Maybe slow is good?

The retirement of Charlotte Edwards does have that ‘end of an era’ feel. And there’s an interesting consensus around that change, as folks recognise the need to fit the boom/dive-tastic times.

That whole thing of us sprinting or going headlong into the cricket future, wearing Beats and Nikes, interests me. Who owns this notion that we’re supple and down wiv da kids, in an athletic, sexually-charged kindofaway? Or maybe more precisely how come that idea suddenly owns us so completely? Men, women, all having to be lithe and sassy and bright and quicksilver and strong: how did that become how now is? Because it did.

In the sense that

a) I love fielding, myself

b) I get that cricket needs to feel and be exciting

c) there’s something seductive about a changing universe and more movement within it

I can see why we’re going this way. But this doesn’t sit well with some of the finest coaches and Properest Cricket People I know. Forgive the postmodern mix of metaphors but they speak of Edwards’ removal as a further nick in the buttresses; as though we’re condemning or easing something away into a slower, duller, dodgy-kneesier past… and there’s something wrong or offensive about that.

Charlotte Edwards might be a symbol, then, for The Construction That Is our memory of cricket. Something in her brilliant, foursquare Englishness, together with that whiff of both grittiness and patience smacks suddenly – maybe jarringly? – of yesterday.

So we didn’t need to be in the room with the former England skipper and her newish coach to know that Robinson will have said something about the need to quicken things, to pass the baton to a new generation of athletes more comfortable with absolutely legging it, or flinging themselves, or clearing the front foot and smashing it. Or we know he inferred all that.

Watch the BBC interview http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/36263023 (in which Edwards’ anger and hurt are palpable – as is her dignity in the moment) and the subtext is that through her shock a brutal acquiescence was bulldozed. That Way (your way) no longer fits; change (this change) must come. And you know this ain’t personal.

It may not be personal but I’m guessing it feels that way to Lottie… and to those who inhabit what I’m going to lazily call the traditionalist wing of the #cricketfamily. They sense repercussions or reverberations here which bother their yaknow, buttresses.

But let’s applaud the skipper in.  Her feats and achievements will be heavily recorded in the media in the next few hours – more heavily, in fact than any previous captain of the England Women’s cricket team – because Edwards has been outstanding and because (despite malingering #everydaysexism?) the profile of the game has never been higher.

The reluctantly retiring captain had persisted through the ages, being a fixture from the times of dark obscurity – when (looking at at the papers, the telly) it seemed barely anybody cared – into the era of women professionals and the #WSL. Lottie’s been England’s other queen, similarly immovable until now, a quiet permanence as the colours got noisier all around.

Coach Robinson’s aspiration for a particular kind of change is a function of the times, then. He wants a new level of dynamism as well as a younger leader. The tide of Contemporary Positivism is carrying all before it – we get that. But maybe out of respect for Edward’s place in the iconography and possibly because these things interest me, I’d like to air some of the counter-arguments to this flood towards high-octane norms.

Maybe it’s great that cricket can be a bastion against quickness? Maybe the world needs someone to shush it the **** up now and then? Maybe we need to be ver-ry careful we don’t go excluding guile and craft, when we’re rushing about the place. Maybe *philosophically* it’s cricket that’s the antidote to i-phones and t’internet and cards that you swipe and earpieces you wear when you’re out shopping or walking the dog! Maybe slow and patient and thoughtful and tactical are good – precious and good?

One of cricket’s great strengths is surely this defiantly uncool capacity to build gorgeously-painfully slowly. Unlike nearly everything else.If it has a nature, it is not characteristically about instants – or instant gratification. On times it may even be viable to have a kip whilst you’re watching… and not miss anything that matters. That may be unique and that may be good.

Many of us love the idea that martians are watching, mystified but rapt as earth-beings (who typically buzz frenetically about) occasionally do this thing where they take five days to fail to conclude anything very much… then call it a Test! We hope they are doing martian A-Levels in What The Hell’s All That About and How Can It Fit With Everything Else?

Of course I’m bending arguments here, cross-relating absurdly – being perverse. Particularly as I’m going now to confess that broadly I think cricket benefits from what we’ll simply term greater athleticism. But the point may be that the development towards increased or (I like the word) heightened dynamism might yet prove to be a trend falling in line with very immediate perceptions of what seems relevant… or saleable. And that therefore genuinely profound understandings or skills or expressions of the game might be being under-appreciated in this hyperactive now.

It may be offensive to Charlotte Edwards to be cartoonised within this beery hypothesis – if so I apologise. She is a great of the women’s game and my intention is more to respect her than use her as makeweight in some crusty mither about (eeeeh) Modern Times.

Clearly the Kent and Southern Vipers captain thinks she still has plenty to offer – even if the England selectors think Edward’s running and her run-rate pulse too low now, for the international challenge. She may yet, through a surge of imperious form that would surprise nobody, make the most satisfying statement around all this. She may say that class is permanent and it defies the clamour. Indeed, I personally hope this captain, this icon, this monarch does – and in doing so sends a reminder.

 

Watch the ball.

Some of us can remember (faintly – if I dare use the word in this context) when David Coleman described Asa Hartford as a whole- hearted player. He was. But unfortunately for the Beeb’s lead commentator (and owner/inventor of the Colemanballs phenomenon) he also famously had a hole in his heart, making this a headline-grabber of a booboo, for which the purveyor of the similarly memorable

Juantorena opens his legs… and shows his class!

could only profusely and publicly apologise. The world forgave him and re-positioned before the footie, or athletics, and/or virtually everything else and waited… for the next one.

I haven’t yet heard James Taylor described as a lovably titchy but big-hearted bloke but I expect the moment is coming. Because he plainly is. How else could he haul himself into contention in such a defiantly gutsy, as well as impressively cool fashion? And how else could he stand at short leg – three foot two from the sweet spot – and watch the ball into his outstretched hand whilst knowing this baybee’s reeeaally gonna hurt? If you were reaching for a word to describe the fella’s essence it might unavoidably be some extension of or derivative from that deliciously evocative bundle of letters h.e.a.r.t.

Taylor is smallish but appears implacable in the face of that contemporary international standard – Attack of the Psyched-up Beanpoles. He seems as comfortable as most when the cherry’s whistling around his ears. There are fascinating arguments around whether his strikingly human scale enables or complicates his playing of the quicks but what seems reasonably clear is his ability to deal with that stuff. He’s a bonafide player (in at least two formats) in the highish middle order.

Goes without saying that Taylor’s agility helps in both the rough and tumble of the field and in terms of his batting: good to be tiggerish and tigerish when you’re up against spin and speed, eh?

But hold: we’ve drifted into the wrong tense. Sadly James’s playing, his actual cricket, is done. Let’s doff our caps amiably and respectfully by noting his all round and genuinely full contribution, without either being maudlin or patronising the lad in any way. He was a proper international player; he was kosher and compact and I liked his style: that latter point being important (I hope.)

But this is not an obituary. James Taylor is bright and capable and by all accounts a great bloke to have around. Cricket is saying

we need you, fella.

Offers are already being made with respect to roles which may be helpfully or otherwise gathered under the ‘ambassadorial’ category. Naturally and rightfully. Whilst there is inevitably something sentimental about such developments the harder-headed truth would be that most of us might expect him to make a further real and intelligent contribution to his county – to the game. That’s what he does.

Of  course that frisson around Taylor’s condition lingers. We can’t know what’s viable on this – not for some weeks or months. If it’s unthinkable for him to hurl himself around then playing avenues have been closed: that’s the hurtful but easy bit. Where that leaves him in terms of the do-able will be a longer game, a test match-like, tactical resolving of deep meaningful things which I’m again confident Taylor is well-equipped to deal with. It’s another kind of dance around another kind of bouncer.

I can get away with saying that, I reckon. I’m *entitled*. Check out my upper left chest where there’s a quirky wee bulge -referred to in the Walton household as my ‘canna sardines’. It’s an At Rest pacemaker, the result of my own freakish heart issues. If nothing else it levers open the opportunity to indulge in voice-of-experience paternalism towards the boyish Mr Taylor and sorree but I’m not entirely inclined to pass up such an opening.

I can say stuff like

James, this really is just a beginning.

Like

Jimmy lad, the world *really might* be just about energy. And there really might be a way to understand everything as being invincible… or not. And you might choose (like me) to believe that your own being is in proportion to your belief in the invincibility of your own energy. This is not foolhardy. This is predicated on knowledge and awareness of where you’re at: it just frees you up to be fearless and good – to express your new maximum.

I might say that, if I got past security with my grapes and my takeaway…. and past the introductory flannel.

JT’s ‘situation’ is not the same as mine – that’s true in so many ways. But I do get some of the bewilderment and disappointment and fear he will surely be feeling, as do so many others. We’re united in the flux. What I decided pretty sharpish was to defy it.

So no space for loss. No space either for daft, dangerous, recklessness. Instead find that calm and that steeliness. Watch the ball, in fact. Then hit it where you choose.

I hope the above renders the brief, soul-brotherly, sub-van Goghian ‘hearty handshake’ I’m about to offer superfluous. I hope Titch (and everybody else) get that I’m looking to offer something a tad more inspiring than sympathy.

Hearts are the most remarkable things- maybe irrespective of condition. Tick through the list of  skills which take them soaring past mere functionality: from generosity, defiance, courage and on to love. Remind yourself how endlessly, endlessly wonderful they are. Then come on, big boy. Gimme that hug.

 

 

…Which plainly won.

It’s been a blast. An Indian one – sinuous and surreal and somehow both massive and intimate.

Afghanistan have charmed and entertained us; Dharamsala has blown our minds and now The Windies have doubled up on their Champions dance. Things are done; plans and hopes exhausted. Perhaps it’s time to reflect on where this leaves us.

It’s been a blast, despite an infuriating whiff of anarchy around ticketing and venues and the weirdly Old-World thrum of intransigence re the status or value of Associate Nations.

There’s an argument, of course, that global cricket governance needs to experience a similarly explosive culture change to that which rumbles so excitingly violently through the game itself but such was the seductive power of a good deal of #WT20 that I will scoot irresponsibly on past this whole conversation. (Others will and are nobly unpicking the pretence, in any case.) Much better and fairer and more appropriate to revel in the plusses.

We can do this most realistically, however if we pause briefly to ask if there is – in this Age of The Boomathon – any way this format at this level could fail to be tectonic entertainment?

Now we have legs clearing and blades voluptuously carving from ball one – arguably not.

Aha but let’s be positive! (Let’s be fair, in fact.) From an England (and Wales) supporters viewpoint I/we can now luxuriate in the knowledge that finally we have a team that gets this. Going forward – as the politicians and planners and coaches and posers and everybody else now says – the single most significant plus is the fabulous forward lurch, the progression that now sees us ready to compete in this format. This  may be bigger than achieving a place in the final: because we aren’t either flunking this or faking it now. England are a force and you (everybody else) better believe that.

Clearly you do.

Beyond this steepling climb into credibility and competitiveness, the view into the milieu nouveau is comforting – possibly inspiring. Crucially, it’s also inseparable from a nailed-on expectation of solid entertainment. (My thesis on How Exactly, This T20 Stuff Materialised, will be serialised in The Daily Doosra sometime soonish but meantime just do a one-minute-of-applause-thing for the happy coincidence of (R)evolutionary Sporting Dynamism and Full-on 21st Century thrill-grazing.)

Then check out these four boomers.

  • #WT20 was great because of the fabulous, diverse geographical/sociological landscape it inhabited. The continent that is India.
  • Yes we can give the administrators a slap but no we won’t waste energy on that: not now. But that will come. Now, enjoy!
  • England achieved.
  • Certainly Root and maybe Buttler confirmed themselves as World Stars, here and now, in the Boomathon.

Broadly, there’s been a change of nature in short-format cricket which inclines it towards drama. We know that now and we (England) are feeding off its energy, receiving the revelations; responding to and reflecting the sheer excitement.

What we fans can’t yet know is whether experience or experiences around the new and renewing sexed-up beast will be mediated in time by familiarity/inertia/ boredom. Fortunately the climax of the men’s tournament in particular (although the women’s ran it close in the ‘Advisory; watch from behind the sofa!’ stakes) re-nonsensed unlikely fears of any encroaching ambivalence.

Four more *absolute rockets*.

  • The gist of this is that England are of the essence of this format (now.) The Blokes, anyway. Expect the Women to return to some serious soul-searching and an abrupt, significant gear-change.
  • Willey kindof discovered himself, maybe? Which could be interesting.
  • Our Blokes are a danger to anyone but…
  • Just a few moments of inspiration or brutal, brutal hitting can have this thing done. T20 really is pop. Only unlicensed, dangerous, punky pop.

In the #WT20 Final, after England had unburied themselves from a frankly sickening start – mainly due to yet more brilliance and guts from Root – a young lad called Brathwaite unleashed a shortish but shockingly terminal barrage. It did feel like an eruption, being violent and beautiful. It crashed through of our senses; it was a supra-conclusive statement of something in a new-torn, invincible language. It was magic but kinda scary.

But that was the end. Previously, with the undoubtedly strong England batting line-up inserted, things began with a whimper not a roar. Both Roy and Hales departed jarringly early as the innings bolted towards then flirted with – please god no! -humiliation. Skipper Morgan almost got his lines together…but no. Butler and Root battled against and almost stemmed things… but no.

Strikes me that one of the challenges we’re yet to resolve in the new T20 universe is how swiftly and mercilessly we apportion blame to failing batsmen. They’re ALL supposed to give it a thrash, right? So, risk factors are to some extent factored out.

The Roy/Hales #fail-ure here provides plenty of scope for #bantz or bar-room brawling: why wouldn’t it? World Cup Final: stall to be set. Opinions will gloriously differ but unarguable surely that their premature exit contributed to England’s descent into flip-chart-cartoon-chaos mode? (Meaning it wasn’t good.)

Mind you, Goodie-Baddies in all of this were a W Indies side absolutely on the rampant side of pumped. They forced the England stumble. They were close to unplayable, being everywhere in the field – being a presence in the gaps. We knew Morgan’s side batted deep but from early on it seemed somehow only Root and Buttler might offer resistance, never mind a threat.

The former was again magnificent. Always less likely than Buttler to clear the rope but purer and less brittle. Whilst he stayed…

Painfully and somewhat surprisingly, the Yorkshireman got a tad greedy or a tad sloppy and ballsed up a trick shot. A disappointing end – one he visibly railed against. But he’d been England’s rock again. Buttler and Willey snorted or smote some defiance but the score seemed 20 or 30 light at 150-something.

Then the crazy stuff really started. The ultimately triumphant W Indies innings stumbled and stalled as England’s had done. Root winkled a couple out, sharpish and joyously. The pressure piled up and occasionally blew. Scores were comparable, as were levels of angst. This was no strut – not for Gayle, the feared colossus,  nor for anyone else. Everybody not actually in the ground was – yes! – behind a sofa.

England’s bowling was/is by reputation less convincing than the batting. Except maybe at The Death, when both Jordan and Stokes have repeatedly shown heroic levels of both skill and nervelessness. Another lurch forward and Stokes found himself, ball in hand with a *more than decent chance* of steering his country home. In the World Cup Final!

There is no question that Stokes is a) brilliant b) big-hearted and c) biologically/genetically programmed to perform sport to an elite level. It didn’t matter. Brathwaite dismissed him for four consecutive maximums to obliterate the ‘fact’ of a bottom-clenchingly tight finish.

We could pile in with the pyroclastic metaphors and the references to New Earth Being Produced. During this Last Over/New Geological Era Finale Thing. Because Brathwaite unmade or sea-floor-spreaded all that too, whilst he was dissecting and discombobulating Stokesy and England. How could he do that stuff? It was impossible. Times four.

We can argue the toss about what Stokes did or didn’t do but better to relax and actually to smile. Brathwaite made him and his lifetime of practice (and his weeks of death-bowling plans) an irrelevance. On the count of one, two, three, four.

Importantly, Stokes will be back. But this is Brathwaites’ story. He won a World Cup and made the most wonderful mockery of everything. Everything except sport… which plainly and simply won.

Root and branch and lifeblood.

The argument (made by England skipper Eoin Morgan to the BBC) that Joe Root is the most complete batsman England have ever produced is a rather striking one. One we might reasonably and fairly immediately file under hyperbole; post-match, post-UNREAL swashbuckling victory euphoria. Because if ever there was a moment for delusional disproportion then this was it: Root being godlike in an environment from which most would have (actually) sought escape, one way or another. Instead Ar Joseph unflinchingly but beautifully built his way forward, denying the Munch-like scream of the moment, dismantling the Proteas attack.

For this most English of English heroes to dismiss the whirlwind around him with such calm, such style and without resorting to the violent bludgeoning of the innocent ball was remarkable… and maybe remarkably attractive and rich and necessary. Whether Root’s genius catapaults him beyond England’s Finest Ever is another matter. Frankly I’m not going there; not now; not without several clarity-inducing beers inside me.

Instead let’s pop back into the broader arguments. T20 is clearly the coming force but if there is a concern around its appeal this may centre over the car-crashness, the impact-frenzyness, the potentially divisive or even repulsive quality of the Boomathon that it has become. (I know! Tad perverse to intuit the least concrete reservations of a tiddly proportion of traditionalist fans here but stay with me; a Bigger Picture will emerge. Judge me then.) Where were we?

T20. Yes we love it and need it to make us relevant into a new age. Yes we accept that there is some meaningful upskilling going on as well as possible subversions to Wise Old (Longer Format) Truths – fielding and levels of ingenuity in both batting and bowling codes being notable contributors to the positives here. And yes, critically and unanswerably, we acknowledge cricket is suddenly unthinkable without T20.

But in the ever-fuller gallop, are there implications for the sustainability of all this – or more precisely, are there dangers in being T20-centric? Is there something inevitably concerning about a dynamic charge – a revolution – that is so-o relentlessly breathless? My answer to that is I’m not sure, that I am uneasy with the consideration-vacuum implied, that I do wonder.

Again I fear the accusation of miserablism. So I repeat my allegation that I am the least miserable/most enthusiastically positive bloke I know and that I support and accept forward energy as our lifeblood. I also get that excitement means numbers and that maan, we need numbers.

There must be debate about how T20 feels and looks and evolves and is structured or levered into our domestic structures but yup – there must T20. The question (or one question) might be whether people weary of the smashes, the fireworks, the ramped-up ramp-shots? And how, if boom-fatigue did set in, could we plan or address that easing back? Where does cricket go if (let’s say) new supporters tire of seeing Gladiator X carve his way to another killing?

Backtracking into my crease, I accept this scenario simply may not arise. Maybe I’m just casting the idea out there to see if anyone understands the universe this way(?) The fact that Root and de Villiers (for example) span the ludicrously operatic skills-dimension with such majesty and ease suggests T20 will never be the brittle theatre I almost fear. Long may their talent keep us safe.

Certainly the Yorkshireman made a nonsense of my argument yesterday. He/we can’t claim he did it solo – not after the stunning barrage from Hayes and Roy – who sent Steyn (arguably the best and toughest and canniest genuinely quick bowler in the world, remember) packing. Root did still, however, come in with the proverbial ‘lot to do’. He then performed beyond the capacity of nearly everybody on the planet – hence that hyperbole from his captain.

He steered the ball as much as he smote it. He seemed – absurdly – to be in his element whilst we were either delirious or contemplating a brisk walk out until things were done. It was one of those personal triumphs that go beyond the tribalist norms; he was rapturously received, when his effort was cut tantalisingly short, by an almost entirely neutral crowd. He might almost have been at Headingley.

Morgan was effusive in part because of the natural excitement following an audacious and vital win but also because Root really is special.

Comparisons are fatuous with previous eras because now is so obviously and uniquely Peak Dynamism. Sobers or Botham or Boycott or Bradman – who all faced fearsome opposition – faced nothing like the levels of athleticism we’re seeing now. The context was substantially different and probably less challenging in terms of its range; despite uncovered pitches etc etc. We could conceive of Sobers and Botham being transported into the modern era and adapting (probably remaining gloriously god-like, in fact) but many of us would rather simply deny the validity of joining any of these crazily abstract dots.

What we could reasonably extrapolate, however, is that Joe Root is pret-ty masterful across the cricket arts. He has the technical brilliance and temperament to be a genuine Test Star. He has the running and the hands of a short-format hustler. He has, as yesterday confirmed, the timing and craft to power his way towards the unthinkable in T20. Even when the pressure is mega-epic-acute.

Joe Root is our world star. He’s precious not simply because of his tremendous gifts, but his personality – his capacity to return us to simple, joyful matters of sport. That boyishness. He’s great company, too, being plainly a ‘good lad’, ‘one of us or ours’, a charmer and a laugh. But let’s value him higher yet; in covering all bases across the playing formats, making the case for skill as well as muscle, he may be holding the whole shebang together.

Just one experience.

Disclaimer; certain things have been changed here so that (I believe) no-one could be undermined by the following story. I’d like to think that wider interests – much wider than me or mine or Cricket Wales’s – might, can and arguably should be served by recounting what follows. It’s healthy, it’s heart-warming and it really happened.

Right now we’re test-driving a project that (rather than gathering children and ‘migrating’ them into local cricket clubs) is offering them an indoor knockabout. The kids get @cricketmanwales, his partner in crime, C****, a hall, some kit and then we play stuff. Once a week, for a few weeks; out of school hours.

I don’t want to get bogged down with the whys and tactical wotnots but (because two of you may be interested) we’re doing this for the following reasons, amongst others;

• The Leisure Centres are available to us now.
• Local cricket clubs don’t have the capacity for us Cricket Wales peeps to drive yet another clutch of budding Under Nines or Elevens into their hands – or at least they’re telling us they can’t accommodate a new team – fair enough.
• Some kids just don’t or won’t feel comfortable in the club environment – maybe they aren’t ‘good enough’ (or don’t think they are) to make anybody’s team? Maybe they’re a wee bit scared that they’ll have to face a Proper Hard Cricket Ball? Maybe Mum or Dad says it’ll cost too much?
• Simply, we wanted to offer a different opportunity and, without actually targeting any particular group, without remotely abandoning the idea that clubs are rightly at the centre of what cricket is, see what a mildly alternative space and proposal might offer.

This may have the sound of a fringe project, an experiment and there’s some truth in that view of it. A little. But though I confess to indulging in occasional meetings about all this strategic stuff, rest assured, dear friends that I/we are about the cricket – the act, the action that happens when a daft bugger like me is let loose with a bunch of kids. These weeny earthlings don’t feel part of any project. They’re too busy moving, catching, stopping, starting.

We’ve called the sessions ‘cricket hubs’. We didn’t, on the poster that ultimately my daughter cobbled together, specify ‘beginners’ or anything else other than ‘Boys and Girls, 6-11’. I then did some sessions in local schools and Bigged the Thing Up in an assembly or two and then off we went… we knew not where.

At the Leisure Centres, as a familiar face to the arriving children, I ‘lead’; which is a posh way of saying it’s me that does most of the shouting. Given these young ‘uns do turn out to be anywhere from six to eleven years old and do have a fairly alarming but fascinating range of abilities, the sessions have to live off my sense of what they can do – what they can have fun with – and maybe what’s possible to learn.

At one particular centre a boy I’m not going to describe or name joined us. When I say joined us, he slid in with what felt like an unremarkable degree of reticence. After a welcome to all I ran a warm-up game. Amongst the giggly anarchy I saw that maybe we needed to place a few balls – asitappens, we were using anything from teddies to beach balls to foam rugby balls – into his hands rather than either let or expect fellow players to lob things at him. He was involved on the periphery, neither happy nor unhappy but with his hands unconvincingly outstretched, at risk of either failing to acquit himself or being bypassed by ‘better players’.

Don’t panic. This post isn’t going to be about the quality of my coaching. It’s about the quality of this wee lad’s experience. Sure I’ll take a modicum of credit for getting fairly early on that he wasn’t, in the dangerously contentious phrase, a ‘natural’; that the games were going to have to come to meet him. I reckon I probably also intuited something about the appropriate level of fuss he’d most effectively ‘respond to’ and just quietly kindof revisited him now and then, to show tiddly things, without focussing on this fella as the Possible Struggler in the group.

Interestingly – and unusually – the boy’s dozen compadres were mostly children who clearly found catching and co-ordinating movements generally a challenge. Maybe this helped. We played simple games – yup, including that ole chestnut hitting from tees! – which everyone could do and I hiked the technical info with certain individuals when they needed to extend. It went okay.

This went on once a week for four weeks. The boy attended every week and to my knowledge did not speak a single word to either myself or one of the other children – even when asking for a pass, a catch. He simply got marginally more proficient, more convincing at the body language, the shape of the movements, in proffering those arms. In time he tried throwing, bowling, all of it; they all did. Skills, in between or in and around what we might call small-sided games. He managed, found a way through, without either busting the proverbial gut, or getting frustrated, or making spectacular leaps forward. He was it seemed in that undemonstrative middle-ground.

The fifth week comes and the boy arrives a tad late. His mum (whom I‘ve seen, watching discreetly but never met or spoken to) does that ‘would you mind if I had a quiet word’ gesture and we step out of the hall momentarily. She says something very close to this;

Look I just wanted to thank you, really. I don’t know if you know but my son has really significant confidence issues – really significant.

I say I had an inkling but…

No they’re really debilitating. And I just wanted to thank you because he’s NEVER EVER done anything like this. He just can’t. So he never does anything.

I say something crass like ‘that’s genuinely lovely to hear, thankyou.’

No, thank YOU. It’s remarkable – are you going to be able to keep on going with this? He got up this morning and asked what day it was and when I said xxxxday he said ‘Oh great – cricket tonight! Believe me he NEVER says anything like that!! So thank you.

People, I was more than a bit choked. I managed to blurt out something about the cricket going on again after Christmas and then went back in to join C**** and the kids.

On the How Rewarding Was All That?-o-meter this ranks pretty high. Maybe because it felt both literally (eek!) awesome and a little mysterious. How could this lad’s seemingly non-animated engagement with our cricket-thing turn out so… profoundly? I’m delighted but also shocked, almost, that he’s found it so enjoyable – frankly it didn’t really seem like he was having that much fun. Whatever that unknowable process, we find ourselves reflecting on a stunning example of the fab-you-luss-ness of … what? Games? Movement? Interaction? Those few encouraging words?

Good to reflect, for one minute. Because I’m thinking this is evidence of the power of sport. This young boy has now bounded more than slid – albeit in his own, magical, ghostly-silent way – into a new, expanding universe. He is both denying six years of absence and disengagement and bulleting towards possibilities previously unthinkable. Why? Because he enjoyed the movement, the encouragement, the sporting challenge. It acted as a trigger.

We may never understand quite why this worked. It may not matter. But the fact of it matters. The quality of this boy’s experience was such that things were transformed.

This I suppose is anecdotal evidence. We can’t ‘map’ it or prove it so as to legitimise ourselves in the eyes of local authorities or funders. It’s pretty much non-measurable. But know what? To me it feels like a really great bit of work.

Sport Transcending.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear that, Bumble.

@BumbleCricket said some stuff earlier that’s got me thinking. (Read it here, on alloutcricket.com – https://t.co/wk7k4mcJgX by all means, but only after hoovering up my own gloriously fulfilling and not entirely contradictory missive.)

Now I don’t think I’m doing the fella a complete disservice if I paraphrase what he said – I know, diabolical and dodgy thing to do – by reporting Bumble’s reminder that there’s always been choice, always been different stuff to do, and therefore the Big Deal we’re making about player retention and/or dwindling numbers of clubs, matches played or whatever might not, in the great scheme of things, be that Big a Deal. Because a percentage of people have always moved on from the game – made other choices – to chase girls/boys/drink sweet Martini and lemonade, work, or set up a punk band. Always there’s been some (what shall we call it?) drift – nah, implies failure – some expression of choice which may or may not indict the game; always.

Clearly, Mr Lloyd has a point on this. His gravy-boat full, milky-creamily-mashed and treble-fabulous good nature impels him to urge us, in so many words, to leave off with the judgemental stuff and gather a little perspective. Maybe cricket’s really doing okay – challenged by more choices than previously, for sure, flower – but doing okay? He cites the example of clubs which are bouncing with smiling Rooty wannabes, thriving community hubs which can barely manage the influx of diminutive but excited scoopers and reverse-sweepers. These clubs certainly exist, defying any sense of atrophy or retreat.

I’ve never met Bumble but I like the bloke. He seems genuinely authoritative and genuinely authentic; never would you question his love for the game – at all levels. Importantly (or incidentally), he’s from pretty much the same latitude as me, the same spiritual place – that Northern outpost of corny-wonderful faith (in people?) and honesty and (blow me down), hope. Like me, he’s daft about sport.

The senior gym bunny and Accrington Stanley fanatic’s seen and is seeing a whole lot of the umpteen-plus faces of cricket around the country, around the world. It’s great that he’s plainly optimistic, that he has a faith in the durability of the sport, acknowledging as he does the competition from outside.

To further precis his argument, Bumble suggests (inevitably, amongst many other things) that maybe we need to get real regarding the viability of tiny clubs; that we should amalgamate plenty and drive quality and competition through continuing the trend for Premier Leagues, where standards and facilities are good. This in itself increases the viability and/or inviolability of club cricket, which he argues is hardly in crisis but which is challenged by choices – like always.

Some contentious stuff there – I’m immediately reminded of the delightfully teeny village clubs in my area which might be snuffed out under any brutalist gathering of that which is seen to be sustainable. Folks who’ve effectively lived their richly undemonstrative lives through the village club might be stirred to militancy by the thought of ‘healthy amalgamation’, I reckon. (Not Bumble’s phrase, I hasten to add.) Mr Lloyd has unquestionably earned the right to proggle away at our condition, mind, even if this process feels like the opening up of some acute or tender hurting – that’s just gonna happen, needs to happen.

I’m not going to try to unpick all his arguments, however; for one thing I (in the contemporary jargon) ‘hear them’ and another I agree… with some. I’m going to put a few other things out there, another contribution, if you will, to the debate, ideally conducted over a foaming pintabeer in a clubhouse with a spirit-lifting view of mighty trees or swirling rivers or smiling kids. Bumble has been my prompt.

As some of you will know I both volunteer and work in cricket and so irrespective of how bright or stupid I am I do know some stuff about migration, retention and maybe how clubs or regions move or think or identify what’s necessary to survive or hold fast or grow. Weirdly, I’ve actually been reasonably attentive and interested when all this gets discussed by members of our Cricket Wales posse. I/we genuinely do grapple with The Issues (or identifying the Real Issues) and genuinely do try to effect change and progress. We have heaps of information and heaps more in the way of opinion, baggage, ‘knowledge’.

And yet I couldn’t tell you how things compare now with some arbitrary idyll way back in the whatevers, when maybe cricket was on terrestrial TV and summers were long and Botham or Gower or Lloyd or Richards or Sobers was bewitching us or giving us the horn.

There are TV figures available but I doubt we really know what migration of 9-11 year-olds into clubs or retention of players in the 13-17 age-group looked like back in that sunny, simple, unaccountably Child Safety Officer-free era. (My point being that it’s perdy darn near impossible to be sure about whether things are better or worse; that (actually) comparisons between eras are relatively meaningless; that none of this makes intelligent discussion over current, ‘durable’ research an indulgence).

I hear the argument that as the sport has accumulated a layer of Development Officers and Community Coaches, so arguments for Development Projects or Community Coach work are bound to spring up. I hear the fear that (as everywhere?) a squadron of pen-pushers has insinuated its way into ‘cricket’ and is (wilfully or otherwise) banqueting on its blood whilst attempting to drive it forward. I hear the argument (or do I make it, being a coach?) that unleashing more great coaches into schools and clubs would sustain and enrich both the game of cricket and a zillion young lives everywhere and that every last possible penny should be invested in funding and improving coaches and thereby (I promise you) changing lives.

But back to that fella Lloyd. I disagree with Bumble that the lack of cricket on terrestrial TV is insignificant. I’m a real lover of sports but as a low earner I can’t justify coughing up the required £30-40(?) a month for the Sky Sports subscription. I simply can’t. And I can promise you (and him) that in schools I go into there are lots of kids who really don’t know what cricket looks like because they don’t – despite what our friends at the Daily Mail might say to the contrary – have Sky.

This is not to say that these same children would all be cricket mad should the Beeb be showing Test Matches… but I can only imagine that it must be a fact that pay TV reduces levels of exposure, hypothetically and in the real world (if there is one). Cricket costs, meaning it’s therefore beyond the consciousness of many, surely? I think this matters.

For balance – and because it’s true – Sky props up the game financially; a factoid that undermines any anti-capitalist revolutionary zeal we may be harbouring here. But you judge on all that.

Broadly I share Bumble’s genial confidence. I think maybe like him I reckon good folks will find a way. And that it’s the good work of individuals, individually changing lives by timely encouragement or technical tweaking that is the unchanging essence of ‘development’. And that therefore the work I/we do as cricket people needs to be conscious and respectful of not just the facts enshrined in our latest review, but of the uniqueness and power of individual experiences, relevance(s) and needs.

The game is gloriously and maybe increasingly diverse. Whether we agree with Bumble that cricket’s central challenges have remained relatively similar or not, we maybe can – maybe should – look at what we can do, in whatever capacity, to support the game – ‘muck in’. This is going to mean different things in different places. It’s also going to mean tough decisions, maybe unpopular ones like the ones that may be looming around the sustainability of village clubs, become necessary.

Strikes me that Bumble seeks to cut through the concept-fest that our cricket administrators are mud-wrestling in. It’s his way to sort things out witha bitta plain speaking. He knows cricket needs good-hearted people, experienced people on board. I wonder if (less obviously and perhaps less comfortably) he accepts that it will need a quota of lateral thinkers too, to separate sentiment from ongoing vitality.

Cross words?

So the Powers That Be – incidentally, what a phrase that is! – have withdrawn the snippers from County Cricket. There will be no change next season to the playing schedule. If it wasn’t patronising in the extreme, I’d echo that there was ‘rejoicing in the shires’ as the news came in. Members from Barry to Barnstaple chinking their glasses to a victory for the common, retriever-owning man. All that. The Daily Telegraph wafted excitedly towards the wife as she brings tea-on-a-tray.

Blow me, we’ve beaten the buggers back, Tess!

Okay, mischief. And surely unhelpful to satirise either side, even when hoping to raise a smile? Better get into this, together, as seriously as we want to – this fabulous tangle of earnest case-making, floppy hats, vitriol and crosswords.

I should maybe start by saying I think the decision to make no change (or wait on change?) is right; politically astute in the sense that (for all my mischief) a genuine clamour has been raised; wise-in-the-round because we all know there will be substantial discussions to come, during the off-season. Discussions which most of us imagine will bring change of some sort next year.

My job ensures I stand on the edge of talks about cricket; I coach for Cricket Wales but often find myself either actively involved in seeking out ‘ways forward’, or ear-wigging our senior blokes as they grapple with either Bigger Pictures or with difficult questions around the detail of national cricket. I have some sympathy now with the difficulties in juggling Irate of Ffestiniog with Serenely Influential of Cowbridge. I totally get that given the wondrous breadth of opinion on (even) the structure of the game, this week’s stay of execution will feel like a minor triumph to some… and something of an insult – #ridiculous, in fact – to others.

On the one hand we have those who may in fact not necessarily be conservative but who want to keep the number of ‘proper’ cricket matches at the current level and on the other we have those who (like @MichaelVaughan and @BumbleCricket) make arguments for change now.

Vaughan, who relishes the role of dynamic tweeter and maker of strong opinion, used that r-word to describe the failure to allow new men in the hierarchy to do their jobs – i.e. make tough decisions/effect change for the better. He has a point, but it strikes me that these fellas, having floated the ideas, have opted for time and the ‘opportunity’ to flesh out their arguments before implementing changes next year. Perhaps(?) I note in passing that the former England skipper may have been less likely to use the argument that the management should be left to manage had he disagreed with what was proposed.

Elsewhere, there are more or less strident concerns about players being under-prepared for championship games because of the allegedly relentless nature of the schedule – fears of burnout as well as erosion of excellence.@AlisonMitchell has thrown in the fear of over-tired players driving long distances after matches.  My own, additional fear is for players who’ve de-stressed with a beer or two before heading out to the motorway.

The schedules in Australia and South Africa – where 10 matches are contested – are much referred to, alongside the notion that this has led to higher quality and certainly the current Test standings do nothing to undermine that view.

But though these are all important considerations, they may be less pivotal than the extraordinary feeling which exists around County Cricket.

Who knows, really, if lovers of County Cricket – and here I mean effectively the longer format game – are a particular breed? Perhaps they are. You’d expect a narrow demographic but that may be less relevant than the fact of their love and understanding (remember that?) for the game.

Certainly they have notable virtues, including the precious capacity to recognise sport (or anything else) as a narrative over time. Sure they love the moments of show-stopping drama but their show – the trickle that is four day cricket – is an experience where their own loyalty, persistence, patience count. It’s sport and time dancing together, often slowly, unobtrusively – demurely, even – as if in a silent, undeclared ecstasy. This is unique.

I have seen this. Seen the magnificently un-dynamic truth that is fans who relax better at a County Cricket match than anywhere else in their lives. They lounge; they watch; they snooze; they appreciate when their attention needs to be utterly committed… and when they can drift. They barely register these joys but joys they are. They may, in their beautiful, gritty, eccentric way be either ‘watching the cricket’ or making a profound statement against the death of the attention span. You choose. Either way they have been heard, these last few days.

But maybe about now Bumble and Vaughany would be saying
Get real, dude!

Quite possible to argue that the pitiful crowds for many fixtures condemn this thing as an anachronism. Do the math. Nobody goes – or not enough people go for it to be remotely sustainable. It is only sustainable because of TV money and because people will come to watch the T20blast. Therefore the quality of lurv shown by these few ‘die-hard’ fans is notable but insufficiently compelling in the argument. It blocks stuff. And anyway they will still be able to do their thing… just maybe ten times instead of fourteen!

That’s a brutalist view but I can see how it may hold sway. Throw in the need to protect players and simultaneously (maybe) improve standards in the longer format (and thereby bolster the Test team?) and you have a decent case. Reduce County Cricket. Reduce County Cricket despite the furore. It would be tough.

I think changes will come and they may not even be the changes we currently imagine. World Cricket is such a lurid carousel these days that anything could come trampolining in. Blasts or Bashes are clearly, undeniably The Force in the game but there is a consensus around the need to protect and/or develop Test Cricket. Which means County Cricket/Shield Cricket etc. etc. have to sustain at a certain qualitative level. In short, cricket is charged with not just the accommodation but the development of two (or three?) spectacularly different formats and I’m struggling to think of a sport with an equivalent challenge.

So anyway, I’m hearing the arguments and my brain hurts. For me there is nothing in the world so special and so precious as that escape into sport – and therefore those County Cricket people are my soul-brothers. I’m neither resistant to change, particularly, nor convinced by the need (necessarily) to ‘grow the game’ via some spookily PR-driven, crassly commercial ‘dynamic development’ that sends me into a fury over The Americanisation of Everything! And yet the world demands of us that we are agile and forward-thinking. It’s tough.

I’ve settled on the idea that no change for now is right. This is less to do with the ten/fourteen/however many County Cricket fixtures than the #T20blast – which may be telling in itself. Blast surely needs – arguably has earned? – another year on that Friday night slot. That may be important – not just in financing half the County Clubs but in pre-empting the 8 city franchises we keep hearing about.

There is a sense that the whole notion of the Counties themselves may depend upon increasing exposure and quality and entertainment in the Blast. I hope it continues to thrive – pretty much as it is. Frankly I’d rather Glamorgan had Glamorgan playing at the SSE Swalec than Cardiff Klonkers. Perhaps this, in itself, is a reason to take a further look at things this winter.

Good move.

Deciding what to do is often as much an art-form as an exercise in diplomacy or joined-up thinking. Sculpting from intimidating choices that which merely works may not, in the contemporary flux, be enough – in life and in sport. Good moves, on the contrary, imply some well-springing beyond mere survival, into (actually) greater health; virility; dynamism. But given that we often concede to the reality that everything seems compound or complicated, the tendency to play safe weighs heavily against the brilliant, the inspired or truly creative; so good moves are hard to find.

We cricketpeeps have our challenges. On the global scale this might mean heavyweight conversations about governance; on a national or practical or structural level maybe that heave-hoing see-saw between County Cricket and the inevitable slot for Blast-dom. How do we manage all that? Significant. Significant issues but maybe not as big as the (okaaaay, related) question of how we retain players.

The @cricketmanwales-familiar among you will know that I work in cricket at what tends to get slightly patronisingly called the ‘grassroots’ level. As a Community Coach for Cricket Wales I spend a lump of my working life enthusing small people towards the game – go read previous posts and you’ll get the drift. I can tell you that generally it’s easy enough to gather players in under the spell but there is a problem in the teenage years.

Not just for cricket. Other team games are finding a disturbing number of players – boys, possibly in particular – drift away between the ages of say 14 and 17.

We could all write a fabulously strident thesis on the reasons for the exodus (I’d love to – please send funding to the Death to Nintendo/McDonalds and The Folks Who Produce Reality TV Campaign) but that’s for another day. What I want to begin to address is what it is we might do to keep young fellas/girls playing our game, when either doubts or other opportunities or distractions enter the frame. Or at least I want say something about a particular event which felt important, recently.

There may be a prequel to this; one which features stonkingly obvious insights between the link between quality of experience for players and retention… and more subtle understandings around coaching… and relationships.

If youngish boys and girls have an inviolably wonderful time at their cricket club then clearly they are likely to stay in the game. More than that; having appreciated the quality of coaching(?) learning(?) growing(?) they benefited from, they may well later look to make a contribution – possibly an enlightened one – of their own, to their club and/or the game. Thus good-ness stimulates good moves in the future, which in turn increase the likelihood of great people staying in cricket, enriching the cricket-peep gene pool . But what does this aforementioned wonderful time look like and feel like?

It looks different but like fun. It looks like a diving catch or an all-out, lung-bursting shuttle race – finishing with another dive… and slide, onto a watered outfield. It looks like whatever sharing a joke looks like. It’s physical; it’s ‘psychological’; it’s about movement. Maybe?

Maybe it also looks like a superbly thought-out series of training sessions where a zillion skills are learned… incidentally, almost? Because the coach knows he or she doesn’t need to teach too much, just offer some games and ask some skilfull questions. Let the players find a way to play.

But this is very abstract. Let’s move on to stuff wot actually happened…

Recently, Cricket Wales ran an Under 19’s T20 competition. The idea essentially being that cricket clubs throughout the principality could enter teams in an event that not only looked and sounded like a Big Bash (or similar) but was essentially and indeed boomtastically directed by the players. They were, within reason, to shape it in the way they chose. So yes, there was coloured kit. Yes, there was some geezer wiv kickin’ toons. And yes, it was more than slightly wonderful. My lot – Pembrokeshire- missed the deadline for entering.

Actually that may not be entirely true but something, something got in the way – fortunately, not for long.

I’ve been on the fringes of this but I remember asking the question of our local fire-starter (and Chairman of Pembrokeshire Association for Cricket Coaches) Mr Jonathan Twigg
what’s happening re- the Under19 thing?

Then having a couple of brief conversations with our local Cricket Development Officer (Matt Freeman) and a longer one with Haverfordwest CC’s Junior Head Coach Simon Williams. All of which left me thinking we might be in a slightly embarrassing black hole, having neatly fulfilled metropolitan prejudices about Sleepy Ole Pembrokeshire.

HA HA! Wrong!

In fact, faster than a speeding cherry, Messrs Twigg and Williams had a) nobbled half the county and b) bundled a key clutch of the potentially (cricket-wise) underemployed youff into a seething, expectant and actively-engaged posse. Sponsorship was sorted; kit and fixtures were sorted; a Final’s Day (as well as the friendly games) was posted into the calendar. Most magnificently… things really happened.

My own club’s teens swiftly metamorphosed into Blue Lightning, players now resplendent in blue, sporty-disco shirts with name and squad number on the back. Likewise at Carew Rooks or Burton Warriors or Cleddau Crusaders – all in grooviciously contemporary clobber. Twigg and Williams and god bless ’em their equivalents elsewhere got the games on – at Haverfordwest superbly supported by Big Scrivs, the local MC/DJ/esteemed provider of music and (quite literally) fanfares.

In other words, games took place. Teen-appropriate events. Cricket events unlike anything seen before in our county. 20 overs of wallop and bantz-loaded cricket, for young people, watched by lots of other young people – and often their families – accompanied by bursts of reassuringly dated Popular Music. Wicked!

On the Finals Day at Haverfordwest Cricket Club the organisation as well as the cricket was ramped up to fever pitch. ‘Twiggo’ had established a Control Room containing more pens, forms, balloons and members of the media (thanks @FraserMercsport) than a Jeremy Corbyn rally. Umpires – proper ones – had not only been sourced but kitted out in fetching acid green by main sponsors Nat West, represented locally by long-time Narberth CC man Huw Simpkins. Ditto sponsors from Tees r us, alongside Mark White from Cricket Wales HQ. It was all alarmingly kosher.

In terms of the practicalities, 3 pitches were available at Haverfordwest CC whilst a preliminary fixture was played at Hook CC a few miles down the road. 8 teams entered, including Llanelli Knights from… well, you-know-where, some 50-odd miles east, plus, remarkably, I think, 7 from Pembrokeshire. All teams were guaranteed at least two games, with a plate competition being played out (ten overs per innings) for those beaten in the first matches.

For the record, Llanelli Knights were deserved winners, beating Burton in the final: Haverfordwest won the plate. However the occasion was such a clear and overwhelming success – and spoke so loudly of frontiers being opened – that we might dare to hope that in the continuation of this one event a significant step forward might be possible in terms of retention.

Some of us are already thinking that our local County Cricket Club needs to take a long, hard, unprejudiced look at this. Because it may not just be relevant to teenagers. It strikes me that whether we like it or not, gathered-in, short-format cricket of this or a similar sort may be central to how cricket develops – and I do mean develops – all over. Our own struggling lower divisions in Pembrokeshire might be sustained in this way… and how comfortable us older folks are with that may be irrelevant. Local leagues may need to provide both longer format and T20 boomathon cricket.

Most teams brought about fifteen players to Pembrokeshire Finals Day, so that meant 120 teenage players doing what they feel comfortable with – feel good about. Panacea? Possibly not. Model? Quite possibly. Good move? Abso-lutely.

Here’s what Fraser Watson from The Western Telegraph made of that day – http://www.westerntelegraph.co.uk/sport/13715660.T20_teams_have_a_blast_at_Finals_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?