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.

The Universe Podcast 1. @cricketmanwales meets Mark O’Leary… & talks MCC University Cricket.

Please note that this post is very much a companion piece to the preceding feature – On #firstclasscricketersfirstclassdegrees.

I spent some time with Mark O’Leary – Head Coach at Cardiff MCCU.

It’s not what you might call hard-hitting journalism. In fact it’s not journalism. I like the bloke; we talked.

O’Leary is something of a rising star – ECB Elite Master Level 4 Coach, workshop maestro, deviser of wittily wicked drills – who combines the cricket role with teaching on the Cardiff Met academic staff.

We talk about everything from funding, to honoured alumini, to the future for the scheme. Have a listen.

The sharp-eared may notice mention of £76,000 at the ver-ry end of the discussion. This of course related to Mr O’Leary’s fee.

 

On #firstclasscricketersfirstclassdegrees.

 

 

 

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Friends we can be pretty sure that Messrs Bayliss and Farbrace don’t order the kit, sort the stop-overs, book the buses and the umpires. They don’t frame their work around ‘equally important’ other stuff – for the players, I mean – academic stuff. Mark O’Leary does.

He does because he’s the Head Coach at the Cardiff M.C.C. University Scheme. This as many of you will know is the project that for two decades has offered both a route in to professional cricket *and* the safety net of a university education.

Initiated by the inimitable Mr G Fowler Esquire of Durham and now based around six centres across England and Wales, the scheme has played a significant role in the careers and indeed the lives of (to take current figures) some 26% of county cricketers.

But even this apparently strong result in the value-for-money department has not rendered the project immune from the administrative/cultural/fiscal or accountability-driven revolutions carving and helicopter-shotting their way through the cricket landscape.

Recent features of that hypnotic but not always helpful flux include the M.C.C. pulling out after years of noble and very much-appreciated support, business (i.e. Deloitte) pulling in, and – within the last week or so – the E.C.B. confirming that they will bankroll things, post 2020.

There had for many us been a sense that after years of low-level uncertainty, a clear, bomb-proof structure needed to be in place and that if there can be such a thing, the ECB (the original funders) seemed the natural sponsor. However just how bomb-proof, how durable, how comforting on a day-to-day basis, is the future for the scheme looking?

As an outsider but interested party, I wanted to get a handle on how this felt from within: I scooted to the capital – to Cardiff.

Mark O’Leary is tall, tall and shaven-headed. If he lumbered a bit more you might place him somewhere rather worrying – like a tube-station, maybe, skulking with the rest of The Firm – but no.

He’s one of those big guys who gives off no darknesses. Refreshingly, there’s no ‘physicality’, no sense of a man asserting big-ness or power or dominance. He’s a light, open, smiley guy, welcoming me into a narrow, functional office, not some site-of-ambush.

I say this because O’Leary is a successful Head Coach, a team leader and a bloke about 6 foot five. One might expect a degree of machismo: I’m sensing none. He may not always be calm, quietish, affable and willing to listen… but he is now.

We talk and we go for a wander round the campus – Cardiff Met.

He describes the structure of the Cardiff Process and the responsibilities he has. He stresses the genuine gratitude he feels towards the now-departed M.C.C. for their central role, not just in having the vision to fund the scheme but also, more personally, the opportunity it has afforded him to develop himself over time, through experience.

O’Leary, like his counterparts at the other centres, really is everything from coach to logistics man to quality-controller of the whole cowabunga; even more so than his opposite numbers, as the Welshman also lectures on the academic curriculum.

Sure, certain specialist roles are delegated – for example to the Strength and Conditioning or Sports Psychology team – but the Head Coach is all over everything else.  He describes this epic multi-skilling modestly, in entirely philosophical fashion, free of any of the eye-rolling many of us coaches get drawn into when relating the menial stuff, the crèche-control-thing that most of us have to endure.

My guided tour is similarly conducted in an open, engagingly informative way. A friendly word to everybody; a quiet affirmation of respect for the S & C guys, ‘whom I really should meet’; a nod to the world class stat-analysis and athlete-monitoring systems, which O’Leary oversees but sidesteps any particular credit for.

We spend time in the gyms – where the 23 players do three, testing S & C sessions a week, starting at 7.30 a.m. We linger in the ungenerous office/corridor space that is the beating heart (lols) of the Strength & Conditioning Department. Peering out I imagine visiting sixth-former applicants gawping at the magnitude of both the facilities and the challenges they are applying themselves towards: ‘awesome’.

At the perimeter of the spectacular indoor tracks – yes, plural – Dai Watts (Lead) and Chris Edwards (S & C Coach) brief me, with just a touch of quiet pride, on personal training plans, scheduling etc etc.

Dai is employed by the university across a variety of sports. Dipping briefly into anorakdom, he nevertheless makes clear that a) the cricket at Cardiff Met is kosher, in terms of the integrity and commitment required for professional sport and b) that the O’Leary curriculum is fully fit for purpose in respect of the aspiration towards exceptional performance. Crucially, I also sense that these guys between them make sure that the House of Pain is also a House of Fun.

Without any whiff of sycophancy, Mr Watts plainly respects the cricket bloke: I suspect, given the S & C man’s demeanour and own, impeccably high standards of work, this is a privilege not always gifted.

A further detail from our tour. Outdoor facilities; immaculate 3G pitches, athletics field, track – all that – tick the boxes, emphatically. But look closer. Cameras.

O’Leary expands on this. The cameras are providing extraordinary levels of information for analysts, who then guide coaches and players on movement, discipline, tactics.

It escapes me at the time but on reflection this may be less relevant to the Cardiff M.C.C.U. than to their powerfully successful football and rugby equivalents: however I note it because the inference was absolutely that the cricketers benefit from precisely the same degree of support. That is, as O’Leary says, “world class”.

We retreat to The Office to chat further.

The Head Coach briefly recounts some salient, personal cricketty-info. He’s been coaching 26 years – implausibly, given I’d have stuck him in his late thirties – delivering across all age groups and abilities up to international (Wales) standard. He’s ECB Elite Master Level 4 qualified, has an MSc. in Sports Coaching and finds himself very much in demand; workshops, fielding sessions, playing for M.C.C. all this over and above the day-job.

Sparky, as he is known to friends and comrades, is perfectly content to discuss the state of the M.C.C.U. project and to reveal that over a period of time, the E.C.B’s hierarchy – in particular Mr Graveney – have been sounding out the current centres about plans for the future. (These talks have been somewhere between discreet and full-on secret).

O’Leary confirms that the E.C.B. have undertaken to take up the funding of the scheme in 2020 and that the talks have been encouraging in several ways. Firstly – dosh.

Figures have not been offered but O’Leary’s strong sense is that the E.C.B. want this to be professional and therefore to be funded adequately, at the very least. (“The aim is to develop professional cricketers”). They are consulting the Head Coaches to take a view on their individual university’s modus operandi, to keep them accountable but also very much to discuss the how and why of what works. Graveney is, to his credit, seeking guidance as well as preparing directives.

When I ask impertinently directly about money the reply is simply that Mark doesn’t know. There’s an assurance, a commitment but as yet no figures attached. O’Leary expects things to continue pretty much as they are but we talk about the possibility, raised in the media in the last few days, that other, probably additional centres may come in – that there may be a tender process.

Firstly, there is no sign of concern at this prospect; O’Leary being understandably quietly confident that the Cardiff M.C.C.U. should and indeed will thrive beyond any putative competitive scenario.

Secondly, the developments seem more about expansion than contraction, other centres being established at new venues. In our conversation the possibility is raised that funding may need to be spread more thinly over a bigger number of centres but… all hypothetical. O’Leary is planning to go on planning.

Guess what? I’m unashamedly a supporter of the scheme so offer the Cardiff man a freebie – the opportunity to make the case for his own process, his own course. Which brings us directly to the success stories, the names.

Or it would if either Mark O’Leary or myself accepted that this is just about transferring bodies into County Cricket. In a word, the Head Coach describes the rich combination of the whole Cardiff M.C.C University experience – education, discipline, bantz, performance-level sport – as “irreplaceable”.

Yes, the brief is to prepare able and talented cricketers specifically for a career in the sport but I imagine we’d all like to think (even?) the funders might get that this is bigger than cricket. (I know they do: the ECB are exploring possible community links to the scheme – prompting a diversion from yours truly, during our recorded conversation. Think Foxy Fowler; go listen).

A further brief note is in order, here. Mark O’Leary makes very clear in our podcast that there are three constituent parts to Cardiff MCCU – all of whom contribute significantly in terms of players and commitment. To give one example, Cardiff University – led by my old mucker Lee Herring won the British Universities & Colleges Cup (for cricket) last year and showed strongly in the Premier League South. The third element of the capital’s cricketing uni-scheme is the University of South Wales. I happened to visit Mark in his office at Cardiff Met. 

Heather Knight is maybe the highest profile name. World Cup Winner, world class player and captain: was at Cardiff. Jack Leach, who recently collected his first full England cap, likewise.

The trajectories, the angles vary. Jake Libby got into the scheme during his second year – it’s competitive and you have to re-compete, as it were, with every intake. Now has a three year contract at Notts.

Alex Thompson and Tom Cullen are particular sources of pride, for O’Leary, as they ‘came from nowhere’ and truly emerged during their time in Cardiff. Pro cricketers, former #crimsoncaps; i.e. part of the O’Leary Massive.

Of the current squad of 23, two are women. They work and train to the same level as the blokes, play in the university women’s team but are also involved at Western Storm (Taunton) where they get their elite cricket. It may be, incidentally, that one of the developments, come the ECB takeover, is a greater emphasis or investment in women players.

For obvious reasons there’s a strong, symbiotic relationship with Glamorgan. Many of the pictures adorning the O’Leary office feature past or present players, alumni of the scheme. Andrew Salter (formerly Cardiff Met.) has become a fixture in Robert Croft’s side; there will be more like him.Roughly a dozen of Glammy’s current first or second team squads are, or have been crimson caps.

To illustrate the diverse routes in and out we get to the example of Cameron Herring. Herring played three years of County Cricket before he entered Cardiff Met. He then brought an impressive and no doubt inspiring lump of nous and experience to the Cardiff side.

The stories go on; some tragic – Matt Hobden was a crimson cap – some hilarious and many which evidence both the completion of the Performance-Level Cricket Mission and the rich, holistic development we discuss in the podcast.

The whole points to a brilliant, well-executed programme borne aloft by the impressive and sustained commitment of students and staff alike. If the key aspiration for the man driving all this is to achieve Performance-Level Cricket Coaching, the box, for me is ticked.

However, I hear him noting that other boxes are available – are ‘irreplaceably’ a part of the Cardiff M.C.C. University package. O’Leary adds further that players may theoretically be temporarily dropped, if their academic work slips. So there is work, there is cricket work and there is camaraderie, fun: remember that?

As it happens, on the day of my visit, the universe, as so often, interveneth. Students are receiving their degree results. O’Leary politely absents himself in favour of the laptop screen, for a moment or two, as the scores come in. They’re really good.

 

 

The podcast/discussion around which this ramble is almost constructed, is on the way. Stay tuned! 

 

 

This Blokey Universe.

Let’s watch. The volume of negativity (either overt or less so) around this might be interesting. It might tell us a good deal about things – that and the quality of the arguments raised.

Let me, crass, or’nary bloke wot I am, unleash a coupla looseners about how This Blokey Universe might have affected or conspired or coloured all judgements, pretty much, around and against this one and only Day-Night Test: then maybe – maybe perversely? – finish by saying I enjoyed it. Despite the draw.

  • The pitch was dead. Deader than a very dead thing. So dead I wondered if it was patronisingly pacific because *somebody* thought it needed to be ultra-safe… cos this was for wimmin? Wimmin who might not last on or cope with a lively one.
  • The result – or rather one result? Nineteen wickets only, fell.
  • The context. There is almost no Test Match context, because there is no Test Cricket… for women. And, shockingly, Heather Knight and Ellyse Perry may have two years to wait, now, for their next opportunity to don the whites.
  • The implications. The implications of having almost no competitive tests are several but they include a complete lack of opportunity to rehearse innings-building or preserving or countering strategies, in this format, when (for example) under Ellyse Perry’s boot. Such opportunities might, let’s be honest, be handy.
  • Small wonder then, that England, in their second knock, had little more to fall back on than the general, conservative imperative.

Charles Dagnall, a solidly decent citizen, tweeted mid-final day that it was ‘dreary’… and he had a point. And he may have said that about a men’s test which was ambling towards anti-climax too.

(In case you’re wondering, in no way am I targeting the tall, northern seamer; he does seem a good, intelligent fella and he can bowl a half-decent outswinger 😉. I have no doubt his comment was neutral.)

With Elwiss and Knight on the steady side of steadfast, the game was shall-we-say uneventful. A fair, consensual view of the contest at this stage might indeed have been that it was dreary. But this is what Test Cricket is.

Test cricket is the England captain batting and batting and batting, without offering encouragement to the opposition. It’s Elwiss doing that annoyingly-held, forward defensive pose-thing. It’s the very suffocation of drama – sometimes.

It’s dull of me to remind you of that which you already know but… it’s okaay when this stuff happens. We don’t want it all the time but it’s okay when you read the paper for a bit because the game’s gone to sleep. It may be part of it. There may even be an argument that it’s important, this as a statement; so tremendously against-the-grain-of-the-psychotically-immediate now, so philosophically gentle, so redolent of the value of the (remember this word?) pastime.

Absurdly but maybe wonderfully and preciously it may not matter if you miss a wicket because the essences of what’s happening are readable, feelable from the long-format ether: you know what you need to know.

This is an experience over time, where the unique daftnesses or voids are ab-so-lutely central – whilst being obviously also undeniably gert hig black-holes of glorious inactivity. Here, I loved the non-battle of it, the knowing nullifications: Ar Heather saying to Your Shooter ‘you’ll have to show me more, girl’. It was proper Test Cricket.

Live, I wrote this…

Day-Night, Pink-ball Test. Easing towards a likely draw. Australia having been utterly dominant – essentially through the brilliance of their shining star, Ellyse Perry. England still behind on the numbers as the final session begins but just the two wickets down.

So, like a zillion Test Matches before (and hopefully a zillion after) this is winding down to no result. Unless the Day-Night, pink ball, festival-of-carnage explodes from nowhere.

The pitch is slow and flat; there have been very few false shots from England skipper Heather Knight and her batting partner Elwiss. Nerves do not appear to be a factor.

As I write Knight has gone past her fifty and Elwiss has seen out 150 balls for her 30-odd. The numbers don’t seem critical. The crowd has drifted; we have spin-twins twirling away; the faint possibility that Schutt or Perry might take a rapid 6-fer seems invisible ink faint.

There have been moments but after the dinner-break the assumption is there may be no more. The Worldie of a delivery from Wellington that bamboozled the previously immovable Beaumont may have to suffice. (People will be saying that was Warnesque.) The toe-ender from Winfield that saw her fall to McGrath, leg before, likewise. Otherwise, no dramas.

It was the middle session of the day that settled this: Knight and Elwiss coming through unscathed.

In doing so – rather brilliantly, in my view – they recalibrated the possibilities back to the draw, only. England now know they must win all three of the upcoming it20s, the first of which will take place at the very same North Sydney Oval, god-willing, on a brand new, zoomer-boomer of a track.

(In fact there was talk – EEEK! – on social media that the same pitch might be re-used. Fascinating to see if the verbals around this duvet can influence, belatedly, that process).

Maybe – I wrote, as the minutes ticked away – in the face of this wicket-worry, we need to get back to Things To Like about this Test Match. Because I, for one, have really enjoyed it.

Let’s do that. Most obviously, this has been (one individual aside) an even contest; as were the One-Dayers. This has already made for a really good series.

Beaumont and Winfield have been mostly excellent against the Australian opening bowlers, getting their side into the Ashes event. (Imagine how things might have been if England had had flaky starts against Schutt and Perry. Hats doffed to the top two, for that: absorbing clash).

England’s seamers, meanwhile, have seemed relatively impotent but there have been spells where Shrubsole and Brunt have executed that Plan B – for containment – well. Importantly, the spinners backed them up competently on this, even when Perry was a) well in and b) ideally, surely, looking to accelerate away. That she didn’t, entirely, was down to decent, competitive work from England… and that pitch.

However let’s get real. Most reflections on this match, now and in the future, will rightly focus on Ellyse Perry. Because genius; because all-time great.

She’s a gift to the sport – to us all. Athlete par excellence. Batswoman and strike bowler, with the fabulous, natural movement and proper elite-level sporting temperament that sets her apart, above. She with everything.

One example, maybe the least obvious. With the draw already almost sealed, Perry’s plan deep into the game to bowl short and sharp to Elwiss, made for great viewing – made me smile, in fact. Digging it in to try to prompt some fear or anger or reaction from the batter; this after the bowler has spent a lifetime batting herself. Impressive, hearty.

At one stage hopes were raised as Elwiss rather weakly patted one over her shoulder towards deep backward square. No joy, but great, great effort from the Australian superstar.

Perversely, perhaps, given all the talk around dourness, I also enjoyed (on this occasion) England’s boldness re their use of the sweep. Although there will be a certain level of flak going their way due to the dullish nature of their rearguard action, England strategically used the sweep, if not to aggressively counter, then to ask a polite question or two. Knight in particular used the shot to make a wee statement about confidence, deliver the occasional boundary and force changes in the field.

The attendance – 12,674 over the four days – was also encouraging, without being a triumph.

Many if not most of them will have queued for Perry’s autograph after those final handshakes but I hope some supporters sought out Wellington, too. She’s been good to watch, really turned the ball. As she flipped them out and over and down, the threat never really went away, the frisson never really died, even on a lifeless pitch.

Through to the final session she got edges – thick and thin – which might have yielded wickets. When Wellington develops some variations (which she surely will) the young leggie will be both a force and a profound source of entertainment, for years to come.

Having criticised her previously I’m pleased to report I liked too, the work with the bat from Knight. Firstly with her quality and circumspection – under real pressure, remember – then, late in the game, sensing she might even nick a test century! As the universe nodded off, Jonassen was suddenly dispatched for a couple of emphatic fours, bringing up 75 for the Western Storm skipper… and it seemed, briefly, that her eyes twinkled. (Knight finished unbeaten, on 79.)

This threatened to lead, in fact, to a discordantly spicy conundrum. As we entered the negotiable final hour at 8.30p.m. local, it appeared that Knight disagreed with an instruction from the boundary to carry on – this being technically possible.

Minutes later, as the captains shook hands on a draw, we could only speculate on what was said by England Coach Mark Robinson. Did he want to grind the tired Aussie bowlers down as well as offer Knight the opportunity to chase a rare ton? Would he be that mean? Who knows?

Finally, us Poms laughed more or less good-naturedly at the inevitable Ozziness of Megan Schutt being affectionately known as Shooter. (Accent required: if you missed it, Shooter/Shoodah hung in there for a crucial 1 not out, in the Perry 200 story.) Bless.

Don’t say Knight Knight.

Must win? For England, you would think so. Six points down if they lose, Robinson’s side must collect the two points on offer at Coffs Harbour tonight or face the prospect of either utter humiliation in the series or a climb of the vertical-ascent, ropeless and in the dark variety, to make the event remotely competitive. So no hiding from the disappointments and only one way to go – upwards, onwards, with determination.

The England coach, however, does seem well-equipped to steer through challenges to his (and by implication his squad’s) resilience; it’s a word he uses a fair bit, although not entirely without that corporate-sounding vibe so prevalent in interview, these days. Whatever, it’s refreshingly and unavoidably plain that this is action time, for England.

My previous coverage suggested the differing contributions of the two captains has been important. It would be wrong, I think to overstate this but Knight’s relative passivity with the bat so far, coupled with the sense that Haynes has been arguably more proactive in the field has surely contributed to where we’re at – with the home side dominating.

The Australian skipper has impressed, with a broadly dynamic contribution, having been flung rather surprisingly into the spotlight. Haynes was fabulous with bat in hand in game two but has also been positive and intuitive around bowling changes and field placement. She has that knack of anticipating and making things happen. Gratifying for her, then, that it is widely appreciated things have gone well partly because Australia have been led well.

Schutt starts with a maiden to Winfield. Attempted in-duckers with two genuine yorkers. Then Perry gets some away swing to Beaumont, before trapping Winfield playing marginally but fatally across one on middle and leg.

Enter Taylor, who seems scrambled, early on  – playing a weak attempted ramp-shot and two horrible wafts, half-charging, outside off, in the first handful of overs. 5 for 1 after 4 overs feels like an intimidatingly good start from the home side.

It’s risky but Taylor does seem intent on a reaction – ‘breaking the shackles’.

Schutt’s going well – getting some more of that trademark inswing and finding the blockhole with regularity. Both batters do seem to happy to play through to leg (which may, as it were, use that swing) but this may bring lbw into play again. Certainly, in the first six overs, almost nothing is driven to off. With Beaumont and Taylor batting well outside the crease, Healy comes up to the sticks – initially to the out-of-sorts opener.

After 7, Beaumont has managed only 2 off 11 balls, Taylor 10 off 22, confirming the strength of the Australian start. Signs, though, that Taylor may be settling as she puts Perry away twice, in the 8th, either side of a wide and a full-toss. Next over Healy comes up to Taylor, too.

Beaumont finally strikes one from Schutt through extra for four: the outfield looks slick in the sunshine. With McGrath replacing Perry and Taylor finding another level of timing now, runs do begin to come. After 10, we are 45 for 1. Haynes responds, right on cue, by introducing Wellington.

The young leggie again drops beautifully into her full, loopy groove and concedes just the one from the over; getting a little turn in the process: great contest breaking out.

McGrath backs this up with some very full stuff, getting some away-shape as Perry had done before her. An important time as both teams wrestle for momentum: or rather Australia contest this with Taylor, as Beaumont is doing little more than hanging on in there whilst her partner takes it to the bowlers.

That is, until she throws the hands through at McGrath – clouting one straight at mid-on then the next for four over mid-wicket. Thought strikes that somebody in the contest will get big runs very quickly – not sure that will Beaumont, despite her increasing conviction. Three hundred seems do-able again, here: eleven come off  Wellington in the 15th, as England move to 73 for 1.

Jonassen replaces McGrath for the eighteenth; again you sense that Haynes has the timing of this just right. England rotate, within themselves, for four singles from the over: acceptable to both sides but merely a stalling before a further surge? Gardner replaces Wellington.

Taylor deflects Jonassen down behind square leg to reach her 50 off 55 balls: she’s been excellent, fluent and expansive, after that unconvincing start. After 20, England are 97 for 1; they break the hundred as Taylor thrashes Gardner through midwicket and the hundred partnership comes up soon after.

The visitors, then, are nicely set but the necessary ‘kicking on’ must be emphatic and sustained, you suspect, as a) the pitch is again a beauty and b) Australia have batters who can hurt you; Healy, Perry, Haynes, Gardner. Etc. A genuinely big score is imperative; could be a great game then, this.

With the opposition now having some measure of control, Haynes turns back to Schutt. Taylor reverse-sweeps her for four first up but then cuts aerially to backward point next ball. Unforced error but good captaincy again – huge moment. Now, can Knight maintain or build the momentum of the innings? Previously, she’s failed to do that.

Beaumont’s contribution continues to develop – albeit slowly. She has 43 off 66 – good enough for a supporting role but England will need her either to change gear or bat through whilst Knight and possibly Sciver really launch. Perry returns for the 26th and Beaumont continues to pick out the fielders. 133 for 2 and now more from Wellington.

Beaumont gets to a determined fifty: both she and her captain have the necessary experience to read the game situation and judge what the target should be. For me, looking at the strip, outfield and the (un)likelihood of England taking bundles of wickets, they have to be going over 300.

Jonassen contributes to the surge by dropping short twice and getting duly punished. Eleven come from the 30th as England get to 160.

Knight and Beaumont are comfortable but not yet explosive, at drinks on the 32 over mark. They are running well and rotating notably coolly, given the heat and that series pressure. Strike rates are decent – meaning 70-80% – and there have been few false-shots, until Beaumont mistimes one over the keeper from Wellington.

It’s absolutely the kind of platform England would have aspired to. So when? When will they go boom? Or will they decide that just the one of them goes? My reservations against Knight – who, let’s be clear, is a quality player and is batting well now – centre on exactly this kind of scenario. Is she bold enough, free enough to make the decisive bolt for glory?

Whilst I contemplate this one, Beaumont is slightly freakishly stumped, falling forward. Great work, from Healy but does this change the situation vis a vis that target? Hardly.  Hardly, that is, until the impressive Schutt cleans out Sciver.

The question around Knight daring to (as the hashtag said) #goboldly (enough) may be becoming less relevant as England transit from 192 for 3, to 200 for 4 and crisis looms.

Ah. It becomes 201 for 5 as Fran Wilson is given lbw to a peach of a yorker from Perry. Sadly for her, she edged it. 3 wickets have fallen for 9 runs – a horror show for England.

All of this may relieve the captain from the responsibility of leading the charge – or a prolonged charge. It feels spookily clear right now – 01.47 a.m. Pembrokeshire time – that Australia will again go on and win this and that the series may be gone. Just do not see Knight plundering enough runs quickly enough from here or leading a dismantling of the Australian batting. Pitch is too good, Australia are too good and Knight is insufficiently inspirational to overthrow the odds. It’s over.

All this may sound unwise or unfair when followed by the fact that Knight has (at this moment) made 50 from 54 balls. Still I stand by it, miserablist or not.

England are 234 for 5 after 43. A brilliant finish gets them to 300, still but 280 is more likely. My gut feeling is that even though this would be a half-decent total, Australia would get 320 on this strip, today, if necessary. Hence the Morrissey-like disposition. Did I say, by the way, Brunt just holed-out to Perry?

So let’s examine this negativity. Part of it is around Haynes’s dynamism trumping Knight’s relative lack of spark. In addition, my hunch is that Shrubsole and Brunt may not do quite the damage (in Australia) that Schutt and Perry will or have done. Plus – despite her lack of wickets – I reckon Wellington is the best spin bowler on the two sides…

Knight strikes the first six of the innings, going powerfully over straight midwicket.

First ball of the 49th and Gunn is caught behind by Healy, who is standing up to Schutt. Early candidate for player of the series, the squat-then-run-in seamer finishes with 4 for 34. Shrubsole is then taken by Schutt, in the outfield, off Jonassen for 1.

Knight finishes on 88 from 80. I can’t fault her for that. Disproportionately, for me, the Aus commentators on BT Sport talk up the ‘pressure on Australia’: it’s clearly a goodish score… but surely 40 short of where it might be – where it needed to be.

There is unforeseen rain during the break.

Brunt inevitably opens up for England. Healy cracks her powerfully through the covers for four. Shrubsole then draws a sloppy cut from the wicketkeeper-batter but Wilson fails to take a regulation catch at point… ouch.

(Note that it was raining… then insert own cliche about ‘taking every chance’).

Brunt is getting some shape away but Healy smoothes her over mid-on then through extra cover for successive fours. Impressive timing, impressively bold.

Bolton gets in on the act with four but it’s her partner who’s making the statement here. She races to 25 from 33 for 0 after 5 overs. Will Knight change something early?

Bolton, pushing hard, edges towards but short of third man. It may be that the aggression of the batters could be more of a threat than the bowling – not because the bowling is especially wayward but because the boldness is pret-ty remarkable. Knight does withdraw Brunt, for Gunn but rain reappears: could be better for the visitors than the home side, who are racing away…

After a break of forty minutes or so, we have a revised target of 278 off 48 overs, which, as we go again, feels like it makes little difference. Gunn continues. Healy again wastes no time in lifting one carefully to the midwicket boundary. It’s great cricket; positive but not wild; challenging. At the 8 over mark, Australia are 46 for 0.

Shrubsole is bowling reasonably tightly but there seems no threat, until Bolton misreads a single badly and offers Danii Wyatt (on for the injured Beaumont) a viable shy at the stumps. Missed. Similarly, Healy almost gifts Gunn her wicket by spooning one towards mid-off. It may, to be fair, have stuck slightly in the pitch. The flow of runs has checked very slightly but Australia are 63 for 0 after 11- so bossing it.

Ecclestone replaces Shrubsole but starts with a rank full toss. She gets away with that but not with the third, slanted well down leg and dismissed.

Gunn continues. She may contain but will she take wickets? Not convinced and England need a break. Healy reaches 50 off 44. Gunn does get one to lift and cut away from Bolton but only gains the dot ball.

Ecclestone flights the ball nicely but lacks turn and therefore threat, tonight. Healy, in the 14th decides to put her away. Holding her form superbly, the Australian creams her left and right; Knight has to act and next over, Ecclestone is withdrawn in favour of Hartley.

Sciver replaces Gunn – good, from Knight. Just 3 from the over. *That picture* in my head – that Australian will win, with something to spare – remains but as Sciver puts down a sharp chance at midwicket, the universe reminds us that this is not over. Australia get to 100 off 18.4 overs.

England need a period of pressure. Hartley and Sciver suggest they may just offer that: the game is statistically closer – Aus 108 for 0 where England were 106 for 1 at 21 overs completed – and there is the sense that the batters, maybe for the first time, feel cramped.

Bolton, this time, breaks out, with two fours off Hartley but Healy, in trying to follow suit – rather unecessarily(?) – is caught by Brunt in the outfield. That’s the good news for our lot. The bad news is the incoming bat is Perry.

Bolton, absurdly for this potentially key moment, swooshes hard at Sciver towards midwicket. Gunn misjudges it: it was catchable, she parries it away. Poor cricket all round and another low-point for England, whose fielding is moving into the dodgy-to-embarrassing spectrum now. Brunt will come in to bowl the 25th.

A warning comes in via social media that more rain is heading in: in fact we have no further interruptions.

Bolton has drifted into a strange phase of her innings, despite having gathered fifty. She may be trying too hard to bully the rate: the result is a series of mishits which may contribute to Perry’s slow start. There may be edginess.

Brunt is going well – tight and with variation. However even she offers a shortish one just outside leg, which Bolton accepts. The opener finally does run out of luck though, when miscuing Ecclestone – this time fatally – to mid-on. It’s been an important but rather dysfunctional innings, yielding 62 important but hardly stylish runs.

Perry has 19 from 28 when Villani joins her in the 30th. Are there more signs of nerves, when the former lofts Shrubsole rather weakly towards mid-off… but escapes?

The superstar quick and number three goes soon after, caught – just – by a weirdly wooden-looking Gunn. Not sure if the England veteran didn’t see the ball ’til late; whatever, it was another oddish submission suggestive of tension in both camps. 106 are needed of 93 deliveries. Enter the captain. (To prove my theory, right?)

Now we do get weird. Villani offers more catching practice to Winfield at deep mid-off… and she’s gone. Poor, poor match sense from Australia to be going aerial so often when the moment is so charged. I did not think they would give England a sniff. I still think England’s total was markedly short. Alex Blackwell, with an astonishing 250 games to her credit, has joined Haynes to try to sort out the mess. 104 from 83 needed; can Australia gather?.

Sciver returns and backs up the previous wicket maiden (Hartley’s) with a maiden. Meaning England are really battling. We enter the powerplay but the runrate required has just topped 8. Sciver has bowled 5 overs for 11. I do not mind if my earlier,confident prediction of a straight-forward and series-defining win for Australia turns to poop. I really do not.

In the previous game at this ground, Haynes batted superbly and aggressively; she found a higher level: she has to find that again.

Hartley dives over one in the 38th – concedes four. Then Sciver claims the wicket of Haynes, attempting to clear the midwicket boundary – Brunt coolly taking the catch.

England become strong favourites – my favourites, even! Gardner, who can hit, as we’ve seen in Brisbane, has joined Blackwell but the flow is truly against them, extraordinarily. As we enter the 40th over, with Gunn’s slow medium-pacers denying pace off the ball, the required runrate is 8.8 and rising again.

The stats on telly are showing that after that stunning start, the Australians failed to build. Despite England gifting them three or four lives, scoring stalled and continued to stall. Without being unplayably good, the England attack ground away. Shrubsole and Brunt were okaaaay rather than threatening, Sciver and Hartley good.

Hartley claims a third wicket – that of Jonassen – caught and bowled. Blackwell, with all her experience, remains, but she has looked doughty and skilled rather than explosive. Australia need explosive. By the time McGrath and Blackwell get themselves to the last (48th) over, they need the small matter of 31 runs. Blackwell picks out Sciver off Gunn, Taylor stumps Wellington brilliantly and Australia finish on 257 for 9.

Is it ironic then that the strategic boldness exemplified by Healy, early doors, proved so costly? She broke open the game, or so it seemed, chiefly by going over the top – straight or wide. She steered the ball around the place to bring England’s total back into sharp focus. (Of course it was good but by no means inviolable).

Healy’s team members did not necessarily all freeze, but there was some brain-freeze out there. Too many blows into the outfield lacked direction or real power or both. Or they were played at manifestly the wrong time. England could then build on that profligacy.

Knight led with the bat and managed in the field. The series – alleilujah! – is alive and the England skipper’s role… was key.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chanceless at Coffs Harbour.

This is the first of two posts, covering Coffs Harbour in the 2nd AusvEng One Day International. For the England batting innings, go to ‘Outplayed’…

 

Australia, in the middle of our night. On the telly. Deep dark quiet: nerves. What feels like inevitable sunshine – although (seemingly ludicrously from my settee) rumours of a possible thundershower later. The dog stretches. Shrubsole to open, off a short-looking run.

A nervy, wide one – not called. Healy and Bolton for the Australians. Two runs off the third ball, which is short and steered easily through the covers. No great pace.

Brunt looks sharper but her first delivery is dispatched through cover for four by Healy. There is a little away swing for Brunt, who thought she may have a decent lb shout… but no.

Nine off the first two overs. Pitch looking good, the ball just doing a little in the air. Shrubsole beats the left-handed Bolton but then strays marginally down leg and is clipped neatly for four more. Australia appear generally untroubled.

Brunt staying full, looking to draw that swing but offering some hittable stuff off the pads. 16 for 0 off the first four and no dramas for the home side. The inswing/outswing (Shrubsole/Brunt) combination looking more threatening on paper than in reality.

England going to have to stay patient, by the looks of the early overs: Australia move untroubled to 21 for 0.

Brunt bowling notably fewer slower balls, today. Took the pace off a good deal more, in the first game. She applies herself, as always but to little effect: good strip, this.

Gunn to bowl the ninth. Tall, slightly awkward-looking arms into the delivery but hugely experienced and patient, you would hope. Good call by Knight  – England doing okay but it was time for a change. Gunn, as so often, drops nicely onto a line and length. Double-change, in fact, as Sciver replaces Brunt.

The bespectacled (do we still say that?) Bolton shows first sign of frustration, having been stalled for some time: miscues a pull off Sciver. England now applying some pressure – 30 for 0 off 9.

Healy answers with a four to square-leg, off Gunn. Entirely chanceless game, so far but with the run-rate below four, England may not mind the lack of penetration.

Sciver bowls wide of off and Bolton – whom Alison Mitchell feels is ‘struggling to get the ball off the square’ – flukes one to third man for four. A rare boundary – only five scored, from the first twelve overs. Game yet to find an urgent gear and therefore feeling even enough. Bolton has 24 only off 50 balls at the end of the 13th.

Healy fires the first shot in anger. Or rather simply goes for the first big shot. Succeeds beautifully, straight-driving    Sciver for six. Rightly, she backs that up with four more to leg then a two. Sciver, rattled, bowls a pie of a full-toss and this is also smashed over midwicket for four. Important over yields 17 much-needed runs and changes the energy.

66 for 0 off 16. Drinks. Lack of wickets clearly put the home side in a strong position… but they will be looking, naturally, to dominate from here. Healy looking well capable of that – Bolton less so.

Ecclestone, the eighteen-year-old spinner, brought in. Arguable that Knight might have shuffled things more, earlier: presumably the England skipper content enough with the run-rate remaining below four? Three off the over, backed up by a further change – Hartley from the other end.

Immediately she draws Healy into a rash shot – a rather clubbed effort falls narrowly short of mid-on. The intent is there, though; Healy collects two boundaries, one of which Gunn should surely have stopped at the boundary. Mixed, at best from, Hartley: runs look easier to come by with the reduction in pace. Knight would have wanted more. Healy reaches 50.

Another misfield yields four off a wide on from Ecclestone. England cannot afford sloppiness in the field, in a game they have to win, with wickets looking hard to come by.

Run-rate at 4.83 after 18. No wickets down, the innings remaining chanceless.

Bolton has been out of sorts, but reverse-sweeps Hartley for four. Challenge seems to be about whether or not England can remain calm and focused. They plainly lack a threat, here. ; will be fascinating to see if Australia are similarly blunted by the pitch. Early days but the signs are the home side should get into the high 200s.

From nowhere, Ecclestone’s arm-ball bowls Healy. Huge moment, as the right-hahder had seemed much more bullish than her lartner. 100 up, though, in the 21st, as Perry has joined Bolton.

Flight, now but some width, from Ecclestone. She’s drifting to leg a tad but Australia’s burst has been checked by the wicket.

Shocker from Hartley – almost a foot down leg – is rightly and easily clipped for four by Perry. Skipper will be having words, you suspect. Frustrating. Not enough control and very little in the way of meaningful spin – from either end.

Knight may be a less dynamic captain than her opposite number, judging by the first game and a half. Haynes was busy and pro-active first-up. Sense is Knight letting things ‘take their course’. 112 for 1 off 24.

Hartley misfields a drive off her own bowling – Perry gets four. England average in the field, as they were in the opening match. Work to do, there.

Shrubsole back for the 27th. Feels right, with Aus too comfortable (albeit non-dynamic) against the two left-arm orthodox spinners. Bolton’s relative lack of fluency the chief plus-point for England.

Ecclestone persists. Has flight but still minimal turn. Suspicion is she might vary things a tad more. Horrible pie absolutely boomed over midwicket for six by a grateful Perry, who has moved to 30 in goodish time.

Next over Shrubsole oversteps but negates the free hit to Perry with a fine yorker: one of few moral victories for the England attack. Big fan of Anya Shrubsole but she is is very much in containing mode here.

Re-enter Sciver, for the 30th. Bolton finally claims her 50: welcome but slowish and rather scratchy. 90 balls. Signs, now, that Australia looking to go; Bolton flays Shrubsole straight for four. 300 on? England may be in trouble – not unreasonably alarmist to suggest the series may be on the line here. Meaning real pressure.

Bolton is suddenly, post mid-pitch conflab, looking to hit everything – most of it through leg. Sciver coming round to her, which may be making the left-hander’s job easier. England need to find something.

Hartley bowls Bolton; a simple case of agressive run-chasing gifting the wicket. The opener’s contributed 66 off 100, 63 of these alongside a very controlled-looking Perry – so two strongish partnerships.

Villani is next. England have bowled two out but still failed to produce any further clearcut chances. May be reading too much into this but gut feeling is this doesn’t augur well: not for now, not for the Ashes.

Write that sentence and Knight dives to her left to clutch a fine catch, off Gunn. Villani. Can England now capitalise? 143 for 3, in the 35th.

Another *monent* Brunt, returning, fails to take a catchable caught and bowled. Perry clonked one straight back at her: Brunt will hate that! 187 for 3 off 37, first clear opportunity engineered… and missed.

With Aus skipper Haynes starting brightly alongside Perry, the home side may be targetting 280 plus, now. Reckon they’ll get 260, no problem but weather may become a factor – social media full of dark warnings re the cloudcover. England must claim wickets, you feel.

Brunt drops just a little short and Haynes pulls her disdainfully to the square-leg boundary. Exhibit K – good pitch, this. Charlotte Edwards joins the chorus of those wondering why England opted to bowl. My hunch is that Knight may be happier chasing, because she’s by nature somewhat conservative. Her team need a lift.

Perry, meanwhile, has another fifty – and the 200 is up, in the 40th. She never fails.

Into the last ten, all the pressure on the fielding side. 7.24 a.m. here in sleepy Pembrokeshire – and the pitch dark just coming alive with grey-pink and birdsong. Magic time.  I have porridge on the go.

13 off Shrubsole’s over – the 43rd. Haynes has 46 from 30, including a towering, sweetly-struck six off a fullish delivery from England’s World Cup-winning heroine. Australia get back on a charge and 285 is absolutely gettable.

Brunt is in and mixing it. Predictably taking the pace off but also bowling those looping attempted cutters. Tremendous competitor.

Gunn is back, too and also ‘looping.’ Perry charges, misses and is stumped, sharply, by Taylor, who has stayed up throughout. 250 for 4 in the 46th. Haynes is hit on the neck by an incoming throw that Taylor cannot gather. Only a flesh-wound; the skipper barely flinches.

Another drop – a shocker, I’m afraid – from Beaumont in the deep costs four… as well as Haynes’s wicket. (The Australia captain has been outstanding again, here – going 4,6,4 but that was awful, for England).

The controversy around Haynes’s appointment being dismissed as easily as the England bowlers now. Haynes batting inventively, dynamically and with power – none of which could be said about her opposite number, Knight, in the opening match of the series. Australia looking way ahead on 285 for 4 off 48.

Blackwell balloons one out to Brunt, off Gunn, in the last over but that loss feels meaningless. As does the wicket of McGrath who joins Haynes with four balls remaining but is caught off a top edge two balls later. Haynes drives the last for two and Australia finish on 296 for 6. As if things weren’t looking tough enough, for England, rain seems imminent…

 

 

 

 

 

Patterns of play.

In the depths of our night the feeling that there was some pattern at work was discomfiting – but maybe it did help to keep me awake.

England had started in good then dominating style, with both Beaumont and Winfield looking comfortable against the Australian attack, establishing something spookily close to a measure of control. However – do I need to say ‘this being England?’ – the calm authority of the opening exchanges was fairly promptly pret-ty profoundly undermined, almost shockingly.

In short Beaumont swished to mid-off then Taylor and/or Winfield contrived to leave the latter absolutely stranded for the most infuriating of self-inflicted run-outs: just as utter control had been re-established, just as Australia approached peak Where Do We Go From Here?

This happens, in sport, I know. You’re cruising then you’re stomping off inconsolable towards a bollocking or an icy stare. And okay maybe Beaumont had taken herself beyond criticism because of the statement she made – which stands. And Taylor and Winfield were hardly failures, eh? But this is The Ashes and we’re in pursuit not just of excellence but momentum… because that will get us through the long nights and ma’an we wanna win this!

At about 1.30 a.m. our time, England had a real chance to crack on with some style towards the dreamland of unanswerable primacy. If Beaumont hadn’t reached and slapped; if Taylor had merely called with any degree of sureness and watchfulness; if England had continued to make good choices.

Watching live, even from a zillion miles away, the sense that these key wickets were against the grain of things was palpable. Sure the young leg-spinner Wellington turned the ball thrillingly and testingly, but one way or another – and there were times when this was pure good fortune – England were surviving it. Schutt and Perry had been playable.

It seemed (unless I was dreaming?) that any one from Beaumont, Winfield and/or Taylor might go on and dismiss the home side’s leading threats… and then some. Winfield’s presentation of the bat had been notably beautiful: Beaumont had played confidently and with intermittent aggression.

Because this is sport and this is England, things changed; the pattern developed. The killer touch – or more exactly the killer mentality to see this out was lost. Australia capitalised.

Heather Knight may need to look pretty hard at her own contribution with the bat. Along with the obviously gifted Sciver she underachieved, failing to read the mood or counter in any way Australia’s resurgence: worse, making that resurgence possible. Contrast this with Haynes’s dynamic fielding and skippering of her own side: the middle-late overs were something of a walkover in favour of Lanning’s medium-surprising replacement.

It was galling stuff because England had earned the right to go on, to release the flow genuinely and decisively early. More – they had the luxury of doing this in a measured way. Taylor and Sciver really might have feasted on a true pitch, as the bowling unit blunted itself against their patience then their power.

In fact as things progressed that tendency to allow the opposition back in overtook any English ebullience. Clearly we need to credit the Australians for their persistence and their cool, but the English middle order rather shrank from the task. Wickets predictably fell. I rate Brunt for her bullishness, maturity and spark but as she strode to the crease I could not see anything other than a fizzle-out. So it was.

(Before England’s spikiest quick strode out there I tweeted as follows;

Strong hunch is that #Brunch won’t go well & that #Eng may really underachieve. Really hope I’m wrong.

#WomensAshes

Took no pleasure in that).

Hey let’s look at the positives. For England, chiefly that half the team got in and should therefore be less nervy next time around. For Australia and for cricket, great that we may have another star leg-spinner to enjoy and (in Gardner) more stylish-but-undeniably-punchy positivity to appreciate. Plus the match was evenly-matched, meaning the series may be tense and competitive. Let’s hope so. This was a good opener.