#CWC19. Also known as The World Cup Final. Blimey.

#CWC19. Also known as The World Cup Final. Blimey.

Rain, apparently, at Lord’s but gloriously rosy here. And if there’s a delayed start then I’ll just do another wash, or take another meander to the clifftop – yaknow, to settle the dog’s nerves. But if they do start on time… I’ll be ready.

Flying solo due to family jaunt abroad: muggins stayed to work a bit and look after aminals. Food is cooked, alcohol available but thinking may hold fire on that for a celebroglass tonight, maybe; before snoozing, exhausted.

Anger is an energy and I hope not to be too angry. Writing is energy-sapping, in fact – not that I’d be so dumb and haughty as to court sympathy for that. It’s just that I know I’m gonna be knackered, later. Especially starting now – before 9 a.m. Another schoolboy error.

So a very few words before kick-off.

Look, England have stormed into this final and they should win it. The sense is that they have irresistible quality – particularly in the case of Roy, Bairstow, Archer and Woakes. In other words when they start.

Then they have All The Other Guys – Stokes, Buttler, Morgan, Rashid – it surely adds up to too much? Even allowing for the statesmanlike brilliance of Williamson and the genuine excellence of Boult and his co-seamers?

There is of course some hope – some real hope – for New Zealand. They are tough, they compete, they find a way, to a remarkable extent; it’s pretty much a national characteristic to defy the odds, the numbers, the demographic and the Way Things Really Should Be.

Today it may be their best hope is that the dampness around and the greyness forecast facilitates something outrageous from those seamers; England at 30 for 4, followed up or preceded by another uber-gritty kiwi knock, clawing their way to another ludicrous victory. Good luck to them.

Good luck to them but I think they’ll get beat. I think they won’t get all of Roy and Bairstow and Root and Morgan and Buttler early enough, or shockingly enough, to throw this England off-course. England are the best at this format and I expect them to come through.

If the day was brighter I might be more bullish on this; the imperious Roy might be both predictably violent and un-get-outtable, too – ditto Bairstow. England might ‘do another Australia’ and smash their opposition. Feels possible but less likely, looking at skies, social media and tv. Still. Surely it’s got to be England? (Ahem, *fatal*) and it may just be a question of how big the margin is.

Toss delayed 15 mins… Kiwis win and decide to bat. Boldish.

Minor-or-possibly major that Wardy (who we know is excellent) does that Forgetting The Women thing, saying all-too-blithely “of course England have never won the World Cup”. Ah. But some brilliant stuff on the tellybox – with Will Greenwood notably, inspiringly honest.

Now the pre-amble does feel a bit of an amble. When the body really wants to sprint from the starting-blocks. Bring ’em out, you umpires!

Reckon that is a bold call, to bat, from Williamson. Must know that Woakes and Archer should be pret-ty tasty in the first ten overs: that the match could be over, as that Australia game was, in the first 40 minutes. Gamble, certainly.

Anthems. Wow. Forgot Curry was in the England squad; decent player to have on the sidelines. Another reminder of the depth of the home side?

Guptil will face Woakes. Swung a mile. Wide. Then he bowls conservatively – holding back that same outswinger. Guptil slashes at him, gets bottom edge. Then four through gully – aerial.

Interesting over. Woakes plainly bowled within himself after that first, outrageous delivery. Guptil proactive or outright aggressive, in manner. Gambling. Now Archer.

Understated start from Archer but then drama as Guptil is beaten… but without the edge that England claimed. Wisely, Morgan opts not to review – great call from umpire Erasmus.

Woakes has Nicholls… not. Height saves him: beauty of a delivery that comes back through the gate but review saying it’s over those stumps. Moral victory for Woakes. 10 for 0 after 3 and you would say that New Zealand are ahead on points, by virtue of surviving the early moments. Does feel like England are looking for control rather than racing in.

Guptil guides Archer over third man for six, then booms him back over his head. He’s suddenly 17 off 15 and the start really is made, now, for the kiwis. Archer a tad short and a tad below-par. Could be nerves, of course.

Woakes in for his third, is looking better without threatening. 24 for 0 after 5 and maybe this is just want the contest needs – a contest?

Archer in again and bowling at 90mph, then 92. But still not entirely discomfiting Nicholls. Reckon the visitors will be ver-ry content with 26 for 0 after 6.

Woakes bowls fuller than Archer. Guptil, looking to go across the line, somewhat, misses and is out lbw after a confirmatory review. Important – and tribute to Woakes’s ability to stay cool, stay disciplined when others might be straining harder for the magic ball. Williamson is in at 29 for 1. Fine over finishes with an absolute peach that Williamson follows but does not touch – quite.

After 8 overs New Zealand are 30 for 1, with the runrate understandably lowish but having avoided the kind of carnage that might have killed off the game – what with England’s batting, the Barmy Army, thirty years of hurt and all that. They’re in it but Nicholls is having to graft – not entirely convincingly – for his 10 runs (off 26). There is still some swing, for Woakes, as well as a bit of nip off the surface.

33 for 1 off 10 leaves things fairly even, you would think. England will expect more than that from their openers but Williamson, well, he’s him, eh? If the game turns tight and tactical there may be no-one better.

A rare gift from Woakes is clubbed away to point, by a no-doubt relieved Nicholls. Looking at the batting to come (which lacks the heft of the opposition line-up, yes?) he may have an important role to play. Taylor and Neesham may bring something but somebody is going to need to stay, for New Zealand, you suspect.

In comes Plunkett, from the Pavilion End. Nicholls pulls him, safely, forward of square, for two. Six, in total, from a fairly mixed over. Score predictor is 295, interestingly enough. That would be a challenge.

Woakes finishes with another good over – just the one from it and New Zealand 47 for 1 after 13. It’s a rather low-key game, at the moment. That may be to the credit of the men-in-black and it is surely to their advantage as we start. But is it enough?

Plunkett’s second over goes for 7. Wood will come in. As he did against the Aussies, he bowls an extravagant outswinger – again uncontrollably – for an encouraging(?) wide. Next two balls are also leaving the batsman, Williamson. Wood is running in with real vim, here and the ball is hooping for him: must find a touch more control.

On balance you would say this is a decent bowling performance from England, so far, rather than a great one. Given the visible encouragement here, for the seamers, the thought does arise that Henry and Boult really could out-bowl their oppo’s and therefore make something extraordinary happen.

Plunkett concedes another four, to Nicholls, who now has 31 off 45. Williamson, meanwhile, has 9 from 30.

Good over from Wood. New Zealand are 70 for 1 after 17. Williamson predictably looking quietly determined.

Rashid. First sign of aggression – albeit classically executed – as Williamson dances down to the leggie. The skipper then chips one up and over midwicket; seven from the over.

Nicholls guides one beautifully through backward square off Wood, who is banging it in. Now the opening bat looks to be finding his flow. Wood responds with a great bouncer under the chin. His last ball flies through at 93 mph; the lad’s really trying.

Williamson won’t let Rashid settle. First ball middled over mid-on for four. 91 for 1 after the first 20. Poised.

Poised in the sense that New Zealand have gotten to 100 one-down. And therefore might go on. Unknowable of course, how many England might be but the pitch is now looking relatively benign. So if Roy & Bairstow did fail, you do wonder if somebody like Stokes or Buttler – remember him? – might prosper, to telling effect. In fact my hunch (for now, this moment*) is that Buttler is gonna win this thing…

Plunkett back in, for a mini-spell, I’m guessing.

HUGE MOMENT. Plunkett beats Williamson and Morgan is convinced. Reviews instantly. Williamson is out, off a goodish length ball. 133 for 2 with the Main Man gone. A charge goes round the ground – round the country. Second look confirms it was a great ball; killer length, little bit of bounce, hits medium-highish on the bat. 103 for 2, off 23.

More from Rashid. And Plunkett. Good, quietish spell, for England.

Nicholls gets to 50 off 71 balls. Excellent, determined effort. However, Plunkett is asking more and better questions, now.

Nicholls is watchful but not watchful enough, apparently. Plunkett finds the killer length again and bowls him off the inside edge. 118 for 3. If you read the fine piece by Vitushan Ehantharajah the other day you will also know that Our Liam kinda deserves his moment. Delighted for him. 122 for 3 off 28 and the game has swung back towards England. Morgan has the field in saving ones and the energy is up – on and off the park.

Plunkett is staying beautifully full and straight to the newcomer, Latham. His bowling is freeing up Rashid, now. The spinner seems more confident, has more tricks. Three from his over and a subtle tightening continues.

In comes Stokes – which I can live with – but he may gift a few runs, for all his Bothamesque threat. Four singles from the over.

Another drama vacuum – mostly, again, in a good way, for England. As Stoakes finishes his second we sit at 141 for 3, from 33. New Zealand will know that a significant gear-change will be necessary – but when?

Wood puts that question on the back-burner, claiming Taylor lbw. Erasmus took a looooong look, as there is always a query re height, with Wood but right or wrong, the decision will stand. No reviews remaining.

Enter Neesham. Wood is enjoying this, now.

Major, for England that both Plunkett and Wood have joined the proverbial party. Both can provide the right batsman with ammunition – what with all that pace an bounce – but latterly they have bowled consistently well.

Stokes continues. Neesham is not intimidated and 11 come from the over. 152 for 4 from 35.

Wood concedes just the one then Plunkett replaces Stokes. Latham picks one up and almost claims six. He then creams Wood through extra-cover in the next over. New Zealand need some of this. Wood responds again, with a bouncer.

Latham is fortunate to survive an ugly hoik to leg against Plunkett: no contact. The Black Caps must be looking to go on the offensive, partly because conditions appear to be favouring batsmen more than earlier. Neesham strikes for four. Can they get nearer to 280 than 250?

Ah. With ‘soft wickets’, maybe not – maybe neither. Neesham has lofted Plunkett straight to the grateful Root, at mid-off. Miscue; absolute gift. The fella de Grandhomme can hit. He may have to. Plunkett now has three; his contribution, in a World Cup Final, may be critical.

In his next over, Plunkett starts with a pearler, beating de Grandhomme all-ends-up outside the off-stick before bouncing him, advancing. It’s a great over; he finishes 3 for 42 from 10. Outstanding.

Archer is back. To no great effect, in truth. Then Wood. 196 for 5, off 43. Latham and de Grandhomme have now both had a decent look at this; can they engineer say eight an over to raise that challenge beyond 250-260? 200 up with six and a half overs remaining.

Disappointingly, Archer bowls three wides in the over. He’s been ordinary, by his standards, today.

Wood is in for his final over. Again it’s goodish and quick but Latham does clout one, for six. 10 overs 1 for 49 for the northern quick; honourable effort.

Archer then does find his groove. Bowls an over to make most of us smile. Sharp, slower, loopy, bouncy, crafty, delicious. Just the three from it – the 45th over.

In comes his strike partner. A slow, slower ball suckers de Grandhomme, who dinks off a leading edge to mid-off. Six down, now, with Woakes having claimed his second. 220 for 6 with just 3 overs remaining. Santner will join Latham.

Woakes reviews one around leg-stump, against Latham. A long-shot; the third umpire confirms it was pitching outside leg. However, the squeeze is still applied… until, with the bowler trying to do something tricksy, he slams one down leg, Buttler can’t stop it and five go to the score.

Short-lived respite. Next ball another miscue brings another dolly for the sub fielder Vince. Latham gone. Henry defiantly clubs one to cow corner for a rare breakout: four.  238 for 7 as Archer steps up to bowl the last.

A marginal wide, for height, is backed up by a straight one. Beamer-full, actually, but legal and straight enough to account for Henry; bowled. 240 for 8 as Boult strides out – no doubt nervously, Archer having been brilliant for the last four overs. 241 (for 8) is the total for England to chase.

Boult has ‘something to bowl at’ but England have done enough there, you’d think. They have time, as they did against Australia, to settle and then build. They need less than five an over. So start in Test Match Mode… and then build.

I understand that pressure can accumulate but 240 is not a huge target – not when you have Root and Stokes to dig in, if necessary and Morgan and Buttler to blast you home. I repeat my (*fatal*) prediction that England will win and that they can probably choose how to do it – by bringing the boom, or with discipline and maybe even some restraint.

WOW. Decent appeal first ball. Williamson reviews. Given not out. Stays with umpire’s call. Roy incredibly fortunate but the rules say he’s in. But that is a MASSIVE MOMENT right there. Fabulous, testing over from Boult – predictably.

Henry looking hungry for it, too. Absolutely crucifying Roy, early on. Roy responds with a beautifully blocked straight drive. Four. 5 for 0 after 2; England could easily be 2 down. Great sport.

Bairstow scuffs one back behind himself to get off the mark. Boult beats Roy but the England star then drills him out through cover and then plays a classical forward-defensive for a single. Proper Contest.

Henry at Roy. Again a real test; maybe we should note that already this final is, refreshingly, patently a real contest between bat and ball. Maybe that’s a legacy we might want to hold onto?

Bairstow’s quick hands are being made to look snatchy and nervy. He does get a boundary but he’s nowhere near being into his rhythm. Boult errs, though, offering a full-toss with enough width for Bairstow to push through extra-cover. It’s middled – maybe the first one. Another four.

Roy follows suit, driving Henry for a further boundary. England don’t have much control but their gambol is paying off, so far.

But then not. Roy goes at another full one from Henry and is caught, low, behind. No less than the bowler’s start has deserved. Leg-cutter does for the batsman. 28 for 1. In comes Root, sees out the over – the sixth.

So it’s the Yorkshiremen. Bairstow still bit twitchy, Root ab-so-lutely the bloke you’d want to call on, for nearly every eventuality.

Bairstow on-drives nicely for another four. Might he find a way towards some form? Might Root’s presence help – the characteristic turnover, the energy, the robustness? Important phase as we approach bowling changes.

Staggering delivery from Henry. Utterly unplayable away-swinger, draws no contact. Ball still hooping.

Short one from Boult offers a chance to Bairstow – taken. He pulls emphatically to square leg for four. Root seems in decent nick but Henry does him with that leg-cutter en route to an impressive maiden. 39 for 1 after 10.

Next it’s de Grandhomme. Bairstow misjudges the pace and lofts short of mid-off, slightly disconcertingly. Bairstow doesn’t learn. Last ball of the over he dinks it straight back to the bowler. Shockingly, he can’t hold on to a relatively simple catch.

Three consecutive maidens but no joy, for Williamson and co. England under the cosh, make no mistake. Root – who always gets to thirty before you’ve noticed he’s in, is 2 off 20. Bairstow is on a scratchy 19 from 34. 42 for 1, off 13.

A typical over. Bairstow beaten twice but then clips one brilliantly off his toes, for four. Then an awful-looking slash draws another inside edge past his own stumps. Fortunate again. New Zealand have bowled better than England, thus far.

Finally, some Rooooott, from Root. Lovely drive through off, for two, then a deft wee chop towards third man. Encouraging.

Ferguson. He draws less bounce than Bairstow expects and almost finds an under-edge. Ferguson hits 93 mph – as Wood had. Root takes on the short one – well fielded at backward square.

You don’t very often see Root discombobulated but here come two such moments. First he charges de Grandhomme rather wildly and misses: second immediately subsequently he’s out caught behind. We really are game on, now, at 59 for 2. England really need this drinks break!

Morgan joins Bairstow. What a challenge for the England captain. If he gets his aggressive head on, you fear it might be trouble: he might say “it’s the only way I know”.

Morgan dances down to de Grandhomme and the bowler slings it wide – so wide that the England man can hardly reach it. He still levers it up and over mid-off but not without risk.

Tellingly, Bairstow is unable to accept a gift from de Grandhomme; a loopy full-toss that most of us woud have dispatched – at the club, maybe not here – to the boundary. Then a precious boundary comes, drilled, emphatic.

It can’t last. Bairstow plays on. Made a ver-ry mixed 36 in difficult circumstances. England are in some trouble, at 71 for 3. What was my hunch about Buttler, again?

Stokes has made a virtue of patience, for the last year or more. He has been watchful and mature. England need that now, surely? Otherwise the dream is gone.

Stokes, too, looks nervy. Charges and misses. Stays and misses. And this is against de Grandhomme (with all due respect). So the scrambled minds in the moment and the ascending run-rate are beginning to conspire against the home side. Pressure.

Morgan is hit on the helmet, by Ferguson, who is still bowing quickly but without the control of either Henry or Boult. A bouncer lauches over the ‘keeper and away.

Great point, on commentary. England are “charging and hitting” (and missing too much) rather than say charging and picking the gap. Agree. There’s insufficient craft from the batters, against admittedly good bowling. Pressure. 86 for 3 after 23.

Neesham is in. First ball and Morgan has hoisted it unconvincingly out over cover. He’s out caught, by Ferguson, diving superbly forward. In comes a bloke name of Buttler. England 86 for 4.

Crazy-early but Buttler looks good. Much work to be done.

Lord’s is quiet: just think back at how Edgbaston sounded, the other day! Lord’s is quiet.

Neesham is going well enough. The required rate is up to a run a ball. We may have heard this before in some other context but New Zealand – the minnows, the underdogs, the unfancied – are bossing a world final. Fabulous.

De Grandhomme, absurdly, is still bowling maidens. It’s 98 for 4 after the 27. There is no sign of any counter-attack from Stokes and Buttler; they clearly hope to persist over time and gather hopes incrementally.

The hundred comes up with a defiant thrash from Stokes, off Neesham. Clubbed straight for four. 106 for 4 off 28. It may be important that Buttler seems unruffled, able to pick his shots, roll those handsome wrists. Something special may be necessary, here; he will know that.

In his final over, de Grandhomme’s off-cutter befuddles Buttler, who is almost bowled, almost caught behind. Extraordinary spell from the medium-pacer. Nobody, in fact, has got after him in the whole tournament.

Boult is back. With a softer, less responsive ball, what can he do? As we enter the last 120 balls, England need 127 more runs. Santner will partner Boult. The batsmen ‘have a little look’.

Buttler cuts loose a little. Slices Boult out over point, where Guptil is groping at the air. Four. Santner’s flattish, shortish fingerspin is unthreatening but tidy eough. His second over only yields two to the England cause. When will the batsmen raise their level? As Henry returns, it feels like Stokes is looking to hit harder.

On this pitch, I’m not sure I agree with the sky caller’s assertion that 8 an over is no problem for England, over the last ten overs. Could be right – could be wrong. (Clearly, mostly, you’d back Stokes and Buttler to make that… but Biggish Call, on this pitch, in a World Cup Final).

The maths mean little compared to the minds. Buttler has middled most everything, whilst being conservative. Stokes has been steady-in-a-good-way. Can they fix their focus and play expansively as squeaky bum-time approaches? Win predictor has England 62% New Zealand 38%. Feels tad generous to the home side.

Review for lb against Buttler. Looks down leg. Is. The batsman is safe. Just two, from Henry’s over, mind. 143 for 4 after 36.

In comes Ferguson. Bowls wide and Buttler, reaching, crunches to the boundary. One big over might change the feel of this, dramatically – either way.

Neesham. Draws an error of timing, from Stokes, who nearly chops on. Noting – without irony – that there have been no sixes in this England knock. It’s tense.

Buttler lifts the crowd with a straight drive for four. 156 for 4 off 38. Meaning 86 needed off 72 balls.

Stokes hauls one through leg for another four – again not truly timed – but precious. If England do win this, we’ll be calling him ‘mature’ and ‘heroic’, you watch. (Some turnaround). Partnership now 76.

Henry has Stokes hopping, or arching rather, to avoid being reckless off the short one. Buttler, meanwhile, is inching closer to a kind of ease waaay beyond anyone else in the game. Undemonstrative, today, but none-the-less class.

Finally, some extravagance. Buttler dances away then flips high over his left shoulder for another boundary. Nerveless and exquisite.

Into the last ten overs. Seven-plus per over required. The batsmen are in control… but clearly must find boundaries with real regularity. Ferguson still bending his back.

69 from 54 needed. Neesham in again. Stokes finds a two. Then a great yorker nearly unseats him, almost comically. Just four from the over.

The tension can only grow; who can handle it best?

Ferguson concedes singles either side of a dot ball bouncer. Then Buttler shimmies again and flips it passed the vacant leg-slip area. Four. Off middle stump. Remarkable. 59 off 42.

Boult, from the Nursery End. Buttler blazes him over extra cover for four and goes to fifty. (And I take personal credit for this, yes?) The bowler is searching for the blockhole and finding it but there’s some good batting going on here. Stokes goes to 50, too, in the over.

Stokes is pulling Ferguson with extreme care. One. Buttler frees himself and booms over mid-off. Four. Slashes the next wide and third mannish… eventually confirmed as two. Then an attempted ‘stand and deliver job’ – misses.

Then… a miscue to the fielder in the deep. Caught. 196 for 5 and the twist this drama needed. Woakes must play a further part. 46 needed off 30. England have to deal in boundaries.

Woakes goes nuclear – understandably – but simply heaves it skywards. The keeper nearly fluffs it, in truth, but does hold on. Wow. Plunkett may have to smite a blow or two. He does hit four, off Ferguson.

34 needed off 18 balls now and the momentum firmly with New Zealand. Boult must deliver in every sense: so too Stokes, who smashes a four through midwicket. Plunkett is heaving manfully but failing to middle. Then missing. Then a full-toss is smashed for two, straight. Great yorker to finish. 24 needed off the last two overs. It’s a lot.

It will be Neesham. Plunkett gets one. One, from Stokes. Plunkett gone, driving high to mid-off. Dot ball but Stokes gets the strike. He must hit a six, you feel – rapidly. New Zealand must win this now.

Incredibly, Boult ‘catches’ Stokes but has one foot on the boundary – so 6! But Archer’s castled next ball!! With still 15 required from the last over. New Zealand must win this now!

Boult bowls two beauties- cramping Stokes. Third ball – six! Then a moment that will live forever. Stokes strikes out into the deep, then races back. On the way back the incoming ball hits the entirely innocent batsman… and goes for four – meaning six to the score. 3 needed from 2 deliveries. Unreal does not cover it.

Rashid is sacrificed in the run for two. Stokes remains on strike, for the last ball, with 2 required to win the World Cup.

AND WE GO TO A SUPER OVER!!

Wonderful madness. Maybe we should accept the wonderful madness of it, re-write the rules and share the trophy?

Let me share something with you, friends. If this was football – and penalties – I’d be walking. It just feels too much of a lottery. But this, although similar… this, I’m staying for.

Stokes and Buttler will bat for England. Boult to bowl. Wildish slice for three from Stokes. Single from Buttler. Four, through midwicket, from Stokes. Single. (Archer is warming up). A superb, wristy flick through midwicket by Buttler and England have a tasty 15 runs in their Super Over. Over to you, Mr Archer…

Our Joffra was magnificent in his later overs; tricksy as well as quicksy. Come on, my son!!

Need the loo, dog needs a walk but maybeee we’ll just hang on in there, eh? Through the interminable ads, asitappens..

Guptil and Neesham, for the Black Caps. They may be thinking England scored no sixes. They may just be shitting themselves. They will almost certainly want this done.

Archer, around, to Neesham. Bowls a wide. Two scrambled off the next. Neesham smashes the next ball into the crowd. Only 7 needed from 4, now. Roy misfields and they run 2. England throw to the wrong end, scrambled, on the next. 3 needed off 2. A single. 2 needed off the very last.

Guptil is run out!!! UNBEBLOODEEBeeeLIEVABLE. Staggering, staggering sport. Tremendous, powerful resolve and artistry, at times from New Zealand. Magnificent heart from England. Both cruel and deliriously beautiful. Ridiculous. Ridiculous.

What a contribution New Zealand have made! What a preposterous, soaring, mind-scrambling game. At the end of this, probably the Best Team in the World have won the trophy; maybe this is good? But even in their moment of utter, flabbergasting joy, England will surely be raising a glass to the guys from the other side.

Bravo, gentlemen, to all.

Match two; Eng v NZ.

Note: this is the second of two live posts from today’s (Saturday’s) tri-international thingamejig at Taunton.

 

In the second fixture, England opt to bat again. Gunn is replaced by Tarrant. Still a lovely day; by my hugely scientific estimation about four degrees light of balmy-hood. That courtesy of a welcome but persistent breeze.

Instant near-trauma, for England. Peterson’s first delivery and a yes-no run-out. Except that Wyatt scrambles back and, battler that she is, stills the heart, one hopes. Because this is T20, England finish up on 9 for 0 after that palpitating start. The crowd shift in their seats.

Devine is in for the second but bowls two legside wides then a sharpish lifter. Followed by a rather poorly judged bouncer that is miles out of the batter’s reach. Satterthwaite, fielding at long-on underneath the Media Centre appears strikingly – and I mean strikingly – tall. After four overs, England are 36 for 0.

Wyatt miscues a slow, slow one from Kasperek and is easily caught at mid-off. The opener departs swishing and cursing, having had a doubly infuriating day with the willow.

Ditto Taylor, who joins her in the pavilion following a cruel palm-on from the bowler. A reminder that there’s a) no god b) very little to out-gun/out-gurn that particular mode of dismissal in the whole fest-of-furies that is the sporting pantheon. Beaumont is next to grimace, as she tries to lap-something a straight one and is frankly absurdly bowled.

Knight prefers to come in and gettaholdathis, ahead of Brunt. It’s 66 for 3 come the end of the 9th.

A digression but another disconcerting error – Sciver spared via another regulation catching opportunity spurned – means we have to talk about fielding, generally. Today it’s been poor, I’m afraid. Poor enough to encourage misogynist grumbles *around about*.

I’ve seen more than enough womens’ cricket in the last two years to be absolutely clear that standards across all three disciplines have zoomed forward and up… but today (fielding-wise) has been an unhelpful blip in this respect. Weird how infectious things are, at every level of sport – particularly panic. Onward.

Hahaaaa! At this moment (I promise you) Green takes a really challenging steepler from Knight! Onward with a smile.

Brunt comes in, to join Sciver, who has been okaaaay , so far, rather than stunning in making an important 39. The sense that she was a nailed-on worldie is drifting a tad, for me. We still have sun, we still have a breeze – though reduced, I think – and we still have a goodish crowd.

I’ve enjoyed watching Devine run in. She’s hurried everybody without creating the mayhem that will surely, often, be hers. Sciver gets to fifty with a firmly-struck extra-cover drive and after 16, England are 132 for 4. Feels like a competitive as opposed to intimidating score is in the offing. Then Devine, switching ends, has Brunt, playing on, for 14.

Wow. A classic straight yorker unravels Amy Jones next delivery: Shrubsole is in earlier than I guess she imagined. After 17, England are 139 for 6, needing a boomtastic finish.

Ah. Sciver finds backward square-leg to further stall any potential grandstand finale.

There are two new batters at the crease; Shrubsole and Ecclestone. Both apply themselves with some aggressive intent but (strangely, maybe, given recent performances) England have mustered a grand total of zero sixes in both innings so far, today.

We enter the final over a-and Shrubsole promptly despatches one straight, straight for a maximum, before pushing directly to cover.

Hazell is in with two balls to face. She part-slices the first one to deep extra, who should gather it but let’s it pass through for four. Innings closed at 172 for 8: first guess, 15 short.

 

Shrubsole opens as New Zealand gather for their response. Her first ball is another inswinging beauty; the second goes for six.

Devine repeats the feat against Tarrant in the second over, taking her ahead of *All of Ingerland* on sixes, as (‘tis true) England managed just the one (all day), in the final over some half an hour ago.

No room for smugness here, mind, as the New Zealand opener is promptly caught in the deep off the skiddy left-armer Tarrant. The White Ferns are 37 for 1 after a probing, appeal-heavy, confidence-building fifth over from Ecclestone. Intriguingly, Ecclestone is not to bowl the next over from that Botham Stand End.

Evening is landing gently.

Brunt is just a wee bit pleased to have the Mighty Bates, in front, next over. She fist-pumps, passionately, on her knees, lifting the crowd, roaring.

Another significant and indeed faith-restoring moment, as Knight takes a sharpish return catch, off Satterthwaite, reducing the visitors to 47 for 3, in 7.2. The squeeze is on.

New Zealand need a charge but are again knocked back as Ecclestone bowls Martin for 16. The tall, left-arm finger-spinner is enjoying this, wheeling and reaching high for purposeful, arrowing flight. Hazell – in at the other end – winkles out Green, who is caught rather tamely lofting to extra cover. That squeeze feels taughter – terminally so, at 80 for 5.

Again after a brilliant over, Ecclestone is replaced, this time by Sciver. Again it works, the wunderkind Kerr edging loopily to gully. When the young leftie returns, however, she claims two further victims – bowled then stumped, bamboozled. Importantly, you sense, in terms of her recently tested confidence, Ecclestone has been the star turn (‘scuse the pun) in this commanding performance.

With the light markedly different now, New Zealand have fallen away – or been shunted – to firstly 106 for 8, then 9. Knight’s played a blinder, instinctively chopping at any momentum in the New Zealand innings, leading and arguably designing the win.

Knight offers Tarrant the 19th, with no pressure on the bowler and every chance of a wicket (you would think). Thoughtful. Tarrant duly obliges, skittling Jensen with a scooty little number. All out 118. Good job, England.

So an enjoyable day with an encouraging denouement for an England side that might have slipped into tiredness or distraction. Instead they were on it – satisfyingly so. Folks wander off to trains and buses and cars, feeling good, I reckon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wondrous Carnage.

Too many words written already, on McCullum – fully accept that. But I want to get to a different argument, something trickier, something that maybe dovetails with broader questions re- the power-shift towards *positive cricket*, which I appreciate and applaud but do not regard as sacrosanct.

Given the shockingly exciting (and therefore unhelpfully diverting nature) of the New Zealander’s assault, it’s not easy to know where to start.  But the minor strands of this here pseudo-hypothesis are, I think, relevant beyond this single boomtastic event; they may, for example, resonate with the debate over England’s direction.

Cricket is unique partly because of the multi-layered levels of intelligence, of challenge, it presents or demands.  These extraordinary elements may not be conducive to bold reduction.

The wondrous carnage at Christchurch (in his final Test) is obviously a catalyst for both hyperbole and cud-chewing. However despite being

a) a huge fan of BMac and

b) (whisper this one) kinda culturally down on the Aussies,

my enjoyment of all that was what Guardian-readers amongst us might call conflicted. I watched highlights and this may have been instrumental to the mix of emotions but nevertheless I did experience the full range of oohs and ahhs – some registering vintage, unsullied joy and some a difficult-to-nail-down concern. Because parts of the extravaganza seemed (almost jarringly?) a bit ‘village’… and some baseballesque.

Ok, about eighty-three qualifications necessary immediately. I know what that sounds like – like I’m channelling your Uncle Herbert. Like I don’t get the sheer brilliant courage and the sheer brilliant instinctual majesty thing. Like I just don’t get McCullum – his essence. I do.

I get that this was merely the logical, glorious climax of a lung-burstingly full-hearted climb towards some mountain amongst the gods; from which McCullum could then base-jump, vindicated and inviolable, down and back into the arms of his loving family. And that post that signature moment, in a brief interview with someone calling him mate, Ar Baz would wander off into happy obscurity, complete – sanctified.

Except it’s not that simple. McCullum isn’t over, there’s more hired swordsmanship to come – notably in England, in a few months. This is a Retirement From Tests Moment like no other (so far) but it is not a retirement.

(I’m still trying to work out if that means anything but something makes me wish this was over now, unquestionably and emphatically. Maybe I simply don’t want it unpicked by subsequent events? Maybe the McCullum Statement works best in the abstract, because it may be prone to subversion by intelligent contradiction? Or cruel, early catches at fly slip?)

The innings itself was a clear statement of belief – in the power and legitimacy of see ball hit ball get-your-retaliation-in-first counterattacking sport, as well as in the greatness of individual talent. Yet it inevitably fluked its way along as well as sashayed; it was wild and wildly fortunate. Does this in any way diminish it? Certainly not. It was made possible by an invincible faith and fearlessness; that’s why it happened and why we loved it. But the flawlessness, the purity of this effort is/was made vulnerable by chance(s.) The fella coulda got out; it was barmy-risky – all that.

McCullum has said he doesn’t know what’s going to happen – how he’s going to play – ‘til he gets out to the middle. Plainly this is a half-truth. We forgive, however, a man who’s earned the right to burnish the sparkle around his aura with a little bravado, so this notion that instinct is absolute (and that he merely trusts himself in the moment) can stand as a kind of psychological icon. Not only will we tolerate it but we can roar our approval as he carves a way through the pomp and old-fartism that is Received Wisdom on Batting in Tests.

Except it’s not that simple. Yes this skipper and leader of men plays magnificently off-the-cuff but also, surely, with raw pre-determination? He decides (of course) to charge, having made some arguably rather visceral calculation re the odds/what feels right/what might transform this thing? McCullum (say it quietly) is a thinker as well as a merchant of blam.

What is special around him is the quality of the gamble. BMac revolts and inspires and re-invents the possible, even against the Aussies, even when the spotlight is set to 3rd degree burn level. It’s absolutely wonderful that he himself sears with an often undeniably inspiring energy, that he scorches a path through stuff. This is what identifies him as a Great and it’s maybe what makes sport great too – the magical, revelatory force that talent and belief unleashed in tandem can offer. So… how come the sense of another impending ‘but?’

Fact is, I’m not quite sure. Can wholeheartedly (that word again) support McCullum the superman-human, the doer of brave, cathartic, generous, sporty things. Love that he has led his tiddly nation to a very warm, disproportionately high-profile place in our hearts and that people all over are touched by something about New Zealand’s approach. In the age of cynicism… this is big.

So big as to be beyond critique, or just big?

Am I right in thinking this bloke, the human figure who fights and leads and inspires like this is maybe beyond critique? He’s one of very few genuine world stars and he’s connected with us more profoundly (if still abstractly?) than any other world star so… let’s stay with that. And then argue that the process of ‘positive cricket’ – the philosophy he apparently embodies – is a marvel we can tweak. Cavalier can be dumb as well as mighty and entertaining.

The mild, almost unsayable negative is that talk of aggression and fearlessness can be worryingly close to pret-ty dumb maschismo – and mighty seductive to blokey blokes who chest-pump around in, or coach cricket teams, at any level. To be blunt, this ain’t always gonna work, this T20 thrashathon model for Test cricket. It’s too simple, too reliant on individual genius; it’s based on wonderful longshots (sometimes literally) and not everyone can or will carry it off. Mostly, McCullum has. Hence I love the fella too.

Brendon McCullum swings a three pound bat. In his 140-odd off 70-something balls – the fastest ever Test century – he swung it both beautifully and malevolently, like a drunken knight. Perhaps in those occasional ungainly swipes he simply got caught in his own fury, over-cooking the defiance against not just the peerless Australians but maybe also the earthquakes that again rumbled against his homeland during the week? (He must after all, recognise his own status as champion against all-comers?) Or perhaps the bowling was just tastier than he gave it credit for?

When Brendon connects, things fly. Our spirits have, the ball has. Though he has not gone, we should hoist him shoulder high; he’s special, we needed him, he enriched us all.

Whenever games get dull, or challenges remain unmet, or situations bleak, let’s remember him, eh?

Feathers.

I’m one of the least neurotic blokes I know but I do have concerns. Amongst them – somewhere between transforming the diet of the working classes and saving the narwhal – is the question looming most threateningly towards relevance as a certain iconic sporting contest approaches.

To sledge… or not to sledge.

That may be the question. Or one of them. Or it may be the symbol around which bigger, broader issues kerr-plunk. For if the Aussies and Engerland come over all noisy and unsporting on us, we could surely find ourselves re-pitched into conversations about that Spirit of Cricket thing? And I’d need to be ready for that one. And I don’t think I am.

After the series we’ve just seen, between the aforementioned (and radically re-booted) Engerland and the somehow inappropriately and mildly underwhelmingly named Black Caps of New Zealand, this becomes, I think, more likely. McCullum has been breasting magnificently towards demi-goddery for some time but the last month or two his entire posse have strode or swanned or peacocked stylishly in behind, feathers fanning. Rarely has a team that’s allegedly lost won so many friends. Rarely has that swell of esteem been so deservedly won.

Williamson to Southee; the whole soul brotherhood were practically lapped up by the Great British Unwashed, who roared and fawned over their brilliance and the brilliance of their understanding of what sport is.

The Daily Mail readership sent them rubies and Turkish Delight. They were waved off (back to the Commonwealth) with bouquets and without being chained to the poop deck.  We gave them spare wives and maize and stuff. It was the kind of love we reserve for National Treasures.

Fast forward to today and Australia in town, rehearsing their cricket-as-testosterone with County-level victims. Am I the only one fearing a tectonic hoohaa – or rather the possibility of unseemly (and critically now) incongruous controversy following poor sportsmanship come Ashes time? Could the Aussie boors, with their fascinatingly needy brand of ‘aggressive cricket’ be so-o insensitive as to try to out-muscle and out-nasty England? After the love-in the spite-fest? I do slightly fear that.

New Zealand have, in truth, been fine-tuning their culture of invincible fabulousness for a year or two but 2015, England represents a kind of peak. So compelling was their positivism that the fella temping as England Gaffer became enraptured to such an extent that he capitulated and followed suit. (I know this. I read in the Daily Mail that ‘the cherub Farbrace shared man-hugs and twenty-six Heinekens with Brendan McCullum before signing a Mutual Slashing Pact’). Something – lots of things – transformed. Players lived rather simply and beautifully up to their billing… as players.

If there was a moment of discourtesy or cynicism we all missed it. If the Black Caps were in any way diminished by their cruel ‘defeats’ we missed that too. Instead we remember a charged excitement that somehow blended the machismo around national resurgence with appreciation of such a pure kind I wonder that it lacked a habit – habit as in Monk’s. There really was something cleansing and uplifting about both the change in psyche from England and – at least as importantly for the quality of the spectacle – the generosity, the freedom unleashed into the contest from New Zealand. All of us from geek to pundit to part-time supporter understood this as great sport. And how gratifying to see how obviously invigorating and enriching it was to the players too.

Enriching? Well, yes. If this implies a moral quality to the affair I can kinda live with that. It did feel like something significant and if not life-affirming then certainly sport-affirming had been flagged up – planted on some previously barren pole. And this is why I have concerns.

Australia may yet win back the Ashes with the most commanding and emphatic and gentlemanly displays for twenty years. They may. But that would be out of character for their group. They actively seek to express superior toughness as well as superior skills. They are tremendously matey and blokey and chirrupy and in your face. They look to test you and some of this is contingent upon the sheer intimidating pace of their fast bowlers. They can get bodies in around the bat. They can have a word. They will feed off any fear. (Imagine how it might be for Stuart Broad, striding in at number 10 of an evening, Mitchell Johnson snorting?) It’s a test.

It is a test and one in which the Aussies are entitled to play hard, a) because that’s likely to work for them and b) because all the insinuations I may have made above mean eff all, mate if they stay within the laws of the game. (I should say here, that England may opt to either instigate conflict or (more likely?) take no backward step should handbags break out. The likes of Anderson and Broad have serially offended against good taste and the allegedly lovable Root likes a word or two, I think.)

What would be unfortunate is if moments of controversy or plain cheating undermined the event. Or if it was even soured by verbals. We all know sledging will occur – it can even be part of the entertainment. But there is drama and there are duels enough without yaknow, using Dum-dums.

Anyway the Black Caps came, saw, got beat but conquered. In the process the game was so absurdly liberated as to be practically re-invented. This was part Farbrace-inspired (and maybe, to be fair, Strauss?) and part Eoin Morgan/New Engerland’s new understanding. See ball, hit ball. Free yourself. Belieeeeeeeve.

The revolution may possibly have been coming whoever the opposition might have been… but I doubt it. The delightful but skilled abandon with which the Black Caps committed to the sport was a revelation which made possible the event, which in turn made possible New England. That’s why we Brits loved the Black Caps and thank them – for pointing us to the treasure.

The pressures and the prize itself will be of another dimension against the Australians. I hope that in chasing that next level of achievement the level of sport can be maintained.

Passing the Stokes Test.

Amongst the fabulous torrent of superlatives issuing forth after the recent (Stokes?) Lords Test, a common theme emerged. Even the cynics spoke of ‘bathing’ or inferred in some way both the warming and the cleansing of the sport. I, in my provincial innocence, tweeted about the ‘warm afterglow’. We were irresistibly drawn into hopeful and strangely moralistic dangles outside off stump. It was bloody lovely.

The drama itself was top level. Hikes in emotion and that mix of colossal heaving to the boundary and quietly magnificent recovery; both sides contributing. For England fans the possibly epoch-changing gear-change in the batting and the batting line-up. Stokes/Buttler/Moeen Ali. Six seven eight. Not so much an order as a challenge, a warning – an opportunity. For the first time in aeons Our Lot were proper slapping the opposition across the fizzog with a Gunn and Moore gauntlet;

I say. You blackcap people.We’re comin’ to avago… and we think we’re (ahem) ‘ard enough.

Now you don’t have to be a season-ticket-holder at Lords or anywhere else to know that this may not always work out; Ali’s bowling may be a liability/the slash-and-burn positivity may fall on its arris. But after years of talk this felt like the right kind of walk – a hearty, twenty-first century gambol, in fact. Shrewd – clearly Moeen can bat at an opener’s watchful rate if the young bucks get blown away – but essentially liberating. I think that’s where all this warm glow stuff comes from.

For us to have arrived here so immediately after an unrelenting period of negativity and uproar is remarkable. Who’s remembering messy departures and unpromising arrivals now? Who’s even remembering that South African bloke with his flamingo shot? We (because surely we’re entitled to claim some involvement in this – some credit even, right?) we the people have surged forward and up alongside Rooty and Cooky and the New Botham. Something about this New England represents us better and blow me we’re queuing round the block.

This marvellous confluence of form and fight must feel hugely gratifying to both Mr Strauss and the largely unheralded Mr Farbrace. Am I alone in wondering where and how exactly that perennial but thin claim towards positivity turned into Stokes/Buttler/Ali? Was that a Strauss/Farbrace/Cook combo or just the coach, effectively? Whomever or however that may prove to be a big moment – it certainly feels like one.

The beauty of all this upfulness may be that necessary caveats around caution and patience may be reduced to an irrelevance if the side continues to believe. The structure as well as the personnel are in place.  Conditions have changed,freeing up instinctively/naturally bold players to do their thing.  How many times have we heard this spoken of only to be bitterly disappointed come the moment?

There are delicious ironies here – quirks of fate and form and of the game.

Weirdly and wonderfully the loosening of responsibility made possible by the inclusion of classically Test-worthy players like Cook, Ballance (actually, surely?) and Bell, end-stopped by Moeen at eight, really should now produce both results and refreshing, energising cricket. Because Root/Stokes/Buttler have insurance; the blend is there.  Thus trad virtues – early watchfulness/straight bats – beget revolution.

In the gloriously honeyed present it feels as though with the dynamic new era pressures to win may actually fall, as fans buy in enthusiastically to committed, attacking sport.  Punters really will roar approval at the aspiration as well as the execution.  If that isn’t win-win for the management I don’t know what is?

With Cook returning to traditionally superb levels with the bat and Root making a mockery of the notion that this is a serious and difficult business expectations might justifiably rise. But consider how equipped this side now looks to man up and give it some, should they ever be hooo… I dunno… 30-odd for 4. Some bloke with attitude might just sidle on out and not so much counter-attack as lay waste to whatever comes his way. Before you know it the crowd’s behind him and crushing defeat becomes national festival.

This latter phenomenon is a significant boost. Cricket on the front pages; cricket as plainly outstanding sport. The feeling (dare we hope?) that this is only the beginning of a long and spectacular summer for the English game. Even if Tests to come prove too much.

It’s simply illogical to expect even a revitalising England to win series against the mighty Aussies and the pretty damn near mighty South Africans. But that may not matter so much as the permanent switching over into a game that is contingent more on the intelligent expression of talent than the (mere) ‘tactical’ occupation of the crease or use of the time. So even if our batting does underachieve – or more likely the bowling attack proves vulnerable – meaningful progress and great entertainment are feasible if the positive life-force continues to pulse.

What augurs well on this is the change of guard amongst the hierarchy. Those who viewed Strauss as a conservative may have underestimated him. I was amongst those who feared his administration might reflect too closely his rather dour brilliance as a batsman. However the confirmation that Farbrace and above him Bayliss will lead the England posse forward surely implies yet greater dynamism and a closer link to what we might term short-format, ‘aggressive’ philosophies. Strauss has effectively sanctioned this – striking out from his first over – and fair play to him on that.

So there’s a good vibe going. Even in the knowledge that bigger tests approacheth. Bigger tests featuring brash and (probably) moustachioed Australians confident of asking a few questions/getting under our skin/blowing us away. It’s possible. It’s possible but the Bigger Question – there’s always a Bigger Question, right? – is whether we blink.

Will we still believe enough to counter with undeniable force? When the inevitable squeeze is applied? Will we select in order to play that way? Is it too much to ask of Stokes and Buttler that they bury their fear and play with some intelligence but masses of faith? What’s the quality of our commitment?

Following Lords these are live questions – meaning there is some real prospect that the changes are real. Say it quietly to start but England are daring to march. Led unsurprisingly and unflinchingly by Stokes.

Some things change, some stay the same.

So what are our memories of this universally enjoyed Cricket World Cup going to be? Or rather what’s the general feeling going to be – we’ll all have moments but what what’s central, or seminal, or telling? For me there’s something tectonic and vital and mostly positive gone on, to do with the gear-shift towards more explosive and exciting action. People hollering and whooping more; more crash and bang, more fireworks; more freedom than ever from those wielding the willow.

Not everybody wants that, of course. Some would honestly have preferred scores to be tightly contested around the 250 mark, with cute hands and daredevil running and imaginative bowling being decisive, rather than belligerent hitting on an epic new scale. Some would say we’ve gone further away from ‘proper cricket’. The Warners/Finches/Maxwells and McCullums have redefined what’s feasible, through stylishly-brutally marmalising the notion of what 50 over batting looked like – particularly in the early phases. There’s no polite reconnaissance of the bowling now… it’s a carve-fest from the first delivery. Some regret that.

I think it’s truer and fairer to say that this is simply and increasingly a different game. It’s barely the same genus as Test Cricket, let alone the same species. And because the world’s changed, because kids and teens and maybe all of us are hot-wired now into orgasmic boomathons, there’s likely no going back. But that different game – the one where a screw is turned slowly, or a plan hatched over time – can run beautifully parallel.

It seems certain to me that this Proper Cricket thing may need (may need to rely on?) the support of its adrenalin-soaked bi-product. Don’t faff with Test Cricket, mind; its quiet majesty or deep dull glories really should be preserved in a kind of tamper-proof aspic. We can surely identify this as the authentic cricket experience – the soul of the game – and let the riot-in-a-brothel next door rumble on. So don’t go phoning The Rozzers, grab a beer and a flag and maybe some fancy dress – get into it!

World Cup 2015 was magic. Electrifying and sporting enough – everything a legitimate global sports event should be. Zillions of people all over were engaged or they were going ballistic. Staying up all night, bawling at the telly or into their bevvies or tinnies or teas – captured or enraptured.

Look the Australians were the best team and they won. The Black Caps were a revelation and they made the final. There was that inflamed heartland thing going on again, as the local gangs glared good-heartedly enough at each other then went at it. We could all buy in at the death – pick our second team and give it some verbals.

In the end – the chillingly appropriate, utterly predictable end – the Aussies were undeniable and (goddammit) magnificent. There was that revelatory sense that whilst reasserting themselves they’d broken through into somewhere new.

But how?

Hours later and earworm du jour is

Some things change/ some stay the same… (‘Hymn to her’, if I’m not mistaken?)

Meaning I’m with Chrissie Hynde. Whilst thinking cricket. (I know… you may need to either ‘go with the flow‘, here, or stretch back in your chair to the Eighties).

OK, prepared to indulge? Then get this. Chrissie’s American; she’s got that streetwise thing goin’ on. She’s a wit – somewhere between a wit and a guru. She’s surfing ahead of something, maybe, happy to be exposed – to lead. You would listen. Hynde would be wicked company – authoritative on life, you feel, as well as on her particular metier. Park that thought.

Some time ago I spent three hours in the company of Mike Young, the Chicago-born fielding consultant to the Australian cricket team. He was leading what tends to be called a ‘workshop’ for coaches at Glamorgan CC. In fact it was a chat in a classroom setting – that was the way it turned out. But it was superb.

Mike told us about his early days and the extraordinary but okaaay, viable leap he made from pro baseball, to coaching in Chicago, to coaching fielding… in Australia… in cricket. The story was in every sense fabulous despite the obvious crossovers between (mere) catching and throwing skills. The more Mike spoke the clearer it became that something about his manner as well as his knowledge made it figure entirely that he became central to the great and dominant Aussie cricket teams of the incomparable Warne/McGrath era.

Without him ever (I promise!) being boastful, we learned that McGrath may owe his longevity to Young in the sense that Mike sorted out his throwing arm and shoulder and that a Hussey or two felt deeply, deeply indebted to the baseball man. As time went on and Mike’s presence became ever-more integral to the cause, a series of world-beating teams pretty much insisted that Young was traveling with them as they blew the opposition away around the globe. In short the players loved him and wanted him on board because they rated him as a bloke and as a coach.

After an absence, Young has been back working with the Australian team. A team which has just stormed to another Cricket World Cup trophy – their fifth.

I am not here to make some ridiculous claim that Mike Young’s affability has turned Aussie cricket around and gifted them the World Cup; I don’t even know the current level of his involvement. But I am going to say this; Young is hearty, inspiring, funny and charismatic. He gets the necessary humour of this blokey-sporty thing. He understands how players feed off matie-ness as well as offering brilliant, convincing leadership in which they trust.

That phenomenon (I like this notion of team ‘humour’) strikes me as boomtasticallly relevant now. It’s the matrix; players being gathered, being receptive.

Almost always it takes personality to drive that; almost always the coaching staff are key.

Darren Lehmann evidently has this liberating confidence – as does Mike Young. So it figures to me that this Australian side has transformed in remarkably quick time from a side battered by England (of all people!) into an unbeatable, backslapping grin-monster. They are happy, they are playing without fear, they are (as I tend to say) outliving themselves. They have found that delicious and deliciously transient nirvana; or more accurately they have been suggested, prompted, freed towards it by the coach.

That, within the cosmic thunderclap of change, is the thing which stays the same. It may have more to do with reading humans than with reading the coaching manual, or reading the riot act.