Final Curtains.

Going to be ‘liveblogging’ this baybee – i.e. updating throughout the day/night. So check in every hour or four?

 

I have no idea whether I will retain or continue to seek accreditation. (The latter is likely… but uncertain). If I do, and we continue to share our cricket psycho-cobblers, please do cuff me violently round my ample lugs, should I ever get complacent about stuff like this; the walk into and round to the front of the Edgbaston Media Centre – and that first look out.

9.30-odd, on a perfect September morn, with the Bungee Bouncee Thing springing joyfully in the background, and the ground quiet but for the daft footie and earnest netting and diligent marking-out, it’s a revelation, a privilege, a seminal, enduring pleasure: so hit me if I drift, friends – hit me.

The skyline is crisp and dry and leafy, actually. To the extent that the trees – proper woody, British, deciduous jobbers – *just may be* wading towards us. (This could be something to do with our elevated position – four storeys up – fetching or distorting the angles. Maybe I need to drop down into the stadium and get down and dirty with the punters and players?) Sold. I will.

10.07. Still deliciously pre- everything. About a thousand in the ground, some already indulging, rather guiltily: long day ahead. Nasser and Wardy and Trescothick (I think) mooching and pre-discussing the necessary telly-themes. Pods of elite athletes looking disconcertingly dweeby and uncoordinated around wilfully unhelpful footballs. Sunshine.

Lancs win the toss and will field against Worcester Rapids. Less bright. Did I mention I’m looking straight down the pitch… and I love that? Well I am. It’s fabulous.

10.47 and the first Sweet Caroline. Bumble down there miming wee snippets as the gathering crowd smile or bawl their way through. Bittafun, early-doors.

Lester opens up for Lancs. To Clarke. Then Moeen. Left arm over, quickish, fullish. Mo benefits from a poor misfield at extra – first 4. Dances down and clatters the next, straighter – 4 more. 9 from the over.

(#FirstWorldProblems; am trying to add an I’m At Edgbaston header pic on the blog: ‘s not having it).

Just me, or something slightly naff about that red, Lancs are sporting? Weirdly thin, washing-powder-ad stylee, for me. Second misfield gifts Mo another 1. Nerves.

Early change as Livingstone brings more pace, from our end. More nerves as he hoists an absolute shocker of a full-toss, which Ali dispatches. Follows that with a classical straight 6, then adds 4… three times! How much would we love it if Moeen went BIG, BIG? (Answer – a lot).

Balance slightly restored as Faulkner bowls Clarke to bring us to 37 for 1, in the 4th. Moeen’s got that soft hands and plenty of time thing going on, though – looking great.

Wow. Coach going apoplectic (I imagine) as a third misfield means four more through the covers. Conditions sensational – must be nerves distracting. 56 for 1 at the conclusion of the power play. Mooen on 38 from 17.

11.28, ground almost full. Shirtsleeves. Wonderful.

Less wonderfully, Moeen slightly chops across a straight drive to mid-off. Caught, on 41, when looking comfortable.

Immediately, Two Big Moments as D’Oliveira is run out and then Fell is stumped. From nowhere, having done very little right, Lancs are back in this as Rapids drop to 71 for 4 – inexplicably.

Parkinson gets one to turn best part of a foot, then bowls Whiteley for 4. Wow. 83 for 5 after 11.

Lovely to see a leggie really turn the erm, albino cherry. (Might copyright that). Still that sense that this has all *just happened*, though – i.e. that Rapids have been subjected to something profoundly mysterious – but credit the Lancs spinners, Khan and Parkinson, who are a genuine threat, here.

Clark, coming in with good energy, gets Mitchell lbw and Lightning are 97 for 6, in the 15th. Relatively deepish trouble, for Worcs?

Cox and Barnard growing into this but the innings has to explode, late on, you feel. 133 for 6 after 18.

Cox fires off with a lusty blow for 6 then a ver-ry cute reverse tickle for 4. Lester under pressure as the seamer is clouted for a further 6 over midwicket. Then again, more monstrously, into the same block but further up. Much jumping, clutching and hollering in the Hollies.

It’s Cox who tows the Rapids to 169 for 6 at the close: he has 55 not out. Can only feel (having seen Moeen cruise so majestically earlier) that this may be a tad light.

Longish chat with one of the Sussex backroom guys. He’s as deeply impressed with Dizzy G as the rest of us. Hugely generous; cool and wise; utterly trusting. The kind of bloke who *actually does* all the stuff other coaches talk about doing. I want Dizzy’s lot to win today.

Wood races in to Davies. Again, evidence that’s there’s something in this for the bowlers –  several inches of cut for the left arm quick. Can’t protect him from two late boundaries, mind: a decent first over yields 8.

In the 3rd, Davies is rather unnecessarily run out, following a misfield then a sharp throw. Lilley joins Livingstone and we are now 22 for 1.

Wood switches ends and is gallivanting towards us. He part paws, part chests-down a brutal drive from Lilley, and the trainer is on. Ultimately, no doubt sore, Wood continues.

The light – always sympathetic – switches back on up to 11. Mooen, from mid-off, doing lots of talking to his bowlers. And shuffling his field. It may be working because so far Lightning are non-thunderous.

The thing about T20 is you don’t write things like that. Because the very next ball gets absolutely smashed. 6. Coulda been 10. 44 for 1 after 5.

Cruel world. Young Brown *really puts it in there* for the Rapids, only for Lilley to unceremoniously (or worse – horribly) swat him past mid-off for 4. Next ball is similarly dispatched and the power play closes at 55 for 1.

Barnard has Livingstone caught at third man. Deserved that, the bowler, having defeated him the previous ball with a sly, slow one. Enter Buttler… and also Moeen, with the ball.

The talisman in blue – fifth bowler in the first 7 overs – traps Lilley in front with a ball that didn’t appear to deviate. Lots of love for Mo at the end of the over, with Lancs at 67 for 3 but now with Jennings and Buttler out there. Crucial period, surely?

I can confirm that Jennings is tall… and upright at the crease – although he gets lower or more dynamic or something as his innings develops.

Weird phase where both batsmen seem obsessed with reversing Moeen, to little effect. 78 for 3 after 10 – just behind the Rapids score – 92 needed. D’Oliveira becomes the 6th bowler for the 11th: again, some turn present. Both batsmen circumspect, so far.

OOf. Buttler scuffs-on, from Mo, for 12. With Jennings looking okaay but rather one-dimensional, the incoming Vilas may have to bring some boom. Game in the balance at 91 for 4, D’Oliveira finding his flow and more spin; enjoyable. We may owe the groundsman a pint for an excellent, supportive pitch.

Jennings accelerates. Two consecutive boundaries, off Mitchell. Still playing within himself but a prudent gear-change, I’d say.

Risky run again proves fatal. Vilas dives but goes and with Clark joining Jennings, Lightning need 10-plus per over. Should be fun, should be close.

Mo finishes with 2 for 16 off his 4 overs: which is outstanding, right? Brown will bowl the 17th. When Clark is run out, Faulkner comes in, with Buttler acting as runner: would he could swing that bat. Lancs will need 30 off the last 2.

Brown for the penultimate. Has Faulkner caught in the deep. 140 for 7 with Lester now in; swishes unconvincingly across the first.

Then the young paceman has his man, with a lovely, slower number, rolled out of the wrist. When Parkinson goes clouting skywards next ball… it feels done. Khan and Jennings must engineer 29 from Parnell’s last over.

Second ball disappears, bringing Jennings to his half-century but the next two stay on the island. It’s the Rapids’ game. Lancashire Lightning finish on 149 for 9. Bring on MAJOR FOOD, please… and the next one!

Wright and Salt will open for Sussex, facing Waller. 10 off the 1st, with Salt snaring 9 of them. The powerful-looking Taylor offers right-arm quick to follow but Salt connects to square leg – 4 more. He then steers rather loosely to mid-off and is gone, replaced by Evans, who steers Taylor neatly wide of that same fielder.

Wright takes on the incoming Overton. More than that, he carves him left and right – successive sixes. Evans is lbw then Rawlins skies one almost nowhere and Sharks are  74 for 3, with Wright on 34 off 20, come the end of the 8th. The sun is peeping then hiding just a little but as September days go… we’ll take it.

Friendly Geezer from Sussex Marketing saying they’ve inevitably received ‘some earache’ re- the controversial ticket-allocation for Finals Day: 500 seems an oddly low number. Explanation given was apparently that there was a fear that if the four clubs were allocated many more, then half the stadium may go after the semi’s. Get that but surely 1,000 or 1500 a better shout?

Meanwhile, Wright goes to 52, hauling Overton to leg. A spiteful beamer follows… which means a free hit… and a further 6 over long-on. 200-plus well and truly on, as the Sharks number 10 and captain struts into that Star-Player-In-Sumptuous-Mode phase. 141 for 3, off 13. Exciting stuff.

*Meanwhile*, chefs appear to be chasing pigs around The Hollies.

Wright may be 85 off 46 but Wiese is suddenly flying and purring, too. Smoothes Gregory into the highest tier over long-on, then drives through off. Irresistible. 220 entirely possible. Incredibly, could see more.

Wiese cushions Anderson for 1 to claim 50, then Wright is caught, booming to long-off, for a superb 92. The bowler has been going hard into the pitch, sometimes short, with two out on the on-side: three, in fact – two for cross-batted clubbing, plus a man at a long-on.

Taylor to Burgess, who wastes a few balls before being caught by an in-rushing deep midwicket with the score at 197. Archer goes for the dreaded GD and Jordan will join Wiese for Gregory, and the final over. Jordan sacrifices himself, meaning Beer will join us – appropriately. 200 up, 2 balls to come.

After an umpire review nails Wiese (run out), Sharks finish at 202 for 8 – great score, but Wright might be forgiven for thinking his lower-order colleagues underachieved by about 15. Whatever, Somerset must launch at this from pretty early on.

I watch the start of the reply from inside the Media Lounge, where you could sprawl – or do a 30 metre dash – should the urge take you.

Jimmy Anderson steals quietly past. Athers, bespectacled and studious with his broadsheet, is between me and the telly, such that he might be fearing my intense leering is for him. (Not so, Michael; I was trying to stay abreast of all things Archer and Millsy, honest). That and eating again, like a horse, like a man who remembers from last year that this is a very long day – I reiterate, a long day of privileges, mainly.

After the cheese and biccies (and 6 overs) Somerset are 45 for 3, with Hildreth on 14 and Abell on 3. (I am bloated and baggy-eyed, already – thanks for your concern).

Wiese takes the Most Embarrassing Catch Ever Ever, to eventually snaffle Hildreth’s looping edge and the Sussex Posse next to me are looking for the sign saying ‘Dreamland’. 53 for 4, Somerset.

Our friends in The Hollies are having fun, and quite right too. But they are also slinging balls onto the outfield every few minutes. Which is not that funny if you’re fielding… and wondering what’s underneath your ankles. Perhaps this is why the fella Abell clatters the ball violently into that particular stand?

85 for 4 at the halfway mark. The aforementioned Abell has just played two consecutive reverse-sweeps with two fielders placed precisely for that shot. Overthunk it, methinks.

Wiese puts down a relatively straight-forward chance when swooping like a gawky erm… gosling. My Sussex friends are telling me he’s not normally the Villager in the Field but it kinda goes on, as the poor fella bowls two very different but consecutive wides. Win or lose, he’ll be the bloke dropping his pint, later.

You feel Abell and Anderson may be a threat, and they set out, in the 13th, to prove that. The 100 comes up – 4 down. Mills is in for the next.

Archer contributes a clanger to the Somerset cause; the ball scooting beneath him to the point boundary.

The Cider-drinkers need  72 off the remaining 6 overs but Abell goes – a tad unfortunate to be run-out by a faint touch from Brigg’s fingers as the ball hurried past the bowler. That could be big.

It *could be* but Gregory, the skipper and one of the players of the tournament is in. Archer returns to greet him. The sky is somehow less deep, less full. It’s greyer.

Series of fine yorkers from Jordan: three optimistic appeals yield nothing but press home the Sharks advantage. Somerset need 20 an over from the last 3.

A slightly controversial no ball (for height) saves Gregory then offers him a free hit, off Archer but there’s no sense that the striking is remotely dynamic enough to make this close. Anderson is caught, for 48, last ball of the over, and Somerset need 50, off 2.

Jordan impressively cleans out Gregory with yet another yorker; Van der Merwe in – thankless, hopeless task.

Mills bowls the last, disturbing Overton’s off-stick third ball. Impressive but not perfect performance from Sussex yields a 35 run win. They will rest up for a bit – won’t we all – and charge in again at 6.45p.m. for a Mo versus Dizzy final. Ex-cellent.

I can now exclusively reveal that Jimmy Anderson likes a bitta sauce: was just pursuing some in the Media Lounge. Weirdly, didn’t recognise me. Congratulated him anyway, on his recent milestone.

In other news, I watched Dizzy chatting away with his guys during the break. Quietish, undemonstrative, mirrored a couple of batting strokes. No passionate urging or chest-pumping; almost as though he really trusts his team to make it happen.

Lights are on, for the final. They need to be. It’s going to be coolish, soonish, too. Luke Wood will bowl to Phil Salt. Drilled to mid-off; dot ball.

Two singles turned off the hip. Then Salt drills a beauty on the deck through extra-cover. 6 for 0. And Parnell.

Greeted by two extraordinary shots – Salt lifting him then slapping him straightish-offish for a pair of sixes. But hold… the daft bugger’s then run out, for not sliding the bat, when looking comfortably home! Great throw came in but that was village and the departing, cursing batsman knows it. A gift for the Rapids. 24 for 1 after the 3rd.

Wood changes ends. Has square leg back and a long on. Has that characteristic, slightly counterintuitive stroll back to his mark, walking wrong-side, as it were, – presumably to keep his approach straight(?) The trend for 1-over spells continues, with Parnell running in away from us.

Evans, then Wright remain undistracted: two sixes the result. 42 for 1 after 5.

Good spell, for Worcester – Barnard taking some pace off. Mo will reduce that velocity further as the dusk descends.

Evans has to respond and does: 6 over midwicket. But after 8, Sussex are at 56 for 1… and surely down by a few? Wright club-drives Brown before swinging him straight – for 4 on both occasions – before underlining the gear-change with a 6. Sharks countering, and Evans and Wright now ‘in’.

Ah. Except that Wright is OUT, having been bowled by Moeen, swinging too wildly, for 33. The lights have upped their game; they sting now, if you stare.

D’Oliveira finds some spin… but then the very middle of Rawlin’s bat – twice, for successive 6s. 93 for 2 after 11; feels more competitive.

Mitchell is in, with some slowish-medium. Have no issue with that. However I’m not sure we can forgive him his two wides, at that pace. (The second a shocker). Wood, following, is looking focused and somehow manfully quick. He sends one past Rawlins’ nose. 110 for 2, with 13 gone.

We then, dear friends, have a Technical Hitch, meaning I have to switch from ancient, inherited Mac, to medium dodgy ipad. Fingers crossed.

Things have progressed. Mo has finished with 3 for not-that-many, Evans is beyond 50 and the we’ve just had our umpteenth Umpire’s Review for a possible no ball around the waist. Sharks are 147 for 5, after 18.

Brown bowls the 19th: finishes with 0 for 15 off his 4 overs: good work. Sussex gonna have to bowl well, too but that’s their strong suit, arguably.

Parnell will slap it in there for the last. Archer carts the final delivery to the midwicket boundary, where the fielder takes an easy catch. 158 required for the win.

As we prepare to go again, take a look at the skyline. There’s barely a city there. Just us… and this stadium: magic. Archer prepares.

The lad looks interestingly disconsolate on his walk back. A decent over offers 5.

Could be dewy out there; two minor fielding errors. Mills bustles in – arms wrapped as per. Half The Hollies is doing a kind of comatose conga… at walking-pace.

Archer’s body-language is similarly low-key. The *actual bowling* is fine – 2 overs for 12 – but he has the look of a slightly moody teenager. 22 for 0 after 3.

Rapids, of course, don’t have to be that rapid. And they know that. Barely a swipe in anger, so far, and they’re still ahead of the run-rate. Moeen can afford to bring out his finest forward defence, to Jordan. He does.

Moeen does pick the slower one, mind, too – and heaves it over midwicket for 4. Follows that up with a slightly inside-out spooning over long-off and a further haul to leg. Advantage to Worcester after 5: 44 for 0 wicket.

Wiese is in to conclude the powerplay: it’s mixed, a poor ball down leg is rightly dismissed.

When Moeen thwacks Briggs high over midwicket, we approach crunchtime early, it seems. But the spinner has Clarke caught behind for 33 and when the incoming Fell drives Beer directly to extra-cover we find ourselves at 62 for 2, in the 8th. Briggs returns for the 9th.

*Things we maybe thought we might not say at The Cricket*: the Human League are going down well. Onwards.

D’Oliveira is stumped, off Briggs, for 10, but Moeen persists. Calmly easing through. I’m guessing 82% of the crowd is still with us.

From nowhere, Ali is gone – caught miscuing to long-off by a more than slightly jubilant Salt. Important, clearly, but Wiese’s fielding clanger a few balls later still hurts. A sort of intermittent, mid-range squeeze is on.

Whiteley breaks out with a powerful cuff to leg, off Beer. 104 for 4, off 14, with 54 needed: re-enter Jordan. Slower ones and yorkers – goodish. With the Big Guns back into this (Mills is next) this could be close. We want that, yes?

42 required, off 4. Sitting comfortably? (The Lads to my left aren’t: Sharks Media Posse). Archer is in.

Beautifully deft reverse from Cox finds the boundary. Then he drives for 4 over mid-off’s leap. Drama cranks up as a HUGE no-ball call goes against Whiteley. 127 for 5, meaning 31 needed off 3.

Jordan has changed ends. Dot ball. Full-toss to leg for 4. Tangle-almost-played-on thing. Scurry-through with no contact. Straight 6! *Possible misjudgement in the field(?)*  Over over… and 141 for 5 on the board.

Ultimately, The Golden Boy bottles it! Archer flings a horrendous beamer past Cox’s left ear and waaay past the keeper! The free hit is likewise dispatched. The follow-up likewise. Cox is pipping… everybody! (Gets coat). Tremendous, nerveless effort to bring his side home – as he did in the semi.

So Moeen – our Moeen – will be collecting the trophy. I can feel the universe smiling. Fabulous finish.

 

Morning after. Was too exhausted last night to properly big up a) Edgbaston and all who sail and steer in that crazy-wonderful boat – thank you for your generous hospitality b) that bloke Cox. Stunning, extended, dramatic, luxurious day of sport you gave us. Bravo!

 

Measuring the Moment.

Finals Day. For some, an exemplar of the modern, dynamic game we’re searching for – what with heaving, happy crowds and boomtastically lusty action. For others, including (weirdly counter-intuitively?) the ECB, a still slightly undercooked version of the spectacularly box-ticking ideal. For other others a kind of Nightmare on Lowest Common Denominator Street.

Muggins here was at Edgbaston, having received wider ECB Media Accreditation for the first time. I was both swanning around and working but did make the occasional effort to tear myself away from the outstanding hospitality/catering/Media Bubble to get down and dirty with you plebs.

Of course I didn’t do anything quite so undignified as to break out into song, or drink from a shoe, or do that bungee-rocket-jump thing but I did, yaknow, contemplate stuff.

Mainly I watched the cricket, enjoying the following in no particular order;

Pollock – for finding a zone of near-obscene brilliance (see previous blog) which separated the Bears from Glamorgan. My memory, which I admit may not coincide entirely with the stats, suggesting his hitting was simply more devastating than anybody else’s all day.

At the other end of a long, intermittently intense day I quietly hailed another triumph – and somehow they all feel personal? – for Peter Moore, the Real Good Bloke Who Rode Disappointment. The Notts coach again might be tempted to fistpump the mirror and tell Ingerland Crickit to go eff itself. (He won’t… because apparently he really is a RGB and he just doesn’t need to: he just keeps working to a fine, fine level).

Sodhi, who span the ball as well as splatting it swiftly down, also caught my eye. Having watched from directly behind his arm, I can tell you that yes he did mix things up – T20 needs must – but also he really did succeed in spinning/turning the ball. Entirely get that the spin-bowler’s short-format repertoire cannot afford to focus more than about 12% on that sideways movement but yup – enjoyed that.

Enjoyed Taylor’s knock in the final, too. Despite having aired my concerns on twitter re- his steady progress towards thirty-odd, it was a pleasure to see his craft cut against the expectation for relentless violence. Taylor played a lot of proper cricket shots, only unleashing the beast later on in proceedings, when the situation (finally) did demand it. I rated his measurement of the moment – it was (as they say) class.

Lots of fuss over Samit so I won’t go there. Clearly the guy’s a player but have previously gone on record to say I’m cool with an international coach, or international coaches as a breed demanding high standards of athleticism, in the modern era.

On the fast bowling front I admired much of what Stone did, plus Ball and Gurney with their spidery strafing-from-Mars thing. Woakes, though, was a thing of beauty, when fired-up.

But the story should maybe about Edgbaston… and about the future. Which is where (I don’t mind telling you) I come over all conflicted.

Plainly Finals Day was a striking, all-singing, most boozing success in the modern way. Clearly Edgbaston does an ace job of this. It was colourful, it hosted, it showed-off, it surfed the excess most excellently. The job was absolutely done in terms of an orgasmic, short-format Big Day Out. (Oh, and lots of the cricket was great too – I mean that). So… that other competition; what’s it for, again?

T20 Blast has got better every year and seems on an upward curve in every respect. Accept there are those who claim it’s a significant notch down from the IPL and  Big Bash in terms of playing quality but that gap has closed. Besides, nobody at Edgbaston was complaining. There is a ver-ry strong argument that building, year by year on the Blast’s positives rather than introducing a rival competition makes perfect sense. As we know, that ain’t gonna happen.

I’m slightly fascinated by the ECB’s moves, here. The chosen option, to create an ultimately higher-class, city-based tournament which more successfully bursts or expands the bubble of traditional cricket supporters is a strikingingly ambitious choice, given what we have – what Blast has become.

Based around masses of research, driven in some meaningful part by Australian experiences and expertise, aimed at transforming levels of visibility of the game and joined up with the huge All Stars and Cricket Unleashed projects this is an epic call. Radical; romantically bold; risky.

The ECB are backing it, though, unless something extraordinary happens(?) They’ve found, as All Stars has recently demonstrated, an unlikely bundle of courage and commitment to change the scenery drastically. This is on the one hand rather exciting.

However the general experience of Edgbaston – my experience, the deliriously fabulous experience of many in the crowd, Saturday – challenges the notion of whether another 20-20 is at all necessary. Blast is becoming that good… and seems likely to tick many of the required boxes in good time… and offers no threat to County Cricket. It offers or can offer the gateway to wider exposure and new customer bases that the ECB understandably craves. So why tinker?

It’s a huge call.

It wasn’t just the Hollies Stand that was rocking on Saturday. As I enjoyed my luxury miniature dessert, the whole of Edgbaston was giving it some.

Word on’ tinternet and beyond has been of a longterm agreement to tie #T20Blast to Brum and good luck to them. Most of what we saw would escape funding from the Arts Council but it was great, relatively inoffensive fun. Easy to be cynical about the attention-seeking antics of a certain former England all-rounder in particular but people laughed and joined in and participated in the cricket. Bumble and Freddie were part of the rockin’ whole.

Blast has become a popular success and therein lies a problem, of sorts, for the ECB. We all know really that two UK 20-20s is one too many – the market’s getting crowded, increasingly so. When withdrawing your hottest, sexiest, bravest plan ever ever feels unthinkable and the expendable prototype turns out better than you thought…. what, exactly, do you do? Glad it’s not my shout.