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!

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