Charlotte Edwards Cup – Finals Day.

I’m never late – certainly not to The Cricket.

Was a little, today. Could write a book on the serpentine delights of Southampton On Marathon-or-something Day but will spare you, for now. Bustle into the ground, post my ‘friendly chat’ with the delightful gent ushering me in to the Media Parking Zone. Six or seven journos in, including the ever-present Raf and Syd. Doors open out to a stunning scene but the chalk-white (stadium) vista gets silver behind the gold-medal experience that is the heat. I may be a tad scorcher-averse but this is… sapping.

Eight overs in. Bell has slung down some quick deliveries off a notably long run but again has sprayed them around a tad. (For me she remains A Prospect, for now, because of that consistent inconsistency). Get that what she’s doing – bowling at full tilt – is highish tarrif stuff – but she will need to mature towards consistency to get where she wants to be.

Northern Diamonds are 54 for 2 after 10 overs. Winfield-Hill and Armitage are just getting into their twenties, runs-wise. Charlotte Taylor has returned to bowl her second over. Given that we can only imagine runs should flow on this strikingly beatific summer’s day, with a bone-dry outfield and no early horrors in the pitch, Diamonds need to cut loose, soonish. Armitage goes big, or certainly high over the bowler but long off – Norris – takes a comfortable catch. The batter made 24. Her former partner is joined by Kalis.

Vipers have been efficient enough, restricting the opposition to 81 for 3 by the time 14 overs are completed. Do the math: just under 6 per over when you feel 8 may be necessary. Elwiss is inclined to remain ungenerous. She bowls full, full and Kalis misses whilst attempting a rather clumsy scoop. 82 for 4; enter the evergreen Gunn. *Thinks: is that so obvious as to be a travesty/an outright insult? Surely the long-term England player will be thinking her side need to get 130, minimum?

Winfield-Hill – who has quality but possibly not of the explosive kind; or not characteristically – unfurls a particularly pleasing straight drive, for four. Charlotte Taylor changes ends, to join us from the Hilton Hotel. Strike rotated. Five from the over, 93 for 4 after 16.

Winfield-Hill gets to 50 with a flip to fine-leg: later in the over the 100 is up. Georgia Adams is back but W-H clatters her straight for 6, then scuffs one through extra for 4. This is what the Diamonds need… and then not. Winfield-Hill advances aggressively once more but misses the proverbial straight one. Gone for 65. The left-handed Smith has joined Gunn.

They will face Bell, in the penultimate over. Too quick for Gunn. Then a single to deep extra. And a good bitta footie from the bowler stops the drive – painlessly, it would seem. Good, bold, yorker length brings just the 4 runs all told. Norris will see us out, with 120 on the board.

Diamonds can’t surge to the line – Scholfield smartly pouches Smith. Gunn smashes a defiant 6 to get the batting side past 130 and innings closes on 135 for 6. Something… but enough? (Second dig, with conditions conspiring towards scoring?) I doubt it but let’s see.

Smith and Slater have opened for Diamonds. Vipers 13 for 0 after 2. Gunn will do her mildly eccentric thing from the pavilion, starting with a wide. McCaughan guides her, late, through third man. Four. Six from the over.

I’m working – YES WORKING!! – outdoors. Risking battery failure and terminal swelteration. Like this ground but lots of glare around, today; not a problem for the players, (I imagine) but staring round the sands is positively eye-scrunging. But hey this is all, in a word, beautiful. Sunny; warm; dreamy, even. Smith (from the Hilton) is followed by Slater from in front of the team pods. It’s cat and mousey rather than dynamic, until the bowler profits from a forward lurch, from McCaughan; she is emphatically stumped, by Heath.

Gunn has switched. Weirdly, the typically influential Adams tamely biffs her to mid-on. Gunn – lacking pace and sometimes appearing to lack threat – does that, somehow. Vipers are 34 for 2 as the powerplay draws to a close. Evens, you would say.

Slater is bowling her third: Elwiss and Scholfield at the crease. Neither are ‘in’. MacDonald will bowl her first, running right to left as I look in, from backward square leg to the right-hander. The crowd enjoys a boundary – are we clear that this is the Vipers’ home ground? – but MacDonald responds by bowling Scholfield. Discombobulated by a slower ball – or so it looked. 41 for 3; maybe we /I need to review that assumption that runs are readily available on here?

Slater, who has bowled with decent pace, left-handed, has done her work: 1 for 18, from her 4 overs. Fifty is up in the tenth over as Elwiss *gets something* on it – the ball looping behind, for a tantalising four. New batter Windsor draws generous applause for racing through for a second. 54 for 3, then at half-way: interestingly, Diamonds were 54 for 2.

I’ve described the heat as sapping; it is for me but this doesn’t make it a general truth. And yet – oops, as Elwiss is caught, in another significant blow for the home side – it seems only natural to air the thought that the side currently sitting out (South East Stars) may have a keen advantage, here. Two games in these conditions feels like a big ask.

We are 64 for 4, after 12, meaning the run-rate has suddenly spiked to above 9 and Vipers have to bring their A-game, medium-pronto. Arguably their principal batters have been and gone, so, Windsor and Norris, over to you; no pressure!

Norris edges behind. The chasing fielder looks exhausted – barely claws it in and lobs in a lacklustre throw. Right-hand/left-hand combination (that everybody currently seems to be obsessed by), for the batting side. MacDonald is back in, for her third. A streaky two to fine leg means 6 from the over; not enough. 75 for 4, off 14. 61 needed; there is pressure now, alright.

Oof. Norris is caught by Armitage off Katie Levick, close to the rope. Diamonds strong favourites to meet the Stars. Windsor drives through extra for four to move to 19. Monaghan has joined her. Five overs remain; 80 for 5; rate beyond 11. MacDonald, to finish her spell.

She rather telegraphs a ver-ry slow ball but her vociferous appeal is denied. Monaghan drives then scoops: five from the over. 85 for 5 so 51 still required. Something remarkable (and out of context with the game) essential… but unlikely. Every run roundly applauded but the locals seem sure to be disappointed and they know it. 94 for 5 with Gunn to bowl the 18th. Three out, on the on-side boundary.

Painfully slow one is wide, down leg. Then another. Extraordinarily, Monaghan falls lbw to the next. 99 for 6. Bell joins Windsor, who has a creditable 31. The tall, slim fast bowler has a heave but is bowled, first-up. Game done, if it wasn’t already.

Hat-trick ball. No dramas. 100 up, from the leg bye.

The Diamonds had seemed to lack urgency with the bat and yet they are cruising: I happily confess to a misjudgement. At no stage have their opposition meaningfully threatened them, in the chase. Windsor is gallantly diving in as the throw hits – just in. Smith is bowling the 19th. She has Windsor with the return catch. 110 for 8.

As Jenny Gunn strides over to gather for the last, the Vipers can only salvage a wee bit of pride, or exercise some brief, lusty defiance. Not to be. Chandler is run out (by a mile) and the innings subsides 18 runs short, at 117 all out. To be blunt this has neither been high quality nor a particularly compelling watch. What felt like a relative lack of dynamism from both sets of batters made for a subdued affair. It remains unclear why stroke-making proved so difficult: we can only hope that the final will offer a hike in drama, edginess, ‘action’. Meanwhile, cold water all round.

THE FINAL.

Northern Diamonds have won the toss and chosen to stick with that bat first/apply pressure approach. Be really interesting to see if they go bigger and bolder from the start – suspect they might.

The extraordinary prodigy that is Alice Capsey is opening the bowling. Aged about 9. (Ok I exaggerate but…)

Four from the over. Dobson and Heath are the batters. The Stars look all shiny and bright, in their yellow shirts. Moore concedes just the one. 5 for 0 after 2. Under my wing of the stadium, it’s cooler – mercifully. Capsey in again.

Heath strikes aerially (but safe) out to midwicket, before Dobson drives for four, to cover. Richards will offer more pace, from the Hilton Hotel End but a wee sense that Diamonds are looking to push. Plusses and minuses. Dobson is caught but two boundaries come from the over. 22 for 1 after 4.

Gibbs – also offering some pace – is in from the pavilion. She goes full and is appealing confidently for leg before. Rightly; she has the potentially crucial wicket of Winfield-Hill, for no return. Armitage will join Heath. She clips neatly through midwicket – only good fielding from Moore saves the boundary. 27 for 2 after 5.

Smith follows Gibbs. Right arm slow. Simple run out opportunity spurned. Heath has left home but the slightly wild throw allows her to recover: might have been huge. Even 5s, as Diamonds sit on 30 for 2, with 6 overs done.

Gregory offers leg-spin but her long-off rather flops over the drive, from Armitage. Heath follows that up with a further boundary and 10 runs come. The same batter has to walk soon after – blown away mid-strip, by a sharp throw, from mid-off. The game feels alive, with Stars focussed (but not always athletic) and Diamonds showing some urgency, without entirely profiting. 49 for 3, off 8.

Gregory, post the wicket, gets another go. Kalis takes a single, before Armitage late-cuts, with some dexterity, for four. There has been some mixed fielding. We get more as another outfielder dives over the ball – this time at deep point. Four more: Gregory has not been best-served by her colleagues, conceding 24 from 2.

Moore will take us to halfway, from the Hilton. Quietish over; Kalis can only biff the full-toss to deep midwicket, for one. 67 for 3 after 10 is competitive – that’s my sense. Diamonds going okay. Armitage and Kalis have had a sight of this, now – on 20 and 13, respectively. Next stop 140-something?

Smith blocks one at mid-off, at some personal cost: sore wrist. Slight stalling in this period but Diamonds are going at about 6.5 per over and will look to burst. Meaning boundaries at some premium of late; suspect that may change.

Bryony Smith will bowl her third over from under the hotel. She snaffles Kalis, from a full-toss: her good hands bring in Gunn. Armitage now has 32; these two can make a telling contribution, I reckon.

Armitage clumps Moore to the square-leg boundary. Mixed over yields 8 runs. Capsey will re-join to try to stem any flow. The 100 is up, as the youngster bowls a poor wide. Radio talking 130-something but Diamonds should press towards 140, in my view. Flurry of strokes needed: expected that earlier and could be it remains elusive. 105 for 4 on the board, with 4 overs remaining. Gunn lacks power but has experience and guile. Hope she can nick it and nudge it whilst her partner lets rip.

Boundary error gifts another four. Smith, the bowler, will not be impressed… and indeed the fielder is moved. Armitage gets to a steady, rather than demonstrative 50. 121 for 4 now, with 2 overs remaining – so 140 possible but the vibe again says less. A drag down from D-Richards is struck at the fielder.

Alice Capsey will finish this. Finally, we get a boundary, – we do feel light on those – from Gunn. Two from the last ball, to Armitage, brings up the half-century partnership. Northern Diamonds post 138 for 4, with Gunn and Armitage the not-out batters, on 22 and 59 respectively. They are in the game.

The Chase.

Linsey Smith starts, for the Diamonds, with her namesake(s? Bryony) and Cranstone to face up. Three from the over. Conditions could barely be more perfect: by that I mean *in particular* that the mugginess has subsided – the langour-o-meter is now in a substantially less negative sector.

Wonder if this might energise the cricket; not that it’s been poor… but it has maybe lacked a little vim. After Slater concedes 14, Gunn will bowl the third. Both batters showing early intent: 32 for 0 after 3.

Katie Levick will bowl the fourth. Needs to apply the anchor. Does a decent job – conceding just the two runs. Good energy from the batters – whether striking hard, or drop-and-running. Crisp, confident work – the best we’ve seen all day, arguably.

Poor fielding may encourage them. More spillage at the rope is followed by a drilled six, from Cranstone. 46 for 0 after 5 – well ahead.

Cranstone takes on Levick, too. Lofted but beyond midwicket; more runs. Fifty is up – and it feels like Stars are charging. Powerplay done, no wickets lost. Ahead. Can MacDonald change things?

Not dramatically – in fact she fails to deflect that soaring run-rate trajectory. Eight from the over, leaving Stars on 58 for 0 after 7. Next up – Armitage.

Both openers are opening up. That wonderful, woody sound of hearty, smooth hitting. Boundaries around the ground. 71 for 0, suddenly, with both batters into their thirties. The energy, quality and purpose of this period of the day may be reinforcing the argument that much of went before, batting-wise, was underachievement. This is patently a different level – a better, higher one.

Ha! *Fatal*. Cranstone is gone – crunching her own stumps – but before your correspondent chokes on his curses, Capsey is both in *and scooping the first ball for four*. So change brings no change, maybe?

But no. T’other opener, Smith has also departed. At the halfway stage, Stars are 84 for 2 – needing only 55. Hmm. Now Gibbs, rather foolishly, has come and gone, hoisting Levick to deep midwicket. She could have taken a longish look and enjoyed a trouble-free cruise.. but nope. Caught. Capsey remains.

And the wobbles continue. Davidson-Richards may be mildly shocked (given where we were) to find herself extended at all. But she is joining Capsey, Franklin having been caught Gunn, bowled Levick. Extraordinary, unnecessary jolts – born of nerves, surely?

Capsey will be delighted that Armitage has bowled her the worst ball of the day, which she can dismiss at her leisure to fine leg. Twelve overs done, 96 for 4, with Capsey now on 12 and D-Richards 5. A smidge of composure should see South East Stars home… but well, yaknow.

Time for Gunn, from the Hilton Hotel. Unforgivably (at her pace) for me, she bowls another wide, down the leg side: 100 up shortly after. 37 needed, from the 7 overs remaining. Capsey hits MacDonald over (but close to) mid-off, for four. Sure, the run rate has dropped from where it was when the openers were fizzing, but this batting partnership looks to have this covered… he said, dangerously.

Capsey has heard me. She booms confidently downtown, for four more. Stars have 5 overs to find 20. I expect them to do it in 3, max. (Capsey has heard me – again. Four more: this is brilliant, from the teenager).

Richards is joining the fun – reversing. NINE RUNS ONLY, FROM FOUR OVERS. Emphatic.

Gunn. That ridicu-slower-one comes out. Capsey is on it. Davidson-Richards reverses again, for a single. The batters are seeing Gunn out. 6, from – well, ample.

MacDonald is in from under the pavilion. Single. Then two. Fifty partnership, three needed and Richards has a dart for glory… but picks out mid-off. Gone. White will join Capsey. Dot ball. Single. Capsey to face. Appropriately, she clips neatly square, to win it for her side. The small crowd clap both sides generously from the outfield.

A lovely day, with some good cricket. Fine venue. A little disappointment that we didn’t see more high quality stroke-making but Smith and Cranstone – opening for the Stars – and Capsey, later, entertained us. The rest found it tricky. Could be that this is an ungenerous view but mostly I have form for actively supporting these players: they deserve it and it feels important. I absolutely and wholeheartedly congratulate South East Stars, as deserved winners.

What I normally do is sleep on this then add a few reflections. Having just arrived back at my son’s college digs, in Bath, you may forgive me if I continue that tradition – there being no truth in the rumour that a ver-ry pleasant café-bar lies but 75 yards away. (Cue choice of smug or smiley emoji)…

#RHFTrophyFinal. #Edgbaston.

I write live, to try to capture the moment. That’s pressurised, but feels honest, in all its clunky, vulnerable wildness. Reading back yesterday’s typically flawed, typically immature piece, I’m a little struck by the potential for negativity – or the possibility that the experience may be read as overly ‘mixed’. Some of it *was mixed* but maybe it’s only now, hours later, that I can see that it felt that way partly because the whole occasion was hollowed out somewhat – inevitably so – by the void where the crowd should have been. Stupidly, having been so excited (and maybe confused) by the Weird Empty Stadium Phenomenon, I only really see that ‘flatness’ now!


So read on, in the understanding that it was a genuinely good day at The Cricket; that I’m still a bit high on that view, that closeness, that privilege. Edgbaston in the autumn sun; Adams threatening to do an Adams. Langston looking quality; Taylor’s joy. Women Professional Cricketers, coached by women. More markers thrown down, more progress. All utterly ace.

So when the eagle landed, it was a-flapping just a wee bit: road closures ensnaring me in an increasingly alienating Brum. Cruel, as it had all started so well, with a spookily trouble-free cruise in yesterday and a deliciously quiet overnight in a ver-ry decent but inevitably budget-tastic room in a central, theoretically convenient hotel.

After being charmingly temperature-frisked, I’m in, with time to slurp a little orange juice and get set. Beth Langston will open to Georgia Adams, Diamonds having won the toss. On it. Full, straight, defended.

Good over, from, Langston. Notable for challenging line and length and the volume of chirpiness from her comrades-in-arms. (Of course that wouldn’t, ordinarily, be audible. But hey, it’s a beautiful day, now. Let’s not get caught up in that Covidness thing). It really is a beautiful day: I feel privileged to be here, in a great stadium, watching cup-final cricket.

Final ball of the third over, from the immaculate Langston, tails away in the air just a little. First sign of meaningful swing: previously she’s drawn a touch of grip with leg-cutters but the strip looks batter-friendly, early-doors.

Linsey Smith is backing Langston up, with her gentle left arm offspin. I’m looking gun-barrel straight down the pitch: she’s varying more than turning. Vipers reach a sedate but untroubled 7 for 0 after 4.

It’s a goodish, steadyish start from both sides. Adams perhaps a tad streaky with a four down through third man, off Smith. Good focus from bowlers and fielders. Doesn’t at this stage feel like a day for dramatic collapses, said he, knowing this is *fatal*: Adams is magnificently poised in her forward defence, off Langston, as if to emphasise the point. Impressed, by the bowler’s consistency and courageous fullness. If there was any help she would be a right handful.

First change is Phoebe Graham, for Smith. She drops short, to Adams, who clubs her, without timing, over midwicket for four. The light is now almost indescribably wonderful. Coolish, yellow, autumnal – deeply, energisingly fabulous. A touch of away-swing, for Graham but it strays: wide. 23 for 0, after 8.

So slowly, slowly from Southern Vipers but could it already be critical that Adams, who has a pret-ty staggering 460 runs already in her six innings in the tournament, is looking set, on 17? The counter-argument is that Diamonds have shown great discipline, so far. There may even be a subtle squeeze on; certainly that energy and volume in the field is strong.

Ah. Two successive boundaries – the second of which should plainly have been stopped by the unconvincingly flopping Graham – feels like a mini-breakout. Important period, now, as we segue from steadyish start to full-on partnership, from these openers. 35 for 0, after 10.

Enter Levick; she of the effective but idiosyncratic legspin-from-over-the-shoulderdom. She flips one out, first up; it turns but is cut away for four. The over does mark a change, however – a different kind of challenge, at the right time. And there is turn.

Some of you will know that I’m an honorary West-Walian, and therefore ‘my teams’ are Glamorgan and, more relevantly Western Storm. Storm (second in the group behind Vipers) are strongish, with a competitive bowling attack. Georgia Adams utterly dismissed them, with a haughty 154 not out, in one of the crunch matches from the qualifying stage. At 65 for 0, with the Vipers’ skipper on an increasingly imperious 44, you can’t help but wonder…

Gunn has joined with Graham, who continues to toil away, full and generally straight, from beneath us in the Media Centre. McCaughan, to put Adams’ influence into perspective, is on 13 at this point.

Just a sense now, that Graham is beginning to get found out. McCaughan, no doubt conscious of that discrepancy in terms of her contribution, hoists twice, aggressively to leg, for two boundaries, in the 18th over. Gunn, who let’s be honest, has made a career out of doing this, will need to steady the proverbial ship. She can’t prevent the 50, mind, for Adams. 82 for 0, off 19.

So. Very true strip: might this all be about run rate? Or is the inviolable nature of the Vipers batting going to be simply at a different level to the Diamonds? As I write, the current run rate is 4.25 per over but we can only imagine that, should Adams and McCaughan persist *or not*, the Vipers can really launch, from here. 93 for 0, from 22.

Gunn is as quietly, doughtily consistent as we might expect. Despite seeming hittable, she mixes up those variations and plops it relentlessly where she wants to. With Adams on top of her game, Gunn has conceded only 13 from 5 overs. Smith, from the other end, must try to match that miserliness.

The ton is up after 23, bringing the first real drama. McCaughan, understandably chasing a poor, wide one from Smith, is nicking a fine top edge behind. Gone for 35. Pleasing symmetry to the scoreboard at 100 for 1. Enter the powerful Bouchier.

Diamonds tie Bouchier down – or rather the newcomer fails to find enough of the singles that are available – and we have a quietish period, broken only by lovely hands from Adams, who cuts deftly to third man.

Gunn continues, from the Birmingham End (formerly the City End). Bouchier drives nicely through extra cover – four.

Graham beams Bouchier (for a no ball), which is almost taken by a diving midwicket. The free hit is missed entirely, by the swinging Adams. Then we have Levick, returning for Gunn. Adams somehow finds the gap between the two players backward of square on the offside circle. Four. 128 for 1 after 29. Run rate 4.4.

Feels like Graham has bowled about twenty overs but she’s back from in front of us for her eighth. Sun still shineth. Bouchier places her with consumate style and ease through extra… twice. Tremendous stuff. 137 for 1 as we reach that allegedly key 30 over mark. Could Southern Vipers double this tally and get to 270-odd? Quite possibly.

Bouchier – who can hit – signals her intent by fearlessly clouting Levick over mid-off then mid-on, for two, then four. Four more, then as a teeny deflection beats the keeper. Just what the Vipers need.

The Diamonds’ skipper Armitage has an answer: brings herself on, bowls a half-tracker which Bouchier inexplicably clubs to midwicket. Clanger, but more symmetry of a sort as we are 150 for 2. And good to see that there’s still a place for dodgy leggies.

Dean has joined Adams but strong feeling that Bouchier has blown a huge opportunity, there. Suspect that somebody with her level of dynamism might blow this final right open, today. Instead, more drama, as Armitage has Dean in front, sweeping. 155 for 3, run rate 4.8, and legspin from both ends as Levick continues from the Birmingham End.

A true surface, but as so often, the leggies are making things happen, with their higher revs. Scolfield has come and gone, chipping Armitage rather feebly, to midwicket.

What was that I was saying about collapses? Game transformed: both through goodish slow bowling and batting error. And there’s more! Foolishly, Adams hoists Levick unecessarily to cow corner and is gone. Fine innings but ill-timed departure. Suddenly 165 for 5 and this is something of a crisis, for Vipers. Two newcomers at the crease, Diamonds glinting confidently if not brazenly, in the sunshine.

Rudd attempts the sweep against Levick and is gone. LBW, for just the 1. Wheels a-rolling down that road. Vipers coach Charlotte Edwards will be seething, no doubt, inside. Her openers got 80 and 35 and suddenly this – 172 for 6.

Edwards’ opposite number, Danielle Hazell, will be proud of how her side have ground their way back into this. 260 seemed very likely, an hour ago. Now – though this is still possible – 200 all out seems the likelier prospect. Norris and Windsor have to find that balance between batting out and batting with intent. Those legspinners meanwhile, are in metaphorical clover. 176 for 6, after 39, as we break briefly once more, for sanitisation. Run rate 4.5.

Hmm. Langston returns, from the City. Not sure if I wouldn’t have kept right on with the double leggies. Clearly Armitage thinks the Vipers’ tail may crumble against the undoubted quality of Langston’s pace. (The Diamond’s captain does however continue from beneath us, in the Media Centre, troubling the left-handed Norris).

OMG. Can feel Charlotte Edward’s fury from up here, as a shocker of a run-out befalls her side. Poor, poor misjudgement and Norris – miles out at the bowler’s end – has to walk. 189 for 7.

Dan Norcross has just dropped in to reflect on that Bouchier Moment: a ‘crucial gift from an utter pie’ – or similar. Predictably, at this late stage in the innings the calamities pile up, as Langston’s yorker is just too good for Monaghan. 191 for 8 as we enter the 44th, with Armitage still wheeling. Deliciously for the Diamonds skipper, she can play with this now: hoist, loop, play. Oh to be a leggie in the the sun, with your oppo’s in turmoil, and the pitch assisting.

Charlotte Taylor is facing Langston. Run rate back to 4.3. What’s possible? An all out, or 220-30?

Last four overs, with Langston in to Taylor. 206 on the board. Driven to deep point. One. Then smashed agriculturally but effectively downtown, for four. No ball and free hit. Windsor, who has battled to 32, on strike. One to mid-off. Seven from the over.

Gunn, from our end. Characteristic steady hoist-and-drop. On the spot with no pace on the ball. Smart. Good bowling but Taylor has to do more with it. Two only, from the over. 215 for 8.

Langston in for her tenth – the penultimate. Single. Slower-ball leg-cutter too full – but just a single. Clip to leg for another one. Another attempted leg-cutter, badly miscued but a fumble allows two. Single taken to mid-on but possible run-out… given. Great throw from Kalis shifts Windsor for a creditable 37. Last bat in is Lauren Bell.

Gunn will see this out, from the beneath Media Centre. Light remains unstintingly beautiful. Poor ball down leg is unpunished, save for that wide – signalled. Third ball also a legside wide – unforgivable, frankly. Then Bell picks up another slow, loopy number, striking straight and high for four.

Ironically perhaps, when Bell subsequently connects more sweetly and clears to leg, she is neatly and mercilessly caught. Innings done, with a ball, to spare; Vipers 231 all out. Surely a lowish total but what can the likes of Taylor and Dean make of it? Or could Bell blast away at the Diamonds higher order? We’ll see, soon enough. Advantage plainly with the North.

Lauren Bell will open, to Winfield-Hill. Starts with a quickish legside wide. Skies remain clear as glass, though the cameramen are saying it’s cool out there. Armitage is the other opener; she pushes gently out to a full one and it eases through the covers for four. Seven from the over.

Norris will partner Bell, with her left arm round. My view of this is perfection. As previously I can confirm ver-ry little going on through the air but that change of angle, plus her tidy line is asking a question or two.

Good diving stop from Bouchier at extra cover prevents a boundary, off Bell, who is threatening to find her rhythm. Pace at 66mph – close to where Brunt and Shrubsole are bowling, for England. When Norris returns, she repeatedly beats Armitage, who seems to be struggling to find her timing, thus far. 13 for 0 after 4.

Did I mention the outfield? Quick, certainly, despite the coolness of late season. Things roll away as you run after. And did I mention we’re IN the Media Centre, not braving the cold, like the poor sods at Derby over the recent period? (The Media Centre at Edgbaston is huge and luxurious compared to most county grounds: you do feel like a celebrity just walking in the place. I feel a tad guilty, even). 27 for 0, after 6.

Bell bowls her 3rd/possibly4th wide, before straying to leg stump, allowing the fine glance for four. Early days but Dynamos are ahead of the run rate at just beyond 5s. Enter Bouchier for Norris.

Run out chance as Winfield-Hill almost strands herself. But next ball – out the back of the hand, wide-ish – the Vipers’ opener miscues direct to extra cover for a simple catch. 36 for 1. From ‘nowhere’: simply a case of the bowling change *affecting things.* As Kalis joins Armitage, the bowler tries an extravagant outswinger. On the one hand, it really does swing – appreciably – but as she starts it around that blue line, the wide is emphatically conceded.

I’m not clear that Bell has really been troubling the batters but clearly her skipper disagrees. She stays on for her fifth over, which again starts with a big wide, to leg. Could be there is still just a wee bit of inswing, for the Vipers’ quick, in which case I defer to Adams’ judgement: suspect this will be the last we see of Bell, though, until late in the game. Especially as she concedes a further wide. 46 for 1, after 9. More, from Bouchier.

Two wides from Bouchier, meaning 9 so far. Not exactly killing Vipers (and just three from the over) but not ideal.

First sight of spin, as Taylor comes in from the city. She offers a little width and after mid-off rather dives over a strongish drive, Taylor concedes nine in the over. Scholfield follows Bouchier but Armitage dismisses her over midwicket for six, nudging that run rate further in the Diamonds favour. The scoreboard tells us too, that that after 12 overs, the team from the North are 22 runs ahead.

But then drama, as an appeal for a stumping looks close. But no. Foot never really departed ground. 68 for 1 it remains.

Taylor may be deceptive… or something. She looks to be offering too much width, too often but Armitage weakly dinks her out to cover and she is gone, for 26. What in tennis might be termed an unforced error. 78 for 2, then, after 15.

Dean is in, from beneath us. A calamitous misunderstanding between the batters leads to a ver-ry close runout call, which (after an age) goes in the Vipers’ favour. There’s a whiff of VAR cock-up in the air, as this really could have gone either way. Big Moment and Diamonds – from cruising – are 79 for 3 and stumbling, you feel. 153 needed.

When Taylor skids one through Macdonald’s defences, first ball, the switch in momentum is striking… but will it be decisive? Still early. A Proper Tight Game may be broiling away, here. The massively experienced Gunn is in, for the Diamonds. They may need her calm.

Dean is bowling with a nice arc and getting a smidge of offspin. She has conceded just the five runs from her two overs. Similarly, Taylor’s flatter, sharper ones are now troubling Kalis. That is, until another weak, wide delivery offers an easy cut away to third man, for four. 88 for 4, after 19. As Dean bowls a horror-ball waay short and wide to leg, we have the situation where it feels like neither side has the strangle on this: on the plus side, that points to more drama and a close finish – ideally.

Gunn short-arm jab-drives Taylor straight up and over for four. Little real flow or power, but controlled, if a little out of context, somehow. But next up, the former England stalwart mistimes a sweep and is l.b.w. to one that may have turned a little. Diamonds now in some strife at 95 for 5.

Kalis remains, on 20 but has been mixed, in truth. In the midst of what is now plainly a defining period, her partner Heath may need to take the proverbial ‘look at herself’, having swung Taylor out to deep midwicket – this for the spinner’s fourth wicket. 96 for 6 – and something approaching carnage. Enter Smith.

Looking again, closely, at Taylor, who is described as r/a medium, in my notes (from ESPNcricinfo from memory), it’s clear that she is, very much to her credit, really mixing this up. Some leggies, some cutters and it’s reaping the rewards. At the 25 over mark – halfway, of course – she has 4 for 30.

The Diamonds must find 128 runs: time is not heavily against them but the wickets column may be. A situation that is not helped by Smith falling promptly l.b.w. to Dean, for 7.

Unsurprisingly, as Langston enters to bat, Lauren Bell, with seven wickets down and blood in the water, re-enters to bowl. As she does so, the magbloodynificent staff here at Edgbaston swoop in to provide yet more food and drink. Like I said, I almost feel guilty sitting here. (Thank you all!)

Dean continues. Again that mixture of lovely, free rhythm – and wides. But Diamonds remain stalled. Langston and Kalis are strong experienced players but the odds are stacked.

A brief check – on myself, as much as anything. I note to the universe that though the scene may still look glorious – and it really does! – it will be bloody parky out there and therefore the playing of consistent cricket, to a high standard is gonna be a challenge. We’ve seen something of a mixed bag, with some real quality at times. The theme of wickets being offered rather cheaply as opposed to earned with brilliance may have been a little caught up in the imminent approach of October. Conditions. Not. That. Easy.

Scholfield is bowling the 34th and both Kalis and Langston are battling. Kalis goes to 45 with a cut through third man. End of over leaves 75 required – not unthinkable. But Taylor is back from the Birmingham End. Can she claim her fifth and settle this, effectively?

Answer in the affirmative. Langston goes, caught in front for an honourable 21. The seamer Graham joins us. 72 required.

Norris from in front of us. Kalis cuts behind square to reach 50. Good effort. The same player follows that with an aggressive hoist over mid-wicket. She couldn’t, could she?!? 61 required.

More from Taylor. She draws a tame-ish miscue from Kalis, attempting that glorious, defiant charge: easily pocketed at mid-off. Taylor has 6 for 34 as Katie Levick – the number eleven, remember – marches out. I confess my mind is on the four hour drive home… and the prospect of reaching Pembs at a genuinely civilised hour.

Appeal for a stumping, off Dean – not out. The over survived. Bell – something of a minor disappointment – will be busting a gut to claim the final wicket. (She has none, so far). She bowls another wide. Then Armitage dives over one she should stop – four, straight. Over survived. Now Dean, for her final over.

Dot ball. Single to leg. Single to extra. Dot ball. Near-chance as the ball flies to midwicket – hand on ball but not claimed. Over survived.

Bell is hoisted safely to backward square for one. Dot ball. Edge to third man – single. Legside glance for one. Wide. Dot ball. Single. 44 needed from 54 balls.

Bouchier. Medium pace. Graham slashing rather – mistiming. Then a neat clip to leg for four. A good yorker, defended by Levick. Over survived. 39 from 48.

Adams, the skipper, from the city. Incre-di-bly slow. Defended. Then thinned, high, high, high enough for mid-off to run around. Caught. Out. And the Rachel Heyhoe Flint Trophy winners… are Southern Vipers! Strongest team in the tournament – deserved. Celebrations ongoing.

Player of the Final Award inevitably goes to Charlotte Taylor. Swift assessment of the game overall might be that it was no classic, that Adams looked the real deal with the bat and that (obviously) the grip in the pitch favoured the slow bowlers. Diamonds did well enough to get within 40 runs in the end. Minor sub-plot, those hoping (like Bell – I guess I’m thinking specifically of her) to be pushing for England places need to do more, do better, do the Disciplined Threat thing. Elsewhere, Adams and Langton, with bat and ball respectively, looked to have a high level of quality.

Hey. Might be worth noting – and I don’t mean this negatively – that most of England’s (& Wales’s) best players were absent. The quality of outfielding was often good, the seam bowling was maybe nearer to decent-plus than striking – Langston excepted, possibly? Spin, in particular via the visibly popular Taylor, was king. (Or queen). In terms of the narrative, Bouchier’s Moment will continue to frustrate her, even though it proved relatively inconsequential. However she did contribute – fielding like demon as well as looking dynamic with wood in hand. Bouchier is A Player.

On that bombshell, forgive me but I’m outtahere. Best part of four hours to drive: thank you to those who have read &/or supported. Forgive any bloopers. May yet tidy further and add a word or two. Have enjoyed; Edgbaston is always a treat; women’s cricket is strong and getting stronger. 💪🏻 💥 👊🏻