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.

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).

Worcester.

#FirstWorldProblems. Can’t hardly see my screen, such is the intensity of the sunlight. But hey, can’t start with a mither about the spectacular Rick-directed brightness. Even if it has bundled me into breaking out the dodgy cap… and even if I am now squirming, just a little, in our outdoor cabin/glasshouse. Worcester, right now, you are quirky and beautiful and – as we say in Wales – bluddy lush, mun.

New Zealand win the toss and opt to field. Two changes, for England – Wyatt and Farrant in.

Interestingly, Wyatt, collecting her 200th England cap today, will bat at seven. Lots of talk about rotation and ‘workload’. Tiny crowd in, all things considered. (Sunday; good value day out, in bright sunshine; competitive international fixture in prospect). Kerr will bowl to Winfield-Hill. Beaumont the other opener. Slightly surreal situation where I have BBC Radio on – for the cricket – and 5 metres to my right (but indoors) Alison Mitchell and Georgia Adams are doing it live.

Captain Sophie Devine will follow Kerr’s quiet opener. Beaumont greets her with a classical forward drive, beating mid-off. Four. Then a full delivery on leg stick is clipped away and a third boundary comes via a full-toss, through extra. Ah. Then, having biffed 12 runs off 6 deliveries, Beaumont rather shockingly leaves one… and is bowled. She a) mis-read the angle a little and b) wasn’t ready for the critical but minor twitch off the pitch. Off stump pinged. 14 for 1. Drama Overload, early-doors.

Kerr is back for the third. The unflappable, irresistible, quietly magnificent Heather Knight (no pressure!) is in.

More action in the next over, again bowled by Devine. Winfield-Hill lifts over point then hits shot of the day – early shout but may not be beaten – creaming one out between the offside fielders. Eased out, in fact, beautifully. Five overs done and the home side are 27 for 1. Time for Tahuhu.

Out on the field I’m thinking the temperature is about 70 degrees. Where the (three of us) Written Press People are sitting it’s into the 80s. #Justsaying. We are all wearing dodgy caps but still squinting from beneath their plainly inadequate peaks. The day is ridiculous; again. Whilst we’re digressing I note that Bromsgrove School are sponsoring something down here: their logo is up on the scoreboard. Have been there on junior tours. Three cricket pitches and a general embarrassment of riches.

Did I mention we’re viewing from third man? (Right hand bat). Knight pulls Tahuhu hard, for four. 45 for 1 after 8, with both batters looking tidy. Fifty is up as Kerr strays narrowly but beats everything. The trashy metal pillar with its peeling paint and stubborn permanence, blocking my view of mid-off and the cathedral… will only be mentioned once.

Winfield-Hill really does clatter Tahuhu over square leg, for a one-bounce four. Ten over powerplay done, England 59 for 1.

Rowe joins us for the 11th, from the New Road End. A floaty away-swinger draws a nick, from Knight: gone, caught Martin, for 18. (It did swing late – so great ball, first up). Sciver will join Winfield-Hill. Mixed over, ultimately, containing two wides and a worldie. Tahuhu follows.

Winfield-Hill again pushes neatly through the covers. With Beaumont and Knight both gone, she will feel England need her to go big. Might make sense for her to bat through whilst the likes of Sciver and Wyatt bring some boom.

*Except* that the Mighty Sciver is leaving us, having tamely chipped to cover, off the outer edge. Again Rowe the successful bowler. 67 for 3 and New Zealand back in the game. Amy Jones – who is by nature a positive or attacking player – will be conscious that a Proper Partnership is needed. Credit to the Ferns, who are again looking organised, committed and a threat. Devine returns, to look to press home the recent advantage.

Another sloppy dismissal. Jones has tried a wristy flick but merely dinked one straight to midwicket. Given the context, poor. 68 for 4 so England in some minor grief. Dunkley will have a further opportunity to fill that post-collapse ‘saviour’ role. (Henry Moeran informs us that England have fallen into a 3 for 89 off 22 balls-sized hole, of late). Strikes me again that New Zealand – the away side – are here to compete.

Dunkley takes Rowe for four. A trainer brings on water – and no doubt *messages*.

Alex Hartley is suddenly bit mortified she said “brain fart” on the radio – describing that Beaumont dismissal. Izzy Westbury meanwhile is waxing lyrical about the delivery, from Sophie Devine. Genuinely encouraging to see and hear the comm-box – doorway, 3.25 metres to my right – owned by young women.

Coo. The stand is now just offering a little protection from the glare. Still magical conditions out where it matters. Oh – and the crowd has grown, too. Significantly.

Quiet period – as there was, mid-innings, in the previous game of the series. Dunkley air-shotting and Winfield-Hill weirdly missing from the action. The England pair may yet ‘see this out’ but it’s a battle, currently. W-H has 30 from 49 and Dunkley is on 10, off 24. Tahuhu goes short and is pulled – but just for the single.

The bowler repeats that shortish one and Dunkley gets in a mess; succeeding only in scuffing it from high on the bat to the catcher at midwicket. She’s drawn lots of lurv, this season, for her strong contributions with the bat (in domestic formats) plus her fielding has been highly-rated, but live, for England, I’ve not been that convinced, by Dunkley. Even when she allegedly carried England through, at Hove. Batting a touch scratchy, fielding mixed: possible rather than nailed-on ‘international’ is my view, thus far – outlier though that makes me.

Another decent ball gets another ugly wicket. 85 for 5; enter Dani Wyatt . Our first sight of Kasperek in the match. Wyatt is another ‘natural counter-attacker’: am fascinated to know what her coach Keightley might have said (if anything) before she marched out. Only 20 overs into the event.

Wyatt rises to her tiptoes and cuts Tahuhu neatly for four. Genuine, quick bouncer follows. The batter ducks. Another short one is clonked forward of square, raising two more, before the hundred is up, in this the 22nd over. (So run-rate mediocre… and credit New Zealand as well as indifferent batting).

Cloud cover has increased by 39.4%. No idea if that was forecast – don’t think we’re expecting any rain – but England might want to draft Shrubsole back in, sharpish.

25 overs in – so halfway. England 110, which is probably 30 runs light of where they’d like or expected to be. 5 down. Assuming they use the overs, a total of around 250 seems not unthinkable. It may be enough. For the home side to get beyond that this Wyatt/Winfield-Hill axis may need to persist and then flourish. It could. In any event we’re back to thought that White Ferns compete well, with the ball. For the sake of the game and the series, I hope they can do the same with the bat.

Satterthwaite joins, W-H seems becalmed. Then disaster. Wyatt pulls Kasperek and the batters set off. Two is questionable; or questioned; or risked; or out of the question. Utter howler on the communications front: both batters finish up at the same end. Village? Oh yes. It’s Winfield-Hill who has to walk. After 28 overs, with Charlie Dean now in there with Wyatt, England are in bother at 122 for 6.

To her credit, Wyatt is sweeping Satterthwaite ambitiously. Four behind square.

Meteorologically, the sky is falling in, to match the English innings. Low, decidedly grey cloud over most of the ground. Significantly more bowler-friendly (theoretically) than a couple of hours ago. Interestingly, the Ferns are going with spin through this ‘seamers’ dream’.

Dean, now on 8, plays and misses at Kasperek. Then gets a fine, fine edge which is given after review. 134 for 7 as Ecclestone walks out there. Good running brings a rare three, behind. With under-achievement now seeming inevitable, for England, so our speculation about what seems likely, from New Zealand, becomes increasingly pertinent. Truth is… hard to know. (Always hard to know, of course, but today from this batting line-up – which to be honest, we still know comparatively little about – hard to know). England will probably bowl and field well. The rest – guesswork.

Kerr is in from New Road. The rate of scoring is only about 4 per over. Wyatt waits then cuts away behind square. Four. She now has 35.

Ecclestone – who is a swiper and clubber rather than a genuine bat – clumps Kasperek towards cover and it falls just short. Then Wyatt clouts over extra and Devine is scurrying back there… but again, safe – rather narrowly. Tense. Not sure you would bet on the home side using the overs.

Rowe is back for the 35th over, with England 144 for 7. Ecclestone clubs her short one directly to midwicket. Sloppy again? I would say so. Cross edges her first ball finely and safely. Moments later, reaching at Kasperek, she edges and finds gully. 146 for 9. Whatever happens next – and it *is entirely possible* that England blow the Ferns away as the afternoon turns to evening – this is close to humiliating, for Knight’s team. A whole series of ver-ry poor dismissals.

Farrant has joined Wyatt with a remarkable 15 overs remaining. 150 up before Farrant clips away a leg-side full-toss. Rowe is soon met with a violent straight hit, middled, from Wyatt – the game’s first six. I have on occasion been critical of Wyatt’s capacity for gifting her wicket. *Ironies*. Today she may get to 50 whilst effectively being both the anchor and the sticking-plaster. (I have never doubted that she is a player).

Tahuhu is back and Farrant, who I note *carries the bat like a bowler, whilst running between the sticks*, stands firm. And wow… the sun is back. Really back, blazing again from our right.

Rowe, to try to end this, from New Road. Bowls another wide. Farrant has 11 and Wyatt 45. Weather-wise, we’re back where we started – in Near Wild Heaven. Rowe returns to Wide Hell, sadly – despite showing promise, has bowled manifestly too many. 171 for 9 as Tahuhu comes in for the 40th over. Farrant looks, or is trying to look unflustered but seems a little racy, somehow. Flicks at one down leg but the snick falls short of Martin.

Prolonged and hearty applause, as Wyatt reaches 50. Likewise when she booms Rowe over mid-off for her second six. Fine, lone knock, enjoyed and appreciated.

Farrant edges Rowe but again the ball drops short of the keeper. So things feel precarious. Wyatt back-cuts Tahuhu but Green makes an outstanding diving stop at the boundary. May have to start calling Tarrant ‘plucky’. Has 21. May have been a case for getting Kerr and Devine on 5 or 6 overs ago. Kerr will bowl the 43rd.

200 will feel like a ‘milestone’. England approaching. The 50 partnership is up; could be major in the game. Can Kasperek break this open? Not immediately; Wyatt successfully dropping and scampering. But then… yes. Farrant is caught by Green at mid-on, unable to power up and over. England 197 all out: disappointing from them. Good, from the White Ferns.

The White Ferns Reply.

Sciver, first up, for England, in returning cloud, with Suzie Bates to face. Lauren Down the other batter. Quiet over, then Farrant, whom I suspect may swing it. The rather mean thought(?) has occurred that *whatever happens*, we will be travelling to our homes come about 5.30pm. Winfield-Hill draws generous applause with a bold, successful diving stop.

Sciver is doing that exaggerated vertical pistons thing and searching for a full length. No dramas. 10 for 0 after 3. A shower feels not impossible, suddenly. Bit unfortunate that the screen opposite us, from which we’ve had the benefit of replays, is no longer offering footage. Would be good to see if Farrant, in particular, is getting anything through the air. If she is, it’s not troubling Bates, who has moved to 19. (As I finish this sentence, we get stump-cam, then four seconds of video, then back to zilch. More #firstworldproblems).

Bates cracks Sciver through the covers for four more. 33 for 0 after 7. Perfect, for the Ferns. Farrant will continue but I’m guessing there may be changes after this over. Indeed there are; Kate Cross, from the Diglis End, for starters. Bates ungenerously whips her for four. But the Slightly Sloppy Wicket theme recurrs, as Bates drives straight to Wyatt. The catch is reviewed but confirmed, despite unconvincing angles and picture clarity. Probably out, I would say. 40 for 1 as Farrant comes in again.

Down goes to 11 with a nicely-focussed off-drive, for four. 44 for 1, at 10 overs completed. Imagine Farrant feels – or her skipper does – that there’s still something in this for her. She gets a sixth over.

My feeling is that Cross is a bowler of good spells and not so many killer balls. And that she also tends to offer width – and boundaries, to off. Happening here, a little. She almost gets a caught and bowled, as Down pushes. 62 for 1 after 13. Comfortable, for New Zealand. Ecclestone will look to disturb the relative peace.

She does. Green is caught by a ver-ry watchful Charlie Dean. Ball steepled to long-on. Wicket out of nowhere? Ecclestone’s your gal. Satterthwaite comes in at 63 for 2. A thin rain is falling – not enough, for now, to interrupt the game.

It may, however, have interrupted the White Ferns’ concentration. Down is lbw to Cross and does not review. 63 for 3. Devine time.

They’re starting from scratch together but Satterthwaite and Devine might manage this situation better than most. Have quality; have experience. Drinks break whilst we contemplate what that might mean. 73 for 3 after 16, New Zealand.

Cross, once more. Devine crunches her square but Beaumont’s hands are good. No run. Sciver can’t match that. She dives over a drilled drive and it goes for four. Not had a great time of it, today, the all-rounder. Just heard on social that Jimmy Greaves has died. Sad moment; he was a genius on the pitch and a character in our lives off it.

*Almost something* as Wyatt is throwing at the bowler’s end with Devine looking stranded, following yet another communications failure. Wyatt is probably England’s best fielder but the throw is missing and Cross can’t haul it in. An escape, for the Ferns.

Satterthwaite fails to make the best of that escape. She slashes at Cross and is caught sharply behind by the consistently excellent Jones. Halliday has joined Devine. Dean will bowl her first from the Diglis End. Devine sweeps her powerfully, for four. Twice. Ten from the over, 100 up, 4 down, as we go into the 22nd.

The screens are now helpfully telling us that the White Ferns need three point something-something runs per over. And it’s raining finely again. And the game feels quiet rather than tense. For now. Little bit surprised that the umpires are allowing the players to go off – the rain really seems ver-ry minor*. Maybe they’re hearing that it will persist. 111 for 4 after 24 overs, at the break of play.

*Update. I’m both wrong and right. It’s minor but it’s too prolonged and uncomfortable to play through. We wait. Just heard about that Hammers Icon, Noble. Eek-face emoji running rampant on the Twitters, I imagine?

Further update: ‘unexpected shower sets in’ shock. No floodlights. Game under some threat…

It’s cleared – or clearing. We could start in 15 minutes but we *are starting* in 35, apparently. Stand by your beds.

Slightly reduced game, due to time lost/no lights/autumnal wotsits. 42 over game, now and New Zealand need 72 to win. So a round 4 an over will get the visitors home. That shortened game favours them in the sense that you would think their 6 remaining wickets can survive the overs. But let’s see.

Sciver will start us off. Jumpers on, now, for most. Coolish and the surface will be slightly damp. Imagine England will have to bowl them out to win this(?) Two from the over.

Now from our left, at the New Road End, it’s Ecclestone. Sharp reflexes from the bowler, last ball; one single conceded. Then *moment*. Sciver gets straight through Devine. Difficult to be sure but appeared that the batter mistimed the stroke, going gently across the line. Devine made 28 and her team need 66. Dean comes in: is Ecclestone changing ends, or being ‘saved?’

Thick edge from Martin but the next ball bowls her. Some revs evident, but no turn. 121 for 6, she’s gone for 6. Dean thrilled.

The incoming Rowe drives competently past Knight – who is maybe a little wooden – and gets the boundary. Then more Sciver. No dramas.

Back to Dean, with the tension just beginning to ratchet up. Nice, free action. Singles. The sense that Halliday may be more vulnerable than Rowe. 30 0vers; 12 remain. 52 to win this. Cross will return from the Diglis End. Starts with a yorker, kept out, by Halliday. Inside edge brings one, to fine leg. Dean races around to protect that same boundary – successfully.

Halliday, crouching and fending unconvincingly, is struck on the helmet by a good length delivery, from Cross. Minor delay but she seems okay. No question that Rowe is presenting the bat better than her partner… but not well enough. Dean has her lbw. Flighted delivery which turned just a tickle – hitting leg. Kasperek joins Halliday at 135 for 7.

First ball she utterly mistimes… and misses… but survives. Encouraging wee spell for Dean, acknowledged by the crowd (us) as she returns to third man. (*Spoiler alert*: she will finish with a four-fer). Halliday swivels to pick Cross up very fine and the ball flies, from the hip to the boundary. Run rate just creeping against the Ferns, now but still below 5, so hardly insurmountable. Dean is holding steady. 145 for 7 off 34. Meaning 38 required, off 8 overs. Ecclestone.

Two dot balls. Single. Dot ball. Halliday advances and slices a touch. Lots of side-spin as the ball sinks into the boundary markers. Halliday has a precious 29, without looking entirely in her flow. Dean is in to her now. The ball is fired in, a little and flashes past the bat. Halliday cannot regain her ground as the keeper Jones pounces. Tahuhu – who batted notably well in the last game – is in.

Big Day for Dean, then – something of a breakthrough day. The momentum is with England as Ecclestone comes in again but she knows boundaries must not come. If Kasperek and Tahuhu can keep their composure they will feel that this is still within reach… but it’s now undeniably tense. Three dot balls from Dean then an l.b. shout. Given and not reviewed. 161 for 9. Kerr joins Tahuhu. Slight hunch that the latter could still win this with a few well-timed blows… but England clear favourites.

Farrant. Is edged through the keeper! Then bowls a touch short and may be fortunate to concede just the single. The left-arm seamer closes this out, though, as Tahuhu guides a full one straight to the England skipper at catching mid-off. Very generous applause for both sides as they depart from the outfield. Another tightish game – albeit reduced – won by England with 14 runs to spare. Importantly, another contest.

The White Ferns have been well in both of these two one-day matches, before fading or lacking the batting depth to earn the victories. (In truth, this was the prime concern for those of us trying to stay relatively neutral – the fear that if Bates and Devine and A. N. Other didn’t carry the innings, the side might prove vulnerable. So it has proved). New Zealand will not be liking the sense that they are threatening to be a good side.

England, meanwhile, have been pressured to the point that they, despite an apparent wealth of talent, looked an ordinary batting unit, rescued only by a fine, belated partnership between Wyatt and Farrant. There were serial errors in the innings, suggesting scrambled minds and a worrying contagion: this is a concern for them. Good work in the field has bailed them out, again, here.

The series needs the White Ferns to bat longer, bat more dynamically. England need to assert some authority – if indeed they have it – or check their assumptions about where they sit in the world game. The Keightley Era feels a bit neurotic.

Things you need to know.

Pre-game:

Weighted balls are in.

Hopping is in.

Sunshine and clouds are in.

The Lads – Henry C and a clutch of the England backroom staff – are going through their own warm-up. Separate from them silly gals. Serious keepie-uppie football. Lasting waaaay longer than them silly gals did. The Lads, however, are shite, or medium-shite. (The Girls, meanwhile, are – yaknow – international athletes).

New Zealand (again) look a really well-drilled outfit. Shockingly, I don’t even know who their coaching team is led by*… but they are notably well-organised, focussed and impressively on it, in their warm-ups. And it’s a whole-team effort, somehow, neatly put together and overseen by the several coaches. (My strong feeling is that this groove has begun to transfer across to the matches: the IT20 series built into an excellent, competitive bundle essentially because New Zealand grew).

*Checked. Bob Carter.

12.30 to 50-odd. Lovely longish chat with Neneto Davies, from the ACE Programme, set up to support Afro-Caribbean cricketers. He’s based in London but there’s been a PR thing here, today, as the new Bristol ACE scheme gets off the ground. Good guy; wish him well.

Missed the toss. Slightly surprised to hear that White Ferns won it and chose to bowl. Imagine that as well as that ‘let’s take a look at this’ angle, they think bowling/fielding may get more difficult later, with a damp ball(?)

First over, Devine bowling. Beaumont and Winfield-Hill in there for England. 5 scored. Bright sunshine with cloud over to our right. (‘We’ in the media centre, facing the iconic – well, almost – Ashley Down End flats).

Devine’s second over she gets notable away-swing. But starts it too wide, so signalled by the ump.

First *moment* sees Beaumont dropped, at slip. Given her record and her form, this could be really bad news, for the visitors. Streaky-but-swiftish, as opposed to an absolute gift.

Kerr is partnering Devine. The generally rather classical Winfield-Hill swishes across somewhat, scuffing to third man for a single. Beaumont shows her immediately how to do it, by adjusting her feet and straight-driving past extra cover for a quality four. Out-of-the-manual: gorgeous. I’ve moved outside the media centre – too muggy, indoors, despite being on the empty side – and the sun is beating down on my back… and then not. (Yup. Clouds).

Devine is struggling for line. Wides now plural. The World’s Most Annoying Pigeon is cooing extravagantly monotonously about four-foot-six behind me… or under me, or entirely in my head. Weird, empty fury building but Winfield-Hill remains undisturbed; drives out through the offside. Four more. 30 for 0 after 5, England.

Discussed the *crowd issue* with a young woman journalist. We reckon maybe 400-500 in, now – looked ver-ry unpromising, earlier. Beautiful day. Good contest in prospect. Some world-class players. I just don’t get it. Think we both concluded that it’s a sexist universe and barely improving. (It does improve as the day goes on but I find the attendance figure of 1200 and something quite difficult to believe).

Things just got better for White Ferns. Winfield-Hill tickles one that’s fairly substantially down the leg side and – ah! – is caught behind. Awful way to get out, maybe particularly when you’re looking well set? Whatever, out she goes, for a now pregnable but previously pretty impregnable-looking 21.

Rowe is in for Devine and has claimed the wicket; Tahuhu is in from in front of us, under the press box. Ten overs done and England are 47 for 1. The quietly, stoically, passively-measuredly-Englishly magnificent Heather Knight is the new bat.

Rowe is tall and rather imposing. Is getting some bounce to go with that pace. Beats Beaumont but Knight offers the blade confidently and finds the wee gap between point and cover: four more. End of the thirteenth and the home side have 59, for 1. Light breeze quite welcome; from long off to third man as we look at Beaumont, towards those flats. The batter drives square and holds the pose – boundary through point.

Our first spin, as Kasperek replaces Rowe. The bowler had a good IT20 series – leading wicket-taker but (without being ungenerous, this is really not my intention), I was never quite clear (despite being at two of the three short-format matches), if she *really bowled well*, or not.

Distracted again, at some length, to talk Cricket Development stuff with the ACE guys. (Their coach starts work, in Bristol, on Monday). Lots of this my territory – going into schools, trying to be that friendly, hopefully inspiring geezer that gathers kids in to the game. Really do wish them all well; seem really good people, which always helps.

22nd over and Devine has changed ends. Looks strong and determined but Beaumont is looking increasingly settled and her skipper is amongst the world’s best at enduring then cashing-in. So New Zealand must make something happen soonish, you sense. They review for lbw, strangely – or so it seems – because bowler not interested, initially. Beaumont has played defensively but her bat is tucked. Pad first and out. The opener made 44: 109 for 2.

Plusses and minuses? Out goes a very fine opener: in comes the world’s best all-rounder: Sciver. She defends Devine stoutly. We get to halfway and England are Nelson for 2. So steady progress but hardly bolting along. White Ferns applying themselves – as they do. Good game brewing?

Oof. Sciver tries to glide one, with soft hands, through third man but plays on. Sloppyish, arguably. Could be ver-ry big, in the match. 113 for 3: England bat deepish, theoretically but New Zealand unquestionably ahead in the game, now. Amy Jones – fine, positive player – is joining Knight. General thought: this is a good batting track, with runs *available*.

Satterthwaite has entered the fray from Ashley Down. Drags one down a little and Knight accepts the gift – four through the covers. (The England captain has moved, as she does, undramatically to 44. Yet again we may be seeing a telling contribution).

Or not. As Jones is bowled, hurried, by Tahahu so the contribution from Knight may become less relevant – or not. Feels possible that her side may even capitulate, here, meaning that she may be unable to significantly affect the Destiny of Things. But that may be premature. England 132 for 4, after 30. Perhaps the drinks break will allow the home side to breeeaaaathe and re-group? Major work to be done.

Knight gets to 50 in the 31st. Dunkley, who has had a solidly encouraging summer (but not entirely convinced me, if I’m honest), must remain watchful alongside.

Over 32, Kerr in, with only a third man and a 45 in the deep. Poorish ball, to be honest, but Dunkley is caught at the wicket, glancing to leg. (Glove, I think). What was I saying about capitulation? Brunt – whom I rate, but would be batting lower than 7 in a doctor Rick XI – has to yomp out there. 140 for 5, now, after 32. Trouble.

Alex Hartley and Steve Finn have joined me out on the balcony. (When I say ‘joined me’, this is more a figure of speech than a statement of fact. Incredibly, they appear not to know who I am). The sun remains warm. A dangerous hunch wafts in: New Zealand get to whatever total is set, with a single wicket down. Maybe worse still, the ridicu-hunch that this Keightley Era is going to be frustrating and under-achieving, ultimately: a thought that’s been broiling quietly with me, for some months.

A potentially ‘terminal’ running-out of Knight, as non-striker, via the outstretched hand of the bowler, is up on the screen to my right. Thank Christ – not out. The game might have been done. Instead we remain 147 for 5.

Good to see Brunt slap a short one from Tahuhu confidently to leg. England must do more than survive this. Soon she will be booming a violent straight drive, for four. The England pace bowler is one of the great competitors in world cricket – and I do mean that – and she is beginning to counter the White Fern momentum: as she must. (My reservations about her batting 7 were about her recent form with the wood, as well as the cultural imperative towards stacking the line-up).

Brunt is struck in front but reviews *absolutely immediately*. Predictably, on investigation, she is shown to have edged it. Finn – departed – is talking articulately on the wireless about England needing to have an aggressive period ‘as opposed to limping towards a semi-competitive total’. Dead right… but *has dangers*. Knight and Brunt might be thinking of targeting best part of a hundred from the last ten overs. Might need to be thinking that.

Devine bowls the 40th over and Brunt bludgeons her for two, over extra, then gloves one for four, behind. Helpful. 174 for 5. Do think anything shy of (an admittedly unlikely) 260 will feel manifestly light. Good yorker from Rowe almost unzips Knight but the response is bold: four over mid-off. An essential 50 partnership is up as Knight smashes a poor full-toss from Devine, square. Knight is 71 as we get through the 42nd.

Some more leg-spin, from Kasperek. Knight unfurls a beauty of a reverse to claim four more, then the 200 is up. I’m out of the sunshine, finally but the ground is still bathed. Lovely scene; shame more aren’t here to enjoy it. The ACE guys are jostling and gathering: taking what I imagine might be awestruck kids out onto the pitch at the innings break.

Brunt and to a lesser extent Knight are hitting hard… and mostly middling. When the former edges thinly, she is happy to see the ball loop swiftly enough up and over to the fine leg boundary: fortunate but safe. 213 for 5 after 45. The skipper has 81 so is on for a ton. Brunt has 36.

Devine is as important to the White Ferns as Knight is to England. She is in from underneath us for the next – from which 8 runs come. 260 do-able(?)

Kasperek will bowl her final over, from Ashley Down. Brunt shuffles early before clattering straight back over the bowler for a particularly emphatic boundary. 228 for 5.

Suddenly, Knight’s work is done. Caught and bowled Kasperek for a flawless 89. Feels bit cruel. Ecclestone, who is a hitter but no stylist, has come in.

England’s momentum is stalled further as Brunt is cleaned out, advancing. Good straight ball from Kerr. Genuinely worthy and typically battling contribution of 43, from England’s bowling ace.

Cross enters and rather brilliantly – deftly, absurdly confidently – flips to fine leg, for four, first up. Ridiculous, and unthinkable even a year or two ago. Devine switches ends again and takes the pace off. Then re-injects it, to Ecclestone, who booms and is caught. Or not. No ball!

A wicket comes, however, as Cross slightly tamely reaches and lobs to cover. Dean – the debutant – will get a brief knock. 240 for 8, England, as we welcome Kerr for the final over.

Dean’s stay really may be brief as she is given lbw… but eventually reviews. Gone, for a single. Enter Davies. 241 for 9 becomes all out, same score, as Ecclestone is exposed halfway down the track. No blame attached – she was quite rightly looking to get a couple more hits.

That England total is a poor one, irrespective of what follows: this is a 300 pitch. Hey ho, the ACE guys and a bundle of grinning kids, now on the outfield – are having their Moment In the Sun. I will enjoy that as I grab some nosh.

Final word, for now. The wonderful and mighty Sophie Devine has *come straight back out* to get her eye in, with the bat. Bringing me neatly back to that hunch… that the White Ferns might win this at a ridicu-canter. Let’s see.

The Reply.

Brunt maiden then Sciver, for England. Bates and Down will surely be more ‘patient’ here than a very patient thing? Take root for 30 overs. Chill, then shake-out, mid-wicket, shouting “na-ner-na-ner-ner!” before charging towards a crushing win. Or not. White Ferns will love a crushingly dull start.

They don’t get it. Sciver has Bates caught at a slightly wide first slip – Knight collecting competently. After 4 overs the visitors are 2 for 1.

Sciver and Brunt are applying the squeeze that England need but for now, New Zealand barely need to care. (After 6 overs the scoreboard has cranked asthmatically over to 5 for 1. Paralysis, but for the game situation, which makes it quietly o-kaaay… for both sides).

Sciver is still bowling with Knight at effectively second slip and Winfield-Hill at fourth. She beats Down on the inside but the ball died, rather than did something. First change will be Cross, for Brunt, from the Ashley Down Road End. Green goes to 9, with a little width on offer: square, our first boundary.

No change at this end, as Nat Sciver continues, with a disciplined, fourth-stump kindofa line. Down has a weird, wild slash at one – first sign of frustration and nerves? Could be. ‘Something in the head’ gives and she’s edging behind, next ball. Now that perfectly acceptable stasis lurches a tad towards (potential) crisis. 17 for 2 after 10 overs – and yes you read that right. England have been ver-ry efficient. Now the Ferns must battle.

Satterthwaite – theoretically the third of the BIG THREE, for New Zealand – joins Green. Freya Davies will run in from almost directly in front of us, to challenge her. Right arm over, with a distinctive, backward-leaning approach, Davies makes no further inroads.

Cross is coming in fluently, from t’other end. She bowls boldly full and gets the reward – Knight taking a sharp catch at slip, low down. Green gone, Devine is in and missing her first ball… but it’s going down. Clutch period right now, meaning we’ve gone from stately cruise to Squeaky Bum Time alarmingly swiftly – certainly from the White Ferns’ point of view. 33 for 3, in the 17th.

Yet there are plusses, for New Zealand. Right/left combination and two of their finest out there, together. Time in the game. Big ask but these are Big Players. Proper Sport, upcoming.

Sixteen overs in, drinks break. Lights on. 57 for 3; Satterthwaite 13 and Devine on 11. Dean gets a bowl – her first, ever, in this shirt – and in the fabulous sunshine. We get into another quiet period… but this now suits England more than the visitors, arguably(?) Beaumont makes a notably fine stop at backward point to deny runs.

Dean is bouncing in confidently enough; putting some revs on the ball but finding no meaningful spin. This area – as many of you will know – is balloon central. Globes appearing, mysteriously and beautifully to our right. Oh – and we have shadows.

First sight of Ecclestone, in the 20th over. No dramas.

As we go on, so the fascination grows, or changes, without revealing. Both batters into their 20s. Run rate rising (of course) but not unthinkable *if these two stay together*. (163 off 29, needed). Mostly, the two batters are good – were always expected to be key, or important. So this slow game is a Slow Burner. For now. Pleasing symmetry as we have equidistant globes floating over deeeeeep fine leg and deeeeeeep third man. Must be stunning up there.

Cross comes in for Dean at Ashley Down. Just to break things up and maybe invite the unforced error. Devine defies. Courageous, floaty leg-cutter, from Cross. Patience from both sides. Who will twitch?

Arguably Satterthwaite. She charges and biffs Ecclestone straight – but aerial. Winfield-Hill is no sprinter but not sure if even Villiers or Wyatt would have gotten there. (Neither are playing, of course). Ball plugs, harmlessly. 97 for 3 after 26. Run-rate required, about 6 an over. Heat gone or going from the day.

Another teaser brings up the 100. Fortuitously. Wicked, flying edge loops tantalisingly towards Ecclestone. Like W-H, she is not one of England’s more dynamic fielders. She can’t get there – and again, Dina Asher-Smith may not have done. Generally, England’s fielders looking spookily, healthily fixated, particularly as Ecclestone whirls towards the crease. Remarkable, synchronised ‘walking-in’ going on. Tempted to film it.

Cross again bowls full. Devine clubs it but not cleanly. We have a great angle to see it fly – straight – to – mid-off. With time – bewitchingly – slow-ing – down. Easy catch; huge moment. The White Ferns’ anchor gone for 34. Enter Martin, with *stuff to do*. Satterthwaite has 44; her new partner may need to match that.

She can’t. On 9, she miscues a slightly half-hearted sweep and dollies to leg gully: Ecclestone the bowler. Ferns’ hopes fading with the light? Would appear so. 124 for 5 in the 32nd, as we break again. Halliday the new batter. She’s a leftie.

She’s gone, first ball. Maybe it squirted through a little but Halliday got nothing on it. Life is cruel. Rowe, the tall quick, must bat as Brunt returns, having bowled four consecutive maidens in her first spell. The universe is suddenly(?) conspiring pret-ty heavily against an away-win, here. 127 for 6, after 33. 115 required, so towards 7 per over needed.

Fuller one has Ecclestone appealing – confidently. (Looked out, first shuftie). Wrong. Missing, because no turn. Rowe continues.

Brunt slaps a loose one down leg, to Satterthwaite. Wide. 19.14 hours and dusky – or approaching. Satterthwaite drops and scuttles through, for her fifty: Rowe has to stretch but does get there. But Brunt – who has that Not To Be Denied look about her – is not to be denied. Has Rowe plum the very next ball. Knight promptly and wisely takes the opportunity to give newcomer Dean another dart. Kerr is facing in rapidly fading light, with hopes all but extinguished. Quiet over.

Her next is unquiet because it brings Dean’s first international wicket – that of Kerr, bowled. Hugs and giant smiles. Ooh. The smiles are temporarily parked as Tahuhu responds with successive boundaries, but Dean is in that magic book.

A game I thought might be a run-fest may conclude with a chase failing to get much beyond 150. England were ver-ry light, score-wise: now the opposition trail behind. Where does that all leave us? This is all false-leads and dummy denouements.

Tahuhu brings some encouraging defiance, for the Ferns. It’s a free hit but she is hitting. The stadium announcer reminds us that England were not that much ahead of the current New Zealand score, of 170 for 8. (A mere 4 runs, extraordinarily). Surely this can’t lurch away from Knight and co? Surely? As the dark lands gently – like a balloon, perhaps? – Davies pipes up.

It’s a “no”. A truly delicious slower ball does for Tahuhu, who made a valiant and entertaining 25: she is comprehensively bowled. Last bat in there is Kasperek. She cheekily scoops Ecclestone; not entirely convincingly but the subsequent boundary, square to off, is pleasingly legit. Might the innings get to 200? Does it make any difference? Maybe.

194 for 9 after 43. So 48 needed off 42 balls. A breeze, in other formats, other scenarios. Here it feels low on frisson because – well, Kasperek and against the grain of everything. (But is there grain?) Ecclestone, predictably, concedes just the one from the over, thereby shutting that proverbial silo-door-thing.

Kasperek edges Cross for four: somehow, 200 passed. 45 overs done and 41 needed (from 30 balls). Brunt. Surely? Surely we are done?

Boundaries. Plural. Satterthwaite’s composure the opposite of unruffled. Except great ball beats her but no dramas. We have that thing where the drama-vacuum is stealthily – without twitching, or revealing or offering or denying – threatening mega-drama. The media centre is quiet because, well, WHAT DARE WE WRITE?!? (And naturally Yours F Truly is most likely to Come A Cropper here, writing foolishly, masochistically live).

Except it was never in doubt. Because run-out: Kasperek short as a killer throw came in. Winfield-Hill delivering.

To add to the surreal almost-fraught/almost-faux-ness of everything, the monitors in the media centre cut out at The Critical Moment… so we grievously stressed scribes missed out on the review. A VAR-like, tension-deflating, was it yes/was it no moment intervenes. We can only be sure when the England players bounce, *out there*. All oddly appropriate, somehow.

So England batted unconvincingly, largely – were at least 30 short – but won by 30 runs.

Keightley might argue, if we hear her – and we often don’t – that squad rotation played a role in the partial misfire. And it could be. The White Ferns might counter that they were never out of it. And it could be. A bigger crowd might actually have made the event spicier and the drama (or potential drama) juicier or more likely. Who knows? This was a bewildering, elusive un-feast of a game: almost satiating, almost starving us. I may need a kebab.

In the Uncertainty Vortex, some factoids. Heather Knight was Player of the Match – deservedly. New Zealand bowled and fielded well; plainly forced the England underachievement with the bat. Contraflow? Neither side scored enough runs on this pitch (whatever that means).

Post-game.

Hunches? The early wicket – the failure – of Bates, feels/felt important.

The England middle order remains fickle but their squad depth may prove critical.

Villiers should be in this side, never mind this squad. It doesn’t lack quality but shots of brilliance make a difference.

*However*, the coach has every right – indeed, has a responsibility – to build an extended, experienced group… before settling and being clear upon her best eleven.

I am not clear what any of this means. And I blame the game.