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”.

Highlights Reel, as does the memory. Universe Podcast looks back on a year of cricket – mine, 2019.

A meander through my personal highlights, with particular attention on the games I actually attended. Vaguely chronological but with the inevitable @cricketmanwales-stylee diversions.

So, unreliable memories around both England men and women’s international fixtures, plus KSL and Blast19 stuff. Some thoughts on coaching – on the England men’s batting – and ‘philosophical’ notions around approach and responsibility. Finally, I fall into a realisation that my ‘Day of the Year’ may have been…

well go listen and find out. And please do RT if you find it at all listenable.

 

*Note: plank that I am I started to say something about Sophie Ecclestone but then drifted. What I was going to add was that she is clearly a talent – already our (England’s) go to bowler when Knight needs to make something happen. (Not bad for a 19/20 yr-old). She isn’t a great fielder but one of my abiding memories of a difficult Women’s Ashes for England was that Ecclestone offers something.

Simmer Down.

Same squad. Did you groan or nod knowingly? You in the  Loyalty Camp or the Give the Arrogant Buggers a Short Sharp Shock Department?

As with (dare I say it?) a particular current political issue, voices are being raised – rather more than perspicacious argument. Things are polarised: why would this be, I wonder?

a) Because we care about England Cricket – Test Cricket. How it’s curated and organised, even.

b) We (to quote a bloggist of some occasional repute) All Know Better than the England Coach.

And of course c) because we’re all on twitter.

So, some arguments, 👇🏻 I hope.

England have lost the Ashes, or at least the Aussies have retained them, convincingly, being unarguably the better side. In today’s real world, this means that an inquest is inevitable.

(This is not the same as to say that said inquest wouldn’t have happened in times past: it just wouldn’t have happened at the same transparently foamtastic pitch).

I mention this because it may be instructive to all of us to reflect on how much bawling, actually, is appropriate and necessary and proportionate, here. And because I am preparing to battle against my own, broiling prejudices, right now.

England – manifestly pret-ty ordinary at test cricket England, yes? – have been beaten. Live with it, or view it with interested non-volcanism before discussing amongst peers? How’s that for a thought?

Except no. England – m.p.o.a.t.c. England – have been beaten at home, by a relatively average Australia, despite literally changing the ball to make sure things went their way. Plus *that sense* that our lot might be (whisper it) prima donnas, the ab-so-lute jessies!  None of the idle, cosseted bass-teds can be bothered ta learn the forward-bloody-defensive!

This is how it starts, yes? I mean IS YOUR MOMENTUM BUILDING BECAUSE MINE SURE AS HELL IS!!

Ahem. Look it was the Ashes. Australia were unspectacular – other than a couple of guys – and we, England, had just, in orgasmically scream-your-head-off hysteria, only gone and WON THE BLOODY WORLD CUP!! And yet!

Okay. No more capitals, I promise. Let’s try to find an argument or twelve. Let’s start with the Anderson Thing – the ball.

If opting to play at Edgbaston first was Phase 1 of the Grand Ashes Plan then Phase 2 was when England reverted to what they hoped would be Anderson-friendly Dukes’ balls, of a certain vintage – plainly to try and gain a wee advantage over our visiting cousins.

Naturally, other seamers might well have also benefitted from these air-dancing beauties but in James Anderson England will have believed they had the greatest exponent of swing bowling of these particular pills, in the history of the universe.

They will have banked on him being raw unplayable at Edgbaston – to kickstart the Ashes campaign – and probably also at Headingley and Old Trafford. And this would sort Ausbloodystralia, Smith included. And then there was suddenly no Jimmy.

(There is a counter-thread, as always, here. Folks always seek advantages and yup, all of us are tribal. Early doors, for example, Australia rather cutely inserted several key players into our County Championship: handy-enough dress-rehearsal time, perfectly legit. Should we be counting, might that acclimatisation make it one-all, would you say?  Certainly qualifies as a Cunning Plan. But hey, the games beyond the games are endless – maybe that’s another post?)

But back to the England Squad, selected today, for the final test, at the Oval. Same squad, a zillion possible meanings.

Does it mean that Bayliss and Root and Ed Smith (and Graham Thorpe if he’s still in position) are bonkers-in-love or thrall with Rooooot (as captain) and Bairstow and Buttler as Established Players? Maybe.

Does it mean that Foakes and Curran and the likes of Sibley and Pope are being cruelly under-considered? Maybe. Or there may be perfectly mature and viable discussions going on. Or rank delusion and selfishness and feeble eschewal of responsibility? All this is possible; as is the notion that Smith might be a kind of occasionally-inspired but controlling fascist-in-shades.

Where then, to start? With Root. Batting less convincing, captaincy mixed: that the consensus? So – in the absence of obvious candidates, maybe? – he stays as skipper, shortish-term and gets shifted back to batting at four. But he is, or continues to be – for want of a better phrase – on trial, in respect of his captaincy. This means other stuff.

(Let’s stick with the hypothetical line-up rather than the culture. And kindof ignore or subsume the horses-for-courses considerations around the next fixtures that might colour decision-making and selection).

Bairstow and possibly Buttler get dropped, with the expectation that they will, in time, having shown excellence in County Championship, be ‘restored’. If they don’t show the technique and the hunger for the longer format, then hey, maybe they are White Ball Players – job done. Foakes, widely regarded as the best ‘keeper on the planet and, having already shown what I am crassly going to call test mentality, gets in.

As, quite possibly does Curran, who despite his lack of killer pace has shown more born-to-it, test-winning mentality than almost anybody for a decade, in the short time he’s been on the scene. Curran, with his starry, gutsy, implacable brilliance only stays out of an absolute worldie of a team; a team waaaay better than this England; or a team playing a test in which you absolutely know he won’t bowl.

Weirdly – or not- this mini-clear-out, as well as sending important messages around complacency and competition, also repositions the coaching philosophy towards recognition for those who seem to get test cricket – those who have temperament. Meaning Leach and Overton earn the right to regular inclusion, or regular, meaningful consideration.

I could write thousands of words about Roy – & probably should. Just not now: he goes.

The Roy issue is inseparable from philosophical stuff – batting culture. (Did I say that Thorpe goes? Or is it enough that Ed Smith and possibly the wee man deliver a rocket? This is competitive sport, after all. Obvious failings get addressed). Some may say none of this – his failures – have been Roy’s fault and weirdly there may be some traction in that. However, did the fella not look flukily out of his depth for much of the match against Ireland?

As outsiders, we cannot know what’s been said by Smith, Bayliss, Thorpe, Root, when the “how do we approach this(?)” discussions have taken place, so maybe this culling of key staff is premature. Many would argue that this fuzziness around batting policy has been central to England’s problems… but it’s hard to imagine the actual conversations.

Could be Bayliss has been so-o falling over himself to be Of the Age that he really has been quietly inviting Roy, Bairstow and Buttler to go out there and express themselves. *Barfs into bin*. Could be that Thorpe (he is still in post, yes? Happy to be corrected on this) has been spending lots of time on technical stuff but is essentially saying the same thing.

If these guys actually believe that simplistic, macho nonsense then neither of them has any place being anywhere near an international test side. (Okay, I don’t actually mean that but you know what I mean?)

Thorpe, a fine player and no doubt a fabulous, committed bloke, is on drugs if he thinks that talent and intent make application and temperament redundant, in high-order test batting. (Incidentally I don’t think he does view things that way  but his problem is the players have wafted us in that direction. Problematically).

I am familiar with the idea that coaches now look to offer support to players who themselves take ownership of their   activity. Coaches now barely instruct, barely demonstrate: all this I understand and applaud. However, *if* there is patently a problem both in approach and execution – as there was, in the Ashes, with most of the England batting – then surely it is the job of the coach to facilitate remedies.

This might mean more, focussed, technical work or it might mean an instruction, an expectation, a bollocking. It seems unlikely, given the persistent errors and repetition of brain-fades, that strong enough words or good enough questions were forthcoming. Bayliss is off but Thorpe goes too.

If Roy was selected entirely on the basis that he should ‘believe in his talent and go after the bowling’ (and was told that), this was foolish, arguably arrogant but nevertheless a legitimate approach. It just proved – predictably – non-viable. If he was, as he latterly appeared, unsure of what his role was then this again reflects badly on the coaches, as well as himself. If at no stage did somebody say to the entire batting group ”right. Stay in there! Everybody’s job is just to stay in there”, then well, I give up.

Test Cricket is wonderfully complex. But the central requirement, in certain phases of certain games, to hold, to stall, to ‘survive’ and then re-gather is hardly a difficult one to grasp. Clearly there was some excellent Aussie bowling but I barely know any England (and Wales) supporter who wasn’t a tad embarrassed by the un-smartness of England’s approach. Fans and former players felt that England – that the ECB – have gotten caught out, for disrespecting the test format.

So we will judge according to how mad we got. How infuriated by Roy’s wildness, or Bairstow’s technical-tactical myopia, or Buttler’s gifted non-stickability. And whilst we might grudgingly accept that in life it’s good to get or to offer a second chance, most of us will be raising our eyebrows at a squad unchanged.

 

 

In answer to the question “Where were you?”

Ok so things can be too much. Sun. Alcohol. Events.

And then maybe you can get mixed up.

Who knows, really?

I can already feel the creep of history, or at least that slightly creepy feeling – “where were you?” And I know somewhere down the line I’ll just forget. So maybe this is my document, this is where I mark something.

Ben Stokes. Crazy, wonderful, tattooed euphoria and a free glass of chilled white from young Tom, behind the bar, at KandaBongoMan. In the batty, dusky dark, by the batty oaks and the solemn stones and the cows, actually, and the stage.

Stage? Yes. Empty but still ‘Once in a LIFE-timing’ at us before the band appear.

Band? Yes. Because from Ben Stokes we go here, blasting through the silent uplands (no cars, even though Bank Holiday) to the ridicuvenue, in the ancient valley under Carn Ingli. Then, over a glass, we catch our breath whilst contemplating said cows, said stones.

We can’t believe we’ve seen that. Tom the barman, recognising the All Stars hoodie, asks me did I see it. (I’m guessing he’s mid-twenties: I’m not. He’s saying he may never have seen a better day’s sport in his life, I’m putting it instinctively top three. Then we talk about coaching – he’s played for Llanrhian CC so we’re into family business. I strongly recommend the ECB Coaching Pathway, (honest), tell him to get on it, rapidly and then I confess I did neck the wine, pretty much).

Top three in my lifetime, off the the top of my head. But any need to delve too deep or go through some anal countback-thing? (And erm, can I say that?) What’s to be gained by unpicking the blurry wonder of it?

Bugger I’m torn on this. Do have that deliciously satiated feeling – Stokes is already forever and the minutiae will come back unbidden in joyful time. Sometimes we force when we reflect, yes? Plus the band are on.

So on the one hand I plain refuse to prepare the ground for those “it was right up there with blah di blah” conversations: I forget, anyway! The drama around Stokes – the non-catches, the Lyon’s Fumble, the bent or malfunctioning umpire – stands gloriously, kaleidoscopically alone and in the huddle with the greats, already. It’s seeping in (but) we will remember, individually.

Conversely, I need to see some of this again. How in god’s name did it actually happen? From Buttler/Woakes, how the hell did that happen?

I am dancing with my wife. I am thinking, I am wondering  how it is that spangly guitar and mysteriously ungraspable vocals can sustain such insuperable upfulness. When KandaBongoMan may, for all I know, be singing about vice and trauma.

How can things get so deliciously, defiantly, wonderfully twisted? Could it be, could it actually be that there is something invincible about (yaknow) the human spirit?

Phew. I know nothing and it’s great.