Blowers.

Pre- the final curtain there was the inevitable falling over backwards; too many forced ‘dear old things, too much cranking up of the emotional. Vaughan and Tufnell maybe slightly nervously fawning.

The Old Pro, though, ploughed on, admirably briskly – because that’s what his generation do, right? – because he had a game to commentate on; because ‘tremendous fun’ loometh.

TMS, of course. Blowers. Dressed to kill; impossibly vital and irretrievably amiable, as always. No doubt aware of the doe-eyes around him but impressively focused on that uniquely distracted world-view, drawn in to Lords and to his cricket.

Throughout he remained seemingly unaffected by the smiley furore around him. Doing his thing – scene-setting, describing. All of it via that, yaknow… voice.

There have been contenders, overs the decades, for the Voice of Cricket moniker. Few if any (Arlott, Benaud, perhaps?) have breached that bubble of national/international consciousness in quite the way that Blofeld has. He is instantly, widely, almost universally known – and known beyond his game.

Whilst the fact of his popularity is all the more extraordinary given his lack of physical visibility – duh, radio commentator and therefore relatively obscure, despite those sartorial outrages – Blowers figures. He is identifiable, he is a one-off, one-man, universal brand. Supremely Posh English. Because of that voice.

We can’t pretend to appreciate Our Henry without acknowledging this: he is – or he sounds – elite-level posh.

In another scenario – politics, perhaps? – he might surely be the recipient of cruel satire and abuse for being so. How then has he cut through to the extent that or’nary blokes like Tuffers and Vaughan are now falling over themselves to offer touching tributes? When they, like me, must surely be instinctively posh-averse? In this sense alone, Henry Blofeld is a phenomenon.

Let’s look at the context. The TMS tribe itself is arguably a relatively conservative clique; if defined by well-meaning, cake-wielding softies, then incontrovertibly, fascinatingly so. It’s the land of private schools, polished accents, awfully genuine people. It’s the land of the flourishing cricket club; we can’t pretend that breeding has no significance here.

Hold that heavy roller though: this a truth but it’s not the truth.

Despite that (dangerous concepts alert) deeply traditional, English core, to which it’s a no-brainer that Blowers might appeal – as a soulbrother, as a ‘natural voice’ – there are radical hipster eco-Corbynistas amongst the TMS Posse. Of course there are. And there are binmen and teachers and surgeons and vicars and thieves. But let’s get back to how he sounds.

Only a few could hear that voice without issues arising. I still hear it and battle the prejudices of a punky youth in the North of England. Growing up Grimbarian (now 35 years honorary Welsh, with Welsh-speaking family) I have shoulders to be de-chipped, confessions to make around this.

Grappling for a way through and out of Thatcherism and by direct consequence hating (then – less so now) the Privileged South, I am uneasy around what google is helpfully calling Upper Received Pronunciation. The purveyors of said gift have to earn my trust and respect in a way some bloke from Swansea may not. Because posh means privileged and this is wrong, yes? Because the country was and is divided and a certain political party need only be interested in securing the goodwill of the South… and the job is done, yes? (Like I said, Thatcherism).

Hah but I am worldly and self-aware enough to know this strikes some of you as either offensive, irrelevant or both and that it reflects on me as badly as anyone else. I hope you’ll be pleased to hear I now know at least two people from the URP category whom I really like… but (hah hah?) I’m sticking to my guns on the wincing at privilege thing.

Some part of me will always think Henry Blofeld could not sound or be more of an icon for the Privileged South if he crooned Gaudeamus Igitur whilst boiling the lobster.

We can (and I have) got over this but it matters. It matters because a) this voice projects us across the universe and b) this voice doesn’t represent us. And c) Free Nelson Mandela!

Just kidding – I’ve enjoyed Blowers too. I’m a huge fan of TMS.

Here’s how it is. For me Our Henry’s a hugely affable outlier. From another age, another place, for sure but when the flow is with him, humorous and painterly and yes, ‘tremendous fun’. Someone I can join with, despite the chasm between. The man is skilled and knowledgeable, eccentric and somehow hyper-exotically English in a way I can live with – now – a way that’s simply entertaining; diverting, as they used to say.

Critically, look at what his peers are saying. Even allowing for a degree of sycophancy here or there, the vibe is strikingly, convincingly positive.

We plebs don’t have the inside track on this but his co-commentators – the guys and gals who’ve been covering his back over the last eighteen months – plainly love the man. (Check out tonight’s twitter to confirm; notable). Henry may have been increasingly less able to see clearly who is who and where the ball went but this has not diminished his colleagues love for him – and he’s too sharp to allow too much saccharoidal patronage.

It would seem most colleagues, like most fans, appreciate his flair, his infectious wordsmithery, his sweet disposition. Agnew and Marks and co reeled off stories – often featuring ‘classic’ Blower errors or post-binge aberrations, all palpably enjoyed, all relayed entirely without malice.

As Blower’s day ended in triumph, with what he might call a glorious perambulation round his beloved Lords, crowd roaring, the tributes multiplied. Few from the media will receive a lap of honour at Lords and an England dressing-room visit to mark their final spell of verbals. Few will get so many unsolicited snogs. Up close then, once you’ve put your shades on, the fella must be an absolute diamond as well as a journalist of distinction.

He is a phenomenon. The Great British Public, beyond the cake-bakers and the geeks, want either to share a glass with him, or a paternal hug, or worse. He transcends judgement by simply screening out opinion, being honestly good and being honestly, clearly in love with his game.

I’m struck by the thought that Blower’s signature talents are 1) he can talk 2) he sticks to the cricket and the pigeons and the cranes. Job done.

 

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.

 

The Final Clonk.

Come the final clonk, was it just my thoughts that turned to Taunton? To Maynard and Trescothick and Rogers? In that shockingly brilliant, acutely personal moment of triumph for Toby Roland-Jones, forgive me but I went briefly, instinctively west.

This had nothing to do with declaration bowling. Although I recognise there will be the darkest of mutterings around the slippage from mid-afternoon phoney war towards that controversial buffet.

I could live with the idea that Yorkshire needed to leave a door swinging wide open to invite some opportunity, some *momentum* into the game. We’d all maybe prefer that spell of strategic engineering  just didn’t need to happen… but it did. And most of those bleating or tweeting about it would surely have done the same, were they in that position. Let’s move on from that.

The reason I personally thought less of Finn and co and more of Maynard’s spirited gang has something to do with abstracted, sentimental stuff. (Is that legit – legit enough to write about, by the way? And really, was it just me?)

I think, having met him, there’s something very real and likeable and tough about Maynard. He’s a bit blokey, bit beery but he’s kindof emphatically proper cricket – undeniably, somehow. My hunch is that he has something powerful and inspiring he can draw upon… and that most players receive that.

Throw in Trescothick’s delightful yeoman/stalwart/daylong-honest thing and Rodgers squat, godlike committed Aussie Senior Pro, sling in a dash of cider and how could you fail to be seduced? Maynard’s Zummerzet are scrumpaciously great plus they were the outsiders-on-a-charge. I rest my addled case.

But that’s all a bit daft. Roland-Jones won the Championship with a flamin’ hat-trick. The Beeb reckoned there were 7,000 people PLUS the members there so – no excuses – it’s goddabe all about Lords. And a truly extraordinary finish. Yorkshire, having delivered a whole load of Northern Grit did ultimately get skewered by a genuinely formidable and (let’s not forget) equally gutsy Middlesex side. Critically, the manner of all this was somewhere between fabulous and mythic.

All of us – even those absolutely behind the rush into City Cricket – can celebrate this. The Championship beating it’s heaving chest, roaring with life. Tall as Finn, hearty as Bresnan, floppy and human and frenetic as Sidebottom. Lovable and real and definitely, profoundly not dead.

Proper cricket breaking out of its own hashtag. Being a force, being defiantly, unhelpfully, pointedly and magnificently alive; not to be ignored. All of us can celebrate that, however it may colour or complicate *negotiations*. Lords was wonderful, today.

Today? When it seems years since Gubbins marched out; since Bresnan re-took that guard. Surely the ebbs and flows and dead waters of a moony calendar month have passed since start of play this morning? But no. It’s just been a gargantuan stream  of stories, unthreading, stalling, threading towards the impossible.

The end-stop, then was appropriately, outlandishly, shockingly live. Live as in noteworthy, live as in profoundly watchable, live as in some beautiful exemplar. And despite the jarring, blurring, hyperintensity of the hat-trick moment, it felt like proper cricket. Because proper cricket (though allegedly lacking the pull, the draw of other sports or formats) can be magic. Don’t forget that.

 

The state of play.

Look we all know it’s ludicrous to go making comparisons. Between sports. Particularly when we go charging across the nations and the generations. But it’s also part of the fun. We’ve all (haven’t we?) illuminatingly weighed up Derek Randall and Theo Walcott, Andy Murray and Colin Montgomery, Michael Holding and Chris Ashton. Today feels like a day for a bit of all that.

Could be because rugby’s just rhino-charged back into the national consciousness – on a weekend where England play cricket in Cardiff. Plus (just to put the tin hat on the surreality of it all) Big Sam’s generally pitiful army start yet another World Cup campaign. So we’re entitled to drown in our own distracted chatter; aren’t we? Good.

Let’s start with the cricket.

As I write, England are going about their One-Day business, in pretty confident expectation of blitzing Pakistan in an entertaining but one-sided series. Blindingly obviously, there’s been another obvious lurch forward.

Bayliss and Farbraces’s posse(s) are clearly building impressively on more than one front. England have gone from being a raw embarrassment in short-format cricket to being one of the finest, most dynamic and not unimportantly one of the most watchable sides in world cricket.

Recent Tests may be less emphatic evidence of a level of development that really should have widespread and significant recognition but perhaps the uncertainties around (say) Hales and/or the number 4/5 batting slots might be considered more in the context of an encouragingly powerful blend within the squad. For me, the management team patently know what they’re doing in terms of bringing on a bunch of guys.

England and Wales cricket have genuine world stars in Root and Stokes (and in an admittedly less Boys Own kindofaway) Cook. They also have fellas like Woakes and Bairstow who, despite their obvious brilliance, are having to compete like hell for a place in the team. The ECB’s topline representatives – far from being Boring Old Fartish – are, in short, looking bloody strong, with the capacity to mature into something proper, erm aromatically tasty.

Almost finally on this, England are in danger of having players to look up to or love. Whether this be in the form of the charmingly, boyishly magnificent Root, or the horsier/left-fieldier Wood. They’re real, they’re engagingly chirpy and we all know they wannabe mates with us. Anybody playing football for England stack up against that?

Cobblers of the cheapest variety, of course. But fan-based cobblers, because yes, I am a fan, from a footballing family in the North of Ingerland, originally. And I do dare to back my right to mither or crow – or champion.

Back ‘midst the Cricket love-in, briefly, we may need to acknowledge the galvanising force of Cultural Positivity.  If this translates as both a raising of the glass to the work of the backroom staff and some appreciation that freeing the boys up is a function of mature and intelligent reflection rather than some dodgy contemporary dogma, I’ll sign up to that. England Cricket are brighter, busier, more aggressive – more positive. As is the game.

Now crossover to the footie. Wales (you may have finally-recently noticed), have their own football team.

Their stunningly successful Euro 2016 campaign was such a classic of unity and spirit (google the word hwyl, you Saes) it’s already been inwardly digested by the massively more well-endowed English FA – who have installed their own No Shit Sherlock tough-guy defender-of-the-faith, Big Sam.

This, in the context of previous dalliances with more exotic but nonetheless hopeless stewardship feels somewhere between a belated dollop of self-awareness and a concession to low expectation. England Football is (for example) gambling on freakily shot or depressingly brittle talents like Sterling, whilst Wales must now front up to the reality of being a team that should go beat people.

Both, therefore, face challenges, but surely England have the more threatening gulf to stilt-walk across?

As an active under-appreciator(!) of nearly everything the new England manager stands for, I confess to being little stirred by what happens next to Rooney, Raheem or even the genuinely fascinating Mr Stones. However, I am interested in the human: so that thing about whether they will look like they believe in Allardyce – having failed to project that for aeons under previous regimes – is the source of some fascination.

However, however. It’s one of the great vanities of world sport that England’s 60 Years of Hurt is still being by unpicked by idle scribes like myself. Enough; let’s waft on past.

Rugby. Is wonderful and confident in its own, indomitably morally-rooted fashion. Rugby people know their sport is a bastion against everything from too much time in the barbers to too much reality telly. Though plainly issues arise the great integrity of the whole remains largely un-nibbled by indulgence, arrogance or whatever phase of Pokemon wotsit we happen to be enduring. It’s about real clunking and real fronting up: it necessarily weeds out the fakers and the frauds. Rugby is essentially good: this the argument.

I buy some of that – strangely. But it doesn’t divert us from the task in hand – namely to surgically unravel the mysteries of current anglo-welsh attainment in the game, like us fans do.

Clearly it’s England who will dominate the flow, here. Since the appointment of a stiffer, brashier, ballsier, more Australian coach some months ago, the English have found or re-found a method. They now simply repel the insecurities that apparently plagued the Lancaster era. They are tough and they don’t care… they simply execute. It’s early but already Jones is in danger of deserving the fatal description ‘genius’.

Okaaay. But Wales have players that people love. Do England? Do they have a Liam Williams or a Jamie Roberts or are they simply a faceless powerhouse of a side? This may matter – like time and attention spans matter.

Maybe we finish with a points table. Maybe it looks like this;

(Out of 10.)

England football. Lovability 3 / style points 4 / current success level -26.

Wales football. L 8.5 / s p 5 / c s l 7.5.

Eng rugby. L 6.5 / s p 7 (oof, contentious!) / c s l 8.

Wales rugby. L 7 / s p 7 / c s l 6.5.

Eng and Wales cricket. L 8 / s p 9 / c s l 8.

I hereby declare (irrespective of today’s result) cricket the winner. Roooooooot!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe slow is good?

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

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

In the sense that

a) I love fielding, myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Watch the ball.

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

Juantorena opens his legs… and shows his class!

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

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

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

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

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

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

we need you, fella.

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

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

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

I can say stuff like

James, this really is just a beginning.

Like

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

…Which plainly won.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly you do.

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

Then check out these four boomers.

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

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

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

Four more *absolute rockets*.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Root and branch and lifeblood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Charmless Man.

Caught merely the gist of a column the other day about charmlessness, in relation – I believe – to the Six Nations and epitomised – I believe – by Dylan Hartley. Have to confess at the outset that what with coaching and taxiing the kids round the gaff, I did not read the article but was nevertheless struck by the life-affirming subtext that how players appear whilst executing the sport thing matters.

This is a civilising (ouch!) notion contradicted by the bullishness and result-oriented nature of much of the discourse around the daft games we love and fight about. Top Level sport (in particular) is so-o consumed by the means and process of securing victory that the quality, the measure of fulfillment around any given event has to some extent slipped from view and gone with it is the meaning and contribution of the fan – the one who watches and filters.

Wins are ground out – legitimately. Points are ‘everything’. Goals are still paying the rent.

All this would be unarguably okaaay but for the actually rather unsubtle shoulder-barging off of much of the colour or charm or richness of the game(s). Fans feel and maybe live through the wildly swinging doors of in-stadia experience, understanding and registering profound and also absurdly tangential stuff which (if coaches/managers/pundits are to be believed) apparently either didn’t feature, or stand irrelevant to the conversation. (I’m picturing everyone from Sam Allardyce to Andy Flower to Warren Gatland whilst saying this.)

Game-management is the thing and though we cannot deny the aspiration from Coach A to maximise his/her chances or narrow the dangers, there is surely a relatively negative inference here? Keep the thing orderly; shape it; direct it – provide the platform. All essential on the one hand but in contrast – even if understood as a either a pre-requisite or preamble to glorious, expressive dominance – unconvincing as a departure point towards heart-lifting poetry. And sport as we know can be poetry; liberated and rhythmic and giddy and beautifully-terrifyingly fickle.

So I make the argument for senses over sense. The audience knowing more than the player or coach – or certainly appreciating more. The audience being freer to love, less conditioned and constrained by the deathly need to win. Even those fans who phone in to say ‘we’d take that result anytime’; they don’t mean it, most of them. They mean to sound like coaches and players who screen the subtleties out because they need to protect themselves from the inevitable confusion and doubt that feeling all this might bring. Far safer to retreat into stats and meetings.

Of course plenty of evidence flies in the face of my hypothesis. How can Joe Root – the poster boy for brilliant, simple, expressive, almost childlike Playing of The Game exist, let alone thrive in the cynical world I describe? How could any ‘natural?’ And doesn’t the prevalence of talk from coaches on positivity and dynamism undermine this central accusation of cynicism and crassness at the core? Maybe it does.

But pausing to select a footballer or rugby star to insert into the Reasons To Be Cheerful category (and here I mean an all-round diamond geezer, gorgeously talented and whole)… I was struggling. Despite the magnificent levels of honourability and dedication and commitment in rugby, the sense (in the Northern Hemisphere at least) is of giants playing largely by rote. The football equivalent is further adrift again, being plagued by deceivers and posers and appalling egos.

Let me briefly develop this particular rant. I could get specific – or even personal given today’s events at Goodison Park- but let’s merely throw in the words Diego Costa, urge you to revisit the blog’s title and then shuffle forwards. Please. The extravagantly elbowed and foreheaded and indeed jawed one out-epitomises Hartley by a distance on our chosen theme. But yes – hastily – on!

Generally, sadly, I get precious little inspiration from footie these days and this is largely/precisely due to the charm deficit. Great that Leicester are flushing out the arrogance of the allegedly Big Four but the Premier League is surely characterised more by expensive barnets on underachieving heads than by authentic, Scholes-like genius? Fans know it feels

a) superficially exciting because it’s ‘open’
b) poor and in some measure fraudulent or expensive.

This reality is skilfully obscured by the sheer scale of the lurid behemoth that is Super Premier League Thing. Monopoly money. Corporate de-sensitising of the Actual Game-day. Pies at 5 or 6 quid. True the reassuringly tribal passions do remain but even they are being eroded; difficult to engage lungburstingly loyal mode when the blokes out there don’t seem bothered. Difficult to see the charm in shockingly high prices and mediocre quality sport and unlovable protagonists.

This then, broadly painted, is the challenge. In a word, mixed. You decide what applies to your team, your game.

As a conversation starter I’m saying that Dylan Hartley’s bland brutishness is merely and inevitably in contrast to Theo Walcott’s infuriatingly persistent adolescent blandness. But this leaves me feeling undersupplied. I know I’ve experienced richer fayre. I know it’s not unreasonable to insist on more. Because these essences, these defining-but-abstract things are appreciated, it’s incumbent on our Top Level People – players, coaches, directors of this and that – to provide us with authentic characters, with quality and with the charm that we deserve.

There’s a welcome.

Last night I was buzzing. I’m going to bore you with it – the detail of some of it, too, – because (who knows?) it may be either relevant or it might, in an abstract way, ‘cheer you up’. Plus I’m still buzzing.

But what follows, with its adrenalin-fuelled odour of Mission Statement, is not supposed to be some model, some icon of good practice. It’s just another contribution to the debate. If it’s unusually detail-heavy, that’s because I’m imagining other sports-peeps with similar interests or concerns may be perusing.

Now we’re talking cricket but please don’t be put off by that. We’re also talking – really talking – #inclusion, #development, #sport, the human. Big Things; proper Guardian-reading adult hashtags; but in the context of wee humans, mainly, so don’t tell me you’re not interested. It’s for the kids.

Okay so there are Test Matches and Big Bashes and bawling crowds and trampolines and trumpets and y’know – glory. But there is also the tiddly, inconsequential stuff. Let’s call it the grassroots – even if a fair portion of the resultant grassroots action takes place on a Leisure Centre floor, or on what most of us call an ‘astro.’

Last night, in a hall that has the feel almost of an old-school gymnasium, 16 kids turned up to one of our cricket hubs. Hardly earth-shattering, so for that to mean anything I’m going to have to explain some stuff. Let’s take a deep breath together.

In the search for alternative ways to offer up cricket to children aged 6-11, we (Cricket Wales, Pembrokeshire Posse) came up with the cunning plan to deliver in a ‘non-club’ setting and then secured three Leisure Centres. But… why now, why midwinter?

Firstly it felt worthwhile to extend the profile and availability of the game locally – whilst accepting entirely the primacy of clubs. Secondly, as L C’s are often simply unavailable to us in the summer (and weather then theoretically at least supports outdoor cricket!) it made enough sense to crack on in the cold and dark. I should add that this is something of a pilot scheme but also that we believe it’s important – possibly crucial – to broaden our appeal beyond the keen, ball-tracking eyes of the gifted.

That then, is some of the why. The how was less of a novelty for us, in that I then went into local primary schools and delivered some ‘taster’ sessions and/or spoke in assemblies to try to enthuse children towards the activity. Which is kindof what I generally do.
With an unhelpful(?) break over Christmas, we really weren’t sure if we could maintain sufficient numbers to continue into the New Year. The centres have been very supportive but clearly there’s an economic reality of sorts even here, in the joyous, energising land of play.

With children going free if they already have a membership and paying two to three pounds if not, the project is vulnerable should less than about ten or a dozen children attend each one-hour hub. (Naturally we’d prefer more – 15-20 ideally.) Cricket Wales fund me and the Leisure Centres have to pay my partner-in-crime, Craig. Nobody’s making money here; it’s about opening up opportunities – to either play cricket or inhale the culture of physical activity in a particular space – or both.

Pre Santa’s delivery of new Gray Nicholls or Ni-kees, so attendances predictably had begun to dip slightly; hence we were conscious we may need to pull out all the stops to find enough bodies. We got on twitter to promote the hubs again, as well as re-sending posters into schools. My suspicion is, however, that the notices delivered via facebook – for a smallish fee, to all users in a particular post code – may have been key to refreshing and re-booting the return to action. (This was another first, for us, by the way. Forty-odd quid that I expect will make several weeks or possibly months-worth of cricket possible.)

I feared or expected only six children might turn up for the first post-Krimble session. We had sixteen. I appreciate this may not sound like a triumph but I know just how powerfully these sessions can act on children – maybe particularly children who get left behind when the alpha males/females are choosing teams in the playground. Cue the brief appalling digression…

In ‘Just one experience’, I wrote about how impactful (even) very ‘loose’ or profoundly non-technical sessions can be. (https://cricketmanwales.com/2015/12/15/just-one-experience – Go back a coupla posts on this site – you’ll find it.) Lots of people liked it – got it – that sense of a young human lighting up, opening up, through sport. Like most coaches that’s what drives me – and if that is revealing of some intrinsic arrogance then so be it. I love to play a part in that inching or lolloping towards expression and movement. It’s massively inspiring for me to see children blown away or buzzing with what they’ve done; it’s my privilege and responsibility to offer up the game and do it well in the knowledge that this might change something.

Anyways, back to that sixteen – those sixteen kids.

They make a glorious dollop of change and inspiration possible by making this hub viable – and this was the difficult one in terms of numbers. As it happens in the last 24 hours more people have come back to me on twitter and are committing their kids. From the Sports Development Militia point of view, it’s also important that we may have found another way of reaching people.

Weirdly, this latter point – the facebook option – feels like a watershed moment, given one of the intentions was to open this up to children who might find the club environment waaay too challenging to contemplate. There’s something about the part-private, part immaculately ‘populist’ post-code slam-dunk blanket-coverage-wallop that I like and it looks to have worked, or helped.

In this particular centre last night eleven of these boys and girls were ‘new’ – meaning they didn’t attend prior to Christmas, when the project started.

New attendees are clearly the gold dust, the holy grail and the bees knees when it comes to the Key Performance Indicators that S D Militia everywhere cherish. I can see why, but as the front man in much of this, gifted the role of interacting with and hopefully encouraging children towards something I know to be fabulous and growing, I’m probably a whole lot less interested in the numbers than I’m sounding here. Yes I’m chuffed that it was sixteen not six… but I’m more bothered by how these sessions feel to the kids.

So, whilst this blog is about the circumstances around capturing these young cricketers, do not, my friends, get side-tracked into thinking that anything is remotely as important as the quality of experience in that sports hall. Migrations mean nothing if the sessions are dull or inappropriate.

A final thought. It hasn’t escaped our attention that the children who fall(?) into the ‘Na, not a natural’ category may quite possibly still offer up 40 years of wunnerful service as an administrator/scorer/groundsman at a cricket club they patently love. Possibly despite never having represented it on the pitch. This phenomenon clearly becomes more likely if they have a great experience of knockabout or festival cricket games – say using a tennis ball or windball… in a local Leisure Centre.

Broadly, the point I am making is that we cricketpeeps need to offer many things. And we’re looking to do that. The game is sensational but it can seem dauntingly technical or structured or dull, actually, from the outside, or from knee-high to a grasshopper. And we need – we really need – to welcome folks in.