Brizzle again. With the blokes.

A truly extraordinary night. Crowd felt huge – those balconies! – and England’s total pretty close to obscene. Malan, Bairstow, Moeen, Hendricks and Stubbs slaughtering bowling of all types. Maybe does beg the question is it all too much? Will need to come back to that, I suspect. Meanwhile, here’s the live blog…

I’ve nicked Ather’s seat. But I know (at 18.04pm) that I’m okay because the fella’s out there conducting the toss. South Africa win it and choose to bowl. Hoping Michael decides to loiter with the TV Posse down the corridor to my left but will keep you posted.

Given all the talk about incoming heatwaves destroying life as we know it (and cheering my mum up, as she lands in Pembrokeshire, Sunday) the evening is medium-coolish. There are clouds. There is greyness and the lights *already* feel like they’re earning their living. So you would bowl.

To my right, the recently-retired-into-a-job-on-telly Eoin Morgan, in a very Eoin Morgan jumper – beige/faun, v-neck, politely inoffensive – is with the A-listers Butcher and Ward. Doing his Mr Clean-but-bright thing. No sound on our monitor so can only imagine the chat is high level; usually is with those gents. Life been busy so banging in the coffees. 18.18.

Completely different vibe to women’s internationals. LOTS OF PEOPLE, first and foremost. Plus double the amount of journo’s in the Media Centre. Areas behind the stands, typically Wasteland Central during women’s games (despite the perennial claim that they’re ‘sold out’), are vivid and busy. We had to break through queues and overlapping gatherings on the way round from Ashley Down. In short there’s a real crowd. There are very substantial temporary stands.

There is fire belching, so we are starting. Roy will face and Buttler watch. Maharaj from Ashley Down. Left arm round. Slow. Miss but bounce. Keeper smothers. Then one to square leg. Poorish shortish ball gifts Buttler time and space to rock back. Fielder should gather but the crowd loves a ‘megs’: four. Last-up, Buttler clatters a perfectly acceptable ball over long-on for six, meaning 13 from the over. Rabada.

Roy mistimes or misjudges the bounce and might be caught, lamely, mid-on. Escapes. Then an air-shot… and a half-hearted lb shout. And another miss. (May need to breathalyse Roy if this goes on). Goodish over but the opener in a mess, so far.

Third bowler in as many overs: Ngidi. Quickish but wide, to Buttler. Then another ordinary/extraordinary six – this time over extra. A push rather than a hit. A shimmy and shake of the shoulders and a wide ball is punished square. But Miller, moving backwards awkwardly under a steepler, takes a great catch and the England skipper is gone. 28 for 1 as Buttler departs, for a Joss-esque 22. Malan joins Roy.

Malan mistimes, facing Rabada. (Something going on at that Ashley Road End? Or could be subtle change of pace did him). No dramas. Whhhoooff. With what looked like minimal backlift, the left-hander picks up Rabada from outside off and creams it for six over midwicket. Sensational and wristy and utterly timed. 39 for 1, off 4. Glance to my left confirms that we are now at the Seat Unique Stadium (and we asked to make that clear in our ‘reports’.

Meanwhile Roy is still shaking off the lunchtime tequila-sesh. Hasn’t timed a single ball. Swishes extravagantly and is mercifully extinguished – caught for an appalling 8, at backward point, off Ngidi. Lusty cheers as Bairstow marches out, on 41 for 2.

Ngodi’s bowling sharply: 86mph beats Bairstow’s flail. Never seen the balconies in the flats opposite SO FULL. Hope they’re all safe! Ground and horizon full-to-bursting. Phelukwayo (what a beautiful name!) bowls right arm seam-up from underneath me. Straight. The once fat-shamed Bairstow (fastest in the side?) offers the blade and races through for the single. Neat look about the powerplay figures. 48 for 2. Honours even?

Maharaj returneth. Slapping it in flat. Malan nurdles for 1. Same batter then misses out, a little on a poor wide one. Single. Bairstows crunches low and hard for six: ball pitched a foot outside off but dispatched to deep midwicket. Shamsi’s loosener gets similar treatment. Malan thwacks over square leg. Next ball turns sharply, mind – left-arm, leg-spin.

Bairstow ain’t bovvered: absolutely smashes another one low and hard at *and just over* deep midwicket. Was a wee sense that the fielder didn’t fancy it: don’t blame him. 73 for 2 after 8. Spin from both ends, with England having raised the Boom Factor just when they needed. Brilliant, experienced players. 19.09 pm. Crowd nicely into this.

Malan guides Shamsi ludicrously over extra for another six. Didn’t swing, merely extended the arms through. Another poor, short ball is slapped for four more, by Bairstow. Mixed, from Shamsi, this. A worse one is middled… and was last seen flying over Taunton. Lots of wrist, from the bowler but he’s *all over*. Wide. Think that’s 34 from his two overs.
Drinks. 98 for 2 off 10, England. Explosive and controlled, now. Impressed with Malan’s cool violence, tonight.

100 up in the 11th. Both batters into their thirties. Weirdly, Bairstow appears to have forgotten how to cut. Two or three times has mistimed playing a nine-year-old’s pull to a ball he could have easily put away past point. Odd… and he’s angry!

Malan in fine nick. Blistering hoist waaay over mid-wicket then classy boom through extra. But ah – Phelukwayo has him, caught behind. Lovely innings of 43, from 23. I was here when Moeen carted a zillion off 22, some years ago – one of the most extraordinary innings I’ve seen (live). He’s in, now but Bairstow will face Rabada, at 112 for 3.

Moeen swings a bouncer fabulously, behind square. But coo – cake!! Rich variations of cake.

Bairstow is ‘using the crease’ again, to Shamsi. Rocks back, seeing a short one, and blams it out of sight. (*Cake update*: generous lump but tad bland, the coffee effort. ‘Bout three hundredweight of alternatives back there, so major restraint in order). But Moeen… and six more, cruelly middled… and another fifty for Bairstow. 148 after 15, England, with 200 now on.

One of The Great Recordings of All Time is Billy Bragg’s Levi Stubbs Tears. (You know that, right?) The Stubbs coming in now, for South Africa, from the Pavilion End has absolutely no connection with Levi. But what the hell. Bairstow dispatches him… and then he must surely have the wicket of Moeen? No.

Eventful over. No-ball and six, drop at mid-wicket. Bairstow (now 60) and Moeen proceed, with fairly evil intent. 168 for 3, with overs remaining. Bairstow yet again hammers Phehlukwayo cross-batted, across the line, for six. Twice – the second sounding deliciously nutty and true. Major conflab… followed by wide. (Lols). Times two. (Loools). A further wide (not called, clattered) heads high downtown and will surely be caught? Nope. Another painful drop.

Another classical ‘push’ from Ali heads over extra for six and you might forgive the visitors if they slink off now. Moeen twists the knife by twisting the ball behind square then drills hard over mid-off – both sixes. The score has rocketed past 200 and we have three overs left. Madness. The crowd delirious and the Stattos masturbating, pretty much. Oh blimey; and another catch dropped. Bairstow again the recipient of the gift.

Ngidi no-balled then wided and the nightmare goes on, for South Africa. Moeen is teasing deep midwicket now. Again clears the rope but the fielder was interested (before seeking out therapy, I imagine). Moeen has blasted a ridiculous 52 from 16. Two balls later the crowd is rising to share the love – he’s out, caught behind. Livingstone.

Rabada from Ashley Down. Fine yorker; one scored. Brief reprieve before Bairstow middles again, for six. (He may even get to a ton!) 227 for 4, England: Jonny B on strike, looks for 1(?) and gets it, to leg slip area.

Ngidi has Livingstone, caught QDK. Curran strides in. The left-hander hits hard and square, to leg. Fielder gets a hand but not counting that one as a chance, myself. Bairstow clouts high but not far enough. Out for 90 outstanding runs. Crowd stand and bellow their approval. 234 for 6 the final total, after Jordan keeps out that last ball.

THE REPLY.

Second over. Topley is walking like a man who’s been injured a lot. He may not care. South Africa are 7 for 2 and he’s claimed QDK and Roussow. Now Curran is scuttling in and releasing weirdly *in front*, so that it almost looks like a throw. He won’t care – it’s not. The lights feel bright and things feel urgent in a good way, for England. 19 for 2 after 3.

Topley will bowl the fourth from underneath us. Goes tad full (for him) and Hendricks drills him rather stylishly through mid-off, for four. Klaasen the other bat. Topley at six foot twenty-nine, gets plenty bounce but is already looking a ver-ry disciplined bowler. Lots going straight at/straight over the sticks.

Gleeson is in and beating Klaasen, who edges. Happens twice in the over. Cruel: the first occasion Buttler dropped, after changing direction. Four comes over point, as Hendricks catches hold. 36 for 2 after 5. Now Jordan. Hendricks cracks him downtown for four more. Relief of sorts, for the visitors.

87 mph from Jordan but Hendricks dismisses him again for four. (Has 34 off 19, at this point, so good work). Much slower one is tailing to leg; glanced for four more. Not great from Chris J: powerplay done and South Africa are battling with 50 for 2. A mere 185 required.

Gleeson is clonked to cow, for six and answers with an angry bouncer that chases and hits the batter. (Fair enough). Then a 91 mph screamer is dispatched past Rashid – who did go down in monthly instalments. Tough business this, bowling quick, when guys can hit this freely, this fearlessly. Rashid will bowl the 8th. From under the pavilion. Good ball, first up; tad unlucky not to find a way through. Dusk Proper, at 20.53.

Googly is struck straight to Jordan at long-on. Great hands; safely pouched. Klaasen has to walk. Curran will bowl the 9th, at 72 for 3. Sharp fielding and powerful arm from Bairstow has the batter diving but he’s made it. Hendricks gets through to 50 but good reply from Sam Curran; sharp bounder then hits pad. Rare misfield from Moeen releases the pressure – four more to Hendricks, who moves on to 56. Our first sight of Ali with the ball follows.

Beautiful, bold floater barely dug out. Clean strike from Hendricks but not clean enough. Always has S Curran written all over. Routine catch. 86 for 4 and two new batters in there. Unnecessary drinks. Moeen will finish the over to Stubbs, a fellow left-hander with the wood.

Topley has changed ends, and now has maybe two hundred people on balconies, at his back. It’s extraordinary. Has Ashley Down ever been so bursting? There’s really no scope for South African watchfulness here, but Stubbs and Miller unable to explode, as yet.

Full toss from Moeen offers that possibility. Chance taken, as Stubbs goes downtown, then backs that up with something over mid-wicket. Feels bit extraordinary that South Africa have the same number of runs as England did at the equivalent stage. Stubbs goes to 24 from 8, with more ferocity at Moeen’s expense. As Jordan re-joins, I wonder the unwonderable: could the visitors… nah… surely?

Noticeable that both sides are keeping pace on, a fair bit. (Jordan at 88mph again). Flip side is Stubbs doesn’t need to middle to get over deep midwicket – which he does. Ver-ry true strip: hard, hard, to stem the tide.

Rare dot ball as Rashid gathers the return. But he’s plinked through extra next up. Then Stubbs literally clubs him out of the ground. We’ll be looking at the runs required a little more intently then. Miller drills towards Jordan at long-off and the fielder leans in confidently to grab. Wickets column feeling increasingly important: five down, South Africa.

Rashid bowls another googly at the incoming Phelukwayo. A little unlucky not to draw more than a loose edge. Six overs remain. 98 needed. Topley from Ashley Down. Four. Lights are burning now, in the night. Stubbs gets something on it: feels unjust that it lollops high enough/far enough to beat the leaping fielder in the deep. Six. Moments later it’s fifty up – commendable effort. A satisfying 150 for 5, off 15 overs. 85 needed. Gleeson.

Bit loose – though marginal. Four, glanced. Loose full-toss is high on the bat but clear of mid-off. Four more. Buttler runs the length of the pitch to have a word. Full-toss on leg stick probably not what the skipper asked for. More runs come: Buttler runs down again. Short ball carved cross-batted for six, over the bowler’s head. Gleeson looks for the proverbial hole to climb into.

Curran must settle this thing down, for England. In from Ashley Down. Fabulous yorker brings a dot. And again, but Phelukwayo digs out. Stubbs absolutely creams the follow-up – another attempted yorker that’s strayed to leg. Superb knock, fair play. Curran does nail a further yorker to close out the over. 54 from 18 needed. Repeat: tremendous effort from Stubbs to keep South Africa in this.

Jordan is also searching for the killer toe-crusher. With some success. Critically, he can keep Phelukwayo down there – repeatedly. (It probably wins the match). Topley loves it. 51 from 12.

Gleeson, who has been carted fairly relentlessly, draws a slight mis-club from the heroic Stubbs. Always headed for the long-off, and comfortably taken. 184 for 6. Further relief for the bowler as he castles Rabada for nought. He’s maybe a bit embarrassed to get a third wicket (well, maybe not!) with a big full-toss that Phelukwayo flips to Rashid. (The batter had plainly wondered if it was a no-ball). The game is won, and Gleeson’s blushes saved. Jordan will bowl out.

Quiet last over, except for boozy singing. Jordan again in the high eighties. Ngidi and Maharaj can barely lay a glove. All done, with England winners by 41 runs, which feels about right. Sensational ball-striking from Malan and Moeen in particular: their intensity and power rather shredded the visitors fielding effort. Check out the anorak’s reports for numbers of drops or misfields but take it from me that South Africa got into a mess – or England’s formidable batting put them there. I’m gathering swiftly and heading to Cardiff tomorrow. Join me there.

The Yorkies went mad.

The Lionesses’ surge to the final of the Women’s Euro’s may be a genuine phenomenon and a boon to the game across the UK, as opposed to just England. (Let’s hope). Despite The Authorities yet again underestimating and under-valuing these women themselves, and the importance of what they can and now are doing. Plainly, last night’s game could have been based at a venue at least twice the size of Bramall Lane; the players and the profile of the event arguably deserved that. No surprises that the Sports Admin Posse failed to rise to, anticipate or respect the inevitable Good Vibes Boom: that would mean understanding both the game and the population around it.

Having said that, of course England fed off the energy of the crowd in that ‘new’ Northern cauldron. A crowd that again seemed distinctive, with different voices, maybe fresher voices carrying the team home after another mixed start.

Spain absolutely slaughtered England in terms of style points and possession, for more than an hour. They found acres of space in front of Lucy Bronze and toyed with her at least as much as they did with her fellow full-back – yaknow, the one The Pundits called for to be dropped. Sweden could never outplay England in quite the same way that Spain had, but Bronze, increasingly looking like one of those worldies who’s started to believe her own publicity, was awful, defensively, early-doors. Slow to press and slack with her passing. In short, Sweden should have been 3-1 up inside ten minutes.

In the context of a 4-0 win in the other direction, this may not matter. It may indeed be churlish to be ‘concentrating on this’. But I do so because France and/or Germany will be. Either of these sides seem nailed-on to score against an England defending poorly out wide and so easy to pass through in midfield. Even the brilliant doughtiness of Bright and the wise, calm, cultured nature of Williamson may not be sufficient to hold the proverbial fort should their next opponents be offered space to race or pass into and time to cross or cut back.

There is universal acclaim for Wiegman, the manager; understandably so, for her record and her care. Players are apparently extraordinarily well-prepared and seem to be trusted to a high degree to both ‘stick to the plan’ and adapt. This is the great and generous way – the holistic way. Enable players and let them grow. It is in this context that the team selection should be seen.

Some of us might have dropped Hemp or even Kirby; both were below par in the early rounds. Others might have shed Daly. Many of us are even now wondering what Wiegman might be saying to Bronze, before the final: an old-fashioned bollocking, perhaps? Unlikely. Asked about the period in which England were again somewhere between ‘mixed’ and under the cosh, the England manager shrugged and said simply “again, the team found a way”.

At every level, you’re in Dreamland as a coach if your players show initiative, guts and ‘trust the process’ (that is delivery of their skillset). Mead epitomised this. Her form and use of the ball has been patchy, in my view and, despite the deluge of fawning over her goal-rush – 6, now and out in front for the Golden Boot – she will know that (or should). So what? After having a quiet early period, she neatly gathered a cross, swivelled automatically and struck the shot sweetly across the keeper. One nil. And England were off.

The goals were extraordinary. Good, from Mead, bit odd, from Bronze, as her decent-but-not-more-than-speculative nod bounced through. Russo’s backheel was manifestly an electrifying outrage; so much so that the bewildered Lindhal was woefully ‘megged. Kirby’s chip was nearly an absolute peach… but again the ‘keeper has to save it. Four bloody nil. No wonder the Yorkies went mad.

It’s already been a kind of triumph. It may be the kind that proves irresistible. But it may not. For all England’s brilliance in attack, they have looked nervy, looked bad in the early knockings too often for their support to be unconcerned. The formidable athletes in the French side may have a field day: England might be gone before they’ve started. It could happen.

Serena Wiegman will know this. She will have A Plan. But she will also be gifting her players – the same players – the right and the responsibility to sort it out.

Pinch me.

Note: fear there are cock-ups in here, following failed updates. Blaming bad wifi & over-heating devices. Forgive me if I don’t straighten them all out – busy weekend with family stuff ongoing. Plus anarchy & madness very much the nature of the event.

Go on, pinch me: I’m here again. Edgbaston Media Centre, the incomparable perch thrust out and up towards that extraordinary, vivid cityscape. And again it’s sensational sunshine, that’s just how this gig *seems to be*, even during the previous, deep Autumn slot. Today we are burning or glowing whilst smiling. Or they are, the assembled lifeguards and clowns and troubadours; burning, early in the day.

Twenty-four hours ago the air-con in Bristol was a brutally chilling bastion against the prevailing swelter. Today it’s reassuringly fallible. We are burning, or sweating, or likely to, alongside the monsters and monks and fleshy party-goers in the Hollies. It feels like the least we could do. I am wearing shades, indoors, ‘cos necessary. Kohler-Cadmore is bowled, by Wells, for a stirring 66.

Yes it’s a crypto-Roses Match. Yorkshire’s (almost proper) Vikings v Lancashire Lightning. The Lankies are fielding, in their soft red clobber, with Yorks 143 for 4 at 12.08 p.m. There are best part of a hundred journo’s in this gaff* and most of them have started with puns about wilting, because this really does feel like the start of the Doomsday Desertification of Dudley, or something equivalently mundane and apocalyptic.

(*Wee note. Yesterday, for the Women’s One Day International, there were about six of us).

It may not be only Edgbaston that finds a Flintstone in the crowd and plays the(ir) theme-tune to widespread, if Neanderthal dad-dancing, but the humour (in its broadest sense) here feels if not unique, then right up there. Convivial plus. Beery but generally neighbourly, like some pagan ale-tasting pageant with sport. With the stands fully locked and loaded already – 12.24 – let’s hope the delirium continues with sufficient decorum. (Fat chance).

Meanwhile the ball is being carted all over. Lamb is in on a hat-trick in the final over of the Yorkie Knock. So madness. Fraine (of Yorks) reviews, having being pouched behind after another panto-fantasy-shot: he had looked to flip it fine and behind to leg but it flew off something to the keeper’s right hand. Not out: struck pad only. The innings closes with Vikings at 204 for 7, meaning a run-rate over ten and a rollicking day in store. If I pause it’s to look for the nearest ceiling fan…

Inter-semi-final break. Light roller and Yorkshire bullocking around the joint. Blinding.

Soon enough Salt will face Drakes, bowling sharpish left-arm over: Jennings the other opener. Here’s a phrase I might not have knocked out after six balls of the Roses Match from 1478 to about 1988: eleven off the first over. Bess’s medium-pace off-spin is similarly disrespected. 19 for 0 after 2. Revis succeeds Drakes and Fraine, at Deep Square, could be in the game. Nope; can’t reach Salt’s boomer. But there’s more.

The North Walian (Salt) is sending dispatches to Beaumaris, Llanberis and everywhere in between: that is until he’s caught behind, having plundered 20 from the new bowler. An unseemly 36 scored, for the departing opener, in yaknow, ridicutime – Salt-time? Croft comes in and calmly steers one for four, towards Wrexham.

Jennings is almost playing cricket by comparison. Maybe Croft has a word. His partner rolls on his back and cuffs an 82 mph delivery over the keeper’s head. After four overs, Lightning are 57 for 1. I need some iced water, to pour into my eyeballs. Pre that psycho-medicinal intervention, let me clarify: Salt only middled about half of those shots. The hand-speed and bat quality and I suppose the Modern Cultural Imperative does the rest. Madness.

I should stop: long day. Might go eat. (The food here is almost embarrassingly fabulous. I keep wondering if they’ll throw me out, for failing to stay cool in the face of extravagance, or Impersonating a Person of Taste and Refinement). Lancs 100 for 2 in the 8th. Nom, nom.

Game brewing, at 14 overs. 48 required. Should be ver-ry achievable but pressure/intense rivalry/sweaty palms/cahuna volume may all be pertinent variables. Lancashire Lightning should play with an amount of restraint and still get a run and a half a ball, though, right? Drakes in, to test that hypothesis. Lots of fine adjustments of the field. Impatient fine adjustments, asitappens.

164 for 2 after 15, with 41 needed. Stadium comms pumping up the crowd as Lyth turns his arm from the City End. Bits and pieces from two ‘in’ batsmen – Jennings and Vilas. Criminally Lyth (right arm slow) no-balls but the free hit finds the fielder at Deep Midwicket. Then Vilas goes six/four and that may be it. 24 from 24; Cakewalk Central in the modern game. Vilas changes gloves to settle himself and see this out.

Jennings won’t be with him at the death. A tad unnecessarily, perhaps, he hoists and is easily caught, for 75 admittedly important runs. 181 for 3. Drakes will bowl the 17th.

Vilas goes through to 50. David has joined him: he chests one down but can scuttle for the one. Correction; it’s more chin/grill than chest. Medic on, briefly. Possible run-out but the throw misses. The requirement remains at one per ball as we enter the 18th over, to be bowled by Thompson.

The first delivery looks swift, and flies through. Then two on the short side, the second flashed up and over Backward Point. Width is punished square and a drop and run gets Lancs very close. Another bouncer is guided nonchalantly behind for four, leaving only four to find.

Borderline no ball (for height, from Revis) is swung out behind square and finds the fielder. Brief review shows the delivery was narrrowly kosher so David must depart, for 10. A short one again gets the treatment; cut and carved hard over cover for six. Job done with a little to spare, for Lancashire Lightning. 208 for 4 on the board as the next protagonists wander out and breathe this all in. The stands momentarily thin.

HAWKS/SOMERSET.

Hawks, then, will bat. The much-loved Vince will watch as McDermott faces Lammonby, the Somerset left-armer. There is swing, which means wide, to leg. The day is splendiferous still. Nice in-swinging yorker has Vince watchful. Decent over, conceding just the four and fired boldly around the feet. Brooks has joined with the spirit of the day by donning a medium-garish headband. He runs in from the City. Energetic; powerful, even. 83 mph. McDermott clears the front leg, sensing width, and clatters behind Point, for six. 13 for 0 after 2.

An immediate change and it’s the Ozzie Icon, Siddle. He is cuff-driven past Mid-off, for four. Blimey. The old fella hits 87mph but this is hardly a consolation as McDermott straight drives hard to the boundary. Fifteen come from the over. Chastening? A little, but *this bowler* has been there.

Encouraging signs for Hampshire as Vince creams Brooks straight: four more. It gets scary as McDermott dances down, the bowler readjusts but the ball is still smashed over Square Leg, for six. 43 for 0, off 4.

Van der Merwe makes the breakthrough as Vince miscues high, to Mid-off. Simple catch. Tom Prest joins McDermott.

Ah. Computer glitch. Could it be the heat? Can write but the updating stalled. Switching to I-pad.

Run rate for Hawks is ten per over. Rifling through the memory bank (have been here several times) this feels like a historic high, when considered alongside the previous semi-final. Finals Day scores have tended to be beneath the 200 mark, I reckon – but ask the anoraks. 100 for 2, Hampshire, as we reach the halfway.

Siddle goes again from underneath us. Rangefinder malfunction: legside full-toss. Now the bowler is practically making love to the umpire and it’s not clear why (from up here). Free hit given and another clunky over passes. 114 for 2, with the not out batters Prest, on 27 and Weatherley on 23. Eleven overs bowled and the sense that the sunshine has dialled down, a little, out there.

Roussow makes good ground to catch Weatherley, striking straight but aerial. Goldsworthy’s second wicket, in fact.

Gregory follows, from beneath the Media Centre: stalwart. Ross Whiteley has joined Prest. He connects sweetly, left-handed, with a pull behind square: a nerve-settling boundary. Brooks will shortly be dispatched in a similar vein, perhaps with more violence, finer. There is a wee break as Prest deflects onto his grill. No dramas but new helmet required.


A wild one from Gregory is smoothed towards Backward Square but the fielder is mercilessly dummied by the bounce: four. That run rate steady at 9.5 now, give or take. Green thinks he’s in business but the fielder, diving forward, can’t gather: chalk that down as a difficult chance. 150 up, for 3 down, in the 16th.

Prest gets to 50 and Whiteley takes the long handle to Green: six. We’ll be close to 200 again, here.
Or maybe not? Whiteley gets a thick outside edge to Green and it flies at catchable height square. Four down, Fuller in and 173 the Hawk’s score, with two overs remaining. Brooks has changed ends to show us Media Peeps his headband more generously. (Still looks shite). A generous lump of low full-tosses been part of The Plan, for Somerset. Brooks now goes for the wide yorker and is unlucky as a bottom edge flies through, behind.

Van der Merwe will bowl out, from the City End. Left arm slow, around. Spears a brutal one in there. Single. Prest responds with a heave for six but then falls, looking to repeat. Solid contribution of 64, off 46. Enter Dawson. Comedy run-out – off he toddles. Ellis will be the new man… and he will likely face a single ball. Or not. After endless verbals and consultations, Ellis does duly pinch a single and we are done, at 190 for 6. Competitive, if marginally below par for the day.

Banton feels like a slightly crumpled god. Fearlessly irresistible eighteen months ago, human, now. He fends Wood to leg for one to get us going. Smeed is unzipped by the left-armer (but escapes) and the bowler is furious to have been called for a wide immediately afterwards. He has less complaint for what follows: an obvious wide and a clattered six. Wheal will bowl from the City End.

Banton smashes for maximum, the universe revolves and we find ourselves at ten an over – 20 off two. (But you knew that). Then Smeed tries to pull but strikes highish on the blade and Mid-off can claim it. Ellis is racing in fluently, shirt a blaze of yellow. He is close to claiming a further scalp as the ball flies hard but just beyond Backward Point’s left hand.

Roussow has joined Banton. The left-hander clubs Wheal straight and true and big: six. 32 for 1 and a paltry 8 an over. (*Demands refund*). Scandalous miscue from Roussow flies high over first slip, infuriatingly for Wood. Direct hit though re-establishes the Cosmic Balance; great throw from Crane does for Banton. Somerset 38 for 2 after 5 – so behind the game, for now.

Talking of things Cosmic, always loved the view here; a crescent of Ents that march away into Brum Central. Hoping one day they tear up the feeble skyscrapers in town.

Roussow is aware of the drift: a mighty six. Dawson’s left arm slow is around, to Abell, then over to his partner. 50 up, in the 6th. The batters still need to raise the level a touch. Enter Fuller from the city. Roussow doesn’t get enough of him; clumps, rather, into the deep. Easy catch at Midwicket. 50 for 3. Fine ball beats Lammonby. The required run rate is 11.7, at this point.

Widescreen look. Energetic game, these days. Fielders backing up at pace, rarely still. Walking in with intent. Zoom back in: seeing about four women amongst the hundred or so in this Press Box. Possible that none of them are journo’s. It’s a tremendous space and the hospitality is peerless, in my (o-kaaaay, limited, internationally) experience.

Abell has moved to 22 and Lammonby is 9, as Fuller comes in again. (11 overs, 78 for 3). Required run rate best part of 13. Lammonby answers the call, hitting powerfully over Long-on. I can see a drone, mozzie-like and bit sinister, somehow, about 100 yards beyond the City End. Cricket-related? Could be – no idea. Abell biffs Fuller behind square: almost six.

A wave of tiredness. Abell sweeps, low, hard, flat but directly at Deep Square. Gone. Brings in Gregory but 97 for 4 and 12-plus an over needed. Steepish? Gregory strikes clean and pure for six, bringing up the 100. Ellis races (and I do mean races) in. Draws the nick. ‘Keeper not sharp enough to respond. Not a gimme but it’s not just the Bowler’s Union wants those pocketed. Cruelly, another fine edge – bottom, weirdly – gets away from the gloves (although this time, no grief applicable).

Personal: the genuinely delightful and genuinely personable Dan (The Man) Norcross seeks me out to say hello. This rare from A Big Gun… and appreciated. Ver-ry wise and engaging gentleman: will not forget that he was the first to say hi and offer a comradely brew some years ago. (Indiscretion: plenty Leading Men are waaaay tooo busy in their cliquey wee world to venture out with a welcome). Not Ar Daniel.

Meanwhile cricket. Wood bowling full and wide. Twice. Singles. Possible run-out. slick throw and backhander from the keeper. Reviewed. Brilliant work beats the dive. 135 for 5, Green gone for 9. Van der Merwe incoming. Suddenly the required rate is 18 per over, with three overs to come. Somerset need something pret-ty special.

Like Ellis’s energy. Can’t help but feel that all this fizz deserves something – and yet we know pace on the ball can often penalise the fielding side. But the sprint and gather from Ellis is quite a sight. Eleven from the over flatters the batsmen, if anything. An unlikely 43 needed, from two.

Wood is swung out to leg but the chase for two looks tight. Another heavy, flat throw lasers in and Lammonby is a yard short: gone for 34. It’s gonna be Hawks v Lancs.

Wood persists with the wide angles, with some skill. Goldsworthy steps across and is castled, comprehensively. 152 for 8. 39 needed from 7 balls, then 38 from 6.

Ellis beats Brooks then bowls him with a well-disguised slower one. Impressive. 9 down. Siddle may be a legend but he ain’t gonna defy the maths. He ain’t, in fact, gonna do anything: bowled, first-up. Fabulous finish from Ellis backed-up by sustained intensity in the field. Hampshire Hawks puff out their chests and march off. And we all get a break.

THE FINAL.

Hampshire Hawks have won the toss and elected to bat. Lancs run through the pyroclastic ‘tunnel’ and the daft dinky-car brings out the ball. And then we’re off. Vince gets two, off Hartley, as Mid-off can only parry. There’s Proper Singing, in the crowd, unprompted by high-decibel twattery from Those Smiley People. And the smoke has cleared. McDermott sweeps, with intent for four. 9 for 0.

Sharp ball from Gleeson leaves Vince *just enough* and thrashes down the stumps. Early if not premature drama, relieving us all of a potential talisman and star – so rather shocking. Vince made 5. A tight scurry to beat the throw but a fine over draws no further significant theatre. Over to Wood.

Again, the pace bowlers are in this. Outside edge beaten. Prest and McDermott a tad unconvincing: the former is tucked-up and hurried by a fiery one and has no control: caught to leg as three fielders converge. 15 for 2, off 3 overs, with Lightning crackling. Gleeson blasts through a wildish hack from McDermott then beats the attempted spooning behind. Then some response: the same batter presents the blade and firms up his wrists, pushing downtown for four. Bounce and carry to finish – no contact. 23 for 2, off 4, so early rate well below previous totals.

Wood is pinpoint accurate and full, then beating the swing outside off. Whoooaaa – one takes off, beats the keeper’s leap and screams down to the boundary. Lively stuff from Lancs.

McDermott finally collects Wood, over Long-on. Again we had that hockey-ball sound, as though it was an 80% hit, rather than the full, sweet, nutty connection. That comes with a booming on-drive to Lamb, for six more. Nerves settle a little, in the Hawks camp. 48 for 2 at powerplay completion. Run rate improved – now at a mathematically satisfying and nicely-poised 8. Hartley, from beneath us.

The heat is leaving and the Lightning’s insipid red softening yet further. Spirits are high in the Northern camp, mind – especially as Parkinson claims Weatherley, caught Croft. The leggie’s not getting any discernible grip out there, but the flight and dip are plainly a challenge. As is the pressure, which is on. 64 for 3 after 9, Hawks.

McDermott is still battling but Dawson is impatient for the counter. He can only lift Parkinson to Vilas for another regulation catch. 67 for 4 and Hampshire in some strife. Wells will follow but he is unceremoniously clouted into the Hollies: six. McDermott backs that up with a clean off-drive for four more, bringing up his half-century. Now he’s feasting: six over Long-off. A very valuable 21 from the over. Run rate back up above 8.

Parkinson does inflammatory laps of the square, pretty much, having bowled McDermott with one that kinda snuck through. The opener gone for a hard-fought 62. Hawks have two new batters at the wicket – Whiteley and Fuller – and yes, they have a job to do. 100 up as Parkinson closes out his third over: he has figures of 3 for 24 and is an early shout for MOTM. Now Lamb.

He nearly bowls Fuller but that agricultural swipe merely precedes his demise – caught off a thick outside edge, driving. 105 for 6 may be terminal. Ellis has joined Whiteley.

Wood is rushing in from the City End. Whiteley gets a lively one high on the bat but it falls short of the legside field. But unconvincing. You can see, now, as well as feel, that the heat has throttled back. And we have shadows under the lights. Hard to tell what’s likely, now, given the wickets column. Hampshire must stay close to 8 an over, you suspect(?)

Ellis has to hit and he does get most of Parkinson. *Most*. David at Long-on has all day to see it and coolly gathers. A four-fer for Parkinson and that blood-in-the-water feeling. Five overs remaining and Hawks need fifty runs – probably – but have only three wickets in hand. Can Gleeson cash in? Not entirely, but he remains economical, which may be the same thing.

That bloody drone is up there again. Has it been there all day, I wonder? Hartley is deftly cut away for four but it’s the one blow of significance. Hants on 7-plus an over: Wood charging in. The expectation can only be around 150, maximum, now.

It may be less, because Whiteley is miscuing and the fielder can retreat to make the catch. 133 for 8. Penultimate over upcoming, from Gleeson. Full bore, at Crane and Wood. Wood booms over Deep Midwicket. Fair play – six.

Lamb will see this out, from the City End. But prolonged discussion which I can shed no light on. (No sound on the screens in the Media Centre). 144 for 8 on the board – so 150 plus likely. Hasn’t been enough earlier in the day but conditions are different, as is level of intensity.

Fielders diving to the last – as per the requirement. Quiet over and we finish on 152 for 8. 88 of the 100 journo’s present are teasing out variations of ‘well it’s something to aim at’. Me, I’m saying it’s been a long day. But Hawks have something to aim at.

THE REPLY.

Salt starts like a demon – like Salt. Looks a worldie for four balls. Gone for 10, flipping one off his ankles, aerial. Croft joins Jennings. The City has marched closer, as it does, this time of night. 13 for 1 off that first over from Wood.

Wheal, those skyscrapers shuffling in behind. Ground wonderfully still 68% full. Was it Jennings who did the ‘roll over and flippit thing, earlier? (Honestly can’t remember). Well he either does it again or follows the trend. Ridiculous and six, over Fine Leg. Wood will bowl the third.

Light ver-ry different, at half-eight. But we know the pitch is true, so one argument is that Lancs have only to play in a measured way, and be mindful of that scoring rate. They know acceleration is possible because it is possible to hit through the line – guys have been doing it since brunch. Wheal comes in and Croft plays what might be shot of the day, then refines it, to penetrate the offside for successive boundaries. Appreciative applause, for rare, almost classical quality. 46 for 1, off 4. Lightning surge ahead.

Very much enjoyed Ellis’s work earlier; getting a good, close look at him now. Against Somerset he was a City End fella; now he’s underneath us. Croft reaches a little, to drive, flirting with Mid-off, but has enough of it. Four. 50 up in this fifth over. Good comeback as the batsman is beaten all ends up, driving outside the off-stick.

A smidge of cut off the pitch, for Wood. Jennings reads it. Jee-sus. The roll and flip comes out again: contact is from a horizontal body-position with the bat just presenting for a subtle glide behind. Four runs seems inadequate: (12 and out, I say). A round 60 for 1, after 6 overs. Do the math, Einstein.

Liam Dawson does get some turn, with his left arm finger-thing. Might be interesting. Likewise Crane, the leg-spinner, who gives it quite a tweak. A cluster of wickets may be called for, to get Hawks back into this. Comedy of errors won’t help, as Crane’s revs bewilder not the batter but half his fielders. A further freak but this time it’s a pro-Hants panto. Croft is in a muddle and the ball squirts behind. The keeper juggles his knees, plays the forks for twenty minutes then claims the catch. And blow me, he’s out! Bizarre one but possibly critical. Croft had 36 and if he doubled that…

We have dusk, at 8.55, or the sense of it. Dawson is again bowling slow left-arm around. Jennings clears the front pad and pushes out the drive, erroneously. Not great; the fella’s offering catching practice to Long-off. Gift accepted. After 9 overs Lancs are 79 for 3, with two new batters at the crease, the light disappearing and the Hawks (plus fans) back in the game. Runs required at a rate of 6.9 per over, give or take. In short the environment now feels like a different place, not a ten an over place. Par has changed.

Vilas is claiming four, albeit fortuitously, mis-sweeping. Then Fuller is beating him for pace. Twice. And in between Vilas edges narrowly past the keeper – a slip would’ve eaten it. Finally Vilas connects, bringing up the hundred with a six. And now Dawson is bowling out.

Vilas push-drives again but a leaping Vince at Mid-off can make the grab. Tim David must join Wells. 105 for 4 with 7 overs remaining. 49 from 42 balls. Lancashire Lightning ahead… but those Cup Final Factors manifestly in play.

Now it’s all kicking off. Wells sweeps Crane for four but is then adjudged lb. (Looked out, live). Review. Ball-tracking says ‘missing’ but it may be one of those that raises questions. Irrelevant – on we go. 112 for 4 after 14. 41 needed off 36. Daft American Anthems (for some reason).

Ellis strays – wide given. Then great running. And then awful running but safety. Heart-rates lifting with the lights. A hoist lands harmlessly, 35 needed from 30. We’re going deep.

Fuller is good and straight. Precious dot. And another. David immediately reviews an lb decision. Smacks of confidence but is it bluff? No bat. He’s gone! Still 35 required from 27 balls. One taken, to Deep Square.

Ellis again, from our end. Slower ball nurdled off the hip. One. Middle and leg yorker squeezed out square – one more. Attempted scoop fails. Another cute slower one. Lamb beaten, by a bowler too good for him. Fine over. Can Fuller back that up? ‘Sweet Caroline’ may be deflecting the tension…

Fireworks as Lamb toe-ends up and up. Caught Vince once more. Margins suddenly ver-ry tight, as Wood guides his first ball through slip. Hawks are in it, though, no question. More than that, with 23 required from two overs they have to be favourites. How did that/does that happen? 130 for 6, Lancs. Dot ball. Boundaries or bust.

Wells swings out behind square for six. MASSIVE. But not yet enough. The four next ball might help. As will the misjudgement that follows: the fielder gets nothing on a steepling (but surely straightforward?) catch. It may not matter. Vince has shattered the stumps with another brilliant throw, to run out Wells. In a blur, Ellis is in for the last over, with 11 needed. Breathless don’t cover it. Then 7 needed off 3.

A back-of-the-hander deceives Hartley and Wood is run out by the keeper, shedding his glove.

The scoreboards are having a particularly ill-timed dispute over what’s required, which tells you something about the punch-drunk nature of the contest. Lancashire – well ahead for much of the contest – *may need 5* off the last ball. Hawks seem both determined and somehow disbelieving. Whoever wins, now, will win against the grain.

Last ball. Ellis, for me, something of a Star Man today, finishes this emphatically and unequivocally by bowling… but OH NO HE DOESN’T. IT’S A NO FUCKING BALL!!
Re-call the fireworks and do that again. (And yes, throw in a free hit, too). But do it all again.

We all shake our heads and gather and wait for the fog to clear – hilariously the fireworks have smoked us all out. It’s crazy and embarrassing and may tip us into farce. The premature ejaculation of pyrotechnics melts away unhurried. The bowler must wait at his mark.

Finally, Ellis beats the batter all over again… and the keeper stumps somebody… but the other batter thinks he’s in and races for the two that *may* bring scores level and the dugout is bawling about wickets ‘not broken’. And maths don’t matter and rules don’t matter and certainty never existed – just ask those scoreboards. It’s a non-decisive denouement.

This seems more of a philosophical intrigue than a win. The umps and the players look weirdly crestfallen, as if awaiting some Further Judgement. Hawks may want to crack the shampers and get lost in man-hugs but it takes an age. And even then it seems like something potentially reversible and un-free – like a nightmare VAR review. I’m just not gonna believe that Hampshire won this thing ’til I re-read the last sentence of this blog, at 3.42am tonight, when I wake up screaming.

That sentence will need to be clarity personified so I’m going with this baby:

I think I’m a wombat but Hawks did it.

Phew. Now find me a taxi.

Plus sides…

England beat South Africa by 114 runs, at Bristol, with Sophia Dunkley’s 107 being the standout performance. But this is sounding like the BBC so best get back to the original live blog, brought to you as usual in Reckless Kaleidocolor. 😎

Major plus side. As I sit down and the Friendly Supportive Earthling plugs me into t’internet (don’t ask), Ismail is bowling. It’s unheard of for me to be late but the reality of Shabnim I racing in, 78 yards directly in front of me, obliterates the 437 hassles experienced to actually get here* a mere three mins en retard. So breeeeeathe; in any language.

(*Friends, if you fear that at some stage I’m gonna recount those wee adventures… then bear with. Am not sure how time/events/energy is going to tilt that particular indulgence. If I do go there it’s because there may be some amusement in the contrast I’m picturing between my experience and that of the Sky Team).

But cricket. Beaumont and Lamb take England to 25 for 0 after 4. Beaumont, in particular is showing what the TV Peeps tend to call ‘intent’: this continues, as she biffs Kapp square to the boundary for four more. She is 17 off 16, at this point.

I take a bad picture for the website, knowing it’s temporary. The air-con in the Media Centre is spectacular, cooling my audaciously bare feet and ab-so-luuut-ely settling the system (after *those distractions) in much the same way that the England openers are easing into their work. Beaumont got one high on the bat but no dramas; Lamb is now extending through the ball. 50 up after 9 overs. When Kapp offers Lamb a little width, the batter clatters her fearlessly past the diving fielder at cover. Ominous for the visitors.

I like Bristol but it’s one of those grounds that rather defies appreciation. Not grand, no real whiff of glorious/epic romance, a la Taunton or Worcester, but open and full of sky. As the sun floods more convincingly through, the heart does lift; gently. Despite the Big Guns – Kapp, Ismail and the other returnee Khaka- getting into their spells, England are coasting at 71 for 0 after 12 overs. Pitch looking placid but true: big score feasible.

O-kaay it’s a half-volley but Lamb crunches Ismail through extra for a genuinely stunning four. We’re nearly into alarm bells territory for South Africa: it’s notable and clearly unhelpful that their fielding has already proved a little slack. This is plainly a day for maxxing-out on any little opportunity but there have been three or four mistimed dives or barriers out there. The skipper, Luus, may have work to do to maintain intensity and discipline, which will be disproportionately important today, you sense.

At this point I note to the universe (and to Advisory Brainy-Bastard Rich Hudson, to whom I send genuine, comradely greetings) that I have only inserted one non-mischievous hyphen into this fantasmoboog, so far. And yes, Rich, that has taken a degree of application I can only describe as exceptionally against-the-grain. You are not alone in questioning my wildness. But cricket.

Drinks, at 16 overs. No wickets down. Both batters beyond 40. The feeling that South Africa are going to need a break, or the dip in focus from the batters that so often follows a pause, to get any purchase on the game. 93 on the board: perfect batting conditions; strong, streetwise operators at the crease. Knight and Sciver and Dunkley and Jones to come. Carnage possible. Mlaba has a review, almost immediately. Poor. Missing by miles.

De Klerk is in from under the flats at Ashley Down. A shortish one is cuffed rather unconvincingly over midwicket, almost offering the chance. Mis-stroke but 100 up in the over. Ripple, from the relatively small crowd then a touch more animation, as Lamb gets through to fifty. Beautiful summer day now, with a light breeze making playing conditions pret-ty close to dreamy. Lamb in particular is into that groove where the bowling is being picked off, more than faced. Impressive.

De Klerk is thrashed hard at Ismail. Neither a chance nor a strike you want to get in the way of. The fast bowler bravely puts something (anything) in the way, to keep it to the single. Lamb goes to 61 and Beaumont has 47.

Have been open, previously, about the fact that England are simply better, currently, than South Africa. Despite being a non-neutral, I’m thinking it may not be great if Knight’s Posse win this by the proverbial country mile. Resources are unequal, with only England and Australia being legitimate powerhouses: even India are a notch down on the squad depth/support/funding level of the two lead nations. So no issues around the visitors here being gently schooled. In time, of course, we want that Aus-England dominance to be authentically challenged.

Accreditation Business means I miss the wicket of Lamb, who had looked bombproof. Shortly afterwards Beaumont swings loosely at Kapp and the ball flies at catchable height to mid-on. Dropped. Not an outright clanger but the bowler will be justifiably angry. The fielder (Mlaba) simply didn’t move athletically or sharply enough. England might suddenly have been 130-odd for 2, with a little counter registered. Instead the traditionally dynamic Dunkley and the consistently steady Beaumont can build higher and further. The day may have brightened more: suspect this is further evidence that god is an Englishwoman – or Welsh?

Almost hilariously, Beaumont has cramp in the fingers. The ‘keeper is applying medical science of an agricultural sort, by bullying her glove off, then ironing out the hand, brutally, albeit with the batter’s consent. Eventually, somebody with O Levels in Hands is sent for.

I go for coffee and return to see Beaumont marching off. (WTF?!?) Now England are 147 for 2. Which is almost great for South Africa except for the inevitable consequence: Natalie Sciver. Still, plus sides.

150 is up, in the 29th over. So arguably steady, now, rather than intimidating, from the hosts. But such is the power of Sciver that this may just be another ‘platform’ from which she can leap. Ismail is back, to keep the new batters honest (if possible) and Tryon follows, from Ashley Down. Fascinating and probably key part of the match. Six bowlers now used: figures, given playing conditions and personnel selected. Change and flow-prevention an essential part of the visiting captain’s armoury. Drinks (2) at 30 overs and England are 158 for 2.

On the return Sciver hooks an Ismail bouncer but miscues. The ball loops harmlessly into space. Two statements made, I suppose but the batter’s positivity was of the loose variety and will therefore offer a little hope for South Africa. England’s reflections at the recent break will have surely have pointed towards both aggression and longevity for the current occupants of the crease. (As so often remarked) Sciver is a worldie and Dunkley may be the faster accumulator in the group. No -brainer to keep them in there for a heavy lump of overs.

Mlaba is teasing Dunkley and the batter is dancing down… then thinking better of it. Proportionate Restraint in operation, for now. Finally seeing the Beaumont dismissal: slightly casual miscue, to mid-off. Made 58, including 6 boundaries. Will be thinking she’s missed out, on this deck, against this opposition, for sure.

Weirdly ungainly thick edge, from Sciver, against Khaka. Fortunate to evade the offside ring. Had gone forward but badly misjudged.

Luus has a longish chat with Mlaba, presumably to press for tight focus. The visitors have done reasonably well in the last ten overs: somehow they must find a way to tie down England’s two most fluent stroke-makers. Ah. Full-toss smacked away through extra by Dunkley, who has moved to 37 not out without engaging her more expansive mode, as yet. (It’s surely not far away). 200 up in the 36th. 300 a realistic target, for England?

De Klerk has changed ends but is a tad short; Sciver can dismiss her behind square. Dunkley is in that characteristic baseball crouch, slapping away to off. The energy from England is up. Tryon, from Ashley Down, must contain it. Sciver hoists, with care rather than violence, straight: just the one. Run rate remains under 6: feels an underachievement. Think the batters will view it that way and look to launch a sustained attack. Kapp returns, to counter any move.

A brave stop at mid-off, to deny four – South Africa need plenty of that. Everything being crunched, now. A wildish swing at Kapp, from Dunkley, is about 48 hours early. (Bit village). Both batters into their 40s.

Khaka starts with a leg-cutter from the Ashley Down End. No ‘cut’, as such. Dunkley clubs a wide one straight at long-off. Sciver does the same, to long-on. 10 overs remain. Run rate at 5.8. May be enough – may be plenty – but as Dunkley gets her 50 she might well be thinking a boomathon is in order, now. Kapp is deftly cut away behind point, for four.

Batters confer: re-calibrating, surely? 242 for 2 after 41. Well over 300 achievable. My guess is they’ll be looking for 9 or 10 an over, from hereon in – meaning 330(?) Sciver clumps Khaka majestically and straight, for the first six of the innings. She too, now, has 50 and more. Quite possible that both batters may prove unstoppable as we go towards the death, here. (Meaning there will be no ‘death’). Dunkley clouts Ismail – Ismail of all people! – for six. Then follows with a four. Red rag territory.

Ismail predictably bounces. Dunkley has to reach high but cuffs it for 6 more. The ball protests by *disappearing entirely*… and is replaced. 43 overs done and 272 for 2 the score. 340 possible? More?

De Klerk returns to Ashley Down. Dunkley strikes hard again, straight through the bowler. Four – and a sore hand. Ismail gets similar treatment; a punchy offering of the bat, straight. Four more, aerial but entirely safe: Dunkley, suddenly on 83, may yet to a hundred.

Sciver meanwhile, is inventing stuff. She has two goes at flipping Ismail behind. On the second occasion she is bowled, offering the stumps. It’s a measure of Dunkley’s brilliance that Natalie Sciver (who made 63), has been consistently in her shadow, today, playing an entirely unfamiliar supporting role. Enter the captain, Knight. De Klerk nearly bowls her.

296 for 3 after 45 overs. The day remains immaculate. Dunkley can still swing through at Ismail. Knight can and will nurdle to offer the in batter the strike. (Except no. The 300 comes up via an unattractive swipe, from Ar Trevor, who edges through the vacant first slip area. ‘Clatty’ as we say Up North).

Another heavy heave from Dunkley is superbly stopped at Cow Corner, by Tryon. Looked four. Then Knight is diving successfully as de Klerk gathers the throw. Dunkley goes to 99 with four past square leg and eases to the ton with a forward push. It’s been thrilling. Incongruously, Knight clips to leg gully moments after and is gone. Enter Wyatt, at 319 for 4.

Kapp has the thankless task of bowling out from beneath us. She mixes it up, at Wyatt before Dunkley flip-scoops a slower ball absurdly over about third slip. It’s imperfectly executed… but again on the safe side of insolence.

Cruelly for the visitors, Wyatt misses one at her ankles and it races through for four byes. 340 becomes possible as Dunkley continues to shred the manual. Not quite. Dunkley connects solidly with the final delivery but can only find the fielder in the deep. She is gone for a buccaneering 107 and England close on 337 for 4. It’s likely to be significantly more than South Africa can raise… but let’s see.

Sciver opens the bowling for England, from the Ashley Down End. Clutching a coffee, and (I kid you not) looking to warm up a little, I abscond outside to enjoy some action in warm but shady luxury. Back very soon.

Steyn and Wolvaardt are out there, for South Africa. Facing Bell. The bowler – known mainly for her striking in-swinger – nearly defeats Wolvaardt with what looked like a back-of-the-hand slower-ball. (Not sure I’ve seen that from her before). The batters are busy, as per the requirement and when Scivers bangs one in Wolvaardt clatters her with utter control to the midwicket boundary. A good start, at 31 for 0 after 5.

It’s a true pitch. The visiting openers, like England’s, are looking in some level of control but Lauren Bell is warmly applauded for a maiden over, in the 8th. She is followed by Issy Wong but the young quick is cut, offering just a little width, to the point boundary. A further four comes, courtesy of an on-drive: 58 for 0 after 9.

Wong is a talent and a point of difference. She brings a particular, unusual and arguably a precious threat, via her variety and power but her first two overs, without being loose, do leak runs. She’s a chancer – very different in nature and a person, you suspect – to the other Young Hopeful, Bell. There will be times where Wong is absolutely The Answer… and times where she may be a liability. Meanwhile, South Africa have scuttled on to 71 for 0, after 11 overs: competitive.

Knight turns to Ecclestone who goes ver-ry full and has a shout against Wolvaardt. Nothing. Good over, though and just the right change. Spin from both ends, now, as Charlie Dean will bring her finger-spin from Ashley Down. A double misfield gets Wolvaardt to her 50 in even time – well 49 balls – and reinforces the sense that we have a Proper Game on, here. (Long may that continue). England are not, in truth, forcing errors nor chances.

Ah. Until *that*. Rather inexplicably Wolvaardt cloths Dean straight to mid-on. Real shame for the visitors – particularly as her partner Steyn has been understated to say the least, by comparison. (Has 27 to Wolvaaardt’s 55). Can Goodall and The Quiet One burst ahead? 87 for 1, in the 15th: Dean to continue.

Dean looks to be rising to this. Nice flow about her. (I’m temporarily out at Third Man to her bowling, so difficult to see degrees of spin, but she has applied meaningful pressure. Ecclestone needs to do the same. She is too straight and Goodall can nudge behind, fine, for four.

When Dean returns, Steyn miscues lumpenly straight back at her – is fortunate. But then a review, for lb. Given out and goes to ‘umpire’s call’. A stalled innings is over, for 28. 92 for 2 as Luus comes in.

Dean comes around, to Goodall. Gets the angle marginally wrong and another clip to leg is executed. Heather Knight charges with commitment but can’t haul it in. Following over a nd a sudden thought. Are folks beginning to work Ecclestone out? Just doesn’t feel like she’s the ‘monster’ she was. Familiarity breeding… something less challenging? Dunno.

Now Wong from the Bristol Pavilion End. Wow. Looks like she’s been instructed to blast away. First ball a bouncer, arguably wrongly called a wide, for height. Next delivery fended by a visibly intimidated Luus. Then an unplayable ball flies off the edge. A wicket seems suddenly inevitable and it comes. It’s *all about* Wong’s irresistible energy. The book will say Goodall out caught Bell bowled Wong: it could well say out (pretty scared, actually).

Dean has contributed to The Change but also benefitted from Wong’s next-level kaboomery. Luus falls, chipping distractedly to mid-off. Signs of trouble (or signs that quality is beginning to tell?) Still, with Kapp and Tryon suddenly flung together we shouldn’t go writing South Africa off, eh? these two can play. And the run rate is certainly up there with England’s at the equivalent stage. 120-something from 22. Decent. (But there feel like there are buts, yes?)

Wong is walking back to her mark with every fibre relishing this. She knows she can bring the fire. She knows she can matter. She already has. Credit Knight, the coach and Wong herself, for the sheer exuberance we’re seeing. Tryon is the next to be blown away, half-ducking, half-pulling at a sharp one that catches the edge en route to Jones’s gloves.

132 for 5. Inflammatory guess? South Africa will be all out 180. (*Fatal!*)

De Klerk has joined Kapp. Wong is still at them. The former batter becomes a former batter and (again) she is intimidated out – a short one bringing an instinctive swish and pat in self-defence. Sciver has to reach high to catch but she is well-equipped to do that. 138 for 6.

Lamb is having a bowl. Klapp is defying – as she does. Clatters for four to go to a prompt 26. Chetty is her new partner: what’s she got?

Ecclestone from beneath us. Chetty goes back. The sunshine now muted and the lights on. Some relief in the Walton Camp that earlier accreditation issues resolved. Am now confident a) they ain’t gonna sling me outta here and b) tomorrow night’s post Finals Day air b’n’b thing is a goer. I’m officially official again. 150 up, in the 29th.

Dean is back. To her credit – and I suspect, following encouragement or even instruction from Kapp – Chetty is going at her. Strikes well and powerfully towards deep midwicket. England won’t mind that; plenty of runs in the bank so shot-making suits, at this stage. Ecclestone will likewise be arcing and teasing to draw out those attacking instincts.

Good hands in the field from Bell and Knight and a strong chase from Lamb reinforce the notion that England remain well-focused. Wong is all eyes as Chetty tamely hoists Dean: easy catch, at mid-on. 169 for 7, Chetty made 17.

Kapp may get used to running out of partners but it can’t be much fun, for a player of her quality. She is joined by Ismail, a tremendous athlete and competitor but less-than-tremendous bat. Bell is back, to try to finish this.

England’s tallest player is wicketless, so far, and will be hoping to change that. But Kapp can cope – she cuts for four, then farms the strike. Not even a brief look at Ismail, for Bell. Dean does get that opportunity: has Knight at slip (Ismail bats left-handed). Late in the over, the fast bowler clumps the slow left-armer, just evading mid-off. Fortunate.

South Africa go past the 180 (lols) but Bell does get her wicket – that of Ismail – who over-estimates her ability to clear the field. Easy catch at mid-off; 186 for 8. Kapp is still digging out Dean and Knight is still diving to stop but plainly the Endgame is here. (No offence to Khaka). Kapp gets yet another 50 from 46 balls: *player*.

Despite an occasional clubbing from the visitor’s all-rounder, Charlie Dean now has 4 for 53. Bell will again follow her. She pulls out an extravagant slower ball, which Kapp almost mistimes. Knight is changing things – rightly. Ecclestone from Ashley Down. Kapp thrashes downtown and gets an 80% connection. Good enough for four. She follows that with a cleaner hit, which flies over deep midwicket for a sweet six. (Repeat: *player*).

220 and more – so fair play to South Africa. Kapp looks like she may never get out (as per) but Khaka is hanging on in there…

Whoaaa! Ecclestone forces an error from the visiting goddess. Kapp has dinked one straight back to the bowler. Gone. In this team, in this situation, her contribution of 71 is outstanding… but it’s also just what she does. Mlaba marches out… and duly marches back again; caught mis-clonking, at mid-off, by Dean.

223 all out, then, South Africa. It’s been an entertaining day with some fine work from Dunkley and Kapp and a notably fizztastic burst of bowling and energy-injection from Wong. Dean also showed. The prosaic amongst us may dwell on the obvious gap between the two sides; admittedly that mitigates against genuine, prolonged competition. England will feel they’ve ticked most of the boxes and dismissed a less strong outfit convincingly. The visitors will (I hope) take some encouragement from some aspects of their performance: there were times when they were in it… but they will surely be realistic about the work that lies ahead.

Beating the weather (with Beat Poetry).

Would it be fair to opine, dear friends, that these columns are closer to Beat Poetry than Proper Journalism? (People have said stuff like that). I’m fine with it. And whilst I *really don’t* set out to chase difference, it just keeps happening in front of me.

I mention this ‘cos I’m starting with the weather, which feels like an incredibly dull thing to do. Let’s burn through it.

Welcome to Taunton where it IS glorious. Warm in the sun; cwtched under white-chocolate-blanket cloud. We’ll start on time but come about 11.30 – give or take – we may be bobbing and weaving… or slumped, sullen, over our peppermint teas. Rain/showers/rain-showers or even thundershowers are all serious contenders. So boring, huh?

Given that it seems very likely we will start on time – in 6 minutes – and then have an hour plus un-interrupted, (but maybe not more), we need to zoom in on The Immediate. England still have a lead of 78 runs, and new batters, Luus and Sekhukhune at the crease. Bell and Cross may well open but Wong will be ready to rumble – and well-equipped, in terms of both talent and temperament, we suspect – to make something happen. The players are out.

Interestingly, Sciver is starting, from the River End. Could be because she may be particularly suited to challenge the left-handed Sekhukhune, who faces. Could be because she is wonderfully consistent. Could be because of those variations; out-swing; mixed-up pace; floaty or sharp. Likely it’s all of the above, plus her undeniable Nat Sciver-ness: meaning world-level application and skill. She bowls a maiden.

Now Bell, who has bowled ‘ahead’ of Wong on every occasion. Full-toss neatly dispatched towards the square-leg boundary by Luus. Hauled-in short. One good ball beats the edge.

Sciver draws a false shot from Sekhukhune but not a chance for Beaumont at short square. Bright sunshine: less wind? Maybe.

Bell bowls a savage in-swinger at Luus. Decent shout. After a brief chinwag we have the ‘doing too much’ conclusion. Ver-ry fine delivery, however. Bell has grown gently into this – sorreee, bit weird for a six-footer – without looking likely to eviscerate the visiting order. Not quite sure what that feeling is all about. Will continue to ponder. (She is plainly ‘useful’ – but is Bell a Real, international Force?)

England, of course simply can’t allow uneventfulness. (Probably yet another reason for promoting Sciver ahead of Cross – who has been opening – is because Luus and co. would not be expecting it. That and the whole Sciver Makes Thing Happen issue). If you’d have pushed me on who I think might be most likely to break things open (first thing), I would have said Wong and Cross, without hesitation. We don’t have either yet but they won’t be long, eh? Ooh look. Here comes Crossie!

South Africa have proceeded with some care, to 63 for 3. Cross troubles Sekhukhune immediately – great length, no nick. Have a quick shuftie at accuweather; saying 51% precipitation and yellow warning for thundershowers from 12 noon. They’re suggesting they pass (or the likelihood decreases, around 1pm), becoming a 60-odd percent threat bit later. But enough already. None of that is certain: just likely, unfortunately. Bell continues.

She’s been mixing over and around, to Sekhukhune. And finding that swing. *Could be* that the ump has a word about running on the pitch, from around, so the bowler goes back. Unfortunate: there is a sense that Bell could maybe do with more variety(?)

Cross pounds in with intent. Luus ‘falls’ a little and plays around it. L.B.W! The batters seem to prevaricate and do not review: telly suggests just clipping leg – but enough – so the South African skipper is done. Gone for 10. England needed that: if they need someone to direct strategy, I’m available. (It really probably should have been Cross and Wong, from moment one).

Another interesting call: Ecclestone from Trescothickville. Strongish appeal against Sekhukhune denied. The off-spinner will ask questions but my question is why not Wong, first? 65 for 4, now.

Back to Cross. Her star has been rising for eighteen months. Watching her live over a longer period than that she’s always struck me as a top athlete, contributor and bowler of fine spells. (Bugger. We have rain). I’ve wondered whether she may be a natural first/second-change seamer, not because she lacks star quality – although that’s possible – but rather because Cross seems to thrive on that slow(er)-burning art of bowling several testing overs. She’s not alarmingly quick (up to 70 mph), unpeeling batters with repeated killer length more often than with Balls of the Century. That was what I thought.

Cross now – and particularly in this game, it strikes me – is reaching another level. Always fluent; she now looks confident and strong, hitting the pitch harder, possibly bowling faster, seemingly better-loaded with belief. Would love to know if somebody has really helped her get there, or if this just a very good athlete now comfortable in this environment.

We played through the shower. As Ecclestone is into her third over, and both Lee and Sekhukhune refuse to withdraw into defence entirely, the whites are all a-gleaming and the sky to my left singing blue. 11.53. If that was our ‘thundershower’, we’ll take it. Utterly *fatal* but we look set ’til lunch, I’m thinking.

As Cross finishes her 14th over – 2 for 37 – South Africa are 84 for 4. Moments later… we are reviewing. Ecclestone against Lee. Given not out. Tight. Umpire’s call, with the ball just clipping leg. So some tension there but we’ve been waiting for Wong, Right?

Here she is. In Classic Wong Mode, in fact. Wide one down leg, swinger, and absolute fizzer that Lee can only edge, rather thickly, behind. It’s the kind of diving catch Amy Jones would expect to claim. She grounds it. But stuff is happening: Ecclestone also drawing false-shots. Could even be that the Wong Energy has lifted this. England up.

Lee may be a bit scrambled. Wong beats her contemptuously outside off – pace and bounce – but the batter’s response seems a bit reckless *for the moment*. One streakily-timed up-and-over and a hard pull which flies powerfully but close to Bell at deep fine.

Drinks, and drama in the air, as opposed to the atmosphere. Weather set fair. South Africa are 103 for 4. Cluster of wickets needed – and not unthinkable.

12.24. Lee has made fairly rapid progress to 31, without convincing any of us. Her partner Sekhukhune is on 15. Wong and Ecclestone still in tandem, in a period that feels like it must pay… and might. 50 partnership, slightly extraordinarily. Then four more. The visitors approach the England total – trail by 15.

Yet another brilliant bit of fielding by Sciver. Diving hard to her left, she not only saves the boundary but takes the ball entirely cleanly, in one hand. But ay-up… a minute later, Cross is shifting under a steepler…

She catches. Lee – who’s played a strange hand, for me – has clipped or clubbed or bittaboth but only succeeded in hoisting over mid-off. Cross does difficult work calmly. Ecclestone, the bowler, is ecstatic. The mighty Kapp is in, but into a Proper Arena, worthy of her.

It’s been a chances and half-chances-fest for about an hour. Maybe since Wong came on. Sure, Cross had claimed the wicket and *actually* Wong’s bowling has been mixed but the threat level, the energy, the focus in the field has all lifted. South Africa are in trouble, at 120-odd for 5, still trailing by 11. (Not going to get into the time/weather scenarios again again but right now we cannot rule out a result in England’s favour).

12.42pm. I look left to see the least friendly cumulowotsits I’ve seen for an hour. Like that Wong is working hard at Kapp – and even giving her a wee glare, when the ball flies through. Kapp! Again, I find myself thinking we’re seeing a really good cricket match; enjoyable; with ‘something on it’. Ecclestone has five catchers round Sekhukhune’s bat. And looks like she may profit at any time.

Wong’s earned her break: Davidson-Richards will replace, at the River End. She comes around at the left-hander. Cross calls for a sleeveless, as a cool, pewter cloud slides in. One from the over, leaving the visitors 1 short of the England total. They get there as Ecclestone teases Kapp with a floater… which is cleanly dispatched, to the extra cover boundary. M.K has gone to 16 in short order.

12.56. We may get rain, in short order. Can we book it for, say, 8 minutes? Does look like a shower, *if anything*. Groundsmen seem more attentive than concerned, to be fair. Last over before nosh will be Ecclestone’s. Kapp facing.

(Sudden thought that timings may have changed… certainly tea has. Will soon know about lunch).

OKAY. AM WRONG. Play continues beyond 1pm – though some concern about *things upstairs*. Raining now, lightly. It deteriorates. They go in.

13.16 pm. Raining bit harder but not conclusively grey all around. Will naturally report back. Lunch officially ‘taken’ at 1.20. meaning possible re-start at 2pm. But raining. But brightness around. So it’s a but-fest.

13.36. Trying *quite hard* to brighten. May stop raining very soon. But there are still buts.

Hearing that the umpires will inspect at 14.40. Looks likely to have been dry for about 40 minutes, by then. Again I feel that time might have been earlier: again the Supersopper machine is working solo, with no other activity towards removing water. (Repeat: not particularly singling out this ground, or this crew, but it’s a fact that there are blokes standing about during this process. So I wonder what else might be done, when time is critical?)

14.40. Here come the umpires. Factoids. All the covers are still on. There’s been no rain for an hour or so. Interestingly, the accuweather forecast is showing improving weather, after 4pm, with the likelihood of precipitation decreasing. The most or more dangerous period, in terms of disruption, is now (and the next hour). Now is unquestionably playable. I’m going outside, to ground level, to take a look.

It’s cool again, out there. Outfield doesn’t look damp. Announcement: ‘there will be a further inspection, if no further rain, at 3.15’.

This is cruelly difficult for everyone. The umpires must be factoring in the reports they’re getting in: otherwise, to be honest, we’d be playing now. (If we could click our fingers and get the covers off, I have no doubt it would be playable now). But there is the both the visible likelihood of rain… and rain on the forecast. I would prefer if they had been playing for half an hour or more – entirely possible – or were saying ‘we will start at 3.15, if there is no further rain’ but understand the predicament. The groundstaff don’t want to be heaving the covers off without the expectation of reasonable lumps of play. The umpires may not have the have the brass or the authority to demand warp-speed activity – may not think it is reasonable. It’s tough. Final word, however, is to reiterate that we have lost playable time, in an especially time-critical event.

Going to try ver-ry hard not to talk about the weather, from here-on in.

15.29. England players are out, warming up with a rugby ball. (*Wales flag and cheesy grin emojis*).

Hearing 50 overs remaining. (49.3 , for you anoraks). Tea shifted. South Africa have just gone ahead, in pure runs, but surely can’t force a win. England could force a win, if something remarkable happens. It would be a shame if we get low-intensity drift early, here – I doubt we will.

Hilariously, as the Mood Music kicks-in, the skies darken again. But we are on. Davidson-Richards has an over to finish: she will bowl to the left-handed Sekhukhune, who had looked vulnerable before the break. Lights are on. Two loose ones (‘looseners?’) sail down leg. Jones can only parry the second one. Kapp gets a bouncer, which she hits well, down to 45. 142 for 5, the lead is 8.

Bell. She’s bowled 11 overs, including four maidens. Still trying to imagine how she gets to world-level, or consistently hurts international opposition: not sure she does, to be honest. Kapp takes three, to extra cover.

Trying the maths. 48 overs remain. South Africa get 3 per over (say). Imagine England must get them out in 20-odd overs, to give themselves something similar to make up any deficit. The visitors persist any longer than that and it’s either a draw, or England have to score quickly – which may be possible but is obviously risky. So The Action has to be now. This must mean Cross and Wong ver-ry soon, yes? And/or Ecclestone, who definitely troubled Sekhukhune. This is ‘all about opinions (Brian)’, but both the degree of urgency and the character and threat-level of the individuals involved points, does it not, to Wong and Cross?

We have Cross now, from the River End. *Destroys* Sekhukhune with yet another killer-length delivery – no nick. Both batters holding firm; looking relatively settled. Bell gets another over. Not much changes.

Stretching for the length that might draw an edge, Cross offers Kapp a near-half-volley. Controlled biff; four to long on. Not much changes. 16.14 and Wong is passing the ump her cap. She will charge from the Marcus Trescothick Pavilion End. Round the wicket to Sekhukhune. 3 slips and a gully; point; catching mid-off; fine leg; mid-on. Will want to bully the batter a little – looked like she didn’t enjoy it, pre- the break.

Sekhukhune flashes and edges and the ball goes aerial, behind. Evades the cordon but a forced error. Kapp has words.

The South African all-rounder is looking confident and strong, ‘offering plenty of bat’ – i.e. backswing and follow-through, in this case – so hitting with force. We have rain. Light. Difficult to say how temporarily.

Wong now has four slips and a gully and no fielder in front on the leg-side. Another edge flies – and another. The second one goes to Ecclestone’s left hand. It’s routine for a good slipper but Eccles is known to be relatively weak – a fabulous bowler, improving with the bat and in the field – but she drops it. Could have been HUGE… but may be forgotten, or irrelevant… because we are off again, for rain. So a decent session for South Africa, who appear to have avoided defeat, now. The rain intensifies.

16.40 pm. Rain persisting. Groundstaff look soaking. South Africa ahead by 48 runs. A theoretical 39 overs remaining. They may well be theoretical.

Just been outside. It feels and sounds like definitively hard rain. But I’m not talking ’bout the weather…

Apropo bugger all, lots of things to like about Taunton. Including the wagtails that kinda wink at you when the outfield is clear.

17.36, we hear in the Media Centre that the captains have agreed to call it a draw. So we’re done.

Friends, thankyou for your company and/or toleration. I’m probably, in truth, too knackered at this precise moment to write intelligent reflections on what this (result) means. So I’m not going to do it. I’m going to get the next available train to Brizzle and chill wiv generous compadres. May come back with more tonight or look at this again – and add to it – on the morrow.

For now – cheers!

You have never been in love…

That’s the ear-worm. And twelve of you might bugger off if I do, indeed confirm that it’s a Morrissey choon, so this is a dangerous start.

Can’t help it. Great song – about gangs/death/faux romance – which would not leave me alone as I walked towards the ground. It’s an L.A. song, I think… and the sun was shining… and my mood is good… so I was singing. Fully accept that Morrissey is a right-wing weirdo as well as a purveyor of the occasional elite-level warble. But hey – cricket.

10.20. Find myself watching Keightley (Eng Coach) slinging at Sciver, in the nets. An assistant coach also throwing. Couldn’t hear any conversations but plainly (given match situation, weather, time) Sciver and England will be looking for a short, possibly very short blast, this morning. Rain is more convincingly in the forecast so there is simply no way to chase out a win if England bat for an extended period, today. They have to go boom and look to skittle the South Africans for a paltry total.

There were a couple of things that were interesting about Sciver’s wee hit. 1. She wasn’t practicing explosive hitting. 2. The England Coach’s throw-downs were pretty average, to be honest. So the net was only a very gentle warm-through, which may be absolutely fine and appropriate. Or it may be an under-achievement?

10.35 ongoing. Full squad warm-up, for England. Visiting bowlers to my left, building up. Spinners and seamers. Soon Bell and Wong are on the opposite strip, cranking up for their own Big Moment – although there is just the chance that Wong may be offered a brief licence to thrill (with the bat) pre- her bowling onslaught.

10.50. Ground clearing. Do I have time to step outside and phone me bruv? Yes.

He doesn’t answer!

Big dark cloud appears along with the ‘mood music’. (Nice work, god). Out walk Ecclestone – Davidson-Richards out the LAST BALL, yesterday – and the Mighty Sciver. One ball to face from Sekhukhune. Slight edge towards gully but short of.

De Klerk bowls full, at Sciver and is driven calmly, straight for four – middled and just pushed. Ecclestone plays solidly at the final ball: no dramas. Think on the one hand de Klerk may be a little unlucky to be wicketless, after 24 overs. But on t’other, these have been seamer-friendly conditions; she may be disappointed to have missed out. Kapp, now, from Trescothickville.

Analysis on the telly suggesting Ar Marizanne may have been bowling too wide, for the most part, yesterday. Surely a plan… but it only worked in terms of her miserly economy. (9 maidens).

In *genuinely brilliant* sunshine, Ecclestone is swinging hard at de Klerk. Thick edge. Four. Then more of that slightly ungainly, hopeful clubbing and an inside edge. England’s finest spinner may not persist too long, I think. Predictably. No real sense that the home side are ramping up the intent.

Kapp too good for Ecclestone but the no 8 survives: 338 for 6, England. Sciver on 125. Some village action: slow-motion fumbles and overthrows. Been almost none of that but gifts to the score not good, right now. Luus unimpressed but more broadly, this lowish-energy stuff from England may be a misread of the situation. Unless the squad meteorologist knows something we don’t? Conditions not easy but Sciver and Ecclestone are not into One Day Mode, yet. Begging the question.

What’s the plan, England? Is everything on your bowling performance? Are you thinking (Knighty, Keightley) that the only way to win is to whip up an irresistible frenzy via Cross and Wong and Bell and get them all out 100? Is that the idea? (No particular problem with that but maybe do that as well as attacking hard right now?) This first half hour smacks of relative conservativism, from England: conflicted, ’bout that.

350 up, at 11.34. Ecclestone has 11, Sciver 131. Sciver guides Sekhukhune through extra and Bosch chases hard to gather… almost. Further poor ball is crunched for four more, by Ecclestone. ‘Shots’ being played rather than dynamic, hurry-up cricket. Bosch, from the river. Draws an error but no catcher at short extra.

Our first spin. Mlaba’s left-arm orthodox. From the Marcus Trecothick Pavilion End. Know I’m dealing in the absract – really? Moi? – but given that BOTH SIDES maybe needed to be stonkingly dynamic in this session, this is too quiet, from both. (More an observation than a criticism).

Then, nearly. Bosch is swinging it, Ecllestone is swinging at it, and there’s a ver-ry sharp c & b chance. Bosch can’t hold on. A look at the replay confirms it was barely a chance… and the non-striker was close to being caught out of her ground. Rubbing salt, Sciver smashes one up and over the bowler for another boundary. 150 follows, for the vice-captain. She is beginning to dance down threateningly.

In other news, I almost need my shades on, to look out at the strip. Stunningly bright!

England are a hundred ahead, and maybe the button has been pressed. Ecclestone hitting with violent liberation – good. 6-3 field, South Africa bowling wide; right that batters are freeing their arms.

12 noon: 387 for 6. A second fielding error; maybe the visitors aren’t as laser-focused as they might be. Need to be. Drinks.

We re-start with Kapp having changed ends; now in from the river. More cloud but still pleasant, if not ‘summery’. Drinks of course will have provided both teams with the opportunity to revisit strategy – to talk, in other words. There is context, here; more for England than the opposition, perhaps.

Last Test Match (here, v Aus) both camps took some flak – less so from me, than from the Media Posse generally – for ‘slowness’ in the game. It struck some as turgid and there was a consensus around a general accusation of drift and failure to chase a result. Keightley and Knight would deny it, but they will be a) conscious of that and b) trying to think ‘independently’. Also – and again this may or may not be relevant – the England Blokes are on a Mission to Set Test Cricket Alight. So not easy to justify timidity.

To be clear, England are not being timid. And we/I may have under-estimated them, in terms of limiting the possibilities. I have at no point suggested that England might GO BIG, to bank on a single innings being enough… and it now looks like this, too, is a legitimate route towards victory. As they go into the 400s, that becomes a live consideration.

As I have that thought, Ecclestone is lbw to Mlaba, going back. So 414 for 7. She made a creditable 35.

The game lurches on. Cross is run out, having left her ground at the non-striker’s end. England declare, with Sciver on 169 not out.

Honestly not sure where that places all my theories! As so often, feels bit like events have triggered the declaration more than strategy ever did(?) Interesting. England are 133 ahead, the weather looks okay in the shortish term, but gievn this total, they *really will* need to decimate South Africa to give themselves time to nick a win tomorrow. The slack handful of overs pre-lunch will be important, yes? Here they come.

Pleased that Bell will open – even if she may be less likely than Cross, (or Wong?) to strike. Steyn is facing. Bell is on the money; first three balls about where you would want to place them. A little in-swing, too. (In fact, post telly-consultation, generous swing). But Steyn gets her away for two, to settle those nerves, and the over passes without high drama. Now it’s Cross.

Sharp contrasts aboundeth. Bright flannels, dark or darkening skies. Cross is going boldly full – looking good, as she did, yesterday. Wolvaardt nails a wide-ish one, mind; emphatic four. 6 for 0 after 2.

Bell in good nick. And also getting that cherry right up there. We all know this may cost her some runs, if the batters can drive, but the swing is a threat, as is her energy, today.

It’s Cross who makes the breakthrough, with a deliciously full delivery that drifts away late. Sciver pockets a sharpish catch: Steyn the victim, for 3. Then a review against Goodall (as I watch the hills beyond, for rain). Batter nicked it. Think it may actually be raining, as predicted, as Wong prepares…

And we’re off. 12.53. Very much as the forecasters called it. Notably cool draft crept into the Media Centre just as this shower came in. It’s now 13 degrees (I’m guessing) in here… and 11 degrees and ver-ry wet out there. Set for a while.

13.34 pm. Covers being unpeeled. Still plenty cloud but looks hopeful – i.e. play almost certain/duration uncertain but meaningful lump looks possible. No word about a resumption but 2 pm seems likely.

Ah. Correction. They’re shaking, adjusting and mopping the covers, not removing. But still think play is not too far away…

OK. Watching the guys work, on the covers. The fabric has collected a lot of water but the general environment looks fine. By that I mean the outfield and the atmosphere: dry above us and the grass should be playable, given the quality of the drainage on grounds such as this. It’s playable now but (understandably) the groundstaff only have one supermopper (or whatever it’s called), so the systematic clearing of the four wings of the covers is taking time. If they had four moppers – or another way to collect & remove the standing water – it feels like we could be ready to go immediately.

(If I’m being dumb or disrespectful to anybody – apologies. Not my intention. Not sitting here frustrated; not being judgemental. Just seems reasonable to, yaknow, report. Never really thought much about how efficient, or otherwise these operations are. Or whether someone is doing it better somewhere else(?)

14.00 on the dot. Umps walking out for a look. Covers still all down. Bit fascinated now, as to whether they have been advised of incoming weather. Debatable, that. Looks like they be consulting some website, along with local staff. To be blunt, if covers could have been removed, I’m thinking we might be playing now – so yeh, some frustration. (But I don’t have their information). Would add, finally, that body-language out there is not suggesting a quick resumption, despite the prevailing conditions – which seem okay.

14.07 pm. Update: sheets being removed. Further inspection in ten minutes. Pressed for a Judgement, I’m saying coulda happened quicker.

More consultations. Am gonna run down to get as close a look as possible at the surface.

14.23. Been to pitch level. Conspiracy theory brewing.

Think this has been playable for about 40 minutes. Seeing little in the way of urgency. Have no knowledge of whether umps/England/South Africa or the groundstaff are stalling – or ‘are advised’ of incoming weather. (Can see no incoming weather, from up in the Media Centre). So let’s air the possibility that (in a sexist universe) blokes aren’t really getting their fingers out. If this was a Bloke’s Test Match, might we be ready by now? Or 40 minutes ago? Happy to ask these essentially inflammatory questions… ‘cos someone should. Time is everything in this, and feels like time has been wasted.

Lot of concern seems to be being expressed re- the cut strips either side of the playing strip. I’m thinking bollocks. There is now way this is unsafe. Get playing.

Official update: ‘further inspection at 2.50’ with a view to starting at 3.05. An hour later than we might have done but will be good to get going. (Of course satellites showing ‘rain around’ so all subject to uncontrollables).

Anecdotal update: have just put my shades on… because (yup) it looks bright out there – for now.

15.012. So. Another set of warm-ups to look at. England bowlers, in particular. Wong out first; raising that left knee, slamming down the medicine ball then bowling with increasing intensity. Joined by Bell, then Davidson-Richards and Sciver. Even bowling on the outer strip, at (presumably) a tad below match ferocity, all the seamers were getting notable swing, suggesting a spiky return for South Africa. Nine overs lost in the day. On we go. With Wong.

First ball flies past Beaumont at short square leg. Probably too quick to be catchable. Wolvaardt can jog down to face. Cute, slow yorker – Wong is certainly fearless in terms of ‘trying things’. The batter drills her nicely, though, straight. Four. 14 for 1, South Africa, as Cross continues from the River End.

Now Bell is going at and across Goodall, with three slips and a gully. Good, even contests all round, at the moment. Bat and ball where it should be. Cross generously full but Wolvaardt can check-drive. Two. Intense cloud directly beyond the River End. On the wee hills. Plate of more threatening stuff just coming over, like some prototype, low-budget Galactic Battleship in grey cardboard. *Don’t think* it’s gonna drop on us but can’t rule that out.

Beauty from Bell; too good for Goodall to get a nick. But encouraging. Stadium lights come on. From the other end, Cross almost gets through Wolvaardt: again the sense that the bowler’s speed is good and that she’s slapping hard into the pitch. Weather approaching – can see a shower over the River Stand. *May* pass narrowly by. In any case England need a breakthrough; need a cluster.

Raining now. Goodall scurrying, in advance of the decision. Umps call her back. Impressive but possibly painful bit of footwork, as Bell saves straight (potential) runs. Weather around but we’re getting away with it, for now. Umpires consulting, and the players walk off. It’s notably leaden – ominously so.

I nip outside. Ver-ry light rain is falling. So the England players loiter. The visiting batters have scarpered, giving you some idea of the relative imperatives. Again *to be fair*, people are probably looking at satellite information as well as the skies immediately around. It duly rains ‘properly’ and the covers are dragged out. Within a couple of minutes, it’s clear that significant damage is done to prospects for the day – and therefore to the match. Shame. We may get back on, later, but there will need to be utter carnage for this Test to be winnable, for either side.

15.52. Not raining hard – more quietly insistently. Meaning it must stop, within a few minutes, if we’re to get any more action. Cake into the Media Centre; cue the arrival of 42 people… who we haven’t seen… since cake arrived yesterday.

15.56. I think we’re done, here.

(Nom, nom…)

16.19 pm. Brightish and clearish. Anybody heard an announcement?

16.42. Sitting outside, looking at gloom advancing from my left, check out accuweather. Says rain in two minutes. It’s smack on.

17.09. Weirdly, it’s *quite bright*, but raining. And given that the rain has been substantial of late, I cannot now see how we might get back on. Knight has been out there to get in the match referee’s ear – admittedly when we were dry, temporarily – but the outfield will now be sopping. I can see it stopping soooon… but without it making a jot of difference. So maybe I’ll try to make brief sense of a frustrating day.

South Africa were less impressive, in the field, than yesterday. Just couldn’t find that something to unsettle or unseat Sciver or even Ecclestone, whom I maintain is a fabulous tryer and improver but no great shakes with the bat. England declared after two quick wickets, on 417 but really might have gotten substantially more, if Cross had stayed attentive (or been less ambitious) at the non-striker’s, or Wong had come in and smashed for half an hour.

I do wonder if England’s ‘strategy’ fell between about five philosophical stools – yeh, o-kaaaay – all of which were unceremoniously kicked over in that ungainly denouement. Did they really plan to go boom… or go longer and bank entirely on a bowling rampage? Unclear. And suspect England may have been unclear.

Talking of clarity, the day has brightened – possibly cruelly – into a medium-pleasant afternoon. Surely not?

South Africa remain 106 runs behind. With 9 wickets remaining. Met Office saying 60% chance of rain from 2 tomorrow afternoon. So things point to it being academic: draw. All of us robbed by time and weather.

But it *really is* better, here. Supermopper busy collecting, rope being dragged across the outfield. If, miraculously, we got an hour’s play it’s possible we might see 5 wickets… or none. And about two runs per over.

Hearing all the incredible complexities around length of play, given this or that, from ECB staff. In short, we may go to eight o’clock(!), ‘if a result is possible’. 7.30pm is, if I understand things correctly, likely. And the sky looks good. And they are flicking water off, with that rope. And where’s that f***ing coffee!!

17.40-something. They have removed one cover. Umpires looking at the cut strip formerly beneath that cover. No rain for what feels like some time – whatever that means – sky helpful. Decision imminent.

Decision postponed til 18.15 ‘when the covers will have been removed’. Some play likely but questions:

Is there a better system, than this? One Supersopper? (Nationally-important venue; whole approach seems archaic).

Have these guys – groundstaff/everybody – been as urgent as they might have been? (I think not, to be honest).

Update: if they decide to play – any second now – they can play ’til 7.30pm tonight.

Update: start time of 18.30. Thirteen overs will be played tonight – including the over that was in progress when play delayed, earlier. More warm-ups – whoooppeeee!!

Then WOW, Bell is actually bowling. Short of a length; patted down, by Wolvaardt. Under, erm, *grey cloud*, we are. Bell draws a thickish outside edge as the batter forces – but safely down towards third man. So no dramas, and Kate Cross. England need some inspiration. Goodall to face.

Both batters looking solid. Goodall – the leftie – will get three off a neat on-drive.

A-and, we have rain. Drizzle. Wolvaardt is forward defiantly but coolly, to Bell. They play on, and Cross beats Goodall twice in succession, with dual-pearlers. The batter again responds with a slick drive, this time to off, when Cross over-pitches. A second straight drive also brings three, but Cross is absolutely right to go full and she’s clocking up to 70 – her maximum.

Wong replaces Bell, underneath us. Looks like we will get through the rain.

When Cross goes across Goodall, she squirts one low at gully: Sciver stops and gathers cleanly, brilliantly. *Player*. (Wet ball; had just been thinking fielders will need to be bright. A dropped catch would feel deeply painful).

Wong has been flirting with leg-stump to get Beaumont (short square) in play. She lashes one down that same line – possibly outside. Goodall falls across it and glances; Jones dives to catch. No disputing, the batter walks. At 44 for 2, Luus, the captain, marches out, into manifestly challenging conditions. Wolvaardt has 15. Sciver will come in for Cross, at the River End.

Wong tries to bluff Wolvaardt. Nobody in front of square on the on-side. Bowls two bouncers – one pretty straight. Batter not liking. Umpire Redfern a bit concerned Wong is running on the pitch. Then BIG MOMENT: Wolvaardt tamely pokes at a short, wide one. Caught (inevitably) by Sciver at gully – another good catch. Could see that coming – the batter plainly disconcerted by Wong’s pace and bounce. 45 for 3… and interesting. South Africa still 88 behind.

Sekhukhune is in and must grit her teeth. Wong arches and unleashes but the bouncer is waaay tooo high – a wide. But the message is sent. A wildish, legside short one follows, but it’s legal. (Suspect that South Africa may not like – and may even have words about – this ‘short pitched barrage’, in these conditions. Not. Much. Fun. Just two overs remain.

Sciver, from the river. (*Cheesy grin emoji). Little bit of away-swing. Draws an edge… but does fall short of Ecclestone, at second slip.

Wong will bowl the last over or the day. How fabulous for her – and how healthy, for England? She finishes with 2 for 8 off 6 overs and will feel pret-ty good about life, I imagine. It’s been a long, disjointed kindofa day. But perhaps, at 55 for 3, with South Africa still 78 behind, we have a live game?

Back tomorrow to see.

Taunton: Day 2.

Here an hour before; been watching. Watching clouds sleep – or certainly not move much – and watching England go through drills. England bat, come 11 am but we’re seeing slip cordon action (fairly low intensity, to be honest), plus a Proper Fielding Session for Freya Davies and Charlie Dean.

Was quite interested to see that one of the England coaches was not merely warming Davies and Dean through, but checking in on technical things – looking to improve gathering/throwing/targeting. Maybe coach felt he could load these girls up with new stuff because they aren’t playing; i.e. they have the head space to reflect, unlike the women who have to get their Game Heads on for the imminent (batting) action. Fair enough.

As time goes on, the Eng squad stay in Generic Movement Mode, interestingly, doing prolonged shuttles/medicine ball slams/stretches, very much as though they were about to gallivant round the park as per yesterday.

10.45. Have seen nobody batting out here – so presume Beaumont and Lamb (the England openers) have had a hit indoors. Beaumont and (no 3) Knight have been out here running and all. As the sun kicks in, I note that South Africa have been largely absent from the outfield… which feels a little weird. The start is almost upon us. As usual, I’ve got a view almost straight down the strip.

Personal notes (well, o-kaaaay, most of them are): may write less, today… and maay be a bit less spritely around the ground. Achilles playing up a bit… and, dwarlinks, it’s a long day if I don’t stop writing.

But I might not stop.

Umps. Kids. ‘Mood Music’. We’re ready. The Goddess, Kapp (too mischievous? Still thinking on that) will bowl, to Lamb. Repeat: cloudy and coolish. Jafta is keeping, slips are Luus, Steyn and Bosch, with Lee at gully.

Lamb is off the mark. Kapp getting some away-swing: anecdotally, not looking as quick as Cross, who started from that River End yesterday. Quiet over, 1 from it, then we have de Klerk. Medium-pace, at first look: both opening bowlers going right-arm over.

4 for 0 with no alarms, after 3. Kapp bowling with nobody between mid on and a wide-ish fine leg. Ditto de Klerk, but Beaumont cutely penetrates the heavily-protected off-side, cutting for four.

5th over. Sekhukhune replaces Kapp, at the River End. Change of ends… or trying to mix this up, early doors? England are looking a tad more comfortable than the visitors would like, given the bowl-friendly environment. Some wobble in the air for the bowler but right arm over and… is this all a bit samey? Kapp has changed ends.

Kids in the crowd – yes, they were on my train again – are loving every run. Beaumont looking sharp; clips for two then untroubled by a leg-side (attempted) bouncer. 12 for 0 after 6 and England must be liking this.

De Klerk continues, now from the River End. Mid-sixties mph. Beaumont’s first moment of discomfort is being hit on the back of the thigh by an incoming throw, as she races to the keeper’s end. No danger – just a giggle, a friendly acknowledgement and a bruise.

Ok. It’s early but I’m already aware, as Beaumont drills de Klerk rather beautifully for four, of the absence of a certain South African. True, there were three who pulled out of this adventure *just before* the Test but it’s Ismail I’m thinking of. Shabnim Ismail is an athlete, a spikyish personality and a quick bowler. Importantly, she thinks she’s a Properly Quick Bowler. Has attitude. People stick labels like ‘bloody-minded’ to her. She’s a threat, she’s edgy. They’re missing that.

Kapp is working away, mind – and she’s experienced and determined. Has a committed lb shout, at Beaumont but the review shows bat. Not out. 22 for 0, England, after 10.

De Klerk is generating enough pace to bounce waaay over Lamb’s head. Wide ball. We’re back into greyish light so conditions still allegedly favour the fielding side – they just don’t look that way. Both Lamb and Beaumont looking set: could be a question of whether they can continue to apply heavyweight concentration over hours, not overs. 32 for 0, after 12 overs: Beaumont on 20, Lamb on 9.

Poor, wide ball from de Klerk is easily guided away by Lamb. Four through cover. Bowler over-compensates a little and Lamb glides to fine leg, just for the one. (There is still some movement off the pitch and through the air, for South Africa: but the batters seem to have it covered). The kids go wild, as a genuine away-swinger from de Klerk is bunted calmly out through point. Four.

Sekhukhune starts what we imagine will be a legitimate spell, from underneath us (in the Trescothick Stand), having bowled a single over from t’other end. She gets swing, but it’s wide, and Lamb reaches to middle it out through cover, for another four.

50 up, for England, for no loss, as Lamb – who is growing into this – claims two off the new bowler, Bosch. Dangerous time for the South Africans, as both batters look to score a little more freely. At drinks, England are a very solid 54 for 0. 15 overs.

12.12 And the lights are on. Not sure it’s any gloomier than previously, but presumably something meaningful has triggered that. (Rain forecast by Met Office, around 5pm. Hoping the current status – grey-but-playable – persists ’til then, at least).

Minor error at last, from Lamb, but the ball falls well short of second slip. Sekhukhune the bowler.

*Slightly from nowhere*, Beaumont is lbw, to Bosch. A little away-swing, in the air, perhaps, and Beaumont’s long wipe down to contact is a millisecond slow. Wasn’t clear, momentarily, if she would review, but off she marches. 65 for 1… and enter the captain.

Beaumont made a good-looking 28. As Knight joins us, her opening partner is on 33. There is some encouragement for the bowlers, at 20 overs, even with a softening ball, because everybody is getting some swing, or cut. (All of which again points me to That Absence: Ismail’s extra yard of pace might really have made her a challenging, even spiteful opponent, today). As it is, Bosch is doing okay… but Knight biffs a full-toss ver-ry straight, for four, to get off the mark.

Did I mention I think Heather Knight is a top, top player – a kind of undemonstrative worldie? Well she is.

Ooof. Bosch has bowled Lamb, with one that swung away a little, then cut back off the strip. Fine delivery and a reminder that care is needed, from the England batters. Momentum has changed, certainly – as it probably should have done, in these conditions – as the visitors finally make inroads. 74 for 2, as Sciver joins her skipper.

Kapp is on. It’s 12.38, cloudy and cool. Ball is ‘doing stuff’. Important time, in the game. Should probably note that Bosch now has 2 for 18 off her 5 overs. Kapp, though, of all people, will want to rise to this. She is at 67mph, going at Sciver.

Another bowling change but Sekhukhune is met by a bullish slash-pull, from the imperious, intimidating vice-captain. Smashes through midwicket for four. (Sciver is a) another worldie and b) arguably the hardest-hitting player in the women’s game. However, next ball is a slightly streaky, aerial hoist over gully – a minor ‘victory’ for the bowler).

Good contest now, as we watch three of the top ten players in world cricket – Kapp/Sciver/Knight – tussle this one out, ’til lunch. Slight sense that rain *may be* closer: somehow adds to the brew.

Yesterday, the weather (the wind) was coming palpably and rather strongly from my left: clouds are still easing away as though that’s still the case but flags to my right are fickle. Either less wind, or less clear what’s occurring. Whatever; summery, it ain’t.

Loose one from Kapp is flicked off the hip by Knight. At 12.56, de Klerk starts another over from the River End. Last one? Or one more? Sciver’s shop appears shut. But we’ll get one more. Kapp will bowl it.

She beats Knight, outside off. Replay confirms it was a beauty: back of hand, wristy, swinging and leaving *just enough*. The bowler finds 70 mph and the brilliant (and brilliantly doughty) England captain feels the moment, a little, prodding a wee bit at balls that she might do well to leave. But she gets to the interval.

England are 86 for 2, with both Knight and Sciver not out 8.

A fleck or twelve, of rain, during lunch. But playable-plus, as the protagonists return. De Klerk will bowl to Sciver.

JESUS! England’s two best players (probably) have somehow contrived a first ball run-out! Sciver drops one off her hip and they run. Knight is not quick: she is, however, fabulously determined, so launches her dive from, well, a week last Wednesday. BUT SHE IS OUT. From England’s captain and vice-captain. First ball after lunch. It’s scandalously poor. Impossible to know who said what and therefore arguable as to which party is most culpable but bloo-dee Nora. Poor.

Dunkley is in. She can play and given the *weather about* over the next two/three days it may be pertinent to note that she can – like Sciver – score quickly. (Already obvious that time out of the game in a four day Test works fairly heavily against the win, yes?) Sciver and Dunkley (and possibly the flighty Amy Jones) are the players England might look to for something dynamic or even game-changing. But the current grain runs t’other way. Seamer’s weather and South Africa on the up.

They’ve quietened the kids.

Sekukhune is sharing with de Klerk. Steady. The first-named bowler offers Dunkley a gift, short and wide, which the batter accepts, taking the home side past the 100. In other news; wondering who’s been throwing chips out for the gulls: they are wheeling ominously, over a particular sector. 105 for 3, after 36, England.

Shot of the Day candidate, as Dunkley absolutely creams one out through extra, from Sekhukhune. Little bit of width but the ball did swing noticeably, so fine, fine stroke. The sense ju-ust developing that Dunkley is beginning to manouevre the bowling around. She has 17 and Sciver 19, as we enter the 40th over. Team score is now 118.

We see Mlaba – slow left arm – for the first time, from the Marcus Trescothick End. Mixed. Four from the over. Bosch will follow.

She has Dunkley, swishing a little, at another good out-swinger. Caught slip. The batter looks particularly disconsolate as she trudges off… but the ball was artful and tricky. Amy Jones will come in, at 120 for 4.

Have written many times about Jones’s talent and her propensity for *generosity*. Here, Mlaba bowls her for nought with an innocuous delivery (to be honest) – a straight one – which she contrives to play right around. It’s an odd, disappointing dismissal, from the England point of view. And the batter will know better than anyone that she’s had a few of those. Five down, England, with South Africa significantly ahead.

So 44 overs done. Bosch returning. She has stats of 3 for 18 off 7 as she comes in. Mlaba is 1 for 5, off 3.

Sciver is plenty good enough to counter-attack but awaits the moment. Davidson-Richards has joined her – another debutant(e). At drinks England are 125 for 5. Skies may have softened, a little, but the forecast still says rain is more likely later. So if England merely hold, they may not be able to regain the initiative – should they choose to do that.

The game is drifting, or is it stalling? Are England unable to stir against the flow (yes), or South Africa unable to press home their advantage? (Yes). So, was this/is this quiet period a fortuitous time to have a Set-the-World-Straight kindofa conversation with Cricket Folk Hero(ine) Annie Chaves?

Oh yes. Lovely to meet you, Annie.

Davidson-Richards has dug in there, understandably: 5 from 25. And Sciver is playing a longish game. As I look up she has 38 off 96. No issues. But will the thing that gives here be the reintroduction of Kapp, or Sciver flicking the turbo? Players on both sides must be starting to factor in remaining time and likely weather: it’s very much to their credit that an Ismail, Khaka and Tryon-less South Africa are the team who might reasonably be expecting to press on towards a win. (I write this paragraph and Kapp returns, from in front of me. *Cheesy-grin emoji*).

Kapp gets bounce – without necessarily being quick, she gets bounce. Her natural length is maybe shorter than some but without looking immediately special, she is drawing the batters into danger. They know she is a worldie; they know she makes things happen. She beats Sciver. The skies look better now, at 3.30, than they did an hour ago.

Sciver gets to 50 off a walking drive. It’s a half-volley, arguably, but again Bosch has it swinging, with that slightly round-arm action. Moments later, Sciver does it again. Decent work from both players, given the risk/reward game in play, currently.

Hey. *In pale sunshine*, we have the South African skipper turning her arm: River End. Blimey. She looks a ‘part-timer’. A dreadful drag-down gets clattered. (D-Richards). Nine come from the over. Will she bring herself off?

Mlaba follows. At tea, we are 176 for 5. 62 overs bowled. So yes… Luus is off.

We resume. Luus brings herself back on, to try and find some rhythm with that leg-spin. She does okay, and then sticks with the slow bowling, as Mlaba offers her left arm version from Trescothickville. Should have noted earlier that Sciver and Davidson-Richards passed the 50 partnership-mark. Weather doesn’t look to be deteriorating with any urgency (yet), so they will look to build and possibly accelerate.

Mlaba thinks she’ nearly gotten through D-Richardson. Am not sure it was that close but no issues with the bowler willing it to happen. (Inside edge, towards fine leg). The deficit is now under a hundred, as England approach 190. Most of the kids have now left us: polite ripples now, rather than sqweamy excitement.

England have Ecclestone, Cross, Wong and Bell in the hutch. Ecclestone (for me) can’t bat (despite recent improvements that smack of honest hard work) but might hit an agricultural twenty. Cross can bat but is less powerful. Wong has been opening in short forms, so could crack a few, sharpish. Bell may not contribute significantly. In short the two batters in there will probably be thinking that they need to get England close, before attacking. But what’s close?

200 up. (84 behind). Is that close? Do England charge NOW, to get somewhere near quickly and offer themselves time tonight (if there is a tonight) to break open the South African order? (I don’t think they’ll go this early – despite the time/consciousness imperative-thing). If they continue as of now – around 3 an over – England will barely be level come the close. I wonder if they’ll build to 250 then explode.

The other factor is the new ball, in 7 overs.

217 for 5 after 73. The hundred partnership now up. De Klerk is slamming a couple of short ones in, at Davidson-Richardson. She is watchfully middling them.

Possible gear-change as Sciver dances down and steers Luus just over mid-on. (First deliberately aerial strike, from memory). Her partner has a look at Luus, with one needed for her debut fifty… can’t find the gap.

Davidson-Richards gets the single she needs, off Mlaba, dropping into the vacant slip area. She’ll be chuffed – deservedly – England were in some strife when she marched in there. Batters are in One Day Mode (or similar) bunting and running consistently. At 243 for 5, after 79, England are 51 runs behind the visitors. New ball due, next over. Sciver into the 90s.

New ball taken; Bosch has the privilege. Approaching 5 pm: skies greyer but rain not imminent, I would say. Kapp inevitably follows Bosch. She hasn’t been sensational – unlike yesterday – but Kapp’s figures are 12 overs, 6 maidens, 0 for 18. She slings one in at 71 mph, which defeats Sciver outside off-stump. It’s tidy… and quietly tense. Make that 7 maidens.

Davidson-Richards is hitting hard and clean: Bosch dispatched. At the (rather unnecessary?) drinks break, Sciver is on 93 and D-Richardson has 67 of England’s 260 for 5. If I’m betting, I’m on this staying uninterrupted through to close. Odds on England actively looking to smash then bowl, tonight? Against. Now think they will strive for a smallish lead then declare early tomorrow, hoping to storm through South Africa in more, seam-friendly conditions.

Kapp, from the Marcus Trescothick End. Tellingly, another maiden. De Klerk is hopeful but Davidson-Richards times one out beyond cover, then holds the pose with another that screams out through extra. Impressive. Sciver joins in by clubbing Kapp over midwicket – not timed, but two. A more satisfying connection takes the England vice-captain to 99 – four, through square leg – before the ton is up via a drop and run. World’s greatest all-rounder? Well the current bowler might have something to say about that but hey. Sciver. IS. A. Worldie!

After 86 overs, England are close: 275 plays 284. I don’t, as some of you will know, *do perspective*, but lemme try:

England had to be strong favourites coming into this. Home Test; cool, grey conditions; South Africa lose two frontline bowlers and an all-rounder. But the visitors have matched the home side. The level of play has been high, across all three disciplines. Cross and Kapp were genuinely outstanding, on day one. Sciver and Davidson-Richards have been excellent today but Bosch and de Klerk have shown well, too. In short this is a good, competitive game.

Overnight, both camps will be plotting – whilst trying to avoid checking on satellite imagery every ten minutes. The Four Day framing of this thing, the weather and the series points context will offer challenges and markers – however fickle – towards team strategy.

No point in mithering about a Day Five: look to win but be realistic. In England’s case, tomorrow, get Wong fired-up, Bell comfortable and Cross ready to bowl plenty. Find a way to disrupt the visitors, even if the match itself becomes disrupted. Will be fascinating to see which players respond to the squeezed, or frustrating, or difficult circumstances.

300 up, for England. 17.44 pm. Rain-free. Davidson-Richards hastening towards a debut ton. Lots of good things. (Perhaps I should apologise for my concern – of yesterday, or someday – that because of absences and tough playing conditions, this Test might be of ‘mixed quality’. Wrong. It’s been solidly entertaining, and played to a consistently high standard). As if to rubber-stamp all that, Davidson-Richards has clattered another boundary to go beyond the hundred. On debut. In a Test Match. Fabulous effort.

Now a 200-run partnership. Extraordinary. (This is not Extraordinary Partnership weather!)

Sciver plays another dreamy, bottom-handed drive through midwicket: gets two, deserves twelve, for style-points. The lead approaches fifty. The sky is still benign-ish. I can still get a train that leaves Taunton at 19.27 but which arrives in Bristol before the 19.14 departure. ‘Cos life is good, eh? Think my hobble to the station may even be a dry one. Because life is gooood.

Ah. Bringing out the #lifesrichwotnots thing because Davidson-Richards has biffed a poor LAST BALL OF THE DAAAY, from Sekhukhune, straight to point. (So, I suppose more #extraordinary!)

Madness or tiredness or fatefulness, or something. Doesn’t make much difference to the state of the game – and may not even make much difference to the quality of D-R’s day. She’s in the record books; she’s contributed; go get the woman a glass of something bubbly. Meanwhile, I’m re-posting the (final) thought that this has been enjoyable, watchable stuff.

Until tomorrow, people. 😎

Hello Taunton.

News: England have won the toss and are bowling. What’s more, a thrillingly left-field possibility lurches towards us: Wong and Bell *could well open up*. Might argue that neither are quite ready for it, but a weakened South Africa side, cloudy skies and the Shrubsole-and-Brunty-sized hole in the universe makes this a real contender. Really hope Knight/Keightley come over all un-Englishly Baztastic, here.

It looks a seamer’s dream. Major cloud cover with occasional bright spells. Cool. Pitch looks greenish. people, I reckon I might be a threat out there. (Ancient and crocked, but right-arm medium-formerly-quick, since you ask). Quick bowlers will be able to bowl spells and expect some joy. Will suit the electrifying Bell and Wong combo, as well as the winkle-merchants Cross and Sciver. I tweeted earlier that South Africa might be 120 all out and it does feel possible.

10.48. Sudden gloom descendeth. Borderline.

In other news. Who wrote the four hour ECB(?) Mission Against Everything Nasty statement? (The one they read out before matches). Weird and plainly counter-productively endless. I’m a decent, strongish anti-racist woke leftie – so support! – but surely there’s a better way – one that doesn’t smack so heavily of every box being ticked.

OK. Long week ahead. Sit back. Players may well walk into rain… or straight off.

This is going to be so-o tough, for South Africa. Maybe for everybody. Cool. Fresh breeze. Lots of greenness and greyness… and a little glamourous redness: a young woman who seems likely to belt out the anthem?

The girl dun gud. Longish versions – certainly of the South African job. Players stood about for *some time*, however.

Love Kate Cross and respect her. But bit cowardly to open with her… & Sciver next? Why not go, go, go, with Bell and Wong? Even if this works it’s a missed opportunity.

Some bounce. Wolvaardt clips to midwicket for two. The photographers – four of them, now, six feet in front of me but outside – have coats on.

Bell will bowl from the Trescothick End. So right in front of me. Starts with a ver-ry slow slower ball. Warms to her task. One notable in-swinger and an lb shout at Wolvaardt. But maybe not a full tilt? South Africa untroubled at 4 for 0 after 2.

Cross is a lovely, fluent athlete. She may be bowling as quickly as her partner, here. Bounce and carry but arguably ‘pretty’ rather than threatening. Dare she go fuller? May need to. Do rate her but think she’s a bowler of excellent, longish spells to force errors rather than killer balls. (None of this is a criticism; just maybe should have bowled later, for me). No dramas. It’s brightened.

Bell does have an in-swinger – of almost Shrubsolian proportions. Seeing it now. An *optimistic* appeal. No.

Cross sorts one. She’s looking good… and going full… and straight… and Steyn watches as it hits off-stick. Rather calamitous, for the batter but a peach, nevertheless. Steyn made 8. On reflection, one of few balls that would actually have hit the stumps – not that this is the only consideration for an opening bowler.

Word may have got back to Bell, who is bowling boldly full, now. It’s costing her a run or two but Knight will live with that, I suspect. 20 for 1 after 6. The 52 kids who were sat on top of me on the train from Temple Meads are giving it some. Teacher needs to tell ’em it’s a long day. 11.30 and it’s bright – and crucially a wall of solid, summertastic blue to our left. (Weather coming from there).

Bell is ver-ry tall and slim. Run-up and general flow looks bit coached, perhaps, as though she’s *really looking* for discipline. Wouldn’t mind a bit of rawness and pace, myself, while she has it.

Cross has two slips – Knight and Ecclestone, interestingly – with Sciver at gully. Left-hander Goodall has a wildish swish at a wide one. OO-oohhs, but no. Wonderfully, the weather looks set… for a while, at least.

Wong replaces Bell, who’s done okay but might have wanted more stuff to happen. Whatever, those two really may be The Future… and they both have time. Issy W gets through her first over in the whites of Ingerland neatly enough: got a couple right up there. Cross continues from the River End.

Those kids – bless ’em – are loving it… but maybe not, understandably the it that is the *actual game*. The shouting is defiantly off-kilter, at about 78 degrees to what’s happening – you know – out there. It’s great but they’re gonna be knackered by lunch.

Wong is bowling 70-plus. Legitimate bouncer. Then oooff. She bowls Wolvaardt – arguably South Africa’s key bat. Full and straight, didn’t appear do do a huge amount but clattered into the off-stump. Big Moment for Wong and for the game – she looks suitably pumped. 38 for 2, as the skipper Luus joins Goodall. Sciver is in for Cross. Nice, floaty, mixed-up over.

Wong has three slips and a gully as she comes at Goodall again. No dramas and we have drinks, in what look to be improving batting conditions. The flannels may be flapping but they look blindingly white.

Back at it with Sciver, who is swinging it (away) and plopping it around that danger zone consistently, as per. Goodall coping. Say hello to the three Chance to Shine guys, behind me. They’ve sorted access for a whole bunch of schools, this week, as well as delivering sessions all over. (I’ve worked for them for 12 years, so there may be a Declaration of Interest coming. Or I might just ask you bung them a wedge when you pop your clogs. Cricket. Charity. They do good work).

Sciver bowls another full, slightly swingy leg-break. Pins Goodall. In what must surely be the first review in Eng women’s Test Cricket history, we ‘go upstairs’. Out! Kinda sweeeet to see the players so excited to go through the review process. Fabulous delivery and just reward. Lizelle Lee marches in with South Africa in some strife. 44 for 3 as Sciver takes her cap.

Circling back to wonder whether it was always the England Plan to play Wong and Bell(?) Freya Davies maybe a little unfortunate to miss out but them young speedsters…

Bell has returned to give Wong a rest. She bowls a sensational, full in-swinger to biff the front pad of Lee – on nought. Magic Moment for Bell as the review invites, no instructs the batter to walk. 45 for 4 and I may start looking for my SA 120 all out tweet, from 9am…

Except the god-fearing goddess herself – sorry that’s maybe too offensive for some tastes – has entered the fray. Marizanne Kapp is stridently christian (whatever that means) and (more relevantly to me, and to the match) an absolute worldie of a player. Great bowler, good bat, phenomenal temperament. She has work to do.

We haven’t seen Ecclestone, yet – why would we? She appears to be having an absolute ball with her colleagues in the slips: jolly japesville, with lots of bantz and shoulder-slaps as they change ends. Team humour generally looks good. 50-up, for 4, in Bell’s seventh over.

Sciver beats Kapp all ends up, with one that bounces, off a length. No nick. The kids are still screaming. Bell.

She bowls a weirdly timid(?) bouncer, which Luus can easily steer down and away from the shortish square leg, then a wide one which Kapp can guide away for her first runs – a boundary behind point. That particular delivery was 69 mph: the next is 61. Bell has 19 for 1 off 7 overs, at this juncture. The replays of her booming in-swinger to dismiss Lee – up on tv in the Media Centre – are being edited into an ECB equality campaign as we speak. Magic.

So. Coupla overs from Ecclestone, as we approach lunch? Sounds about right. Knight concurs.

Slip, silly point and foreward short leg. Flighting full. Kapp impressively obdurate. 67 for 4 after 24 and time for more Wong. She’s changed ends – now in from the river. Three slips and a gully. Looks strong and quick now she’s bowling straight at me. Wong has 1 for 12 from her 5 overs. Feels important that both she and Bell ‘notched’ on the first morning.

12.51. More cloud. More Ecclestone. Luus looking organised on 21, now. Quiet over.

Kapp thrashes Wong through the covers for four – was wide. Then again; perhaps the first committed attacking shots of the innings. But then Wong draws an edge which flies low and safe, through the cordon. A wicket now and England are utterly dominant. Knight has the freedom to go scalp-chasing, so notably attacking field, for Ecclestone.

Wong will see us through to lunch. Luus is fortunate – gets a thick edge at catchable height through the slips. Between second and third, ‘travelling’; nobody can lay a mitt on it. Delicious and decently-disguised slower ball from England’s new quick is patted down. 83 for 4. I smell food.

If you’re watching on telly, I’m just about to walk onto the Media Centre balcony-thing. Resplendent in blue/patterned shirt. Shades. Tell me mum.

I go outside a) for some air and b) to watch Bell, more side-on. Kapp slaps her four but it’s another decent over. Then Cross. The Kate Cross Action is one of my fave watches. Interestingly (whatever the speed-gun may say) she seems quick – possibly even hurrying the batters a tad more than Bell. And today she is getting bounce and carry.

The partnership between Luus and Kapp feels pivotal – skipper and best player? Not much to come? So the first few overs after lunch could be BIG.

THEY ARE. Cross bowls another beauty with a touch of away-swing and finds the edge. The ball flies sharply to probably the only player on the park (with all due respect) who might catch it. Sciver* drops to her left and grabs: it’s an absolute stunner – barely above ground, at full extent. Luus is walking and wondering how the hell…

*Sciver is one of those players who just has something. Doesn’t always look as quick or agile as (saaay) Dani Wyatt… but she just has that special gift for the extraordinary: does it all the bloody time!

The highlight package coming along nicely. Wonderball from Bell and worldie-of-a-catch from Sciver. Bosch has joined Kapp so cue the jokes about bringing something. Sunshine making me squint, suddenly. Wouldn’t have believed, when I left Bristol at 8ish, that we were set for a day sans interruptions but looks that way now. (*Fatal).

Cross continues. truly impressive and watchable spell. Looks quickish and looks to be hitting pitch/bat/pad hard. Working South Africa over in a way I hadn’t expected. (Expected skill and influence-over-time: this is punchier and more dynamic than that – a whole new Dimension of Cross. Love it).

I’m really enjoying this. As always, the crowd is at about 22% of where these women deserve it to be but hoping everyone from those bug-eyed kids to the purists with their binocs’ are, too. (Of course they are. The day has brightened, there’s been plenty Proper Cricket… and some outstanding moments).

Just now Kapp is starting to counter, with a mix of classic defence and power hitting: just pulled Cross for four to go to 28. Looks good – but then that’s what she does. Her role c.r.i.t.i.c.a.l, here.

My first live look at Davidson-Richards. Bosch boshes her square, second ball, but she’s slapping it in there a wee bit quicker than I expected. Sturdy, rather than athletic run-up but then slings over that bowling arm hard. Does okay. But there are signs that both Bosch and Kapp are looking to score, as opposed to just surviving this. Four more, for Kapp, off Cross, run rate over 3 and we are at 123 for 5 after 39 overs.

Three slips, still, for Davison-Richards. A leg-cutter nearly draws the edge. Lazy shot, in truth, from Kapp. 67/68 mph, from the bowler – up with Sciver, who follows her, from the River End.

Both batters content to drive with some intent: Bosch looking a genuine bat, having gone to a confident 15, from 24 balls. When Richards offers a short one, she carts it with some arrogance over midwicket, for four. Decent comeback: the bowler does her well and truly, outside off. No contact.

Drinks, at 14.45. South Africa are fighting. The Kapp/Bosch partnership is well past fifty. Davidson-Richards has gone at five an over during her four over spell and Sciver is *really trying everything, from party-trick-style slow balls to booming pitch-pounders. It’s good, competitive cricket. Ecclestone was air-wheeling before drinks and now she’s on. 148 for 5, South Africa, with Kapp on 47 and Bosch on 29.

Kapp promptly slaps Ecclestone for four, to go to a very competent 51. It’s her second Test 50… because Marizanne Kapp… THE Marizanne Kapp… has played two Test Matches (according to the telly above my left shoulder. What a complete nonsense that is!)

Ecclestone appeals but it feels like a routine rather than a nailed-on shout. Hit the bat, so review lost, on this occasion. Then Sciver beats Kapp and (with Jones up) the bails are off. Not out. Nice-but-quietish phase of the game. Test-cricketty. Lovely.

No Charlie Dean, so Ecclestone wheeling solo. Sciver can bowl spells no problem but wondering if we might see Wong again, soon. Soft ball, yeh, but crank it up for three overs, maybe? Important and possibly match-defining to break this pair up. Bosch has 30, Kapp 51.

Bell evidently has scraped a knee – plaster just brought on. Was going to speculate about how good an athlete she is/isn’t… but if she’s in a little discomfort then this might not be wise(or fair). In any case – breaking…

Ecclestone sends down a loopy floaty one (well, everything’s relative) which Bosch slightly inexplicably tonks to point. The ball had cramped her, possibly because earlier in the over she had clattered a cut to the boundary: now she simply lifts it to Lamb. Gone for 30. 163 for 6 and here comes Wong.

Kapp clatters her immediately towards backward square, where Bell goes down in weekly instalments to save. She looks uncomfortable getting up. Brave stop, but unless she really is injured, does nothing to dissuade me from the view that Bell is not, weirdly, perhaps, a great, natural athlete. (This may not matter: she may become a great fast bowler in any case. But it’s part of my description. Fair enough?)

Wong bounces Kapp, hard but the batter cuffs it through third man for four. Looked a controlled stroke. Then the bowler does her incredislow thing, but misses length, and Kapp bunts the full-toss past her for four more. (The bowler got a hand on it, and might have done better). 180 for 6, after 55 overs. De Klerk has joined Kapp.

Interestingly, Wong is swapped for Cross, at the River End: de Klerk facing. Fair play, the new batter push-drives her ver-ry straight, for four… but then has a swish… and Kapp *has words*.

Two close catchers plus a slip, as de Klerk now faces Ecclestone. The bowler going through her tricks. Revs/flight/spearing it. Fascinating and mildly tense over but the batter survives. Then more Cross: not clear why Wong was withdrawn so swiftly – suspected something strategic but hoping no injury. (Wong remains on the field).

Lovely mini-contest between Ecclestone and de Klerk. The spinner buzzing through her over, offering multifarious teases; the batter holding firm. 192 for 6, at tea.

Breeze still a-blowing, sky still bright. We go again. Ecclestone is followed by Davidson-Richards, who has changed ends. Kapp, now on 86, looks set for a ton. It’s been chanceless.

Few minutes later. Davidson still heartily slapping them in there – her natural length a tad short. Nothing much happening. Then de Klerk flirts at a wide one and feathers it behind. Kapp’s manifestly unimpressed; the visitors had seemed in some control. 202 for 7.

The drama spikes again: next ball and a big lb shout. Review takes an age – given out. Ultimately, ball-tracking shows not out. Kafta the relieved incomer. Half-shout last ball of the over, too but again going down. But we’re into the tail. Unwisely, perhaps, Kafta will face Ecclestone from the start of the over.

Most of the kids have gone home. Different vibe. (Almost no vibe, to be honest). Kapp hooks a short one hard. Cross not only stops it but picks it cleanly, rolling and hurls back a smart throw. Fine work – appreciated by the relatively small crowd.

Ecclestone has Jafta looking nervous. The batter not yet off the mark – 10 balls. 11. 12. 13. Solid forward press to defend. First clear fielding error, as Lamb lets an easy one through, at the boundary. Davidson-Richards the unfortunate bowler. More ill-luck striketh. Good ball is edged hard, by Jafta, but carries on the half-volley. Ecclestone does react but possible that *even Sciver* might not have claimed that one. On we go.

The genius that is Kapp – she really is magnificent – deservedly gets to 100. Yas, at my shoulder, says “woulda been a short game without her”. The fella’s right, of course. Kapp is in the top handful, worldwide. Tremendous talent, tremendous resilience and consistency, too. So I forgive her the batshit-crazy god stuff.

Jafta has 1 off 23, which is fine, of course. She just needs to hold on (for now).

Cross, from the Trescothick Pavilion. Still in flooding, then stalling sunshine. Jones up to the stumps. Could be that Cross and D-Richardson are doing the workhorse-thing before the young sprinters go hard with the new ball. (Currently in the 73rd: expecting Ecclestone/Sciver to drop in, if required, then Bell and Wong to blaze away. In the real world, they may still affect International Maturity but I’d rather they charged in for three overs each).

But in the lull, drama! And another highlights reel effort – this time from Wong, in the field. Jafta miscues but the ball is looping cruelly behind… and over. Wong re-adjusts and dives/cavorts backwards and grabs a hold. It’s really fine fielding. Cross was the bowler – she now has 3 wickets, a fair reflection of her contribution. The new batter – the beautifully-named Sekhukhune – is a left-hander.

As Ecclestone comes in, Knight may be thinking her side need to close this out sharpish. Kapp’s body-language *may be* suggesting she thinks she must go hard, in the expectation of minimal support. She’s clubbing for four more. (South Africa are now 240 for 8. Emma Lamb has just come on, to shuffle the pack. 77th over). We’re at that stage where each lump of ten runs feels ‘vital’.

Ecclestone gets a look at the left-hander. Half-chance, possibly as she cuffs away from the hip – legside fielder close-in. No dramas: ditto with Lamb from t’other end.

250 up, in the 80th over, as Kapp goes to 134. Hilarious changes in the field, as Kapp comes off-strike. (Rightly, England go from five on the boundary to everybody in the batter’s lap). No problem – Sekhukhune gets through… to the new ball… and Wong.

Kapp faces. First ball smacks in there and past the bat. Mixed over, though, including four byes down leg – whilst bowling at the alleged bunny. Drinks at 258 for 8.

Now – finally(?) – we have Bell and Wong in tandem. (Or assuming Wong continues, we do). Kapp unimpressed. Clips Bell serenely for four more then clatters her, club-cricketer-style, over midwicket. Wee bit chastening, for Bell, who has been more of a low-key threat than she might have hoped. Wong is back.

One good one beats the bat – Sekhukhune’s. Three slips and a gully in pace. Stout defence.

This is a FOUR DAY GAME. Some chatter that England may not be able to win it, from here, given weather/state of game/South African resilience – remember they lost three players on the eve of this thing. Too early to rule anything out, in my view but Knight and co will have to go some: they have players who can charge (Sciver & Dunkley may be the obvious ones but Beaumont and Knight herself can score quickly, as can Jones). The Big Issue may be that weather may either eat up chunks of precious time or work hard against batting.

But let’s enjoy the sunshine and the quality of Kapp. She drives classically straight to put young Wong back in her place. Four. She’s approaching 150. How long can her comrades hang on in there?

Long enough. She eases out through cover to get to the landmark score. But then she falls, looking to bully on. She hoists Bell over mid-off, where Beamount – as Wong had – adjusts her feet and launches backwards to take another outstanding catch. The end of something special – multiple England players run to congratulate the batter, as well as Comrade Tammy.

Now consider this. Kapp will be the one leading the bowling, in the absence of Ismail and Kahka, pret-ty promptly. Hope she has time a for a vigorous rub-down with the Jo’burg Chronicle. She’s a worldie, and I am not betting against a stonking performance with the ball, to go with that genuinely magnificent effort with the bat.

Mlaba has joined us. Bell and Sciver are now charged with extracting her, or Sekhukhune, who now has 9.

Bell is bowling her in-swinger, typically, with mixed success. (Too many missing leg-stump). At the 90 over mark, she has 2 for 47 off 16. Decent enough. But both she and Wong have looked like Works In Development – as they are entitled to do – rather than first and second choice international strike bowlers. Does this mean they get time? Surely. They get some time and some good coaching and they get better, more clinical, more consistent. Cross and Sciver are better pound-for-pound bowlers… but the young ‘uns are better suited to the Apex Predator Zone that is the first handful of overs. So invest in them.

Cross has bowled Mlaba with a treacly slower ball. Suddenly the game is done, with the visitors having set this baybee up quite nicely, at 284 all out. No more play today. Cross the pick of the bowlers, Kapp predictably finding her cool-but-also-heady level. Something in this for debutants Wong and Bell; something in it for the kids, I hope.

Good luck with that.

As you know, sagacious readers, I’m one of the Good Guys. I bore the minor inconveniences of railway disruption today, with an endearing grace. Before leaving Pembs, I bought my daughter an oat-milk mocha and a sausage roll to help see her through the lifeguarding shift and poured forty quids-worth of fuel into the car my son will use in my absence. En route to Brizzle – then Taunton – I am generously buoyed, early doors, by the good progress of the Kiwi Crickit Blokes, whom I like and rispict: I *actually want them* to either win this third Tist or at least get extended appreciation as they take Hidingley into four days (maybe). Then more cricket news comes in…

South Africa – England Women’s opponents, in the aforementioned Somerset town, and therefore protagonists in my/the cricket action of the upcoming days – make some bitterly disappointing announcements. (‘Bitterly?’ That bit melodramatic, Ricardo? No. Because just as we really do want top end competitive sport up in Yorkieland, so do we want the same, in the balmy South-West. And, specifically, we wanted Ismail).

Why? Because Shabnim Ismail is the leader of the gang, the near-haughty, self-styled Fastest (Female) Bowler on the Planet. She is quick and she is one of those electrifying presences, whether purring in or patrolling the outfield. But she can’t play – shin issue.

I was proper gutted. Ismail’s presence was one of the factors in committing my particular plums to bus, train, then Cooper Associates’ Media Centre seats (such as they are). Gutted. Felt like something in the novelty and import of a rare Test Match might have roused her, pricked at her pride. ‘Ismail in her element’, perhaps? That chance to send out a high-profile reminder.

The further news lands that Ismail’s comrade-in-seam, Ayabonga Khaka, is also out, as is Chloe Tryon, the all-rounder and vice-captain. Neither good nor conducive to our highest and most neutral aspirations, this.

There are significant changes for both sides. National icons Brunt and Shrubsole gone, for England, captain Dane van Niekerk absent for the visitors. We may yet of course get a spectacular match and an inspirational launching-off-point for both sides, where new bowling (or batting) stars emerge. In truth because of the absurd lack of Test Match cricket for all of these women we could never have known what to expect, but the late changes obliterate further anything we might term ‘an expectation’. The thoughts that follow, then, are hunches – or worse.

It’s likely that Bell will play, ahead of Wong, for England, because Keightley (the England coach) has expressed concerns about Wong’s workload. Bell strikes me as naive, still, continuing to bowl too many poor deliveries – I’m thinking leg-side wides in particular – but she does have killer balls and should get more bounce and carry than Freya Davies and Kate Cross, who should also be included.

Davies and Cross are both skilled and consistent seam bowlers with good levels of experience (except in Tests!) but both strike me as natural first-changers so the thought did occur from left-field that England might come over all bold and sling both Wong and Bell in, to open the bowling. (Doesn’t sound very England, so may not be likely but would mark The Beginning of Something, rather strikingly). Sciver will bowl – may even open(?) – and could be central in all three disciplines, such is her talent. Ecclestone is unquestionably deadly, and with newcomers coming in for South Africa (and scrambled heads a possibility) she may conceivably decide the match in a blur.

South Africa have to find a team, fast, whilst acclimatising to a slow-motion epic, in mixed British weather. Not sure how England will go – partly because none of us know who will bowl, now, for South Africa – but there is little doubt that Heather Knight leads the stronger squad. There will be panic and there will be rain. With the retirements, disruptions and potentially challenging playing conditions, I suspect the quality may be mixed: but here’s hoping a few young women really break through.

And good luck to the visitors. I mean that.

Bennett. (All of us loved it).

In a ver-ry weird world one of the candidates for Mad Truisms of the Week is the fact that Phil Bennnett won 29 Welsh caps. This, at a time when folks are being bundled onto planes to Rwanda as a kind of inflammatory gesture against the assumed decencies of the universe, strikes me as mildly shocking… and yet not, I suppose, a surprise. The world is poignant and mad.

For the god of Felinfoel and Llanelli and Wales and the Lions to have done his magical, Orphean thing so few times seems ridiculous. (Eight Lions caps, including the New Zealand tour, which he captained. Twenty Baabaas appearances). How is that possible? How, given those ridicu-numbers can his legacy be so blazingly resonant and his place in the firmament so fabulously ennobling for the Welsh? The bloke played almost 60 fewer games in the jersey than Shane Williams, and 121 less than Alun Wyn Jones!

The world is poignant and mad… and now they they play waaaay more games. But on the plus side, there are times when it’s slam-dunkingly and wonderfully obvious that YOU CAN’T BLOODY QUANTIFY EVERYTHING. The numbers don’t always matter. Sometimes there is a kind of grace that really does transcend. This stuff is in play, with Bennett.

The man was and is loved for his decency. (Go see: the Twitterverse and beyond full of his loveliness and humility – how he was, with people). But it’s the talent, the god-given genius that’s imprinted upon us. Moments where that step took us all somewhere thrilling, new, unknowable. Tries for Wales and the Lions and if not tries then flurries of instinctive, unrehearsable brilliance that marked Phil Bennett out as a star. In a team (arguably an era) festooned with rugby icons, he was The Playmaker, The Heart-stopper, The Artist. People almost stopped talking about Barry John.

Us coaches now are quite strongly advised to avoid or at least take extreme care around this word talent. I get that: too often a way to underestimate the centrality of discipline(s) and practice. And it may be that there is merit in demystifying, taking a cool look at processes, strategy, performance, in sport and beyond. But let’s not deny the joy and the inspiration, people. Phil Bennett jinking is a metaphor for every moment of liberation and yes, generosity that humans have ever had. It’s the instant that says ‘I believe. I can make this happen. I will defy. Now’.

If the step into literal and metaphorical space works, it’s then what coaches now tend to call ‘good execution’ – a cooler or more contemporary way of saying (more or less), that the talent was expressed – successfully.

Rugby and the world was different, back then: it was simpler and this may have made it more possible for Bennett to flick into Unconscious Genius Mode. (And yes, I would probably argue that mostly, those steps are triggered so late, or so instinctively by the micro-movements or changes of pace and space around him, that this ultimate expression of ‘playing what’s in front of you’ is beyond, or maybe wonderfully pre- strategic. Whether I’m right or wrong, or lazy with my terminology, the dummies are truly sensational: they symbolise optimism and for many they symbolise a nation).

It seems wise to note that for all this flamboyancy, Phil Bennett was captain of both Lions and Wales. That in itself may capture the heft of his accomplishment. He could not be, then, just a flickerer and a dilettante. He had to lead, to contribute, to inspire. He did.

Many will be familiar with the rallying he gave his comrades, for the England game of 1977. We can’t know if the following is word-for-word – I suspect some ‘language’ has been edited-out – but it’s a classic of the genre:

Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They have taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our houses and live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given to us? Absolutely nothing. We were exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s what you’re playing this afternoon.

The lad from Felinfoel, close to Llanelli, the club that swallowed-up but also launched him, could rage when he needed to. The characteristic ‘feeling’ was there, alright. England and the English were/are the enemy. The fire burns bright against that.

*A wee indulgence on this, if I may. I am an English-born bloke who has spent virtually all his adult life in Wales. This is my home; my kids grew up to speak Welsh as well as Grimbarian. I struggle – i.e. I’m broiling and embarrassed – around most of those abstracted notions around poshness/English money/Torydom/privilege. Specifically, being a half-decent footballer I was rather self-consciously proud to be captain of a village club where everybody except me was born within three miles of the pitch. I had, however, like most of The Lads, not a cat in hell’s chance of buying a home in that ‘location’. Friends, given the obscene levels of second-home-ownership here – that and yaknow, history – you English get off pretty lightly*.

Phil Bennett was by all accounts a fabulous man. My father – Macclesfield, Sale RFC, England through-and-through, ’purist’ – adored him and may have passed on some appreciation of the fly-half’s transcendent gifts. I’m grateful for that, and for the part Bennett played in our Welsh/Brit/worldwide/communal understanding of what it is to be free to ‘have a go’.

I/we watched, transfixed, as he paused then let rip: many of us I think came to love both the Lions and the Barbarians because of Phil Bennett. Because of the link he made between sport, risk and (dare I say it?) altruism.

He played sixteen seasons, apparently, for Llanelli: respect. But for the dancing, the sheer, irrepressible shimmy-and-burst… more. We can only hold up our hands in gratitude.
Thankyou, Phil. We – and I do mean all of us – absolutely loved it.

Reminders.

Know what’s great? Sport.

I shouldn’t need any reminders but I just had one, so without breaching too many confidences, here’s another personal gambit.

In a week where I attended a rather depressing BBC cricket writing thing – on Zoom, all about cramming things down, writing one-sentence paragraphs and therefore, inevitably falling in line with the murderous, soulless brevity of Online Reality – an actual game of cricket was like a quiet marvel. It was slow; it was warm; it was generous. It smelt of humans, not algorithms.

The game was a competitive friendly, between Mainly Good 40-odd Year-olds and Us. (Us being Mainly Good 60 Year-olds). I was the newcomer and – as it turned out – The Impostor. Mad keen but less agile and less able than I’d hoped. Kindof expecting to be able to wing it, through energy and effort but unable to claw my way back up to the level of these skilled, experienced guys. Plus crocked: I didn’t realised how crocked ’til now.

It’s only after I started calculating the Waltonian cricket absence – twelve years since my last competitive game, I reckon – that I begin to cut myself some slack, on what felt like a poor performance. I used to be okaaay. I used to be able to really bowl, at some pace, leg-cutters a speciality. (*Coughs*). You wouldn’t have known, I fear.

I’ve done some nets with stars (and I do mean that, in every sense) of the local Seniors scene but of course there’s nothing like playing. All those unique movements. All that adjustment for bounce, turf, speed, quality of roll. All that running and bending down. And bowling. Wonderful, balletic, deathly movements. I’ve been yomping the Coast Path for years, coaching for years, even (recently) enjoying some practice with my son, in the hope and knowledge that the day must come. But there’s nothing like playing.

Now that I’m still hobbling badly, two full days later, with a proper hospital-sized concern about my right achilles, as well as a decent crop of entirely predictable and indeed appropriate aches and pains, things have landed. Of course I should have bowled off about four paces not sixteen. Of course I should have stopped bowling when *that wee twinge* announced itself, gently at first, in my second over. Of course I should have gone round against their left-hander but…

Calculations suggest it may be 12 years since I played a proper game. So I’m not going to change anything, once I’ve marked out that run. No sir. Just kee-ping it sim-ple. And ignoring that ankle (and yaknow, everything).

Everybody’s hurting, fer chrisssakes. Push on, boyo. Bowl, you gret wazzuck. What’s that one compelling truism in the pile of platitudinous crap? (WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GET GOING!!)

Try. Look how hard all these magnificent, stupid old buggers are trying!

*Lump-in-throat moment* Blimey, yeh, look at ’em. We’ve barely met yet we’re a team. A bloody team! There’s no choice – crack on, mun.

We lost… and it didn’t matter. I only knew, when I pitched up, about four of our players… and it didn’t matter. Game-wise the sunny ambience/honourably competitive combo-thing was humming in the air; balanced; beautiful; idyllic and ideal. It was a real welcome. I got battered but was encouraged, throughout, by patently better men and players. We held our own, enough, as a side, because some of our lads took us within 30-odd of their 242. (40 overs).

In the bar it felt good. We had a few laughs and the unspoken awareness that we had ju-ust begun to morph into another ridicubrotherhood – though in defeat – bounced or spread agreeably round the room. Strangers brought together: that corny, wonderful, sporting cobblers.

But when and how, exactly, did that start? (There’s another post on that!) Could be we felt it on the outfield from the first lumber. It *really can* transmit subconsciously, eh – or somehow? From the first ball – before then? – there was something. Body-language. Verbals. Team Humour.

Maybe it passed or blossomed in the friendly exchanges over our modest consumption of alcohol. (This was no riot). Maybe with the quiz card, or during the Few Words from captain and visiting stalwart – who knows? It was quiet, undeniable magic, with the Pembrokeshire sunshine and the open doors and the guys all ‘suffering’ or recovering: blokes who can really play being good to those who possibly can’t.

I got an award – an allegedly cuddly duck, in take-no-prisoners yellow. I hadn’t batted, on merit, but had probably made the telling contributions in our defeat. So fair cop. We go again, god-willing, on Thursday.

The Revolution According to Anya Shrubsole.

There will be some words but not, let’s be honest, that many. (Wonder why that is?)

After 14 years, Anya Shrubsole, MBE, is hanging up those clodhoppers – at international level, anyway. She has left rather magnificently, with characteristic intelligence and healthy self-awareness. Her career in the game will continue, and I have no doubt she will continue to be a significant threat to batters, quite possibly for some years. But there is a rare-ish consensus that despite being just 30, this was the time. Why would that be?

I’ve been more outspoken (some would say brutal) about Shrubsole’s fitness, than most. I’ve tried to judge her as an international athlete as opposed to a woman and *in that context* been clear that her conditioning has been unacceptable for some time. (Get that some think I’m just another misogynist; politely disagree). Now plenty of folks seem to be gently agreeing, or perhaps more exactly accepting that with the fabulous development of the game now including/demanding significantly higher standards of movement, agility and (obviously) fielding, generally, Anya has become exposed.

In her farewell statement, she says

To have been involved in women’s cricket at a time of such growth has been an honour but it has become clear to me that it is moving forward faster than I can keep up with, so it is time for me to step away.

She’s right. Her bowling – even without being quick – is still often outstanding, and uniquely bananalicious. (Shrubsole has swung the ball better and further than almost any bowler on the planet, for a decade). In-swingers. Beauties. Australia may have made her look eminently or reasonably playable, over the last few months but the sheer voluptuousness of that arc through the air has been simply too much for many international opponents, for aeons.

Right now it maybe that things have crept against her even on this – although I am clear that it is fundamentally the conditioning thing that has nudged her aside. Because all standards are going dizzily skyward, the sense that she is *relatively* one-dimensional, bowling-wise, has been developing. She of course can and does vary pace and mixes up deliveries a little but that killer inswing has always been the weapon. Of late, the likes of Healy, Lanning and Mooney looked like they could read it.

It will be fascinating to see if Shrubsole can remain a force in the formats she continues to grace. Will more bats more confidently swing through? Dunno… but openly hope Anya doesn’t get entirely found out – she’s too good and her contribution’s been too magnificent for that.

I first saw Anya Shrubsole live at Glamorgan CC, for a double-header against Australia. This was 2015, I think: (go check, there’s a blog pretty much dedicated to her performance). The women’s *scene* had begun to reveal its potential to me and I knew a little… but WOW. Sitting directly behind her as she ran in, possibly on my first visit to the Glam Media Centre, was deliciously memorable. The amount of swing Shrubsole got that day was a bloody revelation (to me). She struggled to contain it but got a three-for, again from memory, including some of those Ozzy Superstars.

I know I wrote that she was the best or most exciting bowler on the day (when the blokes played too, right?) It really could be that the Ole Partnership of Brunty and Shrubbers grabbed a hold of me right there and then: I’ve been attending England Women internationals ever since.

So – despite being critical – I’m gonna miss this woman. For her very English doughtiness and rather moody, schoolmistress-like air, in the field. For her late-order batting grit. But mainly for the world-beating, sometimes thrillingly late-looping bowling. For that, Shrubsole will always be special; will always be a leader, in fact, of The Revolution.

Different Level.

Let’s start with a minute’s applause, for an Australian side we freely acknowledge to be a worldie – even those of still somewhat trapped by that feeble, generational tribalism-thing, that puts an anchor on pro-Aus warblature. They are different level; they’ve proved it; it’s a triumph for all of them. Their seemingly impregnable mentality is a powerful, impressive, undeniable bloc, that even us Poms have to defer to and respect.

So where’s it come from? From Mott’s shrewd leadership – and Lanning’s. Via deep, committed investment, both financial and in terms of planning, to make the execution possible. From a spectacular group of talented and resilient players. From things strategised, then ‘allowed to happen’, or nurtured, rather than directed or coached, entirely – because, maybe, they can’t be coached. Plenty of this is supra-sport, beyond measurement, ownership or even explanation. How fabulous is that?

Australia are all of those juggernaut-tastic things the media and the fans are calling them. It’s great that a truly ground-breaking squad has demonstrated their brilliance so emphatically… and gone and won the bloody thing. This is what Sporting Justice ought to look like: the best winning, fair and square (and ideally with some style). All. Boxes. Ticked.

But where does this leave England? In credit, firstly, in the sense that they have fought back from some degree of humiliation (never mind disappointment) in the early rounds of this tournament. They were distressingly poor, particularly in the field, for a nerve-jangling and near-‘fatal’ period. A way back (and forward, obvs) was found.

Interesting to note Ecclestone’s lurv-note to her skipper, in this regard. Sophie notably keen to big up ‘Trevor’ for guiding/chivvying/leading the group back into contention. For England to win a series of sudden-death matches and then stay ahead of the Australian run-rate for thirty-odd overs, chasing a ridicu-total in the World Cup Final is no mean feat. To smash South Africa in the semi is no mean feat. Ecclestone publicly lumped a lot of the credit for the honourable resurgence at her captain’s feet.

There are rumours around the obvious potential retirees – Brunt and Shrubsole. The latter was tearful both before and after the game: no wonder. Shrubsole had a goodish semi and final but her conditioning and the feeling that more teams will find her out more easily as time and skill-levels fly on and up, work against her keenly now. Yes she is still taking wickets but a wee slackening in pace is inevitable. That together with raised expectations and the urgent need to enact the succession planning we can only imagine has been at the forefront of the coaching groups’ minds for some time point to an international retirement soon. It’s time.

Brunt is older but a different animal. Fitter and more adversarial than Shrubsole – generally in a good way – the long-time Pack Leader may still have the energy and the skills to compete for a place. (Whether this is either the right thing, or helpful to either party is something those of us the outside would be foolish to judge upon). My daft guess is that both opening bowlers may retire – possibly from all cricket – with Shrubsole moving into a coaching role, maybe within a shortish time-frame. (She just strikes me as a thoughtful one, and someone who might impart valuable stuff with some dexterity. Brunt is allegedly a lovely, ‘soft’, warm human away from the battle but somehow I don’t see her settling back into stuff, away and without direct involvement in that mortal combat).

The World Cup Final, perhaps inevitably, laid bare some of the concerns, for England. What happens when early wickets don’t tumble, for the bowling unit? What happens if Sciver, striding out to bat, can’t find her Superwoman suit? How can Brunt be batting 7? What level *really*, are Dean and Cross working at, ball-in-hand?

We cannot address any of these issues without re-stating the specialness of Australia; without revisiting the clear yellow water between Oz and everybody else. But let’s assume – as England will – that they are the standard to which they aspire. Simply no point in aiming towards Indian or South African ‘ceilings’: how well Ecclestone – to take the extreme and uppermost example – goes against that second tier, is irrelevant to progress. England must address the towering spinner’s relative failure to impact the fixtures against Australia. (Go look at the stats. Interesting).

Watching Ecclestone go for 70-odd in her ten overs (again) was no real surprise – Australia, we know, are *that good* – but Keightley and co (as well as the bowler) must look at the specifics around that, as well as the general impregnability of the Australian line-up. All of us with an opinion to hurl were saying, before the game, that England must find a way to knock over seven or eight Aussie wickets to stand any chance. It didn’t happen. Three toughish chances were dropped and by the time wickets fell, a platform the size of a South Sea island had been built.

It may have been that Lanning, Mooney and Perry didn’t need that incredi-base to free them up – such is their confidence and skill. But having a mighty lump of runs behind you does *change things*. I might have gone in there and fearlessly biffed a few, in those last ten overs. Australia, without me, struck 120 runs off the last 60 balls(!) Strewth. No wonder the record books were exploding.

Final thought on the Australian batting. Perry. This may be sentimental but how wonderful to see her just do enough, in her limited time at the crease, to offer a wee sense of her choiceness, her flow. Unwise words both but she remains a goddess of the game, a natural – as demonstrated by her exhibition in the field, where she gathered and threw splendidly.

To England, and particulars of their game. Wyatt could not maintain her own, superlative form, of the semi and, despite being England’s best fielder, she dropped a sharpish chance, at point. (That, in hindsight seems a little symbolic… and despite the Independence of All Things, it felt a little like that precipitated further drops from Sciver and Beaumont). Opening-up, as always, Beaumont fell earlyish, too, again playing across – something she may need to re-address. Early-doors, England stayed ahead of the run-rate, but a killer partnership never seemed likely: compare and contrast(?)

Knight could not resist: England’s platform was therefore creditable but wobbly. Jones, joining Sciver, found a few shots but fell off again. Dunkley, in at 6, felt like the last significant protagonist… with a zillion runs still to make. When she was bowled, rather unsatisfactorily, behind here legs, Sciver, going mightily once more, looked stranded – or likely to be so.(As she approached her hundred, this tingled, uncomfortably).

Ultimately, Sciver nailed an extraordinary second century against This Australia, in the tournament: defiance, and then some.

Brunt went, Dean offered meaningful but sadly un-sustainable support and Cross and Shrubsole went cheaply. In short justice was done, and by about the right margin. Another Australian Team For the Ages had powered home, with Healy playing the kind of knock that even Poms like me might raise a glass to.

On a spectacular day, the team in blinding yellow had re-invented the possibles again. Thrillingly.

Knight is due.

That same England that we fans were cursing found a higher-astral-plane cruising-mode to render everything a nonsense, earlier. Of course they did. Because a) everything IS a nonsense, b) this was a semi and c) THEY ALWAYS WERE #thebestteamintheworldthatisntAustralia.

Yes. They were. Even when Shrubsole and Brunt looked painfully out of sorts, the coach looked weirdly like a mildly disinterested knitting champion and Wyatt, Jones and everybody but Sciver and Dunkley looked like toast-in-the-waiting. In short, even when England were ’embarrassing’, those of us who have been paying attention (over days/weeks/years) knew that they had ‘performances in them’. That they really were better than India/WIndies/South Africa – that they were, in fact, the only meaningful challengers to the Aussie juggernaut.

Does this mean I/we take back our vitriol, from the last month? (Even the frankly unkind stuff about Shrubsole’s condition?) No. ‘Fraid not. Despite the thrilling excellence of Anya’s opening burst – despite, even, the fine, diving grab for the Wolvaardt wicket, Shrubsole is not absolved. She like every other International Professional Athlete should be ticking the I.P.A box in terms of fitness and agility. Likewise Jones and Wyatt (etc, etc) should be ticking the Avoid The Ludicrous Lazy Gift box, when wielding the willow of Ingerland. This stuff matters: there are responsibilities in play, yes?

But ‘end of’. Look at the scoreboard; look at the table; look at the history books. They already say ‘Holders, England are through to another final’. I’m bloody delighted to see that. What’s more, I think they have a chance of raising the trophy at the end of all of this: they can’t be favourites but they have a chance because England have come through, ultimately, in real, important, creditable style… but yeh, they were crap for toooo long, in this event.

Wyatt seized the day. She swished and cut and drove compelling (but not flawlessly) to a hundred and more, piercing the field with that characteristically lithe power, but also teasing them with the occasional near-fatal miscue. (Bottom line, she should have been on her way but for some poor efforts to snaffle an admittedly wind and/or spin-affected ball. Even the god-like (goddess-like?) and god-loving Kapp was guilty of a strangely discordant fluff. Wyatt swatted on).

Seasoned watchers will know that despite some evidence to the contrary, in #CWC22, it is England’s fielding that sets them apart and above the ‘minor players’ in the hierarchy of the world game. They are generally at a higher professional level: perhaps they should be, given the relative investments – the ‘resources’. However the keys to this semi-final were fundamental, not general. Wyatt and the now convincingly prolific Dunkley batted best; Ecclestone’s bowling was just too good.

Beaumont biffed the very first ball from Ismail to the boundary but was then in a pickle. Knight, though understandably fixated on batting long, got utterly stuck, failing to hit anything for an age, lest she offer a chance, then falling plumb for a disconcerting and potentially demoralising single run scored. Sciver smashed a stunning pull shot, nuttily, beautifully, then was cramped to another short one from Kapp, and merely spooned it to the ring. Jones, for the umpteenth time, threatened to unleash some quality but managed instead to ‘fail’ and fall, in another gift-wrapped, despairing moment.

In the middle of the night I had posted my own target before a tactical (3 hour, work-necessary) retreat: on this pitch, England must get 260 or 70. The pitch was obviously true-ish. Somebody was obviously going to go biggish. I hoped – but then daren’t hope – for more, from the women in blue.

When I re-emerged at 6 am, coincidentally bang on the start on the South Africa reply, I was wondering if Wolvaardt might ‘do a Wyatt’ and make 120-something. She felt like a threat. Shrubsole’s completely predictable but nevertheless thrillingly challenging inswing soon undid that storyline. A further early wicket – that of Lee, caught Sciver, at short midwicket – put England in command, particularly as the batting team felt light, or lighter than England, beyond that opening pair.

None of Luus, Goodall, du Preez or Kapp failed; they all got into their twenties or a little beyond. But in the early-middle overs Cross and Dean, despite the latter being mixed, made key inroads before the Ecclestone Parade came to town.

The young woman is a phenomena. Firing in those arcing or spearing mace poles. Relentlessly and somehow joyously. At you – at your toes! Irresistible. That speed, that parting of the curtains, pre-delivery. Mind-scramblingly good.

From about the sixth over it felt a little like the Ecclestone Moment might come, might sort this. (Knight, perhaps teasing out the the drama, kept us waiting). Whether this was some sublime instinct or (more likely) simply and prosaically A Plan, we will never know. In the event, it worked.

The last knockings of the South African innings became – either traumatically or deliciously – a rout. Six wickets for the Tall Girl from the North. A ‘shush’ to send off the (presumably previously lary?) Ismail. Theatre. With all this pressure on her, the ‘Best Bowler In The World’ unfussily performs. It becomes a right thrashing. England are there.

Australia are the best side in the world: England next best. It’s good that they meet. Haynes, Healy, Lanning, Mooney and Perry out-gun their English equivalents – certainly in terms of consistency. And Brunt and Shrubsole and even Ecclestone are less likely to repeatedly dent that winning machine. But this now is a final. And there will be nerves. And there may be sublime inspiration. I’m hoping it comes from England.

Knight *is due*.

Changes.

Unwise, to write whilst disappointed to the point of anger. (Unwise, actually, to get angry about sport, eh?) But I suspect that the three consecutive defeats in this #CWC22 have left those of us that are bothered about Eng Women* starting the Working Week in a right mood.

(*Nobody was watching, live, in the ground. Media coverage, though growing, will be miniscule compared to male equivalents. So yeh I’m bit cheesed orff; ’bout everything).

Lets draw up a swift Mitigating Circumstances column. To draw some of the venom. England have been pretty bad because:

Demoralised by a higher level Australian side, in a concerningly one-sided Ashes tour.

Bubbles/travel/boredom/homesickness.

Erm… something else?

These appear to be reasonably meaningful factors but do they account for manifestly below-par performances against West Indies and South Africa and that undeniable sense that England are in something of a mess? It’s right to acknowledge improvements elsewhere – ‘smaller nations’ catching up – but should that equate to or account for a steepish decline in performance levels for Heather Knight’s side?

The answer to that latter question is ‘maybe’; or, ‘it could’. Because pressure. Pressure from the rails, from under your collar, from inside the mind. England *suddenly feeling* vulnerable when they should still feel better, more solid, empowered. Because England are the second best side in the world. Meaning the answer to that question is also ‘no’.

South Africa have just beaten England in a tense but not exceptional match – certainly not, quality-wise. Player of the Match Marizanne Kapp may have thanked “her saviour” immediately after the game but she might have thanked any one a series of England fielders who again either spurned catches/stumpings or dived over balls that might have been stopped. Sour grapes? (Possibly: I’m soured, but I’m not sure anyone beyond Ecclestone can be satisfied with their contribution in the field. Given this is where England have stayed ahead of those developing sides – through what we might broadly call professional intensity and execution – the persistently shoddy work from England has felt genuinely galling).

Read the specifics of the match elsewhere. South Africa won it and deserved to win it but England’s batting was timid and one-dimensional and their fielding was badly off. Beaumont dropped an easy catch and was again, like her team-mates, ‘mixed’ – prone to dive over or past the ball. Jones, behind the sticks, was alarmingly in and out, Brunt and Shrubsole again relatively impotent.

The latter is somehow shielded from criticism (and there may be reasons for this) but it feels entirely reasonable to note that as a full-time professional athlete, in a universe where expectations have dramatically changed for the better, she is two stones too heavy… and this patently affects her fielding… and maybe to a lesser extent her bowling.

I have always been a huge fan – have gone on the record many times, to that effect. But it is not acceptable, any longer, that prime, professional athletes are so badly out of condition. This is one reason why Shrubsole should retire (and I expect her to) after this tournament; whatever happens over the remaining games. Anya Shrubsole has been a glorious intoxicant in the game, for a decade and more – arguably the best swing bowler in the world for much of that period. Now she should go.

Given that Shrubsole’s long, long-term partner is in a similar ‘twilight phase’, there’s a really fascinating link between the men and women’s international sides in respect of their opening bowlers. But I’m not going there. Katherine Brunt is (I repeat, like her colleague) one of the greats. Powerful, punchy but also loaded to the gills with a rare guilefulness, Brunt has had a low-key tournament. Could be powers fading. Could be tiredness.

There has been, quite rightly, talk of a double replacement or retirement, here. The Pretenders – notably Bell and Wong – have been drawing support concomitant to the criticism of the coach, in the absence of opportunity or ‘succession planning’. Brunt remains better and certainly more consistent than both… but sure, that proverbial clock is ticking.

All of which brings me back to the coach, Lisa Keightley. She’s done her work quietly, in the background: despite being drawn to more obviously charismatic characters, I have no issue with that. (Clearly, you don’t have to be an extrovert to be somebody people or players will follow). And yet I think she should go. The team energy has been somewhere between frail and limp, too often. There are simply too many errors going on. It feels – whatever that means – like the team lacks character. All of that is the coach’s responsibility: they are charged with making the environment.

We all have our own ideas about selection – that’s part of the joy of this, yes? My own admittedly left-field opinion, following a night in Hove where she did that thing where something ver-ry special gets announced, is that Mady Villiers had to be a fixture in this side. Maybe for that stunning, invigorating brilliance in the field alone. And Shrubsole should have been rotated in and out, or possibly simply de-selected, to bring on the newbees and recognise the modern realities re athletic non-negotiables. And, somehow, the likes of Beaumont and Jones and even Brunt should have been challenged more directly to perform or buck up, with the bat.

The squad’s felt too cosy; too willowy, even. Coach must not allow that to happen. Wyatt and Jones and Winfield-Hill endlessly gifting poor, premature dismissals to the opposition. Woeful catching becoming, or feeling predictable. Confidence paper-thin. For an age, Knight’s doughtiness, Beaumont’s application and Sciver’s power have carried the team – kept that chasing pack chasing. Now England look caught.

There is a chance that England could yet qualify. A slim one. If they do then they will be a threat, should they play to their maximum. So far, plainly, they have been devastatingly short of that aspiration. They will feel shrivelled and beaten in every sense…. and I guess I’m not helping here.

Pressure is real and not real. Keightley and Knight have to engineer the most astonishing of revivals. I hope they do it. If they don’t, then of course there must be changes.

Another field.

Just me, or did everything go foggy? Just not sure if I’m seeing straight, or walking straight. As though I’m foot-dragging, head-down – as though some impenetrable gloom is settling.

Could be the whole Ukraine shitshow, of course. Undoubtedly is. That’s monstrous and unsettling, even from this (my/our) safe distance. Cruel. But something else, something that’s going to sound on the one level insultingly melodramatic, set me off walking – quite literally – towards some light and some respite, yesterday. Deaths from another field.

My hands are up. I’m plainly one of the Poms that bridled when Marsh or Warne did their lary Australian thing: when they so mischievously and powerfully stoked our feeble, tribal Brit-dom. Couldn’t stand them, in the day. Too ‘in yer face’ – too Ozzy. Spent years if not decades fighting back the open vitriol against a painfully endless series of Australian Super-teams. Often it broke through and I’d be bawling at the telly like some inflamed, proto-Barmy Army clan-member, high on beer or anger or jealousy. Rod Marsh was a bull with gloves on; Warne a chopsy bamboozler. The bastards always beat us and generally smashed us. Because they were bloody sensational.

Warne is rightly being talked about in a different way. He was in a category of one. Dazzling, touched by something ver-ry special: a blonde ringmaster. Marsh was less extravagantly gifted but in terms of team humour and durability, equally a force. They were both macho men, with arses like rhinos and that toughened rhino-like skin: kings of fierce banter and apex-predator confidence. I went walking yesterday to mourn them… and to escape the crushing poignancy of our own family losses to cardiac arrest.

Then suddenly the cricket was back. Australia versus England – beautifully or cruelly(?)- in the Women’s World Cup, no less.

Earlier the fabulously dramatic (though mixed quality) New Zealand v West Indies match had cut through the seemingly universal melancholy. The White Ferns (hosts) had contrived to lose three wickets in the last over, needing only six runs to win; Deandra Dottin taking the whole “hold my beer” schemozzle to a different stratum, by returning to the match to twist the fates. Incredible, but (with all due respect) something of a warm-up act for the Ashes re-run.

In Hamilton, England chose to bowl and Brunt and Shrubsole executed, certainly with regard to control, without making the breakthroughs that were always likely to be necessary against the world’s best. Healy scored at a decent rate but was mis-timing, on a pitch that the distinctively discerning Nasser Hussain – how brilliant?!? – described, within a matter of overs as challengingly ‘tacky’. (He went on to relate just how Kate Cross’s modus operandum – length, in particular – might be central to proceedings. The fact that she didn’t quite prove him right does nothing to undermine the sparkling acuity of his observations). Haynes battled stodgily through, early on, Healy was out miscuing before Australia engaged Bat Long In Order To GO BIG mode- as they so often do.

Lanning made 86 and Haynes an increasingly dynamic 130 as the Southern Stars (are they still calling themselves that?) posted an intimidating 310 for 3. Tellingly, they had made 100 runs from the final 60 balls, with both Perry and Mooney contributing to the concluding burst. It was always likely to be too much.

England are good and were good, in that first knock. But not special. Ecclestone – a worldie of a bowler but an average, if improving fielder – might possibly have claimed two catches. Given that these were offered by Lanning and Haynes before they really opened up, this bloody hurt. Players of that quality really are going to cash in and build, if you gift them lives.

Not that England didn’t compete. Beaumont, Knight, Sciver and to a lesser extent Dunkley and Brunt can be pret-ty content with their contributions with the bat. But this is not the case – again – with Winfield-Hill, Jones and Wyatt, all of whom did that *slightly predictable* under-achievement thing.

Get that it’s hugely insulting to question anyone’s mettle… but this may be where we are with those individuals. Unquestionably players but too often(?) unable to demonstrate the toughness or resolve or whatever it is, to contribute under manifest pressure. (Unconvinced? I’ve watched them live, multiple times. You can feel it coming.).

Jones is fortunate in the sense that she is a relative fixture on account of her primacy as a ‘keeper. But she’s been infuriating, more often that not, with the bat. Can hit strikingly purely but so-o often swings without timing or sufficient confidence across the line – miscuing to the fielder. Winfield-Hill can be classical and doughty and sometimes stylishly expansive… but rarely gets past 30. Weirdly, it may be that she surrenders her place to the mercurial, popular and sometimes thrillingly positive Wyatt, who opened for an extended period before a drop in her form.

On paper England bat deep but in practice, against Real Contenders, there are questions arising. It’s true, I think that despite the development of historically less powerful (cricketing) nations, Keightley’s crew are still more professional and more accomplished than everyone else in this comp – hence the unwanted moniker as ‘The Best Side in the World That Isn’t Australia’. But there is a gap there that the Australian-born England coach will be, must be seeking to close. That gap feels more about temperament than quality, to me.

I don’t enjoy any implication that despite the presence and quality of Beaumont, Knight, Sciver and Brunt, England may lack character, but (despite posting a strong total against the world’s best side!) it sometimes registers like this. Meaning the mix needs a further shake; or particular individuals need to graft, force, grit their way back into some international form. Quite a task to do that, mid-competition.

We can’t finish on a negative, after England got within a handful of runs of a record target. Good game. Encouraging game. Next stop for the ‘Pommie Wimmin?’ Exhilarating, undeniable brilliance. Please.

On ‘Different Class: The Untold Story of English Cricket’, by Duncan Stone. A personal view.

Daft ‘formalities’: I’ve never met Duncan Stone but we are (how ridiculous does this sound… but how often am I saying it?) Twitter mates, or at least relate, on that venerable platform. So, knowing him as a co-‘leftie’, as a bloke with a strong social conscience, I come to this thing with a lump of sympathy. I am not, however, any kind of historian – not even of cricket. Indeed if this book was just a collection of events or historical *moments* detailing or sketching the chronological tribulations or otherwise of the game, I might personally be nodding out, here and there. It’s the actual game, that does it for me.

What this means is I had mixed expectations. And there were times when I drifted, a tad, amongst the fixing of the stories. Hang on, which league? What conference? How many teams, in which configuration? Who got excluded and which was the mob most dripping with imperialist supremacy? And who was it, again, who was right-on… and who self-righteous? Were they also implicitly or explicitly racist? And who was, yaknow, right about everything from the format to the Real Power Structures?

It’s my weakness, I suspect, not the book’s, that I felt ver-ry occasionally neck-deep in club/league detail I was never going to hold onto. I fully accept the author’s right and indeed motivation to put on the record, as he does, the Untold Story: there is a brilliance and thoroughness and drive about that meticulous intent which demands respect. Plus… Stone is right.

He is right to puncture the ludicrous pomp around ‘Gentlemen Amateurs’ and their greedy hold on the sport. From Grace the Giant (but hypocritical arse) to Graves the delusional inheritor; all these posh white gentlemen lauding it and inferring (or even proclaiming) their own specialness. As ‘amateurs’. As ‘gentlemen’. As guardians of the ‘spirit of cricket’. Stone firstly both champions and records the alternative history, of league cricket, ordinary cricket, cricket without pretensions, then he unpicks the collusions between toffs, media and governance that have always propped up the ‘traditional’ view of this game being superior. The author says “I see you” to all those through the ages who by accident or design have conflated (their own) comfortable, mono-cultural middle-classness with (their own), ‘authentic’, rather needy understanding of cricket as force for good-which-coincides-with English Greatness.

It’s political, then. Because of course the dominion – from Amateur Gentleman Player to Jerusalem-bawling (white, middle-class) Barmy Army activiste – remains. As it does in the political realm. The ECB remains. Poor visibility remains. Poor inclusion. The august BBC reporter (Agnew) is still saying that ‘cricket is a decent game, played decently’, without any sense of how loaded that statement is.

Cue the longish extract, from a blistering final chapter:

‘As much as the historical importance of the Ashes continues to prop up Test cricket in England and Australia, the global adoption of the “Spirit of Cricket” as recently as 2000 is, for anyone aware of the game’s long history of shamateurism, match-fixing, elitism and racism, little more than a corporate delusion. Domestically, the decision taken in 2003 to have the England team take to the field to Sir Edward Elgar’s version of “Jerusalem” is equally problematic. Now that the “resentful irony” of William Blake’s words are wilfully misinterpreted, this entirely contrived tradition (originally suggested by Ashes sponsor Npower) not only presents an anachronistic view of England, it reinforces the rigid monoculturalism at the heart of the Tebbit Test’.

If you don’t get that that Agnew’s (probably? Relatively?) innocent remark about decency, or the more extravagantly insensitive use of ‘Jerusalem’ by ECB/England Cricket project something unhelpful into the ether then this book will challenge you. (And that’s good). If you love cricket and history and finding stuff out, you will be riveted by ‘Different Class’ – hopefully irrespective of your political views. It does tell an untold story: that of a game “that has elevated those blessed with privilege while disenfranchising the majority who, as this book reveals, did the most to develop and sustain the game according to a very different culture.” (Page 287).

This brief review undersells the bulk of the material, which details, richly, the development of recreational cricket, previously utterly bypassed or even traduced by most historians. That disproportion of mine may be inevitable, given the noises around the game and around this book but I regret it and re-iterate my respect for the telling of that story. Mr Stone has thrown a ver-ry robust, very powerful and yes, controversial document into the mix. Read it and consider many things.

Hitting Against the Spin – & *re-thinking*.

None of us take all that much notice of cover-blurb, eh? No matter who writes it?

Oh. Okay, maybe we do – otherwise publishers wouldn’t be sticking it on there – but you know whattamean? Schmaltzy and patently untrue at worst, supportive half-truths more generally.

So when I saw ‘clever and original, but also wise’ (ED SMITH, in bold, red capitals) it barely registered. Now, I could save you all the bother of reading the following missive by just saying again that ‘Hitting Against the Spin’, by Nathan Leamon and Ben Jones, is clever and original but also wise… because it really is. Job done. Next?

Next is trying to say something more; something about reservations somewhat assuaged, ribs dug, minds re-opened, inclinations towards lurv, instinct, ‘humanity’ intelligently checked. This book is very skilled at lots of stuff but maybe particularly at making convincing arguments against assumptions. And not all of these arguments are slam-dunks of the Incontrovertible Fact variety. (As someone likely to remain on the David Byrne – “facts are useless in emergencies” – side of history, here, this feels important). One of the great strengths of this book is that it’s not adversarial. It’s too generous, as well as too clever, for that.

I am not an artsy clown but if the question is art or science then I go arts; every time. And as a coach I think of what I do (yup, even at my daft wee level) as driven more by reading the human than reading the trends/stats/’info’, or even, often, the manual for a specific skill. Appreciating what feels right (and saying something appropriate) can be every bit as key as factoring in a mountain of brilliant information. This of course doesn’t mean that I don’t completely accept that (especially at the elite end of the market) stats and analysis aren’t BIG. They are and I have no beef with them getting bigger, in the sense of providing coaches and players with important points of reference. But *in the moment*, confidence and relationships are and will remain AT LEAST AS BIG. And *the environment*, the Team Humour is BIG, too.

Leamon and Jones, whilst repeatedly skilfully shredding received wisdoms around many things, respect the space of the coach and the capacity of what I’m gonna call teaminess to influence, positively – or otherwise. They also deconstruct cuddly but deeply flawed assumptions around (for example) bowling full, whilst appreciating and indeed positing context – ie. venue/bowler/batter/conditions – into the statistical judgement. It is not, therefore, adversarial. It’s persuasive. It’s fair. Again, I congratulate these two gents on that. I, for one, being a softie and a sucker for the poetry in any game, might have been driven further towards romantic delusion should this book have chosen to shout certainties. Hitting Against the Spin is too wise for that.

So (even) I looked hard at the graphs and diagrams. Even I, with my ver-ry limited interest in the IPL and the BBL worked to pick up the inferences from games and leagues that honestly don’t matter much to me. Why? Because the book earns that kind of respect – because it’s good that my/our(?) well-meaning but maybe dumb tribalism be challenged and educated. Because obviously stuff that happens in India/Aus/Pakistan can be both bloody fascinating and revealing of wider themes: we don’t have to be personally invested to be interested, entertained, schooled. (Not unrelated note: the subtitle for this book is ‘How Cricket Really Works’. This is not hollow bluster; the authors’ worldly experience is compellingly instructive around a range of strategies, from short-format drafts, to bowling options).

Go read this book. Maybe particularly if you have concerns about ‘analysis’. Stats and the intuition or brilliance or understanding or generosity or soulfulness (goddammit) of real people are not mutually exclusive. Coaches can and will still change the universe by putting an arm round. Genius will still find a way to thrill and confound us, because though ‘the numbers are there’, events may gloriously subvert them. Data may indeed, as the book says, “democratise truth”, but life and sport will always be wonderfully, stirringly anarchic. Thank god.

Bairstow.

Some things, we know, go right past sport. Some of those things are hard to approach – reckless to approach, perhaps? Tough to get in there without offending. Tough and possibly quite wrong to speculate over things that course so deeply. So, no offence but…

Jonny Bairstow. Cricket *and everything* in the blood. Son of an England ‘keeper. Half-brother to Andrew, formerly of Derbyshire. First Winner of the Wisden Schools Young Cricketer of the Year, for walloping 600-plus runs for St Peter’s School, York, back in 2007. So does have Yorkshire Grit but of the relatively polished, or privileged variety. (Not that he can help that. And not that he ever strikes you as any sort of toff. His oeuvre, or let’s call it manner, despite a certain pomp, is closer to working-class hero than flouncy sophisticate ).

2016, scores 1470 Test runs, almost doubling Matt Prior’s existing record: compare with England’s current crop… and with his own tally of 391, for 2021 (if I’m reading cricinfo correctly). So numbers. But numbers don’t account for tragedy, or bloody-mindedness, or value to the team: not really. Bairstow’s value has always been about punchiness and spirit and undeniability. He’s the guy who does the bullocking, the sprinting, the (mostly) undemonstrative aggression. He’s fired-up, Proper Yorkshire, in fact – and Proper Red-head.

His role as a white-ball opener has been spectacularly successful. The Test batting less so – or it’s felt for three or four years like his place is under some threat. Prone to getting bowled, early-doors. Great counter-attacker but sometimes not equipped for a long, slowish knock. Is there also a sense that, being drawn to drama, Bairstow’s juices simply don’t always flow? That he responds to situations which demand heroics? Despite being plainly a mentally and physically tough guy, his contributions seem fickle – less reliable than his personality and grit and gifts would suggest. Plus that whole other thing about taking the gloves or not.

But hey. Before the furore-in-a-beer-glass over comments about his weight, I did tweet to query JB’s body-shape. Impolite and unnecessary, possibly, but all I meant was a) he looks like he’s put on a few pounds and b) therefore looked less like a battle-ready international sportsman. I think we’re entitled to ask that of our elite athletes but Jonny answered me in the way he and Stokesy answered the mouthy Australian fans – by scoring big runs and racing between the sticks faster than almost anybody on the planet; as per. So maybe my dumb observations were dumb observations. The thing is Bairstow defied: again.

This feels like the crux. Bairstow may be carrying impossible hurt – why wouldn’t he be? As well as the family catastrophe, or possibly entwined amongst unfathomable grief and anger and trauma, Bairstow somehow feels like the bloke who wants to wade in there carrying some flag. He’s proud, strong, hearty and the hurt flows near to the surface.

I reckon this might possibly make him hard to manage – but again, I may be speculating wrongly and quite inappropriately. How could he not be occasionally dour and moody, as well as inspiring and true, as a mate, colleague, comrade? How does the coach or selector appreciate or quantify that? When his often god-like or warrior-like brassiness and boldness is surely tailor-made for those moments when ‘the tough get going?’ Meaning you absolutely need some Bairstow in your squad.

Conversely, I get that judgements must be made about technical skills and the relative qualities of team members: the mix. But Jonny’s gift to the mix is emphatic in terms of energy and emotion.

Jonny Bairstow knows he is entitled to bugger all but he will still feel that he’s earned stuff. He has that fire and that Yorkie stubbornness. He is likely plenty perverse enough to be driven on by resentment, against slights from media, coaches, fans, fellow players. Because he’s a broad, bellowing, beautiful battler.

Ashes Churn.

So we’re all exasperated and hurt, then. And that hurt may be good. We may yet bawl or bundle People towards Progress. Maybe. In a tidal wave of New Year Resolutions, Harrison will confess whilst weeping pitifully, Private Schools will be abolished, the MCC Members will swap the daft yellow and red stuff for hair shirts and the Tory Party will disintegrate in shame. Because Things Can Only (and Must Only) Get Better, right? And This Means Everything.

The Brit Universe is g-nashing over the Ashes. We’re all Experts and we’re All Legitimate Fans and we All Attend County Champs Games, Regularly, Jeff. We all have The Right To The Loudest Opinion, Ever. (Me included). Our exclusive claim on Knowing is being Twittered and Vodcasted to the heavens. Our brilliance and their dumbness is Completely Obvious, Maureen, in a brutally sweeping, sexually-charged and capitalised kindofaway. Because this is righteously simple.

Except it’s not.

Coaching and Coaching Philosophy is/are not simple. Strategic planning and respectful scheduling are not simple. Mental Health is not simple. Daft, daft games are not simple.

Let’s start with coaching – coaching and captaincy and the art of deciding.

Interesting that the likes of Rob Key – medium-intelligent voice, close to the action – has been so-o clear that Silverwood is utterly ‘out of his depth’. Others make the argument that Giles, in gathering power in to the former England paceman/enforcer, has put his Head Coach in a suffocating head-lock: just too much to do, think about, organise, decide upon. Certainly most of us outsiders can find a favourite clanger for this series, whether it be that first Test selection or the return of Crawley, or the dropping of Burns. There is plenty scope for gleeful dismemberment of Silverwood’s more contentious calls.

Now I’m not a prevaricator by nature but I’m less sure than some of you that Silverwood has to go. And I’m less sure again that despite Root being an average captain rather than a brilliant one, he should join his gaffer on the Discarded on Merit pile.

Firstly, not been close to Silverwood, so not seen how his interactions with players are. Secondly, have disagreed with several of the decisions around selection/toss/strategy but that can happen with good coaches, too, right? (‘Game of opinions, Dave’). Forty-ninethly, although it plainly might be that he’s not up to it – and of course the woeful capitulation is traditionally laid essentially at the gaffer’s door, in elite sport – only Farbrace springs immediately to mind as a preferred candidate… and he… yaknow… was there before, pretty much. So in short I guess I’m thinking the summary execution of Silverwood and Root might feel righteous but achieve not so much.

(Sixty-twothly – and the absence of similar views make me fear that I may be missing something here – what about Thorpe? Has G Thorpe Esq not been batting coach for like, years? Why no grief in his direction? Even if he’s the Greatest Bloke Ever, or whatever, does he not hold a hoooge chunk of responsibility? Is he not the ultimate in You Had One Jobbery? Don’t geddit: how he seems to escape scrutiny. Good luck to him… but seems extraordinary).

But breeeeeeathe. Zooming out, there are cultural issues, from shamefully-distracted money-driven policy to exclusion by malice, stealth and/or by toff-dom. Privilege still waiving its todger at us, like some Eton-educated clown. In *that matrix*, bonuses get paid to *this ECB*: the universe really is that warped. But let’s get back to coaching – to batting – because despite what the needier, more distracted corners of Twitter are saying, it was England’s batting that decided the Ashes.

Understandably, there have been some pointed and intelligent reflections on both the technical specifics and wider framing of batting skills and/or the coaching thereof. It’s not just embittered former internationals who are saying the modern player lacks discipline and the modern coach is typically twiddling his/her way through a kind of woke manual. But even this preciously guarded, pleasingly heartfelt ‘debate’ needs to take care around over-simplification.

Yes, it is true that the ECB Coaching Pathway shifted away from instructive, demonstrative coaching towards ‘Core Principles’ and ‘player ownership’. The coach has been invited to be less of an auteur/maestro and more of a skilled inquisitor: the argument being that the traditional format of oldish blokes barking instructions at more or less intimidated ‘pupils’ was a crass way and an ineffective way for players to *actually learn*. (I have some sympathy with this view). But could be that this Generous Modern Way works great for Dynamos but less well for Dom Sibley. (In other words, maybe this is complex and maybe entitlements and protocols and levels of both enquiry and expectation are so bloo-dee different that it’s a nonsense to only approach from the one, holistically-nourishing angle, or imagine that things don’t change as you clamber up the performance ladder?)

It seems absolutely right for a cheery old sod like me to be inspiringly lovely and friendly and encouraging, as I trip out my rhetorical questions to Llanrhian Juniors. But it may be okay – not ideal, but okaaay – for an England coach to shout, swear and tear strips off players who don’t effing get it. Elite sport is, perhaps regrettably, tough. You are gonna have to be a robust individual: tough enough to bear the #bantz and the barrage of bouncers. Tough enough to ‘wear a few’, on and off the pitch. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect that amongst the essential support, camaraderie and joy, there will be challenge, discomfort even, on the road to (their) learning.

Top end cricket – especially Test Cricket, especially batting? – is surely about the ability to resist, to offer sustained and disciplined excellence. You hope, (I imagine) that you can break through into the peace of playing your game. But there may be a period – a cruel period – of mindful doggedness on the way there.

This tour – again – the England batters got nowhere near. Except Root. And sometimes Malan. The rest looked generally shot, or technically ill-equipped to compete. Rightly then, we are asking about what Test Batting needs to look like. Deliciously, once the rage subsides, we may need to consider whether levering-back towards particular ways is wise or possible – or what, precisely, we proscribe against. Just how orthodox is the fella Smith, for Aus, for example?

Against a good Aussie team, not a great one, neither England’s will nor skill seemed up to it. So we’re all angry, we’re all piling in on Silverwood, Harrison, Giles. Fair enough. But as we tear through issues around bat pathway and summer schedules and the dispiriting mean-ness of everything, let’s get our brainy heads on; before the Ashes Churn gets going again.

Love. Fear. Grief. And another incredi-chapter.

It’s hard to be strategic when there’s so-o much love about. And fear. And grief. How, exactly, do we manage a way through an Away Series, in Oz? With all that inconvenient turning of the earth stuff? And the disorientating, electrifying, fecund stillness – the night, outside? Loveliness, but then with the bastards down there bouncing down the corridors of our Proper Sleep-time, squeezing off fire-extinguishers like drunken bladdy students. And winning – always winning. How do we manage against that?

Can only be instinct – unless you’re one of the comparatively few who really can watch through the night and either sleep or work through the day. I can’t; can only do some. So like most of the Pom Universe I swerved Day 3 entirely and gathered to watch Day 4. That made sense.

England had a sniff. After Root and Malan had restored some pride, and Hameed had offered some hope, it made sense to invest in Day 4. Let’s do this.

Minor tactical kip during the late afternoon: fitful but hopefully restorative, or enabling of a long overnight haul. ‘Social’ quietly fizzing with suitably modest hypotheses, around ‘building’, or ‘extending’ and just maybe ‘constructing a total’. Then pundits on the telly-box being bundled into That Conversation: the one where it’s considered that England might yet steal a bladdy win.

They’d have to ‘start again’; then ‘see off the new ball’; then ‘build’. ‘Obviously Root and Malan can play… can take this on… but don’t forget how Stokes and Buttler in particular can push on – can take a game away from you’.

Have no idea if these conversations *actually happened*. Or if I was already dreaming. Pretty sure I watched as Malan got tangled-up, to the often innocuous-looking but persistently troubling Lyon. Certain I saw an absolute peach, from the miraculously recovered Hazlewood – who may have never been injured, despite the twelve hours of relentless and generally circular ‘discussion’ from our frankly embarrassingly wearisome local hosts. (Less is more, gentlemen). That peach deserved to register and it did – accounting for the England captain

The Root dismissal has come to feel central to everything: if our friends at Wisden are to believed he has scored 1100 more runs than the next England bat in this calendar year. ELEVEN FUCKING HUNDRED: he has 1,544. Burns, remarkably, is next, on 492. Plainly, on this occasion, the skipper erred again, fishing gently but fatally for one that simply shouldn’t have tempted him: certainly not at that stage.

The dismissal of Pope, soon after, for 4, trying to cut a ball that bounced a little, from Lyon, who has made a career out of top-spin/over-spin, meant not just that the game was almost done but barely credibly, it was almost done before the new ball had been taken. Understandably, even the pundits before us with worthwhile collections of brain-cells had been singling out that period (after ten overs or so of old-ball phoney-war) as critical. But no. Even they (even I) had underestimated England’s capacity to be England.

Extraordinarily, my Original Plan to hit the hay, come what may, after the morning’s session in Brisbane, worked out supremely: just not in the way any of us had foreseen. We foresaw a slaughter (probably), once Hazlewood and Cummins and Starc had the new cherry. Nope. Not to be. Those seamers had some joy, inevitably but it was the old pill – and the old-school non-spinning spinner – what done it, essentially. Four-fer, for Nathan Lyon, ultimately, taking him beyond 400 Test wickets. And another incredi-chapter in the book of England Ashes traumas.

Hello Chance to Shine.

I’m not a suit kindofaguy. Nor a shirt man, if the truth be told. So an awards gig at Lords was always going to be a challenge, not just in sartorial terms but in terms of politesse and reigning in the urge to eat like a rabid horse, as per.

Did buy a suit – the other wearable one being procured for the Two-tone era, *first time around*, from Camden Lock Market – was on the shabby side of chic. Did buy a tie and went the strong colours route on a dangerously perfunctory whim. Alleged mate on the Twitters referenced John Lydon and know what? I can live with that. Anger is an energy but so is being you.

I say this because I won an award, at the Chance to Shine wonderbash, and I reckon this resulted from some half-decent, energetically honest sessions of cricket-based games, delivered to kids over a decade or so. Honest in the sense that I poured myself in there – not to be arrogant, or even necessarily central – but to authentically be the daft-but-friendly bloke that I am. To be the fella that really does love this game and is bloody determined that you will get it too.

Back in the mists of time I had been volunteering at Haverfordwest Cricket Club in West Wales, supporting my son, initially. He had wanted to follow some mates and ‘try proper cricket’. I threw the ball back five times then got bundled towards the coaching pathway, which I loved. Years later (and in the loveliest of expectation-vacuums) a job came up, with Cricket Wales. Coaching. Cricket… like, as a job!

Ridiculously, after a mainly practical interview where I remember doing the Embarrassing Rick Thing, wildly bouncing balls off a Crazy-Catch trampette in a hall in Milford Haven and generally foaming with enthusiasm, I got the nod. Community Cricket Coach for Pembrokeshire. Wow.

Then came years of learning, actually. Much of it inevitably ‘on the job’ but a genuinely appreciable amount via Chance to Shine and/or Cricket Wales training. Because coaching really isn’t playing, right? It isn’t even the transfer of your knowledge of the game, to other parties. Or not just that. It’s both bigger (and more theoretical/abstract) than that and more personal – more about impacting upon people.

Over time, as a Community Coach, you assimilate not just the team ethos, the essence of the role but look to embody something of the responsibility. Being deeply aware of the brilliance of the coaching posse I had fallen into, I think I did take a few conscious breaths, roll up my sleeves and determine to work with (dare I say it?) honour as well as skill and humour. I think I did that regularly, over the years, to re-charge and re-commit.

Best explain a little – can see this begins to sound like some weird, corporate mission-speak.

We coaches are trained to deliver outstanding, open, generous, entertaining, themed – i.e. developmental – cricket-based sessions, to groups of children. We are trained around disability issues, around inclusion, around how to offer a fabulous game suitably brilliantly. There is a Chance to Shine curriculum which has been ver-ry skillfully put together to maximise accessibility in the widest, most wonderful sense.

Typically, a bundle of children receive a bundle of sessions, so that their familiarity, then comfort, then enjoyment of the games can develop. Even a comedian like me is spookily mindful of strategies towards advancement/refinement/recalibration. Are these kids happy and engaged to the right level? Who needs a different challenge – a different ball? Who needs encouragement? I’m nutshell-averse but in short how do we make this session work… for this/that child? It’s a tremendous, intoxicating challenge and one I will always view as a privilege: the cricket offer.

But coo, suddenly there I am, on a stage, in a room which is palpably full of love for a daft game. Two hundred people. One generous, supportive vibe.

Laura Cordingley has spoken well and boldly about responsibilities we all share. I’m behind her on that mission towards fairness and respect and opportunity – there’s no question the whole room is. Then I’m thinking of my mates and colleagues at Cricket Wales; how this absurdly Rick-centric moment can only really be understood as a team award, for Martin Jones, Sean Evans, Jamie Griffiths, Geraint Leach, Terry Dixon and all the rest of our guys and gals. The CW Community Coaching Team.

Aatif Nawaz is asking me a question about how we sustain a child’s interest in cricket… and it’s a duff question… and we both realise it… but I’m the one who has to fend. I get away with it, narrowly. I’m hoping he won’t ask about my wee mate Gethin*, featured in the film that’s just been playing to the room. Entirely possible I might blub, trying to relay something of the utter joy and rich satisfaction that’s accompanied our mutual gambol into cricketstuff.

(*It’s both incidental and not, that Gethin is significantly visually impaired and that he’s been a fantastic, inspiring comrade during our spells together at Neyland Community Primary. He’s been nonchalantly smashing through the metaphorical walls around his disability. I had heard he’d contributed to the video for my award: hadn’t seen it ‘til moments before I went on stage).

Aatif makes some reference to my ill-timed transfer across to my new employers, Sport Pembrokeshire. We share a joke but I make clear my continuing commitment to cricket and to its multifarious pathways. I dismount the stage mercifully without catastrophe.

Returning to my seat, alongside my son, a largish glass of white finds itself inhaled. The stupendous Mr Stuart Priscott – Operations Manager, Chance to Shine – comes over and notably warmly and sincerely shakes my hand. “You’re a good man, Rick”, he says. That’ll do me.

My thanks go to all at Chance to Shine and Cricket Wales. Here’s the wee film they made of me ‘in action’…

Azeem Rafiq: cricket must change.

Everything is interpretation – we get that. But surely there was only one, broad understanding of Azeem Rafiq’s extraordinary testimony today: that he is a good, generous man. A man who has flaws; a man who has demons, even*, but essentially a lovely, honest, concerned human. Some guy looking for a pitch, a game, a place where everyone can play as equals.

In front of the Parliamentary Committee convened to discuss and examine racism in cricket, Rafiq dug deep, often, to give a good account of himself. Palpably emotional and yet determined – without any whiff of self-aggrandisement whatsoever – to be “a voice for the voiceless”, the former Yorkshire cricketer ground a way through a series of bitterly hurtful memories. Insults, both petty and outrageous; blandishments and outright subversion from those he thought were there to represent him; the bulwark that is white exceptionalism and/or supremacy. He was heroic: you could feel both how vulnerable the man has been and how cruelly this further, sustained gathering of his wit, courage and equanimity has challenged him personally and his family life. It really did feel like he was ploughing on for other people.

Most of all, the bloke sounded almost unbelievably fair. Those who have read George Dobell’s tweets and reports over recent months/days/hours will know that the man giving evidence first-up, today even tried to make sure that one of the chief protagonists on the other side – Gary Ballance – was going to be forewarned of the incoming storm, so as not to suffer the kind of deep disquiet that has so traumatised him. Wow. Azeem, maybe they, maybe we don’t deserve you.

Having watched every moment of the Barnsley-born player’s evidence, I’m happy to argue that this awesome level of generosity may be typical of him: speculative, accepted, but how else to view the general flow of his magnanimity? Time and again he tried to de-personalise this – to talk about institutional or cultural practice not individual transgressions. Of course certain individuals were appallingly culpable but Rafiq pointed more to the milieu, the matrix, the banter-heavy context in which the unforgivable was passing as the norm. (On this particular theme, it feels not inappropriate to note that the Zimbabwean-born player who may have been most obviously and persistently guilty of racism did not accept the invitation to attend).

Other high profile people are being clawed into this, now. I’m pretty sure the need for *stories* centring on them may be unhelpful but appreciate and support the imperative towards a clear-out of lazy or manifestly prejudiced ideology and practice. I have been around one or two of those in the firing line and am unsurprised by allegations against some… but relatively concerned for one or two others who I sense *may* be being traduced. But hey, my hunches and the protestations of a bunch of senior white blokes are not fundamental, here. We need to hear the voices who have been denied, or truly oppressed.

It is certain that today was a Big Day in terms of exposing the thin, t-shirt diplomacy and corporate box-ticking around race as the tokens and funder-driven frauds they have been. That should be massive. Azeem Rafiq’s role has been likewise historic, tectonic and somehow beautifully (if agonisingly) selfless. The churn that may result will be the deep, painful but necessary angst and enquiry that must precede real change. The suspicion that this is a societal problem and that therefore it lies within other sports too may be more of a distraction than a signpost towards wider revisions (which must also come). Cricket has been found out. Cricket must act.

*Those ‘demons’. It remains unclear to me how troubling drink is in this story – if at all. (More likely it’s a minor example of the dirty tricks employed against The Accuser?)

Azeem Rafiq’s strikingly poignant admission that he lapsed into drinking alcohol in a feeble and inevitably unsuccessful attempt to be one of the lads appeared to haunt him more than any possible lapse into dependency or brief, clannish indulgence might have done. His ‘frailty ‘in this regard is forgiven – and indeed respected – in this quarter. Booze, machismo and ‘tribalism’ are so often a gateway into prejudice, eh?

England Australia.

It was impeccable. It was dramatic. It was about as perfect a start, for England, as us dream-shy Poms could have imagined. Warner gone; Smith gone; Maxwell gone – all before the powerplay was done.

Strategic change and same old Woakesy. Beautiful but metronomic bowling and a stonking catch. Rashid, then a perspiring but impressively concentrated Jordan. Australia an extraordinary 21 for 3 after 6 testing overs for our Antipodean friends.

Then in comes Adil again… and the googly absolutely decimates Stoinis. Close to catastrophic this, for the green ‘n gold.

But Finch remains – so Moeen again held back. Livingstone comes in to add further variety and challenge the Aussie skipper’s outside edge. There is spin… but it’s mainly just that critical bit of nibble that’s told. Plus that increasingly important length – too short to drive, but cramping the pull. Exemplary, from England; sustained excellence which Livingstone (the part-timer-plus) admirably maintains, via that ambitious mix of leggies, offies and pretty much everything in between. After 10 overs the batting side – if not shell-shocked, then breathy and 64% baffled – are 41 for 4. Mills.

A touch of inswing, still. A peach of a slower-ball. Goes short and wide; Wade, not entirely convincingly, back-cuts for four, with Moeen almost hopeful. Finally an authentically poor ball, as Mills back-of-the-hands one wide to leg. Eight from the over. The World’s Noisiest Host assaults us again. Livingstone offers a rare bit of air, Wade clumps downtown but Roy can take a comfortable, if overhead catch. 51 for 5.

As Agar joins Finch, and the line-ups flash up on screen again, the length of the Aus tail again draws comment. O-kaaay this is T20 and anybody can clatter a few but this is surely ominous? Rashid continues the strangle; flighting now, getting turn that Agar, certainly, is barely surviving. Wow. 57 for 5 after 14.

Mills is furious with himself as Finch breaks out: two boundaries in two. The over goes for 10. Further discussion on whether Morgan will completely exclude Moeen from proceedings, on the ground that Finch may eat him up. Hmm.

Jordan will bowl the 16th. Australian pundits crediting the Poms with high-level skills and application, here – fair dinkum. But also urging the batters towards explosivity, on the grounds that they simply must get to 110-20 to have any chance in the game. Finch does smash a wide one behind point, for four. The bowler responds with a good yorker but the captain will keep the strike with a single. 75 for 5 with 16 gone.

Agar gets the first 6… then the second, Woakes missing yorker length. Finally some pressure on an Englishman. Cruelly for the bowler, who has completely unzipped the batter, a near l.b. flies down to the rope – meaning 17 from the over. Meaning Aus may yet get to 120-something. Perhaps. Mills, at 96 for 5.

Pace off. Defeats Finch but no dramas. Then Agar middles but flattish out to deep square: Livingstone pouches. 98 for 6, off 17.4. Could they even be bowled out?

Cummins – so probably not. Classical straight drive – defiantly exaggerating the ‘straight’ bit: six. Then nutty, ridiculously-timed, fore-arm hoik waaaay into the crowd over deep square; six more. Finch follows the mood but a slight outer-edge: Bairstow rushes in to claim. 110 for 7; 18.1. Starc joining Cummins.

Briefly. Jordan clears out the latter so we have two guys on nought, in the 19th… and a hat-trick ball. Zampa pushes safely out. 111 for 8 as Jordan comes around to Starc. Two? No. Zampa refuses. (Do not under-estimate the contribution that England’s intensity in the outfield has made to this. They look like a team that just doesn’t make mistakes: consequently no relief).

Mills will bowl the last. He goes for that exaggerated slower one but Starc gets most of it – or enough. Four, straight. Later, a scramble and Zampa can’t make his ground.119 for 9. Off-line: Starc twists to carve Mills behind for six more. Starc is caught behind, off the last. So Australia all out for 125: commanding, from England.

Stuff you won’t read in The Guardian. I needed a brew/cake/something. Nothing in. Broke the land speed record to the next village to buy coffee and a previously test-driven vegan pastie. (Curried job. Phworr!) Get back and spill all the bloody coffee all over the gearstick whilst clambering hastily out. Utter night mare… and I miss most of the first two overs.

They are uneventful, England quite rightly easing their way in. But Roy (of course) will be wanting to make a statement. He does, belting Cummins for a huge six. 27 for 0, after 3. Agar will bowl the fourth.

Roy and Buttler will love a cruise – particularly in this fixture – but they will also enjoy some psychological point-scoring. Buttler dances and clobbers Agar for six, over long-off. 37 for 0 after 4 and England in danger of racing ahead. These openers look comfortable – making a mockery of that which went before. Even Hazelwood’s very skilled, expertly targeted yorker gets worked away for three.

Great running, too, from England. And not running… as Starc gets levered to the horizon.. twice. Buttler absolutely killing it, against one of the world’s great quicks. Dreamland, for Morgan’s Men as they see out the powerplay at 66 for no wicket; the highest total for the tournament so far. Sweet, sweet, sweet.

Zampa will need to find something special – initially against Roy. Second ball is reviewed, after two impudent reverses. Looks close live. It was. Roy is gone – rather wastefully, you feel. (He will know a spirit-crushing 10 wicket win may have been on there). Enter Malan, who may be the ideal candidate to steer this home. England are 68 for 1, with 7 gone.

Malan cuts Starc gloriously and clips to leg. Buttler booms a full-toss. Run rate above ten: Zampa needs a four-wicket maiden. Watson on comms hugely generous but has no choice: this is becoming a performance for the ages. Buttler is back to his ridicu-best; six more. Malan is stroking. 15 from the over, 97 for 1 from 9. An obliteration in progress. Buttler has 62 from 28 balls, at this point.

But some joy, for Oz. Malan tickles a (straight) arm-ball from Agar behind and is gone. (Like Roy, he will feel he has missed out badly). The punchy Bairstow yomps out, looking determined, as always.

He gets an awful ball, plainly down leg, which Agar has the audacity to appeal. Third ball is clipped neatly to midwicket for a single. Tip and run and we have 99 for 2 after 10. The announcer has been doing more coke. Buttler remains undistracted, smashing Zampa over long-on – another 90 metre wonder.

Bairstow joins in, clubbing with forearms then sweeping expansively: both sixes. It’s a massacre. 20 from the over; 119 for 2 with just 7 needed, from 54 balls. Four of them come as Agar grabs some turn but beats everyone – even slip. The game is up when Bairstow eases out through point. An astonishing 50 balls to spare.

In the book it will say ‘8 wicket win’ but this performance will be remembered (I suspect beyond the Pom Fraternity) as an icon of brutal, barely-relenting brilliance in this format. All and any upcoming opponents now really have been warned. The Law of Averages (or Something) may yet intervene to thumb its nose at the notion of an English procession through the tournament but this group of players have proved again that they are exceptional. As an England fan I know it’s *fatal* to write the words… but what else is there? They are, they have to be favourites to win this thing.

Books, eh?

Today is a diabolical-but-groovetastic day. Absolutely chucking it down, in Pembs, with a gale blowing but also PUBLICATION DAAAAY for my new book, ‘The Dots Will Not Be Joined’.

Am going to write about the process that’s gotten that baby out there: a) because somebody asked me about it, b) because it’s too crappy a day to go out for a celebration walk and c) in the full knowledge of this writer’s ver-ry personal circumstances. That is, my extreme, unhelpful kaleidofunktatious niche-dom. Meaning I know exactly how out there my book is, and my approach is.

Lockdown Project. That what it was. Had sadly separated from my wife – amicable, but not, frankly, my call – and had chosen to move out so as to avoid disruption for the two gals in my life. Was fortunate to have a friend’s caravan to shift into. (Was actually like a small apartment: all mod cons and then some. Some space and time, in fact). So wrote.

There is actually an e-book of my blogs already out there but this was the first Proper Job. As always, it started with anarchy and stories rolling out. (I know some will say that this is how it finished up! Fair enough). I knew I wanted to write about the stuff I care about and can trust myself to be honest with. Believe me, I work as hard at this as Proper Writers but the difference may be that I am both letting things flow – i.e. I suppose, not over-thinking – and then re-writing heavily and honourably but without being intimidated by judgements from out there.

I do not care about the perceived wisdoms of the publishing industry or the What Constitutes Real Writing Industry. Experience – and the experience of brilliant but ‘ordinary’ friends – tells me that there’s a whole lot of private school twattery wafting around those corridors. There is, of course, also plenty genuine diversity, too but broadly – c’ mon – publishing is controlled by more or less posh (or privileged) white people. Like most of the universe. In my daft way I oppose that, and therefore this hugely contentious paragraph is in solidarity with a flimsy but heartfelt notion that things need to be more open.

But enough politics, for now. I began to gather a collection of stories – memories, mainly – which felt true, and which sang the same love-song to sport, transformation, growth. Short chapters seemed right but then the core (maybe) needed to be big, hopefully strongish chapters where I was coaching in Primary Schools. (For ten years, this has been my life). I wanted mischief and I wanted to annihilate that obsession with a single narrative so (absolutely) I welcomed in the music, the art, the philosophical ‘diversions’. My lawns aren’t ordered; my matrix isn’t serene and elegant and sharply-honed. The world is madness. So, the material was gathered: trust your instincts.

Not entirely sure how early I knew I was writing a book – as opposed to blogs – but it was early. I started to look at modes of publishing, and spoke to people. Advice was very much to try to get an agent; some publishers simply don’t read unless you have one. Also approach publishers, get somebody behind you.

I tried both, possibly a wee bit half-heartedly. A) Because low expectations of success (because I’m me). B) Because quite clear I didn’t want some over-educated Herbert encouraging me to tone this or that down, or ‘be mindful of running ahead of your audience’. C) Because that all takes many weeks, and the nature of the writing is kinda urgent. *Also*, this idea that it still typically takes you a year or more to get a book published, in 2021, is plainly laughable. Soonish, for this latter concern – and in the surprising absence of interventions from Penguin or Noel Gay – I resolved to go the self-publishing route.

It’s been brilliant. For me, anyway.

Not sure where I plucked Grosvenor House from – could have been some recommendation (hah!) in The Guardian – but they’ve been excellent in every respect. Timely, clear, helpful. Me and the teamster Julie have become email compadres because she’s been on it in a friendly and really efficient way. When I unloaded My Particular Angle on her she was ver-ry clear that although the world and his wife has written a book during lockdown the process could be complete in X months – forget how many.

(I repeat that my strong conviction was that though there is airy/longish-term philosophical meandering in the book, it is largely a thing of the now; therefore time felt important. Generally, if you do all the editing/checking – and of course Grosvenor House offer all these services, which I politely declined – then you can get a book out in close to a month, in Normal Times. The Dots Will Not Be Joined took longer, in the Covid log-jam but but the time-scale was still good).

Let’s wind back a little. Costs. I am medium-skint so both wanted and needed to avoid ‘extras’. Like editing and all those things that most writers think – or are led to think – are essential. Of course they are essential; the careful, careful, more-or-less brutal cutting and looking and feeling-out. That is essential. Whether you feel comfortable doing that yourself is an important personal choice. But for me it is/was a choice. I didn’t just choose not to have ‘professional help’ there because of the relatively minor amount of money it involved. I wanted the book to sound like me, being honest, maybe with some edges unsmoothed.

It cost me £795 to get the Publishing Agreement. This provided for all services to get the book out there, including;

Provision for ISBN number – crucial, I’m told.

All typesetting, including to-ing and fro-ing of sample pages until the author is satisfied: an electronic full proof to be achieved within 30 working days of receipt of author’s approval… before continuing to complete the printing process.

To manufacture copies on demand, having supplied Amazon and ‘all major retailers and wholesalers in the UK’ with the book’s metadata – i.e. essential blurb.

To list the book with Nielsen Book Data.

To make two royalty payments per year: one in June, t’other in December.

To provide 5 copies free of charge to the author and place copies at the six national libraries of the UK. Also, at the Publisher’s discretion, to distribute free copies ‘as the publisher deems necessary’. (Hopefully to stimulate interest).

This isn’t, for obvious reasons, the whole document but in short you get your book out there, for £795. If you want a hardback, there is a further charge (around £100, from memory). Images a fiver each. I opted to swerve hardback but to produce an e-book – I guess for environmental reasons – costing a further £200. (I know I’m not likely to retrieve that money from that source but it did feel the right thing to do). I have also ordered some copies for myself – to place in local independent bookshops – at a cost of just over £4 per book, delivered to Pembs.

If I have understood it correctly, the split goes like this: if the book is a 250 page black and white paperback, costing £10, the publishers will get £4.15 and the wholesaler/retailer £4.00. The writer will get £1.85.

In my case I set the price at £8.50 originally, because that felt right – meaning a royalty of £1.20-something per book sold. I have recently been informed that this figure has been reduced, just a little, by increasing production and publishing costs. Fair enough. In response I have increased the book price to £9.00, because I reckon I deserve (and will need) the increased royalty of £1.70-odd.

So that’s the nuts and bolts of it. About a thousand sobs to get your book out.

I knew from the moment of inception that I would very unlikely to make that money back: do the math, in my case that’s 600 sales, give or take. But this has never been about the money. Nor any distant possibility of fame. It has, of course on one level been about the possibility of some kind of breakthrough… though into what, who knows? But friends I can look you in the eye and tell you that I may be the least materialist(ic) guy you’re gonna meet this week. This has not been about that. It’s about contributing to the bantz; sharing some stories; making a real, honest document, however wild and indulgent it may seem to some. I’ve loved this process so far. And I really do recommend self-publishing, and Grosvenor House in particular.

Finally, daft not to include a link to book sales: though of course I wish it didn’t have to be the way of the monstrous online retailer. (Predictably, the Publishing Universe is tilted every bit as much towards the rich and famous as the Capitalist Status Quo: those with resources get their books into shops. The rest of us need benefactors – in my case the Twitter Bighitters that may possibly lift sales towards that trigger-point which releases, via algorithm, copies into Waterstones and the rest. We deal-less, agent-less plebs can only hope to break through into shops if plenty folks buy early, on-line).

So. Wish me luck?

Worcester.

#FirstWorldProblems. Can’t hardly see my screen, such is the intensity of the sunlight. But hey, can’t start with a mither about the spectacular Rick-directed brightness. Even if it has bundled me into breaking out the dodgy cap… and even if I am now squirming, just a little, in our outdoor cabin/glasshouse. Worcester, right now, you are quirky and beautiful and – as we say in Wales – bluddy lush, mun.

New Zealand win the toss and opt to field. Two changes, for England – Wyatt and Farrant in.

Interestingly, Wyatt, collecting her 200th England cap today, will bat at seven. Lots of talk about rotation and ‘workload’. Tiny crowd in, all things considered. (Sunday; good value day out, in bright sunshine; competitive international fixture in prospect). Kerr will bowl to Winfield-Hill. Beaumont the other opener. Slightly surreal situation where I have BBC Radio on – for the cricket – and 5 metres to my right (but indoors) Alison Mitchell and Georgia Adams are doing it live.

Captain Sophie Devine will follow Kerr’s quiet opener. Beaumont greets her with a classical forward drive, beating mid-off. Four. Then a full delivery on leg stick is clipped away and a third boundary comes via a full-toss, through extra. Ah. Then, having biffed 12 runs off 6 deliveries, Beaumont rather shockingly leaves one… and is bowled. She a) mis-read the angle a little and b) wasn’t ready for the critical but minor twitch off the pitch. Off stump pinged. 14 for 1. Drama Overload, early-doors.

Kerr is back for the third. The unflappable, irresistible, quietly magnificent Heather Knight (no pressure!) is in.

More action in the next over, again bowled by Devine. Winfield-Hill lifts over point then hits shot of the day – early shout but may not be beaten – creaming one out between the offside fielders. Eased out, in fact, beautifully. Five overs done and the home side are 27 for 1. Time for Tahuhu.

Out on the field I’m thinking the temperature is about 70 degrees. Where the (three of us) Written Press People are sitting it’s into the 80s. #Justsaying. We are all wearing dodgy caps but still squinting from beneath their plainly inadequate peaks. The day is ridiculous; again. Whilst we’re digressing I note that Bromsgrove School are sponsoring something down here: their logo is up on the scoreboard. Have been there on junior tours. Three cricket pitches and a general embarrassment of riches.

Did I mention we’re viewing from third man? (Right hand bat). Knight pulls Tahuhu hard, for four. 45 for 1 after 8, with both batters looking tidy. Fifty is up as Kerr strays narrowly but beats everything. The trashy metal pillar with its peeling paint and stubborn permanence, blocking my view of mid-off and the cathedral… will only be mentioned once.

Winfield-Hill really does clatter Tahuhu over square leg, for a one-bounce four. Ten over powerplay done, England 59 for 1.

Rowe joins us for the 11th, from the New Road End. A floaty away-swinger draws a nick, from Knight: gone, caught Martin, for 18. (It did swing late – so great ball, first up). Sciver will join Winfield-Hill. Mixed over, ultimately, containing two wides and a worldie. Tahuhu follows.

Winfield-Hill again pushes neatly through the covers. With Beaumont and Knight both gone, she will feel England need her to go big. Might make sense for her to bat through whilst the likes of Sciver and Wyatt bring some boom.

*Except* that the Mighty Sciver is leaving us, having tamely chipped to cover, off the outer edge. Again Rowe the successful bowler. 67 for 3 and New Zealand back in the game. Amy Jones – who is by nature a positive or attacking player – will be conscious that a Proper Partnership is needed. Credit to the Ferns, who are again looking organised, committed and a threat. Devine returns, to look to press home the recent advantage.

Another sloppy dismissal. Jones has tried a wristy flick but merely dinked one straight to midwicket. Given the context, poor. 68 for 4 so England in some minor grief. Dunkley will have a further opportunity to fill that post-collapse ‘saviour’ role. (Henry Moeran informs us that England have fallen into a 3 for 89 off 22 balls-sized hole, of late). Strikes me again that New Zealand – the away side – are here to compete.

Dunkley takes Rowe for four. A trainer brings on water – and no doubt *messages*.

Alex Hartley is suddenly bit mortified she said “brain fart” on the radio – describing that Beaumont dismissal. Izzy Westbury meanwhile is waxing lyrical about the delivery, from Sophie Devine. Genuinely encouraging to see and hear the comm-box – doorway, 3.25 metres to my right – owned by young women.

Coo. The stand is now just offering a little protection from the glare. Still magical conditions out where it matters. Oh – and the crowd has grown, too. Significantly.

Quiet period – as there was, mid-innings, in the previous game of the series. Dunkley air-shotting and Winfield-Hill weirdly missing from the action. The England pair may yet ‘see this out’ but it’s a battle, currently. W-H has 30 from 49 and Dunkley is on 10, off 24. Tahuhu goes short and is pulled – but just for the single.

The bowler repeats that shortish one and Dunkley gets in a mess; succeeding only in scuffing it from high on the bat to the catcher at midwicket. She’s drawn lots of lurv, this season, for her strong contributions with the bat (in domestic formats) plus her fielding has been highly-rated, but live, for England, I’ve not been that convinced, by Dunkley. Even when she allegedly carried England through, at Hove. Batting a touch scratchy, fielding mixed: possible rather than nailed-on ‘international’ is my view, thus far – outlier though that makes me.

Another decent ball gets another ugly wicket. 85 for 5; enter Dani Wyatt . Our first sight of Kasperek in the match. Wyatt is another ‘natural counter-attacker’: am fascinated to know what her coach Keightley might have said (if anything) before she marched out. Only 20 overs into the event.

Wyatt rises to her tiptoes and cuts Tahuhu neatly for four. Genuine, quick bouncer follows. The batter ducks. Another short one is clonked forward of square, raising two more, before the hundred is up, in this the 22nd over. (So run-rate mediocre… and credit New Zealand as well as indifferent batting).

Cloud cover has increased by 39.4%. No idea if that was forecast – don’t think we’re expecting any rain – but England might want to draft Shrubsole back in, sharpish.

25 overs in – so halfway. England 110, which is probably 30 runs light of where they’d like or expected to be. 5 down. Assuming they use the overs, a total of around 250 seems not unthinkable. It may be enough. For the home side to get beyond that this Wyatt/Winfield-Hill axis may need to persist and then flourish. It could. In any event we’re back to thought that White Ferns compete well, with the ball. For the sake of the game and the series, I hope they can do the same with the bat.

Satterthwaite joins, W-H seems becalmed. Then disaster. Wyatt pulls Kasperek and the batters set off. Two is questionable; or questioned; or risked; or out of the question. Utter howler on the communications front: both batters finish up at the same end. Village? Oh yes. It’s Winfield-Hill who has to walk. After 28 overs, with Charlie Dean now in there with Wyatt, England are in bother at 122 for 6.

To her credit, Wyatt is sweeping Satterthwaite ambitiously. Four behind square.

Meteorologically, the sky is falling in, to match the English innings. Low, decidedly grey cloud over most of the ground. Significantly more bowler-friendly (theoretically) than a couple of hours ago. Interestingly, the Ferns are going with spin through this ‘seamers’ dream’.

Dean, now on 8, plays and misses at Kasperek. Then gets a fine, fine edge which is given after review. 134 for 7 as Ecclestone walks out there. Good running brings a rare three, behind. With under-achievement now seeming inevitable, for England, so our speculation about what seems likely, from New Zealand, becomes increasingly pertinent. Truth is… hard to know. (Always hard to know, of course, but today from this batting line-up – which to be honest, we still know comparatively little about – hard to know). England will probably bowl and field well. The rest – guesswork.

Kerr is in from New Road. The rate of scoring is only about 4 per over. Wyatt waits then cuts away behind square. Four. She now has 35.

Ecclestone – who is a swiper and clubber rather than a genuine bat – clumps Kasperek towards cover and it falls just short. Then Wyatt clouts over extra and Devine is scurrying back there… but again, safe – rather narrowly. Tense. Not sure you would bet on the home side using the overs.

Rowe is back for the 35th over, with England 144 for 7. Ecclestone clubs her short one directly to midwicket. Sloppy again? I would say so. Cross edges her first ball finely and safely. Moments later, reaching at Kasperek, she edges and finds gully. 146 for 9. Whatever happens next – and it *is entirely possible* that England blow the Ferns away as the afternoon turns to evening – this is close to humiliating, for Knight’s team. A whole series of ver-ry poor dismissals.

Farrant has joined Wyatt with a remarkable 15 overs remaining. 150 up before Farrant clips away a leg-side full-toss. Rowe is soon met with a violent straight hit, middled, from Wyatt – the game’s first six. I have on occasion been critical of Wyatt’s capacity for gifting her wicket. *Ironies*. Today she may get to 50 whilst effectively being both the anchor and the sticking-plaster. (I have never doubted that she is a player).

Tahuhu is back and Farrant, who I note *carries the bat like a bowler, whilst running between the sticks*, stands firm. And wow… the sun is back. Really back, blazing again from our right.

Rowe, to try to end this, from New Road. Bowls another wide. Farrant has 11 and Wyatt 45. Weather-wise, we’re back where we started – in Near Wild Heaven. Rowe returns to Wide Hell, sadly – despite showing promise, has bowled manifestly too many. 171 for 9 as Tahuhu comes in for the 40th over. Farrant looks, or is trying to look unflustered but seems a little racy, somehow. Flicks at one down leg but the snick falls short of Martin.

Prolonged and hearty applause, as Wyatt reaches 50. Likewise when she booms Rowe over mid-off for her second six. Fine, lone knock, enjoyed and appreciated.

Farrant edges Rowe but again the ball drops short of the keeper. So things feel precarious. Wyatt back-cuts Tahuhu but Green makes an outstanding diving stop at the boundary. May have to start calling Tarrant ‘plucky’. Has 21. May have been a case for getting Kerr and Devine on 5 or 6 overs ago. Kerr will bowl the 43rd.

200 will feel like a ‘milestone’. England approaching. The 50 partnership is up; could be major in the game. Can Kasperek break this open? Not immediately; Wyatt successfully dropping and scampering. But then… yes. Farrant is caught by Green at mid-on, unable to power up and over. England 197 all out: disappointing from them. Good, from the White Ferns.

The White Ferns Reply.

Sciver, first up, for England, in returning cloud, with Suzie Bates to face. Lauren Down the other batter. Quiet over, then Farrant, whom I suspect may swing it. The rather mean thought(?) has occurred that *whatever happens*, we will be travelling to our homes come about 5.30pm. Winfield-Hill draws generous applause with a bold, successful diving stop.

Sciver is doing that exaggerated vertical pistons thing and searching for a full length. No dramas. 10 for 0 after 3. A shower feels not impossible, suddenly. Bit unfortunate that the screen opposite us, from which we’ve had the benefit of replays, is no longer offering footage. Would be good to see if Farrant, in particular, is getting anything through the air. If she is, it’s not troubling Bates, who has moved to 19. (As I finish this sentence, we get stump-cam, then four seconds of video, then back to zilch. More #firstworldproblems).

Bates cracks Sciver through the covers for four more. 33 for 0 after 7. Perfect, for the Ferns. Farrant will continue but I’m guessing there may be changes after this over. Indeed there are; Kate Cross, from the Diglis End, for starters. Bates ungenerously whips her for four. But the Slightly Sloppy Wicket theme recurrs, as Bates drives straight to Wyatt. The catch is reviewed but confirmed, despite unconvincing angles and picture clarity. Probably out, I would say. 40 for 1 as Farrant comes in again.

Down goes to 11 with a nicely-focussed off-drive, for four. 44 for 1, at 10 overs completed. Imagine Farrant feels – or her skipper does – that there’s still something in this for her. She gets a sixth over.

My feeling is that Cross is a bowler of good spells and not so many killer balls. And that she also tends to offer width – and boundaries, to off. Happening here, a little. She almost gets a caught and bowled, as Down pushes. 62 for 1 after 13. Comfortable, for New Zealand. Ecclestone will look to disturb the relative peace.

She does. Green is caught by a ver-ry watchful Charlie Dean. Ball steepled to long-on. Wicket out of nowhere? Ecclestone’s your gal. Satterthwaite comes in at 63 for 2. A thin rain is falling – not enough, for now, to interrupt the game.

It may, however, have interrupted the White Ferns’ concentration. Down is lbw to Cross and does not review. 63 for 3. Devine time.

They’re starting from scratch together but Satterthwaite and Devine might manage this situation better than most. Have quality; have experience. Drinks break whilst we contemplate what that might mean. 73 for 3 after 16, New Zealand.

Cross, once more. Devine crunches her square but Beaumont’s hands are good. No run. Sciver can’t match that. She dives over a drilled drive and it goes for four. Not had a great time of it, today, the all-rounder. Just heard on social that Jimmy Greaves has died. Sad moment; he was a genius on the pitch and a character in our lives off it.

*Almost something* as Wyatt is throwing at the bowler’s end with Devine looking stranded, following yet another communications failure. Wyatt is probably England’s best fielder but the throw is missing and Cross can’t haul it in. An escape, for the Ferns.

Satterthwaite fails to make the best of that escape. She slashes at Cross and is caught sharply behind by the consistently excellent Jones. Halliday has joined Devine. Dean will bowl her first from the Diglis End. Devine sweeps her powerfully, for four. Twice. Ten from the over, 100 up, 4 down, as we go into the 22nd.

The screens are now helpfully telling us that the White Ferns need three point something-something runs per over. And it’s raining finely again. And the game feels quiet rather than tense. For now. Little bit surprised that the umpires are allowing the players to go off – the rain really seems ver-ry minor*. Maybe they’re hearing that it will persist. 111 for 4 after 24 overs, at the break of play.

*Update. I’m both wrong and right. It’s minor but it’s too prolonged and uncomfortable to play through. We wait. Just heard about that Hammers Icon, Noble. Eek-face emoji running rampant on the Twitters, I imagine?

Further update: ‘unexpected shower sets in’ shock. No floodlights. Game under some threat…

It’s cleared – or clearing. We could start in 15 minutes but we *are starting* in 35, apparently. Stand by your beds.

Slightly reduced game, due to time lost/no lights/autumnal wotsits. 42 over game, now and New Zealand need 72 to win. So a round 4 an over will get the visitors home. That shortened game favours them in the sense that you would think their 6 remaining wickets can survive the overs. But let’s see.

Sciver will start us off. Jumpers on, now, for most. Coolish and the surface will be slightly damp. Imagine England will have to bowl them out to win this(?) Two from the over.

Now from our left, at the New Road End, it’s Ecclestone. Sharp reflexes from the bowler, last ball; one single conceded. Then *moment*. Sciver gets straight through Devine. Difficult to be sure but appeared that the batter mistimed the stroke, going gently across the line. Devine made 28 and her team need 66. Dean comes in: is Ecclestone changing ends, or being ‘saved?’

Thick edge from Martin but the next ball bowls her. Some revs evident, but no turn. 121 for 6, she’s gone for 6. Dean thrilled.

The incoming Rowe drives competently past Knight – who is maybe a little wooden – and gets the boundary. Then more Sciver. No dramas.

Back to Dean, with the tension just beginning to ratchet up. Nice, free action. Singles. The sense that Halliday may be more vulnerable than Rowe. 30 0vers; 12 remain. 52 to win this. Cross will return from the Diglis End. Starts with a yorker, kept out, by Halliday. Inside edge brings one, to fine leg. Dean races around to protect that same boundary – successfully.

Halliday, crouching and fending unconvincingly, is struck on the helmet by a good length delivery, from Cross. Minor delay but she seems okay. No question that Rowe is presenting the bat better than her partner… but not well enough. Dean has her lbw. Flighted delivery which turned just a tickle – hitting leg. Kasperek joins Halliday at 135 for 7.

First ball she utterly mistimes… and misses… but survives. Encouraging wee spell for Dean, acknowledged by the crowd (us) as she returns to third man. (*Spoiler alert*: she will finish with a four-fer). Halliday swivels to pick Cross up very fine and the ball flies, from the hip to the boundary. Run rate just creeping against the Ferns, now but still below 5, so hardly insurmountable. Dean is holding steady. 145 for 7 off 34. Meaning 38 required, off 8 overs. Ecclestone.

Two dot balls. Single. Dot ball. Halliday advances and slices a touch. Lots of side-spin as the ball sinks into the boundary markers. Halliday has a precious 29, without looking entirely in her flow. Dean is in to her now. The ball is fired in, a little and flashes past the bat. Halliday cannot regain her ground as the keeper Jones pounces. Tahuhu – who batted notably well in the last game – is in.

Big Day for Dean, then – something of a breakthrough day. The momentum is with England as Ecclestone comes in again but she knows boundaries must not come. If Kasperek and Tahuhu can keep their composure they will feel that this is still within reach… but it’s now undeniably tense. Three dot balls from Dean then an l.b. shout. Given and not reviewed. 161 for 9. Kerr joins Tahuhu. Slight hunch that the latter could still win this with a few well-timed blows… but England clear favourites.

Farrant. Is edged through the keeper! Then bowls a touch short and may be fortunate to concede just the single. The left-arm seamer closes this out, though, as Tahuhu guides a full one straight to the England skipper at catching mid-off. Very generous applause for both sides as they depart from the outfield. Another tightish game – albeit reduced – won by England with 14 runs to spare. Importantly, another contest.

The White Ferns have been well in both of these two one-day matches, before fading or lacking the batting depth to earn the victories. (In truth, this was the prime concern for those of us trying to stay relatively neutral – the fear that if Bates and Devine and A. N. Other didn’t carry the innings, the side might prove vulnerable. So it has proved). New Zealand will not be liking the sense that they are threatening to be a good side.

England, meanwhile, have been pressured to the point that they, despite an apparent wealth of talent, looked an ordinary batting unit, rescued only by a fine, belated partnership between Wyatt and Farrant. There were serial errors in the innings, suggesting scrambled minds and a worrying contagion: this is a concern for them. Good work in the field has bailed them out, again, here.

The series needs the White Ferns to bat longer, bat more dynamically. England need to assert some authority – if indeed they have it – or check their assumptions about where they sit in the world game. The Keightley Era feels a bit neurotic.

#FinalsDay. (Men). #Edgbaston.

Wow. Energising breeze-in to a comfy parking-slot, embarrassingly nearby. Sun’s already vanquished that pesky misty dew. Waltz up to Media Level and… wow. Edgbaston does it again. Zingtasticly resplendent stadium; cavernous and stunning and guarded, rather weirdly but quietly-gloriously, by epic trees – Cricket Ents? – screening the mid-skyline, leaving only the grandest of glassy, concretey poseurs to peek in towards us. Plus *facilities* already revealing themselves. Food; info; screens; people who look like they will help. A magnificent privilege, every year.

9.45. Somerset pace bowlers already working towards some heat on a side wicket. Hawks guys using tapes to measure out run-ups on the match pitch. Big Name Journos assembling close by. Some are delightful, some are – yaknow – ‘cool’. (Never been a networker). As in life, speak to everyone who seems friendly; leave the others alone, eh? Mason Crane, I think – in cap and full trackie – is turning the ball markedly on a strip directly (directly) under my nose. Impressive and mildly exciting. Somerset take on Hamps Hawks in the first game.

The carrot-and-coriander (crypto-Glamorgan) sausage is tasty and welcome but the bun is a disappointing duffer. Loading up on food and coffee *seems* like a good idea – monster of a day ahead. (Actually I know gallons of coffee is going to make my once-svelte belly bloat like hell but forgot to bring a knife and a lemon and asking for them would plainly single me out as the Psycho Health Fascist in the bunch. Which I am not).

Hawks doing that tripartite warm-up thing where you rotate through fielding drills, in groups of four or so. Keeper being worked individually. That practice strip underneath me is well lively. Watching the ball swing some but turn pret-ty square. Doubt the main pitch will be quite as bowler-friendly but we live in hope. Somerset have won the toss and chosen to field. Hampshire, the Official Programme tells me, are playing in their eighth final in twelve years.

When we finally get going, it’s the returning Overton charging in, with some menace, through the post-pyrotechnic mist. Good pace. Vince and Albert look to be seeing it out but Vince utterly mistimes the final ball, dinking it back (as opposed to slapping it back) to the bowler. Overton can’t hold on. Big Chance. Albert takes Davey for four, square, in the next but then the bowler a) nearly bowls him and b) has a decent l.b. shout against. Batters advancing but we have seen little in the way of clean hitting. Albert, frustrated, tries to invent something but can only tamely mis-scoop behind. Gone for 5. Hawks are 8 for 1 after 2.

Make that 8 for 2. Vince is cutting something too close and also edging to the keeper. Overton the bowler. Weatherley comes in under early pressure. He slog-sweeps, boldly, just evading the fielder at deep square. Six runs. Bright sunshine and the ground about 35% full. Tom Prest has yet to face as Weatherley sweetly clumps Davey for another six, then drives him straight for four. Brilliant start from the batsman, given the moment he was pitched into. When Prest finally gets a look, it’s brief. Davey delivers a peach, full and doing a little off the surface: batter gone for nought. Hampshire in some grief at 26 for 3 as Overton races in again, for the 5th.

Weatherly goes to 23 off 12, steering to the boundary. Ground filling rapidly. Dawson has joined us.

There is a prolonged ‘discussion’ out there as wicketkeeper Banton takes a skier, running twenty yards. Dawson – experienced and streetwise – is vigorously *having words* and we are guessing it may be about fielders moving… but unclear. After an age, the batsman is given not out and a free hit signalled. (No audio in the press box so you may be ahead of me, on this)*. Van der Merwe is bowling from the City End – tidily enough, three from the over. 49 for 3 now, after 7.

*Update. Marchant de Lange apparently guilty of not moving back into the ring. Oof. The big man will be off somebody’s Christmas card list.

Dawson flips an ugly, wristy leading edge towards Gregory but the Hampshire skipper can’t quite get there. Maybe he should have done… but doesn’t matter. Green’s slower-ball yorker soon defeats the fella – bowling him classically ‘all ends up’. Given the influence Liam Dawson tends to have, on proceedings, this feels pivotal. By the time Goldsworthy has wheeled/slung his way through a further over of mid-innings spin, Hawks are beyond 70, but 4-down. Bigger Picture Styleee, we’ve seen enough to hope that today won’t all be about brazenly smashing through the line: the bowlers are in it.

Goldsworthy is. He has McManus – another catch for Banton, semi-juggling. 80 for 5, in the 13th. Marchant de Lange is next in, for the first time, from beneath us. Biggish appeal, but clearly missing. Weatherley persists, joined most recently by Fuller. Mixed over culminates in a high full-toss, merely parried to safety. 84 for 5.

Fuller strikes Goldsworthy through extra, for four: he will need to support his partner. Weatherley gets through to his fifty via a very scratchy single; in truth it may have been a second fairly ordinary piece of fielding by Gregory, who *really might* have run him out. Instead the Hawks’ sole major contributor (so far) has 50 off 38. De Lange, revisited. Bowling 90-plus. No fireworks, however.

Poorish, wide ball from van der Merwe spins even wider but Fuller gets a little on it… and 100 is up. Shocking full-toss is summarily dispatched into the crowd but a calamitous mix-up between the batters yields a soft wicket. That of Fuller, who made 22. 112 for 6, as De Lange comes in for the 18th.

Wood heaves him, slightly toe-ending to deep midwicket, where the fielder, absolutely racing round can only get a hand to it. Four. Next ball is clubbed, downtown. Six. The final delivery is also powered into the crowd. All Fuller, all crucial. 130 for 6. Davey will return – changing ends – for the penultimate over.

Davey again finds something: stonkingly full and straight delivery. Wood’s 18 off 6 has been thrilling but he must leave us. Currie joins Weatherley. Davey does him with the same delivery, second ball. Brilliant stuff. The incoming Crane has one to face. He scuffs and scuttles for two. We are 135 for 8 as De Lange runs in… to try and redeem himself. (Am amazed he gets to bowl this).

First two balls get battered contemptuously, by Weatherley, for six but his genuinely superb contribution ends with a skier to long-on. Innings closes with another run-out, on 152 all out.

Feels competitive, because only De Lange was subjected to a sustained barrage: elsewhere the bowling looked too good or too difficult to hit, without some care. We may, as a result, have a day where scores are lowish but drama is heightened by the relative un-freedom of the batters. Often the guys with the wood can let it flow, violently, through the line, in the knowledge that things will tend work out for them. Not quite like that, here.

The Reply.

Wood opens for the Hawks, with Banton and Smeed in there for Somerset. Just the one from the over. Smeed crunches the first boundary through extra, from Wheal. Notable that good yorkers have, apparently, some value – who knew? 8 for 0 off 2. A touch more cloud?

Prest is in athletically to pouch Banton, in the deep. Goodish hit but not pure enough. Van der Merwe will join Smeed. I pause to note that there are about FIFTY journos in the media centre, today. At the England matches I’ve been attending, there have been 5-8 and I expect that to hold for tomorrow’s game in Worcester. What could the erm, *issue* be, I wonder?

A long umpire’s review, because it was close. It was close but Vince did indeed pick up the low, low scudder and thereby claim the wicket of van der Merwe, for 2. Smeed responds by lifting Currie for four, over mid-off. 28 for 2 after 5.

Short-lived joy for the west-country supporters, as the same batsman swishes across left-armer Wood, a little, to pick out a grateful Vince (again), chest-high. 30 for 3 after the powerplay. Mason Crane.

A run-out! Goldsworthy is out, sprinting into the void. Messy gets marginally worse, as Lammonby plays and misses one which does straighten, and is plumb. 34 for 5 and time for the skipper – Gregory – to man up. More spin, from Dawson.

Great chorus of “OH – RAVI BO-PAA-RAA” from the Hollies. Long day for all of us but surely a killer for many of them? Meanwhile, with Somerset at 48 for 5 at the halfway mark, and the required rate now already just over 10, Abell and Gregory – fine players both – may have to find something special. The relative quiet in the game will not suit them.

Error at the boundary edge gifts a four. More needed. Abell slog-sweeps Dawson, with commitment and no little style, for four more. Singles/twos won’t do this, so they must be thinking two boundaries per over: they have to hit.

Currie is in and backward point is almost in the game, for the cut. Falls a foot short. We have a partnership building but it may lack the necessary dynamism: expect them to launch, of course but is this enough? A six helps… but Gregory falling to Dawson, mistiming, via the pad, doesn’t. Green is here, at 79 for 6, with the bowler’s energy fizzing.

Crane will bowl the 15th, with Somerset needing plenty. Crowd fully involved, now, sun and cloud still local: great scene. Runs but not enough.

Wood from under my left foot. Evidently ‘difficult to get away’. Has figures of 1 for 8 from his 3 overs, so far. 100 is up and Abell’s 50 with it as Currie bowls from the City End. But it’s 50 and “by-ee” as Abell is easily caught in the deep, by Fuller. 105 for 7 after 17, meaning 46 needed from 18 balls.

Wheal beats Overton but there is no nick. Green swings hard and gets enough to beat backward square leg, then guns a loose full-toss over midwicket for six. 35 from 14. Yorkers still featuring. A second, poor full-toss is swung into the Hollies.

Woods has changed ends to bowl the 19th but even he gets no respect. Six. Green. Interesting.

Next ball is swung to the same precinct but mishit. The fielder seems unsure of the trajectory… or something. Down it goes; single scored. Somerset in the game?

YES! Green goes to 35 from 17 by clipping and hoisting over mid-wicket – just. 12 from 8 needed, suddenly.

The heroics – well, Green’s – are over. Shortish one clubbed to long on. Caught with some ease. Overton dribbles one out to make two possible… and gets there. 10 needed from the last. Entirely possible, except Davey is facing – on nought.

Single to midwicket. Wheal goes yorker-length again and only one is possible. Beautiful swing of the bat lifts the third ball up and over and safe. Six. So JUST THREE NEEDED FROM TWO BALLS! Field come in and Davey flicks nonchalantly to leg. Fabulous game, won by Somerset, by two wickets.

Much-needed food. Mascot race. Rest.

SHARKS v SPITFIRES.

The lively Garton, leggy, left-handed, starts with a wide, to leg. Crawley is facing, with Bell-Drummond at t’other end. A second wide is worse – further astray – and not that quick, so nerves, presumably. Six come from that mixed over.

Wiese starts with a full (attempted) leg-cutter but Crawley, charging, hoiks the second away, agriculturally, for our first boundary. Bell-Drummond then guides one to fine-leg for four more, before pulling squarer. 22 for 0 after 2. Brisk start.

Garton finds his range, castling Crawley. (Felt like he was getting too greedy too early). A Plan, no doubt, but he was halfway down the strip for most of his shortish innings. Made 9, from 9. Denly joins Bell-Drummond. Jordan’s direct hit is typically brilliant but to no effect. Tymal Mills – quickish, natural length shortish – will come in from under the media centre. The runs continue to come: 18 from the over. 44 for 1 after just 4. The lovely, wider sunshine is back, flooding. A further change from the City End; Jordan.

He’s going at 84/85 mph, straightish but Bell-Drummond check-cuts one out through cover. Four. Fifty is up, in the over. When Garton returns Denly looks to hoist him classically straight but the bat twists; he finds mid-on and the hands of one of the great fielders in the world game – yup, Chris Jordan. Something of a gift. 53 for 2 after 6.

Sam Billing is in and the youngster Lenham will have a bowl. No major dramas: Kent are going at 8.5 an over. They may be thinking they don’t need to go too big too early. The ‘police’ are chasing ‘burglars’ around the Hollies as Bell-Drummond gets to a beautifully well-judged 50. I put my shades back on – yes, indoors. The carnival is building.

Beer is bowling his second over of leg-spin from in front of us. Getting some turn, in fact. Spitfires get to 82 for 2 at the halfway. Bopara-time, evidently.

The still-influential all-rounder comes at us from the City End. Right arm, medium; mixing it up. Escapes with a full-toss that should have been dispatched… but is belatedly called high… so free hit. Six to square leg. Sharks *really won’t* want Billings to get in alongside his partner – who now has 62.

He doesn’t. Bopara bowls him. 93 for 3, then, as Mills returns, to bowl the 12th. 180 feels possible, and 170 likely.

OOF. Splash of colour and light and the wickets are splayed. Leaning has come and gone – second ball – to the England leftie. Cox joins, Mills bowls a fabulous, searching, quick one and finds an edge: caught behind. Two-in-two and we may need to re-calculate. Except the mighty Stevens, D, is the man in to face the hat-trick ball. (And c’mon, the man’s a legend). He watches the delivery scoot past.

96 for 5 after 12. Still think Sharks will want best part of 80 from the last 8 overs. Bell-Drummond is well in; Stevens is a legend. Let’s see.

100 up after 12.3. Bell-Drummond using Jordan’s pace – caressing. We’re at the stage where the Hollies is erm, a protagonist. Hilarious; daft; noisy; good-humoured. God help the stewards down there.

More soft hands, from Bell-Drummond. Kisses quite deliberately through the keeper. Then Stevens bludgeons over mid-off. Bopara the victim, both times. Five overs remain with Kent Spitfires sitting on 122 for 5. Garton in.

A wide one is thick-edged wide of third man. Four to Stevens, who now has 20. B-D flicks one to 45, high, looping. Could be Lenham misjudges a little. In any case he dives and misses. Four more.

We may all have been wondering if Bell-Drummond would raise his century but the answer is no. He drills Garton straight to Bopara at deep mid-wicket. Gone for an outstanding, skilful 82. Stewart has joined Stevens. Jordan has joined the Slam in the Yorkers Society, with some success. 143 for 6 after 17. (Note it’s 15.45 and the cut-off time is 15.53. Meaningless?)

Stewart can’t hit Mills, which means that Stevens probably must. But just for one. Massive cheer for ‘Ronald McDonald’, to my right… don’t ask.

Spitfires have just spluttered a tad. 150 up but minor under-achievement seems likely. So Stevens scoops cheekily for four. Then smashes but just for two, to deep extra. Jordan’s last ball he does nail. Clean hit through that same extra-cover area. 160 for 6; 6 balls remaining.

Mills finds the edge, first up. Stewart gone for 3, caught by Salt, at the wicket. Qais then runs himself out – not bargaining for Steven’s intransigence. The veteran slams four more over point. We finish with 168 for 8, with Stevens in on 47 from 28.

The reply, from Sussex Sharks.

Denly to Salt and Wright – an experienced threesome. The bowler turns one big but nine runs come from the over. Then a significant change-up as Klaasen comes in; left-arm, quick, but swinging significantly wide. Called. Salt comes at the bowler and cuffs him sharply to leg, for four. Slowish off-cutter does for Salt: edged through to the keeper Billings.

Denly again – a ‘part-timer’ but a bloke who does give it a tweak. Bopara and Wright will be watchful. 26 for 1 after 3. Milnes, who has star quality, will follow.

First ball is clipped neatly enough square, for one. Thick edge then flies over point – safely. Two. Ground almost full; day spectacular, still. As is (I kid you not) the very next ball. Milnes castles Knight with a pearler, to substantial exhilaration.

Stewart is in from the City and hurrying the batsmen. The left-handed Rawlins sees him out, rather. 37 for 2 after 5. Killer back-of-the-hand yorker from Klaasen leaves the same batter on his backside… but in. Good contest again, between bat and ball.

There’s been a minor lull in the stroke-making. The kind that makes batters feel they have to have a go. Rawlins does – fatally – slashing wide and easy out to deep point. By no means an easy catch, mind: excellent agility and great hands from Leaning. 39 for 3, then, as Wiese stomps in: a single added before the fielding side wave farewell to those powerplay restrictions.

But life is cruel, eh, because it’s just too easy for some. Take Darren Stevens. He’s in. He’s taking a wicket. First ball. *Shakes head and makes wtf gestures*. Ridiculous. But also completely predictable.

Qais applies further angst to the Sharks’ camp. Absolute stonker of a leg-spinner takes the edge and shifts Bopara. Billings jubilant to snaffle it – always a big wicket that one. 57 for 5, at this point.

We get to halfway. The run-rate is 10-plus. Ward is in – has 20 – and Garton fresh. Spitfires ahead in the game *but yaknowww*…

The day beginning to slough away its warmth. Garton smashes a way a drag-down, from Qais. His fellow spinner, Leaning, will make the next breakthrough: Ward clumping to the fielder. 89 for 6 after 13.1. A round 80 needed, from 41 balls. Chris Jordan has marched out. Garton drives Leaning beautifully through the covers, to the boundary. Can the two frontline bowlers rise to this?

Qais returns from the City End, with the asking-rate beyond 12. So there must be drama and urgency, or capitulation. Garton flukes an edge behind, for four then extends through to get past long-off, narrowly, for another. Last ball of the over is struck with sweet emphasis into the crowd beyond midwicket. 57 from 30.

Milnes is in to, erm, the national anthem. Of England. Garton – plainly a danger – swishes and times it for six more, over backward square. It can’t last. The Sharks’ quickie is undone by the Spitfires’; caught cutting to backward point. Fabulous, stylishly defiant innings of 41 from 23. Beer joins Jordan. 16 overs done: 2 a ball needed, precisely. 48 from 24. (We do like a bit of symmetry, eh?)

Stewart, from the City. Shadows. Jordan gets all of a short one. Six. Ten from the over.

Klaasen gets biffed back straightish, by Beer. Four. But Jordan can only slash a steepler straight to long-off. Presently (as I think they used to say?) we get to a place where the Sharks need 30 from the last 2 overs. Mills – not known for his batting prowess – is in there alongside Beer. All manner of milling/boozy-related headlines are becoming possible but what will actually happen?

Predictably, Milne is too good for Mills, bowling him with a floaty one. 23 needed, from 7. Young Lenham is greeted by a quicker, fuller one which he keeps out.

Last over feels a formality and is. A short one steered gently round the corner by Lenham is catching practice for Qais and the game belongs to Kent. Klaasen the wicket-taker. We have a Spitfires v Somerset final. The light is already leaving us, my energy is challenged but I’m up for it if you are? Some deeeep breaths – and cakes* – and then we go again.

*Did I mention the hospitality here is world-class? I should. It is, and the staff here have my heartfelt thanks.

THE FINAL – SOMERSET v KENT SPITFIRES.

Somerset have won the toss and opted to field. We have lights – I mean lights that are now earning their living – against a darkening sky. Some of the crowd (I’m guessing 20%*) have left. No changes to either side.

Craig Overton is opening up, from the City End. Crawley will face, with Bell-Drummond partnering. Second ball struck sweetly through mid-wicket, across the cooling carpet, for four. Davey, who bowled outstandingly in the earlier game, is in and also getting some bounce – again almost troubling Bell-Drummonds’ glove.

*Correction. Only about 5 % have left. The buggers were loitering, endlessly around the various bars.

Crawley (who *has something*, yes?) flicks Overton to 45 for four. Could be ver-ry good viewing if he finds his flow. 19 for 0 after 3.

Davey once more. Lights leaning in, now. He tries the yorker but B-D unceremoniously clubs him downtown. Six. Strangely – or maybe not, these days – not middled. Gregory makes another error in the field – his third, at least. Weird: Crawley gets two more. Overton will bowl a third, running towards us.

Crawley pushes calmly straight to go to 22 from 14. Looking decent.

Sixth over. Van der Merwe spears one in sharpish, flattish and Bell-Drummond can only slap it to mid-on. 44 for 1 as Denly joins us. Extraordinarily, he hoists the spinner high, high and way over Abell’s left shoulder, first up. The fielder legs it and measures a brilliant diving catch – a magical, possibly inspirational moment. We have a hat-trick ball, for Sam Billings. He survives it. 46 for 2 after the powerplay.

More spin, from Goldsworthy – a left-armer and off-spinner. 50 up. Five from the over. The left arm spin-theme continues, with van der Merwe. A poor, short delivery is inexplicably drilled by Billings to the man at mid-off: awful and wasteful. He will be furious. Gone for 2. Proper Dusk is with us, at 7.17pm. Leaning has joined Crawley and Goldsworthy maintains the cackhanders’ hold on the innings.

Crawley breaks out with a clump through mid-wicket. Four. No flight whatsoever from Goldsworthy, just a conservative, disciplined firing-in. 62 for 3 after 9.

Van der Merwe, zesty and irritating, bustles in once more. Flat period, for Spitfires. 65 for 3 at halfway implies 150 rather than the 170 they may be looking for. Power-hitting imminent, surely?

Green is bringing some pace from the City and Gregory is drying the ball, now, with a towel. Poor, waist-high delivery is buffed away rather than punished… but free hit ensues. Kent can’t cash in.

When Goldsworthy switches ends and drops one short, Crawley reaches and pulls, unconvincingly. Finds the fielder. He made 41 from 32 but the innings tapered somewhat. Cox is the new man. Another short delivery dies in the pitch, outside off. If the batsman hadn’t committed early to a reverse, you feel it might have been a real gift. Instead – air-shot. Somerset will be loving the lack of fluency, here.

Green goes full and straight, Leaning drives sharply back at him and the bowler can’t unfurl his arms. Half-chance at best.

A much-needed boundary as a top-edgy effort swings up and over to fine leg. Van der Merwe will come in for his fourth… and bowl a loose wide. Low energy effort from the batting side, now, which must mean it feels tricky out there. 3 for 19 from the spell from the canny left-armer. Darkness around.

Goldsworthy will likewise see out his overs. Again it will be air-less and fired-in too short to be charged. The 100 is up, for 4 in that 15th over. (105, in fact, as Goldsworthy tosses back the ball). 140 likely? Over to Davey.

The necessary clutch of Kent boundaries seem almost unthinkable. Davey is mostly pace-off: a slower-ball bouncer – which may have been accidental – draws another error. Leaning can only miscue to Green at mid-wicket. What can Darren Stevens do?

De Lange bowls an off-cutter at his nose. Stevens steps back calmly enough and glides it to fine third man, for a single. Cox swings straight through but mistimes a little: gets enough of it to clear mid-on. Bits and pieces when they need to find some serious boom. It must be tricky, out there. 118 for 5 after 17.

Craig Overton will bowl his final over from underneath us. Cox cuts and Gregory can’t get there – four. First six for an age is neatly taken in the stand beyond long-on. A short-of-a-length ball biffed primary-school style but ver-ry welcome to the Spitfire Posse.

De Lange bowls a notably swift one at Stevens. Comprehensively beaten but it was on sixth stump. But Cox really gathers one in, to clear the mid-wicket boundary with something to spare. The Stevens Myth, however will gather no further tonight – not with the bat, at least – as he is run out by Overton, scampering for an unlikely two. We are at 149 for 6 as Davey sets for the final over.

A further run-out does for Stewart but Cox gets to a gritty and sporadically explosive 50 and beyond, for the Spitfires. They bring the game back to the opposition, as it were, by posting 167 for 7, with Cox not out, off 28. That may well be competitive.

THE SOMERSET REPLY.

Denly. Under-rated, as a bowler? I’ve often thought so. His second ball at Banton turns a mile and the opener is stumped. 1 for 1 after 1. Now Klaasen from under Our Stand. Full and swinging but despite the bawling, significantly down leg. Goldsworthy waits on the next one and cut-glides it away to get off the mark. Later in the over he looks to leg but finds only the leading edge and the ball loops cruelly to point. With Smeed now joined by Abell, Somerset are 3 for 2 after 2.

Denly, from the City End. Abell appears both watchful and fraught as he turns one high and awaaay… narrowly evading the outfielder. Four. Then four again. Smeed – who has barely had a look – gets a gift. Short one. Denly disconsolate as the ball sails into the stand at square leg.

Stewart will bring some pace. Billings’ trainers meanwhile are screaming at the universe and somehow it’s only just getting to me. WE ARE O-RANGE, WE ARE O-RRAAANGE! Five from the over. More firepower from the city as Milnes comes in. Wide one gets hit alright but extra cover can parry and limit the damage. 32 for 2 after 5.

Abell skilfully glides Klaasen down past third man for four. Then cuts over backward point. Then flicks from the hip, fine. Welcome runs. Sprinting between the wickets has been a feature of the day. No more so than when Abell and Smeed burst to two right here, right now. 47 for 2 from the powerplay overs.

Qais Ahmad will bring his extravagant leggies from the City End. (He’s been warming up, comically vigorously, for some time). Smeed can’t exploit the drag-down. Eight, from a mixed over. Next up, Stevens. The de-celerating middle-phase of his run-up is mildly fascinating: can almost hear him saying “steady on, lad. Started too bloody quick!”

Qais draws Abell into a mishit: thick outside edge flies straight to backward point. Lammonby – who failed in the semi – comes in. Abell made 26. More from Stevens as we approach halfway.

The Old Fella’s doing plenty with his hands but not much off the pitch. He’s knuckly, wristy and full of fingers around that metronomic length. 71 for 3 at 10 overs. 97 required.

More from Denly. Sharp turn beats the batsman utterly but the next delivery holds the drama – and the fascination. It’s clubbed away, Cox takes the catch but Bell-Drummond, slipping, is in contact with both with colleague and the boundary. We all look at it seventy times before the fortunate batsman is given not out.

Funny ole world. Cox is palpably angry as he takes an uncontroversial (and he thinks valedictory) catch moments later. Smeed made 43 and The Fates (and the Blokes Arguing About the Laws) can settle again. The skyscrapers of the central city have done that thing where they slip away, as our lights blaze and fore-shorten the bowl before us. Stunning scene.

Denly will bowl his third: run-rate approaching 11. Another genuine leg-spinner beats Lammonby and strikes pad. Given. 89 for 5, after 13. Van der Merwe is the new bat, joining his captain, Gregory, who has 5. Stevens runs in, then stalls, and bowls.

It had to happen! We have our first ridicu-relay-catch of the day. Cox somehow retrieving from somewhere in Flintshire to flip the ball back into play. Gregory the man out, caught Milnes (gobsmacked), bowled Stevens. Probably the most astonishing moment of the whole event. You will see on your ‘socials’.

When van der Merwe booms a hopeless full-toss straight to extra cover Ahmad’s joy is tempered by sheer embarrassment. But this means 97 for 7… and it could be the game.

Overton can play but both Green and himself are newly-in, and they need more than 70 from the remaining 5 overs. And Stevens will be looking to strangle this.

Overton responds with a classical straight hit, for six. Then a freakish four in t’other direction, as he under-edges past Billings’ left knee. Still, as Milnes rejoins, the Spitfires require the small matter of 58 runs from 24 balls. Green is beaten for sheer pace. Possible nail-in-coffin moment as Overton spoons, rather, to long-on. Straight-forward catch. Speed gun not suggesting Milnes going at full tilt but the ball looks to be gathering zip off the deck.

Stewart, for the 18th. Booming chorus of you-know-what… but wonderfully, knowingly, good-naturedly daft. A nineth wicket comes as Green edges almost square. 120 for 9, with de Lange in but hope surely gone, for Somerset? Milnes will bowl the penultimate and seek a final scalp to cap off an often sensational season. Neither batter can lay the proverbial glove on him.

43 required from the 20th over, Stewart to bowl. An anti-climax, of sorts but try telling that to Stevens/Billings/Cox et al. It’s been a fine day with a clear winner: Kent Spitfires. Davey and de Lange will like that they both hit a six in that final over but tight bowling and *relatively* challenging conditions stymied batting onslaughts generally, and undermined confidence and fluency with the wood. Somerset were not alone in struggling to counter that. We saw quality innings but not many – or not many which blew holes in the contests. Perhaps that’s the way it should be?

Discuss.

Things you need to know.

Pre-game:

Weighted balls are in.

Hopping is in.

Sunshine and clouds are in.

The Lads – Henry C and a clutch of the England backroom staff – are going through their own warm-up. Separate from them silly gals. Serious keepie-uppie football. Lasting waaaay longer than them silly gals did. The Lads, however, are shite, or medium-shite. (The Girls, meanwhile, are – yaknow – international athletes).

New Zealand (again) look a really well-drilled outfit. Shockingly, I don’t even know who their coaching team is led by*… but they are notably well-organised, focussed and impressively on it, in their warm-ups. And it’s a whole-team effort, somehow, neatly put together and overseen by the several coaches. (My strong feeling is that this groove has begun to transfer across to the matches: the IT20 series built into an excellent, competitive bundle essentially because New Zealand grew).

*Checked. Bob Carter.

12.30 to 50-odd. Lovely longish chat with Neneto Davies, from the ACE Programme, set up to support Afro-Caribbean cricketers. He’s based in London but there’s been a PR thing here, today, as the new Bristol ACE scheme gets off the ground. Good guy; wish him well.

Missed the toss. Slightly surprised to hear that White Ferns won it and chose to bowl. Imagine that as well as that ‘let’s take a look at this’ angle, they think bowling/fielding may get more difficult later, with a damp ball(?)

First over, Devine bowling. Beaumont and Winfield-Hill in there for England. 5 scored. Bright sunshine with cloud over to our right. (‘We’ in the media centre, facing the iconic – well, almost – Ashley Down End flats).

Devine’s second over she gets notable away-swing. But starts it too wide, so signalled by the ump.

First *moment* sees Beaumont dropped, at slip. Given her record and her form, this could be really bad news, for the visitors. Streaky-but-swiftish, as opposed to an absolute gift.

Kerr is partnering Devine. The generally rather classical Winfield-Hill swishes across somewhat, scuffing to third man for a single. Beaumont shows her immediately how to do it, by adjusting her feet and straight-driving past extra cover for a quality four. Out-of-the-manual: gorgeous. I’ve moved outside the media centre – too muggy, indoors, despite being on the empty side – and the sun is beating down on my back… and then not. (Yup. Clouds).

Devine is struggling for line. Wides now plural. The World’s Most Annoying Pigeon is cooing extravagantly monotonously about four-foot-six behind me… or under me, or entirely in my head. Weird, empty fury building but Winfield-Hill remains undisturbed; drives out through the offside. Four more. 30 for 0 after 5, England.

Discussed the *crowd issue* with a young woman journalist. We reckon maybe 400-500 in, now – looked ver-ry unpromising, earlier. Beautiful day. Good contest in prospect. Some world-class players. I just don’t get it. Think we both concluded that it’s a sexist universe and barely improving. (It does improve as the day goes on but I find the attendance figure of 1200 and something quite difficult to believe).

Things just got better for White Ferns. Winfield-Hill tickles one that’s fairly substantially down the leg side and – ah! – is caught behind. Awful way to get out, maybe particularly when you’re looking well set? Whatever, out she goes, for a now pregnable but previously pretty impregnable-looking 21.

Rowe is in for Devine and has claimed the wicket; Tahuhu is in from in front of us, under the press box. Ten overs done and England are 47 for 1. The quietly, stoically, passively-measuredly-Englishly magnificent Heather Knight is the new bat.

Rowe is tall and rather imposing. Is getting some bounce to go with that pace. Beats Beaumont but Knight offers the blade confidently and finds the wee gap between point and cover: four more. End of the thirteenth and the home side have 59, for 1. Light breeze quite welcome; from long off to third man as we look at Beaumont, towards those flats. The batter drives square and holds the pose – boundary through point.

Our first spin, as Kasperek replaces Rowe. The bowler had a good IT20 series – leading wicket-taker but (without being ungenerous, this is really not my intention), I was never quite clear (despite being at two of the three short-format matches), if she *really bowled well*, or not.

Distracted again, at some length, to talk Cricket Development stuff with the ACE guys. (Their coach starts work, in Bristol, on Monday). Lots of this my territory – going into schools, trying to be that friendly, hopefully inspiring geezer that gathers kids in to the game. Really do wish them all well; seem really good people, which always helps.

22nd over and Devine has changed ends. Looks strong and determined but Beaumont is looking increasingly settled and her skipper is amongst the world’s best at enduring then cashing-in. So New Zealand must make something happen soonish, you sense. They review for lbw, strangely – or so it seems – because bowler not interested, initially. Beaumont has played defensively but her bat is tucked. Pad first and out. The opener made 44: 109 for 2.

Plusses and minuses? Out goes a very fine opener: in comes the world’s best all-rounder: Sciver. She defends Devine stoutly. We get to halfway and England are Nelson for 2. So steady progress but hardly bolting along. White Ferns applying themselves – as they do. Good game brewing?

Oof. Sciver tries to glide one, with soft hands, through third man but plays on. Sloppyish, arguably. Could be ver-ry big, in the match. 113 for 3: England bat deepish, theoretically but New Zealand unquestionably ahead in the game, now. Amy Jones – fine, positive player – is joining Knight. General thought: this is a good batting track, with runs *available*.

Satterthwaite has entered the fray from Ashley Down. Drags one down a little and Knight accepts the gift – four through the covers. (The England captain has moved, as she does, undramatically to 44. Yet again we may be seeing a telling contribution).

Or not. As Jones is bowled, hurried, by Tahahu so the contribution from Knight may become less relevant – or not. Feels possible that her side may even capitulate, here, meaning that she may be unable to significantly affect the Destiny of Things. But that may be premature. England 132 for 4, after 30. Perhaps the drinks break will allow the home side to breeeaaaathe and re-group? Major work to be done.

Knight gets to 50 in the 31st. Dunkley, who has had a solidly encouraging summer (but not entirely convinced me, if I’m honest), must remain watchful alongside.

Over 32, Kerr in, with only a third man and a 45 in the deep. Poorish ball, to be honest, but Dunkley is caught at the wicket, glancing to leg. (Glove, I think). What was I saying about capitulation? Brunt – whom I rate, but would be batting lower than 7 in a doctor Rick XI – has to yomp out there. 140 for 5, now, after 32. Trouble.

Alex Hartley and Steve Finn have joined me out on the balcony. (When I say ‘joined me’, this is more a figure of speech than a statement of fact. Incredibly, they appear not to know who I am). The sun remains warm. A dangerous hunch wafts in: New Zealand get to whatever total is set, with a single wicket down. Maybe worse still, the ridicu-hunch that this Keightley Era is going to be frustrating and under-achieving, ultimately: a thought that’s been broiling quietly with me, for some months.

A potentially ‘terminal’ running-out of Knight, as non-striker, via the outstretched hand of the bowler, is up on the screen to my right. Thank Christ – not out. The game might have been done. Instead we remain 147 for 5.

Good to see Brunt slap a short one from Tahuhu confidently to leg. England must do more than survive this. Soon she will be booming a violent straight drive, for four. The England pace bowler is one of the great competitors in world cricket – and I do mean that – and she is beginning to counter the White Fern momentum: as she must. (My reservations about her batting 7 were about her recent form with the wood, as well as the cultural imperative towards stacking the line-up).

Brunt is struck in front but reviews *absolutely immediately*. Predictably, on investigation, she is shown to have edged it. Finn – departed – is talking articulately on the wireless about England needing to have an aggressive period ‘as opposed to limping towards a semi-competitive total’. Dead right… but *has dangers*. Knight and Brunt might be thinking of targeting best part of a hundred from the last ten overs. Might need to be thinking that.

Devine bowls the 40th over and Brunt bludgeons her for two, over extra, then gloves one for four, behind. Helpful. 174 for 5. Do think anything shy of (an admittedly unlikely) 260 will feel manifestly light. Good yorker from Rowe almost unzips Knight but the response is bold: four over mid-off. An essential 50 partnership is up as Knight smashes a poor full-toss from Devine, square. Knight is 71 as we get through the 42nd.

Some more leg-spin, from Kasperek. Knight unfurls a beauty of a reverse to claim four more, then the 200 is up. I’m out of the sunshine, finally but the ground is still bathed. Lovely scene; shame more aren’t here to enjoy it. The ACE guys are jostling and gathering: taking what I imagine might be awestruck kids out onto the pitch at the innings break.

Brunt and to a lesser extent Knight are hitting hard… and mostly middling. When the former edges thinly, she is happy to see the ball loop swiftly enough up and over to the fine leg boundary: fortunate but safe. 213 for 5 after 45. The skipper has 81 so is on for a ton. Brunt has 36.

Devine is as important to the White Ferns as Knight is to England. She is in from underneath us for the next – from which 8 runs come. 260 do-able(?)

Kasperek will bowl her final over, from Ashley Down. Brunt shuffles early before clattering straight back over the bowler for a particularly emphatic boundary. 228 for 5.

Suddenly, Knight’s work is done. Caught and bowled Kasperek for a flawless 89. Feels bit cruel. Ecclestone, who is a hitter but no stylist, has come in.

England’s momentum is stalled further as Brunt is cleaned out, advancing. Good straight ball from Kerr. Genuinely worthy and typically battling contribution of 43, from England’s bowling ace.

Cross enters and rather brilliantly – deftly, absurdly confidently – flips to fine leg, for four, first up. Ridiculous, and unthinkable even a year or two ago. Devine switches ends again and takes the pace off. Then re-injects it, to Ecclestone, who booms and is caught. Or not. No ball!

A wicket comes, however, as Cross slightly tamely reaches and lobs to cover. Dean – the debutant – will get a brief knock. 240 for 8, England, as we welcome Kerr for the final over.

Dean’s stay really may be brief as she is given lbw… but eventually reviews. Gone, for a single. Enter Davies. 241 for 9 becomes all out, same score, as Ecclestone is exposed halfway down the track. No blame attached – she was quite rightly looking to get a couple more hits.

That England total is a poor one, irrespective of what follows: this is a 300 pitch. Hey ho, the ACE guys and a bundle of grinning kids, now on the outfield – are having their Moment In the Sun. I will enjoy that as I grab some nosh.

Final word, for now. The wonderful and mighty Sophie Devine has *come straight back out* to get her eye in, with the bat. Bringing me neatly back to that hunch… that the White Ferns might win this at a ridicu-canter. Let’s see.

The Reply.

Brunt maiden then Sciver, for England. Bates and Down will surely be more ‘patient’ here than a very patient thing? Take root for 30 overs. Chill, then shake-out, mid-wicket, shouting “na-ner-na-ner-ner!” before charging towards a crushing win. Or not. White Ferns will love a crushingly dull start.

They don’t get it. Sciver has Bates caught at a slightly wide first slip – Knight collecting competently. After 4 overs the visitors are 2 for 1.

Sciver and Brunt are applying the squeeze that England need but for now, New Zealand barely need to care. (After 6 overs the scoreboard has cranked asthmatically over to 5 for 1. Paralysis, but for the game situation, which makes it quietly o-kaaay… for both sides).

Sciver is still bowling with Knight at effectively second slip and Winfield-Hill at fourth. She beats Down on the inside but the ball died, rather than did something. First change will be Cross, for Brunt, from the Ashley Down Road End. Green goes to 9, with a little width on offer: square, our first boundary.

No change at this end, as Nat Sciver continues, with a disciplined, fourth-stump kindofa line. Down has a weird, wild slash at one – first sign of frustration and nerves? Could be. ‘Something in the head’ gives and she’s edging behind, next ball. Now that perfectly acceptable stasis lurches a tad towards (potential) crisis. 17 for 2 after 10 overs – and yes you read that right. England have been ver-ry efficient. Now the Ferns must battle.

Satterthwaite – theoretically the third of the BIG THREE, for New Zealand – joins Green. Freya Davies will run in from almost directly in front of us, to challenge her. Right arm over, with a distinctive, backward-leaning approach, Davies makes no further inroads.

Cross is coming in fluently, from t’other end. She bowls boldly full and gets the reward – Knight taking a sharp catch at slip, low down. Green gone, Devine is in and missing her first ball… but it’s going down. Clutch period right now, meaning we’ve gone from stately cruise to Squeaky Bum Time alarmingly swiftly – certainly from the White Ferns’ point of view. 33 for 3, in the 17th.

Yet there are plusses, for New Zealand. Right/left combination and two of their finest out there, together. Time in the game. Big ask but these are Big Players. Proper Sport, upcoming.

Sixteen overs in, drinks break. Lights on. 57 for 3; Satterthwaite 13 and Devine on 11. Dean gets a bowl – her first, ever, in this shirt – and in the fabulous sunshine. We get into another quiet period… but this now suits England more than the visitors, arguably(?) Beaumont makes a notably fine stop at backward point to deny runs.

Dean is bouncing in confidently enough; putting some revs on the ball but finding no meaningful spin. This area – as many of you will know – is balloon central. Globes appearing, mysteriously and beautifully to our right. Oh – and we have shadows.

First sight of Ecclestone, in the 20th over. No dramas.

As we go on, so the fascination grows, or changes, without revealing. Both batters into their 20s. Run rate rising (of course) but not unthinkable *if these two stay together*. (163 off 29, needed). Mostly, the two batters are good – were always expected to be key, or important. So this slow game is a Slow Burner. For now. Pleasing symmetry as we have equidistant globes floating over deeeeeep fine leg and deeeeeeep third man. Must be stunning up there.

Cross comes in for Dean at Ashley Down. Just to break things up and maybe invite the unforced error. Devine defies. Courageous, floaty leg-cutter, from Cross. Patience from both sides. Who will twitch?

Arguably Satterthwaite. She charges and biffs Ecclestone straight – but aerial. Winfield-Hill is no sprinter but not sure if even Villiers or Wyatt would have gotten there. (Neither are playing, of course). Ball plugs, harmlessly. 97 for 3 after 26. Run-rate required, about 6 an over. Heat gone or going from the day.

Another teaser brings up the 100. Fortuitously. Wicked, flying edge loops tantalisingly towards Ecclestone. Like W-H, she is not one of England’s more dynamic fielders. She can’t get there – and again, Dina Asher-Smith may not have done. Generally, England’s fielders looking spookily, healthily fixated, particularly as Ecclestone whirls towards the crease. Remarkable, synchronised ‘walking-in’ going on. Tempted to film it.

Cross again bowls full. Devine clubs it but not cleanly. We have a great angle to see it fly – straight – to – mid-off. With time – bewitchingly – slow-ing – down. Easy catch; huge moment. The White Ferns’ anchor gone for 34. Enter Martin, with *stuff to do*. Satterthwaite has 44; her new partner may need to match that.

She can’t. On 9, she miscues a slightly half-hearted sweep and dollies to leg gully: Ecclestone the bowler. Ferns’ hopes fading with the light? Would appear so. 124 for 5 in the 32nd, as we break again. Halliday the new batter. She’s a leftie.

She’s gone, first ball. Maybe it squirted through a little but Halliday got nothing on it. Life is cruel. Rowe, the tall quick, must bat as Brunt returns, having bowled four consecutive maidens in her first spell. The universe is suddenly(?) conspiring pret-ty heavily against an away-win, here. 127 for 6, after 33. 115 required, so towards 7 per over needed.

Fuller one has Ecclestone appealing – confidently. (Looked out, first shuftie). Wrong. Missing, because no turn. Rowe continues.

Brunt slaps a loose one down leg, to Satterthwaite. Wide. 19.14 hours and dusky – or approaching. Satterthwaite drops and scuttles through, for her fifty: Rowe has to stretch but does get there. But Brunt – who has that Not To Be Denied look about her – is not to be denied. Has Rowe plum the very next ball. Knight promptly and wisely takes the opportunity to give newcomer Dean another dart. Kerr is facing in rapidly fading light, with hopes all but extinguished. Quiet over.

Her next is unquiet because it brings Dean’s first international wicket – that of Kerr, bowled. Hugs and giant smiles. Ooh. The smiles are temporarily parked as Tahuhu responds with successive boundaries, but Dean is in that magic book.

A game I thought might be a run-fest may conclude with a chase failing to get much beyond 150. England were ver-ry light, score-wise: now the opposition trail behind. Where does that all leave us? This is all false-leads and dummy denouements.

Tahuhu brings some encouraging defiance, for the Ferns. It’s a free hit but she is hitting. The stadium announcer reminds us that England were not that much ahead of the current New Zealand score, of 170 for 8. (A mere 4 runs, extraordinarily). Surely this can’t lurch away from Knight and co? Surely? As the dark lands gently – like a balloon, perhaps? – Davies pipes up.

It’s a “no”. A truly delicious slower ball does for Tahuhu, who made a valiant and entertaining 25: she is comprehensively bowled. Last bat in there is Kasperek. She cheekily scoops Ecclestone; not entirely convincingly but the subsequent boundary, square to off, is pleasingly legit. Might the innings get to 200? Does it make any difference? Maybe.

194 for 9 after 43. So 48 needed off 42 balls. A breeze, in other formats, other scenarios. Here it feels low on frisson because – well, Kasperek and against the grain of everything. (But is there grain?) Ecclestone, predictably, concedes just the one from the over, thereby shutting that proverbial silo-door-thing.

Kasperek edges Cross for four: somehow, 200 passed. 45 overs done and 41 needed (from 30 balls). Brunt. Surely? Surely we are done?

Boundaries. Plural. Satterthwaite’s composure the opposite of unruffled. Except great ball beats her but no dramas. We have that thing where the drama-vacuum is stealthily – without twitching, or revealing or offering or denying – threatening mega-drama. The media centre is quiet because, well, WHAT DARE WE WRITE?!? (And naturally Yours F Truly is most likely to Come A Cropper here, writing foolishly, masochistically live).

Except it was never in doubt. Because run-out: Kasperek short as a killer throw came in. Winfield-Hill delivering.

To add to the surreal almost-fraught/almost-faux-ness of everything, the monitors in the media centre cut out at The Critical Moment… so we grievously stressed scribes missed out on the review. A VAR-like, tension-deflating, was it yes/was it no moment intervenes. We can only be sure when the England players bounce, *out there*. All oddly appropriate, somehow.

So England batted unconvincingly, largely – were at least 30 short – but won by 30 runs.

Keightley might argue, if we hear her – and we often don’t – that squad rotation played a role in the partial misfire. And it could be. The White Ferns might counter that they were never out of it. And it could be. A bigger crowd might actually have made the event spicier and the drama (or potential drama) juicier or more likely. Who knows? This was a bewildering, elusive un-feast of a game: almost satiating, almost starving us. I may need a kebab.

In the Uncertainty Vortex, some factoids. Heather Knight was Player of the Match – deservedly. New Zealand bowled and fielded well; plainly forced the England underachievement with the bat. Contraflow? Neither side scored enough runs on this pitch (whatever that means).

Post-game.

Hunches? The early wicket – the failure – of Bates, feels/felt important.

The England middle order remains fickle but their squad depth may prove critical.

Villiers should be in this side, never mind this squad. It doesn’t lack quality but shots of brilliance make a difference.

*However*, the coach has every right – indeed, has a responsibility – to build an extended, experienced group… before settling and being clear upon her best eleven.

I am not clear what any of this means. And I blame the game.

MASSIVE NEWS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Edwards Cup – Finals Day.

I’m never late – certainly not to The Cricket.

Was a little, today. Could write a book on the serpentine delights of Southampton On Marathon-or-something Day but will spare you, for now. Bustle into the ground, post my ‘friendly chat’ with the delightful gent ushering me in to the Media Parking Zone. Six or seven journos in, including the ever-present Raf and Syd. Doors open out to a stunning scene but the chalk-white (stadium) vista gets silver behind the gold-medal experience that is the heat. I may be a tad scorcher-averse but this is… sapping.

Eight overs in. Bell has slung down some quick deliveries off a notably long run but again has sprayed them around a tad. (For me she remains A Prospect, for now, because of that consistent inconsistency). Get that what she’s doing – bowling at full tilt – is highish tarrif stuff – but she will need to mature towards consistency to get where she wants to be.

Northern Diamonds are 54 for 2 after 10 overs. Winfield-Hill and Armitage are just getting into their twenties, runs-wise. Charlotte Taylor has returned to bowl her second over. Given that we can only imagine runs should flow on this strikingly beatific summer’s day, with a bone-dry outfield and no early horrors in the pitch, Diamonds need to cut loose, soonish. Armitage goes big, or certainly high over the bowler but long off – Norris – takes a comfortable catch. The batter made 24. Her former partner is joined by Kalis.

Vipers have been efficient enough, restricting the opposition to 81 for 3 by the time 14 overs are completed. Do the math: just under 6 per over when you feel 8 may be necessary. Elwiss is inclined to remain ungenerous. She bowls full, full and Kalis misses whilst attempting a rather clumsy scoop. 82 for 4; enter the evergreen Gunn. *Thinks: is that so obvious as to be a travesty/an outright insult? Surely the long-term England player will be thinking her side need to get 130, minimum?

Winfield-Hill – who has quality but possibly not of the explosive kind; or not characteristically – unfurls a particularly pleasing straight drive, for four. Charlotte Taylor changes ends, to join us from the Hilton Hotel. Strike rotated. Five from the over, 93 for 4 after 16.

Winfield-Hill gets to 50 with a flip to fine-leg: later in the over the 100 is up. Georgia Adams is back but W-H clatters her straight for 6, then scuffs one through extra for 4. This is what the Diamonds need… and then not. Winfield-Hill advances aggressively once more but misses the proverbial straight one. Gone for 65. The left-handed Smith has joined Gunn.

They will face Bell, in the penultimate over. Too quick for Gunn. Then a single to deep extra. And a good bitta footie from the bowler stops the drive – painlessly, it would seem. Good, bold, yorker length brings just the 4 runs all told. Norris will see us out, with 120 on the board.

Diamonds can’t surge to the line – Scholfield smartly pouches Smith. Gunn smashes a defiant 6 to get the batting side past 130 and innings closes on 135 for 6. Something… but enough? (Second dig, with conditions conspiring towards scoring?) I doubt it but let’s see.

Smith and Slater have opened for Diamonds. Vipers 13 for 0 after 2. Gunn will do her mildly eccentric thing from the pavilion, starting with a wide. McCaughan guides her, late, through third man. Four. Six from the over.

I’m working – YES WORKING!! – outdoors. Risking battery failure and terminal swelteration. Like this ground but lots of glare around, today; not a problem for the players, (I imagine) but staring round the sands is positively eye-scrunging. But hey this is all, in a word, beautiful. Sunny; warm; dreamy, even. Smith (from the Hilton) is followed by Slater from in front of the team pods. It’s cat and mousey rather than dynamic, until the bowler profits from a forward lurch, from McCaughan; she is emphatically stumped, by Heath.

Gunn has switched. Weirdly, the typically influential Adams tamely biffs her to mid-on. Gunn – lacking pace and sometimes appearing to lack threat – does that, somehow. Vipers are 34 for 2 as the powerplay draws to a close. Evens, you would say.

Slater is bowling her third: Elwiss and Scholfield at the crease. Neither are ‘in’. MacDonald will bowl her first, running right to left as I look in, from backward square leg to the right-hander. The crowd enjoys a boundary – are we clear that this is the Vipers’ home ground? – but MacDonald responds by bowling Scholfield. Discombobulated by a slower ball – or so it looked. 41 for 3; maybe we /I need to review that assumption that runs are readily available on here?

Slater, who has bowled with decent pace, left-handed, has done her work: 1 for 18, from her 4 overs. Fifty is up in the tenth over as Elwiss *gets something* on it – the ball looping behind, for a tantalising four. New batter Windsor draws generous applause for racing through for a second. 54 for 3, then at half-way: interestingly, Diamonds were 54 for 2.

I’ve described the heat as sapping; it is for me but this doesn’t make it a general truth. And yet – oops, as Elwiss is caught, in another significant blow for the home side – it seems only natural to air the thought that the side currently sitting out (South East Stars) may have a keen advantage, here. Two games in these conditions feels like a big ask.

We are 64 for 4, after 12, meaning the run-rate has suddenly spiked to above 9 and Vipers have to bring their A-game, medium-pronto. Arguably their principal batters have been and gone, so, Windsor and Norris, over to you; no pressure!

Norris edges behind. The chasing fielder looks exhausted – barely claws it in and lobs in a lacklustre throw. Right-hand/left-hand combination (that everybody currently seems to be obsessed by), for the batting side. MacDonald is back in, for her third. A streaky two to fine leg means 6 from the over; not enough. 75 for 4, off 14. 61 needed; there is pressure now, alright.

Oof. Norris is caught by Armitage off Katie Levick, close to the rope. Diamonds strong favourites to meet the Stars. Windsor drives through extra for four to move to 19. Monaghan has joined her. Five overs remain; 80 for 5; rate beyond 11. MacDonald, to finish her spell.

She rather telegraphs a ver-ry slow ball but her vociferous appeal is denied. Monaghan drives then scoops: five from the over. 85 for 5 so 51 still required. Something remarkable (and out of context with the game) essential… but unlikely. Every run roundly applauded but the locals seem sure to be disappointed and they know it. 94 for 5 with Gunn to bowl the 18th. Three out, on the on-side boundary.

Painfully slow one is wide, down leg. Then another. Extraordinarily, Monaghan falls lbw to the next. 99 for 6. Bell joins Windsor, who has a creditable 31. The tall, slim fast bowler has a heave but is bowled, first-up. Game done, if it wasn’t already.

Hat-trick ball. No dramas. 100 up, from the leg bye.

The Diamonds had seemed to lack urgency with the bat and yet they are cruising: I happily confess to a misjudgement. At no stage have their opposition meaningfully threatened them, in the chase. Windsor is gallantly diving in as the throw hits – just in. Smith is bowling the 19th. She has Windsor with the return catch. 110 for 8.

As Jenny Gunn strides over to gather for the last, the Vipers can only salvage a wee bit of pride, or exercise some brief, lusty defiance. Not to be. Chandler is run out (by a mile) and the innings subsides 18 runs short, at 117 all out. To be blunt this has neither been high quality nor a particularly compelling watch. What felt like a relative lack of dynamism from both sets of batters made for a subdued affair. It remains unclear why stroke-making proved so difficult: we can only hope that the final will offer a hike in drama, edginess, ‘action’. Meanwhile, cold water all round.

THE FINAL.

Northern Diamonds have won the toss and chosen to stick with that bat first/apply pressure approach. Be really interesting to see if they go bigger and bolder from the start – suspect they might.

The extraordinary prodigy that is Alice Capsey is opening the bowling. Aged about 9. (Ok I exaggerate but…)

Four from the over. Dobson and Heath are the batters. The Stars look all shiny and bright, in their yellow shirts. Moore concedes just the one. 5 for 0 after 2. Under my wing of the stadium, it’s cooler – mercifully. Capsey in again.

Heath strikes aerially (but safe) out to midwicket, before Dobson drives for four, to cover. Richards will offer more pace, from the Hilton Hotel End but a wee sense that Diamonds are looking to push. Plusses and minuses. Dobson is caught but two boundaries come from the over. 22 for 1 after 4.

Gibbs – also offering some pace – is in from the pavilion. She goes full and is appealing confidently for leg before. Rightly; she has the potentially crucial wicket of Winfield-Hill, for no return. Armitage will join Heath. She clips neatly through midwicket – only good fielding from Moore saves the boundary. 27 for 2 after 5.

Smith follows Gibbs. Right arm slow. Simple run out opportunity spurned. Heath has left home but the slightly wild throw allows her to recover: might have been huge. Even 5s, as Diamonds sit on 30 for 2, with 6 overs done.

Gregory offers leg-spin but her long-off rather flops over the drive, from Armitage. Heath follows that up with a further boundary and 10 runs come. The same batter has to walk soon after – blown away mid-strip, by a sharp throw, from mid-off. The game feels alive, with Stars focussed (but not always athletic) and Diamonds showing some urgency, without entirely profiting. 49 for 3, off 8.

Gregory, post the wicket, gets another go. Kalis takes a single, before Armitage late-cuts, with some dexterity, for four. There has been some mixed fielding. We get more as another outfielder dives over the ball – this time at deep point. Four more: Gregory has not been best-served by her colleagues, conceding 24 from 2.

Moore will take us to halfway, from the Hilton. Quietish over; Kalis can only biff the full-toss to deep midwicket, for one. 67 for 3 after 10 is competitive – that’s my sense. Diamonds going okay. Armitage and Kalis have had a sight of this, now – on 20 and 13, respectively. Next stop 140-something?

Smith blocks one at mid-off, at some personal cost: sore wrist. Slight stalling in this period but Diamonds are going at about 6.5 per over and will look to burst. Meaning boundaries at some premium of late; suspect that may change.

Bryony Smith will bowl her third over from under the hotel. She snaffles Kalis, from a full-toss: her good hands bring in Gunn. Armitage now has 32; these two can make a telling contribution, I reckon.

Armitage clumps Moore to the square-leg boundary. Mixed over yields 8 runs. Capsey will re-join to try to stem any flow. The 100 is up, as the youngster bowls a poor wide. Radio talking 130-something but Diamonds should press towards 140, in my view. Flurry of strokes needed: expected that earlier and could be it remains elusive. 105 for 4 on the board, with 4 overs remaining. Gunn lacks power but has experience and guile. Hope she can nick it and nudge it whilst her partner lets rip.

Boundary error gifts another four. Smith, the bowler, will not be impressed… and indeed the fielder is moved. Armitage gets to a steady, rather than demonstrative 50. 121 for 4 now, with 2 overs remaining – so 140 possible but the vibe again says less. A drag down from D-Richards is struck at the fielder.

Alice Capsey will finish this. Finally, we get a boundary, – we do feel light on those – from Gunn. Two from the last ball, to Armitage, brings up the half-century partnership. Northern Diamonds post 138 for 4, with Gunn and Armitage the not-out batters, on 22 and 59 respectively. They are in the game.

The Chase.

Linsey Smith starts, for the Diamonds, with her namesake(s? Bryony) and Cranstone to face up. Three from the over. Conditions could barely be more perfect: by that I mean *in particular* that the mugginess has subsided – the langour-o-meter is now in a substantially less negative sector.

Wonder if this might energise the cricket; not that it’s been poor… but it has maybe lacked a little vim. After Slater concedes 14, Gunn will bowl the third. Both batters showing early intent: 32 for 0 after 3.

Katie Levick will bowl the fourth. Needs to apply the anchor. Does a decent job – conceding just the two runs. Good energy from the batters – whether striking hard, or drop-and-running. Crisp, confident work – the best we’ve seen all day, arguably.

Poor fielding may encourage them. More spillage at the rope is followed by a drilled six, from Cranstone. 46 for 0 after 5 – well ahead.

Cranstone takes on Levick, too. Lofted but beyond midwicket; more runs. Fifty is up – and it feels like Stars are charging. Powerplay done, no wickets lost. Ahead. Can MacDonald change things?

Not dramatically – in fact she fails to deflect that soaring run-rate trajectory. Eight from the over, leaving Stars on 58 for 0 after 7. Next up – Armitage.

Both openers are opening up. That wonderful, woody sound of hearty, smooth hitting. Boundaries around the ground. 71 for 0, suddenly, with both batters into their thirties. The energy, quality and purpose of this period of the day may be reinforcing the argument that much of went before, batting-wise, was underachievement. This is patently a different level – a better, higher one.

Ha! *Fatal*. Cranstone is gone – crunching her own stumps – but before your correspondent chokes on his curses, Capsey is both in *and scooping the first ball for four*. So change brings no change, maybe?

But no. T’other opener, Smith has also departed. At the halfway stage, Stars are 84 for 2 – needing only 55. Hmm. Now Gibbs, rather foolishly, has come and gone, hoisting Levick to deep midwicket. She could have taken a longish look and enjoyed a trouble-free cruise.. but nope. Caught. Capsey remains.

And the wobbles continue. Davidson-Richards may be mildly shocked (given where we were) to find herself extended at all. But she is joining Capsey, Franklin having been caught Gunn, bowled Levick. Extraordinary, unnecessary jolts – born of nerves, surely?

Capsey will be delighted that Armitage has bowled her the worst ball of the day, which she can dismiss at her leisure to fine leg. Twelve overs done, 96 for 4, with Capsey now on 12 and D-Richards 5. A smidge of composure should see South East Stars home… but well, yaknow.

Time for Gunn, from the Hilton Hotel. Unforgivably (at her pace) for me, she bowls another wide, down the leg side: 100 up shortly after. 37 needed, from the 7 overs remaining. Capsey hits MacDonald over (but close to) mid-off, for four. Sure, the run rate has dropped from where it was when the openers were fizzing, but this batting partnership looks to have this covered… he said, dangerously.

Capsey has heard me. She booms confidently downtown, for four more. Stars have 5 overs to find 20. I expect them to do it in 3, max. (Capsey has heard me – again. Four more: this is brilliant, from the teenager).

Richards is joining the fun – reversing. NINE RUNS ONLY, FROM FOUR OVERS. Emphatic.

Gunn. That ridicu-slower-one comes out. Capsey is on it. Davidson-Richards reverses again, for a single. The batters are seeing Gunn out. 6, from – well, ample.

MacDonald is in from under the pavilion. Single. Then two. Fifty partnership, three needed and Richards has a dart for glory… but picks out mid-off. Gone. White will join Capsey. Dot ball. Single. Capsey to face. Appropriately, she clips neatly square, to win it for her side. The small crowd clap both sides generously from the outfield.

A lovely day, with some good cricket. Fine venue. A little disappointment that we didn’t see more high quality stroke-making but Smith and Cranstone – opening for the Stars – and Capsey, later, entertained us. The rest found it tricky. Could be that this is an ungenerous view but mostly I have form for actively supporting these players: they deserve it and it feels important. I absolutely and wholeheartedly congratulate South East Stars, as deserved winners.

What I normally do is sleep on this then add a few reflections. Having just arrived back at my son’s college digs, in Bath, you may forgive me if I continue that tradition – there being no truth in the rumour that a ver-ry pleasant café-bar lies but 75 yards away. (Cue choice of smug or smiley emoji)…

Villiers in vain.

The morning after may offer some perspective, or not? Following an exhibition of stunning fielding from England’s Mady Villiers that – who knows? – may have buttoned the lip of many a male critic, the proverbial positives have rendered themselves available. Pace, agility, skill, power; she showed them all, in exhilarating style. But hers was almost a lone hand – certainly in terms of English performances and hopes. In general Nat Sciver’s side had an ordinary night, as Sophie Devine led the White Ferns to a deserved win.

Here’s how it felt, live:

Another South Coast adventure, then. Meaning groooovy street-side cafes, muggy sun and lots of top-knots. A gentlish breeze, inside Sussex C.C. Much appreciated at 5pm but may be cool, later(?)

Early arrival not planned, particularly but was frankly loafing abart at my lovely friend’s gaff and when they returned from the pub and shifted irretrievably towards afternoon kip mode, I meandered down. (Did mean I get first shout at the open doorway and the power cable, so not without its benefits). Have even beaten the fielding coaches, who tend to set up an age before the start; cones and flexi-stumps being thrust around or into the outfield as I write. Aoife from ECB pops in to see we’re ok; we’re okay – or that is, me and my new pal Lee are o-kaay.

Sarah Glenn is marking out her leggie’s run-up, inch-by-inch – one foot in front of t’other. Meanwhile, White Ferns batters are having some throw-downs in front of me. Front foot driving. 5.55pm. I interrupt this broadcast to eat; curries, loading up to get me through a busy evening.

New Zealand have won the toss and decided to bowl. No changes to their team. Brunt is rested, for England and Freya Davies is her replacement. Bouchier also comes in; she seemed both thrilled and a bit emosh at her cap presentation, earlier. 18.45 and lights are on. As so often, crowd feels relatively thin. Ridiculous. On a similar theme, there are four journo’s in the media centre to my left… and me, in the ‘Cow Corner’ hut-thing. Poor turnout, from our press, because, yaknow, wimmin.

Beaumont and Wyatt, predictably, will open, for England. Kasperek will bowl to the latter. Statement drive, pretty much *straight at me* first up. Four, with dancing feet. Impressive and emphatic. 6 from the over.

Kerr will follow, for the White Ferns. Beaumont paddle/glides her to fine leg beautifully – four more. Devine will bowl the third; understandably, the visitors looking to stem the flow (or likely flow) from the two in-form England openers.

It’s Jess Kerr, though who makes the breakthrough. Sweeeet inswinger beats and bowls Beaumont. Big wicket. 20 for 1, England as Sciver – the brilliant Sciver – enters the fray. Neutrals will want a closer game; it was Tammy Beaumont who utterly dominated the first game of this series, which England won by 50-odd runs. Could her loss be to the gain of the event?

Review against the England captain but Sciver plainly hit it – so wasted, by New Zealand. But wow, Devine claims the tall all-rounder’s wicket; Rowe taking a goodish running catch at backward square. And ZOIKS!! The dangerous Amy Jones follows, next ball, drilling straight at cover. Dreamland, for the visitors but poor dismissal from England’s point of view. 26 for 3 and it seems unthinkable that the home side can romp to the same sort of a victory that delighted the locals of Chelmsford the other evening. In fact there is palpable jeopardy for England here: a lot now resting on the shoulders of Wyatt and Dunkley.

Wyatt tonks Kerr straight back over her head, in response. But 36 for 3 is a fine start for New Zealand: powerplay done.

Satterthwaite is in and beating Wyatt: possible stumping. She got back – but close. I’m watching through the open doors of ‘Cow Corner’ so can hear and feel the energy out there. White Ferns are chirpy and bright – and why wouldn’t they be? One more wicket and they become strong (if early) favourites.

Good test for Wyatt, this. She is an obvious talent but she’s *not known* for her durability/stickability. She tends to blaze away – with style and typically some confidence – rather than build over time. Devine is slamming a quick one in there, possibly pushing too hard. She follows up with TWO no-balls – so TWO free hits – one of which Wyatt dispatches straight.

In the flurry of action I’ve not really thought about how we got here: i.e. how the pitch and/or general playing conditions are. Truth is Beaumont fell to a fine ball… and Jones had no business thrashing her first delivery to cover. I’m not seeing anything spooky going on, pitch-wise: the visitors are just doing a solid job. Oh, and weirdly belatedly, we now have a substantial crowd, so cancel some of my earlier concerns. (Some of). England are 58 for 3 after 9.

Dunkley has been unconvincing and she thrusts a straightforward caught and bowled back to Kasperek. More trouble, for England and a big ask now for Bouchier, on debut. She sees out three dot balls before clubbing with no timing towards midwicket. Safe. A pret-ty ordinary 62 for 4, though, on the board, at the halfway stage. Wyatt, who has only faced 16 balls, may need to see this through.

She clatters Jensen over mid-off, for four. Proper dusk, now, so the lights are doing their atmospheric twinkling fully productively. Kasperek has been doing well enough but Bouchier clips her beautifully through square leg; big moment for the debutant. She almost repeats it… but also loses concentration momentarily, threatening to force a truly diabolical runout… but no. Settle down, Maia.

Satterthwaite will try to still the game a little. Again, Bouchier is nearly stranded, mid-pitch. Then she miscues towards backward square. Edgy stuff. After 13 England are 85 for 4. They must *both* consolidate and accelerate.

Rowe is in and bowling sharply and short. Wyatt cuts, before dropping and running. Communication between the batters hasn’t been flawless but they are rotating and profiting, now. Bouchier is stronger and seems more likely to hit hard, so Wyatt is offering plenty of strike. 100 up after 14.4 overs; Jensen the bowler.

Rowe cramps Wyatt a little; she had looked to cut but misjudged (perhaps) a little cut off the pitch. Caught behind square – disappointingly. Bouchier follows promptly, done by pace, flicking behind. Ecclestone and Glenn are suddenly pitched in there… and both on nought. 106 for 6 feels notably light, at the 16 over mark.

These England spin-twins are competent enough but further wickets feel possible. Ecclestone likes to bludgeon the ball: can she do that without risking calamity? Kasperek will bowl the 18th, which may be important. 8.14 pm and I would say we look dark, beyond the stadium.

Ecclestone swishes and finds cover. (114 for 7). Glenn hits a horror-shot aerial but safe, towards mid-off. Villiers bunts a single. Devine hits Glenn – who has utterly mistimed a slower ball – in the guts. We have a review. Not out. The other night England threatened 200. Tonight they seem unlikely to make 130. Last over, with Jensen running in.

A runout seems on… but the throw is wide. Villiers flashes one up and must surely be caught but the night’s first howler offers her relief. A scramble gets two from the last: England finish on 127 for 7. Advantage must be with the White Ferns?

Sciver – the captain, in the absence of the stoic but excellent Heather Knight – will open. Bates and Devine in, for New Zealand. Three dot balls, then two, out to Wyatt on the legside boundary. Peach of an outswinger and Jones whips off the bails: no joy. Two for 0 as Tash Farrant comes in. The sense that if one or both of these batters can prosper, the White Ferns could cruise this. The Kiwi stars will of course know this: let’s see.

Farrant has had a top year. Has #skills. Early half-chance but Dunkley – good fielder who had a strangely poor night in the opening fixture – throws wide. Devine gets there.

Freya Davies – prancing then bursting, with back arcing somewhat and hand high – replaces Sciver. Bates collects her brutally and clears midwicket for 6. Sciver responds a couple of balls later by putting both a deep midwicket and deep square out. Bates tips and runs. 20 for 0 after 3. Enter Ecclestone.

Bates miscues fine for a fortunate four but then Ecclestone reviews, for possible lbw. Umpire was right – missing. Poor review. 7 from the over and crucially, no dramas. Sciver in, to ‘make something happen’. Ecclestone – not one of England’s better fielders – dives over one: not what her skipper needs. Four.

Great pick-up and throw from Villers may have stunned Bates. The batter clubbed to mid-on but the England spinner is a fine athlete: she gathers and slings to execute a fabulous, timely runout.

Farrant is in again but Devine absolutely clatters her, with timing, for six, then gathers four more. *Response*. New Zealand 43 for 1 at the end of the powerplay (and clearly ahead). Breeze coming in: time for a jumper. Ecclestone.

Glenn drops a fairly simple chance, as Devine turns it to backward square. Came flattish but hardly laser-like. 54 for 1 after 8. That same batter rubs salt by smashing Sciver for a further 6. England need something special, now – a cluster of wickets, rather than just one – to get back into this. Theoretically the visitors have less batting depth than England but the two at the crease have quality and experience.

Davies has changed ends as we approach mid-innings. From nowhere – or so it seems – she draws the wicket. It’s batter error, in truth, Satterthwaite clipping an attempted reverse straight into her stumps. 68 for 2. Green is in, and Glenn turns one, which is dealt with calmly enough. Villiers and Wyatt are now prowling in front of me, offering leg-side cover for the leg-spinner. Devine is on 37 as Ecclestone comes in to bowl the 12th.

Good work from the tall left-armer – just the one from the over.

Green connects with Glenn, splitting the leg-side field for four. Devine betters that, by crunching one waaaay over midwicket for 6. Then a smart relay between Wyatt and Villiers limits the White Fern fixture to two.

More, from Davies. Green turns her smartly for another boundary. At 14 now, she looks in and her partner has 46. Davies strays and is penalised for wide. Devine again hits powerfully for four to bring up her half-century; it’s included four 6s.

As Farrant comes in for the 15th, the visitors need only 29 for victory. But DRAMA YET! Devine smashes out towards Villers (& *absolutely* myself!) and the England fielder judges her advance and her dive to perfection to take another outstanding catch. (It really was directly at both of us and she really did have to travel to get there). Fifty and gone, for Devine but with (still) only 3 wickets down an equalising win seems certain in any event. With 15 overs done, New Zealand are 105 for 3 – needing only 23 runs from 30 balls.

England need some crazy-level inspiration… so who ya gonna call? MADY VILLIERS!! Sciver has brought her in, and the young off-spinner pulls out another stunning catch to remove Green, who has boomed it back at her. 113 for 4 as Glenn comes in. We have Martin and Jensen both new to the crease but they have only to tip and run, you would think(?)

Nope. Martin has hit firmly towards long-off… and, erm, you know the rest. Villiers pockets another catch. Ridiculous. What can Ecclestone do? Nothing decisive, on this occasion.

After 18, the visitors need only 8 from 12. Farrant offers a little width and gets crashed for four. Then the umpire calls the next one a wide… but England are appealing for caught behind. OOF! There is glove on it – Jensen has to go! Awful ball, in truth but Jones had gathered superbly – again.

Barely credibly, Farrant bowls two further consecutive wides to gift the game (which to be fair had seemed long gone) to the White Ferns. Dispiriting finish to an underwhelming performance, from England.

Unquestionably, however, this was a deserved win for Devine, in particular. She bossed the game as Beaumont had done in the previous fixture. The New Zealand skipper – in her 100th IT20 game – came away with the Player of the Match Award but I doubt she would begrudge Mady Villiers a Mention In Dispatches. The youngster’s sustained and indeed electrifying fielding was a joy to behold. One-all in the series feels right, feels good. Evidence of elite-level athleticism and skill in the field feels important, positive, helpful.

Winners, winners, winners.

It had to be Hogan. It was only right. Hogan, the impossibly venerable Aussie Oak (or equivalent): The Bloke Who Runs In Forever, For Glam. Yet another nick behind, from a boldly fullish ball on off, and the attack leader’s compatriot – the inspired and irrepressible Cullen – fixes those eyes and pouches. Glamorgan have only gone and done it. A first one day trophy.

Extraordinary in so many ways. A genuinely fine, united, hugely gratifying team performance. A rich, worthy, throwback of a win, for a gang of lads visibly All In This Together. Un-fancied and un-starry, yet buzzing with a rare collective belief that really might restore the faith of a cynic. In a race-to-the-bottom kindofa universe, it felt good to see demonstrable loyalty and ‘teaminess’ and maybe even selflessness, win out.

So steepling catches were taken; nerves collectively and individually held; fierce, professional energy-levels demanded, understood and sustained. They ‘backed each other’: they ‘executed’.

Having rejected the Fancy Dans Policy by agreeing (so the story goes) to stick with the same bunch, come what may, Glamorgan stormed to the trophy. Contributions from Salter and Carlson may dominate the headlines – and wow, how often do Glam get to do that? – but this was the occasion Boaty McCliche-face had in mind when (s)he coined the adage ‘everyone chipped in’.

After Rutherford briefly threatened to clatter a way to glory, the young skipper Carlson did indeed play the signature innings for Glam but everyone bar the unfortunate Root – arguably out but not out, for nought – got into double figures. Meaning the innings persisted when it wasn’t flourishing. The seam-bowlers Weighell, Carey and Hogan put on 15, 19 and 12, respectively, to get the 296 for 9. Durham, ultimately, couldn’t match that application.

Hogan’s bowling, as so often, looked disciplined rather than electrifying. Death by slow squeeze. In fact Durham started well, reaching 47 before Salter plucked-out Lees with a classic off-spinner. Thereafter, Glamorgan’s grip on proceedings felt only fitfully threatened or disturbed, by the high-order Australian international Bancroft and by the excellent Dickson, who made 84. Borthwick, Bedingham, Raine, Doneathy, Potts, Trevaskis and Rushworth *all made* 10 or less, as Glamorgan hustled, focussed, planned, executed, with barely a stutter. Solid bowling; good field placement; great hands.

Their coach, Harrison, standing in for the absent Matthew Maynard, missed early 50 over games due to Covid but has overseen the Royal London Cup run. His health may be in question again, the day after but let’s allow the man a hangover and a smile of the smuggish variety. He has fostered a killer blend of guts, grit, camaraderie and belief; his posse of ‘journeymen’ and ‘bit players’ are winners. Winners, winners, winners. Without Ingram, Lloyd, van der Gugten, Cooke, Douthwaite. Winners. That’s wonderful for Glamorgan and for Wales – an affirmation of values as well as a hunk of silverware. With both teams falling into the unfashionable category this one was always going to *resonate* but that Glammy Gamble can serve as a pertinent reminder for the wider game, perhaps? Perhaps all games?

At the fall of Durham’s tenth wicket – the first ball of Hogan’s eighth over – the much-loved seamer bellowed with joyous rage and grabbed at a stump, as if to make it real and verifiable at some later date. (“Did it really happen, Hoges?”) Salter came in for a man-hug and it all kicked off. Cullen and Carlson and Weighell and Selman. Dancing; bawling; beaming. Hogan raised the stump high, to the heavens, like some Aussie Thor, calling to some unknown force, or thanking it. Call me biased – call me anything you want, I’m celebrating too – but it felt righteous.