MASSIVE NEWS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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