Making *things* irrelevant. (Nice one, Fran).

The Women’s World Cup is drawing a lot of flak – funny that. Depressingly it’s not just the dumb middle-aged blokes who know nothing about football but also their youngish, similarly lazy equivalents. (On my twitter, young sporty lads giving it the sloppy, arrogant thumbs-down).

Some are more appreciative of the really accomplished passing football being played by most teams – best exemplified, arguably, by Netherlands, Germany, USA, England, France but also executed by many of the lower-profile nations.

Personally I’ve enjoyed the level of comfort in possession many of the players are displaying: the building from the back, the lack of longball-as-first-resort. Tempted to say this is waaay better than many England Men’s sides have managed until the ‘culture-changes’ of the last few years but that would of course be a calamitous o.g. – we need to keep the men out of this.

Women’s sport is different and there is no value in comparing, either explicitly or ‘subconsciously’, though that is challenging, in all honesty, for a middle-aged dumbo like myself. Plenty decades have loaded up the assumptions and prejudices in my own personal ether but  I am trying to pick a way, judge a way through that, without entirely denying myself the right to criticise: the thinking being that genuinely fair comment (should I ever achieve that) actually respects the validity/quality of the sport and makes issues of gender/sex/sexual politics irrelevant.

Flick the switch and relax. Put the telly on. Ooh, bo-nusss! England Women v Windies Cricket is on Sky Sports Mix, which is available free, to the Walton household. And I have time to watch some of it. And OMG… FRAN WILSON!

A diversion, kindof.

Last week I blagged my way in to the car park at Worcester County Cricket Club (I do have accreditation but didn’t *actually have* parking sorted) and swung stylishly and maybe a tad smugly to a halt next to a biggish 4 x 4, from which England players were decanting themselves. One of them was Fran Wilson. I don’t know any the players personally, despite having watched them a fair bit live over the last couple of years, but particularly it felt like I don’t know Fran Wilson… because she’s hardly played. I was tempted to wish her all the best but from a strange fella in a car park… how?

For me this adds a further dimension to the moment (captured above, though surely you’ve seen it, yes?) that you may and probably should revisit whenever anyone says anything.

Says anything about women’s sport. Or maybe about women? Or maybe about racism or homophobia, or maybe when somebody is cruel or stoopid or in any sense prejudiced. Either point them to it or revisit yourself, to bolster your faith in stuff. Because the world gets better at moments like this.

Fran – the same Fran that jumped out of that car, that I nearly said hello and good luck to – did something very special for us, by being very natural (for her).

She dived. She instinctively, stunningly, magnificently dived. Crucially, she caught a missile. She made a beautiful, undeniable, joyful thing-of-a-movement. She was perfectly, athletically human and the only judgement anyone can ever make about it is that was a staggering catch. No qualifications.

We can swat away the comparisons with Ben Stokes. We can swat away everything. This is simple (if statements of this quality and magnitude can be simple?) and wonderful.  She literally reached, stretched, re-invented or maybe denied the limits. Fran absolutely excited us and there’s something magic and electrifyingly pure about that feeling.

Is it okay to say I/we loved it? I think so, I hope so. I really hope we can de-clutter this, to celebrate it. It may be unwise, it may be wrong for this oldish geezer to gush like this so clumsily. But for how it looked, for how it lit up an instant and for what it says, I loved it.

#England. #CWC19.

The England Squad for #CWC19 is as follows;

Eoin Morgan (Middlesex) Captain

Moeen Ali (Worcestershire)

Jofra Archer (Sussex)

Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire)

Jos Buttler (Somerset)

Tom Curran (Surrey)

Liam Dawson (Hampshire)

Liam Plunkett ((Surrey)

Adil Rashid (Yorkshire)

Joe Root (Yorkshire)

Jason Roy (Surrey)

Ben Stokes (Durham)

James Vince (Hampshire)

Chris Woakes (Warwickshire)

Mark Wood (Durham).

Inevitably, perhaps, the omissions – in particular that of Willey – are making as much noise as the selections.

Denly, the outstanding-but-maybe-not-good-enough-at-the-spinning-thing bloke is the other to miss out, again, some will argue cruelly. Let’s start with these guys – with the ‘negatives’.

Willey, with the ball, is consistent, effective and if there is *any help at all*, around, will make that relatively turgid (white) new ball swing, a little. Given the significance of both his contribution to this squad over a period of some years and the critical accident of his birth – left-handedness – there has been a ver-ry powerful argument in his favour. And yet…

The talk had been that he would miss out. Despite his authentic international quality, the brutal facts are that Archer is sprinkled with more in the way of Star Quality, he is quicker (as is Wood) and anyway the past, however worthy, can sometimes get yaknow, bulldozed.

We can be certain that as well as following their hunches about personal chemistry etc, etc, the England coaching squad (in our minds, as big as the playing squad and similarly tooled-up with every aid, stat and projected nuance) will have looked at the *implications* around a single-angled seam attack.

Presumably, ‘on balance’ they felt that Willey was a notch down on Wood, Archer, Plunkett and Woakes and the leftiness factor, though discussable, was not key. It should be noted, too, that to think of this as a straight Willey v Archer (or A.N. Other Seamer issue) may be unhelpful or unwise. It’s all about the blend: of skills, challenges and yes, personalities. It’s mad-complex, wonderful-complex, it’s deeply human, all this; that’s why coaching at any level is such a privilege, such a responsibility, such a joy.

I hope Willey can manage to avoid breaking ranks and blurting out something understandably loaded with what passes for grief, in sporting circles – at least in the short term. There’ll be time to write the book about this ‘betrayal’ later.

Denly is different. In the sense that if he didn’t feel, on the occasions that he was hoiked or simply estranged from the list of Morgan’s bowling options, that he was scampering nowhere, Denly should have known he was an outlier.

Yes, he may have wanted (and felt he deserved) a slot as a batsman in his own right… but no. Simply too much quality around and in front. Despite the impressive combination of calm and aggression with the bat, recently, Denly, (or maybe the name Denly?) in a spectacular squad, looked a tad one-dimensional.

Both these guys will be ‘devastated’ – or that’s what their books or serials in the cricket press will say.

Weirdly, I wonder if they will both be looking at Dawson and thinking WTF? He may be the one player in the squad who – despite flying at the next level down and acquitting himself reasonably well with England before injury struck – looks like an ordinary international player as opposed to a Guy Who Could Own This Bloody Event.

Dawson is, however, a left-handed all-rounder. And he may have a perfect temperament. And other stuff we don’t know about.

As a spinner who barely spins it, he may be fortunate: the first thing I think about when I look at his name on this list is that he won’t play much. That may not have been true of Willey… and it may have been have been true of Denly. Mean anything? Who knows?

On the plus side, we could write a shimmering opus. Archer *has something*; Wood is lovable and sometimes infectiously-scarily-good – and can be wonderfully, defiantly heavetastic in the tail. There are issues around fitness for both of these two gentlemen but – if available and ready – they give the squad (any squad) a lift.

The loyalty/steady squad argument around Archer has plenty of virtue. Making late introductions is controversial and possibly divisive. But this is a matter of management. Sport is tough, it ain’t no democracy and decisions have to be made. Bayliss could have quite legitimately stood up and said “this lad Archer is a genius but his time will come later”. He didn’t, so live with it.

Amongst the other seamers, Plunkett is often consistently, intimidatingly good, ball in hand and will likely get you 20, sharpish, should he need to stride out to bat. Curran is so-o fabulous at nearly everything it feels appalling to drop in the thought that should we get a spell of High Summer, his relative lack of pace may expose him. So ignore that. Look forward instead to a series of swashbuckling or icily brilliant contributions – if and when he gets picked!

Of the remainder, only Vince remotely approaches the borderline category. But the fella has quality; even the propensity to score only 35 is not a huge negative, in this format, with Morgan, Buttler, Stokes etc next in! Plus of course he will be effectively reserve opener, one would think.

Those unquestioned above are; Root, Morgan, Moeen Ali, Rashid, Buttler, Bairstow, Roy, Stokes, Wood, Woakes. Think I’ve probably set out their names because I like the look of them… and they were Must Haves.

Will they win? Absolutely impossible to tell. Too many variables, some good opposition and plenty of individuals who may take a game away from anyone. England, however, are probably the best team in the world. They seem unlikely to freeze and they have tremendous depth – particularly batting-wise. May their faith carry them through.

England snuffed out.

Installed. Fire lit. Dog snoring. Let’s get into this!

Molineux; assaulted by Wyatt. Wow. Twelve off the first – including a four and six. Star quality from England’s dasher. But oof, then Schutt nearly has her, slashing to backward point. 14 for 0 after 2 and an electrifying start has been dragged back a tad by Aus.

Perry. The World’s Greatest. Superb first ball then has Beaumont surely caught behind from the next? But no – highish but regulation catch fluffed by Healy. Minor shockwave goes round. Beaumont visibly struggling.

Schutt benefits. Beaumont miscues up, up, up and is gone for a disappointing, unconvincing handful – caught mid-off. Pitch looks slow and awkward again, mind, for batters. Nasser on commentary rightly notes the obvious nerves.

England have obviously had a Leg It Like Hell For Singles policy during WT20. It fails them – possibly crucially – as the in-form Jones is run out ‘by a country mile’ when gambling to Wareham. Great throw utterly exposes the risk – and undermines the innings.

Kimmince bowls two wides and England are 36 for 2 come the end of the powerplay.

Wyatt drives Perry hard, through wide mid-off. She’s not been flawless but these are important runs, given the nervous stuff from her colleagues.

Sciver must fire, you suspect, but her tendency to swing across the line finds her out, too. LBW, controversially, as she clearly feels she’s hit it, to Perry. Fortunately for England, this brings in Knight – their most level-headed player.

Wow (again). Wyatt blazes rather carelessly back at Kimmince but the bowler drops an admittedly sharp catch. After 8 England are 48 for 3. Frenetic is the word – from both sides.

Another error by both, as Knight and Wyatt utterly miscommunicate, leaving the skipper stranded. But Healy fluffs the stumping.

It’s so nervy it’s hard to guesstimate a good score. You wonder if Wyatt is steeling herself to go long – perhaps because England may not bat, as a team, that long – and she may therefore need to. Removing her helmet at 10 overs for a much-needed drink, she looks maybe more hot-and-bothered than icily determined. Knight, you feel, only does icily determined: a partnership – this partnership – may be key.

My hunch that Wyatt seems close to burned-out was right. She flays straight to Lanning at extra cover. Unsurprisingly, Lanning makes no mistake. Winfield – a former opener, remember – whom we’ve seen virtually nothing of, with the bat, in the tournament, joins Knight.

Par score might be 130, I reckon… but England may be shy of that.

Big Moments. Healy’s having a mare but she may possibly have asked for the review against Winfield, who was struck on the pad before cuffing away to off: she’s out. This brings in Dunkley who gets the dreaded GD – meaning two-in-two for Wareham.

So England in major strife. Not much batting left, 6 overs to come.

Perhaps I do Shrubsole (who has joined Knight) a disservice? And what she lacks in fluency she likely makes up for in grit and experience. Vice Captain and Captain to the rescue?

Blimey. Perry fails to get in swiftly enough to snaffle Shrubsole in the deep. Nasser clear England (who are 6 down) should be all out if chances had been taken. He’s right; Australia have been poor. But Perry gets another, easier chance – not good, from Shrubsole, this – and collects. With Hazell in, England are 86 for 7 after 16.

Knight drives for 6 but is caught charging Gardner again next ball. 98 for 8. Feels markedly short but who knows, Shrubsole may yet have a further dramatic role to play.

Ecclestone – an ordinary bat and ordinary athlete (to be blunt)  – is run out blamelessly in the final over and Hazell falls LBW to Schutt. Total reached is 105 all out. Would be quite something if England could bring this anywhere close. Anya, over to you.

They start with a risky single, off Sciver. Home. Comms on the telly have talked non-stop about a) weird Aus fielding and b) a soap-bar of a ball. Feels tense. Are folks really nervous or are conditions that tough? Difficult to know.

Healy, inevitably, releases. Two consecutive fours clattered to leg. Slightly worryingly, Shrubsole has dropped the second of these short and then spent an age faffing with her footholds. She is unfortunate that the umpire wrongly gives a wide against her but the over costs 14 precious runs, ultimately. Enter Ecclestone.

She turns it. Good over but leaks a boundary last ball. Australia 21 for 0 after 3.

The changes continue, with Hazell in. I personally question her quality (and certainly her level of threat) but Knight and presumably Robinson must respect her experience: lets see.

6 off the over, Aus remaining untroubled. Ecclestone looks a tad more challenging – quicker, more spin – but hey, somebody must break through, for England, more than once. Urgently.

They do. Ecclestone bowls Healy, for 22, off 20. Enter Gardner. Will she be bullish and brilliant, or will nerves turn her brain to mush? (Spot of wishful thinking but either feels possible).

Excellent over for England – can they maintain this mini-squeeze? They turn back to Shrubsole.

Little swing for England’s Finest, however. She looks a little deflated, in truth – particularly as she strays slightly to leg, defeating Jones behind the sticks.

Having entered the contest as Knight’s most deadly weapon, Shrubsole, after two of our four overs, feels neutralized – either by the dew, nerves, or factors unknown. At the end of the powerplay Australia are easing through at 37 for 1.

Gordon does okay again but concedes 7 from the 7th.

From nowhere, the seemingly innocuous Hazell, pushing one out wide, has Mooney caught behind. Hmmm. Good over follows; Australia 47 for 2 off 8.

Ecclestone backs up her spin partner but Lanning does spank her over mid-off – more in a polite-ish reminder kindofaway than in outright, incontrovertible violence – mid-over.

Hazell is in again but concedes two boundaries; one a glorious drive, the second a slightly top-edged swing to leg. 60 for 2 after 10, with plenty of batting to come, you would think.

Lanning dismisses a wide one from Gordon to the point boundary. Looking at the bench and a scorecard proffering Perry at number 7(!) and this surely now, is slipping away from England. No… it’s gone.

Knight takes the 12th over herself but hoiks one well outside leg. Wide. Could be that the ball (which is receiving a huge amount of attention) is likewise slipping. Next, the captain flings down a horrible full-toss which Gardner smashes over midwicket for six.

The Aus batter does the same to Gordon, signalling a charge to the line. 19 only, needed, off 43… so Gardner repeats, more beautifully and more emphatically. To Make The Statement.

50 partnership. Lanning and Gardner moving through the gears, closing out – snuffing out England.

In mitigation of what appears a muted performance from the team in red, it’s plain by now that this is a particularly difficult time to bowl and field, with towels out every ball; but Knight remember did choose to bat. (Discuss?)

The ifs and buts will inevitably include discussion around the absences of two of England’s most influential players (Brunt and Taylor)but Australia are – India game notwithstanding – the best.

Gardner cuts Shrubsole and the scores are level. Lanning tips and runs to Sciver and they are deservedly champions, with 4.5 overs remaining, by 8 wickets. 106 for 2.

There’s been talk of an aspiration to dominate for a period of years – Perry, notably, has spoken this way – and looking at the margin of victory here and the depth and power of this Australian group, such talk does not feel innapropriate. Congratulations to them: the world game must chase – hard.

 

 

 

 

 

Significant Threat.

I was there when England scuffed and skipped, fainted and feinted their way past South Africa in the World Cup semi, in Bristol. It was, as they say, dramatic – dramatically bad for one’s equilibrium – whoever you happened to be supporting.

I do realise that that was a different time, place and format but sometimes it feels like there are *themes*, eh?

In the 50 over comp Heather Knight’s posse somehow came out on top but not before most of us England fans had bawled or tutted or cut out the middle person and shat ourselves. On the one hand, the subsequent, glorious victory at Lords squishes all arguments regarding England’s durability but on the other it feels true to also characterize the side with the rider ‘likes a wobble’.

They do – and we’ve already seen that in this WT20, during the win against Sri Lanka. In this game the first ball dismissal of Wyatt precipitated some pret-ty major, visibly contagious and relatively prolonged angst. So we approach the crucial game tonight, versus *arch-enemies South Africa with hope, yes but also with fear.

(*Arch-enemies? Can we still say that?!? There is a smidge of something approaching enmity, I suspect, between these two camps).

Strangely or boldly, England retain their 3 leftie spinners: can they/ will they do that against Aus? South Africa win the toss and opt to bat.

Lee, Wolvaardt, Kapp and van Niekerk are all players; by that I mean legitimate international players, with talent and experience. The concern around them is two-fold. Where is their confidence? Can they go at this?

The answer to question two is a resounding and disappointing ‘no’. Whisper it – for fear of encouraging more, bellicose negativity from male ‘traditionalists’ – but 21 of the first 24 balls… are dot balls.

The extraordinary aggression-void has engulfed South Africa in the same way it has smothered the ambitions of other teams in the competition. To the extent that this is in danger of not feeling like a competition – more a procession, led by Australia, where nominal rivals act out the role of opponents, rather meekly.

We can hope that India, the Windies and England may yet make a nonsense of this argument: Australia may not prove to be dominant. However the gulf in terms of intent between the Southern Stars and most others is striking… and a tad dispiriting.

But back to tonight’s opener – where sadly it is again as though the powerplay doesn’t exist (for South Africa) – or at least that part of the powerplay that opens up possibilities for the batters to clatter boundaries; that actively encourages it.

I have no doubt that this side of the game will develop in good time: more importantly a notably animated Charlotte Edwards bemoaning the generally disappointing lack of ambition (in commentary on TMS) goes on to repeatedly insist that a gear-change is completely essential. That gap must close.

Meanwhile wickets fall, the runrate continues to stall. 43 for 4 after 13 – but still somehow drama-less.

Knight claims a catch. Rather cheekily, according to the replay (according to Edwards); but the current England skipper is rather fascinatingly certain, even through the re-played denial. Kidding herself, being shamelessly competitive/cynical? Who knows?

Chloe Tryon belatedly launches; smites two sixes in quick succession. Can’t sustain it – caught off Sciver, to snuff out any real hopes of approaching 100. Tunnicliffe follows Tryon to the dressing-room. I can only imagine the trauma for Proteas supporters; the unambition, the disappointment seems endless.

Last over. Shrubsole skittles Ismail, has Klaas caught next ball off a leading edge then achieves the unthinkable-but-somehow inevitable by cleaning out Fourie. Hat-trick! Sciver’s wunnerful-ludicrous figures of 4 overs, 3 for 4 will rightly draw the eye of the cognoscenti but Shrubsole, again, will make the headlines.

Innings done at 85 all out. Okaay, South Africa’s strong suit is their bowling but at this stage it feels like they are about to be crushed. Except that England do like a wobble.

The spikes in quality continue. Klaas gifts England a four with a piece of fielding that is frankly humiliating: painful to watch. Wyatt blasts away with intent and some style. A different level of commitment to run-scoring – or just running.

With an angry Ismail putting it all in there, Beaumont drives her beautifully through firstly midwicket, then extra cover. Both times for four. Proper Top Level Cricket. Important for a tournament still disentangling itself from perceived mediocrity.

General note on this: I think all of us who genuinely enjoy supporting women’s cricket struggle around how to pitch any criticism. Better for female voices to do it. It’s not easy. But clearly learning can come from criticism as well as praise.

Very much on the plus side, Dani Wyatt is energetic, watchable and – tonight – has gotten swiftly into her flow. She belts through a series of borderline singles, diving to gain her ground at some cost to her physical safety. In simple terms, there is no comparison between the approach of the English openers and the preceding South Africans.

Come the end of the powerplay, England are 41 for 0. (South Africa were 24 for 1).

The Wyatt and Beaumont partnership are past cruising, at 55 for 0. Into, or possibly disappearing towards that dreamland where Statements Are Really Made. Could they do this in 12 overs, for none down?

No. Van Niekerk’s loopy leggies get Wyatt, clunkily, behind her legs,  premeditating a sweep but ultimately looking rather daft.

Sciver does something similar, to Daniels, walking to off and being bowled leg stick. After 10, England are 59 for 2. Then Beaumont gifts van Niekerk a further wicket, booming directly to long on.

With Amy Jones now joining captain Heather Knight it does feel like England have sufficient quality remaining to find the required runs. This they do. 87 for 3, ultimately. They’ve eased there, in truth.

Maybe it’s as well that Jones and Knight – both 14 not out at the close – have had some more time in the middle. Maybe. Certainly Jones will have enjoyed clubbing Ismail so emphatically through the covers and blasting the winning runs. Likewise Knight will have loved the two beautiful straight drives she stroked – and I do mean stroked – downtown.

But there may also be that minor frustration around the possibility for a 10 wicket job. Wyatt and Beaumont were simply playing at a higher level than the South African batters. Both got themselves out in their 20s, when plainly bigger scores – and additional psychological advantages – were there for the taking.

Maybe scratch that? Maybe we should be simply enjoying a thoroughly convincing win against traditionally competitive rivals? Maybe save Ultimate Ruthlessness Mode for the teams – Windies, India, Australia – who pose the most significant threat. Maybe don’t even note in passing, that there was no discernible wobble here.

Played, England. Good to see you so focused, so positive. Good to see you enjoy the win. Move on; you’re in this, now.

Spitting and Swearing.

Bristol, yesterday; lifting (as we say in Wales) with festivals and beery but beaming fans – football fans. Shrill and St Paulsiferous in the dizzying sunshine.

Today it may be hotter and the festivities are rich again but different. Smelling less dope, seeing similarly fabulous levels of colour. Some of this, of course, describes inadequately and I hope not in any way pejoratively the Indian support; but also the home fans, brightly if not luridly t-shirted for the day’s cricket. It’s proper summer and proper hot – 30 degrees.

1.30pm. News. Kumar may be out with a stiff back and Root is dropped, Stokes is in. Which is a sharpish reminder that sport at the top end is competitive. I *decide* that my typical ball-by-ball attack on this is OUT; big call but it’s bloody intense to do that for two innings.

This means theoretically I can sit back a little, enjoy and hopefully be maturely, authoritatively, entertainingly reflective. In practice and in truth, could be that my twitchy nature means I pour out the instinctual cobblers as usual. (*I do*).

First over from Chahar. Buttler clatters him through extra and then mid-on and (lols) we need to change the ball. Buttler miscues that new ball for another four, to square leg and there are 13 from the first over.

Umesh Yadav now follows from in front of us in the Pavilion End. The Indian quick looks powerful and committed but ominously, England’s keeper despatches him straight and then really middles a pull to backward square. Buttler is flying early.

Roy joins the fun, driving classically with beautiful hands –  straight – then profiting from a misfield, then clattering Yadav over mid-off for the first six. England have bolted to 43 for 0 off 4. Siddarth, in his distinctive red headband, has the unenviable job of bowling the fifth.

The scoreboard is already strongly indicative of a more bat-friendly strip that the unusually lively one at Sophia Gardens on Friday. Both Roy and Buttler appear to be striking with potentially demoralising ease. The runrate soars to over 12 as we reach 73 for 0 after 6. Apparently the guys on the telly are suggesting India have misread the green tinge on the pitch for seamtasticism. Nope; it’s easy-pickings – currently at least.

India put down two toughish but maybe catchable chances as Roy bursts on to 50 from 23 balls. Crazy to think it but *right now* there is a medium-legitimate possibility that India might get humiliated here. Roy absolutely nails one which thuds spookily loudly against the window five feet to my right – nearly brutalising the cameraman innocently stationed on that balcony.

Siddarth, having changed ends, responds by bowling Buttler, attempting to heave a very full one to leg. The Indian support get behind him and there will be more to cheer, as Roy, who had looked impregnable, in trying to guide over the keeper, edges to the keeper. England are still going great guns – over ten an over – but the familiar sense that there is no contest between batter and bowler, has drifted.

This is a smallish but pleasantly flooded-with-light kindofa ground: it seems full – fuller than Cardiff, on Friday. Short boundaries straight, again, like Sophia Gardens. Conditions for playing and spectating could barely be more perfect.

A further shift: Morgan skies two, the second of which is taken by Dhoni, waddling over and then trashing through the stumps. (The previous really should have been taken, at extra, but as the fielder is subsequently escorted from the field clutching his head, maybe the cries of ‘Village’ really do need to transform to sympathy… and then to support).

While Chahar is being attended to, the Indian comeback continues, as Hales is out edging behind. We find ourselves with two new batsmen at the crease – admittedly these are Bairstow and Stokes – but the game has re-invented itsef… as a game. 150 for 4 as we enter the 16th over.

Like Umesh Yadav for his control and consistency. He slots another series of probing yorkers at the batsmen’s heels. It’s Pandya, though who claims Stokes, caught easily and coolly by Kohli at long off.

When Bairstow also goes, caught behind, England appear to be conjuring a pret-ty disappointing under-achievement. Willey’s edge onto middle off Yadav confirms, indeed emphasises this turnaround.

With Roy and Buttler looking unplayable earlier, England looked set for something approaching 250: we enter the penultimate over 59 runs shy of that figure. It’s over to Plunkett and Jordan to re-wrestle the initiative.

Instead Jordan becomes the third England bat to try to guide behind, claimed in straightforward fashion by Dhoni.

The Indian icon is rather more seriously challenged by the runout chance on the final ball of England’s knock. Throwing down his glove early in anticipation of the inevitable wild scamper, Dhoni flattens the stumps, in doing so reducing (if that’s the right word, it feels like it?) England to a total of 198 for 9. Somewhere, Roy and Buttler are spitting and swearing.

This could be a great game. Willey is making some things happen but immediately India counter. Rohit Sharma and Dhawan strike, purely, to raucous appreciation, as the nerves all around settle… and at the same time, jangle explosively.

Ball dives outstandingly to his left to remove Dhawan, off Willey; Rohit clatters Jordan straight; the ball is changed; the crowd is in. India are taking this challenge on, fearlessly. It could be a great game. 43 for 1 off 4.

There are flats, at the Ashley Down Road End, with extravagant views over the ground. Currently most of Bristol is up there.

They get the proverbial grandstand view, then, as Jordan races, eases then reaches brilliantly out and behind to remove Rahul off Ball, for 19. It’s a proper *moment*, fit for a clash of top, top-level players and it brings in some fella called Kohli.

After 7, India are 72 for 2. Enter Rashid.

Rohit Sharma gets to a swift 50 with a minor miscue behind off Stokes. The batsmen do, however look to have this under some measure of control. England need to do all of the following, arguably unhelpfully contradictory things;

  • hold their nerve.
  • Make something happen.
  • Either distance themselves from or feed off the crowd.

As India get to 100 for 2 – and beyond – there are increasing signs that both Rohit and Kohli are relishing this. A certain portion of the crowd is sniffing a particularly satisfying win; sniffing noisily and full-throatedly. India need 74 from 48 balls, as the heroic fielder Jordan runs in from under the pavilion.

The bowler mixes it up – one delivery ambling down there at a teasing 66 mph. He errs significantly, though, by offering a full toss around Rohit’s left shin; it’s smacked out over square leg, for six.

Plunkett finds Kohli in similarly belligerent mood. In a flamingoesque flash, the ball is propelled shockingly for a further maximum. Blimey this is brilliant, from the visitors. They appear to be easing to an impressive win.

Except Jordan. One of the sharpest catchers in world cricket takes a very sharp c&b to remove Kohli. Doesn’t, in the moment feel enough, as India need only 48 from 30 balls but hey… who knows? Rashid returns from the Ashley Down Road End – no dramas.

Big Challenge for Ball as he takes the next. His first is driven straight for four, his second dug out skilfully from off his toes by Pandya then a further boundary comes through midwicket. Nothing against Ball but strong sense in the Media Posse that he was the wrong bloke there.

29 needed from 18 as Willey comes in from under those flag-draped flats. Feels like Rohit has this, but Pandya pitching in nicely with a long-levered drive for six, then a four… then more. The fella seems intent on denying his partner a glorious ton. India suddenly need just the 9 from 2 overs.

In fact Sharma does get to that landmark – kissing Jordan down to third man. India win it, by 7 wickets, as Pandya goes big again over long on.

Fine series, enjoyed by both sets of supporters (I would suggest), won deservedly by determined, accomplished, elite-level-competitive men in blue. Congratulations.

 

The drums.

You know it’s India when you hear the drums. In this case, when you hear them in Cardiff, at 3.45p.m. for the 5.30 start, against England, in what we (Brits) might think were punishingly hot conditions. Drums and dancing outside the gates; like some wonderfully naive, inadequately-warlike festival-thing, which has started worryingly early, given the weather. I’ll have what they’re drinking.

Alan Wilkins. Out there interviewing Nasser and pumping his book, at the base of the media stairs. Accomplished and immaculately groomed – Alan, not the stairs. Although the stairs are well looked-after enough, I guess. 4.13 p.m.

4.30-odd. Activity. Everywhere. Lots of people in a Media Centre that I know through some experience is often empty; drills and footie malarkey out there on the outfield, which looks dry and quick but which is showing the drainage-patterns, slightly disconcertingly, when seen from high up in our glassy eyrie. People coming in.

Close to 5 p.m. and we learn that England have won the toss and will bowl: cue the vigorous fielding drills in front of us. Hales, notably takes a couple of really testing skiers from Farbrace right against the boundary: smart, controlled work.

I’m watching a fair amount of live cricket – mainly internationals. I’m slightly fascinated by how slowly and late the stadia tend to fill up (assuming they are going to be full). At 5.15 – just a quarter of an hour in old money before some of the world’s best batsmen face our finest, most awetastic bowlers and the seats are about a third full. Weird. There are giant flags, there are anthems… and we have a game. Willey will open to Rohit Sharma. Second ball flies through, with decent carry. Great start from the bowler, just the one conceded.

Ball is next up, from the River End, where, until a few seconds ago, smoke was rising hynotically from immediately outside the ground. Mercifully it’s gone before the batsman take issue or stance. However Rohit is caught skying a top edge after a drive for four and India are 7 for 1 as Willey begins the third.

It’s another solid over. Guessing somebody on the coaching staff is muttering (or bellowing) ‘GREAT EXECUTION!!

Dhawan trots past Ball on the way through to an easy single.  Seems about a foot between them – hilarious. Then my fielding legend Hales allows the first pull in anger past him, Sunday League style, for four and the crowd behind him reveals its vociferous Indianness.

Shortly after the diminutive Dhawan seems overwhelmed by the size of the bat – shockingly failing to carry and slide it in during a scamper for safety. Daft sod’s out. ‘Absolute village’ cries a renowned journo to my left.

It doesn’t get much better for India, as Rohit swings and misses at Plunkett – on first view missing by a mile, as the ball scoots merrily into the off stick. The visitors are suddenly 23 for 3 off 5.

The pitch is unquestionably livelier – fairer, maybe – than tracks here in Cardiff tend to be. Plunkett and Ball and Willey sending it through with some venom, meaning limited aggression, so far, from the batsmen. With India at 36 for 3 after 7, even the god Kohli is playing relatively watchfully: he and Raina have to rebuild.

I’m rather liking the non-explosive nature of all this, to be honest. After 10, India are 52 for 3, with Kohli on 14 and his partner Raina on 16. Virat, sensing the need to lift the boom quotient, smashes Rashid through midwicket before offering a cruelly hard diving catch to Roy out at long on.

Roy can only spill the ball for six. Raina responds by despatching Ball over midwicket and the momentum swing is both striking and exhilirating. The ground – now almost full – has come alive.

Raina is comprehensively beaten by Rashid’s googly and is easily stumped by Buttler. Meaning (or feeling like) Kohli might need to bat through and remind the universe of his greatness. Dhoni has joined him: half us wonder if we are dreaming; Kohli? Dhoni? Cardiff? Delirious sunshine?!? Wow.

After 14, India are 89 for 4, suggesting this is a 150/160 pitch not a 200 pitch. Let’s see. Dhoni whip-thrashes Rashid through midwicket with real violence, for four, to re-announce the urgency, here.

In the 18th, Kohli swats Willey down to fine leg, where Root takes a tough catch coolly. Good stuff from Willey – arrowing these in consistently and with good control. His four overs have cost only 18. In comes Pandya.

Did I mention it’s a lovely evening?

Jordan bowls a couple of beautiful yorkers but Pandya eventually absolutely launches one back, straight, for a much-needed maximum. Ball will bowl the final over with England a) pleased to have bowled first and b) surely ahead of the game, unless… unless.

Dhoni plays mainly tennis shots but grabs a lump of runs as his side get to 148 for 5 at the close. Perfect.

Yadav to Roy. Second ball contemptuously dismissed to the midwicket boundary: 14 from the over. *Statement*.

First thought was the bowler didn’t look as sharp as ours – Ball and Willey and Plunkett all got more lift. Second thought, dead right to go after this aggressively.

Kumar, from the River End, is less accommodating to the batsmen. Without alarm though, England are 16 for 0 off two.

And then Yadav bowls Roy. Looked quicker, was killer length. Root comes in – interestingly.

Buttler plays a beaut of a forward defensive – barely pushing – which rolls out for four between the bowler and long off. Might be the shot of the night, for all its ease. Proper Cricket, with just the occasional biff, should see England home, you would think?

Oof. Kohli puts down Buttler, who drove straight at him. The Indian skip had to jump but is rightly furious he spilled it: village… or rather *hu-man*.

Absurdly, Buttler absolutely repeats the shot, this time with a different result. Kohli catches and runs thirty yards in a spunky, crowd-conscious fury. Amaazingly, the Indian support lap it up, noisily. Hales joins Root and lifts Pandya for an encouraging four to get England to 42 for 2 off 6. The crowd, as they say, are ‘in’.

Some variety now, from Chahal. He bowls Root, swooshing rather crassly across towards square leg: game on.

Here’s a thing. There’s barely been a stroke of violence, from England and nobody’s connected with a reverse sweep or other new-fangled wotsit. In other words, the batsmen are having to earn their living – which is great, no? England on 55 for 3 after 10.

K Yadav starts with an absolute pie, which Hales misses out on – probably not believing his luck. Then the left arm legspinner asks a few questions. There are two big appeals in the over, the second being reviewed.

Eventually it’s confirmed as not out, the ball striking the pad outside the line and missing. We’re really not seeing huge turn but the batsmen are both scratching around – until Hales nails Chahal for six over cow corner. England’s number ten backs this up with a lovely, cheeky kiss down to third man for four more. Nice. 72 for 3 off 11.

Morgan joins the party with his first strike over the top, easing it to the river; four more. Hales trumps that with a monster drive out of the ground and into that same river. He goes to 32.

Arguably the Moment of the Game as Dhawan catches Morgan. In the deep, shuffling and adjusting, before genuinely leaping and contorting to clasp the ball tight; triumphantly tight. Half the stadium rises – and I don’t think they were all supporting the team in blue. Fabulous.

On the downside for India, this brings in Bairstow.

The quality of the evening has transformed, as it does. Most of the outfield is now in deep shadow, with the players balcony looking (yaknow) British and the stand opposite positively Mediterranean.

England need 46 from 30 balls so this is still beautifully poised. And the crowd are still in. Boundaries must be struck.

Pandya charges in again from the River End and surprises Bairstow with a sharp lifter.  Then another – short but perfectly legit. Later in the over it’s noticeable that Kohli is having words woth the ump again and the fella looks a tad mizz; in fact they both do. The body language speaks of strongish irritation.

Bairstow stems the chat by sweeping Yadav beautifully and easily for six to square leg, taking England to 117. Then he does it again, this time over Kohli at midwicket. Huge – maybe match-defining? (I think) England need 23 from 3 overs.

But Bairstow goes, swinging straight to deep fine leg. Wow. This is gonna be close. England 126 for 5, after 17.1. Again the Indian support owns the stadium.

Hales needs the strike but Willey scuffs it for one. The target is 20 from 2 overs. Suddenly steepish. Willey tries to get off strike with a tipitandrun… but fails. Important. Hales now, under real pressure, must go big.

Yadav bowls three superb yorkers (or more!) and the game feels done. Except no. Hales squeezes another one out to the mid-off boundary. Morgan’s Suddenly Beatable Posse will need 12 off the last!

Hales puts the first in the river. 6 from 5.

A skiddy clip to fine leg is a further four. Un-be-lievable. A single leaves Willey with 1 needed off 3. Fantastic, fantastic game.

He bundles Kumar to leg… for four.

Excellent contest in a really boisterous-in-a-good-way bowl of a stadium – felt great. Congratulations to both sides and to the crowd, too, they really did contribute to the night’s entertainment. The Indian fans do take all this to another level; hope they enjoyed it.

The Learning? (Again), Sophia Gardens may not have the romance of some of the other test/international grounds but its environment does: that walk, that river, that park. The fanzone and the general ambience/hosting is top level.

Hales can (because he did) mightily execute, against the very best, under the most acute pressure. England are straining for a peak; it’s only right that even players who may actually be ( as it were) sherpas can storm to the summit. Well done him – that six in the last over was a gorgeous, stunning, redemptive moment.

Finally, the drums, the carnival, the Indians. Overwhelmingly good-natured; delightfully cricket-daft.

Match two; Eng v NZ.

Note: this is the second of two live posts from today’s (Saturday’s) tri-international thingamejig at Taunton.

 

In the second fixture, England opt to bat again. Gunn is replaced by Tarrant. Still a lovely day; by my hugely scientific estimation about four degrees light of balmy-hood. That courtesy of a welcome but persistent breeze.

Instant near-trauma, for England. Peterson’s first delivery and a yes-no run-out. Except that Wyatt scrambles back and, battler that she is, stills the heart, one hopes. Because this is T20, England finish up on 9 for 0 after that palpitating start. The crowd shift in their seats.

Devine is in for the second but bowls two legside wides then a sharpish lifter. Followed by a rather poorly judged bouncer that is miles out of the batter’s reach. Satterthwaite, fielding at long-on underneath the Media Centre appears strikingly – and I mean strikingly – tall. After four overs, England are 36 for 0.

Wyatt miscues a slow, slow one from Kasperek and is easily caught at mid-off. The opener departs swishing and cursing, having had a doubly infuriating day with the willow.

Ditto Taylor, who joins her in the pavilion following a cruel palm-on from the bowler. A reminder that there’s a) no god b) very little to out-gun/out-gurn that particular mode of dismissal in the whole fest-of-furies that is the sporting pantheon. Beaumont is next to grimace, as she tries to lap-something a straight one and is frankly absurdly bowled.

Knight prefers to come in and gettaholdathis, ahead of Brunt. It’s 66 for 3 come the end of the 9th.

A digression but another disconcerting error – Sciver spared via another regulation catching opportunity spurned – means we have to talk about fielding, generally. Today it’s been poor, I’m afraid. Poor enough to encourage misogynist grumbles *around about*.

I’ve seen more than enough womens’ cricket in the last two years to be absolutely clear that standards across all three disciplines have zoomed forward and up… but today (fielding-wise) has been an unhelpful blip in this respect. Weird how infectious things are, at every level of sport – particularly panic. Onward.

Hahaaaa! At this moment (I promise you) Green takes a really challenging steepler from Knight! Onward with a smile.

Brunt comes in, to join Sciver, who has been okaaaay , so far, rather than stunning in making an important 39. The sense that she was a nailed-on worldie is drifting a tad, for me. We still have sun, we still have a breeze – though reduced, I think – and we still have a goodish crowd.

I’ve enjoyed watching Devine run in. She’s hurried everybody without creating the mayhem that will surely, often, be hers. Sciver gets to fifty with a firmly-struck extra-cover drive and after 16, England are 132 for 4. Feels like a competitive as opposed to intimidating score is in the offing. Then Devine, switching ends, has Brunt, playing on, for 14.

Wow. A classic straight yorker unravels Amy Jones next delivery: Shrubsole is in earlier than I guess she imagined. After 17, England are 139 for 6, needing a boomtastic finish.

Ah. Sciver finds backward square-leg to further stall any potential grandstand finale.

There are two new batters at the crease; Shrubsole and Ecclestone. Both apply themselves with some aggressive intent but (strangely, maybe, given recent performances) England have mustered a grand total of zero sixes in both innings so far, today.

We enter the final over a-and Shrubsole promptly despatches one straight, straight for a maximum, before pushing directly to cover.

Hazell is in with two balls to face. She part-slices the first one to deep extra, who should gather it but let’s it pass through for four. Innings closed at 172 for 8: first guess, 15 short.

 

Shrubsole opens as New Zealand gather for their response. Her first ball is another inswinging beauty; the second goes for six.

Devine repeats the feat against Tarrant in the second over, taking her ahead of *All of Ingerland* on sixes, as (‘tis true) England managed just the one (all day), in the final over some half an hour ago.

No room for smugness here, mind, as the New Zealand opener is promptly caught in the deep off the skiddy left-armer Tarrant. The White Ferns are 37 for 1 after a probing, appeal-heavy, confidence-building fifth over from Ecclestone. Intriguingly, Ecclestone is not to bowl the next over from that Botham Stand End.

Evening is landing gently.

Brunt is just a wee bit pleased to have the Mighty Bates, in front, next over. She fist-pumps, passionately, on her knees, lifting the crowd, roaring.

Another significant and indeed faith-restoring moment, as Knight takes a sharpish return catch, off Satterthwaite, reducing the visitors to 47 for 3, in 7.2. The squeeze is on.

New Zealand need a charge but are again knocked back as Ecclestone bowls Martin for 16. The tall, left-arm finger-spinner is enjoying this, wheeling and reaching high for purposeful, arrowing flight. Hazell – in at the other end – winkles out Green, who is caught rather tamely lofting to extra cover. That squeeze feels taughter – terminally so, at 80 for 5.

Again after a brilliant over, Ecclestone is replaced, this time by Sciver. Again it works, the wunderkind Kerr edging loopily to gully. When the young leftie returns, however, she claims two further victims – bowled then stumped, bamboozled. Importantly, you sense, in terms of her recently tested confidence, Ecclestone has been the star turn (‘scuse the pun) in this commanding performance.

With the light markedly different now, New Zealand have fallen away – or been shunted – to firstly 106 for 8, then 9. Knight’s played a blinder, instinctively chopping at any momentum in the New Zealand innings, leading and arguably designing the win.

Knight offers Tarrant the 19th, with no pressure on the bowler and every chance of a wicket (you would think). Thoughtful. Tarrant duly obliges, skittling Jensen with a scooty little number. All out 118. Good job, England.

So an enjoyable day with an encouraging denouement for an England side that might have slipped into tiredness or distraction. Instead they were on it – satisfyingly so. Folks wander off to trains and buses and cars, feeling good, I reckon.