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.