Worcester.

#FirstWorldProblems. Can’t hardly see my screen, such is the intensity of the sunlight. But hey, can’t start with a mither about the spectacular Rick-directed brightness. Even if it has bundled me into breaking out the dodgy cap… and even if I am now squirming, just a little, in our outdoor cabin/glasshouse. Worcester, right now, you are quirky and beautiful and – as we say in Wales – bluddy lush, mun.

New Zealand win the toss and opt to field. Two changes, for England – Wyatt and Farrant in.

Interestingly, Wyatt, collecting her 200th England cap today, will bat at seven. Lots of talk about rotation and ‘workload’. Tiny crowd in, all things considered. (Sunday; good value day out, in bright sunshine; competitive international fixture in prospect). Kerr will bowl to Winfield-Hill. Beaumont the other opener. Slightly surreal situation where I have BBC Radio on – for the cricket – and 5 metres to my right (but indoors) Alison Mitchell and Georgia Adams are doing it live.

Captain Sophie Devine will follow Kerr’s quiet opener. Beaumont greets her with a classical forward drive, beating mid-off. Four. Then a full delivery on leg stick is clipped away and a third boundary comes via a full-toss, through extra. Ah. Then, having biffed 12 runs off 6 deliveries, Beaumont rather shockingly leaves one… and is bowled. She a) mis-read the angle a little and b) wasn’t ready for the critical but minor twitch off the pitch. Off stump pinged. 14 for 1. Drama Overload, early-doors.

Kerr is back for the third. The unflappable, irresistible, quietly magnificent Heather Knight (no pressure!) is in.

More action in the next over, again bowled by Devine. Winfield-Hill lifts over point then hits shot of the day – early shout but may not be beaten – creaming one out between the offside fielders. Eased out, in fact, beautifully. Five overs done and the home side are 27 for 1. Time for Tahuhu.

Out on the field I’m thinking the temperature is about 70 degrees. Where the (three of us) Written Press People are sitting it’s into the 80s. #Justsaying. We are all wearing dodgy caps but still squinting from beneath their plainly inadequate peaks. The day is ridiculous; again. Whilst we’re digressing I note that Bromsgrove School are sponsoring something down here: their logo is up on the scoreboard. Have been there on junior tours. Three cricket pitches and a general embarrassment of riches.

Did I mention we’re viewing from third man? (Right hand bat). Knight pulls Tahuhu hard, for four. 45 for 1 after 8, with both batters looking tidy. Fifty is up as Kerr strays narrowly but beats everything. The trashy metal pillar with its peeling paint and stubborn permanence, blocking my view of mid-off and the cathedral… will only be mentioned once.

Winfield-Hill really does clatter Tahuhu over square leg, for a one-bounce four. Ten over powerplay done, England 59 for 1.

Rowe joins us for the 11th, from the New Road End. A floaty away-swinger draws a nick, from Knight: gone, caught Martin, for 18. (It did swing late – so great ball, first up). Sciver will join Winfield-Hill. Mixed over, ultimately, containing two wides and a worldie. Tahuhu follows.

Winfield-Hill again pushes neatly through the covers. With Beaumont and Knight both gone, she will feel England need her to go big. Might make sense for her to bat through whilst the likes of Sciver and Wyatt bring some boom.

*Except* that the Mighty Sciver is leaving us, having tamely chipped to cover, off the outer edge. Again Rowe the successful bowler. 67 for 3 and New Zealand back in the game. Amy Jones – who is by nature a positive or attacking player – will be conscious that a Proper Partnership is needed. Credit to the Ferns, who are again looking organised, committed and a threat. Devine returns, to look to press home the recent advantage.

Another sloppy dismissal. Jones has tried a wristy flick but merely dinked one straight to midwicket. Given the context, poor. 68 for 4 so England in some minor grief. Dunkley will have a further opportunity to fill that post-collapse ‘saviour’ role. (Henry Moeran informs us that England have fallen into a 3 for 89 off 22 balls-sized hole, of late). Strikes me again that New Zealand – the away side – are here to compete.

Dunkley takes Rowe for four. A trainer brings on water – and no doubt *messages*.

Alex Hartley is suddenly bit mortified she said “brain fart” on the radio – describing that Beaumont dismissal. Izzy Westbury meanwhile is waxing lyrical about the delivery, from Sophie Devine. Genuinely encouraging to see and hear the comm-box – doorway, 3.25 metres to my right – owned by young women.

Coo. The stand is now just offering a little protection from the glare. Still magical conditions out where it matters. Oh – and the crowd has grown, too. Significantly.

Quiet period – as there was, mid-innings, in the previous game of the series. Dunkley air-shotting and Winfield-Hill weirdly missing from the action. The England pair may yet ‘see this out’ but it’s a battle, currently. W-H has 30 from 49 and Dunkley is on 10, off 24. Tahuhu goes short and is pulled – but just for the single.

The bowler repeats that shortish one and Dunkley gets in a mess; succeeding only in scuffing it from high on the bat to the catcher at midwicket. She’s drawn lots of lurv, this season, for her strong contributions with the bat (in domestic formats) plus her fielding has been highly-rated, but live, for England, I’ve not been that convinced, by Dunkley. Even when she allegedly carried England through, at Hove. Batting a touch scratchy, fielding mixed: possible rather than nailed-on ‘international’ is my view, thus far – outlier though that makes me.

Another decent ball gets another ugly wicket. 85 for 5; enter Dani Wyatt . Our first sight of Kasperek in the match. Wyatt is another ‘natural counter-attacker’: am fascinated to know what her coach Keightley might have said (if anything) before she marched out. Only 20 overs into the event.

Wyatt rises to her tiptoes and cuts Tahuhu neatly for four. Genuine, quick bouncer follows. The batter ducks. Another short one is clonked forward of square, raising two more, before the hundred is up, in this the 22nd over. (So run-rate mediocre… and credit New Zealand as well as indifferent batting).

Cloud cover has increased by 39.4%. No idea if that was forecast – don’t think we’re expecting any rain – but England might want to draft Shrubsole back in, sharpish.

25 overs in – so halfway. England 110, which is probably 30 runs light of where they’d like or expected to be. 5 down. Assuming they use the overs, a total of around 250 seems not unthinkable. It may be enough. For the home side to get beyond that this Wyatt/Winfield-Hill axis may need to persist and then flourish. It could. In any event we’re back to thought that White Ferns compete well, with the ball. For the sake of the game and the series, I hope they can do the same with the bat.

Satterthwaite joins, W-H seems becalmed. Then disaster. Wyatt pulls Kasperek and the batters set off. Two is questionable; or questioned; or risked; or out of the question. Utter howler on the communications front: both batters finish up at the same end. Village? Oh yes. It’s Winfield-Hill who has to walk. After 28 overs, with Charlie Dean now in there with Wyatt, England are in bother at 122 for 6.

To her credit, Wyatt is sweeping Satterthwaite ambitiously. Four behind square.

Meteorologically, the sky is falling in, to match the English innings. Low, decidedly grey cloud over most of the ground. Significantly more bowler-friendly (theoretically) than a couple of hours ago. Interestingly, the Ferns are going with spin through this ‘seamers’ dream’.

Dean, now on 8, plays and misses at Kasperek. Then gets a fine, fine edge which is given after review. 134 for 7 as Ecclestone walks out there. Good running brings a rare three, behind. With under-achievement now seeming inevitable, for England, so our speculation about what seems likely, from New Zealand, becomes increasingly pertinent. Truth is… hard to know. (Always hard to know, of course, but today from this batting line-up – which to be honest, we still know comparatively little about – hard to know). England will probably bowl and field well. The rest – guesswork.

Kerr is in from New Road. The rate of scoring is only about 4 per over. Wyatt waits then cuts away behind square. Four. She now has 35.

Ecclestone – who is a swiper and clubber rather than a genuine bat – clumps Kasperek towards cover and it falls just short. Then Wyatt clouts over extra and Devine is scurrying back there… but again, safe – rather narrowly. Tense. Not sure you would bet on the home side using the overs.

Rowe is back for the 35th over, with England 144 for 7. Ecclestone clubs her short one directly to midwicket. Sloppy again? I would say so. Cross edges her first ball finely and safely. Moments later, reaching at Kasperek, she edges and finds gully. 146 for 9. Whatever happens next – and it *is entirely possible* that England blow the Ferns away as the afternoon turns to evening – this is close to humiliating, for Knight’s team. A whole series of ver-ry poor dismissals.

Farrant has joined Wyatt with a remarkable 15 overs remaining. 150 up before Farrant clips away a leg-side full-toss. Rowe is soon met with a violent straight hit, middled, from Wyatt – the game’s first six. I have on occasion been critical of Wyatt’s capacity for gifting her wicket. *Ironies*. Today she may get to 50 whilst effectively being both the anchor and the sticking-plaster. (I have never doubted that she is a player).

Tahuhu is back and Farrant, who I note *carries the bat like a bowler, whilst running between the sticks*, stands firm. And wow… the sun is back. Really back, blazing again from our right.

Rowe, to try to end this, from New Road. Bowls another wide. Farrant has 11 and Wyatt 45. Weather-wise, we’re back where we started – in Near Wild Heaven. Rowe returns to Wide Hell, sadly – despite showing promise, has bowled manifestly too many. 171 for 9 as Tahuhu comes in for the 40th over. Farrant looks, or is trying to look unflustered but seems a little racy, somehow. Flicks at one down leg but the snick falls short of Martin.

Prolonged and hearty applause, as Wyatt reaches 50. Likewise when she booms Rowe over mid-off for her second six. Fine, lone knock, enjoyed and appreciated.

Farrant edges Rowe but again the ball drops short of the keeper. So things feel precarious. Wyatt back-cuts Tahuhu but Green makes an outstanding diving stop at the boundary. May have to start calling Tarrant ‘plucky’. Has 21. May have been a case for getting Kerr and Devine on 5 or 6 overs ago. Kerr will bowl the 43rd.

200 will feel like a ‘milestone’. England approaching. The 50 partnership is up; could be major in the game. Can Kasperek break this open? Not immediately; Wyatt successfully dropping and scampering. But then… yes. Farrant is caught by Green at mid-on, unable to power up and over. England 197 all out: disappointing from them. Good, from the White Ferns.

The White Ferns Reply.

Sciver, first up, for England, in returning cloud, with Suzie Bates to face. Lauren Down the other batter. Quiet over, then Farrant, whom I suspect may swing it. The rather mean thought(?) has occurred that *whatever happens*, we will be travelling to our homes come about 5.30pm. Winfield-Hill draws generous applause with a bold, successful diving stop.

Sciver is doing that exaggerated vertical pistons thing and searching for a full length. No dramas. 10 for 0 after 3. A shower feels not impossible, suddenly. Bit unfortunate that the screen opposite us, from which we’ve had the benefit of replays, is no longer offering footage. Would be good to see if Farrant, in particular, is getting anything through the air. If she is, it’s not troubling Bates, who has moved to 19. (As I finish this sentence, we get stump-cam, then four seconds of video, then back to zilch. More #firstworldproblems).

Bates cracks Sciver through the covers for four more. 33 for 0 after 7. Perfect, for the Ferns. Farrant will continue but I’m guessing there may be changes after this over. Indeed there are; Kate Cross, from the Diglis End, for starters. Bates ungenerously whips her for four. But the Slightly Sloppy Wicket theme recurrs, as Bates drives straight to Wyatt. The catch is reviewed but confirmed, despite unconvincing angles and picture clarity. Probably out, I would say. 40 for 1 as Farrant comes in again.

Down goes to 11 with a nicely-focussed off-drive, for four. 44 for 1, at 10 overs completed. Imagine Farrant feels – or her skipper does – that there’s still something in this for her. She gets a sixth over.

My feeling is that Cross is a bowler of good spells and not so many killer balls. And that she also tends to offer width – and boundaries, to off. Happening here, a little. She almost gets a caught and bowled, as Down pushes. 62 for 1 after 13. Comfortable, for New Zealand. Ecclestone will look to disturb the relative peace.

She does. Green is caught by a ver-ry watchful Charlie Dean. Ball steepled to long-on. Wicket out of nowhere? Ecclestone’s your gal. Satterthwaite comes in at 63 for 2. A thin rain is falling – not enough, for now, to interrupt the game.

It may, however, have interrupted the White Ferns’ concentration. Down is lbw to Cross and does not review. 63 for 3. Devine time.

They’re starting from scratch together but Satterthwaite and Devine might manage this situation better than most. Have quality; have experience. Drinks break whilst we contemplate what that might mean. 73 for 3 after 16, New Zealand.

Cross, once more. Devine crunches her square but Beaumont’s hands are good. No run. Sciver can’t match that. She dives over a drilled drive and it goes for four. Not had a great time of it, today, the all-rounder. Just heard on social that Jimmy Greaves has died. Sad moment; he was a genius on the pitch and a character in our lives off it.

*Almost something* as Wyatt is throwing at the bowler’s end with Devine looking stranded, following yet another communications failure. Wyatt is probably England’s best fielder but the throw is missing and Cross can’t haul it in. An escape, for the Ferns.

Satterthwaite fails to make the best of that escape. She slashes at Cross and is caught sharply behind by the consistently excellent Jones. Halliday has joined Devine. Dean will bowl her first from the Diglis End. Devine sweeps her powerfully, for four. Twice. Ten from the over, 100 up, 4 down, as we go into the 22nd.

The screens are now helpfully telling us that the White Ferns need three point something-something runs per over. And it’s raining finely again. And the game feels quiet rather than tense. For now. Little bit surprised that the umpires are allowing the players to go off – the rain really seems ver-ry minor*. Maybe they’re hearing that it will persist. 111 for 4 after 24 overs, at the break of play.

*Update. I’m both wrong and right. It’s minor but it’s too prolonged and uncomfortable to play through. We wait. Just heard about that Hammers Icon, Noble. Eek-face emoji running rampant on the Twitters, I imagine?

Further update: ‘unexpected shower sets in’ shock. No floodlights. Game under some threat…

It’s cleared – or clearing. We could start in 15 minutes but we *are starting* in 35, apparently. Stand by your beds.

Slightly reduced game, due to time lost/no lights/autumnal wotsits. 42 over game, now and New Zealand need 72 to win. So a round 4 an over will get the visitors home. That shortened game favours them in the sense that you would think their 6 remaining wickets can survive the overs. But let’s see.

Sciver will start us off. Jumpers on, now, for most. Coolish and the surface will be slightly damp. Imagine England will have to bowl them out to win this(?) Two from the over.

Now from our left, at the New Road End, it’s Ecclestone. Sharp reflexes from the bowler, last ball; one single conceded. Then *moment*. Sciver gets straight through Devine. Difficult to be sure but appeared that the batter mistimed the stroke, going gently across the line. Devine made 28 and her team need 66. Dean comes in: is Ecclestone changing ends, or being ‘saved?’

Thick edge from Martin but the next ball bowls her. Some revs evident, but no turn. 121 for 6, she’s gone for 6. Dean thrilled.

The incoming Rowe drives competently past Knight – who is maybe a little wooden – and gets the boundary. Then more Sciver. No dramas.

Back to Dean, with the tension just beginning to ratchet up. Nice, free action. Singles. The sense that Halliday may be more vulnerable than Rowe. 30 0vers; 12 remain. 52 to win this. Cross will return from the Diglis End. Starts with a yorker, kept out, by Halliday. Inside edge brings one, to fine leg. Dean races around to protect that same boundary – successfully.

Halliday, crouching and fending unconvincingly, is struck on the helmet by a good length delivery, from Cross. Minor delay but she seems okay. No question that Rowe is presenting the bat better than her partner… but not well enough. Dean has her lbw. Flighted delivery which turned just a tickle – hitting leg. Kasperek joins Halliday at 135 for 7.

First ball she utterly mistimes… and misses… but survives. Encouraging wee spell for Dean, acknowledged by the crowd (us) as she returns to third man. (*Spoiler alert*: she will finish with a four-fer). Halliday swivels to pick Cross up very fine and the ball flies, from the hip to the boundary. Run rate just creeping against the Ferns, now but still below 5, so hardly insurmountable. Dean is holding steady. 145 for 7 off 34. Meaning 38 required, off 8 overs. Ecclestone.

Two dot balls. Single. Dot ball. Halliday advances and slices a touch. Lots of side-spin as the ball sinks into the boundary markers. Halliday has a precious 29, without looking entirely in her flow. Dean is in to her now. The ball is fired in, a little and flashes past the bat. Halliday cannot regain her ground as the keeper Jones pounces. Tahuhu – who batted notably well in the last game – is in.

Big Day for Dean, then – something of a breakthrough day. The momentum is with England as Ecclestone comes in again but she knows boundaries must not come. If Kasperek and Tahuhu can keep their composure they will feel that this is still within reach… but it’s now undeniably tense. Three dot balls from Dean then an l.b. shout. Given and not reviewed. 161 for 9. Kerr joins Tahuhu. Slight hunch that the latter could still win this with a few well-timed blows… but England clear favourites.

Farrant. Is edged through the keeper! Then bowls a touch short and may be fortunate to concede just the single. The left-arm seamer closes this out, though, as Tahuhu guides a full one straight to the England skipper at catching mid-off. Very generous applause for both sides as they depart from the outfield. Another tightish game – albeit reduced – won by England with 14 runs to spare. Importantly, another contest.

The White Ferns have been well in both of these two one-day matches, before fading or lacking the batting depth to earn the victories. (In truth, this was the prime concern for those of us trying to stay relatively neutral – the fear that if Bates and Devine and A. N. Other didn’t carry the innings, the side might prove vulnerable. So it has proved). New Zealand will not be liking the sense that they are threatening to be a good side.

England, meanwhile, have been pressured to the point that they, despite an apparent wealth of talent, looked an ordinary batting unit, rescued only by a fine, belated partnership between Wyatt and Farrant. There were serial errors in the innings, suggesting scrambled minds and a worrying contagion: this is a concern for them. Good work in the field has bailed them out, again, here.

The series needs the White Ferns to bat longer, bat more dynamically. England need to assert some authority – if indeed they have it – or check their assumptions about where they sit in the world game. The Keightley Era feels a bit neurotic.

Things you need to know.

Pre-game:

Weighted balls are in.

Hopping is in.

Sunshine and clouds are in.

The Lads – Henry C and a clutch of the England backroom staff – are going through their own warm-up. Separate from them silly gals. Serious keepie-uppie football. Lasting waaaay longer than them silly gals did. The Lads, however, are shite, or medium-shite. (The Girls, meanwhile, are – yaknow – international athletes).

New Zealand (again) look a really well-drilled outfit. Shockingly, I don’t even know who their coaching team is led by*… but they are notably well-organised, focussed and impressively on it, in their warm-ups. And it’s a whole-team effort, somehow, neatly put together and overseen by the several coaches. (My strong feeling is that this groove has begun to transfer across to the matches: the IT20 series built into an excellent, competitive bundle essentially because New Zealand grew).

*Checked. Bob Carter.

12.30 to 50-odd. Lovely longish chat with Neneto Davies, from the ACE Programme, set up to support Afro-Caribbean cricketers. He’s based in London but there’s been a PR thing here, today, as the new Bristol ACE scheme gets off the ground. Good guy; wish him well.

Missed the toss. Slightly surprised to hear that White Ferns won it and chose to bowl. Imagine that as well as that ‘let’s take a look at this’ angle, they think bowling/fielding may get more difficult later, with a damp ball(?)

First over, Devine bowling. Beaumont and Winfield-Hill in there for England. 5 scored. Bright sunshine with cloud over to our right. (‘We’ in the media centre, facing the iconic – well, almost – Ashley Down End flats).

Devine’s second over she gets notable away-swing. But starts it too wide, so signalled by the ump.

First *moment* sees Beaumont dropped, at slip. Given her record and her form, this could be really bad news, for the visitors. Streaky-but-swiftish, as opposed to an absolute gift.

Kerr is partnering Devine. The generally rather classical Winfield-Hill swishes across somewhat, scuffing to third man for a single. Beaumont shows her immediately how to do it, by adjusting her feet and straight-driving past extra cover for a quality four. Out-of-the-manual: gorgeous. I’ve moved outside the media centre – too muggy, indoors, despite being on the empty side – and the sun is beating down on my back… and then not. (Yup. Clouds).

Devine is struggling for line. Wides now plural. The World’s Most Annoying Pigeon is cooing extravagantly monotonously about four-foot-six behind me… or under me, or entirely in my head. Weird, empty fury building but Winfield-Hill remains undisturbed; drives out through the offside. Four more. 30 for 0 after 5, England.

Discussed the *crowd issue* with a young woman journalist. We reckon maybe 400-500 in, now – looked ver-ry unpromising, earlier. Beautiful day. Good contest in prospect. Some world-class players. I just don’t get it. Think we both concluded that it’s a sexist universe and barely improving. (It does improve as the day goes on but I find the attendance figure of 1200 and something quite difficult to believe).

Things just got better for White Ferns. Winfield-Hill tickles one that’s fairly substantially down the leg side and – ah! – is caught behind. Awful way to get out, maybe particularly when you’re looking well set? Whatever, out she goes, for a now pregnable but previously pretty impregnable-looking 21.

Rowe is in for Devine and has claimed the wicket; Tahuhu is in from in front of us, under the press box. Ten overs done and England are 47 for 1. The quietly, stoically, passively-measuredly-Englishly magnificent Heather Knight is the new bat.

Rowe is tall and rather imposing. Is getting some bounce to go with that pace. Beats Beaumont but Knight offers the blade confidently and finds the wee gap between point and cover: four more. End of the thirteenth and the home side have 59, for 1. Light breeze quite welcome; from long off to third man as we look at Beaumont, towards those flats. The batter drives square and holds the pose – boundary through point.

Our first spin, as Kasperek replaces Rowe. The bowler had a good IT20 series – leading wicket-taker but (without being ungenerous, this is really not my intention), I was never quite clear (despite being at two of the three short-format matches), if she *really bowled well*, or not.

Distracted again, at some length, to talk Cricket Development stuff with the ACE guys. (Their coach starts work, in Bristol, on Monday). Lots of this my territory – going into schools, trying to be that friendly, hopefully inspiring geezer that gathers kids in to the game. Really do wish them all well; seem really good people, which always helps.

22nd over and Devine has changed ends. Looks strong and determined but Beaumont is looking increasingly settled and her skipper is amongst the world’s best at enduring then cashing-in. So New Zealand must make something happen soonish, you sense. They review for lbw, strangely – or so it seems – because bowler not interested, initially. Beaumont has played defensively but her bat is tucked. Pad first and out. The opener made 44: 109 for 2.

Plusses and minuses? Out goes a very fine opener: in comes the world’s best all-rounder: Sciver. She defends Devine stoutly. We get to halfway and England are Nelson for 2. So steady progress but hardly bolting along. White Ferns applying themselves – as they do. Good game brewing?

Oof. Sciver tries to glide one, with soft hands, through third man but plays on. Sloppyish, arguably. Could be ver-ry big, in the match. 113 for 3: England bat deepish, theoretically but New Zealand unquestionably ahead in the game, now. Amy Jones – fine, positive player – is joining Knight. General thought: this is a good batting track, with runs *available*.

Satterthwaite has entered the fray from Ashley Down. Drags one down a little and Knight accepts the gift – four through the covers. (The England captain has moved, as she does, undramatically to 44. Yet again we may be seeing a telling contribution).

Or not. As Jones is bowled, hurried, by Tahahu so the contribution from Knight may become less relevant – or not. Feels possible that her side may even capitulate, here, meaning that she may be unable to significantly affect the Destiny of Things. But that may be premature. England 132 for 4, after 30. Perhaps the drinks break will allow the home side to breeeaaaathe and re-group? Major work to be done.

Knight gets to 50 in the 31st. Dunkley, who has had a solidly encouraging summer (but not entirely convinced me, if I’m honest), must remain watchful alongside.

Over 32, Kerr in, with only a third man and a 45 in the deep. Poorish ball, to be honest, but Dunkley is caught at the wicket, glancing to leg. (Glove, I think). What was I saying about capitulation? Brunt – whom I rate, but would be batting lower than 7 in a doctor Rick XI – has to yomp out there. 140 for 5, now, after 32. Trouble.

Alex Hartley and Steve Finn have joined me out on the balcony. (When I say ‘joined me’, this is more a figure of speech than a statement of fact. Incredibly, they appear not to know who I am). The sun remains warm. A dangerous hunch wafts in: New Zealand get to whatever total is set, with a single wicket down. Maybe worse still, the ridicu-hunch that this Keightley Era is going to be frustrating and under-achieving, ultimately: a thought that’s been broiling quietly with me, for some months.

A potentially ‘terminal’ running-out of Knight, as non-striker, via the outstretched hand of the bowler, is up on the screen to my right. Thank Christ – not out. The game might have been done. Instead we remain 147 for 5.

Good to see Brunt slap a short one from Tahuhu confidently to leg. England must do more than survive this. Soon she will be booming a violent straight drive, for four. The England pace bowler is one of the great competitors in world cricket – and I do mean that – and she is beginning to counter the White Fern momentum: as she must. (My reservations about her batting 7 were about her recent form with the wood, as well as the cultural imperative towards stacking the line-up).

Brunt is struck in front but reviews *absolutely immediately*. Predictably, on investigation, she is shown to have edged it. Finn – departed – is talking articulately on the wireless about England needing to have an aggressive period ‘as opposed to limping towards a semi-competitive total’. Dead right… but *has dangers*. Knight and Brunt might be thinking of targeting best part of a hundred from the last ten overs. Might need to be thinking that.

Devine bowls the 40th over and Brunt bludgeons her for two, over extra, then gloves one for four, behind. Helpful. 174 for 5. Do think anything shy of (an admittedly unlikely) 260 will feel manifestly light. Good yorker from Rowe almost unzips Knight but the response is bold: four over mid-off. An essential 50 partnership is up as Knight smashes a poor full-toss from Devine, square. Knight is 71 as we get through the 42nd.

Some more leg-spin, from Kasperek. Knight unfurls a beauty of a reverse to claim four more, then the 200 is up. I’m out of the sunshine, finally but the ground is still bathed. Lovely scene; shame more aren’t here to enjoy it. The ACE guys are jostling and gathering: taking what I imagine might be awestruck kids out onto the pitch at the innings break.

Brunt and to a lesser extent Knight are hitting hard… and mostly middling. When the former edges thinly, she is happy to see the ball loop swiftly enough up and over to the fine leg boundary: fortunate but safe. 213 for 5 after 45. The skipper has 81 so is on for a ton. Brunt has 36.

Devine is as important to the White Ferns as Knight is to England. She is in from underneath us for the next – from which 8 runs come. 260 do-able(?)

Kasperek will bowl her final over, from Ashley Down. Brunt shuffles early before clattering straight back over the bowler for a particularly emphatic boundary. 228 for 5.

Suddenly, Knight’s work is done. Caught and bowled Kasperek for a flawless 89. Feels bit cruel. Ecclestone, who is a hitter but no stylist, has come in.

England’s momentum is stalled further as Brunt is cleaned out, advancing. Good straight ball from Kerr. Genuinely worthy and typically battling contribution of 43, from England’s bowling ace.

Cross enters and rather brilliantly – deftly, absurdly confidently – flips to fine leg, for four, first up. Ridiculous, and unthinkable even a year or two ago. Devine switches ends again and takes the pace off. Then re-injects it, to Ecclestone, who booms and is caught. Or not. No ball!

A wicket comes, however, as Cross slightly tamely reaches and lobs to cover. Dean – the debutant – will get a brief knock. 240 for 8, England, as we welcome Kerr for the final over.

Dean’s stay really may be brief as she is given lbw… but eventually reviews. Gone, for a single. Enter Davies. 241 for 9 becomes all out, same score, as Ecclestone is exposed halfway down the track. No blame attached – she was quite rightly looking to get a couple more hits.

That England total is a poor one, irrespective of what follows: this is a 300 pitch. Hey ho, the ACE guys and a bundle of grinning kids, now on the outfield – are having their Moment In the Sun. I will enjoy that as I grab some nosh.

Final word, for now. The wonderful and mighty Sophie Devine has *come straight back out* to get her eye in, with the bat. Bringing me neatly back to that hunch… that the White Ferns might win this at a ridicu-canter. Let’s see.

The Reply.

Brunt maiden then Sciver, for England. Bates and Down will surely be more ‘patient’ here than a very patient thing? Take root for 30 overs. Chill, then shake-out, mid-wicket, shouting “na-ner-na-ner-ner!” before charging towards a crushing win. Or not. White Ferns will love a crushingly dull start.

They don’t get it. Sciver has Bates caught at a slightly wide first slip – Knight collecting competently. After 4 overs the visitors are 2 for 1.

Sciver and Brunt are applying the squeeze that England need but for now, New Zealand barely need to care. (After 6 overs the scoreboard has cranked asthmatically over to 5 for 1. Paralysis, but for the game situation, which makes it quietly o-kaaay… for both sides).

Sciver is still bowling with Knight at effectively second slip and Winfield-Hill at fourth. She beats Down on the inside but the ball died, rather than did something. First change will be Cross, for Brunt, from the Ashley Down Road End. Green goes to 9, with a little width on offer: square, our first boundary.

No change at this end, as Nat Sciver continues, with a disciplined, fourth-stump kindofa line. Down has a weird, wild slash at one – first sign of frustration and nerves? Could be. ‘Something in the head’ gives and she’s edging behind, next ball. Now that perfectly acceptable stasis lurches a tad towards (potential) crisis. 17 for 2 after 10 overs – and yes you read that right. England have been ver-ry efficient. Now the Ferns must battle.

Satterthwaite – theoretically the third of the BIG THREE, for New Zealand – joins Green. Freya Davies will run in from almost directly in front of us, to challenge her. Right arm over, with a distinctive, backward-leaning approach, Davies makes no further inroads.

Cross is coming in fluently, from t’other end. She bowls boldly full and gets the reward – Knight taking a sharp catch at slip, low down. Green gone, Devine is in and missing her first ball… but it’s going down. Clutch period right now, meaning we’ve gone from stately cruise to Squeaky Bum Time alarmingly swiftly – certainly from the White Ferns’ point of view. 33 for 3, in the 17th.

Yet there are plusses, for New Zealand. Right/left combination and two of their finest out there, together. Time in the game. Big ask but these are Big Players. Proper Sport, upcoming.

Sixteen overs in, drinks break. Lights on. 57 for 3; Satterthwaite 13 and Devine on 11. Dean gets a bowl – her first, ever, in this shirt – and in the fabulous sunshine. We get into another quiet period… but this now suits England more than the visitors, arguably(?) Beaumont makes a notably fine stop at backward point to deny runs.

Dean is bouncing in confidently enough; putting some revs on the ball but finding no meaningful spin. This area – as many of you will know – is balloon central. Globes appearing, mysteriously and beautifully to our right. Oh – and we have shadows.

First sight of Ecclestone, in the 20th over. No dramas.

As we go on, so the fascination grows, or changes, without revealing. Both batters into their 20s. Run rate rising (of course) but not unthinkable *if these two stay together*. (163 off 29, needed). Mostly, the two batters are good – were always expected to be key, or important. So this slow game is a Slow Burner. For now. Pleasing symmetry as we have equidistant globes floating over deeeeeep fine leg and deeeeeeep third man. Must be stunning up there.

Cross comes in for Dean at Ashley Down. Just to break things up and maybe invite the unforced error. Devine defies. Courageous, floaty leg-cutter, from Cross. Patience from both sides. Who will twitch?

Arguably Satterthwaite. She charges and biffs Ecclestone straight – but aerial. Winfield-Hill is no sprinter but not sure if even Villiers or Wyatt would have gotten there. (Neither are playing, of course). Ball plugs, harmlessly. 97 for 3 after 26. Run-rate required, about 6 an over. Heat gone or going from the day.

Another teaser brings up the 100. Fortuitously. Wicked, flying edge loops tantalisingly towards Ecclestone. Like W-H, she is not one of England’s more dynamic fielders. She can’t get there – and again, Dina Asher-Smith may not have done. Generally, England’s fielders looking spookily, healthily fixated, particularly as Ecclestone whirls towards the crease. Remarkable, synchronised ‘walking-in’ going on. Tempted to film it.

Cross again bowls full. Devine clubs it but not cleanly. We have a great angle to see it fly – straight – to – mid-off. With time – bewitchingly – slow-ing – down. Easy catch; huge moment. The White Ferns’ anchor gone for 34. Enter Martin, with *stuff to do*. Satterthwaite has 44; her new partner may need to match that.

She can’t. On 9, she miscues a slightly half-hearted sweep and dollies to leg gully: Ecclestone the bowler. Ferns’ hopes fading with the light? Would appear so. 124 for 5 in the 32nd, as we break again. Halliday the new batter. She’s a leftie.

She’s gone, first ball. Maybe it squirted through a little but Halliday got nothing on it. Life is cruel. Rowe, the tall quick, must bat as Brunt returns, having bowled four consecutive maidens in her first spell. The universe is suddenly(?) conspiring pret-ty heavily against an away-win, here. 127 for 6, after 33. 115 required, so towards 7 per over needed.

Fuller one has Ecclestone appealing – confidently. (Looked out, first shuftie). Wrong. Missing, because no turn. Rowe continues.

Brunt slaps a loose one down leg, to Satterthwaite. Wide. 19.14 hours and dusky – or approaching. Satterthwaite drops and scuttles through, for her fifty: Rowe has to stretch but does get there. But Brunt – who has that Not To Be Denied look about her – is not to be denied. Has Rowe plum the very next ball. Knight promptly and wisely takes the opportunity to give newcomer Dean another dart. Kerr is facing in rapidly fading light, with hopes all but extinguished. Quiet over.

Her next is unquiet because it brings Dean’s first international wicket – that of Kerr, bowled. Hugs and giant smiles. Ooh. The smiles are temporarily parked as Tahuhu responds with successive boundaries, but Dean is in that magic book.

A game I thought might be a run-fest may conclude with a chase failing to get much beyond 150. England were ver-ry light, score-wise: now the opposition trail behind. Where does that all leave us? This is all false-leads and dummy denouements.

Tahuhu brings some encouraging defiance, for the Ferns. It’s a free hit but she is hitting. The stadium announcer reminds us that England were not that much ahead of the current New Zealand score, of 170 for 8. (A mere 4 runs, extraordinarily). Surely this can’t lurch away from Knight and co? Surely? As the dark lands gently – like a balloon, perhaps? – Davies pipes up.

It’s a “no”. A truly delicious slower ball does for Tahuhu, who made a valiant and entertaining 25: she is comprehensively bowled. Last bat in there is Kasperek. She cheekily scoops Ecclestone; not entirely convincingly but the subsequent boundary, square to off, is pleasingly legit. Might the innings get to 200? Does it make any difference? Maybe.

194 for 9 after 43. So 48 needed off 42 balls. A breeze, in other formats, other scenarios. Here it feels low on frisson because – well, Kasperek and against the grain of everything. (But is there grain?) Ecclestone, predictably, concedes just the one from the over, thereby shutting that proverbial silo-door-thing.

Kasperek edges Cross for four: somehow, 200 passed. 45 overs done and 41 needed (from 30 balls). Brunt. Surely? Surely we are done?

Boundaries. Plural. Satterthwaite’s composure the opposite of unruffled. Except great ball beats her but no dramas. We have that thing where the drama-vacuum is stealthily – without twitching, or revealing or offering or denying – threatening mega-drama. The media centre is quiet because, well, WHAT DARE WE WRITE?!? (And naturally Yours F Truly is most likely to Come A Cropper here, writing foolishly, masochistically live).

Except it was never in doubt. Because run-out: Kasperek short as a killer throw came in. Winfield-Hill delivering.

To add to the surreal almost-fraught/almost-faux-ness of everything, the monitors in the media centre cut out at The Critical Moment… so we grievously stressed scribes missed out on the review. A VAR-like, tension-deflating, was it yes/was it no moment intervenes. We can only be sure when the England players bounce, *out there*. All oddly appropriate, somehow.

So England batted unconvincingly, largely – were at least 30 short – but won by 30 runs.

Keightley might argue, if we hear her – and we often don’t – that squad rotation played a role in the partial misfire. And it could be. The White Ferns might counter that they were never out of it. And it could be. A bigger crowd might actually have made the event spicier and the drama (or potential drama) juicier or more likely. Who knows? This was a bewildering, elusive un-feast of a game: almost satiating, almost starving us. I may need a kebab.

In the Uncertainty Vortex, some factoids. Heather Knight was Player of the Match – deservedly. New Zealand bowled and fielded well; plainly forced the England underachievement with the bat. Contraflow? Neither side scored enough runs on this pitch (whatever that means).

Post-game.

Hunches? The early wicket – the failure – of Bates, feels/felt important.

The England middle order remains fickle but their squad depth may prove critical.

Villiers should be in this side, never mind this squad. It doesn’t lack quality but shots of brilliance make a difference.

*However*, the coach has every right – indeed, has a responsibility – to build an extended, experienced group… before settling and being clear upon her best eleven.

I am not clear what any of this means. And I blame the game.

MASSIVE NEWS.

As so often, a prequel, or post-quel; or, at any rate, *some thoughts* after the event.

This series, won at the death by England, has been (as my grandpa might have said) a good ‘un. Arguably neither extravagantly high quality nor persistently, heart-quickeningly dramatic, until that deliciously balanced finale… but, essentially, even and competitive, in a way that made it feel compelling, ‘legitimate’* and increasingly relevant. In short, being solid international-level fayre and nip and tuck pretty much throughout – well, after that one-sided first game – it had proper value.

There was, predictably, some real excellence from Ferns’ Devine and Bates and a striking contribution from Kasperek, with the ball. From England there was one outstanding knock from Beaumont, more budding fireworks from Wyatt and Jones, plus an evening where Mady Villiers rocked Hove to its erm… rocktastic roots. Oh, and inevitably the wonderfully, endlessly reliable Heather Knight effectively led her England Posse through – as she does. But the White Ferns absolutely delivered in terms of staking a claim to the highest echelons: from their warm-up drills onwards, they looked a well-organised outfit – certainly equal to or beyond India – who may be laying claim to that third spot behind world-leaders Australia and wannabees England.

Will be fascinating to see if the 50 over format exposes any frailties in the New Zealand squad strength: there is a sense that England just have more, or are less reliant, possibly, on their Playing Icons. But do they really bat deeper? And in any case, might Devine and Bates win the bladdy series on their own? We’ve seen enough from Chelmsford, Hove and Taunton to suggest they might. Onwards, to Bristol, with no little relish.

*Not that I don’t think women’s international cricket is legit: plainly I do. However ‘Social’ and beyond point us to continuing reminders that there is still a universe of sceptics (and arseholes) out there. (See previous blog).

So the MASSIVE NEWS IS I’m not going to ball-by-ball this. And Suzie Bates just received a robust clap to mark an astonishing 250 appearances for White Ferns. And Heather Knight (as of tonight, 200 matches) and Kath Brunt are restored, for England. And Mady Villiers – who was *staggeringly good*, at Hove, cannot get in the England side – which seems extraordinary but will be partly due to the moist and moody conditions. (Still, Mady must be wondering wtf do I have to do.)

6.00 pm and England win the toss; Knight chooses to field. A shower looks worryingly imminent. We are in a marquee at long-on(ish)/third mannish, depending.

The inclusion of Brunt and Knight is an obvious signal that England want to win this wee series. They both bring guts, experience, quality and maybe critically consistency. That Villiers omission may for all I know be due to minor injury (or something) but her contribution was so notable in the last game, I do wonder if she might have been preferred to Glenn – who is a significant notch down, on the fielding skills front. (Fully understand that Glenn offers that proverbial ‘point of difference’, being a leggie, but Biggish Call?)

Couple of fielding fails. Farrant can’t grab a throw-in from Knight: if she had maybe the run-out was on. Then Glenn is clumsy as the ball flies past her. Lots of meteorological *mood-music* above us but no rain – which feels fortunate. Four bowling changes in four overs: Brunt/Farrant/Sciver/Ecclestone. 28 for 0 after 4.

Brunt bowls a genuine bouncer, at Devine. The second one is dispatched, by Bates, through midwicket. Ecclestone looks flattish and ‘swiftish’, from our relatively sideways-on position: 37 for 0, New Zealand, with Bates on 27 as the England spinner concludes the powerplay.

Feels explosive when Farrant castles Bates. Impossible to see (from our medium-unhelpful position) if the ball did something in the air but it was deliciously full: satisfying clatter echoes round the place. Satterthwaite is arguably the last of the White Fern Big Guns; she comes in now, at 45 for 1.

Glenn bowls the tenth. Devine sweeps her smartly for four but the sense is that a relatively low-scoring affair may be looming – understandably, given the damp outfield and voluptuous low cloud. 61 for 1 at halfway. England have looked attentive and sounded energetic in the field. There is *good energy* but… the lights have just failed!

Imagine the floodlights are powered by cider, here. If so, someone soon pours a jug into the erm, apple-generator-thing. Game back on after 5 mins, or so. Devine hoiks Brunt to square leg for another boundary, to go to 27. She looks a player in control – but unable currently, or unwilling, to explode. The game – certainly the batting side of it – feels a little constricted; or certainly measured. (Hasten to add this is not a slight on the White Ferns high order: hard to imagine anyone bludgeoning freely here tonight).

Interesting to see Sciver bowl a further, sharp short one at Devine. Played high to low, square, for one. It’s Glenn who makes the breakthrough, though. Brunt takes a sound, low catch in the deep. 84 for 2, then 86 for 2, after 14.

Big Moment as Ecclestone – inevitably? – gets Devine. Bowled. 90 for 3. Now. Do Green and the incoming Halliday have the heart and the confidence to accelerate through this testing period? Feels like that might be the key to the game… and they will know that. Glenn follows again. The lights are proper beaming now.

Tash Farrant offers left-arm with a bunch of variations which add to the England blend. She may sometimes be more hittable than Sciver or Brunt but is skilled at checking the pace and the change of angle can be a challenge, yes? I like the mix in the England attack – all of it, including the aforementioned Glenn selection. Unknowable if Villier’s bowling – sharpish, flattish off-spin – could have been effective, or more effective than Glenn’s tonight: perhaps they weren’t competing alternatives in any case? Villiers can bat so perhaps could play instead of Bouchier? Plus Mady’s fielding really is *that good* she might reasonably be picked for that alone(?)

All speculative. What is fact is that Sciver has claimed a further wicket, from a wide short one which Green has tickled. Jones, standing at her shoulder, pouches. Advantage England? Masses of cloud and the flags are stilling. Yet if I was betting on this I’d say we might well get through with no rain. (*Fatal).

Brunt closes out. Umpire review for run out, last ball – not given – but irrespective of that inevitable and rather ungainly gamble the White Ferns have done particularly well, to get to 144 for 4. Absolutely a competitive total and achieved generally with no little style. (Beyond my expectations, certainly: credit to Martin and Halliday, who bundled the score forward to good effect, late on).

This a significant test then, for England. They may *possibly* have racier, zestier, more urgent openers in Wyatt and Beaumont but they may need Sciver or Knight to go big and dynamic to get home, here. ‘Poised’, as they say. A beautiful, velvety, brooding dark is descending.

Good start from Kasperek. Hunches? Have the feels that England may crumble – or that Knight will be the difference. Or that Villiers will sub herself in, surreptitiously and club an angry 87. In short there is tension and wonderful unknowingness – partly because New Zealand have grown with the series and now look a good all-round outfit. Kerr goes well: England 5 for 0 after 2.

Welcome first boundary to Wyatt, clubbing Devine square. Then a different-level of booming – the game’s first six, over mid-off. Both fabulous and an important signal, perhaps(?) Her partner can’t bring her own A-game: Beaumont squiffs one and is caught, for just 3. But this will bring in Sciver, possibly the best cricket athlete in the world game and someone with tremendous power and a certain presence in the middle.

News comes that ‘we have 2,112 in’. And many of them are rising to the challenge here – especially as Wyatt brings up four more – *three times*. 40 for 1, England, at the end of the powerplay. The mighty Sciver has never quite looked in… and now she’s out, caught easing one from Kasperek straight to deep mid-wicket. On the plus side, the England skipper, Knight, gets a genuinely rousing reception, as she stomps out.

Wyatt is something of an enigma. Quicksilver but also something of a Mistress of the Naff Dismissal. She immediately dances but lifts a tad tamely directly at deep square. Gone. Good, sharp knock but she needs a few more truly decisive innings to quell any doubts. White Ferns on top, surely, as Jensen comes in to Jones. Extraordinary short bouncer is given a wide. 50 up, in the 8th, 3 down. Decent pace, from the bowler, next delivery: keeper, standing up, does well to collect.

Jones and Knight are both fine players: meaning they could be both dynamic enough and durable enough to win this… but there are buts. They wear black and they are prowling about the outfield with some purpose. It’s intriguing and extremely watchable stuff.

Huge, cruel roar as a mis-field gifts Jones four, to leg. The strikingly tall bowler – Rowe – not best pleased, although seems philosophically undemonstrative. She fails to twitch, next ball, too, as the close field erupts in appeal. Umpire right not to raise that finger. Satterthwaite will join us to bowl the tenth, at 66 for 3. (So not much in this now).

You’ve got to love the way Heather Knight runs. Scurrying madly, as though she’s wearing armour! She gets two, behind. Bates is keeping the Ferns bright. The word that keeps lurching to the fore is ‘competitive’. It’s a focussed game rather than a brilliant one but it’s high-level competitive. 73 for 3 after 11, England.

Another cruel roar as the fielder at mid-off falls around the ball. Four. And another, so a little momentum for the home side, backed-up by very good running between the wickets. Some danger here, for New Zealand as both batters seem in. Until Jones is out, bowled by Kasperek for a sprightly 32. Dunkley will join Knight.

As Kerr comes in to bowl the 14th, with England on 98 for 4, they need 47 to win it. Dunkley smashes one at Bates: did it carry? Not quite, I suspect.

We’ve been asked (us Media Legends) to pick a Player of the Series: not easy. Prime candidate might be running in, now: Sophie Devine. Has quality, has presence, has been influential. Just don’t tell her she’s going to get this *partly* because no-one else has really shone in more than one game. (Arguably). Scratch that. She really is quality – she gets it.

The crowd are into this and it’s lovely to hear so many female voices. Excited ones, mostly. We are building to a Proper Finish here. England need 28 off 24; do-able, certainly. Eek, another error in the deep yields another outbreak of triumphalist bawling. (Barely credibly, the ball had bounced over the luckless fielder). That hurts. Whatever happens, here, Heather Knight has demonstrated yet again that she is a worldie. 16 to win from the last two overs.

Devine is in and the England skipper clouts her to midwicket for six. Dunkley hasn’t exactly been fluent but she has persisted. They look to be bringing it home. That is, until Knight clips one neatly to mid-off – gone for 42 from 36. Bouchier in at the last. Fabulous stuff: 7 needed.

Wow. Awful drag-down from a nervy bowler skittles Bouchier! (Unfortunate for the newcomer but handily vindicates my Villiers argument). Painful magic that, from Satterthwaite.

Brunt swings brusquely but misses then pads one back up the track. Single. Leg-bye. No matter. Another poor ball, in truth, from Satterthwaite is biffed to the cow corner boundary by a charging Dunkley. Crowd love it. Home win/last over. Boxes ticked. It’s been a tremendous, atmospheric climax to an even and compelling series. Think England just about shaded it but (as someone once said) ‘by the barest of margins’. Enjoyable, enjoyable stuff. Now – on to the one-dayers…

Villiers in vain.

The morning after may offer some perspective, or not? Following an exhibition of stunning fielding from England’s Mady Villiers that – who knows? – may have buttoned the lip of many a male critic, the proverbial positives have rendered themselves available. Pace, agility, skill, power; she showed them all, in exhilarating style. But hers was almost a lone hand – certainly in terms of English performances and hopes. In general Nat Sciver’s side had an ordinary night, as Sophie Devine led the White Ferns to a deserved win.

Here’s how it felt, live:

Another South Coast adventure, then. Meaning groooovy street-side cafes, muggy sun and lots of top-knots. A gentlish breeze, inside Sussex C.C. Much appreciated at 5pm but may be cool, later(?)

Early arrival not planned, particularly but was frankly loafing abart at my lovely friend’s gaff and when they returned from the pub and shifted irretrievably towards afternoon kip mode, I meandered down. (Did mean I get first shout at the open doorway and the power cable, so not without its benefits). Have even beaten the fielding coaches, who tend to set up an age before the start; cones and flexi-stumps being thrust around or into the outfield as I write. Aoife from ECB pops in to see we’re ok; we’re okay – or that is, me and my new pal Lee are o-kaay.

Sarah Glenn is marking out her leggie’s run-up, inch-by-inch – one foot in front of t’other. Meanwhile, White Ferns batters are having some throw-downs in front of me. Front foot driving. 5.55pm. I interrupt this broadcast to eat; curries, loading up to get me through a busy evening.

New Zealand have won the toss and decided to bowl. No changes to their team. Brunt is rested, for England and Freya Davies is her replacement. Bouchier also comes in; she seemed both thrilled and a bit emosh at her cap presentation, earlier. 18.45 and lights are on. As so often, crowd feels relatively thin. Ridiculous. On a similar theme, there are four journo’s in the media centre to my left… and me, in the ‘Cow Corner’ hut-thing. Poor turnout, from our press, because, yaknow, wimmin.

Beaumont and Wyatt, predictably, will open, for England. Kasperek will bowl to the latter. Statement drive, pretty much *straight at me* first up. Four, with dancing feet. Impressive and emphatic. 6 from the over.

Kerr will follow, for the White Ferns. Beaumont paddle/glides her to fine leg beautifully – four more. Devine will bowl the third; understandably, the visitors looking to stem the flow (or likely flow) from the two in-form England openers.

It’s Jess Kerr, though who makes the breakthrough. Sweeeet inswinger beats and bowls Beaumont. Big wicket. 20 for 1, England as Sciver – the brilliant Sciver – enters the fray. Neutrals will want a closer game; it was Tammy Beaumont who utterly dominated the first game of this series, which England won by 50-odd runs. Could her loss be to the gain of the event?

Review against the England captain but Sciver plainly hit it – so wasted, by New Zealand. But wow, Devine claims the tall all-rounder’s wicket; Rowe taking a goodish running catch at backward square. And ZOIKS!! The dangerous Amy Jones follows, next ball, drilling straight at cover. Dreamland, for the visitors but poor dismissal from England’s point of view. 26 for 3 and it seems unthinkable that the home side can romp to the same sort of a victory that delighted the locals of Chelmsford the other evening. In fact there is palpable jeopardy for England here: a lot now resting on the shoulders of Wyatt and Dunkley.

Wyatt tonks Kerr straight back over her head, in response. But 36 for 3 is a fine start for New Zealand: powerplay done.

Satterthwaite is in and beating Wyatt: possible stumping. She got back – but close. I’m watching through the open doors of ‘Cow Corner’ so can hear and feel the energy out there. White Ferns are chirpy and bright – and why wouldn’t they be? One more wicket and they become strong (if early) favourites.

Good test for Wyatt, this. She is an obvious talent but she’s *not known* for her durability/stickability. She tends to blaze away – with style and typically some confidence – rather than build over time. Devine is slamming a quick one in there, possibly pushing too hard. She follows up with TWO no-balls – so TWO free hits – one of which Wyatt dispatches straight.

In the flurry of action I’ve not really thought about how we got here: i.e. how the pitch and/or general playing conditions are. Truth is Beaumont fell to a fine ball… and Jones had no business thrashing her first delivery to cover. I’m not seeing anything spooky going on, pitch-wise: the visitors are just doing a solid job. Oh, and weirdly belatedly, we now have a substantial crowd, so cancel some of my earlier concerns. (Some of). England are 58 for 3 after 9.

Dunkley has been unconvincing and she thrusts a straightforward caught and bowled back to Kasperek. More trouble, for England and a big ask now for Bouchier, on debut. She sees out three dot balls before clubbing with no timing towards midwicket. Safe. A pret-ty ordinary 62 for 4, though, on the board, at the halfway stage. Wyatt, who has only faced 16 balls, may need to see this through.

She clatters Jensen over mid-off, for four. Proper dusk, now, so the lights are doing their atmospheric twinkling fully productively. Kasperek has been doing well enough but Bouchier clips her beautifully through square leg; big moment for the debutant. She almost repeats it… but also loses concentration momentarily, threatening to force a truly diabolical runout… but no. Settle down, Maia.

Satterthwaite will try to still the game a little. Again, Bouchier is nearly stranded, mid-pitch. Then she miscues towards backward square. Edgy stuff. After 13 England are 85 for 4. They must *both* consolidate and accelerate.

Rowe is in and bowling sharply and short. Wyatt cuts, before dropping and running. Communication between the batters hasn’t been flawless but they are rotating and profiting, now. Bouchier is stronger and seems more likely to hit hard, so Wyatt is offering plenty of strike. 100 up after 14.4 overs; Jensen the bowler.

Rowe cramps Wyatt a little; she had looked to cut but misjudged (perhaps) a little cut off the pitch. Caught behind square – disappointingly. Bouchier follows promptly, done by pace, flicking behind. Ecclestone and Glenn are suddenly pitched in there… and both on nought. 106 for 6 feels notably light, at the 16 over mark.

These England spin-twins are competent enough but further wickets feel possible. Ecclestone likes to bludgeon the ball: can she do that without risking calamity? Kasperek will bowl the 18th, which may be important. 8.14 pm and I would say we look dark, beyond the stadium.

Ecclestone swishes and finds cover. (114 for 7). Glenn hits a horror-shot aerial but safe, towards mid-off. Villiers bunts a single. Devine hits Glenn – who has utterly mistimed a slower ball – in the guts. We have a review. Not out. The other night England threatened 200. Tonight they seem unlikely to make 130. Last over, with Jensen running in.

A runout seems on… but the throw is wide. Villiers flashes one up and must surely be caught but the night’s first howler offers her relief. A scramble gets two from the last: England finish on 127 for 7. Advantage must be with the White Ferns?

Sciver – the captain, in the absence of the stoic but excellent Heather Knight – will open. Bates and Devine in, for New Zealand. Three dot balls, then two, out to Wyatt on the legside boundary. Peach of an outswinger and Jones whips off the bails: no joy. Two for 0 as Tash Farrant comes in. The sense that if one or both of these batters can prosper, the White Ferns could cruise this. The Kiwi stars will of course know this: let’s see.

Farrant has had a top year. Has #skills. Early half-chance but Dunkley – good fielder who had a strangely poor night in the opening fixture – throws wide. Devine gets there.

Freya Davies – prancing then bursting, with back arcing somewhat and hand high – replaces Sciver. Bates collects her brutally and clears midwicket for 6. Sciver responds a couple of balls later by putting both a deep midwicket and deep square out. Bates tips and runs. 20 for 0 after 3. Enter Ecclestone.

Bates miscues fine for a fortunate four but then Ecclestone reviews, for possible lbw. Umpire was right – missing. Poor review. 7 from the over and crucially, no dramas. Sciver in, to ‘make something happen’. Ecclestone – not one of England’s better fielders – dives over one: not what her skipper needs. Four.

Great pick-up and throw from Villers may have stunned Bates. The batter clubbed to mid-on but the England spinner is a fine athlete: she gathers and slings to execute a fabulous, timely runout.

Farrant is in again but Devine absolutely clatters her, with timing, for six, then gathers four more. *Response*. New Zealand 43 for 1 at the end of the powerplay (and clearly ahead). Breeze coming in: time for a jumper. Ecclestone.

Glenn drops a fairly simple chance, as Devine turns it to backward square. Came flattish but hardly laser-like. 54 for 1 after 8. That same batter rubs salt by smashing Sciver for a further 6. England need something special, now – a cluster of wickets, rather than just one – to get back into this. Theoretically the visitors have less batting depth than England but the two at the crease have quality and experience.

Davies has changed ends as we approach mid-innings. From nowhere – or so it seems – she draws the wicket. It’s batter error, in truth, Satterthwaite clipping an attempted reverse straight into her stumps. 68 for 2. Green is in, and Glenn turns one, which is dealt with calmly enough. Villiers and Wyatt are now prowling in front of me, offering leg-side cover for the leg-spinner. Devine is on 37 as Ecclestone comes in to bowl the 12th.

Good work from the tall left-armer – just the one from the over.

Green connects with Glenn, splitting the leg-side field for four. Devine betters that, by crunching one waaaay over midwicket for 6. Then a smart relay between Wyatt and Villiers limits the White Fern fixture to two.

More, from Davies. Green turns her smartly for another boundary. At 14 now, she looks in and her partner has 46. Davies strays and is penalised for wide. Devine again hits powerfully for four to bring up her half-century; it’s included four 6s.

As Farrant comes in for the 15th, the visitors need only 29 for victory. But DRAMA YET! Devine smashes out towards Villers (& *absolutely* myself!) and the England fielder judges her advance and her dive to perfection to take another outstanding catch. (It really was directly at both of us and she really did have to travel to get there). Fifty and gone, for Devine but with (still) only 3 wickets down an equalising win seems certain in any event. With 15 overs done, New Zealand are 105 for 3 – needing only 23 runs from 30 balls.

England need some crazy-level inspiration… so who ya gonna call? MADY VILLIERS!! Sciver has brought her in, and the young off-spinner pulls out another stunning catch to remove Green, who has boomed it back at her. 113 for 4 as Glenn comes in. We have Martin and Jensen both new to the crease but they have only to tip and run, you would think(?)

Nope. Martin has hit firmly towards long-off… and, erm, you know the rest. Villiers pockets another catch. Ridiculous. What can Ecclestone do? Nothing decisive, on this occasion.

After 18, the visitors need only 8 from 12. Farrant offers a little width and gets crashed for four. Then the umpire calls the next one a wide… but England are appealing for caught behind. OOF! There is glove on it – Jensen has to go! Awful ball, in truth but Jones had gathered superbly – again.

Barely credibly, Farrant bowls two further consecutive wides to gift the game (which to be fair had seemed long gone) to the White Ferns. Dispiriting finish to an underwhelming performance, from England.

Unquestionably, however, this was a deserved win for Devine, in particular. She bossed the game as Beaumont had done in the previous fixture. The New Zealand skipper – in her 100th IT20 game – came away with the Player of the Match Award but I doubt she would begrudge Mady Villiers a Mention In Dispatches. The youngster’s sustained and indeed electrifying fielding was a joy to behold. One-all in the series feels right, feels good. Evidence of elite-level athleticism and skill in the field feels important, positive, helpful.

#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.