Brizzle again. With the blokes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE REPLY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus sides…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beating the weather (with Beat Poetry).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now – cheers!

You have never been in love…

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

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

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

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

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

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

He doesn’t answer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14.23. Been to pitch level. Conspiracy theory brewing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15.56. I think we’re done, here.

(Nom, nom…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back tomorrow to see.

Taunton: Day 2.

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

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

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

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

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

But I might not stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’ve quietened the kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yes. Lovely to meet you, Annie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow, people. 😎

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.

Knight is due.

That same England that we fans were cursing found a higher-astral-plane cruising-mode to render everything a nonsense, earlier. Of course they did. Because a) everything IS a nonsense, b) this was a semi and c) THEY ALWAYS WERE #thebestteamintheworldthatisntAustralia.

Yes. They were. Even when Shrubsole and Brunt looked painfully out of sorts, the coach looked weirdly like a mildly disinterested knitting champion and Wyatt, Jones and everybody but Sciver and Dunkley looked like toast-in-the-waiting. In short, even when England were ’embarrassing’, those of us who have been paying attention (over days/weeks/years) knew that they had ‘performances in them’. That they really were better than India/WIndies/South Africa – that they were, in fact, the only meaningful challengers to the Aussie juggernaut.

Does this mean I/we take back our vitriol, from the last month? (Even the frankly unkind stuff about Shrubsole’s condition?) No. ‘Fraid not. Despite the thrilling excellence of Anya’s opening burst – despite, even, the fine, diving grab for the Wolvaardt wicket, Shrubsole is not absolved. She like every other International Professional Athlete should be ticking the I.P.A box in terms of fitness and agility. Likewise Jones and Wyatt (etc, etc) should be ticking the Avoid The Ludicrous Lazy Gift box, when wielding the willow of Ingerland. This stuff matters: there are responsibilities in play, yes?

But ‘end of’. Look at the scoreboard; look at the table; look at the history books. They already say ‘Holders, England are through to another final’. I’m bloody delighted to see that. What’s more, I think they have a chance of raising the trophy at the end of all of this: they can’t be favourites but they have a chance because England have come through, ultimately, in real, important, creditable style… but yeh, they were crap for toooo long, in this event.

Wyatt seized the day. She swished and cut and drove compelling (but not flawlessly) to a hundred and more, piercing the field with that characteristically lithe power, but also teasing them with the occasional near-fatal miscue. (Bottom line, she should have been on her way but for some poor efforts to snaffle an admittedly wind and/or spin-affected ball. Even the god-like (goddess-like?) and god-loving Kapp was guilty of a strangely discordant fluff. Wyatt swatted on).

Seasoned watchers will know that despite some evidence to the contrary, in #CWC22, it is England’s fielding that sets them apart and above the ‘minor players’ in the hierarchy of the world game. They are generally at a higher professional level: perhaps they should be, given the relative investments – the ‘resources’. However the keys to this semi-final were fundamental, not general. Wyatt and the now convincingly prolific Dunkley batted best; Ecclestone’s bowling was just too good.

Beaumont biffed the very first ball from Ismail to the boundary but was then in a pickle. Knight, though understandably fixated on batting long, got utterly stuck, failing to hit anything for an age, lest she offer a chance, then falling plumb for a disconcerting and potentially demoralising single run scored. Sciver smashed a stunning pull shot, nuttily, beautifully, then was cramped to another short one from Kapp, and merely spooned it to the ring. Jones, for the umpteenth time, threatened to unleash some quality but managed instead to ‘fail’ and fall, in another gift-wrapped, despairing moment.

In the middle of the night I had posted my own target before a tactical (3 hour, work-necessary) retreat: on this pitch, England must get 260 or 70. The pitch was obviously true-ish. Somebody was obviously going to go biggish. I hoped – but then daren’t hope – for more, from the women in blue.

When I re-emerged at 6 am, coincidentally bang on the start on the South Africa reply, I was wondering if Wolvaardt might ‘do a Wyatt’ and make 120-something. She felt like a threat. Shrubsole’s completely predictable but nevertheless thrillingly challenging inswing soon undid that storyline. A further early wicket – that of Lee, caught Sciver, at short midwicket – put England in command, particularly as the batting team felt light, or lighter than England, beyond that opening pair.

None of Luus, Goodall, du Preez or Kapp failed; they all got into their twenties or a little beyond. But in the early-middle overs Cross and Dean, despite the latter being mixed, made key inroads before the Ecclestone Parade came to town.

The young woman is a phenomena. Firing in those arcing or spearing mace poles. Relentlessly and somehow joyously. At you – at your toes! Irresistible. That speed, that parting of the curtains, pre-delivery. Mind-scramblingly good.

From about the sixth over it felt a little like the Ecclestone Moment might come, might sort this. (Knight, perhaps teasing out the the drama, kept us waiting). Whether this was some sublime instinct or (more likely) simply and prosaically A Plan, we will never know. In the event, it worked.

The last knockings of the South African innings became – either traumatically or deliciously – a rout. Six wickets for the Tall Girl from the North. A ‘shush’ to send off the (presumably previously lary?) Ismail. Theatre. With all this pressure on her, the ‘Best Bowler In The World’ unfussily performs. It becomes a right thrashing. England are there.

Australia are the best side in the world: England next best. It’s good that they meet. Haynes, Healy, Lanning, Mooney and Perry out-gun their English equivalents – certainly in terms of consistency. And Brunt and Shrubsole and even Ecclestone are less likely to repeatedly dent that winning machine. But this now is a final. And there will be nerves. And there may be sublime inspiration. I’m hoping it comes from England.

Knight *is due*.

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.

And so it begins.

And so it begins. England (and Wales) under the frequently outstanding leadership of one of the world’s great but possibly most under-appreciated female players – Heather Knight –  enter the ring. They enter with some expectation draped around them; England are surely one of three major contenders for the tournament, alongside the hosts, Australia, and India.

After the extraordinary opening game of this #T20WorldCup it feels again like the odds have narrowed: deliciously so. The third defeat for the Southern Stars in fifteen days being something of a jolt not just to them, but to the whole course of the conversation. Australia *really are beatable*. The likely procession really may not be so simple. It makes for a better tournament, surely?

We all knew that the alleged nature of T20 predisposes towards a greater possibility for crazy, fate-defying drama: that allegation – not without its flaws – proved true (or as true as anything) with an Indian win, in the opening fixture. A win that was something of a horror-show for the Aussies. All Out, with just two players passing double-figures. More than that, perhaps, All Out shell-shocked. What a way to begin.

So England and India are entitled. They know, now, that they really are contenders; because they are the other world powers and because Australia are flawed, too. In a tournament that may, unfortunately be somewhat blighted by nerves and under-achievement (god I hope not!), the unpeeling of legitimate Aussie pomp opened up, from the outset, all manner of wonderful opportunities: who though, can take them?

England are strongish and well organised. They have nevertheless also shown a softish underbelly, a propensity for collapses in confidence, but often Knight’s resilience has seen them through – if not solo, then alongside the gutsiness exemplified by Brunt and/or the sheer threat posed by the young off-spinner, Ecclestone. Throw in Beaumont’s brightness and Wyatt’s flair and yes, England are strongish… but things can go either way.

They should be too strong for today’s opponents, South Africa.

Having watched Eng v Women Proteas shorter-format fixtures live over the last year or two, my central memory is that there remains a distance between them, in terms of around quality: not a chasm, but a meaningful gap, in England’s favour. The question will therefore be whether the sprint that is T20 might be dominated by an individual, to the exclusion of the normal, regular, predictable measures of team performance.

Is it possible that Lee, or Wolvaardt, or Kapp could do something irresistible? Of course it is. Strap in.

 

Van Niekerk wins the toss and inserts England, predictably. The England line-up is stacked with batting, again, with Beaumont likely to come in down the order – again. Glenn and Ecclestone will provide their spin.

Jones and Wyatt, who have both been struggling for form, stride out. Interestingly, Mlaba – left-arm spin – will open. Nice, challenging idea but the third delivery is a poor full-toss, dispatched for four, then Jones follows with a peach of a lofted straight drive. Encouraging start, for England – nine off the over.

Now it’s the mighty Kapp; experienced and often formidable. She beats Jones, first up but again the England opener replies, driving uppishly but safely through midwicket for four. 13 for 0 after 2. Finally, Wyatt will get to face.

Now, enter Ismail – one of the swiftest bowlers around. Wyatt drives solidly for one. Then Jones cuts nicely for four more; good start, from her, so far. Apropos bugger all, quite nice to have Alan Wilkins on comms. Jones not middling everything – and things going a little ‘aerial’ but 21 for 0 off 3 is good. Jones has 20 of them.

But Jones miscues Kapp and is caught, easily, at mid-off. The pace of her knock was fine, again, but again she has been dismissed a tad sloppily. She needs to do more; lots of twenties but too few innings getting built. Enter Sciver.

Aaaaargh. Wyatt promptly follows, infuriatingly. Yet again, she pumps a very poor, wide, over-full delivery from Khaka, to point. Awful dismissal and another failure, from what seemed a promising beginning. Yet again, Knight comes in to salvage a potential problem period. Chaka is visibly lifted – as are the South Africans generally – and England’s best two must gather. 28 for 2, after 5.

Conditions: the pitch looks true. Some taper in the air, for Khaka and Kapp, certainly, but it’s looking conducive to decent scoring – meaning 140/150, ideally, I’m guessing(?) 130 already looking more realistic.

Power play score of 31 for 2 is lowish, courtesy those dismissals, so Knight and Sciver will need to accelerate soonish. My personal view is that the Jones/Wyatt combo cannot continue to fail with impunity. Get Beaumont back in there.

Sciver club-drives Khaka for four, a welcome release. The fielders looking sharp. Mild pressure from the Proteas. Van Niekerk will bowl the 9th.

Knight attacks. She booms downtown but perhaps under-estimates the athleticism of Ismail, who takes a fine, running catch. BIG MOMENT. Huge requirement for Sciver to perform, now. She is joined by Wilson, who has impressed, of late, fortunately. Important moment in the game.

Wilson living dangerously, by repeatedly sweeping Mlaba and then dancing down and missing by miles. The keeper couldn’t gather: more pressure. England ‘doing an Australia’, here – looking scrambled.

Sciver gets a freebie, an awful full-toss from Mlaba which she can swing over mid-on. 50 up after 10, but this means there’s much work to do, for England. The concern may be that of the remaining batters, only Sciver feels truly explosive. Or rather the likes of Beaumont and Brunt may not be able to sustain a real assault – which may be necessary. If not that, a brilliant performance in the field becomes essential: meaning pressure. (In truth this feels a likely scenario: England under-achieve with the bat but come through with a good bowling effort).

With England at a relatively measly 60, after 12 overs, a tense affair seems inevitable. Note Knight seems to operate well, under those circumstances – as do her principal bowlers. Meanwhile Wilson and Sciver, without really flowing, continue to nudge England forward.

Ismail will bowl the 14th over – her third. Boundaries remain a rarity: meaning the England coaching staff may be considering changes in batting order. Ismail is cramping Sciver with some skill. 69 for 3 at the end of the over. Ouch. Major work required.

Van Niekerk has only conceded 13 from her first three overs; she will bowl out, now. She claims Wilson, who simply lacks the power (and/or timing) to drive for six, over the onside. Ismail takes another simple catch. On the plus side, this brings in the bullish Brunt. 72 for 4… and trouble?

Sciver smashes Mlaba for six, then four. Brunt must join in. They must get ten an over – to post 130-odd, you would think.

Sciver cheekily lifts Khaka over the keeper. Brunt is scurrying with intent. Better, from England. 98 for 4 off 17. Genuinely solid performance, this, however, from South Africa.

As I say this they fluff a fairly straight-forward run-out opportunity, after a great throw from Kapp: awkward but not gathered, allowing the dive to render Sciver safe.

Ismail claims Brunt, slashing a bouncer to the fielder. England pass the 100. Can Sciver and Beaumont burst for the line?

No. Chaka bowls a peach of a slower-ball/leg-cutter to bewitch her and clatter the off-stick. Great ball and a fine innings – 50 – by far the most significant contribution of the England innings, from the tall, talented and increasingly influential number 3.

Winfield goes promptly, caught behind square off Khaka, who by now has 3 for 25. Kapp will bowl the last, with England at 115 for 7. Beaumont strikes her for four, before attempting to charge a bouncer! Dot ball. Then an lbw review , for a delivery which strikes the admittedly diminutive batter’s hip. High? Nope. Out.

Two new batters, then, in Shrubsole and Ecclestone. No further dramas. England finish on 123 for 8. Substantially below par but credit the Proteas for an excellent, consistent display. Think the game is probably still live but England behind in the game, no question. If one or more of the South Africans get in – look out.

Final thought over the break: genuinely hope that ‘under-achievement’ doesn’t become too prevalent a theme, in this tournament. Nerves overcoming talent can be dramatic, of course, but if repeated, it can undermine the legitimacy of elite sport.

Shrubsole, inevitably, for England. Second ball(!) Lee swings and escapes, with a miscued skier, straightish. Appreciable inswing evident; just three from the over. Now Brunt. She gets outswing. Good over – big appeal, come the last ball but we are at 5 for 0 after 2.

Van Niekerk is fortunate, to survive an awful hack on the charge but Lee lacks similar good fortune. She miscues to Winfield and in truth it felt imminent, given the rather reckless approach, early on, from both Proteas openers. Shrubsole already looks on it. 6 for 1 after 3.

Kapp has joined van Niekerk. Sciver will bowl to the former. Good over but she will be forgiven for thinking Winfield might have done better with a lofted drive from Kapp. Catchable, for a great athlete – Winfield palmed it for four.

Shrubsole continues into her third over. Wow. Van Niekerk absolutely booms her over midwicket, for a mighty, mighty six. She follows that with a slightly streaky four forward of square leg. Good come-back, from South Africa. 21 for 1 from 5.

Brunt will return to conclude the power-play. Fine over but Kapp drives square, beautifully, on the up, to close it out. Ecclestone will bowl the 7th.

The Winfield ‘drop’ feeling biggish, as the Proteas settle, a touch. (They hardly have to race at this. They have limited batting strength so it’s imperative for England to take wickets. South Africa have only to retain their composure… and build a partnership or two). Nasser Hussain on comms putting the opposite view – that they should maybe get themselves ahead of the run rate – but this is a lowish total. Composure, for me, is the key.

Glenn, then Sciver. A quietish moment. Kapp and Van Niekerk are in – 19 and 22, respectively – as we reach 47 for 1 after 9. Glenn again.

Tidy enough but something needs to give. Fifty up and a rare misfield from Brunt. 54 for 1 – England were three down, at the same stage. It’s England who need some drama. Ecclestone, to spear them in.

Kapp gets Glenn away, the leg spinner dropping a little short and offering just enough width to open up the covers. Four. Glenn is getting just a smidge of turn, on occasion, but hardly threatening. 66 for 1 after 12: importantly, the run rate has just lifted to 7.4. Key phase – in comes Brunt once more.

It’s a strange, cautious affair: England focused (but not inspired); South Africa watchful. Fran Wilson makes a superb stop to deny Kapp a four, off Sciver – maybe that might lift the bowling unit? It’s tight. 74 for 1 after 14. 50 needed off 36.

Shrubsole, again. Bowling ver-ry straight. Van Niekerk miscues but again finds the wide open spaces. Run rate over 8. South Africa need a boundary and the captain finds it, sweeping for six – the second time Shrubsole’s been dispatched. 11 from the over. It’s tight.

Van Niekerk goes after Glenn; the first ball goes over extra cover for four. But what’s this? Glenn has Kapp with a simple return catch. Good innings of 38; deliciously, none of us can tell if it will be enough. The young Tryon joins van Niekerk.

Immediately, Ecclestone gets the South African opener, flashing rather lazily to point. That really is a moment. Two brand new batters at the crease. “Wicket dot dot. Wicket dot dot”, confirms Nasser. Great over – 91 for 3, with the required rate suddenly up at 11. 33 from 18, to be precise.

Oof –  a streaky four, through the keeper, Jones. Then two mishits – one safe, one behind, for four. South Africa riding their luck: and again, as Winfield drops what appears to be a sitter. (Only explicable if she genuinely didn’t pick it up: but her earlier drop makes one think she rather lost her nerve, as well as her bearings). She is a rather wooden fielder, unfortunately.

Ecclestone will bowl the penultimate over. Yet again a mishit from Tryon falls safe. There are a lot of jangled nerve-ends, out there. (And in here).

Finally, Tryon connects. Six. Following ball, Jones fluffs a stumping chance. Ball after – bowled. Out-standing, from Ecclestone, under hugely testing circumstances. Nine needed from the last, with Brunt to steam in. Who knows, who knows?

A single just about scuttled. Eight from five. Brunt goes leg-side; another single. Third ball… du Preez booms over midwicket for six! Then a full-bunger, dispatched! THE PROTEAS ARE THERE!! A tense, tense game, with another shock result: England beaten.

Initial reaction, after congratulating the South Africans for a pret-ty complete performance, is that again, following the defeat of Australia by India, this adds real edge, early doors, to the competition. This must be good. England must now execute (as they say) without further significant error.

Arguably, unlike the Australian’s poor effort, this was not a spectacular down-turn in performance, not freakishly skittish; it just wasn’t good enough, from Heather Knight’s side. Strategy-wise, despite theoretically packing the batting, England fell well short. Wyatt and Jones both, ultimately, failed again – or failed to go on  – and momentum never developed, against some good bowling from Khaka, Kapp and co.

For me Beaumont at six has always been a nonsense and I call again for her to go back up top. Sure, Tammy can ‘finish’, she can do the 360 scurry; but she is a proven opener and, critically, she will throw her wicket away a whole lot less cheaply than either Wyatt or Jones, if given that responsibility. The new coach (Lisa Keightley) has overthunk this: there *should be* consequences for serial failure – especially when the dismissals are so frequently so crass. Beaumont goes back to open with one of the incumbents dropping into a dasher/finisher role.

But hey – all of that is with my England fan’s head on. Let’s conclude with a closing word or two about South Africa. Great win, for them – an almost flawless performance in the field, in particular. Congratulations.

 

Significant Threat.

I was there when England scuffed and skipped, fainted and feinted their way past South Africa in the World Cup semi, in Bristol. It was, as they say, dramatic – dramatically bad for one’s equilibrium – whoever you happened to be supporting.

I do realise that that was a different time, place and format but sometimes it feels like there are *themes*, eh?

In the 50 over comp Heather Knight’s posse somehow came out on top but not before most of us England fans had bawled or tutted or cut out the middle person and shat ourselves. On the one hand, the subsequent, glorious victory at Lords squishes all arguments regarding England’s durability but on the other it feels true to also characterize the side with the rider ‘likes a wobble’.

They do – and we’ve already seen that in this WT20, during the win against Sri Lanka. In this game the first ball dismissal of Wyatt precipitated some pret-ty major, visibly contagious and relatively prolonged angst. So we approach the crucial game tonight, versus *arch-enemies South Africa with hope, yes but also with fear.

(*Arch-enemies? Can we still say that?!? There is a smidge of something approaching enmity, I suspect, between these two camps).

Strangely or boldly, England retain their 3 leftie spinners: can they/ will they do that against Aus? South Africa win the toss and opt to bat.

Lee, Wolvaardt, Kapp and van Niekerk are all players; by that I mean legitimate international players, with talent and experience. The concern around them is two-fold. Where is their confidence? Can they go at this?

The answer to question two is a resounding and disappointing ‘no’. Whisper it – for fear of encouraging more, bellicose negativity from male ‘traditionalists’ – but 21 of the first 24 balls… are dot balls.

The extraordinary aggression-void has engulfed South Africa in the same way it has smothered the ambitions of other teams in the competition. To the extent that this is in danger of not feeling like a competition – more a procession, led by Australia, where nominal rivals act out the role of opponents, rather meekly.

We can hope that India, the Windies and England may yet make a nonsense of this argument: Australia may not prove to be dominant. However the gulf in terms of intent between the Southern Stars and most others is striking… and a tad dispiriting.

But back to tonight’s opener – where sadly it is again as though the powerplay doesn’t exist (for South Africa) – or at least that part of the powerplay that opens up possibilities for the batters to clatter boundaries; that actively encourages it.

I have no doubt that this side of the game will develop in good time: more importantly a notably animated Charlotte Edwards bemoaning the generally disappointing lack of ambition (in commentary on TMS) goes on to repeatedly insist that a gear-change is completely essential. That gap must close.

Meanwhile wickets fall, the runrate continues to stall. 43 for 4 after 13 – but still somehow drama-less.

Knight claims a catch. Rather cheekily, according to the replay (according to Edwards); but the current England skipper is rather fascinatingly certain, even through the re-played denial. Kidding herself, being shamelessly competitive/cynical? Who knows?

Chloe Tryon belatedly launches; smites two sixes in quick succession. Can’t sustain it – caught off Sciver, to snuff out any real hopes of approaching 100. Tunnicliffe follows Tryon to the dressing-room. I can only imagine the trauma for Proteas supporters; the unambition, the disappointment seems endless.

Last over. Shrubsole skittles Ismail, has Klaas caught next ball off a leading edge then achieves the unthinkable-but-somehow inevitable by cleaning out Fourie. Hat-trick! Sciver’s wunnerful-ludicrous figures of 4 overs, 3 for 4 will rightly draw the eye of the cognoscenti but Shrubsole, again, will make the headlines.

Innings done at 85 all out. Okaay, South Africa’s strong suit is their bowling but at this stage it feels like they are about to be crushed. Except that England do like a wobble.

The spikes in quality continue. Klaas gifts England a four with a piece of fielding that is frankly humiliating: painful to watch. Wyatt blasts away with intent and some style. A different level of commitment to run-scoring – or just running.

With an angry Ismail putting it all in there, Beaumont drives her beautifully through firstly midwicket, then extra cover. Both times for four. Proper Top Level Cricket. Important for a tournament still disentangling itself from perceived mediocrity.

General note on this: I think all of us who genuinely enjoy supporting women’s cricket struggle around how to pitch any criticism. Better for female voices to do it. It’s not easy. But clearly learning can come from criticism as well as praise.

Very much on the plus side, Dani Wyatt is energetic, watchable and – tonight – has gotten swiftly into her flow. She belts through a series of borderline singles, diving to gain her ground at some cost to her physical safety. In simple terms, there is no comparison between the approach of the English openers and the preceding South Africans.

Come the end of the powerplay, England are 41 for 0. (South Africa were 24 for 1).

The Wyatt and Beaumont partnership are past cruising, at 55 for 0. Into, or possibly disappearing towards that dreamland where Statements Are Really Made. Could they do this in 12 overs, for none down?

No. Van Niekerk’s loopy leggies get Wyatt, clunkily, behind her legs,  premeditating a sweep but ultimately looking rather daft.

Sciver does something similar, to Daniels, walking to off and being bowled leg stick. After 10, England are 59 for 2. Then Beaumont gifts van Niekerk a further wicket, booming directly to long on.

With Amy Jones now joining captain Heather Knight it does feel like England have sufficient quality remaining to find the required runs. This they do. 87 for 3, ultimately. They’ve eased there, in truth.

Maybe it’s as well that Jones and Knight – both 14 not out at the close – have had some more time in the middle. Maybe. Certainly Jones will have enjoyed clubbing Ismail so emphatically through the covers and blasting the winning runs. Likewise Knight will have loved the two beautiful straight drives she stroked – and I do mean stroked – downtown.

But there may also be that minor frustration around the possibility for a 10 wicket job. Wyatt and Beaumont were simply playing at a higher level than the South African batters. Both got themselves out in their 20s, when plainly bigger scores – and additional psychological advantages – were there for the taking.

Maybe scratch that? Maybe we should be simply enjoying a thoroughly convincing win against traditionally competitive rivals? Maybe save Ultimate Ruthlessness Mode for the teams – Windies, India, Australia – who pose the most significant threat. Maybe don’t even note in passing, that there was no discernible wobble here.

Played, England. Good to see you so focused, so positive. Good to see you enjoy the win. Move on; you’re in this, now.