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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Warnie? Give me a break!

Shane was one hell of a bowler. Nobody is disputing that. But am I the only one who lost interest in his other antics a long time ago? Apparently not, going by two recent developments.

First up, according to certain media, there is supposedly this massive outcry for Warne to return to Test cricket, as captain no less. I can say in all honesty I do not know a single person pushing that view. Don't tell me that someone in the press might be making things up? Surely not!

The very latest is that Warne has been bumping uglies with Liz Hurley very recently. This allegedly occured in the last few days at the hotel Warne is living in while continuing to film episodes of his 'chat' show. Is that still even on television? So much for the publicly-ever-so-repentant Warne when trying to talk his wife into letting him back after umpteen public disclosures of his infidelities. And he STILL doesn't have the brains to keep it in his pants. If he doesn't have the sense to leave it in his undies, then (a) have the brains to do it a bit more privately and (b) stop pretending to be such a fantastic father and husband for the media.

Maybe the missus will have the brains to chuck him now for good. Hey Simone - I'm still single (widowed). :-)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oldest Trumper footage

A slightly unusual anniversary, but the oldest known footage of early Australian cricketing great, Victor Trumper, was filmed 100 years ago today. And here it is.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Johnson out, Strauss plays games and Hauritz knocks on the door

Not entirely unexpectedly, Mitchell Johnson has been dropped from the Australian squad for the Second Test. However English captain, Andrew Strauss responded by suggesting this was a 'big call' for the Australian selectors.

According to the ABC's website "Mitchell's been a very good performer for Australia over a number of years and has been spearheading their attack, so it's quite a big call for them to leave him out," Strauss said.

Well, let's be realistic here. Going on how erratic his form has been and how poorly Johnson performed in the First Test, naturally the Poms would be more than happy to see Johnson retained rather than replaced by the likes of Doug Bollinger. The last thing that they want to see is Johnson rested and getting his head back together, becoming the deadly missile that we know he can be. So Strauss is playing games here. The Australian selectors could not justify Johnson's inclusion when someone like Dougie is waiting in the wings. A fit and mentally with it Johnson is a deadly part of the attack but a Johnson who has lost his way is, unfortunately, hard to justify being included. Hopefully Johnson will take this setback in a positive way, sort out whatever his problems may be and get his rightful place back in the Australian attack once more.

Meanwhile, Nathan Hauritz has given a good, hard thump on the selectors' doors by a good performance against Western Australia at the WACA, not known for being especially spinner-friendly, taking five wickets for New South Wales. If the selectors were prepared to persist with Mike Hussey for so long during his dramatic form slump and for as long as they have with Johnson's problems, exactly why did Hauritz suddenly become the pariah? Yet it would hardly be fair to throw Doherty out already. Sure, Doherty did not take any wickets in the mammoth English second innings in the First Test, but then again, neither did any of the other main bowlers.

Monday, November 29, 2010

First Test lessons

The First Test, Australia v England, has ended in a draw yet several things have come out of the game.

First, there was some excellent batting by both teams, with four century makers and one double-century. Hopefully this is a sign of more excellent batting displays to come across the rest of the summer.

One thing is patently clear, however, that the current Australian bowling attack lacks sufficient penetration to bowl a decent time out twice. And make no bones about it, the touring Englishman are a much improved line-up than of a few years ago.

When a good player is out of sorts, sometimes they need to be sent down to get their head together. Surely that time has been reached with Mitchel Johnson? His arm action seems appreciatively lower as it was during his horror last tour of England. In my opinion, when Johnson's arm is dropping lower it is a sign that he is in trouble, with that changed action becoming increasingly erratic. He also seems to lose fluency in his action which I suspect is a sign of him tensing up too much in his delivery.

If I were a selector, I would be giving Johnson a rest and reinstating Dougie Bollinger for the Second Test.

Spare a thought for the Englishman, Alastair Cook. First he fielded through the fairly lengthy Australian first innings, then batted right through the English innings for his unbeaten double-century then returned to the field yet again for the short Australian second innings before they agreed to call it quits. The poor sod must be absolutely knackered.

I couldn't help but notice how mouthy English bowler James Anderson is getting between deliveries. Verbals between a fiery fast bowler and the batters is nothing new but a bowler needs to be able to back it up with the ball. Let's be honest - the moment the ball isn't swinging, Anderson has nothing much left. Apart from making him look like a goose, plenty of batsmen feel encouraged when a bowler who isn't cutting the mustard, feels the need to mouth off. It is generally a sign that you're on top of him. Wake up to yourself, Jimmy, lad.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lost our way

Being part of a major sporting comeback is always a great thrill. I have experienced a few of those in my time such as a successful defence of 80 in a one-day game against a far stronger opponent. But the Sri Lankan comeback in last night’s first one day international against Australia, was something else again.

At 8/107 chasing 239, you wouldn’t have backed the Sri Lankans with someone else’s money, let alone your own. Yet they did it. When the ninth wicket fell at 239 bringing Muralitharan to the crease, Australia still had a chance. Such excitement and tension!

What a wonderfully entertaining, record-breaking ninth wicket stand of 132 between Mathews and Malinga! They had nothing to lose and chose to be defiant, stealing the game away in the process.

The Australian bowling became increasingly lacklustre with the Sri Lankan pair making the most of things. Hastings became increasingly erratic and was fortunate to only go for only 27 runs from his six overs. Mitchell Johnson had another one of those days when nothing would go right.

Doherty was the surprise packet, starting with a run-out and following up with a crucial four wickets during an impressive Sri Lankan batting collapse.

I was left with two important questions.

First, what happened to Steve Smith? He bowled three overs for eight runs earlier in the innings, not to be seen again. Was he injured?

Why wasn’t someone in Doherty’s ear about flighting the ball more and more often. During the Mathews-Malinga partnership, the Australian bowling attack developed a real sense of sameness. Mathews was able to start well within the batting increase, allowing him to came forward and pick the ball up on the rise at will, or sit back and hammer the short balls. What was desparately needed was a change of pace. And I don’t mind the slow, loopy bouncer that seems to have come into vogue these days.

Doherty was consistently bowling flat, quicker deliveries. Yet with Mathews and Malinga in full flow, a far better option would have been to entirely change things up with slower, more flighted deliveries, drawing the false shot. The Australians at that point certainly had sufficient runs to play with. Yet the one time I saw Doherty hold one back at that time, Malinga cleared the boundary with a huge swat. So Doherty went back into his shell once more, becoming more of an attempted containing bowler rather than attacking.

Steve Smith would have been an ideal alternative option at that point, raising the question again of why he was not returned to the bowling attack.

The fact that Sri Lanka were able to steal this one, emphasises the problems the Australians have in actually finishing a game. The success of the Taylor and Waugh years was in no small way predicated on the principle of never-ending attack. These days we seem to have entirely lost our way.

The soon-to-arrive English team must be rubbing their hands in anticipation.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Don't let the facts get in the way

An annual tradition of mine for decades is each October, I purchase the latest copy of the ABC Cricket Book. This venerable little publication has all the information that we cricket tragics shall need for the coming summer. It lists all the first-class fixtures, details the touring teams, provides reams of statistics for even the most anal of cricket fans, along with interesting articles.

I recently purchased the latest Cricket Book. Towards the rear of the publication is an article by Stephen Brenkley of The Independent. To say that I am unimpressed is an understatement.

The piece starts our promisingly enough but appearing to be about the phenomenon of the Balmy Army, those sometimes entertaining, sometimes infuriating, English fans that swarm to Australia during an Ashes campaign down-under. Except that the piece instead descended into nothing but an unwarranted sneer at the Antipodes.

Take this for example. According to Mr Brenkley, when Graham Dilley appeared on his first tour of Australia, we Aussies were so cowed and threatened by him, we hid behind media attacks that accused Dilley of being a chucker.

What an unmitigated load of frog shit (apologies to any amphibian that may be offended by the comparison).

Before I started typing this entry, I did a quick Internet search. I was unable to find any references to Australian media of the period claiming Dilley to be a chucker. I certainly cannot recall anything of the kind and back then I read anything and everything I could get my hands on that had the slightest relevance to cricket. But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story will you, Stevie boy.

How about something of a reality check.

The unkind could suggest that Dilley's biggest contribution was his role in the dream scoreline of Lillee, caught Dilley, bowled Willey. But that would be unfair.

Back when Dilley made his debut in Australia, the West Indies were far and away the dominant power of the time, with its seemingly never-ending stream of quartets of fast bowlers, and I mean FAST. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting Dilley wasn’t fast. He was. In fact in his day, Dilley was regarded as the fastest white bowler in the world, which was no mean thing. I enjoyed watching him bowl because he really put in and hit the track hard. But who was backing Dilley up? He sure as hell did not have another three comparable bowlers in the line-up. Some good bowlers, yes, but nothing like the Caribbean Blitzkrieg. So in comparison to facing the Windies, a visit by a Dilley-lead attack was practically going to be a holiday.

The idea that any English media can be giving Australians a hard time over throwing smears is pretty bloody hypocritical. How about another couple of reality checks? When a certain Australian lefthanded bowler was causing the touring English of the time a lot of trouble, who lead the charge to get him thrown out for chucking? The English team with the whole-hearted cooperation of the English media. What was Ian Meckiff’s real crime? He had a double-jointed elbow which caused a movement in the arm akin to throwing. Meckiff was thrown out of the game. Yet at the same time, the touring English had one Tony Lock in their time. Lock threw pretty much every damn ball he bowled in a first-class career that went on many years after that particular tour. But questioning his action was a big no-no!

Jump forward a few years to 1977. Australia was touring England and the Poms were giving us an all-up hiding. Dour Mike Brearley outcaptained us; Bob Willis had our bats mesmerised like rodents before a swaying cobra; Woolmer and Boycott defied everything the Aussie bowlers could send down. The best team didn’t just win, it slaughtered the Aussies.

In the midst of all this, one Lenny Pascoe made his Australian debut. Now Len Pascoe was a ferocious fast bowler with an almost pathological hatred of batsmen. When he started taking a few wickets, one Ted Dexter suddenly appears in the press, claiming Pascoe was a chucker. Dexter’s ‘evidence’ of this charge? That to Dexter’s eye, Pascoe could produce the occasional much faster ball which could only be explained by chucking. And the English media lapped it up. For the record, Len Pascoe was no chucker and only His Lordship and the English media jumped on that bandwagon. The English frog population must suffer from a terrible case of the trots.

The real question is why did editor, Jim Maxwell, even decide to include this piece of crap in the ABC Cricket Book in the first place?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Howard may be the right man afterall

Outrage, speculation and the Pakistani cricket team all seem to go hand-in-hand. In the past we have seen performance enhancing drugs, match fixing, ball tampering and other matters come up over and over. But this latest effort really outshines all the others.

What News of the World has uncovered and provided compelling evidence for, is a well-established pattern of blatant bribery and tailoring performance to meet those demands. The Pakistani team management have suspended the players involved and the International Cricket Council has come out strongly against such inappropriate practices. However in my opinion, this is not nearly strong enough.

The first question to be address is why? It is a simple fact that Pakistani players receive far less as players than do their contemporaries in Australia, England and elsewhere. That they even consider going along with bribery is in a sense, understandable when comparing their financial security to other players. There is an Indian connection as noted by the bag man being an Indian with known connections in this area. While India still has living conditions that are staggeringly lower than the much of the world, there is still big money around in commercial interests and that sort of money appears to be making its presence felt in sports bookmaking circles.

If more money were put into Pakistani cricket, there is less motivation for the players to agree to participate in such behaviour. Now the Pakistani economy may well not be up to putting more money into the game. Perhaps there is a role here for the ICC as a whole to have a hand in lifting the player remuneration.

Now to what is occurring? These latest revelations relate to 'spot betting'; the ability to place a wager, not on the outcome of a sporting event, but on specific events within the game, in this instance, on particular no-balls being balled. It would much easier to 'fix' a specific event occurring, as we have just seen, than it would be to fix an entire match outcome, especially one that takes place over a period of days. It could still be done, but still it would be harder to do. So stamp out bookmaking on spot bets of this sort.

How well informed are we on what has been happening. In wake of the allegations against the Pakistani players concerned, others including senior Australian cricketers have come out admitting similar approaches being made to them. These approaches were all apparently reported to the team management with the appropriate bodies within the ICC structure, notified.

Here's a thought. In future, every time such an approach is registered with the ICC, they make an immediate press release. Lets get the frequency of these things out there in the public eye on an ongoing basis. Remove the veils of secrecy and ignorance. The more attention is paid to these stunts, the harder it will be to continue to get away with them. Make it all visible enough and it will become increasingly unlikely that bookmakers will be prepared to take the risk of such bets.

Next, a full and genuine inquiry with real teeth and backbone is required. The lid needs to be lifted off it all. Will the measures announced to date achieve such ends? I have a sneaking suspicion that they will not. Let's be really honest here - the ICC has a long and well-established pattern of rolling over on the big issues. Those with the biggest voice, which is usually the ones with the most money behind it, gets their way.

The issue now becomes how to achieve all these ends. This is where a strong, dominant driving force is required. Now I am anything but a John Howard fan. I detest much of what he has done in the past and his track record. But I do dispute the allegations that he is a racist.

Initially I was not that concerned about John Howard not getting the deputy's job at the ICC. However in light of the current situation, I suspect that Howard's hardheaded, autocratic way of handling things may be what is required in order to drive real change.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

the best?

An interesting observation recently by that doyen of cricket commentators, Richie Benaud, while commentating on a guy in which New Zealander, Billy Bowden was officiating.

Some years back, the International Cricket Council determined that in future, umpires from the host nation could not officiate in Test matches. As a result, good umpires may not necessarily be seen in action on their home soil.

Benaud correctly notes that we are now in an era of referrals by both players and umpires to off-field umpires for adjudication on decisions by reference to the various forms of technology being employed. In that event, Benaud argues, we do not have that same difficulty that arguably existed prior to the introduction of this access to greater technology. Consequently, Benaud continued, there is no longer necessarily the need to have home fans denied the chance to see the best in action when it is one of their own.

There was something in what Benaud was saying - except for one prominent exception. He classed Billy Bowden as one of the best. Give me a break! The sheer number of blunders that bloke makes puts him well outside the numbers of the 'best'. Sure, he has done a heck of lot better in his umpiring career than I ever even dreamed of during my own lacklustre playing career, but still - calling him one of the 'best'?

Richie, mate - just how many glasses of chardonnay did you have that day during lunch?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Where the excitement is

When one day cricket burst onto the scene, it was seen as a breath of fresh air. Exciting hitting was the name of the game, thrilling the crowds. But then the game evolved to something more statistically-based. For example, in the lead-up to the 1987 World Cup, then-Australian coach, Bob Simpson, did his homework. His analysis revealed that the teams that consistently scored the most singles, tended to make the biggest scores and win the most games. That lead to a quite deliberate, considered approach to building an innings.

Today, one-day cricket is often almost formulaic at the top level: a solid opening followed by consolidation before final acceleration.

Twenty-twenty cricket has now assumed the role that international one-day cricket previously held in its earlier days. Excitement is the name of the game. The roar of the crowd is to the accompaniement of rock music. The batting team are seated around the boundary, akin to a Saturday afternoon club fixture, bring a greater degree of intimacy with the spectators. We see wonderful improvisation in batting with often seemingly impossibly shots scorching to the boundary.

The fast rising star of this scenario is Australian David Warner. The pint-sized dynamo is Excitement Plus. He has taken the even more abbreviated form of the game by the neck and shaken it like a Jack Russell terrier. Yet Warner has only played one first-class game for his home state of New South Wales. Just over twelve months ago he was plucked from club cricket obscurity, straight into the Australian 20:20 team.

This latest game, the second 20:20 game, Australia v West Indies, saw a conclusive, crushing victory to Australia with Warner smashing 67 off only 29 balls, the second fastest 20:20 fifty off only 19 balls. Yet the fixture was not without controversy.

Warner demonstrated his batting switch-up. A natural left-hander, he held the bat with a right-hand grip in a left-hand stance, before switching to the right-hand stance as the bowler was delivering the ball. The umpire spoke to him at the end of the over, with Warner later stating the umpire had warned him that the move was not in the spirit of the game.

The West Indian bowler of the moment, Pollard, responded by delivering his balls from further and further back to the ludicrous position of his front foot actually still on the green grass at the edge of the turf square.

Both incidents are legal, but are they really both in the spirit of the game? I suspect not. Admittedly in Warner's case, I suspect that few would have both the talent and dexterity to get away with it as well as he does.