Thursday, July 4, 2013

England v Pakistan Women ODI, 3rd July 2013

Please be warned, this is not a Proper Match Report – if you want one of those, check out Cricinfo's
The following, if this is not too great a claim, owes something to the work of Alan Gibson.

Off I went yesterday to Loughborough from Surrey, a fair distance (though I nearly missed my train thanks to the woman in front of me appearing to check for a sell-by date on the ticket machine). It was an intrepid journey, only to be attempted by a diehard women's cricket fan (I wouldn't have gone if it was in the The North). England Women were playing Pakistan Women at Loughborough University in the second of two ODIs, with two T20Is to follow tomorrow.

Loughborough is the home of the ECB's National Cricket Performance Centre, and a lovely pitch, as it turns out. The main problem was the complete lack of signage when I arrived on campus. International women's cricket matches are rare breeds and some kind of sign proclaiming the presence of the match, with directions, would have helped me and many others a great deal. I ended up having to follow my ear, which fortunately can detect the sound of leather on willow from 100 miles away; a necessity that culminated in me peering through the large hedge at the side of the pitch, rather like a bizarre cricket stalker. It was all rather exciting.

Eventually I followed the hedge round the corner and found the entrance. By the time I arrived, Pakistan had won the toss and chosen to bat, and were already several overs into their innings. I settled on the grass. Meanwhile Nahida and Javeria Khan, the openers, took Pakistan to 34. No wickets lost, but it took them 12 overs to get there. At a run rate of 2.8 an over, I decided it was safe to eat my sandwich. It wasn't. The ball after I opened my sandwich (the last of that 12th over), Javeira Khan was bowled by Brindle, for 17. Sorry if you want more details than that, I didn't really see it, if I'm honest. (Sandwiches require concentration.)

Edwards put Natalie Sciver on to bowl the next over. She was playing in only her second international match, but she looked an absolute natural, if you ask me. A reasonable pace, and very accurate. In her second over, she took 2 wickets: Nain Abidi, caught by Brindle at extra cover for 1, and Nahida Khan, caught by Edwards at mid-off for 17. She followed this up a few overs later with a wicket-maiden, bowling Asmavia Iqbal for 1. Pakistan were 45-4 at the end of the 18th over.

Sciver finished with figures of 3-28, in 9 overs. It was a lovely performance and I was pleased to see it. I was also pleased to see that, of the group of ten-year-olds sat at the top of the mound watching the match, the ones watching Sciver's bowling most intently were the girls. “It might be you one day, kiddo!” I wanted to shout. (Only, along with my earlier hedge-peering incident, that might have been a bit too far. As well as making me sound at least 20 years older than I actually am.)

Sana Mir and Bismah Maroof went on to build a bit of a partnership, and took Pakistan to 95 before Mir was out, bowled by Brindle. I liked watching Sana Mir bat. England's bowling was tight, and the run rate was only about 2 an over at this point, but she wasn't having any of it. She blamed the bat. To be fair, the over after she changed bats she did hit three fours in a row. But the over after that she was bowled, so I think the bowling probably had something to do with the run rate as well.

Pakistan finished on 155-6. Positives: they batted out the 50 overs, and Bismah Maroof finished on 57*. Negatives: not a great total. The required run rate for England was only just over 3 an over.

Another positive: I managed to find Starbucks and the toilet during the innings break. I told you I was intrepid.

I went to sit on the other side of the pitch to watch England's innings. I'm glad I did, because the commentary on the second half of the game, provided by the people around me, was absolutely unmissable. Brindle and Edwards were opening for England, and began by taking the score to 51-0 in the first ten overs. It was quite overcast by this point – I was FREEZING – so I turned to look at the Duckworth-Lewis score on the scoreboard. It was 16. I figured we were doing okay.

It was around about this point that Enid Bakewell walked by and said hello, and I was actually a little bit starstruck. It's kind of the equivalent of Botham strolling past during a match and cheerily waving at you. I almost missed Brindle being stumped off the bowling of Nida Dar in the 15th over. Lottie got her half-century before being bowled, also by Dar. Then Greenway got out – England 107-3 – and the trouble started.

The run rate went right down. Okay, we only needed just above 1 an over, but was there any need to bat like it? The two ladies next to me clearly didn't think so. “I've played in better matches than this,” one of them declared, after Heather Knight had scored 2 in about 20 balls. “GET ON WITH ITTT.” I'd wager she's more of a fan of Pietersen than Boycott.

England were 135-4 after 33 overs when another of the spectators stood up. “It's like watching paint dry,” she declared. “I'm going for a walk”. She never returned.

The bloke a little bit along from me, holding a camera, also seemed somewhat on edge, but I later figured out it wasn't because of the run rate. “I can't bear to watch Lauren bat,” he told somebody. It turned out to be Lauren Winfield's dad; his daughter was playing in only her second ever international. In Monday's match, she had been out for 1, and he was clearly nervous. He calmed down a bit when she got into double figures (she finished on 15*, and I was impressed with what I saw).

England took the batting powerplay at 35 overs. “We might get up to 2 runs an over now! Horray!” said someone next to me. I think there was an element of sarcasm there. Anyhow, we did get up to 2 runs an over. Winfield even hit two fours. And Knight – who finished with 14 from 46 balls – ended up hitting the winning run, in the last ball of the 38th over. England had won by 6 wickets with 72 balls remaining and the grumbling about the run rate seemed a little unnecessary. Maybe.

Sciver got Player of the Match. Thoroughly deserved. I stayed as the spectators dispersed, some of them still grumbling, no doubt, because if you can't grumble about the match afterwards, then what's the point in going? The Pakistani players were kicking a football around. Apparently they'd only just been taught this mysterious new sport; I was impressed. I was even more impressed by their cricket: their tight fielding in particular, and their general demeanour as a team, even in defeat.

As I tried to say in this cricinfo article, what matters isn't that they lost, but that they played at all. And the Pakistani family who turned up to watch the culmination of the match – mother, father, son, daughter, complete with giant Pakistan flag, all eagerly supporting their team,  and none of them minding a 6-wicket defeat, in the end – seemed to agree with me.