Tough Questions.

After what felt a truly galling day for those of us who follow and support England Women, an inquest. Because we’re angry as well as disappointed, right?

I get that anger is not typically the most helpful medium through which to search for progress. Indeed I have been wondering if Mark Robinson – Head Coach – has been able to stifle his own, inevitable fury in order to facilitate the next fightback, or if he, like my good self, has allowed himself the expression of that rage, before his players as well as privately.

The Ashes may have gone. Australia are effectively five points clear after two relatively close but relatively poor-quality contests.

So, will the England de-brief have been (or will the de-brief be) a painfully-forensically chilly room, where Tough Questions, direct questions are asked? Of the captain; of the world’s best swing-bowler; of everybody who wasn’t Tammy Beaumont yesterday. Surely?

The air may have have been blue or just raw and icy. The coach may or may not have crossed that line into the near-personal; “how fit are you? How much have you been listening? What the hell were you thinking?” Or, probably more likely, he may have simply hosted a deep-dive of a conversation into ‘all of it’. Both the Ashes Predicament and the nature of yesterday’s defeat point to an urgent bit of soul-searching.

Having been close enough to this group to have heard the whispers, I know they are genuine, committed athletes and that they know, as professionals that there are expectations around not just performance but re-calibration, agility, intelligence-around-performance. Let’s start with the captain.

Knight came in after Amy Jones inexplicably dived/dove right into a trap – driving uppishly straight at the only fielder in the midwicket parklands. (Good cricket, good placement from Australia but poor from the England opener). Beaumont was already looking rather fine: she went on to make a magnificent century that outclassed and embarrassed the efforts of her colleagues.

Knight entered early, as it were, due to the absence of Sarah Taylor: contrary to that which follows, I think this is not a bad idea, even when Taylor is selected – the captain in at three.

Of course Knight was conscious of her own failure in the previous game and of England’s subsequent collapse and underachievement. So she was in some sense entitled to play with caution. But she fell into some strange, depressing funk – ‘Knight’s circumspect start’, they called it on SkySportsMix – where she stalked painfully from 3 off mid-twenties balls… to 9 off 32… to 13 off 37.

(At this point Beaumont was 29 off 24 and had already achieved major moral victories against Perry, Schutt & co. She was playing the lead with the kind of ease that may only occur once or twice in a career, against the Aussies. *All Knight had to do* was back her up and rotate the strike in her direction).

Instead Knight died a hideous, protracted death – and maybe, early though it was, the spirit in the innings died with her. At 16 off 42, she nearly advanced at Gardener, swung hard, hoisted high and was out for nowhere near enough.

Given the context, it was pretty near criminal. The bowling had been goodish but hardly unplayable – witness Beaumont’s knock. More infuriatingly, the complete absence of inclination to take ones, here and there, beggared belief, given a) Knight’s quality b) the imperative to do that. It was an extraordinary stall and it did have an effect on subsequent partnerships.

Heather Knight’s work has often been characterised by a kind of heroic calm and determination. She has and will again lead, through thick and thin. She will know this was bloody thin.

Other players got in a bit but failed to go on. The recalled Wyatt brought her usual vim but could not persist. Neither of the experienced Brunt nor Shrubsole looked like countering: Ecclestone could bring no boom.

If you seek out the detail from the scorecard or the burgeoning stats industry you will find more, more unfortunate numbers. The essence being a rather pitiful stasis: no meaningful partnerships, no fours in the last eight zillion overs. From being set – via Beaumont’s brilliance – for a possible 270, England made 217. Hence the use of the word ‘galling’.

Rude and ridiculous to offer no credit here, to Australia. Let’s be clear, I rate them and always made them favourites for this Ashes series. Schutt is class, Perry is class – though she was fascinatingly unthreatening yesterday. Australia are the best and they may again be moving away from the pack.

Kimmince, I have always felt *has something* – though yesterday she benefitted from some ordinary batting, from England. Overall, though – and this is part of the concern, for England – Australia will be frustrated to have only have played in patches, in this series, so far.

A further word about England – and those Tough Questions. It needs a preface.

Anya Shrubsole is the best female swing bowler in the world: (Schutt feels different – sharper and less mercurial). I’ve been a huge fan ever since I saw her in Cardiff, during a male-female Eng/Aus double-header, out-swing all the blokes. Shrubsole swung it so far she could barely control it but it was a revelation.

In the last two games the England World Cup-winning star has dropped two return catches; the kind of catches that fall into the non-negotiable category. She will be mortified – she looked mortified – and she will be back but does Mark Robinson have the right to look straight at her and refer to her fitness, her weight and the possibility of a link to poorish or decreased concentration? After all it’s often said in both amateur and professional sport that fitness and conditioning are central to maintaining both good concentration and good decision-making.

Is all that a Tough Question too far, or is that merely what professionalism brings? (Discuss).

In any case, England lost a game that they needed to win, that a particular player made available to them.

Because this is top-level sport, Tammy Beaumont has every right to feel somewhat betrayed by what she might feel, momentarily, in her anger, was her colleagues’ professional incompetence. Because this is sport, I hope and expect the clan will re-gather… and go like hell once more.

Oh us of little faith.

Remember when it got dangerous? Oooh all of a week ago? Loads of us did it. Overtly, covertly, angrily, quietly, seething or braying or tutting. We all knew we were More Right Than Morgan, on this one.

How could England’s myopic Brand of Cricket not lead to some level of come-uppance? How could Eoin’s icy, almost-surly sermonising not breed a nose-thumbing response from the universe? We all knew there would be some payback for his sub-cricketty, soundbitey positivity; for the audacity of the man; for his Irishness, for god’s sakes!

England could never have just the one way. It’s not intelligent enough, not seemly enough – plus nothing can be that simple! Mainly, then, amongst the pomp and bluster, this idea that you can’t be so brittle about stuff.

But then Jonny got mad, courtesy of yet more mouth-shooting from our friend Vaughanie, firing, once again, on all twelve brain cells. And Roy got fit – enough. And the arguments got yaknow, dispatched.

Or did they?

Fact: England are in the semis. Fact: they did it Eoin’s Way. Or did they?

Certainly everything about Roy & Bairstow’s magnificent charges-straight-through-the-effing-mountain spoke of the brand – the utter lack of fear and/or negativity.

We don’t need to have crunched the numbers to feel the step-change back… and forward, on the Brand Express. Both the flametastic Yorkshireman and his returning partner drilled that tunnel again, the former with his diamond-edged fury-disc, the latter with his trusty wonder-sabre.

But it wasn’t all boom. It wasn’t possible. There was scratchiness and (more from India than the Kiwis) there was quality opposition making things tougher… or complicated. So Stokes, for example, had to do some Proper Batting and certain periods needed to be seen through.

Maybe it’s good that England arguably under-achieved a smidge, with their totals. Two truckloads of 400 and maybe the mantra might have to be caveated – if you can do that stepping-back, that re-considering, that qualifying thing to a mantra?

(Maybe the essence of any brand flirts with dumbness, or lack of intelligence, because of this imperative towards the magical brevity/positivity combo? Maybe everybody from Saatchi & Saatchi to Eoin Morgan have known that all along? Maybe we’re just not getting that Captain Boom is a step ahead – that he knows absolutely that 84.6% of his media appearances are 96.5% charade? Interesting thought, perhaps?)

Interesting but nowhere near as much fun as getting mad-outraged and bawling on twitter. Or writing something in the comments section. Or blaming Nintendo, or the Kardashians.

England are in the semis. What’s more, they are in there with momentum. What’s more more, is that significant contributions have been spread across the team; Woakes and Archer, Buttler and Stokes doing something either deeply or supremely validating or actually wonderful and uplifting in the moment. So confidence should have steepled – should be back to the absurdly high level we’ve experienced for the last year or four.

I have always argued against ‘dumb machismo’ and still do. Because sport is predicated on intelligences as much as skills. Because half the fun and half the winning is about responding to fortune or change – and this surely implies, suggests, demands the application of everything in the psychological sector, including, often crucially, the implementation of Plan B or Z. Jeesuss, right now. Under pressure.

Too often, I reckon, players or coaches get caught up in the excitement or ‘flow’ of things: they say stuff about ‘expressing themselves’ which of course has some truth in it but may not be smart enough, either in the teeming, challenging, complicated moment or for the exposition of playing philosophy – brand.

The particulars of international cricket at the mega and micro-level include so many variables, so many forces inputting their fields of influence on the action that it is a) tempting and b) probably right to seek out simplicity and clarity. However, whilst accepting this, is it not prudent to explore, prepare, ‘facilitate’ for life beyond the soundbite?

Whether or not Morgan and England are suss to this is part of the fascination. Whether or not Bairstow blasts and Roy carves, I wish England well.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A diversion, kindof.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#England. #CWC19.

The England Squad for #CWC19 is as follows;

Eoin Morgan (Middlesex) Captain

Moeen Ali (Worcestershire)

Jofra Archer (Sussex)

Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire)

Jos Buttler (Somerset)

Tom Curran (Surrey)

Liam Dawson (Hampshire)

Liam Plunkett ((Surrey)

Adil Rashid (Yorkshire)

Joe Root (Yorkshire)

Jason Roy (Surrey)

Ben Stokes (Durham)

James Vince (Hampshire)

Chris Woakes (Warwickshire)

Mark Wood (Durham).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

England snuffed out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Significant Threat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spitting and Swearing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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