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.

Changes.

Unwise, to write whilst disappointed to the point of anger. (Unwise, actually, to get angry about sport, eh?) But I suspect that the three consecutive defeats in this #CWC22 have left those of us that are bothered about Eng Women* starting the Working Week in a right mood.

(*Nobody was watching, live, in the ground. Media coverage, though growing, will be miniscule compared to male equivalents. So yeh I’m bit cheesed orff; ’bout everything).

Lets draw up a swift Mitigating Circumstances column. To draw some of the venom. England have been pretty bad because:

Demoralised by a higher level Australian side, in a concerningly one-sided Ashes tour.

Bubbles/travel/boredom/homesickness.

Erm… something else?

These appear to be reasonably meaningful factors but do they account for manifestly below-par performances against West Indies and South Africa and that undeniable sense that England are in something of a mess? It’s right to acknowledge improvements elsewhere – ‘smaller nations’ catching up – but should that equate to or account for a steepish decline in performance levels for Heather Knight’s side?

The answer to that latter question is ‘maybe’; or, ‘it could’. Because pressure. Pressure from the rails, from under your collar, from inside the mind. England *suddenly feeling* vulnerable when they should still feel better, more solid, empowered. Because England are the second best side in the world. Meaning the answer to that question is also ‘no’.

South Africa have just beaten England in a tense but not exceptional match – certainly not, quality-wise. Player of the Match Marizanne Kapp may have thanked “her saviour” immediately after the game but she might have thanked any one a series of England fielders who again either spurned catches/stumpings or dived over balls that might have been stopped. Sour grapes? (Possibly: I’m soured, but I’m not sure anyone beyond Ecclestone can be satisfied with their contribution in the field. Given this is where England have stayed ahead of those developing sides – through what we might broadly call professional intensity and execution – the persistently shoddy work from England has felt genuinely galling).

Read the specifics of the match elsewhere. South Africa won it and deserved to win it but England’s batting was timid and one-dimensional and their fielding was badly off. Beaumont dropped an easy catch and was again, like her team-mates, ‘mixed’ – prone to dive over or past the ball. Jones, behind the sticks, was alarmingly in and out, Brunt and Shrubsole again relatively impotent.

The latter is somehow shielded from criticism (and there may be reasons for this) but it feels entirely reasonable to note that as a full-time professional athlete, in a universe where expectations have dramatically changed for the better, she is two stones too heavy… and this patently affects her fielding… and maybe to a lesser extent her bowling.

I have always been a huge fan – have gone on the record many times, to that effect. But it is not acceptable, any longer, that prime, professional athletes are so badly out of condition. This is one reason why Shrubsole should retire (and I expect her to) after this tournament; whatever happens over the remaining games. Anya Shrubsole has been a glorious intoxicant in the game, for a decade and more – arguably the best swing bowler in the world for much of that period. Now she should go.

Given that Shrubsole’s long, long-term partner is in a similar ‘twilight phase’, there’s a really fascinating link between the men and women’s international sides in respect of their opening bowlers. But I’m not going there. Katherine Brunt is (I repeat, like her colleague) one of the greats. Powerful, punchy but also loaded to the gills with a rare guilefulness, Brunt has had a low-key tournament. Could be powers fading. Could be tiredness.

There has been, quite rightly, talk of a double replacement or retirement, here. The Pretenders – notably Bell and Wong – have been drawing support concomitant to the criticism of the coach, in the absence of opportunity or ‘succession planning’. Brunt remains better and certainly more consistent than both… but sure, that proverbial clock is ticking.

All of which brings me back to the coach, Lisa Keightley. She’s done her work quietly, in the background: despite being drawn to more obviously charismatic characters, I have no issue with that. (Clearly, you don’t have to be an extrovert to be somebody people or players will follow). And yet I think she should go. The team energy has been somewhere between frail and limp, too often. There are simply too many errors going on. It feels – whatever that means – like the team lacks character. All of that is the coach’s responsibility: they are charged with making the environment.

We all have our own ideas about selection – that’s part of the joy of this, yes? My own admittedly left-field opinion, following a night in Hove where she did that thing where something ver-ry special gets announced, is that Mady Villiers had to be a fixture in this side. Maybe for that stunning, invigorating brilliance in the field alone. And Shrubsole should have been rotated in and out, or possibly simply de-selected, to bring on the newbees and recognise the modern realities re athletic non-negotiables. And, somehow, the likes of Beaumont and Jones and even Brunt should have been challenged more directly to perform or buck up, with the bat.

The squad’s felt too cosy; too willowy, even. Coach must not allow that to happen. Wyatt and Jones and Winfield-Hill endlessly gifting poor, premature dismissals to the opposition. Woeful catching becoming, or feeling predictable. Confidence paper-thin. For an age, Knight’s doughtiness, Beaumont’s application and Sciver’s power have carried the team – kept that chasing pack chasing. Now England look caught.

There is a chance that England could yet qualify. A slim one. If they do then they will be a threat, should they play to their maximum. So far, plainly, they have been devastatingly short of that aspiration. They will feel shrivelled and beaten in every sense…. and I guess I’m not helping here.

Pressure is real and not real. Keightley and Knight have to engineer the most astonishing of revivals. I hope they do it. If they don’t, then of course there must be changes.