#WBBLFinal. Moments.

Let’s start with this: my conviction that the dashingly, upliftingly positive upward trend in women’s cricket – women and girls’ cricket in fact – is probably the most exciting and profound development in sport, right now. Bar none. From grassroots to the elite levels, things are getting better and that fabulous, liberating wave will continue: all over.

Meanwhile, over there (Oz – the world-leaders in this wonderful romp) we find 5,368 fans and more, luxuriant sunshine. Another huge, smiley yomp forward underway, Sydney hosting its own Sixers and the Brisbane Heat in a carnival, a festival, a cup final of a day.

Could be my West-Walian vantage-point but duw, duw, bois, it looked on the blistering side of bright; weather for being hot and bothered in. Is it or was it indiscreet of me to note that even the sublime athlete that is Perry had that beads-of-sweat-on-the-forearms thing going on, whilst batting out there? Forgive me. Heat is an issue for us Brits.

She (E.A. Perry) may even have been a tad flustered by some consistently tidy bowling from Kimmince Jonassen and co; her striking rhythm appeared off. Maybe this is merely relative, given the expectation of almost absurdly serene progress in this most flurrytastic of formats but though, inevitably, she contributed, Perry looked a bit like somebody else.

She looked, in fact, like a normal batter, for much of her 33, before being caught skying a sweep by an understandably relentlessly watchful Mooney. She wasn’t then, going to take the game beyond the Heat, going to dismiss them entirely, with the bat. For the neutral, maybe this was good?

Kimmince, for me, has something. Maybe has something special – certainly that full outswinger is a real ace, especially when it grips and leaves the right-hander a touch too. Here, this Special One removes the bewildered Healy, clipping the off-stick quietly after that killer moment in the air… and off the deck. Soo-perb. Huge Wicket. Healy – a match-winner, as we know – is gone for 18 typically prompt runs.

There follows a generally lukewarm-ish effort, from the Sixers, to be honest. Credit, of course to some goodish bowling and generally attentive fielding but given the strength and dynamism of the home team’s lineup, the scoring rate was mediocre throughout – and some of this felt like lack of ambition.

Gardner, so often powerful, was mixed. Burns, McGlashan and Kapp were relatively uninfluential. It was left to van Niekerk to raise the bar towards something challenging, with a bullish 32, from 15. 131 for 7 the total.

Despite my opening paragraph (and despite the possibility that it may be unhelpful to suggest it) there may be a sense that the women’s game still needs to take most every opportunity to obliterate negativity and prejudice. So in addition to the traditional pressures accompanying a final, that imperative towards providing a great game, in front of a brilliant crowd, lurked somewhat – was in the ether. Great in terms of quality and drama… and ideally a nail-biter, a close one. We got almost all of that.

Sixers might rightly feel they can defend almost anything, anywhere, anytime, given their bowling attack. Captain Routinely Sensational and Marvellous (Perry) and her sidekick, the spiky, relentless Kapp, queen of the send-off. Two Absolute Worldies; they alone, if necessary, will keep them ‘in the contest’.

We’re into the reply. Poor Grace Harris. Seems a chirpy, entertaining sort but she’s run out literally painfully, early doors, in the Heat innings. Backing up, slipping awkwardly and twisting her knee before failing to make her ground. Soon after, Kapp is borderline abusive in sending Johnson off, bowled – a reminder that this is serious, that the juices are pulsing passionately.

As things progress, it’s tight. The Heat skipper, Short and their powerhouse Mooney are coping okay. Sixers will call upon eight bowlers, from Aley, with her slighty laboured (slightly) one-o’clock bowling arm position, guiding them in there, to the frontline four of Perry, Kapp, van Niekerk and Burns.

When Short is caught by Burns off van Niekerk, the drama focuses on Beth Mooney – remarkably so.

Mooney’s innings was almost painful to watch, it was so traumatically, memorably tough. The Heat’s keeper and key bat could barely stand, at times, due to the broiling conditions. She merely survived it, squeezing every ounce of concentration and competitive spirit into the moment after delivery: somehow, heroically – but alarmingly rosy-cheeked – clubbing the ball instinctively around.

Mooney’s condition was a) the cause of genuine concern from medical staff and b) something of a distraction in the game – hence the lack of sympathy from Healy behind the stumps, amongst others. Sixers felt, perhaps, that some of this was a deliberate breaking-up of the contest.

This, remember, is top-level competitive sport: ultimately some will regard the powerfully-built batter as an ‘absolute heroine’ and others, as an out-of-shape chancer.

The Heat are chipping away at that total but then the game shifts. They lose 3 for 5, stirring the crowd. Tension. Scrambled minds. Nerves on both sides, in fact.

What feels like an important error by Healy – failing to gather a throw with batters a-scampering – becomes unimportant as the next ball from Burns draws a successful lbw appeal.

However the Heat look to be muddling through with 15 needed from 12 and the stylish South African Wolvaardt at the crease. Harris, her partner, has seemed nervy.

More drama as Van Niekerk – her international skipper – gifts Wolvaardt a poor full toss for four but then Kapp’s brilliant arm runs her out, charging for the second run and the strike. Zoiks. It’s the WBBL semi’s revisited, with 5 needed off 6, 7 wickets down, come the last over. Kapp to bowl it.

Kimmince charges but only gets the one. Then Harris clubs one to deep midwicket… and a miscommunication (or noncommunication) on the rope – two fielders colliding – sees the Heat home in a pile of bodies.

A scruffyish finish but Brisbane Heat don’t give a toss. There’s a pretty convincing outbreak of ecstasy (and a further, more joyful pile of bodies) as they run in to celebrate a first WBBL title. Screams and rebel yells and another outstanding day for women’s cricket is done.

 

#WT20 – good & not so.

Unashamedly blasting this out. Amorphous wotnots and occasional insights, I hope. Reflections. Dangerously off-the-top-of… my barnet. ‘S fine, because nobody will read it – because it’s about The Wimmin.*

So GOOD – & less good – lumped together. Bit like the tournament; maybe *like any tournament?*

Memo to self- and to you, sagacious friends – don’t go comparing it to the blokes. It’s different.

  • Australia. Their surge towards completeness. Different level of preparation, intensity & often – quality.
  • Perry & Schutt didn’t blow people away but they were still imposing; as was the team. Clearly it was Healy’s tournament (except for that weirdly dysfunctional final, keeping-wise!) but it was the team, actually, that crushed the opposition.
  • Generally better fielding and more threatening bowling. Generally more dynamic batting – power play batting from a different universe to most teams. T20 cricket from a different, newer, more dangerous era.
  • ‘Course India beat them so arguably that’s cobblers… maybe. (But not for me). It wasn’t just during the final that Oz were mostly competing at a higher level.
  • Is it good, or bad, that Aus appear to be out-cooling and out-boshing all of us on the investment in the women’s game front? No argument. 1. Fair play and congratulations. 2. Might this lead to Grand Prix-like processions to victory? (The ECB may come under pressure if the ‘re-organisation’ of the women’s schedule here stalls the recent surge towards higher standards and greater depth).
  • But back to #WT20. England were mixed – from Aus-like in their cruising past poorish opposition – to periodically awful in the field.
  • On the one hand it’s absolutely right to note that the absence of their toughest competitor (Brunt) and a truly fine keeper and stylish bat (Taylor) would hurt any team. But as England are resourced and prepared in a way that probably only second to Australia, we’re entitled to judge them pret-ty keenly, yes?
  • Amy Jones. Did a goodish job behind the sticks (as good as most international keepers?) and pressed the I’m Here! it’s Me! button, whilst batting.
  • Jones looked technically strong and crucially more dynamic than most of her team-mates during the international season, without quite building that seminal knock. (She got 20-30s when I saw her live but oozed something authentic and encouraging). A good deal of that landed in the World Cup: a strong #WBBL could see her fully ‘emerged’.
  • Tactically, Mark Robinson and co were again strikingly bold – fielding a zillion spinners, insisting that Beaumont and Wyatt charge early. Only during the final did Wyatt get into the or her game, though, whilst Beaumont felt out of rhythm – was scratchy, when she needs to be timing the ball to generate runs around the place at a decent rate. (She is not as powerful as some other high-order players, obvs).
  • Of course the spin-fest was a reaction or an expectation around pitches – which were widely regarded as disappointing. I respect Robinson’s gutsy hunch but was it just me that thought somebody was gonna cut through the slow-bowling ‘stranglehold’ and see that actually none of the England spinners turned it very much… and only Ecclestone bowled with that searching pace… and therefore they were rather fortunate not to get carted? (Poor generalisation maybe but ‘twas how I felt).
  • The Scots import Gordon did well, mind. Not spectacular, not hugely threatening, but did well.
  • Sciver is plainly ‘our’ Perry. Athlete. She grows into the role, fair play. Did particularly well to fill the Brunt-shaped hole, first up. Infuriates me with her bat-swing, mind – so unnecessarily hoiktastic and across the line – but hey-ho, she’s well within her rights to go with something she’s comfortable with, I guess. It just smacks of somebody who finds it all rather easy, overthinking and clumping everything to leg. But she’s a star.
  • Shrubsole bowled again, at times, more skilfully and with more raw swing than anyone else on the planet. She is class. She is class but still looks if not hurt, then less mobile and agile than would be ideal.
  • The Fielding. We ain’t necessarily comparing them to the blokes when we say that the fielding was – in the tournament generally – not good enough. Appreciate standards are improving. Appreciate Wyatt, Sciver, Knight, Beaumont, a bunch of Australians and plenty other individuals look like athletes in the field and are consequently great to watch. But despite the upward curve on this, too many players are simply not looking like international-class athletes – and this is important.
  • It’s important not just in the way the game is received, broadly but also in how matches seem, live. Running, fielding, catching, throwing can be electrifyingly central to the drama. Currently, obviously, they are let-downs too often, undermining the spectacle, the theatre of all this.
  • I know that work is going on to improve fielding work everywhere and that increased professionalism will change this.
  • *Also*. I’m slightly fascinated to know whether Robinson’s reference to ‘tears’ has related to some fairly brutal laying down of expectation regarding fielding skills. He will know that only about four of five of his players are good enough, out there. Do wonder how England staff bundle that forward, what level of urgency they insist upon, what pressure is being applied?
  • Like Robinson, I think I’m looking to judge the players as international-class athletes rather than women. But we’re both men of a certain age… and maybe likely to mess that one up, here and there.
  • Hey but not going to finish on a negative. I’ve loved the ambience and the actual cricket during 2018 and (acksherly) I spend half my coaching life actively supporting girls into cricket. Tomorrow I’m coaching the next, female generation and bloody looking forward to it.
  • I hope they will see more (or more of) Kaurs or Scivers or Taylors or Perrys: that their lives will be enriched and excited by stars they come to look up to.

 

*Accept that some folks will read some or all of this as somewhere between dubious and misogynist. Can live with that.

I’ve enjoyed travelling and supporting women’s international cricket and know my *intentions* are sound. Do regard it as maybe the most excitingly, richly-developing sporting phenomenon on the planet, right now. Hope to be able to see England Women on several occasions next season.

This Blokey Universe.

Let’s watch. The volume of negativity (either overt or less so) around this might be interesting. It might tell us a good deal about things – that and the quality of the arguments raised.

Let me, crass, or’nary bloke wot I am, unleash a coupla looseners about how This Blokey Universe might have affected or conspired or coloured all judgements, pretty much, around and against this one and only Day-Night Test: then maybe – maybe perversely? – finish by saying I enjoyed it. Despite the draw.

  • The pitch was dead. Deader than a very dead thing. So dead I wondered if it was patronisingly pacific because *somebody* thought it needed to be ultra-safe… cos this was for wimmin? Wimmin who might not last on or cope with a lively one.
  • The result – or rather one result? Nineteen wickets only, fell.
  • The context. There is almost no Test Match context, because there is no Test Cricket… for women. And, shockingly, Heather Knight and Ellyse Perry may have two years to wait, now, for their next opportunity to don the whites.
  • The implications. The implications of having almost no competitive tests are several but they include a complete lack of opportunity to rehearse innings-building or preserving or countering strategies, in this format, when (for example) under Ellyse Perry’s boot. Such opportunities might, let’s be honest, be handy.
  • Small wonder then, that England, in their second knock, had little more to fall back on than the general, conservative imperative.

Charles Dagnall, a solidly decent citizen, tweeted mid-final day that it was ‘dreary’… and he had a point. And he may have said that about a men’s test which was ambling towards anti-climax too.

(In case you’re wondering, in no way am I targeting the tall, northern seamer; he does seem a good, intelligent fella and he can bowl a half-decent outswinger 😉. I have no doubt his comment was neutral.)

With Elwiss and Knight on the steady side of steadfast, the game was shall-we-say uneventful. A fair, consensual view of the contest at this stage might indeed have been that it was dreary. But this is what Test Cricket is.

Test cricket is the England captain batting and batting and batting, without offering encouragement to the opposition. It’s Elwiss doing that annoyingly-held, forward defensive pose-thing. It’s the very suffocation of drama – sometimes.

It’s dull of me to remind you of that which you already know but… it’s okaay when this stuff happens. We don’t want it all the time but it’s okay when you read the paper for a bit because the game’s gone to sleep. It may be part of it. There may even be an argument that it’s important, this as a statement; so tremendously against-the-grain-of-the-psychotically-immediate now, so philosophically gentle, so redolent of the value of the (remember this word?) pastime.

Absurdly but maybe wonderfully and preciously it may not matter if you miss a wicket because the essences of what’s happening are readable, feelable from the long-format ether: you know what you need to know.

This is an experience over time, where the unique daftnesses or voids are ab-so-lutely central – whilst being obviously also undeniably gert hig black-holes of glorious inactivity. Here, I loved the non-battle of it, the knowing nullifications: Ar Heather saying to Your Shooter ‘you’ll have to show me more, girl’. It was proper Test Cricket.

Live, I wrote this…

Day-Night, Pink-ball Test. Easing towards a likely draw. Australia having been utterly dominant – essentially through the brilliance of their shining star, Ellyse Perry. England still behind on the numbers as the final session begins but just the two wickets down.

So, like a zillion Test Matches before (and hopefully a zillion after) this is winding down to no result. Unless the Day-Night, pink ball, festival-of-carnage explodes from nowhere.

The pitch is slow and flat; there have been very few false shots from England skipper Heather Knight and her batting partner Elwiss. Nerves do not appear to be a factor.

As I write Knight has gone past her fifty and Elwiss has seen out 150 balls for her 30-odd. The numbers don’t seem critical. The crowd has drifted; we have spin-twins twirling away; the faint possibility that Schutt or Perry might take a rapid 6-fer seems invisible ink faint.

There have been moments but after the dinner-break the assumption is there may be no more. The Worldie of a delivery from Wellington that bamboozled the previously immovable Beaumont may have to suffice. (People will be saying that was Warnesque.) The toe-ender from Winfield that saw her fall to McGrath, leg before, likewise. Otherwise, no dramas.

It was the middle session of the day that settled this: Knight and Elwiss coming through unscathed.

In doing so – rather brilliantly, in my view – they recalibrated the possibilities back to the draw, only. England now know they must win all three of the upcoming it20s, the first of which will take place at the very same North Sydney Oval, god-willing, on a brand new, zoomer-boomer of a track.

(In fact there was talk – EEEK! – on social media that the same pitch might be re-used. Fascinating to see if the verbals around this duvet can influence, belatedly, that process).

Maybe – I wrote, as the minutes ticked away – in the face of this wicket-worry, we need to get back to Things To Like about this Test Match. Because I, for one, have really enjoyed it.

Let’s do that. Most obviously, this has been (one individual aside) an even contest; as were the One-Dayers. This has already made for a really good series.

Beaumont and Winfield have been mostly excellent against the Australian opening bowlers, getting their side into the Ashes event. (Imagine how things might have been if England had had flaky starts against Schutt and Perry. Hats doffed to the top two, for that: absorbing clash).

England’s seamers, meanwhile, have seemed relatively impotent but there have been spells where Shrubsole and Brunt have executed that Plan B – for containment – well. Importantly, the spinners backed them up competently on this, even when Perry was a) well in and b) ideally, surely, looking to accelerate away. That she didn’t, entirely, was down to decent, competitive work from England… and that pitch.

However let’s get real. Most reflections on this match, now and in the future, will rightly focus on Ellyse Perry. Because genius; because all-time great.

She’s a gift to the sport – to us all. Athlete par excellence. Batswoman and strike bowler, with the fabulous, natural movement and proper elite-level sporting temperament that sets her apart, above. She with everything.

One example, maybe the least obvious. With the draw already almost sealed, Perry’s plan deep into the game to bowl short and sharp to Elwiss, made for great viewing – made me smile, in fact. Digging it in to try to prompt some fear or anger or reaction from the batter; this after the bowler has spent a lifetime batting herself. Impressive, hearty.

At one stage hopes were raised as Elwiss rather weakly patted one over her shoulder towards deep backward square. No joy, but great, great effort from the Australian superstar.

Perversely, perhaps, given all the talk around dourness, I also enjoyed (on this occasion) England’s boldness re their use of the sweep. Although there will be a certain level of flak going their way due to the dullish nature of their rearguard action, England strategically used the sweep, if not to aggressively counter, then to ask a polite question or two. Knight in particular used the shot to make a wee statement about confidence, deliver the occasional boundary and force changes in the field.

The attendance – 12,674 over the four days – was also encouraging, without being a triumph.

Many if not most of them will have queued for Perry’s autograph after those final handshakes but I hope some supporters sought out Wellington, too. She’s been good to watch, really turned the ball. As she flipped them out and over and down, the threat never really went away, the frisson never really died, even on a lifeless pitch.

Through to the final session she got edges – thick and thin – which might have yielded wickets. When Wellington develops some variations (which she surely will) the young leggie will be both a force and a profound source of entertainment, for years to come.

Having criticised her previously I’m pleased to report I liked too, the work with the bat from Knight. Firstly with her quality and circumspection – under real pressure, remember – then, late in the game, sensing she might even nick a test century! As the universe nodded off, Jonassen was suddenly dispatched for a couple of emphatic fours, bringing up 75 for the Western Storm skipper… and it seemed, briefly, that her eyes twinkled. (Knight finished unbeaten, on 79.)

This threatened to lead, in fact, to a discordantly spicy conundrum. As we entered the negotiable final hour at 8.30p.m. local, it appeared that Knight disagreed with an instruction from the boundary to carry on – this being technically possible.

Minutes later, as the captains shook hands on a draw, we could only speculate on what was said by England Coach Mark Robinson. Did he want to grind the tired Aussie bowlers down as well as offer Knight the opportunity to chase a rare ton? Would he be that mean? Who knows?

Finally, us Poms laughed more or less good-naturedly at the inevitable Ozziness of Megan Schutt being affectionately known as Shooter. (Accent required: if you missed it, Shooter/Shoodah hung in there for a crucial 1 not out, in the Perry 200 story.) Bless.