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. 😎

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.

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’…

Here’s what we should have done…

Hmm. If I cruise through my diary for the year soon to be known as Two Thousand and *insert expletive* Twenty, what will it tell me? Given my creeping facility to fail to remember, will it direct and prompt towards some kind of legitimate reflection? Or will I need wikibloodypedia to cross-check why everything stopped at a particular date?

Tell you what. Let’s have an ungentlemanly agreement that particular dates didn’t matter: that the unkempt ‘schedule’ of events – so redolent, don’t you think, of a certain foppish barnet? – is only to be referred to where it suits our – or my – pleasure. Because blanks may be good, and factoids slippery.

JAN: Normally a quiet month, in any case. Do sometimes support the very wonderful Lady Taverners, by hosting or umpiring and chirpily chivvying along some Secondary School Girls’ Cricket Action. Great, when it happens, that lovely mixture of spookily competitive teens who ‘play’ – their word – and their more or less committed peers.

In recent years I’ve typically volunteered myself to be the Guy Who Goes Outside (On The Tennis Courts). This is madness, in January, but the gals love it and we just can’t accommodate all those who want to play inside what we call The Dome – the inflatable sports hall-thing at the local high school.

This year, my diary tells me, I had a hernia op on Jan 13th, so I missed out in any case. (The op I actually rather enjoyed – weird, I know – because it went well and – weirder still – I wanted to savour that whole drift into unconsciousness, post receiving the knockout gas. I remember trying to count into and be aware of those seconds before disappearing into slumberville. Was it going to be disorienting and bumpy, or smooth? Could I hold off the anaesthetic and dance round some faerie landscape? Would I turn out to be Ben Stokes… and is everything else a travesty?)

Turns out I remember nothing of the actual moment of disappearing. Ho-hum. Enjoyed the bantz with the staff beforehand – and grateful to them for their professionalism and good humour. Within a very few weeks they would be gearing up to grit out dark times: I was incredibly fortunate to get that operation before Normal Service was lost to all of us.

FEB: 18th and I go to The Sloop, the seaside hostelry in North Pembs that somehow ticks the strikingly efficient pub-grub tourist-eatery box and the locals’ local. Both sleepy and rammed with local sportsmen, fishermen, occasional rock/film stars, The Sloop manages to host a Welsh-speakers corner and all you buggers from Guildford.

Anyway, I was there for the AGM of the Mighty Cows – Llanrhian CC. Again felt like a privilege to be able to piggyback (via my volunteering and Proper Cricket Wales Work) the outstanding, generous work of the Cow Stalwarts. My contribution here was to try to politely bully the club into getting folks on the upcoming Foundation One Coaching courses: like most clubs in the universe, they need to train up more players or members to bring on the next generation. Think my intervention may have spurred some profitable action on this, but Covid has certainly blurred the timeline.

Diary also notes ‘Chance to Shine blog’, for 21st. Just had a look. Think this is an error… the post is about India v Aus women, opener for the T2O World Cup. Can’t trust anyone or anything, eh?

Then WOW. Tuesday 25th Feb and I’m into Lamphey Community Primary. A delightful dinky-wee school in a small village in South Pembs. The Head is a personal friend and a spectacular advocate for sport. Their hall is a tiddler but we start what proves to be a series of animated weekly sessions in there – the weather not playing ball.

I’m with Years 2/3/4. We conjure up (between us) some proper energy and enthusiasm, despite the folded dining tables and encroaching benches. No scope even for tennis ball-based games; no matter – the spongeball shuttles, swerves and shuffles are smiley enough. Am ultimately proud of the feisty level of activity we achieve: from memory only on a couple of days could we break out into the yard. Given the daft time of year and all, this was an energising start to the 2020’s school delivery.

Two days later and I’m into Caer Elen, the Welsh language primary in Haverfordwest. My children went to the school’s predecessor – Glan Cleddau – where I somehow became a Parent Governor, so I have a particular connection. I know and rate plenty of the teachers; my son grew up surfing with the secretary’s. Such is life in small communities, eh? I give it plenty and the weeks are fabulous and productive… until.

MARCH: There is now a spectre looming. The memo’s suggest I am calling schools (or still contemplating that) to try to set up sessions. 4th March I start up in Pembroke Dock Community School. I have gushed elsewhere about this establishment so will encapsulate: should get the Chance To Shine ‘School of the Year’ every year. I get three weekly visits in before the broiling beast does for us. Thurs 19th March the diary barks out CANCELLED CORONAVIRUS over the theoretical week four, at Caer Elen.

APRIL: Who knows? Should be on a charge towards All Stars, club activity with sun on our grateful backs. But nope. Extraordinary to flick through the days and weeks and see those schools, sessions, commitments that could not be fulfilled. Not even sure if I can unravel the written word: did we really lose the whole bloody lot? Cilgerran, Croesgoch, Fenton, Prendergast, Sageston – all skittled? And all the ‘Progress Sessions’ – i.e. pre-All Stars club support missions – emphatically yorked? Christonnnabike!

MAY: Diary entry feels especially poignant: ‘Under Nines Festival @ Haverfordwest’. Should’ve been a gateway for tinyish peeps; their critical first experience of matches. (In truth, although these are organised games between groups, the vibe is beautifully unthreatening. P.A.R.T.I.C.I.P.A.T.I.O.N. is absolutely key and these are generally tremendously positive, well-judged occasions. Gutting to lose them: there are none, throughout the summer).

I *should be* hosting inspiring assemblies and burning through blisteringly entertaining Road Shows: can’t. No Waldo Williams, no Narberth. I justify my (part-furloughed) existence with social media stuff and joining Whatsapp groups or Zoom calls to demystify ‘updates.’ The whole process of accurately informing our Cricket Wales Community Where We’re At begins. Half-term comes and goes – doesn’t matter.

JUNE: More voids where schools and festivals should be. There must surely be some recreational cricket(?) – acksherly I’m not sure – there’s nothing in my bible, so who can tell? No sign either of the pro’ cricket I should be planning to traduce via my blogs. Blimey. Think I even have a few days off CW media duties; this really is unheard of.

Brief re-wind because somewhere stuff is happening. March: Aus women have steamrollered India, in a bumper home win, at the T20 World Cup. I wrote about it. April: I interview Andrew Salter . May: I fall into Youtube. June: I really start to confuse the years – both in my diary and in what I may loosely refer to as Real Life. July: Shouldn’t I be planning trips? Why is there nothing? I have some recollection of fiddling around the ECB Media Accreditation page but at what point does the inevitable shrinking-down to A-list bubbles occur?

I know I have no chance of gaining access to international or indeed any other high-profile fixtures, now. I have no illusions about my relative centrality to cricket reportage. I’m a very fortunate hanger-on, tolerated by good folks at the ECB who suddenly need to reduce the media clan attending fixtures. So I’m gone, and no issues. Can’t get live access to Western Storm, either – had targeted that, a little. (Again, no issues – just very much hope to be back when things open out again).

End of AUG: HOW DID WE GET HERE?!? I follow Storm v Vipers livestream and then things funnel back to Zoom calls and more, careful de-ciphering of government/Welsh Government/Sport Wales advice on what’s do-able and how. I must also be booting down the motorway because…

SEPT: Speed Awareness Course, 14th – online. Then GOR BLIMEY: September 15th 2020… and I’M BACK IN!! Pembroke Dock Community School. The first of six, weekly visits. Now spending the whole day at schools, so as to reduce travel and therefore risks to everybody. Have a ver-ry clear memory of my first session back. It was so brilliant and crisp and rallying that I wrote about it: expect to post into Chance to Shine’s Case Studies once Pembs Sport have used it.

Life gets temporarily busy. After that full day of coaching I have a Cricket Wales Comms Zoom. 17th and I’m in Golden Grove, where the unthinkable happens – we get away with five consecutive weeks of activity outside, only dodging apocalyptic hailstorms twice, from memory. Stunningly engaging cricket-based games, both on grass(!) and the playground. Intense, given six sessions in the day, but massively gratifying. Looking back, feels like something rather profound was achieved, and defied.

I’m test-driving some learning and intuitions around offering children space to engineer their own games. This following chatter amongst Chance to Shiners and Create Development gurus. And specifically after a chinwag with another Head, who reminded me that whilst kids are being heavily stifled re physical play, (because Covid, because schools can’t condone traditional grappling) so “Guys ‘n Gals Like Me” become important as stimulators of appropriate activity, owned and developed by the children. In other words, maybe it’s become part of our job (in the Covid era) to prompt schoolchildren towards inventing or extending games themselves. I try to build my sessions towards this aspiration, by asking (them) “how do we make this work?” and “how do we make this fun?”

Sorry if that’s all a bit niche but if it’s true that children are unable or less able to physically act, or interact, there may be important repercussions, over time. And that becomes territory for teachers and maybe particularly for Sports Development Peeps like me.

Sept 27th, had hoped to be reporting live, in my own inimitable fashion, on the Rachel Heyhoe-Flint Trophy Final. Couldn’t. Blogged, watching a stream. 28th some geezer came to sweep the chimney and nearly demolished the house. (OK, exaggerate but wow, it was like a Surrealist Performance Art-fail. Dislodged the cawl, left kit by the fire and smeared the curtains with soot. Only some of this makes the diary).

OCT: After half-term am still in schools, though inevitably it’s feeling like borrowed time. I have spent £23.97 on industrial-strength sanitiser, for the kit I take in. Am sanitising between every group – spraying balls, bats, etc and squirting alcohol-gel on my hands. Feels near bomb-proof.

Remarkabkle times, though: still musing on the level of psychological impact on four-year-old Sara and Dafydd, of their teacher presenting from behind a mask, all day, every day. (Maybe none – but fascinating?) Nevertheless, the work in schools continues to be rewarding and effective in a way I’ll never be able to reflect on the Chance to Shine monitoring system, or anywhere else. I know and the teachers know the children are loving it: good enough?

NOV: Caer Elen cancel the 2nd because we’re narrowly out of a lockdown (I think). But I can return to finish my allotted six full days of delivery. Uniformly excellent: great, engaged children – years 4 and 6 – plus outstanding, informed support from staff. The availability of an immaculate and biggish sports hall unquestionably helped: we ventilated it well, sanitised religiously so sessions were busy, enjoyable, stirring, even. Thursday 19th and St Oswald’s, quite rightly, cancel. Now begins the winter.

DEC: There are more Zooms, with various colleagues. I am drafted back into the Regional Pathway, after a sabbatical couple of years but then the winter nets become a further victim. Remain philosophical about all that was inevitably lost: know that I have given a reasonable account of myself both in schools and in terms of work delivered. Can hope to fulfil my contractual obligations and personal aspiration to enthuse the universe… but a barely credible year.

Some cricket happened but I didn’t see it in the flesh. No friendly hellos with George Dobell or Dan Norcross. No Bristol, Worcester, Cardiff, or Taunton. No Edgbaston. Instead, long quiet walks. Wet beaches. A kind of philosophical re-calibration. Books and writing. Family.

Universe Podcast: “Let’s get at it”. #InspiringGenerations – the launch.

Wrote a demon blog and t’internet ate it. So rambled, below, on the theme of the ECB Action Plan 2109 – specifically the ‘Transforming Women’s & Girls’ Cricket’ tome, released and placed before the media on Tuesday.

There are ‘qualifications’, here, which I hope are decipherable. Chiefly, though, there is a genuine hope and even belief  that the massive commitment of funds really will change levels of awareness and participation: that the commitment to supporting and re-structuring (which may be politically/philosophically questionable to some) will at least work, significantly, in terms of the ‘gender re-balance’ that Clare Connor and others have spoken of.

Makes me smile that much of this feels driven by the need to keep pace or catch up with the Aussies – fair dinkum to them for blazing the trail for women professionals, in particular. But I don’t work and am not particularly likely to work at the elite end of the game. I’m a grassroots geezer and proud of it. What feels good to me is that because of the holistic, wholesale, humongousness of this project, many wee female humans will register cricket in a way that simply hasn’t happened, previously. The girls I coach will feel the sport-tastic blur going on above them. Love that.

In short, despite ab-so-lutely acknowledging concerns about the implications around new tournaments, new regions, I am buzzing – this does feel like a transformation. It’s right that we pour resources into W & G Cricket; it will be liberating, inspiring and blood-dee exciting. Just like sport should be.

 

*Note. Fully intend to get back into gathering in guests for the Universe Podcast ver-ry soon!

Below are some of the key commitments, from the ECB: copied & pasted from the “Transforming Women’s & Girls’ Cricket document”.

£20m investment by 2021.

171% total funding increase for girls’ County Age Group (CAG) Cricket.

8 new regional teams for elite domestic cricket.

500k girls in primary schools to receive a great cricket experience.

40 new professional contracts for female cricketers.

2,000(!) female South Asian All Stars Activators trained by 2024.

Final note; belatedly remembered (and am reminded, re-reading the document) that Women’s IT20 comes to Brum, in the Commonwealth games in 2022. Edgbaston could do a great job of showcasing that: see you there!

 

Game of Throws.

Most of you will know that I’m a Community Coach, for Cricket Wales. This means, amongst other things, that I go into schools – I typically describe myself as “the daft bugger who throws things around, with kids, in schools”.

It’s sometimes challenging but mostly so magbloodynificent I need to ramp the language over the scoreboard to describe it. Today is one of those flowtastically energising days. Sorry.

I’ve been into a Primary School, on our Chance to Shine mission, which is so multi-faceted (in a good way) I’m going to invent some swift bullet-points, to give the sense of covering it all briefly.

Frankly don’t care if this sounds like a salespitch: what happened today was mercifully and definitively beyond mere capitalism, dear friends. Here’s some edited highlights from the err, manifesto.

We Community Coaches, we Chance to Shiners aim to;

  • offer a load of sporty fun.
  • Build co-ordination around cricket-based games.
  • Build confidence through and confidence in movement.
  • Offer new stuff – skills, ‘drills’, ways in to catching, throwing, striking etc.
  • Stimulate listening skills, teamwork &/or individual application to challenges: build numeracy (yes I do mean that!) and communication skills – oracy.
  • Get familiar, or more familiar with a bat, a ball, or different bats, different balls.
  • Specifically follow, more or less, a curriculum which Chance to Shine has assembled, drawing on masses of expertise and research… and stuff.
  • In the abstract we aim (I certainly aim) to make kids laugh a bit, whilst charging round the place with purpose. Structured bursting and giggling and launching and swiping and mostly achieving something, which may or may not be measurable but may well be actually rather profound.

Hence my sickening upbeat-ness. Cos we did all that this morning. Two brilliant sessions with children from Year 2 then Year 3. Brilliant? Them – them! – not me. They lit up the place.

In my post-euphoric foolishness, I’m wondering if there might be some merit in describing what we did. So here goes.

Last week with these children, we followed the Chance to Shine model for batting games, via Striking Star and Super Skills Circuit – you can find these here and I do recommend them.

https://www.chancetoshine.org/teaching-resources

Having done the ‘get familiar with the bats’ thing, it made sense to do something different, today. So out with hoops and spots and balls, for games again developed from that C2S curriculum.

We were inside, in an average-sized school hall. I drew out a Throwing Line, with red cones, then placed three yellow hoops and a spot, about four or five metres out, parallel to the Throwing Line, spaced evenly apart. Three or four metres beyond, two blue hoops and two blue spots, again making a line, across the hall. Finally, the distant targets – four red hoops.

I welcomed the children in, in English and inadequate Welsh, as per. Then, after asking them again how they turned their ears on and warning them in the nicest possible way that the games would change, briefly described (rather than demonstrated) what we would do. We would throw underarm at the yellow targets.

What would we throw? Cricket ball-sized sponge balls and two or three significantly bigger but still unthreatening, lightweight ‘footballs’, plus a softly-spiky pink plastic ball: all of which I said I’d like to see shared around.

The children had a couple of goes before I tried that “Ok people, imagine if I was an alien and I’d just landed on Planet Har’ford; how would you explain how this underarm throw works(?)” routine. “What’s moving?”

I might now be modelling the throw but not saying anything. Instead I ask the ‘coaches’ (kids) to talk me through “pushing my palm, stepping forward, aiming with my hand-that-isn’t-throwing”. It’s a listening event and describing event, for the children; hopefully more than a demonstration.

We move on, as soon as; we want to be throwing, more, further, harder!

I ask how many points we should give ourselves for hitting the nearest (yellow) hoops ”first bounce – on the full?” Somebody confidently shouts “Ten!” Ten it is.

”So how many for the blue?”

(Somebody else). “Thir-teee!”

”And what about the red?!?”

”FIFF-TEEEE!!!”

Suddenly we have a Proper Game. In which “for a bitta fun” we can keep score if we want.

I offer them more choices; they can now throw under or overarm and they can aim at any hoop or spot. (Incidentally, if it felt necessary, I would offer the discussion about whether a blue hoop is worth more or less points than a blue spot – which is smaller. Feels unnecessary, here. Note too, that we haven’t discussed throwing overarm yet; let them launch a few first).

Surprise surprise, everybody lashes it out there in the general direction of the distant red hoops. It’s wonderful, stretchy-wild and energetic. They love it.

Before the next round of throws – just to focus the concentration a tad – I bring in A Rule. “You have to name the colour before you throw”. We go on. It’s still fairly chaotic… but great.

Next up we revisit the scoring. “Which are the easiest targets to hit? Why? So if we really were counting our score, what colour do we think might be the one where we are most likely to get some points? Or… if we are enjoying throwing harder, further (at the red, maybe) what can we do, to give ourselves every chance of hitting?”

It’s gotten tactical. They realise that. There’s that lovely sense of liberation – through the physical act of throwing – and also the whirr of cognition and ‘getting the game’.

”I’m going yellow – no, blue!”

”I’m going red. I’m still going red, because…”

It’s gotten to a point where I think there is some real value in me demonstrating an overarm throw – despite my half-decent grasp of ECBCA initiatives towards Core Principles, as opposed to old-school ‘coaching’. So I offer three suggestions; feet wide apart and in line with the target; ‘pointing’ or aiming with the non-throwing hand; throwing hand waaaaay up and back away from the face.

In my defence, as it were, I do offer this model via a story, with questions.

”Who’s got a dog, friends?

Half the class.

”Okaaay. So have I. Picture the scene, on Newgale (beach). Me and one very waggy dog and a ball. Does my dog want me to do this… (throws with hand at his ear, feebly)… or (collects ball and notably draws elbow and hand high and loooong and back, away from the head) does your dog want you to launch one?” (Launches one, to unsolicited whhooooos and whoooorrs from the kids).

”Your dog wants you to zap it. To enjoy throwing hard and far. Powerfully. Come on, let’s get wide feet, pointy hands and get that ball awaaaay from our faces. Let’s ab-so-lute-ly lash it AT THESE TARGETS!!

Typically I shift one red hoop to the furthest, furthest point and up the ante to 500 points for that one. It’s a blast – slightly wild – but my personal mission to teach the mini-universe to be able to throw, to love throwing has bounded forward… and that’s magic.

I’ve missed some details out but this is the gist of a session that I repeated, this morning. Minimal changes for Years 2 then 3. Biggish groups – 30-odd. I guarantee you that nobody felt inadequate, or left out. The level of engagement was stratospheric.

I finished both sessions with my Moving Target challenge, for a thousand points. It offers a kind of individual moment for everyone; one in which everyone Wins Big.

I walk across in front of the children, holding a hoop up at what feels like a comfortable height for their throws. One by one, they all have to throw through the hoop, as I move. Miraculously (possibly with an occasional strategic twitch from yours truly) everybody nails it! It’s crazily, dizzily, wonderfully satisfying – maybe especially for those who weren’t throwing ‘naturally?’

“A thousand points! What a way to finish!”

About fifty minutes-worth of entertaining, challenging, sometimes mind-bending Chance to Shine/CricketWales fun. With balls. And hoops. In January, in a school hall. Some educational boxes ticked but mainly, mainly a deeply pleasurable experience for all concerned; including me.

 

 

Another Year in the Life of…

Here’s the thing. In Fishguard; just finished the Christmas shopping blitz alarmingly early, by my appalling standards, largely courtesy of the town’s delightful independent bookshop. Feeling tad smug; almost triumphal, even.

(Allow me to get my retaliatory confession in early, here. Abso-lutely cough to being shockingly blokey about adventures in Retail Land. Love the family ecstatically but even this fails to de-glaze the eyes during the *buying things* process. Can only manage it in bursts).

Sometimes, however, the twitchtastic ‘yes, yes, that’s definitely it’ instinct operates on a level that really might be described as inspired. Like today. Like when I bought the flag of the European Union (£1.99) and the monkey-shaped tea strainer (4 quid) and then all those books to erm complement the previous, eye-poppingly eclectic purchases.

The Shopping. All done! And capped off with some deeply groovy dinosaur wrapping paper that will further convince the family that the descent into shambolic eccentricity continues worryingly unabated. Haha – all done!

So what better time than to retreat into the Gourmet Pig (ambient hipstertastic deli but don’t let that put you off) and flick through the diary to rustle up a few highlights? Whilst the dander is more up than Solskjaer’s: when we need some Good News, to counter the divisive disasterfest that is Brexit And All That. Let’s de-politicise the universe for a moment and remind ourselves, shall we, of the power of sport?

January. 2018. Kindof off-season for us Community Coaches but not entirely for my good self, on account of the social media role(s). So two blogs, early doors; one shamelessly backing the All Stars project, the second a weird indulgence around how you can’t own the sportsplace without being Ricky, not Rick, or Rooty, not Joe. (Go figure or go read: 40 posts during the year!)

Also some training, at what was still then the Swalec (I think), now appropriately restored as Sophia Gardens. And what we call a ‘CDO meet’, which means a conflab with my esteemed handlers, to talk about what the year is gonna look like – the actual work and the actual imperatives.

By all means picture us poring over the strategic overview in some intimidatingly businesslike office-block: in fact we met at Morriston’s caff in Carmarthen. I hasten to add that this didn’t stop us thrashing out a pret-ty comprehensive Cunning Plan; something our funders and seniors would have emphatically rubber-stamped – with or without the brown sauce.

Jan 11th and 12th the Community Team underwent further training, in Cardiff. (If this was the Create Development training, it was excellent: challenging, stimulating and a laugh – but authentic. Shout out to their guys; if you have a group of coaches you want to nudge forward or ask good questions of, seek them out).

Saturday the 13th I have a note that Barnet Newman failed twice to get his teacher’s certificate, on the grounds that he couldn’t draw stuff. This relates both to a blog I was writing about governing for culture, sport and health, and also flags up the fact that the universe can be dumb as hell… but you have to keep on, yes? Jan 15th I re-booted the Cricket Wales facebook effort.

29th I started my year of coaching by leading a session for mighty Sport Pembrokeshire; an interesting one as it gathered in children of various ages who had the ‘home educated’ label in common. Enjoyable. Predictably great, lively kids: plus helpful prep for me, as two days later I am in to the day-job with a wallop.

I start in schools ‘proper’ Wednesday Jan 31st. By this I mean in my Cricket Wales Community Coach role, supporting and supported by the fabulous Chance to Shine, bringing a considerable dollop of cricket-based games and curriculum-linked nuggets to bunches of kids over a number of weeks. Meaningful lumps of sporty-but-also-holistically-enriching development, in other words: and yes I do mean that – all of it.

Five sessions in the day, for groups of about 25-30 children, aged 5/6/7. Quite intense, despite the breaks.

Intense but rewarding. Hope this doesn’t feel indiscreet if I whisper behind my hand that this school (Pembroke Dock Community School) is something else, in a good way. Visibly, demonstrably, powerfully connected to both sport and artsy stuff as means to enliven and (that word again) enrich. This school leads the way in many respects, not least because *they* genuinely place the movement of the body and (actually) the spirit slap-bang central to the whole educational experience.

*They, obviously, being the Headmistress, Mrs Thomas and her staff. Bravo!

So what a place to start! In the deep dark winter! Weeks of back-to-back, rip-roaring, darkness-defying games. Remember being medium-shattered but inwardly grinning; school-fit; ready.

February. What we call Views training – Views being the on-line system for recording our work. Genning-up on the hows and whys of inputting data onto the site that tracks and accounts for what we do. Because quite reasonably, people are wanting to know what we’re at; how many hours are coached, who to, when?

Being from the Stiff Little Fingers school of computer (il)literacy, I have to work reasonably hard at this – get my diligent head on. It’s a chore but no complaints: no accounting, no job.

The schools work is coming at me, now. Saundersfoot, Sageston, Stepaside. Southish Pembs. Fascinatingly different but all smallish village schools. Fantastic welcome and support from staff, some of whom I know. Gratifyingly, over time, that essential and confirmatory buy-in from teachers won over by the level of engagement or sometimes sheer joy from the kids. The moments where teachers get it… are important.

Milford Juniors, as one roster of schools rolls into the next. Assemblies where I maybe have to follow the vicar, carefully transitioning from Easter to All Stars messaging, without offending or failing to ‘signpost’ children over to their local clubs.

(It’s true: we do have to execute the salespitch side of this, by presenting something All Starstastic in front of the school/staff/the extended community. On reflection, I followed two gentlemen of the cloth onto the stage during last season. Mercifully, I remain un-struck-down).

Johnston and then ‘Lady Taverners’ – meaning delivery to and supervision of Secondary School girls, who (here in Pembs) are all over the idea of practicing a bit then playing matches against other schools. Been running for years, this, at U13 and U15 level, with great support from our colleagues at Sport Pembrokeshire. It is sociable and often extra-curricular but also competitive – appropriately competitive, I would say.

Gelliswick. A new school and new to me. The Head is a friend (and former Scotland international cricketer!) so feeling good about my first visit. Weather against us and main hall unavailable so we have up to five sessions every Tuesday in a tight space. Sponge balls and multiple, diverse relays and a whole load of adlibbed ‘storytelling’ – for wee children, largely. A healthy challenge for the coach, this one.

Narberth. Suddenly a boomtown, with more galleries and foody cafés than (I dunno) Islington. The Guardianistas may be here but the school feels reassuringly untroubled by the changes all around. Lots of welsh spoken; playgrounds that feel timelessly boisterous, or quiet, or windy, or raw in another, unstable March. There most of the day, so confess did occasionally indulge in the local food emporia. Occasionally.

We’re into what we call Roadshows, now. One-off visits where we may do a session or two but will certainly look to present a snappy and engaging something-or-other before a biggish lump of children in the (All Stars) target group of 5-8 year-olds. So again being more salesperson than coach, in truth. (Prefer the other stuff, to be honest but again no complaints – it’s part of what we do). So do it well and gather some kids for the local clubs.

Have a series of Roadshows plus a final round of new schools to hit, now, as we approach the key period – before the All Stars kick-off in early May. Fenton, Neyland, Cleddau Reach, Lamphey, Penrhyn, Golden Grove. Easter, rather unhelpfully, interveneth.

Then, renewed, the final charge. Croesgoch and Ysgol Bro Dewi for my own pet All Stars project at Llanrhian CC. Soo-perb support from staff and a fair bit of decent weather just when we need it. I follow the sign-ups on the ECB system. 7, 8, 10, more.

We get to 26 All Stars, for Llanrhian. A truly exceptional number given the fabulorural nature of the schools and the club. Unthinkable without tremendous backing in every way from the schools’ staff, who have actively joined in with sessions – despite their own Welsh-language ethos and my poor, poor Welsh – and their consistent support for the notion of activity beyond school. 

Over the proverbial parrot to report that I’m going back in, in 2019, to flush out a new group of All Stars; a thought that amongst others, has kept me going through the floods and the potentially crushing gloom.

We get through to mission end. Then many of us Community Coaches lead All Stars in clubs – meaning eight weekly sessions or more.

At Llanrhian only the very first session had to retreat indoors, to the local leisure centre. Went okaaay but thank god for the glorious weather which followed. We were out on the most absurdly wunnerful Proper Rural Cricket Ground imaginable. For eight more idyllic weeks.

It was crazy, energy-sapping  but also mysteriously, undeniably restorative. It was, at the end, both absolutely necessary and incredibly hard… to stop.

But reel back a bit. Because May and June in the schools means Festival Time. Busy but easy, because the Primary School Festivals we run pretty much run themselves. Because the kids love it and the teachers, the teachers are magnificent.

These are day-long events which nail the sport-and-development-and-social-interaction combo beautifully year after year. (8 a side, batting pairs, two overs each pair; when fielding each player must bowl). Things move along – so if you get beat you’re onto the next one before you go dwelling on all that ‘negative stuff’. Actually, for me – honestly – there is no negative stuff.

Outstanding, well-structured game-days which build in brilliant, shared activity. Such a privilege to host. We ran about a dozen of these, in Pembrokeshire this year; almost all in bewitching, Australian weather.

And then it’s summer. Which is not the end of the year… but does mark a slowdown in the number of hours coaching. Autumn and winter,  I’m doing the year-round (social) media stuff, with occasional CDO meets and admin, and more Views training.

Eventually – but spookily swiftly – we’re planning the next mission. All Stars 3, in short. Schools delivery to Years 1-4 (mainly) in support of All Stars activity at local clubs.

In November I started approaching schools for that next round of action: some new, some delightfully, encouragingly familiar. Am booked into nine, so far, will be chasing other schools immediately after the festivities – 18 in total, more than last year.

It may sound glib but I am hugely thankful for the support that schools or individuals offer. The friends, the soul-brothers and sisters – the allies. This comradeship and understanding, unspoken or otherwise, is central to the work.

The work all of us Community Coaches do (and yes I am including our counterparts in other sports in this) really can, really does have a certain power. The movement and the sheer, infectious enjoyment makes children listen: this in itself becomes a profound opportunity – a gateway.

Some schools want me in pronto after Christmas, others will wait for warmer, brighter days. All will get a daft, ‘distinguished’ geezer proud to front up, to lead, to sell the game that I love and push towards that precious culture of daily, ‘natural’ activity.

So, a happy and healthy break to all. Then bring it on; I’m ready again.