Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A ton has too much weight

At the start of the summer, I was all for dropping Watson. Since then, everyone but the selectors seems to have dropped him, but I have to admit that he has been better than I expected, with the bat, even the ball, although not in other respects.

The most recent dropped chance allowed Watson to bring up the Australians' first Test century of the season. Much too much has been made of this. Centuries, or the lack thereof, shouldn't take on this much weight. Australia shouldn't be bothered by scores of two decimal digits except to the extent that the underlying problems are the same ones that lead to scores like 150 all out.

It may not always hurt to play for a personal or even team milestone, but there was nothing good about the situation as Watson was restrained in the 90s. The team needed relatively quick runs, not landmarks, and cricket is a team sport.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

From west to west

Despite the names, Western Australia is nearly as far as you can get from the West Indies. I can't pull up a personal story about cricket at the WACA. The best I can do is that I changed a nappy in the carpark there last winter. Rather than stands, it is the WACA pitch itself that has changed recently. My opinion after the first day was almost the opposite of that offered by the groundsman in Napier - that with the pitch ready to grow lane markers and neither team boasting a great attack, a result was unlikely.

Given that, Ricky's non-reappearance in the first innings was significant, and even apart from that, I thought the declaration showed a bit too much faith in his bowlers. As it turned out, the Rooty Hill RSL boy and co. did pretty well and it was the batsmen who were embarrassed, as the Windies set up an interesting chase. The fourth day was a great example not so much of quality cricket, but of the wonderful nature of cricket as a contest with a rhythm of its own.

The Australians managed to take wickets just often enough to enjoy it, but not enough to finish the game. Now they search for one last wicket as the target creeps closer. Will this be as exciting as Adelaide in 1993?

Monday, 7 December 2009

An umpire's final decision?

In the past, I haven't thought much of Ricky Ponting's captaincy at all. In what I have managed to see of this series, however, I haven't had any problem with his strategies. In contrast, his behaviour after the first referral regarding Chanderpaul was ridiculous. I have in the past agreed with his comments on cameras and low catches, but they just make his response to the not out decision even more ridiculous.

Ponting says that the referral system was meant to get rid of things like that, presumably meaning mistakes that are 'obvious'. That is a stupid idea - it was only meant to get rid of mistakes that were obvious to the tv viewer with certain technology. As well as being largely motivated by television, the system restricts the third umpire to approved technology, rather than giving them everything that might be provided to the spectator at home.

It is quite clear that a mistake could be 'obvious' to those on the field without being obvious to the cameras, or even being wrong. In this case, I think it is more likely that there was an edge than that there wasn't. However, the replays and hotspot views shown did not provide enough to justify a conclusive umpire's decision, and certainly not enough to justify overturning a decision in the current framework. I do question why both hotspot cameras were not used, but I believe there will always be some level of ambiguity, if not error, not matter how good the technology is.

Ponting should have accepted that the cameras did not provide the evidence of what he thought he heard and saw. Instead, as some predicted, the review system has provoked even stronger dissent. The match referee should haul him up on a charge of dissent, or at least stupidity. Of course, off the field, more interest has been shown to the later appeal, when the umpire's not out decision was overturned. I still haven't seen footage of this, but form all accounts it was a strange decision by third umpire Asad Rauf. Most disturbing are the rumours circulating that this prompted the withdrawal and retirement of umpire Benson.

For an umpire to not complete a test for reasons other than relating to health is a very big deal. It is hard to believe the "suggestions" received by the Sunday Times (and of course repeated by Cricinfo, Fairfax media and others as facts reported by the Sunday Times) that Benson's departure from Australia was motivated by these incidents, rather than existing health problems. I don't see why the issues as reported would require a visit to hospital rather than a phone call to his long-standing doctor. Obviously the suggestions came form somewhere, but I can't see how it could be true that he was upset most by the second decision, unless there is much more to the story in the umpires' room.

Before the talk of retirement, I'd have hoped the umpires' coach would take a careful look at Benson's performance in Adelaide. In any case, he is no stranger to criticism of his decisions. However, it seems to me that apart form ill health, I suspect it is not he that should be the centre of the attention at the moment.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Now for Adelaide

I think the first game of serious cricket that I watched live was at the Adelaide Oval. The NSW team happened to be in Adelaide at the same time as my family, and somehow my dad was convinced to take it along. I have memories of sitting in the stand there as a seven year old as the South Australians put up a big score, dreaming of working in the marvelous manual scoreboard. (Looking back, it turns out the main contributor, with 168, was a certain Andrew Hilditch.)

I'd heard the recent announcements of plans for the Adelaide Oval, which is definitely welcome news in various ways for the different winter sports, but I hadn't realised that work had already begun. It certainly is a change to a ground that has changed less since I was young than many others.

That first match wasn't a great one for the bowlers, although Tim May did pick up 7 wickets in the NSW innings. As far as the discussion on Test pitches goes, I think it's important that they have something for bowlers, but one of the great things about cricket is variety of different pitches and conditions. Cricinfo looks at recent Tests at Adelaide and calls it a "result-oriented batting paradise", which is an intriguing phrase. It's true that if we were forced to have identical pitches for each match, I might choose Adelaide as the prototype, but I'm glad to enjoy quite a few departures from its standard.

In any case, it is a fine day in Adelaide and it's great to have a day off for the first day of the Test. It takes more than negative press about a big win by a less-than-dominant side to take away my anticipation! I had a bit of a scare when Cricinfo had the starting time incorrect, but I settled down wondering whether the youngster Barath would continue his form, and whether Bollinger would live up to his claims.

Bollinger, with the help of some great catching, has started with two scalps, including Barath. Three more might well back up the loud bowler's words, although the journalist's question about "keeping his foot on the throat" of the batsmen fits better with the overall narrative of the series than to the nature of his battle with Gayle. Now the focus is on the rest of the batting order, and rightly so, since even Sehwag would be restricted if he received only the support Barath had in Brisbane. The Windies would welcome the return of Sarwan, and hope that Chanderpaul, Bravo and co. are a bit more prepared after another week.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Follow the leader

In the news in this part of the world, there is talk of a second political spill in a week. The Liberal Party tends to avoid them while in government, but apart from that they seem to come around fairly often. I don't want to get into the politics now, but I loved this paragraph about the Prime Minister's comments on the state government:
Asked if Mr Rees had his full support or whether he also needed to get his act together, Mr Rudd replied "Yes", although it was unclear to which part of the question he was responding.

Friday, 27 November 2009

FWT: A start of 480

The Australians have declared at 8/480. I would have thought they would push on towards 600, or at least be looking to have a crack at the Windies' batsmen half an hour before stumps, rather than tea. This seemed possible, with Hauritz batting well. Of course, his 50 not out was only ahead of Michael Clarke and two other players picked for their bowling, making it all the more noteworthy that noone went on to make a hundred. Roebuck reports that Katich looked the most likely to stay in long enough, with his explanation strongly at odds with thoughts recently expressed by Hilditch.

I'm not that keen on Watson opening the batting. I've mentioned this several times, and tried to explain that it's not about Phil Hughes, but about the general approach to the batting line-up. Those who are still not convinced should read Jrod. Of course, there is also the issue of the dream of "the next all-rounder" clouding any assessment of individual players. For these reasons, when I ran into my brother at the railway station yesterday, I suggested it would be best for Australia if Watson made some ducks and was dropped. He disagreed, thinking it would be better if Watson simply broke down again, preferably before being given the ball.

As it happens, Watson did quack, out yet again LBW, but unfortunately it is Jerome Taylor who has been missing at the bowler's end. It is always a pity to see a game affected by the loss of a frontline bowler. Perhaps Ricky should bowl Watson just to level things up.

In any case, right now it's up to Hilfy, Siddle and Johnson. Meanwhile, Bollinger didn't make the cut and was released to fly across the continent, where he and fellow cornstalk pacemen SR and JR have each taken a wicket, and Henriques two to leave the Sandgropers at 5/56 at lunch!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Rolling duties

I've previously discussed the fact that, compared with the UK, the electoral enrolment system in Australia relies much more on voters to take the initiative to enrol. While the resulting expection that the rolls be kept up-to-date from month-to-month has advantages over relying on a yearly update, the system leaves plenty of room for enrolments (or changes) to simply never happen.

The NSW government has announced plans to improve the accuracy of the rolls by automatically using information held by government agencies (such as the current sponsor of the state cricket team). From the point of view of reducing the burden on voters, and removing disenfranchisement caused by simply neglecting to enrol, although would be worth paying some attention to who might not be covered by any of the information sources.

Criticism of the plan describes it as an invasion of privacy - using personal information for purposes other than for which it was supplied. In a country where voting is compulsory, there are people who are deliberately not on the roll. Will this sort of enforced enrolment cause these people to be more reluctant with their information in other circumstances?

The question of compulsory voting itself is an interesting one, often phrased in terms of whether voting is a responsibility or simply a right. I thought of this recently when events caused me to remember discussing the fact that Australians are required to update their enrolment within a month of changing address, not simply wait until an election is imminent.

My point then, which also helps explain why enrolling is compulsory even in places where voting is not, was simply that voting in elections are not the only use of the electoral roll. Appearing in a jury is not something we tend to see as a right. It is certainly treated as a responsibility, or as the Sheriff's material and court officers repeatedly describe it, a "civic duty".

Thursday, 12 November 2009

What's on first?

This kind of storing has been popping up a fair bit recently. I don't really see how it's news.

Watson made the Test team because he was in the squad for his versatility - as a player who could fill any position that needed filling. It just happened that he was chosen to replace an opener. I will admit that his batting performance since then was better than I expected. I am still not convinced he should be called an "all-rounder", but leaving that aside, he has easily confirmed his ability as a fill-in Test batsman, and earned consideration for an ongoing place in the lineup.

However, the idea that he is one of the two best choices for opener is a bit weird. Apart from all the hoopla about Hughes, there are at least two other openers who should be consdered at number 1 before Watson, and that's only considering those with Test experience. The most obvious response to Watson's recent performance is to compare him with other middle-order contenders.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Unexpected events

Last year, Nathan Hauritz was called up from club cricket to the Test team, over once NSW and Australian spinner Beau Casson. This week, the ongoing string of injuries to Australian cricketers led to a tour call-up for Hauritz and Katich's club-mate Burt Cockley, despite the fact that not quite all of the NSW Champions League pace attack has been called up in this series. While this trend may seem inexplicable, it is enough to wonder how soon will Usman Khawaja be seen in the national green and gold.

I'm pretty sure noone expected Burt to be plucked from the middle of the Shield game against the Sandgropers. While Hauritz has been known to open the batting for the Randy-Petes and play for the state on the same day, Cricket Australia rules mean that NSW were given the opportunity to replace Cockley with an all-rounder at a point in the match where their bowling attack was no longer important. Apparently WA weren't too impressed with this unpredicted result, but in any case Lambert was kept to number 11 and the Cornstalks fell well short of first innings points on the final day.

The much more unexpected result of the exploits of the strange (and large) collection representing Australia is of course the fact that they somehow managed to win the series. Several players, veterans and call-ups, have put in some impressive performances, but not enough to change the impression on paper that they shouldn't have been able to beat India. What is going on?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Injuries and Hilditch decimate state attacks

After taking a decent first innings lead, Victoria were hampered in their attempts to put away South Australia by the loss of an opening bowler to the (still) current ICC ODI Champions the Hilditch XI. This may be disputed - it is possible that one-Test wonder Pattinson could be considered a suitable mid-match replacement, but more to the point the Gumsuckers could have been in more trouble if Hilditch & Co. had called up their other opening bowler.

Cricinfo points out that McKay was his team's top wicket-taker in the Champions League with 10 scalps, but the same could be said for his partner Dutch Daredevil Dirk, who had one took one less wicket in one fewer games with better average, strike and economy rates. Maybe they only take into account the Australian teams - after al Henriques was called up. He took the most wickets for NSW while in India, but was included in the squad after teammates Lee, who promptly broke, and Bollinger, who has certainly not looked out of place (although Doug in canary yellow rather than Cornstalk blue still seems strange).

More surprising is the omission of Clark, the miser who also notched up 9 Champions League wickets at a better average and economy rate than Clint. His 8 overs for 15 runs also anchored the demolition of the disappointing Sandgropers on the North Shore last Sunday. Perhaps the selectors are simply being kind to the Blues, who would otherwise be left with a fairly inexperienced pace attack.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Selection blues

I'm generally fairly interested in the Hilditch XI - whatever else you can say, they are representing Australia. However, it's hard to get too excited about a ridiculously long series of ODIs shoehorned into a very busy schedule, no matter how worthy the opponent. For the moment, I think I'll restrict my restrict my comments on the series to remarks in the context of more interesting topics, such as plans for the forthcoming summer. In particular, my suggested fixtures which until last week seemed about as realistic as the idea of a Shane Watson being one of the few uninjured Australians.

Replacing the Australia-Windies matches with NSW-T&T contests would of course have many consequences for the domestic competitions. The Victorians would certainly be happy to have Siddle available. The Sandgropers might actually get a taste of Johnson. It would be interesting to see whether Ricky would deign to play for Tasmania after a move to Sydney and a long absence.

NSW, however, are left having to field two teams. As far as that goes, it's worth remembering that the previously mentioned "all-rounder" has moved to Sydney properly - that is, in a physical and cricketing sense. Take the recent Champions League Squad, throw in recovered Jaques, Bracken, Clarke and Haddin, pick teams for each form of the game to face T&T. With some serious respect for his batting, I think in each case Watson would be left playing a big role in the 2nd XI!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Summer of Calypso

One downside of the Champions League has been the delay in the start of the representative cricket season here in Sydney. Last night, while seeing Australia seemingly try to lose a match they hard prevoiusly done well to put a grip on (although I suppose selection was done before the match), my thoughts turned to the coming summer.

I still don't understand what is going on between WICB and WIPA, but all the talk seems to be that a full strength Windies team is coming. When things seemed less optimistic, I observed in another context that a NSW v Rest of Aus series might be a decent replacement.

Now, however, I suggest that if there are still problems at a WICB level, both Test sides could be represented by one of their domestic sides. Just imagine three 5-day games, 5 fifty-over games and 2 T20s between New South Wales and Trinidad & Tobago!

Friday, 23 October 2009

East meets west in Hyderabad

Tonight a team from east of the Orient meet a West Indian nation in Hyderabad to decide cricket's first ever international competition for domestic teams. There's a fair bit of money at stake, and probably even more in bragging rights.

While there is little doubt that these two teams have been the performers of the Champions' League, there has been discussion about which teams have featured at the pointy end of the event. Trinidad and Tobago dispatched the South African Cobras in their semi-final, while the NSWelshmen notched up a very satisfying win over their oldest rivals. No IPL team was in sight.

While much has been made of the predicted financial dominance of the IPL, I don't find these results surprising. The IPL qualifiers do not (yet?) compete with teams from similar but poorer leagues. Some have suggested that pride in state, province or nation has played a part, but I see more concrete factors at work. The established teams play and train as a team for whole seasons, not just for one six week tournament. The successful ones are also more crowded with international stars than teams that could be produced by the IPL model at this stage of its development, although it must be noted the IPL has indeed given many of these stars significant twenty over exposure to add to their other experience. Delhi have also played a double role, in one of hte least satisfactory aspects of the CLT20 set-up. How much would have changed if Nannes and Warner had swapped their decisions?

In any case, the finalists have played attacking cricket, and it should be a good game. As a distinctly non-neutral observer, I would be happier if it were being played in Delhi, where the bowling strength of NSW can be most exploited.

Several batsmen have talked down the Kotla pitch, and some have suggested that it robs the crowds of the fours and (super)sixes that crowds think T20 is all about. I don't understand this view. T20 certainly changes the balance of risks, giving plenty for purists to dislike in batting styles as a matter or taste, but I thought the excitement relied more on the frenetic pace of the game, than frenetic batting in particular. Surely a battle between bat or ball is more interesting than a shootout, and with similar conditions for both innings, we have the makings of a fast exciting contest, whether wickets are falling or sixes being scored!

In any case, the batsmen should fare better in Hyderabad. NSW will want to prevent the occurence of anything like Pollard's demolition which was their downfall the last time these two met. I don't know how soon that is likely to be repeated! As I see it, the question is not what the bowlers conceed to Pollard and co., but whether the NSW batsmen can emulate him. Both in the last weeks and last summer, the Blues have often seemed either unable or unwilling to fully exploit the final overs of their innings.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Not-so-clean reporting

Nagraj Gollapudi writes on Cricinfo on the curious case of the 22 yards. It makes some interesting points about the pitch at the Kotla. In general, I'm not bothered by seeing a pitch which requires caution from the bowlers, and I'm not just saying that because of the results yesterday. (If anything, I think I'd rather Delhi had put the Ned Kelly-wannabes away.)

However, I have a quibble with the article in its use of cricketing language. "A good statistic that could shed light on the matter: of the 26 wickets to fall on the day, half were clean bowled," writes Gollapaudi. Really?

I know that in these days where a six must always be a "DLF maximum" or a "super six", we can't use a single word where two would do. For this purpose, perhaps adjectives are tagged onto words because we are used to hearing them together, but in all my previous reading and conversations, "clean bowled" meant something more than simply "out according to Law 30".

Don't get me wrong. This isn't a major issue. I'll take a sensible opinion with errors in writing over perfectly constructed waffle any day, but is it too much to ask that professional reporters (or commentators) resist the sensationalism and focus on what they are communicating?

Friday, 9 October 2009

Blues start their Champions' campaign

I'm loving seeing NSW in an international competition. The Champions' League structure has its flaws, and on some levels I'm disappointed that it took T20 to get this to happen, but I like the basic idea.

NSW have started their campaign with a good innings from the captain. Katich brought up a record partnership with Warner, who neither fired nor got out quickly. Hughes has had one good innings against Queensland, but today he did not look comfortable, just as every other time I have seen him play T20.

Eagles bowled and especially fielded well. The performance of the rest of the batting lineup wasn't dismal, but NSW did confirm that they are relying on their bowling, especially in the absence of Haddin and Clarke. So far, the bowling (and fielding) is doing the job!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Cats or Saints?

Today is the one day in September. Geelong take on St Kilda in the 2009 AFL Grand Final at the MCG. The eyes of the nation will be on Melbourne, as on the same day the Storm host the Broncos to decide who will meet late finishers Parramatta in next week's rugby league grand final.

I've wanted Geelong to lose in many Grand Finals before, and they've done a good job of it. I spent a large amount of year 9 maths classes discuss cricket and football with the only other Aussie Rules fan in the year, a die-hard Geelong supporter. I was quite happy to see Geelong lose their fourth GF in seven years. Last year, it was good to see Hawthorn stop them from winning two premierships in a row.

Then there is St Kilda. They have only ever won one premiership, by the narrowest of margins right at the end of the game in 1966. A tv commentator just observed that they have a British-like passion for supporting their team while expecting them to lose. Another win would be another fairytale. But they are also big rivals as far as I am concerned. They are one of the few teams I'd be happy to see the Cats beat. In any case, if St Kilda won, England would have to win a soccer World Cup!

That's the heart. As far as the head goes, both teams started the season amazingly well, and then slumped. I think the Cats are further down their recovery from the slump and have had the better form in recent weeks. The Saints also are coming off a fairly tense and exhausting road through the finals, which might have taken something out of them. Both teams have real quality this year, and there is potential for a game as intense as the first quarter of last week's Geelong-Collingwood clash, but my tip is that the flag will be flying high, from dawn to dark, down at Kardinia Park.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Sheep, scabs and other Champions

Going by the Australian media, you'd hardly think this Champions Trophy is on. To be fair, it is on in South Africa at awkward times and it is currently the business end of the football seasons. Perhaps more to the point, when did Australia even pay any attention to previous versions of this tournament?

So far in Group A, Pakistan have fought off the best team WICB money (or organisational ability?) can buy. This team, which would probably even make England look like an ODI powerhouse, gives Australia there entry into the competition tomorrow, while the sporting eyes of the nation are on Melbourne. The India-Pakistan match seems to have more potential for drama.

Meanwhile, Group B is turning on the excitement. Sunny England has Sri Lanka's top order in real trouble, after the Lankans had put away the favoured hosts. If the results can be interpreted as a hierarchy, then the South Africans are left only above their comprehensively defeated opponents. To keep the S theme, lets call them Shebangabang - after all, that's what they're called by the advertising advisors to the Australian ODI sponsors.

It wouldn't be an ICC event without room for criticism, and F50 isn't the flavour of the month, but I reckon that simply as a chance for so many teams to play cricket against each other in a tournament, it isn't bad. It deserves a bit more attention over here.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The red dust is over the town

It might not be Christmas, but there was more red dust over the town this morning than I have ever seen in Sydney. Actually, that wouldn't be too hard, but there was an awful lot of dust. (I wonder why it was reported as 'kilotonnes', rather than the wonderful sounding 'gigagrams', though ;-)

Unfortunately, I got the camera out just as the sun rose high enough to escape the scattering effect causing the eery red glow. Even once it had dissipated, the dust cloud reduced visibility and the cars drove past looking like they'd just come back from the outback. In Parramatta, the dust not only stole the lustre of our newish building, but managed to cover even the underground areas of the station.

The dust may have settled, but the wind still hasn't let up. Quite an unusual day.

Friday, 18 September 2009

NZ bowlers face match-fixing allegations

AP report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Who'd have thought it?

How bad is England at ODIs?

I've been a bit too busy to put up quite a few thoughts recently, as the Ashes have given way to a long ODI series almost universally recognised as bizarre. (I suppose it serves some purpose as a warmup for the next ICC event.) I was particularly worked up by the selection approach of SMH's Jamie Pandaram, but I've managed to calm down by now.

More remarkable are the latest results between Australia and England. I think it's fair to say that since this time last year, the Australian Test team hasn't seen a great deal of success, but their performance, while patchy, has looked much more promising than that seen when a slightly different team has stepped on to the field for the day-long game. I'd certainly say this about what we saw in the southern summer, and even though the Australians seemed to have looked better and better as the current series has dragged on, I'd still say they're not as good as the team which once again conceded the Ashes.

The various quirks in the schedule and system mean the ICC rankings tell a different story, and in his usual over-excited manner, Jamie says a whitewash is inevitable, barring a miracle (or rain, sometimes also referred to as an 'act of God'). Why would he even suggest such a thing? This is not a team that inspires such confidence. With that in mind, the solid 6-0 scoreline only serves to make surprisingly clear something that really isn't news: England can't play one day cricket. England really, really can't play one day cricket. Even I am finding it embarassing!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

All in white?

There is yet another reason being given for Australia's loss in the Ashes - "The administrators can't get past thinking that anybody but a white Anglo guy with blonde hair should be in the team." It's very easy to believe that, say, particular players of Indian origin have been ignored or even discourage where white players of similar ability in some places at various levels. It also seems that at the higher levels, Australian cricket does over-represent a particular Australian sub-culture. However, there are so many things wrong with this SMH article and even the editorial that it's hard to know where to start.

Let's start with the use of language. It's hard to take seriously any article which implies that "ethnic" is something a person can be. A member of the ethnic majority isn't from a vacuum - the dominance of their culture doesn't mean that their ethnicity is not there, or even that it should be treated as a default.

Then there are the countries raised in comparison. There is a pretty obvious difference between South Africa and Australia, and I don't mean the affirmative action selection policies. In the "Rainbow Nation", the (white) traditional cricketing cultures are a minority. Even taking into account the disproportionate interest in cricket among some of the other groups, there is a comparatively huge talent pool which was previously ignored. Australia is home to many ethnicities these days, but Anglo-Celtic roots still form a majority.

What about England? There are two issues here. The editorial refers to southern Asians and South Africans. Many of the South Africans moved to England for cricketing reasons. Cricket Australia possibly could broaden the available talent pool by opening domestic cricket up to more disgruntled Saffers and others, but that's hardly got anything to do with giving all Australians a fair go, has it? (It's also worth remembering that while you would expect the selectors to make use of the situation, the ECB did not deliberately bring this on - it is a result of EU laws and trading agreements.) Strauss is a different case - he is at least as English as Symonds is Australian.

The increasing success of English cricketers with subcontinental backgrounds is a great story, but it is hardly surprising that it has been emulated to the same extent in Australia. The "Asian or Britsh Asian" category makes up 4% of the British population, while the equivalent communities in Australia account for well less than 2%. When we're talking about less than 30 South Asians in 20 county squads and one player in 6 state teams, that's a significant difference in available talent. What's more, the British Asian community is well established. In contrast, about a third of the Australian numbers are due to arrivals in the last 5 years, who are less likely to be top level cricketers. On top of that, given the way interest in cricket among the general English public is so low (compared with Australia, anyway), it is perhaps more surprising that the Asian communities haven't made even more of an impact on top-level cricket.

Now for the claims made about Australian cricket, starting with the dismissal of Greek and Chinese Australians as unlikely to play the game. Over several years helping with my youngest brother's team, it did include the expected Anglos, an Sri Lankan, an Indian and (if I remember correctly) a couple of Bangladeshis, but the coach was Greek and there was no shortage of Macedonians. If anything, the fact that names such as Katich, Hauritz, Krejza, Hilfenhaus and Kasprowicz are not singled out in the same way as the equally "exotic" Porplyzia, Petrovski, or Fevola simply shows that youngsters with "unusual" backgrounds have wholeheartedly taken up cricket and the Australian cricketing culture together. However uniform Australia's top-level cricket culture is, it doesn't depend on an Anglo background. It could be pointed out that the players mentioned are all white-skinned, but then there is Andrew Symonds.

I have only mentioned recent Test players. At the next level, there have been names like Ronchi, Scuderi, Di Venuto, Nikitaras and Chee Quee. Reading these, it's conceivable that cricket clubs have been more open to assimilating "newcomers" than to those coming with an established cricket culture - Khawaja is indeed the first local with a subcontinental background to make it onto the first class books. Also, the explanation that Asian Australian cricketers and their families place more emphasis on study and work is cliched, but not completely devoid of truth. Similar principles no doubt mould the subculture of high level Australian cricket even within the Anglo population. However, whatever factors are at play, they can't be too significant - around 10 southern Asian names in Sydney's 20 first grade XIs on any weekend compares fairly well with the English counties. Those looking to Asia for an answer to Australia's recent cricketing woes would be better off criticising immigration policies of the 50s and 60s than recent actions of cricket clubs.

Of course, the one thing the editorial gets spot on is the statement that "There are increasing numbers of players at grassroots level from southern Asia". That increase will only continue. Australian cricket needs to be ready to grow through this, and not just by expecting all the talent to fall into the traditional opportunities.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Putting the Ashes to rest

This was a series which drew interest because of a long history and the fact that neither side was dominant. The cricket itself was a succession of bat-fests, interspersed with some short spells of impressive bowling and/or poor batting which made up the few severe first innings collapses which almost completely decided the fate of the urn. This is the pattern of a lot of international cricket recently, simply adding evidence for the idea that the last ten years has not seen a glut of strong batsmen, but a lack of quality bowlers and/or good conditions for bowling.

Hilfenhaus and Strauss had a good series. Swann did his job. Batsmen such as Clarke and North did well, but mostly when matches were virtually decided. Watson coped well with opening, but doesn't seem a realistic part of future plans in that position, and given that he was in the squad as fix-all, his time with the ball counts against him. Flintoff did enough to have a positive farewell, even if he is still as annoying as ever.

There are calls for Ricky's head. Some have quite rightly pointed out that he isn't really to blame for the result. I don't see why the calls increase after this second Ashes defeat. A captain aims to win, but can only be judged on how well they get the best out of their team and the opportunities afforded. There were enough reasons to question whether Ponting was the best man for this job well before Australia started the recent string of losses. I'm not talking about the trouble in January 08 - the claim that this years' Aussies are 'nicer' doesn't let him off on the basic cricketing aspects of captaincy. Neither does the suggestion that he has done better when given players more suited to his leadership, as in South Africa. Either choose the captain who is best able to lead any of the whole teams he is likely to be part of, or choose a captain indepedently for each series. Picking a skipper and then basing a team round him has, rightly in my opinion, not been the Australian way, whatever occurs in other parts.

The only thing going for Ponting is that it is not the Australian way to play ex-captains, either. This can afford to change. He is not to blame for this loss, but he still isn't the best captain the team could have. The umpires are also not to blame - they were far from perfect, but neither were they particularly one-sided. Brett Lee's injury probably had more impact, and that is not blamable, but simply points to a lack of depth. The selection decisions, on the other hand, have both been questionable almost as long as Ponting's and have played a big part in the last couple of months.

One group of people, for me, did stand out. They weren't on the field, but I very much enjoyed MMM on SBS. Stuey, Mo and Damo were refreshing insightful without being too serious. I came to this conclusion even before they managed to include all my favourite main points when discussing the state of umpiring, and it was probably helped by the fact that I didn't hear the expected self-selection suggestions from Mo until the final day!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Ashes to phoenix, phoenix to dust

Overheard conversation:
"Are you celebrating?"

"Yes. It's good."

"Why aren't you barracking for Australia?"

"I don't like the Aussies."

"You live here."

"I don't think the Aussies can.. cope with..."


"Yes, losing."

"We haven't had to for 20 years, so why should we? We don't want to."

"You guys..."

"You guys? You're one of us!
My brother is over from South Africa and he hasn't stopped laughing at us."

"I'm not laughing."

"He is."

In 2005, I managed to watch the last day at the Oval as hope slipped further and further away. That was the end of a long summer, in September, and at least there was the distraction of watching my team dramatically progressing through the AFL finals, travelling across London in the middle of the night to watch the Grand Final less than two weeks later, culminating in the club's first premiership in 72 years.

This year, I went to bed at lunch, only hours after Sydney had given up even the most theoretical chance of making the finals, and woke up to find Australia slid down to 4th. At least I am not surrounded by Englishmen this time.

I remember Australia building out of the 80s, and supporting the utterly hopeless Swans of the early 90s. I suppose what goes up, comes down. I might have something to say about the actual cricket once I want to think about sport again...

Friday, 21 August 2009

Law 36

I'm getting the feeling that none of the umpires in this series have taken Daryl Harper's approach of increasing the range of LBW appeals that they will answer in the affirmative based on having seen Hawkeye. The exception, of course, is the Mitchell Johnson dismissal at Lord's.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

At Woolworths

Bic pens, advertised by "Mike Hussey, the most consistent cricketer in the world."

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Double international no longer so Dutch

The Aussie selectors have decided that got something wrong in the plans for the T20 world cup, and Dirk Nannnes has finally been called up. The losers in this are the Netherlands, and possibly England, who don't have a great record against the Victorian quick.

Meanwhile, the selectors aren't acknowledging any mistakes from the beginning of hte Ashes and are also reported to be dropping Clark for the final Test. While a spin option could be valuable, and Swann did take Clark to task at the end of the last match, this seems to seriously understate his worth to the Australian, or just about any, team.

Droughts and flooding conclusions

Today Sydney received some pretty heavy rainfall. Earlier in the week, two researchers at the Australian National University have released An Atlas of the Global Water Cycle, a collation of the results of 39 different models of the effect of climate change on global rainfall and other parts of the water cycle.

Both the e-book and their comments to The Australian make it clear that "There's no interpretation, this is straight out what they (the models) say", that they are no commenting on the value or any of the models or the averages calculated.

Whatever can be said about such a publication as scientific practice, wouldn't you think that the reporter should take in enough of this not to write things like
Dr Roderick and Mr Lim calculated that, by 2099, Australia's nationwide rainfall will have...

According to the data, by 2099, the Top End will be receiving...


More Leeds, please

A lot (too much?) has been and will be said about the performances in the Fourth Test, and where that leaves Australian and England with one match to play. There's enough there to talkk forever about psychology and momentum. I'm not going to try to say anything serious, but will only comment that my enjoyment on this match is just the latest part of a love affair I have with Headingley.

It started in 1989. It grew with a grandfather's stories of seeing Bradman there. Teh 2005 schedule was a disappointment. Whether it has been simply a good match, or good performances for Waugh and other favourite players, Headingley has a special place in my cricket watching. I could say more, but I will simply suggest that you read Nestaquin's ramble, if you haven't already.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Holding on Australian batting

No, not Australian batting holding on. They did that, in another match where bowlers only held sway for a session or two, but I'm talking about Michael Holding's comments on the first innings at Edgbaston.

He voiced the thought that the Australians were having trouble with English wickets since they don't have as much bounce as our local versions, and so were getting out to shouldering arms to balls that at home would pass over the stumps. Usually, I'm all for theories which point out how the neglect of or inability to cope with foreign conditions is hampering cricketers. On this occasion, the analysis describes a very believable situation, but when I look at the innings itself, I really can't see what Holding is talking about.

Is it the Mitchell Johnson wicket? Yes, he shouldered arms, and the most relevant person thought that the ball was heading for the wicket, but I'm sure even that in hindsight even the umpire would agree that Johnson wasn't too wrong there.

Anyone else? Yes. Hussey was out exactly as Holding describes, but he was the only one. More to the point, hasn't he played more cricket in England than anyone else in the team? He's not a good candidate for an example of not being used to English conditions!

Friday, 31 July 2009

What's (going) on?

I've never been keen on the Australian selectors' policy of trying to kill two birds with a cominbation of two half-stones. As Mark Waugh has said, Hughes has paid the price for Watson's lack of form.

I would never have imagined the bizarre set of circumstances which has led to Watson becoming the sixth NSW-contracted player to open the batting for Australia in the space of 14 months!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll give you some water

Back in primary school, I thought I had a great innovative idea, the main part of which involved combining desalination of water and electricity generation. Years later, having discovered that reverse osmosis is all the rage for desal (and water recycling), I thought that maybe the idea had simply been overtaken. According to this Age article, though, maybe I wasn't as naive as I had begun to think.

Australia coming from behind

I've been too busy to say anything about the 2nd Ashes Test until now. It could have been a fairly dull draw if not for the fact that England capitalised on the opportunities they had. Australia was firstly beaten comprehensively in the first innings, and then, I think (in hindsight) Strauss made the right choices concerning the follow-on and the declaration. It's good to see England playing to win.

Speaking of playing to win, it must be said that even during Australia's winning streaks, they were well behind after the first two innings quite often. Some would say they deserve more of a reputation for being slow starters than for being able to win coming from any distance behind. In any case, they weren't invincible, they simply had a culture of taking on the challenge to win in any situation.

I am convinced that such an attitude has been part of the difference between Australia and some other teams. Fortunately, they still seem to have it, even without the same quality to actually pull it off. Hopefully it won't be crushed by a few more failures...

Of course, such an optimistic outlook also means that fans are left wondering whether a few umpiring decisions had gone a different way. While it wouldn't have made much difference, Australia did seem to cop most of the questionable ones this time. The Katich wicket is a good example of why it is foolish to only look at appeals when judging umpire competence. Anyone who says Strauss knew he didn't catch the ball doesn't understand what they are seeing in the replays, but the earlier Hauritz catch did look at least as clean as that one.

From one point of view, the rules call for inconsistent use of tv replays in these circumstances, but on the other hand, they are not that helpful at the moment, and as long the umpires do not use a broader standard of doubt than they do without the presense of a 3rd umpire, the game isn't any worse off. As for the referral system, while it has a lot of potential, I don't understand the commentators who have suggested it would have solved the problems in this particular innings. If the plans for later this year are the same as the trials, then the Hussey (non-)edge would have been the only one of the much discussed decisions to be overturned.

In any case, we now go on to Edgbaston with England on the front foot and the effects of ever-present English weather firmly in England's favour. Unlike 2005, there hasn't been a tornado in Birmingham this time, but I suspect the Thrid Test will have more impact on later selections than on the series scoreline. Speaking of selections, it is hard to believe reports that Hughes has been dropped for Watson! ABC Radio says the inside word is that Siddle makes way for Clark, which is less surprising. I'm glad I'm not a selector right now.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Tas v Eng day 2

I think we can definitely say that the English won the first innings, but the Australian top order has hit back. They need to go on as they have started, since the most dangerous option on the bowling attack available to Ponting at the moment would appear to be runs on the board.

This is the fourth Test in a row where the Australian attack hasn't featured any of the NSW first-pick bowlers, unless you count the man who turned the usual saying on it's head, by getting his Blues call-up immediately following his recall to the Baggy Greens. He is, however on of three Tasmanian-born members of the team - I can't image that has happened before!

This blog's policy on the state allegiances of Hauritz (and Krejza), is to use either their place of birth and childhood or current affiliation, depending on their recent performance. So, it was a Tasmanian who leaked runs, along with the pace bowlers, for most of the morning. But then, once a fair bit of damage had been done, the bowling tightened, at least enough to trouble tailenders, and it was a player from my local club who took the tenth wicket four times in the last over.

Now, a lot rests on the current partnership, led by the other Sydney-dwelling Tasmanian. 700 would be a good target. Otherwise, the batsmen might need to do it again just to save the match.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Danger and ashes

Is it safe to be an umpire in Britain? First the tour match between the Lions and the Australians was ended when an umpire collapsed. Now there are reports that an umpire in Swansea has died after being hit in the head by a throw from a fielder.

Not pleasant stuff, but less disturbing than the lead-in to the previous Ashes series in the Old Dart. It is four years and a day since London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games, and four years to the day since the city was hit by terrorist attacks. Since the days when players are targets in such attacks and umpires are killed had not yet arrived, the series went on and lived up to all the hype that had preceded it.

This time, much of the possible hype has been eclipsed by big events in a form of the game that had hardly taken root back then. There is potential for quite an intriguing series, even though neither team is at the strength they were in 2005. As the original Test rivalry begins again at Test cricket's newest venue tomorrow, I'll be ready, like many times before, for cricket through the night.

England are lacking in recent serious experience. Australia still have spinning/selection issues. Their batsmen, and even Brett Lee, seem to have found a bit of form in the warm-ups, although Lee's series is starting to look like McGrath's in 2005. I don't doubt this series means a lot to the Aussies, but I don't think England will be napping like the South Africans. I am young enough that I can say I don't remember a night-time Ashes series won by England... will this continue?

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Tribal colours

How a night changes things. Last at night at Parramatta and Redfern, there were many people in sky blue getting on trains (in opposite directions). Today in Parramatta, there are a significant number of maroon jumpers instead.

Mind you, I reasonably often see different maroon jumpers at Redfern, and am reminded of my high school days. It was more of a shock to see the group of Cumberland High School green jumpers roaming Parramatta today, which made me think of walking through the grounds full of "grown-up kids" on the way to primary school. They don't seem so grown-up any more!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Racy reporting

I'd rather this issue went away in reality, but it hasn't, and it certainly hasn't left the media's attention, with protests and violence in Harris Park today. I'm talking about the attacks in Australian cities on Indian and other foreign students. To my mind, while there are many very disturbing aspects to these events, the most concerning display of racism is in the fact that the issue is receiving the most prominent reporting in the Australian press only now that a minority ethnicity is used to describe the perpetrators of one group of attacks, as well as the victims.

I suspect that many of the attackers - whatever their ethnicity - are, figuratively and sometimes even literally, simply schoolyard bullies who need little excuse, racial or otherwise, to bully. Anti-racism campaigns and other approaches may or may not change their behaviour over time, but the sort of attitude we see in the press all the time serves to create and sustain an environment where ethnic conflict of all sorts can grow.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Twenty lessons

This is the second edition of the T20 international tournament, and any number of high and low profile other T20 tournaments have preceded it. All the teams should have had plenty of time to develop strategies exploiting both the similarities and differences between 20 (or 7) over games and the longer formats.

The West Indies have learnt that it doesn't matter how many wides you bowl in the first over, as long as you take two wickets as well. I don't think that's much consolation for Steve Harmison.

Scotland have learnt that the only way to respond to missing out on a World Cup is to leave the shorter world cup in an astoundingly short time.

Australia either haven't learnt much at all or still don't care. Just start with the team - apart from the more debatable selections, Brett Lee at this point in time is clearly not a serious WC-type selection - he is a let's get him some match time before the other event of the winter selection.

The captain still doesn't look like he can think quickly enough for T20 - then again, he doesn't think that well in any other format. As for the batting, after the initial trouble, we saw nothing more than an example of turning up the tempo on standard 50 over attacking batting. It's hard to get too risky when you've lost early wickets, but I can't help wondering whether they simply hadn't realised that the Oval's boundaries are much much smaller than the MCG's.

I'm not yet convinced of the ongoing success of the 3-hour game, but I'd like to enjoy it when it's on. I'd also like see my country do well - I'll support them tonight, but in light of the way they've treated this tournament, Jrod isn't the only one who's more interested in success of Dirk and the Dutchmen.

Monday, 1 June 2009

It's cool

A year ago I was somewhere over Siberia, having spent 8 hours in a hot awindy Beijing. Apart from the short and nervous trip back to England's "summer", though, I've been back in Australia for a while, and this is my second winter back in Sydney. After going through the London version 4.5 times, last year it didn't seem like winter at all.

A year sure makes a difference! I've already started to feel it this year. It was only when we had to evacuate as part of a drill today and I remembered evacuating into the evening air just before Christmas one year that I remembered just how cold this weather isn't.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Searching for safety

Many reports of terrible attacks on Indian students in Australia are making their way into the news, both here and in India. I am a bit disturbed by the repeated discussion of whether or not racism is involved. As I have said before, racism is a real and dangerous issue, but by its nature it often obscures other things.

I doubt that anyone, whether making accusations or denials regarding racism, actually thinks the victim of a random robbery is any less in need of support than the victim of a racially targetted or even motivated attack. Nor is a mixed local community suffering regular attacks any better off than an ethnic community suffering racial attacks. That shouldn't be the issue. What differences does the motivation make? I see two - which group is the indirect victim, now in fear of attack, and the question of what can be done to prevent it.

In itself, coming to public conlusions about such things does little more than speed up the spread of fear about whatever pattern is identified. Even when correct, this may or may not help - it is the response to this that matters. So how does the motivation inform our response. In one sense, it is tempting to identify things as purely opportunistic, since it is hard to know how to combat racism. Perhaps making a big fuss about it is part of creating a culture that will shame the perpetrators and have even greater long-term effects. Perhaps the argument I am disturbed by is necessary after all.

However, even public condemnation does little to stop this sort of thing. Opportunism is easier to deal with - tactics for making the vulnerable less vulnerable have shown success for a long time. There are valuable skills to be learnt in unfamilar situations. History by no means distances racism from preying on the vulnerable. In cases like this, focussing on the opportunistic factors is helpful, as well as the more subtle work against racism and the general policing that is necessary regardless of motivation. These horrors need to be stopped, not just condemned.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Whinging at Poms

Now Ricky Ponting has joined the discussion about the forthcoming opening Ashes Test's 'move' from Lord's to Sophia Gardens. Since pres-series interviews these days tend to be exercises in psychology rather than honesty, I don't think we can conclude that he actually expected the schedule to resemble that of 2005 to start with.

What is the effect he's after, though? All I can think is that he wants to remind the English (and Welsh?) of their poor record in St John's Wood to maximise Australia's 'psychological advantage' in the 2nd Test. Maybe if he'd pulled it off, he just might have been able to make it sound like England have resorted to such scheduling because they don't have much hope otherwise. In reality, he just comes across as a whinging schoolboy who wishes things were more "comfortable" for his team.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Spinning Wel(sh)

It seem that it's not just the subcontinent that produces Bunsen burners hot enough to annoy the officials. Apart from the fact that the E(&W)CB's penalties seem harsher than anything the ICC hand out, a domestic game policed by the local board seems a good place to discuss the actual issue of what is "excessive" turn. Unfortunately, I've only got a scorecard, which doesn't really tell us anything. Anyone know anything about how the pitch actually played?

Of course, I doubt this has much relevant for the ground's First Test match later this year, despite all the noise. It seems a bit of an isolated event. Perhaps more interesting are the more cultural factors surrounding Test cricket's Welsh debut. That argument could go on and on, but I do wish people would stop suggesting that Sophia Gardens has replaced Lord's. The Mancunians and Nottinghammers migth be annoyed, but Shane Warne's comments aside, it should be noted that the 2nd Test will be at Lord's, just as it has been since 1981 - the only exception was 2005.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A very good reason

for less sleep, less quiet and certainly less blogging.

Isn't she gorgeous?

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Half the story

I don't wish to annoy any journalists who might read this, especially any I'm related to, but I'm noticing an awful lot of unfair journalism these days. Exhibit one is brought by Homer - a Cricinfo article on the IPL's security arrangements. On reflection it is (was?) less fair than I first thought, but it's still got fairly minor problem compared with some of the stuff floating around.

Last week, I read a newspaper article which used very creative/stupid quoting, and was supplied with a headline and introduction which contradicted other content. I suspect I have a habit of discarding headlines once I acutally read a story, but I came across this article after I saw a letter in response from a reader who obviously didn't take in the "finer" details.

Last night, I happened to see a TV current affairs report. For those who might be able to guess which one I mean, I will say that I'm not trying to say anything about the case itself - I don't know anything more than reported, and wouldn't comment if I did. The issue I have a problem with is the way the targets' response was reported. It often looks bad enough when someone doesn't offer an interview, but that doesn't justify obscuring any written response that is received, by saying nothing more than that it is on the website. Will anyone not feeling sympathetic in some way bother looking for it? As I see it, journos should either give viewers an idea of hte response, or not imply that they were willing to give a fair hearing. But a written response just isn't good tv, is it?

Arabian nights

Wow! Australia have one an ODI series for the first time since... beating Bangladesh last winter. At least it was good to have an interesting series again, even if the timezone is awful for day-nighters, and the free-to-air media seemed to ignore it. The ODI series in SA made the IPL seem like a welcome relief, even though I'm not that keen on the three hour game. It's not that Aus v SA shouldn't be a good series, it's just that the same two teams playing each other almost non-stop for four months makes you wonder why they can't find anyone else to play...

Anyway, Michael Clarke seems to have handled the team well enough. I'm sure captaincy is good for him, whatever side you take on the Ponting debate.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Heading beyond the ODI world

There are several teams which have been given ODI status only for their participation in a particular tournament, whether a World Cup, Asian Cup or Champion's Trophy. In the case of the USA, this has meant a total of two games! Now that ODI status is offered to 6 teams for fixed time periods, we have today (in the absence of a upset) Bermuda playing their last ODI for at least the next four years.

They might agree that they did remarkably well to get it in the first place, and certainly did not disgrace themselves from a minnow's point of view, winning nearly half their games against Canada and notching up a couple more solitary victories. It will take a while to forget Malachi Jones's first ODI ball, but I wonder how cricket on the island which refused indepedence will react to have had, and lost, their place in the "best of the rest".

Their opponents in Benoni today, the Netherlands, are more established, but have problems of their own, as batsman Ryan ten Doeschate leaves the WC Qualifiers early to play for Essex. It seems to be a matter of him giving priority to earning a living as a cricketer over playing for his country, which can't really be blamed. If, however, it had been the case, as suggested elsewhere, that a county had not released him for international duties, it would be a real shame, especially considering the fact that the rest of his team would have needed generous support from employers not connected with cricket!

It isn't just the counties that take players from Ireland, though. Cricinfo documents well the strange situation of Ireland's first ODI, where they played against the batsman who most helped them gain it, and were also without Eoin Morgan, in Middlesex as his replacement. Now Morgan has also been named in an England squad.

The extremely understandable motive of Joyce and Morgan to play ODIs and T20s for England is the uncertain hope that it will take them to Test cricket. It makes me wonder whether cricket (that is, the ICC), having this unique set-up and already bending the usual rules for it, should allow players to play Tests while still being eligible for an associate in the shorter form. The pay-rate might still cause problems for the Irish, etc., and indeed the biggest objections may come from the English (or Pakistanis, South Africans, whoever else) in terms of sorting out contracts, coaching and so on, but is they idea really unworkable?

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Westward ho!

At work, we are packing for Parramatta. Or perhaps for the new-look Indian cricket team:

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Short tours

It looks like the Australian selectors have decided it is worth sending some T20 specialists along for two very short matches in the new home of twenty-over-cricket. I don't recall this happening much before - I guess it shows that the World Championship is coming up. I'm sure the relevant IPL teams would appreciate it as well, although who knows what's going to happen next in that department. The 80 overs and then the ODI series should be interesting, although I doubt that they'll live up to the Test series, even if the last Test was a bit of a disappointment from my own point of view.

In the meantime, while the weather wouldn't suggest it, it's time for another sport which fits well in a 3-hour window, even if the new sporting channel planning its whole open around the opening game of the season has decided it isn't important enough in this state...

Friday, 20 March 2009

Northern exposure

The equinox occurs in a few hours. In the northern half of the world, it is spring, and the start of a year has been linked to it in many times and places throughout history. With fairly good but not decisive meteorological justification, it is considered in some place, at least the US, the start of spring. I have talked about all these things before.

The fact that Google has decided it is one of the many events marked on it's search pages is unremarkable. The fact that it has translated it onto the Australian search page as the start of autumn is straightforward but slightly naive, since it fits awkwardly with our pretty strong tradition of starting seasons at the start of the month. But what in the world does The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the fruit it eats have to do with the "start of autumn"?

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Finals and fever

There's been a fair bit of interesting cricket going on in the last week or so. There was the Sheffield Shield final, which I would like to get more excited about. However, this year, compared with last year, the final was:

  • Not at the wonderful SCG, but (playing second fiddle to a strangely timed fundraising concert) at a suburban Melbourne oval once home to a certain tubby blond legspinner*

  • Rain affected, despite being in a city which has barely seen any rain in the last two years.

  • Not at a time when I had just become blissfully "unemployed" with lots of time on my hands.

  • Most importantly, not lost by Victoria.

So my attention has been more drawn to the Indians taking on Vettori (I think there are some other sheep, oops... I mean players, on that team), and the Women's World Cup going on in this very city. Today saw the Australians' last game, it not being enough to deal out a whopping to the previously undefeated English, who must be glad that the Aussie women hadn't found this sort of form in the earlier matches. The Final, on Sunday, will now be between the two countries an Australian should never be expected to choose between.

Anyway, jokes aside, all of this hsa whet my appetite for tonight's game - Australia's final Test before the Ashes. This series (and the one before it, depending on how you view it) has been full of twists and turns and drama, so who knows what will happen. South Africa go in changed and looking to start afresh, the Australians have lost their centenarian on debut to sickness (so much of it this tour - and it's not even the subcontinent!) and added some balance to their attack with an ageing leggie. Let the game begin...

*Why not restore my tradition of offering points for questions that are unlikely to be answered? Ten for naming the batting team in this photo, Twenty for the batsmen's names!

Friday, 13 March 2009

The farce of the face who is always right (II)

In my earlier post, I described why I thought the idea that the umpire is not always right should be not about the umpires, but the good of the game, even though we all love to whinge about bad decisions. I referred to what I see as an increasing emphasis on individual umpires and linked it to a serious desire for better standards. Soulberry's comment on the banality of rejecting mediocrity expresses the point.

So how can we take the spotlight off the umpires, resulting in a quality meal rather than disappointment and discussion about the cooking process? There are many suggestions, and no cure-all, but I'd like to offer some thoughts on what this means in a world where umpires are by no means faceless.

To start with, this means choosing and training the umpires who will perform best. We are all ready to criticise, but unless there is someone who will perform better, it doesn't mean much. There are many theories, and many comments that miss the mark. For example, while it may be true that first-class playing experience makes better umpires, it is hardly helpful for a former player to come out and imply that players should respect other umpires less. If umpires need to appreciate the experience of players, perhaps Tony Greig should hold his mouth on umpiring until he has tried it himself. He is not the only one who makes demands of umpires without understanding the demands of the job.

Any strategy begins before the Test level, but it appears to me that perhaps the Elite Panel aren't performing even to their own usual standards. That would hardly be surprising. In the last four years, for example, Simon Taufel has umpired in only 10 less international games than Sachin Tendulkar has played (1 Test less). Yes, it is easier to avoid a mistake on a single ball as an umpire than a batsman, but umpiring requires even more concentration over a whole day or days. Consider also the strains that touring places on a player. Many of these also affect an umpire, yet while Tendulkar played 57 of his 119 matches in India, Taufel has travelled away from home and family for all but 14 of his matches, often rushing from one side of the world. That isn't counting TV umpire duties or domestic games, which top umpires these days show up for more often than top players do.

I'm not sure what sort of standard we can expect. All umpires strive to get every single detail correct, down to no balls and short runs, while most public concern is about dismissals. In any case, they are servants of the game, not part of the contest, and it is fairly clear that the cricketing community is demanding that umpires make far fewer errors than players do, and fewer than are currently made. Surely that means placing at least as much importance on training and rest as on having neutral umpires. In any case, when we need to give the umpires a face, it means not just listing mistakes and victims, but building up a capable team and understanding their limitations.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The institutionalisation of dissent

As a brief interlude to my more measured musings on umpires, discussion over at Homer's blog has made me wonder about the trial referral system. There was a lot of talk about weeding out dodgy decisions about dismassals, but perhaps the bigger effect was the "decriminilisation" of dissent in the form of asking for a tv replay. I don't want to get into the question of whether decriminalisation takes away some of the danger of drugs and things like that, but I wonder whether it softens the power of dissent.

What was once beyond the pale and subject to the usual (inconsistent) application of the Code of Conduct is now provided for in the playing conditions. Now it is allowed, it is crazy to think of anyone being fined for suggesting the third umpire could have been consulted, but at the same time, players are expected to understand that this can only be done at certain times. Once there are signals from the dressing room, or once there have already been two unsuccessful requests, players are left regretting their own actions in chossing when to refer, rather than simply angrily blaming the umpire, even though the umpire is just as much to blame as they always were. If I were even more cynical than I am, I might think that was the intent of the system...

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The farce of the face who is always right (I)

The referral system has brought into even more prominence the issue of umpiring standards, particularly as it becomes clear that it is about more than just having technology. When I was growing up, I had hammered into me a view of umpires that is probably what some mean when they talk of umpires being seen as 'godlike'. The idea we were taught was that "the umpire is always right".

There is a joke, I think originally from a baseball context, about three umpires who are also an engineer, a physicist and a mathematician respectively. After a batsman is dismissed run out, he asks the engineer umpire why he was out. He receives the response, "You are out because your bat was not grounded beyond the crease when the wicket was broken." In a similar situation, a batsman questions the physicist and the reply comes back, "I say you are out because based on my observations, it is extremely unlikely that you or your bat were grounded beyond the crease when the wicket was broken." Questioned about another run out, the mathematician replies, "You are out because I gave you out."

This is one of many similar jokes, most of which pokes fun at mathematicians, but this one says just as much about an umpire. As both a mathematician and an umpire, I have a lot of sympathy with the last response! While the physicist probably gives the fullest picture, the mathematician makes a good point. The laws themselves word things in a slightly different way - a batsman can be out by any of ten laws, but he is dismissed only when he is out and either he walks or the umpire answers an appeal. The point of the "always right" catchphrase was not that the umpires were perfect and didn't make mistakes, but that their word was final and there wasn't room to argue. This is not because they are gods, but because to not have a powerful independent arbiter is to give the players god-like status, and the game falls apart.

Of course, that didn't mean that I or my peers had any hesitation uttering the other common catchphrase oncde we stepped off the field, or perhaps even beforehand - "We wuz robbed!". Accepting the decisions of the umpire doesn't always mean being happy about the them. Cricket umpiring is not quite as subjective as officiating, say, some of the football codes, and despite or because of this we get just as upset about a dodgy decision, whether on the weekend or when watching our national team.

Having said that, I don't remember hearing people associate mistakes with particular umpires too often until relatively recently, in internet discussions. I don't know how much this is to do with cultural differences, the nature of the 'net, the establishment of a small group of umpires who are always there, or whether I just somehow managed to avoid such talk in the past, but the pastime of tracking one umpire's mistakes is a relatively new thing to me. As with all things, some people do it pretty dismally. The Tendulkar LBW on the shoulder has been attributed to Hair as part of claims of racism and to Bucknor when his efforts in Sydney were under the spotlight, before being correctly given as an example of Harper's efforts now that he is the talk of the town. However, that should not detract from the comments made fairly by those who do care for the facts.

Clearly someone should be assessing the umpires, and perhaps the fans and commentators have a part to play. There was something attractive about treating the umpire as a faceless representative of the laws, mistakes or otherwise - after all, we want to focus on the players. It would be good to have the assessment and appointment going on behind the scenes as much as possible for a transparent process, but a combination of the modern system and some glaring mistakes have put the spotlight on the umpires and the only way to take it away is to improve standards.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The long haul

Apparently a team batting in the fouth innings has only lasted more than 160 (six ball) overs only 8 times. I think someone on the radio said that after 1912 Tests, that's a one in a thousand event, but perhaps they were a bit more accurate and said something like one in 200.

There's quite a bit missing, though... only 1257 Tests have had a fourth innings - that brings it down to 1 in 150. Of these, on 834 occasions the team batting last has managed to win or draw without batting for 960 balls. If we restrict ourselves to completed 4th innings, we have 3 out of 418 that were that long - roughly 1 in 140. I can't be bothered thinking about any way to make get a meaningful statistical analysis (I wouldn't be surprised if David Barry could do something in his sleep, but I'll give it a miss), but just a simple glance through some of the other long fourth innings is enough to suggest to me that the number of 4th innings that look like they could have gone on for 160 overs if needed is more like at least 1 in 75.

I would like to think that the upper hand in Durban is still very strongly with the Australians, but a draw is well within the realms of possibilities, and I think there is a chance the Saffers could win it. More importantly, they are playing like they think there is a chance. This, as much as anything else, is why they now deserve to be fighting over the top spot in world cricket.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Fish's stomach or stomach bug?

Sydney has had enough shark attack stories recently to make it seem like Perth. Apparently there are a lot of fish around, a lot of sharks eating the fish, and in the dawn or dusk they might go after a surfer or diver.

This morning the state Primary Industries Minister was on the radio responding to claims the government has neglected protection of swimmers from sharks. He said the way to be "100% safe" when swimming was to go to a swimming pool or something like that. This is a few days after news stories about cryptosporidium in public pools. If you want 100% safety while swimming, perhaps you'd better not swim. I'm not sure what "100% safe" activities you could take up instead, but summer's over now anyway.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The benefit of the camera?

Despite being caught up in things like weddings this weekend, there's so much crickte going on, that it would be hard to stay away from it. I did manage to listen to the Test in Jo'burg late last night while very close to Casson Avenue in Warners Bay!

The thing that keeps popping up is the referral system, which has reached the final stages of its trial, and is starting to turn a lot of heads. I'm not sold on the current concept, the main reasons being a dislike for the position it puts the players in and a scepticism regarding just how much the current technology can do.

One other issue worth keeping in mind is that the 'elite' umpires, whatever is said about them, are there because they have yeras of experience watching cricket from the bowlers end and square leg, and making decisions. I don't know how possible it is to develop a similarly helpful experience watching and making decisions form a flat screen, but they certainly wouldn't have it yet.

It seems particularly strange to apply camera replays to most LBWs, and yet it has happened an awful lot in the last few days. Among other things, this has led to a lot of talk about the fact that a decision by the onfield umpire is only meant to be overturned if there is a clear error. While it is not at all clear that this principle is actually being followed, one commentator described this "giving the benefit of the doubt to the umpire, rather than the batsman" as subtle shift in a fundamental part of the game, implying it is something to be concerned about, but this is nonsense.

The way the system is meant to work, the onfield umpire still gives the batsman the benefit of the doubt. In the relatively rare case that a decision is questioned, this decision is then given the benefit of the doubt. Is this good or bad?

Overturning marginal decisions might more seriously undermine an umpire's authority, but there is probably truth in both the arguments that authority needs to be maintained and that the correct decision is more important than an ego.

More particularly, used properly, this principle makes sense if the third umpire is to consider incidents where the camera doesn't tell the whole story. Sometimes it would be ridiculous to consider a dismissal only in terms of what can be seen on the screen, and any tv-watcher just has to say, "I can't tell!" So why ignore the opinion of one who has already gathered evidence from a different view?

Apart from all of this, perhaps this approach unwittingly puts the umpire in even more of a spotlight. Most would agree that the right decision is of principle importance, not judging the umpires. While umpires should be subject to scrutiny, the game shouldn't be made all about them.

In any case, this system is not taking benefit of the doubt away from the batsman. If the umpire now, when challenged, is assumed correct until proven wrong, then this simply shows how much more the role of the umpire could be changed. Traditionally, the batsman was given the benefit of the doubt, but the umpire was always right.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Plus ça change...

A recently silent reader of this blog has complained at the lack of non-cricket related posts. This is one, but I'm not sure it will be any more welcome. A theme of the early days of the blog was that many posts compared "east" and "west" in one way or the other - from the rising of the sun to its setting. In not too long, my office moves from "central" Sydney to the "west". (In purely physical terms, it's more like "east" to "central", but never mind that...) The road linking the west, Parramatta or Penrith, to the city is the M4, but it stops well short. There is talk about extending it underground to the city and then the airport, and some news reports about this have referred to the "marginal seats" of Marrickville and Balmain. How times have changed, and how much difference a few more Green votes has made!

In other political news, we see how much some things never change. The federal opposition is complaining that only Labor parliamentarians are allowed to be part of events associated with stimulus package school infrastructure funding. When they were in government, not having global downturn on their mind, they had a smaller scheme in place - funding a flagpole for any school that didn't have one. Of course, a condition was that a Coalition MP or Senator attend the dedication ceremony. Politicians are politicians.

Does anyone want him for more than 50 overs?

Having not completely ignored David Warner before he was thrust into (inter)national prominence, I never quite bought the idea that he could only ever be a short-form specialist. I thought one of the downsides of his national representation was that he was missing chances to play the longer form for NSW, especially last week's game when the Australian teams for all three forms were unavailable for state cricket. Imagine my surprise when I read this morning that he hasn't been picked for the next game against the banana benders (SMH).

It's true that his competition has good claims to the spot. I'd certainly like to see Usman Khawaja do well for the Blues. In the meantime, Warner "hasn't done enough" in grade cricket and in four-day cricket for the Second XI. I guess that's not a comment that his grade form being restricted to limited overs (it certainly didn't look lik it when I had a glance at the stats last year), so how much has it got to do with being too busy playing big hitter for Australia? It doesnt' leave much time for club cricket, and the article says he's only played once for the Second XI. It gets worse - Moses points out that the Second XI selectors seem to think he's in the First XI!

How can he get a game with this going on? He's talked about moving interstate next season and you can't blame him. Before then, he's got an IPL contract. That's a good thing in itself, but it doesn't involve any first-class cricket. Warner is more in need of a season with a county than Phil Hughes is - it isn't an option only for those who were never going to sell in the IPL.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Is six enough for North to get six?

In the place which, of all places with a serious cricket ground, has the name which is the most fun to say, the Australians have made the last day of a warm-up match reasonably exciting. Appearently the quality of the opposition is not that high, and the pitch didn't seem to give much for a couple of leg-spinners, but Marcus North has certainly not disappointed Peter Roebuck's faith in him as an Australian no. 6, either in batting or bowling. Of course, if that doesn't work out, then I still think moving Katich down the opener and choosing a better opener would be better than pursuing the strange allrounder obsession.

The whole story?

Cricketer's autobiographies and other books can be an interesting sort of read. Their content seems to depend on the mood of the author at the time. They can sometime feel like they focus a bit too much on the controversies, and it's certainly the comments on controversies that get them publicity!

Now Cricinfo has some sort of a review of Graham Halbish's book (published in 2003). The very fact that a cricket administrator's inside story might be considered interesting is a bad sign, as sport stories rarely get taken off the field for good reasons. The review is interesting in that takes the international rifts described in the book, and paints a background of the longer term history between cricketing nations, England and India in particular. Just as Halbish and the Australian Cricket Board aligned themselves with the English in 1996, Australia is equated with England. I'm not sure that it shows the full picture.

In the many discussions about cricket, it becomes obvious that there are quite a few different perceptions of history. An Englishman might see his country as the founder of the game and an upholder of its spirit and traditions. He might think that in modern times those colonials, both rough, brash Australians and ambitious Indians, have at various times tried to take over with innovation backed by lots of money, and while it's fair enough to have them as equals in these days, there shouldn't be any superpowers in the modern game.

One Indian view might be that the English have been the imperial overlords, controlling cricket as they controlled their empire and looking down on those outside the establishment. The Australians are usually considered a ruder part of this establishment, being Anglo-Saxon and having played the English a long time before India received a similar status. Any Australian influence on or off the field is seen simply as a continuation of the colonial rule, and the suggestion is that the white countries need to both give the Asians an equal voice and see the size and importance of Indian cricket for what it is, so that it finally takes its rightful place.

An Australian with a sense of cricket history might see his nation as the underdogs that are continually taking on the establishment, playing hard to make their mark on the field even when they couldn't do so elsewhere. It started with games against England led by the aristocracy, including a master of gamesmanship known as a gentlemen solely because he didn't need income from the game. While one of the biggest steps towards highly paid players with the game driven by tv income happened in Australia, he might see the same struggle continued with the new power-brokers on the subcontinent.

There is some truth in all of these views. However, they cannot be the whole story, even viewing them together. Apart from the flaws or omissions in each and the fact that each nation has as many perspectives as it has citizens, an approach to history and current situation of the game worldwide can never be about two blocs or even three nations. We need something beyond all this.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

It's good

To see a Test match in Pakistan again. But it doesn't like the locals are having a good time of it on the first day.

Friday, 20 February 2009

English givers?

"Poms want Sheffield Shield"

What? What?

So says the SMH link to this article. Apparently an Englishman thinks it is most appropriate that the shield be treated as a memorial to the bloke who paid for it, rather than to over one hundred years of Australian cricketers striving to win it. That's what it was made for, after all.

I'm sure the Australians who hosted Lord Sheffield and his team in 1891-92 weren't expecting such a gift in return. It was a generous gift and appreciated, whatever you think of the resulting artwork. But I don't think they thought they'd be asked to give it back, either.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Duck-weather and Lewis

Would somebody please explain to Ian Healy and Mark Taylor, that wickets in hand at the end of an innings does not affect Duckworth-Lewis calculations in any way at all. The number of wickets in hand at the time of an interruption is part of the "resources" remaining calculation, but at the end of the innings there's no resources left no matter how many wickets have been lost.

Mind you, the whole thing seems a bit crazy when the overs are reduced this much and it's raining. At this point I think the Australians would rather the match tonightwere in Sydney, where it would have been completely rained out.

Madeirans, Blues and twisted facts

Moises Henriques probably looked better at the start of the summer than he does now - he has done much better in two matches against New Zealand than in any firstclass or 50-over interstate games and he himself admits he has had a patchy season. He was dropped from the NSW Shield team, but he's still in the good books as far as T20 is concerned, and so he has been called up to the national squad. The press has taken this as a prompt to mention just how clogged up with national players the NSW system is, even though it's not at all clear that he will get any further than he did in Darwin.

If he does make the XI, he would probably be one of 14 Blues to play for Australia in the space of 12 months (also including 10 picked to open the batting or bowling at one point or another and 3 spinners). The SMH article pays lip service to the effect of limited overs cricket*, but in general the press, and certainly the Vics, really haven't grasped the fact that with a different-forms-for-different-players selection policy at state and national level, the selections of Warner and Henriques were quite different beasts to the Hauritz call-up.

But back to Mo. Not the 49 year old Sydney Uni player who reckoned he was still NSW's best spin option, but the 22-yr old former national U19 captain with three years playing for his state. It seems like the years of talk and anticipation might have outweighed recent form. However, his selection isn't the only way he's made it into Cricinfo articles this week. Simon Wilde, while predicting the future of cricket in the next decade, writes that
Australia will win fewer trophies. Their Test cricket will suffer from their board allowing so many leading players time to play in the Twenty20 leagues and their sloth in integrating ethnic minorities, who may follow the example of Moises Henriques, a former Under-19 captain born in Madeira, who signed for the IPL in 2008.

I don't follow this at all. Apart from the usual chestnut that playing in T20 leagues will harm Test players, where is the link between the IPL signings and ethnic minorities? Surely having a supposedly "non-integrated" player play in the IPL is no more of a problem (if any) for Australia than having Ponting and co. raking in the rupees? And if Mo's signing is a result of neglect of ethnic minorities, what neglect led to similar decisions by Warner and Cockley?

The use of logic is as twisted as my friend who once challenged me to describe his country's flag, waiting till after I had describe the Portuguese bicolour and arms to announce that he was "Madeiran, not Portguese". If there is a case to be made about problems for ethnic minorities in Australian cricket (I certainly don't see it), then bring up something relevant, not the IPL.

* It does, however, also try to claim the Sydney-raised Krejza as a cornstalk, which might be fair enough if they weren't already counting three spinners who moved to Sydney as a career move.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Releasing the pressure

The Aussies have managed to level the series and keep the series alive. It was generally just better cricket from them this time,but it's interesting to compare their second win with the game in Melbourne that got the Kiwis 2-0 up.

Melbourne, 39th over, NZ needing just under 6 an over to win:
Taylor is batting, one Hussey bowling and the other spills a catch on the boundary, resulting in four runs. A couple of balls late, 5 wides down the legside, and the chance that Australia were hanging onto is gone.

Adelaide, 37th over, Aus needing just over 6 an over to win:
The Husseys are batting, Michael pulls and is dropped by Cumming on the boundary, resulting in four runs. Next ball, McCullum fumbles a wide ball - 3 more runs, and the NZ let Australia into a comfortable position.

They say catches win matches - and sometimes dropping them is more than just an opportunity missed!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Heading west

During the innings break at the WACA tonight, certain commentators made a big deal out of the idea that Warner "hasn't played here", and "certainly hasn't played here for NSW". That would be news to Warner and his NSW team-mates, and indeed so far he is doing better tonight than some with much more local experience. I wonder whether Slater and co. got caught up in the "hasn't played a first-class game" hype, which is really more to do with the selection policy in different forms of the game than how early Warner was picked.

Of course, the depth of batting talent in NSW, especially at the top of the order, is also relevant. Ian Chappell has acknowledged this when insisting that Warner should be given a chance to prove himself in the longer form. He has a point, and as Warner's last outing at the WACA shows, there's no need to assume it would be at the expense of an opener. Mind you, such an assumption wouldn't be as silly as the fuss made over another NSW opener who is certainly no stranger to the WACA. Even this morning, long after the first stories appeared, the radio news was reporting that Katich would go down the order to number 3 to allow Jaques and Hughes to show their stuff. Hardly a surprise - he hasn't been a "NSW opener" recently, and in the end he came in at second drop!