Tough Questions.

After what felt a truly galling day for those of us who follow and support England Women, an inquest. Because we’re angry as well as disappointed, right?

I get that anger is not typically the most helpful medium through which to search for progress. Indeed I have been wondering if Mark Robinson – Head Coach – has been able to stifle his own, inevitable fury in order to facilitate the next fightback, or if he, like my good self, has allowed himself the expression of that rage, before his players as well as privately.

The Ashes may have gone. Australia are effectively five points clear after two relatively close but relatively poor-quality contests.

So, will the England de-brief have been (or will the de-brief be) a painfully-forensically chilly room, where Tough Questions, direct questions are asked? Of the captain; of the world’s best swing-bowler; of everybody who wasn’t Tammy Beaumont yesterday. Surely?

The air may have have been blue or just raw and icy. The coach may or may not have crossed that line into the near-personal; “how fit are you? How much have you been listening? What the hell were you thinking?” Or, probably more likely, he may have simply hosted a deep-dive of a conversation into ‘all of it’. Both the Ashes Predicament and the nature of yesterday’s defeat point to an urgent bit of soul-searching.

Having been close enough to this group to have heard the whispers, I know they are genuine, committed athletes and that they know, as professionals that there are expectations around not just performance but re-calibration, agility, intelligence-around-performance. Let’s start with the captain.

Knight came in after Amy Jones inexplicably dived/dove right into a trap – driving uppishly straight at the only fielder in the midwicket parklands. (Good cricket, good placement from Australia but poor from the England opener). Beaumont was already looking rather fine: she went on to make a magnificent century that outclassed and embarrassed the efforts of her colleagues.

Knight entered early, as it were, due to the absence of Sarah Taylor: contrary to that which follows, I think this is not a bad idea, even when Taylor is selected – the captain in at three.

Of course Knight was conscious of her own failure in the previous game and of England’s subsequent collapse and underachievement. So she was in some sense entitled to play with caution. But she fell into some strange, depressing funk – ‘Knight’s circumspect start’, they called it on SkySportsMix – where she stalked painfully from 3 off mid-twenties balls… to 9 off 32… to 13 off 37.

(At this point Beaumont was 29 off 24 and had already achieved major moral victories against Perry, Schutt & co. She was playing the lead with the kind of ease that may only occur once or twice in a career, against the Aussies. *All Knight had to do* was back her up and rotate the strike in her direction).

Instead Knight died a hideous, protracted death – and maybe, early though it was, the spirit in the innings died with her. At 16 off 42, she nearly advanced at Gardener, swung hard, hoisted high and was out for nowhere near enough.

Given the context, it was pretty near criminal. The bowling had been goodish but hardly unplayable – witness Beaumont’s knock. More infuriatingly, the complete absence of inclination to take ones, here and there, beggared belief, given a) Knight’s quality b) the imperative to do that. It was an extraordinary stall and it did have an effect on subsequent partnerships.

Heather Knight’s work has often been characterised by a kind of heroic calm and determination. She has and will again lead, through thick and thin. She will know this was bloody thin.

Other players got in a bit but failed to go on. The recalled Wyatt brought her usual vim but could not persist. Neither of the experienced Brunt nor Shrubsole looked like countering: Ecclestone could bring no boom.

If you seek out the detail from the scorecard or the burgeoning stats industry you will find more, more unfortunate numbers. The essence being a rather pitiful stasis: no meaningful partnerships, no fours in the last eight zillion overs. From being set – via Beaumont’s brilliance – for a possible 270, England made 217. Hence the use of the word ‘galling’.

Rude and ridiculous to offer no credit here, to Australia. Let’s be clear, I rate them and always made them favourites for this Ashes series. Schutt is class, Perry is class – though she was fascinatingly unthreatening yesterday. Australia are the best and they may again be moving away from the pack.

Kimmince, I have always felt *has something* – though yesterday she benefitted from some ordinary batting, from England. Overall, though – and this is part of the concern, for England – Australia will be frustrated to have only have played in patches, in this series, so far.

A further word about England – and those Tough Questions. It needs a preface.

Anya Shrubsole is the best female swing bowler in the world: (Schutt feels different – sharper and less mercurial). I’ve been a huge fan ever since I saw her in Cardiff, during a male-female Eng/Aus double-header, out-swing all the blokes. Shrubsole swung it so far she could barely control it but it was a revelation.

In the last two games the England World Cup-winning star has dropped two return catches; the kind of catches that fall into the non-negotiable category. She will be mortified – she looked mortified – and she will be back but does Mark Robinson have the right to look straight at her and refer to her fitness, her weight and the possibility of a link to poorish or decreased concentration? After all it’s often said in both amateur and professional sport that fitness and conditioning are central to maintaining both good concentration and good decision-making.

Is all that a Tough Question too far, or is that merely what professionalism brings? (Discuss).

In any case, England lost a game that they needed to win, that a particular player made available to them.

Because this is top-level sport, Tammy Beaumont has every right to feel somewhat betrayed by what she might feel, momentarily, in her anger, was her colleagues’ professional incompetence. Because this is sport, I hope and expect the clan will re-gather… and go like hell once more.

Worcester. England Women versus West Indies Women.

Prologue: in which we say something about Duckworth-Lewis-Stern. Something shortish – if you want something longish, try this – the how-it-works view from our friends at Wikipedia.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duckworth–Lewis–Stern_method

D-L-S is plainly a pret-ty sophisticated mathematical approach to the complicated problems around weather, runs, wickets, opportunities, likelihoods. And there’s no way I personally could come up with something better – I’m going to singularly fail, here, to offer any *solutions*.

However on this occasion, in Worcester, it felt like D-L-S squished the game stone dead… erm, disproportionately so. (Probably an ill-chosen word but that’s how it felt).

Windies were in second place, it’s true, from the start of their reply but after the day’s second rain-break they were gone, under the re-calculation. With no chance. Consequently, they chose not to play – the game died. A day later, this still feels unfortunate.

Here’s my live view of the event…

Worcester, with the Cathedral just showing off. Ridicuglorious pealing of joyful bells – the whole repertoire.

Sunshine. The West Indies women in bright, sunshiney trackies, rolling abart on things designed to roll you about ‘til you’re athletically disposed. *Note that these could probably only be used (on grass, in the UK) four times a year, when the sun is shining… and when there are bells*.

Just been told it’s Pentecost; or something. Which may explain…

The Windies Women (are we going to call them that?) are continuing with their pre-warm-up. I daren’t describe it, for fear of diplomatic incident – the level of laid-backness is that ‘Caribbean’. England, meanwhile are doing some keepie-uppie football stuff but fluffing most of the tricks, to be honest.

It’s a beautiful day – the kind that might be difficult to ‘snap out of’, or into, or whatever. Gonna walk back to the car to see if the shades lens that fell out on the M4 is in there somewhere. Need that. The outdoor Press Box Thing here is currently pointing straight at the sunshine-in-the-clouds. Wonderfully and almost painfully so.

Okaaay. Before I do that walkabout we have a fairly extraordinary musical stand-off(?) between (yaknow) The Cathedral and The Mighty Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart, no less – on the stadium PA. Not sure if this a Complete Sacrilege, or not… but on balance, I’ll forgive the camponologists. Amazing start – and we’re still forty minutes away from the cricket!

The toss. Knight wins it and decides to bat. Fair enough. Good conditions – bright and dry. Taylor, who would also have batted, reports the only change to either team – Cooper is in, for Henry.

About to start. Tempted not to mention it (think that’s *the way* of these things?) but will mention briefly that there is no real crowd, to speak of. Disappointing doesn’t cover it. ‘Twill be a great day. Onwards.

Connell opens for West Indies. Powerful-looking but first ball is cut away by the diminutive Beaumont, despite decent bounce. Two scored. Later in the over some challenging pace (and that waist-high bounce) flummoxes the recently-excellent Jones, who is lucky to survive.

Matthews will take the second over, bowling her off-spin off a longish run… in a cap. Beaumont gets a streaky four but again, despite what appear to be ideal batting conditions, ‘questions are asked’. 7 for 0 off 2.

Connell comes in steadily, you would say, but is bowling fairly swiftly, slamming the ball in there: the bulk of deliveries being played from the chest area. Jones seems a tad discomfited by this, especially when they’re straight: Beaumont’s timing the cuts/glides easily enough when there is width.

Jones lifts Matthews over midwicket but without any real conviction or timing. Welcome run, though, as early on she has none of the fluency and confidence her recent performances have featured.

With width, it is noticeable that both batters are finding life easier – runs being taken behind point, characteristically, off Connell. Matthews, meanwhile, must be turning it somewhat (tough to see from our skewed viewpoint) because she has had two or three medium-strength appeals denied.

Finally Jones dispatches her over the top for four and we are at 26 for 0 off 6. England have persisted, reasonably calmly, though not untroubled. Now can they go on?

Some danger signs, for the visitors, as Beaumont smoothes a beauty over long-on then cuts past backward point. She is now 27 off 31 and visibly has brewed more intent.

Connell is into her fifth over and Beaumont is rocking back nicely to cut – four more. The England player does look good off the back foot now.

Naasira the West Indies Media Officer confirms to me that Henry IS playing. Just before the start, Cooper had a knee issue: the teams consulted and Windies were allowed to make that late change. All this because a) I was confused b) Henry is now bowling; more right-arm quickish.

She bowls ver-ry full, to Beaumont, who narrowly clears mid-off. The power-play concludes with England on a goodish but maybe slightly fortunate 45 for 0. The match may need a wicket or two.

A change, as Stacy-Ann King comes in. Left-arm, medium-pace. Jones remains, struggling somewhat on 12 off 22 balls. (Who’d have thunk it?) Conditions still fine; some cloud but bright and still.

It’s Jones, though, who strokes fluently through midwicket for 2, to bring up England’s 50. Twelve overs.

Shot of the day as Beaumont cut-drives through point – hard. King may need to be careful, Jones is also looking to go after her. (Whisper it but Naasira did mention that King may be vulnerable).

In truth, though, this doesn’t yet feel like a run-fest: something out there is not that easy. Despite this, when a wicket falls, or when the batters reach a score, the prevailing, low-key dynamic may feel some pressure, you suspect.

A good catch, from Hayley Matthews, diving forward, disposes of Jones, who will be disappointed with her contribution: 18, misfiring. Henry the bowler. Taylor up next but Henry fails to test her, firing wide. Weirdly – and zeppelin-like – dark, dark clouds are creeping over us.

The temperature has dipped and a shower seems possible but not certain. The statuesque Taylor, seemingly a foot taller than her partner, seems into her stride well enough. But this is still a contest, alright; no sense that England are storming ahead.

At drinks, they are at 73 for 1 (i.e. after 16). Coats and hoodies are being ‘popped on’ all round the ground. A-and rain! Seemd ver-ry unlikely an hour ago but it’s here – and there’s no wind. Could be a while, unfortunately.

Apparently there’s something of a controversy over the late change of personnel, for Windies. But I can EXCLUSIVELY REVEAL (because I’m sitting next to Naasira!) that captains, match referee etc etc all discussed and agreed the issue, just before the match started. So there. Move on, you twitterers.

12.50. Rain has stopped but the outfield will be wet. Not seen an accuweather forecast or equivalent but feels reasonable to start shifting covers *if* the skies are going to stay clear. Meanwhile, hot drink and biccies…

12.55. Groundstaff back on, re-coiling pipes and beginning to gather covers in (I think). *Although* umpires (now out) are under a brolly – and there is still a touch of drizzle. We wait a tad longer.

Latest: “further inspection at 1.30”. If it stays dry til then, I reckon we should start pretty promptly after that.

Lo-o-ng chat with Naasira, about lotsastuff – some of which it would be indiscreet to share. She is of Indian descent, living in Antigua but travelling with Windies Women as Media Officer. We break off because the guys are brushing off the covers and generally mopping up. And now the umps are walking out to look… it’s 13.30pm.

Can’t see why we couldn’t start at 14.00, currently. *However*, word is “another further inspection” at that time.

14.11. No announcement yet but feels like re-start should be imminent. Windies players out warming up again, slamming things, dancing, throwing, high-catching.

Confirmed that a) we re-start at 2.30 and b) it’s a reduced game – 41 overs. Could argue this gives Windies an advantage, *knowing* there’s a reduction; but might make this a tighter game(?)

Not easy for either side to get the flow going again, immediately – maybe particularly for the batters. Hope Beaumont goes on to a biggish score – she’s looked consistently good, here. Obviously Taylor is a real talent – arguably the biggest England has – but can she go out again and switch the Full-on Dynamic button within an over or two? We’ll see, soon enough.

The umps lead them out. 25 overs to come in the innings. There are a few more here to see them, too, now.

Stacy-Ann King starts, with a loosener: one to Taylor. Beaumont likewise, pushes out through the covers. Bright, now. Quite rightly, the batters have upped the ante on the running-between-the-sticks front but just three from the over.

Henry resumes, again bowling for the blockhole, or certainly very full. When she goes shorter, Beaumont kisses her down through fine leg, for two and reaches her 50 in the process. We all smile as cathedral bells ring out *at that very moment*. Good knock -alleyluyah.

Taylor yet to make a mark on this. Sensing this (I’m guessing) she looks to flip one over her shoulder… but na. Keep it simple but hit, Sarah. 😉

With Fletcher in for her first over of right-arm wrist-spin, Taylor shuffles well outside of off and sweeps/scuffs her to fine leg. Okaaay but still not in her flow, it seems. Taylor has 13 from 18.

Windies skipper Stafanie Taylor has an over, backed up by more spin from Fletcher. England are running well but  this is hardly explosive stuff – for which we must credit the visitors, of course, as well considering how conditions *may be*. (We are still under five an over as the 23rd comes to a close – 109 for 1, England).

Fletcher is getting a little spin. Not clear that this is responsible but Taylor miscues and is caught by the juggling King. Next ball, the googly does for Beaumont. Big change in the game… and nice bowling!

So Sciver is in with Knight and both are on nought. And England must attack. Taylor mirrored Jones in that she never really got going. Sciver has their power and aggression and the captain, Knight has a fine temperament. Somehow, they need to reboot the innings.

Like that this feels even, at 127 for 3, after 27. Windies are having enough moral victories – Knight sweeps straight to fine leg twice, Sciver miscues. Then the taller woman does connect, for a rare boundary. The run rate is raised a tad. Sciver is charging and driving; Knight beats the fielder at fine leg.

Ah. Then Knight is bowled, by Fletcher. (14 off 18 balls). On the plus side, for England, this brings together their most dynamic duo – Wyatt joining Sciver, with about ten overs remaining. Both are sharp and athletic and both like to attack, so there really may be an upside to the event.

Big fan of Wyatt. If she can judge this and use the overs (whilst bringing that extra zing) then this may be a crucial period. Sciver looks up for it.

Aaah. Wyatt (again, I’m tempted to add) is out before making that telling contribution. Dancing down to Taylor, she is caught off a thick edge at backward point. Just me, or does she do that gifting the wicket too early thing too often? Could be that the spinners are really offering a challenge, here, but feels frustrating to see Wyatt go so prematurely. In comes Brunt. We are 156 for 5 off 33.

Sciver is really in. Driving nicely and striking the ball hard – as she does. Immediately before drinks (at 34 overs) she push-drives with power and economy through mid-off; four, taking her to 32 off 30. Several more overs of that nature and the Windies may have to go some.

Matthews has her. Admittedly Sciver is swishing across the line again (inside-edging on) but Ecclestone and Marsh may be thinking there *really is* something out there for us spinners.

Five overs remaining and Connell brings back some pace. Six off the over and we sit at 185 for 6, with Shrubsole and Brunt now looking to find something telling, late-on.

Shrubsole strikes lustily for the first six of the innings but then Brunt – who to be fair has contributed a swift 23 – splices to Matthews at point, off Connell. Ecclestone comes in at a round 200 for 7.

Shrubsole is giving everything the heave. The bells – unbelievably – are still going at it relentlessly. Matthews is still bowling in that cap.

Shrubsole goes aerial again – another six. And another – from Ecclestone!

Connell will bowl the last – and Shrubsole will cuff the first, shortish delivery to third man for four. The next two are fuller and less costly. The fourth is dispatched over the bowler’s head for four and the fifth driven for one before Ecclestone bullies the final delivery through midwicket for a hard-run two.

England finish on 233 for 7, with Shrubsole having snatched a satisfyingly brutal 32 off 16. With help for the bowlers out there – and given *recent events* – it feels enough.

Something you probably won’t read in The Guardian…

At the outset of the reply I am thinking maybe I need to chill. So there may be less… words… here. Long day and a longish drive home.

Brunt opens. Shrubsole follows – bowling characteristically full, and hoping for something through the air. Decent LB shout, for one that hits Matthew’s toes… but then two consecutive fours, either side. 10 for 0 after 2.

Dark clouds easing in again, from the same, unhelpful direction. Could be a bit nip and tuck. Meanwhile – blessem – both Brunt and particularly Shrubsole are ‘putting it in’, to no avail.

Shrubsole seems to be going flat out. (Heather Knight suggests, incidentally, post-match, that the hugely talented swing-bowler may not have bowled that way, last time out and words may have been said. Fair enough). Brunt responds with a leg-cutter slapped in there – unlucky not to find the edge. Looking skywards, I think we may get away with it on the weather front (excuse the pun) but… I’m not betting on that.

England’s World Cup hero(ine) gets her reward. Has Cooper LBW for 6, in her second over. In Shrubsole’s third, she gets that classic in-swinger going again and draws an edge from Matthews. Regulation catch for Taylor, going away to her right. Windies are 23 for 2 and it’s greyish – for them and in terms of the atmospheric conditions.

Cross is in for Brunt. She has Kyshona Knight driving, high, to Brunt at mid-off. Her fellow quick takes a good catch, leaving the West Indies in real trouble at 23 for 3. Decent ball – may have left her – but extravagant shot at this stage.

It looks like a Shrubsole sky. Predictably she continues into her fifth over. No more drama; Ecclestone will replace her to bowl the 12th. Stafanie Taylor drives her majestically through extra cover.

When Cross returns, again bowling generously full, she draws a crucial error from the Windies captain, who hoists her over midwicket… almost. Sciver leaps to snaffle a really good catch at full stretch. 32 for 4. Light, light rain.

Which becomes heavier. And we stop. At 17.25. 13 overs bowled. Not clear-cut, immediately, if that will be ‘it’ – however, it’s possible. Perhaps the game had gone from Windies, in any case? Already?

Latest is we re-start at 6.15pm if no more rain. (And it looks like no more rain. For a while. Probably). Meanwhile, I’m livestreaming Eng v Scotland in the Womens World Cup. Asyado. 👊🏻

It’s plainly unfortunate when games are broken up like this. Hard to bat through – harder still when the run-rate calculations are adjusted for Duckworth-Lewis. Fielders can re-focus pretty sharpish, I reckon, bowlers too. If you’re batting and the conditions are ‘in your head’ a little and the pitch *is actually* a tad sticky or inconsistent, that’s tough. Whatever, we’re back on and the sky has cleared.

The new calculation is for a 28 over reply, in which the Windies must score 209 to win. By my reckoning that means the visitors must gather 176 in 15 overs. And my brain hurts. Ecclestone starts.

Whilst I’m trying to get my head round whether Windies simply play out the overs as a kind of batting practice (rather than go all-out and get out, chasing about 12 an over) Laura Marsh will get her first bowl of the day.

She beats Nation first up but the ladies in maroon, it’s already clear, will not be charging at this. On the one hand – fair enough. On the other, we now have a non-match. As I said, unfortunate.

Marsh bowls Nation with a nicely-flighted one, drawing the inside edge. The left-handed Kyshona Knight joins us and the bowler goes round.

Ecclestone again. Flattish, as per. But the run-rate is flatlining.

Campbelle finally clubs a shortish one from Ecclestone for four through midwicket, to raise fifty for Windies and after that 20th over they are 51 for 5. Sciver’s energy in the field is outstanding, given where we’re at.

Heather Knight fancies a wee bowl, so has one. Her players are still admirably switched-on: brisk and vocal in the field. Meanwhile my head’s on the M4, or rather the M5 then the M4. Homeward in about fifteen minutes; four overs.

Firstly, Marsh again. Bouncing in, bowling with a little loop, or dip: or is that the same thing? Starting to feel like a long day.

Knight returns, as the skies darken a little once more. To her credit, she is visibly irritated at herself for bowling a marginal wide, down leg.

Cross will bowl the last over from the New Road End. Campbelle and Knight (Kyshona) remain.

Soon Heather Knight will see us out. There is  a tickle of rain, as rather hilariously, the batters risk a quick single. Less hilariously, my dart for the M5 is delayed as we take a second and third look at some antics on the boundary. Four? No four? Who cares?

Knight bowls Campbelle for 29, with the very last ball. And it is raining. And England won, by 100-odd. Sure they were ahead, throughout and therefore the Windies ‘have only themsleves to blame’. But it doesn’t *feel entirely like that*. Those calculations interfered, somewhat.