Making *things* irrelevant. (Nice one, Fran).

The Women’s World Cup is drawing a lot of flak – funny that. Depressingly it’s not just the dumb middle-aged blokes who know nothing about football but also their youngish, similarly lazy equivalents. (On my twitter, young sporty lads giving it the sloppy, arrogant thumbs-down).

Some are more appreciative of the really accomplished passing football being played by most teams – best exemplified, arguably, by Netherlands, Germany, USA, England, France but also executed by many of the lower-profile nations.

Personally I’ve enjoyed the level of comfort in possession many of the players are displaying: the building from the back, the lack of longball-as-first-resort. Tempted to say this is waaay better than many England Men’s sides have managed until the ‘culture-changes’ of the last few years but that would of course be a calamitous o.g. – we need to keep the men out of this.

Women’s sport is different and there is no value in comparing, either explicitly or ‘subconsciously’, though that is challenging, in all honesty, for a middle-aged dumbo like myself. Plenty decades have loaded up the assumptions and prejudices in my own personal ether but  I am trying to pick a way, judge a way through that, without entirely denying myself the right to criticise: the thinking being that genuinely fair comment (should I ever achieve that) actually respects the validity/quality of the sport and makes issues of gender/sex/sexual politics irrelevant.

Flick the switch and relax. Put the telly on. Ooh, bo-nusss! England Women v Windies Cricket is on Sky Sports Mix, which is available free, to the Walton household. And I have time to watch some of it. And OMG… FRAN WILSON!

A diversion, kindof.

Last week I blagged my way in to the car park at Worcester County Cricket Club (I do have accreditation but didn’t *actually have* parking sorted) and swung stylishly and maybe a tad smugly to a halt next to a biggish 4 x 4, from which England players were decanting themselves. One of them was Fran Wilson. I don’t know any the players personally, despite having watched them a fair bit live over the last couple of years, but particularly it felt like I don’t know Fran Wilson… because she’s hardly played. I was tempted to wish her all the best but from a strange fella in a car park… how?

For me this adds a further dimension to the moment (captured above, though surely you’ve seen it, yes?) that you may and probably should revisit whenever anyone says anything.

Says anything about women’s sport. Or maybe about women? Or maybe about racism or homophobia, or maybe when somebody is cruel or stoopid or in any sense prejudiced. Either point them to it or revisit yourself, to bolster your faith in stuff. Because the world gets better at moments like this.

Fran – the same Fran that jumped out of that car, that I nearly said hello and good luck to – did something very special for us, by being very natural (for her).

She dived. She instinctively, stunningly, magnificently dived. Crucially, she caught a missile. She made a beautiful, undeniable, joyful thing-of-a-movement. She was perfectly, athletically human and the only judgement anyone can ever make about it is that was a staggering catch. No qualifications.

We can swat away the comparisons with Ben Stokes. We can swat away everything. This is simple (if statements of this quality and magnitude can be simple?) and wonderful.  She literally reached, stretched, re-invented or maybe denied the limits. Fran absolutely excited us and there’s something magic and electrifyingly pure about that feeling.

Is it okay to say I/we loved it? I think so, I hope so. I really hope we can de-clutter this, to celebrate it. It may be unwise, it may be wrong for this oldish geezer to gush like this so clumsily. But for how it looked, for how it lit up an instant and for what it says, I loved it.

Significant Threat.

I was there when England scuffed and skipped, fainted and feinted their way past South Africa in the World Cup semi, in Bristol. It was, as they say, dramatic – dramatically bad for one’s equilibrium – whoever you happened to be supporting.

I do realise that that was a different time, place and format but sometimes it feels like there are *themes*, eh?

In the 50 over comp Heather Knight’s posse somehow came out on top but not before most of us England fans had bawled or tutted or cut out the middle person and shat ourselves. On the one hand, the subsequent, glorious victory at Lords squishes all arguments regarding England’s durability but on the other it feels true to also characterize the side with the rider ‘likes a wobble’.

They do – and we’ve already seen that in this WT20, during the win against Sri Lanka. In this game the first ball dismissal of Wyatt precipitated some pret-ty major, visibly contagious and relatively prolonged angst. So we approach the crucial game tonight, versus *arch-enemies South Africa with hope, yes but also with fear.

(*Arch-enemies? Can we still say that?!? There is a smidge of something approaching enmity, I suspect, between these two camps).

Strangely or boldly, England retain their 3 leftie spinners: can they/ will they do that against Aus? South Africa win the toss and opt to bat.

Lee, Wolvaardt, Kapp and van Niekerk are all players; by that I mean legitimate international players, with talent and experience. The concern around them is two-fold. Where is their confidence? Can they go at this?

The answer to question two is a resounding and disappointing ‘no’. Whisper it – for fear of encouraging more, bellicose negativity from male ‘traditionalists’ – but 21 of the first 24 balls… are dot balls.

The extraordinary aggression-void has engulfed South Africa in the same way it has smothered the ambitions of other teams in the competition. To the extent that this is in danger of not feeling like a competition – more a procession, led by Australia, where nominal rivals act out the role of opponents, rather meekly.

We can hope that India, the Windies and England may yet make a nonsense of this argument: Australia may not prove to be dominant. However the gulf in terms of intent between the Southern Stars and most others is striking… and a tad dispiriting.

But back to tonight’s opener – where sadly it is again as though the powerplay doesn’t exist (for South Africa) – or at least that part of the powerplay that opens up possibilities for the batters to clatter boundaries; that actively encourages it.

I have no doubt that this side of the game will develop in good time: more importantly a notably animated Charlotte Edwards bemoaning the generally disappointing lack of ambition (in commentary on TMS) goes on to repeatedly insist that a gear-change is completely essential. That gap must close.

Meanwhile wickets fall, the runrate continues to stall. 43 for 4 after 13 – but still somehow drama-less.

Knight claims a catch. Rather cheekily, according to the replay (according to Edwards); but the current England skipper is rather fascinatingly certain, even through the re-played denial. Kidding herself, being shamelessly competitive/cynical? Who knows?

Chloe Tryon belatedly launches; smites two sixes in quick succession. Can’t sustain it – caught off Sciver, to snuff out any real hopes of approaching 100. Tunnicliffe follows Tryon to the dressing-room. I can only imagine the trauma for Proteas supporters; the unambition, the disappointment seems endless.

Last over. Shrubsole skittles Ismail, has Klaas caught next ball off a leading edge then achieves the unthinkable-but-somehow inevitable by cleaning out Fourie. Hat-trick! Sciver’s wunnerful-ludicrous figures of 4 overs, 3 for 4 will rightly draw the eye of the cognoscenti but Shrubsole, again, will make the headlines.

Innings done at 85 all out. Okaay, South Africa’s strong suit is their bowling but at this stage it feels like they are about to be crushed. Except that England do like a wobble.

The spikes in quality continue. Klaas gifts England a four with a piece of fielding that is frankly humiliating: painful to watch. Wyatt blasts away with intent and some style. A different level of commitment to run-scoring – or just running.

With an angry Ismail putting it all in there, Beaumont drives her beautifully through firstly midwicket, then extra cover. Both times for four. Proper Top Level Cricket. Important for a tournament still disentangling itself from perceived mediocrity.

General note on this: I think all of us who genuinely enjoy supporting women’s cricket struggle around how to pitch any criticism. Better for female voices to do it. It’s not easy. But clearly learning can come from criticism as well as praise.

Very much on the plus side, Dani Wyatt is energetic, watchable and – tonight – has gotten swiftly into her flow. She belts through a series of borderline singles, diving to gain her ground at some cost to her physical safety. In simple terms, there is no comparison between the approach of the English openers and the preceding South Africans.

Come the end of the powerplay, England are 41 for 0. (South Africa were 24 for 1).

The Wyatt and Beaumont partnership are past cruising, at 55 for 0. Into, or possibly disappearing towards that dreamland where Statements Are Really Made. Could they do this in 12 overs, for none down?

No. Van Niekerk’s loopy leggies get Wyatt, clunkily, behind her legs,  premeditating a sweep but ultimately looking rather daft.

Sciver does something similar, to Daniels, walking to off and being bowled leg stick. After 10, England are 59 for 2. Then Beaumont gifts van Niekerk a further wicket, booming directly to long on.

With Amy Jones now joining captain Heather Knight it does feel like England have sufficient quality remaining to find the required runs. This they do. 87 for 3, ultimately. They’ve eased there, in truth.

Maybe it’s as well that Jones and Knight – both 14 not out at the close – have had some more time in the middle. Maybe. Certainly Jones will have enjoyed clubbing Ismail so emphatically through the covers and blasting the winning runs. Likewise Knight will have loved the two beautiful straight drives she stroked – and I do mean stroked – downtown.

But there may also be that minor frustration around the possibility for a 10 wicket job. Wyatt and Beaumont were simply playing at a higher level than the South African batters. Both got themselves out in their 20s, when plainly bigger scores – and additional psychological advantages – were there for the taking.

Maybe scratch that? Maybe we should be simply enjoying a thoroughly convincing win against traditionally competitive rivals? Maybe save Ultimate Ruthlessness Mode for the teams – Windies, India, Australia – who pose the most significant threat. Maybe don’t even note in passing, that there was no discernible wobble here.

Played, England. Good to see you so focused, so positive. Good to see you enjoy the win. Move on; you’re in this, now.

The Universe Podcast 1. @cricketmanwales meets Mark O’Leary… & talks MCC University Cricket.

Please note that this post is very much a companion piece to the preceding feature – On #firstclasscricketersfirstclassdegrees.

I spent some time with Mark O’Leary – Head Coach at Cardiff MCCU.

It’s not what you might call hard-hitting journalism. In fact it’s not journalism. I like the bloke; we talked.

O’Leary is something of a rising star – ECB Elite Master Level 4 Coach, workshop maestro, deviser of wittily wicked drills – who combines the cricket role with teaching on the Cardiff Met academic staff.

We talk about everything from funding, to honoured alumini, to the future for the scheme. Have a listen.

The sharp-eared may notice mention of £76,000 at the ver-ry end of the discussion. This of course related to Mr O’Leary’s fee.