Bigger than the Winning.

Winning is great. It’s gratifying and exciting and sometimes it replenishes us. Sometimes, too, it does that Stamp the Dirt Down thing where we relish the defeat of an old foe or maybe just the bunch of bastards who actually tried to start a fight, in our local league game, or wherever.

We may or may not allow ourselves to recognise the moral/ethical dimension(s) around that win: we may be too drunk, too thinly happy, or too desperate for the points to care. But mostly I think we do care about the quality of winning – the cut of the contest.

I don’t buy this stuff from footie pundits, for example, about fans ‘only caring’ about the table, or the silverware. Call me deluded but I reckon most of us are better than that. (I know there are dangers, here – chiefly the very real possibility that I’m going to sound pompous or judgemental or superior… but bugger it I can live with that. To strip out the aesthetic & emotive characteristics or attributes from sport is just pitifully stupid, surely?)

It’s true that I’m a certain age. It’s true that (despite that) I know naff all about philosophy and yet it feels absurd not to offer the observation that winning/losing/playing has inherently some qualitative richness that arises and transfers because of deepish appreciations – some of which are instinctive (arguably) – and yet also complex, profound and abstract.

Wow. What a game that was. Can hardly believe it. Danny was sensational, Sarah unbeleeeeeevable and what a joy to see the youngster do that! What was the score, again?

To strike the ball like that, to there, with that level of control; ridiculous. To fling yourself, like that – bloody ex-traor-dinary. To come back from there… fantastic.

Drama and heroics (true heroics!) and crazy-commitment and these zillion gifts to sport trump or kaleidoscopically locate mere victory. For me. Always have.

Call me old-fashioned – call me anything you like. Winning is great but to say it is everything makes Jeremy Kyles of all of us. It’s crass, it’s stupid and though it may be *popular*, it’s a simple travesty.

Why all this psycho-cobblers? Not sure. Other than I’ve been loving the cricket – the England v Pakistan One-Dayers. Went to Cardiff, listened to the others on the radio, chiefly. Happy to out myself as both a lover of 50 over cricket and of the Sound Of Things.

We might hear, we might accept that these matches have been ‘yet more proof’ that the game has turned boomtastically in the batters favour: debatable, perhaps and plainly dependent on ground and atmospheric conditions… but let’s move on. Other than that, they’ve felt roundly magnificent.

What’s not to like about the combination of fearlessness and sheer, finely-honed class of, well, most of the England line-up in this format? Buttler is an obvious, mercurial worldie-of-a-gem but Morgan and Root and Bairstow and Buttler are extraordinarily good, too, yes?

A really good Pakistan side, offering some real quality themselves with both bat and ball are being pret-ty serenely seen off. But the games have been contests. The level of entertainment has been fantastic. The level of skill – skill, not just blasting to the boundary – from Roy and the rest has been quite wonderful to watch. Pakistan have made a genuine contribution – one which I genuinely think has been appreciated by both sets of fans.

But England have won – and England have a real chance of winning the upcoming tourney. All this is fandabbydozy. But mainly, or especially, or significantly… because of the manner of all this. There’s something beautiful – yes, beautiful – about how this has been.

Okaaay there’s a smidge of partisanship in any statement of that sort but these games have been overwhelmingly fine; positive and richly enjoyable to the extent that any watcher or listener of any persuasion would surely have been captivated, captured by the quality of the action. And this could be bigger than the winning.

Pakistan are more than decent. It may be that their fielding has been too ropey and their batting a touch lacking in extravagance but these are relative: relative to a magnificently good team… who happen to be England. And that inevitable tribal-fixation-thing – supporting, being ‘of’ something – is only a part of a wonderful, winning whole.

 

 

Spitting and Swearing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wake-up call.

Electrifying wake-up call, occasioned by my lack of a wake-up call. No bloody alarm! 6.27! Have to be IN THE CAR, ON THE WAY TO THE STATION, by 6.45. Blimey. That’s one way to sharpen the senses.

Another, more agreeable way, is to watch the river then the estuary, then the soporific mudbanks slide past. On the train. Between Caerfyrddin a Llanelli. Mae’n hyfryd – even when resolutely grey.

A favourite journey before a favourite walk. From Cardiff Central, past the Millenium, into Bute Park, on to Sophia Gardens. Even in light rain, even with the Millenium Gates locked, to de-bar an intimate skirting of that iconic stadium. Lovely – and encouragingly bustly. Full house?

The players are warming up under that grey blanket. Footie for England then fielding/catching drills; fair amount of agility stuff then catching for the Aussies. 10.35.

Shortly afterwards Australia win what might be an important toss, given the possibility for really tricky batting conditions early, and brighter forecast later. (Having said that, the England batting lineup feels strong, what with Wood in at eleven!) Morgan has had a back spasm so Buttler will skipper England.

Lols as Neil Warnock rings the bell. Expected him to hoof it into the stand.

Richardson will open up, to Bairstow. Glides to fine leg for the first run. Ground about 58% full. Approximately. Roy leans rather beautifully into an on-drive. Four. Seven off the first over and no alarms.

T’other Richardson, from the River End. Helpfully, he has that Pirlo-thing going on. Roy cuts the fourth ball emphatically for four. As Bairstow back-drives for another boundary the early sense is of a benign batting strip. (*Fatal*). Roy has gone through a couple of pull shots a tad early but otherwise, no dramas.

17 for 0, after 4.

Bairstow sticks a beauty past extra cover and looks tasty, already. Lights are on, mind so maybe no room for complacency. Smooth-chinned Richardson sends down two quick bouncers in succession to keep the Yorkshireman honest.

Ground now 84% full. Plus.

Bairstow – no doubt to welcome the late-comers in – booms Pirlo straight down the ground for 6. Then 4. Then 4. This is not an electrifying start – 40 for 0 after 6 – but it’s been great, for England. Agar on from the Cathedral Road End: first over goes for 9.

Double-change as Stoinis comes on, to Roy, who has 18. England look dangerously good. (*Fatal revisited*).

Pirlo has changed ends: now runs in from in front of us Elite Media People, in the press box. From nowhere, he removes the imperious Bairstow (42 off 24), who edges through to the keeper. In comes Hales, who *may want* to make the most of this opportunity.

After one from Pirlo, Agar returns, bringing medium-strength sunshine. England are 75 for 1 after that 11th over. 100 comes up with a fine-looking drive through mid-off, from Roy. Hales has progressed neatly enough to 20-odd.

Tye has entered the fray but Hales and Roy remain both watchful and aggressive. The Aussie paceman goes for 11 in his  first over. At drinks, England are 112 for just the loss of Bairstow, off 18. Surely ahead on points?

At this point some bloke called Bumble sits immediately next to me: shocking bit of groupiedom but I forgive him.

Shortly afterwards, Hales is clean bowled by Richardson J. An absolute peach. Hales needed more than his 26, methinks.

Root nonchalantly flicks to fine leg for his opening runs – a boundary. Then Roy goes through to his fifty – good knock. England are 124 for 2 after 20.

We’re into something of a lull, which is clearly goodish for Aus. Roy responds by smoothing Stoinis with some intent, straight over mid-on, for six. Again it feels this pitch is on the honest-to-slow side: Root, in ver-ry carefully guiding towards third man, almost steers it to the keeper’s right hand.

At 142 for 2, we have a shower, and off they go.

One o’oclock and we’re preparing to re-lock horns. Much brighter… but there *are* clouds. Tye at it first; Roy tonks him through extra. Four – and the 150 up. Pirlo from the other (Cathedral Road) end.

Roy tennis-smashes him, almost studiously, so slow is the bounce. Next over, he ab-so-lutely carts Tye, easily, over midwicket for six.

Suddenly, a great catch from Short, off Stoinis. Pull shot from Roooot that dropped sharply in front of the fielder. Plucked it one-handed – brilliantly.

But… rain in again… until just before 2p.m.  184 for 3, off 30. Unfortunate disruption – for everybody.

Have a long, fascinating chat with Chris Waterman, who is, apparently,  a kind of educational terrorist-iconoclast. Good on ‘im. Remember when some England boss waxed lyrical about Paul Scholes ‘running round letting off his wee hand grenades’ (or similar?) Like that. Only in the House of Lords or the MCC.

2.15 and Short lobs a few slow left-arm overs. Roy and Buttler get scampering. 200 up, for 3, in the 32nd. Roy gets to a rather accomplished century in the over-after-next. Runs coming, but it’s hardly a torrent.

Ever-sensitive to that Positivity Quotient, Buttler leans coolly into a full one and it flies over mid-off. Quality. Roy gets cuter – reverse-sweeping Agar for four. Controlled upward spike? Could be. Confirmed as Roy powerfully, almost maliciously smashes Tye straight.

As rain falls again there is another stoppage but this is to attend to Paine, who has been clattered in the face by an awkward, double-bouncing delivery. Half the Aus team think they’ve been called off again but no – no actual break in play. England are 233 for 3 at this point.

Tye finally nails Roy courtesy of a great catch by the bloodied Paine, who moves really sharply to pouch one low down to his left. The keeper can’t smile, due to that cut above his norf’n sarf, but wow – top catch.

Short is on, at the River End. Expect fireworks from Billings, who faces, initially. Instead, it’s relatively conservative – not sure that will be the case if the spinner returns next over.

Agar, from the Cathedral Road, receives similar respect. Moral victory for the slowies. 250 for 4 up in the 40th.

WOW. Buttler then ramp-scoops Richardson J TWICE IN SUCCESSION  for six, before cutting through to his fifty. A moment – two – of star, star quality. Maybe the innings needs more of this, to pile the pressure on the visitors, who may well benefit from improved batting conditions?

Buttler is showing off, booming a hockey shot through extra cover. It brings out the sun.

Billings, meanwhile has been quietish. Or maybe just in the shadow of Buttlerdom? He goes, in fact, a tad unluckily but his inside edge-onto-pad-onto-stumps feels a little tame. Enter Moeen, who has had fun here before.

Ali starts with an easy pull, forward of square, off a short one from Tye. Did I say it’s kinda windy, by the way? Trees are a-dancing vigorously. Richardson J is running in hard and slapping it down with that breeze coming across him from his right. Good marks for commitment for all the Australian quicks, to be fair.

300 achieved in the 45th as Moeen doinks a single from Tye. But Mo also goes rather tamely, flipping one to deep square. Willey comes in, surely looking to garner ten plus an over off the last four?

Aus bowl a lump of shortish quickish ones and the policy is pret-ty successful – boundaries being hard to find. The anticipated 350 drifts, in a flurry of ill-timed wafts and slashes. Willey connects, off Pirlo, and then flukes a second over Paine but these are relatively isolated spikes in the run rate.

Willey kisses one high on the bat and Richardson runs across to reach for the catch. 325 for 7 feels 30 light so Buttler defiantly clouts him cross-batted for four over midwicket; middled. Plunkett, however, engineers a kamikaze schoolboy runout.

The innings closes with another biff to leg from Buttler, who gets to 91 not out as England post 342 for 8. Certainly good… but I wonder if Finch might really fancy this?