Bristol. With hope in our hearts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gunslingers’ reprieve. Or should they sling the gunners?

So much for the unflattering, post-game, post cliff-walk ramble – above, obvs.

Here, below, is the live blog of the game… which you maybe should be reading first?

Wyatt will face Diana. A little outswing, watchfully played square. Then no ball, meaning Jones gets the benefit of a free hit. She misses and misses out, moving in rather wooden fashion across the ball.

Then drama. Jones advances, plays towards midwicket, misses again and is given leg before. Looked straight but she was advancing. Tense wait. Out!

So the clamour for Beaumont, led, or okaaaay indulged in profoundly by yours truly – check out previous post(s) – will go on. Worse still, for England, a frazzled Wyatt slap-dinks Aiman straight to cover… but cover apparently simply can’t see it! Wyatt survives, for now. Un-be-lieeeeeevable. What we used to call ‘heart-attack material’, in our less socially-aware moments, for the coach and the bench.

This may be current specialism, nay obsession, but let’s try and deal with this swiftly. These are pret-ty embarrassing frailties – England should be two-down yet again, for less than ten. Wyatt and Jones (the gunslingers, yes?) would be dropped or shaken up by many international coaches. *But* these further failures are a) interpretable b) mid-tournament and c) in the squad context where Jones and Wyatt are theoretically England’s most dynamic opening pair. And d) they somehow got to 21 for 1 after 2 overs in this game. So there *are arguments*.

Some might still argue this is simple: *raises hand*. One of them must be dropped or dropped down to take a bit of the heat off Sciver and Knight. (The counter-argument might be that Sciver and Knight appear to be so-o brilliantly nerveless that the ‘appalling indulgence that is Wyatt and Jones’ is, yaknow, indulge-able). My guess is that Keightley sees it simply: ‘Dani and Amy are my best, up front, they stay up front’.

Sciver moves smartly to 15, then 19. 40 for 1 off 4.

Diana Baig bowls full, to draw out that smidge of swing. Her three overs in the power play have been consistently good, deserving, arguably, of rather more than 1 for 17, which is plainly tidy enough.

Then wow. Wyatt is caught yet again behind point. Humiliatingly? I think so. Rate her as a wonderful athlete and good, attacking bat but that – whatever has been said by coaches or colleagues – is unforgivable, in my view. I repeat, speaking as a fan of hers, at this level, that’s shocking. That she will be hurting (and her batting coach hurting) is irrelevant: it’s un-for-givable. To let the right hand flow through too early, so often, is amateurish; endof.

Meanwhile (as I rage) Knight has just sublimely driven Aliya wide of extra-cover for four. Real statement of quality. England 62 for 2 after 8.

At the halfway mark, England will be happy enough with 74 for 2. Shortly after, Sciver, over-balancing, is stumped Sidra, bowled Aliya. But Knight persists and a strongish score looks on. Wilson has joined her captain.

100-up in the 14th, as Wilson telegraphs but then beautifully executes a reverse-sweep for four. Nadir Dar’s thinking she has Knight, two balls later, mind, but a regulation high catch is fumbled at the midwicket boundary. Big Moment. (Pakistan’s fielding in the game was below the retired level).

Wilson has been in decent knick, with the bat and she looks ready to contribute. She’s not a power-hitter but can dance and cut and sweep. At 115 for 3 after 15 and with the partnership developing, England should be looking towards 160, here.

Diana is back for the 16th. Knight sweeps with some power but the fielder should stop the boundary. More intrigue as Diana drops her hands towards a bulleting drive from Knight but can’t, understandably, hold on. Suddenly the England captain is on 49: the 50 arrives with a further sweep to deep square leg.

Bismah is lobbing them up there: discussion on comms is whether she is actually slower than Poonam Yadav! Incredibly, she probably is. With so much time to hit, both Knight and Wilson seem guilty of over-thinking it – there are two near-catches and a possible run-out in the over, along with nine runs. But it’s unhelpfully, distractingly messy.

Aiman also drops a tough return catch – again it’s Knight who benefits. Runs are coming but fewer boundaries than England might like. May not be a disaster that, swinging, Wilson is deceived and bowled by a slower one, from the seamer. Wilson made a perfectly acceptable 22 off 19 but can the incoming Beaumont bring the real blaze? 139 for 4, after 18.

Inevitably, it’s Knight who answers the call to go big, monstering Nida straight for six. And Beaumont reverses for four, before slogging out to a juggling Muneeba, who holds on. (Feel sorry for Beaumont. Outstanding, reliable player being shafted, somewhat, by policy). Next up, the skipper is expertly taken out at long-on, for an excellent 62. She again has lived up to the Proper England Captain label: resolute, stoic-when-necessary, powerfully consistent, incredibly bland, in interview. Huge fan.

Brunt comes in, shuffles pseudo-positively forward, is defeated and stumped. Winfield and Ecclestone scurry briefly; the total amassed is what we might call medium-formidable. 158 for 7. Should probably be enough but in fact the last four overs felt an under-achievement from an English point of view. Certainly, given the smallish ground (or surface area, as it were), there might have been more boundaries, ideally. But hey, this is a pressure game, what matters is the win.

Shrubsole is coming round to Muneeba – the left-hander. Tantalisingly, she finds the outside edge twice in the first three balls. Does’t quite carry to slip on either occasion. Javeria cuts smartly behind point, where Wilson dives to gather. Just one from the over.

Brunt. A little mixed. Muneeba muscles one unconvincingly for four before the bowler strays leg-side. Touch of shape, in the air. No major dramas – 7 for 0 after 2.

Upcoming, mini-masterclass from Shrubsole. Muneeba clonks her for four but the truly outstanding swing bowler nails her next up, with a beauty. Unclear if the wind assisted but the delivery arcs gently in to the batter, when she might have every expectation that Shrubsole’s natural movement is t’other way. Comprehensive, stump-clattering victory for the longterm England star. Enter Bismah.

Pakistan are battling here, mind. A decent smattering of boundaries and some inconsistency from the bowlers keep this in the balance, through the powerplay. Brunt is too straight, or wide and Ecclestone may be troubled by the wind. The Pakistan bench are wrapped in towels – it’s blowing, it’s coolish.

Brunt breaks her duck for the tournament – painfully so, for Bismah. The ball appears to strike both thumb and bat before looping gently up for Jones to gather behind in comfort.

When Glenn responds to being dispatched for four by cleaning out Javeria Khan, the initiative has turned, sharply, in England’s favour. Pakistan are 41 for 3, after 7.

The leg-spinner is soon celebrating again, despite Winfield once more failing to claim a catch. (The fielder is having an exacting time, so far, in the tournament: here she cannot throw herself forward to make the grabbable grab). No matter. Pakistan appear in trouble as Glenn knocks back Iram Javed’s leg stump, with a straightish one.

When Ecclestone has Nida Dar l.b.w in the next, this feels almost done. Pakistan 51 for 5.

Glenn returns, tidily once more. No extravagant turn but nice, confident, consistent flight. The run rate has rocketed up to 11.7, meaning Pakistan have to find something pret-ty extraordinary. Just doesn’t seem possible. The game is ticking over gently. 59 for 5 as Ecclestone sees out an uneventful 12th over.

Glenn gets a third as Omaima Sohail advances but miscues: Ecclestone taking a tricky catch retreating and reaching. A very encouraging win now seems certain, for England.

Fair play to Aliya. She welcomes Sciver back by smashing her downtown, for six. Nine runs from the over, 71 for 6. Now Shrubsole, whom you’d think would be fancying this?

No joy. No swing, so the bowler is now ‘mixing things up’ but to no dramatic effect. Knight brings herself back, concedes six runs in bits and pieces – that’ll do. 84 for 6 with just four overs remaining. 75 needed.

Brunt is struggling…and hating that. Big, slower-ball wide to start. Cut for four, rather dismissively, by Aliya. The one gem Brunt throws down there – a peach of a loopy slower-ball, which absolutely undoes the batter – is nicked infuriatingly behind for runs.

Ecclestone fires one straight through Sidra Nawaz, mind – which may not restore Brunt’s equilibrium (if Brunt ever does equilibrium). 101 for 7. Aliya battles on admirably, at this stage, on 35 from 29 but this feels death-throwsy. Ecclestone finishes on 4 overs, 2 for 12. Outstanding.

Shrubsole will bowl the 19th. Again it’s apparent that it’s tough to keep things tidy in this wind. (Half the smallish crowd are deeply wrapped in blankets by this stage). A straight, slow delivery does for Aliya Riaz, who can be well-satisfied with her contribution of 41. Next up Shrubsole has Diana caught and bowled, raising her 100th T20 wicket. One more to claim? Brunt will look to deny her bowling partner that further privilege.

So it proves, the Angry Yorkie beating the left-handed Sadia Iqbal’s swish, and claiming the tenth wicket, leg before. England have won it by a distance – by 42 runs, Pakistan all out 116, with two balls remaining. The side, led so well again by Heather Knight, despite having issues up front, may be breaking into a more purposeful stride. Bring on the Windies Women: a win and the semis await.

 

Wot, no Kiwis? Australia v England. Women’s T20 international.

England are batting and Perry will bowl four straight, with predictably excellent control. The visitors persist with the somewhat under-pressure Jones, and the slighter but notably athletic and always-positive Wyatt.

Perry stifles Jones in particular, with Wyatt looking both dynamic and slightly vulnerable, (as per, arguably). The Southern Star’s über-star will finish her spell, absurdly, with 1 for 9 off 4, and with England seemingly flummoxed. Wyatt is Perry’s one wicket, brilliantly caught by Mooney, with the opener playing uppishly through cover-point: another poorish dismissal, from the England point of view.

There is a similarly disappointing end for Jones. She has made a ver-ry scratchy 10 off 24 balls when run out. Exceptional fielding, in truth, from Jonassen but pressure plainly did for the opener again – an unnecessary scramble speaking of scrambled minds.

Have said before that I rate Amy Jones; having seen her live several times her power and confidence can really flow, making her a genuine candidate for a top-of-the-order spot. But she is appearing a tad unfocused, frail, even – a tad close to playing herself out of the team. One can argue either she needs ‘a rest’, or that the coaching team need to get around her.

Sciver is possibly under-achieving, too, though not under threat of de-selection. A fine athlete and all-rounder, in at three, with perhaps a little to prove to justify that ranking. Facts don’t ever reveal everything but try these: Sciver is out for 4 off 9 balls and England are 39 for 3 after 8.4 overs at the moment of her dismissal, caught Perry, skying, at mid-off.

The power-play overs were disastrous, then, for England, or seemed to be, until Knight got a hold on this. She is lucky to escape after skying Wareham but soonish, as so often, the skipper wills a way back. Knight will need to find a partner for the rebuild: on this occasion, it will be Wilson. From 3 for not much, the two of them get to 3 for 90 (as the Aussie commentators have it) at 15 overs.

Schutt and Kimmince lead out the death overs. Hugely encouragingly for England, Knight and Wilson continue their charge, hitting hard, skilfully and with intent.

Jonassen, the left-arm offie, will bowl the 18th. No let-up. Wilson goes to 20 runs off 8 balls in a fine, dynamic streak; at the other end the skipper promptly gets to 50, off Kimmince. It’s a dream of a pitch for the batters but this is still Australia; they are helpless, it seems.

Schutt drops Wilson and then Knight clouts her for six twice in the final over. This is potentially important stuff: the best team in the world getting unceremoniously unpicked, in the second half of the game.

Finally Knight is caught for a magnificent 78 – her highest T20 score. Meanwhile the psychological stuff feels as meaningful as the 158 on the board.

Wilson has landed and finishes on 39 not out. Her captain has again sent out the strong message that she is not only an accomplished, determined bat, but has developed herself into a player capable of sustained aggression against this – the best bowling attack on the planet.

The reply. Davies is in for the injured Shrubsole. Healy welcomes her with two boundaries but then miscues to mid-off, where Brunt retreats to take a controlled catch.

Gardner joins Mooney. She smashes hard at Wilson, at point, where the fielder stops, superbly, before throwing to the wrong end: Gardner would have been stranded by a distance had the throw arrowed back to the keeper. Mooney and Gardner build.

Rightly, Knight is ringing the changes – these are good batters, threatening to wrestle the initiative early, very much in the Australian tradition. But Glenn claims Gardner when Knight pouches a steepler. A good, competitive game is brewing, here: Australia have lots of batting, mind – Lanning is in.

She cannot persist; out for a single, edging Ecclestone painfully on. Australia three down… but this means Perry and Mooney is looking ominously set.

Perry makes a solid start but Glenn has her leg before for 18. And when Haynes steers the England leggie straight back for a simple caught and bowled, Australia are wobbling materially.

When Sciver draws a stumping, Brunt takes a stunning catch teetering over the rope and Australia find themselves needing eleven an over with just three batters remaining, this seems over. Sutherland has other ideas.

Her partner Wareham makes a smallish contribution – six – before being bowled but the youngster blazes fearlessly on. What follows is one of those fabulous periods where everything but the batter becomes an irrelevance. She is in. She will hit. The total will come to her, whatever.

18 off 8 becomes 8 off 5, becomes a Super over! Absolutely stunning stuff from the young Australian seamer, on debut. She had no right to fetch the contest back from where her team – senior players, all and worldies, mostly – had landed her. Wonderful sport for the neutral and enjoyable (kindof) for the rest of us.

So a Super Over with no Kiwis! Should reduce the level of tragedy to something bearable, at least(?) Let’s see.

Ecclestone will bowl, for England. First ball is a potential stumping – not out. Not sure if the delay unsettles Healy and Gardner, or whether we can entirely credit Ecclestone, but the Southern Stars struggle, rather, to lay a glove on the bowling. Some nerves there, surely, but surprisingly little in the way of clean, confident hitting.

Fair play to the young off-spinner for holding her nerve, she remains a relative newcomer herself – twenty years of age. To have been chosen for this responsibility, as a slow left-armer, in this moment, versus this Australia, speaks volumes. Ecclestone, despite being an ordinary fielder, would probably drop into most peoples’ World XI, I reckon: possibly alongside just her skipper, from this England side. So some bowler.

Australia, scuttling rather than blasting, make eight, leaving Knight and Wyatt with nine for victory.

Perry, naturally. Knight scuffs a single, as does Wyatt, before the captain connects twice, consecutively. Single; single; four; four. And a roar of delight. Heather Knight; captain fantastic, again.

After the mild disappointment of their defeat to India yesterday, in a game they will feel they should have won, this will feel invigorating to all in the England camp. The two days have shown them to be an organised and improving outfit in the field – significantly better than India and maybe now right up alongside today’s opposition – and, crucially, capable of competing in terms of durability and dynamism, with those Southern Stars.

There are inevitably things to work on; chiefly the tendency to gift too many cheapish wickets through poor shot selection &/or execution but the Wilson innings and the win, the win(!), alongside Knight’s further, emphatic statement of quality augur well. I suspect some consideration of Jones’s position may arise, potentially, with Beaumont returning to an opening slot, but hey, after a win against the Aussies maybe Lisa Keightley (an Aussie herself, of course) will opt for a cool beer, a smile and a dance round the barbie.

Highlights Reel, as does the memory. Universe Podcast looks back on a year of cricket – mine, 2019.

A meander through my personal highlights, with particular attention on the games I actually attended. Vaguely chronological but with the inevitable @cricketmanwales-stylee diversions.

So, unreliable memories around both England men and women’s international fixtures, plus KSL and Blast19 stuff. Some thoughts on coaching – on the England men’s batting – and ‘philosophical’ notions around approach and responsibility. Finally, I fall into a realisation that my ‘Day of the Year’ may have been…

well go listen and find out. And please do RT if you find it at all listenable.

 

*Note: plank that I am I started to say something about Sophie Ecclestone but then drifted. What I was going to add was that she is clearly a talent – already our (England’s) go to bowler when Knight needs to make something happen. (Not bad for a 19/20 yr-old). She isn’t a great fielder but one of my abiding memories of a difficult Women’s Ashes for England was that Ecclestone offers something.

Knighthood? / Hold My Beer.

Heather is a particular kind of name, is it not? Speaks of Englishness and church-going families and quiet, erudite children. Or is that just me? Best move on.

Heather Knight is English. In fact she’s the England Captain (did you know?) having attended Cardiff MCC University en route into the game. Now the England Captain in cricket – Women’s Cricket. And she just did something, something pret-ty phenomenal.

We’re in Hove – where else? The sun is shining and there’s a particular crowd; smallish but by no means insulting, keen but by no means raucous. It’s the #KSLFinalsDay.

Heather’s team, Western Storm, have just struggled to contain the opposition, Southern Vipers, as they post a challenging score in the season finale – the final, defining, ‘all-important’ shoot-out.

(Vipers have amassed a total of 172 runs off their 20 overs. This is a major bundle and would in most circumstances signal a cruise to victory. However there are *things*. Firstly Storm are a hugely robust outfit, in a really good way. Secondly, they did haul the game back towards themselves, late-on. Thirdly, they have Heather).

Knight is the captain, remember – and she Captains Ingerland. And Wales. This same England that was so utterly outclassed by the Australian tourists recently that the Ashes was not so much surrendered as gift-wrapped and übered across with a sweet card from Marks & Sparks, signed ‘Much love, Heather & the girls’.

The result of this rather painful and prolonged public humiliation was the Coach of Ingerland losing his job and the ECB shuffling out some bulletins to quell the mounting unrest over The Widening Gap between Us and Oz. We can only imagine that Heather Knight’s position was ‘discussed’ during this accountability review: she was, after all, more at the helm than the coach, you might argue.

Knight did no doubt endure some tough questions, as well some Dark Nights of the Soul. How could she not have a blub into the cushion, or squeeze the dog just a touch too hard, in melancholy distraction? England’s performances, as well as the system were brutally unpicked, perhaps most painfully – though justifiably – by former colleagues now in the media corps. In short it’s been a bloody tough few months, for Heather.

Except. Except she has had Western Storm.

Western Storm have smashed it. They won all nine of their first nine fixtures in the Kia Super League before losing in the last, rain-affected game, to Yorkshire Diamonds. They were durable and deep, as a squad. Having contacts in the camp, I am sensing that they were also a proper posse, with the kind of comradeship that only sometimes accompanies big-shot, international sporting coalitions. And of course they were led by Heather Knight.

Knight has just become the highest scorer in the Kia Super League – the only woman to pass the 1,000 runs mark. She has been absolutely central to the stonking Storm campaign, in 2019. In the final, yesterday, against Southern Vipers, she blasted and clipped and drove to 78 not out to claim a) the trophy and b) the Player of the Match award. But there is & was more.

The nature of Knight’s performance was somewhere between fine and phenomenal. After her side had scrambled, clawed at the air and generally under-achieved more than a little, in the field, she rose to it.

Set an intimidatingly steep total and after losing her Indian Superstar of a bat, Mandhana, to a nervy pat to mid-on, first ball, Knight marched briskly in, early. Must have been scary: must have *asked questions*. Pah. I soon noted (in my epic blog, one post back, free-to-air!) that Knight ‘looks goodish’.

Starting (or re-starting) with Priest, she knows she must get after the bowling from the outset, such is the required run-rate. Priest, without ever looking classically smooth is going well – dispatching Wyatt, in particular, with some intent. But Wellington, the young Australian leg-spinner removes Knight’s partner with a peach that loops, turns and enables the stumping.

I remember clearly noting that despite the gathering pressure, Knight swept Wellington immaculately for four, immediately post that potentially key dismissal. Wilson then joined her and joined in with the essential urgency, making a timely 18 before holing out to Wyatt in the deep. Luff cannot sustain the momentum, though and goes, off the glove, bringing in another ‘Overseas’, Deepti Sharma.

Sharma is a fine, international player who has been twiddling her bat for two months; barely required as Storm stormed. Now, she and her skipper have proper work to do.

I thought for two or three overs that Sharma looked out of nick. But she, alongside her increasingly imperious, captain, accumulated runs. They had to. Quickly.

Knight got to fifty. She played what I described as the shot of the day, cracking an absurdly sweet cover drive to the boundary. She was absolutely on it, finding that almost dreamlike focus, staying in there, quietly relentless.

From the blog:

You feel that if Knight stays there, Storm get this. And I reckon she knows that.

Knight hit three towering, lusty,

boomtastic sixes on the way to 78 not out and to the trophy. There was or there became something of a Stokes-level of inspiration, of capture-of-destiny about the proceedings. (Knight doesn’t hit that many sixes – she’s ‘not that powerful’. But she found a way; reinvented herself; had no choice).

It was a Captain’s Knock… and then some. It was remarkable, in that it was initially shockingly unlikely and then in terms of its gathering brilliance. She defied. She clonked. She led.

I hope to god Knight actually loved it, in the moment. Because it soared, entertained and vindicated… and proofed her utterly against doubt and against The Doubters. And it’s hard to know what Heather is actually thinking: I hope there was scope for enjoyment – during as well as after.

It was, in a joyous and electrifying way, cricket and drama of the very finest variety. It scoffed at the very idea that Heather – the athlete, the champion, the leader – might be in any sense bland. How sensational that sport can do that? How gratifying that quality sometimes tells?

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.

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.

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.