Gunslingers’ reprieve. Or should they sling the gunners?

So much for the unflattering, post-game, post cliff-walk ramble – above, obvs.

Here, below, is the live blog of the game… which you maybe should be reading first?

Wyatt will face Diana. A little outswing, watchfully played square. Then no ball, meaning Jones gets the benefit of a free hit. She misses and misses out, moving in rather wooden fashion across the ball.

Then drama. Jones advances, plays towards midwicket, misses again and is given leg before. Looked straight but she was advancing. Tense wait. Out!

So the clamour for Beaumont, led, or okaaaay indulged in profoundly by yours truly – check out previous post(s) – will go on. Worse still, for England, a frazzled Wyatt slap-dinks Aiman straight to cover… but cover apparently simply can’t see it! Wyatt survives, for now. Un-be-lieeeeeevable. What we used to call ‘heart-attack material’, in our less socially-aware moments, for the coach and the bench.

This may be current specialism, nay obsession, but let’s try and deal with this swiftly. These are pret-ty embarrassing frailties – England should be two-down yet again, for less than ten. Wyatt and Jones (the gunslingers, yes?) would be dropped or shaken up by many international coaches. *But* these further failures are a) interpretable b) mid-tournament and c) in the squad context where Jones and Wyatt are theoretically England’s most dynamic opening pair. And d) they somehow got to 21 for 1 after 2 overs in this game. So there *are arguments*.

Some might still argue this is simple: *raises hand*. One of them must be dropped or dropped down to take a bit of the heat off Sciver and Knight. (The counter-argument might be that Sciver and Knight appear to be so-o brilliantly nerveless that the ‘appalling indulgence that is Wyatt and Jones’ is, yaknow, indulge-able). My guess is that Keightley sees it simply: ‘Dani and Amy are my best, up front, they stay up front’.

Sciver moves smartly to 15, then 19. 40 for 1 off 4.

Diana Baig bowls full, to draw out that smidge of swing. Her three overs in the power play have been consistently good, deserving, arguably, of rather more than 1 for 17, which is plainly tidy enough.

Then wow. Wyatt is caught yet again behind point. Humiliatingly? I think so. Rate her as a wonderful athlete and good, attacking bat but that – whatever has been said by coaches or colleagues – is unforgivable, in my view. I repeat, speaking as a fan of hers, at this level, that’s shocking. That she will be hurting (and her batting coach hurting) is irrelevant: it’s un-for-givable. To let the right hand flow through too early, so often, is amateurish; endof.

Meanwhile (as I rage) Knight has just sublimely driven Aliya wide of extra-cover for four. Real statement of quality. England 62 for 2 after 8.

At the halfway mark, England will be happy enough with 74 for 2. Shortly after, Sciver, over-balancing, is stumped Sidra, bowled Aliya. But Knight persists and a strongish score looks on. Wilson has joined her captain.

100-up in the 14th, as Wilson telegraphs but then beautifully executes a reverse-sweep for four. Nadir Dar’s thinking she has Knight, two balls later, mind, but a regulation high catch is fumbled at the midwicket boundary. Big Moment. (Pakistan’s fielding in the game was below the retired level).

Wilson has been in decent knick, with the bat and she looks ready to contribute. She’s not a power-hitter but can dance and cut and sweep. At 115 for 3 after 15 and with the partnership developing, England should be looking towards 160, here.

Diana is back for the 16th. Knight sweeps with some power but the fielder should stop the boundary. More intrigue as Diana drops her hands towards a bulleting drive from Knight but can’t, understandably, hold on. Suddenly the England captain is on 49: the 50 arrives with a further sweep to deep square leg.

Bismah is lobbing them up there: discussion on comms is whether she is actually slower than Poonam Yadav! Incredibly, she probably is. With so much time to hit, both Knight and Wilson seem guilty of over-thinking it – there are two near-catches and a possible run-out in the over, along with nine runs. But it’s unhelpfully, distractingly messy.

Aiman also drops a tough return catch – again it’s Knight who benefits. Runs are coming but fewer boundaries than England might like. May not be a disaster that, swinging, Wilson is deceived and bowled by a slower one, from the seamer. Wilson made a perfectly acceptable 22 off 19 but can the incoming Beaumont bring the real blaze? 139 for 4, after 18.

Inevitably, it’s Knight who answers the call to go big, monstering Nida straight for six. And Beaumont reverses for four, before slogging out to a juggling Muneeba, who holds on. (Feel sorry for Beaumont. Outstanding, reliable player being shafted, somewhat, by policy). Next up, the skipper is expertly taken out at long-on, for an excellent 62. She again has lived up to the Proper England Captain label: resolute, stoic-when-necessary, powerfully consistent, incredibly bland, in interview. Huge fan.

Brunt comes in, shuffles pseudo-positively forward, is defeated and stumped. Winfield and Ecclestone scurry briefly; the total amassed is what we might call medium-formidable. 158 for 7. Should probably be enough but in fact the last four overs felt an under-achievement from an English point of view. Certainly, given the smallish ground (or surface area, as it were), there might have been more boundaries, ideally. But hey, this is a pressure game, what matters is the win.

Shrubsole is coming round to Muneeba – the left-hander. Tantalisingly, she finds the outside edge twice in the first three balls. Does’t quite carry to slip on either occasion. Javeria cuts smartly behind point, where Wilson dives to gather. Just one from the over.

Brunt. A little mixed. Muneeba muscles one unconvincingly for four before the bowler strays leg-side. Touch of shape, in the air. No major dramas – 7 for 0 after 2.

Upcoming, mini-masterclass from Shrubsole. Muneeba clonks her for four but the truly outstanding swing bowler nails her next up, with a beauty. Unclear if the wind assisted but the delivery arcs gently in to the batter, when she might have every expectation that Shrubsole’s natural movement is t’other way. Comprehensive, stump-clattering victory for the longterm England star. Enter Bismah.

Pakistan are battling here, mind. A decent smattering of boundaries and some inconsistency from the bowlers keep this in the balance, through the powerplay. Brunt is too straight, or wide and Ecclestone may be troubled by the wind. The Pakistan bench are wrapped in towels – it’s blowing, it’s coolish.

Brunt breaks her duck for the tournament – painfully so, for Bismah. The ball appears to strike both thumb and bat before looping gently up for Jones to gather behind in comfort.

When Glenn responds to being dispatched for four by cleaning out Javeria Khan, the initiative has turned, sharply, in England’s favour. Pakistan are 41 for 3, after 7.

The leg-spinner is soon celebrating again, despite Winfield once more failing to claim a catch. (The fielder is having an exacting time, so far, in the tournament: here she cannot throw herself forward to make the grabbable grab). No matter. Pakistan appear in trouble as Glenn knocks back Iram Javed’s leg stump, with a straightish one.

When Ecclestone has Nida Dar l.b.w in the next, this feels almost done. Pakistan 51 for 5.

Glenn returns, tidily once more. No extravagant turn but nice, confident, consistent flight. The run rate has rocketed up to 11.7, meaning Pakistan have to find something pret-ty extraordinary. Just doesn’t seem possible. The game is ticking over gently. 59 for 5 as Ecclestone sees out an uneventful 12th over.

Glenn gets a third as Omaima Sohail advances but miscues: Ecclestone taking a tricky catch retreating and reaching. A very encouraging win now seems certain, for England.

Fair play to Aliya. She welcomes Sciver back by smashing her downtown, for six. Nine runs from the over, 71 for 6. Now Shrubsole, whom you’d think would be fancying this?

No joy. No swing, so the bowler is now ‘mixing things up’ but to no dramatic effect. Knight brings herself back, concedes six runs in bits and pieces – that’ll do. 84 for 6 with just four overs remaining. 75 needed.

Brunt is struggling…and hating that. Big, slower-ball wide to start. Cut for four, rather dismissively, by Aliya. The one gem Brunt throws down there – a peach of a loopy slower-ball, which absolutely undoes the batter – is nicked infuriatingly behind for runs.

Ecclestone fires one straight through Sidra Nawaz, mind – which may not restore Brunt’s equilibrium (if Brunt ever does equilibrium). 101 for 7. Aliya battles on admirably, at this stage, on 35 from 29 but this feels death-throwsy. Ecclestone finishes on 4 overs, 2 for 12. Outstanding.

Shrubsole will bowl the 19th. Again it’s apparent that it’s tough to keep things tidy in this wind. (Half the smallish crowd are deeply wrapped in blankets by this stage). A straight, slow delivery does for Aliya Riaz, who can be well-satisfied with her contribution of 41. Next up Shrubsole has Diana caught and bowled, raising her 100th T20 wicket. One more to claim? Brunt will look to deny her bowling partner that further privilege.

So it proves, the Angry Yorkie beating the left-handed Sadia Iqbal’s swish, and claiming the tenth wicket, leg before. England have won it by a distance – by 42 runs, Pakistan all out 116, with two balls remaining. The side, led so well again by Heather Knight, despite having issues up front, may be breaking into a more purposeful stride. Bring on the Windies Women: a win and the semis await.

 

Headline: “Gunslingers shoot feet again!”

It’s fast becoming a cliché to dwell on the alleged loveliness of the Thailand women’s cricket team – or at least, or most obviously, their smile-tastic skipper, Sornnarin Tippoch. I’m going to do it, anyway, just briefly, in the knowledge that some may construe this as raw patronisation but still hoping that widespread recognition of that real of sense of a team playing their hearts out and revelling in the wider import of the occasion renders something worthwhile, here. Thailand are going all-in on this: it’s endearing, it’s proper sport.

Zoom in and on: a strong cross-wind blows across the Manuka Oval, Canberra, as the theoretically dynamic but most certainly currently vulnerable England opening pair stride out. (*Please note: I rate this current opening pair; they have quality. But there are buts, just now…)

Did I say vulnerable? Ah. Jones is out SECOND BALL – having mistimed a cut on the first. It’s a shocker. She is stumped, a mile out, failing to connect with a comparatively benign delivery from Boochatham. It maybe looked worse than it was – speaking as it did of scrambled mind – but whichever way we view it, this was another jolt of a start. England 1 for 1 after the first over, with Sciver having joined Wyatt.

Lateh offers Sciver a waist-high full bunger, which the in-form number three ruthlessly pumps to the square leg boundary, for the first four. Nerve-settler, perhaps? Not for Wyatt. Barely credibly, she slashes a drive aerially towards cover, where Liengprasert takes a fine, low catch, coming in.

Truly excellent effort from bowler and fielder but in the context, this feels more extraordinary, more notable from the England standpoint.

Wyatt had connected well enough, as is often the case with her dismissals but why strike out at catchable height? Early on? When you must feel that you owe your compadres an innings or two? When this is Thailand, with all due respect, and therefore a much-needed confidence-boost is surely on offer? When presumably the coach – even a coach who might be saying “keep believing; play your way” – must also be saying “give yourself a chance; there will be runs here”.

In short, both openers did a lousy job again.

Fully understand that it’s entirely legitimate to argue that pressure is a construct best dealt with on an individual basis and therefore either Wyatt or Jones or both might be best served eventually by simply re-doubling their commitment to ‘positive cricket’- to ‘belief’. This can be argued… but I think it’s cobblers. Their own confidence is being picked apart by poor choices and poor execution: more matters of judgement than intent. The result is (amongst other things) that Wyatt and Jones are potentially undermining the position of Sciver and Knight: there is also strongish case that there should be consequences for serial failure in the context of international sport. *Plus* good players – most obviously Beaumont – are being denied an opportunity.

It will be really interesting to see if the coach’s pride or stubbornness gets in the way of apparent common sense, on this – or what? (Not that we are likely to find out). This is rich territory.

Keightley may feel she has made an absolute commitment of some sort – she may have even given the current openers assurances that they will play, ‘because they’re the best’ and because ‘this is the way the group needs to approach things’. We can’t know. (It’s fascinating but also infuriating, for many of us, yes?) The noise around the issue is at best a distraction: I’m guessing I’m not the only one leaking energy around this.

Anyway, England are 7 for 2 as Knight walks in there. She’s an angel if she’s not cursing her lot.

Lateh follows up her wicket with two poor wides, outlining, perhaps, the mixed quality and comparatively slim top-level international experience of the underdogs: Sciver profits. The wind does seem a factor, possibly making all three disciplines a tad trickier. The pitch is true but with noticeably lower bounce, predictably, than that track out in Perth. Knight and Sciver, to their credit, settle early: England reach 45 for 2 at the end of the powerplay.

Gradually, this becomes a procession. Both batters get to fifty, before Knight absolutely explodes, unanswerably. From about the fifteenth over, the captain throws her hands at pretty much everything, connecting with an impressively high proportion. Thailand prove a little more fallible than in their opening match, bowling wider, maybe, and allowing one or two more ground-fielding errors to creep in. But they are facing two worldies building something powerful, now.

After 17 overs England are 138 for 2, with Sciver on 52 and Knight 78. Liengprasert almost claims Knight at the boundary but that swirling wind makes the grab eminently droppable; in fact two, similar potential catches are spilled over the rope. (To be fair, the second one did so much in the wind that nobody could have hauled it in – and it did go for six). The England captain is slashing and heaving now in the honourable club tradition… and getting away with it. Sciver is still playing cricket; dynamically, as is her wont.

Having moved to a 100 partnership off 79 balls, England race on to 176 with no further loss at the close, with Knight on 108 and Sciver 59. A total significantly beyond reach for this opposition, facing this England attack.

This was Sciver’s second fifty in the tournament: her skipper, out early, driving hard but insufficiently far in her previous knock, reached her century in the final over, before celebrating by clattering Suttiruang for another straight six. Little to enjoy, then, for the Thai players, other than the moment that their hugely likable captain, Tippoch, channeled Malinga by dropping her arm to shoulder height and landing one on middle. As if she needed us to love her more!

Chantham and Boochatham will face Shrubsole, with the wind heavily assisting her generally mercurial inswing: like she needed the help. Sadly for us romantics the England bowler nails the latter, lbw, facing her first delivery. Moments later huge, late swing defeats the incoming Koncharoenkai but the ball flashes down leg, beating, in its increasingly absurd arc, the befuddled keeper, Jones. A predictably challenging start for the batters but Chantam is looking the part. She will go on to make a creditable 32 before being dismissed lbw, by Ecclestone.

The issue was always going to be lack of depth, in the Thai batting line-up. So it proves, with only Koncharoenkai (12) and Chaiwai (19) making worthwhile contributions. Thailand have already offered enough: wonderful commitment and energy, outstanding awareness of this World cup as an opportunity in which to develop and yes, enjoy. Rather stumbling towards 78 for 7, today, against an experienced and luxuriously-resourced England side was neither a surprise nor a failure, however disappointed they might feel.

Sure they weren’t absolutely on it, in the field, in the way they might have hoped. But the early drama, with Wyatt and Jones departed so soon may in itself be a validatory, dare I say characteristically worthy contribution to the narrative of the whole event. But oops; that’s twice I’ve invoked romance and this is almost certainly ill-considered. I rate Thailand for their cricket, for the competitive charge that has brought them to Australia; for the additional, proper-quality cricket they have yet to deliver.

Reflecting on a substantial win and being unashamedly anglo-centric (until somebody pays me to write neutral columns, of course), I’m drawn back to the beginning: forgive me. Wyatt and Jones. They may sound like a couple of deadly gunslingers but – just now? No.

It’s not just that of late they are dropping the outstanding Sciver and the magnificently stoic Knight in the poop, time after time. It’s the manner in which this is occurring: in a word – needlessly. Wyatt typically getting caught between extra and point, before she’s ‘got going’. Jones finding a way to get out just as you sense she may be in.

All this is now BIG in the media corps: I’ve been saying for ages that as a pair, despite being genuinely talented and theoretically ideal openers, they are currently too vulnerable, too slack, too unreliable to start the England innings together.

Now I know stats may disprove almost any theory predicated upon observation – upon feel, judgement, experience – and I accept the role that recorded truths (statistics) have to play, in the modern game. Some revelations can prove vital. However, despite knowing that this will inevitably condemn me to allegations of out-of-time-ism, I confess to having misgivings about stats generally, or the use or ‘over-use’ of the stuff.

Stats can be facts but they can also be interpretative material. Coaches can be leant on, impressed or bewildered and undermined, even, if a bullish culture exists around having to ‘come over all modern’ (and use modern tech to the full). Interpretation can be flawed.

I have no doubt that there are situations where assistant coaches or statisticians, feeling the need to justify their graft (or out of arrogance, or out of insecurity), ladle on particular plans for this or that when in fact any good coach left to their own devices would simply know that Player X can or will do this, or that. And that therefore the stats are background noise – are un-directional, unhelpful, subversive,even. Cultural innovation can be necessary but maybe it can also smother the instincts, cloud the issues.

In the case of Wyatt, I wonder why somebody – presumably her coach Lisa Keightley –  can’t just say “listen mate, you’re a great player but if you get caught flashing through the covers again I’ll crap in your trainers : there’s time, even in bladdy T20, to get yourself in. SMASH THE BALL INTO THE BLOODY GROUND).

Keightley may have done this. Likewise she may have urged Jones, in no uncertain terms, towards retaining her focus. “Stop those gifts, mate”.

Pressure makes folk daft, we know that. But international players should not be daft, repeatedly, without re-engaging fundamental intelligences. Or if they are, there should be consequences.

My suspicion is that the batters and possibly the coach have simply made all of this waaaay toooo complicated – most likely by over-thinking something or everything, possibly because there are too many voices in their ears. Why not simply be positive and game-wise at the same time? Build towards extravagance? Play yourself in, enough?

 

 

 

 

And so it begins.

And so it begins. England (and Wales) under the frequently outstanding leadership of one of the world’s great but possibly most under-appreciated female players – Heather Knight –  enter the ring. They enter with some expectation draped around them; England are surely one of three major contenders for the tournament, alongside the hosts, Australia, and India.

After the extraordinary opening game of this #T20WorldCup it feels again like the odds have narrowed: deliciously so. The third defeat for the Southern Stars in fifteen days being something of a jolt not just to them, but to the whole course of the conversation. Australia *really are beatable*. The likely procession really may not be so simple. It makes for a better tournament, surely?

We all knew that the alleged nature of T20 predisposes towards a greater possibility for crazy, fate-defying drama: that allegation – not without its flaws – proved true (or as true as anything) with an Indian win, in the opening fixture. A win that was something of a horror-show for the Aussies. All Out, with just two players passing double-figures. More than that, perhaps, All Out shell-shocked. What a way to begin.

So England and India are entitled. They know, now, that they really are contenders; because they are the other world powers and because Australia are flawed, too. In a tournament that may, unfortunately be somewhat blighted by nerves and under-achievement (god I hope not!), the unpeeling of legitimate Aussie pomp opened up, from the outset, all manner of wonderful opportunities: who though, can take them?

England are strongish and well organised. They have nevertheless also shown a softish underbelly, a propensity for collapses in confidence, but often Knight’s resilience has seen them through – if not solo, then alongside the gutsiness exemplified by Brunt and/or the sheer threat posed by the young off-spinner, Ecclestone. Throw in Beaumont’s brightness and Wyatt’s flair and yes, England are strongish… but things can go either way.

They should be too strong for today’s opponents, South Africa.

Having watched Eng v Women Proteas shorter-format fixtures live over the last year or two, my central memory is that there remains a distance between them, in terms of around quality: not a chasm, but a meaningful gap, in England’s favour. The question will therefore be whether the sprint that is T20 might be dominated by an individual, to the exclusion of the normal, regular, predictable measures of team performance.

Is it possible that Lee, or Wolvaardt, or Kapp could do something irresistible? Of course it is. Strap in.

 

Van Niekerk wins the toss and inserts England, predictably. The England line-up is stacked with batting, again, with Beaumont likely to come in down the order – again. Glenn and Ecclestone will provide their spin.

Jones and Wyatt, who have both been struggling for form, stride out. Interestingly, Mlaba – left-arm spin – will open. Nice, challenging idea but the third delivery is a poor full-toss, dispatched for four, then Jones follows with a peach of a lofted straight drive. Encouraging start, for England – nine off the over.

Now it’s the mighty Kapp; experienced and often formidable. She beats Jones, first up but again the England opener replies, driving uppishly but safely through midwicket for four. 13 for 0 after 2. Finally, Wyatt will get to face.

Now, enter Ismail – one of the swiftest bowlers around. Wyatt drives solidly for one. Then Jones cuts nicely for four more; good start, from her, so far. Apropos bugger all, quite nice to have Alan Wilkins on comms. Jones not middling everything – and things going a little ‘aerial’ but 21 for 0 off 3 is good. Jones has 20 of them.

But Jones miscues Kapp and is caught, easily, at mid-off. The pace of her knock was fine, again, but again she has been dismissed a tad sloppily. She needs to do more; lots of twenties but too few innings getting built. Enter Sciver.

Aaaaargh. Wyatt promptly follows, infuriatingly. Yet again, she pumps a very poor, wide, over-full delivery from Khaka, to point. Awful dismissal and another failure, from what seemed a promising beginning. Yet again, Knight comes in to salvage a potential problem period. Chaka is visibly lifted – as are the South Africans generally – and England’s best two must gather. 28 for 2, after 5.

Conditions: the pitch looks true. Some taper in the air, for Khaka and Kapp, certainly, but it’s looking conducive to decent scoring – meaning 140/150, ideally, I’m guessing(?) 130 already looking more realistic.

Power play score of 31 for 2 is lowish, courtesy those dismissals, so Knight and Sciver will need to accelerate soonish. My personal view is that the Jones/Wyatt combo cannot continue to fail with impunity. Get Beaumont back in there.

Sciver club-drives Khaka for four, a welcome release. The fielders looking sharp. Mild pressure from the Proteas. Van Niekerk will bowl the 9th.

Knight attacks. She booms downtown but perhaps under-estimates the athleticism of Ismail, who takes a fine, running catch. BIG MOMENT. Huge requirement for Sciver to perform, now. She is joined by Wilson, who has impressed, of late, fortunately. Important moment in the game.

Wilson living dangerously, by repeatedly sweeping Mlaba and then dancing down and missing by miles. The keeper couldn’t gather: more pressure. England ‘doing an Australia’, here – looking scrambled.

Sciver gets a freebie, an awful full-toss from Mlaba which she can swing over mid-on. 50 up after 10, but this means there’s much work to do, for England. The concern may be that of the remaining batters, only Sciver feels truly explosive. Or rather the likes of Beaumont and Brunt may not be able to sustain a real assault – which may be necessary. If not that, a brilliant performance in the field becomes essential: meaning pressure. (In truth this feels a likely scenario: England under-achieve with the bat but come through with a good bowling effort).

With England at a relatively measly 60, after 12 overs, a tense affair seems inevitable. Note Knight seems to operate well, under those circumstances – as do her principal bowlers. Meanwhile Wilson and Sciver, without really flowing, continue to nudge England forward.

Ismail will bowl the 14th over – her third. Boundaries remain a rarity: meaning the England coaching staff may be considering changes in batting order. Ismail is cramping Sciver with some skill. 69 for 3 at the end of the over. Ouch. Major work required.

Van Niekerk has only conceded 13 from her first three overs; she will bowl out, now. She claims Wilson, who simply lacks the power (and/or timing) to drive for six, over the onside. Ismail takes another simple catch. On the plus side, this brings in the bullish Brunt. 72 for 4… and trouble?

Sciver smashes Mlaba for six, then four. Brunt must join in. They must get ten an over – to post 130-odd, you would think.

Sciver cheekily lifts Khaka over the keeper. Brunt is scurrying with intent. Better, from England. 98 for 4 off 17. Genuinely solid performance, this, however, from South Africa.

As I say this they fluff a fairly straight-forward run-out opportunity, after a great throw from Kapp: awkward but not gathered, allowing the dive to render Sciver safe.

Ismail claims Brunt, slashing a bouncer to the fielder. England pass the 100. Can Sciver and Beaumont burst for the line?

No. Chaka bowls a peach of a slower-ball/leg-cutter to bewitch her and clatter the off-stick. Great ball and a fine innings – 50 – by far the most significant contribution of the England innings, from the tall, talented and increasingly influential number 3.

Winfield goes promptly, caught behind square off Khaka, who by now has 3 for 25. Kapp will bowl the last, with England at 115 for 7. Beaumont strikes her for four, before attempting to charge a bouncer! Dot ball. Then an lbw review , for a delivery which strikes the admittedly diminutive batter’s hip. High? Nope. Out.

Two new batters, then, in Shrubsole and Ecclestone. No further dramas. England finish on 123 for 8. Substantially below par but credit the Proteas for an excellent, consistent display. Think the game is probably still live but England behind in the game, no question. If one or more of the South Africans get in – look out.

Final thought over the break: genuinely hope that ‘under-achievement’ doesn’t become too prevalent a theme, in this tournament. Nerves overcoming talent can be dramatic, of course, but if repeated, it can undermine the legitimacy of elite sport.

Shrubsole, inevitably, for England. Second ball(!) Lee swings and escapes, with a miscued skier, straightish. Appreciable inswing evident; just three from the over. Now Brunt. She gets outswing. Good over – big appeal, come the last ball but we are at 5 for 0 after 2.

Van Niekerk is fortunate, to survive an awful hack on the charge but Lee lacks similar good fortune. She miscues to Winfield and in truth it felt imminent, given the rather reckless approach, early on, from both Proteas openers. Shrubsole already looks on it. 6 for 1 after 3.

Kapp has joined van Niekerk. Sciver will bowl to the former. Good over but she will be forgiven for thinking Winfield might have done better with a lofted drive from Kapp. Catchable, for a great athlete – Winfield palmed it for four.

Shrubsole continues into her third over. Wow. Van Niekerk absolutely booms her over midwicket, for a mighty, mighty six. She follows that with a slightly streaky four forward of square leg. Good come-back, from South Africa. 21 for 1 from 5.

Brunt will return to conclude the power-play. Fine over but Kapp drives square, beautifully, on the up, to close it out. Ecclestone will bowl the 7th.

The Winfield ‘drop’ feeling biggish, as the Proteas settle, a touch. (They hardly have to race at this. They have limited batting strength so it’s imperative for England to take wickets. South Africa have only to retain their composure… and build a partnership or two). Nasser Hussain on comms putting the opposite view – that they should maybe get themselves ahead of the run rate – but this is a lowish total. Composure, for me, is the key.

Glenn, then Sciver. A quietish moment. Kapp and Van Niekerk are in – 19 and 22, respectively – as we reach 47 for 1 after 9. Glenn again.

Tidy enough but something needs to give. Fifty up and a rare misfield from Brunt. 54 for 1 – England were three down, at the same stage. It’s England who need some drama. Ecclestone, to spear them in.

Kapp gets Glenn away, the leg spinner dropping a little short and offering just enough width to open up the covers. Four. Glenn is getting just a smidge of turn, on occasion, but hardly threatening. 66 for 1 after 12: importantly, the run rate has just lifted to 7.4. Key phase – in comes Brunt once more.

It’s a strange, cautious affair: England focused (but not inspired); South Africa watchful. Fran Wilson makes a superb stop to deny Kapp a four, off Sciver – maybe that might lift the bowling unit? It’s tight. 74 for 1 after 14. 50 needed off 36.

Shrubsole, again. Bowling ver-ry straight. Van Niekerk miscues but again finds the wide open spaces. Run rate over 8. South Africa need a boundary and the captain finds it, sweeping for six – the second time Shrubsole’s been dispatched. 11 from the over. It’s tight.

Van Niekerk goes after Glenn; the first ball goes over extra cover for four. But what’s this? Glenn has Kapp with a simple return catch. Good innings of 38; deliciously, none of us can tell if it will be enough. The young Tryon joins van Niekerk.

Immediately, Ecclestone gets the South African opener, flashing rather lazily to point. That really is a moment. Two brand new batters at the crease. “Wicket dot dot. Wicket dot dot”, confirms Nasser. Great over – 91 for 3, with the required rate suddenly up at 11. 33 from 18, to be precise.

Oof –  a streaky four, through the keeper, Jones. Then two mishits – one safe, one behind, for four. South Africa riding their luck: and again, as Winfield drops what appears to be a sitter. (Only explicable if she genuinely didn’t pick it up: but her earlier drop makes one think she rather lost her nerve, as well as her bearings). She is a rather wooden fielder, unfortunately.

Ecclestone will bowl the penultimate over. Yet again a mishit from Tryon falls safe. There are a lot of jangled nerve-ends, out there. (And in here).

Finally, Tryon connects. Six. Following ball, Jones fluffs a stumping chance. Ball after – bowled. Out-standing, from Ecclestone, under hugely testing circumstances. Nine needed from the last, with Brunt to steam in. Who knows, who knows?

A single just about scuttled. Eight from five. Brunt goes leg-side; another single. Third ball… du Preez booms over midwicket for six! Then a full-bunger, dispatched! THE PROTEAS ARE THERE!! A tense, tense game, with another shock result: England beaten.

Initial reaction, after congratulating the South Africans for a pret-ty complete performance, is that again, following the defeat of Australia by India, this adds real edge, early doors, to the competition. This must be good. England must now execute (as they say) without further significant error.

Arguably, unlike the Australian’s poor effort, this was not a spectacular down-turn in performance, not freakishly skittish; it just wasn’t good enough, from Heather Knight’s side. Strategy-wise, despite theoretically packing the batting, England fell well short. Wyatt and Jones both, ultimately, failed again – or failed to go on  – and momentum never developed, against some good bowling from Khaka, Kapp and co.

For me Beaumont at six has always been a nonsense and I call again for her to go back up top. Sure, Tammy can ‘finish’, she can do the 360 scurry; but she is a proven opener and, critically, she will throw her wicket away a whole lot less cheaply than either Wyatt or Jones, if given that responsibility. The new coach (Lisa Keightley) has overthunk this: there *should be* consequences for serial failure – especially when the dismissals are so frequently so crass. Beaumont goes back to open with one of the incumbents dropping into a dasher/finisher role.

But hey – all of that is with my England fan’s head on. Let’s conclude with a closing word or two about South Africa. Great win, for them – an almost flawless performance in the field, in particular. Congratulations.

 

Hunches.

Ok some hunches – you know hunches, you *luuuurvv* hunches, right? Moments of crash-bang-walloptastic insight offered up only to you, by the gods of knowledge, because your instincts (yes, you and only you!) – are fab-yoo-luss.

Only you could see that she/he had to go with the off-spinner, or should nev-ver have swept off that length because you could see what was gonna happen. Plain as, that this pitch makes a nonsense of ‘positivity’; that this pre-meditation was unnecessary madness. So have to say something.

Hunches are about knowing what will happen – what the destiny of these things was – but also swilling the juicy juice of opinion around. Joining with the banter; getting disproportionate and daft and earnest and noisy, maybe. But knowing all along that you may be talking utter cobblers.

So, doesn’t matter that there’s an inevitable smattering of opprobriating “ahs”, when you’re wrong. When the offie bowls, predictably, like a donkey but then claims the critical scalp. The hunch was precious and invigorating, to you and to the beer snake that is the raillery around it. Maan, you meant it; maaan you were wrong; cheers – onwards.

Hunches, predictions, forecasts, opinion. What a great way of showing off, exposing yourself, joining the can-can. Here’s some around England Women Cricket, following last night’s win against India. (May write about the *actual game*, later – if the energy holds.

  • Amy Jones. Will be, or should be somewhat troubled by her trot of form. (12 runs in 3 innings, I think). And more so because she keeps getting out ‘badly’. However the new coach has worked with her prior to her England gig, (WBBL) and will therefore hopefully know her and what makes her tick. Reckon therefore, that because Jones a) can play – can be dynamic and even dominant – and b) she can ‘keep, my hunch is she stays.
  • Whether she stays as an opener, with or without Wyatt, may be another question. Plainly the thinking is that because Knight (in particular) is wonderfully consistent, having backbone, maturity and increasingly the capacity to rescue-through-charging, relative flakiness – i.e. Jones, Wyatt – can be tolerated ahead of her. I also note that the presence of the generally redoubtable Beaumont also enables higher-risk cricket up front.
  • So, both Jones and Wyatt stay in the T20 side, for the upcoming World Cup; both may be a tad fortunate, but they are both what we hunchers call ‘players’.
  •  If we take it that the promotion of Brunt was very much a temporary measure – to try to break up the Indians’ plans for control – then what’s the batting line-up going to be, come that tournament?
  • I really might reinstate Beaumont as an opener (we can’t keep ‘recovering’) and drop Jones down. Wyatt and Beaumont, followed by Sciver, Knight, Jones. (Actually think there’s a case for Knight ahead of Sciver, who is less stoic and less reliable than her skipper – or certainly feels it, in that familiar 30 for 3 zone. Hang on… think Sciver warrants a hunch – maybe a techno-hunch – of her own.
  • Nat Sciver may be England’s best all-round athlete. You have to rate her for the whole package. But (just me?) or does it feel like given that spectacular raw material, she is marginally under-achieving?
  • Batting-wise, her way of playing is to play through the leg-side. She swishes (I know, pejorative) across the line pret-ty constantly, often to great effect, because she has talent and timing and can therefore a) ‘get away with it’ b) pierce the field, such is her level of control: (usually).
  • Now of course the traditionally-received wisdom is that against high quality bowling, playing across the line is likely to prove risky. And that Sciver’s bat-swing, itself, being so frequently in or close to pull-shot-mode, is likely to make her vulnerable to miscues, as well as being lbw or bowled. The modern game profoundly challenges this wisdom: but my hunch remains that Sciver will be intermittently spectacular rather than consistently, durably brilliant at international level. In short, she may not be an ideal 3, or even 4, in a team that starts with a stutter.
  • Knight likes 4, I think, and she’s probably earned the right to choose. Hmm. Maybe then, in a World Cup Beaumont really should get that opening slot back, to fix at least two relative bankers in the top four. (Wyatt and Jones being fine players… but not bankers, right?) Meaning my choice would be Beaumont, Wyatt, Sciver (with some misgivings) and Knight, top four. Followed by either Jones, or Wilson – who is finding some nice form at a good time.
  • Über-hunch, however is that Keightley will stay with Wyatt, Jones, Sciver, Knight, Wilson but this may be subject to what happens in the second Tri-nations fixture against Australia and then in the final of that mini-tournament – which I expect England to be contesting.
  • World Cup-wise, England’s fixtures run South Africa, Thailand, Pakistan, West Indies in the first phase of the tournament. So full team/best team out from the off and maybe not much scope for tinkering other than in the Thailand fixture, where you wouldn’t rule out a throughly guns-blazing approach.
  • But this is all batting. What else?
  • Let’s talk about pitches – or the pitches. So far, the Tri-nations, as so-o often in the women’s game – has featured lifeless matts. Seamers bowling ‘variations’, cos no pace or carry. Spinners getting a little help, maybe, but generally slowish, medium-grippy affairs. I kinda hope that for the sheer lols of it, the Aussies have a secret plan to show us these bland carpets before unleashing some zingtastic strips that will make Vlaeminck thrillingly unplayable in the World Cup. But that’s more a hope than a hunch.
  • Bowling-wise, England have most bases covered, barring the express pace one – although they are hardly alone on that. Selection will chiefly a matter of how many seamers, given the pitch conditions. I like Glenn, the leg-spinner, like the variation and wicket-taking potential her selection might bring, but she may lose out more often than not – probably to Davies, who will join Brunt and Shrubsole on the seamers’ roster.
  • Ecclestone’s general excellence and threat now being established, she must play in all cases. Sciver and Knight will no doubt make their contributions. As a bowling unit, even where conditions may not entirely suit, England have tended to compete grittily and well – very much in the image of the skipper.
  • The third discipline – fielding. Only Australia get close to England’s increasingly focused level. Yes there will be some errors but these are fewer and more heavily offset by a strong, consistent attention – to intention.
  • Wilson, Wyatt and Sciver are often brilliant, Brunt is brave and fixated and the general, professional vibe continues to improve. There is committed strategy and mostly good athleticism and improving catching in the field. Australia are at a a ver-ry similar level, arguably higher but even the other leading nations – principally West Indies and India – are significantly behind, giving the two Ashes foes a powerful advantage going into the tournament proper.
  • Expect an England Australia Tri-nations final… and for one of them to be crowned World T20 Champions on the 8th of March. Oz rightly favourites but England may be shaping up to be legitimate contenders. Hunch? They might win it!

 

One memory from an ordinary game. Brunt, bowling, really not liking a return catch that hurt the hand… then catching a dolly back to her the following ball. Roaring, intimidatingly loudly, to the skies, to the universe, to the batter – though not quite at her – as Krishnamurthy departs. Tough competitor.

 Maybe a second – Also involving Brunt. Sciver – her fiancé, remember? – plays Sharma rather beautifully and straight. As the bowler falls into her follow-through, she gets something on the ball… which ricochets inevitably onto the stumps… running out The Intended One, by a mile. Ah.

No hiding from the fact that this was no thriller: some decent quality from Sciver, during the chase for a low total – 123 for 6. Winfield rather laboured the ball, uppishly, towards mid-off, to win the game, ultimately. She should have been caught. Walking off, or reflecting, both sides will be thinking “we need to be better than this”.

Knighthood? / Hold My Beer.

Heather is a particular kind of name, is it not? Speaks of Englishness and church-going families and quiet, erudite children. Or is that just me? Best move on.

Heather Knight is English. In fact she’s the England Captain (did you know?) having attended Cardiff MCC University en route into the game. Now the England Captain in cricket – Women’s Cricket. And she just did something, something pret-ty phenomenal.

We’re in Hove – where else? The sun is shining and there’s a particular crowd; smallish but by no means insulting, keen but by no means raucous. It’s the #KSLFinalsDay.

Heather’s team, Western Storm, have just struggled to contain the opposition, Southern Vipers, as they post a challenging score in the season finale – the final, defining, ‘all-important’ shoot-out.

(Vipers have amassed a total of 172 runs off their 20 overs. This is a major bundle and would in most circumstances signal a cruise to victory. However there are *things*. Firstly Storm are a hugely robust outfit, in a really good way. Secondly, they did haul the game back towards themselves, late-on. Thirdly, they have Heather).

Knight is the captain, remember – and she Captains Ingerland. And Wales. This same England that was so utterly outclassed by the Australian tourists recently that the Ashes was not so much surrendered as gift-wrapped and übered across with a sweet card from Marks & Sparks, signed ‘Much love, Heather & the girls’.

The result of this rather painful and prolonged public humiliation was the Coach of Ingerland losing his job and the ECB shuffling out some bulletins to quell the mounting unrest over The Widening Gap between Us and Oz. We can only imagine that Heather Knight’s position was ‘discussed’ during this accountability review: she was, after all, more at the helm than the coach, you might argue.

Knight did no doubt endure some tough questions, as well some Dark Nights of the Soul. How could she not have a blub into the cushion, or squeeze the dog just a touch too hard, in melancholy distraction? England’s performances, as well as the system were brutally unpicked, perhaps most painfully – though justifiably – by former colleagues now in the media corps. In short it’s been a bloody tough few months, for Heather.

Except. Except she has had Western Storm.

Western Storm have smashed it. They won all nine of their first nine fixtures in the Kia Super League before losing in the last, rain-affected game, to Yorkshire Diamonds. They were durable and deep, as a squad. Having contacts in the camp, I am sensing that they were also a proper posse, with the kind of comradeship that only sometimes accompanies big-shot, international sporting coalitions. And of course they were led by Heather Knight.

Knight has just become the highest scorer in the Kia Super League – the only woman to pass the 1,000 runs mark. She has been absolutely central to the stonking Storm campaign, in 2019. In the final, yesterday, against Southern Vipers, she blasted and clipped and drove to 78 not out to claim a) the trophy and b) the Player of the Match award. But there is & was more.

The nature of Knight’s performance was somewhere between fine and phenomenal. After her side had scrambled, clawed at the air and generally under-achieved more than a little, in the field, she rose to it.

Set an intimidatingly steep total and after losing her Indian Superstar of a bat, Mandhana, to a nervy pat to mid-on, first ball, Knight marched briskly in, early. Must have been scary: must have *asked questions*. Pah. I soon noted (in my epic blog, one post back, free-to-air!) that Knight ‘looks goodish’.

Starting (or re-starting) with Priest, she knows she must get after the bowling from the outset, such is the required run-rate. Priest, without ever looking classically smooth is going well – dispatching Wyatt, in particular, with some intent. But Wellington, the young Australian leg-spinner removes Knight’s partner with a peach that loops, turns and enables the stumping.

I remember clearly noting that despite the gathering pressure, Knight swept Wellington immaculately for four, immediately post that potentially key dismissal. Wilson then joined her and joined in with the essential urgency, making a timely 18 before holing out to Wyatt in the deep. Luff cannot sustain the momentum, though and goes, off the glove, bringing in another ‘Overseas’, Deepti Sharma.

Sharma is a fine, international player who has been twiddling her bat for two months; barely required as Storm stormed. Now, she and her skipper have proper work to do.

I thought for two or three overs that Sharma looked out of nick. But she, alongside her increasingly imperious, captain, accumulated runs. They had to. Quickly.

Knight got to fifty. She played what I described as the shot of the day, cracking an absurdly sweet cover drive to the boundary. She was absolutely on it, finding that almost dreamlike focus, staying in there, quietly relentless.

From the blog:

You feel that if Knight stays there, Storm get this. And I reckon she knows that.

Knight hit three towering, lusty,

boomtastic sixes on the way to 78 not out and to the trophy. There was or there became something of a Stokes-level of inspiration, of capture-of-destiny about the proceedings. (Knight doesn’t hit that many sixes – she’s ‘not that powerful’. But she found a way; reinvented herself; had no choice).

It was a Captain’s Knock… and then some. It was remarkable, in that it was initially shockingly unlikely and then in terms of its gathering brilliance. She defied. She clonked. She led.

I hope to god Knight actually loved it, in the moment. Because it soared, entertained and vindicated… and proofed her utterly against doubt and against The Doubters. And it’s hard to know what Heather is actually thinking: I hope there was scope for enjoyment – during as well as after.

It was, in a joyous and electrifying way, cricket and drama of the very finest variety. It scoffed at the very idea that Heather – the athlete, the champion, the leader – might be in any sense bland. How sensational that sport can do that? How gratifying that quality sometimes tells?

#Bristol. #WomensAshes. Crazy Dance.

Disclaimer: England won. England won and this changes some things… but not everything. The Widening Gulf may still be there; that key separation around being able to Execute Skills Under Pressure may still be there – or has been sufficiently present to be considered problematic, for England. Stuff still needs to be done.

But what stuff? It feels like the ECB has been revisiting the structural elements to all this, as the Ashes has collapsed around the home team. (That a fair description?) The brilliance and consistency and conviction of the the Australians has made further conversations around structure and development inevitable, given the blindingly obvious superiority of a) their team and b) the Oz Opportunity, for professional women cricketers. Note has been taken; the Australian system, with dozens more pro’ players and significantly better playing environment is undeniably better than the ECB’s. Endof.

It may therefore be ironic but it’s surely true that the Ashes walloping has stirred change that may be positive, in England and Wales. Who knows, we may even follow the Australians into further steps towards equal pay, equality of resource – who knows? At base level there will be, there has to be something of a shift: I think we’ve seen and heard already that slightly embarrassed process shuffle from its seat.

There will also be a de-brief on playing standards, players individually, selection, coaching, etc. Rightly. Broadly, it’s likely that the England squad is pret-ty close to the right squad – though admittedly this is partly by dint of the fact that there are (by Australian standards) so few candidates out there. Robinson should be given a polite going-over, to keep him honest and focused – likewise Knight – and then the work should start again. 

Let’s not fall entirely into doom and gloom. She ain’t a perfect cricketer but at 19/20 Sophie Ecclestone is a worldie of a spin-bowler. And Beaumont is quality, and Sciver, Jones, Knight, Shrubsole and Brunt have quality. And last night, before a goodish, engaged crowd, Mady Villiers made a notable introduction to the game at the highest level – made us smile, in fact, such was the delightful, unbridled joyfulness of her burst of wickets. So women’s cricket in England and Wales is gonna be okay, I reckon.

My live report follows…

 

 

Bristol is glorious – often is. But today it’s warm and cidery-by-the-river and cosmopolitan and trashy and musical. And glorious.

I’m at The Cricket, in Ashley Down, above the allotments and the friendly, noisy, smoky barbers and the skips and taxis of St Pauls and City Road. Find it hard to describe why I like this ground so much but there’s something about the sky, the light, the wrap-aroundness that appeals. Plus maybe it’s always seemed to be cosmically sunny whenever I’ve been here. ‘Tis, this afternoon.

Tough to know how sunny the general or individual dispositions might be, in the England camp. It’s so-o lovely a scene that it’s hard to imagine the ongoing Real Ashes Trauma is scarring every moment, even now, for Robinson, Knight, et al. Hope not.

Whatever happens, tonight this is done. Whatever baggage they’re carrying, this is sport, there’s another chance, the conditions are great, there’ll be a crowd – and lights!

As I enter the stadium, Kirsty Gordon and A.N. Other are doing timed circuits around the boundary – suggesting they’re not playing, I imagine. (Gordon not actually in this T20 squad but there have been whispers she may play tonight as things get rotated a little. Honestly too far away to be clear on the second player). Haven’t heard any other team news.

Just been for another wee promenade. Ver-ry pleasant evening, with some breeze. Temperature at 18.15 dipping under 70 degrees F, I reckon.

Now some Proper News. Team for England includes Shrubsole for Elwis and Raf Nicholson’s pal Mady Villiers for Laura Marsh.

Australia have won the toss and chosen to have a bowl. Some cynics in the Media Centre suggesting they may be looking to blast England out and scoot off, sharpish. Hoping that’s not how it turns out – none of us need (or rather women’s cricket doesn’t need) another massacre.

Aus have looked happy and relaxed as they gathered then endured “Jerusalem”. Inevitably, Perry will open. She bowls with that slowish, grooved approach then slams it down. First thought is the pitch looks slowish… but that could be premature. Six runs from the over and no dramas for either Wyatt or Beaumont.

Wyatt dances down to Schutt’s second ball and slashes it through point for four. Not entirely without risk – slightly aerial – but runs. It feels like the kind of evening (or time of evening) where there just may not be much through the air for the bowlers; however Schutt does get that inswinger going, very full, and it rather fortuitously slides past the keeper’s left hand, off I know not what, for four more. 17 for 0 off 2, suddenly.

Perry concedes a front-foot no-ball, marginally, and Wyatt  carts the free-hit bouncer skywards for one. The dynamic (when on it) batter then glides a beautiful cut away before launching Perry over the covers for six! England are a reasonably tasty 28 for 0 off 3 overs.

Schutt is replaced by Jonassen. Beaumont tries to lift a wristy clip up and over mid-on but merely finds Mooney. Gone for 5. Enter the skipper at three, again.

Wyatt is going well, not just belligerently. There are drop-and-runs and sharp rotations.

Schutt has changed ends. Wyatt gets cute, flipping her over her shoulder to fine leg, before the bowler has her revenge. Bowls her, as the opener tries to make room that kindof isn’t there: good ball that may have carried straight on. Wyatt made a swiftish 20 but was she racing a little too much, again?

England are 40 for 2 at the end of the power-play. That’s goodish provided Knight and Sciver can form a partnership, you suspect.

Kimmince follows Jonassen. Kimmince has all kinds of tricks but this pitch is looking pret-ty benign, to me. *Tries not to think of what Healy/Lanning may yet do*.

Sciver is slightly cramped, pulling and swishing. She gets a top edge and skies, behind. Caught, third man. Not good.

Have moaned a bit before about Sciver’s propensity to try to stick everything through midwicket. Caught her out here again. Just don’t know if the coach – any coach – should be *having words* about this. Plainly it’s ‘the way she wants to play’: plainly, against good bowling, she mishits too often, as a result.

Vlaeminck is in from the Pavilion End – from underneath us. Brisk. Bounces Knight. Then the England captain plays a particularly inelegant air-shot. An appeal follows, for one obviously tailing down to leg, before Knight absolutely smokes a similar delivery for six, forward of square. England are 61 for 3 off 10. It’s entertaining.

Jones, who needs something from this series, is flummoxed by Jonassen and almost run-out. She does greet the incoming Wareham with a beautiful, controlled lofted drive for four, mind, before sweeping to the fine leg boundary. Should be confidence-building. 76 for 3 after 12.

Kimmince bowls a shocker down to leg – wide. Jones visibly ‘stands and delivers’ to haul one over extra. Knight clouts one straight, aerial but safe. England are hitting. But do they have the power of the line-up to come?

Knight’s running looked poorish to me, tonight: she may be carrying a ‘hammy’ apparently. She is run out going for a second that was maybe never on AGAINST PERRY; felt like a bad misjudgement. When her partner Jones also departs shortly afterwards, for 19, edging to Healy, things have suddenly started to crumble. 84 for 5, England, off 14.

Suddenly we have Brunt and Winfield picking up the pieces: Schutt returns at the Ashley Down Road End. The sense is that 150 – possibly more – is a minimum to make this competitive.

Wareham’s legspin is comparatively unthreatening. In fact all the spin has been that way – hence the likelihood that one or more of the women in yellow may go decisively big.

Both Brunt and Winfield prove willing. Willing to heave. Gardiner is clumped sweetly to square leg by the latter, then driven up and over mid-off for a further four. Experienced players, both, these two realise a Grand Finish is an absolute must. 116 for 5, after 18.

Schutt will bowl the penultimate but she starts with a yorker around the ankles which escapes everything and scuttles for four. Brunt dispatches the follow-up magnificently for six! 13 from the over.

Jonassen will have the last over. A hilarious, cheeky, defiant reverse-sweep goes to the third man boundary. Also hilariously (for the locals) Jonassen fluffs TWO successive run-outs as the batters charge. Innings closed on 139 for 5. An honourable effort… which feels 20 short as we dart for coffee.

During the break I begin to question this assumption – if that’s what it is – that Aus will chase this down with some ease.  Mainly because the evening is closing in. It’s cooler and already markedly less bright. Of course fielding may be less easy as time progresses but could batting be more of a caper, too? Reckon Australia will have enough but let’s see.

Kate Cross will open for England. She starts with what looks like an attempted leg-cutter but it’s wide, legside. Third and fourth ball are both dragged down – deliberately or otherwise – and runs come. A poor over, in truth, with 8 conceded.

Shrubsole will follow from the pavilion but she also drops short and is punished. England need a moment, here, already: Shrubsole settles and nothing further conceded. Brunt replaces Cross immediately and she too mixes up the length. (There must be plan to invite cuts/pulls/aerial slashes but Healy and Mooney commit no early indiscretions).

Healy booms Shrubsole over extra and you might say it’s not an entirely clean hit – and therefore there is some risk. But it’s four.

First blood, though to Brunt and England. Mooney is caught in the proverbial several minds and serves one up – a dolly – to short cover. This, of course, brings in Lanning. Healy almost offers something similar, again off something back-of-a-length but escapes. Ecclestone will bowl the sixth with Australia 27 for 1.

The young offie’s reputation for making something happen is again enhanced when, with Lanning drawn forward, the ball strikes pad momentarily before bat. Out l.b.w. Yes, Lanning!

Big moment in the game and in the career of Mady Villiers, follows. Her first bowl in international cricket and it’s only Perry down yon end. A single is taken. Seconds later Healy strikes back fairly sharply to the bowler – sharp but catchable – but the young spinner can’t snaffle hold. The over is okay but that may prove key.

Cross again, from the Ashley Down Road End. Tidyish. In fact, without remotely being a strangulation, this is a low-key knock, so far, from the visitors.

Villiers again and again she’s drawing an error from Healy. This time it’s ‘fatal’. A rather mistimed off-drive goes comfortably to hand. The celebrations are a delight for us Poms but they are repeated soon after! Gardner comes down but misses and Jones is swift to execute the stumping. (The ball did nothing except *may-bee* slide on a touch). Australia are actually scrambling a tad, here.

Perry responds by stroking Ecclestone straight for six – just. 54 for 4.

Villiers, coming around to Perry, is looking comfortable – as are England. Australia really do have work to do to change the momentum but both Haynes and Perry have both experience and Proper Quality. Goodish over sees the Southern Stars on 57 for 4 after 12.

Shrubsole is back from the Bristol Pavilion End and Perry greets her with two ver-ry different boundary shots. (Straight drive, clip through midwicket, piercing the field superbly). England’s World Cup heroine has been targeted, rather, in this series – indicative perhaps, of the levels of both skill and confidence the Stars bring to their game.

Hey. Did I mention there is a crowd, here, tonight? Lovely to see and hear; it can only be supportive of England’s effort.

And that effort is so often personified by the punchy, impassioned Brunt, who has Haynes caught by Wyatt as she hauls to leg. 79 for 5 now, Australia, needing 61 from 33 balls.

Perry can play a bit – she’s on 33 – and the incoming Jonassen has a cool head – but with five overs remaining, England are favourites.

Villiers will bowl her fourth and final over from underneath us. For the first time, she is dispatched, imperiously, by Perry, for six. Haynes then drills one that I personally think the diving (or flopping) Ecclestone should have stopped. (Have majored before on Ecclestone’s fielding so will move swiftly on).

It’s dusky now. Ecclestone will bowl the 17th, with the lights making a real contribution. Very much to the bowler’s credit, she has Perry flustered three times, the batter unable to clatter some yorker-length deliveries.

We’re back to Cross, for the 18th. 100 is up but they require 40 from 14. The ‘goddess’ (see previous blogs) gets another 50. Ecclestone is in again for the penultimate over, with England in command.

Perry begs to differ. She drives straight and high for six. 28 from 8 needed. Jonassen, going for the reverse-sweep, falls l.b.w.  and that may be that. Aus 112 for 6, with 28 required off 7. Didn’t expect this but we’ll take it. 👊🏻

Immediately, Kimmince falls the same way, pulling to leg, plumb: Ecclestone’s reputation goes up a further notch. Brunt has 23 runs to play with as she runs in for the last. The newcomer Wareham can only top-edge to mid-on, for nought. Brunt is erm, bruntaciously pumped.

Perry looks to have tweaked a muscle in the scramble for a run that’s never there but claims her ground in the end. Schutt clouts one out to midwicket and finishes with an off-drive past mid-off. But HOLD THE FRONT-PAGE, England have won it, with something to spare. The unbeatable, magnificent Perry has 60 not out and Schutt has 8. At 122 for 8, Australia are 17 runs short.

Tonight can be seen as both a dead rubber and a significant return, from England. It will matter significantly to their players and to their coaching staff, who have been inserted decisively beneath the microscope, following a profoundly disappointing Ashes series.

I can only imagine that ‘conversations’ will still take place but there may be a little less bite in them. And it may well be helpful that there is no avoiding wide-ranging discussion around structure as well as selection, fitness, ability to execute – the Widening Gulf between Aus at no. 1 and Eng at no. 2 being generally recognised as directly related to better support for and organisation of women’s pro’ cricket Down Under.

In short, there is more to say about both the cricket matches and the various cricket environments, the forces shaping what we’ve seen during this series. *May well* say some of that very soon. Final word, though, is for the visitors. Australia have been excellent; they are a team, they have depth but they have special individuals.

One of them spoke in impressively accomplished style (be-medalled, on the podium) about how enjoyable a journey this Ashes has been – how good it’s felt, because of crowds, facilities and performances. Ellyse Perry (I’m sure you’re listening) I’m a dumb, middle-aged Pommie bloke but I hope you really have enjoyed it. Your team is outstanding, your performances have been ridicu-fab, so go, go, go have a beer and a crazy dance round the outfield.

Day 4. The (non)denouement?

So back again. With another full day of cricket possible. The overwhelming likelihood of a draw hasn’t entirely thrown a blanket over us Meedya Peeps’ enthusiasms – in fact the various theories about what the teams have been trying to do, these last coupla days, have kept discussion lively – but inevitably the prospect of a slow grind towards anti-climax does challenge/will challenge our levels of attention, no doubt. Forgive us.

I do hope to stay with it. In fact, I may note to the universe that I expect to be less critical of a slide towards no-result than some of my eminent colleagues have been. (Go read the previous blogs… and maybe compare).

Check my twitter. Pre their stretching of muscles etc etc, England had a circular pow-wow in front of us. (Have posted an admittedly rather ordinary pic). Impossible and inappropriate to eaves-drop but it had the look of a Proper Moment, where Robinson (the coach) may have *had words*. I liked the look of it.

Have no idea what he said – and could speculate and may, later – but I liked the look of it. The coach should be shaping the will, the aura, the direction of all of this. Not just for today or even for this series: England must find or re-discover their intent. Robinson has therefore to both host and lead discussions.

Hearing right now from the ICC statistician Marion Collin that today’s game MUST LAST at least 91 overs. There is no option for a handshake (over a draw) before that. I have also heard from a ver ver reliable source, that Australia will not shake until the latest possible second. Because they want(ed) to win… a contest.

There will be flak flying if this does peter out. The media are already pretty feisty about lack of ambition (actually from both sides). Could also be that the teams will be blaming each other – that this might introduce a little spite – if we spend all day in Doursville. Soon find out. Molineux is opening up to Sciver.

Quiet over, in which England get to 200, for 6. Then Perry, from the river. 7-2 field with about 42 hectares unprotected between Schutt, at fine leg and Molineux at mid-on. Guessing Perry might mostly bowl wide of off.

Molineux bewilders Shrubsole into a play and a miss. Some turn. Then the batter fails to connect with a ver-ry short one – a gift. The general vibe is erm… relatively non-dynamic, maybe especially from Sciver. Weirdly.

Sciver responds to my barb with a four, swung to leg.  👊🏻

Shrubsole takes 7 off an over from Perry without looking entirely fluent before advancing-but-missing against Molineux. Good ball beats her and she is easily stumped, by Healy. No blame attached in terms of Shrubsole’s intent but for me she has not looked like a mid-order bat. Molineux now has four wickets and looks likely to claim a five-fer on debut. England 214 for 7.

Marsh has joined Sciver. They are looking to both survive and to score. Fair enough. Gardner is the first bowling change, for Perry.

Sciver charges and lifts elegantly, with power, over the bowler’s head: an emphatic four. Marsh follows that with a nice back-drive off a short ball from Molineux. Decent, now, from England. The bowler responds with a teaser that again spins and beats the outside edge. Some good, watchable cricket just now.

Gardner spins it and so does Molineux. Enjoying watching. England aware (of course) of that imperative to get to 271 pronto so some expansive shots punctuate the general Aussie-on-topness. Marsh (England’s last batter?) feasts on a rare full-toss from the right-handed bowler, ushering it confidently through the covers. 238 for 7.

Vlaeminck is back, from the River End. Good to see. She hustles then runs and lashes it through nice and quick. Second ball is a medium-intimidating bouncer, which Marsh steps away from. I’m guessing the batter is actually finding this a little scary. Good over.

The youngster’s next over – bowled largely around the wicket – again has Marsh hopping. She survives, having played more than one delivery with both feet off the ground and England are 242 for 7 at drinks. The lights flutter into action as clouds waft across.

Jonassen, who has bowled tidily but less threateningly (for me) than her spin partners, continues from the Pavilion End. It’s markedly cloudier but we are not expecting rain.

Vlaeminck errs to leg-stump and Sciver clips away nicely . Four to fine leg, taking the batter to 86. Sciver’s done well but has remained a notch down on that idealised Dynamism Quotient. But okaay, there is context here.

Sciver goes. Firstly she does that familiar, snatchy-wristy thing where she plays way across a straight one: on this occasion the leading edge loops high but straight beyond the bowler – Jonassen – to safety. Then, however, she misjudges and plays on, agonisingly. 252 for 8.

Vlaeminck at Marsh, then the incoming Ecclestone. Wow. A short of half-tracker! But harmless. The bowler does stray a little – that’s her reputation – and another one down leg is neatly dispatched, by Ecclestone. Four.

Swift word about Tayla Vlaeminck. And Fast Bowling. Great to see her racing in but did you know that she’s been through a whole series of operations? Find that rather depressing – the thought that everybody bowling quick finishes up significantly hurt by the process. Cricket must do this Looking After The Quicks thing so-o much better.

Three boundaries bring England to the brink of the follow-on total of 271. (Two to Marsh then a blow over the top, from Ecclestone). Soon we’ll know how England intend to erm, chase out a win, from here.

Drama drama. England go past that key figure but to general incredulity in the Media Centre, they do not immediately declare. Two mins later, however, Marsh is l.b.w. sweeping to Jonassen… and Knight calls them in! We’ll get a few overs in before lunch. (5, it turns out).

Really interestingly, Rachael Haynes is opening, with Healy. Ecclestone first, for England, from below us in the Pavilion End. Refreshingly tense first over: appeals, misses and scratchy-nervy batting.

Nice bit of swing for Brunt. She could be a threat. Healy is watchful.

When she breaks out, off a wide one, Beaumont cannot stop the square-drive. Should have. The frustration for England is compounded when Healy encourages the next delivery round the corner and Taylor’s dive to leg is beaten. Four more. 8 for 0 off 2.

You’ve got to love Brunt. (Well, maybe you haven’t but) she’s Fully Committed. She’s bowling full and well and *believing*. She’s even managing a pret-ty convincing glare, at Haynes. It may all well be fraudulent but I like it.

Notable that Ecclestone has led this ahem *charge*. Not bad for a young ‘un. Plainly Robinson recognises she is a prime threat – one to be trusted with a huge moment, even if it turns out to be a charade of a huge moment. Ecclestone ahead of Shrubsole, partly of course because she is ver-ry different (and because of conditions) but also because Ecclestone has landed, as a force. Australia go for their tuna salad at 13 for 0.

Extraordinary start, after lunch! Marsh claims both Healy and Haynes! Fabulous delivery, in particular to claim Healy – angled across but straightened sharply. Haynes l.b.w. to something a little less explosive.

Extraordinary (with all due respect) to find Marsh this unplayable but as she comes back for her second over – after a decent one from Ecclestone – she is feeling kindof thataway. It means a real spike, of course, in the intensity.

Ecclestone has a big shout. Knight lung-burstingly chases a lost cause. The crowd stir. Australia are genuinely finding it tough, amassing a ver-ry streaky 23 for 2 in the first ten overs.

Huge appeal – but one that built, suspiciously, I thought – as Ecclestone beats Lanning. Not given; correctly. Note again that England have THREE spinners plus Heather Knight in the side… for this moment, precisely? It’s tough, right now, for both Perry and Lanning – and they’re decent, right?

14.15 with Aus now at 43 for 2. We may be kidding ourselves but this feels like competitive cricket – meaningful cricket. Credit to both sides, on that.

Ecclestone going well enough but Marsh has been exceptional. And turning it more than I remember. An England appeal-fest in progress: Ecclestone is denied one that, on review, was on the money. Unfortunate.

Knight has been doing that Trescothick kneeling-at-second-slip routine. Almost looks comical – maybe especially with her exceedingly grubby-looking sweater. Australia are now 50 for 2 and their lead is 195 runs.

Slight sense that Ecclestone may just be tiring. Dragging down a couple and they are tending to get punished. Marsh will continue from the River End but do wonder if we may see a change (from underneath us) next over. As I say this – not before, I promise – Gordon is warming up.

Gordon to come, then. Mixed, from the Scot. At least three four-balls – one of which is dispatched. But also the wicket of Lanning, off possibly the worst pie of the century, slung loose and highish: Elwiss takes a decent catch at extra cover. Horror-show for the Australian skip, delight and some embarrassment, may-beee, for the bowler?

The visitors suddenly three down… but over 200 ahead. So this may all be a charade, yes? But here, at this moment,with the action in front of us, it feels like an entertaining day of Test Cricket – it really does. Mooney and Perry mean it… and so do England.

Elwiss replaces Marsh, the thinking surely being that her medium-pacers may grip in the surface a tad more than Shrubsole’s. (We haven’t seen Shrubsole yet, this innings). Perry has by this stage engineered her way to 37 and Mooney has 18.

Double-change, thereafter, as Ecclestone returns, starting with a loosener which Perry can scuff away to fine leg.

Sense that Australia are beginning to raise it; not remotely boomtastically yet… but a tad. Mooney we know can smash – and often does, in shorter format cricket. Against Ecclestone, she whips one to leg, only to see it stick in either Beaumont’s grateful hands, or her midriff, or both. Gone. Beaumont does three laps of Somerset in delight. 105 for 4.

So conditions have been relatively testing for batters. Even Perry has had to ‘work at this’: she even has a moment of concern, or two – the latest over a possible run-out, which she narrowly survives. Then she gets to fifty, again with a fluent cut off Brunt.

Many of my colleagues protest when this isn’t the cue for a declaration. At 132 for 4, with Australia 278 ahead – and with England needing about 7 an over through the remaining overs – why wouldn’t Lanning call them in? Because they want a handful more, before they try to make another statement, against an England batting line-up out in the middle… but hopeless. Plenty mind-games. Tea.

For me, plenty folks in the Press Corps and on telly (or both) are being overly bullish about the Playing To Win, Or Not thing. Think it’s interestingly macho – and yes, a fair few of them are women – but not sure they are allowing enough for a) human nature b) human frailty c) the needle in play, here d) that thing where you do the last thing your opponent (your enemy?) wants. I think Aus will declare, here. Soon.

Shrubsole and then Elwiss after tea. Jonassen – a more-than-decent bat – punishes the latter for four and move to 18. Shrubsole, who is of course not now bowling in Hoof-friendly conditions, seems out-of-sorts.  My hunch is we may go back to Marsh and Ecclestone, imminently.

We have a break, for an injury to Taylor,  affecting her shoulder or upper chest. But she will continue.

Shrubsole bowls a goodish yorker which Perry gets something on… but it squeezes past Taylor and on to the boundary. Perry has 64 and the lead goes to 300.

Presently – sorree but we are all drifting a wee smidge now – Knight comes in from the river for her first go. Her second ball is a foot down leg. Her third has Jonassen, plumb. 168 for 5, Jonassen made 37, tidily enough.

So The Change works again. Hilariously, Knight’s final ball surpasses the earlier contestant for Worst Ball of the Century and the incoming Molineux absolutely carts it to Cow Corner for four.

Shrubsole is still with us and follows. She’s persevered and she beats Perry outside off.

Wilson, on for Taylor, is nearly at the centre of the action – or phoney-action(?) Molineux, who has mistimed more than once, chips Knight towards her, at cover. Wilson reaches high but the movements seem off-kilter. She gets a hand to the ball but cannot hold on. Mildly amusing that the England skipper’s lack of zip, pace, spin and particularly bounce is creating issues, here.

Gordon is in from the Pavilion End. She continues, in short, to offer too many full-tosses and is punished again, by Molineux. Australia lead by 340, at 195 for 5.

Mostly, Perry and Molineux are both looking comfortable. The latter creams one through cover; she has 28. We *just don’t know* what’s been said in the Australian dressing-room but that declaration still ain’t a -comin’. Is Lanning really going to bat through? Find that difficult to believe.

Increasingly expansive now, Molineux, in swinging across to leg, is ultimately bowled off the pad, by Gordon. Gardner has a look at Gordon for one ball, then strikes her for the first six of the match, straight back over her head. Fabulous.

The scoreboard suggests 18 overs remain. Perry, on 76 has shown fascinatingly little inclination to charge towards her hundred – which again looked there for the taking. Gardner, meanwhile, is charging… and out, caught, by Beaumont, for 7. We look to the sidelines, as Perry twiddles her bat, mid-pitch. Lanning is apparently asking a question, or awaiting an answer.

The captains have agreed on the draw: Australia have retained the Ashes.

The circumstances are extraordinary but I am not as outraged as many in the Media Posse. Not sure what this says about my judgement but I’m generally comfortable being something of an outlier. I hope I’ve covered the thinking behind my thinking. Congratulations Australia – see you in Bristol.

Reflecting over a much-needed glass of red. (Cheers).

Still more at ease with the alleged Aussie cop-out than some and don’t support the idea that this has been damaging to Test Cricket for Women.

It may not have been as bold as some might have liked but maybe give the players, the captains, the coaches a little slack on that? Dynamically edgy cricket is of course desirable but how often are we actually going to see that, in Tests, realistically?

There’s an argument that the relative ‘slowness’ of Test Cricket is part of what makes it what it is.  (Again I stress that this may not be ideal, or what the game either ‘needs’ or should aspire towards but *maybe* neither Lanning nor Knight have entirely traduced the essence of all that, here?)

So. There has been in my view both some ver-ry astute and legitimate criticism… and some posturing around this. I’ve enjoyed – yes, enjoyed – a good deal of what I’ve seen. The obvious imperfections of the third and fourth days really haven’t turned me off: indeed, I hope Women’s Tests can grow, from this.