The Big Dance.

So Oz fell over: or, o-kaaay, stumbled. At the all-dancing opener to a hugely anticipated T20 World Cup, in front of a crowd of 13,000-plus, the Southern Stars tripped where they had been expected to sashay in style.

India – India whom we knew were a threat, but India the ‘not-that-great in the field’ – beat them, ultimately with some ease, as a truly poor Australian batting performance degenerated into the female equivalent of a Dad Dance. Ugly-ish; un-coordinated; arrhythmic.

Those of us confined to grey, sodden West-Walian climes at least had the prospect of a helpful, brekkie-time watch. (Those of us recovering from an op’ and therefore *not actually in work* had, in fact, the opportunity to enjoy the whole whatever-it-was. And it was… what?)

It was smile-inducing, at about 7.30, Greenwich. Daft and colourful and good-natured, with some young bloke in a near-Hawaiian shirt imploring us to (you guessed it) “get up and da-ance”. I didn’t, but felt suitably buoyant, as I rushed the family porridge and swished through the weekly recycling trauma, with the front door kissing hard in the wind and the bin-men grinding ominously down the road.

Finally set, about the same time as the Indian openers, I eagerly awaited the evocative words “Molly Strano” on a loop from the various comms-peeps; for the craic, the sheer, extravagant 0z-ness of it. Molly Strano. Great name. Huge shame, for the injured Vlaminck, of course but Moll…

The game, the game, though: likely to be proper-competitive but ending with a home win – the Southern Stars being unquestionably the strongest side in the tournament and India being yes, a threat, but also something of a squad on the up, rather than yaknow, complete. India… facing Molly Strano.

Then multiple wowsers. The powerful prodigy that is Verma intercedes early, across our expectations. Strano and then Perry may not be *actually dismissed* but they are a tad stung, as the young opener clouts and cuts in the power-play. Her theoretically senior partner, Mandhana, can quietly prod away as the explosive youth bolts the innings forward: 40 for 0 off 4. Indian support going ballistic; Lanning looking a little concerned, perhaps?

But then, inevitably, Australia do their thing. Mandhana – who never got going – is lbw to Jonassen and Verma is picked up at mid-on, off Perry. The left-arm offie has turned nothing, as usual but her deadly consistency and commendable nous, combined with good length from Perry, has stalled any potential charge. Normal service.

42 for 3 becomes 47 for 3 when that other Indian Superstar, the captain, Harmanpreet Kaur charges wildly at Jonassen, in pursuit of a ‘statement’. It’s a crass error and a crass dismissal, as the ball smooths past the unsightly heave before defeating Healy’s glove… a-and dribbling back from her pad to hit the stumps. Shocker. I thought the game might have gone, right there.

Instead Rodrigues and Sharma re-build – stoically rather than emphatically, in truth. Sharma remains undefeated on 49 at the close of innings, supported by a muted 9 from Krishnamurthy. The total of 132 for 4 feels twenty short.

Rodrigues made 26 off 33 and Verma 29 from 15. In short, on a slowish but not apparently turn-tastic strip, you imagined a comparatively uninspired India behind in the game, particularly as Australia bowl and field better, traditionally. Perhaps wiser to put this the other way – that India’s fielding is ordinary and their bowling may rely on a pitch more helpful than this one. Maybe.

As Healy starts up, looking if not imperious then closer to her pugnacious best than of late, the signs are that though the Indian spinners might make this competitive, Australia will simply have too much. But hang on. Without, in my view, the visitors bowling bewildering beauties, Mooney, Lanning, Haynes, find themselves back in the pavilion. For 6, 5 and 6, respectively. Yes but this only brings in Perry, right? Perry makes 0.

Not in any way looking to denigrate a good bowling performance, here. The impishly wonderful Poona Yadav finished with 4 for 19 from her 4 overs; I loved that. Likewise Sharma and Shikha Pandey (who took 3 for 14 off 3.5) deserve bundles of credit. It’s just that The Story felt very much about a) a defeat for Aus and b) specifically, the opening up of a frailty we maybe thought this undeniably accomplished Southern Stars Posse had grown through. They were, in short, nervy and deeply vulnerable under pressure; some of them shockingly so. And this was their third T20 defeat in the last 15 days.

Healy made 51 and Gardener 34. Yet even Gardener, known for her dynamism and god-given ability to GO BIG, under pressure, rather fizzled. Take away those 85 runs and the contribution of the rest is exposed: 28 from t’other eight batters. All out, 115. Wow.

So this was an extraordinary start – many might argue an ideal start in terms of opening up the tournament. Australia will likely still go through but they will have to be positive-aggressive (who-knows, run-rate may be important) and they will probably have to beat New Zealand, as well as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Excitingly then, it’s immediately all kinds of tasty, in Group A: the Almost Unbeatables got beat. And whilst we know that theoretically T20 is the format where expectation can be brutally usurped, and we’re at some level prepared for that, the extent to which Australia fluffed/bottled or misplaced it – whatever it is – means we’re already into something that feels new. The adrenalin is pumping nicely.

When their outstanding captain Harmanpreet Kaur threw away her wicket, leaving India at not many for 3, having lost their two most essential (nay iconic) players, this scenario did not seem likely. Perry, Lanning, Healy and co with the proverbial ‘work to do?’ Surely not. Aus have way too much quality. Aus bat long and bat with intent.

Not sure anybody expects India to go on and win this at a cruise as a result of this one, relative upset – England may have something to say about that, for starters – but clearly Yadav and Verma have put delicious wee markers down. “We’re here! Come, watch us dancing.”

 

 

 

 

 

Wot, no Kiwis? Australia v England. Women’s T20 international.

England are batting and Perry will bowl four straight, with predictably excellent control. The visitors persist with the somewhat under-pressure Jones, and the slighter but notably athletic and always-positive Wyatt.

Perry stifles Jones in particular, with Wyatt looking both dynamic and slightly vulnerable, (as per, arguably). The Southern Star’s über-star will finish her spell, absurdly, with 1 for 9 off 4, and with England seemingly flummoxed. Wyatt is Perry’s one wicket, brilliantly caught by Mooney, with the opener playing uppishly through cover-point: another poorish dismissal, from the England point of view.

There is a similarly disappointing end for Jones. She has made a ver-ry scratchy 10 off 24 balls when run out. Exceptional fielding, in truth, from Jonassen but pressure plainly did for the opener again – an unnecessary scramble speaking of scrambled minds.

Have said before that I rate Amy Jones; having seen her live several times her power and confidence can really flow, making her a genuine candidate for a top-of-the-order spot. But she is appearing a tad unfocused, frail, even – a tad close to playing herself out of the team. One can argue either she needs ‘a rest’, or that the coaching team need to get around her.

Sciver is possibly under-achieving, too, though not under threat of de-selection. A fine athlete and all-rounder, in at three, with perhaps a little to prove to justify that ranking. Facts don’t ever reveal everything but try these: Sciver is out for 4 off 9 balls and England are 39 for 3 after 8.4 overs at the moment of her dismissal, caught Perry, skying, at mid-off.

The power-play overs were disastrous, then, for England, or seemed to be, until Knight got a hold on this. She is lucky to escape after skying Wareham but soonish, as so often, the skipper wills a way back. Knight will need to find a partner for the rebuild: on this occasion, it will be Wilson. From 3 for not much, the two of them get to 3 for 90 (as the Aussie commentators have it) at 15 overs.

Schutt and Kimmince lead out the death overs. Hugely encouragingly for England, Knight and Wilson continue their charge, hitting hard, skilfully and with intent.

Jonassen, the left-arm offie, will bowl the 18th. No let-up. Wilson goes to 20 runs off 8 balls in a fine, dynamic streak; at the other end the skipper promptly gets to 50, off Kimmince. It’s a dream of a pitch for the batters but this is still Australia; they are helpless, it seems.

Schutt drops Wilson and then Knight clouts her for six twice in the final over. This is potentially important stuff: the best team in the world getting unceremoniously unpicked, in the second half of the game.

Finally Knight is caught for a magnificent 78 – her highest T20 score. Meanwhile the psychological stuff feels as meaningful as the 158 on the board.

Wilson has landed and finishes on 39 not out. Her captain has again sent out the strong message that she is not only an accomplished, determined bat, but has developed herself into a player capable of sustained aggression against this – the best bowling attack on the planet.

The reply. Davies is in for the injured Shrubsole. Healy welcomes her with two boundaries but then miscues to mid-off, where Brunt retreats to take a controlled catch.

Gardner joins Mooney. She smashes hard at Wilson, at point, where the fielder stops, superbly, before throwing to the wrong end: Gardner would have been stranded by a distance had the throw arrowed back to the keeper. Mooney and Gardner build.

Rightly, Knight is ringing the changes – these are good batters, threatening to wrestle the initiative early, very much in the Australian tradition. But Glenn claims Gardner when Knight pouches a steepler. A good, competitive game is brewing, here: Australia have lots of batting, mind – Lanning is in.

She cannot persist; out for a single, edging Ecclestone painfully on. Australia three down… but this means Perry and Mooney is looking ominously set.

Perry makes a solid start but Glenn has her leg before for 18. And when Haynes steers the England leggie straight back for a simple caught and bowled, Australia are wobbling materially.

When Sciver draws a stumping, Brunt takes a stunning catch teetering over the rope and Australia find themselves needing eleven an over with just three batters remaining, this seems over. Sutherland has other ideas.

Her partner Wareham makes a smallish contribution – six – before being bowled but the youngster blazes fearlessly on. What follows is one of those fabulous periods where everything but the batter becomes an irrelevance. She is in. She will hit. The total will come to her, whatever.

18 off 8 becomes 8 off 5, becomes a Super over! Absolutely stunning stuff from the young Australian seamer, on debut. She had no right to fetch the contest back from where her team – senior players, all and worldies, mostly – had landed her. Wonderful sport for the neutral and enjoyable (kindof) for the rest of us.

So a Super Over with no Kiwis! Should reduce the level of tragedy to something bearable, at least(?) Let’s see.

Ecclestone will bowl, for England. First ball is a potential stumping – not out. Not sure if the delay unsettles Healy and Gardner, or whether we can entirely credit Ecclestone, but the Southern Stars struggle, rather, to lay a glove on the bowling. Some nerves there, surely, but surprisingly little in the way of clean, confident hitting.

Fair play to the young off-spinner for holding her nerve, she remains a relative newcomer herself – twenty years of age. To have been chosen for this responsibility, as a slow left-armer, in this moment, versus this Australia, speaks volumes. Ecclestone, despite being an ordinary fielder, would probably drop into most peoples’ World XI, I reckon: possibly alongside just her skipper, from this England side. So some bowler.

Australia, scuttling rather than blasting, make eight, leaving Knight and Wyatt with nine for victory.

Perry, naturally. Knight scuffs a single, as does Wyatt, before the captain connects twice, consecutively. Single; single; four; four. And a roar of delight. Heather Knight; captain fantastic, again.

After the mild disappointment of their defeat to India yesterday, in a game they will feel they should have won, this will feel invigorating to all in the England camp. The two days have shown them to be an organised and improving outfit in the field – significantly better than India and maybe now right up alongside today’s opposition – and, crucially, capable of competing in terms of durability and dynamism, with those Southern Stars.

There are inevitably things to work on; chiefly the tendency to gift too many cheapish wickets through poor shot selection &/or execution but the Wilson innings and the win, the win(!), alongside Knight’s further, emphatic statement of quality augur well. I suspect some consideration of Jones’s position may arise, potentially, with Beaumont returning to an opening slot, but hey, after a win against the Aussies maybe Lisa Keightley (an Aussie herself, of course) will opt for a cool beer, a smile and a dance round the barbie.

#Bristol. #WomensAshes. Crazy Dance.

Disclaimer: England won. England won and this changes some things… but not everything. The Widening Gulf may still be there; that key separation around being able to Execute Skills Under Pressure may still be there – or has been sufficiently present to be considered problematic, for England. Stuff still needs to be done.

But what stuff? It feels like the ECB has been revisiting the structural elements to all this, as the Ashes has collapsed around the home team. (That a fair description?) The brilliance and consistency and conviction of the the Australians has made further conversations around structure and development inevitable, given the blindingly obvious superiority of a) their team and b) the Oz Opportunity, for professional women cricketers. Note has been taken; the Australian system, with dozens more pro’ players and significantly better playing environment is undeniably better than the ECB’s. Endof.

It may therefore be ironic but it’s surely true that the Ashes walloping has stirred change that may be positive, in England and Wales. Who knows, we may even follow the Australians into further steps towards equal pay, equality of resource – who knows? At base level there will be, there has to be something of a shift: I think we’ve seen and heard already that slightly embarrassed process shuffle from its seat.

There will also be a de-brief on playing standards, players individually, selection, coaching, etc. Rightly. Broadly, it’s likely that the England squad is pret-ty close to the right squad – though admittedly this is partly by dint of the fact that there are (by Australian standards) so few candidates out there. Robinson should be given a polite going-over, to keep him honest and focused – likewise Knight – and then the work should start again. 

Let’s not fall entirely into doom and gloom. She ain’t a perfect cricketer but at 19/20 Sophie Ecclestone is a worldie of a spin-bowler. And Beaumont is quality, and Sciver, Jones, Knight, Shrubsole and Brunt have quality. And last night, before a goodish, engaged crowd, Mady Villiers made a notable introduction to the game at the highest level – made us smile, in fact, such was the delightful, unbridled joyfulness of her burst of wickets. So women’s cricket in England and Wales is gonna be okay, I reckon.

My live report follows…

 

 

Bristol is glorious – often is. But today it’s warm and cidery-by-the-river and cosmopolitan and trashy and musical. And glorious.

I’m at The Cricket, in Ashley Down, above the allotments and the friendly, noisy, smoky barbers and the skips and taxis of St Pauls and City Road. Find it hard to describe why I like this ground so much but there’s something about the sky, the light, the wrap-aroundness that appeals. Plus maybe it’s always seemed to be cosmically sunny whenever I’ve been here. ‘Tis, this afternoon.

Tough to know how sunny the general or individual dispositions might be, in the England camp. It’s so-o lovely a scene that it’s hard to imagine the ongoing Real Ashes Trauma is scarring every moment, even now, for Robinson, Knight, et al. Hope not.

Whatever happens, tonight this is done. Whatever baggage they’re carrying, this is sport, there’s another chance, the conditions are great, there’ll be a crowd – and lights!

As I enter the stadium, Kirsty Gordon and A.N. Other are doing timed circuits around the boundary – suggesting they’re not playing, I imagine. (Gordon not actually in this T20 squad but there have been whispers she may play tonight as things get rotated a little. Honestly too far away to be clear on the second player). Haven’t heard any other team news.

Just been for another wee promenade. Ver-ry pleasant evening, with some breeze. Temperature at 18.15 dipping under 70 degrees F, I reckon.

Now some Proper News. Team for England includes Shrubsole for Elwis and Raf Nicholson’s pal Mady Villiers for Laura Marsh.

Australia have won the toss and chosen to have a bowl. Some cynics in the Media Centre suggesting they may be looking to blast England out and scoot off, sharpish. Hoping that’s not how it turns out – none of us need (or rather women’s cricket doesn’t need) another massacre.

Aus have looked happy and relaxed as they gathered then endured “Jerusalem”. Inevitably, Perry will open. She bowls with that slowish, grooved approach then slams it down. First thought is the pitch looks slowish… but that could be premature. Six runs from the over and no dramas for either Wyatt or Beaumont.

Wyatt dances down to Schutt’s second ball and slashes it through point for four. Not entirely without risk – slightly aerial – but runs. It feels like the kind of evening (or time of evening) where there just may not be much through the air for the bowlers; however Schutt does get that inswinger going, very full, and it rather fortuitously slides past the keeper’s left hand, off I know not what, for four more. 17 for 0 off 2, suddenly.

Perry concedes a front-foot no-ball, marginally, and Wyatt  carts the free-hit bouncer skywards for one. The dynamic (when on it) batter then glides a beautiful cut away before launching Perry over the covers for six! England are a reasonably tasty 28 for 0 off 3 overs.

Schutt is replaced by Jonassen. Beaumont tries to lift a wristy clip up and over mid-on but merely finds Mooney. Gone for 5. Enter the skipper at three, again.

Wyatt is going well, not just belligerently. There are drop-and-runs and sharp rotations.

Schutt has changed ends. Wyatt gets cute, flipping her over her shoulder to fine leg, before the bowler has her revenge. Bowls her, as the opener tries to make room that kindof isn’t there: good ball that may have carried straight on. Wyatt made a swiftish 20 but was she racing a little too much, again?

England are 40 for 2 at the end of the power-play. That’s goodish provided Knight and Sciver can form a partnership, you suspect.

Kimmince follows Jonassen. Kimmince has all kinds of tricks but this pitch is looking pret-ty benign, to me. *Tries not to think of what Healy/Lanning may yet do*.

Sciver is slightly cramped, pulling and swishing. She gets a top edge and skies, behind. Caught, third man. Not good.

Have moaned a bit before about Sciver’s propensity to try to stick everything through midwicket. Caught her out here again. Just don’t know if the coach – any coach – should be *having words* about this. Plainly it’s ‘the way she wants to play’: plainly, against good bowling, she mishits too often, as a result.

Vlaeminck is in from the Pavilion End – from underneath us. Brisk. Bounces Knight. Then the England captain plays a particularly inelegant air-shot. An appeal follows, for one obviously tailing down to leg, before Knight absolutely smokes a similar delivery for six, forward of square. England are 61 for 3 off 10. It’s entertaining.

Jones, who needs something from this series, is flummoxed by Jonassen and almost run-out. She does greet the incoming Wareham with a beautiful, controlled lofted drive for four, mind, before sweeping to the fine leg boundary. Should be confidence-building. 76 for 3 after 12.

Kimmince bowls a shocker down to leg – wide. Jones visibly ‘stands and delivers’ to haul one over extra. Knight clouts one straight, aerial but safe. England are hitting. But do they have the power of the line-up to come?

Knight’s running looked poorish to me, tonight: she may be carrying a ‘hammy’ apparently. She is run out going for a second that was maybe never on AGAINST PERRY; felt like a bad misjudgement. When her partner Jones also departs shortly afterwards, for 19, edging to Healy, things have suddenly started to crumble. 84 for 5, England, off 14.

Suddenly we have Brunt and Winfield picking up the pieces: Schutt returns at the Ashley Down Road End. The sense is that 150 – possibly more – is a minimum to make this competitive.

Wareham’s legspin is comparatively unthreatening. In fact all the spin has been that way – hence the likelihood that one or more of the women in yellow may go decisively big.

Both Brunt and Winfield prove willing. Willing to heave. Gardiner is clumped sweetly to square leg by the latter, then driven up and over mid-off for a further four. Experienced players, both, these two realise a Grand Finish is an absolute must. 116 for 5, after 18.

Schutt will bowl the penultimate but she starts with a yorker around the ankles which escapes everything and scuttles for four. Brunt dispatches the follow-up magnificently for six! 13 from the over.

Jonassen will have the last over. A hilarious, cheeky, defiant reverse-sweep goes to the third man boundary. Also hilariously (for the locals) Jonassen fluffs TWO successive run-outs as the batters charge. Innings closed on 139 for 5. An honourable effort… which feels 20 short as we dart for coffee.

During the break I begin to question this assumption – if that’s what it is – that Aus will chase this down with some ease.  Mainly because the evening is closing in. It’s cooler and already markedly less bright. Of course fielding may be less easy as time progresses but could batting be more of a caper, too? Reckon Australia will have enough but let’s see.

Kate Cross will open for England. She starts with what looks like an attempted leg-cutter but it’s wide, legside. Third and fourth ball are both dragged down – deliberately or otherwise – and runs come. A poor over, in truth, with 8 conceded.

Shrubsole will follow from the pavilion but she also drops short and is punished. England need a moment, here, already: Shrubsole settles and nothing further conceded. Brunt replaces Cross immediately and she too mixes up the length. (There must be plan to invite cuts/pulls/aerial slashes but Healy and Mooney commit no early indiscretions).

Healy booms Shrubsole over extra and you might say it’s not an entirely clean hit – and therefore there is some risk. But it’s four.

First blood, though to Brunt and England. Mooney is caught in the proverbial several minds and serves one up – a dolly – to short cover. This, of course, brings in Lanning. Healy almost offers something similar, again off something back-of-a-length but escapes. Ecclestone will bowl the sixth with Australia 27 for 1.

The young offie’s reputation for making something happen is again enhanced when, with Lanning drawn forward, the ball strikes pad momentarily before bat. Out l.b.w. Yes, Lanning!

Big moment in the game and in the career of Mady Villiers, follows. Her first bowl in international cricket and it’s only Perry down yon end. A single is taken. Seconds later Healy strikes back fairly sharply to the bowler – sharp but catchable – but the young spinner can’t snaffle hold. The over is okay but that may prove key.

Cross again, from the Ashley Down Road End. Tidyish. In fact, without remotely being a strangulation, this is a low-key knock, so far, from the visitors.

Villiers again and again she’s drawing an error from Healy. This time it’s ‘fatal’. A rather mistimed off-drive goes comfortably to hand. The celebrations are a delight for us Poms but they are repeated soon after! Gardner comes down but misses and Jones is swift to execute the stumping. (The ball did nothing except *may-bee* slide on a touch). Australia are actually scrambling a tad, here.

Perry responds by stroking Ecclestone straight for six – just. 54 for 4.

Villiers, coming around to Perry, is looking comfortable – as are England. Australia really do have work to do to change the momentum but both Haynes and Perry have both experience and Proper Quality. Goodish over sees the Southern Stars on 57 for 4 after 12.

Shrubsole is back from the Bristol Pavilion End and Perry greets her with two ver-ry different boundary shots. (Straight drive, clip through midwicket, piercing the field superbly). England’s World Cup heroine has been targeted, rather, in this series – indicative perhaps, of the levels of both skill and confidence the Stars bring to their game.

Hey. Did I mention there is a crowd, here, tonight? Lovely to see and hear; it can only be supportive of England’s effort.

And that effort is so often personified by the punchy, impassioned Brunt, who has Haynes caught by Wyatt as she hauls to leg. 79 for 5 now, Australia, needing 61 from 33 balls.

Perry can play a bit – she’s on 33 – and the incoming Jonassen has a cool head – but with five overs remaining, England are favourites.

Villiers will bowl her fourth and final over from underneath us. For the first time, she is dispatched, imperiously, by Perry, for six. Haynes then drills one that I personally think the diving (or flopping) Ecclestone should have stopped. (Have majored before on Ecclestone’s fielding so will move swiftly on).

It’s dusky now. Ecclestone will bowl the 17th, with the lights making a real contribution. Very much to the bowler’s credit, she has Perry flustered three times, the batter unable to clatter some yorker-length deliveries.

We’re back to Cross, for the 18th. 100 is up but they require 40 from 14. The ‘goddess’ (see previous blogs) gets another 50. Ecclestone is in again for the penultimate over, with England in command.

Perry begs to differ. She drives straight and high for six. 28 from 8 needed. Jonassen, going for the reverse-sweep, falls l.b.w.  and that may be that. Aus 112 for 6, with 28 required off 7. Didn’t expect this but we’ll take it. 👊🏻

Immediately, Kimmince falls the same way, pulling to leg, plumb: Ecclestone’s reputation goes up a further notch. Brunt has 23 runs to play with as she runs in for the last. The newcomer Wareham can only top-edge to mid-on, for nought. Brunt is erm, bruntaciously pumped.

Perry looks to have tweaked a muscle in the scramble for a run that’s never there but claims her ground in the end. Schutt clouts one out to midwicket and finishes with an off-drive past mid-off. But HOLD THE FRONT-PAGE, England have won it, with something to spare. The unbeatable, magnificent Perry has 60 not out and Schutt has 8. At 122 for 8, Australia are 17 runs short.

Tonight can be seen as both a dead rubber and a significant return, from England. It will matter significantly to their players and to their coaching staff, who have been inserted decisively beneath the microscope, following a profoundly disappointing Ashes series.

I can only imagine that ‘conversations’ will still take place but there may be a little less bite in them. And it may well be helpful that there is no avoiding wide-ranging discussion around structure as well as selection, fitness, ability to execute – the Widening Gulf between Aus at no. 1 and Eng at no. 2 being generally recognised as directly related to better support for and organisation of women’s pro’ cricket Down Under.

In short, there is more to say about both the cricket matches and the various cricket environments, the forces shaping what we’ve seen during this series. *May well* say some of that very soon. Final word, though, is for the visitors. Australia have been excellent; they are a team, they have depth but they have special individuals.

One of them spoke in impressively accomplished style (be-medalled, on the podium) about how enjoyable a journey this Ashes has been – how good it’s felt, because of crowds, facilities and performances. Ellyse Perry (I’m sure you’re listening) I’m a dumb, middle-aged Pommie bloke but I hope you really have enjoyed it. Your team is outstanding, your performances have been ridicu-fab, so go, go, go have a beer and a crazy dance round the outfield.

Day 3, Taunton. #WomensAshes.

 

Bright, refreshing and loo-king good as we approach start-time, in Taunton. Players out there, enjoying the breezy sunshine: what a bonus it would be, for all of us, to be able to enjoy long periods of play.

The forecast, which has been ‘evolving’ pretty constantly over the hours, is now suggesting – wait for it – a full day’s play! So we may get a match, a contest of some sort, even though we think we know which direction the honours will be heading.

Doom-mongers may possibly be juggling: might England be better slinking away after two more rain-affected days,  as opposed to enduring sustained cricket (and potentially a torrid time) against a roaring Australian attack? Meaning there is an argument that Psychological Damage is in play, here. But whether they stand and fight, as it were, or merely see out the next day or two (with or without meteorological interference), England may suffer a further knock to their collective belief.

My hunch is that rather than do the Sensible But Dangerous Thing – i.e. try from the outset to force the score, because they have to win – England will, when the time comes, inevitably look to settle in during a Trauma Avoidance Phase. (Even given that imperative to get big runs early, is it not human nature, when confronted with the very real possibility of a humiliation, to mitigate against that… a bit? ) 10.54am. We’ll soon find out.

It will be Marsh to Jonassen. We can safely assume it won’t be long before Australian batters *challenge* the England bowling, eh?

Brunt, from beneath us, at the Pavilion End. Quietish. Mooney and Jonassen ‘having a look’, for a bit. As soon as they feel comfortable they must surely launch. Then I might, on the fall of a wicket, throw Gardner in there with licence to go absolutely wild in the jungle – as it were – look to really stick it to England, whilst keeping them hanging on for that declaration.

Not knowing is kindof undermining, yes? All speculation and probably cod-psychology. Loyal followers will know I major in that. 👊🏻

Brunt slaps one in against Mooney. Leg stump. Hits Mooney in the ribs. Next ball is too full and the batter on-drives for four. 349 for 5 at the end of the over. Lots of cloud cover, again.

Imagine Brunt is a player that the opposition (any opposition) loves to hate. But I like her bullish, gruntaciousness – her Fast Bowler Attitude.

As I write this she draws a loose-ish shot, from Jonassen and Sciver takes a sharp catch – yes, a sharp catch! – at gully. Not an earth-shattering moment (repeat, already feels like the game is gone) but a good one, for England. End of the 138th and Australia are 356 for 6 – enter Molineux.

Half-decent runout opportunity – not taken. Marsh, the gatherer, is only ten yards away from the sticks as the batter scrambles. Would have been out. Missed.

Laura Marsh continues, in tandem with Brunt. Mostly tightish, the both of them. Shrubsole is the first change, for Brunt. When she goes full, full, Mooney again drives confidently through mid-on: four more. In bright sunshine, now, with a strongish cross-wind assisting any potential in-swing, for the bowler. 370 for 6.

Undignified miscue, from Molineux, off Shrubsole spirals up and over mid-on, having struck high on the bat. Landed safely. Then Mooney lifts one up and over Ecclestone, again finding the wide-open spaces.

Soon after, England concede four overthrows as Marsh, probably thinking the ball may hit the stumps, allows it to pass. More damagingly, Ecclestone has not backed-up. Have previously identified the young spinner as a relatively weak fielder, I will not revisit that issue again just now.

The debutant Molineux middles a beauty out behind point for four, from Shrubsole. Might that be the sign for her to go up a notch?

Marsh is still there, at the River End and getting a little dip and turn. She is offering a question or two rather than a threat, though, I’d say. Know Australia have a bunch of left-handers but find it notable that Marsh has bowled as many as 33 overs, *so far*.

Ecclestone replaces Shrubsole. Bowls a maiden, including one which although well left, by Molineux, pressured the off-stick. Despite the goodish, consistent work from Marsh, I fancy Ecclestone is a more likely wicket-taker, now. Go figure.

Drinks, at 388 for 6, with 148 overs bowled in the innings.

As we resume, Molineux dances down to Marsh, again slightly miscues the lofted drive but gets enough of it to clear the offside field.

The longer the game goes on, clearly the more urgency affixes to the England response. Think maybe Australia like the sound, the feel of that; it may open the door to the collapse they will be hoping to stir. So on Australia go, with Mooney clouting two successive fours off Ecclestone. We go through the 400 mark.

Fifty partnership is also up, after Molineux beats Knight in the covers. *Do wonder* if it was stoppable but another  nice shot from the young debutant – into her twenties, now.

But no further. Ecclestone beats her with the flight, rocking back, bowled, on 21. Encouraging knock, though, from Molineux. 408 for 7. This brings in Gardner, whom I like as a batter and bowler. She may, if she gets in, be *entertaining*.

Scivers slings an awful one substantially down leg. The breeze may have been a factor… but pretend it didn’t happen?

Mooney rushes then dives through for her fifty. Safe, despite the throw coming in from Brunt. Has played well – intelligently.

Then drama. The batters get the signal to really go. Mooney swings and edges, high, high behind the keeper and behind Amy Jones. But Jones races back intently and clutches on: best bit of fielding we’ve seen. With that excellent catch, Lanning calls her team in, one eye on the time – 12.35ish. Australia have declared on 420 for 8.

We look forward to an intense period… and to seeing the young quick, Vlaeminck, as well as wossername? Perry. And maybe Schutt. England will have a deeply, richly nervy 15 minutes to ‘survive’. Unsurprisingly, it’s going to be Perry, from the River End.

Jones looks tall. She raises that bat characteristically high in the ready position: she can leave the first one. The fourth she tries to clip off the hip, making no contact but offering the chance for a leg-stretch. Bye and England are off.

Fifth ball does for Beaumont, almost. Is full, swings away and the opening bat is lucky, arguably, to miss it. Final delivery is a sharpish bouncer – maybe to *ask questions* of that thumb?

Like Schutt a lot but mildly disappointed that she follows:  we’ll have to wait, for Vlaeminck. However when we see how much in-swing Schutt is getting, it all makes perfect sense. Going to be tough, this, for the locals.

Too right it is. An absolute worldie (from Perry, need I say?) does for the generally wonderful and watchful Beaumont. Swings and nips away, I think, off the pitch, a little. Byootiful ball. Given that Beaumont is often England’s most durable batter, this is a disaster. 1 for 1.

Rightly, maybe, Knight will come in at 3. She will see out that third over – the final one before a no-doubt shell-shocked England retreat to try to force down some fodder. I’ll do the same. We can only reflect on another moment of real quality from Ellyse Perry… and look forward to (or fear) the afternoon/evening sessions. Bon appetit?

Post-lunch, predictably, a quiet period. England’s charge to glory on hold 😉. No, what I mean is, no further wickets. However much Jones and Knight are conscious of that need to come over all over defiantly positive, they are going to sit a while. They do. Australia are persisting with Perry, from the River End and Schutt, with her trademark Adam Ant smear, from the pavilion.

Knight (actually) goes to 15 not out in decent time, off 23 balls and having taken two fours off Perry in the ninth over. Very different shots, too; straight on-drive and lovely easy cut behind point. Dare we say she looks well set? (*Fatal*).

First change is Molineux, for Schutt. She is left-arm, finger-spinning. Bit like Gordon’s action, kindofan eleven o’clock sling. She is followed by Vlaeminck.

She no-balls. Then slaps one ver-ry wide past Healy’s legside dive. She will be nervy and it’s showing. Another one is fired substantially down to leg.

Know what, I’d rather she keeps running in to her max and doesn’t stress too much about the rangefinder. Reckon Lanning and the rest will be encouraging her to do just that and keep believing. Even after Knight dispatches her through extra for four. Keep believing, you beautie.

At the other end, Molineux has just turned one almost twice as far as any of the England spinners. Which woke Jones right up. But no dramas. At the end of Vlaeminck’s next over – the thirteenth, a maiden to follow that wayward first effort – England are 40 for 1. The young quick is bowling around 71/2/3 mph.

Liking Molineux, coming around to the slightly becalmed Jones. The batter tries to break out and is fortunate to survive a medium-reckless thrash-drive to off. Falls out beyond the circle of fielders.

Vlaeminck cannot sustain the pressure, Knight glancing from the hip and finding Schutt at fine leg. A misfield goes to the rope. Fifty up in the over. Jones still not looking entirely in her flow but when Molineux offers a full-toss, she gratefully accepts. Four straight. We are 55 for 1, as the batters take a wee drink.

Jonassen, from the river. Pie, short, dispatched, by Jones, followed by a drive for four more, through mid-off. A third poor, short delivery is similarly dispatched. Thirteen, from the over and a significant if temporary lightening of English worries. The Trauma is being avoided. (For now).

Ah. Another peach, from Molineux. Flighted, dipped and turned past the outside edge. A reminder of how precarious things can be. Both batters looking largely settled… but that was a fabulous, challenging delivery. At 22 overs – and Proper Drinks – England are a now creditable 80 for 1.

Hah. We might argue that the drinks break, the break in concentration, does for Knight. And/or we might congratulate Molineux, who has the England skipper l.b.w. sweeping a full, straight ball. Certainly think that the young spinner has shown well – and therefore maybe has earned the wicket. 80 for 2.

England have to win this, somehow. Which means that Australia have to bat again. Much discussion around this, in the Media Centre.

So, for England to be proactive towards the possibility of a win, they will have to declare, early, because otherwise, there is no time. (Know we’re talking longshots here and that it’s probably more likely that England will be dismissed than force the issue through declaring. Up to Australia, of course, whether they then look to amble towards a draw or accept the challenge and chase a win). Time is everything – or time and the willingness or otherwise to offer or accept the gamble.

Amy Jones, who has had a difficult time, earlier in the series but who can, as they say ‘play’, hoists Molineux confidently straight, for four, to go to fifty. Then she clubs her through cow corner to take England to 95 for 2.

From the opposite end, it will be Gardner, for her first foray in Tests. She tends to spin it. Bold flight but nothing too alarming for the batters, first up.

Jonassen has switched to the Pavilion End. England get to 100, for 2, in the over.

Gardner, returning, does get meaningful spin. Elwis, now on 6, almost embarrassed.

Minutes later, that same batter is run out, following good work from Bolton. Tightish but she was out by a few inches on the bat-slide. Elwiss made 9 from 39, so her contribution was on the quiet side: the incoming Sciver will have to contend with the returning Perry. Could be a fascinating phase; arguably England’s most dynamic two batters in… and the Aussies ‘up and about’.

In fact Perry’s first over back is mixed; no-ball, straining for pace but also a shortish, sharp one that nips back and buries itself into Jones’s thigh. As we approach tea, the ‘goddess’ of yesterday (and yesterday’s blog) will follow Jonassen for a further over – her seventh. She comes around to Jones and offers width, with fielders in the third man through to extra cover sector. Bait not taken and we retire for further refreshment with the home side at 118 for 3.

Did I mention Kangaroo Man, yet? Nope.

Earlier, whilst perambulating with my new soul-sis’ Selina Steele (of Aus News Corp) we found ourselves in conversation with a young geezer in a shockingly yellow kangaroo suit. Asyado. Turns out he was on his ‘stag day’: he had asked for a Cricket Day Out but the forfeit – insisted upon by Best Man etc – was the costume. The groom-to-be is English. Weirdly, he appeared to be sober.

After the resumption, Jones advances to Molineux and drives uppishly, looking to ‘move things along’. She miscues a little and finds Haynes at mid-off. Easy, waist-high catch. 119 for 4.

Taylor – traditionally, the no. 3 bat, remember – may need to do something special. She gets a freebie from Molineux which she clatters on the full through midwicket. She cannot, however, go on.

Tucking the bat behind the front pad, she is plumb, to the off-spinner, who is having a good day. Plenty of bat on the ball but plainly after pad. Taylor has undone herself a little and may have exposed England, now: this on a pitch that is no minefield. Brunt is in and she is a fighter but this feels like a tipping point.

After 50 overs, England are 140 for 5 and the chatter may be turning more again to that Widening Gap Theory. The home team have looked comfortable enough on occasions but have again proved vulnerable to the test-over-time experience. Some good, solid cricket rather than absolutely inspired cricket is proving enough, for Australia.

Brunt is morally defeated twice in a row by Molineux but the ball finds a way to fine leg, bringing up the 150. It’s beautiful and bright, momentarily. Pity we Meedya Types have no sight of the iconic Church of St James’s which sits to our left – it must be looking splendiferous.

With Australia palpably, might we say terminally on top, Brunt and Sciver are seeing things through. Which means time disappears.

Because this suits nobody (really) Sciver goes after Molineux, smashing her rather unconvincingly and aerially towards Perry. Ver-ry tough to see (even with replay) whether that was a genuine chance. Whatever, Sciver endures.

Soon after, another pearler from Molineux draws an edge which falls narrowly short of Lanning at slip. We go to more drinks with England hanging on; 168 for 5 the score.

Vlaeminck is back for the 61st. Bowls a couple of genuine bouncers and is consistent; will settle her, you would think.  Minutes later, Brunt is the first to hook one at head height. She controls it well.

Sciver has played incredibly straight by her whip-wristed standards so I applaud her fifty, in the 65th over. Brunt, her partner, is on a princely (princessly?) 14 off 67 balls. This is not Brunt-like but can only reflect the state of the game, which is not exactly on pause but almost, despite the theoretical urgency.

Are England now seeing out today? On the basis of what? Is the main driver here (as I may have suggested earlier) Trauma Avoidance? It’s both a nonsense and a completely natural instinct. ‘We do not want a whitewash. We won’t let these buggers crush us. A worthless draw is *actually not worthless*’.

Gardner is back. Her first ball turns and ricochets off Brunt’s carefully applied bat… and pad… and dribbles through onto the stumps. 189 for 6.

Shrubsole is in. Not entirely confident that she’s in the kind of nick that will restore some English Pride but she has previous; she has shown a certain level of grit. Just not recently, from memory.

Gardner has her first Test Wicket, then. And now she can go on to enjoy and even luxuriate in Australia’s utter dominance. She can flight it, rip it with rare freedom. Look out – I think there may be more to come from that arm of hers. 192 for 6.

Ditto most of this, for Molineux. She can toss it up without issue. To Shrubsole she now has four fielders around the bat and we have already seen that she can spin it. Tellingly, Sciver has disappeared, whilst being not out.

New ball is due – not taken. I might have thrown it the other debutant, Vlaeminck, just for the craic. To our left on the the tellybox a lot of conversation about how disappointing England’s lack of ambition has been – as well as re- their inability to bat for more than a couple of  sessions. Get all that but would just note that some of those dissing the lack of dynamism were maybe not the most enterprising themselves when out there in the kit.

There are 11 Aussies glaring at Shrubsole from within about fifteen yards as she faces Molineux’s last delivery of the day. And it’s pret-ty similar as Gardner loops down the   ensuing and final over. Helmet and shin-pads are donned as yet another fielder hauls up ‘intimidatingly’ close. Dot ball. As anti-climaxes go, this was, erm, a worldie.

 

Patterns of play.

In the depths of our night the feeling that there was some pattern at work was discomfiting – but maybe it did help to keep me awake.

England had started in good then dominating style, with both Beaumont and Winfield looking comfortable against the Australian attack, establishing something spookily close to a measure of control. However – do I need to say ‘this being England?’ – the calm authority of the opening exchanges was fairly promptly pret-ty profoundly undermined, almost shockingly.

In short Beaumont swished to mid-off then Taylor and/or Winfield contrived to leave the latter absolutely stranded for the most infuriating of self-inflicted run-outs: just as utter control had been re-established, just as Australia approached peak Where Do We Go From Here?

This happens, in sport, I know. You’re cruising then you’re stomping off inconsolable towards a bollocking or an icy stare. And okay maybe Beaumont had taken herself beyond criticism because of the statement she made – which stands. And Taylor and Winfield were hardly failures, eh? But this is The Ashes and we’re in pursuit not just of excellence but momentum… because that will get us through the long nights and ma’an we wanna win this!

At about 1.30 a.m. our time, England had a real chance to crack on with some style towards the dreamland of unanswerable primacy. If Beaumont hadn’t reached and slapped; if Taylor had merely called with any degree of sureness and watchfulness; if England had continued to make good choices.

Watching live, even from a zillion miles away, the sense that these key wickets were against the grain of things was palpable. Sure the young leg-spinner Wellington turned the ball thrillingly and testingly, but one way or another – and there were times when this was pure good fortune – England were surviving it. Schutt and Perry had been playable.

It seemed (unless I was dreaming?) that any one from Beaumont, Winfield and/or Taylor might go on and dismiss the home side’s leading threats… and then some. Winfield’s presentation of the bat had been notably beautiful: Beaumont had played confidently and with intermittent aggression.

Because this is sport and this is England, things changed; the pattern developed. The killer touch – or more exactly the killer mentality to see this out was lost. Australia capitalised.

Heather Knight may need to look pretty hard at her own contribution with the bat. Along with the obviously gifted Sciver she underachieved, failing to read the mood or counter in any way Australia’s resurgence: worse, making that resurgence possible. Contrast this with Haynes’s dynamic fielding and skippering of her own side: the middle-late overs were something of a walkover in favour of Lanning’s medium-surprising replacement.

It was galling stuff because England had earned the right to go on, to release the flow genuinely and decisively early. More – they had the luxury of doing this in a measured way. Taylor and Sciver really might have feasted on a true pitch, as the bowling unit blunted itself against their patience then their power.

In fact as things progressed that tendency to allow the opposition back in overtook any English ebullience. Clearly we need to credit the Australians for their persistence and their cool, but the English middle order rather shrank from the task. Wickets predictably fell. I rate Brunt for her bullishness, maturity and spark but as she strode to the crease I could not see anything other than a fizzle-out. So it was.

(Before England’s spikiest quick strode out there I tweeted as follows;

Strong hunch is that #Brunch won’t go well & that #Eng may really underachieve. Really hope I’m wrong.

#WomensAshes

Took no pleasure in that).

Hey let’s look at the positives. For England, chiefly that half the team got in and should therefore be less nervy next time around. For Australia and for cricket, great that we may have another star leg-spinner to enjoy and (in Gardner) more stylish-but-undeniably-punchy positivity to appreciate. Plus the match was evenly-matched, meaning the series may be tense and competitive. Let’s hope so. This was a good opener.