Bairstow.

Some things, we know, go right past sport. Some of those things are hard to approach – reckless to approach, perhaps? Tough to get in there without offending. Tough and possibly quite wrong to speculate over things that course so deeply. So, no offence but…

Jonny Bairstow. Cricket *and everything* in the blood. Son of an England ‘keeper. Half-brother to Andrew, formerly of Derbyshire. First Winner of the Wisden Schools Young Cricketer of the Year, for walloping 600-plus runs for St Peter’s School, York, back in 2007. So does have Yorkshire Grit but of the relatively polished, or privileged variety. (Not that he can help that. And not that he ever strikes you as any sort of toff. His oeuvre, or let’s call it manner, despite a certain pomp, is closer to working-class hero than flouncy sophisticate ).

2016, scores 1470 Test runs, almost doubling Matt Prior’s existing record: compare with England’s current crop… and with his own tally of 391, for 2021 (if I’m reading cricinfo correctly). So numbers. But numbers don’t account for tragedy, or bloody-mindedness, or value to the team: not really. Bairstow’s value has always been about punchiness and spirit and undeniability. He’s the guy who does the bullocking, the sprinting, the (mostly) undemonstrative aggression. He’s fired-up, Proper Yorkshire, in fact – and Proper Red-head.

His role as a white-ball opener has been spectacularly successful. The Test batting less so – or it’s felt for three or four years like his place is under some threat. Prone to getting bowled, early-doors. Great counter-attacker but sometimes not equipped for a long, slowish knock. Is there also a sense that, being drawn to drama, Bairstow’s juices simply don’t always flow? That he responds to situations which demand heroics? Despite being plainly a mentally and physically tough guy, his contributions seem fickle – less reliable than his personality and grit and gifts would suggest. Plus that whole other thing about taking the gloves or not.

But hey. Before the furore-in-a-beer-glass over comments about his weight, I did tweet to query JB’s body-shape. Impolite and unnecessary, possibly, but all I meant was a) he looks like he’s put on a few pounds and b) therefore looked less like a battle-ready international sportsman. I think we’re entitled to ask that of our elite athletes but Jonny answered me in the way he and Stokesy answered the mouthy Australian fans – by scoring big runs and racing between the sticks faster than almost anybody on the planet; as per. So maybe my dumb observations were dumb observations. The thing is Bairstow defied: again.

This feels like the crux. Bairstow may be carrying impossible hurt – why wouldn’t he be? As well as the family catastrophe, or possibly entwined amongst unfathomable grief and anger and trauma, Bairstow somehow feels like the bloke who wants to wade in there carrying some flag. He’s proud, strong, hearty and the hurt flows near to the surface.

I reckon this might possibly make him hard to manage – but again, I may be speculating wrongly and quite inappropriately. How could he not be occasionally dour and moody, as well as inspiring and true, as a mate, colleague, comrade? How does the coach or selector appreciate or quantify that? When his often god-like or warrior-like brassiness and boldness is surely tailor-made for those moments when ‘the tough get going?’ Meaning you absolutely need some Bairstow in your squad.

Conversely, I get that judgements must be made about technical skills and the relative qualities of team members: the mix. But Jonny’s gift to the mix is emphatic in terms of energy and emotion.

Jonny Bairstow knows he is entitled to bugger all but he will still feel that he’s earned stuff. He has that fire and that Yorkie stubbornness. He is likely plenty perverse enough to be driven on by resentment, against slights from media, coaches, fans, fellow players. Because he’s a broad, bellowing, beautiful battler.

Ashes Churn.

So we’re all exasperated and hurt, then. And that hurt may be good. We may yet bawl or bundle People towards Progress. Maybe. In a tidal wave of New Year Resolutions, Harrison will confess whilst weeping pitifully, Private Schools will be abolished, the MCC Members will swap the daft yellow and red stuff for hair shirts and the Tory Party will disintegrate in shame. Because Things Can Only (and Must Only) Get Better, right? And This Means Everything.

The Brit Universe is g-nashing over the Ashes. We’re all Experts and we’re All Legitimate Fans and we All Attend County Champs Games, Regularly, Jeff. We all have The Right To The Loudest Opinion, Ever. (Me included). Our exclusive claim on Knowing is being Twittered and Vodcasted to the heavens. Our brilliance and their dumbness is Completely Obvious, Maureen, in a brutally sweeping, sexually-charged and capitalised kindofaway. Because this is righteously simple.

Except it’s not.

Coaching and Coaching Philosophy is/are not simple. Strategic planning and respectful scheduling are not simple. Mental Health is not simple. Daft, daft games are not simple.

Let’s start with coaching – coaching and captaincy and the art of deciding.

Interesting that the likes of Rob Key – medium-intelligent voice, close to the action – has been so-o clear that Silverwood is utterly ‘out of his depth’. Others make the argument that Giles, in gathering power in to the former England paceman/enforcer, has put his Head Coach in a suffocating head-lock: just too much to do, think about, organise, decide upon. Certainly most of us outsiders can find a favourite clanger for this series, whether it be that first Test selection or the return of Crawley, or the dropping of Burns. There is plenty scope for gleeful dismemberment of Silverwood’s more contentious calls.

Now I’m not a prevaricator by nature but I’m less sure than some of you that Silverwood has to go. And I’m less sure again that despite Root being an average captain rather than a brilliant one, he should join his gaffer on the Discarded on Merit pile.

Firstly, not been close to Silverwood, so not seen how his interactions with players are. Secondly, have disagreed with several of the decisions around selection/toss/strategy but that can happen with good coaches, too, right? (‘Game of opinions, Dave’). Forty-ninethly, although it plainly might be that he’s not up to it – and of course the woeful capitulation is traditionally laid essentially at the gaffer’s door, in elite sport – only Farbrace springs immediately to mind as a preferred candidate… and he… yaknow… was there before, pretty much. So in short I guess I’m thinking the summary execution of Silverwood and Root might feel righteous but achieve not so much.

(Sixty-twothly – and the absence of similar views make me fear that I may be missing something here – what about Thorpe? Has G Thorpe Esq not been batting coach for like, years? Why no grief in his direction? Even if he’s the Greatest Bloke Ever, or whatever, does he not hold a hoooge chunk of responsibility? Is he not the ultimate in You Had One Jobbery? Don’t geddit: how he seems to escape scrutiny. Good luck to him… but seems extraordinary).

But breeeeeeathe. Zooming out, there are cultural issues, from shamefully-distracted money-driven policy to exclusion by malice, stealth and/or by toff-dom. Privilege still waiving its todger at us, like some Eton-educated clown. In *that matrix*, bonuses get paid to *this ECB*: the universe really is that warped. But let’s get back to coaching – to batting – because despite what the needier, more distracted corners of Twitter are saying, it was England’s batting that decided the Ashes.

Understandably, there have been some pointed and intelligent reflections on both the technical specifics and wider framing of batting skills and/or the coaching thereof. It’s not just embittered former internationals who are saying the modern player lacks discipline and the modern coach is typically twiddling his/her way through a kind of woke manual. But even this preciously guarded, pleasingly heartfelt ‘debate’ needs to take care around over-simplification.

Yes, it is true that the ECB Coaching Pathway shifted away from instructive, demonstrative coaching towards ‘Core Principles’ and ‘player ownership’. The coach has been invited to be less of an auteur/maestro and more of a skilled inquisitor: the argument being that the traditional format of oldish blokes barking instructions at more or less intimidated ‘pupils’ was a crass way and an ineffective way for players to *actually learn*. (I have some sympathy with this view). But could be that this Generous Modern Way works great for Dynamos but less well for Dom Sibley. (In other words, maybe this is complex and maybe entitlements and protocols and levels of both enquiry and expectation are so bloo-dee different that it’s a nonsense to only approach from the one, holistically-nourishing angle, or imagine that things don’t change as you clamber up the performance ladder?)

It seems absolutely right for a cheery old sod like me to be inspiringly lovely and friendly and encouraging, as I trip out my rhetorical questions to Llanrhian Juniors. But it may be okay – not ideal, but okaaay – for an England coach to shout, swear and tear strips off players who don’t effing get it. Elite sport is, perhaps regrettably, tough. You are gonna have to be a robust individual: tough enough to bear the #bantz and the barrage of bouncers. Tough enough to ‘wear a few’, on and off the pitch. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect that amongst the essential support, camaraderie and joy, there will be challenge, discomfort even, on the road to (their) learning.

Top end cricket – especially Test Cricket, especially batting? – is surely about the ability to resist, to offer sustained and disciplined excellence. You hope, (I imagine) that you can break through into the peace of playing your game. But there may be a period – a cruel period – of mindful doggedness on the way there.

This tour – again – the England batters got nowhere near. Except Root. And sometimes Malan. The rest looked generally shot, or technically ill-equipped to compete. Rightly then, we are asking about what Test Batting needs to look like. Deliciously, once the rage subsides, we may need to consider whether levering-back towards particular ways is wise or possible – or what, precisely, we proscribe against. Just how orthodox is the fella Smith, for Aus, for example?

Against a good Aussie team, not a great one, neither England’s will nor skill seemed up to it. So we’re all angry, we’re all piling in on Silverwood, Harrison, Giles. Fair enough. But as we tear through issues around bat pathway and summer schedules and the dispiriting mean-ness of everything, let’s get our brainy heads on; before the Ashes Churn gets going again.

Love. Fear. Grief. And another incredi-chapter.

It’s hard to be strategic when there’s so-o much love about. And fear. And grief. How, exactly, do we manage a way through an Away Series, in Oz? With all that inconvenient turning of the earth stuff? And the disorientating, electrifying, fecund stillness – the night, outside? Loveliness, but then with the bastards down there bouncing down the corridors of our Proper Sleep-time, squeezing off fire-extinguishers like drunken bladdy students. And winning – always winning. How do we manage against that?

Can only be instinct – unless you’re one of the comparatively few who really can watch through the night and either sleep or work through the day. I can’t; can only do some. So like most of the Pom Universe I swerved Day 3 entirely and gathered to watch Day 4. That made sense.

England had a sniff. After Root and Malan had restored some pride, and Hameed had offered some hope, it made sense to invest in Day 4. Let’s do this.

Minor tactical kip during the late afternoon: fitful but hopefully restorative, or enabling of a long overnight haul. ‘Social’ quietly fizzing with suitably modest hypotheses, around ‘building’, or ‘extending’ and just maybe ‘constructing a total’. Then pundits on the telly-box being bundled into That Conversation: the one where it’s considered that England might yet steal a bladdy win.

They’d have to ‘start again’; then ‘see off the new ball’; then ‘build’. ‘Obviously Root and Malan can play… can take this on… but don’t forget how Stokes and Buttler in particular can push on – can take a game away from you’.

Have no idea if these conversations *actually happened*. Or if I was already dreaming. Pretty sure I watched as Malan got tangled-up, to the often innocuous-looking but persistently troubling Lyon. Certain I saw an absolute peach, from the miraculously recovered Hazlewood – who may have never been injured, despite the twelve hours of relentless and generally circular ‘discussion’ from our frankly embarrassingly wearisome local hosts. (Less is more, gentlemen). That peach deserved to register and it did – accounting for the England captain

The Root dismissal has come to feel central to everything: if our friends at Wisden are to believed he has scored 1100 more runs than the next England bat in this calendar year. ELEVEN FUCKING HUNDRED: he has 1,544. Burns, remarkably, is next, on 492. Plainly, on this occasion, the skipper erred again, fishing gently but fatally for one that simply shouldn’t have tempted him: certainly not at that stage.

The dismissal of Pope, soon after, for 4, trying to cut a ball that bounced a little, from Lyon, who has made a career out of top-spin/over-spin, meant not just that the game was almost done but barely credibly, it was almost done before the new ball had been taken. Understandably, even the pundits before us with worthwhile collections of brain-cells had been singling out that period (after ten overs or so of old-ball phoney-war) as critical. But no. Even they (even I) had underestimated England’s capacity to be England.

Extraordinarily, my Original Plan to hit the hay, come what may, after the morning’s session in Brisbane, worked out supremely: just not in the way any of us had foreseen. We foresaw a slaughter (probably), once Hazlewood and Cummins and Starc had the new cherry. Nope. Not to be. Those seamers had some joy, inevitably but it was the old pill – and the old-school non-spinning spinner – what done it, essentially. Four-fer, for Nathan Lyon, ultimately, taking him beyond 400 Test wickets. And another incredi-chapter in the book of England Ashes traumas.

Hello Chance to Shine.

I’m not a suit kindofaguy. Nor a shirt man, if the truth be told. So an awards gig at Lords was always going to be a challenge, not just in sartorial terms but in terms of politesse and reigning in the urge to eat like a rabid horse, as per.

Did buy a suit – the other wearable one being procured for the Two-tone era, *first time around*, from Camden Lock Market – was on the shabby side of chic. Did buy a tie and went the strong colours route on a dangerously perfunctory whim. Alleged mate on the Twitters referenced John Lydon and know what? I can live with that. Anger is an energy but so is being you.

I say this because I won an award, at the Chance to Shine wonderbash, and I reckon this resulted from some half-decent, energetically honest sessions of cricket-based games, delivered to kids over a decade or so. Honest in the sense that I poured myself in there – not to be arrogant, or even necessarily central – but to authentically be the daft-but-friendly bloke that I am. To be the fella that really does love this game and is bloody determined that you will get it too.

Back in the mists of time I had been volunteering at Haverfordwest Cricket Club in West Wales, supporting my son, initially. He had wanted to follow some mates and ‘try proper cricket’. I threw the ball back five times then got bundled towards the coaching pathway, which I loved. Years later (and in the loveliest of expectation-vacuums) a job came up, with Cricket Wales. Coaching. Cricket… like, as a job!

Ridiculously, after a mainly practical interview where I remember doing the Embarrassing Rick Thing, wildly bouncing balls off a Crazy-Catch trampette in a hall in Milford Haven and generally foaming with enthusiasm, I got the nod. Community Cricket Coach for Pembrokeshire. Wow.

Then came years of learning, actually. Much of it inevitably ‘on the job’ but a genuinely appreciable amount via Chance to Shine and/or Cricket Wales training. Because coaching really isn’t playing, right? It isn’t even the transfer of your knowledge of the game, to other parties. Or not just that. It’s both bigger (and more theoretical/abstract) than that and more personal – more about impacting upon people.

Over time, as a Community Coach, you assimilate not just the team ethos, the essence of the role but look to embody something of the responsibility. Being deeply aware of the brilliance of the coaching posse I had fallen into, I think I did take a few conscious breaths, roll up my sleeves and determine to work with (dare I say it?) honour as well as skill and humour. I think I did that regularly, over the years, to re-charge and re-commit.

Best explain a little – can see this begins to sound like some weird, corporate mission-speak.

We coaches are trained to deliver outstanding, open, generous, entertaining, themed – i.e. developmental – cricket-based sessions, to groups of children. We are trained around disability issues, around inclusion, around how to offer a fabulous game suitably brilliantly. There is a Chance to Shine curriculum which has been ver-ry skillfully put together to maximise accessibility in the widest, most wonderful sense.

Typically, a bundle of children receive a bundle of sessions, so that their familiarity, then comfort, then enjoyment of the games can develop. Even a comedian like me is spookily mindful of strategies towards advancement/refinement/recalibration. Are these kids happy and engaged to the right level? Who needs a different challenge – a different ball? Who needs encouragement? I’m nutshell-averse but in short how do we make this session work… for this/that child? It’s a tremendous, intoxicating challenge and one I will always view as a privilege: the cricket offer.

But coo, suddenly there I am, on a stage, in a room which is palpably full of love for a daft game. Two hundred people. One generous, supportive vibe.

Laura Cordingley has spoken well and boldly about responsibilities we all share. I’m behind her on that mission towards fairness and respect and opportunity – there’s no question the whole room is. Then I’m thinking of my mates and colleagues at Cricket Wales; how this absurdly Rick-centric moment can only really be understood as a team award, for Martin Jones, Sean Evans, Jamie Griffiths, Geraint Leach, Terry Dixon and all the rest of our guys and gals. The CW Community Coaching Team.

Aatif Nawaz is asking me a question about how we sustain a child’s interest in cricket… and it’s a duff question… and we both realise it… but I’m the one who has to fend. I get away with it, narrowly. I’m hoping he won’t ask about my wee mate Gethin*, featured in the film that’s just been playing to the room. Entirely possible I might blub, trying to relay something of the utter joy and rich satisfaction that’s accompanied our mutual gambol into cricketstuff.

(*It’s both incidental and not, that Gethin is significantly visually impaired and that he’s been a fantastic, inspiring comrade during our spells together at Neyland Community Primary. He’s been nonchalantly smashing through the metaphorical walls around his disability. I had heard he’d contributed to the video for my award: hadn’t seen it ‘til moments before I went on stage).

Aatif makes some reference to my ill-timed transfer across to my new employers, Sport Pembrokeshire. We share a joke but I make clear my continuing commitment to cricket and to its multifarious pathways. I dismount the stage mercifully without catastrophe.

Returning to my seat, alongside my son, a largish glass of white finds itself inhaled. The stupendous Mr Stuart Priscott – Operations Manager, Chance to Shine – comes over and notably warmly and sincerely shakes my hand. “You’re a good man, Rick”, he says. That’ll do me.

My thanks go to all at Chance to Shine and Cricket Wales. Here’s the wee film they made of me ‘in action’…

Azeem Rafiq: cricket must change.

Everything is interpretation – we get that. But surely there was only one, broad understanding of Azeem Rafiq’s extraordinary testimony today: that he is a good, generous man. A man who has flaws; a man who has demons, even*, but essentially a lovely, honest, concerned human. Some guy looking for a pitch, a game, a place where everyone can play as equals.

In front of the Parliamentary Committee convened to discuss and examine racism in cricket, Rafiq dug deep, often, to give a good account of himself. Palpably emotional and yet determined – without any whiff of self-aggrandisement whatsoever – to be “a voice for the voiceless”, the former Yorkshire cricketer ground a way through a series of bitterly hurtful memories. Insults, both petty and outrageous; blandishments and outright subversion from those he thought were there to represent him; the bulwark that is white exceptionalism and/or supremacy. He was heroic: you could feel both how vulnerable the man has been and how cruelly this further, sustained gathering of his wit, courage and equanimity has challenged him personally and his family life. It really did feel like he was ploughing on for other people.

Most of all, the bloke sounded almost unbelievably fair. Those who have read George Dobell’s tweets and reports over recent months/days/hours will know that the man giving evidence first-up, today even tried to make sure that one of the chief protagonists on the other side – Gary Ballance – was going to be forewarned of the incoming storm, so as not to suffer the kind of deep disquiet that has so traumatised him. Wow. Azeem, maybe they, maybe we don’t deserve you.

Having watched every moment of the Barnsley-born player’s evidence, I’m happy to argue that this awesome level of generosity may be typical of him: speculative, accepted, but how else to view the general flow of his magnanimity? Time and again he tried to de-personalise this – to talk about institutional or cultural practice not individual transgressions. Of course certain individuals were appallingly culpable but Rafiq pointed more to the milieu, the matrix, the banter-heavy context in which the unforgivable was passing as the norm. (On this particular theme, it feels not inappropriate to note that the Zimbabwean-born player who may have been most obviously and persistently guilty of racism did not accept the invitation to attend).

Other high profile people are being clawed into this, now. I’m pretty sure the need for *stories* centring on them may be unhelpful but appreciate and support the imperative towards a clear-out of lazy or manifestly prejudiced ideology and practice. I have been around one or two of those in the firing line and am unsurprised by allegations against some… but relatively concerned for one or two others who I sense *may* be being traduced. But hey, my hunches and the protestations of a bunch of senior white blokes are not fundamental, here. We need to hear the voices who have been denied, or truly oppressed.

It is certain that today was a Big Day in terms of exposing the thin, t-shirt diplomacy and corporate box-ticking around race as the tokens and funder-driven frauds they have been. That should be massive. Azeem Rafiq’s role has been likewise historic, tectonic and somehow beautifully (if agonisingly) selfless. The churn that may result will be the deep, painful but necessary angst and enquiry that must precede real change. The suspicion that this is a societal problem and that therefore it lies within other sports too may be more of a distraction than a signpost towards wider revisions (which must also come). Cricket has been found out. Cricket must act.

*Those ‘demons’. It remains unclear to me how troubling drink is in this story – if at all. (More likely it’s a minor example of the dirty tricks employed against The Accuser?)

Azeem Rafiq’s strikingly poignant admission that he lapsed into drinking alcohol in a feeble and inevitably unsuccessful attempt to be one of the lads appeared to haunt him more than any possible lapse into dependency or brief, clannish indulgence might have done. His ‘frailty ‘in this regard is forgiven – and indeed respected – in this quarter. Booze, machismo and ‘tribalism’ are so often a gateway into prejudice, eh?

England Australia.

It was impeccable. It was dramatic. It was about as perfect a start, for England, as us dream-shy Poms could have imagined. Warner gone; Smith gone; Maxwell gone – all before the powerplay was done.

Strategic change and same old Woakesy. Beautiful but metronomic bowling and a stonking catch. Rashid, then a perspiring but impressively concentrated Jordan. Australia an extraordinary 21 for 3 after 6 testing overs for our Antipodean friends.

Then in comes Adil again… and the googly absolutely decimates Stoinis. Close to catastrophic this, for the green ‘n gold.

But Finch remains – so Moeen again held back. Livingstone comes in to add further variety and challenge the Aussie skipper’s outside edge. There is spin… but it’s mainly just that critical bit of nibble that’s told. Plus that increasingly important length – too short to drive, but cramping the pull. Exemplary, from England; sustained excellence which Livingstone (the part-timer-plus) admirably maintains, via that ambitious mix of leggies, offies and pretty much everything in between. After 10 overs the batting side – if not shell-shocked, then breathy and 64% baffled – are 41 for 4. Mills.

A touch of inswing, still. A peach of a slower-ball. Goes short and wide; Wade, not entirely convincingly, back-cuts for four, with Moeen almost hopeful. Finally an authentically poor ball, as Mills back-of-the-hands one wide to leg. Eight from the over. The World’s Noisiest Host assaults us again. Livingstone offers a rare bit of air, Wade clumps downtown but Roy can take a comfortable, if overhead catch. 51 for 5.

As Agar joins Finch, and the line-ups flash up on screen again, the length of the Aus tail again draws comment. O-kaaay this is T20 and anybody can clatter a few but this is surely ominous? Rashid continues the strangle; flighting now, getting turn that Agar, certainly, is barely surviving. Wow. 57 for 5 after 14.

Mills is furious with himself as Finch breaks out: two boundaries in two. The over goes for 10. Further discussion on whether Morgan will completely exclude Moeen from proceedings, on the ground that Finch may eat him up. Hmm.

Jordan will bowl the 16th. Australian pundits crediting the Poms with high-level skills and application, here – fair dinkum. But also urging the batters towards explosivity, on the grounds that they simply must get to 110-20 to have any chance in the game. Finch does smash a wide one behind point, for four. The bowler responds with a good yorker but the captain will keep the strike with a single. 75 for 5 with 16 gone.

Agar gets the first 6… then the second, Woakes missing yorker length. Finally some pressure on an Englishman. Cruelly for the bowler, who has completely unzipped the batter, a near l.b. flies down to the rope – meaning 17 from the over. Meaning Aus may yet get to 120-something. Perhaps. Mills, at 96 for 5.

Pace off. Defeats Finch but no dramas. Then Agar middles but flattish out to deep square: Livingstone pouches. 98 for 6, off 17.4. Could they even be bowled out?

Cummins – so probably not. Classical straight drive – defiantly exaggerating the ‘straight’ bit: six. Then nutty, ridiculously-timed, fore-arm hoik waaaay into the crowd over deep square; six more. Finch follows the mood but a slight outer-edge: Bairstow rushes in to claim. 110 for 7; 18.1. Starc joining Cummins.

Briefly. Jordan clears out the latter so we have two guys on nought, in the 19th… and a hat-trick ball. Zampa pushes safely out. 111 for 8 as Jordan comes around to Starc. Two? No. Zampa refuses. (Do not under-estimate the contribution that England’s intensity in the outfield has made to this. They look like a team that just doesn’t make mistakes: consequently no relief).

Mills will bowl the last. He goes for that exaggerated slower one but Starc gets most of it – or enough. Four, straight. Later, a scramble and Zampa can’t make his ground.119 for 9. Off-line: Starc twists to carve Mills behind for six more. Starc is caught behind, off the last. So Australia all out for 125: commanding, from England.

Stuff you won’t read in The Guardian. I needed a brew/cake/something. Nothing in. Broke the land speed record to the next village to buy coffee and a previously test-driven vegan pastie. (Curried job. Phworr!) Get back and spill all the bloody coffee all over the gearstick whilst clambering hastily out. Utter night mare… and I miss most of the first two overs.

They are uneventful, England quite rightly easing their way in. But Roy (of course) will be wanting to make a statement. He does, belting Cummins for a huge six. 27 for 0, after 3. Agar will bowl the fourth.

Roy and Buttler will love a cruise – particularly in this fixture – but they will also enjoy some psychological point-scoring. Buttler dances and clobbers Agar for six, over long-off. 37 for 0 after 4 and England in danger of racing ahead. These openers look comfortable – making a mockery of that which went before. Even Hazelwood’s very skilled, expertly targeted yorker gets worked away for three.

Great running, too, from England. And not running… as Starc gets levered to the horizon.. twice. Buttler absolutely killing it, against one of the world’s great quicks. Dreamland, for Morgan’s Men as they see out the powerplay at 66 for no wicket; the highest total for the tournament so far. Sweet, sweet, sweet.

Zampa will need to find something special – initially against Roy. Second ball is reviewed, after two impudent reverses. Looks close live. It was. Roy is gone – rather wastefully, you feel. (He will know a spirit-crushing 10 wicket win may have been on there). Enter Malan, who may be the ideal candidate to steer this home. England are 68 for 1, with 7 gone.

Malan cuts Starc gloriously and clips to leg. Buttler booms a full-toss. Run rate above ten: Zampa needs a four-wicket maiden. Watson on comms hugely generous but has no choice: this is becoming a performance for the ages. Buttler is back to his ridicu-best; six more. Malan is stroking. 15 from the over, 97 for 1 from 9. An obliteration in progress. Buttler has 62 from 28 balls, at this point.

But some joy, for Oz. Malan tickles a (straight) arm-ball from Agar behind and is gone. (Like Roy, he will feel he has missed out badly). The punchy Bairstow yomps out, looking determined, as always.

He gets an awful ball, plainly down leg, which Agar has the audacity to appeal. Third ball is clipped neatly to midwicket for a single. Tip and run and we have 99 for 2 after 10. The announcer has been doing more coke. Buttler remains undistracted, smashing Zampa over long-on – another 90 metre wonder.

Bairstow joins in, clubbing with forearms then sweeping expansively: both sixes. It’s a massacre. 20 from the over; 119 for 2 with just 7 needed, from 54 balls. Four of them come as Agar grabs some turn but beats everyone – even slip. The game is up when Bairstow eases out through point. An astonishing 50 balls to spare.

In the book it will say ‘8 wicket win’ but this performance will be remembered (I suspect beyond the Pom Fraternity) as an icon of brutal, barely-relenting brilliance in this format. All and any upcoming opponents now really have been warned. The Law of Averages (or Something) may yet intervene to thumb its nose at the notion of an English procession through the tournament but this group of players have proved again that they are exceptional. As an England fan I know it’s *fatal* to write the words… but what else is there? They are, they have to be favourites to win this thing.

Radio Humberside Interview: The Dots Will Not Be Joined.

I was born and brought up in Grimsby and the surrounding area. Sport at home, with mates, in the local schools and amateur leagues played a massive role in making me who I am: learning to value folks through football/cricket/whatever.

I try to explain this, here – but hey, am not gonna disguise the fact that this a good old-fashioned sales-pitch for the new book. Along the way, there is the odd… yaknow, *insight*.

Go to 3 hrs 20: long show!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09y4ck8

Books, eh?

Today is a diabolical-but-groovetastic day. Absolutely chucking it down, in Pembs, with a gale blowing but also PUBLICATION DAAAAY for my new book, ‘The Dots Will Not Be Joined’.

Am going to write about the process that’s gotten that baby out there: a) because somebody asked me about it, b) because it’s too crappy a day to go out for a celebration walk and c) in the full knowledge of this writer’s ver-ry personal circumstances. That is, my extreme, unhelpful kaleidofunktatious niche-dom. Meaning I know exactly how out there my book is, and my approach is.

Lockdown Project. That what it was. Had sadly separated from my wife – amicable, but not, frankly, my call – and had chosen to move out so as to avoid disruption for the two gals in my life. Was fortunate to have a friend’s caravan to shift into. (Was actually like a small apartment: all mod cons and then some. Some space and time, in fact). So wrote.

There is actually an e-book of my blogs already out there but this was the first Proper Job. As always, it started with anarchy and stories rolling out. (I know some will say that this is how it finished up! Fair enough). I knew I wanted to write about the stuff I care about and can trust myself to be honest with. Believe me, I work as hard at this as Proper Writers but the difference may be that I am both letting things flow – i.e. I suppose, not over-thinking – and then re-writing heavily and honourably but without being intimidated by judgements from out there.

I do not care about the perceived wisdoms of the publishing industry or the What Constitutes Real Writing Industry. Experience – and the experience of brilliant but ‘ordinary’ friends – tells me that there’s a whole lot of private school twattery wafting around those corridors. There is, of course, also plenty genuine diversity, too but broadly – c’ mon – publishing is controlled by more or less posh (or privileged) white people. Like most of the universe. In my daft way I oppose that, and therefore this hugely contentious paragraph is in solidarity with a flimsy but heartfelt notion that things need to be more open.

But enough politics, for now. I began to gather a collection of stories – memories, mainly – which felt true, and which sang the same love-song to sport, transformation, growth. Short chapters seemed right but then the core (maybe) needed to be big, hopefully strongish chapters where I was coaching in Primary Schools. (For ten years, this has been my life). I wanted mischief and I wanted to annihilate that obsession with a single narrative so (absolutely) I welcomed in the music, the art, the philosophical ‘diversions’. My lawns aren’t ordered; my matrix isn’t serene and elegant and sharply-honed. The world is madness. So, the material was gathered: trust your instincts.

Not entirely sure how early I knew I was writing a book – as opposed to blogs – but it was early. I started to look at modes of publishing, and spoke to people. Advice was very much to try to get an agent; some publishers simply don’t read unless you have one. Also approach publishers, get somebody behind you.

I tried both, possibly a wee bit half-heartedly. A) Because low expectations of success (because I’m me). B) Because quite clear I didn’t want some over-educated Herbert encouraging me to tone this or that down, or ‘be mindful of running ahead of your audience’. C) Because that all takes many weeks, and the nature of the writing is kinda urgent. *Also*, this idea that it still typically takes you a year or more to get a book published, in 2021, is plainly laughable. Soonish, for this latter concern – and in the surprising absence of interventions from Penguin or Noel Gay – I resolved to go the self-publishing route.

It’s been brilliant. For me, anyway.

Not sure where I plucked Grosvenor House from – could have been some recommendation (hah!) in The Guardian – but they’ve been excellent in every respect. Timely, clear, helpful. Me and the teamster Julie have become email compadres because she’s been on it in a friendly and really efficient way. When I unloaded My Particular Angle on her she was ver-ry clear that although the world and his wife has written a book during lockdown the process could be complete in X months – forget how many.

(I repeat that my strong conviction was that though there is airy/longish-term philosophical meandering in the book, it is largely a thing of the now; therefore time felt important. Generally, if you do all the editing/checking – and of course Grosvenor House offer all these services, which I politely declined – then you can get a book out in close to a month, in Normal Times. The Dots Will Not Be Joined took longer, in the Covid log-jam but but the time-scale was still good).

Let’s wind back a little. Costs. I am medium-skint so both wanted and needed to avoid ‘extras’. Like editing and all those things that most writers think – or are led to think – are essential. Of course they are essential; the careful, careful, more-or-less brutal cutting and looking and feeling-out. That is essential. Whether you feel comfortable doing that yourself is an important personal choice. But for me it is/was a choice. I didn’t just choose not to have ‘professional help’ there because of the relatively minor amount of money it involved. I wanted the book to sound like me, being honest, maybe with some edges unsmoothed.

It cost me £795 to get the Publishing Agreement. This provided for all services to get the book out there, including;

Provision for ISBN number – crucial, I’m told.

All typesetting, including to-ing and fro-ing of sample pages until the author is satisfied: an electronic full proof to be achieved within 30 working days of receipt of author’s approval… before continuing to complete the printing process.

To manufacture copies on demand, having supplied Amazon and ‘all major retailers and wholesalers in the UK’ with the book’s metadata – i.e. essential blurb.

To list the book with Nielsen Book Data.

To make two royalty payments per year: one in June, t’other in December.

To provide 5 copies free of charge to the author and place copies at the six national libraries of the UK. Also, at the Publisher’s discretion, to distribute free copies ‘as the publisher deems necessary’. (Hopefully to stimulate interest).

This isn’t, for obvious reasons, the whole document but in short you get your book out there, for £795. If you want a hardback, there is a further charge (around £100, from memory). Images a fiver each. I opted to swerve hardback but to produce an e-book – I guess for environmental reasons – costing a further £200. (I know I’m not likely to retrieve that money from that source but it did feel the right thing to do). I have also ordered some copies for myself – to place in local independent bookshops – at a cost of just over £4 per book, delivered to Pembs.

If I have understood it correctly, the split goes like this: if the book is a 250 page black and white paperback, costing £10, the publishers will get £4.15 and the wholesaler/retailer £4.00. The writer will get £1.85.

In my case I set the price at £8.50 originally, because that felt right – meaning a royalty of £1.20-something per book sold. I have recently been informed that this figure has been reduced, just a little, by increasing production and publishing costs. Fair enough. In response I have increased the book price to £9.00, because I reckon I deserve (and will need) the increased royalty of £1.70-odd.

So that’s the nuts and bolts of it. About a thousand sobs to get your book out.

I knew from the moment of inception that I would very unlikely to make that money back: do the math, in my case that’s 600 sales, give or take. But this has never been about the money. Nor any distant possibility of fame. It has, of course on one level been about the possibility of some kind of breakthrough… though into what, who knows? But friends I can look you in the eye and tell you that I may be the least materialist(ic) guy you’re gonna meet this week. This has not been about that. It’s about contributing to the bantz; sharing some stories; making a real, honest document, however wild and indulgent it may seem to some. I’ve loved this process so far. And I really do recommend self-publishing, and Grosvenor House in particular.

Finally, daft not to include a link to book sales: though of course I wish it didn’t have to be the way of the monstrous online retailer. (Predictably, the Publishing Universe is tilted every bit as much towards the rich and famous as the Capitalist Status Quo: those with resources get their books into shops. The rest of us need benefactors – in my case the Twitter Bighitters that may possibly lift sales towards that trigger-point which releases, via algorithm, copies into Waterstones and the rest. We deal-less, agent-less plebs can only hope to break through into shops if plenty folks buy early, on-line).

So. Wish me luck?

‘The Dots Will Not Be Joined’. Radio Humberside interview.

I was born and brought up in Grimsby and the surrounding area. Sport at home, with mates, in the local schools and amateur leagues played a massive role in making me who I am: learning to value folks through football/cricket/whatever.

I try to explain this, here – but hey, am not gonna disguise the fact that this a good old-fashioned sales-pitch for the new book. Along the way, there is the odd… yaknow, *insight*.

Go to 3 hrs 20: long show!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09y4ck8

Worcester.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The White Ferns Reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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