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. 😎

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