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!