Final Curtains.

Going to be ‘liveblogging’ this baybee – i.e. updating throughout the day/night. So check in every hour or four?

 

I have no idea whether I will retain or continue to seek accreditation. (The latter is likely… but uncertain). If I do, and we continue to share our cricket psycho-cobblers, please do cuff me violently round my ample lugs, should I ever get complacent about stuff like this; the walk into and round to the front of the Edgbaston Media Centre – and that first look out.

9.30-odd, on a perfect September morn, with the Bungee Bouncee Thing springing joyfully in the background, and the ground quiet but for the daft footie and earnest netting and diligent marking-out, it’s a revelation, a privilege, a seminal, enduring pleasure: so hit me if I drift, friends – hit me.

The skyline is crisp and dry and leafy, actually. To the extent that the trees – proper woody, British, deciduous jobbers – *just may be* wading towards us. (This could be something to do with our elevated position – four storeys up – fetching or distorting the angles. Maybe I need to drop down into the stadium and get down and dirty with the punters and players?) Sold. I will.

10.07. Still deliciously pre- everything. About a thousand in the ground, some already indulging, rather guiltily: long day ahead. Nasser and Wardy and Trescothick (I think) mooching and pre-discussing the necessary telly-themes. Pods of elite athletes looking disconcertingly dweeby and uncoordinated around wilfully unhelpful footballs. Sunshine.

Lancs win the toss and will field against Worcester Rapids. Less bright. Did I mention I’m looking straight down the pitch… and I love that? Well I am. It’s fabulous.

10.47 and the first Sweet Caroline. Bumble down there miming wee snippets as the gathering crowd smile or bawl their way through. Bittafun, early-doors.

Lester opens up for Lancs. To Clarke. Then Moeen. Left arm over, quickish, fullish. Mo benefits from a poor misfield at extra – first 4. Dances down and clatters the next, straighter – 4 more. 9 from the over.

(#FirstWorldProblems; am trying to add an I’m At Edgbaston header pic on the blog: ‘s not having it).

Just me, or something slightly naff about that red, Lancs are sporting? Weirdly thin, washing-powder-ad stylee, for me. Second misfield gifts Mo another 1. Nerves.

Early change as Livingstone brings more pace, from our end. More nerves as he hoists an absolute shocker of a full-toss, which Ali dispatches. Follows that with a classical straight 6, then adds 4… three times! How much would we love it if Moeen went BIG, BIG? (Answer – a lot).

Balance slightly restored as Faulkner bowls Clarke to bring us to 37 for 1, in the 4th. Moeen’s got that soft hands and plenty of time thing going on, though – looking great.

Wow. Coach going apoplectic (I imagine) as a third misfield means four more through the covers. Conditions sensational – must be nerves distracting. 56 for 1 at the conclusion of the power play. Mooen on 38 from 17.

11.28, ground almost full. Shirtsleeves. Wonderful.

Less wonderfully, Moeen slightly chops across a straight drive to mid-off. Caught, on 41, when looking comfortable.

Immediately, Two Big Moments as D’Oliveira is run out and then Fell is stumped. From nowhere, having done very little right, Lancs are back in this as Rapids drop to 71 for 4 – inexplicably.

Parkinson gets one to turn best part of a foot, then bowls Whiteley for 4. Wow. 83 for 5 after 11.

Lovely to see a leggie really turn the erm, albino cherry. (Might copyright that). Still that sense that this has all *just happened*, though – i.e. that Rapids have been subjected to something profoundly mysterious – but credit the Lancs spinners, Khan and Parkinson, who are a genuine threat, here.

Clark, coming in with good energy, gets Mitchell lbw and Lightning are 97 for 6, in the 15th. Relatively deepish trouble, for Worcs?

Cox and Barnard growing into this but the innings has to explode, late on, you feel. 133 for 6 after 18.

Cox fires off with a lusty blow for 6 then a ver-ry cute reverse tickle for 4. Lester under pressure as the seamer is clouted for a further 6 over midwicket. Then again, more monstrously, into the same block but further up. Much jumping, clutching and hollering in the Hollies.

It’s Cox who tows the Rapids to 169 for 6 at the close: he has 55 not out. Can only feel (having seen Moeen cruise so majestically earlier) that this may be a tad light.

Longish chat with one of the Sussex backroom guys. He’s as deeply impressed with Dizzy G as the rest of us. Hugely generous; cool and wise; utterly trusting. The kind of bloke who *actually does* all the stuff other coaches talk about doing. I want Dizzy’s lot to win today.

Wood races in to Davies. Again, evidence that’s there’s something in this for the bowlers –  several inches of cut for the left arm quick. Can’t protect him from two late boundaries, mind: a decent first over yields 8.

In the 3rd, Davies is rather unnecessarily run out, following a misfield then a sharp throw. Lilley joins Livingstone and we are now 22 for 1.

Wood switches ends and is gallivanting towards us. He part paws, part chests-down a brutal drive from Lilley, and the trainer is on. Ultimately, no doubt sore, Wood continues.

The light – always sympathetic – switches back on up to 11. Mooen, from mid-off, doing lots of talking to his bowlers. And shuffling his field. It may be working because so far Lightning are non-thunderous.

The thing about T20 is you don’t write things like that. Because the very next ball gets absolutely smashed. 6. Coulda been 10. 44 for 1 after 5.

Cruel world. Young Brown *really puts it in there* for the Rapids, only for Lilley to unceremoniously (or worse – horribly) swat him past mid-off for 4. Next ball is similarly dispatched and the power play closes at 55 for 1.

Barnard has Livingstone caught at third man. Deserved that, the bowler, having defeated him the previous ball with a sly, slow one. Enter Buttler… and also Moeen, with the ball.

The talisman in blue – fifth bowler in the first 7 overs – traps Lilley in front with a ball that didn’t appear to deviate. Lots of love for Mo at the end of the over, with Lancs at 67 for 3 but now with Jennings and Buttler out there. Crucial period, surely?

I can confirm that Jennings is tall… and upright at the crease – although he gets lower or more dynamic or something as his innings develops.

Weird phase where both batsmen seem obsessed with reversing Moeen, to little effect. 78 for 3 after 10 – just behind the Rapids score – 92 needed. D’Oliveira becomes the 6th bowler for the 11th: again, some turn present. Both batsmen circumspect, so far.

OOf. Buttler scuffs-on, from Mo, for 12. With Jennings looking okaay but rather one-dimensional, the incoming Vilas may have to bring some boom. Game in the balance at 91 for 4, D’Oliveira finding his flow and more spin; enjoyable. We may owe the groundsman a pint for an excellent, supportive pitch.

Jennings accelerates. Two consecutive boundaries, off Mitchell. Still playing within himself but a prudent gear-change, I’d say.

Risky run again proves fatal. Vilas dives but goes and with Clark joining Jennings, Lightning need 10-plus per over. Should be fun, should be close.

Mo finishes with 2 for 16 off his 4 overs: which is outstanding, right? Brown will bowl the 17th. When Clark is run out, Faulkner comes in, with Buttler acting as runner: would he could swing that bat. Lancs will need 30 off the last 2.

Brown for the penultimate. Has Faulkner caught in the deep. 140 for 7 with Lester now in; swishes unconvincingly across the first.

Then the young paceman has his man, with a lovely, slower number, rolled out of the wrist. When Parkinson goes clouting skywards next ball… it feels done. Khan and Jennings must engineer 29 from Parnell’s last over.

Second ball disappears, bringing Jennings to his half-century but the next two stay on the island. It’s the Rapids’ game. Lancashire Lightning finish on 149 for 9. Bring on MAJOR FOOD, please… and the next one!

Wright and Salt will open for Sussex, facing Waller. 10 off the 1st, with Salt snaring 9 of them. The powerful-looking Taylor offers right-arm quick to follow but Salt connects to square leg – 4 more. He then steers rather loosely to mid-off and is gone, replaced by Evans, who steers Taylor neatly wide of that same fielder.

Wright takes on the incoming Overton. More than that, he carves him left and right – successive sixes. Evans is lbw then Rawlins skies one almost nowhere and Sharks are  74 for 3, with Wright on 34 off 20, come the end of the 8th. The sun is peeping then hiding just a little but as September days go… we’ll take it.

Friendly Geezer from Sussex Marketing saying they’ve inevitably received ‘some earache’ re- the controversial ticket-allocation for Finals Day: 500 seems an oddly low number. Explanation given was apparently that there was a fear that if the four clubs were allocated many more, then half the stadium may go after the semi’s. Get that but surely 1,000 or 1500 a better shout?

Meanwhile, Wright goes to 52, hauling Overton to leg. A spiteful beamer follows… which means a free hit… and a further 6 over long-on. 200-plus well and truly on, as the Sharks number 10 and captain struts into that Star-Player-In-Sumptuous-Mode phase. 141 for 3, off 13. Exciting stuff.

*Meanwhile*, chefs appear to be chasing pigs around The Hollies.

Wright may be 85 off 46 but Wiese is suddenly flying and purring, too. Smoothes Gregory into the highest tier over long-on, then drives through off. Irresistible. 220 entirely possible. Incredibly, could see more.

Wiese cushions Anderson for 1 to claim 50, then Wright is caught, booming to long-off, for a superb 92. The bowler has been going hard into the pitch, sometimes short, with two out on the on-side: three, in fact – two for cross-batted clubbing, plus a man at a long-on.

Taylor to Burgess, who wastes a few balls before being caught by an in-rushing deep midwicket with the score at 197. Archer goes for the dreaded GD and Jordan will join Wiese for Gregory, and the final over. Jordan sacrifices himself, meaning Beer will join us – appropriately. 200 up, 2 balls to come.

After an umpire review nails Wiese (run out), Sharks finish at 202 for 8 – great score, but Wright might be forgiven for thinking his lower-order colleagues underachieved by about 15. Whatever, Somerset must launch at this from pretty early on.

I watch the start of the reply from inside the Media Lounge, where you could sprawl – or do a 30 metre dash – should the urge take you.

Jimmy Anderson steals quietly past. Athers, bespectacled and studious with his broadsheet, is between me and the telly, such that he might be fearing my intense leering is for him. (Not so, Michael; I was trying to stay abreast of all things Archer and Millsy, honest). That and eating again, like a horse, like a man who remembers from last year that this is a very long day – I reiterate, a long day of privileges, mainly.

After the cheese and biccies (and 6 overs) Somerset are 45 for 3, with Hildreth on 14 and Abell on 3. (I am bloated and baggy-eyed, already – thanks for your concern).

Wiese takes the Most Embarrassing Catch Ever Ever, to eventually snaffle Hildreth’s looping edge and the Sussex Posse next to me are looking for the sign saying ‘Dreamland’. 53 for 4, Somerset.

Our friends in The Hollies are having fun, and quite right too. But they are also slinging balls onto the outfield every few minutes. Which is not that funny if you’re fielding… and wondering what’s underneath your ankles. Perhaps this is why the fella Abell clatters the ball violently into that particular stand?

85 for 4 at the halfway mark. The aforementioned Abell has just played two consecutive reverse-sweeps with two fielders placed precisely for that shot. Overthunk it, methinks.

Wiese puts down a relatively straight-forward chance when swooping like a gawky erm… gosling. My Sussex friends are telling me he’s not normally the Villager in the Field but it kinda goes on, as the poor fella bowls two very different but consecutive wides. Win or lose, he’ll be the bloke dropping his pint, later.

You feel Abell and Anderson may be a threat, and they set out, in the 13th, to prove that. The 100 comes up – 4 down. Mills is in for the next.

Archer contributes a clanger to the Somerset cause; the ball scooting beneath him to the point boundary.

The Cider-drinkers need  72 off the remaining 6 overs but Abell goes – a tad unfortunate to be run-out by a faint touch from Brigg’s fingers as the ball hurried past the bowler. That could be big.

It *could be* but Gregory, the skipper and one of the players of the tournament is in. Archer returns to greet him. The sky is somehow less deep, less full. It’s greyer.

Series of fine yorkers from Jordan: three optimistic appeals yield nothing but press home the Sharks advantage. Somerset need 20 an over from the last 3.

A slightly controversial no ball (for height) saves Gregory then offers him a free hit, off Archer but there’s no sense that the striking is remotely dynamic enough to make this close. Anderson is caught, for 48, last ball of the over, and Somerset need 50, off 2.

Jordan impressively cleans out Gregory with yet another yorker; Van der Merwe in – thankless, hopeless task.

Mills bowls the last, disturbing Overton’s off-stick third ball. Impressive but not perfect performance from Sussex yields a 35 run win. They will rest up for a bit – won’t we all – and charge in again at 6.45p.m. for a Mo versus Dizzy final. Ex-cellent.

I can now exclusively reveal that Jimmy Anderson likes a bitta sauce: was just pursuing some in the Media Lounge. Weirdly, didn’t recognise me. Congratulated him anyway, on his recent milestone.

In other news, I watched Dizzy chatting away with his guys during the break. Quietish, undemonstrative, mirrored a couple of batting strokes. No passionate urging or chest-pumping; almost as though he really trusts his team to make it happen.

Lights are on, for the final. They need to be. It’s going to be coolish, soonish, too. Luke Wood will bowl to Phil Salt. Drilled to mid-off; dot ball.

Two singles turned off the hip. Then Salt drills a beauty on the deck through extra-cover. 6 for 0. And Parnell.

Greeted by two extraordinary shots – Salt lifting him then slapping him straightish-offish for a pair of sixes. But hold… the daft bugger’s then run out, for not sliding the bat, when looking comfortably home! Great throw came in but that was village and the departing, cursing batsman knows it. A gift for the Rapids. 24 for 1 after the 3rd.

Wood changes ends. Has square leg back and a long on. Has that characteristic, slightly counterintuitive stroll back to his mark, walking wrong-side, as it were, – presumably to keep his approach straight(?) The trend for 1-over spells continues, with Parnell running in away from us.

Evans, then Wright remain undistracted: two sixes the result. 42 for 1 after 5.

Good spell, for Worcester – Barnard taking some pace off. Mo will reduce that velocity further as the dusk descends.

Evans has to respond and does: 6 over midwicket. But after 8, Sussex are at 56 for 1… and surely down by a few? Wright club-drives Brown before swinging him straight – for 4 on both occasions – before underlining the gear-change with a 6. Sharks countering, and Evans and Wright now ‘in’.

Ah. Except that Wright is OUT, having been bowled by Moeen, swinging too wildly, for 33. The lights have upped their game; they sting now, if you stare.

D’Oliveira finds some spin… but then the very middle of Rawlin’s bat – twice, for successive 6s. 93 for 2 after 11; feels more competitive.

Mitchell is in, with some slowish-medium. Have no issue with that. However I’m not sure we can forgive him his two wides, at that pace. (The second a shocker). Wood, following, is looking focused and somehow manfully quick. He sends one past Rawlins’ nose. 110 for 2, with 13 gone.

We then, dear friends, have a Technical Hitch, meaning I have to switch from ancient, inherited Mac, to medium dodgy ipad. Fingers crossed.

Things have progressed. Mo has finished with 3 for not-that-many, Evans is beyond 50 and the we’ve just had our umpteenth Umpire’s Review for a possible no ball around the waist. Sharks are 147 for 5, after 18.

Brown bowls the 19th: finishes with 0 for 15 off his 4 overs: good work. Sussex gonna have to bowl well, too but that’s their strong suit, arguably.

Parnell will slap it in there for the last. Archer carts the final delivery to the midwicket boundary, where the fielder takes an easy catch. 158 required for the win.

As we prepare to go again, take a look at the skyline. There’s barely a city there. Just us… and this stadium: magic. Archer prepares.

The lad looks interestingly disconsolate on his walk back. A decent over offers 5.

Could be dewy out there; two minor fielding errors. Mills bustles in – arms wrapped as per. Half The Hollies is doing a kind of comatose conga… at walking-pace.

Archer’s body-language is similarly low-key. The *actual bowling* is fine – 2 overs for 12 – but he has the look of a slightly moody teenager. 22 for 0 after 3.

Rapids, of course, don’t have to be that rapid. And they know that. Barely a swipe in anger, so far, and they’re still ahead of the run-rate. Moeen can afford to bring out his finest forward defence, to Jordan. He does.

Moeen does pick the slower one, mind, too – and heaves it over midwicket for 4. Follows that up with a slightly inside-out spooning over long-off and a further haul to leg. Advantage to Worcester after 5: 44 for 0 wicket.

Wiese is in to conclude the powerplay: it’s mixed, a poor ball down leg is rightly dismissed.

When Moeen thwacks Briggs high over midwicket, we approach crunchtime early, it seems. But the spinner has Clarke caught behind for 33 and when the incoming Fell drives Beer directly to extra-cover we find ourselves at 62 for 2, in the 8th. Briggs returns for the 9th.

*Things we maybe thought we might not say at The Cricket*: the Human League are going down well. Onwards.

D’Oliveira is stumped, off Briggs, for 10, but Moeen persists. Calmly easing through. I’m guessing 82% of the crowd is still with us.

From nowhere, Ali is gone – caught miscuing to long-off by a more than slightly jubilant Salt. Important, clearly, but Wiese’s fielding clanger a few balls later still hurts. A sort of intermittent, mid-range squeeze is on.

Whiteley breaks out with a powerful cuff to leg, off Beer. 104 for 4, off 14, with 54 needed: re-enter Jordan. Slower ones and yorkers – goodish. With the Big Guns back into this (Mills is next) this could be close. We want that, yes?

42 required, off 4. Sitting comfortably? (The Lads to my left aren’t: Sharks Media Posse). Archer is in.

Beautifully deft reverse from Cox finds the boundary. Then he drives for 4 over mid-off’s leap. Drama cranks up as a HUGE no-ball call goes against Whiteley. 127 for 5, meaning 31 needed off 3.

Jordan has changed ends. Dot ball. Full-toss to leg for 4. Tangle-almost-played-on thing. Scurry-through with no contact. Straight 6! *Possible misjudgement in the field(?)*  Over over… and 141 for 5 on the board.

Ultimately, The Golden Boy bottles it! Archer flings a horrendous beamer past Cox’s left ear and waaay past the keeper! The free hit is likewise dispatched. The follow-up likewise. Cox is pipping… everybody! (Gets coat). Tremendous, nerveless effort to bring his side home – as he did in the semi.

So Moeen – our Moeen – will be collecting the trophy. I can feel the universe smiling. Fabulous finish.

 

Morning after. Was too exhausted last night to properly big up a) Edgbaston and all who sail and steer in that crazy-wonderful boat – thank you for your generous hospitality b) that bloke Cox. Stunning, extended, dramatic, luxurious day of sport you gave us. Bravo!

 

A bloggist’s indulgence.

Some of you will know that I work full-time for the mighty Cricket Wales – and that I love that. I coach, I write/faff about with Soshul Meedya stuff: I love the crazy diversity of it and dizzily-happily pour myself in there.

I also do this blogging thing, absolutely as an indulgence; absolutely because it’s a cathartic soul-shifting and lifting release; absolutely because I want to make some contribution to the fabulous sporty din that all of us bawl and wallow and giggle through. It’s showing off, of course but (as a great mate and soul-brother said recently, when I wondered aloud about stopping) it’s ‘a creative outlet I need’.

I know it’s hideously arty to talk about this so I’m not going any further with any cod-therapeutic explanations. I’m sticking mainly to practical issues – the weighing and balancing, the justifying – in the hope that some folks might identify with something and (ideally) feel supported.

Maybe I should add that I am myself supported by a) the mere existence of a rich blogosphere where far nobler, more talented and more legitimate Cricket People offer up their stories b) my superiors at Cricket Wales who respect and encourage my writing and ver-ry rarely try to direct it and c) by established folks already ensconced or essential to the contemporary cricket media. These factoids are important.

However – did you guess? – things aren’t straightforward. Because I have a wonderful family, who are sporty but not especially crickety. Because my time is not my own. Because Pembrokeshire fab-you-luss Pembrokeshire is waaay out west and therefore often a hike away from the action. Because nobody is paying me to write.

In short, I really do have to justify any trip away to cover cricket.

This week I had hoped to (firstly, as always, without any bitterness or complaint) see out all my Cricket Wales responsibilities and maybe go to Edgbaston today and Bristol tomorrow, to do a cricketmanwales.com number on the men’s then womens’ internationals.

In fact I didn’t get accreditation for Eng v Aus (men) at Edgbaston, unsurprisingly; that fixture will be heavily attended by journo’s/writers with way more clout than myself; I have no gripes on that front. I did, however, get clearance to attend the womens’ tri-international in Bristol.

The truth of it is that significantly less frontline journo’s will attend the latter. From experience, I guess Adam Collins, Melinda Farrell, Alison Mitchell, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Isa Guha will be there but most of them will be involved in commentary and/or punditry rather than ‘simply writing’.

Don’t please abuse me if I miss somebody out, here – this is not supposed to be an exhaustive list, much less a Who’s Who. Raf Nicholson and Syd Egan will probably be there and Jamie Ramage, I reckon. But there will be less demand for seats – in the Media Centre as well as in the stands. That’s the reality.

In fact I can’t now go to Brizzle due to Cricket Wales commitments – which always come first and which I utterly respect. However, because fewer people read my posts about Eng Women than about Other Cricket Stuff, I was looking pret-ty hard at whether I could *justify* another trip, anyway, despite the fact that I really enjoy these games and actively want to support womens’ cricket – believe it or not.

There are financial implications. There are family issues around me disappearing ‘for nothing’. I was having to juggle that stuff.

As so often, I may have been unwise, in sharing this. Clearly I would be delighted if somebody – some media institution – would bung me a coupla quid to cover games that I can get to, working around my Cricket Wales schedule. (Could be this is somewhere between unlikely and im-bloody-possible. In which case there is thinking to be done). One is philosophical.

Look set aside any opinion around or even intelligent judgement of my blogs; I naturally accept that is entirely feasible that they are mindlessly anarchic piles of crap. That being said it strikes me as unfortunate that my own – admittedly crass, admittedly limited – market research delivers (arguably) a fairly stark return re- the value of Womens’ International Cricket.

I do have to think on this but my strong inclination is to continue to #showup, as much as I can… and let the therapy flow.

 

Measuring the Moment.

Finals Day. For some, an exemplar of the modern, dynamic game we’re searching for – what with heaving, happy crowds and boomtastically lusty action. For others, including (weirdly counter-intuitively?) the ECB, a still slightly undercooked version of the spectacularly box-ticking ideal. For other others a kind of Nightmare on Lowest Common Denominator Street.

Muggins here was at Edgbaston, having received wider ECB Media Accreditation for the first time. I was both swanning around and working but did make the occasional effort to tear myself away from the outstanding hospitality/catering/Media Bubble to get down and dirty with you plebs.

Of course I didn’t do anything quite so undignified as to break out into song, or drink from a shoe, or do that bungee-rocket-jump thing but I did, yaknow, contemplate stuff.

Mainly I watched the cricket, enjoying the following in no particular order;

Pollock – for finding a zone of near-obscene brilliance (see previous blog) which separated the Bears from Glamorgan. My memory, which I admit may not coincide entirely with the stats, suggesting his hitting was simply more devastating than anybody else’s all day.

At the other end of a long, intermittently intense day I quietly hailed another triumph – and somehow they all feel personal? – for Peter Moore, the Real Good Bloke Who Rode Disappointment. The Notts coach again might be tempted to fistpump the mirror and tell Ingerland Crickit to go eff itself. (He won’t… because apparently he really is a RGB and he just doesn’t need to: he just keeps working to a fine, fine level).

Sodhi, who span the ball as well as splatting it swiftly down, also caught my eye. Having watched from directly behind his arm, I can tell you that yes he did mix things up – T20 needs must – but also he really did succeed in spinning/turning the ball. Entirely get that the spin-bowler’s short-format repertoire cannot afford to focus more than about 12% on that sideways movement but yup – enjoyed that.

Enjoyed Taylor’s knock in the final, too. Despite having aired my concerns on twitter re- his steady progress towards thirty-odd, it was a pleasure to see his craft cut against the expectation for relentless violence. Taylor played a lot of proper cricket shots, only unleashing the beast later on in proceedings, when the situation (finally) did demand it. I rated his measurement of the moment – it was (as they say) class.

Lots of fuss over Samit so I won’t go there. Clearly the guy’s a player but have previously gone on record to say I’m cool with an international coach, or international coaches as a breed demanding high standards of athleticism, in the modern era.

On the fast bowling front I admired much of what Stone did, plus Ball and Gurney with their spidery strafing-from-Mars thing. Woakes, though, was a thing of beauty, when fired-up.

But the story should maybe about Edgbaston… and about the future. Which is where (I don’t mind telling you) I come over all conflicted.

Plainly Finals Day was a striking, all-singing, most boozing success in the modern way. Clearly Edgbaston does an ace job of this. It was colourful, it hosted, it showed-off, it surfed the excess most excellently. The job was absolutely done in terms of an orgasmic, short-format Big Day Out. (Oh, and lots of the cricket was great too – I mean that). So… that other competition; what’s it for, again?

T20 Blast has got better every year and seems on an upward curve in every respect. Accept there are those who claim it’s a significant notch down from the IPL and  Big Bash in terms of playing quality but that gap has closed. Besides, nobody at Edgbaston was complaining. There is a ver-ry strong argument that building, year by year on the Blast’s positives rather than introducing a rival competition makes perfect sense. As we know, that ain’t gonna happen.

I’m slightly fascinated by the ECB’s moves, here. The chosen option, to create an ultimately higher-class, city-based tournament which more successfully bursts or expands the bubble of traditional cricket supporters is a strikingingly ambitious choice, given what we have – what Blast has become.

Based around masses of research, driven in some meaningful part by Australian experiences and expertise, aimed at transforming levels of visibility of the game and joined up with the huge All Stars and Cricket Unleashed projects this is an epic call. Radical; romantically bold; risky.

The ECB are backing it, though, unless something extraordinary happens(?) They’ve found, as All Stars has recently demonstrated, an unlikely bundle of courage and commitment to change the scenery drastically. This is on the one hand rather exciting.

However the general experience of Edgbaston – my experience, the deliriously fabulous experience of many in the crowd, Saturday – challenges the notion of whether another 20-20 is at all necessary. Blast is becoming that good… and seems likely to tick many of the required boxes in good time… and offers no threat to County Cricket. It offers or can offer the gateway to wider exposure and new customer bases that the ECB understandably craves. So why tinker?

It’s a huge call.

It wasn’t just the Hollies Stand that was rocking on Saturday. As I enjoyed my luxury miniature dessert, the whole of Edgbaston was giving it some.

Word on’ tinternet and beyond has been of a longterm agreement to tie #T20Blast to Brum and good luck to them. Most of what we saw would escape funding from the Arts Council but it was great, relatively inoffensive fun. Easy to be cynical about the attention-seeking antics of a certain former England all-rounder in particular but people laughed and joined in and participated in the cricket. Bumble and Freddie were part of the rockin’ whole.

Blast has become a popular success and therein lies a problem, of sorts, for the ECB. We all know really that two UK 20-20s is one too many – the market’s getting crowded, increasingly so. When withdrawing your hottest, sexiest, bravest plan ever ever feels unthinkable and the expendable prototype turns out better than you thought…. what, exactly, do you do? Glad it’s not my shout.

 

 

Obscene Brilliance.

The Epi-prologue.

I travelled in hope and some expectation. Carrying some real belief in the men from Wales… and okaay, South Africa. I’ve seen plenty of this #t20blast, enough to know that *on their day* Crofty’s Posse could compete – underdogs or no.

They have most bases covered –  from youthful dynamism to crafty-oldish-meisterhands. They’ve been on a slightly under-the-radar surge, appreciated by dispassionate observers as well as foaming Cardiffians. 

Glammy have targeted this event over months if not years and gathered, astutely, towards it. Hugh Morris and Robert Croft deserve credit for that. Glamorgan Cricket have had to tiptoe throught the financial and provincial and cultural minefields to a) stay relevant and b) stay afloat. Today helps. It helps to support both the big signings – Ingram, De Lange – and the bringing through of the Donalds and the Carlsons. Hey, and without Pollock’s obscene brilliance and Rudolph’s freakish run-out who knows, who knows?

But they got beat; that’s sport. The Glammy players and the Glammy fans know they got close to something. Croft and Morris’s job now to rally again. 

 

Great, dark then stirring run through to alien territory, by misty rivers, through leafy, autumnal lushness. West Wales night-dawn lifting with foxes screaming then owls hooting then – ping! – the hyper-reality of Big Brum, in spectacular sunshine, at nine a.m. Wow.

I fraudulently seamlessly wend my way to The Ground, being sickeningly friendly to all and sundry. Because… well, this is a Big Day Out. For me, for Glammy.

But is there a whiff of the interloper there? The undeserving, the outsider? Probably. Me and Glammy together as the Guys Who Got Past Security?

In the case of the welsh county this is cobblers. They are unquestionably here on merit.  They are well-balanced, they are equipped, they may yet spring a magnificent surprise. Maybe I will too? (A streak? A great blog?) Onward, post-haste.

Players are out, warming up.  10.35. Rudolph wins the toss and will bowl. 10.37 meet George Dobell, who’s been ludicrously generous re my scribblings. Absently wonder – not mid-conversation, obviously – if I should squeeze more food down (luxury buffet upstairs, free to us Elite Media Sorts) cos, well, 5am start & could be a late finish: feed up.

News is Carlson in. Shame TVG unfit for Glammy – do like his bustle and focus – but as Rob Key said Glamorgan do look balanced. They have changes of pace, they have batting.

What we can’t know is whether they have the bottle or depth for this. They have quality and experience but this will feel kinda new; as a group they haven’t been here. We’re on that fabulous edge.

Goes without saying that Ingram is truly world-class in this format and that Rudolph has begun to show some of the real quality that might turn things or be the platform. Hogan too, for me, has looked cool, mature, ready for the tightest of moments – the death(s). Whilst I’m a huge fan and supporter of Donald (and De Lange is beginning to court, rather persuasively, my affections) it’s these three who feel most central to Glamorgan’s chances.

Formalities done, Ingram to bowl. Second ball, ‘ambitious appeal’, third ball six(!) We have officially woken. Pollock booms ten off the over. Then Hogan.

Sharpish first ball. Beats Pollock close to off. The left-hander responds with another six, clubbed straight. Then one over mid-on. Could be big numbers today, you sense. 24 for 0 off 2.

Weirdly, the umps are asked to examine the shape of the circle, before De Lange stoops then launches in.

Pollock simply dismisses the lanky South African for another six, then a crisp, straight four. And another – pulled. This is some start. Glammy have to gather. Rudolph and Hogan need to calm the energy: The Bears are 40 for 0 off 3.

Enter Wagg, grateful for a stunning stop at backward point from Salter. But Pollock is already looking unplayable. First sarcastic roar from a famously roartastic crowd as De Lange fails to field a squirt towards third man. Pollock has 47 and his partner, Sibley 2. Just seen Legside Lizzy.

Hogan changes ends. Sibley (have we met?) finally connects – four over extra cover. Hogan searching for the blockhole; doing okay but can’t stop Pollock racing to 50 off 23. Nobody could, today. Almost alarming for the visitors; can they hold… or can Ingram simply outbiff Pollock?

De Lange no-balls, offering Pollock a free hit – escapes. Finally some relief as the batsman cuts straight to Carlson at cover. 65 for 1 off as the powerplay closes.

Meschede. Blockhole. Donald takes an easy catch at deep-midwicket. Can Glammy calm the torrent?

Ingram from the other end. The energy’s changed – in a good way for the visitors. Pollock seems a lifetime ago, a different event. It’s quiet, briefly. Great, stalling over of legspin from Ingram. 74 for 2 off 8. Meschede continues.

Decent wee spell for Glamorgan. Ingram, now charged with producing more of this canny stuff; largely succeeds, gets Sibley, caught Donald. 88 for 3. Game’s evolving. 92 for 3 at the halfway stage.

Meschede in again. Been average, for me, lately but working nicely enough now – pace off a tad, ver-ry full, straight. Rewarded, getting Hain LB. (Has the game really changed?) Crowd quietened, certainly.

Did I say the Bears are slowed? Mood deliciously different. 95 for 4 off 11. Salter in.

First ball driven through extra cover. No further dramas.

Meschede continues; excellent spell given the pressure. The optimist in me dallies with the prospect that the aforementioned balance, that spread of bowling qualities may be bringing Croft’s men back into this. As Ingram returns, you feel the Bears must go after him.

Brief panorama. Described as a sell-out and the ground looks resplendently full; great scene.

Ingram again holds, before Wagg returns, bowls a foot outside off but is tweaked crazily round the corner to backward square leg: ludicrous four… but it’s a batsman’s game, right? Wagg being slightly found out, which could be important.

Score-wise, 200 feels possible, if somebody in any way re-Pollocks. 129 for 4 off 14. Hogan switches again for the fifteenth. I’m thinking Ingram might explode here… and might need to.

Unusually, Hogan strays near leg and is clipped fine, behind, for four. The sunshine floods through again. Magic day to bat. COME ON, Ingram!

Elliot comes over all daft and is caught, embarrassed at short fine leg. 139 for 5. Then another sign of Bears nerves as a slack skier falls safely.

Mixed stuff, however, from De Lange – over-full and fortunate not to get heavily punished. Searching for the blockhole, slinging it in there but mixed. Then better. 145 for 5 off 17.

Wagg. Has been struggling to make an impact so the 18th feels key. Strikes me nobody but Pollock has bossed the Glammy attack so maybe the Big Score that’s looming is merely a par?

A wide wide again indicates it’s just not coming out right for Wagg. Even when he bowls a good ‘un it squirts past fine leg for four. The fella looks hunted.

The 19th starts well, with De Lange. Quick and hostile and challenging. De Grandhomme hooks to Donald. 6 down, enter Woakes. Great over leaves Bears on 169 for 6. Hogan will finish. Like the way Glamorgan have competed, here.

Last over. Thomason run out then Patel caught long on, first ball. Helpful. Last ball runout leaves Bears on 175 for 9… and who knows what that means?

The reply; Woakes to Rudolph. Great first ball. Shafts the skipper, feeling outside off. Donald; hearts going for the lad. Lifts the England bowler over extra cover for four! You beauty!

As so often though, the young opener maybe gets too greedy too early; second ball, caught at deep square leg. On the plus side, this brings in Ingram. #KIngram.

Glammy’s gloriously gifted number three eases Woakes through extra cover too  – four. Then bullets him there. First time I hear the Glam faithful. 13 for – off 1.

Patel in. Goes deep into the crease, at the legs. Ingram patient – two Proteas together. Successive fours for Ingram – more from the welsh faithful. Goodish start, now.

Woakes. Timing of both Rudolph and Ingram looking good. They look settled and quietly determined. (*Fatal*). 30 for 1 off 3 is okaaay.

Ingram takes time and heat out of the affair with a longish faff over his laces. (Or possibly his laces just need doing up?) Then a stunning catch on the retreat claims Glammy’s most irresistible source and Rudolph nearly departs caught behind next ball… but survives. Tense, critical period. (Ingram simply didn’t get enough on a drive to leg. *Moment*. Obvs).

Rudolph softly opens the blade for four to third man – a welcome boundary.

Thomason to Miller: caught behind.  This is a worry. 39 for 3.

Huge moment for the incoming, inexperienced Carlson, with the Bears veering towards the rampant. Am liking, however, the guile of Rudolph: impressively skilled hands under tremendous pressure. 46 for 3 off 5. He has 29 off 16, at this point.

Stone meanwhile, looks good – searching. Rudolph guides him, Carlson can’t cope with his bounce, though – nicks behind for 3. Trouble, at 48 for 4, powerplay done. Cooke may need to stick around with the skipper.

Rudolph benefits from some woeful fielding at deep extra cover; four, Thomason unimpressed. Then Cooke glances behind for another boundary. No fireworks but decent, timely re-building.

Patel returns. Suspect Rudolph will settle for runs as opposed to violence and risk; he rightly does. Good over nevertheless for Patel: 60 for 4 off 8.

Important, emphatic four for Cooke, off Elliot, through mid-off. Confidence-settler, if not builder. The sun breaks powerfully through once more.

But not for Cooke. He chips weakly, deflatingly, to deepish midwicket. Enter Wagg, with things close to deadly at 67 for 5.

First six for Glam comes via Rudolph, off Patel. 76 for 5 off 10 – Bears were 92 for 3. Run-rate very close to 10, so tough but do-able, if Wagg and Rudolph persist. Maybe?

Key fifty for Rudolph but he knows he may need to double that up. 83 for 5. Wagg feeling for it – must surely park the wilder ambitions and hand this over to the skipper?

Instead he smashes one many rows back over long on. Some great running and solid thinking from the batsmen are keeping this alive. 100 up off 12.3.

Another beauty from Rudolph flipped over his right shoulder for four. We do have a game here – particularly as Glamorgan’s fielding was sharper than the Bears. Hope yet, with the potential for this to go deep – if Rudolph remains, carving and cutting.

Maybe I’m underestimating Wagg. He drills one straight for four, off Patel. For his trouble, the ump tells him to watch his running down the pitch. No matter, the maths and the mood still suggest Glam are in it…

Until(?) Rudolph is brilliantly run-out – cruelly brilliantly run-out – by the bowler Thomason, gathering from Wagg. Meschede joins. 118 for 6 after 15. 59 needed.

Woakes has changed ends. Wagg slaps him straight to mid-off and you feel Glammy are done.

My Pembrokeshire mate Andrew Salter enters the fray. Facing Chris Woakes, on #FinalsDay, he may feel a long way from St Ishmaels. (He flips him for four, mind, to backward square).

Thomason gifts Glammy a wide, first up in the 17th. With the run-rate over 12, Meschede booms one straightish but only as far as the fielder – gone. De Lange and Salter need to do something pret-ty extraordinary.

The big South African quick carts Thomason for four and we’re 133 for 8 off 18. Over to De Grandhomme.

He finds the blockhole beautifully, killingly. Glam are done. De Lange smashes a highish full-toss for six but we’re at 144 for 8 off 18.

The impressive Stone returns. Salter rides his luck – Elliott failing to take a regulation catch – but then De Lange is castled. 150 for 9. Woakes will bowl the last.

Some wonderful defiance from Salter, inevitably in vain. Glamorgan fall to 164 all out. The difference? Pollock. Pollock and maybe Stone.

The sun and the scene are fabulous. I am lucky to be here. The ‘what ifs’ are already rumbling through  – chiefly what if Rudolph had somehow stayed? (That run-out was almost shockingly, freakishly brilliant). What if Ingram had…

There are no complaints. The day is spookily young. For many Glammy fans there is cricket to be enjoyed, beer to be swilled. Brave face time – time to appreciate. Thank you, Glamorgan, for another tremendous ride. Heads high.

 

Another statement.

Let me *work through* my angst, first. I should be sat in the Press Box at Edgbaston, today.  I should be.  But because a) I have a useless laptop b) the accreditation process is understandably medium-convoluted c) something, somewhere went wrong… I ain’t. Despite what I took to be a confirmation.

So breeeeeeaaaaathe. So relaaaaaaax. Then on.

England Aus. We think it’s an ultimate – a confluence of mighty, daft-glorious challenges unrivalled throughout the universe. We know (don’t we?) that we kid ourselves. But surely there’s something wonderful about this, as The Game takes on an exotic uberlife transcending the tradition for rationality, decency, maturity.   Perfectly reasonable, in this context, to dress as a banana, or a Mexican, or a Fish Finger, n’est-ce-pas?

We’re freed-up, even those of us who think we might yet reclaim the word ‘civilised’ into acceptable conversation, into believing we’re big enough (in the Eng Aus moment) to bark rather than park the prejudices around colonies, around deportations and stuff, and judge and enjoy, without yaknow clutter – without really offending.

Everything becomes cobblers; everything becomes inoffensive ; everything’s relative.

I find myself happy to risk alienating my sagacious Aussie oppos, rolling around in the chocolate mudbath that is the bantzfest around Poms v Shackledraggers. I’m happy to unload The Very Worst of Me on David Warner as he strides bullishly out – or sheepishly back – from the wicket. I don’t pray but I pray Starc has a mare – has a Mitchell Johnson-onna-really-bad-day kindofa spell, because that’s only right, given he’s a threat, yes? And I can do all this because it’s broadly understood.

In all seriousness, this may be sport’s finest achievement; the generous appreciation that shockingly prejudicial bawling against some bloke you *in that actual moment* hate for his squat Aussie machismo is okaaay because… this is sport. And his lot will do the same to us. And mostly this self-polices itself. (You guys put the necessary qualifications in here – I’m on a roll!)

Tuffers and Aggers on the radio get into this. Or at least they comment on the specialness of the contest, the atmosphere. Earthy, noisy, boozy Edgbaston feels the right place to have well-meant philosobantz: during a game the Aussies must win, with feelings running high over the Oz-hating English weather.

Opening over from Wood is a massacre, which like the first of the game from Ball draws no runs. Finch and Warner are wafting or worse(?) slashing at mid-air. Then bat makes scratchy contact and the Aussies find themselves at a very fortunate eleven for nought after three.

To their credit – probably, it’s beyond risky – the visitors respond by going on the attack. They go from looking flummoxed to looking a threat.

In fact a few overs further in they are flying – a real turnaround from those very early moments, when Wood in particular was close to unplayable. Suddenly the level of aggression from the Australian batsmen is extraordinary: they smash it.

Readers overs about forty may still be trying to come to terms with the notion that it’s okay thinking, from opening batters, to go all out when (actually) they’re getting mullered by the bowlers. Whether the thinking centres on limitless faith in those who follow them or a kind of cultural psychosis ingrained by a worryingly needy and/or alpha-masculine coach, who can say? But the gamble paid off, handsomely, as Finch and Smith picked off increasingly mixed bowling from Stokes and Plunkett, transforming the energy and direction of the game.

Warner was first to depart – caught behind off Wood, for 21. Never mind.

Finch followed him on 68, when there seemed more danger of Australia entering the Running Away With It and Thumbing Their Noses phase. Despite that loss, with Smith now in and cruising towards fifty – and Henriques sparkling, albeit fitfully – the gallant SD’s were surely ahead on points around twenty overs.

But then Rashid bowls a maiden: there are twitches. The England leggie is looking composed – comfortable.

Henriques has come in at 136 for 2, announcing himself with a classic square drive followed immediately by stunning pull (both for 4). He looks good but then misreads Rashid and is nonchalantly caught, low down by Plunkett. Momentum change?

No, not quite. Smith is going well and the run-rate is decent plus: England though, work at this.

Swann on Test Match Special is notably complimentary about Rashid, who looks the part and critically appears to have almost completely eliminated the shocker that any of us might despatch. *Clears throat*. Around this Rashid Axis, Plunkett fights back, Wood lurks and the team – it feels like a team effort – strikes.

England – muscular, fit-looking, on it looking England – find something. Smith lobs a daft one, then Maxwell, Wade and Starc fall almost together. Crucial wickets, crucial times.

Australia find themselves at 245 for 7 when it  might have been 300 for 2, with overs remaining. At the fifty, Morgan’s impressively determined posse keep Aus down to 277 for 9 when 340 had looked very gettable.

A brief mention for one signature moment – and yup, it could be that this is a sympathy vote thing. Roy took the kind of two-phase boundary catch previous international cricketers simply would not have contemplated. Magnificently, triumphantly. But a glorious farewell, perhaps? Who cares? In the moment even the non-bananas went bananas.

Let’s pause on this though; we need to talk about Jason, right?

If you haven’t heard he went for 4, lbw to Starc.

My hunch is a) he should probably be rested (and will probably return) b) you really could put Bairstow in there – to open. (Aggers on TMS made the reasonable point that  in the semi England’s openers will not face express pace, meaning Bairstow might be marginally less exposed should he be given that nerve-shredding job. I might add that Bairstow’s nerve and his eye seem in pret-ty good order.)

Faith in players is all very well but this is a competitive business where quite rightly there is pressure on places constantly. ‘Keeping faith’ is great but may set a dangerous precedent… and there is a tournament here to be won. I admit it’s a hunch but I’d get Bairstow in there.

Re-start post the rain and Morgan booms first two balls to the boundary. *That making a statement thing*. But the skipper is flirting with danger – witness a near-chance or two shortly after. He’s slogging and it feels closer to the reckless than the realistic end of the batting spectrum.

Whilst it works – even whilst it works – it’s bum-squeakingly dynamic entertainment: I get that this is the modern way and wait for Prince’s ‘Sign of the Times’ to boom out from the speakers.

51 for 3. Hales and Root gone. Morgan being heavily examined by the Aus quicks in rotation. Shortish. Both sweet, violent runs and rather troubling misses.

The crowd are loving it – by that I think I mean Morgan’s ballsiness. The skipper is flailing with some passion, black-eyed and beyond determined to dominate. Crucially, he’s making it work.

Well before England actually get unassailably topside, there’s a hilarious and only mildly vindictive chorus of ‘He’s going home, he’s going home, he’s going, Finch is going home!’ Great fun and fascinating to those of us who still view Warner as Offender-in-Chief against the Motherland. Theories, folks?

It’s not long before all of us – in or out of the Hollies Stand – recognise a counter-attacking classic, from Morgan & Stokes. The latter plainly world class now, the former a brave, hugely skilled slapper & manouevrer of the ball.  The hitting is largely pure, the intent raw intimidating.

To do this against a truly frightening bowling attack is really something. Aus, as Eng get to 128 for 3, look if not despondent then already unable to respond. Edgbaston, sensing England are undeniable, launches party mode.

177 for 3 and Oz, despite reverting to pace from that allegedly feared express attack, are looking impotent, almost humiliated as both Stokes and Morgan reach for their most outrageously compelling best… and maybe beyond.

The power of the hitting is frightening and visibly demoralising for those on the receiving end. The crowd of course lap it up, targetting Finch with more of those *pretty good-natured* verbals. They see the mighty Aussies have no answer. Not Cummins, not Starc, not Hazlewood. Skipper Morgan and the Million Dollar Man render them an irrelevance as they steam towards a 159-run partnership. The brummies, bless ’em, are in Absolute Dreamland.

Maxwell weirdly-comically avoiding a reasonably regulation catch only adds to the reverie – as does Cummins when palming a thunderbolt from Buttler onto the boundary rope. Guffaw, cruelly copiously, Hollies Stand? Just a little.

Against the inviolable grain, the onslaught stalls briefly with Morgan comprehensively run out for 87 from 81 balls.

Clearly the quality and timing of the partnership puts Morgan and Stokes beyond criticism… but they looked set to bring England home. Imagine how important that might have been, oh fellow students of cod psychology? To crush the Aussies, in front of a full house, whilst KNOCKING THEM OUT?!?

Crazy-churlish to allege an opportunity missed, yet I imagine I’m not the only one carrying that thought as the captain departs?

195 for 4 off 32 becomes 240 for 4. Because Stokes remains imperious and the lad Buttler has come in… and he can bat.

Fabulously, the terminal rain comes immediately as Stokes smashes a boundary, to gather his ton. That’s only right. Despite carrying a knock (remember?) the man’s played like a god for 102 undefeated. Difficult to know where to start with the positives – this really was emphatic.

Some minor faffing about, a little confusion and it’s all over, confirmed: end of innings, end of match. A blessing for the Aussies, poor loves.

 

Build.

Test Cricket’s changed, obviously – gone to the nightclub with a dodgy pipe. But whilst it sits there in Trap 3, head pleasantly whirling, feet gently twirling, those of us on the edge of all this do just need to nip out occasionally from the narcotic fug, to either inhale great puritanical clouds of insight – thankyou , Sir Geoffrey – or dart to the bar for a discombombulating chaser.

Well look how else are we to wrap this particular now, other than with blancmange-grade tortillas speaking loudly and in many tongues around the theme of IN-TOXI-CAYY-SHUNN? Tests – formerly the playground of gentlemen so starchily prosaic they may actually have been dead – now done in three, anarchic days. Batsmen windmilling psychotically at anything within arm’s reach. Crowds racily, indiscriminately, Stag Nightingly drunk. Glory and despair raging through our consciousness like a biblical torrent filmed by Nic Roeg. With a Stars on 45 backing track. How’s your head, dude?

Somewhere in this (literally) fabulous flux there’s a historic sporting contest – a cause. Which I think we still love and the essence of which maybe remains(?)
In fact it unquestionably remains; the cricket – the drama – however, is spectacularly different.

But do we like it? Surely most of us do – with a significant caveat or twelve- about whatever it is that’s replaced that traditional turgidity in the Getting On Our Wicks stakes.

With me that’s around the batting, I suppose and the whole positivity machismo. The sense that (let’s say England) have to ‘express themselves’. Clearly and obviously and wonderfully there is a truth in this notion that freeing up players to play is both a key role for the coach and (often) central to individual confidence. England have rightly signalled an intent towards dynamism which players and public alike are enjoying. (Remember that?)

In terms of selection a) Buttler (despite being weirdly hesitant by his standards in recent innings) is all about newness and switch-hitting counterattack and b) Moeen at 8 – 8, for chrissakes! – practically bullies the blokes from 3 to 7 into Belligerent Barsted Mode because they know he can bat for a day if things go pear-shaped. And c) (if we’re talking in essences again) every carve or drive from the likes of Root embodies this deliberately transformative policy. ‘Back yourself, bro. Back yourself!’

In other words this wild new wotsit is strategically sound as well as flushed with testosterone. As it should be. Farbrace and Bayliss are no mugs. England have caught up with the mood of things in limited overs and sprung fearlessly forward from there. Which is great, right? We’re catching up – right up. Finally.

It is all great but it’s also simplistic. And I hear the hand of the Sports Psycho Militia in all this. In their urgency to overhaul the humour or the approach of England Cricket, people have been sucked in to believing their own publicity/disappearing up their own backsides – all that.

There’s a crowd of folks doing stuff. It’s inevitably blokey and charged and focussed. There will be team meeting after team meeting where (and I’m not being cynical) important things will be said but this melee of egos and views creates difficulties. Too many voices, too much pressure to say something impactful and positive. Meaning too much freeing up and – despite the evidence from Edgbaston and strangely counter-somethingly? – not enough good Test cricket.

Huge holes in that argument. Firstly because plainly England played enough good Test cricket to blow Australia – the world number ones – away. Secondly because on the one hand I’m arguing for positivity (yes I am!) and on the other shredding its alleged fragility. Let’s try to deal with some of that.

Both Bell and Root were heroes at Edgbaston and I not only cheered them but crossed my fingers and willed it to be those two stylishly knocking off the winning runs. I respect Bell’s class hugely and like the rest of the universe I’m in love with Root’s magnificent, boyish presence.

And yet there were moments when I coulda tanned their backsides with a hazel stick; both were out, embarrassingly, mindlessly cheaply when the moment for called for further building. Building towards an unassailable total – building like you do against anybody in a Test Match.

Bell skied one when playing beautifully and Root reached ludicrously for a ball pitched in Humberside and they both got out. Out when England needed them in. In to build 400 because that was necessary at that time – a lead, an emphatic, hopefully demoralizing lead over Australia in the Ashes.

The fact that Australia’s first innings capitulation had put England in the box seat in no way abrogates the responsibility towards gathering a match-winning total. The fact that England bowled outstandingly again in the Oz second innings and they simply couldn’t cope is/was a dreamland barely within contemplation. Not even by the boy Finn – to whom we all send the choicest of hugs, yes?

So yes I am arguing that even though England were already on top and Bell and Root (for example) ‘backed themselves’ in exactly the manner they have been prompted to do, this approach was flawed; they were wrong to be so cavalier.

Even in the knowledge and agreement that fellas behind were primed to come to the rescue. Even when England win the game by a street.

Test cricket is a test over time and through conditions. You look to maximise score as well as establish superiority in terms of momentum/body language/team psyche. It’s not all about making points through hitting. How ‘bout if Bell goes on to make 160 in that first innings and stands there twiddling his bat, humming between balls as Starc snorts around him? How ‘bout if Root leaves the daft-wide ones – all of them, until the match situation swings entirely England’s way – and picks out the lush drives or the easy pulls?

In Test cricket you choose your time and you do that as part of your (reasonably sophisticated) Game Plan. There is perspective and there is consideration amongst the swash and buckle.

I suspect that because of the flood of positivism and the commitment towards ‘making a statement’, Bell and Root and England Cricket PLC were clear that they had licence to go get the Australian attack. Whenever/wherever the ball landed, if they felt good about it. This is a legitimate tactic; it’s just not intelligent enough. Their gamble – which worked, which I almost loved – was an indulgence. Wickets were always likely to fall in clusters in the game, so unsexy as it sounds… take account for that. Why fall for the notion that we have to be as ‘aggressive’ as the Australians? Why not play and build and go sailing past that dumb machismo?

Why not play better cricket, in fact?

Peculiarities.

Lots of good things about a diabolical Lords test for England. Maybe firstly it’s right that reality has checked – or rather thudded – in. Maybe it’s great that there are debates re-ignited about whether pitches should be tranquilized or away teams simply offered the choice of batting or bowling. Possible too that this assumption towards ‘positive cricket’ from England should be challenged.

Don’t get me wrong I was in Cardiff for two of the four days and can rubber-stamp the brilliance of that event and the extremely decent-plus nature of the England performance. But it might be that the victory there was more about discipline than liberating culture-change. (England bowled tighter lines/Aus under-performed/job done?) The SSE Swalec pitch –derided for the first four overs, broadly accepted thereafter – was surely less of a factor than the Aussie seamers inability to keep the cherry in the slot? So whilst Root and Stokes again gave us Brits an exciting whiff of Horny Expressionism, one view might be that Test Match cricket is about passages in time as well as inspired clonks… and that we are advised to recognise that wonderful peculiarity.

In other words, New England are growing up in public. Against – asitappens – the best cricket team on the planet. There are issues arising – some of them to do with hitting a ball or not.

Now our relationships with the Shackle-draggers (thankyou, Brian Moore) are *conflicted* but not to the extent that I can’t (grrrrrrrarrrrunnnchhh) express some (ffffuuurkanaall-lla) reeeeasonably convincing appreciation for their work down at Lords. Where the bastards were magnificent. Clearly however, from the local’s perspective the fascination turns immediately away from applauding Johnson and Smith and and towards philosophical discussions around what I am admittedly appallingly going to call The Bigger Pitcher… and to eeking out explanations.

Skirting for the moment right past the issues around That Pitch – and therefore flopping foolishly into the trap of talking (actually) about what happened – we are confronted with the question; how could the Aussies dominate every facet of play so utterly completely? Given the previous and allowing, yes, for their great-ness?

On that inevitable sliding scale, how come we (England) failed to register on any –ometer of any description, at any time? In fact is it possible that the reason Australia scored all them runs and took all them wickets was because England *literally* did not turn up at Lords? So Clarke threw a few pies for Warner and Smith to slap around the place. And Blowers and Aggers ‘batted’ one and two for ‘England’ to fulfil the fixture. Because proper England – Cardiff England – were stuck in an ice-bath at Celtic Manor for four days.

This explanation seems as plausible as any of the alleged ‘transmissions’ by Sky Sports over the last week.

Ok we have to note and even respect the quality of the Australian fast bowling; and mark that it tends to be significantly sharper than ours – a few mph around the 90 bracket being disproportionately key, so it would appear. Reluctantly we may also have to accept the evidence that their top three batsmen are playing at a contemptibly higher level than ours but… where does this get us? Nowhere. Team England has to (actually) do stuff to get back into this.

Messrs Bayliss and Farbrace and Strauss (I imagine) will be looking at both technical competence amongst our frontline batsman and scrutinising psychological profiles to find evidence for a satisfactory match-up. Whether this means consulting with wacko’s or havin’ a beer and a quiet word the end result presumably needs to be either a change in mind-set or personnel or both, unless conditions – not necessarily but possibly That Edgbaston Pitch – conspire in England’s favour. Which (as they say) could happen.

But back to what could be done. Lyth and Balance look pret-ty close to shot, as does Bell but the latter’s enduring quality and doughty English quiet man-who-may-yet-blossomness may, I suspect save him. In fact all three may yet survive to duck another day, either because the management believe they themselves shouldn’t twitch or because it’s notoriously tough to step in as an opener or number three bat. There are candidates but it may be wrong or unfair on Hales or Compton or anyone else to parachute them into this. (Not that this constitutes a reason not to act; it just complicates things.)

Is it not somehow fabulous, however, that this test – the Ashes – is suddenly again the largest and hairiest in the sport? With the biggest black and whitenesses and turnabouts by the ton. Cruelly absurd and yet predictable(?) that England, having been in dreamland, must now blast or grind or spirit a way back to being *remotely* competitive.

It’s unreal drama but excruciatingly trying for players and coaches of both teams. All that physical effort really just the flanneled tip of an immense iceberg-like accretion of tensions and yes (for Lyth/Ballance etc.) traumas . And howsabout we pause for a moment’s sympathy for the New England gaffer? I mean – what a week and a half for Bayliss?!? What state is the poor fella in NOW?

Time to gather oneself and think back to those positives, loaded though they may be with counter-griefs.

It may be painful for fans of Ingerland but it’s also surely exhilarating that high quality fast bowling – one of the most glorious and somehow viscerally-received spectacles in sport – puts us here? Cook is right to describe the capitulation at Lords as ‘unacceptable’… and yet.

Australia were in their zone, their element and (goddammit) they were undeniable in a way that may even make Bayliss’s genius redundant. For though there must always been a response – planned, calculated, mature, skilful, evolutionary – and though conditions may be engineered, the peculiar combination of big wedges of time and world-class pace can prove overwhelming. Plainly England were overwhelmed at Lords.

Even those who don’t get the finer points of bowling sharpish get that the exceptional ferocity and skill of the Australian fast bowlers has pinned England somewhere evidently vulnerable. The urn just lurched back towards the southern hemi. A mere week on from Cardiff, individuals look and unquestionably feel vulnerable, both in a ‘Jee-sus, that could hurt!’ kindofaway and in terms of their professional security. Making it a rare challenge, this. The Ashes.

Sport is about tactical stuff and theoretical stuff but it’s also – as we are seeing – about holding firm when a hunk of leather is flying at you unfeasibly quickly… and arcing or not… and bouncing or not. And amid and amongst any indulgences we, the fans and pundits may get caught up in, Lyth and Cook and Ballance and Root and Bell, or their immediate successors, must face up and front up when the challenge resumes.

Regardless of the toss, regardless of the qualities of the strip. They really need to get playing and then maintain that intensity and that freedom… for days.