Bairstow.

Some things, we know, go right past sport. Some of those things are hard to approach – reckless to approach, perhaps? Tough to get in there without offending. Tough and possibly quite wrong to speculate over things that course so deeply. So, no offence but…

Jonny Bairstow. Cricket *and everything* in the blood. Son of an England ‘keeper. Half-brother to Andrew, formerly of Derbyshire. First Winner of the Wisden Schools Young Cricketer of the Year, for walloping 600-plus runs for St Peter’s School, York, back in 2007. So does have Yorkshire Grit but of the relatively polished, or privileged variety. (Not that he can help that. And not that he ever strikes you as any sort of toff. His oeuvre, or let’s call it manner, despite a certain pomp, is closer to working-class hero than flouncy sophisticate ).

2016, scores 1470 Test runs, almost doubling Matt Prior’s existing record: compare with England’s current crop… and with his own tally of 391, for 2021 (if I’m reading cricinfo correctly). So numbers. But numbers don’t account for tragedy, or bloody-mindedness, or value to the team: not really. Bairstow’s value has always been about punchiness and spirit and undeniability. He’s the guy who does the bullocking, the sprinting, the (mostly) undemonstrative aggression. He’s fired-up, Proper Yorkshire, in fact – and Proper Red-head.

His role as a white-ball opener has been spectacularly successful. The Test batting less so – or it’s felt for three or four years like his place is under some threat. Prone to getting bowled, early-doors. Great counter-attacker but sometimes not equipped for a long, slowish knock. Is there also a sense that, being drawn to drama, Bairstow’s juices simply don’t always flow? That he responds to situations which demand heroics? Despite being plainly a mentally and physically tough guy, his contributions seem fickle – less reliable than his personality and grit and gifts would suggest. Plus that whole other thing about taking the gloves or not.

But hey. Before the furore-in-a-beer-glass over comments about his weight, I did tweet to query JB’s body-shape. Impolite and unnecessary, possibly, but all I meant was a) he looks like he’s put on a few pounds and b) therefore looked less like a battle-ready international sportsman. I think we’re entitled to ask that of our elite athletes but Jonny answered me in the way he and Stokesy answered the mouthy Australian fans – by scoring big runs and racing between the sticks faster than almost anybody on the planet; as per. So maybe my dumb observations were dumb observations. The thing is Bairstow defied: again.

This feels like the crux. Bairstow may be carrying impossible hurt – why wouldn’t he be? As well as the family catastrophe, or possibly entwined amongst unfathomable grief and anger and trauma, Bairstow somehow feels like the bloke who wants to wade in there carrying some flag. He’s proud, strong, hearty and the hurt flows near to the surface.

I reckon this might possibly make him hard to manage – but again, I may be speculating wrongly and quite inappropriately. How could he not be occasionally dour and moody, as well as inspiring and true, as a mate, colleague, comrade? How does the coach or selector appreciate or quantify that? When his often god-like or warrior-like brassiness and boldness is surely tailor-made for those moments when ‘the tough get going?’ Meaning you absolutely need some Bairstow in your squad.

Conversely, I get that judgements must be made about technical skills and the relative qualities of team members: the mix. But Jonny’s gift to the mix is emphatic in terms of energy and emotion.

Jonny Bairstow knows he is entitled to bugger all but he will still feel that he’s earned stuff. He has that fire and that Yorkie stubbornness. He is likely plenty perverse enough to be driven on by resentment, against slights from media, coaches, fans, fellow players. Because he’s a broad, bellowing, beautiful battler.

Ashes Churn.

So we’re all exasperated and hurt, then. And that hurt may be good. We may yet bawl or bundle People towards Progress. Maybe. In a tidal wave of New Year Resolutions, Harrison will confess whilst weeping pitifully, Private Schools will be abolished, the MCC Members will swap the daft yellow and red stuff for hair shirts and the Tory Party will disintegrate in shame. Because Things Can Only (and Must Only) Get Better, right? And This Means Everything.

The Brit Universe is g-nashing over the Ashes. We’re all Experts and we’re All Legitimate Fans and we All Attend County Champs Games, Regularly, Jeff. We all have The Right To The Loudest Opinion, Ever. (Me included). Our exclusive claim on Knowing is being Twittered and Vodcasted to the heavens. Our brilliance and their dumbness is Completely Obvious, Maureen, in a brutally sweeping, sexually-charged and capitalised kindofaway. Because this is righteously simple.

Except it’s not.

Coaching and Coaching Philosophy is/are not simple. Strategic planning and respectful scheduling are not simple. Mental Health is not simple. Daft, daft games are not simple.

Let’s start with coaching – coaching and captaincy and the art of deciding.

Interesting that the likes of Rob Key – medium-intelligent voice, close to the action – has been so-o clear that Silverwood is utterly ‘out of his depth’. Others make the argument that Giles, in gathering power in to the former England paceman/enforcer, has put his Head Coach in a suffocating head-lock: just too much to do, think about, organise, decide upon. Certainly most of us outsiders can find a favourite clanger for this series, whether it be that first Test selection or the return of Crawley, or the dropping of Burns. There is plenty scope for gleeful dismemberment of Silverwood’s more contentious calls.

Now I’m not a prevaricator by nature but I’m less sure than some of you that Silverwood has to go. And I’m less sure again that despite Root being an average captain rather than a brilliant one, he should join his gaffer on the Discarded on Merit pile.

Firstly, not been close to Silverwood, so not seen how his interactions with players are. Secondly, have disagreed with several of the decisions around selection/toss/strategy but that can happen with good coaches, too, right? (‘Game of opinions, Dave’). Forty-ninethly, although it plainly might be that he’s not up to it – and of course the woeful capitulation is traditionally laid essentially at the gaffer’s door, in elite sport – only Farbrace springs immediately to mind as a preferred candidate… and he… yaknow… was there before, pretty much. So in short I guess I’m thinking the summary execution of Silverwood and Root might feel righteous but achieve not so much.

(Sixty-twothly – and the absence of similar views make me fear that I may be missing something here – what about Thorpe? Has G Thorpe Esq not been batting coach for like, years? Why no grief in his direction? Even if he’s the Greatest Bloke Ever, or whatever, does he not hold a hoooge chunk of responsibility? Is he not the ultimate in You Had One Jobbery? Don’t geddit: how he seems to escape scrutiny. Good luck to him… but seems extraordinary).

But breeeeeeathe. Zooming out, there are cultural issues, from shamefully-distracted money-driven policy to exclusion by malice, stealth and/or by toff-dom. Privilege still waiving its todger at us, like some Eton-educated clown. In *that matrix*, bonuses get paid to *this ECB*: the universe really is that warped. But let’s get back to coaching – to batting – because despite what the needier, more distracted corners of Twitter are saying, it was England’s batting that decided the Ashes.

Understandably, there have been some pointed and intelligent reflections on both the technical specifics and wider framing of batting skills and/or the coaching thereof. It’s not just embittered former internationals who are saying the modern player lacks discipline and the modern coach is typically twiddling his/her way through a kind of woke manual. But even this preciously guarded, pleasingly heartfelt ‘debate’ needs to take care around over-simplification.

Yes, it is true that the ECB Coaching Pathway shifted away from instructive, demonstrative coaching towards ‘Core Principles’ and ‘player ownership’. The coach has been invited to be less of an auteur/maestro and more of a skilled inquisitor: the argument being that the traditional format of oldish blokes barking instructions at more or less intimidated ‘pupils’ was a crass way and an ineffective way for players to *actually learn*. (I have some sympathy with this view). But could be that this Generous Modern Way works great for Dynamos but less well for Dom Sibley. (In other words, maybe this is complex and maybe entitlements and protocols and levels of both enquiry and expectation are so bloo-dee different that it’s a nonsense to only approach from the one, holistically-nourishing angle, or imagine that things don’t change as you clamber up the performance ladder?)

It seems absolutely right for a cheery old sod like me to be inspiringly lovely and friendly and encouraging, as I trip out my rhetorical questions to Llanrhian Juniors. But it may be okay – not ideal, but okaaay – for an England coach to shout, swear and tear strips off players who don’t effing get it. Elite sport is, perhaps regrettably, tough. You are gonna have to be a robust individual: tough enough to bear the #bantz and the barrage of bouncers. Tough enough to ‘wear a few’, on and off the pitch. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect that amongst the essential support, camaraderie and joy, there will be challenge, discomfort even, on the road to (their) learning.

Top end cricket – especially Test Cricket, especially batting? – is surely about the ability to resist, to offer sustained and disciplined excellence. You hope, (I imagine) that you can break through into the peace of playing your game. But there may be a period – a cruel period – of mindful doggedness on the way there.

This tour – again – the England batters got nowhere near. Except Root. And sometimes Malan. The rest looked generally shot, or technically ill-equipped to compete. Rightly then, we are asking about what Test Batting needs to look like. Deliciously, once the rage subsides, we may need to consider whether levering-back towards particular ways is wise or possible – or what, precisely, we proscribe against. Just how orthodox is the fella Smith, for Aus, for example?

Against a good Aussie team, not a great one, neither England’s will nor skill seemed up to it. So we’re all angry, we’re all piling in on Silverwood, Harrison, Giles. Fair enough. But as we tear through issues around bat pathway and summer schedules and the dispiriting mean-ness of everything, let’s get our brainy heads on; before the Ashes Churn gets going again.

Love. Fear. Grief. And another incredi-chapter.

It’s hard to be strategic when there’s so-o much love about. And fear. And grief. How, exactly, do we manage a way through an Away Series, in Oz? With all that inconvenient turning of the earth stuff? And the disorientating, electrifying, fecund stillness – the night, outside? Loveliness, but then with the bastards down there bouncing down the corridors of our Proper Sleep-time, squeezing off fire-extinguishers like drunken bladdy students. And winning – always winning. How do we manage against that?

Can only be instinct – unless you’re one of the comparatively few who really can watch through the night and either sleep or work through the day. I can’t; can only do some. So like most of the Pom Universe I swerved Day 3 entirely and gathered to watch Day 4. That made sense.

England had a sniff. After Root and Malan had restored some pride, and Hameed had offered some hope, it made sense to invest in Day 4. Let’s do this.

Minor tactical kip during the late afternoon: fitful but hopefully restorative, or enabling of a long overnight haul. ‘Social’ quietly fizzing with suitably modest hypotheses, around ‘building’, or ‘extending’ and just maybe ‘constructing a total’. Then pundits on the telly-box being bundled into That Conversation: the one where it’s considered that England might yet steal a bladdy win.

They’d have to ‘start again’; then ‘see off the new ball’; then ‘build’. ‘Obviously Root and Malan can play… can take this on… but don’t forget how Stokes and Buttler in particular can push on – can take a game away from you’.

Have no idea if these conversations *actually happened*. Or if I was already dreaming. Pretty sure I watched as Malan got tangled-up, to the often innocuous-looking but persistently troubling Lyon. Certain I saw an absolute peach, from the miraculously recovered Hazlewood – who may have never been injured, despite the twelve hours of relentless and generally circular ‘discussion’ from our frankly embarrassingly wearisome local hosts. (Less is more, gentlemen). That peach deserved to register and it did – accounting for the England captain

The Root dismissal has come to feel central to everything: if our friends at Wisden are to believed he has scored 1100 more runs than the next England bat in this calendar year. ELEVEN FUCKING HUNDRED: he has 1,544. Burns, remarkably, is next, on 492. Plainly, on this occasion, the skipper erred again, fishing gently but fatally for one that simply shouldn’t have tempted him: certainly not at that stage.

The dismissal of Pope, soon after, for 4, trying to cut a ball that bounced a little, from Lyon, who has made a career out of top-spin/over-spin, meant not just that the game was almost done but barely credibly, it was almost done before the new ball had been taken. Understandably, even the pundits before us with worthwhile collections of brain-cells had been singling out that period (after ten overs or so of old-ball phoney-war) as critical. But no. Even they (even I) had underestimated England’s capacity to be England.

Extraordinarily, my Original Plan to hit the hay, come what may, after the morning’s session in Brisbane, worked out supremely: just not in the way any of us had foreseen. We foresaw a slaughter (probably), once Hazlewood and Cummins and Starc had the new cherry. Nope. Not to be. Those seamers had some joy, inevitably but it was the old pill – and the old-school non-spinning spinner – what done it, essentially. Four-fer, for Nathan Lyon, ultimately, taking him beyond 400 Test wickets. And another incredi-chapter in the book of England Ashes traumas.

England Australia.

It was impeccable. It was dramatic. It was about as perfect a start, for England, as us dream-shy Poms could have imagined. Warner gone; Smith gone; Maxwell gone – all before the powerplay was done.

Strategic change and same old Woakesy. Beautiful but metronomic bowling and a stonking catch. Rashid, then a perspiring but impressively concentrated Jordan. Australia an extraordinary 21 for 3 after 6 testing overs for our Antipodean friends.

Then in comes Adil again… and the googly absolutely decimates Stoinis. Close to catastrophic this, for the green ‘n gold.

But Finch remains – so Moeen again held back. Livingstone comes in to add further variety and challenge the Aussie skipper’s outside edge. There is spin… but it’s mainly just that critical bit of nibble that’s told. Plus that increasingly important length – too short to drive, but cramping the pull. Exemplary, from England; sustained excellence which Livingstone (the part-timer-plus) admirably maintains, via that ambitious mix of leggies, offies and pretty much everything in between. After 10 overs the batting side – if not shell-shocked, then breathy and 64% baffled – are 41 for 4. Mills.

A touch of inswing, still. A peach of a slower-ball. Goes short and wide; Wade, not entirely convincingly, back-cuts for four, with Moeen almost hopeful. Finally an authentically poor ball, as Mills back-of-the-hands one wide to leg. Eight from the over. The World’s Noisiest Host assaults us again. Livingstone offers a rare bit of air, Wade clumps downtown but Roy can take a comfortable, if overhead catch. 51 for 5.

As Agar joins Finch, and the line-ups flash up on screen again, the length of the Aus tail again draws comment. O-kaaay this is T20 and anybody can clatter a few but this is surely ominous? Rashid continues the strangle; flighting now, getting turn that Agar, certainly, is barely surviving. Wow. 57 for 5 after 14.

Mills is furious with himself as Finch breaks out: two boundaries in two. The over goes for 10. Further discussion on whether Morgan will completely exclude Moeen from proceedings, on the ground that Finch may eat him up. Hmm.

Jordan will bowl the 16th. Australian pundits crediting the Poms with high-level skills and application, here – fair dinkum. But also urging the batters towards explosivity, on the grounds that they simply must get to 110-20 to have any chance in the game. Finch does smash a wide one behind point, for four. The bowler responds with a good yorker but the captain will keep the strike with a single. 75 for 5 with 16 gone.

Agar gets the first 6… then the second, Woakes missing yorker length. Finally some pressure on an Englishman. Cruelly for the bowler, who has completely unzipped the batter, a near l.b. flies down to the rope – meaning 17 from the over. Meaning Aus may yet get to 120-something. Perhaps. Mills, at 96 for 5.

Pace off. Defeats Finch but no dramas. Then Agar middles but flattish out to deep square: Livingstone pouches. 98 for 6, off 17.4. Could they even be bowled out?

Cummins – so probably not. Classical straight drive – defiantly exaggerating the ‘straight’ bit: six. Then nutty, ridiculously-timed, fore-arm hoik waaaay into the crowd over deep square; six more. Finch follows the mood but a slight outer-edge: Bairstow rushes in to claim. 110 for 7; 18.1. Starc joining Cummins.

Briefly. Jordan clears out the latter so we have two guys on nought, in the 19th… and a hat-trick ball. Zampa pushes safely out. 111 for 8 as Jordan comes around to Starc. Two? No. Zampa refuses. (Do not under-estimate the contribution that England’s intensity in the outfield has made to this. They look like a team that just doesn’t make mistakes: consequently no relief).

Mills will bowl the last. He goes for that exaggerated slower one but Starc gets most of it – or enough. Four, straight. Later, a scramble and Zampa can’t make his ground.119 for 9. Off-line: Starc twists to carve Mills behind for six more. Starc is caught behind, off the last. So Australia all out for 125: commanding, from England.

Stuff you won’t read in The Guardian. I needed a brew/cake/something. Nothing in. Broke the land speed record to the next village to buy coffee and a previously test-driven vegan pastie. (Curried job. Phworr!) Get back and spill all the bloody coffee all over the gearstick whilst clambering hastily out. Utter night mare… and I miss most of the first two overs.

They are uneventful, England quite rightly easing their way in. But Roy (of course) will be wanting to make a statement. He does, belting Cummins for a huge six. 27 for 0, after 3. Agar will bowl the fourth.

Roy and Buttler will love a cruise – particularly in this fixture – but they will also enjoy some psychological point-scoring. Buttler dances and clobbers Agar for six, over long-off. 37 for 0 after 4 and England in danger of racing ahead. These openers look comfortable – making a mockery of that which went before. Even Hazelwood’s very skilled, expertly targeted yorker gets worked away for three.

Great running, too, from England. And not running… as Starc gets levered to the horizon.. twice. Buttler absolutely killing it, against one of the world’s great quicks. Dreamland, for Morgan’s Men as they see out the powerplay at 66 for no wicket; the highest total for the tournament so far. Sweet, sweet, sweet.

Zampa will need to find something special – initially against Roy. Second ball is reviewed, after two impudent reverses. Looks close live. It was. Roy is gone – rather wastefully, you feel. (He will know a spirit-crushing 10 wicket win may have been on there). Enter Malan, who may be the ideal candidate to steer this home. England are 68 for 1, with 7 gone.

Malan cuts Starc gloriously and clips to leg. Buttler booms a full-toss. Run rate above ten: Zampa needs a four-wicket maiden. Watson on comms hugely generous but has no choice: this is becoming a performance for the ages. Buttler is back to his ridicu-best; six more. Malan is stroking. 15 from the over, 97 for 1 from 9. An obliteration in progress. Buttler has 62 from 28 balls, at this point.

But some joy, for Oz. Malan tickles a (straight) arm-ball from Agar behind and is gone. (Like Roy, he will feel he has missed out badly). The punchy Bairstow yomps out, looking determined, as always.

He gets an awful ball, plainly down leg, which Agar has the audacity to appeal. Third ball is clipped neatly to midwicket for a single. Tip and run and we have 99 for 2 after 10. The announcer has been doing more coke. Buttler remains undistracted, smashing Zampa over long-on – another 90 metre wonder.

Bairstow joins in, clubbing with forearms then sweeping expansively: both sixes. It’s a massacre. 20 from the over; 119 for 2 with just 7 needed, from 54 balls. Four of them come as Agar grabs some turn but beats everyone – even slip. The game is up when Bairstow eases out through point. An astonishing 50 balls to spare.

In the book it will say ‘8 wicket win’ but this performance will be remembered (I suspect beyond the Pom Fraternity) as an icon of brutal, barely-relenting brilliance in this format. All and any upcoming opponents now really have been warned. The Law of Averages (or Something) may yet intervene to thumb its nose at the notion of an English procession through the tournament but this group of players have proved again that they are exceptional. As an England fan I know it’s *fatal* to write the words… but what else is there? They are, they have to be favourites to win this thing.

Worcester.

#FirstWorldProblems. Can’t hardly see my screen, such is the intensity of the sunlight. But hey, can’t start with a mither about the spectacular Rick-directed brightness. Even if it has bundled me into breaking out the dodgy cap… and even if I am now squirming, just a little, in our outdoor cabin/glasshouse. Worcester, right now, you are quirky and beautiful and – as we say in Wales – bluddy lush, mun.

New Zealand win the toss and opt to field. Two changes, for England – Wyatt and Farrant in.

Interestingly, Wyatt, collecting her 200th England cap today, will bat at seven. Lots of talk about rotation and ‘workload’. Tiny crowd in, all things considered. (Sunday; good value day out, in bright sunshine; competitive international fixture in prospect). Kerr will bowl to Winfield-Hill. Beaumont the other opener. Slightly surreal situation where I have BBC Radio on – for the cricket – and 5 metres to my right (but indoors) Alison Mitchell and Georgia Adams are doing it live.

Captain Sophie Devine will follow Kerr’s quiet opener. Beaumont greets her with a classical forward drive, beating mid-off. Four. Then a full delivery on leg stick is clipped away and a third boundary comes via a full-toss, through extra. Ah. Then, having biffed 12 runs off 6 deliveries, Beaumont rather shockingly leaves one… and is bowled. She a) mis-read the angle a little and b) wasn’t ready for the critical but minor twitch off the pitch. Off stump pinged. 14 for 1. Drama Overload, early-doors.

Kerr is back for the third. The unflappable, irresistible, quietly magnificent Heather Knight (no pressure!) is in.

More action in the next over, again bowled by Devine. Winfield-Hill lifts over point then hits shot of the day – early shout but may not be beaten – creaming one out between the offside fielders. Eased out, in fact, beautifully. Five overs done and the home side are 27 for 1. Time for Tahuhu.

Out on the field I’m thinking the temperature is about 70 degrees. Where the (three of us) Written Press People are sitting it’s into the 80s. #Justsaying. We are all wearing dodgy caps but still squinting from beneath their plainly inadequate peaks. The day is ridiculous; again. Whilst we’re digressing I note that Bromsgrove School are sponsoring something down here: their logo is up on the scoreboard. Have been there on junior tours. Three cricket pitches and a general embarrassment of riches.

Did I mention we’re viewing from third man? (Right hand bat). Knight pulls Tahuhu hard, for four. 45 for 1 after 8, with both batters looking tidy. Fifty is up as Kerr strays narrowly but beats everything. The trashy metal pillar with its peeling paint and stubborn permanence, blocking my view of mid-off and the cathedral… will only be mentioned once.

Winfield-Hill really does clatter Tahuhu over square leg, for a one-bounce four. Ten over powerplay done, England 59 for 1.

Rowe joins us for the 11th, from the New Road End. A floaty away-swinger draws a nick, from Knight: gone, caught Martin, for 18. (It did swing late – so great ball, first up). Sciver will join Winfield-Hill. Mixed over, ultimately, containing two wides and a worldie. Tahuhu follows.

Winfield-Hill again pushes neatly through the covers. With Beaumont and Knight both gone, she will feel England need her to go big. Might make sense for her to bat through whilst the likes of Sciver and Wyatt bring some boom.

*Except* that the Mighty Sciver is leaving us, having tamely chipped to cover, off the outer edge. Again Rowe the successful bowler. 67 for 3 and New Zealand back in the game. Amy Jones – who is by nature a positive or attacking player – will be conscious that a Proper Partnership is needed. Credit to the Ferns, who are again looking organised, committed and a threat. Devine returns, to look to press home the recent advantage.

Another sloppy dismissal. Jones has tried a wristy flick but merely dinked one straight to midwicket. Given the context, poor. 68 for 4 so England in some minor grief. Dunkley will have a further opportunity to fill that post-collapse ‘saviour’ role. (Henry Moeran informs us that England have fallen into a 3 for 89 off 22 balls-sized hole, of late). Strikes me again that New Zealand – the away side – are here to compete.

Dunkley takes Rowe for four. A trainer brings on water – and no doubt *messages*.

Alex Hartley is suddenly bit mortified she said “brain fart” on the radio – describing that Beaumont dismissal. Izzy Westbury meanwhile is waxing lyrical about the delivery, from Sophie Devine. Genuinely encouraging to see and hear the comm-box – doorway, 3.25 metres to my right – owned by young women.

Coo. The stand is now just offering a little protection from the glare. Still magical conditions out where it matters. Oh – and the crowd has grown, too. Significantly.

Quiet period – as there was, mid-innings, in the previous game of the series. Dunkley air-shotting and Winfield-Hill weirdly missing from the action. The England pair may yet ‘see this out’ but it’s a battle, currently. W-H has 30 from 49 and Dunkley is on 10, off 24. Tahuhu goes short and is pulled – but just for the single.

The bowler repeats that shortish one and Dunkley gets in a mess; succeeding only in scuffing it from high on the bat to the catcher at midwicket. She’s drawn lots of lurv, this season, for her strong contributions with the bat (in domestic formats) plus her fielding has been highly-rated, but live, for England, I’ve not been that convinced, by Dunkley. Even when she allegedly carried England through, at Hove. Batting a touch scratchy, fielding mixed: possible rather than nailed-on ‘international’ is my view, thus far – outlier though that makes me.

Another decent ball gets another ugly wicket. 85 for 5; enter Dani Wyatt . Our first sight of Kasperek in the match. Wyatt is another ‘natural counter-attacker’: am fascinated to know what her coach Keightley might have said (if anything) before she marched out. Only 20 overs into the event.

Wyatt rises to her tiptoes and cuts Tahuhu neatly for four. Genuine, quick bouncer follows. The batter ducks. Another short one is clonked forward of square, raising two more, before the hundred is up, in this the 22nd over. (So run-rate mediocre… and credit New Zealand as well as indifferent batting).

Cloud cover has increased by 39.4%. No idea if that was forecast – don’t think we’re expecting any rain – but England might want to draft Shrubsole back in, sharpish.

25 overs in – so halfway. England 110, which is probably 30 runs light of where they’d like or expected to be. 5 down. Assuming they use the overs, a total of around 250 seems not unthinkable. It may be enough. For the home side to get beyond that this Wyatt/Winfield-Hill axis may need to persist and then flourish. It could. In any event we’re back to thought that White Ferns compete well, with the ball. For the sake of the game and the series, I hope they can do the same with the bat.

Satterthwaite joins, W-H seems becalmed. Then disaster. Wyatt pulls Kasperek and the batters set off. Two is questionable; or questioned; or risked; or out of the question. Utter howler on the communications front: both batters finish up at the same end. Village? Oh yes. It’s Winfield-Hill who has to walk. After 28 overs, with Charlie Dean now in there with Wyatt, England are in bother at 122 for 6.

To her credit, Wyatt is sweeping Satterthwaite ambitiously. Four behind square.

Meteorologically, the sky is falling in, to match the English innings. Low, decidedly grey cloud over most of the ground. Significantly more bowler-friendly (theoretically) than a couple of hours ago. Interestingly, the Ferns are going with spin through this ‘seamers’ dream’.

Dean, now on 8, plays and misses at Kasperek. Then gets a fine, fine edge which is given after review. 134 for 7 as Ecclestone walks out there. Good running brings a rare three, behind. With under-achievement now seeming inevitable, for England, so our speculation about what seems likely, from New Zealand, becomes increasingly pertinent. Truth is… hard to know. (Always hard to know, of course, but today from this batting line-up – which to be honest, we still know comparatively little about – hard to know). England will probably bowl and field well. The rest – guesswork.

Kerr is in from New Road. The rate of scoring is only about 4 per over. Wyatt waits then cuts away behind square. Four. She now has 35.

Ecclestone – who is a swiper and clubber rather than a genuine bat – clumps Kasperek towards cover and it falls just short. Then Wyatt clouts over extra and Devine is scurrying back there… but again, safe – rather narrowly. Tense. Not sure you would bet on the home side using the overs.

Rowe is back for the 35th over, with England 144 for 7. Ecclestone clubs her short one directly to midwicket. Sloppy again? I would say so. Cross edges her first ball finely and safely. Moments later, reaching at Kasperek, she edges and finds gully. 146 for 9. Whatever happens next – and it *is entirely possible* that England blow the Ferns away as the afternoon turns to evening – this is close to humiliating, for Knight’s team. A whole series of ver-ry poor dismissals.

Farrant has joined Wyatt with a remarkable 15 overs remaining. 150 up before Farrant clips away a leg-side full-toss. Rowe is soon met with a violent straight hit, middled, from Wyatt – the game’s first six. I have on occasion been critical of Wyatt’s capacity for gifting her wicket. *Ironies*. Today she may get to 50 whilst effectively being both the anchor and the sticking-plaster. (I have never doubted that she is a player).

Tahuhu is back and Farrant, who I note *carries the bat like a bowler, whilst running between the sticks*, stands firm. And wow… the sun is back. Really back, blazing again from our right.

Rowe, to try to end this, from New Road. Bowls another wide. Farrant has 11 and Wyatt 45. Weather-wise, we’re back where we started – in Near Wild Heaven. Rowe returns to Wide Hell, sadly – despite showing promise, has bowled manifestly too many. 171 for 9 as Tahuhu comes in for the 40th over. Farrant looks, or is trying to look unflustered but seems a little racy, somehow. Flicks at one down leg but the snick falls short of Martin.

Prolonged and hearty applause, as Wyatt reaches 50. Likewise when she booms Rowe over mid-off for her second six. Fine, lone knock, enjoyed and appreciated.

Farrant edges Rowe but again the ball drops short of the keeper. So things feel precarious. Wyatt back-cuts Tahuhu but Green makes an outstanding diving stop at the boundary. May have to start calling Tarrant ‘plucky’. Has 21. May have been a case for getting Kerr and Devine on 5 or 6 overs ago. Kerr will bowl the 43rd.

200 will feel like a ‘milestone’. England approaching. The 50 partnership is up; could be major in the game. Can Kasperek break this open? Not immediately; Wyatt successfully dropping and scampering. But then… yes. Farrant is caught by Green at mid-on, unable to power up and over. England 197 all out: disappointing from them. Good, from the White Ferns.

The White Ferns Reply.

Sciver, first up, for England, in returning cloud, with Suzie Bates to face. Lauren Down the other batter. Quiet over, then Farrant, whom I suspect may swing it. The rather mean thought(?) has occurred that *whatever happens*, we will be travelling to our homes come about 5.30pm. Winfield-Hill draws generous applause with a bold, successful diving stop.

Sciver is doing that exaggerated vertical pistons thing and searching for a full length. No dramas. 10 for 0 after 3. A shower feels not impossible, suddenly. Bit unfortunate that the screen opposite us, from which we’ve had the benefit of replays, is no longer offering footage. Would be good to see if Farrant, in particular, is getting anything through the air. If she is, it’s not troubling Bates, who has moved to 19. (As I finish this sentence, we get stump-cam, then four seconds of video, then back to zilch. More #firstworldproblems).

Bates cracks Sciver through the covers for four more. 33 for 0 after 7. Perfect, for the Ferns. Farrant will continue but I’m guessing there may be changes after this over. Indeed there are; Kate Cross, from the Diglis End, for starters. Bates ungenerously whips her for four. But the Slightly Sloppy Wicket theme recurrs, as Bates drives straight to Wyatt. The catch is reviewed but confirmed, despite unconvincing angles and picture clarity. Probably out, I would say. 40 for 1 as Farrant comes in again.

Down goes to 11 with a nicely-focussed off-drive, for four. 44 for 1, at 10 overs completed. Imagine Farrant feels – or her skipper does – that there’s still something in this for her. She gets a sixth over.

My feeling is that Cross is a bowler of good spells and not so many killer balls. And that she also tends to offer width – and boundaries, to off. Happening here, a little. She almost gets a caught and bowled, as Down pushes. 62 for 1 after 13. Comfortable, for New Zealand. Ecclestone will look to disturb the relative peace.

She does. Green is caught by a ver-ry watchful Charlie Dean. Ball steepled to long-on. Wicket out of nowhere? Ecclestone’s your gal. Satterthwaite comes in at 63 for 2. A thin rain is falling – not enough, for now, to interrupt the game.

It may, however, have interrupted the White Ferns’ concentration. Down is lbw to Cross and does not review. 63 for 3. Devine time.

They’re starting from scratch together but Satterthwaite and Devine might manage this situation better than most. Have quality; have experience. Drinks break whilst we contemplate what that might mean. 73 for 3 after 16, New Zealand.

Cross, once more. Devine crunches her square but Beaumont’s hands are good. No run. Sciver can’t match that. She dives over a drilled drive and it goes for four. Not had a great time of it, today, the all-rounder. Just heard on social that Jimmy Greaves has died. Sad moment; he was a genius on the pitch and a character in our lives off it.

*Almost something* as Wyatt is throwing at the bowler’s end with Devine looking stranded, following yet another communications failure. Wyatt is probably England’s best fielder but the throw is missing and Cross can’t haul it in. An escape, for the Ferns.

Satterthwaite fails to make the best of that escape. She slashes at Cross and is caught sharply behind by the consistently excellent Jones. Halliday has joined Devine. Dean will bowl her first from the Diglis End. Devine sweeps her powerfully, for four. Twice. Ten from the over, 100 up, 4 down, as we go into the 22nd.

The screens are now helpfully telling us that the White Ferns need three point something-something runs per over. And it’s raining finely again. And the game feels quiet rather than tense. For now. Little bit surprised that the umpires are allowing the players to go off – the rain really seems ver-ry minor*. Maybe they’re hearing that it will persist. 111 for 4 after 24 overs, at the break of play.

*Update. I’m both wrong and right. It’s minor but it’s too prolonged and uncomfortable to play through. We wait. Just heard about that Hammers Icon, Noble. Eek-face emoji running rampant on the Twitters, I imagine?

Further update: ‘unexpected shower sets in’ shock. No floodlights. Game under some threat…

It’s cleared – or clearing. We could start in 15 minutes but we *are starting* in 35, apparently. Stand by your beds.

Slightly reduced game, due to time lost/no lights/autumnal wotsits. 42 over game, now and New Zealand need 72 to win. So a round 4 an over will get the visitors home. That shortened game favours them in the sense that you would think their 6 remaining wickets can survive the overs. But let’s see.

Sciver will start us off. Jumpers on, now, for most. Coolish and the surface will be slightly damp. Imagine England will have to bowl them out to win this(?) Two from the over.

Now from our left, at the New Road End, it’s Ecclestone. Sharp reflexes from the bowler, last ball; one single conceded. Then *moment*. Sciver gets straight through Devine. Difficult to be sure but appeared that the batter mistimed the stroke, going gently across the line. Devine made 28 and her team need 66. Dean comes in: is Ecclestone changing ends, or being ‘saved?’

Thick edge from Martin but the next ball bowls her. Some revs evident, but no turn. 121 for 6, she’s gone for 6. Dean thrilled.

The incoming Rowe drives competently past Knight – who is maybe a little wooden – and gets the boundary. Then more Sciver. No dramas.

Back to Dean, with the tension just beginning to ratchet up. Nice, free action. Singles. The sense that Halliday may be more vulnerable than Rowe. 30 0vers; 12 remain. 52 to win this. Cross will return from the Diglis End. Starts with a yorker, kept out, by Halliday. Inside edge brings one, to fine leg. Dean races around to protect that same boundary – successfully.

Halliday, crouching and fending unconvincingly, is struck on the helmet by a good length delivery, from Cross. Minor delay but she seems okay. No question that Rowe is presenting the bat better than her partner… but not well enough. Dean has her lbw. Flighted delivery which turned just a tickle – hitting leg. Kasperek joins Halliday at 135 for 7.

First ball she utterly mistimes… and misses… but survives. Encouraging wee spell for Dean, acknowledged by the crowd (us) as she returns to third man. (*Spoiler alert*: she will finish with a four-fer). Halliday swivels to pick Cross up very fine and the ball flies, from the hip to the boundary. Run rate just creeping against the Ferns, now but still below 5, so hardly insurmountable. Dean is holding steady. 145 for 7 off 34. Meaning 38 required, off 8 overs. Ecclestone.

Two dot balls. Single. Dot ball. Halliday advances and slices a touch. Lots of side-spin as the ball sinks into the boundary markers. Halliday has a precious 29, without looking entirely in her flow. Dean is in to her now. The ball is fired in, a little and flashes past the bat. Halliday cannot regain her ground as the keeper Jones pounces. Tahuhu – who batted notably well in the last game – is in.

Big Day for Dean, then – something of a breakthrough day. The momentum is with England as Ecclestone comes in again but she knows boundaries must not come. If Kasperek and Tahuhu can keep their composure they will feel that this is still within reach… but it’s now undeniably tense. Three dot balls from Dean then an l.b. shout. Given and not reviewed. 161 for 9. Kerr joins Tahuhu. Slight hunch that the latter could still win this with a few well-timed blows… but England clear favourites.

Farrant. Is edged through the keeper! Then bowls a touch short and may be fortunate to concede just the single. The left-arm seamer closes this out, though, as Tahuhu guides a full one straight to the England skipper at catching mid-off. Very generous applause for both sides as they depart from the outfield. Another tightish game – albeit reduced – won by England with 14 runs to spare. Importantly, another contest.

The White Ferns have been well in both of these two one-day matches, before fading or lacking the batting depth to earn the victories. (In truth, this was the prime concern for those of us trying to stay relatively neutral – the fear that if Bates and Devine and A. N. Other didn’t carry the innings, the side might prove vulnerable. So it has proved). New Zealand will not be liking the sense that they are threatening to be a good side.

England, meanwhile, have been pressured to the point that they, despite an apparent wealth of talent, looked an ordinary batting unit, rescued only by a fine, belated partnership between Wyatt and Farrant. There were serial errors in the innings, suggesting scrambled minds and a worrying contagion: this is a concern for them. Good work in the field has bailed them out, again, here.

The series needs the White Ferns to bat longer, bat more dynamically. England need to assert some authority – if indeed they have it – or check their assumptions about where they sit in the world game. The Keightley Era feels a bit neurotic.

Things you need to know.

Pre-game:

Weighted balls are in.

Hopping is in.

Sunshine and clouds are in.

The Lads – Henry C and a clutch of the England backroom staff – are going through their own warm-up. Separate from them silly gals. Serious keepie-uppie football. Lasting waaaay longer than them silly gals did. The Lads, however, are shite, or medium-shite. (The Girls, meanwhile, are – yaknow – international athletes).

New Zealand (again) look a really well-drilled outfit. Shockingly, I don’t even know who their coaching team is led by*… but they are notably well-organised, focussed and impressively on it, in their warm-ups. And it’s a whole-team effort, somehow, neatly put together and overseen by the several coaches. (My strong feeling is that this groove has begun to transfer across to the matches: the IT20 series built into an excellent, competitive bundle essentially because New Zealand grew).

*Checked. Bob Carter.

12.30 to 50-odd. Lovely longish chat with Neneto Davies, from the ACE Programme, set up to support Afro-Caribbean cricketers. He’s based in London but there’s been a PR thing here, today, as the new Bristol ACE scheme gets off the ground. Good guy; wish him well.

Missed the toss. Slightly surprised to hear that White Ferns won it and chose to bowl. Imagine that as well as that ‘let’s take a look at this’ angle, they think bowling/fielding may get more difficult later, with a damp ball(?)

First over, Devine bowling. Beaumont and Winfield-Hill in there for England. 5 scored. Bright sunshine with cloud over to our right. (‘We’ in the media centre, facing the iconic – well, almost – Ashley Down End flats).

Devine’s second over she gets notable away-swing. But starts it too wide, so signalled by the ump.

First *moment* sees Beaumont dropped, at slip. Given her record and her form, this could be really bad news, for the visitors. Streaky-but-swiftish, as opposed to an absolute gift.

Kerr is partnering Devine. The generally rather classical Winfield-Hill swishes across somewhat, scuffing to third man for a single. Beaumont shows her immediately how to do it, by adjusting her feet and straight-driving past extra cover for a quality four. Out-of-the-manual: gorgeous. I’ve moved outside the media centre – too muggy, indoors, despite being on the empty side – and the sun is beating down on my back… and then not. (Yup. Clouds).

Devine is struggling for line. Wides now plural. The World’s Most Annoying Pigeon is cooing extravagantly monotonously about four-foot-six behind me… or under me, or entirely in my head. Weird, empty fury building but Winfield-Hill remains undisturbed; drives out through the offside. Four more. 30 for 0 after 5, England.

Discussed the *crowd issue* with a young woman journalist. We reckon maybe 400-500 in, now – looked ver-ry unpromising, earlier. Beautiful day. Good contest in prospect. Some world-class players. I just don’t get it. Think we both concluded that it’s a sexist universe and barely improving. (It does improve as the day goes on but I find the attendance figure of 1200 and something quite difficult to believe).

Things just got better for White Ferns. Winfield-Hill tickles one that’s fairly substantially down the leg side and – ah! – is caught behind. Awful way to get out, maybe particularly when you’re looking well set? Whatever, out she goes, for a now pregnable but previously pretty impregnable-looking 21.

Rowe is in for Devine and has claimed the wicket; Tahuhu is in from in front of us, under the press box. Ten overs done and England are 47 for 1. The quietly, stoically, passively-measuredly-Englishly magnificent Heather Knight is the new bat.

Rowe is tall and rather imposing. Is getting some bounce to go with that pace. Beats Beaumont but Knight offers the blade confidently and finds the wee gap between point and cover: four more. End of the thirteenth and the home side have 59, for 1. Light breeze quite welcome; from long off to third man as we look at Beaumont, towards those flats. The batter drives square and holds the pose – boundary through point.

Our first spin, as Kasperek replaces Rowe. The bowler had a good IT20 series – leading wicket-taker but (without being ungenerous, this is really not my intention), I was never quite clear (despite being at two of the three short-format matches), if she *really bowled well*, or not.

Distracted again, at some length, to talk Cricket Development stuff with the ACE guys. (Their coach starts work, in Bristol, on Monday). Lots of this my territory – going into schools, trying to be that friendly, hopefully inspiring geezer that gathers kids in to the game. Really do wish them all well; seem really good people, which always helps.

22nd over and Devine has changed ends. Looks strong and determined but Beaumont is looking increasingly settled and her skipper is amongst the world’s best at enduring then cashing-in. So New Zealand must make something happen soonish, you sense. They review for lbw, strangely – or so it seems – because bowler not interested, initially. Beaumont has played defensively but her bat is tucked. Pad first and out. The opener made 44: 109 for 2.

Plusses and minuses? Out goes a very fine opener: in comes the world’s best all-rounder: Sciver. She defends Devine stoutly. We get to halfway and England are Nelson for 2. So steady progress but hardly bolting along. White Ferns applying themselves – as they do. Good game brewing?

Oof. Sciver tries to glide one, with soft hands, through third man but plays on. Sloppyish, arguably. Could be ver-ry big, in the match. 113 for 3: England bat deepish, theoretically but New Zealand unquestionably ahead in the game, now. Amy Jones – fine, positive player – is joining Knight. General thought: this is a good batting track, with runs *available*.

Satterthwaite has entered the fray from Ashley Down. Drags one down a little and Knight accepts the gift – four through the covers. (The England captain has moved, as she does, undramatically to 44. Yet again we may be seeing a telling contribution).

Or not. As Jones is bowled, hurried, by Tahahu so the contribution from Knight may become less relevant – or not. Feels possible that her side may even capitulate, here, meaning that she may be unable to significantly affect the Destiny of Things. But that may be premature. England 132 for 4, after 30. Perhaps the drinks break will allow the home side to breeeaaaathe and re-group? Major work to be done.

Knight gets to 50 in the 31st. Dunkley, who has had a solidly encouraging summer (but not entirely convinced me, if I’m honest), must remain watchful alongside.

Over 32, Kerr in, with only a third man and a 45 in the deep. Poorish ball, to be honest, but Dunkley is caught at the wicket, glancing to leg. (Glove, I think). What was I saying about capitulation? Brunt – whom I rate, but would be batting lower than 7 in a doctor Rick XI – has to yomp out there. 140 for 5, now, after 32. Trouble.

Alex Hartley and Steve Finn have joined me out on the balcony. (When I say ‘joined me’, this is more a figure of speech than a statement of fact. Incredibly, they appear not to know who I am). The sun remains warm. A dangerous hunch wafts in: New Zealand get to whatever total is set, with a single wicket down. Maybe worse still, the ridicu-hunch that this Keightley Era is going to be frustrating and under-achieving, ultimately: a thought that’s been broiling quietly with me, for some months.

A potentially ‘terminal’ running-out of Knight, as non-striker, via the outstretched hand of the bowler, is up on the screen to my right. Thank Christ – not out. The game might have been done. Instead we remain 147 for 5.

Good to see Brunt slap a short one from Tahuhu confidently to leg. England must do more than survive this. Soon she will be booming a violent straight drive, for four. The England pace bowler is one of the great competitors in world cricket – and I do mean that – and she is beginning to counter the White Fern momentum: as she must. (My reservations about her batting 7 were about her recent form with the wood, as well as the cultural imperative towards stacking the line-up).

Brunt is struck in front but reviews *absolutely immediately*. Predictably, on investigation, she is shown to have edged it. Finn – departed – is talking articulately on the wireless about England needing to have an aggressive period ‘as opposed to limping towards a semi-competitive total’. Dead right… but *has dangers*. Knight and Brunt might be thinking of targeting best part of a hundred from the last ten overs. Might need to be thinking that.

Devine bowls the 40th over and Brunt bludgeons her for two, over extra, then gloves one for four, behind. Helpful. 174 for 5. Do think anything shy of (an admittedly unlikely) 260 will feel manifestly light. Good yorker from Rowe almost unzips Knight but the response is bold: four over mid-off. An essential 50 partnership is up as Knight smashes a poor full-toss from Devine, square. Knight is 71 as we get through the 42nd.

Some more leg-spin, from Kasperek. Knight unfurls a beauty of a reverse to claim four more, then the 200 is up. I’m out of the sunshine, finally but the ground is still bathed. Lovely scene; shame more aren’t here to enjoy it. The ACE guys are jostling and gathering: taking what I imagine might be awestruck kids out onto the pitch at the innings break.

Brunt and to a lesser extent Knight are hitting hard… and mostly middling. When the former edges thinly, she is happy to see the ball loop swiftly enough up and over to the fine leg boundary: fortunate but safe. 213 for 5 after 45. The skipper has 81 so is on for a ton. Brunt has 36.

Devine is as important to the White Ferns as Knight is to England. She is in from underneath us for the next – from which 8 runs come. 260 do-able(?)

Kasperek will bowl her final over, from Ashley Down. Brunt shuffles early before clattering straight back over the bowler for a particularly emphatic boundary. 228 for 5.

Suddenly, Knight’s work is done. Caught and bowled Kasperek for a flawless 89. Feels bit cruel. Ecclestone, who is a hitter but no stylist, has come in.

England’s momentum is stalled further as Brunt is cleaned out, advancing. Good straight ball from Kerr. Genuinely worthy and typically battling contribution of 43, from England’s bowling ace.

Cross enters and rather brilliantly – deftly, absurdly confidently – flips to fine leg, for four, first up. Ridiculous, and unthinkable even a year or two ago. Devine switches ends again and takes the pace off. Then re-injects it, to Ecclestone, who booms and is caught. Or not. No ball!

A wicket comes, however, as Cross slightly tamely reaches and lobs to cover. Dean – the debutant – will get a brief knock. 240 for 8, England, as we welcome Kerr for the final over.

Dean’s stay really may be brief as she is given lbw… but eventually reviews. Gone, for a single. Enter Davies. 241 for 9 becomes all out, same score, as Ecclestone is exposed halfway down the track. No blame attached – she was quite rightly looking to get a couple more hits.

That England total is a poor one, irrespective of what follows: this is a 300 pitch. Hey ho, the ACE guys and a bundle of grinning kids, now on the outfield – are having their Moment In the Sun. I will enjoy that as I grab some nosh.

Final word, for now. The wonderful and mighty Sophie Devine has *come straight back out* to get her eye in, with the bat. Bringing me neatly back to that hunch… that the White Ferns might win this at a ridicu-canter. Let’s see.

The Reply.

Brunt maiden then Sciver, for England. Bates and Down will surely be more ‘patient’ here than a very patient thing? Take root for 30 overs. Chill, then shake-out, mid-wicket, shouting “na-ner-na-ner-ner!” before charging towards a crushing win. Or not. White Ferns will love a crushingly dull start.

They don’t get it. Sciver has Bates caught at a slightly wide first slip – Knight collecting competently. After 4 overs the visitors are 2 for 1.

Sciver and Brunt are applying the squeeze that England need but for now, New Zealand barely need to care. (After 6 overs the scoreboard has cranked asthmatically over to 5 for 1. Paralysis, but for the game situation, which makes it quietly o-kaaay… for both sides).

Sciver is still bowling with Knight at effectively second slip and Winfield-Hill at fourth. She beats Down on the inside but the ball died, rather than did something. First change will be Cross, for Brunt, from the Ashley Down Road End. Green goes to 9, with a little width on offer: square, our first boundary.

No change at this end, as Nat Sciver continues, with a disciplined, fourth-stump kindofa line. Down has a weird, wild slash at one – first sign of frustration and nerves? Could be. ‘Something in the head’ gives and she’s edging behind, next ball. Now that perfectly acceptable stasis lurches a tad towards (potential) crisis. 17 for 2 after 10 overs – and yes you read that right. England have been ver-ry efficient. Now the Ferns must battle.

Satterthwaite – theoretically the third of the BIG THREE, for New Zealand – joins Green. Freya Davies will run in from almost directly in front of us, to challenge her. Right arm over, with a distinctive, backward-leaning approach, Davies makes no further inroads.

Cross is coming in fluently, from t’other end. She bowls boldly full and gets the reward – Knight taking a sharp catch at slip, low down. Green gone, Devine is in and missing her first ball… but it’s going down. Clutch period right now, meaning we’ve gone from stately cruise to Squeaky Bum Time alarmingly swiftly – certainly from the White Ferns’ point of view. 33 for 3, in the 17th.

Yet there are plusses, for New Zealand. Right/left combination and two of their finest out there, together. Time in the game. Big ask but these are Big Players. Proper Sport, upcoming.

Sixteen overs in, drinks break. Lights on. 57 for 3; Satterthwaite 13 and Devine on 11. Dean gets a bowl – her first, ever, in this shirt – and in the fabulous sunshine. We get into another quiet period… but this now suits England more than the visitors, arguably(?) Beaumont makes a notably fine stop at backward point to deny runs.

Dean is bouncing in confidently enough; putting some revs on the ball but finding no meaningful spin. This area – as many of you will know – is balloon central. Globes appearing, mysteriously and beautifully to our right. Oh – and we have shadows.

First sight of Ecclestone, in the 20th over. No dramas.

As we go on, so the fascination grows, or changes, without revealing. Both batters into their 20s. Run rate rising (of course) but not unthinkable *if these two stay together*. (163 off 29, needed). Mostly, the two batters are good – were always expected to be key, or important. So this slow game is a Slow Burner. For now. Pleasing symmetry as we have equidistant globes floating over deeeeeep fine leg and deeeeeeep third man. Must be stunning up there.

Cross comes in for Dean at Ashley Down. Just to break things up and maybe invite the unforced error. Devine defies. Courageous, floaty leg-cutter, from Cross. Patience from both sides. Who will twitch?

Arguably Satterthwaite. She charges and biffs Ecclestone straight – but aerial. Winfield-Hill is no sprinter but not sure if even Villiers or Wyatt would have gotten there. (Neither are playing, of course). Ball plugs, harmlessly. 97 for 3 after 26. Run-rate required, about 6 an over. Heat gone or going from the day.

Another teaser brings up the 100. Fortuitously. Wicked, flying edge loops tantalisingly towards Ecclestone. Like W-H, she is not one of England’s more dynamic fielders. She can’t get there – and again, Dina Asher-Smith may not have done. Generally, England’s fielders looking spookily, healthily fixated, particularly as Ecclestone whirls towards the crease. Remarkable, synchronised ‘walking-in’ going on. Tempted to film it.

Cross again bowls full. Devine clubs it but not cleanly. We have a great angle to see it fly – straight – to – mid-off. With time – bewitchingly – slow-ing – down. Easy catch; huge moment. The White Ferns’ anchor gone for 34. Enter Martin, with *stuff to do*. Satterthwaite has 44; her new partner may need to match that.

She can’t. On 9, she miscues a slightly half-hearted sweep and dollies to leg gully: Ecclestone the bowler. Ferns’ hopes fading with the light? Would appear so. 124 for 5 in the 32nd, as we break again. Halliday the new batter. She’s a leftie.

She’s gone, first ball. Maybe it squirted through a little but Halliday got nothing on it. Life is cruel. Rowe, the tall quick, must bat as Brunt returns, having bowled four consecutive maidens in her first spell. The universe is suddenly(?) conspiring pret-ty heavily against an away-win, here. 127 for 6, after 33. 115 required, so towards 7 per over needed.

Fuller one has Ecclestone appealing – confidently. (Looked out, first shuftie). Wrong. Missing, because no turn. Rowe continues.

Brunt slaps a loose one down leg, to Satterthwaite. Wide. 19.14 hours and dusky – or approaching. Satterthwaite drops and scuttles through, for her fifty: Rowe has to stretch but does get there. But Brunt – who has that Not To Be Denied look about her – is not to be denied. Has Rowe plum the very next ball. Knight promptly and wisely takes the opportunity to give newcomer Dean another dart. Kerr is facing in rapidly fading light, with hopes all but extinguished. Quiet over.

Her next is unquiet because it brings Dean’s first international wicket – that of Kerr, bowled. Hugs and giant smiles. Ooh. The smiles are temporarily parked as Tahuhu responds with successive boundaries, but Dean is in that magic book.

A game I thought might be a run-fest may conclude with a chase failing to get much beyond 150. England were ver-ry light, score-wise: now the opposition trail behind. Where does that all leave us? This is all false-leads and dummy denouements.

Tahuhu brings some encouraging defiance, for the Ferns. It’s a free hit but she is hitting. The stadium announcer reminds us that England were not that much ahead of the current New Zealand score, of 170 for 8. (A mere 4 runs, extraordinarily). Surely this can’t lurch away from Knight and co? Surely? As the dark lands gently – like a balloon, perhaps? – Davies pipes up.

It’s a “no”. A truly delicious slower ball does for Tahuhu, who made a valiant and entertaining 25: she is comprehensively bowled. Last bat in there is Kasperek. She cheekily scoops Ecclestone; not entirely convincingly but the subsequent boundary, square to off, is pleasingly legit. Might the innings get to 200? Does it make any difference? Maybe.

194 for 9 after 43. So 48 needed off 42 balls. A breeze, in other formats, other scenarios. Here it feels low on frisson because – well, Kasperek and against the grain of everything. (But is there grain?) Ecclestone, predictably, concedes just the one from the over, thereby shutting that proverbial silo-door-thing.

Kasperek edges Cross for four: somehow, 200 passed. 45 overs done and 41 needed (from 30 balls). Brunt. Surely? Surely we are done?

Boundaries. Plural. Satterthwaite’s composure the opposite of unruffled. Except great ball beats her but no dramas. We have that thing where the drama-vacuum is stealthily – without twitching, or revealing or offering or denying – threatening mega-drama. The media centre is quiet because, well, WHAT DARE WE WRITE?!? (And naturally Yours F Truly is most likely to Come A Cropper here, writing foolishly, masochistically live).

Except it was never in doubt. Because run-out: Kasperek short as a killer throw came in. Winfield-Hill delivering.

To add to the surreal almost-fraught/almost-faux-ness of everything, the monitors in the media centre cut out at The Critical Moment… so we grievously stressed scribes missed out on the review. A VAR-like, tension-deflating, was it yes/was it no moment intervenes. We can only be sure when the England players bounce, *out there*. All oddly appropriate, somehow.

So England batted unconvincingly, largely – were at least 30 short – but won by 30 runs.

Keightley might argue, if we hear her – and we often don’t – that squad rotation played a role in the partial misfire. And it could be. The White Ferns might counter that they were never out of it. And it could be. A bigger crowd might actually have made the event spicier and the drama (or potential drama) juicier or more likely. Who knows? This was a bewildering, elusive un-feast of a game: almost satiating, almost starving us. I may need a kebab.

In the Uncertainty Vortex, some factoids. Heather Knight was Player of the Match – deservedly. New Zealand bowled and fielded well; plainly forced the England underachievement with the bat. Contraflow? Neither side scored enough runs on this pitch (whatever that means).

Post-game.

Hunches? The early wicket – the failure – of Bates, feels/felt important.

The England middle order remains fickle but their squad depth may prove critical.

Villiers should be in this side, never mind this squad. It doesn’t lack quality but shots of brilliance make a difference.

*However*, the coach has every right – indeed, has a responsibility – to build an extended, experienced group… before settling and being clear upon her best eleven.

I am not clear what any of this means. And I blame the game.

MASSIVE NEWS.

As so often, a prequel, or post-quel; or, at any rate, *some thoughts* after the event.

This series, won at the death by England, has been (as my grandpa might have said) a good ‘un. Arguably neither extravagantly high quality nor persistently, heart-quickeningly dramatic, until that deliciously balanced finale… but, essentially, even and competitive, in a way that made it feel compelling, ‘legitimate’* and increasingly relevant. In short, being solid international-level fayre and nip and tuck pretty much throughout – well, after that one-sided first game – it had proper value.

There was, predictably, some real excellence from Ferns’ Devine and Bates and a striking contribution from Kasperek, with the ball. From England there was one outstanding knock from Beaumont, more budding fireworks from Wyatt and Jones, plus an evening where Mady Villiers rocked Hove to its erm… rocktastic roots. Oh, and inevitably the wonderfully, endlessly reliable Heather Knight effectively led her England Posse through – as she does. But the White Ferns absolutely delivered in terms of staking a claim to the highest echelons: from their warm-up drills onwards, they looked a well-organised outfit – certainly equal to or beyond India – who may be laying claim to that third spot behind world-leaders Australia and wannabees England.

Will be fascinating to see if the 50 over format exposes any frailties in the New Zealand squad strength: there is a sense that England just have more, or are less reliant, possibly, on their Playing Icons. But do they really bat deeper? And in any case, might Devine and Bates win the bladdy series on their own? We’ve seen enough from Chelmsford, Hove and Taunton to suggest they might. Onwards, to Bristol, with no little relish.

*Not that I don’t think women’s international cricket is legit: plainly I do. However ‘Social’ and beyond point us to continuing reminders that there is still a universe of sceptics (and arseholes) out there. (See previous blog).

So the MASSIVE NEWS IS I’m not going to ball-by-ball this. And Suzie Bates just received a robust clap to mark an astonishing 250 appearances for White Ferns. And Heather Knight (as of tonight, 200 matches) and Kath Brunt are restored, for England. And Mady Villiers – who was *staggeringly good*, at Hove, cannot get in the England side – which seems extraordinary but will be partly due to the moist and moody conditions. (Still, Mady must be wondering wtf do I have to do.)

6.00 pm and England win the toss; Knight chooses to field. A shower looks worryingly imminent. We are in a marquee at long-on(ish)/third mannish, depending.

The inclusion of Brunt and Knight is an obvious signal that England want to win this wee series. They both bring guts, experience, quality and maybe critically consistency. That Villiers omission may for all I know be due to minor injury (or something) but her contribution was so notable in the last game, I do wonder if she might have been preferred to Glenn – who is a significant notch down, on the fielding skills front. (Fully understand that Glenn offers that proverbial ‘point of difference’, being a leggie, but Biggish Call?)

Couple of fielding fails. Farrant can’t grab a throw-in from Knight: if she had maybe the run-out was on. Then Glenn is clumsy as the ball flies past her. Lots of meteorological *mood-music* above us but no rain – which feels fortunate. Four bowling changes in four overs: Brunt/Farrant/Sciver/Ecclestone. 28 for 0 after 4.

Brunt bowls a genuine bouncer, at Devine. The second one is dispatched, by Bates, through midwicket. Ecclestone looks flattish and ‘swiftish’, from our relatively sideways-on position: 37 for 0, New Zealand, with Bates on 27 as the England spinner concludes the powerplay.

Feels explosive when Farrant castles Bates. Impossible to see (from our medium-unhelpful position) if the ball did something in the air but it was deliciously full: satisfying clatter echoes round the place. Satterthwaite is arguably the last of the White Fern Big Guns; she comes in now, at 45 for 1.

Glenn bowls the tenth. Devine sweeps her smartly for four but the sense is that a relatively low-scoring affair may be looming – understandably, given the damp outfield and voluptuous low cloud. 61 for 1 at halfway. England have looked attentive and sounded energetic in the field. There is *good energy* but… the lights have just failed!

Imagine the floodlights are powered by cider, here. If so, someone soon pours a jug into the erm, apple-generator-thing. Game back on after 5 mins, or so. Devine hoiks Brunt to square leg for another boundary, to go to 27. She looks a player in control – but unable currently, or unwilling, to explode. The game – certainly the batting side of it – feels a little constricted; or certainly measured. (Hasten to add this is not a slight on the White Ferns high order: hard to imagine anyone bludgeoning freely here tonight).

Interesting to see Sciver bowl a further, sharp short one at Devine. Played high to low, square, for one. It’s Glenn who makes the breakthrough, though. Brunt takes a sound, low catch in the deep. 84 for 2, then 86 for 2, after 14.

Big Moment as Ecclestone – inevitably? – gets Devine. Bowled. 90 for 3. Now. Do Green and the incoming Halliday have the heart and the confidence to accelerate through this testing period? Feels like that might be the key to the game… and they will know that. Glenn follows again. The lights are proper beaming now.

Tash Farrant offers left-arm with a bunch of variations which add to the England blend. She may sometimes be more hittable than Sciver or Brunt but is skilled at checking the pace and the change of angle can be a challenge, yes? I like the mix in the England attack – all of it, including the aforementioned Glenn selection. Unknowable if Villier’s bowling – sharpish, flattish off-spin – could have been effective, or more effective than Glenn’s tonight: perhaps they weren’t competing alternatives in any case? Villiers can bat so perhaps could play instead of Bouchier? Plus Mady’s fielding really is *that good* she might reasonably be picked for that alone(?)

All speculative. What is fact is that Sciver has claimed a further wicket, from a wide short one which Green has tickled. Jones, standing at her shoulder, pouches. Advantage England? Masses of cloud and the flags are stilling. Yet if I was betting on this I’d say we might well get through with no rain. (*Fatal).

Brunt closes out. Umpire review for run out, last ball – not given – but irrespective of that inevitable and rather ungainly gamble the White Ferns have done particularly well, to get to 144 for 4. Absolutely a competitive total and achieved generally with no little style. (Beyond my expectations, certainly: credit to Martin and Halliday, who bundled the score forward to good effect, late on).

This a significant test then, for England. They may *possibly* have racier, zestier, more urgent openers in Wyatt and Beaumont but they may need Sciver or Knight to go big and dynamic to get home, here. ‘Poised’, as they say. A beautiful, velvety, brooding dark is descending.

Good start from Kasperek. Hunches? Have the feels that England may crumble – or that Knight will be the difference. Or that Villiers will sub herself in, surreptitiously and club an angry 87. In short there is tension and wonderful unknowingness – partly because New Zealand have grown with the series and now look a good all-round outfit. Kerr goes well: England 5 for 0 after 2.

Welcome first boundary to Wyatt, clubbing Devine square. Then a different-level of booming – the game’s first six, over mid-off. Both fabulous and an important signal, perhaps(?) Her partner can’t bring her own A-game: Beaumont squiffs one and is caught, for just 3. But this will bring in Sciver, possibly the best cricket athlete in the world game and someone with tremendous power and a certain presence in the middle.

News comes that ‘we have 2,112 in’. And many of them are rising to the challenge here – especially as Wyatt brings up four more – *three times*. 40 for 1, England, at the end of the powerplay. The mighty Sciver has never quite looked in… and now she’s out, caught easing one from Kasperek straight to deep mid-wicket. On the plus side, the England skipper, Knight, gets a genuinely rousing reception, as she stomps out.

Wyatt is something of an enigma. Quicksilver but also something of a Mistress of the Naff Dismissal. She immediately dances but lifts a tad tamely directly at deep square. Gone. Good, sharp knock but she needs a few more truly decisive innings to quell any doubts. White Ferns on top, surely, as Jensen comes in to Jones. Extraordinary short bouncer is given a wide. 50 up, in the 8th, 3 down. Decent pace, from the bowler, next delivery: keeper, standing up, does well to collect.

Jones and Knight are both fine players: meaning they could be both dynamic enough and durable enough to win this… but there are buts. They wear black and they are prowling about the outfield with some purpose. It’s intriguing and extremely watchable stuff.

Huge, cruel roar as a mis-field gifts Jones four, to leg. The strikingly tall bowler – Rowe – not best pleased, although seems philosophically undemonstrative. She fails to twitch, next ball, too, as the close field erupts in appeal. Umpire right not to raise that finger. Satterthwaite will join us to bowl the tenth, at 66 for 3. (So not much in this now).

You’ve got to love the way Heather Knight runs. Scurrying madly, as though she’s wearing armour! She gets two, behind. Bates is keeping the Ferns bright. The word that keeps lurching to the fore is ‘competitive’. It’s a focussed game rather than a brilliant one but it’s high-level competitive. 73 for 3 after 11, England.

Another cruel roar as the fielder at mid-off falls around the ball. Four. And another, so a little momentum for the home side, backed-up by very good running between the wickets. Some danger here, for New Zealand as both batters seem in. Until Jones is out, bowled by Kasperek for a sprightly 32. Dunkley will join Knight.

As Kerr comes in to bowl the 14th, with England on 98 for 4, they need 47 to win it. Dunkley smashes one at Bates: did it carry? Not quite, I suspect.

We’ve been asked (us Media Legends) to pick a Player of the Series: not easy. Prime candidate might be running in, now: Sophie Devine. Has quality, has presence, has been influential. Just don’t tell her she’s going to get this *partly* because no-one else has really shone in more than one game. (Arguably). Scratch that. She really is quality – she gets it.

The crowd are into this and it’s lovely to hear so many female voices. Excited ones, mostly. We are building to a Proper Finish here. England need 28 off 24; do-able, certainly. Eek, another error in the deep yields another outbreak of triumphalist bawling. (Barely credibly, the ball had bounced over the luckless fielder). That hurts. Whatever happens, here, Heather Knight has demonstrated yet again that she is a worldie. 16 to win from the last two overs.

Devine is in and the England skipper clouts her to midwicket for six. Dunkley hasn’t exactly been fluent but she has persisted. They look to be bringing it home. That is, until Knight clips one neatly to mid-off – gone for 42 from 36. Bouchier in at the last. Fabulous stuff: 7 needed.

Wow. Awful drag-down from a nervy bowler skittles Bouchier! (Unfortunate for the newcomer but handily vindicates my Villiers argument). Painful magic that, from Satterthwaite.

Brunt swings brusquely but misses then pads one back up the track. Single. Leg-bye. No matter. Another poor ball, in truth, from Satterthwaite is biffed to the cow corner boundary by a charging Dunkley. Crowd love it. Home win/last over. Boxes ticked. It’s been a tremendous, atmospheric climax to an even and compelling series. Think England just about shaded it but (as someone once said) ‘by the barest of margins’. Enjoyable, enjoyable stuff. Now – on to the one-dayers…

Villiers in vain.

The morning after may offer some perspective, or not? Following an exhibition of stunning fielding from England’s Mady Villiers that – who knows? – may have buttoned the lip of many a male critic, the proverbial positives have rendered themselves available. Pace, agility, skill, power; she showed them all, in exhilarating style. But hers was almost a lone hand – certainly in terms of English performances and hopes. In general Nat Sciver’s side had an ordinary night, as Sophie Devine led the White Ferns to a deserved win.

Here’s how it felt, live:

Another South Coast adventure, then. Meaning groooovy street-side cafes, muggy sun and lots of top-knots. A gentlish breeze, inside Sussex C.C. Much appreciated at 5pm but may be cool, later(?)

Early arrival not planned, particularly but was frankly loafing abart at my lovely friend’s gaff and when they returned from the pub and shifted irretrievably towards afternoon kip mode, I meandered down. (Did mean I get first shout at the open doorway and the power cable, so not without its benefits). Have even beaten the fielding coaches, who tend to set up an age before the start; cones and flexi-stumps being thrust around or into the outfield as I write. Aoife from ECB pops in to see we’re ok; we’re okay – or that is, me and my new pal Lee are o-kaay.

Sarah Glenn is marking out her leggie’s run-up, inch-by-inch – one foot in front of t’other. Meanwhile, White Ferns batters are having some throw-downs in front of me. Front foot driving. 5.55pm. I interrupt this broadcast to eat; curries, loading up to get me through a busy evening.

New Zealand have won the toss and decided to bowl. No changes to their team. Brunt is rested, for England and Freya Davies is her replacement. Bouchier also comes in; she seemed both thrilled and a bit emosh at her cap presentation, earlier. 18.45 and lights are on. As so often, crowd feels relatively thin. Ridiculous. On a similar theme, there are four journo’s in the media centre to my left… and me, in the ‘Cow Corner’ hut-thing. Poor turnout, from our press, because, yaknow, wimmin.

Beaumont and Wyatt, predictably, will open, for England. Kasperek will bowl to the latter. Statement drive, pretty much *straight at me* first up. Four, with dancing feet. Impressive and emphatic. 6 from the over.

Kerr will follow, for the White Ferns. Beaumont paddle/glides her to fine leg beautifully – four more. Devine will bowl the third; understandably, the visitors looking to stem the flow (or likely flow) from the two in-form England openers.

It’s Jess Kerr, though who makes the breakthrough. Sweeeet inswinger beats and bowls Beaumont. Big wicket. 20 for 1, England as Sciver – the brilliant Sciver – enters the fray. Neutrals will want a closer game; it was Tammy Beaumont who utterly dominated the first game of this series, which England won by 50-odd runs. Could her loss be to the gain of the event?

Review against the England captain but Sciver plainly hit it – so wasted, by New Zealand. But wow, Devine claims the tall all-rounder’s wicket; Rowe taking a goodish running catch at backward square. And ZOIKS!! The dangerous Amy Jones follows, next ball, drilling straight at cover. Dreamland, for the visitors but poor dismissal from England’s point of view. 26 for 3 and it seems unthinkable that the home side can romp to the same sort of a victory that delighted the locals of Chelmsford the other evening. In fact there is palpable jeopardy for England here: a lot now resting on the shoulders of Wyatt and Dunkley.

Wyatt tonks Kerr straight back over her head, in response. But 36 for 3 is a fine start for New Zealand: powerplay done.

Satterthwaite is in and beating Wyatt: possible stumping. She got back – but close. I’m watching through the open doors of ‘Cow Corner’ so can hear and feel the energy out there. White Ferns are chirpy and bright – and why wouldn’t they be? One more wicket and they become strong (if early) favourites.

Good test for Wyatt, this. She is an obvious talent but she’s *not known* for her durability/stickability. She tends to blaze away – with style and typically some confidence – rather than build over time. Devine is slamming a quick one in there, possibly pushing too hard. She follows up with TWO no-balls – so TWO free hits – one of which Wyatt dispatches straight.

In the flurry of action I’ve not really thought about how we got here: i.e. how the pitch and/or general playing conditions are. Truth is Beaumont fell to a fine ball… and Jones had no business thrashing her first delivery to cover. I’m not seeing anything spooky going on, pitch-wise: the visitors are just doing a solid job. Oh, and weirdly belatedly, we now have a substantial crowd, so cancel some of my earlier concerns. (Some of). England are 58 for 3 after 9.

Dunkley has been unconvincing and she thrusts a straightforward caught and bowled back to Kasperek. More trouble, for England and a big ask now for Bouchier, on debut. She sees out three dot balls before clubbing with no timing towards midwicket. Safe. A pret-ty ordinary 62 for 4, though, on the board, at the halfway stage. Wyatt, who has only faced 16 balls, may need to see this through.

She clatters Jensen over mid-off, for four. Proper dusk, now, so the lights are doing their atmospheric twinkling fully productively. Kasperek has been doing well enough but Bouchier clips her beautifully through square leg; big moment for the debutant. She almost repeats it… but also loses concentration momentarily, threatening to force a truly diabolical runout… but no. Settle down, Maia.

Satterthwaite will try to still the game a little. Again, Bouchier is nearly stranded, mid-pitch. Then she miscues towards backward square. Edgy stuff. After 13 England are 85 for 4. They must *both* consolidate and accelerate.

Rowe is in and bowling sharply and short. Wyatt cuts, before dropping and running. Communication between the batters hasn’t been flawless but they are rotating and profiting, now. Bouchier is stronger and seems more likely to hit hard, so Wyatt is offering plenty of strike. 100 up after 14.4 overs; Jensen the bowler.

Rowe cramps Wyatt a little; she had looked to cut but misjudged (perhaps) a little cut off the pitch. Caught behind square – disappointingly. Bouchier follows promptly, done by pace, flicking behind. Ecclestone and Glenn are suddenly pitched in there… and both on nought. 106 for 6 feels notably light, at the 16 over mark.

These England spin-twins are competent enough but further wickets feel possible. Ecclestone likes to bludgeon the ball: can she do that without risking calamity? Kasperek will bowl the 18th, which may be important. 8.14 pm and I would say we look dark, beyond the stadium.

Ecclestone swishes and finds cover. (114 for 7). Glenn hits a horror-shot aerial but safe, towards mid-off. Villiers bunts a single. Devine hits Glenn – who has utterly mistimed a slower ball – in the guts. We have a review. Not out. The other night England threatened 200. Tonight they seem unlikely to make 130. Last over, with Jensen running in.

A runout seems on… but the throw is wide. Villiers flashes one up and must surely be caught but the night’s first howler offers her relief. A scramble gets two from the last: England finish on 127 for 7. Advantage must be with the White Ferns?

Sciver – the captain, in the absence of the stoic but excellent Heather Knight – will open. Bates and Devine in, for New Zealand. Three dot balls, then two, out to Wyatt on the legside boundary. Peach of an outswinger and Jones whips off the bails: no joy. Two for 0 as Tash Farrant comes in. The sense that if one or both of these batters can prosper, the White Ferns could cruise this. The Kiwi stars will of course know this: let’s see.

Farrant has had a top year. Has #skills. Early half-chance but Dunkley – good fielder who had a strangely poor night in the opening fixture – throws wide. Devine gets there.

Freya Davies – prancing then bursting, with back arcing somewhat and hand high – replaces Sciver. Bates collects her brutally and clears midwicket for 6. Sciver responds a couple of balls later by putting both a deep midwicket and deep square out. Bates tips and runs. 20 for 0 after 3. Enter Ecclestone.

Bates miscues fine for a fortunate four but then Ecclestone reviews, for possible lbw. Umpire was right – missing. Poor review. 7 from the over and crucially, no dramas. Sciver in, to ‘make something happen’. Ecclestone – not one of England’s better fielders – dives over one: not what her skipper needs. Four.

Great pick-up and throw from Villers may have stunned Bates. The batter clubbed to mid-on but the England spinner is a fine athlete: she gathers and slings to execute a fabulous, timely runout.

Farrant is in again but Devine absolutely clatters her, with timing, for six, then gathers four more. *Response*. New Zealand 43 for 1 at the end of the powerplay (and clearly ahead). Breeze coming in: time for a jumper. Ecclestone.

Glenn drops a fairly simple chance, as Devine turns it to backward square. Came flattish but hardly laser-like. 54 for 1 after 8. That same batter rubs salt by smashing Sciver for a further 6. England need something special, now – a cluster of wickets, rather than just one – to get back into this. Theoretically the visitors have less batting depth than England but the two at the crease have quality and experience.

Davies has changed ends as we approach mid-innings. From nowhere – or so it seems – she draws the wicket. It’s batter error, in truth, Satterthwaite clipping an attempted reverse straight into her stumps. 68 for 2. Green is in, and Glenn turns one, which is dealt with calmly enough. Villiers and Wyatt are now prowling in front of me, offering leg-side cover for the leg-spinner. Devine is on 37 as Ecclestone comes in to bowl the 12th.

Good work from the tall left-armer – just the one from the over.

Green connects with Glenn, splitting the leg-side field for four. Devine betters that, by crunching one waaaay over midwicket for 6. Then a smart relay between Wyatt and Villiers limits the White Fern fixture to two.

More, from Davies. Green turns her smartly for another boundary. At 14 now, she looks in and her partner has 46. Davies strays and is penalised for wide. Devine again hits powerfully for four to bring up her half-century; it’s included four 6s.

As Farrant comes in for the 15th, the visitors need only 29 for victory. But DRAMA YET! Devine smashes out towards Villers (& *absolutely* myself!) and the England fielder judges her advance and her dive to perfection to take another outstanding catch. (It really was directly at both of us and she really did have to travel to get there). Fifty and gone, for Devine but with (still) only 3 wickets down an equalising win seems certain in any event. With 15 overs done, New Zealand are 105 for 3 – needing only 23 runs from 30 balls.

England need some crazy-level inspiration… so who ya gonna call? MADY VILLIERS!! Sciver has brought her in, and the young off-spinner pulls out another stunning catch to remove Green, who has boomed it back at her. 113 for 4 as Glenn comes in. We have Martin and Jensen both new to the crease but they have only to tip and run, you would think(?)

Nope. Martin has hit firmly towards long-off… and, erm, you know the rest. Villiers pockets another catch. Ridiculous. What can Ecclestone do? Nothing decisive, on this occasion.

After 18, the visitors need only 8 from 12. Farrant offers a little width and gets crashed for four. Then the umpire calls the next one a wide… but England are appealing for caught behind. OOF! There is glove on it – Jensen has to go! Awful ball, in truth but Jones had gathered superbly – again.

Barely credibly, Farrant bowls two further consecutive wides to gift the game (which to be fair had seemed long gone) to the White Ferns. Dispiriting finish to an underwhelming performance, from England.

Unquestionably, however, this was a deserved win for Devine, in particular. She bossed the game as Beaumont had done in the previous fixture. The New Zealand skipper – in her 100th IT20 game – came away with the Player of the Match Award but I doubt she would begrudge Mady Villiers a Mention In Dispatches. The youngster’s sustained and indeed electrifying fielding was a joy to behold. One-all in the series feels right, feels good. Evidence of elite-level athleticism and skill in the field feels important, positive, helpful.

Taunton.

Arrived early. On the muggy side of warm – so perfect. Summery. Feels like a big runs day but who knows? Certainly hope that India can find another level of dynamism, otherwise this could be one-sided again.

13.09 and quite vigorous warm-ups going on. Do wonder if (on a day like today) this is *entirely necessary*, to this level but hey ho – folks getting paid to organise this stuff. View from our corner is loveleeee… but askew… and not clear if we will hear announcements or see screens all that easily. No matter. Somerset is showing off and the afternoon/evening should be fantastic.

Ecclestone, Beaumont and others involved in fielding/catching rotation. Perfectly good drills going on but slight concern that these days become ver-ry long – for blokes and gals – if the warm-up stuff takes hours. Difficult to sustain energy and concentration to a maximum, endlessly, yes? Actively enjoy watching the pre-game activity. Not remotely being critical: just hope these guys are considering this angle.

13.28. Journos slapping on the sun-lotion: that soft creamy smell. Nice – as is the wee breeze wafting into our open marquee. Might be coffe time. (Instant – can’t have everything). On the team news front, England predictably are unchanged after the procession in Bristol. India make three changes: Raut, Vastrakar and Bisht are hoiked, replaced by Jemima Rodrigues, Poonam Yadav and Sneh Rana. Ooh: thunder flies.

13.52 and the Big Question is whether India can lift themselves into another, more boomtastic cultural orbit – much like the England men did some years ago? India (women) have looked lamentably behind the contemporary process, seemingly unable to shift at a rate beyond four an over, for any meaningful period. Given the resources available to the national governing body, this is an extraordianry failure.

How much of that is down to raw sexism and under-valuing of the women’s pathway is open to debate. I find it incredible that one of the world powers in the game cannot (apparently) find batters who can biff to international white-ball standards. We can’t rule out arrogance and conservatism amongst leading and established players but for the youngster, Verma, to be burdened with so much pressure as the sole attacking batter seems crazy.

India are batting and Brunt has opened to Mandhana. Peach of an away-swinger, early. India’s left-hander responds with a sweetly-struck boundary. The Indian dressing room is stationed twenty yards to my right. On the balcony, they liked that.

Okaaay, I’ll level with you, friends. Wifi carnage – or not updating carnage is intervening, here. Am a tolerant bloke but this is a test. Most of the last X paragraphs have been re-written at breakneck speed because the f***ers would ‘t update on my laptop. There may be a agap here because I can’t catch up – am switching back to The Old Way; punching stuff out on the ipad…

*Stuff we missed. Winfield-Hill drops Verma! Mandhana is OUT! (Plays on, to Kate Cross, for 22). Then India’s junior worldie blasts on, joined by Rodrigues. After 14 overs, India are 66 for 1, with Verma 41 already and her partner yet to score. The *day itself* is simply wonderful: so gawd knows what the seagulls are complaining about, so bitterly.

Rodrigues steadies her nerves (two fours) but then perishes to Cross, hoisting a leading edge out to Brunt. 76 for 2 in the 16th. Having made a good start, can India press on, with Mithali Raj supporting or ideally contributing to a further, dynamic partnership? They plainly need that – and it’s what they’ve lacked. As Raj faces Shrubsole, Cross wanders back to her fielding post with 2 for 11. Important moment?

Big, confident shout from Ecclestone, as Verma advances. Was she stumped? Jones seems keen but we await a review, from the square-leg ump. Takes some time to confirm. MASSIVE. 77 for 3. Verma made another tremendously watchable 44. England had built some pressure: she tried to respond with her trademark aggression but Ecclestone has done for her. Think most of us in the ground are now wondering if the visitors might subside, from here? With the conditions so magnificent it would feel like a crime, should the game be shortened by feeble batting.

But perhaps I do protest the visitors’ potential weaknesses too much? Hope so.
Oof! The ball bursts through Winfield-Hill’s hands, having been slashed at by Raj. Cross the unfortunate bowler but the pace off the bat barely makes that a chance. The Ecclestone and Cross combo is working well, for England. We have effectively two new batters – Harmanpreet Kaur and Mithali Raj – so (even though these two are Indian Icons, of a sort) the home side will look to continue and indeed tighten the squeeze. After 19 overs, the visitors are 81 for 3.

A change. Sciver is in. Lots of chat around Mithali’s role and whether she can transform her traditional, admittedly stylish batting into something 2021-worthy. As she plays out a maiden with carefully-steered defensive shots, we do wonder. A half-volley (from Cross) arrives, to the rescue. 85 for 3, off 20. I’m still squinting, as I peer out there. Summertime Spectacular. It’s Ecclestone, now, who’s first in the line of view. Cross is again racing in; the England left-armer is her deep third man. On the radio, Alex Hartley is notably critical of Raj’s continuing circumspection.

Sciver looks to be bowling at a reasonable lick but Raj pulls for four – to loud cheers, from her colleagues on the balcony. Slower one from the bowler. 94 for 3 from 23. So back to four an over. Time for Sarah Glenn. Could be interesting: she can spin it and of course this ground *has been known* to support slow bowling. To be honest, no screens available and the angle of the dangle makes guesswork of any possible deviation.

India have gone past 100. Kaur and Raj persist but they will know that after settling they must go again. Another moment of elegance, from Mithali Raj. Four, Sciver – mixing it up – having erred a little.

Have successfully called up Sky Sports on laptop, so now – for now – have visuals. Will report asap on degree of spin, or otherwise, from Glenn. Meanwhile, it’s Sciver banging one in there, to Raj, who has moved to 20. The bowler is an experienced and skilful operator: pace up and down and wrist position variable. Good, fair pitch, so trying to present different, sometimes subtly different challenges.

First look at Glenn with the benefit of telly. Hah! A full toss – clumped away – so no spin. Then, despite that cocked wrist and that turned hand, very little spin available, it seems. Brunt will offer a radically different contest. No obvious threat there but this may be okay, for England, if that run rate can remain subdued.

So what’s possible, or likely? 120-odd for 3 after 29 overs. Who’s to come? There *are batters* but how many of them can turbo-boost the innings? Deepti Sharma, possibly. Not clear the others can sustain any necessary barrage. If India use the overs it’s feeling like 220, to me. (That’s five an over from hereon in). India need significantly more. England I think will get that in 40 overs. Maybe less. Let’s see.

The England bowling has been goodish but not immaculate. Ditto the fielding. Glenn has offered a few outside or on leg stump and Brunt’s loopy slower-one is wide and hittable. Both Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur are set, so theoretically in a position to cut loose themselves. Raj smashes one back, low, to Glenn: another theoretical catch but not sure Chris Jordan would have taken that one. 139 for 3 after 32 overs. Drinks. Afterwards the visitors must surely push?

They do. Skier. Cross gets a caught and bowled. Harmanpreet gone, for 19. Sinking feeling? In the sense that I/we don’t want India to be all out 200, yes. But let’s be positive: Deepti Sharma, one of the visitor’s finest is joining us. She is tough, she can hit, she will get – i.e understand – what’s needed. Cross bursts in and bowls at 69mph, according to the gun.

Shrubsole is back, to try to capitalise. She – if the speed-gun is right? – also fires in two at 68/69 mph. (Possible but 64 or 5 is usual). 150 for 4 after 35, so run rate 4.29. Not enough. Mithali has 47, currently, from 69 – not bad, by her standards… but this may be the issue.

Hmm. Speed-gun. Saying 70 mph. It’s warm and Cross is trying but I wonder. Raj gets a free hit but Cross throws in a slower-ball bouncer which Raj cannot hit: it hits her, in fact, on the grill.

Sharma couldn’t score off her first five balls so no surprises that number six goes. Middled through midwicket; four, Shrubsole the bowler. Then she reaches, rather for another pull and cloths it aerially but safely towards the fielder in the deep. But we’re on the edge of something, you sense.

Yup. 160 for 5 as Deepti chips Cross rather cheaply to that same area, where Dunkley catches routinely. Pleased for Cross. Waxed lyrical about her movement and her flow previously: then – Bristol – she got little reward. Today her 4 for 30 will surely give her a fillip? With Sharma’s departure so my angst rises. Fear 200 all out and a short, non-competitive game. Rana had joined Raj, who is now just the one short of her half-century.

Rana takes Shrubsole up and over – barely – for a marginal miscue to long-on. Four. Cross returns, and looks fully extended in a good way. Rana plays a tad early and another skier flies up to Knight. It’s a dolly but the skipper juggles almost comically, before claiming the five-for for the elated bowler. 168 for 6. Good from England but the feeling rises that they have not needed to be special.

A minor lift for India, as Mithali Raj gets to her 50. 80 balls. Taniya Bhatia, diminutive and no doubt a little deflated, is in. Time for Ecclestone to mop up. Not immediately.

Sciver, from the Ian Botham Stand End. Slow then bouncy. Sharp and also cunning. Gets one to duck in, to Bhatia – hits pad. Another surge in the sun and the heat. 177 for 6 after 42.

Ecclestone. Single for Raj, downtown but Bhatia falls, caught behind, nicking. Seven down and likely to finish 70 or more behind a par score? Not a great look, for India. Bhatia made 2; done by a quicker ball, bowled full, setting her back there. Pandey is in.

She looks strong but Sciver knows too much – or at least draws another nick. Wide one and the batter swings and edges to the keeper. Ouch. This is almost cruel, now. 181 for 8 as the veteran Goswami lopes in. It may not get any easier for the visitors, as Brunt will bowl the 45th. Overall run rate 4.1. But five wickets lost for 36 in the last 11 overs.

Brunt is getting a bit of movement off the pitch: like India needed that, now. Over survived. Sciver is bowling out of the back of her hand – Goswami reads it. Then she goes one better – although Beaumont, at point, should have stopped it. A rare four.

Wee break as Raj gets some attention – not clear what the issue is. Brunt will bowl to her partner.

Misfield by Dunkley precipitates chaos… and a possible run out. The fielder firstly recovers to athletically save the four, then hurls in. Jones claims and knocks over the sticks (maybe with her elbow) but Raj has to go. Start the car. India are 195 for 9.

Mithali Raj proceeded pretty serenely – as she tends to – towards her 59. No issues with her consumption of balls today, effectively, as her anchor role was utterly central. But even she will have to look at just how the necessary dynamism is to be generated. Currently it isn’t there… and neither is the ability to withstand this admittedly strong (and strongly mixed) England attack.

We started by saying four an over is unacceptable – is an irrelevance, as England are showing, nowadays. Of course it is both politic and wise to throw in the qualification that only one team has batted here, so far. But the overwhelming likelihood is that the second team – England – will make mincemeat of this target.

Brunt is in, from the Marcus Trescothick Pavilion. Extravagant slower ball beats everything. Goswami is showing a little spirit but her principle task begins in about twenty minutes or so. The tall opening bowler may need to eviscerate half the England line-up for her side to have any chance. We reach the final over: Ecclestone will conclude.

India do reach the 220 suggested by yours truly. Credit to them for that. Goswami has made 19 and Poonam Yadav 10 when the latter is bowled, charging the final delivery. 221 all out at the close.

Do I win a fiver for that?

We resume, without Mithali Raj, who had been having some treatment on her neck, late-on during the Indian innings. Has ‘tweaked something’. Winfield-Hill and Beaumont will start the charge, for England – and I do expect it to be something of a charge. Goswami is creamed, classically, through the covers by Winfield-Hill, in the first over.

Pandey has a boldish appeal, first up, to Beaumont. Denied and they don’t review. Clutch of early wickets essential, naturally: don’t see it because the pitch is true and slowish. Plus the bowling isn’t, in my expectation going to be special – or special enough. So should be a cruise, or a blast, for the home side.

The openers will want to make a decent dent in the Indian total and then explode. If they get out then ditto for Knight, Sciver and Jones. Dunkley will probably be in at six but frankly I’m not sure she will bat. (I’m not that sure Sciver will bat – in at four, behind Knight, in all probability).

Aware how arrogant this might sound if something extraordinary happens but the batters named are so thoroughly grooved and professional that there’s not much wriggle-room there towards any diplomatic niceties. Goswami goes too wide and Beaumont clatters to the boundary. Pleasant evening. High sixties, some cloud, token, welcome breeze.

Pandey is getting some in-swing. So Beaumont is watchful. England are 13 for 0 after 4. From our position, Goswami looks enormous. She looked liked she meant it with the bat and she’s pumped, here.

Too right. She bowls Beaumont, with a full one which may have just left the England opener. Great ball – killer length. Disappointing for the batter – inevitably – but maybe crucial to the spectacle? 16 for 1 as Heather Knight strides in.

Pandey must back her partner up. She looks committed, as always but the skipper drills her beautifully along the deck for four, through extra cover. Quite a start. But fair play, the bowler responds by beating her: cruelly she also beats the keeper, meaning four more to the total. A slightly petulant throw from Pandey, which struck Knight on the pad references the bowler’s anger. India are up for it, which is good – which is right.

Huge appeal for a possible caught behind. Nope. Great stop at mid-on. Anxiety, verbals, *competitive cricket*. It has, of course, to last.

Knight, in particular, seems well-suited to seeing this out. She is classy, stoical, consistently durable. Winfield-Hill is leaving, then threading a near-yorker through midwicket for a boundary. England are 34 for 1 after 8. It brightens again – stunningly.

It’s not exactly a storm… but England are weathering it. They can inch happily forward before they go, at a moment of their choice. Our first spin, from Deepti Sharma, from the Marcus Trescothick End. Slowish and loopy. Bats left-nanded but bowls right arm off-breaks. Appeals, loudly – but it may have been an invention. Knight looks keen to race those singles. We will have spin twins: Poonam Yadav. She. Is. Tiny.

Seems weird on this majestic, cider-drinker’s dream of a night, but the lights are on. Go figure. Perhaps they help Winfield-Hill see this one: boom! Six, straight. Exciting. First six of the day: *statement*. Nine from the over.

Love the way Knight runs. She ‘hares’: not at all elegantly but with a kind of desperate determination. Says everything about her deep energy. But… she slashes just a little at Poonam Yadav and the ball is sailing short. Easy catch for Goswami at mid-off. The England captain has rather thrown that away for 10. England 49 for 2.

Sciver joins Winfield-Hill, who may throttle back a touch. Or not. She unceremoniously clonks Yadav for four. Bold – and beautifully executed. With lots of runs needed – despite that low target – had thought that we might get half an hour’s ‘re-building’, from England.

Next over and Winfield-Hill again punishes Sharma. Edgy, but brilliant. She has 31 and Sciver 2 as we break for drinks with the home side at 60 for 2.

Sciver is tall and athletic and hits hard. She gets runs. Winfield-Hill is looking both bullish and stylish, somehow. If the two of them get comfortable this may spell trouble, for India. So changes. Sneh Rana is in. The England opener is striking her cleanly. Thought strikes I *really should be* drinking cider… but I barely drink pints, these days and never the applestuff.

If India are to have any chance you would think they must shift these two, plus Jones, plus Dunkley. None of the remaining batters are utter bunnies but the current and next two would expect to score a few on here, today. Jones has quality (and strokes) and Dunkley still has a point to prove. The lull that is developing – if lulls can do that – suggests that a Cruise to Victory By Umpteen Wickets becomes more likely. So the contest, if there is to be one, needs a wicket. Sciver eases back to Rana and takes an easy single. 81 for 2 after 18.

Pandey is in from the Botham Pavilion. Fast arm. Drama! Winfield-Hill caught behind, by Bhatia, standing up. She made 42.

More drama!! Sciver has lofted one towards mid-off. Huge but maybe contrived celebration? Long wait, during which we look behind us at the temporary screen. Clear that India are having the proverbial larf: bounced, in front, clearly – and the fielder will have known it. Bit naughty, arguably, although pretty much everybody does it. Weirdly, that may fuel the anger and determination of both sides. At least, at 85 for 3, it feels like we may see a contest.

Jones is a player but we’ve seen her throw her wicket away. She may not want to do that, now. Sun still bright and warm; conditions fabulous. Runs are there but there is also some real intent, in the field. Similar focus from the batters, mind, as Sciver clips to leg and absolutely bullets to get that second.

Wow. That energy from India is seeping through – affecting stuff. Sciver has edged behind! Has this ‘non-contest’ turned? No review needed – Sciver has walked and we are 92 for 4. Dunkley is into something of a maelstrom: huge test of nerve, for her. She misses the first ball.

A Bath Gin balloon has loomed rather ominously into view. It will pass over or very close to the ground within a minute or so. Bet they can hear the chat from the fielders, up there.

We have one of those wonderful situations where runs are not that difficult to come by (really) but composure is. This is Dunkley’s first ODI. Amy Jones is relatively experienced but (without being at all malicious) I’m unclear on her temperament. She likes to flow – she can do that thing. Whether she can dig in, first, before building, we shall see. Good job I decided earlier not to drive back to Pembs, tonight.
Likely be here til 9.30.

England reach the 100 in the 25th over, to significant applause, meaning they (too) are suddenly finding that four an over barrier a challenge. Have no idea what happens from here, now. Thought Sciver and Winfield-Hill might finish this, half an hour ago!

Couple of encouraging signs, for Jones. Skilful hands and power, too as she batters two boundaries before dinking neatly down to fine leg and bolting for two more. There is a *possible* caught and bowled when she smashes back to Rana at catchable height but it’s fiercely struck. Jones has gone to 19 and Dunkley 6 as Poonam Yadav continues.

Rightly, the ball is being hit with some intent and singles are being raced. Sometimes slightly scarily. Mini break-out as Jones biffs to the boundary. Pressure and pressure-release, now – just as it should be. Couple of errors in the field: not much doubt that England are the better outfit in that respect. (mind you, etc etc)…

Deepti Sharma is greeted with a cut to the boundary. Mixed over, in truth. Dunkley will have enjoyed a couple of solid strikes. 131 for 4, off 28.

Comfort break – as so often – brings a wicket. Jones, surprisingly, is caught, off Yadav, by the sub, Yadav. 133 for 5 as the indomitable Brunt enters the fray.

Brunt can bat but can also be impulsive. She won’t like that a game she will think England should have put to bed is still live. This *is*, as Izzy Westbury has just said on radio, “all about temperament” now.

We are looking straight into a sinking sun. It’s above backward point as Goswami runs in to Brunt. Defended. Every boundary a mini-triumph, now – even when miscued. Dunkley gets Yadav away – just. Have liked Goswami’s spirit, today. She’s in again now and slapping it hard. Pad. Brunt matches her for grit: all day. However, the fiery England bowler almost falls, as the sub fielder gets a hand to a sharp cut, flashing over her head. Another escape and another ratcheting-up of the tension.

After 33 overs, England are five down, with a fairly straightforward run rate to overcome. But this is less than the half of it. We are in wild territory. Dunkley relieves just a little of the angst, by thrashing a six, off Pandey. Stunner. Still those verbals remain, out on the park – essential, surely, for India to keep the revs high?

Deepti Sharma is the latest change, from the Ian Botham Stand. Brunt clips her to leg. With a theoretical 15 overs remaining, England have 157 for 5. They need 222 to win. Do the math.

Brunt battles to get Yadav away for four more. The light is an issue in the sense that the sun is blazing but shadows – and the evening – are falling gently. Poonam Yadav is bowling so slowly it’s scary. You, as batter, can invent a thousand evils as the ball loops tantalisingly towards you. Much discussion, presumably around whether the Best Bowlers bowl now – given the lowish requirement. It’s Rana.

My latest dangerous opinion is that Brunt is likely to bring this home – quite possibly with Dunkley. Brunt is amongst the toughest, the most competitive out there. You just know she thinks England are waay the better team (and she may be right).

Poonam Yadam follows again. There’s an uneasy ease in the game. Dunkley hits Rana for four to go to 43 – may have been another misfield. That hurts. The over closes with another confident straight drive, for a single, from Dunkley. 39 overs done. 178 for 5. More balls available than runs needed: should be – ahem – a doddle. The mighty Goswami might have other ideas.

Could be her re-appearance precipitates an unseemly scramble, for a single. All safe. We have a review but it feels like another phoney war. Umpire seemed clear it was pad… and he was right. Touch of late-in-the-day purple breaking out, in the sun. Deepti Sharma has it to her right, as she comes in from the Ian Botham Stand End.

38 needed for the win as we enter the 41st. Inching home, England, with Dunkley close to a very impressive 50. Pandey offers some pace, and Dunkley can cuff it away to third man, for four. She will be thrilled to get to 53. Light going, now – sun dipping – it’s that batty time. (There must be plenty bats, local, what with cathedrals and all about).

Brunt has all the feels, now, as she gets Sharma away, through point. Four. It’s happening. India have battled better and longer and to greater effect than some of us thought probable but this is done. The event and the series needed this to be a contest and it has been. A wildish, eccentric, noisy, brash one. As a ripple of applause – a noticeably more comfortable ripple – goes round the ground, for the England 200, we start to think of home.

Goswami still offers, followed by Deepti Sharma but Dunkley’s contribution has been decisive. Brunt is enjoying a slap to leg – just for a single. The sun is finally below stand height, behind long-on, as Rana wheels in. In every sense, things are closing.

Time for a little more boom. With less than 20 needed, Dunkley carts Goswami to midwicket for another four. But mostly it’s bits and pieces.

Rana must try to avoid being clattered for the grandstand finish. She manages.

Four needed, off Sharma – two taken. Then one.

Brunt should finish this. She does. Her emphatic pull and characteristic fist-pump are the last of it. A scrambling, flighty, gallumping, consistently inconsistent game which re-establishes at least a little credibility for India – when they might have had none. Fifteen balls remaining, five wickets unspent, England the winners. The ground is an indescribable glory, bathed in arrogant, defiant, humble, disappearing sun. Trainwards, with haste.

Bristol. With hope in our hearts…

Big Call. Not getting paid is only a wee part. Love the opportunity – the privilege – of being able to report back to the universe the gambol that is international cricket but driving *lots* into the likelihood of a significantly rain-affected match is challenging. Even I – or is it mainly I, given that the other guys ‘n gals are gainfully employed? – do have those ‘how to justify’ conversations with myself. As usual, the inviolable optimism thing kicked in. I thought about a return to slumberville (in sunny Pembrokeshire) but na: up, shower and off for 7.15am. Because you do, yes?

So Bristol – in the knowledge of rain – but with hope in my heart. Lights on. At 10.31am. Coolish windyish. No precipitation, currently. Heather Knight has won the toss and England will bowl first. Team news: Sarah Glenn and Fran Wilson are in, for England; Ekta Bisht, for India.

This means that Dan(n)i Wyatt is dropped. Strongish signal from the coach: Wyatt has been a good contributor for some years; great fielder – maybe England’s most athletic? – and proactive, attacking batter. But her dismissals – too often after about 20-odd ‘positive’ yet maybe streak-tastic runs – were prone to be howlers. Caught somewhat sloppily at cover or extra; flashing without convincing. Coach Lisa Keightley is pushing the expectation buttons, a little. ‘We have to be dynamic but effective… and consistent’. Thus the standards are raised: rightly.

England’s black tee-shirts (in case you can’t read them) say ‘We stand together against sexism/ableism/racism etc’. Worthy and pointed, given the ongoing discussions and indeed investigations into race etc, within the game. In other news, I am the only media person in the room – which is large and deliberately well-ventilated – not wearing a coat. (#FirstWorldProblems?) As we approach the start of play it appears we will get going on time, with a decent prospect for play, initially…

Brunt will open to Smriti Mandhana: two Big Guns. Full toss but extravagant swing. Single, bringing Verma into this. No slip. 3 from the over. First ball suggested Shrubsole will be *in the game*. She is, but Mandhana clips her easily enough to square leg, for another single.

Tiny bit full and the inswinger is beautifully eased past mid-on, for four, by Verma. Quality. 8 without loss after 2, India. Decent start from both sides, in fact.

Little bit of shape in the air again, from Brunt – who tends to get a bit less than Shrubsole. Mandhana untroubled. First short one slammed in: no real bounce but Verma doesn’t deal with it entirely comfortably. Swished rather, slightly aerially, behind square.

Shrubsole getting those length/line calculations right, now. The wind is assisting her inswing, coming in obliquely from our left as we sit in the Bristol Pavilion End. Touch of width offers Mandhana the chance to stay deep and cut through point: boundary.

Gear-change. Verma blazes Brunt up and over mid-off, before guiding behind point – 8 runs to the total. But then the young Indian star comes over all agricultural, heaving rather wildly, cross-batted. The mishit flies straight to Shrubsole at mid-on, who takes the catch watchfully. Big Moment – and a bit of a gift. Verma gone for 15.

Poonam Raut has joined Mandhana. Conditions breezy but perfectly playable; light fair. After 6 overs, India are 23 for 1. Decent shout from Brunt against Raut. Live it looked too high and Knight discounts the review for that reason.

Shrubsole into her fourth. Noticeable that she is bowling more cross-seamers/straight balls than in her first two overs. A Plan, or more because it’s tough to control that inswing in this wind?

Interestingly, Knight stays with Brunt into her fifth. India not exactly stalled… but the scoring rate around three, per over. Review. Redfern had given it out after a looooong look but it’s missing. Raut stays. We remain 27 for 1 after 9.

Not for long. Shrubsole’s bold, full length claims Mandhana. The batter had rather ambitiously eased back to look to cut square but the ball simply flies through. Castled. England in the proverbial box seat at 27 for 2 in the 10th over. The elegant left-hander had made 10, from 25. Skipper Mithali Raj joins Raut. Time for Sciver from the Ashley Down Road End. Two in the blockhole.

Shrubsole will bowl her sixth. She’s having a right giggle with Ecclestone, posted at mid-off. No wonder the bowler’s happy: she has 1 for 13 from that opening bundle.

India really do need to break out and Raut makes a start. Drives through the covers for four. Knight remains in there, though, for Sciver – at slip. Raut leans in again and strokes through cover; four more. Sciver responds with a genuine bouncer. 41 for 2, off 13. Cross for Shrubsole, from the pavilion.

Biggish shout, first ball. Going over. Do like the way Cross maintains her form, through delivery. There is a wee sense though, that she needs to do more with the ball, to be a top-level threat. She can find bounce, sometimes, but minimal swing or cut off the pitch.

Sciver, meanwhile, is going short against Raj, who misjudges and turns her body to take the blow. Ouch. Symptomatic, maybe, of a relatively flat-footed start, from India. Advantage England at drinks: 45 for 2 after 15. Noon, and it’s brightened, if anything, out there.

Cross. Glanced, with care, through the vacant slip area by Mithali Raj. Just the one. Full delivery is steered nicely through extra cover by Raut – 50 up. Sciver bounces the diminutive Raut. The rate of scoring plainly has to rise. Sciver again slaps one in there… but Poonam is not for biting. 53 for 2 after 17.

Mithali edges Cross wide of Knight at first/second slip. The bowler is very much doing that ‘plugging away’ thing, to some effect.

62 for 2 after 20 and we have Ecclestone, from Ashley Down. And a question: who’s going to bring the boom, for India? This has been too pedestrian for too long. Will an incoming Harmanpreet or Deepti Sharma bring something *refreshing?* Or will a message (or threat) from the coach change the vibe? Bit flat, currently – which is just what England want, of course.

A drive through the covers reminds us that a) there is a crowd b) Indians are mad for it and c) Raj and Raut do get it. Can that mini-statement be sustained?

Ecclestone has Winfield-Hill at slip but a couple of singles send her back to deepish gully. Accuweather (I’m looking and comparing with Met Office about every three seconds) suggesting we better look out from around 2 pm. 60 per cent chance of rain, thereafter. Best hope is showers – or that the marginally more optimistic Met Office offer is closer to the truth of it. Or that we get lucky.

Wow. Raut swings Cross with some violence over midwicket. Would be a fairly hearty wallop to claim a six… but it lands only a teeny bit short, if at all. (Looked to have clonked the barrier, live and not that clear on our replay – which admittedly is breaking up). India need more of this aggression but it comes with a risk: Poonam Raut miscues Cross to Ecclestone at mid-off. 83 for 3, in the 26th. The Raj/Raut partnership had reached 50 but India needed to shake this up. Enter Harmanpreet Kaur.

Glenn – the leg-spinner – will have a go from the Ashley Down Road End. She can spin it but not much sign of grip there. Back to Ecclestone. She draws a faint edge from Kaur and Jones pockets, behind the sticks. That feels significant: difficult not to immediately pile on the meteorological qualifications but 80-odd for 4 off 27 leaves India in a hole. Except the incoming Deepti Sharma has often evidenced great grit… and proper dynamism. She will need both here, to keep her side in the match. Approaching 1 pm. Weather good, England way ahead.

Predictably, Sharma steps down to Ecclestone and middles. Four, high, and beautifully straight. Then Raj does the same to Glenn. India recognise we’re in a pivotal moment. Runs must come. Can the England spinners keep their discipline? Good test upcoming.

Ecclestone – who is brilliant – isn’t flawless. One or two legside wides have crept in. Boisterous verbals and hoots as India get to 100… but in the 32nd over. Meaning run rate still barely above 3. Drinks and time to re-consider. Still no threat to play.

Like the balance that Glenn brings to the England side. Tough to keep the leg-spin option both threatening and consistent but she has made a good start to her international career; appearing to have the durability you *just might need* as a potential victim of a mid-innings onslaught. But a change; Brunt has switched and now returns from underneath us in the Bristol Pavilion End. Her first ball again has a little shape. Aware I’m a bit relentless with my Brunty-lurv but she’s looking fit, strong, determined and has shown great hands in the field as well as being focussed and economical with the ball.

Tellingly, Deepti Sharma – after having made a brief statement of positivity, early doors – has 18 off 36, as I write. Mithali Raj has 46 off 90. Do the math.

Sharma spoons one, aerially, down to fine leg – falls just short. Could be the fielder didn’t pick it up, immediately. Brunt a tad unimpressed. Again she invites a biff to leg, going shortish on or around leg stump. Then short over off stump, to Mithali. No dramas. 134 for 4 after 40.

Deepti sweeps Glenn to fine leg and beats Beaumont’s dive. Then thrashes forward past mid-off. Raj dances down and pushes for 1 to take herself to 47. Better, from the visitors. Shrubsole is back.

She is unceremoniously slapped over midwicket for four. The crowd – well most of it – love that. Raj beyond 50. Wonderful response, from Shrubsole, who surely has Sharma plum, with a ver-ry full one? Yes. Gone for a goodish 30 (which may have needed to be 50, off the same number of balls). India 149 for 5 in the 42nd. We appear to have technical issues with Sue Redfern’s links to the outside world.

Vastraka must defend one on middle, from Shrubsole, first up. She does. And now Cross has changed ends. Oops. Except she hasn’t. It’s Sciver. She bounces Vastrakar and the batter takes her on, slapping it tennis-style through midwicket for four. Quick glance at the telly to my left confirms that the run rate is currently 3.64. Not enough: hence that palpable urgency from the visitors, now.

Raj heaves Shrubsole over her shoulder, without really connecting. Vastrakar follows that with an emphatic straight drive, high, for four more. Then a mis-hit drive flies out through backward point. And a poor one from Shrubsole – best part of a foot wide – is merely helped over fine leg. Big, helpful over, for India. 171 for 5. Sciver – so miserly in the Test – is tasked with holding the charge.

Knight then turns to Ecclestone: five overs remain. Time stands still… as Mithali Raj just gets it all wrong… to a floaty one which proceeds untroubled to the stumps – the batter having presumably changed her mind then offered no meaningful stroke. Bit weird but massive, for England. Strong contribution from the Indian captain but she leaves us, on 72. End of the 46th and the visitors are 181 for 6. To make matters worse, Vastrakar promptly clatters the ball into her own foot and is clearly in some discomfort. Brunt from the Ashley Down Road End.

Loose one clips the pad and trundles off down, for leg byes. (All donations gratefully received). Feeble slice goes crushingly close to Knight, at extra cover. Vastrakar got the memo and has reached 15 off 16. Three to come, 191 for 6: back to Ecclestone.

Vastrakar has fallen on her face, trying to reverse the left-arm offie. She is plum and ball-tracking confirms. 192 for 7. Shikha Pandey has not much time to do quite a lot.

Ah. With things moving on, we have failed to welcome Taniya Bhatia, who preceded Pandey into the fray. Forgive us. Brunt will bowl the penultimate over, running in towards us, from the Ashley Down Road End. Dot balls.

The bowler, typically, is outwardly angry with a minor mis-field, from Dunkley but then – again typically – gathers to bowl an extravagant, loopy, slower ball. It’s wide but Jones gathers and stumps… or does she? Painfully close. Given out, eventually. Bhatia not hugely impressed but has to depart for 7. 197 for 8. India will barely get past 200: Ecclestone will close this out.

Goswami is in. Ecclestone beats her. Then Cross can’t quite get hold of a boom to deep mid-on. An un-explosive end to a moderate batting performance leaves England needing 202 to win this. Feels like only the weather – or *adjustments* because of weather – might prevent a home win, here. Food. Tasty beef tagine. Thankyou, guys!

The teams return. Winfield-Hill will face Goswami: Beaumont the other opener for England. No immediate threat from the skies. Great ball which leaves Winfield-Hill and ‘deserves’ an edge; finds none. Then two runs off a slight inside tickle; ball theoretically driven but instead squeezes out towards the square leg boundary. Beaumont will face Pandey.

Stifled shout. Nothing. Then follow-up is a big inswinger – doing too much? – which precipitates an unconvincing scramble for a single. But we have a review. Missing by miles. Pandey looking strong and committed but strays too straight: clipped squarish for two more. The legside wide and another tickle towards the 45 brings England to 9 without loss after 2 but there will be some encouragement for India, there.

Beaumont gets off the mark with a gift, from Goswami. Shortish ball sits up around leg stump; turned away for one with some ease. Winfield-Hill then creams one forward of point, before going aerial over midwicket – both boundaries. Good energy about the England pair, here. 22 for 0 after 4. Weather helpful.

Slightly from nowhere, Winfield-Hill nicks one and is gone for a briskish 16. Possibly left her a touch: the Indians’ delight tells you know they needed that. Enter the captain. With pleasing symmetry – almost – Lizzie on my right is saying ‘the rain is starting in 16 minutes’. (I’m guessing not but who am I to contradict our friends at Accuweather?)

Wide one from Pandey is satisfyingly clattered through the covers, by Beaumont. And another. 32 for 1 after 6, England. Great running and awareness from Knight and her partner brings another two, off the hip, sprinted. Then the cleanest of strikes from Knight races away through cover. The heavens remain supportive but plainly the home side is looking both to stay ahead of any potential Duckworth-Lewis issue and, ideally, streak to victory uninterrupted.

Knight steers another beauty through cover: four more. This is Proper White-ball Cricket. Beaumont’s flourish pops the ball down, up and then over the bowler and her stretch and clout through cover brings up 50. Exhibition stuff, this.

Finally, a moral victory from Vastrakar… but Beaumont’s missed it. 52 for 1 after 8. First view of Bisht’s fairly eccentric round-arm off-spin. Interesting – and good call to make the change. Sharma will become her spin-twin. Between them they have serious work to do: England have proceeded beyond 60 in just 10 overs. Beaumont again effects the drive-block which pings off the deck in front of her toes, before looping up and over the bowler for another boundary. She’s having fun, alright. (So am I: really would have been *so-o easy* to take the negative view of those very negative weather forecasts, this morning).

Beaumont can do no wrong: she smashes Bisht over mid-off. After 12 overs, England have maintained their six-an-over run rate, with Beaumont on an excellent 39 off 35 and Knight on 13 off 16. Very good all-round performance, this, from the home side.

Bisht is bowling around, approaching obliquely. No meaningful turn for her. Knight ver-ry cutely guides her, with soft hands, down to fine leg: a kind of no-follow-through paddle. Two.

Brief quiet period but the batters are even now alive to gently-nurdled singles: in utter control. Drinks and England are strolling home on 82 for 1. Weather is with them – if anything, improving. At this rate they will only need another twenty overs. (*Fatal*).

Gor blimey. Absolute peach, from Bisht – it looped, it span – it bowls Knight. Exceptional delivery. Gone for 18; delight for the visitors. But this brings in Sciver, who is entirely likely to be looking to re-state England’s dominance. Let’s see.

With the skies brightening – really! – it feels like we will see a game completed. We need 20 overs minimum, for that but I’m lumping on a single block of continuous, enjoyable action. India need further breakthroughs to make this competitive: reckon most of us in the ground would like to see a tightening before any sun-drenched denouement. (*Fatal revisited).

Sciver claims four – twice. The second being a notably intimidating dance down towards Bisht. Then Beaumont stoops and sweeps to fine leg, beating the fielder, to get to her 50. Fine knock. England reach 100 in the 19th over – so going at five. Not unthinkable that they might get to 202 in 35/36 overs – certainly if these two build a further partnership.

Harmanpreet Kaur will turn her arm over, from the Ashley Down Road End. She nearly makes something happen immediately but Ekta Bisht makes a right mess of a top-edged sweep… and drops Sciver. Poor effort, in truth. England are fully 40 runs ahead of where India were at the 20 over stage. Pooja Vastrakar joins us and slings one down at 67mph, to start: wonder if England might quite like that bit of pace back on the ball?

Beaumont middles one powerfully to square leg but just for the single. Vastrakar responds with a nice, floaty yorker which the England opener keeps out. Erm… the lights are on BUT I’M NOT SURE WE NEED THEM. Brighter than at any stage.

Vastrakar looks a really good athlete but England have statements to make. Both batters looking to strike and follow-through. Nice contest – and good over. 115 for 2 after 23.

Pandey is back, from Ashley Road. She gets away with a short, wide one: Sciver unable to time it. Then a deceptive slower ball. Followed by another, rather frustrated-looking miss. And a review, for a possible outside-edge. (Given not out). No contact: Sciver remains – but does she remain frustrated?

No. On-drive for four. Bisht has changed ends. Poor one is easily biffed away behind square – Beaumont going to 63. Fifty partnership up, as Pandey is cut wide for the one. No ball bowled – free hit. (Hit firmly but mid-on gets there). Repeat repeat: no ball, free hit. This time no mistake, from Sciver. Tennis-batted to the mid-on boundary. 141 for 2 after 28. 61 needed: greyer but from inside seems okay, still, weather-wise.

Beaumont blams the most fabulous, classical off-drive over extra cover… twice. The second is close-ish to the fielder but was such an elegant strike the marginal mis-time feels forgivable. Sharma switches to Ashley Down. Sciver is advancing but not beating mid-on. End of the over and England need just 49 from 120 balls. Ah. Speck of rain and the groundsmen are getting ready.

Sciver connects as fine rain suddenly sweeps in. Four. Will they just continue… or will it get too messy out there?

Anything could happen but it appears – as the players bizarrely take drinks – to have stopped raining. The third umpire is on and having discussions with the on-field officials. It’s playable and we go on. With Sharma. Sciver goes to 51, with a two to square leg. Everything points to fireworks and Sciver dances down, before clattering over mid-on. Four. When Sharma drops short, she is punished once more – it’s gunned to square leg, hard. 176 for 2, with 32 overs bowled. Last rites.

Harmanpreet Kaur has the unenviable job of stepping up from the Bristol Pavilion Stand End. Sciver dismisses a poor one to fine leg. Then the coup de wotnots: an extravagantly maker’s-name-tastic straight six. 15 needed as we enter the 34th. The batters hug… because that was a smiley moment, for England.

Goswami, from Ashley Down. Beaumont, with that characteristic low centre of gravity, pulls for four. Nine required. Harmanpreet is methodically, if not theatrically drying the ball but the singles are being picked off. Until Beaumont enjoys the moment yet more, heaving Kaur over long-on for another tremendous 6. The scores are level.

We finish with a wide. (Hmm. Would Harmanpreet do that deliberately?) No matter. This has been a hammering, a compleat performance from Ingerland (and Wales) and a particularly enjoyable day. They lose only two wickets in their reply, having bowled and fielded with genuine application, skill and consistency. They look a good side. Gratifying for all of us who have travelled to watch; it’s been a Day That Might Not Have Been. India have work to do: specifically they must find a higher tempo with the bat. On – and home – smiling.