Villiers in vain.

The morning after may offer some perspective, or not? Following an exhibition of stunning fielding from England’s Mady Villiers that – who knows? – may have buttoned the lip of many a male critic, the proverbial positives have rendered themselves available. Pace, agility, skill, power; she showed them all, in exhilarating style. But hers was almost a lone hand – certainly in terms of English performances and hopes. In general Nat Sciver’s side had an ordinary night, as Sophie Devine led the White Ferns to a deserved win.

Here’s how it felt, live:

Another South Coast adventure, then. Meaning groooovy street-side cafes, muggy sun and lots of top-knots. A gentlish breeze, inside Sussex C.C. Much appreciated at 5pm but may be cool, later(?)

Early arrival not planned, particularly but was frankly loafing abart at my lovely friend’s gaff and when they returned from the pub and shifted irretrievably towards afternoon kip mode, I meandered down. (Did mean I get first shout at the open doorway and the power cable, so not without its benefits). Have even beaten the fielding coaches, who tend to set up an age before the start; cones and flexi-stumps being thrust around or into the outfield as I write. Aoife from ECB pops in to see we’re ok; we’re okay – or that is, me and my new pal Lee are o-kaay.

Sarah Glenn is marking out her leggie’s run-up, inch-by-inch – one foot in front of t’other. Meanwhile, White Ferns batters are having some throw-downs in front of me. Front foot driving. 5.55pm. I interrupt this broadcast to eat; curries, loading up to get me through a busy evening.

New Zealand have won the toss and decided to bowl. No changes to their team. Brunt is rested, for England and Freya Davies is her replacement. Bouchier also comes in; she seemed both thrilled and a bit emosh at her cap presentation, earlier. 18.45 and lights are on. As so often, crowd feels relatively thin. Ridiculous. On a similar theme, there are four journo’s in the media centre to my left… and me, in the ‘Cow Corner’ hut-thing. Poor turnout, from our press, because, yaknow, wimmin.

Beaumont and Wyatt, predictably, will open, for England. Kasperek will bowl to the latter. Statement drive, pretty much *straight at me* first up. Four, with dancing feet. Impressive and emphatic. 6 from the over.

Kerr will follow, for the White Ferns. Beaumont paddle/glides her to fine leg beautifully – four more. Devine will bowl the third; understandably, the visitors looking to stem the flow (or likely flow) from the two in-form England openers.

It’s Jess Kerr, though who makes the breakthrough. Sweeeet inswinger beats and bowls Beaumont. Big wicket. 20 for 1, England as Sciver – the brilliant Sciver – enters the fray. Neutrals will want a closer game; it was Tammy Beaumont who utterly dominated the first game of this series, which England won by 50-odd runs. Could her loss be to the gain of the event?

Review against the England captain but Sciver plainly hit it – so wasted, by New Zealand. But wow, Devine claims the tall all-rounder’s wicket; Rowe taking a goodish running catch at backward square. And ZOIKS!! The dangerous Amy Jones follows, next ball, drilling straight at cover. Dreamland, for the visitors but poor dismissal from England’s point of view. 26 for 3 and it seems unthinkable that the home side can romp to the same sort of a victory that delighted the locals of Chelmsford the other evening. In fact there is palpable jeopardy for England here: a lot now resting on the shoulders of Wyatt and Dunkley.

Wyatt tonks Kerr straight back over her head, in response. But 36 for 3 is a fine start for New Zealand: powerplay done.

Satterthwaite is in and beating Wyatt: possible stumping. She got back – but close. I’m watching through the open doors of ‘Cow Corner’ so can hear and feel the energy out there. White Ferns are chirpy and bright – and why wouldn’t they be? One more wicket and they become strong (if early) favourites.

Good test for Wyatt, this. She is an obvious talent but she’s *not known* for her durability/stickability. She tends to blaze away – with style and typically some confidence – rather than build over time. Devine is slamming a quick one in there, possibly pushing too hard. She follows up with TWO no-balls – so TWO free hits – one of which Wyatt dispatches straight.

In the flurry of action I’ve not really thought about how we got here: i.e. how the pitch and/or general playing conditions are. Truth is Beaumont fell to a fine ball… and Jones had no business thrashing her first delivery to cover. I’m not seeing anything spooky going on, pitch-wise: the visitors are just doing a solid job. Oh, and weirdly belatedly, we now have a substantial crowd, so cancel some of my earlier concerns. (Some of). England are 58 for 3 after 9.

Dunkley has been unconvincing and she thrusts a straightforward caught and bowled back to Kasperek. More trouble, for England and a big ask now for Bouchier, on debut. She sees out three dot balls before clubbing with no timing towards midwicket. Safe. A pret-ty ordinary 62 for 4, though, on the board, at the halfway stage. Wyatt, who has only faced 16 balls, may need to see this through.

She clatters Jensen over mid-off, for four. Proper dusk, now, so the lights are doing their atmospheric twinkling fully productively. Kasperek has been doing well enough but Bouchier clips her beautifully through square leg; big moment for the debutant. She almost repeats it… but also loses concentration momentarily, threatening to force a truly diabolical runout… but no. Settle down, Maia.

Satterthwaite will try to still the game a little. Again, Bouchier is nearly stranded, mid-pitch. Then she miscues towards backward square. Edgy stuff. After 13 England are 85 for 4. They must *both* consolidate and accelerate.

Rowe is in and bowling sharply and short. Wyatt cuts, before dropping and running. Communication between the batters hasn’t been flawless but they are rotating and profiting, now. Bouchier is stronger and seems more likely to hit hard, so Wyatt is offering plenty of strike. 100 up after 14.4 overs; Jensen the bowler.

Rowe cramps Wyatt a little; she had looked to cut but misjudged (perhaps) a little cut off the pitch. Caught behind square – disappointingly. Bouchier follows promptly, done by pace, flicking behind. Ecclestone and Glenn are suddenly pitched in there… and both on nought. 106 for 6 feels notably light, at the 16 over mark.

These England spin-twins are competent enough but further wickets feel possible. Ecclestone likes to bludgeon the ball: can she do that without risking calamity? Kasperek will bowl the 18th, which may be important. 8.14 pm and I would say we look dark, beyond the stadium.

Ecclestone swishes and finds cover. (114 for 7). Glenn hits a horror-shot aerial but safe, towards mid-off. Villiers bunts a single. Devine hits Glenn – who has utterly mistimed a slower ball – in the guts. We have a review. Not out. The other night England threatened 200. Tonight they seem unlikely to make 130. Last over, with Jensen running in.

A runout seems on… but the throw is wide. Villiers flashes one up and must surely be caught but the night’s first howler offers her relief. A scramble gets two from the last: England finish on 127 for 7. Advantage must be with the White Ferns?

Sciver – the captain, in the absence of the stoic but excellent Heather Knight – will open. Bates and Devine in, for New Zealand. Three dot balls, then two, out to Wyatt on the legside boundary. Peach of an outswinger and Jones whips off the bails: no joy. Two for 0 as Tash Farrant comes in. The sense that if one or both of these batters can prosper, the White Ferns could cruise this. The Kiwi stars will of course know this: let’s see.

Farrant has had a top year. Has #skills. Early half-chance but Dunkley – good fielder who had a strangely poor night in the opening fixture – throws wide. Devine gets there.

Freya Davies – prancing then bursting, with back arcing somewhat and hand high – replaces Sciver. Bates collects her brutally and clears midwicket for 6. Sciver responds a couple of balls later by putting both a deep midwicket and deep square out. Bates tips and runs. 20 for 0 after 3. Enter Ecclestone.

Bates miscues fine for a fortunate four but then Ecclestone reviews, for possible lbw. Umpire was right – missing. Poor review. 7 from the over and crucially, no dramas. Sciver in, to ‘make something happen’. Ecclestone – not one of England’s better fielders – dives over one: not what her skipper needs. Four.

Great pick-up and throw from Villers may have stunned Bates. The batter clubbed to mid-on but the England spinner is a fine athlete: she gathers and slings to execute a fabulous, timely runout.

Farrant is in again but Devine absolutely clatters her, with timing, for six, then gathers four more. *Response*. New Zealand 43 for 1 at the end of the powerplay (and clearly ahead). Breeze coming in: time for a jumper. Ecclestone.

Glenn drops a fairly simple chance, as Devine turns it to backward square. Came flattish but hardly laser-like. 54 for 1 after 8. That same batter rubs salt by smashing Sciver for a further 6. England need something special, now – a cluster of wickets, rather than just one – to get back into this. Theoretically the visitors have less batting depth than England but the two at the crease have quality and experience.

Davies has changed ends as we approach mid-innings. From nowhere – or so it seems – she draws the wicket. It’s batter error, in truth, Satterthwaite clipping an attempted reverse straight into her stumps. 68 for 2. Green is in, and Glenn turns one, which is dealt with calmly enough. Villiers and Wyatt are now prowling in front of me, offering leg-side cover for the leg-spinner. Devine is on 37 as Ecclestone comes in to bowl the 12th.

Good work from the tall left-armer – just the one from the over.

Green connects with Glenn, splitting the leg-side field for four. Devine betters that, by crunching one waaaay over midwicket for 6. Then a smart relay between Wyatt and Villiers limits the White Fern fixture to two.

More, from Davies. Green turns her smartly for another boundary. At 14 now, she looks in and her partner has 46. Davies strays and is penalised for wide. Devine again hits powerfully for four to bring up her half-century; it’s included four 6s.

As Farrant comes in for the 15th, the visitors need only 29 for victory. But DRAMA YET! Devine smashes out towards Villers (& *absolutely* myself!) and the England fielder judges her advance and her dive to perfection to take another outstanding catch. (It really was directly at both of us and she really did have to travel to get there). Fifty and gone, for Devine but with (still) only 3 wickets down an equalising win seems certain in any event. With 15 overs done, New Zealand are 105 for 3 – needing only 23 runs from 30 balls.

England need some crazy-level inspiration… so who ya gonna call? MADY VILLIERS!! Sciver has brought her in, and the young off-spinner pulls out another stunning catch to remove Green, who has boomed it back at her. 113 for 4 as Glenn comes in. We have Martin and Jensen both new to the crease but they have only to tip and run, you would think(?)

Nope. Martin has hit firmly towards long-off… and, erm, you know the rest. Villiers pockets another catch. Ridiculous. What can Ecclestone do? Nothing decisive, on this occasion.

After 18, the visitors need only 8 from 12. Farrant offers a little width and gets crashed for four. Then the umpire calls the next one a wide… but England are appealing for caught behind. OOF! There is glove on it – Jensen has to go! Awful ball, in truth but Jones had gathered superbly – again.

Barely credibly, Farrant bowls two further consecutive wides to gift the game (which to be fair had seemed long gone) to the White Ferns. Dispiriting finish to an underwhelming performance, from England.

Unquestionably, however, this was a deserved win for Devine, in particular. She bossed the game as Beaumont had done in the previous fixture. The New Zealand skipper – in her 100th IT20 game – came away with the Player of the Match Award but I doubt she would begrudge Mady Villiers a Mention In Dispatches. The youngster’s sustained and indeed electrifying fielding was a joy to behold. One-all in the series feels right, feels good. Evidence of elite-level athleticism and skill in the field feels important, positive, helpful.

Here’s what we should have done…

Hmm. If I cruise through my diary for the year soon to be known as Two Thousand and *insert expletive* Twenty, what will it tell me? Given my creeping facility to fail to remember, will it direct and prompt towards some kind of legitimate reflection? Or will I need wikibloodypedia to cross-check why everything stopped at a particular date?

Tell you what. Let’s have an ungentlemanly agreement that particular dates didn’t matter: that the unkempt ‘schedule’ of events – so redolent, don’t you think, of a certain foppish barnet? – is only to be referred to where it suits our – or my – pleasure. Because blanks may be good, and factoids slippery.

JAN: Normally a quiet month, in any case. Do sometimes support the very wonderful Lady Taverners, by hosting or umpiring and chirpily chivvying along some Secondary School Girls’ Cricket Action. Great, when it happens, that lovely mixture of spookily competitive teens who ‘play’ – their word – and their more or less committed peers.

In recent years I’ve typically volunteered myself to be the Guy Who Goes Outside (On The Tennis Courts). This is madness, in January, but the gals love it and we just can’t accommodate all those who want to play inside what we call The Dome – the inflatable sports hall-thing at the local high school.

This year, my diary tells me, I had a hernia op on Jan 13th, so I missed out in any case. (The op I actually rather enjoyed – weird, I know – because it went well and – weirder still – I wanted to savour that whole drift into unconsciousness, post receiving the knockout gas. I remember trying to count into and be aware of those seconds before disappearing into slumberville. Was it going to be disorienting and bumpy, or smooth? Could I hold off the anaesthetic and dance round some faerie landscape? Would I turn out to be Ben Stokes… and is everything else a travesty?)

Turns out I remember nothing of the actual moment of disappearing. Ho-hum. Enjoyed the bantz with the staff beforehand – and grateful to them for their professionalism and good humour. Within a very few weeks they would be gearing up to grit out dark times: I was incredibly fortunate to get that operation before Normal Service was lost to all of us.

FEB: 18th and I go to The Sloop, the seaside hostelry in North Pembs that somehow ticks the strikingly efficient pub-grub tourist-eatery box and the locals’ local. Both sleepy and rammed with local sportsmen, fishermen, occasional rock/film stars, The Sloop manages to host a Welsh-speakers corner and all you buggers from Guildford.

Anyway, I was there for the AGM of the Mighty Cows – Llanrhian CC. Again felt like a privilege to be able to piggyback (via my volunteering and Proper Cricket Wales Work) the outstanding, generous work of the Cow Stalwarts. My contribution here was to try to politely bully the club into getting folks on the upcoming Foundation One Coaching courses: like most clubs in the universe, they need to train up more players or members to bring on the next generation. Think my intervention may have spurred some profitable action on this, but Covid has certainly blurred the timeline.

Diary also notes ‘Chance to Shine blog’, for 21st. Just had a look. Think this is an error… the post is about India v Aus women, opener for the T2O World Cup. Can’t trust anyone or anything, eh?

Then WOW. Tuesday 25th Feb and I’m into Lamphey Community Primary. A delightful dinky-wee school in a small village in South Pembs. The Head is a personal friend and a spectacular advocate for sport. Their hall is a tiddler but we start what proves to be a series of animated weekly sessions in there – the weather not playing ball.

I’m with Years 2/3/4. We conjure up (between us) some proper energy and enthusiasm, despite the folded dining tables and encroaching benches. No scope even for tennis ball-based games; no matter – the spongeball shuttles, swerves and shuffles are smiley enough. Am ultimately proud of the feisty level of activity we achieve: from memory only on a couple of days could we break out into the yard. Given the daft time of year and all, this was an energising start to the 2020’s school delivery.

Two days later and I’m into Caer Elen, the Welsh language primary in Haverfordwest. My children went to the school’s predecessor – Glan Cleddau – where I somehow became a Parent Governor, so I have a particular connection. I know and rate plenty of the teachers; my son grew up surfing with the secretary’s. Such is life in small communities, eh? I give it plenty and the weeks are fabulous and productive… until.

MARCH: There is now a spectre looming. The memo’s suggest I am calling schools (or still contemplating that) to try to set up sessions. 4th March I start up in Pembroke Dock Community School. I have gushed elsewhere about this establishment so will encapsulate: should get the Chance To Shine ‘School of the Year’ every year. I get three weekly visits in before the broiling beast does for us. Thurs 19th March the diary barks out CANCELLED CORONAVIRUS over the theoretical week four, at Caer Elen.

APRIL: Who knows? Should be on a charge towards All Stars, club activity with sun on our grateful backs. But nope. Extraordinary to flick through the days and weeks and see those schools, sessions, commitments that could not be fulfilled. Not even sure if I can unravel the written word: did we really lose the whole bloody lot? Cilgerran, Croesgoch, Fenton, Prendergast, Sageston – all skittled? And all the ‘Progress Sessions’ – i.e. pre-All Stars club support missions – emphatically yorked? Christonnnabike!

MAY: Diary entry feels especially poignant: ‘Under Nines Festival @ Haverfordwest’. Should’ve been a gateway for tinyish peeps; their critical first experience of matches. (In truth, although these are organised games between groups, the vibe is beautifully unthreatening. P.A.R.T.I.C.I.P.A.T.I.O.N. is absolutely key and these are generally tremendously positive, well-judged occasions. Gutting to lose them: there are none, throughout the summer).

I *should be* hosting inspiring assemblies and burning through blisteringly entertaining Road Shows: can’t. No Waldo Williams, no Narberth. I justify my (part-furloughed) existence with social media stuff and joining Whatsapp groups or Zoom calls to demystify ‘updates.’ The whole process of accurately informing our Cricket Wales Community Where We’re At begins. Half-term comes and goes – doesn’t matter.

JUNE: More voids where schools and festivals should be. There must surely be some recreational cricket(?) – acksherly I’m not sure – there’s nothing in my bible, so who can tell? No sign either of the pro’ cricket I should be planning to traduce via my blogs. Blimey. Think I even have a few days off CW media duties; this really is unheard of.

Brief re-wind because somewhere stuff is happening. March: Aus women have steamrollered India, in a bumper home win, at the T20 World Cup. I wrote about it. April: I interview Andrew Salter . May: I fall into Youtube. June: I really start to confuse the years – both in my diary and in what I may loosely refer to as Real Life. July: Shouldn’t I be planning trips? Why is there nothing? I have some recollection of fiddling around the ECB Media Accreditation page but at what point does the inevitable shrinking-down to A-list bubbles occur?

I know I have no chance of gaining access to international or indeed any other high-profile fixtures, now. I have no illusions about my relative centrality to cricket reportage. I’m a very fortunate hanger-on, tolerated by good folks at the ECB who suddenly need to reduce the media clan attending fixtures. So I’m gone, and no issues. Can’t get live access to Western Storm, either – had targeted that, a little. (Again, no issues – just very much hope to be back when things open out again).

End of AUG: HOW DID WE GET HERE?!? I follow Storm v Vipers livestream and then things funnel back to Zoom calls and more, careful de-ciphering of government/Welsh Government/Sport Wales advice on what’s do-able and how. I must also be booting down the motorway because…

SEPT: Speed Awareness Course, 14th – online. Then GOR BLIMEY: September 15th 2020… and I’M BACK IN!! Pembroke Dock Community School. The first of six, weekly visits. Now spending the whole day at schools, so as to reduce travel and therefore risks to everybody. Have a ver-ry clear memory of my first session back. It was so brilliant and crisp and rallying that I wrote about it: expect to post into Chance to Shine’s Case Studies once Pembs Sport have used it.

Life gets temporarily busy. After that full day of coaching I have a Cricket Wales Comms Zoom. 17th and I’m in Golden Grove, where the unthinkable happens – we get away with five consecutive weeks of activity outside, only dodging apocalyptic hailstorms twice, from memory. Stunningly engaging cricket-based games, both on grass(!) and the playground. Intense, given six sessions in the day, but massively gratifying. Looking back, feels like something rather profound was achieved, and defied.

I’m test-driving some learning and intuitions around offering children space to engineer their own games. This following chatter amongst Chance to Shiners and Create Development gurus. And specifically after a chinwag with another Head, who reminded me that whilst kids are being heavily stifled re physical play, (because Covid, because schools can’t condone traditional grappling) so “Guys ‘n Gals Like Me” become important as stimulators of appropriate activity, owned and developed by the children. In other words, maybe it’s become part of our job (in the Covid era) to prompt schoolchildren towards inventing or extending games themselves. I try to build my sessions towards this aspiration, by asking (them) “how do we make this work?” and “how do we make this fun?”

Sorry if that’s all a bit niche but if it’s true that children are unable or less able to physically act, or interact, there may be important repercussions, over time. And that becomes territory for teachers and maybe particularly for Sports Development Peeps like me.

Sept 27th, had hoped to be reporting live, in my own inimitable fashion, on the Rachel Heyhoe-Flint Trophy Final. Couldn’t. Blogged, watching a stream. 28th some geezer came to sweep the chimney and nearly demolished the house. (OK, exaggerate but wow, it was like a Surrealist Performance Art-fail. Dislodged the cawl, left kit by the fire and smeared the curtains with soot. Only some of this makes the diary).

OCT: After half-term am still in schools, though inevitably it’s feeling like borrowed time. I have spent £23.97 on industrial-strength sanitiser, for the kit I take in. Am sanitising between every group – spraying balls, bats, etc and squirting alcohol-gel on my hands. Feels near bomb-proof.

Remarkabkle times, though: still musing on the level of psychological impact on four-year-old Sara and Dafydd, of their teacher presenting from behind a mask, all day, every day. (Maybe none – but fascinating?) Nevertheless, the work in schools continues to be rewarding and effective in a way I’ll never be able to reflect on the Chance to Shine monitoring system, or anywhere else. I know and the teachers know the children are loving it: good enough?

NOV: Caer Elen cancel the 2nd because we’re narrowly out of a lockdown (I think). But I can return to finish my allotted six full days of delivery. Uniformly excellent: great, engaged children – years 4 and 6 – plus outstanding, informed support from staff. The availability of an immaculate and biggish sports hall unquestionably helped: we ventilated it well, sanitised religiously so sessions were busy, enjoyable, stirring, even. Thursday 19th and St Oswald’s, quite rightly, cancel. Now begins the winter.

DEC: There are more Zooms, with various colleagues. I am drafted back into the Regional Pathway, after a sabbatical couple of years but then the winter nets become a further victim. Remain philosophical about all that was inevitably lost: know that I have given a reasonable account of myself both in schools and in terms of work delivered. Can hope to fulfil my contractual obligations and personal aspiration to enthuse the universe… but a barely credible year.

Some cricket happened but I didn’t see it in the flesh. No friendly hellos with George Dobell or Dan Norcross. No Bristol, Worcester, Cardiff, or Taunton. No Edgbaston. Instead, long quiet walks. Wet beaches. A kind of philosophical re-calibration. Books and writing. Family.

Cool Catchers… plus!

Some thoughts on coaching, from a Community Cricket Coach just returned to action.
What does it feel like, ‘going back?’
What are the real differences, in the Covid Universe?
Given that (as a ver-ry fine Headteacher just suggested to me) children “really have to find or build new Covid-aware games”, what role can we coaches play in prompting thoughtfulness and creativity, as well as those movements and skills?

Not at all saying I know the way but have a pertinent question, I reckon…

#howdowemakethiswork?


Being Naughty.

A Tweet. Set me off. On a trail that may be irreverent and ill-judged.

Forgive me. I’m neither trying to offend nor in any sense under-estimating the importance of the #Covid19 protocols. (Friends, I’ve spent most of the last several months imparting the details of those very protocols to the good people of Wales). I get that this stuff is important: I get that it’s life and death, potentially.

And yet

Jofra’s nipping ‘off to the flat’. Indeed that whole, daft-but-also-massively-irresponsible thing. Can that not be a source of comedy, too? It was, on twitter. Is it bad that I laughed at some of that? If you think so, maybe leave me now… and all the best.

In response to a tweet from Barney Ronay, yer man @DavidJMcGaughey said… leading me to say…

All of which is silly-blokey (I get that) but got me thinking about other breakouts, or potential breakouts.

So purely for laughs, a wee list of who/how-they-might… break the shackles of responsibility of such-and-such. Because (however irresponsibly) I am clear that we like a rebel, when it comes down to it. Even if they might cost us a Test Match.

  • Beefy the obvious place to start. There’s no doubt a library full of more or less outrageously beeftastic Breakouts. (I speak as the brother of a cub reporter who was on the scene moments after Sir Ian *had a quiet word* with a young gentleman after an evening’s entertainment in Scunthorpe – this in Botham’s football-playing days. Not that this would be the most dramatic or news-worthy of his extra-curricular activities).
  • But what would be the classic Botham Breakout? And who else/how else might the Collective Bubble of Responsibility be pricked? Who are or were the scallywags – your scallywags?
  • Weirdly, my own first thought was Derek Randall, but this may have been more about my memory of his agreeably mischievous fizzog than any propensity of his for tunnel-digging. But, if pushed, I see ar Derek climbing out the hotel window with remarkable agility, scooting gleefully down a drainpipe or six, before meeting a couple of other reprobates at a rum bar in Kingstown, or supping pints of mild at a regular haunt in downtown Nottingham. He could do that and still field like a god, following morning.
  • Gatting. And maybe Gooch. Both stodgier, arguably more lugubrious sorts and obviously both generally loaded down with more responsibility than Randall. But I see them rather bullishly defying the curfew – perhaps with despairing coach or media man watching on – before they march off in search of Quality Nosh and a large glass of red. Perhaps in Australia… which would up the ‘bollocks to everything and everyone’ factor. Not mentioning South African rebel tours; unforgivable and not funny.
  • Not even sure of they were mates but somehow see Flintoff and Harmison out on the illicit razz, too. Having successfully done the weasling out, post a zillion faux-Parachute Regiment signals down the hotel corridor. Maybe Simon Jones is there, baseball cap reversed, squeezing Harmison’s buttock’s and giggling, as they slide past The Gaffer’s Room? Whichever way, this is mission on for a properly savage piss-up: probably in New Zealand, I’m thinking. (Who cares if that figures? It happened).
  • Oooh Robin Smith. Must have been guilty but probably in the Botham scenario. So likely a serial offender.
  • These are all relatively old guys, partly, of course, because I am. There is an issue, in the modern era, clearly – the volume and omnipresence of Media People both in the England Squad Support Group and in the Press Corps around it. So loads of people to potentially grass you up. I know some of the latter and I can exclusively reveal that some of them would absolutely love it if player X or Y either led or joined in with a breakout. I know I would. (Do I need to reiterate my acknowledgements that of course we’re not talking Covid-like situation, here and this is not remotely in that league of serious? No? Good. Onwards then with a couple more.
  • There surely remain Likely Lads, *even now* – witness Stokes/Hales and everything. (Broadly, I think thank god for that).
  • However booze is still central to relaxation, in a way that maybe doesn’t reflect that well on any of us. Testosterone is similarly plainly a factor un-dimmed by years of training, non-negotiable behaviours, ‘protocols’. Young men, cooped up? Horny and bit restless? No wonder nightclubs loom largish in the imagination.
  • Hmm. So in the current England squads, who are the ones, what are the odds?
  • Should I risk a Breakout Rating, based on almost nothing but headshot, body-language, levels of barking-ness?
  • Yes. Yes I should risk that. Here it is; selected individuals… because, whatever…
  • Joe Root. Has that potential to be a right Mister Clean but end of a tour, hauled out or called-out by feisty comrades? 5-10.
  • Eoin Morgan. As with Root, strong sense of responsibilities. Might go wild in or against Ireland, possibly? 6-10.
  • Jofra Archer. Guilty as charged, regrettably. Beyond that, could be a laff, you suspect, on a team rampage. 10-10.
  • Mooen Ali. Wonderful, charming, rooted bloke. Religious and humble. There have to be doubts about corruptibility quotient. 2-10
  • Jimmy Anderson. Presents often as a miserable bugger. See him staring into a glass, maybe… ver-ry late… possibly melancholically, ‘flying solo?’ Tough call this but going with 7-10 on the basis that he might throw a defiant strop somewhere along the line.
  • Jonny Bairstow. Contender. Temperamental. Red hair. Yorkie. “Don’t tell me I can’t goo sup a pint!” 8-10.
  • Stuart Broad. Coo. Relatively, a sophisticate. But also ‘opinionated’ – and likely to think he’s earned the right to a wee indiscretion. 7-10.
  • Rory Burns. Part of the New Breed? Spent half his life in the classroom with a meedya advisor? Possibly. Frankly have no idea – 5-10.
  • Currans. Sharp, determined-maybe-ruthless, professional. Have haircuts, though – so nightclubs? 7-10
  • Joe Denly. It may be over but… outstandingly solid team man. If someone else leads… 6-10.
  • Ben Foakes. Too good-looking not to want to slurp a cocktail and boooo-geeeee! 6-10.
  • Jack Leach. Sense of humour, recently a student; dark, bald, be-spectacled horse. 7-10.
  • Ollie Pope. Can he even drink yet? 4-10
  • Jason Roy. Full of himself. Might smuggle something IN, then lead a breakout. 9-10.
  • Ben Stokes. Oof. Does seem scarily mature, these days. 2-10?
  • Chris Woakes. Seems great lad. So fun. So draggable outtable? 7-10.
  • Mark Wood. Magnificently certifiable. Possibly been selected to be a one-man Social Committee. Hope he has crates of Newkie Brown secreted under the bed. 9-10.

Jofra was daft and unprofessional. Not at all suggesting his ‘offence’ in this moment equates to the light-hearted frolic above. He will pay a particular price, for a particular indiscretion, understand that. But are there not times when breaking out can be fair enough – can contribute to team mood… and therefore to success? I can’t help hoping so.

Now what?

Eve of Easter. Sun blazing. Barely a motor about, not that we get many but blimey this is extraordinary – idyllic actually, with all due respect to the grockles that prop up our entire county, year on year. The shingle, artfully dolloped around our tiny front garden, is baking; the dog is maybe overheating. Junior (well, six foot four) Walton’s smiliferous uni’ dance-music swells at an appropriately easy pitch for a thoughtful lounge. Proper indulgence.

Where we are (forgive us) the Covid-19 situation really does feel like a phoney war. We’re aware of both ‘some Pembrokeshire cases’ and also also of our responsibilities but frisson around exercising is at an entirely lower level than it might be around Bute Park, Cardiff – to take a random example from the known world.

Now that we’re barred from walking the coast path, we generally yomp about a mile and a quarter to a favourite beach along the road, but in doing so don’t tend to see a single vehicle and only occasionally another couple or family taking their own, equivalent quiet promenade.

Big tides so the beach is a zillion, golden, slumbering cricket-pitches at low water. We tramp like sedately ecstatic lurv-zombies the entire width, more than once, unashamedly breasting through the one hour limit our sagacious minister(s) may or may not have made available for Daily Soul-Maintenance. Done this three times this week; estimated duration six hours. Seen five people, total.

But what else? What else for you? What’s it like?

I’m working a bit, on media/social media stuff. This should constitute about a third of my weekly graft – the remainder being the Community Coach role. Doing no coaching in schools or anywhere else, for obvious reasons. So if I was so inclined, things could be pret-ty sedentary: only (and this is not a boast) I don’t do sedentary.

Have no viable garden – or at least genuinely not viable for most ball games. (This probably accounts for current, high step numbers on the roads). Am honestly outstanding at clattering my way into or through jobs, so been on that – garden, kitchen, garage – and will return. But it’s the pleasurable and the healthy stuff we need to get to yes? What do you do? What can, or do we do? I’m gonna tell you some of my restorative strategies and by all means send me yours.

Restorative bloody Strategies! Who am I kidding? Like you miserably shapeless lot, I am almost exclusively following instinct. Working pretty good, mind.

Prepare to be shamed, bored, amused or utterly gobsmacked by the torrent of indulgobollocks about to spew forth. Cos it’s all about What I Done, Lately. (*Of course I have some faint hope it may either make you laugh, or get you off yer arse, thereby neatly dodging the allegation that this is all a bit me, but hey).

Those of you who know me will maybe take the following without too much offence:  that I’m such a shamelessly persistent clown I really don’t care what you might think. This – by that I mean this blog – is about entertaining ourselves, getting stuff done, not about whether I happen to be good at something. To my mind, the ‘me’ is taken right out of this: it is, therefore, merely an offering.

Hey but let me start with something kosher – something that seems relevant, that figures.

Two or three times in the last fortnight I’ve ambled across the road into the dingletastic field opposite, armed with three coloured hoops, two newish sidearms and a bag of balls. Purpose? Being to get somewhere near competent with the slingers. Have gone up to the almost-flat-but-still-unhelpfully-tussocky heights a hundred and thirty-seven yards from the front door, paced out a pitch length and laid the hoops out. Then slung.

Awful, so far. Too many snatched, accidental bouncers: line okay but if I had been in a net with a group of juniors (let’s say), I’d be banged up unceremoniously by now, for Affray With a Sidearm. So work to do; which is fine in the current time-rich era, yes? May need to look at a couple of videos but will be back up there soonish, trying to hook into a groove: consistency is tough.

The other stuff is both daft and almost ludicrously ‘creative,’ darlings, so now strap in for the cringeathon: some surreal slings of fortune and geography bundled in here, which I hope may be diverting.

Great mates have a caravan on the sweet, relatively unobtrusive wee site down close to our beach. (‘Our Beach’ – lols!) The owners can’t use it as the site, like the county, is effectively sealed-up. They are, however, well up for me checking it over and using it discreetly as a retreat or for any legal purpose, particularly as this has involved heroic clearing-out of 14 million flies that had recklessly expired over the winter/early spring. (What is it with caravans and flies, by the way? Had to wade in to a mincemeat horror-show, which has taken several visits to clear).

Whatever. This caravan has become a haven for two alarmingly healthy pursuits but before I spill the wotsits on those, I feel the urge to say, rather intently, that I’m not looking to escape from anyone or anything (thank you ver-ry much) when I ‘nip down’ there. Relationships all good. Just living in a tiny house – as we do – it makes practical sense.

But what does? Yoga and guitar.

Eh?

Yoga I’ve been doing, clunkily and inconsistently for a couple of years but I now really get it. Guitar, well as the angriest of youffs emerging from the punk epiphany, I acquired a fairly horrible Gibson Les Paul copy and, flukily, a marvellous Ibanez acoustic, before becoming a half-decent rhythm-geetar strumster. Criminally, I stopped playing, almost completely, about twenty years ago.

Some of you will be aware that my wife is often referred to as The Finest Yoga teacher in Wales ‘cos, yes… she is. For twenty years, hugely to her credit, she restrained herself completely from bundling me towards the classes she teaches in nearby Haverfordwest, Narberth and St Davids but finally that wall of restraint (or restraining wall?) crumbled. Not sure quite how, fascinatingly, but I found myself attending sessions and did so with little enjoyment for about eighteen months. This despite being aware that yoga was blindingly obviously something that might benefit a berk like me: I’m 84% fast-twitch fibres. Mostly, life is lived in an optimistic rage. Plus, me back is stiff.

Eventually another wall (or something) broke – or, on reflection, I lump-hammered my way through it. Whether it was working with the breath, just finding myself less gutty and bloated, or something mystical about rhythms and space, couldn’t tell you. But eventually I have begun, despite the continuing lack of flow in my super-annuated, sporty-but-brittle frame, to enjoy yoga. So I’ve been doing some on my own, down the caravan.

Bethan’s classes continue, via the grace of Facebook Live but because we really do live in a tiny house, I can’t work alongside her, out of view. In time I’ll get back to going to classes but for now I stroll beatifically down the van with my iPad, from which an emailed practice can be conjured. (Did I mention, by the way, that caravans these days are more like apartments? Smart). So picture me, silently, unhindered and (ahem) unselfconscious, as I inhale, pause, move, in the medium-copious ‘living area’. Like a cross between Peter Crouch mid-robot and erm… a ballerina.

I’m going down there nearly every day, just now, to ‘do something’. Having had a hernia op’ some months ago – and therefore a yoga gap – I’m building back up towards the 75 or 90-minute sessions typical of a Bethan W class.

But my retreats to the caravan aren’t just about yoga, or even just about that yoga/guitar combo. I am kinda rehabilitating my fingers to the strings and re-engaging the muscle memory for chords: I’m also going to try to learn a few songs. And I’m also trying to write a few songs. This means, among other things, singing.

Real blokes don’t sing, do they? Or not whilst sober – not in front of people. But hang on; let’s go back a little.

Writing songs; song-writing. Shocking truth is I’ve always felt I should or could have done that… but only played at it. Intently, once or twice, but never with any discipline. There was a time when there were fantastic people around me – I make no apology for calling them soulbrothers – who might have joined with a committed rock and roll adventure: didn’t happen.

Not at all saying it’s likely to happen now. Not even remotely suggesting that what I’m doing is good. (It’s at least as likely to be raw embarrassing and I really am fine with that). I’m just saying I’m actually trying, over a period of time, to *finish* some songs – or get them to a place where they feel done.

I know plenty folks live via fixations or aspirations towards Pole Stars or Intentions but I’ve never worked like that: (you?) I lack the Ambition Gear Thing and I suspect this is something I’m perversely proud of.

Right now what feels clear and ‘important’ to me is the instinct to create something while the time and opportunity is there. Broadly, that’s it. There’s flow and energy around so I’m using it. Specifically, this means re-learning the guitar – which I know I can do – honing and crafting some ideas into song lyrics – which maybe I really can’t – and either finding my voice and performing – doubt it – or passing the songs on if there’s any real merit in them, to someone who can perform. Or… leaving them in the metaphorical cupboard, which is fine, particularly if they’re *finished*.

What’s both great and scary is I really do not know if the proto-songs are garbage. And I’m more sure than not that my singing is pret-ty embarrassing. And I’m recording, as part of the challenge! But maybe the result doesn’t matter? Maybe this is a truly developmental experience, whatever?

Yes. Emphatically yes.

The caravan and the glorious, generous, idyllic solitude makes it possible to bawl out loud, bollocks up the guitar, grimace or preen to the mirror. (I do all three). Mainly I forget the words and fear I’m sounding ‘like James Blunt’s dad’ – think it’s likely I look like him.

But none of this matters. The ludicrous nerves(!), even when flying utterly solo; the angst about how lyrics might be understood – would people get the irony, here? – all that is clearly strikingly testing, but great. Part of the newness and growth.

(Re-cap: I’m a reasonably oldish geezer who feels about 34. I get that every word of this is ridiculous – and beginning to sound like some self-help guide – but the point is I’m bloody invigorated by this challenge. Being unsure of whether you really are a complete embarrassment but ploughing on, anyway, is a manifestly edgy place to be, believe me. I recommend it).

I have four songs or song lyrics which feel close enough for rock and roll. I hope to practice versions of them all, over the next few weeks. Could well be they never get aired outside that caravan: who cares? In a month my guitar will be on the up and that will feel good. The documents that are my songs will be there, good or bad, but there.

Have tumbled into a longish read – apologies. Ditto for the extravagant indulgences. Hope that some of this resonates in some way: I think it’s about committing, about making your contribution and just not worrying about where it might sit in the hierarchy of things. There is no good or bad that can undermine the brilliance of your commitment.

So, what’s your guitar, your yoga? Get to it, c’mon. With me. We can support each other, okay?

A-one-two-three-four go!

 

 

 

 

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.