Mady Villiers – in the flow.

So, Mady Villiers then. Even in defeat. Electrifying and watchable, ‘stoked’ and stoking the energy of the crowd with her youthful, skillful, thrillingly-coordinated contribution.

Most folks coming away from Sussex County Cricket Club on Saturday night will have been smiling and re-living the genuinely multiple moments of brilliance from the England player – even some of the few visiting or Brighton-resident Kiwis, you suspect. (The White Ferns won the match – deservedly – through better and more consistent work, but even their Player of the Match Sophie Devine brought less extravagant pazzazz and performance to the event). Villiers, meanwhile utterly shone.

Elite women’s cricket is soaring in the background but in a sexist universe it still, of course, finds itself categorised (by men of a particular sort, obviously) as Almost The Real Deal But Not Quite. Blokes who look and sound like me – ‘sporty’, ‘authentic’, ‘experienced’ – own this territory as much as if not more than they own everything.

So a) they wrongly and inadequately judge male and female cricket as some hierarchical homogeny b) they know exactly which one is ‘best’. Oh and c) many of these guys really are arseholes  –  look at social media/listen in the pub but (even) the ones that aren’t reside in the Flawed Geezer sector of humanity. (I flit, inevitably, between both male states, hoping to keep my foothold in the Flawed-but-trying subsection).

Male cricket is allegedly ‘best’ because The Blokes bowl quicker and hit harder and throw themselves around in the field more athletically. Physiological difference makes this (ahem) an Undeniable Truth. Bullshit. It may be a convenient truth but good luck trying to de-authenticate Marizanne Kapp’s recent bowling performance (Hundred, final) or South East Stars’ openers Smith and Cranstone, batting in the weekend’s Charlotte Edwards Cup Final. And maybe take a look at Sophie Ecclestone’s left-arm slow. *Etcetera*.

The point is it’s futile, unwise, unhelpful and plain wrong to go comparing. Just watch without prejudice. Or – because I get that machismo-thing (or that baggage-thing) may get in the way of that aspiration – do your best. I’ve chosen to follow elite women’s cricket around for some years now and I find it truly compelling: there are even some plusses to the Sexual Politics side of this – the sense that despite everything, women’s cricket is manifestly, irresistibly on the up.

Back to Villiers; partly because the most legitimate criticism of the elite women’s game has arguably centred around fielding standards. (Know this is more flawed thinking – a kind of concession to that matrix of bullish negativity – but think there is *also* something of a fair cop going on, here). Skill levels and agility levels in female international cricket or women’s pro’ cricket are not always where they might be. Too many mis-timed dives over the ball, too many catches dropped.

Much of this can be simply accounted for. Lack of experience – maybe particularly under lights. The ver-ry recent advent of full-time professional contracts. Skill Development under way, rather than culturally ingrained (as per the blokes). Coaches and players in the women and girls’ pathway the world over are grafting with real integrity and purpose to get to where Mady Villiers is. Maybe they are conscious that brilliant movement will better appease the sceptics? I hope they feel more that there is something wonderfully liberating in throwing yourself around and that this in itself is the driver towards increasingly exhilarating sport.

At Hove on Saturday night, Mady Villers was prowling and diving and catching and slashing magnificent throws in to the stumps. At one stage, with the equally outstanding Danni Wyatt stationed to her right – and both, therefore, within about thirty yards of where I was scribbling – it felt fab-yoo-luss to be in the presence of such intensely-tuned athletes. If you wanted authentic, high level sport, it was patently in front of you. If you wanted frisson and raw but heightened entertainment, ditto.

I am posting a picture of Mady Villiers throwing, at the head of this blog. It’s a cheat in the sense that this pic – robbed from ECB, from memory – was not taken on the night that Mady announced herself as a presence. That was Hove, Sat-dee Sept whatever-it-was. (Go find some highlights, maybe?) Here, in this frame, Villiers is ready to go/flow/throw.

As a coach/sports-fan/bloke, I love this pic. It reeks of urgency and focus and magnificent, grooved movements. It’s bursting through stuff. Love the left foot raised as the heel is placed. Love the wide, elastic base and that sideways-on position. Love the game face and the high, throwing elbow. Love the gesture of the left hand as it flips and points and feels for the target. Love that the chest and core is clearly being flexed and opened, ready for the lashing-through of that right arm. Love that she’s gonna bloody sling this, hard.

Am aware of the dangers of extrapolating out – searching for symbols. But (quite possibly because of my flaws or guilt or certainly my *viewpoint*) it feels not irrelevant that this is a young woman. Mady Villiers. Showing the universe that she can really do this.

NRG re-fueller.

Something a bit strange is going on when I’m sat in me new motor – the one I’m a bit in love with – enjoying views over Gwbert and Aberteifi, in buttercup-swaying sunshine, radio on but distracted – tetchy even – around the off button. You’ll know we’re talking Uniquely Weird, friends, when I report to you that in the moment of this ravishing, olfactory/audio-visual bliss-temptation, #TMS is on. Yes! TMS; that lush verbiocrumble for our dreamy afternoons. Now, mind, it’s elevenish. Can’t be at home; got reception; parked up. Play stopped.

Stopped for rain. Which is erm, fine – de rigeur even, for Headingley – but most unusually, the inter-droplet verbio-thingies rilly got to me. Or rather the cyclic nature, the endless haul of drips did. The boy Vaughanie and the Kiwis in particular – although Aggers complicit – banged on about Trott and Cook for an absolute age. I know it was raining and there was time to fill. I know they have every right – we all do – to chip in with their opinions. But the sheer weight of comment around slowness (Trott) and negativity (Cook) was lumpenly unnecessary, surely? I agree that Trott was too slow and the skipper was too conservative but bloody hell, fellahs!! England were then four wickets away from a second reasonably surgical dismemberment of the Black Caps and the ONLY POSSIBLE ESCAPE for McCullum and co was via a Yorkie downpour or two. (And England did, crucially, go on to win, in a way we might justifiably call handsome.)

Perhaps Trottie’s dull-but-spiky interview, in which he came over all bullishly protective of the England Massive cranked up the criticism? Perhaps he might have been more self-aware, more honest even? But if he had been ‘honest’ in the appallingly anodyne manner of most leading sportsmen – i.e. if he’d had appeased his way through the conversation with the sole aim of saying bugger all controversial – would that not have been worse than his offensive defensiveness? Whatever; the volume of the (quite possibly) well-meaning picking over of Trott and Cook stuff was, in my view, the problem. It was overdone.

I didn’t in fact turn off. There was clearly the potential for either/both sporting and meteorological drama, so why would I?

Maybe one of the jobs of the pundits is to get under our skins, eh? Calm down and listen. For one thing, look on the bright side – there might be Blowers. Oozing and defiantly timeless; ludicrous. Like some Darkling Thrush-Pigeon for the very concept of delight. Retro to the point of Hardyesque and cake-obsessed, describing both the technical minutiae, the loopy shadow-boxing of possibilities and the occasional interloping bird. Blowers. Shame that I heard not a word from him, given how humid with chance the game seemed. Things were well set for a grasping of the moment moment. And really I suppose it was Swann who grabbed hold. Let’s talk about him.

Swann is a remarkable bloke. Not only is he right right up there with the great slow bowlers – a sentence so glib-sounding I insist you read it four times and translate into eight different (allegedly) Celtic languages for the addition of y’know, profundo-spin – he is a genuine wit, a soon-to-be, gargantuan multi-media mover-and-shaker and for all I know a member of the Black Panthers. But mainly he can bowl. Immediately after coming back from a significant op, in a Test Match, he can bowl.

He competes; he spins the ball refreshingly sharply, faking and tempting. At what is unfortunately often termed The Death, whilst not entirely bamboozling the Kiwis he plucked them out in a fashion that seemed undeniable. Even as the weather and the Trott and Cook stuff threatened to become issues, he turned that key, that seam, expertly but with some violence clockwise, dismissing the froth and the chatter alongside the commendably feisty opposition.

He took eleven wickets in the match. On a pitch, in atmospheric conditions that were designed and built for Anderson or Southee (actually.) Swann it was who dominated; by that combination of personality, threat, persistence, guts and – of course -notable spin. We should therefore not be underestimating how significant an effort it is to have that much effect on a Test Match so soon after an enforced lay-off – whatever may be said about the level of opposition or the playing conditions. Swann is special.

So whilst I too often indulge in more or less constructive sounding-off on this or that sporting matter, I’m thinking I guess that we might merely note in passing that Cook had too few catchers in too often and that at one stage Trott misjudged the necessary scoring rate. But neither of them are criminal underachievers, are they? Brief note taken and move on, you reckon?

Reflection of a mature and critical nature is undoubtedly good and necessary; it’s part of the challenge to improve, the fabric of aspiration.  However, is it not the case that this, the Second Test was (also) won… and that it was won simply and undeniably through a telling contribution of remarkably positive energy from one player in particular? That off-spinner bloke; our gem. Let’s celebrate that.


Jimmy Anderson – the England ‘quickie’ – has a whole lot going for him. An authentically dashing pseudonym (arguably two?) a talent so poetically/sensually indivisible from biomechanical foreplay it may need a watershed… and just the right amount of chest hair. In addition, the ‘Burnley Express’ can like really bowl too.

On a weekend dominated by that flashier but frankly less beautiful exponent of the slinging art – Broad – #Jimmy produced a moment of such stunning quality that for me it quietly outshone even the lanky one’s seven wicket haul. Like a ruby amongst Fool’s Gold. Broad brought blonde bombshell-shock, total disorder, to a Black Cap batting line-up which may even have fancied its chances at the change of innings. Jimmy meanwhile brought that whiff of the unbuyable, the uncoachable. Though apparently just getting on with it, he brought seduction – the guile of the artist. So whilst player after player was flummoxed by a rare outbreak of fullish length bowling from the coltish giant’s ‘hitting of his straps’, Anderson purred in and pressed his sable from t’other end.

Close investigation, supported in the eye-poppingly High Definition era by revelatory (but now standard) camerawork, confirms it’s not just his further experience that exempts Jimmy from the need for shit-or-bust pitch-hitting. There’s that other dimension going on. What the northern maestro does with the ball really is rather different to the stuff his comparatively one-dimensional new-ball partner serves up. It’s richer. There really is a kind of genius in there. Anderson steps outside the everyday.

Speaking as a member of the Pretty Decent and (Formerly) Occasionally Swiftish Bowler’s Union and now a coach, I can opine on these matters with what I feel to be meaningful closeness – even if much of this proximity may, in truth, have occurred during hours of darkness. Well… sleeping. I do know kindof how Jimmy does it; and it really all is about seam position. Allow me to indulge in something close to an explanation… which will only flirt briefly, I promise, with the prosaic.

Watch Anderson bowl and you may well be struck with the consistency – one might stretch to the word ‘purity’ here – of his seam position. Meaning that effortlessly and rhythmically and consistently the ball is (yes the word is…) delivered at the batsman with the seam skewed that crucial touch either towards the slips (for an away swinger to the right-hander) or towards fine-leg for one that will duck in. For this latter delivery – and it’s this one, the one that flared and snorted and pretty much unzipped Brownlie in the second innings, before he was actually out the next ball – that we’re obsessing ’bout here, right? This delivery, with the shiny side to off and the matt or worn hemisphere to leg had us jolting from our armchairs, did it not? Because its giggle or gag-inducing flight, absurdly challenging as it was for Brownlie, was both an extreme and a perfect expression of mouth-wateringly special co-ordinated brilliance. So much so that it defies the explanation I seek. It was a wonder ball.

Jimmy was seeking to get one to swing in. Late, ideally. So he subtly programmed in (probably) a minor cock of the wrist to shape that seam towards leg. A little. Then he may have just offered a wee tweak on release to impart a touch of clockwise rotation; to increase the likelihood of cut off the pitch (probably) but also (maybe) to exacerbate that swing and duck through the air. Key was and is that keeping your shape and not over-cooking the emphasis. Maybe there is a minor adjustment in timing or opening/closing of the torso but when you know the ball is swinging, present it and hold… and let the chanceful/wonderful airiness of the moment take over. Like it did; how it did!

The ball appeared to shift from well… Lords to somewhere in Belgium in the last four feet of its flight. It landed and kept heading east. It was a truly unplayable delivery; the kind that as a bowler you cannot baleeeeeve has failed to get you a wicket. You are tempted to pretend you’re on telly and milk your own grievous ill-luck. Jimmy gathered, strode back and nailed him next ball with one that went the other way.

Unbeleeeevably, I failed to find this delivery on youtube/similar for your edification and delight. You may find it or you may just take my words for it. Totally bewitching.