Bigger than the Winning.

Winning is great. It’s gratifying and exciting and sometimes it replenishes us. Sometimes, too, it does that Stamp the Dirt Down thing where we relish the defeat of an old foe or maybe just the bunch of bastards who actually tried to start a fight, in our local league game, or wherever.

We may or may not allow ourselves to recognise the moral/ethical dimension(s) around that win: we may be too drunk, too thinly happy, or too desperate for the points to care. But mostly I think we do care about the quality of winning – the cut of the contest.

I don’t buy this stuff from footie pundits, for example, about fans ‘only caring’ about the table, or the silverware. Call me deluded but I reckon most of us are better than that. (I know there are dangers, here – chiefly the very real possibility that I’m going to sound pompous or judgemental or superior… but bugger it I can live with that. To strip out the aesthetic & emotive characteristics or attributes from sport is just pitifully stupid, surely?)

It’s true that I’m a certain age. It’s true that (despite that) I know naff all about philosophy and yet it feels absurd not to offer the observation that winning/losing/playing has inherently some qualitative richness that arises and transfers because of deepish appreciations – some of which are instinctive (arguably) – and yet also complex, profound and abstract.

Wow. What a game that was. Can hardly believe it. Danny was sensational, Sarah unbeleeeeeevable and what a joy to see the youngster do that! What was the score, again?

To strike the ball like that, to there, with that level of control; ridiculous. To fling yourself, like that – bloody ex-traor-dinary. To come back from there… fantastic.

Drama and heroics (true heroics!) and crazy-commitment and these zillion gifts to sport trump or kaleidoscopically locate mere victory. For me. Always have.

Call me old-fashioned – call me anything you like. Winning is great but to say it is everything makes Jeremy Kyles of all of us. It’s crass, it’s stupid and though it may be *popular*, it’s a simple travesty.

Why all this psycho-cobblers? Not sure. Other than I’ve been loving the cricket – the England v Pakistan One-Dayers. Went to Cardiff, listened to the others on the radio, chiefly. Happy to out myself as both a lover of 50 over cricket and of the Sound Of Things.

We might hear, we might accept that these matches have been ‘yet more proof’ that the game has turned boomtastically in the batters favour: debatable, perhaps and plainly dependent on ground and atmospheric conditions… but let’s move on. Other than that, they’ve felt roundly magnificent.

What’s not to like about the combination of fearlessness and sheer, finely-honed class of, well, most of the England line-up in this format? Buttler is an obvious, mercurial worldie-of-a-gem but Morgan and Root and Bairstow and Buttler are extraordinarily good, too, yes?

A really good Pakistan side, offering some real quality themselves with both bat and ball are being pret-ty serenely seen off. But the games have been contests. The level of entertainment has been fantastic. The level of skill – skill, not just blasting to the boundary – from Roy and the rest has been quite wonderful to watch. Pakistan have made a genuine contribution – one which I genuinely think has been appreciated by both sets of fans.

But England have won – and England have a real chance of winning the upcoming tourney. All this is fandabbydozy. But mainly, or especially, or significantly… because of the manner of all this. There’s something beautiful – yes, beautiful – about how this has been.

Okaaay there’s a smidge of partisanship in any statement of that sort but these games have been overwhelmingly fine; positive and richly enjoyable to the extent that any watcher or listener of any persuasion would surely have been captivated, captured by the quality of the action. And this could be bigger than the winning.

Pakistan are more than decent. It may be that their fielding has been too ropey and their batting a touch lacking in extravagance but these are relative: relative to a magnificently good team… who happen to be England. And that inevitable tribal-fixation-thing – supporting, being ‘of’ something – is only a part of a wonderful, winning whole.

 

 

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?

Sport Transcending.

 

Minor aside. I was going to write about football for bowlingatvincent.com but couldn’t summon the mood. There are subjects out there – the Chelsea Void, the ongoing van Gaal splutter-which-might-somehow-incredibly-lead-to-a-title, the wonderful Vardy nonsense – but something about the context, the deflating averageness of the Premier League undermines my conviction to really plunge into the stories. Temporary this, I hope.

Then I thought on the obvious; the Buttler Transformation. Magic but na.
Instead I’m going to recount stuff that I hope might just strike a deeper (sorry, pretentious gitdom alert), more inspirational chord with some of you. As I sit looking out over Swansea Bay in sharp sunshine it just seems right to blaze away on Bigger Themes rather than pootle around with transparently forced hypotheses around elite-level footie. And Buttler, Buttler’s been covered.
In any case, sharing something of the small fabulousness of grassy, grassrooty sport feels worthier and more pressing; so that’s where I’m going.

Friday I got up at 6.50a.m. as per and did usual the family stuff. (Dunno about you but this generally involves maybe 20 minutes of washing up whilst cobbling together medium-decent brekkie for t’other three, plus a swift jaunt to ‘look at the sea’ with pooch.)

Critically for me it also meant both trying to picture where a particular school is… and then rehearsing ideas for a first session of cricketstuff for (probably) two groups of kids (probably) aged seven to eleven. Hilarious but true it could even be that I’m visualising ‘capturing’ kids whilst stirring the porridge. In fact I’m pretty certain I am.

I’d not been into this school before. I’d spoken to the Head – whom I’d never met – and he had sounded right up for my pitch re delivering a couple of taster sessions with a view to inviting kids up to further cricket action at the local leisure centre. He’d also skilfully gently inferred that because of the ‘nature’ of his posse, it might be a challenge to actually achieve the transfer of children from (free) school knockabout to a leisure centre charging a not unreasonable £2.50 for the hour. I remember rating his honesty and generosity around this but was clear that there is real value in showing the game(s) at his place irrespective of any targets. I told him that and think this made us mates.

We’re a one-motor family so it was a scramble to get people to various terminals of departure before I could boot down towards the school. I arrived, very nearly a tad late, carrying big, unhelpfully decrepit bags of clobber in coolish drizzle, to be told I ‘needed to be round the corner at the Junior School’.

Given that I’m kindof Old School about being timely and gathered and stuff, this was not good. However, arriving at the destination proper turned out to be one of those rather lovely, confirmatory moments which denied any residual fluster.

The Gaffer met me and was friendly: there was clearly no rush. Within seconds two different people had offered me a brew and a ‘hand with ‘anything.’ The ambience spoke of proper welcome and the environment was visibly (whatever this means – we know what it means!) encouraging. Minor note; I’m a fella with very few prejudices but I’d walked in there wondering, just a little, about baggage in the ether – ‘reputations’.

Because of the tiddly specks outside and the availability of a spanking new and perfectly adequate hall, I bundled my kit inside. Another teacher came to say hello and offer help. Whilst we chatted it became apparent that the weather was breaking for the better and that though it might remain marginal we could go for it outside, on a new, tarmacked space. Outside is better; we engaged Plan B sharpish and I re-gathered to think about first outdoor introductory sessions for feisty kids. It’s cold. It’s grey. It’s okaaaay, actually but best get these guys at it.

So, movement and maybe teamwork and a few giggles. The setting out of a friendly, challenging-in-a-good-way matrix through which we can gambol. Pressing that ‘earthlings you’re gonna have to listen because the games are gonna change’ button. Making even these instructions engaging/dynamic/part of some irrepressible bundle. Do all that pal.

First group comes out. Mix of Year 5 and 6. I launch likeably enthusiastic geezer mode, with a deal based around F.U.N. for ‘top, top listening’.

I think they get me and we shake hands excitedly-metaphorically on a guaranteed smiles-for-listening agreement then off we go. Twenty-five boys and girls passing teddies, beach balls, (spongy) rugby balls and other assorted unthreatening globes to each other as they jog across the space and back, Emily having set the tempo by demonstrating a treble-fabulous and stylish jog immediately before the happy stampede.

It’s chaos but manageably so; it’s undeniably smiley. They do get me. Of course Jonni and Marc are hogging the rugby ball and the expressed aspiration to get everyone in the game is missed, first time out (so reinforce that). But this is great.

‘Earthlings, looking spookily good. But I told you my favourite word is TEEEEEAAAMMM so we have to get the guys who didn’t catch a ball or a teddy in the game. Let’s go again and this time we must pass within three seconds. Go!’

Some thinking going on and some great, energetic movement. Still some daft overthrows but blanket engagement and strikingly good catching – really good catching!

I’m weaving in and out to get those words of encouragement into their faces. ‘WODDA CATCH!’ ‘Ooooff –how’s your nose?!?’ ‘Great hands!’ ‘Blimey, that’s pass of the century!!’

They’re fizzing, almost uniformly – what was that cobblers about ‘challenging kids’? Somebody film this quick; show the Governors, show The Government, show our funders, show EVERYONE!! You watch this develop, now!

‘OK. Next up we can’t go cuddling that teddy; remember how many seconds before we have to pass? Three! And this time we can’t throw to the same partner all the time. This Frankie-Millie/Frankie-Millie/Frankie-Millie thing is now… a no-no. How many seconds before we pass? OK. Go!!’

We shift forwards through a one second interval; in other words catch and pass immeeeeediately. ‘How can we make that baby work, people? What can I do if I don’t have the ball? YES! Communicate! What might I do with my hands? Yes, show them! Because I’m joining in with the team.’

Enough on that warming up, switching on thing. Ball each. ‘Show me some basketball – show me some control as you go. There/back. Tell me what works, how you get some control’.

Then catches and bounces of a zillion kinds, whilst moving – must be moving to crack the cold, to crack the smiles.

I’m in the mix of strikingly co-ordinated ease and refreshingly willing flap, constantly, cos I’m charged with bringing the personality here. The game is everything but I am Agent of Boogie, encouraging fringe-players to break through into the song ’n dance of it – defying them all not to enjoy this daft, doable thing. We’re all lost in the swirl of it and it’s magbloodynificent.

Fifty minutes-worth and done. Revert to pitch about *also* coming out to play at the leisure centre, Tuesday nights. Reassure them Yes! I am here next week. ‘Course I am. They’ve been wonderful.

A break and another, similarly zaptastic group. Teacher asks if some kids from ‘the unit’ can join in – meaning children with issues I may need to consider – and I emphatically assent. Without singling them out I scatter some further encouragement as the group flies around, engaged. It’s magbloodynificent; they are.

It finishes (or actually I call it) after some booming hitting from tees. All of them brimming with their own enormous or enormously minor triumphs. They shared, they clouted, they caught, they couldn’t believe they connected. Take the me thing out of this, here was an absolute model, a goddam advert for the case for sport transcending.

Forget the Premier League. It’s been simply overrun, overshadowed, shrunk – if only for a moment. The world got better here, because these kids accepted my (Cricket Wales, asitappens) offer. They invested in it; they threw it forward and then they caught it. They listened, they were thoughtful and busy and strategic and inventive and there was barely any drift. As they go back in, a teacher is beaming back at them.