Things of interest.

Enjoy the period pre-game. Interesting, as a coach – at an alaaaarmingly lower grade – to watch warm-ups/drills/inter-reactions/relationships. In the minutes so far, having arrived at the ground about 9.30, I have noted…

It’s cooler/breezier.

Amy Jones doing individual (keeping) drills, early doors.

Goswami going through extensive high-stepping and groin-opening stuff.

How bad a lot of these players (and coaches) are at footie.

How far Deepti Sharma was behind two of her senior colleagues, over a 4x 20 metre shuttle run.

How lovely and genuinely comradely some of the chats around the edges seem, between opposing players.

How prevalent general movement and co-ordinating with bigger balls/different balls/football and rugby balls is. How coaching is both sophisticated and pleasingly generic and ‘sporty’. But also how long the day is, for these players.

Encouragingly, despite the pressures, how many laughs the players are enjoying. After all, The Craic has to be central, right?

How well wrapped-up, the Indian players, in particular, are needing to be, this morning. Temperature with breeze factored in – they call it ‘feels like’, do they not? – about 13 degrees, I reckon. (Bring a coat).

I’ve been sitting like Billy-no-Mates somewhat apart from my colleagues in the Media Centre, in order to benefit from both the cooler, fresher air coming in through the open door and to get a view straight down the strip. (Always do that if possible). Wednesday I really needed that air-flow. Today I may have to shift into the warm!

Looking out there at the wind; blowing almost straight down the ground, from the Ashley Down Road End towards my open door in the Bristol Pavilion. A cross-wind might have assisted Shrubsole’s sexy inswing and arguably Brunt’s less dramatic away-movement/leg-cutters. Interesting to see which ends these players choose or get directed towards.

Hunch is that Cross – who, without looking extravagantly threatening, seemed to be finding her flow as things progressed, yesterday – will run in from Ashley Down and try to generate some decent pace. Don’t expect her to open, by any stretch, but have genuinely enjoyed watching her particularly fluent approach and delivery, so far. Could be that she is doing less with the ball than Shrubsole and Brunt, but she has something and imagine she could get on a roll, somewhere, because of that groove and her natural athleticism (whatever that is).

10.56 am. I reckon there are about 70 people in the crowd.

Day for bowlers, you would think, but two decent bats out there at the start, for India. Deepti Sharma and Harmanpreet Kaur. Sciver, interestingly, will open to Sharma. Lights on. One slip and a gully. No dramas.

Early review, for Ecclestone. Full, catching Kaur half-forward. Live, looked out and the umpire has to signal her error. Out. Harmanpreet has to exit before adding to her score: she departs on 4. This will be very watchable: Ecclestone twirling expectantly, with fielders around the bat. Tough period ahead, for India, surely?

Wondered if Sciver had started (from opposite me) with a view to bowling as quickly as possible; she is, after all, a very good athlete. Not looking that she’s got that instruction so far. Lowish 60s on the speed-gun. Ecclestone, meanwhile, is doing her thing, with obvious relish. She spirals one very full again, at Bhatia, who promptly misses it by miles – bat half-tucked, behind the pad – and is out, lbw, after reviewing. Messy morning looms large, for the visitors, who have yet to score. They remain on 187, now for 7.

Rana troubles the scorers for 2 but there are four close catchers around her. She sees Ecclestone’s over out.

More Sciver. Jones comes up to the stumps. Sharma is now 20 balls without scoring – but looks calmish. She clips one to leg for a single. The bad news is that this means she must face Ecclestone. Strangely, the tall spinner offers a real gift, dropping outside leg; the balls sits up and Sharma can slap it away with ease, for four. Poor ball. 194 for 7 after 66. Quite rightly, Knight changes Sciver – on this occasion, for herself.

The skipper drops onto a tidy line and length: maiden.

Ecclestone returns and finds an absolute peach, biting – spitting, maybe – and turning to find the edge. Jones juggles, rather but pouches. Rana, who had looked relatively secure, is gone for 2. 197 for 8 and India still need 50 to avoid the follow-on. Knight comes around, to the left-handed Sharma. Guessing the batter doesn’t like the silly mid on and off, posted. She swings hard at successive balls, scoring two to midwicket off the second. Sharma – now 10 – is only the third Indian bat to reach double-figures: weirdly, the first two (Mandhana and Verma) almost reached 100.

Ecclestone has 4 for 70 at this point. Vastraka has joined Sharma and will now face. Sharma may have *taken the view* that boom-time arriveth. She swings hard at Knight and the visitors go through the 200-mark. Could India possibly save the follow-on? Seems unlikely but Deepti Sharma has quality and grit. Quite a challenge, though, to garner runs without gifting chances and whilst farming the strike with real care.

Vastraka takes advantage of another slightly short and wide one, from Ecclestone, who has been good but not immaculate. Four through the covers. At drinks – presumably hot drinks? – we are 207 for 8. Knight may have a wee concern that more pace on the ball might precipitate easier runs but I would get Shrubsole on, pronto.

Instead we get Dunkley. Right arm leg-spin. Quite a moment for her. Generous spin but too straight and Vastraka can connect hard, for a single. Then for four. First ball spin was encouraging but 10 come from the over. A dilemma, then.

We still have Ecclestone from this Pavilion End. She errs to leg and is punished, by Deepti Sharma. It’s not a great over, in truth. India have closed that follow-on calculation right down: need only 23, now, to get there. Brunt replaces Dunkley after that single over. She is predictably on the money but Vastraka defends her competently.

Shrubsole has done a little warming-up but Knight sticks with Ecclestone at the Pavilion End. (I may not have done). Sharma takes her for four through the covers. 230 for 8, 17 needed… and we have a ball change. Brunt will like the feel of that. Two slips and a gully come in.

They are superfluous. Brunt bowls Vastrakar with a beaut that clips the top of off. Classic stuff from a fabulous bowler. Big Moments, these: Goswami intrudes and pinches a single. A smidge of rain on the glass may add a further, less welcome dimension.

Could come over all smug, here but will merely report that Anya Shrubsole has come on and comprehensively bowled Goswani to finish off the Indian innings. All out 231. Surely they will be re-inserted? (They have been).

Brunt will re-engage, with Mandhana. What a prospect. A little width is penalised – four, to backward point. Then Verma eases one through midwicket; four more. Nine off the over, rather incongruously. Can Shrubsole keep it tighter or apply some real pressure? A little. Two from the over for a nicely-timed clip through midwicket.

Verma steers Brunt beautifully passed mid-off for four more: god what a player, she is! Early but this is a thoroughly impressive start by these openers, in near-feverish conditions. England could barely have had tails raised higher and yet India have flown to 25 for 0. Fabulous.

*Moment:* Mandhana steers a wide tempter from Brunt to Sciver, at second slip. It’s held and she’s gone, for 8. Lunch, with that counter-punch from England feeling ver-ry significant…

Your author takes the opportunity during the break to leg it to his digs – 387 yards – and grab a hoodie and a pair of jeans. (It really has gotten parky in the Press Box). There is a tickle of rain but it really is questionable as to whether a delay is called for. But we do have a delay.

13.59 and they appear to be preparing to shift the pitch covers. It’s categorically not raining. Some dryish applause as the wee blue Kubota(?) trundles off with the three-piece pitch protector in tow. An encouraging start. Now the lads are thwacking away at the bowlers’ marks with that prehistoric-looking tamper weapon-thing. As they do that, we hear the announcement for a re-start at ten past two. Looking around, it appears we should get a decent tranche of play – although given the strength of the breeze, we can’t rule out the possibility that weather might blow in.

Can confirm that Chris Watts and Sarah Redfern – the umps – are marching out…

Interestingly, Deepti Sharma has been promoted to join Verma out there. Left-hand right-hand combination? Presumably. Sharma will face Brunt. Long sleeves aboundeth, on the jumper front, in the field. So coldish.

Verma eases Shrubsole to midwicket for a single, taking her to 21. Brunt bowls a 68mph yorker, to Verma; watchfully kept out. A careless throw from Brunt strikes Verma – ‘not a great look’ according to Henry Ooosits, on TMS. Few immediate alarms, meaning England may need to engage their more patient gears. More cloud.

Brunt bounces Verma – but wide. 9 overs in and we have a kind of calm, which will absolutely suit India, and disappoint England just a little. 33 for 1. The umpires, erm… swap a hat – no, two, floppy hats – for caps. Verma beautifully guides Shrubsole to third man: soft, delicious hands. Jones is standing up, to Shrubsole, for Verma. Boom – the youngster cuts to the boundary, and that fabulous, nutty sound rings out: middled. Brunt responds with an arcing, middle-stump-threatening delivery which is just defended.

Verma repeats that wristy cut behind square: again timed, again four. She has 35 in quick time. The pitch is still holding up: i.e. no major inconsistencies. Slowish, yes, offers a little but absolutely fair to the batters. (This does not, of course excuse the original sin… but let’s not re-visit that again). Change is needed, for England and they turn to Ecclestone, from the Bristol Pavilion End.

I rather hope they give Dunkley another go from Ashley Down. Sure she got collared but her very first delivery span notably sharply. She might surprise somebody, or change something. Brunt is endlessly scraping away at her footholds down t’other end. She will continue.

Verma takes a wild swing: misses. The thought strikes that if something flies to slip it might take some catching – cold hands.

Kate Cross, for the first time today. Sky looking bit intimidatingly grey – but not necessarily rain-filled – behind her. Suddenly the ball is behind her. Verma steps out and crunches an extraordinary, straightish on-drive for four. But good response from the bowler, who draws an edge that Jones must surely catch, if she were standing back. She’s not. First slip can’t get there and it flies away once more. Utter hunch but I think Cross should be asked to plug away for eight overs. (Except ah – precipitation may intrude).

Looks and feels like October out there now. The umpires have consulted but plough on. May not be long. Consulting again… and they’re off. 15.10. Fair enough; it’s suddenly not pleasant. India 57 for 1, with Verma on 46 and Deepti Sharma still on 1.

15.29 and the covers are off again. We await the resumption. Stadium Announcer tells us that will be at 15.40.

Kate Cross will get us going – she has balls remaining from prior to the interruption. Feel a little for all the players but the batters now have poorish light to contend with, as well as cold, wind, a newish ball and the undeniably intimidating match situation. Sharma’s answer is to drive classically out through the covers, for four. Stunning. (Re- the light, it does feel a bit like the floodlights are carrying the load here, as opposed to merely supporting the celestial bounty from the sidelines). Ecclestone, from the Pavilion. No dramas.

Verma, on 47, is potentially a single blow away from her second fifty of the match. Cross is bowling at 68mph to her partner, Deepti Sharma, who has 8. At the start of the day I noted how far behind her comrades Sharma was, during a series of shuttle runs – suggesting a relatively ordinary level of fitness. Nothing wrong with her technique, nor her application. Despite being overshadowed by the precocious Verma, she has contributed significantly, here. With that thought Verma gets through to her second half-century of the game, off only 63 balls, having scored ten fours. Outstanding stuff.

Ecclestone is unable – temporarily? – to make anything happen. I’d give Dunkley a go… but we have thin rain, sadly. Off again. 16.03. Hot brew and a scone would be nice: will be able to find the former, easily enough. Tea has been taken, we hear.

The groundsmen – and it does appear to be all men – are really wrapping the square up. The rain persists but it’s not exactly persisting it down: cue nudge/wink emoji. In fact it looks marginally better, out there, without being *encouraging*.

16.50. Time yet, for things to change but it’s looking stubbornly dank, behind the Ashley Down flats – and that’s where the weather’s coming from. It’s neither raining nor drying and I’m not sure quite where that leaves us. Light within the stadium feels viable (almost) but the backdrop is concrete-grey. Meanwhile, we eat crisps.

17-something. The Stalling (as my movie about all this, starring Reese Witherspoon and Dan Norcross will be called) goes on. It’s a tricksy, moody, unsettling little number, characterised by prickly inactivity. (Don’t panic: it’s an allegory. No rain here, for forty minutes but no signs of restorative life. Kinda makes no sense but also makes sense. Folks sit around in anoraks, looking moody. Folks eat crisps).

In the end, an End. The day is called – off. Wonder if this really happened, for real cricketing reasons… or did the umpires just want to get tanked-up before the England game?

We may never know.

Hey. What’s the forecast? Anybody?

A Different Day.

In the ground, early, not just to get settled but to watch warm-ups and the pre-game rituals, which can be fascinating. Grey, heavier and cooler than yesterday – truly a different day.

In theory it should be raining but the forecast – 80% chance of – is mercifully wayward so far. So far it feels like a day that Anya Shrubsole’s dad might have conjured up, through some fiendishly exotic sorcery. (I picture him in his jim-jams in some budget hotel, dancing around the bed, waving pheasant feathers at the unresponsive ceiling). Whatever; it worked. It feels like a day for swing. It feels like England should slash and burn through the remainder of their innings, then get the ball into Brunt/Shrubsoles’ hands.

India have been doing that laps of the field thing that your Games Teacher instructed for, in 1978, when you were a pain in the arse in maths and Mr Reynolds had a quiet word. Verma and the rest of the stars trundling around gently – no doubt as a pre- warm-up warm-up.

I note England coaches in earnest conversation with their bowlers, during an early net. Quite a lot of technical and strategic information going in, it seemed. Did wonder if that might be a bit late to be adding in too many new ideas but entirely possible they were talking about films or Ford Escorts, as opposed to overloading the minds of the protagonists. Both teams are into an hour or so of heavily choreographed activity; making this a long day.

Talking of which, may yet take big chunks out – like the Proper Journos do – and write something elegant and considered and minimalist, later.

YEH, RIGHT!! (Although am gonna give myself a break or twelve. Quite intense being at this non-stop for eight or nine hours. Not, of course that I am complaining: always aware of the privilege).

Ten or so minutes out. Mildly amusing to see one of the England support coaches really struggle to cut catches towards the slip cordon: can tell you it ain’t easy to do that consistently. Shrubsole was slinging it at him – not always helpfully – and the poor sod couldn’t connect softly or skilfully or consistently enough to make it worth the fielders’ crouching. Eventually another batting coach relieved the fella. Might only have been me who saw this but now I’m calling him out to the universe! (Lols).

Gone quiet. Five to eleven.

Pandey will open, Brunt to face. Two strong, competitive women. Brunt cuts a wide one for a single. Touch of inswing on the next one, to Dunkley. We don’t have TV again, in the Media Centre, so no replays yet, but I am looking straight down the pitch and hoping to see some movement through the air and off the deck. Seems that kind of day, yes? Goswami will follow.

We have a review, from India, for an LBW. Brunt had missed one. She’d advanced but it looked straightish. Half the Media Posse leg it out to the balcony to watch the re-run on a big screen to our right. It’s confirmed; hitting. Brunt gone early for 8. Ecclestone – who we hear has been working ver-ry hard on her batting – joins Dunkley. The tall off-spinner makes a good start, dispatching Pandey to the boundary and moving to six from the over.

Skies brighten… but that could just be the lights. Dunkley gets one on leg stump, from Goswami and also finds the boundary, to square leg. Conditions-wise, no issues. Grey but (as long as light doesn’t deteriorate) seems set for a significant chunk of action, to me. (*Fatal. But by this I mean that looking around all sides of the ground, I’m thinking we stay clear of any rain for some time – possibly right through).

Rana replaces Pandey at the Bristol Pavilion End. Light breeze from her left, but barely enough to meaningfully assist her gentle but consistent off-spin. Interesting that India have turned to spin – geddit? – at both ends, early doors, with Sharma now joining from the Ashley Down Road End. She has two short legs in to gather any miscues but Ecclestone is looking spookily competent. First target (of 300) for England now just seven runs distant. Ecclestone has 9, Dunkley a solid 25.

Ok. *That pitch*. Looks quietish and unresponsive rather than utterly dead. Minor spin, very few tricks being played, to my mind, in terms of variable bounce. So not, at the moment, a concern. However, because it was a used strip from the start, the fear has been that it may die early and/or become a lottery to bat on later in the game. In short – and having made my views clear about the cultural-political howler committed, earlier – those responsible are getting away with it, for now. Let’s hope it stays that way. 300 up, for England, 7 down. The game is inching forward.

The comparative lack of dynamism from England is interesting. Are they thinking that they really might get another hundred runs and then aim to blow India away twice? Possibly – the conditions (and their personnel) might support that seam-tastic strategy. It seems certain that they are not currently looking to accelerate swiftly and ‘riskily’ before getting at India this morning. What are their weather forecasters telling them, I wonder? There are lots of factors in play, as always: it is often true, too, that the voices on comms via TV and radio are rather indulging their freedom to talk a very expansive-aggressive game. If they were on the park they might be playing less ‘positively’, you suspect.

The spinners continue. Rana gets some strong turn and reviews. Denied. Sharma drops short and Dunkley clubs away through off. Noon. The sky really may be softening, a little.

We re-start after drinks. Lots of lovely Indian voices echoing around – all audible through the open door in front of me. (Crowd again pitiful; great that the few who have come in are here… but where the hell are the rest of you? A rare, fascinating, international sporting event is unfolding before us and… where are you? Supping coffee? Clearing the garage? On Amazon, for *no real reason?* In your apathy you are contributing to the Predictable Dumbness of the Universe).

All this, probably, because the game is slowish. And I’m a medium angry geezer, by nature.

OOooh. To lift our spirits, Dunkley has smashed Rana through the off side, for four. Ah. But then she is pinned. Substantial turn – so much, again, that the review confirms that it is missing. Relief, particularly as she is approaching fifty. At the over, England are 322 for 7, with Dunkley 47 and Ecclestone on 16. Very random and unscientific but feels like both Sharma and Rana are extracting more turn now. Whether this is because they are more fully into their groove or the pitch is drying, couldn’t say.

Dunkley gets to an impressive 50, on debut. Pretty much untroubled.

There is encouragement for India but also that cruel thing where the ball is now spinning ‘too much’. They lose another review because the ball bites and surges too dramatically. No matter. Ecclestone clips to mid-on and Sharma has a deserved wicket. 326 for 8 as Shrubsole joins Dunkley. Ecclestone will be licking her lips, despite that disappointment: the two Indian offies have 3 wickets apiece, so far.

There is still no sense that England want to charge – again suggesting that they hope to build a score of sufficient magnitude that it might intimidate the opposition and precipitate a collapse or two, when the home seamers – or Ecclestone – get their mitts on that cherry. It’s a viable theory but will of course become prone to criticism if India manage the game well, from hereon in. One further thought on this: if – and it seems likely – England now start bowling at about 2.30 pm today, this may offer India the best slice of the day, conditions-wise, in which to defend the match situation. Meanwhile, Vastrakar.

Both Shrubsole and Dunkley are, in general, presenting bats with some style. But then Anya has a swish… and misses. She regains her composure and authority next up, mind, by deftly cutting through third man. Lunch approacheth, so a further change figures. It’s Harmanpreet Kaur, from Ashley Down. She’s the third off-spinner in the visitor’s ranks: have heard chat on comms about ‘lack of a point of difference’ in the Indian attack and there may be some merit in this argument. Dunkley picks her off, rather, back-driving her through extra cover for four. 347 for 8 now, England.

Oof. Shrubsole short-arm pulls Vastrakar hard, to leg. Four more. Bit counter-intuitive but England ‘looking to score’ as we get within an over or two of munchies. They are past another milestone, as the 350 comes up. Quite like that Vastraka bounces Shrubsole to finish the penultimate over before the break. Goswami in again for the last.

If there are any concerns, for England – and why would there be? – they might be around the comparative lack of success or encouragement for the seamers, so far. (England have picked four). But with Ecclestone being so brilliant, the weather still suggesting Shrubsole (in particular) might be a handful and with skipper Heather Knight a capable part-timer on the slow right arm front, the home side have much to feel good about. We break at 357 for 8, with Dunkley on 66 and Shrubsole on 16.

Pandey will get us going again, from The Bristol Pavilion End. Shrubsole nurdles. Dunkley follows and raises, by clubbing straight towards deepish mid-off – where it falls just short. The over may suggest that a gear-change is underway, from England: let’s see. Rana from beneath the flats.

Shrubsole rather inelegantly clouts over cover, for four, then dances down and strikes cleanly along the floor to the same boundary. Suddenly, we’re into a boomathon: Shrubsole smashes everything. A six, a chance – spilled – and an obvious hike in the plan. Pandey gets clattered as well as Rana. Impressive, often short-arm hitting. Almost every ball gets the treatment – or some treatment. Shrubsole has raced, now, into her 40s… and it goes on.

…Until she falls, swishing across Rana, having stormed to a belligerent 47. England promptly declare, at 396 for 9.

Entertaining stuff: intrigued to see if that very same Anya Shrubsole – arguably the greatest swing bowler in women’s cricket (worldwide), for the last decade – can extract something special from out of the Bristolian skies. Brunt, Cross and Sciver will also be a-fluttering in expectation, as will the world-beating Ecclestone.

With reference to t’other side, I for one am genuinely interested to see Verma, the prodigious short-form player, bat, for India. How will it go?

The Mighty Brunt will open, from the Ashley Down Road End. (Huge fan. Love her spikiness, her guile, her tricksy wrists). The Indian Icon, Smriti Mandhana, will face; upright, left-handed. Brunt has two slips and a gully. Maiden over. Shrubsole now, from in front of me, to the right-handed Verma. A little inswing; then a touch more. And more – beautifully controlled. This is going to be quite the examination, for the batters. Two maidens.

First run is a not-entirely-convincing pull, off a short one, from Brunt. Looked as though Mandhana almost thought better of it, halfway through the stroke. No dramas. Brunt staying boldly full, generally.

Verma gets a streaky four, off Shrubsole; outside edgy, predictably and behind. India are safe… and 6 for 0 after 4. The wily Brunt is teasing Mandhana with slightly wider, ‘driveable’ balls. The batter holds her form and her discipline. Again she takes on the pull shot and executes with care: single. Untested so far but the tall Amy Jones looks the part behind the sticks. She must be conscious of the brilliance of her predecessor – the absurdly gifted Sarah Taylor. Good energy in the field and excellent, unrewarded spell, so far, from Shrubsole.

Really good contests going on here. Verma and Mandhana plainly players, plainly determined. Being offered very little by two of the most experienced opening bowlers in the game. Shrubsole draws an inside edge but Mandhana has squirted it inadvertently down to fine leg. England admirably on it in the field, meaning Verma’s immaculate drive to the cover boundary feels like a proper breakout. India 16 for 0 after 8 overs.

Brunt is having words – as she does – after Verma runs it through about fourth slip. Nice shot but the bowler thinks Verma had no real control. It may have gotten into the young batter’s head because next ball is hoiked rather weirdly to leg… but safely. When Shrubsole returns for the tenth over there is the feeling that although England have gone well here, in every respect, the visitors may be seeing this out.

Sciver is in from Ashley Down. Natural length is a touch shorter than her colleagues, arguably; won’t swing it but may get some cut. Has also noticeably increased her pace, over the last year: bowling 67mph, now. Drinks. India on 29 for 0 after 11.

Shrubsole continues but Mandhana pulls her – emphatically, this time. Four.

Sciver to Verma, with Jones standing up. Verma clouts her for six! Wow. Extraordinary. Quality from both teams. Enter Cross, from under my personal window. (*Winking emoji*). Nice flow about her bowling but she offers an easy one, leg-side. The Threat, generally, to the batters, appears to be diminishing… which means Ecclestone, perhaps?

Not yet. Sciver is in for her third. She’s relatively expensive – perhaps trying to mix things up? – conceding 17, thus far. Back to Cross.

We’ve almost forgotten about the weather: it was supposed to be a Major Factor but my mates, the locals, who said not to stress, were right. Cloudy but perfectly acceptable. 46 without loss, India, after 16 overs. England, now, need to make something happen and Scivers almost obliges, beating Mandhana. No edge and Jones spills it, in any case.

The skies have brightened and Mandhana is classical and expansive and true, easing Cross through the covers. Then a mini-drama as the batter cloths a leading edge straight back at the bowler. Sharp but catchable: put down. Important? Probably. India have now gone past the fifty mark and England, despite applying themselves, have made no inroads. Now it is time for Ecclestone.

She comes in from under those cream and grey apartments – the ones you’d like to be in on a summer’s evening, with a match on and a *little something* in the fridge. Left arm, spearing and twisting it. Will probably get two of her overs in before tea. Then plenty after, you suspect. Maiden, then Cross.

When Ecclestone does return she flops one cruelly short: it’s a gift which Verma accepts. Four to extra. Still suspect that the England spinner will be important to any drama but maybe that’s a slow-burner of a theme? Cross, meanwhile has sent one across Mandhana and the thickish edge interests the fielder but dribbles out to the boundary. Tad unlucky, for the bowler. Best part of the day now; last over before the break and India, should they make it to tea un-breached, will be feeling a whole lot more comfortable.

Job done. Credit to the visiting openers, who both look as good as we imagined they might. 63 for 0, India.

Cross restarts. The skies are with us and therefore a full day seems likely. This runs counter to much of the chat from earlier in the piece but England rather than merely inhabiting the time appreciatively, must surely make it work, make something happen. Brunt is usually up for that kind of challenge.

She is in, now, from Ashley Down Road End. Verma is taking her on, boldly, if not impudently, much to the bowler’s obvious discontent. (Brunt is world-class at that icy stare thing; she often follows it by transgressing any icy silence). The Indian youth may be taking the Michael and there may be further to report on this. But Ecclestone is in, having changed ends, probably to offer Yours Truly a grandstand view. Oof. Mandhana back-drives her confidently. Ecclestone – even Ecclestone – can make no inroads. 26 runs have come from the last 12 balls.

Brunt is slapping it in there, to Verma. No bounce. I can hear Alex Hartley on comms suggesting that Brunt is likely to get unhelpfully or unproductively wound up, here but I’m not so sure. She can often be exquisitely skilful, even through her anger. She beats Mandhana with a pearler.

Verma, remarkably – she is seventeen, remember – swings Ecclestone fearlessly over midwicket for another four, to go beyond 50. Bloody impressive. When she finally misses one, the big shout does not precipitate a review – the ball almost certainly missing to leg. India go to 100 for 0.

Brunt is working it, approaching 70 mph and hitting the pitch hard, knowing that both batters may now respond with instinctive aggression. It’s pretty edgy stuff out there. The match situation is of course dictating that India (because they have gotten past the early dangers) should now raise the tempo. That they are doing that so brilliantly – with Mandhana now beyond the half-century – is hugely to their credit. It may also throw England’s relative conservatism with the bat into starkish relief. After 32 overs, India are 113 for 0.

Shrubsole is in, with a change of ends. No joy. Ecclestone, however, draws two consecutive errors, from Verma. Mis-hit to midwicket followed by edge to third man. The scoreboard says 0 wickets but there are a few positive signs, here, for England. Shrubsole nearly gets through Mandhana – kept low. Ecclestone is looking a little mixed but she draws a further mini-fluff, from the left-hander: the ball looping limply to the vacant silly mid-off slot. Pitch, or tiredness becoming an issue?

Talking of tiredness, off to get a little air…

Nice out there. Pleasant temperature, just enough breeze to refresh. A wider angle also meant I could see Kate Cross running in better. Lovely, free approach and you get the sense of pace much more fully, from sideways-on. Nothing in it for her but still the duty to stay disciplined and (at the very least) seek out an error. In other news, could also see Liam Cromar’s ‘loud cap’. Good to see you, even at that distance, fella.

Verma approaches a hundred, having left her partner thirty-odd runs behind. A fabulous milestone approaches. Except that this is Real Life… and in real life folks fail/falter/sky stuff… even when they seem like they can do no wrong… and they/we/Verma, actually, are/is caught, after an endless steepling, at mid-off, by Anya Shrubsole. Gone for 96. Cruel – but also life-enriching. A brilliant, exhilarating contribution, from a crazy-talented teenager. Punam Raut joins Mandhana, Cross has the wicket, 167 for 1.

Cloudier, cooler. Mandhana dismisses Cross to the boundary, moving to 76. Erm, think she then needs a wee – or she certainly gets permission to exit, briefly, in spritely fashion. England chill and ‘re-group’. Snaffle five or six quick wickets in the remaining 40 mins or so and they’re right back on top. (Cheesy grin emoji).

Heather Knight is in for her third over, the compact Raut yet to score. Watchful stuff – a leave-fest. Sciver will return, going around the wicket to Mandhana, from Ashley Down. Single taken. Raut leaves some more – fair enough. 63/64/65 mph. Not problematic, for the new batter, in truth. Into the last half-hour. Never seen Knight turn it more than about two inches, but she’s back to probe for that error. Nice to see the England players sharing a joke and a smile at the turn of the over.

Still decent energy in the field. Just as well, because *things happen*. In this case Verma-esque things – Mandhana skying high for no apparent reason and Brunt taking the catch – for her wife, asitappens. Sciver, like the rest, has been ploughing on hope rather than expectation but that compulsory application has paid in the end. Tame-ish finale to a fine knock; Mandhana gone for 78.

Knight is bowling wide of off-stump – presumably to encourage an extravagant shot or two. Instead, Pandey simply bunts a straight one directly back to her. (What was it I was saying about five or six wickets?) 179 for 3. Mithali Raj is in, alongside Raut, who has still failed to accumulate. Some frisson, then.

Raut breaks the impasse – two, through extra cover. Sciver responds with something that nips in a shade towards the off-stick. England are vocal but Sciver’s effort ball slides down leg. Ecclestone replaces her skipper… and prospers. My first (live) impression was that she wasn’t that committed to an appeal for a bat/pad but there was a clear nick and Mithali Raj must also go. 183 for 4, Raj scoring just the 2. Good player incoming, mind – Harmanpreet Kaur. Can she steady this English surge?

The home team looking justifiably jaunty as they hurry round for another over. Knight has crossed over to the Ashley Down Road End. Seven minutes remain as Raut inexplicably plays no shot and is plum. Frazzled;183 for 5. Extraordinary stuff – and quite a moment for Deepti Sharma to join us and face her former colleague (and captain) at Western Storm. England – I can hear them, clearly – are whooping and joking out there. Ecclestone will get one more shot at this.

Boom! (Or possibly). Huge appeal but there is bat there: Kaur is not out. Fabulous denouement… but I guess not if you happen to be with the visitors. Harmanpreet cuts for four. Then models her finest forward defence. And survives.

At the end of a richly entertaining day, India are 187 for 5, having been 167 for 1. They lost 5 wickets for 13, for which I claim the credit, having aired the prospect in glorious mono-colour upon these very pages. May reflect further soon… but am flitting sharpish to enjoy Bristolian hospitality of a particularly fine variety. Enjoy your evening.

Bristol.

Speaking as a middle-aged bloke, it’s easy to imagine a middle-aged bloke being at the centre of this. Not that I know – but it figures. So an oversight. Or an accidental something-or-other; a situation that just suddenly cropped-up. And before you know it, there’s no time to sort this thing out – to prep a new strip.

We may never know the sequence of events, or non-events, nor the trail of guilt or error. It could be that there’s a twenty-four year-old woman at the heart of this… but it’s doubtful, eh? It seems more likely – indeed it seems fairer to say – that the overwhelmingly likelihood is that this Bristolian Farce-For-Our-Ages (Still) is just another reminder that this is a sexist universe and that either some donkey didn’t get it, or there was a further, depressingly familiar outbreak of broader, cultural slackness. AKA sexism. And ultimately a Test Match pitch that somebody forgot.

Let’s be plain, then and move on. It’s a travesty and an embarrassment and a deep insult to women’s international cricket that the first Test Match in aeons will be played on a used pitch. It’s both utterly ludicrous and entirely predictable: elite women’s sport as an afterthought. Apologies have been made but another marker has been spilled: despite the tremendous increase in resource and quality, women’s cricket is still likely to be disrespected by those that are its guardians. Probably, because most of them are middle-aged blokes.

Please god let the pitch turn out to be an irrelevance to the contest. Too often dull, lifeless strips undermine the quality of the action and fuel the negativity around long-form cricket for women. How erm, unfortunate that we face this prospect, in Bristol, before we even start. In conclusion, I note to the universe that this is England’s first Test since 2019… and the first for India – a World Power in the game, right? – since November 2014.

OK. Slate. Clean. On with the cricket.

England have won the toss and will bat. It’s a sublime day. The Indian players – taking a few catches below me as I write – look resplendent in the shiniest, most Persiltastic whites you can imagine. Only the blaring music feels a tad jarring on such a wonderfully pristine day for traditional, longform cricket. Winfield-Hill will face the first ball, from Goswami, who looks substantial, as she races in, past Beaumont.

Quiet over, in which a clip to leg from Winfield-Hill goes close-ish to short square leg. Single taken. Pandey – looking sharpish and bowling generously full – follows from The Ashley Down End. No dramas.

Biggish shout in the fourth over, as Pandey beats the bat and strikes pad. First thought, high-ish. Pandey is bowling to three slips and a gully, point, mid-off, mid-on, shortish square-leg and fine leg. Winfield-Hill gets her away through extra cover. When Goswami returns and someone underneath our Media Centre distracts the batter, the bowler rather charmingly invites them to move along, with a relatively unironic “excuse me”.

Arguably the first sign of aggression comes from Beaumont, dropping confidently onto a short one from Pandey and pulling for four. Shortly afterwards I have a great view of an alleged nick from Beaumont precipitating a strong appeal from the same bowler. Live, I saw and heard nothing. At the end of the 6th, England are 12 for 0, and relatively untroubled.

The signs are that this should be a batting day… but then Goswami does draw an edge… but claims no reward. (In truth the tv in the Media Centre ain’t working, so we have no replays. Can’t be sure if the nick carried. Reading updates elsewhere, it plainly did, but Mandhana fluffed it rather badly). In other news, the recent changes to Covid regs may have substantially reduced attendance, here, but again we have a disappointingly small gathering. Given the rarity of these events and the quality of the day, it seems extraordinary, to me. Hey ho.

We have Old School Test Cricket – and what a real pleasure that is. Persistence. Relative quiet. Intrigue. Application from both sides – the long view. Beaumont and Winfield-Hill are raising that bat high but watchfully and presenting with care. The run rate is about 2.5. (Of course as I write this Vastrakar – in for Pandey – drops one short and WH dismisses it to the boundary, in front of square. She has 18 to her partner’s 13: 31 for 0 after 12).

When Goswami provides the same ammunition to Beaumont, she also guns it away, with some contempt. Is her spell feeling a tad long, now? Seventh over – so maybe. It’s Vastrakar (who had replaced Pandey) who is changed, in fact. Slow right arm, from Rana; flighty, teasing nicely. Drinks at 39 for 0.

Pandey has changed ends and is now bowling from underneath us. She looks strong but is she already running in with a little less verve? Unconfirmed.

Winfield-Hill arguably should do better than to drive two successive and invitingly short balls from Rana to extra cover: two four-balls, possibly.

In other other news, I missed the England cap presentation to Sophia Dunkley, due to a wee bit of administrative faffing pre-the media accreditation presentation to Yours Truly. But I wish to record my sense that the world just got a little better (with the first black woman garnering an England Test cap). Congratulations to her.

Possible gear-change, from England, as both batters look to capitalise on the benign conditions. As Rana completes the 18th, England reach 57 for 0, with Beaumont now 28 and WH 29 – so no extras. Vastrakar is now in again, having changed ends.

Winfield-Hill thrillingly smashes her over deep square: a ball only apparently a smidgeon short of a decent length, dispatched with real gusto. (It’s her second ‘maximum’, in fact). But from nowhere, the England opener falls to a fine diving catch from the keeper. Vastrakar had gone almost yorker length; the edge was audible and Bhatia flew to her right to gather. Quality moment and you sense it may be important in terms of bringing the visitors back into the game.

Knight, the outstanding England captain is in and Rana is challenging the inside edge, with her energetic off-spin. 70 for 1 after 22 and we have a fabulous scene and a spike in the intensity as Vastraskar re-joins. Beaumont, with that characteristic, wristy flourish, bludgeons her back straight, for four, passed Mandhana’s vain dive.

The changes keep on coming – understandably – as Goswami comes in from the Ashley Down End. Drops short and Beaumont clubs her for four through midwicket. More have joined us to sit in the sunshine; there is a light breeze but I am personally sitting close to the open door of the press box a) to get as close as possible to the line of the pitch and b) because it’s almost uncomfortably warm. That Dudley Platypus geezer (photographer) has just wandered back in, blowing hardish and commenting on the airlessness out there.

Knight appears untroubled. When Vastrakar offers just a little width, she crunches her through the covers to get off the mark with an emphatic boundary.

We approach lunch. Goswami continues. She is doing that grunting/manifestly imagining a wicket every other delivery thing – making everything, rather wonderfully, an ‘effort ball’. Do not question her heart.

Deepti Sharma will squeeze one in before the break. To say she is a spinner of the gently-paced variety is in no way to under-estimate her. Sharma is quality. Sure enough, mid-over she gets startlingly extravagant bounce and turn, beating Beaumont and the keeper. Difficult to interpret that one delivery as *a sign*, but it will encourage the Indian spinners, certainly. England are 87 for 1 after 27 at the end of an intriguing, watchable session. I am wondering what the craic is re- food and Covid and all…

Oooh.It’s there. Curry. Tidy!

Almost ready for the resumption. Great nosh, by the way – thanks to the local Hospitality Posse. Nip out, onto the balcony out front, have a look around and am struck by the fact that I could pretty much count the entire crowd. Don’t want in any any way to sponsor negativity but Jesus. These players deserve better. Onwards. Goswani. From Ashley Down.

I am a HUGE FAN of Heather Knight. Knowing her and respecting her quality and temperament, I am hopeful that she may go big, here – the unknowns around possibly significant spin/bounce/turn notwithstanding. Deepti Sharma will return promptly, from this Bristol Pavilion End, to investigate those possibilities. I watched the two of them win the WSL together, a year or two back, at Hove.

Eek, possibly, as it appears that Heather Knight, too, may be batting on an off-stump guard…

Beaumont goes through to a deserved 50 with a tickly paddle-sweep. Good applause. No sense that the pitch is a concern: certainly not to Tammy Beaumont. Blimey. Hearing on Test Match Special that Goswami has only played 11 Tests – despite having played for her country for 20 years! Crazy. Little bit of spin, for Sharma.

I like that the veteran – as plenty of the pundits are calling her – Goswani – is staying boldly full. However, if she offers width or gets it marginally wrong, there are opportunities. Knight takes one, easing her behind point for four. After 34 of the theoretical 100 overs in the day, England have passed the 100 mark, for just the one wicket down. Clearly they are ahead but the fielding side appear chirpy and present – encouragingly so.

Pandey is running in, for the 37th. Towards 70 mph. Spearing them in towards off. That sense of continued, grooved application – even though there is minimal encouragement. Batters seem set and concentrated. Sky open and blue. Rana follows and will give some air. Hiding her grip. Could be Sharma is getting more bite.

Pandey hits Beaumont with a throw. It’s more automatic-aggressive than outright nasty. The batter had come forward, dropped the ball on the pitch then retreated as the bowler picked up. No realistic chance for a run out but you could see why Pandey would send the reminder. Beaumont drives a wide one past cover to finish the over: saw no sign of verbals or smug glances. Bit more cloud, bit more breeze, I think.

Knight cuts Rana, with beautifully soft hands, through the vacant third man area. Four. She goes to 25. Beaumont is 61. The captain – in her 100th game as skipper – pushes out through extra cover for a further single and at drinks England are 125 for 1.

Resuming, Knight slashes rather, at a wideish, fullish one from Pandey. It flies over Verma at slip – unclear if she gets a hand on it. Four… but a case of the break almost bringing a wicket?

Vastrakar, from Ashley Down. Decent pace. Two yorkers – make that three. She’s trying.

One of the shots of the day as Beaumont wristily threads Rana through to the midwicket boundary. Peach. She goes to 65. Some chat on’t radio about not fulfilling the scheduled overs. Get that but surely it’s such a rare gig, this Women’s Test thing, that there is barely a precedent or guide to what’s a reasonable expectation? Similarly the suggestion that England could maybe get on with it a little more simply may be unrealistic – or bit macho, as it were? This is a Test Match. The pacing of things is different. Shedloads of time for acceleration, in this innings.

Vastraka over-pitches and Knight cashes in. Four through extra. But hold up – DRAMA. From nowhere, Beaumont flips one to short leg, off bat and pad. Rana the bowler. Excellent catch from Verma, diving in bravely. Beaumont made a very creditable 66. Sciver is in.

Sciver is a fine athlete and genuine all-rounder. Might well make a World XI. She can score quickly – not that we expect her to do that here and now.

Hey apropos bugger all: how fabulous is Alex Hartley, on BBC comms? Hilarious and delightful.

Goswami is dropping short and Sciver is punishing her. Left and right. Either side of the wicket, consecutive boundaries. England go past 150. Knight, for me one of the most consistent of world cricket, is approaching 50 and Sciver seems in already. They also appear to have received the memo about some degree of acceleration. Runs aren’t exactly flowing but bats are following through, notably. Over to Deepti Sharma to try and break up the developing flow: she comes in from the Ashley Down Road End. Tea approaches.

Poor communication should put the batters in trouble but a weakish throw means Sciver escapes. Would have been a criminal waste. Good that England are into One Day Mode, running-wise but there are limits, ladies. Tea, with the home side on 162 for 2, off 55.

Erm, 45 overs to go?!? Cannot be. Temperature has dropped. Best get a coffee.

Deepti Sharma will start us up. Touch of spin. Some immaculate defence from Sciver. Spin from both ends – it’s Rana from the Pavilion. (Has someone had a word about the over rate?) Quietish re-start.

Knight, almost inevitably, gets to 50, pushing between extra and mid-off. She has been error-free, calm, steady. Next over and she brings out the reverse-sweep, for two – playing off middle. Six-three legside field for both bowlers: both spinners are of course right arm off-spin. Sunshine in and out a little, now.

Harmanpreet Kaur is wheeling her arm over from the Pavilion End. Sciver uses the depth of the crease to cut her for four, bringing up the 200 for the home side. The batters remain patient rather than urgent… which is fine by me. These two know when and how to go after it. Weather may well be a factor later in the Test but they will be confident, now, that England can cut loose when they have built that proverbial platform. It’s likely that Knight and co are already thinking that they will look to bat just the once and hope the change in conditions (with the weather) assists them in the field. Seems reasonable; feels likely.

Sudden thought. The ball is turning just a little. I fancy Ecclestone – quite possibly the most threatening spin bowler on the planet – may have a significant role to play, over the later stages.

Kaur tempts Sciver into an on-drive, straight to mid-wicket. Sharma, moving forward, spills a relatively straightforward chance. Huge moment and – arguably – not a great look for the game. Feels like things are happening a little – or might – and that the batter’s control is less complete. In being relatively cautious – or prudent – England may now be conceding the initiative, somewhat. (Ebbs and flows? Subtle-ish changes in momentum? The very essence of Test Cricket, yes?)

Bright again as Sharma returns from the Pavilion End. Wales are just about to kick-off – yup, multi-tasking – and we have 90 mins to play here, too. (Meaning a shortfall on those overs). Knight is into her eighties, Sciver, her forties. The latter appears to miss a straight full-toss. Reviewed by the batters. Ball strikes the boot… and is hitting. Sciver gone for 42. Amy Jones, ver-ry accomplished stroke-maker, joins Knight.

So it’s 232 for 3, as Sharma comes in for the 75th over. We are either looking at a quiet hour – this will suit England – or a late come-back from the visitors. Expecting the former but wouldn’t rule out a further breakthrough as one or both of the batters is either squeezed into an error or lashes out to a poor delivery. In short, there are possibilities.

I’m wrong. Jones has played rather tamely across one that turns, gently, from Rana. England review but denied. A decent but hardly electrifying ball: Jones will be disappointed. 236 for 4: now the slowish scoring becomes an issue – or may. India are roused, England stalled. The Plan – to Go Big – is under challenge.

Sharma comes around to Knight, with the incoming debutant, Dunkley surely a wee bit nervy? Single. Lots of chat and four catchers in and around. Dunkley sees out the over.

Knight into her nineties. Dunkley gets off the mark. Then the skipper pushes hard at one from Rana and is lucky to see the edge flash through slip. An error and a concern but on the plus side she now needs only five to reach the ton.

But the skipper seems suddenly scrambled. She plays clumsily around another ver-ry slow one from Sharma and may be LBW. Umpire’s call… and she called out. Knight gone, for that 95 and England in a little bother, suddenly, at 244 for 5. May yet prove to be competitive but feels a radical under-achievement given where we were an hour ago. Elwiss joins Dunkley.

As it’s transpired, then, those voices calling for more positivity from England, once that good start had been established, may have been right. Instead they allowed India to garner some degree of control, before nabbing those wickets. As long as England kept out the visitors, then their stately progress ‘worked’. Not now.

Especially not now Deepti Sharma has brilliantly caught Elwiss, low down, at slip, off Rana! Sharp, sharp catch and sharp shift in momentum, as the sixth wicket falls. 251 on the board, 40 minutes play left. Where might we be, come 6.30? Brunt is in, Dunkley has only 3 and England are under siege.

The extraordinary truth may be that part of the issue, for England, is that Sharma has been bowling so slowly that the batters are flummoxed whilst waiting. You can hear their hearts pounding from the press box: they have the time to play about fourteen shots but then fail to time the one they need. Sharma and Rana have done well but the confusion engendered seems – as it so often does – wonderfully disproportionate. The result? Wickets falling and two short legs in for two new batters.

A welcome breakout for Dunkley when Sharma finally plops one too far, too wide. Driven for four. At 6pm 15 overs remain, for the last 30 mins. With the two spinners on, might we get ten of them? (Been a long day, so forgive the poor guesswork). Will naturally depend on boundaries scored/wickets taken and any bowling changes which may accompany the new ball. England will look to hold and India to attack: should be fascinating.

With that rampant speculation, Goswami returns, from the Bristol Pavilion End. But Brunt is nothing if not a fighter… and Dunkley can – as they say – hold a bat. Things calm a little. Sharma switches ends. The sun brightens. Brunt advances.

New ball taken. Can see it shining in Goswani’s ample palm. She fires two down leg. It’s a mixed over – that change in feel not, on this occasion, inspiring the bowler to greater focus or success. Next up Rana, with the batters looking composed, now, and determined. Great contest, to finish a particularly intriguing day. Brunt has experience and grit in spades but Dunkley is acquitting herself with quiet distinction, here. Conditions remain glorious.

Time for Pandey. Big, gathering appeal. India review but my first instinct – na. Inside edge. Proves to be. Time for one more?

Yes. Rana, with Dunkley facing. Wonder if she knows – or cares – that Gareth Bale just did a Chris Waddle? (Dreadful pen, Gareth bach). Dunkley sees it out.

England 259 for 6, at the close. Appreciative applause, and rightly so. Game better poised than it might have been if England’s early dominance had remained unchecked. Let’s doff our caps towards the Indians’ sustained efforts, which leave us ready for an exciting and possibly match-defining morning ahead.

Erm. What’s the weather doing?

Simmer Down.

Same squad. Did you groan or nod knowingly? You in the  Loyalty Camp or the Give the Arrogant Buggers a Short Sharp Shock Department?

As with (dare I say it?) a particular current political issue, voices are being raised – rather more than perspicacious argument. Things are polarised: why would this be, I wonder?

a) Because we care about England Cricket – Test Cricket. How it’s curated and organised, even.

b) We (to quote a bloggist of some occasional repute) All Know Better than the England Coach.

And of course c) because we’re all on twitter.

So, some arguments, 👇🏻 I hope.

England have lost the Ashes, or at least the Aussies have retained them, convincingly, being unarguably the better side. In today’s real world, this means that an inquest is inevitable.

(This is not the same as to say that said inquest wouldn’t have happened in times past: it just wouldn’t have happened at the same transparently foamtastic pitch).

I mention this because it may be instructive to all of us to reflect on how much bawling, actually, is appropriate and necessary and proportionate, here. And because I am preparing to battle against my own, broiling prejudices, right now.

England – manifestly pret-ty ordinary at test cricket England, yes? – have been beaten. Live with it, or view it with interested non-volcanism before discussing amongst peers? How’s that for a thought?

Except no. England – m.p.o.a.t.c. England – have been beaten at home, by a relatively average Australia, despite literally changing the ball to make sure things went their way. Plus *that sense* that our lot might be (whisper it) prima donnas, the ab-so-lute jessies!  None of the idle, cosseted bass-teds can be bothered ta learn the forward-bloody-defensive!

This is how it starts, yes? I mean IS YOUR MOMENTUM BUILDING BECAUSE MINE SURE AS HELL IS!!

Ahem. Look it was the Ashes. Australia were unspectacular – other than a couple of guys – and we, England, had just, in orgasmically scream-your-head-off hysteria, only gone and WON THE BLOODY WORLD CUP!! And yet!

Okay. No more capitals, I promise. Let’s try to find an argument or twelve. Let’s start with the Anderson Thing – the ball.

If opting to play at Edgbaston first was Phase 1 of the Grand Ashes Plan then Phase 2 was when England reverted to what they hoped would be Anderson-friendly Dukes’ balls, of a certain vintage – plainly to try and gain a wee advantage over our visiting cousins.

Naturally, other seamers might well have also benefitted from these air-dancing beauties but in James Anderson England will have believed they had the greatest exponent of swing bowling of these particular pills, in the history of the universe.

They will have banked on him being raw unplayable at Edgbaston – to kickstart the Ashes campaign – and probably also at Headingley and Old Trafford. And this would sort Ausbloodystralia, Smith included. And then there was suddenly no Jimmy.

(There is a counter-thread, as always, here. Folks always seek advantages and yup, all of us are tribal. Early doors, for example, Australia rather cutely inserted several key players into our County Championship: handy-enough dress-rehearsal time, perfectly legit. Should we be counting, might that acclimatisation make it one-all, would you say?  Certainly qualifies as a Cunning Plan. But hey, the games beyond the games are endless – maybe that’s another post?)

But back to the England Squad, selected today, for the final test, at the Oval. Same squad, a zillion possible meanings.

Does it mean that Bayliss and Root and Ed Smith (and Graham Thorpe if he’s still in position) are bonkers-in-love or thrall with Rooooot (as captain) and Bairstow and Buttler as Established Players? Maybe.

Does it mean that Foakes and Curran and the likes of Sibley and Pope are being cruelly under-considered? Maybe. Or there may be perfectly mature and viable discussions going on. Or rank delusion and selfishness and feeble eschewal of responsibility? All this is possible; as is the notion that Smith might be a kind of occasionally-inspired but controlling fascist-in-shades.

Where then, to start? With Root. Batting less convincing, captaincy mixed: that the consensus? So – in the absence of obvious candidates, maybe? – he stays as skipper, shortish-term and gets shifted back to batting at four. But he is, or continues to be – for want of a better phrase – on trial, in respect of his captaincy. This means other stuff.

(Let’s stick with the hypothetical line-up rather than the culture. And kindof ignore or subsume the horses-for-courses considerations around the next fixtures that might colour decision-making and selection).

Bairstow and possibly Buttler get dropped, with the expectation that they will, in time, having shown excellence in County Championship, be ‘restored’. If they don’t show the technique and the hunger for the longer format, then hey, maybe they are White Ball Players – job done. Foakes, widely regarded as the best ‘keeper on the planet and, having already shown what I am crassly going to call test mentality, gets in.

As, quite possibly does Curran, who despite his lack of killer pace has shown more born-to-it, test-winning mentality than almost anybody for a decade, in the short time he’s been on the scene. Curran, with his starry, gutsy, implacable brilliance only stays out of an absolute worldie of a team; a team waaaay better than this England; or a team playing a test in which you absolutely know he won’t bowl.

Weirdly – or not- this mini-clear-out, as well as sending important messages around complacency and competition, also repositions the coaching philosophy towards recognition for those who seem to get test cricket – those who have temperament. Meaning Leach and Overton earn the right to regular inclusion, or regular, meaningful consideration.

I could write thousands of words about Roy – & probably should. Just not now: he goes.

The Roy issue is inseparable from philosophical stuff – batting culture. (Did I say that Thorpe goes? Or is it enough that Ed Smith and possibly the wee man deliver a rocket? This is competitive sport, after all. Obvious failings get addressed). Some may say none of this – his failures – have been Roy’s fault and weirdly there may be some traction in that. However, did the fella not look flukily out of his depth for much of the match against Ireland?

As outsiders, we cannot know what’s been said by Smith, Bayliss, Thorpe, Root, when the “how do we approach this(?)” discussions have taken place, so maybe this culling of key staff is premature. Many would argue that this fuzziness around batting policy has been central to England’s problems… but it’s hard to imagine the actual conversations.

Could be Bayliss has been so-o falling over himself to be Of the Age that he really has been quietly inviting Roy, Bairstow and Buttler to go out there and express themselves. *Barfs into bin*. Could be that Thorpe (he is still in post, yes? Happy to be corrected on this) has been spending lots of time on technical stuff but is essentially saying the same thing.

If these guys actually believe that simplistic, macho nonsense then neither of them has any place being anywhere near an international test side. (Okay, I don’t actually mean that but you know what I mean?)

Thorpe, a fine player and no doubt a fabulous, committed bloke, is on drugs if he thinks that talent and intent make application and temperament redundant, in high-order test batting. (Incidentally I don’t think he does view things that way  but his problem is the players have wafted us in that direction. Problematically).

I am familiar with the idea that coaches now look to offer support to players who themselves take ownership of their   activity. Coaches now barely instruct, barely demonstrate: all this I understand and applaud. However, *if* there is patently a problem both in approach and execution – as there was, in the Ashes, with most of the England batting – then surely it is the job of the coach to facilitate remedies.

This might mean more, focussed, technical work or it might mean an instruction, an expectation, a bollocking. It seems unlikely, given the persistent errors and repetition of brain-fades, that strong enough words or good enough questions were forthcoming. Bayliss is off but Thorpe goes too.

If Roy was selected entirely on the basis that he should ‘believe in his talent and go after the bowling’ (and was told that), this was foolish, arguably arrogant but nevertheless a legitimate approach. It just proved – predictably – non-viable. If he was, as he latterly appeared, unsure of what his role was then this again reflects badly on the coaches, as well as himself. If at no stage did somebody say to the entire batting group ”right. Stay in there! Everybody’s job is just to stay in there”, then well, I give up.

Test Cricket is wonderfully complex. But the central requirement, in certain phases of certain games, to hold, to stall, to ‘survive’ and then re-gather is hardly a difficult one to grasp. Clearly there was some excellent Aussie bowling but I barely know any England (and Wales) supporter who wasn’t a tad embarrassed by the un-smartness of England’s approach. Fans and former players felt that England – that the ECB – have gotten caught out, for disrespecting the test format.

So we will judge according to how mad we got. How infuriated by Roy’s wildness, or Bairstow’s technical-tactical myopia, or Buttler’s gifted non-stickability. And whilst we might grudgingly accept that in life it’s good to get or to offer a second chance, most of us will be raising our eyebrows at a squad unchanged.

 

 

What’s in a name?

A B de Villiers: great name.  Smacks, to us Brits, of something powerfully and maybe romantically other, something distinctive, emphatic and emphatically South African – whatever that means.  But is it simply that de that’s effecting a statement somewhere between the territorial and the unapologetically forward? Why is that name working in the way it does?

Blimey.  Possibly dangerous ground.  Not going anywhere near the complex/unfortunate/shamefully traumatic political stuff.  Just hold with that question about what it is that trammels up the feeling, the expectation, the response to that name.

This may be ridiculous.  How we receive a human’s label obviously depends upon a zillion cultural mores (or lesses) and how that name now conjures with us is contingent upon what we know about the bearer of that flag of peace, war, convenience, whatever.  In this case we’re plainly talking ’bout a prodigiously talented sportsman who happens to cart those two words (one and a bit?) round on the back of his cricket shirt(s). So it’s simple – right?

It’s simple in that we are denied the possibility for doubt or equivocation, with de Villiers.  He is rare, he is typically majestic – or that’s the picture over the years.  Whether you’re from Transvaal or Tranmere you get that he’s a bona fide worldie.

This becomes interesting (to me) because of recent events – and I’m not just thinking the withdrawal from upcoming Tests, although clearly this has been the trigger.  The notion that the impregnable de Villiers brand – speaking incontrovertibly of expressive, somehow lusty brilliance – flirts now just a little with human frailties, with ‘management’, with (if not indecision) then with compromise, feels frankly a little de-flating.  (Soz.)

Granted some will argue that A B de Villiers has chosen to go a certain route – namely to play IPL, miss a lot of international cricket, then target a return against India and Australia.  Granted also there are complications beyond his control re- an elbow injury demanding surgery; plus that great unknowable around motivation appears to be increasingly relevant.

But I am sensing more fogginess than clarity, more difficulty than direction .  So where is de Villiers at… and what’s occurring around his imprint, his quality of presence, his reputation?

In interview with ESPNcricinfo yesterday, the theme of essential ‘time away’ loomed so large as to make some of us a little concerned – for a couple of reasons.

A) because it’s disconcerting to see a magnificent athlete of the alpha-male variety looking just a little lost.

B) because (selfishly) I’d rather all the best players committed to all the Tests they can.

As an innocent and pret-ty unbiased bystander, one interpretation of current de Villierdom might reasonably be that he’s just finding that work/life/family life balance thing tough to manage because, largely, he has simply, maybe temporarily, stopped enjoying playing.  Which is a proper shame: which also smacks of some degree of loss, or retreat?

It may be reckless to throw too many assumptions at this. This particular guy – every particular guy, or gal – has every right to dip out, now and then, to take stock, to replenish.  Fair play, de Villiers has been open if not fulsome on that.

The upshot or fallout from the interview is

A)  We may not know exactly why he’s breaking from series A or B but we are feeling his need.

B)  We can’t know what’s really, really in his mind – maybe he doesn’t?

The result (or one of them) is indulgence of this sort – cod psychology, if you will – and/or extrapolations around themes: patriotism(!), frailty(?), great or despicable career management, falls from grace.  Oh and worry about the impact on Test Cricket.

Our own need to speculate is inevitable, given de Villier’s profile and his brilliance and the suspicion that there is a story there: whether we treat that story respectfully or gather it up into those fears around the threats to Test Cricket is another matter.

I’ll stop just short of that.  I’ll mention in passing the concern I have that the adrenalin-pull and financial clout of white ball cricket is a kind of drain, as well as an Absolute Blast – certainly when viewed from the traditionalists’ prism.  Whilst I really don’t consider myself as being from that wing of the game, I do absolutely regret both that energy-sapping schedules and players opting for short rather than longer form cricket may be undermining Tests.

Hype is arguably of its nature draining (I imagine) – perhaps particularly when expectation is so heavily loaded upon you, oh starry individual.  If you smash the fastest century ever (say) and generally perform to swashbucklingly boomtastic levels then not only are you riding an ecstatic wave but you are risking humiliating wipe-out. I think maybe I am momentarily fascinated (but it will pass) by the idea that the hike into T20 form and format mitigates towards exhilaration and exhaustion.  A hypothesis that feels kinda seductive… but sounds a moment later like utter cobblers.

A B de Villiers is a cricket titan; an icon, a giant, a genius, a worldie.  He has both that sumptuous, natural sportsman thing going on and the intellectual/technical wherewithal back up the gift.

Go find a youtube training vid and you’ll likely find him explaining his method, involving engaging the core by hitting late, under the eyes, within the imaginary box he visualises as an extension of his body.  It’s as though he’s allowing the ball entry into his system, his aura, before some wonderful coiled reflex propels it with both violence and control to the glorious horizon.

This way of things seems to embody not so much his hitting strategy as his personal confidence.  Waiting (when possible) rather than reaching – and then striking with formidable power.  It’s a method full of belief.

The name A B de Villiers may be cursed I guess, by South Africans who think they are more patriotic than him.  Who think he’s either gone soft or gotten greedy.  Who wheel out theories over bat contracts or bad karma.

Strikes me we don’t know if there’s a cynical plan in place here or simply that slightly heart-string-tugging plea for a break.  Much of the rest is baggage – inevitable, surely given The Age and the extraordinary quality of the talent.  He’s a Big Name Player in a luridly curious world.

I cannot be clear (and therefore am not making the case) that de Villiers has sold his soul to some vulgar idol; after all, he says he aims to battle for a Test place in a year or so’s time.  I am also unsure if I have the right to feel disappointed – but I do.

Presumably that’s because I feel protective of Test Cricket and I worry a bit about who else might go opting out?  Because we can’t afford to lose too many de Villiers, eh?

We need to wax lyrical.

Broad, at the end of the fourth day. Slightly playing to the admittedly rather small Brit contingent. Aware of the cameras. A tad self-consciously gesturing and twitching and rallying himself. Knowing the moment – knowing and relishing the import of this thing. Doing what you would want, in fact; revelling in the sport; in the knowledge that this, right now, right this moment, is the gather of a great session. Getting off on that.

Some of my own highlights come carouselling through. Dramatic spits and bounces and lurches off of the pitch. Engaging chaos. Stoicism. Young lads. Reviews, romance and a fair bit of competitive spite. Action that builds uniquely.

Yup, it’s time to re-wax the waxing lyrical thing – the waltz-along with Test Cricket. Because we need to. We must defy and we must celebrate… because we are the custodians.

Who are? And custodians of what? Maybe we need to think about this?

Forgive me – divert. I have this picture in my head of a ‘Journalism School’ where some dry old git is lecturing about sports. He is joyless and the purpose of the talk appears to be to remove the sparks of life and colour from that which is ultimately to be written. Because these are reports, not columns!

(Divert 2. Apols.) Let’s be clear: I’m a middle-aged nobody and I know that on the one hand this ‘frees me up’ to pontificate about many things  -including writing – whilst fatally undermining any truisms that might, streakily or otherwise, emerge. If I ‘say stuff’ I’m waaay past worrying if it appears ludicrous, plus we all know it doesn’t matter. So relax. Relax but see this thing out. There might be a point, eventually.

Ok so on writing about cricket, or pretty much anything, my in-first retaliation is going to need to be the following statement; that of course I know indulgence is a real danger… but (nevertheless) the scribe’s early duties include being entertaining and loving words. I mention this because I find a fair lump of sports writing to be dull. Dull because okaaay – it’s a report; dull because it’s allegedly sticking to the facts.

I’ve said it before but I’m with David Byrne on this: facts are not just useless in emergencies but sometimes hopelessly boring and figurative in a fabulously abstract world. Thus even writing ’bout sport becomes a diabolical underachievement when all we do is passively (and let’s say it, unimaginatively) regurgitate events.

I can’t, in fact, believe my own fear that journo’s are routinely taught to abhor indulgences like mood and sense when tapping out their copy. But I am struck that lots of what’s published avoids the question of what it was like to be there so completely. I assume this is because stuff like that is necessarily personal – and therefore surplus. Great.

All this waffle is George Dobell’s fault. He wrote, in that genuinely fine manner of his, about the first BangvEng test and then stepped right forward and beyond, to say something unashamedly beautiful and arguably sentimental, about Test Cricket. (Go find out – easily done.) I’m merely shuffling in behind.

George was supporting, making a point. Echoing and re-inventing the poetry of the cricket to send a message to the universe. Bearing witness. Bringing us back, arguably, to our custodianship.

It may not be entirely melodramatic to suggest that longform of the game is flapping in the morgue. Not given the violent prevalence of arguments towards allegedly more vital and more sustainable species. The thrust for change feels murderously powerful (to some) – as though more erotically-charged than considered. If this Horny Blokes Wiv Knives scenario has any basis in truth, then some real brilliance must emerge to counter, to make civilised the carve-up. That’s a job for the custodians.

How then, to oppose beautifully and skilfully and with invincibly good thinking? How to be practical, as well as unashamedly proud of the games’ slow movements? What does The Plan (our plan?) look like, that makes sense of the opposing needs, cultures, life-forces at work? This is the tough stuff, for all of us.

Personally I can simply enjoy and maybe express some of the weirdly, wonderfully incremental pulses within Test Cricket, or the wider game… but I’m not that good at restructuring the whole bloody shooting match. I take huge pleasure in both experiencing and being some (inadequate) conduit for skills and understanding – through either writing or coaching. I get most of the richness and the subtlety and I’m absolutely prepared to wait for that quiet magic to unfold.

The problem is they’re telling us that most of the universe ain’t. Things have to be faster.

Apparently in Chittagong, with excitement running high and ticket prices low, folks weren’t that bothered – or not enough folks were bothered. When a plainly magnificent and possibly historic test is going off but still fails to attract a crowd, those of us in the custodian camp may have to do some pretty smart talking.

Now really is a Big Moment. The alarming, polarising blur of the current T20 developments is just one of the manifestations of the game’s stampede away from the old. That’s not the only Supercharge in town, though. There’s energy brewing – nay massing – within and around the recreational game. We’re in the pre-surge phase of something powerful here too.

Having signed up to a dramatic re-boot, the ECB is fine-tuning strategies around ‘the battle for the playground’ – the significant re-positioning of cricket closer to the forefront of the national consciousness. The aim (I believe) is to massively increase the profile and  relevance of cricket to children and young people, thereby transforming prospects generally. The challenge will be to engineer change, in this peak-testosterone moment, which is both dynamically impactful and serenely wise.

Somehow we must find a way. To both re-invigorate the game in these islands and secure the future for Tests. If this means cricket becomes some outlying bastion against dumbness (and is exposed as such, as the know-all and the reactionary), then fine. Take the flak. In fact wade into it, waxing lyrical. Do that for Test Cricket and make changes too.

In Chittagong, Bangladesh, a young lad bowls spin. Seemingly nervelessly – though he has no experience and the England skipper opposite has just got the record… for precisely that. Young fella name of Duckett watches on. What proceeds is delightful, traumatic, nerve-shredding, complex, simple, beautiful. And not without its ironies.

Mehedi (who is 18, and on debut) torments the England openers. He does it with an absurd comfort – as though it’s just a game! When it would be so-o easy to tighten up, just a touch, and therefore lose his flow, or the freedom of hand so essential for his craft, Mehedi flights it. The seam does its wonderful, enchanting, revolutionary thing. It’s technical but mainly it’s something pure.

Duckett seems struck-down by nerves, but both he and Cook, largely, are gorgeously flummoxed – as though they’ve never encountered anything like this before. It’s hypnotic and almost funny that this off-spin lark seems so new to them…

 

Culture of spin.

Immediately post the Third Test versus Pakistan and all the talk is of the dearth of quality spin bowlers. Or at least in the UK mini-subcontinent it is. Hour upon hour or page upon page of rumination around spin stuff, which in a way… is great. Great that this (arguably) least glamorous facet of the game is in the spotlight.

Whilst inevitably unpicking the issues arising from this (ahem) turn of events, I do wonder if we can turn this moment when both armchair authorities and Cricketing Authorities are acutely engaged… into a positive?

Let’s hear what some influential peeps or tweeps have said. Michael Vaughan has been relentlessly withering on the inconsistencies or raw inadequacies of England’s 3 spinners. Boycott has just described them – slightly absurdly, but as is often the case, we know what he means- as ‘non-existent,’ in a Telegraph article. Robert Croft – from the other angle – has tweeted that

We can’t expect our batsmen 2 be consistent against the turning ball. They never have to face it in this country as no turning pitches!

There’s a comparatively rare consensus around the facts that

a) our spinners (by definition, picked to spin the ball and either take wickets or tie up an end) were ordinary, given the help they received from prevailing conditions and

b) our batsmen were too easily undone by the Pakistani equivalents. There’s a further consensus around the notion that these two phenomena are umbilically linked… to the relative void (as opposed to the fecund womb!) where our spin culture should be.

In attempting to apply my own laser-like intellect to the spin bowling issue only – for now – I’m going to do what any self-respecting bloggerist might do, and reach for a coupla subtitles.

The Individuals.
There’s always context, right? Selection is always about what’s happened before, what’s expected and what impact or contribution a player might make. Remember that.

Moeen Ali.
I was in Cardiff for the Ashes and can confirm that folks were falling for Moeen, rather. He was actually loved, for his smooth, assured batting and his energy round the place. I’m not saying he was Ben Stokes exactly – Mo’s mojo is a whole lot less spikily, edgily brilliant – but he seemed so comfortable in the environment we hoped good things might happen whenever he was involved. Often they did.

That whole Mo batting at eight ruse also worked a treat, felt like a master stroke as he moved stylishly (and critically) to 77 in the first innings. That crowd-lurv, that confidence fed into a decent return from his bowling; in the first innings he winkled out Smith and Clarke and in the second Australian knock he claimed three wickets, including that of Warner. He took a super-sharp caught and bowled (that Clarke wicket) and somehow lifted the crowd with his easy enthusiasm. It may have been the prevalence of Mo masks around the Swalec crowd but something about his quiet presence suggested he may be destined to be the face of the summer.

In fact, whilst Ar Mo certainly contributed to a flawed but uplifting Ashes victory, there was early concern around the quality of his bowling. More than that; it was generally appreciated that the Mo-at-8 thing made sense precisely because he’s not a genuine international spinner… and yet he is more than a mere makeweight. He deserves a slot, he improves the balance of the side and shores up the batting/offers a match-winning threat even, down there. He is – despite the work-in-progress-that-may-not-progress enough-ness of his bowling – a real international.

Mostly, Moeen Ali looks every inch of that but, if you look at his bowling in isolation, he doesn’t.

Samit Patel.
Is viewed as either a proper throwback kindofa cricketer, or a man out of time. Defiantly unsexy, patrolling like some amiable neighbourhood copper dangerously close to the ‘likeably portly’ category. Simply does not have that sprint and dive thing in his locker; in fact looks like he has a ham and chutney bap and a bottle of Sam Smith’s in his locker.

Samit can clearly play – as can the other two spin candidates – but he has been judged to be short of fitness and that true elite-level threat with the ball.

So if Patel is generally and rightly regarded highly and warmly by plenty but few consider him the answer to England’s spin ‘woes’, why was he picked? With all due respect he doesn’t fit the bill as England’s Future. The brutal truth is that he was selected because of injuries around the squad, then geography/’conditions’ and because okaaaaay he mi-ight do a job with bat and ball. This he did. An average job – predictably. It may have been an average selection, given short and longer term considerations.

Rashid…(however…)
is the one.

If Moeen is effectively a batsman who can bowl spin and Patel a goodish alround spin bowler and batsman, Rashid is the one we might look to with the ball.

The fact of his leggie-dom may flesh out the notion he’s a Man More Likely To, in broad terms, than the other two labouring away alongside in Sharjah. He’s different; he’s A Prospect, a threat, a candidate for bona fide spin-king status in a way that Patel and Moeen maybe aren’t – certainly aren’t. Something says he’s more likely to tear through an innings than his compadres… and that he’s young enough to invest in… and we’re entitled to be hopeful and maybe even excited about that.

And yet he proved flawed. As in-out and generally disappointing as Patel and Moeen. As Sir Geoffrey said (of all of them)
they are not accurate or disciplined enough and there are too many easy balls to score off.

Simple but true enough. Rashid, whom we hoped (and still hope?) may bring that X-factor, that extra dimension to the side, underachieved.

General (Brief) Boring Theory thing.
I reckon most of us who have flung the cherry accept that bowling leg-spin is about as difficult as bowling gets: that’s part of its allure. The cocked wrist and the snap or flip of fingers as the ball is delivered from more or less the back of the hand works against easy repetitions.

Leggies tend to really work with their wrists and/or wind up revolutions by (in particular) ripping on the seam with their third finger. It’s (in my view) a whole lot more difficult to do this consistently and with control than it is to (for example) bowl a stock off-spinner, where the clockwise ‘turning the key’ movement of the first finger is a) more easily achieved and b) more easily repeated with the necessary accuracy. At every level it’s rare to find a leggie who is both turning the ball ‘big’ and able to plop it on the right spot time after time after time.

Conclusion thing.
Time to hone your spin-king skills is available, in (UK) domestic cricket – but arguably not enough of it, or not in conducive or even ‘fair’ scenarios.  ‘Special breed’ though they may be, spinners – like everyone else – have to earn the right to play, possibly more so now than in the years when there fewer non-negotiables – when you could be unfit or relatively uni-skilled.

Ideally though things remain unchangingly straightforward; you (the spin-king) just bowl magnificently and/or with monotonous skill; meaning all arguments simply fall away.

#TMS made the point earlier that Tuffers bowled around 800-900 overs a season for Middlesex: this compares to about 300-400 for spinners in the current era. No wonder then, we seem cruelly short of international-grade spinners when the opportunities in domestic cricket are both limited and frequently unrelated to or unhelpful towards producing Test Match bowlers.

Of course the changing nature of the game itself mitigates against the kind of consistency Boycott understandably demands. Especially in Blighty where spinners are used mainly in limited overs games where variation rather than consistency is often the key. Pitches and the surge towards yet more dynamic cricket significantly undermine any spin culture we may have. This is tough; it may even brand us as philistines – myopic no-hopers – but don’t expect too much in the way of revelation or revolution too soon.

The tremendous debate underway during this, the inaugural Spin Awareness Moment is valuable but may not, I fear, amount to much. Changes a-comin’ in the structure of English domestic cricket will not, I suspect, be driven by the need to find a new Graeme Swann – or better still, nurture a spin-friendly environment. More likely we will simply sit and wait for someone extravagantly gifted and stunningly reliable to come along, wheeling in glorious isolation, against the grain.