Fun with Space and Time.

When I watched Moeen cart the Windies for 61 off 14 deliveries in Bristol and Gayle smash Ball in Southampton, the sense that something wonderfully unavoidable had happened was unavoidable. Admittedly we were in silly season – Ingerland in the autumn, with the visitors surely neck-deep in thermals – but did this account, in any way, for the co-bubbling of fate and freakishness? I think not.

In both cases I was privileged to be right behind the unlucky bowlers’ arms – behind the lustrous glass of the Media Centre – having mildly subverted the seating plan so as to maximise the seeing-and-explaining quotient: hopefully. Lil’ ole brilliant me, easing my way into that totemic roost to savour, discern, dismantle and demystify the event better than everybody, because I have The View That Makes This Possible.

Don’t hold your breath, people.

I’m not exactly sure where the respective coaches were, during these timeless, chartless, thrillingly renegade moments. I’m guessing either raising a discreet hipflask or patting cold, co-old water against their ashen cheeks, depending on their batting/receiving status. Or lost, fumbling for some cosmic but transferable truth. Something in the moment lurched or levered us towards dumb, ecstatic diversions – but from where, or to where?

Slap! Time bent! Kaboom! Things redefined. Now fetch that ball please?

I’m wondering about fields of influence, here: also – what were the coaches thinking? And were these developments actually developments – from what did they actually spring?

But back to the coaches. Were they exploding in rage at the mind-boggling, plan-defying incompetence of their miserable, ungrateful pie-chuckers… or (miraculously) doing some eye-rolling, centre-testing ce sera? Were they even watching – could they watch it all through live – or did they slink off, sighing, accepting or determined, towards their branded lap-tops?

Actually, they may have made notes – I’m sure they did – on every ball punished; this being the difference between the level they work at and most of us.

Sure, later, foolish to rule out a secretive flick through the ECB/WICB manuals in search of half-remembered buttresses around Player Ownership: paragraph six, Problem Solving – down to them. Or meetings where nothing was said.

Dealing with the runaway moment is a profoundly philosophical challenge: the coach might recall and indeed be comfitted by this widely accepted notion – that players must execute, must own, must accept that ‘coaching is not about answering’. It’s players who do the playing.

Bayliss or Farbrace or Radford or Simmons or Springer or Law, Estwick or Einstein. Excuse the pun but no matter – no matter whom: each and every one useless, hopeless, atomised – as were we all – irrelevant, in the warp of the event. Moeen decided what would happen. As did Gayle.

The England man was in a rich vein of form, which helps. He is a beautiful striker of the ball but in interview after the Bristol game, claimed not to see himself as a bringer of undeniable, match-winning carnage.

Grounded, humble, Moeen is good on the self-awareness front; he knows he tends to be a threat of the groovicious variety; that he makes strokes more often than he explodes.

Initially, he was doing the day job, alongside Chris Woakes, England having revisited their tendency for gifting clutches of wickets: Moeen with that responsible head on, with an agreeably stoic partner, quietly rescuing.

Looking back, the fact that the word ‘circumspect’ was used in the press to describe how Ali’s subsequently historically outrageous innings began, seems appropriately ludicrous. Thirty-nine in thirty-nine balls, as rebuild mode was dutifully engaged, following the about-par-for-England loss of three wickets for eleven runs.

At Southampton a few days later I again found my way into the perfect spot, by now slightly curious as to why other, senior scribes seem so ambivalent towards magisterial stump-to-stump-hood; when it seems a denial of the most fundamental privilege to be seated anywhere else.

(I pictured either a ruthless policing of the accommodation or some Media Cool that I am as yet unaware of. Turns out that most journos simply watch reasonably well… but then turn to the TV screens left and right to check for turn, appeals, seam, etc. Hope I never lose the naïve compulsion to froth from on high, straight, straight in line).

Windies batted first at the Ageas; meaning some bloke called Gayle. Meaning also a fabulous test for the likes of Ball and Curran – the latter making his debut. However, it was the taller-bouncier former who opened up, almost certainly in the knowledge that I was immediately above and behind, monitoring like a twitchy but medium-scholarly hawk.

Ball I hope won’t mind me saying that he is relatively inexperienced, at this level. In a curvaceous, duplicitous, space-bent universe the allegation that he had played, before this game, just the fifteen One-Day Internationals might pass for a fact. At the moment the inevitably altitudinous young man first raced in towards Gayle, I have to confess I was unaware of this number: I’m not that big on numbers.

I watched Ball intently and continued to do so, throughout his spells. Partly because this was an obvious test of how he is in the environment, partly because I was a bowler (at a distressingly lower level) and partly because the whole Ball equation here was loaded to the max with Gayleness.

Dear reader, it may not surprise you to learn that I am no scientist: and yet I do wonder. Especially when prompted (by my son) towards the deep, dark, black-holed mysteries personified and neatly packaged into the seminal ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’ – this being a sort of fine convenience store of a place where staggeringly heavy stuff can be swept trolley-wards in (ahem) relatively good time.

(Did you guess? I’ve been doing precisely this kind of shopping around now).

Consequently it occurs to me that there are correlations both broad and specific between the General Theory of Relativity and what Gayle and Moeen did. Let me deal with a specific one first.

Einstein proved time at height travels marginally more swiftly than time at sea-level. Ball is twelve foot seven. No wonder then, that his contribution in Southampton was shredded by Forces Beyond His Control.

I will return to this (probably) after sharing the following general observation, from the rear cover of Carlo Rovelli’s extraordinary book, as though it translates across, uniting in glorious revelation our Moeen/Ball/Gayle/Einstein Axes.

‘By God, it’s beguiling!’ – Michael Brooks, New Statesman.

The Ageas, first over. Ball to Gayle. Crowd keyed, batsman waiting. Nottinghamshire’s finest bounds in, puppyish but also committed. Repeatedly, the ball skits or pads pretty much exactly where the bowler would want. There is an incremental incidence void. Gayle defends, defends, before being comprehensively beaten by an absolute pearler – the fifth – which gets unplayably lively from that killer length. Then more justified caution – and a maiden.

Those of you who follow these things will of course know that Gayle, despite the reputation for vulcanism, is quite prepared (well-prepared, in fact) to wait. Tempting but reprehensible then, to assume that his nation as a whole or Gayle in particular may be preparation-averse, or in some way less sharp than England or Australia when it comes to planning. Just read around.

The West Indies have been ahead of the game. The carving folks about has been less ‘instinctive’ than you think. Gayle and Hope and Lewis are as stat-aware and marginal gains/run-rate savvy as anyone. As noted elsewhere, white-ball cricket has become their currency.

So maybe no dramas, for Gayle to simply hold, when the first over from Ball is commendably lively and accurate. The record will show that the Universe Boss can and will wait.

At The Ageas, the opening four overs from Ball and Curran yielded but nine runs to Hope and Gayle. The combination of goodish bowling and circumspection from the batsmen should on reflection have been neither the surprise nor minor disappointment it was received as. The crowd’s readiness for intensity was merely stalled.

Back at Bristol, Moeen’s gone beyond big. He’s gone beyond any previously-known ‘zone’. With the crowd utterly participant – and yet irrelevant, like the bowler, the moon and the stars – he follows some flow, ‘keeps his shape’, re-invents or slashes through to something new and deeper. Cummins and Holder merely feed the narrative.

Earlier, Cummins had bowled Root with a peach and seemed to be finding something. Yet Moeen dismissed him and his captain as though the Windies process was mindless. As though they weren’t scrambling through a repertoire of deeply considered defensive options – Death Bowling Brought Forward.

But what were or are the options? When there is very little help from that dull, white ball?

Laser-guided Yorkers, straight or wide. Variations. Taking some pace off, trying for some cut. Sudden venom; bluff. Percentages – knowing where Moeen is likely to hit – so field placement; then bowling to that field. Looking in-cred-ibly hard at the foot movement, reading the pre-meditation. In the age of T20 (and the laptop) international teams are covering and knowing this stuff like never before.

Anyone who has seen and heard Holder in interview will know his side are unlikely to be short of an intelligent voice. Yes, flusteration might have taken hold but there is time, between deliveries, for re-commitment to plans or discussion and re-focus.

Moeen smashed all of this consideration into the middle of next week. True, Root and Stokes may have been instrumental, in their partnership of 132, towards his stunning acceleration: had they not provided the platform, blah di blah. But the fella from Brum created his own event.

Things went pear-shaped for Ball but it was different. Or was it?

The universe knew that the longer its boss was forced to wait, the surer it was that boom-time would come. Somewhere something triggers and Gayle, miscuing, clubs one over midwicket before battering one straight for six. I note both that one delivery is clearly but marginally over-pitched and that there is an ‘utter energy change, irrespective’.

Curran is less heavily targeted. Ball retains the responsibility from beneath me but is heaved over extra, first delivery in the next, then top-edged for four. The plainly unfit Windies talisman has burst through to 40 (out of 52) by the end of the seventh over, dismissing the ball at will to the boundary.

Curran eventually has Gayle caught, superbly but in the finger-ends, by Plunkett.

Ball’s initial five over spell defies characterisation; he opened up brightly and with discipline and he may not have strayed far from that. The lines between him straying into the batsman’s natural arc and not were lost in the mercifully temporary evisceration. It felt, during the barrage, that the batsman (for it was a one-man assault) had simply chosen a moment from which to launch – as opposed to an individual, or individual delivery, to persecute.

Gayle’s was an all-out, conceptual explosion in the sense that every ball would receive the same brutal treatment with barely an ‘unless’ in sight.

This is not to entirely exonerate Ball. Though I liked his continued commitment and apparently unwavering spirit, he offered just a few here and there – and was punished, crazy-disproportionately at times, because.

With specialist knowledge and specialist coaching and the scope these days to practice almost endlessly the death (or power-play) skills, a worldie of a thrash might be expected, predicted and prepared for. Particularly, of course, when Christopher Henry Gayle is amongst the chief protagonists. Cricket provides for almost every indulgence.

Brathwaite knew a lot about what Stokes would do in that ecstatic car-crash in Kolkata – and vice-versa. Cummins and Holder are pret-ty familiar with Moeen and Ball with Gayle. Much has been anticipated and rehearsed. How fabulous that despite the wonders and luxuries of cricket science it can be true and real and undeniable, when bat is swung, that all considerations become an irrelevance.

Ball: 10 overs, 1 maiden, 1 for 94.

Gayle: 40 off 29.

Moeen Ali: 102 off 57.

Bright Side / Soar. Two posts, one Moeen.

BRIGHT SIDE.

Warm-ups. At the Brightside. England. Lots of high kness and dodging. Bowlers catching medi-balls and slamming, with some violence. Stokes choking Rashid playfully; apparently. Greyer than our friends at the Met Office promised.

Conflicting and building scene, then, at 10.20, with incoming punters carrying already that fear of incoming drizzle or depressingly fatal dollops – about three-ish, we now hear.

Across the ground from me, the West Indies, in their weirdly, unconvincingly kingfisher-blue trackies are jogging. Then hopping. Again, like their opponents, utterly directed. England turn to full-on footie.

It’s mid-competitive. Buttler scandalously holds Bairstow, like some brutal 70’s catenaccio, whilst Curran to-tally fluffs a routine cross. It’s fascinatingly ordinary – but clearly enjoyable.

As is the Windies equivalent – now going on directly across the square. I wonder about a challenge match between the two, with Stokes ab-so-lutely clattering *the player of his choice* into row C. Would be great.

The visitors win the toss and will bowl. Their fielding drills, come 10.38, are sharpish. Lots of skim-catches.

We start. Taylor gets some bounce and some away-swing, to Bairstow. Single leg-bye off the first. Then Holder, who really is a giant, in the flesh. Absurdly high hand means he extracts bounce even plopping it down – which he does, rather, first up. Third man and square leg the men out in the powerplay.

Early signs are for some life in the pitch; both quicks getting bounce,Taylor getting more shape. England in no hurry.

Taylor no-balls and immediately adjusts his bowling marker… before castling Hales… on the free hit. Bowling full – in the expectation of a little swing? – nearly pays dividends but Bairstow gets a streaky, uppish boundary past short cover. Good start from Taylor.

Hales miscues, hoiking Holder just over mid-on from high on the bat. Neither opener has really settled. Windies definitely ahead on points.

First plainly poor ball – short and wide from Holder – cut to the point boundary contemptuously by Hales; needed that.

In the fifth, still a hint of way swing for Taylor, if he goes very full: Holder had none. First half-tracker is the last ball of the over. Only 18 on the board. Thought strikes that England could be waaay out of this if Duckworth Lewis kicks in mid-afternoon.

Bairstow responds, by scampering to rotate things and by despatching a free hit over mid-on for six, but is caught off a leading edge, next ball, by the Windies skipper. In comes Root at 27 for 1. The man in the deep to leg goes behind square – to fine leg, in fact.

England’s finest plays and misses twice – genuinely – before clattering three fours. Hales belatedly joins in, as the momentum shifts a tad back towards England. A ver-ry tight-run second down to third man confirms the gear-change. Classic straight drive, off the suddenly hittable Taylor, by Hales emphasises the flip. England have spurted to 61 for 1 off 9.

Root, gathering in that quietly awesome way, surpasses Gooch’s record for the number of runs scored in an international summer. (Of course he does). After a very briefly uncertain start, he’s freed this up – freed up Hales, too. It’s bright, here, now and England are finding their flow.

Hilariously, Hales calls for a new bat as the Windies review a possible lb… on Hales. He’s out. Enter the under-pressure Morgan. Briefly. He is caught behind, first ball. (What were we saying about momentum shift to England?!?)

With Holder still bowling – and now fired–up – England are 74 for 3, in the 12th and the sun re-joins.

Stokes sprints impressively to make two and get off the mark but plays rather loosely out to point, without penalty. Then studiously presents the bat to Cummins and gets four past the bowler’s left hand. Looking good.

Perhaps should have mentioned the outfield: green and softish when I arrived, similar at noon. The ball hardly ‘racing away’.

Holder bowls seven overs straight and is still getting meaningful bounce. Plunkett may enjoy this.

Cummins looks deceptively sharp – something about that not-too-arsed-actually approach – but Root picks one up and it curls over fine leg for six. 101 for 3 after 14. Drinks.

Dramatic change-down as Bishoo comes on after the break; he escapes relatively unscathed.

Enter the off-spinner Nurse, for the 19th. Root and Stokes seem settled. Will they go after him? He’s going flattish, quickish but Stokes reverse-sweeps him through point’s hands for four. With both spinners on, there’s that fascinating energy-change: Root and Stokes play it pretty patiently, initially.

The former gets to yet another fifty in the 21st, without really opening up. You feel that’s coming, mind – especially with Stokes at the other end.

Not hugely impressed with Nurse, who’s getting no turn and asking very few questions. At least Bishoo seems to be driving Root back. Likewise with Stokes, until his patience gives and he smashes one straight for six. 145 for 3 after 22.

That sense of a dam about to burst is (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor?) mexican-waving itself around the ground. Both batsmen being hugely patient – or ‘responsible’. The innings hasn’t exactly stalled but with Stokes on mid-forties and Root past fifty, if I’m Bayliss/Farbrace I’m maybe looking for more, medium soon.

Again, Stokes reverse-sweeps for four, off Nurse. Gets to fifty with a defensive prod. Measured might be the word; he is noticeably presenting the bat beautifully.

Maybe anticipating the potential boomathon, Holder changes Bishoo for Powell. Good call.

Stokes booms the first two balls of the 31st for six. He’s cruised to 73 but then fails to connect with a wide one next over and is caught in the deep. Shame to lose him but incoming Buttler might be just the man to raise this again, for England. Hope he doesn’t he too greedy too early.

He’s bowled, instead, by Cummins. Great ball of killer length. Moeen in at 210 for 5 in the 33rd. More drinks.

England need a partnership as much as they need another gear-change. Loving the balance of this one. One thing’s for sure, the Windies are no pushovers.

Root, having been untroubled since his first handful of deliveries, gets a good, full one from Cummins and is plumb, having stayed back. 84 scored – cue moaning from the back about ‘failing to cash in again’.

13.32, pouring in Pembrokeshire.

Moral victory for Powell, as Moeen edges through vacant second slip: am hugely biased but feel Ali may be key, here, completed game, or no. He can really do that game-management-whilst-also-striking crazy-purely thing. And I unashamedly hope he does. (Honestly wrote this pre-frenzy).

Bloody big drone soars above deep midwicket. 250 up (for 6, in the 41st). Taylor still manfully searching for that blockhole.

Back to the A Team as Holder follows Taylor. Draws an uncouth swing from the typically elegant Woakes; no contact. The sense that maybe England are rising to this, with ten remaining. Woakes more expansive, certainly.

Moeen whirls at Taylor first ball of the 43rd, as if to confirm that the home side will go at this, now. He marches at the next, too – and misses by about a fortnight.

I think Taylor’s been good, here, despite one period where Root and Stokes feasted. Woakes strokes a beauty off him, down the ground for 4. Uppish but utterly controlled – safe. Then it’s about Moeen.

Words are inadequate so in a few… FIFTY are plundered off two remarkable overs.

Mo mashes and smashes it all over, getting his second fifty off TWELVE deliveries. Woakes departs but the Mo-Show goes on. The crowd bellows with Mo-lurv as he breaks the hundred barrier with another maximum. The stat-heads in the Media Centre are rolling around on the floor.

Mohammed gifts him a life on 101 – as Gayle had, previously – but when he finally holes out to Holder at deep mid-off the crowd do that ecstatic clapping above your head thing. It’s been wonderful. We don’t need anything else.

Taylor, bowling the last, runs out Plunkett with his left instep, shortly before signing for Bristol Rovers. The lights are on, on, now (as opposed to unnecessarily on). Perversely, symbolically, the sun comes out again as the innings closes, with England – Moland(?) – on 369 for 9.

I eat. Quickly.

 

SOAR.

Bristol, where there may be more cricket. Where the Windies may bat. (Because England have).

Mr Lewis smashes two sixes off the second over but then is caught. The weather may be closing in but the Media Centre buzz is not too fatalistic around that: ‘a shower, around four-ish’.

The day’s drama may yet be compromised but most of us achieved (if I may so?) orgasmic satisfaction during the Mo-fest of earlier. We can love whatever happens next or sleep, eat cake or go to Ikea. By three-something, there’s been enough.

Bristol. Gayle still there, the Windies get to 62 for 1 off 9. They are ahead of the theoretical Duckworth-Lewis, which threatens to dominate, as the clouds do.

Shai Hope is out, caught behind. We do notice but we are looking at the far horizons and our various screens: forecasts. 79 for 2 in the 12th.

Predictably, Plunkett is getting some real bounce. Moeen less so, unless bounces in the crowd count – Gayle going to fifty with another legside heave.

The visitors hit, relatively at will, towards and beyond their first hundred. Then despite no appeal from the bowler, Samuels is given caught behind and the Windies are 109 for 3, off 16. And I think rain is less likely. And Gayle is still there, on 63.

The Universe Boss is short-arm punching as much as lifting the ball around the place. Inevitably he’s nearly been caught – inevitably – both on the park and in the crowd. But he’s still there and whether or not the rain comes it feels like he, The Mighty Gayle, may out-Mo England.

Fifteen strides then a pirouette-shuffle to mark out… and in comes Stokes for the twentieth. Looking to make something happen: Gayle’s gone quiet.

We have a game (because the rain hasn’t delivered). Moeen is still central – bowling, getting just a little turn – and Gayle has just receded, somehow. Could this be temporary? Is he teasing us?

In the Media Centre, Nasser Hussain is four yards to my right. He seems reluctant to come introduce himself. I get that. Him and Atherton both look immaculate in a crushingly clerical-worker kindofaway, blessem.

Gayle re-announces himself. Three sixes in three, forcing a wide next ball, from the unfortunate – well, relatively unfortunate – Moeen. 156 for 3 off 23.

Word is rain arriving any minute and (slightly surprisingly?) the visitors are behind on Duckworth-Lewis. (In fact, according to the scoreboard, they are 23 runs down as we enter the 25th, with Woakes returning).

The Bear’s seamer persists with plenty of slower balls, to Gayle; off-cutters. Meanwhile Stokes is back of a length and mixing it. The runs have slowed.

I’m wondering if Gayle is reading the scoreboard, where they remain 22 behind the DLM. Maybe he knows something?

Doesn’t matter. By the tightest of margins, he is run out, by Rashid, with a superb flat throw. 94, for Gayle, who carried himself like a reasonably heavily-baited bear.

Reasonably enough, the first thought is that Powell and Mohammed – or somebody – really have to go some (now). Yet the DLM deficit has reduce to 18… which is plainly wrong. A moment later the deficit is 40. I resolve again to stick with how things feel, not what the numbers are saying.

Up steps Rashid to bowl his first, with Vic Marks confidently predicting 3 for 30, post that glorious intervention from midwicket. Two England spinners together, in fact, for the first time.

Powell skies Rashid straight – gone. Enter Holder. Moeen gets a couple to turn. 31 overs done, skies darker but no rain. We seem to be drifting towards a Moeen-inspired win; certainly the Media Posee are asking for him, post- match. Meanwhile, out there, tellingly as always, it’s Mexican Wave time.

Holder digs us sleepy ones in the ribs by clonking Rashid big over mid-on. His bowling partner, meanwhile, is troubling the batsmen with appreciable turn, now. (Bloke name of Moeen).

Later, Rashid has changed ends and befuddles Nurse, for 1 scored. The game has entered the final phase – as has the day. It’s dusky and it’s done, at 216 for 7, after 35.

Plunkett has again earned wickets, with his persistence and his energy into the pitch. (He finishes with five). Rashid has enjoyed the freedom coming his way as ordinary batters were exposed to an impossible target. He can whirl and express.

Stokes, Woakes and Willey simply did well enough, for Morgan; mixed it, slowed it, stilled any Gayle-prompted tendency towards panic. The job is well done: what separates the teams – substantially – is what Moeen did, with the bat.

So… can we really enjoy that? On the day that a pret-ty remarkable film on the man’s early life was launched by the ECB, we can share in a sportsman’s daft-brilliant triumph as well as something actually rather profound – difficult though it may be, to articulate. How to big the man up without gushing, or dropping into issues around race and ownership? How to keep it simple?

Moeen is an outstanding individual; gifted, truly humble, truly rooted in his community. We need him – all of us – to just be him.

Today he soared, outrageously carting the ball to the four points of the compass in a way which simply told, made the difference, made our day. We can speak of his timing and grace and rhythm and utter confidence. Can we though forget the flag-bearing, the well-meaning clutter; let’s not impose anything, eh? Let’s just soar.

 

 

 

Bright Side.

Warm-ups. At the Brightside. England. Lots of high kness and dodging. Bowlers catching medi-balls and slamming, with some violence. Stokes choking Rashid playfully; apparently. Greyer than our friends at the Met Office promised.

Conflicting and building scene, then, at 10.20, with incoming punters carrying already that fear of incoming drizzle or depressingly fatal dollops – about three-ish, we now hear.

Across the ground from me, the West Indies, in their weirdly, unconvincingly kingfisher blue trackies are jogging. Then hopping. Again, like their opponents, utterly directed. England turn to full-on footie.

It’s mid-competitive. Buttler scandalously holds Bairstow, like some brutal 70’s catenaccio, whilst Curran to-tally fluffs a routine cross. It’s fascinatingly ordinary.

As is the Windies equivalent – now going on directly across the square. I wonder about a challenge match between the two, with Stokes ab-so-lutely clattering *the player of his choice* into row C. Would be great.

The visitors win the toss and will bowl. Their fielding drills, come 10.38, are sharpish. Lots of skim-catches.

We start. Taylor gets some bounce and some away-swing, to Bairstow. Single legbye off the first. Then Holder, who is a giant, in the flesh. Absurdly high hand means he extracts bounce even plopping it down – which he does, rather, first up. Third man and square leg the men out in the powerplay.

Early signs are for some life in the pitch; both quicks getting bounce,Taylor getting more shape. England in no hurry.

Taylor no-balls and immediately adjusts his bowling marker… before castling Hayles… on the free hit. Bowling full – in the expectation of a little swing? – nearly pays dividends but Bairstow gets a streaky, uppish boundary past short cover. Good start from Taylor.

Hayles miscues, hoiking Holder just over mid-on from high on the bat. Neither opener has really settled. Windies definitely ahead on points.

First plainly poor ball – short and wide from Holder – cut to the point boundary contemptuously by Hales; needed that.

In the fifth, still a hint of way swing for Taylor, if he goes very full: Holder had none. First half-tracker is the last ball of the over. Only 18 on the board. Thought strikes that England could be waaay out of this if Duckworth Lewis kicks in mid-afternoon.

Bairstow responds, by scampering to rotate things and by despatching a free hit over mid-on for six, but is caught off a leading edge, next ball, by the Windies skipper. In comes Root at 27 for 1. The man in the deep to leg goes behind square – to fine leg, in fact.

England’s finest plays and misses twice – genuinely – before clattering three fours. Hayles belatedly joins in, as the momentum shifts a tad back towards England. A ver-ry tight-run second down to third man confirms the gear-change. Classic straight drive, off the suddenly hittable Taylor, by Hayles emphasises the flip. England have spurted to 61 for 1 off 9.

Root, gathering in that quietly awesome way, surpasses Gooch’s record for the number of runs scored in an international summer. (Of course he does). After a very briefly uncertain start, he’s freed this up – freed up Hayles, too. It’s bright, here, now and England are finding their flow.

Hilariously, Hayles calls for a new bat as the Windies review a possible lb… on Hayles. He’s out. Enter the under-pressure Morgan. Briefly. He is caught behind, first ball. (What were we saying about momentum shift to England?!?)

With Holder still bowling – and now fired–up – England are 74 for 3, in the 12th and the sun re-joins.

Stokes sprints impressively to make two and get off the mark but plays rather loosely out to point, without penalty. Then studiously presents the bat to Cummins and gets four past the bowler’s left hand. Looking good.

Perhaps should have mentioned the outfield: green and softish when I arrived, similar at noon. The ball hardly ‘racing away’.

Holder bowls seven overs straight and is still getting meaningful bounce. Plunkett may enjoy this.

Cummins looks deceptively sharp – something about that not-too-arsed-actually approach – but Root picks one up and it curls over fine leg for six. 101 for 3 after 14. Drinks.

Dramatic change-down as Bishoo comes on after the break; he escapes relatively unscathed.

Enter the off-spinner Nurse, for the 19th. Root and Stokes seem settled. Will they go after him? He’s going flattish, quickish but Stokes reverse-sweeps him through point’s hands for four. With both spinners on, there’s that fascinating energy-change: Root and Stokes play it pretty patiently, initially.

The former gets to yet another fifty in the 21st, without really opening up. You feel that’s coming, mind – especially with Stokes at the other end.

Not hugely impressed with Nurse, who’s getting no turn and asking very few questions. At least Bishoo seems to be driving Root back. Likewise with Stokes, until his patience gives and he smashes one straight for six. 145 for 3 after 22.

That sense of a dam about to burst is (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor?) mexican-waving itself around the ground. Both batsmen being hugely patient – or ‘responsible’. The innings hasn’t exactly stalled but with Stokes on mid-forties and Root past fifty, if I’m Bayliss/Farbrace I’m maybe looking for more, medium soon.

Again, Stokes reverse-sweeps for four, off Nurse. Gets to fifty with a defensive prod. Measured might be the word; he is noticeably presenting the bat beautifully.

Maybe anticipating the potential boomathon, Holder changes Bishoo for Powell. Good call.

Stokes booms the first two balls of the 31st for six. He’s cruised to 73 but then fails to connect with a wide one next over and is caught in the deep. Shame to lose him but incoming Buttler might be just the man to raise this again, for England. Hope he doesn’t he too greedy too early.

He’s bowled, instead, by Cummins. Great ball of killer length. Moeen in at 210 for 5 in the 33rd. More drinks.

England need a partnership as much as they need another gear-change. Loving the balance of this one. One thing’s for sure, the Windies are no pushovers.

Root, having been untroubled since his first handful of deliveries, gets a good, full one from Cummins and is plumb, having stayed back. 84 scored – cue moaning from the back about ‘failing to cash in again’.

13.32, pouring in Pembrokeshire.

Moral victory for Powell, as Moeen edges through vacant second slip: am hugely biased but feel Ali may be key, here, completed game, or no. He can really do that game-management-whilst-also-striking crazy-purely thing. And I unashamedly hope he does. (Honestly wrote this pre-frenzy).

Bloody big drone soars above deep midwicket. 250 up (for 6, in the 41st). Taylor still manfully searching for that blockhole.

Back to the A Team as Holder follows Taylor. Draws an uncouth swing from the typically elegant Woakes; no contact. The sense that maybe England are rising to this, with ten remaining. Woakes more expansive, certainly.

Moeen whirls at Taylor first ball of the 43rd, as if to confirm that the home side will go at this, now. He marches at the next, too – and misses by about a fortnight.

I think Taylor’s been good, here, despite one period where Root and Stokes feasted. Woakes strokes a beauty off him, down the ground for 4. Uppish but utterly controlled – safe. Then it’s about Moeen.

Words are inadequate so in a few… FIFTY are plundered off two remarkable overs.

Mo mashes and smashes it all over, getting his second fifty off TWELVE deliveries. Woakes departs but the Mo-Show goes on. The crowd bellows with Mo-lurv as he breaks the hundred barrier with another maximum. The stat-heads in the Media Centre are rolling around on the floor.

Mohammed gifts him a life on 101 – as Gayle had, previously – but when he finally holes out to Holder at deep mid-off the crowd do that ecstatic clapping above your head thing. It’s been wonderful. We don’t need anything else.

Taylor, bowling the last, runs out Plunkett with his left instep, shortly before signing for Bristol Rovers. The lights are on, on, now (as opposed to unecessarily on). Perversely, symbolically, the sun comes out again as the innings closes, with England – Moland(?) – on 369 for 9.

 

I eat. Quickly.

Dead Rubber?

Interesting how few folks seem to think the last Ashes Test is a ‘dead rubber’. Maybe the odd Croatian thinks that but most of us, despite the slam-dunkingly emphatic void where the competitive reality should be, can still feel the juices rising. The dander will still be up and the banter spiky as an echidna’s arse – as they say in Vauxhall.

It’s possible the Oval may be less of a cauldron than (say) Edgbaston was but even if us Poms do drift implausibly and non-demonstrably towards a rain-affected draw there will be meaning in some of this. Meaning for individual players – some of it life-changing – and meaning for the fans and for the game.

Pre- this final test, one rumour suggests Moeen may open with Cook and Rashid enter the fray, heralding multiple All New Possibilities for import or revelation.

Should this prove to be the case, it would necessarily imply medium-complex stuff – either the outright dropping (terminally or otherwise) of Lyth and/or a deliciously double-edged conversation with him (or about him) that may (who knows?) offer the hope that he would return should the second spinner syndrome no longer prevail.

How Lyth might actually read that hypothetical situation – even if there was a Scouts Honour-ability to any discussions with the coaching staff – is anybody’s guess; my guess is that he would publicly be A Brick and privately be pooping his panties. Being told however skilfully that the door is not closed is surely ver-ry nearly as cruel as being ruthlessly cast off?

‘Fella this is NOT ABOUT YOU. ‘S purely tactical – we’re looking at the options. So you go do what you do best… and force us to pick you.’
‘K boss.’  (*Cue manful trudge*.)

In contrast Moeen’s extravagantly rising star makes me think of Caesar and yaknow, firmaments. Except that there appears to be no fatal arrogance and no apparent threat to the man’s Polaris-like pre-eminence, despite his widely-perceived limitations as a bowler. Batting-wise, he’s creaming it: rarely have the fortunes around a tactical masterstroke gathered so beautifully as around the insertion of the Bearded One into the All Runs Are A Bonus zone.

Moeen’s multifaceted brilliance – stonewalling/stylishly gutsy/expansive and fearless with that bat, busy in the field, decent plus with the ball – has made him something of a darling for the fans and placed him absolutely at the centre of every strategy imaginable. You want an opener at eight or an opener at two or a counterattacking momentum-shifter hilariously and subversively low in the order? Here I am; me – Ali. Floating, stinging and doing just everything from that insurance policy thing (freeing everybody else up, right?) to just making this Test Cricket look pret-ty simple.

The quality of the clamour around Rashid these last few months tells us he is gorgeously ripe with potential. The Oval therefore provides another relatively de-stressed opportunity. All the selectors have to do is pick him: all he has to do is still the nerves entirely and tweak the ball fearlessly before giving it right old clout with the bat. Easy.

Bayliss and Farbrace must know they are lucky, luck-ee geezers to be offered another early chance to blood Rashid when the high-risk essence of the leggie’s game is mitigated favourably by circumstance – by the fact that the Aussies have been pre-battered. (Allez-loo.) There’s a strong case for playing a First Spinner alongside Moeen even if the conditions scream seeeeeeaaammmmerr!! Get the lad familiar with all this; work to be done in the Emirates and in South Africa.

But look, micro-climatic issues of selection, whilst providing all of us with ammo for the bantfest, may be less central to our Ashes Summer than the general level of public warmth. Allow me to indulge on this?

Some of you will know I’m proud to work for Cricket Wales. I’m charged (and I mean that in every sense) with going into schools (mainly) to fire up kids for sport.

As what we call a Community Cricket Coach I dredge up unseemly amounts of enthusiasm and energy and belief in the good stuff that cricket can bring. (Read earlier blogs or take my word on it; sessions in schools can be… powerful.)

I’m spookily on message with the cricket mission simply because it’s right and essential to get kids educated re sport – physically literate, if you like. It may be my job to say stuff like that but don’t go taking me for a government man. The more I see kids lit up by games the more I know we must make the case. Cricket is such a magical conduit for such a diverse and real and developing carousel of activity and learning that I’m happy to plant myself astride the whole sales-pitch.

I/we make a difference. We encourage and we coax a zillion skills into our players – from thoughtfulness to dive-catches. And yet…

It really could be that even my inviolable positivity shifts the earth a whole lot less than (for example) a magnificent Ashes series. A year of the Cricket Man’s coaching is a thing of daft and infectious beauty and some significant influence… but I ain’t kidding myself. Cricket on the telly, in the news, on the BACK PAGES is a whole lot more impactful.

What @cricketmanwales does is kinda great but not an Ashes series. Not an extraordinary and victorious Ashes series. Not like a Broady eight-fer or a Jimmy Jimmy visibly in his pomp. My lack of visibility works agin me.

In fact ALL the magnificent work that all of us Community Coaches do – and by God we do! – is wee-wee in the ocean compared to highlights or column inches that capture something of the sensaaaaaayshunull nature of this game, this rivalry, this victorious series. We proudly march to stir the grassroots (barmy)armies but we need drama and exposure – as do all sports.

Cricket doesn’t always get it. The Sky Sports conundrum epitomises difficulties around progress, pop-ness or whoredom. In a universe reduced to garishness and gathering market-share, this unique and superlative sport needs glorious, pitch-worthy moments to bung its smelling salts beneath the nostrils of the masses. We need to be on the news, in the news. We (England and Wales?) need to be heroically winning. Ideally.

We need unimpeachably brilliant role-models and we need them on terrestrial telly. Then the Cricket Man will work around that.

So the Oval is big. Big for Rashid/Lyth/Ali. Big for all of us. As a fan and as a ‘professional’, I’m looking for more from our guys. More stories and yeah, more glory.