Universe Podcast 5. On writing.

Dangerously solo podcast, on writing stuff and the privileges I’ve enjoyed. Hope to god no-one feels *exposed* – not my intention. Hoping folk might be interested in the process and actuality of writing on cricket – on anything.

 

 

Big fan of Ronay and Hayward but also of Ian Herbert. Thank you to them and to George Dobell, Melinda Farrell, Dan Norcross and Adam Collins, in particular. Listen and you will see that this a) takes indulgence to a new, exotic high b) is about accreditation, style, honesty and lots of other cobblers.

Okay. Have listened back. First thing I should say is that I know it breaks all the rules: I’m not big on rules. Absurdly long – not bovvered – a zillion omissions and dubious generalities, naturally, but like it and pleased that encourager-in-chief Richard Huntington has ‘bloody loved it’. When you’re on the edges of embarrassing/‘colourful’/crazy-pretentious it helps to have an occasional, legitimising thumbs up.

Should maybe mention that I do understand that there is a significant difference between a column and a report. Even my live posts aren’t reports, eh? *Also*, I work full-time for Cricket Wales as a coach and media geezer, so when I talk about being unemployable in the mediasphere, I have the luxury of referring to possible occasional freelancing. Love my job – genuinely.

May add to this…

 

KP; a brief wallow.

KP. Gone. Gone to save the rhinos, with (perhaps for the first time?) a coalition of goodwill behind him. But previously…

Flamingoing god. Revolutionary genius. Caresser, counter-attacker, take-the-contest-by-the-scruff-of-the-necker… or utter, utter tosser? Mincer and moaner, delusional with with his own greatness, bigger than everything. The Maestro Who Would Not Listen. KP.

This wee column ain’t gonna change how you feel about Pietersen. You sorted that yonks ago. When you saw him unpick Ingerland’s chief oppo’s or re-calibrate the do-able as a mid-order bat. You either surfed that bore with him, or did the uncomfortably surly thing – turned away, to enjoy stuff later, when the blokes you felt you could really back jumped in. Or maybe found a mid-position, where you were pleased by victories but neutral about KP’s role – however central?

With the South African’s brilliance there was that tidal surge of baggage. For the bristling xenophobes, that stuff about origins and authentic britness, or otherwise; perenially relevant of course to half the flipping squad but particularly so to Pietersen because of his extravagant profile and that feeling that he might turn Afrikaaner at any point. The non-relationship with the ECB and their coach(es?) seemed unhappily in thrall to this feeble idealogical wrestle.

More legitimately, for many, the *relationships issues*. Our Kev as a prima donna of the highest order, who (though we fully accept might have/should have been managed better) refused the throw-downs, denied or actively undermined the Team Culture. (It may be a complete irrelevance but I think I just dreamt about Pietersen on an All Blacks training camp. He was being drowned, so it appeared, in a cattle-trough, for flagrant contravention of the No Dickheads rule).

KP was either a) years ahead (again) because he knew what he needed to practice b) a mardy, irrespectful git or c) poorly managed. Or something else. Certainly it was messy and both sides of the KP / ECB/Moores/Flowers/Strauss/whoever divide may need to (in the contemporary committee-speak) ‘reflect on their behaviours’. Nobody comes out of this well, I think.

I’m bit lost and a bit anxious almost. Many of the voices I know and/or respect are pretty much besotted with KP. I’m really not. I can’t quite get past the refusing to join with the team thing – not entirely.

If I felt that brash young bloke with the partly-blue barnet really was a deeply rebellious, big-hearted genius I’d be more in his camp. But too much ‘happened’: whatever KP Legacy there is feels surely so much about poisons arising around his selfishness, his arrogance, that a durable argument can not be made based on the player’s ‘fierce, individual commitment?’

For me, that barnet seemed more a signal of something rather dumb, rather naff: something estranged from real, legitimate, subversive-in-a-good-wayness. KP the private school prat. KP who maybe thought Nik Kershaw was punk and that Celine Dion is the Queen of Soul.

What I mean by this is that for me, Pietersen was a tremendous cricket player but a vain, cardboard cut-out of a bloke. And in my view of him, this counts.

I’m not so naive I fail to recognise the rivalries and personality clashes within every team ever: of course I see that. Sport is often about egos and how they are revealed, managed, sacrificed, expressed. The KP story is something of a classic and an epic, in this wonderfully cod-psychological regard. Hence my wallowing. Briefly

It’s surely telling and probably boring that much of the actual cricket is squeezed out, here. Thank god, elsewhere there will be zillions of folks writing or reminiscing about KP’s batting, over this, his retirement weekend. I only saw him live three or four times. I missed the truly great moments: I truly hope you loved yours.

 

What do we call this?

Okay. Maybe you’re centre-midfield on a parks pitch in North Lincolnshire and it’s down to you. This. The ball plummeting towards, their grizzly number six feeling for your presence, aware you’re the one who can head. You’re gonna not so much head as clear out the universe, power through, make the most intimidating statement ever made in sport.

This only works if you bawl something as you leap; something kinda specific. Something like ‘RICKY’S UP!’ – which may on the page sound cheesy but in the moment, no. The two syllables of the name project, control, make real the intervention in a way that RICK just couldn’t. It would be ricdiculous. The words, the sound, the something… decide.

Everybody who knows footie – knows sport – understands this. The words in the event are massive. What you call yourself, what you get called, how you’re spoken of , is critical. Not possible to be bona fide without (weirdly, mainly) two syllables.

Of course this is why we get Gazzas and Glendas and (don’t worry I’m coming to cricket now) Rootys, Cookies, Jimmys. Cobblers to any other cultural-sociological considerations, it’s about what naturally fits, then. So I can be as Rick as I want but if I plant the ball majestically wide of cover’s left hand somebody on the boundary’s going to mutter ‘shot, Ricky!’ If the England number three does that beautiful unfurling thing through extra-cover, Farbrace is going to rumble ‘played, Vincey!’ as he’s stirred to his feet.

How else, though, is the gorgeous-but-infuriating Hants bat spoken to, or of?

When he strides back to pavilion, eyes down, caught at slip, what else could it be from Bayliss but ‘what the **** was that, Vincey?’

Actually it could be lots of things. It could be silence, for one. Bayliss may choose a later opportunity, maybe to ask a wiser, more searching question. Like ‘where do you think we are with the dismissals, Vincey*? In terms of pattern?’ And then they together choose what to work on.

*Could be of course that in the real world moment there’s another nickname. Not in there – don’t know. I’m betting it’s two syllables, mind. Vince is worth talking about; with yaknow, words.

Clearly there’s a lot of chat around all those starts, all those frustrating, demoralising finishes. (Sometimes I wonder if they’re worse for us poor buggers watching than for him!) Plus a rich vein of psycho-gubbins around personality, freedom, responsibility and yes, that coaching framework. There’s a documentary series, never mind a blog around What, Exactly, Vincey Should Do: for now, I’ll stick with the former.

Some are fascinatingly clear that what they deem a ‘failure to learn’ simply disqualifies him already; however he might purr, this cat ain’t suitable for Test Cricket. Others argue that the problem isn’t so much centred on poor choices as kindof disproportionately fiercely-punished non or near-execution. Failing to execute shots he very often plays. Outside off-stump. Imperiously.

From memory I think I’ve only seen one media name blame technical issues for Vince’s predicament. Chiefly he’s getting slaughtered for going there at all, given we’re under, or about to be pitifully legs and arms akimbo under the cosh. There may actually be something comical about the level and intensity of verbals aimed at the rather serene-looking strokemaker but head-in-talons at the unbe-leeee-vably serial transgression across the Don’t Play Eet Less Ya’ve To Principle, us nighthawks – Yorkie nighthawks? – have typically stooped full-tilt into raging fury. Perspective? Proportion? Intelligent Investment? Na.

Here’s a thing, though. Plenty of us have woken the dog – quite possibly immediately before the offending nick of the wide-ish one behind – with a snortaciously approving ‘Yesss, Vincey’ as the ball raced to the off-side fence. We’ve muttered something about ‘class’ – and I don’t mean his private schooling in medium-luxurious Wiltshire. Thus many a dark, dark December night has felt defined (or possibly caricatured?) by the cruel see-sawing between expressive pomp and dumb, tribal humiliation.

Incidentally, I wonder how many of us have marked a beautifully squeezed J.V. drive with a follow-up aimed (in increasing order of spitefulness) at Starc(k)y, Smithy or War-ner? And is there something else about doubling up – going bi? Bitterness? Bile? Emphasis? Certainty?

See, I am more sure of my two syllable hypothesis than any of the Vince cricket-things. He’s a fabulously gifted player – milky, honeyed, rich, pure. And yet we wonder either if no-one’s home, if nothing’s been said or if our fears about the empowerment of players through (ahem) *personal discovery* have in his case reached an epic high, or low?

Freedom for learning is a gift and a blessing. It’s also very much at the forefront of contemporary coaching philosophies. They change. The need to decide stuff arguably doesn’t.

Vincey, come out and tell us: what’s been said?

 

 

Conference rise.

It was a real coup for Cricket Wales/Glamorgan Cricket to get the new ECB Head of Coach Development, John Neal, to open the first National Coaching Conference, held at The SSE Swalec Stadium on Sunday. (Good work on the nobbling-him-early-doors front, from our very own Paul Morgan.)

John is both plainly a top man and the top man in terms of his responsibilities vis a vis cricket coaching in England and Wales. He came across as exactly the sort of authoritative, centred, witty and determined individual you might really want to lead you through… whatever.

Opening up, the former WRU and RFU man did not so much speak – certainly he didn’t lecture – as conduct an exchange with us, which was (despite the fact that it had by its nature to be themed), refreshing, challenging, funny and direct. Those of you who attend vaguely corporate gatherings of this sort may shiver coldly when I tell you he played a series of short games with us but a) he did b) they were fine – they were funny, meaningful and illustrative of his points.

Understandably reluctant to lumber himself with a glib, conference-friendly soundbite, John threw away the notion that ‘this is about Making Coaching Fun’ – before making it fun. He was big on the ideas around the right reflex and how we must challenge our own ease or easing towards judgements which may be wrong; when we (ourselves) are often wrong anyway… and this is fine.

On the process of coaching, Mr Neal offered the following, in essence: that it is largely about the coach being skilled in offering good questions to stimulate self-learning in the player. I am para-phrasing, but speaking privately for some time after his initial remarks, the sense was that John is right behind the idea that

“players must problem-solve: coaching is not about answering”.

After a start that was as provocative as it was informative, the fifty coaches attending were then ushered down into the indoor school at the Swalec, where three top-level deliverers were waiting.

Cookie Patel is one of the ECB’s go-to men for leading Coach Ed. sessions. His brief on this occasion was to share some ideas and principles around fielding; from catching to sliding to stats. Inevitably, he threw in a few nuggety specifics around posture or practice – offerings, I would say, rather than instructions.

So there were observations and some demonstrations for the various disciplines, calibrated for – and then re-calibrated for – different abilities or scenarios, or just to make them more fun. Couple of half-decent fielders were tested: all done with a bit of healthy mischief and a good dollop of streetwise (but also clearly authoritative) cricket humour.

In short Cookie was engaging, sharp, likeable and packed a whole lot of learning into his sessions. There was some gawping at a screen full of prompts or stats but there was a good flow – good energy.

Sharing the space was the ECB’s Dan Garbutt, who beasted his posse of innocents with a chaotic-but-not-chaotic runaround under the theme of Game Sense. This was an inventive multi-game, loosely and briskly set up by Dan, demanding lots of input and application from the participants, in order to a) score runs through targets b) challenge the players’ wits.

Dan intervened only occasionally: he told me rather proudly midway through ‘I’ve offered no coaching points’, meaning this was about inventiveness – movement, adjustment, game sense – from the players. It was crazy-dynamic in a really good way: the coaches were smiling and knackered.

Screened off in a single net area (hard ball work) was Mark O’Leary, lead coach at Cardiff Met and the driving force behind the MCCU side which won out at Lords a month or two ago. Mark was and plainly is into spin.

Tall, slim and alarmingly youthful, ‘Sparky’ bustled his groups brilliantly through all things spintastic. Entry-level under-arm games; progressions towards Rashid-dom; use of visual cues and handy, wristy tips. He demystified stuff and demonstrated, simply but strikingly well, how you might extract major turn. (Certainly he did: the leggies and the extraordinarliy nonchalantly launched googlies turned about a yard – or that’s how they would surely have felt to the batsman). Impressive.

Impressive but delivered with just the right amount of direction, humour and humility. Loved that Mark unashamedly spoke of leg-spin (in particular, though obviously not exclusively) as an art and yet entirely demonstrated how accessible that magic around the art can be. The session, like the balls, fizzed.

In practical terms, Sparky used ver-ry few bits of kit. A builders line between bowler’s mark and off-stick; a washing line, effectively to draw loop and dip; some balls. The rest was ingenuity and enthusiasm – and yes, knowledge.

Those amongst my co-gluttons at Cricket Wales who failed to attend the day may be interested to hear that lunch was generous, tasty and included hot chunks of meat as well as the dainty sandwiches of yore. Well -fed, we sat again to listen to Hugh Morris.

Hugh is CEO at Glamorgan Cricket. I know now – having been in his company on several occasions – that he is also a hugely capable and honourable man, impressively focused on building a successful club, with a strong, Welsh core under-pinned by a truly effective pathway. Hugh knows there are sceptics; he himself joked about the South African rather than South Walian origins of a good deal of the current squad, but I am clear he means it when he talks about developing a county side that consistently reflects its support, its national identity, its base.

The former Glammy and England opening bat majored on the Long Term Athletic Development pathway that he believes – and again, I really think he does believe – must be central to a joined-up, fit-for-all-purposes, enabling structure. He took us through the detail, so as to make the argument unanswerable and impress upon us how necessary he believes the changes are. It was arguably dryish stuff but the gaffer was utterly, convincingly clear that the model of LTAD planning he outlined would be key to achieving the twin objectives of great, appropriate sporting provision and the development of great Welsh players.

Hugh was gracious enough to enlarge privately on the arguments – and the research around them – for some time after his presentation. Plainly, explicitly and rightly he wants Glamorgan to be geared up and ready to bid for and use the (potentially increased) ECB funds to make real his vision. It’s ambitious. It involves considerable culture-change and investment. However, Mr Morris, I can tell you, is committed.

After a few brief questions from the coaches, it was back to the action on the floor, as groups rotated through the sessions.

Dave Leighton is a shortish fella – fair cop, Dave, you made the jokes – who may well have played rugby league (as well as cricket) before his twenty-odd years service with the ECB. He now heads up National Participation in his role as Coaching Manager. Dave twinkled his way through ‘the graveyard shift’ asking questions about his chief areas of concern – ‘beyond Coach Education’ and ‘the club environment’.

Having spoken to him before he addressed the coaches, I was interested to see him in relatively discreet mode: he gave little away in respect of the transformation about to be unleashed: I respect that. However (again privately) he did share his confident expectation that resources will be ploughed into the recreational game… over and above the huge investment in All Stars Cricket. Coaching, it seems, will be recognised, valued and supported (by the ECB) in a way that marks a step-change towards the bubble-burstingly brilliant future envisaged by Matt Dwyer. I wish Mr Leighton had been as clear about that to the assembled throng as he was to me, individually.

Whatever, there’s a theme developing here, is there not?Centred on belief and expectation. Around investment which folks are pret-ty certain is a-comin’. Let’s go back to where this began – to the other Top Man, John Neal.

John was absolutely clear that he has the freedom to make changes happen; that he will do so. Given that his brief is for Coach Development he will broaden the Coach Education pathway, making it possible to improve and achieve in (probably) three newly defined areas rather than (probably) get blocked in the current, suffocatingly vertical structure. He likes the word enablement and he will enable. The money is coming and the ground has shifted and things will happen – are happening.

Final thoughts? Sunday was a good day. For those who participated, it was a blast, a pleasure, it was challenging-but-great. It was well-supported but chiefly by exactly the sort of coaches who support stuff – who always do this stuff. Meaning a) if you are coaching in Wales and you didn’t attend, why not? b) you’d be daft to miss the next one.

There are about forty-seven cricket revolutions going on simultaneously, right now; some on the pitch, some off. The first Cricket Wales/Glamorgan Cricket National Coaching Conference evidenced, echoed and nudged forward that sense that we are entitled to come over all excited, in these extraordinary times, because pound-for-pound, it seems likely that we coaches – we cricket people – may be able to contribute more, expect more, influence more… because the investment is coming. That’s the clear implication.

So, call me an optimist… but I am optimistic. Don’t just take my word for it, mind – all of us the Swalec were buzzing.

Aimee Rees, lead for Cricket Wales Women and a hugely respected coach in her own right, put it this way;

‘today’s conference was excellent – really well organised and all of the presenters were engaging and knowledgable… The standout session for me was on spin, with Mark O’Leary from Cardiff MCCU. I am already looking forward to the next conference.’

Friends, there will be a next conference.

Coast.

Please note, sagacious reader, that this is Part 2 of my Ageas Bowl column-thing. So go read the previous blog too, eh? Maybe read it FIRST?!?

I need and deserve a break so this will be more… reflective. Less ball-by-ball action painting, more Fauvian-contemplative: or something. I need a walk, for starters.

Bairstow and Roy both put Joseph away in the second over of the reply. The former with a trademark, timed, wristy little number through midwicket, the latter with a confident pull. I do go walkabout.

Stunning gentleman parked on the stairs: suit, phone out. Friendly, passing punter chirps inoffensively, to which the man drawls ‘I am bored stiff’. Was Michael Holding. England are 61 for nought as I return.

Alarmingly early for any away support, we could be on body-language watch here. England have strolled and stroked their way to 71 for no loss, with ten gone. There’s a kindof assumption  already alighting that a humiliation looms. The visitors – new skipper and all – have to find something and not sure what the odds are on that. Perhaps that change of oeuvre – day into night – may offer them something? Time for daft speculation – scope for that in the drama-vacuum…

With Bairstow a) looking this comfortable and b) being so-o brilliantly competitive and bright and able, could he not bat high, for England… in Aus? Like unthinkably high.

Especially if there’s a post-Mbargo shiftaround, might we not opt to think of him primarily as a batter and bring in Foakes as the gloveman? (I personally think JB is so fit he may actually thrive on batting high and taking the gloves as well but this is another argument).

Bairstow is that bloody good you could stick him in at three, persist with that and he’d make a success of it – probably. Relative to other risks – like the Vince, Ballance, Malan ones, for example. Of the four, who would you most expect to get closest to doing an Ashes job, for England?

But I’ve daydreamed into a daft theory. Did I really actually write down all that stuff? Bugger. Roy has made fifty, almost contemptuously. *Drifts off again*…

Look I know there are/were issues for the Yorkie genius –  pushing at it outside off – but he’s so determined and gritty and hearty that he could surely leave stuff, leave stuff, leave stuff, if heavily instructed, until he’s ready to play? If he did manage to get set, against the Starcs and the Cummins’s, imagine how much fun being English/Welsh might be, come December?  (If this is crazy-naive, put it down to the woozifying afternoon sunshine now annointing the procession towards victory. 101 for 0, after 14).

Tempted now to relate a concern for one of our, leading media guys, having just seen him. But won’t. Instead I’ll say that this is feeling embarrassingly easy, for England. Roy has 76 and Bairstow 49. Believe me, they are coasting on the coast: a slow perusal of the Media Centre confirms the suspicion that *other things* are front and centre… and why not? The game feels gone.

The West Indies are getting battered, quietly but this does not forgive the comedy fielding. Twice outfielders make an utter horlicks of regulation gathers. Roy and Bairstow, sensing an absolute gift, play beautifully controlled, dynamic cricket, such that the natural target seems to be a ten wicket drubbing. Change in light, temperature and moisture-level seem to be the only things that can undermine England; the oppositon have become an irrelevance.

As dusk closes in, Roy, on 96,  is lb to Cummins. 158 for 1. Enter Root.

Bairstow remains. His energy remains fabulous. In particular the relentless chasing-out of singles, twos, threes. With his team way ahead, by the 25th over, he is still pressurising the fielders – simply by charging for maximum runs, time after time.

It’s a slow death, for the Windies. Root and Bairstow opt pretty entirely not to engage blast mode – just don’t need to.

Difficult to guess whether this way is more or less painful than a swift obliteration might be. Maybe the crowd get more time to enjoy more cricket, this way? Maybe an elegant but civilised flourish trumps a biffathon? Maybe I should go ask Michael Holding?

205 for 1 after 29.

In the 33rd, Root short-arm clubs Taylor through straight mid-on. It’s brutal. Next shot draws another error at the boundary – the sprawling fielder again conspiring to shove the ball over. Then Bairstow gets his ton, with an easy glide to third man.

I may have felt this before but the sense is that there’s nothing to stop England getting this for no further loss: they need less than fifty.

In the 36th, almost unbelievably, we get more charity at the boundary. I may be too knackered to count them but there have been five or six occasions where the sliding fielder has carted or cushioned the ball over the rope. A very unfunny video of this may just get played at the Windies tour debrief.

England need 15 from 82 balls. Which tells you most of what you need to know. Bairstow is now standing and hitting, triumphantly.

Root finishes it with a straight six, off Samuels. A nine-wicket win, with Bairstow there on 141 and Root 46. The headlines may revert to brutally dismissive mode around the hapless tourists… unless there are other things to talk about?

 

 

 

 

 

Brian. And BBC Solent.

Blimey. Biblical dark descendeth. After Brian at the B&B was so-o confident. After BBC Solent were so confident. Almost spookily oppressive cloud. But on the brighter side… it’s 10.20-something. Time for the natural order to sort itself yet.

The Ageas Media Centre: biggish, open, goodish. Similar to Swalec – tad smaller? Bigger than the Brightside – more spacious. By the looks of the seating order, not that rammed today.

10.40. Appreciably brighter. 11.05 begin to remove outer covers.  (They actually only shift the one). Was guessing they’re heavy-dew-wet rather than sopping but a rather worrying pool appears at mid-off during this process. (Could be the guys were a tad clumsy, to be honest. Out with the mechanical sponger-mopper-upper).

By about 11.15 the England quicks (Curran, Ball, Plunkett – no sign of Woakes) are out there, building up. Off a few paces, initally. They have cones out, at yorker length- one on middle, one very wide of off, but they are plainly not targetting them. Or if they are, we’re in trouble. Rashid works alongside. Gently.

Out of the grey… rain. Against the grain of the reports. Unfortunate. 11.50-odd, delayed start suddenly likely.

In other news, the consensus seems to be that Curran will replace Woakes but as yet unconfirmed. We lose 45 minutes – meaning with a slightly reduced lunch, a full game is possible.

12.46 and England into their footie. Interestingly(?) I haven’t heard confirmed line-ups yet… and I’m in the Media Bubble, dwarlinks! Don’t get the sense that folks or essential information are by-passing me particularly, but guessing that Woakes is out and Curran in rather than knowing that.

Really good to chat with both Adam Collins and Daniel Norcross. Unsurpringly, good guys. Had forgotten that Mr Collins had a strong Welsh connection – something he’s proud and deeply aware of. #Respect.

Abstract: it’s suggested that some of the media big-hitters here today are present more for the presser (afterwards) than for the cricket.

Opening with Ball. Full, defended by Gayle. Second very straight – defended. Third, slightly more across the batsman. Fourth down leg, fifth a pearler. Bouncy off a decent length. Final ball leg-stump – defended. Meaning we start with a maiden. Can’t last.

Curran bowls a loose, slanty wide first up. He may be getting a touch of shape in the air – away from Gayle. He does then get one to leave him sharply: good, settling delivery. Excellent start, with not the faintest hint of violence from the visitors. Two, only, off the first two.

Ball bowls another beauty at Gayle: still has three slips and they look as though they may be gainfully employed. The Universe Boss having to be respectful here; Ball right on it.

Curran courageously full, to Kyle Hope (too). Only 9 off the first 4 overs. The lack of drama is pretty- near dramatic.

Finally Gayle clubs one over midwicket (miscue) then batters one straight for six… then one over extra. Ball has actually bowled close to outstandingly well, before this but marginally over-pitches again and is again boomed straightish for six. Utter energy-change; 29 for 0 off 5.

First ball of Ball’s next over is heaved over extra cover again. Then he’s top-edged for four. Huge test for the Notts quick, who looked fabulous about ten balls ago. Gayle has not so much found him out as dismissed all considerations, before dismissing any ball to the boundary. The big man’s gone waaay beyond cricket again, racing to 40 (out of 52) by the end of the seventh.

Ultimately, Curran outfoxes Gayle, who only manages to hoist a skier whilst readjusting backwards – Plunkett taking a  difficult catch, retreating, in his finger ends. Quickfire 40 suits everybody, maybe? With the two Hopes together, West Indies are 56 for 1 after 8.

Ball has lost none of his commitment to this, even through the barrage. He returns to ask some decent questions of brother Shai. Looking straight at him, Ball appears strong,  and lively… but then he drops short and is crashed past square-leg.

Curran still going after that inswing, in the tenth. Like his boldness, his faith. Decent contrast, too, to the boomier, bouncier stuff coming down from t’other end. The Surrey dreamboat brings out that looping slower ball, too, to some effect.

Plunkett will bowl the eleventh. Strong man. Second ball *may well* have swung a tad to off. Tries it again for the fourth but jags it down leg: wide. Down to the one slip, now. His extra bounce draws an error – handle, maybe? – but Hope S escapes. Then Rashid joins.

Some turn, second ball. Straight onto a length. Varies the flight. No fireworks.

Note for Ageas People. Small scoreboard only visible from Media Centre. Not what us Giants of the Press are used to – limited info.

Plunkett draws Kyle Hope forward, unbalanced and the ball loops just enough for the stooping bowler to gather. 86 for 2, in the 15th. (On the replay, it appears the batsman’s grip failed him). Plunkett slams an emphatic, fabulous bouncer down at Samuels to finish the over.

Rashid is tidy, with a little turn, but nothing to suggest glorious spin-carnage. Thought strikes, I need to get out of this box to see if if my hunch (that this is a quietish crowd) is accurate. Could be uttter cobblers – can’t tell.

For those of you who don’t know the ground, the Ageas Bowl is nice enough: got that circus tent thing going on over the Rod Bransgrove Pavilion then two streamlined, lowish-flattish stands either side, somewhat dug in to a woody slope. Hilton Hotel and Media Centre opposite.

The ‘flanks’ are surely designed to welcome in swathes of beautiful coastal light. They are open, relatively, like sluice-gates for sunbeams. Today, there are no sunbeams – despite encouraging noises from every forecaster who ever lived. So there’s a sense of depressed possibilities, as opposed to the boundless, crystalline vistas we/you may well get on a good day. In short I bet it’s fab here in the sun.

Moeen takes over from Plunkett, bowling in tandem with Rashid. Hundred comes up – for the loss of two – in the twentieth. Limited urgency from the batsmen. I see a googly turn.

Ball has changed ends. He’s going quickish – or so it appears. Moeen persists from the pavilion end, with ver-ry little assistance from the pitch. He has a long discussion with Morgan mid-over, trying to break things up, presumably, as well as formulate a Cunning Plan for No Spin. 128 for 2 off 29.

Now Morgan has words with Ball, mid-over. Anything to mess with the admittedly quiet rhythm of things. At only 135 for 2 after 30, you would think England are well on top of this but…

Plunkett replaces Moeen. Can’t help but wonder if his power into the pitch might have been a good call for the Ashes. Hope slashes at him and Morgan puts down a difficult chance at shortish extra cover. Then a short one is pulled to square leg for a rare boundary.

Rather than retiring (as it were) Moeen has changed ends. Ripping it, he promptly deceives Samuels, who is stumped easily by Buttler. Enter the captain, Mohammed. Run-rate is currently 4.43 so will be interesting to see how/when he leads a counter. 150 up in the 34th – so soonish, you would think?

Very tight run-out call goes in favour of the batsmen. Sharp work from Morgan – borderline at first and second look.

Abstract revisited – not that I ever left Pollock territory. Morgan is ’embattled’, in terms of his batting form. However, I have heard nothing negative from the media on his captaincy. He changes things, he changes bowlers; the judgement seems good. #Respect?

Curran bowls the 38th and slants it too much down leg: is punished – deservedly. Next over, though, Hope lofts Rashid straight to Root in the deep: catch taken. West Indies 195 for 4, at this point.

Buttler puts down a diving chance off Curran. Doesn’t feel critical – tellingly? Hope S has gone quietly to 61. Last ten will be about people smashing around him, I’m guessing.

Root – who almost shelled one earlier, puts down a relatively straight-forward (though admittedly) diving catch, off Rashid. You can tell from the increase in backlift that we’re into the last thrash: eight to go, more tennis-shots, more baseball upcoming.

Hope hoiks Ball – the unlucky one? – over midwicket, moving to 72 in the process. That’s it, though, as Billings takes a well-judged catch close to the rope, off one visibly relieved bowler. 221 for 5.

Plunkett’s economy has been in rather sharp contrast to his partner Balls’s. Question is to what degree he can maintain that in these death overs? He takes some pace off, goes wide, slam-dunks it. Good over.

In the 46th, Ball goes for a wide yorker and then for the blockhole. He misses neither by more than a few inches but guess what? Two boundaries. I may be brewing a staggeringly novel hypothesis here around how life can be cruel. Then he bowls another ver-ry full one just outside leg stump… and I join the communal bollocking.

Nice test for Curran. Coming in for the 47th, with the run-rate only 5.2, five wickets in hand. Sure enough, Powell slashes with alarming but unfocussed violence at the first delivery but misses. Ambris – now on 33 – will look to maintain that level of intent.

Plunkett will bowl the 48th. Classic end-of-innings stuff. Firstly Powell picks a back-of-a-length ball early and middles for six; secondly the bowler tries a slow, slow ball which loops high, full-toss stylee into the off stick, about nine-tenths of the way up. Gone.

Second last and Curran goes for the blockhole. Concedes one. Then does Nurse with a slower one, which he survives. Then gifts him a half-volley – despatched with no little style, for six. The Surrey man may be a little unlucky next ball as Plunkett drops one across the boundary: Curran sulkily, boy-beautiful unimpressed.

Ball will bowl the last with the West Indies on 275 for 6. Challenge – both batsmen relatively ‘in’. His wide yorker is again slightly too short and is punished for four. This becomes something of a pattern – only the final delivery landing in the Bloody Awkward To Hit zone. Carnage avoided (somehow), Windies get to 288 for 6.  First guess is that’s well short.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bright Side / Soar. Two posts, one Moeen.

BRIGHT SIDE.

Warm-ups. At the Brightside. England. Lots of high kness and dodging. Bowlers catching medi-balls and slamming, with some violence. Stokes choking Rashid playfully; apparently. Greyer than our friends at the Met Office promised.

Conflicting and building scene, then, at 10.20, with incoming punters carrying already that fear of incoming drizzle or depressingly fatal dollops – about three-ish, we now hear.

Across the ground from me, the West Indies, in their weirdly, unconvincingly kingfisher-blue trackies are jogging. Then hopping. Again, like their opponents, utterly directed. England turn to full-on footie.

It’s mid-competitive. Buttler scandalously holds Bairstow, like some brutal 70’s catenaccio, whilst Curran to-tally fluffs a routine cross. It’s fascinatingly ordinary – but clearly enjoyable.

As is the Windies equivalent – now going on directly across the square. I wonder about a challenge match between the two, with Stokes ab-so-lutely clattering *the player of his choice* into row C. Would be great.

The visitors win the toss and will bowl. Their fielding drills, come 10.38, are sharpish. Lots of skim-catches.

We start. Taylor gets some bounce and some away-swing, to Bairstow. Single leg-bye off the first. Then Holder, who really is a giant, in the flesh. Absurdly high hand means he extracts bounce even plopping it down – which he does, rather, first up. Third man and square leg the men out in the powerplay.

Early signs are for some life in the pitch; both quicks getting bounce,Taylor getting more shape. England in no hurry.

Taylor no-balls and immediately adjusts his bowling marker… before castling Hales… on the free hit. Bowling full – in the expectation of a little swing? – nearly pays dividends but Bairstow gets a streaky, uppish boundary past short cover. Good start from Taylor.

Hales miscues, hoiking Holder just over mid-on from high on the bat. Neither opener has really settled. Windies definitely ahead on points.

First plainly poor ball – short and wide from Holder – cut to the point boundary contemptuously by Hales; needed that.

In the fifth, still a hint of way swing for Taylor, if he goes very full: Holder had none. First half-tracker is the last ball of the over. Only 18 on the board. Thought strikes that England could be waaay out of this if Duckworth Lewis kicks in mid-afternoon.

Bairstow responds, by scampering to rotate things and by despatching a free hit over mid-on for six, but is caught off a leading edge, next ball, by the Windies skipper. In comes Root at 27 for 1. The man in the deep to leg goes behind square – to fine leg, in fact.

England’s finest plays and misses twice – genuinely – before clattering three fours. Hales belatedly joins in, as the momentum shifts a tad back towards England. A ver-ry tight-run second down to third man confirms the gear-change. Classic straight drive, off the suddenly hittable Taylor, by Hales emphasises the flip. England have spurted to 61 for 1 off 9.

Root, gathering in that quietly awesome way, surpasses Gooch’s record for the number of runs scored in an international summer. (Of course he does). After a very briefly uncertain start, he’s freed this up – freed up Hales, too. It’s bright, here, now and England are finding their flow.

Hilariously, Hales calls for a new bat as the Windies review a possible lb… on Hales. He’s out. Enter the under-pressure Morgan. Briefly. He is caught behind, first ball. (What were we saying about momentum shift to England?!?)

With Holder still bowling – and now fired–up – England are 74 for 3, in the 12th and the sun re-joins.

Stokes sprints impressively to make two and get off the mark but plays rather loosely out to point, without penalty. Then studiously presents the bat to Cummins and gets four past the bowler’s left hand. Looking good.

Perhaps should have mentioned the outfield: green and softish when I arrived, similar at noon. The ball hardly ‘racing away’.

Holder bowls seven overs straight and is still getting meaningful bounce. Plunkett may enjoy this.

Cummins looks deceptively sharp – something about that not-too-arsed-actually approach – but Root picks one up and it curls over fine leg for six. 101 for 3 after 14. Drinks.

Dramatic change-down as Bishoo comes on after the break; he escapes relatively unscathed.

Enter the off-spinner Nurse, for the 19th. Root and Stokes seem settled. Will they go after him? He’s going flattish, quickish but Stokes reverse-sweeps him through point’s hands for four. With both spinners on, there’s that fascinating energy-change: Root and Stokes play it pretty patiently, initially.

The former gets to yet another fifty in the 21st, without really opening up. You feel that’s coming, mind – especially with Stokes at the other end.

Not hugely impressed with Nurse, who’s getting no turn and asking very few questions. At least Bishoo seems to be driving Root back. Likewise with Stokes, until his patience gives and he smashes one straight for six. 145 for 3 after 22.

That sense of a dam about to burst is (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor?) mexican-waving itself around the ground. Both batsmen being hugely patient – or ‘responsible’. The innings hasn’t exactly stalled but with Stokes on mid-forties and Root past fifty, if I’m Bayliss/Farbrace I’m maybe looking for more, medium soon.

Again, Stokes reverse-sweeps for four, off Nurse. Gets to fifty with a defensive prod. Measured might be the word; he is noticeably presenting the bat beautifully.

Maybe anticipating the potential boomathon, Holder changes Bishoo for Powell. Good call.

Stokes booms the first two balls of the 31st for six. He’s cruised to 73 but then fails to connect with a wide one next over and is caught in the deep. Shame to lose him but incoming Buttler might be just the man to raise this again, for England. Hope he doesn’t he too greedy too early.

He’s bowled, instead, by Cummins. Great ball of killer length. Moeen in at 210 for 5 in the 33rd. More drinks.

England need a partnership as much as they need another gear-change. Loving the balance of this one. One thing’s for sure, the Windies are no pushovers.

Root, having been untroubled since his first handful of deliveries, gets a good, full one from Cummins and is plumb, having stayed back. 84 scored – cue moaning from the back about ‘failing to cash in again’.

13.32, pouring in Pembrokeshire.

Moral victory for Powell, as Moeen edges through vacant second slip: am hugely biased but feel Ali may be key, here, completed game, or no. He can really do that game-management-whilst-also-striking crazy-purely thing. And I unashamedly hope he does. (Honestly wrote this pre-frenzy).

Bloody big drone soars above deep midwicket. 250 up (for 6, in the 41st). Taylor still manfully searching for that blockhole.

Back to the A Team as Holder follows Taylor. Draws an uncouth swing from the typically elegant Woakes; no contact. The sense that maybe England are rising to this, with ten remaining. Woakes more expansive, certainly.

Moeen whirls at Taylor first ball of the 43rd, as if to confirm that the home side will go at this, now. He marches at the next, too – and misses by about a fortnight.

I think Taylor’s been good, here, despite one period where Root and Stokes feasted. Woakes strokes a beauty off him, down the ground for 4. Uppish but utterly controlled – safe. Then it’s about Moeen.

Words are inadequate so in a few… FIFTY are plundered off two remarkable overs.

Mo mashes and smashes it all over, getting his second fifty off TWELVE deliveries. Woakes departs but the Mo-Show goes on. The crowd bellows with Mo-lurv as he breaks the hundred barrier with another maximum. The stat-heads in the Media Centre are rolling around on the floor.

Mohammed gifts him a life on 101 – as Gayle had, previously – but when he finally holes out to Holder at deep mid-off the crowd do that ecstatic clapping above your head thing. It’s been wonderful. We don’t need anything else.

Taylor, bowling the last, runs out Plunkett with his left instep, shortly before signing for Bristol Rovers. The lights are on, on, now (as opposed to unnecessarily on). Perversely, symbolically, the sun comes out again as the innings closes, with England – Moland(?) – on 369 for 9.

I eat. Quickly.

 

SOAR.

Bristol, where there may be more cricket. Where the Windies may bat. (Because England have).

Mr Lewis smashes two sixes off the second over but then is caught. The weather may be closing in but the Media Centre buzz is not too fatalistic around that: ‘a shower, around four-ish’.

The day’s drama may yet be compromised but most of us achieved (if I may so?) orgasmic satisfaction during the Mo-fest of earlier. We can love whatever happens next or sleep, eat cake or go to Ikea. By three-something, there’s been enough.

Bristol. Gayle still there, the Windies get to 62 for 1 off 9. They are ahead of the theoretical Duckworth-Lewis, which threatens to dominate, as the clouds do.

Shai Hope is out, caught behind. We do notice but we are looking at the far horizons and our various screens: forecasts. 79 for 2 in the 12th.

Predictably, Plunkett is getting some real bounce. Moeen less so, unless bounces in the crowd count – Gayle going to fifty with another legside heave.

The visitors hit, relatively at will, towards and beyond their first hundred. Then despite no appeal from the bowler, Samuels is given caught behind and the Windies are 109 for 3, off 16. And I think rain is less likely. And Gayle is still there, on 63.

The Universe Boss is short-arm punching as much as lifting the ball around the place. Inevitably he’s nearly been caught – inevitably – both on the park and in the crowd. But he’s still there and whether or not the rain comes it feels like he, The Mighty Gayle, may out-Mo England.

Fifteen strides then a pirouette-shuffle to mark out… and in comes Stokes for the twentieth. Looking to make something happen: Gayle’s gone quiet.

We have a game (because the rain hasn’t delivered). Moeen is still central – bowling, getting just a little turn – and Gayle has just receded, somehow. Could this be temporary? Is he teasing us?

In the Media Centre, Nasser Hussain is four yards to my right. He seems reluctant to come introduce himself. I get that. Him and Atherton both look immaculate in a crushingly clerical-worker kindofaway, blessem.

Gayle re-announces himself. Three sixes in three, forcing a wide next ball, from the unfortunate – well, relatively unfortunate – Moeen. 156 for 3 off 23.

Word is rain arriving any minute and (slightly surprisingly?) the visitors are behind on Duckworth-Lewis. (In fact, according to the scoreboard, they are 23 runs down as we enter the 25th, with Woakes returning).

The Bear’s seamer persists with plenty of slower balls, to Gayle; off-cutters. Meanwhile Stokes is back of a length and mixing it. The runs have slowed.

I’m wondering if Gayle is reading the scoreboard, where they remain 22 behind the DLM. Maybe he knows something?

Doesn’t matter. By the tightest of margins, he is run out, by Rashid, with a superb flat throw. 94, for Gayle, who carried himself like a reasonably heavily-baited bear.

Reasonably enough, the first thought is that Powell and Mohammed – or somebody – really have to go some (now). Yet the DLM deficit has reduce to 18… which is plainly wrong. A moment later the deficit is 40. I resolve again to stick with how things feel, not what the numbers are saying.

Up steps Rashid to bowl his first, with Vic Marks confidently predicting 3 for 30, post that glorious intervention from midwicket. Two England spinners together, in fact, for the first time.

Powell skies Rashid straight – gone. Enter Holder. Moeen gets a couple to turn. 31 overs done, skies darker but no rain. We seem to be drifting towards a Moeen-inspired win; certainly the Media Posee are asking for him, post- match. Meanwhile, out there, tellingly as always, it’s Mexican Wave time.

Holder digs us sleepy ones in the ribs by clonking Rashid big over mid-on. His bowling partner, meanwhile, is troubling the batsmen with appreciable turn, now. (Bloke name of Moeen).

Later, Rashid has changed ends and befuddles Nurse, for 1 scored. The game has entered the final phase – as has the day. It’s dusky and it’s done, at 216 for 7, after 35.

Plunkett has again earned wickets, with his persistence and his energy into the pitch. (He finishes with five). Rashid has enjoyed the freedom coming his way as ordinary batters were exposed to an impossible target. He can whirl and express.

Stokes, Woakes and Willey simply did well enough, for Morgan; mixed it, slowed it, stilled any Gayle-prompted tendency towards panic. The job is well done: what separates the teams – substantially – is what Moeen did, with the bat.

So… can we really enjoy that? On the day that a pret-ty remarkable film on the man’s early life was launched by the ECB, we can share in a sportsman’s daft-brilliant triumph as well as something actually rather profound – difficult though it may be, to articulate. How to big the man up without gushing, or dropping into issues around race and ownership? How to keep it simple?

Moeen is an outstanding individual; gifted, truly humble, truly rooted in his community. We need him – all of us – to just be him.

Today he soared, outrageously carting the ball to the four points of the compass in a way which simply told, made the difference, made our day. We can speak of his timing and grace and rhythm and utter confidence. Can we though forget the flag-bearing, the well-meaning clutter; let’s not impose anything, eh? Let’s just soar.