Warming up, with the Bharat Army.

Have seen India live – i.e. their cricket team(!) – a few times, now. Always fun. Yesterday no different, in that respect.

So happened that five minutes after I chose my seat in the Cathedral Road Stand (under the Media Centre, behind the bowlers arm), The Most Charismatic & Photogenic Indian Superfan came and sat down next to me.

Meaning if you saw some weirdly incongruous, tanned but unmistakably white bloke on the telly or on ‘insta’, next to the man with The Face & The Conch… well that was me. Sorry. If I photobombed any or all of the zillion selfies that the magnificently generous Bharat Army icon endured, I apologise. I sought nothing – was merely there in the first place.

My day then, was all about that happy coincidence. Rolling with the flags and the Bharat Army vibe. Reflecting now – and at the risk of patronising folks I simply don’t know – it was great. I expect it will be one of the highlights of my summer. Funny people, utterly charming people, Proper Cricket People. A refreshing, uplifting experience in the context of a currently depressing racial-political context. Thank you, guys.

Here’s how the *actual match* seemed…

 

Indian Superfan. Drawn to me, in an uncanny, unspoken non-ritual. Or maybe just wants, like me, to sit straight behind the bowler’s arm. Either way, he makes me look painfully pallid in every respect, what with his strikingly extravagant face-art. But inside… we are one. 😉

Cardiff. Coolish and both bright and cloudy. There’s a rain delay, after about four balls. More folks joining us, under the Media Centre, opposite the river. Including two ver-ry cool-looking guys who are (it turns out) Bharat Army hierarchy. I wonder about interviewing them but frankly bottle it.

The ball, meanwhile seems barely to be deviating despite that early cloud, rain. Some green in the pitch – and one goes through low – but no bowlers’ paradise, here. That how this World Cup’s gonna be? That how the white ball is? Just mainly hit through it: things may be difficult to time just now but reckon once you’re in…

Kohli, in soon enough, is fortunate very early on – edges through slips. Rohit, opposite, is similar in terms of relative discomfort.

A slow start, then and it’s one of those conflicting occasions where it’s hard to put your finger in what it is that’s so difficult but evidently, this is not easy for the batsmen. There is barely a timed aggressive shot in first ten overs.

Kohli gets through, having offered more than one ‘chance’ via the vacant first slip corridor: he looks almost human, today. He is bowled on 47.

13.30 and a Dhoni six over midwicket. Crowd full-throated, now. (Incidentally, had first thought the Indian mums/grans/daughters quota noticeably bigger than for the England equivalent…but maybe not).

But – sitting amongst them – there is that lovely, enthusiastic, engaged, 3-generations thing going on with the Indian support. Plus the most delightfully polite exchange of “excuse mes” as people trundle apologetically across your line of view or nudge past your beleaguered knees. Great fans.

176 for 4 after 32 (at the second drinks break). Rahul – like Kohli hardly fluent, earlier – has found a way to 68 not out.

200-up in the 36th. 37th & Dhoni explodes. Impudent swipe behind square for four, violent clonk over mid-on for six. Crowd loving it; he is plainly the Other God.

94 metre club-sweep from Dhoni immediately follows the milestone. He & Rahul looking comfortable, now, finally. Score could go VERY BIG, you sense, if they want it.

Mid-afternoon and somehow reassurring and appropriate to see Dhoni batting in a cap. Still moving pretty well, but *does look* like the clubbiest kind of god – also reassuringly.

Rahul goes to 88 with another edge – flailing somewhat, outside off. No slip, no catch.

Spin bowling for Bangladesh feels mixed – neither penetrative nor restrictive, particularly. On another day, they’re going at 20 an over. However their left-arm quick is admirably ardent, in the 41st. Sharp, committed.

Rahul bowled somewhat behind his legs, for 108. Good rather than majestic, today; appreciation and excitement, as this brings in Hardik Pandya.

Okaaay, it’s kindof a friendly but Bangladesh fielding has been ordinary. Dhoni profits from some dilatory stuff at mid-off; moves to 79 in the 45th. Hundred very much there if he wants it.

A brilliant fielder (unlike Liton, by the looks) might have him at long on, moments later. Tough chance lips out.

Some prolonged erm, drama as Hardik is cleared on review, after it became clear the ball pitched outside leg.

After 48 overs, Ind have 327 for 6, with Dhoni facing on 99. Boom. Straight drive, for six, into the river!

Dhoni, sumptuous in those later overs, is eventually bowled for 113. Jadeja fills his boots (as it were) by contributing a swift 11 as India finish on 359 for 7. Think Bangladesh have used 9 bowlers.

All things considered? India good, plainly, but 400 good? 400 to-win-against-somebody-really-tasty good? Not sure about that. Two centurions here but still 350 felt a touch lite. Could be the whole warm-up scenario but #CWC19 will likely demand early and sustained dynamism, if not outright violence.

India start their defence of the total with two slips, to Shami. Bumrah – whom I’ve come to watch – bowls the second over, wheeling and lashing.

Liton and Soumya cope. It would figure that batting conditions might be a tad more favourable, what with bright skies and a drying breeze now, and this is generally confirmed, during the first phase of the reply.

However, in his second over, Bumrah bowls an absolute peach – fiery, bouncy but not that short – which zips through where that second slip had been. 31 for 0 after 4.

There’s something richly appealing about an action as distinctive as Bumrah’s. That stalking; that skipping; the exaggerated uncurling. It’s not beautiful – quite – but it’s really him… and it’s quick. I really like that he doesn’t look like he’s ever been significantly tampered with by some coach.

At the other end, Shami is also putting it in, with little reward. 36 for 0 after 7. In the field the intensity and quality does feel a notch higher than an hour or two ago.

Whistles, in the sunshine. Real shiny whistles, Indian whistles, cajoling rather than cat-calling. Non-stop virtually; telling the lads that we’re with them. Children, mainly. Somewhere between charming… and harmless.

Eventually, Bumrah’s sheer energy and persistence pays off. Soumaya caught behind of something that *just lifts* again. 49 for 1.

Wow. He follows that up with a magnificent, druggy, slower-ball(?) yorker that irresistibly rushes the base of the stumps. Fabulous. Shakib must defend the hat-trick ball. Wide of off.

After 13, Bangladesh are at 62 for 2, with the game poised, progressing but by no means aflame. Goodish crowd, with the heavily-outnumbered Bangladeshis now vocal – and sunshine.

At the Powerade Hydration Break 🤷🏻‍♂️ (15 overs) , we have moved on to 74 for 2.

In bright, late-afternoon sunshine, Dhoni is keeping in sub-Steve McQueen shades and no cap. 100-up, for 2, in the 20th. Lukewarm: we wait. And wait.

150 for 2 off 27, with Jadeja on from the River End. Looking easy for the batsmen, who are beginning to lift the tempo and the Bangladeshi contingent. Still low-key but a friendly-competitive finish seems entirely feasible.

Jadeja reaching high with that left hand of his, then bowling flightless, sharpish and full. Chahal offering something rounder and loopier at the other end. Keeping the lid on this, currently.

Good, long chat with Rakesh from the Bharat Army. They’re now quite a mob – a business, in fact, with more than 11,000 fans booked through them for the upcoming Cricket World Cup. Bright, capable bloke; tells me they have staff in several countries dealing with travel, tickets, merchandise etc. Wish them well – feel under-qualified to *actually join* but…

At 191 for 5, off 36, it feels like India’s greater variety and quality of spin bowling may be telling. Though maybe not by much. Until Kuldeep Yadav’s left-arm leggies suddenly take over.

(At this point – another two-in-two – the Bharat Army hoiked up a giant banner, occluding the *actual playing surface* for some minutes. So an announcement: normal service will be resumed when the flag is lowered)…

When I emerge, it’s 216 for 8. (Did hear another roar). And a steward is insisting on the Army rolling up the banner. He is polite rather than officious, roundly, comically booed… but obeyed. We move on, in more sunshine, with the game surely now won.

I note that as so often, it is leg-spin that has gripped and turned the drama, here – batsmen having rarely been genuinely troubled by the seamers, save for a moment or three of real quality from Bumrah. Bangladesh need 130 from the last five overs… and here come the quicks to see them off.

They don’t, in fact. Chahal has Shaif slicing tamely to gully  – 262 for 9 – then Jadeja will bowl the last.

There have been three two-in-two’s in the innings, which maybe characterises the rather bitty nature of the Bangladeshi batting, today. Could be that this is how #CWC19 may be, for them – occasional glory, general disappointment?

No further score is added before a scrambled & reviewed runout brings the match to a close. Words for today? Good-natured, ‘sunny’, affable, enjoyable. Very cricketty -in a warm-up kindofaway.

#SophiaGardens #Cardiff. #Eng v #Pakistan.

Some reflections, morning after. Good competitive game, with both sides producing some nicely-tuned cricket, on a true but blandish pitch.

Feels like England won out because a) Pakistan were a tad too respectful (when batting) a tad too long. They needed a few more: were they hoping or expecting that England minus One Or Two Boomtastic Stars would be a significant notch down?

b) Morgan. And Root and Vince and actually Denly… were tremendously composed, even with 8/9/10 per over to shoot for.

c) Without actually having anyone Utterly On Fire with the ball in hand, England’s mix and experience shaded it. Jofra was a threat, Jordan was testing and Willey and Rashid provided very different challenges. (Having said that, Pakistan bowled well enough – the quicks nailing as many fine yorkers as Archer and Jordan did. This was a game… with not much in it).

I under-estimated Denly’s stoutness and clean-hitting pre- those final overs. And though I said nothing here below, I maybe needed a reminder of just how good Morgan is. There’s something quietly magnificent about his relentless belief; his refusal to compromise; his slapping it all over.

So the day was fine: Cardiff looked fine and the contest was sharply but agreeably joined. As so often the case, the guys and gals at Glamorgan Cricket did an excellent job – but with another relatively lukewarm response from the paying public. 

Here’s how the game *seemed*, live –

Cardiff is beautiful and bright… and then less so. Clouds. Coolish.

Noon to one-ish. The crowd ambles in, or begins to. Lowish numbers feel likely.

Two p.m. and the players at least are building, via their footie (England) and their bowling and fielding drills (Pakistan). Around the stadium, meanwhile, you can’t help but hope that the intensity of all this will rise, sharply, as the *scene* is top-quality but the *vibe* less so. Still the sun returns and Jofra is bouncy and smily in the outfield, so let’s hope.

Morgan is busy and committed under the high ball as the teams are announced. No Plunkett, for England. Duckett and Denly in, along with Jordan. Pakistan will bat – chose to bat. Salt unsprinkled.

As the moment nears the crowd approaches the ‘decent’ mark but the cloud increases as “Jerusalem” booms around; make of that what you will. Could be that Wales doesn’t do Imperialist Pomp – who knew?

Willey will open the bowling, running in towards the river. Morgan’s keks are flapping fairly violently as he discusses The Plan at the wicket.

Single steered straight off the first ball, which looked a loosener. Second called a wide; started out there and never shifted.

Some decent straightish stuff, from Willey, met with straightish bats, from Azam and Zaman. 6 from the over. Minor runout scare, fifth ball up. Over to Curry.

Each batsman collects a boundary off the Surrey man before the left-hander Zaman miscues to mid-off, where Morgan reaches high to catch. 16 for 1.

Then OOPS, pitch calamity. Willey runs in over what appears to be a drainage or watering point, and scuffs up about half of Glamorgan. In the finest tradition of Working Blokes The World Over, a crowd surround the mending operation: soon enough, the hole is filled/sorted/dealt with.

Apropos absolutely bugger all, Willey’s hair has to be a fine – if not outright exclusion from the squad. Tied and pulled back, like some Real Madrid wannabee. As if to reinforce that prejudice, Azam dismisses him to the boundary, past mid-off, for the game’s best moment so far.

Archer. In – scuttling in, rather, suggesting he’s not absolutely at full-tilt? – and/but bowling at 91.4 mph third ball.   He *inconveniences* Imam-Ul-Haq with that pace, mind, Foakes easily taking the looping catch. Good over from the new man; Pakistan are 31 for 2 off 5.

(My initial thought was that if Jofra really ran in… then WOW. And also – after a fairly duff dive out in the deep moments later – could it be that he isn’t that great an athlete? Surely not? Will be watching very closely).

Jordan, from the River End, hitting the pitch pret-ty hard. Then dropping 10 mph. Wily.

Rashid will bowl the 7th. Smooth, controlled, no dramas. 42 for 2.

Jordan again looks to be generating decent pace – all off a shortish wind-up. He is momentarily bowling a tad short; Sohail smashes him out to deep midwicket…. and it’s safe, before cutting skilfully over backward point. Pakistan still playing relatively within themselves. They reach 57 for 2 after 8 with another boundary – this time from Azam, who has 22.

First 6 hoisted off Rashid, to roars from the fans in green. Great strike, well into the crowd at long-on. Change of pace and change of venue for Archer, who will bowl the 10th from the River End.

He’s unlucky twice, maybe, conceding a streaky four through the vacant slip area, then Foakes arguably moves early to leg and denies himself a possible diving catch t’other way.

Archer’s movement is fine (doh! I’m belatedly concluding); he just has less knee-lift than some other tall guys. Better not crucify the lad for not being Michael Holding. Meanwhile Sohail and Azam are moving along nicely enough. After Rashid bowls the 11th, Pakistan are 90 for 2.

Denly comes on. Before he bowls even one, I wonder if they’ll target him. The first is an absolute pie, the second not much better: 10 to the score. Azam gets to 50. The England man does regain his composure somewhat but a statement has been made against him. 111 for 2 after 13.

Willey returns and again looks to be slapping it into the pitch. Highish risk? With only two down, the visitors can surely risk a few flailing heaves or uppish glides? A goodish score is on.

Two wides in the over – both outside off. Predictably, Curran replaces Denly, with Sohail on 49. The batsman does well to keep out a great yorker and move to his 50. Jordan saves two with a brilliant diving stop as that yorker becomes a tasty full-toss. Pakistan seem in some level of control, here – ominously, perhaps. 133 for 2 after 15, with Sohail on 50 and Azam on 64.

Archer back – and claiming an important wicket – that of Sohail. Again it could be that extra zap and bounce plays a part; slight top edge out to deep midwicket, caught comfortably enough by Willey.

Then another moment of quality from Archer – possibly an important one, with World Cup Questions in play. With the batsmen scrambling, he composes himself, utterly, sets his feet and throws down the wicket. Azam is gone for 65. Meaning two new batsmen at the crease.

Jordan will bowl the 17th from beneath us, in the Media Centre. Almost comically, he parries a return catch before realising Ali is hopelessly stranded, mid-strip. Jordan could draw on a ciggie, pick his nose and still run the fella out. Instead he nonchalantly flattens the stumps. See ya!

Archer again. What I’m really liking now, is that beautiful high hand – making an extended, powerful arc – and developing real pace. First ball is a peach of a yorker, barely dug out. 4 overs, 2 for 29, for Jofra, which may be a tad less than he’s deserved: been good.

Rashid will bowl the penultimate. He is swatted downtown for four second ball but it’s a tidy over. Pakistan will begin the last with 157 for 5 on the board. Jordan will bowl it.

Wasim smashes one back at him – and the bowler bravely sticks a mitt out for it. Uncatchable and bloody painful, you would think; saved a four. Then a yorker is dispatched, straightish. Feels fairish when Denly pouches a straightforward one in the covers – Jordan’s earned that.

He has no further luck, however, as a couple of streaky fours take the visitors to 173 for 6. Seems competitive (there’s been little in this for the bowlers) but much will depend on how Englands’ ‘returnees’, principally Duckett and Vince fare, you suspect.

Wasim (the local!) will bowl left-arm spin to Vince, to start. One. Then to Duckett. One. We proceed non-violently but a misfield allows a three to England and we reach 7 for 0, before pace in the form of Ashraf, for the second. Understandably, it’s ‘quietish’.

Not for long. Vince unleashes a short-arm on-drive thing, for six. More good running brings a further three for Duckett. 17 for 0 after 2. Shaheen Afridi – left-arm quick – will bowl the 3rd.

Duckett greets him with a lovely off-drive for four, before swishing rather, then slashing to extra-cover. Gone, lamely, for 9. Enter Root. Plenty of quality, then, for England. Guessing they might look to persist… and exploit that.

Hasnain’s half-tracker is eventually called wide, in the 4th. He over-compensates, and Root eases the ball out past extra-cover for his first boundary. Vince follows that with an elegant back-foot push for four more, taking England to 38 for 1 off 5. Vince has 23 in decent time. Root’s running is notably determined and swift.

There really doesn’t seem to be much help here for the bowlers – in the air or off the pitch. May suggest England can really launch through the ball later. If Root and Vince can take this deepish, I’m thinking a major boomathon is possible; if necessary.

Back to spin (and Wasim) for the 7th. Root deflecting, Vince calm.

Hasnain, Wasim and co are working at this, but there is very little to really trouble England, thus far. No-risk cricket is enough – for now.

*From nowhere*, Vince is given out, caught behind, off Wasim. Some of us in the Media Centre thinking that noise may have been bat on ground. Tough one, for Vince – gone for 36. Enter Morgan, with the sky brightening.

The skipper wastes no time, hoisting fearlessly to backward square leg for four. Game feels on at 75 for 2 off 9.

Ridicucute, from Root, who reverse-scoops Wasim for four over the keeper. Morgan, ever the counter-attacker, straight-hoists Faheem Ashraf for six, then hoiks him for four, then slashes-but-connects for another four over extra. Root may sit, then, whilst the left-hander blazes?

Hasnain is in for the 13th, his team-mates tapping and clapping their approval at a couple of precious dot-balls. Then a third. But Root comes back with another over-the-shoulder job; four, to fine-leg. England need 69 off 42.

Root changes his bat, then unleashes a beauty, straight, marginally to off, racing away. Not much in this but I make England favourites; only two down, conditions benign.

Class again from Root – and again deflecting rather than hitting. Glides Faheem effortlessly behind square for 4, first ball of the 15th. Good contest, mind, as the bowler absolutely nails a couple of yorkers, to limit the damage. 122 for 2, with 52 needed off the last 32.

Morgan goes big enough over square-leg. Six. Then Root, in seeking a tickle behind, gets too little and is caught, for 47. Pressure moment, for the incoming Denly. My hunch is maybe wrong bloke, but hope not.

Poor misfield gifts Morgan four. Sun rejoins us, 37 from 24 the ask. Shaheen is stretching for it but too hard – bowls a short wide. England seemingly still happy to wait… and pick the right ones.

Denly does just that, blasting a fabulous off-drive through for four. Middled. Huge, for confidence.

Morgan clubs one less elegantly over mid-off – just. The sun is at its strongest and it smiles on Denly, who French-cuts for a cruel four, leaving only 17 required from the remaining two overs.

Denly (waddooo I know?!?) delivers six of them, first up -Shaheen the unlucky bowler. Suddenly it’s 8 from 8.

Impressive, this, from England, impressive rather than gorgeous, or electrifying, or imperious – a well-executed strangle… assuming they get 7 from the last. So, Faheem Ashraf, wot you got?

Two, off the first, giving Morgan his 50: 51, in fact. Remarkably, the captain finishes it with a slightly mishit clonk, over long-off. Job done.

Good game, proper game, superbly judged by England. Entertaining and cool, with strong contributions from Archer and (I thought) Jordan in the field, before all of Vince, Root, Morgan and Denly turned up with the bat. An allegedly second-string side looking more than competent.  Now then, what’s next?

The drums.

You know it’s India when you hear the drums. In this case, when you hear them in Cardiff, at 3.45p.m. for the 5.30 start, against England, in what we (Brits) might think were punishingly hot conditions. Drums and dancing outside the gates; like some wonderfully naive, inadequately-warlike festival-thing, which has started worryingly early, given the weather. I’ll have what they’re drinking.

Alan Wilkins. Out there interviewing Nasser and pumping his book, at the base of the media stairs. Accomplished and immaculately groomed – Alan, not the stairs. Although the stairs are well looked-after enough, I guess. 4.13 p.m.

4.30-odd. Activity. Everywhere. Lots of people in a Media Centre that I know through some experience is often empty; drills and footie malarkey out there on the outfield, which looks dry and quick but which is showing the drainage-patterns, slightly disconcertingly, when seen from high up in our glassy eyrie. People coming in.

Close to 5 p.m. and we learn that England have won the toss and will bowl: cue the vigorous fielding drills in front of us. Hales, notably takes a couple of really testing skiers from Farbrace right against the boundary: smart, controlled work.

I’m watching a fair amount of live cricket – mainly internationals. I’m slightly fascinated by how slowly and late the stadia tend to fill up (assuming they are going to be full). At 5.15 – just a quarter of an hour in old money before some of the world’s best batsmen face our finest, most awetastic bowlers and the seats are about a third full. Weird. There are giant flags, there are anthems… and we have a game. Willey will open to Rohit Sharma. Second ball flies through, with decent carry. Great start from the bowler, just the one conceded.

Ball is next up, from the River End, where, until a few seconds ago, smoke was rising hynotically from immediately outside the ground. Mercifully it’s gone before the batsman take issue or stance. However Rohit is caught skying a top edge after a drive for four and India are 7 for 1 as Willey begins the third.

It’s another solid over. Guessing somebody on the coaching staff is muttering (or bellowing) ‘GREAT EXECUTION!!

Dhawan trots past Ball on the way through to an easy single.  Seems about a foot between them – hilarious. Then my fielding legend Hales allows the first pull in anger past him, Sunday League style, for four and the crowd behind him reveals its vociferous Indianness.

Shortly after the diminutive Dhawan seems overwhelmed by the size of the bat – shockingly failing to carry and slide it in during a scamper for safety. Daft sod’s out. ‘Absolute village’ cries a renowned journo to my left.

It doesn’t get much better for India, as Rohit swings and misses at Plunkett – on first view missing by a mile, as the ball scoots merrily into the off stick. The visitors are suddenly 23 for 3 off 5.

The pitch is unquestionably livelier – fairer, maybe – than tracks here in Cardiff tend to be. Plunkett and Ball and Willey sending it through with some venom, meaning limited aggression, so far, from the batsmen. With India at 36 for 3 after 7, even the god Kohli is playing relatively watchfully: he and Raina have to rebuild.

I’m rather liking the non-explosive nature of all this, to be honest. After 10, India are 52 for 3, with Kohli on 14 and his partner Raina on 16. Virat, sensing the need to lift the boom quotient, smashes Rashid through midwicket before offering a cruelly hard diving catch to Roy out at long on.

Roy can only spill the ball for six. Raina responds by despatching Ball over midwicket and the momentum swing is both striking and exhilirating. The ground – now almost full – has come alive.

Raina is comprehensively beaten by Rashid’s googly and is easily stumped by Buttler. Meaning (or feeling like) Kohli might need to bat through and remind the universe of his greatness. Dhoni has joined him: half us wonder if we are dreaming; Kohli? Dhoni? Cardiff? Delirious sunshine?!? Wow.

After 14, India are 89 for 4, suggesting this is a 150/160 pitch not a 200 pitch. Let’s see. Dhoni whip-thrashes Rashid through midwicket with real violence, for four, to re-announce the urgency, here.

In the 18th, Kohli swats Willey down to fine leg, where Root takes a tough catch coolly. Good stuff from Willey – arrowing these in consistently and with good control. His four overs have cost only 18. In comes Pandya.

Did I mention it’s a lovely evening?

Jordan bowls a couple of beautiful yorkers but Pandya eventually absolutely launches one back, straight, for a much-needed maximum. Ball will bowl the final over with England a) pleased to have bowled first and b) surely ahead of the game, unless… unless.

Dhoni plays mainly tennis shots but grabs a lump of runs as his side get to 148 for 5 at the close. Perfect.

Yadav to Roy. Second ball contemptuously dismissed to the midwicket boundary: 14 from the over. *Statement*.

First thought was the bowler didn’t look as sharp as ours – Ball and Willey and Plunkett all got more lift. Second thought, dead right to go after this aggressively.

Kumar, from the River End, is less accommodating to the batsmen. Without alarm though, England are 16 for 0 off two.

And then Yadav bowls Roy. Looked quicker, was killer length. Root comes in – interestingly.

Buttler plays a beaut of a forward defensive – barely pushing – which rolls out for four between the bowler and long off. Might be the shot of the night, for all its ease. Proper Cricket, with just the occasional biff, should see England home, you would think?

Oof. Kohli puts down Buttler, who drove straight at him. The Indian skip had to jump but is rightly furious he spilled it: village… or rather *hu-man*.

Absurdly, Buttler absolutely repeats the shot, this time with a different result. Kohli catches and runs thirty yards in a spunky, crowd-conscious fury. Amaazingly, the Indian support lap it up, noisily. Hales joins Root and lifts Pandya for an encouraging four to get England to 42 for 2 off 6. The crowd, as they say, are ‘in’.

Some variety now, from Chahal. He bowls Root, swooshing rather crassly across towards square leg: game on.

Here’s a thing. There’s barely been a stroke of violence, from England and nobody’s connected with a reverse sweep or other new-fangled wotsit. In other words, the batsmen are having to earn their living – which is great, no? England on 55 for 3 after 10.

K Yadav starts with an absolute pie, which Hales misses out on – probably not believing his luck. Then the left arm legspinner asks a few questions. There are two big appeals in the over, the second being reviewed.

Eventually it’s confirmed as not out, the ball striking the pad outside the line and missing. We’re really not seeing huge turn but the batsmen are both scratching around – until Hales nails Chahal for six over cow corner. England’s number ten backs this up with a lovely, cheeky kiss down to third man for four more. Nice. 72 for 3 off 11.

Morgan joins the party with his first strike over the top, easing it to the river; four more. Hales trumps that with a monster drive out of the ground and into that same river. He goes to 32.

Arguably the Moment of the Game as Dhawan catches Morgan. In the deep, shuffling and adjusting, before genuinely leaping and contorting to clasp the ball tight; triumphantly tight. Half the stadium rises – and I don’t think they were all supporting the team in blue. Fabulous.

On the downside for India, this brings in Bairstow.

The quality of the evening has transformed, as it does. Most of the outfield is now in deep shadow, with the players balcony looking (yaknow) British and the stand opposite positively Mediterranean.

England need 46 from 30 balls so this is still beautifully poised. And the crowd are still in. Boundaries must be struck.

Pandya charges in again from the River End and surprises Bairstow with a sharp lifter.  Then another – short but perfectly legit. Later in the over it’s noticeable that Kohli is having words woth the ump again and the fella looks a tad mizz; in fact they both do. The body language speaks of strongish irritation.

Bairstow stems the chat by sweeping Yadav beautifully and easily for six to square leg, taking England to 117. Then he does it again, this time over Kohli at midwicket. Huge – maybe match-defining? (I think) England need 23 from 3 overs.

But Bairstow goes, swinging straight to deep fine leg. Wow. This is gonna be close. England 126 for 5, after 17.1. Again the Indian support owns the stadium.

Hales needs the strike but Willey scuffs it for one. The target is 20 from 2 overs. Suddenly steepish. Willey tries to get off strike with a tipitandrun… but fails. Important. Hales now, under real pressure, must go big.

Yadav bowls three superb yorkers (or more!) and the game feels done. Except no. Hales squeezes another one out to the mid-off boundary. Morgan’s Suddenly Beatable Posse will need 12 off the last!

Hales puts the first in the river. 6 from 5.

A skiddy clip to fine leg is a further four. Un-be-lievable. A single leaves Willey with 1 needed off 3. Fantastic, fantastic game.

He bundles Kumar to leg… for four.

Excellent contest in a really boisterous-in-a-good-way bowl of a stadium – felt great. Congratulations to both sides and to the crowd, too, they really did contribute to the night’s entertainment. The Indian fans do take all this to another level; hope they enjoyed it.

The Learning? (Again), Sophia Gardens may not have the romance of some of the other test/international grounds but its environment does: that walk, that river, that park. The fanzone and the general ambience/hosting is top level.

Hales can (because he did) mightily execute, against the very best, under the most acute pressure. England are straining for a peak; it’s only right that even players who may actually be ( as it were) sherpas can storm to the summit. Well done him – that six in the last over was a gorgeous, stunning, redemptive moment.

Finally, the drums, the carnival, the Indians. Overwhelmingly good-natured; delightfully cricket-daft.

…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.

 

 

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?

What we know is…

Okay so what’ve you heard? I’ve heard Freddie (sounding convincingly like he was trying to convince himself that England would win) saying England will win. I’ve heard saddish news (which may or may not be *important*) about The Rhino. I’ve read a zillion ‘head-to-heads’ or low-downs or updates or ‘inside-the-camp’ briefings so like you, my dear sagacious friends, #Ashes-wise, I could barely be wiser. And yet…

I love that we’re all clue-less. Or if not clueless then pasting up the photofits from twelve different crime-scenes. I wallow in the anticipation – contingent as it is on striving to know. I *live off* the hilarious earnestness of our building up and deconstructing. I smile at the kooky/quirky/pompous/belligerent/mindless genius of it all.

Don’t you? Surely this pre-comp festival of hunch and cod-psychology is essential to the enjoyment of the thing – this very particular thing? Throw in the spice – the low-burning, barely understood Empire v Banished Reprobate animosity – lace with alcoholically-fuelled #bantz and the thing stirs itself nicely. Nicely into a frenzy.

This is a proper rivalry. Hence the piquancy and the obsession around lapses or choreographed ‘dips’ into sledging. (How much energy has already been expended by both camps and both sets of supporters on the import or otherwise of verbals, by the way?!? Record-breaking levels of talk about talk.)

I’ve pontificated elsewhere on this site about some concerns I have about bitterness undermining the event but promise to refrain again from mentioning the SOC words. Sledging cannot affect this match more than about 2% either way… and if you’re wondering why that figure well… I just made it up. As part of my *rationale*.

Look let’s get real. This time around, Australia are right into comic-book machismo mode. Replete with tattooed quickies and objectionably feisty fronter-upper/upper-cutter. Johnson – having been woeful last time in Cardiff – has morphed into He Who Must Be Feared and Warner has filled out as a batsman but inevitably failed or more likely chosen not to grow up.

So us Poms/Taffs can’t stand him, for a start. And we will relish the opportunity to guffaw passionately at any ill-luck that might come, with v-flicking relish, Warner’s way. Smith and to a lesser extent Clarke may feel like key wickets but when Warner cops it he’ll get a Valleys Welcome back to the pavilion. People get that he’s at the apex of feeling between the teams and that he likes being there; Australians will fist-pump every four emphatically dispatched and yeh… the locals will give him a welcome.

There is therefore an argument that Warner is ‘what the Ashes is all about’. Let’s go past that.

Johnson, arguably in contrast, has changed and developed, becoming, a symbol of the Australian (great word alert!) attack… and of the scarily brutal soul it wants /needs to project. He has rebuilt himself, much to his credit, from the wayward slinger whom I saw at Cardiff last time.

Then he was sharp but almost embarrassingly off-target. I watched from behind that arm as he floundered; my central memory is simply that he was fortunate not to concede more wides. Now Johnson runs in with more things pumping vertically and levers alarmingly and consistently violently where he wants to lever. He’s been arguably The Force in world bowling over the last two years; fair play to him.

We know there is scar tissue in the England camp following MJ’s assault on their senses in recent encounters. (Poor loves.) But the possibility that this really may be a new England provides us with exhilarating scope to cobble deliciously daft theories on the consequences of the advent of 21st Century thinking within ECB.

Could the ‘freeing up’ of the limited over squad and the ‘refreshing new outlook’ of England Cricket generally undermine Johnson’s spell over them willowy Poms? Could the Express Yourself mentality get England past that rabbit-in-headlights-with-feet-planted-in-concrete blockage; that fear of the man? Could those without the scar tissue stand up? And what’s Broad gonna do – run?!? The Mitchell Johnson howitzer-moment(s) will be worth the entry fee alone: he may have something to say with the bat too.

As I write I can only surmise that Wood will get a slot in the England bowling line-up but I hope he does. He may not disturb the peace of the Australian top end but he will offer a little variety, a little surprise even, which I suspect England may need. Plus there’s something profoundly pleasing about seeing some bloke bowl bloody lively off a run-up from within the same county. Plus I like horses.

For Wood, many would argue Rashid. In the sense that he is something new and offers something new. He may be high-risk; he may get flailed mercilessly around the park; he may ‘simply not be ready for it’. Who knows? But he represents something bold and recently that boldness did change the momentum around the England side both on and off the pitch; remarkably so.

Whether Rashid plays in Cardiff or not, pretty much the only universally-accepted fact in world history seems to be that he should have got a game or two in the West Indies. And that may or may not count for anything.

Let’s get back to the quickies – or in England’s case, the reasonably quickies. If there is no major help for the seamers from conditions (and if there is this may play right into Starc/Johnson and co, yes?) Anderson and Broad will need to really find something. Weirdly, like Johnson you can’t help wondering if they’re just beyond this. Or beyond their best. Will the uniqueness of the Ashes challenge – all that wild, magnificent, centrifugal, focusing/disorienting force! – reinvent England’s senior pairing? Or will the Aussies simply be too proficient? Too skilled at batting?

Broad and Anderson’s commitment is unlikely to be in question but they are known quantities; I wonder then, that much may fall on the emotive capabilities of the management team around them. Bayliss and Farbrace, I’m imagining, may need the Churchillian rhetoric to spike their dander.

But no. Maybe things are too sophisticated now (with all due respect) to summon beaches and blitzes. Instead I’m picturing Bayliss sweetly leading some cute visualisations or planting some very shrewd plans – calmly.

Rooty and Stokesy will bring the chirpiness and the spunk. Cooky will absent himself from all the banter… and let his batting do the talking. But you knew all that. Like me you know loads of stuff about the Ashes.

So let me finish with a question to you.

Could it be that positivity from England might stun or even bring down the rampaging beast that was/is Aussie cricket?

I’m in the ‘Gawd Only Knows’ camp on that one.