Warming up, with the Bharat Army.

Have seen India live – i.e. their cricket team(!) – a few times, now. Always fun. Yesterday no different, in that respect.

So happened that five minutes after I chose my seat in the Cathedral Road Stand (under the Media Centre, behind the bowlers arm), The Most Charismatic & Photogenic Indian Superfan came and sat down next to me.

Meaning if you saw some weirdly incongruous, tanned but unmistakably white bloke on the telly or on ‘insta’, next to the man with The Face & The Conch… well that was me. Sorry. If I photobombed any or all of the zillion selfies that the magnificently generous Bharat Army icon endured, I apologise. I sought nothing – was merely there in the first place.

My day then, was all about that happy coincidence. Rolling with the flags and the Bharat Army vibe. Reflecting now – and at the risk of patronising folks I simply don’t know – it was great. I expect it will be one of the highlights of my summer. Funny people, utterly charming people, Proper Cricket People. A refreshing, uplifting experience in the context of a currently depressing racial-political context. Thank you, guys.

Here’s how the *actual match* seemed…

 

Indian Superfan. Drawn to me, in an uncanny, unspoken non-ritual. Or maybe just wants, like me, to sit straight behind the bowler’s arm. Either way, he makes me look painfully pallid in every respect, what with his strikingly extravagant face-art. But inside… we are one. 😉

Cardiff. Coolish and both bright and cloudy. There’s a rain delay, after about four balls. More folks joining us, under the Media Centre, opposite the river. Including two ver-ry cool-looking guys who are (it turns out) Bharat Army hierarchy. I wonder about interviewing them but frankly bottle it.

The ball, meanwhile seems barely to be deviating despite that early cloud, rain. Some green in the pitch – and one goes through low – but no bowlers’ paradise, here. That how this World Cup’s gonna be? That how the white ball is? Just mainly hit through it: things may be difficult to time just now but reckon once you’re in…

Kohli, in soon enough, is fortunate very early on – edges through slips. Rohit, opposite, is similar in terms of relative discomfort.

A slow start, then and it’s one of those conflicting occasions where it’s hard to put your finger in what it is that’s so difficult but evidently, this is not easy for the batsmen. There is barely a timed aggressive shot in first ten overs.

Kohli gets through, having offered more than one ‘chance’ via the vacant first slip corridor: he looks almost human, today. He is bowled on 47.

13.30 and a Dhoni six over midwicket. Crowd full-throated, now. (Incidentally, had first thought the Indian mums/grans/daughters quota noticeably bigger than for the England equivalent…but maybe not).

But – sitting amongst them – there is that lovely, enthusiastic, engaged, 3-generations thing going on with the Indian support. Plus the most delightfully polite exchange of “excuse mes” as people trundle apologetically across your line of view or nudge past your beleaguered knees. Great fans.

176 for 4 after 32 (at the second drinks break). Rahul – like Kohli hardly fluent, earlier – has found a way to 68 not out.

200-up in the 36th. 37th & Dhoni explodes. Impudent swipe behind square for four, violent clonk over mid-on for six. Crowd loving it; he is plainly the Other God.

94 metre club-sweep from Dhoni immediately follows the milestone. He & Rahul looking comfortable, now, finally. Score could go VERY BIG, you sense, if they want it.

Mid-afternoon and somehow reassurring and appropriate to see Dhoni batting in a cap. Still moving pretty well, but *does look* like the clubbiest kind of god – also reassuringly.

Rahul goes to 88 with another edge – flailing somewhat, outside off. No slip, no catch.

Spin bowling for Bangladesh feels mixed – neither penetrative nor restrictive, particularly. On another day, they’re going at 20 an over. However their left-arm quick is admirably ardent, in the 41st. Sharp, committed.

Rahul bowled somewhat behind his legs, for 108. Good rather than majestic, today; appreciation and excitement, as this brings in Hardik Pandya.

Okaaay, it’s kindof a friendly but Bangladesh fielding has been ordinary. Dhoni profits from some dilatory stuff at mid-off; moves to 79 in the 45th. Hundred very much there if he wants it.

A brilliant fielder (unlike Liton, by the looks) might have him at long on, moments later. Tough chance lips out.

Some prolonged erm, drama as Hardik is cleared on review, after it became clear the ball pitched outside leg.

After 48 overs, Ind have 327 for 6, with Dhoni facing on 99. Boom. Straight drive, for six, into the river!

Dhoni, sumptuous in those later overs, is eventually bowled for 113. Jadeja fills his boots (as it were) by contributing a swift 11 as India finish on 359 for 7. Think Bangladesh have used 9 bowlers.

All things considered? India good, plainly, but 400 good? 400 to-win-against-somebody-really-tasty good? Not sure about that. Two centurions here but still 350 felt a touch lite. Could be the whole warm-up scenario but #CWC19 will likely demand early and sustained dynamism, if not outright violence.

India start their defence of the total with two slips, to Shami. Bumrah – whom I’ve come to watch – bowls the second over, wheeling and lashing.

Liton and Soumya cope. It would figure that batting conditions might be a tad more favourable, what with bright skies and a drying breeze now, and this is generally confirmed, during the first phase of the reply.

However, in his second over, Bumrah bowls an absolute peach – fiery, bouncy but not that short – which zips through where that second slip had been. 31 for 0 after 4.

There’s something richly appealing about an action as distinctive as Bumrah’s. That stalking; that skipping; the exaggerated uncurling. It’s not beautiful – quite – but it’s really him… and it’s quick. I really like that he doesn’t look like he’s ever been significantly tampered with by some coach.

At the other end, Shami is also putting it in, with little reward. 36 for 0 after 7. In the field the intensity and quality does feel a notch higher than an hour or two ago.

Whistles, in the sunshine. Real shiny whistles, Indian whistles, cajoling rather than cat-calling. Non-stop virtually; telling the lads that we’re with them. Children, mainly. Somewhere between charming… and harmless.

Eventually, Bumrah’s sheer energy and persistence pays off. Soumaya caught behind of something that *just lifts* again. 49 for 1.

Wow. He follows that up with a magnificent, druggy, slower-ball(?) yorker that irresistibly rushes the base of the stumps. Fabulous. Shakib must defend the hat-trick ball. Wide of off.

After 13, Bangladesh are at 62 for 2, with the game poised, progressing but by no means aflame. Goodish crowd, with the heavily-outnumbered Bangladeshis now vocal – and sunshine.

At the Powerade Hydration Break 🤷🏻‍♂️ (15 overs) , we have moved on to 74 for 2.

In bright, late-afternoon sunshine, Dhoni is keeping in sub-Steve McQueen shades and no cap. 100-up, for 2, in the 20th. Lukewarm: we wait. And wait.

150 for 2 off 27, with Jadeja on from the River End. Looking easy for the batsmen, who are beginning to lift the tempo and the Bangladeshi contingent. Still low-key but a friendly-competitive finish seems entirely feasible.

Jadeja reaching high with that left hand of his, then bowling flightless, sharpish and full. Chahal offering something rounder and loopier at the other end. Keeping the lid on this, currently.

Good, long chat with Rakesh from the Bharat Army. They’re now quite a mob – a business, in fact, with more than 11,000 fans booked through them for the upcoming Cricket World Cup. Bright, capable bloke; tells me they have staff in several countries dealing with travel, tickets, merchandise etc. Wish them well – feel under-qualified to *actually join* but…

At 191 for 5, off 36, it feels like India’s greater variety and quality of spin bowling may be telling. Though maybe not by much. Until Kuldeep Yadav’s left-arm leggies suddenly take over.

(At this point – another two-in-two – the Bharat Army hoiked up a giant banner, occluding the *actual playing surface* for some minutes. So an announcement: normal service will be resumed when the flag is lowered)…

When I emerge, it’s 216 for 8. (Did hear another roar). And a steward is insisting on the Army rolling up the banner. He is polite rather than officious, roundly, comically booed… but obeyed. We move on, in more sunshine, with the game surely now won.

I note that as so often, it is leg-spin that has gripped and turned the drama, here – batsmen having rarely been genuinely troubled by the seamers, save for a moment or three of real quality from Bumrah. Bangladesh need 130 from the last five overs… and here come the quicks to see them off.

They don’t, in fact. Chahal has Shaif slicing tamely to gully  – 262 for 9 – then Jadeja will bowl the last.

There have been three two-in-two’s in the innings, which maybe characterises the rather bitty nature of the Bangladeshi batting, today. Could be that this is how #CWC19 may be, for them – occasional glory, general disappointment?

No further score is added before a scrambled & reviewed runout brings the match to a close. Words for today? Good-natured, ‘sunny’, affable, enjoyable. Very cricketty -in a warm-up kindofaway.

Spitting and Swearing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The drums.

You know it’s India when you hear the drums. In this case, when you hear them in Cardiff, at 3.45p.m. for the 5.30 start, against England, in what we (Brits) might think were punishingly hot conditions. Drums and dancing outside the gates; like some wonderfully naive, inadequately-warlike festival-thing, which has started worryingly early, given the weather. I’ll have what they’re drinking.

Alan Wilkins. Out there interviewing Nasser and pumping his book, at the base of the media stairs. Accomplished and immaculately groomed – Alan, not the stairs. Although the stairs are well looked-after enough, I guess. 4.13 p.m.

4.30-odd. Activity. Everywhere. Lots of people in a Media Centre that I know through some experience is often empty; drills and footie malarkey out there on the outfield, which looks dry and quick but which is showing the drainage-patterns, slightly disconcertingly, when seen from high up in our glassy eyrie. People coming in.

Close to 5 p.m. and we learn that England have won the toss and will bowl: cue the vigorous fielding drills in front of us. Hales, notably takes a couple of really testing skiers from Farbrace right against the boundary: smart, controlled work.

I’m watching a fair amount of live cricket – mainly internationals. I’m slightly fascinated by how slowly and late the stadia tend to fill up (assuming they are going to be full). At 5.15 – just a quarter of an hour in old money before some of the world’s best batsmen face our finest, most awetastic bowlers and the seats are about a third full. Weird. There are giant flags, there are anthems… and we have a game. Willey will open to Rohit Sharma. Second ball flies through, with decent carry. Great start from the bowler, just the one conceded.

Ball is next up, from the River End, where, until a few seconds ago, smoke was rising hynotically from immediately outside the ground. Mercifully it’s gone before the batsman take issue or stance. However Rohit is caught skying a top edge after a drive for four and India are 7 for 1 as Willey begins the third.

It’s another solid over. Guessing somebody on the coaching staff is muttering (or bellowing) ‘GREAT EXECUTION!!

Dhawan trots past Ball on the way through to an easy single.  Seems about a foot between them – hilarious. Then my fielding legend Hales allows the first pull in anger past him, Sunday League style, for four and the crowd behind him reveals its vociferous Indianness.

Shortly after the diminutive Dhawan seems overwhelmed by the size of the bat – shockingly failing to carry and slide it in during a scamper for safety. Daft sod’s out. ‘Absolute village’ cries a renowned journo to my left.

It doesn’t get much better for India, as Rohit swings and misses at Plunkett – on first view missing by a mile, as the ball scoots merrily into the off stick. The visitors are suddenly 23 for 3 off 5.

The pitch is unquestionably livelier – fairer, maybe – than tracks here in Cardiff tend to be. Plunkett and Ball and Willey sending it through with some venom, meaning limited aggression, so far, from the batsmen. With India at 36 for 3 after 7, even the god Kohli is playing relatively watchfully: he and Raina have to rebuild.

I’m rather liking the non-explosive nature of all this, to be honest. After 10, India are 52 for 3, with Kohli on 14 and his partner Raina on 16. Virat, sensing the need to lift the boom quotient, smashes Rashid through midwicket before offering a cruelly hard diving catch to Roy out at long on.

Roy can only spill the ball for six. Raina responds by despatching Ball over midwicket and the momentum swing is both striking and exhilirating. The ground – now almost full – has come alive.

Raina is comprehensively beaten by Rashid’s googly and is easily stumped by Buttler. Meaning (or feeling like) Kohli might need to bat through and remind the universe of his greatness. Dhoni has joined him: half us wonder if we are dreaming; Kohli? Dhoni? Cardiff? Delirious sunshine?!? Wow.

After 14, India are 89 for 4, suggesting this is a 150/160 pitch not a 200 pitch. Let’s see. Dhoni whip-thrashes Rashid through midwicket with real violence, for four, to re-announce the urgency, here.

In the 18th, Kohli swats Willey down to fine leg, where Root takes a tough catch coolly. Good stuff from Willey – arrowing these in consistently and with good control. His four overs have cost only 18. In comes Pandya.

Did I mention it’s a lovely evening?

Jordan bowls a couple of beautiful yorkers but Pandya eventually absolutely launches one back, straight, for a much-needed maximum. Ball will bowl the final over with England a) pleased to have bowled first and b) surely ahead of the game, unless… unless.

Dhoni plays mainly tennis shots but grabs a lump of runs as his side get to 148 for 5 at the close. Perfect.

Yadav to Roy. Second ball contemptuously dismissed to the midwicket boundary: 14 from the over. *Statement*.

First thought was the bowler didn’t look as sharp as ours – Ball and Willey and Plunkett all got more lift. Second thought, dead right to go after this aggressively.

Kumar, from the River End, is less accommodating to the batsmen. Without alarm though, England are 16 for 0 off two.

And then Yadav bowls Roy. Looked quicker, was killer length. Root comes in – interestingly.

Buttler plays a beaut of a forward defensive – barely pushing – which rolls out for four between the bowler and long off. Might be the shot of the night, for all its ease. Proper Cricket, with just the occasional biff, should see England home, you would think?

Oof. Kohli puts down Buttler, who drove straight at him. The Indian skip had to jump but is rightly furious he spilled it: village… or rather *hu-man*.

Absurdly, Buttler absolutely repeats the shot, this time with a different result. Kohli catches and runs thirty yards in a spunky, crowd-conscious fury. Amaazingly, the Indian support lap it up, noisily. Hales joins Root and lifts Pandya for an encouraging four to get England to 42 for 2 off 6. The crowd, as they say, are ‘in’.

Some variety now, from Chahal. He bowls Root, swooshing rather crassly across towards square leg: game on.

Here’s a thing. There’s barely been a stroke of violence, from England and nobody’s connected with a reverse sweep or other new-fangled wotsit. In other words, the batsmen are having to earn their living – which is great, no? England on 55 for 3 after 10.

K Yadav starts with an absolute pie, which Hales misses out on – probably not believing his luck. Then the left arm legspinner asks a few questions. There are two big appeals in the over, the second being reviewed.

Eventually it’s confirmed as not out, the ball striking the pad outside the line and missing. We’re really not seeing huge turn but the batsmen are both scratching around – until Hales nails Chahal for six over cow corner. England’s number ten backs this up with a lovely, cheeky kiss down to third man for four more. Nice. 72 for 3 off 11.

Morgan joins the party with his first strike over the top, easing it to the river; four more. Hales trumps that with a monster drive out of the ground and into that same river. He goes to 32.

Arguably the Moment of the Game as Dhawan catches Morgan. In the deep, shuffling and adjusting, before genuinely leaping and contorting to clasp the ball tight; triumphantly tight. Half the stadium rises – and I don’t think they were all supporting the team in blue. Fabulous.

On the downside for India, this brings in Bairstow.

The quality of the evening has transformed, as it does. Most of the outfield is now in deep shadow, with the players balcony looking (yaknow) British and the stand opposite positively Mediterranean.

England need 46 from 30 balls so this is still beautifully poised. And the crowd are still in. Boundaries must be struck.

Pandya charges in again from the River End and surprises Bairstow with a sharp lifter.  Then another – short but perfectly legit. Later in the over it’s noticeable that Kohli is having words woth the ump again and the fella looks a tad mizz; in fact they both do. The body language speaks of strongish irritation.

Bairstow stems the chat by sweeping Yadav beautifully and easily for six to square leg, taking England to 117. Then he does it again, this time over Kohli at midwicket. Huge – maybe match-defining? (I think) England need 23 from 3 overs.

But Bairstow goes, swinging straight to deep fine leg. Wow. This is gonna be close. England 126 for 5, after 17.1. Again the Indian support owns the stadium.

Hales needs the strike but Willey scuffs it for one. The target is 20 from 2 overs. Suddenly steepish. Willey tries to get off strike with a tipitandrun… but fails. Important. Hales now, under real pressure, must go big.

Yadav bowls three superb yorkers (or more!) and the game feels done. Except no. Hales squeezes another one out to the mid-off boundary. Morgan’s Suddenly Beatable Posse will need 12 off the last!

Hales puts the first in the river. 6 from 5.

A skiddy clip to fine leg is a further four. Un-be-lievable. A single leaves Willey with 1 needed off 3. Fantastic, fantastic game.

He bundles Kumar to leg… for four.

Excellent contest in a really boisterous-in-a-good-way bowl of a stadium – felt great. Congratulations to both sides and to the crowd, too, they really did contribute to the night’s entertainment. The Indian fans do take all this to another level; hope they enjoyed it.

The Learning? (Again), Sophia Gardens may not have the romance of some of the other test/international grounds but its environment does: that walk, that river, that park. The fanzone and the general ambience/hosting is top level.

Hales can (because he did) mightily execute, against the very best, under the most acute pressure. England are straining for a peak; it’s only right that even players who may actually be ( as it were) sherpas can storm to the summit. Well done him – that six in the last over was a gorgeous, stunning, redemptive moment.

Finally, the drums, the carnival, the Indians. Overwhelmingly good-natured; delightfully cricket-daft.