananas went bananas.

Let’s pause on this though; we need to talk about Jason, right?

If you haven’t heard he went for 4, lbw to Starc.

My hunch is a) he should probably be rested (and will probably return) b) you really could put Bairstow in there – to open. (Aggers on TMS made the reasonable point that  in the semi England’s openers will not face express pace, meaning Bairstow might be marginally less exposed should he be given that nerve-shredding job. I might add that Bairstow’s nerve and his eye seem in pret-ty good order.)

Faith in players is all very well but this is a competitive business where quite rightly there is pressure on places constantly. ‘Keeping faith’ is great but may set a dangerous precedent… and there is a tournament here to be won. I admit it’s a hunch but I’d get Bairstow in there.

Re-start post the rain and Morgan booms first two balls to the boundary. *That making a statement thing*. But the skipper is flirting with danger – witness a near-chance or two shortly after. He’s slogging and it feels closer to the reckless than the realistic end of the batting spectrum.

Whilst it works – even whilst it works – it’s bum-squeakingly dynamic entertainment: I get that this is the modern way and wait for Prince’s ‘Sign of the Times’ to boom out from the speakers.

51 for 3. Hales and Root gone. Morgan being heavily examined by the Aus quicks in rotation. Shortish. Both sweet, violent runs and rather troubling misses.

The crowd are loving it – by that I think I mean Morgan’s ballsiness. The skipper is flailing with some passion, black-eyed and beyond determined to dominate. Crucially, he’s making it work.

Well before England actually get unassailably topside, there’s a hilarious and only mildly vindictive chorus of ‘He’s going home, he’s going home, he’s going, Finch is going home!’ Great fun and fascinating to those of us who still view Warner as Offender-in-Chief against the Motherland. Theories, folks?

It’s not long before all of us – in or out of the Hollies Stand – recognise a counter-attacking classic, from Morgan & Stokes. The latter plainly world class now, the former a brave, hugely skilled slapper & manouevrer of the ball.  The hitting is largely pure, the intent raw intimidating.

To do this against a truly frightening bowling attack is really something. Aus, as Eng get to 128 for 3, look if not despondent then already unable to respond. Edgbaston, sensing England are undeniable, launches party mode.

177 for 3 and Oz, despite reverting to pace from that allegedly feared express attack, are looking impotent, almost humiliated as both Stokes and Morgan reach for their most outrageously compelling best… and maybe beyond.

The power of the hitting is frightening and visibly demoralising for those on the receiving end. The crowd of course lap it up, targetting Finch with more of those *pretty good-natured* verbals. They see the mighty Aussies have no answer. Not Cummins, not Starc, not Hazlewood. Skipper Morgan and the Million Dollar Man render them an irrelevance as they steam towards a 159-run partnership. The brummies, bless ’em, are in Absolute Dreamland.

Maxwell weirdly-comically avoiding a reasonably regulation catch only adds to the reverie – as does Cummins when palming a thunderbolt from Buttler onto the boundary rope. Guffaw, cruelly copiously, Hollies Stand? Just a little.

Against the inviolable grain, the onslaught stalls briefly with Morgan comprehensively run out for 87 from 81 balls.

Clearly the quality and timing of the partnership puts Morgan and Stokes beyond criticism… but they looked set to bring England home. Imagine how important that might have been, oh fellow students of cod psychology? To crush the Aussies, in front of a full house, whilst KNOCKING THEM OUT?!?

Crazy-churlish to allege an opportunity missed, yet I imagine I’m not the only one carrying that thought as the captain departs?

195 for 4 off 32 becomes 240 for 4. Because Stokes remains imperious and the lad Buttler has come in… and he can bat.

Fabulously, the terminal rain comes immediately as Stokes smashes a boundary, to gather his ton. That’s only right. Despite carrying a knock (remember?) the man’s played like a god for 102 undefeated. Difficult to know where to start with the positives – this really was emphatic.

Some minor faffing about, a little confusion and it’s all over, confirmed: end of innings, end of match. A blessing for the Aussies, poor loves.

 

This is what we want.

  • for the cricket to be good
  • for girls to play – like shedloads of them
  • for the sun to shine – really
  • for (somebody like?) Mark Wood to stay fit then take International Test Cricket by storm, or signal it’s ok, for Anderson then Broad to slip into the past
  • …or, maybe just have competitive equals.
  • Also for Cummins and Starc to stay fit, bowl incredibly fast, entertain the universe but be tamed by Hameed, Jennings & Rooooot, when *that time comes*.
  • In a slightly greedy-personal way, I want the whole #AllStarsCricket/#CricketUnleashed thing to really, really transform the profile of cricket in the next two years, so that more people simply get it
  • because it’s worth getting, right, but currently there IS a smallish, arguably fairly narrow range of people who are kinda culturally-familiar with the game, so we do have to commit to something bubble-breakingly ambitious. I think that revolutionary moment is nearly upon us and I hope our commitment is kosher. Tweaking rules or formats is all very well but we have to get to more people in AS WELL.
  • So that mission. I’m proud and excited to be part of all that but c’mon, let’s all get on it?
  • On the T20 thing let’s resolve the City v Counties issue in such a way that County Cricket really benefits. Not good to have a spectacular, ‘world-class’ City T20 that further closes the door on the traditional form (which is maybe dead in the water without T20blast money?) Can’t see how two UK boomathons can co-exist, myself, so this feels like MAJOR. Major comprises, major, generous, philosophically-informed as well as commercially-driven conversations. Let’s be avvin um.
  • I would also like to play cricket… but there’s no realistic chance of that. So maybe contribute elsewhere. Coaching, social media-ing, writing. Try not to think about the pleasure of running in or fluking the occasional cover drive. In fact stop thinking about that RIGHT NOW. Work to do.
  • On the tribal front, I want a better year for Glamorgan. The fella Croft will know he needs to feed more successfully off the goodwill and bourgeoning welshnesses in and around his developing squad, because the times conspire against patience. Great that he’s actively promoting and supporting homegrown players – and I’m told that Huw Morris should also take a lot of credit for this – but clearly results must improve. Lots of us are heartened by (for example) the offer of a 3 year contract (and the security that offers) to young off-spinner Andrew Salter and by Van der Gugten’s emergence but as somebody said re another, similarly competitive industry, ‘goals pay the rent’. On the short-format front, I personally enjoyed Dai Steyn’s run-outs at The SSE Swalec and the form of his compatriot Colin Ingram and of Aneurin Donald. I think I have starts in the night, mind, around the first of those two batsmen being tempted away by a large, hairy cheque. The local lad we imagine will stay and build a wonderful welsh story…
  • Back at England level I think we are actually half-decent. We just can’t compete with India on their patch. Of course this isn’t acceptable… and we have to look at ways to get better.
  • With my Elderish Statesman wiv Worldview head on, I still wonder if there isn’t something frankly unintelligent about the drive for ‘positive cricket’ (in Tests, in particular) or at least the relentlessness of the pursuit of it. It feels ridiculous not to have real game awareness ahead of the need to fight back aggressively or ‘express yourself/back yourself’ at all times. Been mentioned before but there’s a significant clue in the label here: Test Cricket. It’s not about swapping macho gestures – although we accept absolutely that bravado or boldness will play a part. Often it’s about patience, playing within yourself, seeing things out, as opposed to needing to express some weird domination throughout every moment. This is a contest over time and that’s beautiful, unique, crafty, cerebral, tense-in-a-different way. We all get that young athletes wanna be sexy and strong – stronger than their oppo’s – but sometimes it’s dumb and counter-productive to fall for that as An Approach. It may be tempting, in a bullish cohort of Fit Young Things, to go the easy way of expressing superiority through spunkiness but hello-o you don’t have to be a reactionary retard to make the argument that this may be simplistic nonsense unworthy of high-grade sport… which demands intelligence as well as testosterone.
  • There, I did it. Got struck off David Warner’s Christmas Card list. And Michael Vaughan’s. And everyone under thirty.
  • Final word on that Culture Of thing. Get absolutely that dynamism is central to impact/saleability/maybe growth. But drama is not always poptastic and colorifically-enhanced: sometimes it’s symphonic, ma’an.
  • So I want the Wider Game to be looked after. I’m bit suspicious of the race to funkier kit – essential though that may be. I want County and Test Cricket to dig in or be propped up until we’ve kappowed that bubble of limitations and shown everybody what an extraordinary, diverse, exciting game we have. The range of possibilities, of intrigues are maybe a language that must be learned – and therefore they may demand unfashionable levels of attention – but draw folks in and make them welcome and hallelujah! Something great happens. Longer forms are worth supporting not just for sentimental reasons but because they are essential to the romance on the one hand and the learning or skill-acquisition on the other. Tests and County Cricket must be sympathetically nuanced til crowds are meaningful and/or income from the ECB or telly or T20 action means there is a secure place for the next Baby Boycs as well as the next Ben Stokes.
  • That’s all I ask
  • except, naturally, for an absurdly fit-again Dai Steyn to come steaming in from the Cathedral Rd End / an absolute production-line of great welsh cricketers / a regular & successful & appreciated slot for Andrew Salter / a mindblowing series of tons from Nye Donald…

…Which plainly won.

It’s been a blast. An Indian one – sinuous and surreal and somehow both massive and intimate.

Afghanistan have charmed and entertained us; Dharamsala has blown our minds and now The Windies have doubled up on their Champions dance. Things are done; plans and hopes exhausted. Perhaps it’s time to reflect on where this leaves us.

It’s been a blast, despite an infuriating whiff of anarchy around ticketing and venues and the weirdly Old-World thrum of intransigence re the status or value of Associate Nations.

There’s an argument, of course, that global cricket governance needs to experience a similarly explosive culture change to that which rumbles so excitingly violently through the game itself but such was the seductive power of a good deal of #WT20 that I will scoot irresponsibly on past this whole conversation. (Others will and are nobly unpicking the pretence, in any case.) Much better and fairer and more appropriate to revel in the plusses.

We can do this most realistically, however if we pause briefly to ask if there is – in this Age of The Boomathon – any way this format at this level could fail to be tectonic entertainment?

Now we have legs clearing and blades voluptuously carving from ball one – arguably not.

Aha but let’s be positive! (Let’s be fair, in fact.) From an England (and Wales) supporters viewpoint I/we can now luxuriate in the knowledge that finally we have a team that gets this. Going forward – as the politicians and planners and coaches and posers and everybody else now says – the single most significant plus is the fabulous forward lurch, the progression that now sees us ready to compete in this format. This  may be bigger than achieving a place in the final: because we aren’t either flunking this or faking it now. England are a force and you (everybody else) better believe that.

Clearly you do.

Beyond this steepling climb into credibility and competitiveness, the view into the milieu nouveau is comforting – possibly inspiring. Crucially, it’s also inseparable from a nailed-on expectation of solid entertainment. (My thesis on How Exactly, This T20 Stuff Materialised, will be serialised in The Daily Doosra sometime soonish but meantime just do a one-minute-of-applause-thing for the happy coincidence of (R)evolutionary Sporting Dynamism and Full-on 21st Century thrill-grazing.)

Then check out these four boomers.

  • #WT20 was great because of the fabulous, diverse geographical/sociological landscape it inhabited. The continent that is India.
  • Yes we can give the administrators a slap but no we won’t waste energy on that: not now. But that will come. Now, enjoy!
  • England achieved.
  • Certainly Root and maybe Buttler confirmed themselves as World Stars, here and now, in the Boomathon.

Broadly, there’s been a change of nature in short-format cricket which inclines it towards drama. We know that now and we (England) are feeding off its energy, receiving the revelations; responding to and reflecting the sheer excitement.

What we fans can’t yet know is whether experience or experiences around the new and renewing sexed-up beast will be mediated in time by familiarity/inertia/ boredom. Fortunately the climax of the men’s tournament in particular (although the women’s ran it close in the ‘Advisory; watch from behind the sofa!’ stakes) re-nonsensed unlikely fears of any encroaching ambivalence.

Four more *absolute rockets*.

  • The gist of this is that England are of the essence of this format (now.) The Blokes, anyway. Expect the Women to return to some serious soul-searching and an abrupt, significant gear-change.
  • Willey kindof discovered himself, maybe? Which could be interesting.
  • Our Blokes are a danger to anyone but…
  • Just a few moments of inspiration or brutal, brutal hitting can have this thing done. T20 really is pop. Only unlicensed, dangerous, punky pop.

In the #WT20 Final, after England had unburied themselves from a frankly sickening start – mainly due to yet more brilliance and guts from Root – a young lad called Brathwaite unleashed a shortish but shockingly terminal barrage. It did feel like an eruption, being violent and beautiful. It crashed through of our senses; it was a supra-conclusive statement of something in a new-torn, invincible language. It was magic but kinda scary.

But that was the end. Previously, with the undoubtedly strong England batting line-up inserted, things began with a whimper not a roar. Both Roy and Hales departed jarringly early as the innings bolted towards then flirted with – please god no! -humiliation. Skipper Morgan almost got his lines together…but no. Butler and Root battled against and almost stemmed things… but no.

Strikes me that one of the challenges we’re yet to resolve in the new T20 universe is how swiftly and mercilessly we apportion blame to failing batsmen. They’re ALL supposed to give it a thrash, right? So, risk factors are to some extent factored out.

The Roy/Hales #fail-ure here provides plenty of scope for #bantz or bar-room brawling: why wouldn’t it? World Cup Final: stall to be set. Opinions will gloriously differ but unarguable surely that their premature exit contributed to England’s descent into flip-chart-cartoon-chaos mode? (Meaning it wasn’t good.)

Mind you, Goodie-Baddies in all of this were a W Indies side absolutely on the rampant side of pumped. They forced the England stumble. They were close to unplayable, being everywhere in the field – being a presence in the gaps. We knew Morgan’s side batted deep but from early on it seemed somehow only Root and Buttler might offer resistance, never mind a threat.

The former was again magnificent. Always less likely than Buttler to clear the rope but purer and less brittle. Whilst he stayed…

Painfully and somewhat surprisingly, the Yorkshireman got a tad greedy or a tad sloppy and ballsed up a trick shot. A disappointing end – one he visibly railed against. But he’d been England’s rock again. Buttler and Willey snorted or smote some defiance but the score seemed 20 or 30 light at 150-something.

Then the crazy stuff really started. The ultimately triumphant W Indies innings stumbled and stalled as England’s had done. Root winkled a couple out, sharpish and joyously. The pressure piled up and occasionally blew. Scores were comparable, as were levels of angst. This was no strut – not for Gayle, the feared colossus,  nor for anyone else. Everybody not actually in the ground was – yes! – behind a sofa.

England’s bowling was/is by reputation less convincing than the batting. Except maybe at The Death, when both Jordan and Stokes have repeatedly shown heroic levels of both skill and nervelessness. Another lurch forward and Stokes found himself, ball in hand with a *more than decent chance* of steering his country home. In the World Cup Final!

There is no question that Stokes is a) brilliant b) big-hearted and c) biologically/genetically programmed to perform sport to an elite level. It didn’t matter. Brathwaite dismissed him for four consecutive maximums to obliterate the ‘fact’ of a bottom-clenchingly tight finish.

We could pile in with the pyroclastic metaphors and the references to New Earth Being Produced. During this Last Over/New Geological Era Finale Thing. Because Brathwaite unmade or sea-floor-spreaded all that too, whilst he was dissecting and discombobulating Stokesy and England. How could he do that stuff? It was impossible. Times four.

We can argue the toss about what Stokes did or didn’t do but better to relax and actually to smile. Brathwaite made him and his lifetime of practice (and his weeks of death-bowling plans) an irrelevance. On the count of one, two, three, four.

Importantly, Stokes will be back. But this is Brathwaites’ story. He won a World Cup and made the most wonderful mockery of everything. Everything except sport… which plainly and simply won.

The Mad Batter’s Tea Party; Obvious Positives.

Working in and for the game of cricket, I take more than a passing interest in how folks view all of its multifarious (or possibly just nefarious?) forms. (Go see Jarrod Kimber ‘bout that latter niche.) I’m as daft and as clueless as the next fan/coach/umpire/player about many things within what we might call the world of cricket but medium clued-in, I would say, on matters to do with coaching and retention – what the game (or, okaaay, what Cricket Wales) is looking to do.

I’m not boasting. I’m not saying I’m good at this or that, just that I have some knowledge – some information – stored on these issues, following turgid or revelatory classroom-bound discussions or blokey workshopping or centre-practice of cricket stuff. It’s what I do. Why wouldn’t I know something? If I don’t know what the path forward looks like on Coach Education and in terms of schools provision, I do know what’s being discussed, or put in place, or considered at local and national level. But ultimately… everything’s context.  Everything out there shapes things.

Cricket People are like Ordinary People in that they locate themselves, noisily or quietly, into wildly different zones of opinion or belief. Sometimes a level of global calm seems to win out, as the cricket equivalent of peacetime – or tea-time – prevails. Other times the brew is stronger and the scones, yaknow… stonier.

Now feels like a Mad Batters Tea Party. An incendiary, expressionistic, drug-addled cornucopia-fest. Where the crashbangwallop of the game magnificently and beautifully but maybe luridly reflects the noises off, the times, the turbidity currents building around cricket’s heaving continents. It’s excitingly off its own head.

The times of course do contribute to the vulcanism; ‘f you don’t like something or somebody you mercilessly troll them. ‘F you see the umpire got it wrong from 24 different angles you blow your collective, high definition fuse. If the game slows down you down another Fosters. So if this doesn’t seem like a Test Cricket kindofa time then maybe that’s because it really ain’t.

However. Despite the absurdities and indeed immoralities exposed by ‘Death of A Gentleman’; despite the *challenges* to fairness/honesty/decency implicit in an Indo-Aus-Giles Clark Pact; despite the alleged woefulness of some of the Ashes Women batting – despite the obscene hurry we’re all in to get somewhere brasher quicker – there are Obvious Positives. Even for Test Cricket. Surely there are? Positives which though they may not necessarily ‘grow the game’ – in that immortal phrase – may counter-intuitively perhaps preserve it and develop it.

I know some of these positives from my work and in that I am privileged. I see young girls in Penny Dropping mode as they get that this is their game too. I see the powerful and yet relatively untapped educational potential in upful, ‘physical’ but thoughtful school sessions – children building cricket games and therefore using a zillion ‘academic’ skills as well as heartily lugging round those limbs – moving. I meet, actually, loads of brilliant people, either in schools or within Cricket Wales or Glamorgan C.C.C. or elsewhere.  But hey look if you think I’m coming over all soft-sellingly pro- what I do then I’ll park that and go back to where we came in. Which was with perceptions – opinions.

I went both to the Ashes Test Match in Cardiff and the Bank Holiday double header extravaganza – where both men and women played T20 Internationals. Both were superb events, confirming the racy, thrilling, contemporary brilliance of short-format cricket and the traditional but evolving majesty of the five (soon-to-be-four) day experience. Moeen Ali was great. Ben Stokes was great – all kinds of things from that general upping of the ante to seeing Cook command the new era with confidence and imagination were great.

These days were both a novelty and a re-affirmation.  We’ve burst through something, haven’t we? Carved out of yesterday’s billion-year-old past.

I’ve previously wittered on about this new wild positivity – picked holes in it – but generally it’s pretty fab, right? It offers us cricketpeeps clear opportunities; let’s take them.

But enough foam for a minute. Here’s a wee story which feels relevant. ‘Sharing’ stuff, (hate that phrase!) asyado, on twitter, I happened to drop in a minor note of disappointment re the level of attendance at the beginning of the Women’s T20 and was fairly promptly slapped down for using the everydaysexism hashtag to accompany my (honestly relatively minor) gripe. I should say I have the luxury of being a complete nobody so this was not heavyweight trolling, you understand, this was two blokes.

They objected to my high-handedness and accused me of that kind of hypocrisy whereby you *support* something you don’t really support because (probably) you read that this is right in the Guardian. They said that the Women’s Ashes was poor and I shouldn’t be pretending otherwise, effectively: also that you can’t force people to watch something.

I know what they meant and that there is such a weasley phenomenon at work in the Liberal Mind. And I suppose I fall into that category. But they were wrong.

Firstly I hadn’t said or implied anything about the quality or otherwise of the game. Secondly they misunderstood – probably wilfully – the essence of my disappointment. Not wishing to use too much battery time on the discussion, I signed off promptly –
Have a good day, Genghis.

With the SSE Swalec emptyish rather than fullish as Brunt and Shrubsole went about their opening business and in the knowledge, frankly, that on a purely economic level it made sense for supporters to take in both internationals, I expressed disappointment. Why not support the women’s match, even if you find it less dynamic or entertaining – even if the ‘standard’ offends you? Don’t get it. Unless #everydaysexism.

To clasp that nettley comparison – this;
a) it’s both faintly ridiculous and mildly dumb to compare men and women – they’re simply different
b) (if) levels of power are the central issue maybe something could be done on type/weight of ball and/or length of pitch – if we become sure that women’s cricket needs to replicate men’s by becoming increasingly about elite-level mega-dynamism. If we don’t, then maybe (wonderfully/hilariously/enlighteningly) women’s cricket will be a/the game for skill, subtlety and patience, as things develop.

Finally on that, things have developed. Meaning despite the ‘distance yet to travel’ inferred by much of the writing on the Women’s Ashes, cricket played by women and girls is a cause for celebration and it seems essential and right to support it. Not indiscriminately but support it. Sure the scores are markedly lower, sure the hitting is markedly less wallopacious, sure the event is of a different timbre – currently and maybe permanently. But there has been and there will be rapid ‘progress’ as wider opportunities for top level competitive play/training/competition emerge.

Finally finally, watching from directly behind the bowler’s arm, I loved it that Anya Shrubsole (who bowled a flawed spell, ye-es!) swung the ball further than anyone of any sex on that double-header of a day. I also really enjoyed Brunt’s Proper Fast Bowler Attitude from t’other end.

Throw in Sarah Taylor’s nonchalant excellence behind the sticks and there you have three reasons to be cheerful. Obvious Positives. Now if we (the English/Welsh) can sort the Buttler batting thing out – oh and the Lyth one – and then get to the fascistic world-governance scene-thing, imagine how fabulous cricket could be?

Passing the Stokes Test.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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