Charlotte Edwards Cup – Finals Day.

I’m never late – certainly not to The Cricket.

Was a little, today. Could write a book on the serpentine delights of Southampton On Marathon-or-something Day but will spare you, for now. Bustle into the ground, post my ‘friendly chat’ with the delightful gent ushering me in to the Media Parking Zone. Six or seven journos in, including the ever-present Raf and Syd. Doors open out to a stunning scene but the chalk-white (stadium) vista gets silver behind the gold-medal experience that is the heat. I may be a tad scorcher-averse but this is… sapping.

Eight overs in. Bell has slung down some quick deliveries off a notably long run but again has sprayed them around a tad. (For me she remains A Prospect, for now, because of that consistent inconsistency). Get that what she’s doing – bowling at full tilt – is highish tarrif stuff – but she will need to mature towards consistency to get where she wants to be.

Northern Diamonds are 54 for 2 after 10 overs. Winfield-Hill and Armitage are just getting into their twenties, runs-wise. Charlotte Taylor has returned to bowl her second over. Given that we can only imagine runs should flow on this strikingly beatific summer’s day, with a bone-dry outfield and no early horrors in the pitch, Diamonds need to cut loose, soonish. Armitage goes big, or certainly high over the bowler but long off – Norris – takes a comfortable catch. The batter made 24. Her former partner is joined by Kalis.

Vipers have been efficient enough, restricting the opposition to 81 for 3 by the time 14 overs are completed. Do the math: just under 6 per over when you feel 8 may be necessary. Elwiss is inclined to remain ungenerous. She bowls full, full and Kalis misses whilst attempting a rather clumsy scoop. 82 for 4; enter the evergreen Gunn. *Thinks: is that so obvious as to be a travesty/an outright insult? Surely the long-term England player will be thinking her side need to get 130, minimum?

Winfield-Hill – who has quality but possibly not of the explosive kind; or not characteristically – unfurls a particularly pleasing straight drive, for four. Charlotte Taylor changes ends, to join us from the Hilton Hotel. Strike rotated. Five from the over, 93 for 4 after 16.

Winfield-Hill gets to 50 with a flip to fine-leg: later in the over the 100 is up. Georgia Adams is back but W-H clatters her straight for 6, then scuffs one through extra for 4. This is what the Diamonds need… and then not. Winfield-Hill advances aggressively once more but misses the proverbial straight one. Gone for 65. The left-handed Smith has joined Gunn.

They will face Bell, in the penultimate over. Too quick for Gunn. Then a single to deep extra. And a good bitta footie from the bowler stops the drive – painlessly, it would seem. Good, bold, yorker length brings just the 4 runs all told. Norris will see us out, with 120 on the board.

Diamonds can’t surge to the line – Scholfield smartly pouches Smith. Gunn smashes a defiant 6 to get the batting side past 130 and innings closes on 135 for 6. Something… but enough? (Second dig, with conditions conspiring towards scoring?) I doubt it but let’s see.

Smith and Slater have opened for Diamonds. Vipers 13 for 0 after 2. Gunn will do her mildly eccentric thing from the pavilion, starting with a wide. McCaughan guides her, late, through third man. Four. Six from the over.

I’m working – YES WORKING!! – outdoors. Risking battery failure and terminal swelteration. Like this ground but lots of glare around, today; not a problem for the players, (I imagine) but staring round the sands is positively eye-scrunging. But hey this is all, in a word, beautiful. Sunny; warm; dreamy, even. Smith (from the Hilton) is followed by Slater from in front of the team pods. It’s cat and mousey rather than dynamic, until the bowler profits from a forward lurch, from McCaughan; she is emphatically stumped, by Heath.

Gunn has switched. Weirdly, the typically influential Adams tamely biffs her to mid-on. Gunn – lacking pace and sometimes appearing to lack threat – does that, somehow. Vipers are 34 for 2 as the powerplay draws to a close. Evens, you would say.

Slater is bowling her third: Elwiss and Scholfield at the crease. Neither are ‘in’. MacDonald will bowl her first, running right to left as I look in, from backward square leg to the right-hander. The crowd enjoys a boundary – are we clear that this is the Vipers’ home ground? – but MacDonald responds by bowling Scholfield. Discombobulated by a slower ball – or so it looked. 41 for 3; maybe we /I need to review that assumption that runs are readily available on here?

Slater, who has bowled with decent pace, left-handed, has done her work: 1 for 18, from her 4 overs. Fifty is up in the tenth over as Elwiss *gets something* on it – the ball looping behind, for a tantalising four. New batter Windsor draws generous applause for racing through for a second. 54 for 3, then at half-way: interestingly, Diamonds were 54 for 2.

I’ve described the heat as sapping; it is for me but this doesn’t make it a general truth. And yet – oops, as Elwiss is caught, in another significant blow for the home side – it seems only natural to air the thought that the side currently sitting out (South East Stars) may have a keen advantage, here. Two games in these conditions feels like a big ask.

We are 64 for 4, after 12, meaning the run-rate has suddenly spiked to above 9 and Vipers have to bring their A-game, medium-pronto. Arguably their principal batters have been and gone, so, Windsor and Norris, over to you; no pressure!

Norris edges behind. The chasing fielder looks exhausted – barely claws it in and lobs in a lacklustre throw. Right-hand/left-hand combination (that everybody currently seems to be obsessed by), for the batting side. MacDonald is back in, for her third. A streaky two to fine leg means 6 from the over; not enough. 75 for 4, off 14. 61 needed; there is pressure now, alright.

Oof. Norris is caught by Armitage off Katie Levick, close to the rope. Diamonds strong favourites to meet the Stars. Windsor drives through extra for four to move to 19. Monaghan has joined her. Five overs remain; 80 for 5; rate beyond 11. MacDonald, to finish her spell.

She rather telegraphs a ver-ry slow ball but her vociferous appeal is denied. Monaghan drives then scoops: five from the over. 85 for 5 so 51 still required. Something remarkable (and out of context with the game) essential… but unlikely. Every run roundly applauded but the locals seem sure to be disappointed and they know it. 94 for 5 with Gunn to bowl the 18th. Three out, on the on-side boundary.

Painfully slow one is wide, down leg. Then another. Extraordinarily, Monaghan falls lbw to the next. 99 for 6. Bell joins Windsor, who has a creditable 31. The tall, slim fast bowler has a heave but is bowled, first-up. Game done, if it wasn’t already.

Hat-trick ball. No dramas. 100 up, from the leg bye.

The Diamonds had seemed to lack urgency with the bat and yet they are cruising: I happily confess to a misjudgement. At no stage have their opposition meaningfully threatened them, in the chase. Windsor is gallantly diving in as the throw hits – just in. Smith is bowling the 19th. She has Windsor with the return catch. 110 for 8.

As Jenny Gunn strides over to gather for the last, the Vipers can only salvage a wee bit of pride, or exercise some brief, lusty defiance. Not to be. Chandler is run out (by a mile) and the innings subsides 18 runs short, at 117 all out. To be blunt this has neither been high quality nor a particularly compelling watch. What felt like a relative lack of dynamism from both sets of batters made for a subdued affair. It remains unclear why stroke-making proved so difficult: we can only hope that the final will offer a hike in drama, edginess, ‘action’. Meanwhile, cold water all round.

THE FINAL.

Northern Diamonds have won the toss and chosen to stick with that bat first/apply pressure approach. Be really interesting to see if they go bigger and bolder from the start – suspect they might.

The extraordinary prodigy that is Alice Capsey is opening the bowling. Aged about 9. (Ok I exaggerate but…)

Four from the over. Dobson and Heath are the batters. The Stars look all shiny and bright, in their yellow shirts. Moore concedes just the one. 5 for 0 after 2. Under my wing of the stadium, it’s cooler – mercifully. Capsey in again.

Heath strikes aerially (but safe) out to midwicket, before Dobson drives for four, to cover. Richards will offer more pace, from the Hilton Hotel End but a wee sense that Diamonds are looking to push. Plusses and minuses. Dobson is caught but two boundaries come from the over. 22 for 1 after 4.

Gibbs – also offering some pace – is in from the pavilion. She goes full and is appealing confidently for leg before. Rightly; she has the potentially crucial wicket of Winfield-Hill, for no return. Armitage will join Heath. She clips neatly through midwicket – only good fielding from Moore saves the boundary. 27 for 2 after 5.

Smith follows Gibbs. Right arm slow. Simple run out opportunity spurned. Heath has left home but the slightly wild throw allows her to recover: might have been huge. Even 5s, as Diamonds sit on 30 for 2, with 6 overs done.

Gregory offers leg-spin but her long-off rather flops over the drive, from Armitage. Heath follows that up with a further boundary and 10 runs come. The same batter has to walk soon after – blown away mid-strip, by a sharp throw, from mid-off. The game feels alive, with Stars focussed (but not always athletic) and Diamonds showing some urgency, without entirely profiting. 49 for 3, off 8.

Gregory, post the wicket, gets another go. Kalis takes a single, before Armitage late-cuts, with some dexterity, for four. There has been some mixed fielding. We get more as another outfielder dives over the ball – this time at deep point. Four more: Gregory has not been best-served by her colleagues, conceding 24 from 2.

Moore will take us to halfway, from the Hilton. Quietish over; Kalis can only biff the full-toss to deep midwicket, for one. 67 for 3 after 10 is competitive – that’s my sense. Diamonds going okay. Armitage and Kalis have had a sight of this, now – on 20 and 13, respectively. Next stop 140-something?

Smith blocks one at mid-off, at some personal cost: sore wrist. Slight stalling in this period but Diamonds are going at about 6.5 per over and will look to burst. Meaning boundaries at some premium of late; suspect that may change.

Bryony Smith will bowl her third over from under the hotel. She snaffles Kalis, from a full-toss: her good hands bring in Gunn. Armitage now has 32; these two can make a telling contribution, I reckon.

Armitage clumps Moore to the square-leg boundary. Mixed over yields 8 runs. Capsey will re-join to try to stem any flow. The 100 is up, as the youngster bowls a poor wide. Radio talking 130-something but Diamonds should press towards 140, in my view. Flurry of strokes needed: expected that earlier and could be it remains elusive. 105 for 4 on the board, with 4 overs remaining. Gunn lacks power but has experience and guile. Hope she can nick it and nudge it whilst her partner lets rip.

Boundary error gifts another four. Smith, the bowler, will not be impressed… and indeed the fielder is moved. Armitage gets to a steady, rather than demonstrative 50. 121 for 4 now, with 2 overs remaining – so 140 possible but the vibe again says less. A drag down from D-Richards is struck at the fielder.

Alice Capsey will finish this. Finally, we get a boundary, – we do feel light on those – from Gunn. Two from the last ball, to Armitage, brings up the half-century partnership. Northern Diamonds post 138 for 4, with Gunn and Armitage the not-out batters, on 22 and 59 respectively. They are in the game.

The Chase.

Linsey Smith starts, for the Diamonds, with her namesake(s? Bryony) and Cranstone to face up. Three from the over. Conditions could barely be more perfect: by that I mean *in particular* that the mugginess has subsided – the langour-o-meter is now in a substantially less negative sector.

Wonder if this might energise the cricket; not that it’s been poor… but it has maybe lacked a little vim. After Slater concedes 14, Gunn will bowl the third. Both batters showing early intent: 32 for 0 after 3.

Katie Levick will bowl the fourth. Needs to apply the anchor. Does a decent job – conceding just the two runs. Good energy from the batters – whether striking hard, or drop-and-running. Crisp, confident work – the best we’ve seen all day, arguably.

Poor fielding may encourage them. More spillage at the rope is followed by a drilled six, from Cranstone. 46 for 0 after 5 – well ahead.

Cranstone takes on Levick, too. Lofted but beyond midwicket; more runs. Fifty is up – and it feels like Stars are charging. Powerplay done, no wickets lost. Ahead. Can MacDonald change things?

Not dramatically – in fact she fails to deflect that soaring run-rate trajectory. Eight from the over, leaving Stars on 58 for 0 after 7. Next up – Armitage.

Both openers are opening up. That wonderful, woody sound of hearty, smooth hitting. Boundaries around the ground. 71 for 0, suddenly, with both batters into their thirties. The energy, quality and purpose of this period of the day may be reinforcing the argument that much of went before, batting-wise, was underachievement. This is patently a different level – a better, higher one.

Ha! *Fatal*. Cranstone is gone – crunching her own stumps – but before your correspondent chokes on his curses, Capsey is both in *and scooping the first ball for four*. So change brings no change, maybe?

But no. T’other opener, Smith has also departed. At the halfway stage, Stars are 84 for 2 – needing only 55. Hmm. Now Gibbs, rather foolishly, has come and gone, hoisting Levick to deep midwicket. She could have taken a longish look and enjoyed a trouble-free cruise.. but nope. Caught. Capsey remains.

And the wobbles continue. Davidson-Richards may be mildly shocked (given where we were) to find herself extended at all. But she is joining Capsey, Franklin having been caught Gunn, bowled Levick. Extraordinary, unnecessary jolts – born of nerves, surely?

Capsey will be delighted that Armitage has bowled her the worst ball of the day, which she can dismiss at her leisure to fine leg. Twelve overs done, 96 for 4, with Capsey now on 12 and D-Richards 5. A smidge of composure should see South East Stars home… but well, yaknow.

Time for Gunn, from the Hilton Hotel. Unforgivably (at her pace) for me, she bowls another wide, down the leg side: 100 up shortly after. 37 needed, from the 7 overs remaining. Capsey hits MacDonald over (but close to) mid-off, for four. Sure, the run rate has dropped from where it was when the openers were fizzing, but this batting partnership looks to have this covered… he said, dangerously.

Capsey has heard me. She booms confidently downtown, for four more. Stars have 5 overs to find 20. I expect them to do it in 3, max. (Capsey has heard me – again. Four more: this is brilliant, from the teenager).

Richards is joining the fun – reversing. NINE RUNS ONLY, FROM FOUR OVERS. Emphatic.

Gunn. That ridicu-slower-one comes out. Capsey is on it. Davidson-Richards reverses again, for a single. The batters are seeing Gunn out. 6, from – well, ample.

MacDonald is in from under the pavilion. Single. Then two. Fifty partnership, three needed and Richards has a dart for glory… but picks out mid-off. Gone. White will join Capsey. Dot ball. Single. Capsey to face. Appropriately, she clips neatly square, to win it for her side. The small crowd clap both sides generously from the outfield.

A lovely day, with some good cricket. Fine venue. A little disappointment that we didn’t see more high quality stroke-making but Smith and Cranstone – opening for the Stars – and Capsey, later, entertained us. The rest found it tricky. Could be that this is an ungenerous view but mostly I have form for actively supporting these players: they deserve it and it feels important. I absolutely and wholeheartedly congratulate South East Stars, as deserved winners.

What I normally do is sleep on this then add a few reflections. Having just arrived back at my son’s college digs, in Bath, you may forgive me if I continue that tradition – there being no truth in the rumour that a ver-ry pleasant café-bar lies but 75 yards away. (Cue choice of smug or smiley emoji)…

How did I get here?

So. We’re with David Byrne, right? Scrambling for sense in a trippily colorific world. In the sunshine – or is that floodlight? – in the city – but look at all those trees! Squeezed between giddyingly gaudy, pyroclastic sport-of-the-now and the river. Wondering…

How did I get here?

No idea if Robert Croft likes Talking Heads (some would say he certainly is one) but the Glamorgan gaffer has needed to say something. His side have been alarmingly exposed too much already in the county season in a way he simply will not accept: three consecutive defeats culminating in the extraordinary but surely dispiriting pasting at Cheltenham.

My sense is that Croft is tough, however and crucially that although he must be feeling personally slighted by the suspicion recent matches have featured capitulations, he does believe in his team. Not as champions or even leading contenders but as guys building.

I’m not party to real policy – who is, amongst us scribblers? – but I am aware of a deep commitment to developing talent, with some emphasis on Welsh players. At Glam this of course flows down from the very top, Hugh Morris being emphatically behind the  notion that it’s right, as well as financially necessary, to seek after local gems; all this implies Project Patience.

Of course Big Name Signings have to be factored in and Glammy have, in the recent past gone (I’m guessing!) as big as they dare to secure the likes of Steyn and Shaun Tait to lift attendances and results. De Lange is maybe this year’s arguably slightly lower profile star but the standout signature for the tilt at glory is a re-signature, this year – that of Colin Ingram.

Which brings us to the white ball… and to the river.

Ingram is a precious talent – one that must surely have been tapped-up by pals from Pietermaritzburg, agents from Vauxhall. He is a whirlwind, a destroyer, a smiter of mighty blows. He may well, by the way, be magnificent at four, possibly five day cricket; but Ingram was made for 20 overs.

I met his father briefly at a T20 in Cardiff last year and he told me ‘he’s just loving his cricket’. Arguably flimsy evidence for me to remain hopeful that Ingram still is content at (lowly?) Glamorgan, that he knows this is his moment and that he can channel the white-heat, the adrenalin, the spectacular focus and again go beautifully monstrous.

Many will hope that Donald and Cooke pitch in with the bat and that Hogan and De Lange can be wily or sharp enough to stem the flow from t’other end, as it were. Whichever way it’s hard to escape the feeling that the season has been building (and the team shaped) towards this T20Blast competition.

There are clearly pressures around the notion that Glamorgan kinda have to be a white ball county; given current status, balance, quality – given the real world. Croft and co have looked set (and more controversially, maybe like they’re settling?) for #T20Blast for months. They fit the c.v. – they feel competitive in a way they don’t at the longer formats – and maybe I’m including 50 over cricket in that category. (*Sign of the Times* alert).

How hugely the great capitalist shadow falls across this squad/format/direction equation is another great unknowable: tonight, pre-match, I don’t care. What matters in this glassy, summery, spring-coiled moment is the degree to which Glamorgan can grab.

The game; Hampshire to bat. Coolish summer eve – pret-ty close to ideal for sport.

A look at the teamsheets suggests Hants have the weightier characters, perhaps (Abbot, Bailey, Vince, Carberry, Afridi?!?) but who knows? I can however report with some certainty that for me that everyday nervous thing is coloured up or sharpened just a tad by the feeling that Glammy must really go to work – that this is their season.

Vince had other ideas. He twitches and sprints off the mark; Hants are 40 for nothing, sharpish. But Hogan has that hand nice and high, and TVG is bowling with some venom. Salter seems purposeful. If a team can be said to share body language…

Wickets fall. Hampshire are 72 for 4 in the tenth; things poised.

Salter and TVG make for an encouragingly testing combo. The blonde bombshell accelerating in hard and zapping the deck, the Pembrokeshire twirler bustling through, changing it. Notable that Van der Gugten bowls almost entirely back of a length (or shorter) at Bailey and MacManus and that the batsmen pass on the invitation to hook big almost completely. Plans, eh?

88 for 4 off thirteen. It’s hardly explosive stuff – for all his worldly experience Bailey feels a disappointment. Hants are going at seven an over without dominating. Sixes are a rarity, control in some dispute.

Suddenly MacManus smashes two off two (sixes that is) as we  close out the 16th on 116 for 4. Gear change? Ye-es but not emphatically so: MacManus will eventually battle through to 50 and beyond without absolutely bossing the scene. (Tonight, nobody does, in fact).

Early in the seventeeth MacManus dismisses De Lange back over his head for a booming maximum. (OK, pedants, not maximum just six). The visitors are plainly heading for a goodish total but this hasn’t felt especially one-sided: given recent history might Glam settle for that? Hopefully not.

Croft’s side’s time in the field felt efficient enough rather brilliant: they were unlucky – seven or eight times miscues or aerials just fell short of the onrushing fielder. Finally MacManus holed out to a diving cover in the last over (167 for 5). A serious challenge, then.

Lloyd and Donald to open for Glammy but the former’s cutting and tickling the first ball… behind, disappointingly. Topley the bowler. In comes Ingram, already a high percentage of hopes resting on him and the young man opposite.

Sharp intake of breath as Ingram is caught, outstandingly, flaying wide, at extra cover by Berg and Glamorgan are 3 for 2 after the first over. The thought registers rather darkly that the incoming Rudolph may have to find something unexpectedly maaarvellous, here.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the dynamic Donald that takes it to the enemy. Again he appears bright and almost fearless – raising that bat intimidatingly high and baseball-like as Topley charges in. He flukes a poor four before middling a couple to leg but the intent – that waggling, pre-hook backlift – is clear and positive.

Rudolph is from another generation but can he glide through this and shepherd the innings? Be the statesman to Donald’s stag? With Glammy at 24 for 2 off four, it seems that natural Rudolph will anchor and/or thread singles whilst Donald biffs the thing around.

With Donald so obviously set up to slap everything through midwicket, I wonder if Hants might bowl full at off-stick and get him playing across. Saw no sign of that approach. He’s done, in the end by spin, in any case. When Donald is swiftly followed by Carlson – for nought – the crowd re-calibrate their optimism. Glam are 47 for 4 after 8.

When Rudolph chips the energetic Afridi to short mid-off, the Glam faithful – and those critical newcomers, on a boozy or family night out – begin to fear capitulation, which would feel disastrous for the season, never mind the night. At 54 for 5 off 10, things look bleak.

Wagg finally connects with Afridi, smashing a straight six but the runrate is above ten per over at the halfway: too much. Unless…

Glamorgan reach the hundred five wickets down at the end of the 13th. Extraordinarily, the generally dynamic Cooke has been relatively soporific – certainly compared to his partner Wagg – who sits on 43, at this point.

Afridi is bowling incredibly quick ‘legspin’. Perhaps it’s this that unsettles Cooke, who spoons to off and is caught, rather tamely. Enter Salter.

Ultimately Wagg makes a brave 50 before driving to mid-off. Salter and De Lange have no option but to blast and hope, in the last four, with 54 needed(!) However they have mixed success and Topley deceives the South African paceman with a slower ball.

TVG bolts the first ball of the 19th from Topley past midwicket for 6, keeping the game alive – as in alive-but-surely-dead? The England paceman responds with two stunning yorkers and Glam need 27 to win it from Berg’s final over.

TVG is caught at deep mid-on off the first ball. Glamorgan finish 22 short, Salter swishing his blade violently in disappointment.

The suspicion remains that Glamorgan must find some collective inspiration and look to bursts of unanswerable brilliance from Ingram, Donald (possibly) with the bat and from Van der Gugten, De Lange or Hogan with the ball.

This can happen. Croft’s job is to stimulate and support those aspirations – to help build beyond expectation.