Brizzle again. With the blokes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE REPLY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus sides…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beating the weather (with Beat Poetry).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now – cheers!

You have never been in love…

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

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

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

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

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

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

He doesn’t answer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14.23. Been to pitch level. Conspiracy theory brewing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15.56. I think we’re done, here.

(Nom, nom…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back tomorrow to see.

Taunton: Day 2.

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

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

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

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

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

But I might not stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’ve quietened the kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yes. Lovely to meet you, Annie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow, people. 😎

Hello Taunton.

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

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

10.48. Sudden gloom descendeth. Borderline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And good luck to the visitors. I mean that.

The Revolution According to Anya Shrubsole.

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

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

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

In her farewell statement, she says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different Level.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Universe podcast, : #CWC22, five dangerous themes.

Get that Twitter doesn’t do irony, so expect to be in trouble again, creditibility-wise, as I tear into Media Coverage by erm, ranting unrehearsed. (Do like a bitta mischief. 🤓)

However, there is the occasional worthwhile obsevation, in here, I venture. So have a listen?

Point 1 is about the very mixed coverage – so mainly pointing at Sky… but not just them. Clearly there are some brilliant broadcasters out there but it pisses me off we don’t see too much of them (for women’s coverage).

Do I need to add that clearly there are some brilliant women broadcasters… but that as per the blokes, some are either shockingly bland, air-headed or dull? And we deserve better. So hang the producers. This is not about the sex of the people; it’s about their quality… or the quality of some of them. Loads of viewers reach straight for the mute button: that ain’t right.

Points 2-5 are probably less contentious. I talk about cricket. But yeh, go see. Or listen.

Footnote: should have mentioned Kate Cross, in here. Good athlete, good, consistent bowler and great Team Member. Her nibbly wee fifth-stumpers may well contribute, should England prosper. (Have a slight fear Aus may target her, precisely because of that consistency but really hope she goes well).