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.

 

 

 

And now they’re gonna believe me.

World Cup Winners. Not a phrase us sporty-peeps are all that used to. Mainly because our media and our heads are dominated by footie – by the epic failure of England. England Men. In football. In World Cups or Europeans.

But who cares about them?  Certainly I care waaaay less than I once did.  Let me dispatch that whole industry of trauma with a flourish, with some disdain, with a few bullet-points.

I care less because;

  • of politico-philosophical stuff about disassociating myself from the Posh South of England
  • because of the rank dishonesty and/or meanness of spirit/anti-sportness football wallows in
  • (but much more importantly) because other sports and other kinds of people seem better. More entertaining; more fun; more worthy(?) of our support.

Post the 2012 Olympics magnificent, generous, friendly, articulate athletes – proper humans who could talk engagingly even though they were world stars – lit up the footie-player-heavy universe.  They were lovely as well as gobsmackingly talented.  They were real and rounded.

Fast forward or maybe re-wind just a few days.  Focus (finally, yes?) on a particular sex. Throw your arms around or share the joy around Anya S, Sarah T, Heather Knight and that daft bugger Dani Wyatt with her twitter and her Proper Sense of Humour!

Read the backstories about shared houses and shared disappointments or challenges. Get the whole idea that there’s been a tough revolution going on – one where these tremendous women have been through major, testing stuff.  And now look at them.  Listen.  Get to know them.  This is England Cricket.  These are our World Cup Winners.  How great is that?

I need to acknowledge coupla things.  Firstly, I’m a dumb bloke.  Secondly, there are people who think this dumb bloke is as bad as the rest of them: somewhere on that patronising/sexist/misogynist spectrum.  Meaning I should be keeping my mouth shut.

I’m not going to because I know (actually) that I try pret-ty hard to be careful and reasonable with what I say… and I know however flawed I may be I am genuinely committed to some vague-ish but powerfully-felt ideas about equality.  I’ll get stuff wrong but as a geezer and a coach I do not entirely lack political sensitivity and do try to make things better.

By that I mean specifically supporting women and girls into cricket – or in cricket.  Apologies for the digression.

England’s World Cup win is a gift as well as a wonderful moment, a triumph.  The manner of victory was intoxicating and gut-churning and all those things that characterise truly fabulous sport.  It was unbelievable, dream-like, horrendous, glorious, daft, moving, nerve-shredding.  The actual match was extraordinary and captivating.

So the drama – the sport – was as magical as sport can be be but the levels of interest and coverage also went off the scale in a way that must surely mark a new phase; ‘just the start of the story’ as described by the outstanding Ebony Rainford-Brent.  Cricket needed that, the universe needed that and we Community Cricket Coaches needed that to really move things forward.

This is what’s exciting.  I hope it doesn’t sound too worryingly cynical if it feels like we all – not just those of us work in cricket – have to use this.  It’s BIG.  BIGGER THAN CRICKET. I’ll not wade into the wider debates just now but I do hope there will be an unstoppable energy around this event, feeding into rilly profound developments ‘elsewhere’.

I personally have been enthusing folks for bats and balls and stuff for about ten years. For the last four, for a living.  I am absolutely clear that us Cricket Wales coaches (who spend much of our times in Primary Schools and clubs) have actively set out to make girls feel like this is their game.  The argument can certainly be made that we could have done more but one of the central messages we’ve been trying to put out there is exactly that: girls, you can do this – it’s yours!

We in the Community Team run what we call cricket assemblies, generally alongside or in the middle of a series of school cricket sessions.  The centrepiece of these assemblies tends to be a shortish video, supplied to us by Chance to Shine, the treble-fabulous cricket charity, one of our sponsors.

I very often bring out a film that was made a few years back, showing India winning a World Cup, amongst other buzztastically uplifting cricket-scenes.  The presentation (bit concerned about that word, in fact) features a Jesse J soundtrack and the challenge is laid to the teacher and/or learning assistant to name the singer and the song – Domino.

I encourage the kids to sing along and if the hwyl with the staff is good to ‘dance around a bit’.  If the teachers get the points for identifying the singer/song then the kids get unholy amounts of points for knowing the words.

We have a bit of fun and maybe a quiz or a relatively ‘educational’ discussion around what we’ve seen.  Which countries were playing?  Recognise anybody – any flags?  I big up the notion that cricket can feel like this then I always ask a few of the girls present

was it all blokes?’  (The film has clips of England Women in action).

When the girls say ‘NO!’  I ask the class

who’s the best team we’ve got?

A question that throws them, admittedly but soon enough the lads start saying Chelsea, Manchester Utd, Swansea, or Scarlets or Ospreys.  I let them shout them out and we have a giggle or two around that – especially, obvs, at the Chelsea fan’s expense.

I then tell everybody that there’s a very strong argument that the best and most successful team we have (acknowledging the brilliance of our cyclists and rowers, maybe) might really be England (and Wales!) Women’s Cricket side.  Because a) they are right up there on the world stage b) because they do win things.

I’ve been saying this fairly convincingly for four years. Now, these classes – these girls – are gonna believe me.

I will again look them in the eye and say

girls. This is your game. Cricket is a fan-tastic game… and it’s yours every bit as much as it’s mine… or his… or his.

Bristol-bound.

Who knows why, exactly, England were intent on Bristol? All the talk was of staying there – to the point where those of us born north of Filton (or Watford) feared a further outbreak of naff regionalism. What’s wrong with Derby, people?

Whatever the mindset, or the prejudice, or the preference for south-west softiedom, in the final group game Heather Knight’s Mainly Blue Army secured their stay in the artsy, freewheeling, café-rich capital of Almost Cornwall via another emphatic win.

Emphatic in the end.

The game v W Indies had gotten rather stuck, firstly when England’s batting spluttered and stalled, secondly when the opposition – kinda weirdly – forgot the object is to get runs, even when under pressure. England coasted in, towards the semi’s, towards more Bristol, as West Indian eyes glazed over in quiet submission.

Hang on, now. This under-appreciates both the fact of England topping the table come the end of the group stage and the level of their superiority (particularly in the field?) against Taylor, Dottin and co. However there may be concerns about how England batted against spin: if the West Indies had generated any kind of momentum with the bat, the spells when Fletcher’s legspin traumatised the English might have been pivotal. Ultimately, they were not.

The end-of-group-stage report, then, is stamped with a B+. Robinson’s developing posse are ahead of expectation but with a little work to do: that’s what things point to.

But let’s extrapolate around this presumption/expectation thing. One of the great things about tournaments – about sport – is surely the fabulous rich nonsense about form? About ‘the place you’re in’ as a team or player. About predictivity and quality surplanting or expressing their superiority over the now.

England, even an England who may believe in Process, not Pressure, will of course will be preparing towards A* in order to win this thing. Take care of, indeed treasure, respect, groom and perfect the process and the results tend to take care of themselves. This is the contemporary mantra, right?

Okaaay, get that but what if the knockout matches get scratchy or messy or weather-affected or fall into that mildly nauseous listlessness ‘cos somebody just can’t make it happen? Impossible (arguably) to entirely prepare for wobbly underachievement or nerve-jangled looseners flung two feet down leg. By humans.

C+ really might do it; in today’s semi against the South Africa they smashed for 370-odd against earlier; in the final beyond. Maybe?

That previous meeting – a boomathon where both sides carted the ball to the boundary with what you would imagine was confidence-building glee – will register, naturally. Player X will remember Player Y’s slower ball, or the way they shift early in the crease. Stuff will be learnt. But how great that sport won’t let it be the same, today: that the learning might be unlearned or mean nothing?

I take my seat behind the bowler’s arm at the Ashley Down Road End and reflect that in almost every sense England are ‘ahead on points’… but so what?

Bristol is fine. The outfield is lush green, with the odd pock-mark. It’s 70-odd degrees, at 10a.m. You’d say it’s a batting day and sure enough, South Africa, having won the toss, opt that way. Likely they think the track should be decent and relatively benign but may offer their spinners something in the second dig.

Brunt to open up for England. Fine leg & deep third man. Poor start – first ball raw & down leg – despatched. A wide, later. Nine off the over and not much encouragement.

Shrubsole. Touch of inswing? Retrieves things with a great over.

Brunt settles. Fuller. Beats the bat. 13 for 0 off 3.

Shrubsole continues in exemplary fashion.  Deservedly gets her woman in the fourth but… successful review from SA. No matter; she bowls Lee in the fifth. I punch the following into my notes.

Make no mistake. Shrubsole is quality. Superb, controlled spell.

Nothing, meanwhile, has happened for Brunt. Been okay but she’s frustrated. End of her fourth over she hacks at the crease with her boot.

33 for 1 off 9. 41 for 1 at 10 (first powerplay). England would surely settle for that? Few boundaries, South Africa closer to timid than watchful.

Enter Sciver. Competent. Enter Marsh. Flighty offspin – nice. Then drops one tad short. Punished.

Chetty is sharply stumped by Taylor off Sciver. We’re at 48 for 2 in the 12th, with Eng quietly dominant; young Wolvaardt cool and enviably composed but simply too passive.

We let out our first, synchronised Munchian cry as the opener tries to break out by clumping Hartley but instead offers an obvious c&b which the bowler simply isn’t sharp enough to take. Clanger.

South Africa get to 100 for 2 in the 26th.

Knight steps forward and immediately makes things happen – good and bad. Wolvaardt plays round one that barely deviates (125 for 3 in the 32nd) then the skipper drops the incoming bat next ball… but Kapp is run out in any case in the same over. Deep breath and it’s 126 for 4.

A word about the fielding. Over the whole piece it was consistently goodish but again there were poorish drops and occasionally sluggish movement – maybe particularly when a full-on dive was called for.

Into the second powerplay and it feels faaar too quiet from a South African point of view. Brunt is now bowling to her level, mixing it up. 158 for 4 at 40 feels under-par and the lack of will to accelerate feels unwise. First six of the innings comes in the 41st. (I believe, incidentally, that England struck none. Go check?)

Gunn gets a regulation c&b in the 42nd. At 170 for 6, with the runrate close to 4, on this pitch, in real heat, the consensus around me is that this is inadequate. Du Preez makes 50 but off 86 balls: it seemed too slow.

The reply. Winfield steers a four through the covers first over. Ismail second & fourth overs; fluent, athletic, to be respected. England watchful, knowing steady should see them through.

Kapp finds a decent rhythmn at t’other end. Finds the edge too but a sharp chance is dropped by the keeper. Just me, or is Winfield looking a tad wooden? 19 for 0 off 4.

Then things get a bit loose from the visitors: wides bowled down leg from Kapp, no-balls – meaning free-hits – from Ismail. Winfield takes her opportunities and suddenly England are at six-plus an over, significantly ahead.

Against the flow of it – although not entirely out of character for her innings – Winfield slashes rather lazily to gift South Africa a way back in. Caught, skied. Enter Taylor, who announces herself with a beautifully steered cover drive. 52 for 1 after 10.

Beaumont has been mixed; she is bowled Khaka on a slightly scratchy 15.

First spin in the 16th – Van Niekirk. With Taylor and Knight beginning to settle the legspinner may need to have some impact. She is controlled, in the main but no obvious threat. The experienced English pair move untroubled to 87 for 4 after 20.

Out of the blue, Knight offers an ultra-sharp chance to the keeper, off Khaka. Again not taken. Second leggie Luus is now on from the Pavillion End. Little bit of slow turn but England are (reasonably enough) playing circumspect cricket – meaning the rate of scoring has slowed a little. 100 up for 2 in the 24th.

The drift persists. The crowd become aware of the dangers implicit in England sitting on this. Ultimately the batters seem to recognise the same and look to lift the tempo, before the impressive Taylor is rather frustratingly run out on 54.

What had seemed prudent begins to seem indecisive – foolish even. Khaka’s figures (announced to some applause) of 10 overs 2 for 28 do seem more a result of lack of dynamism from England than brilliant bowling, in truth.

After 30, England are a mere 2 runs ahead. Low-grade tension broils.

Now Luus bowls an awful over but Knight inexplicably carts a full toss straight to square leg. Eng are proferring a game where it seemed there should or would be none.

Inevitably, Sciver is bowled and suddenly Eng are 146 for 5, with Brunt and Wilson new to the crease. Meaning Pressure.

A fluxxy, flashy, inconclusive period finds us at 170 for 5 off 41, with 5.5 needed per over. This is a game – a proper tense competitive one, now. A knockout.

South Africa have gone with 7-2 or 6-3 fields over these key overs. It’s worked because England have neither been brave enough to dance and pick a spot legside nor skilled enough to hit through the offside masses. When Brunt is bowled for a disappointingly subdued 12, England look in trouble. Is there a grandstand finish, or nervy calamity in the offing? And what did I say about fabulous nonsense?

Van Niekirk rings the changes every over – boldly and clearly with some success. But a possibly disoriented Kapp (a zillion changes of end) bowls two consecutive wides as Eng profit during the 45th. We’re into the excruciating, brilliant, cruel, seemingly too-directionless-to-result-in-anything end-game.

6 needed. Gunn and Wilson look to be bringing Engalnd home but then Wilson gets unnecesarily cute -scoops behind.

Last over. Can’t talk or write. Marsh bowled! 2 needed. Lols like you wouldn’t believe… and in comes Shrubsole.

A connection. 4. A game that almost got stuck violently coughs out the final drama. World Cup Final, for England.  Wonderful, messy, exhausting sport. Congratulations. C+.

 

Postscript; because I have time, unusually; because I’m a dumb bloke writing about women.

C+ sounding a bit mean? Got there because at that extraordinary end, my second thought was how Robinson might view things. (First thought was WHOOOOPPPEEE!!, by the way). I reckon he’d be ecstatic, relieved and furious.

Ecstatic and relieved to be in the final – to have achieved and possibly over-achieved(?) But also furious at some errors and I’m guessing particularly at the drift when his side batted. Robinson will know that Taylor’s excellence was nearly frittered away because his side lacked dynamism… when surely this is the one thing he has looked for?

England are morphing swiftly and encouragingly towards the athletic, skilled excellence underpinned by positivity that their coach and the world-game demands of them. In Bristol they won a gut-churningly outstanding victory without convincing us that they’re where they wanna be yet. That’s fine. The revolution – the chase – goes on.