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.

 

 

 

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.