Wednesday, December 27, 2006

England's bowling plan

So supposedly, this was England's bowling plan for the MCG. It just got me thinking about bowling in general. You could read the document, consider that Hussey was out to a swinging delivery, Ponting to skied pull in front of square, Clarke to a catch behind the wicket, and so on and so forth. Evidence, no doubt, that the plans were spot on, and the bowlers executed on them perfectly.

Or, if you're a bowler, and a realist, you could accept that stuff just happens. More often than you realise. Matthew Hoggard pointed out today that he just runs up and "whangs it" with his eyes shut. The point being that as a bowler, you can do everything the same, 6 times in succession, and still bowl six different deliveries. It just isn't that simple. If it was, teams, other than just England, would be all out for 150 every week.

All that planning, and yet Andrew Flintoff was setting fields as if he was playing a one-day international. I understand that the Test series is all but over, but if your mind is already on the post-New Year bashabout, then don't bother showing up. How can you bring your attacking spinner on to bowl with everyone in the deep? Did nobody notice Symonds and Hayden milking the singles when this happened?

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Red Carpet

I was at my brother's place a few weeks ago and noticed this sitting on the bookshelf. It's been at the back of my mind for a year and a half, ever since the author's brother mentioned it to me, and I figured I now had no excuse. Ironic, I suppose, that despite not being a short story aficionado, I wound up with two collections to while away the early mornings at the WACA!

I have to say that I infinitely preferred this lot to the Munro collection I read immediately prior.

At first glance, one would think that the stories would be best appreciated by someone who could directly identify - that is to say, a member of the modern-day South Asian Diaspora (with a nod to all you SSAMD members out there!). However, despite the fact that I've never lived in India myself, and couldn't directly identify with all the specific experiences, the underlying themes never failed to resonate.

The characters and stories were all lively and vibrant. I enjoyed the cross-pollination, with different aspects of individual characters being drawn out in different stories, sometimes as the central protagonist, and othertimes as the comedic side-kick. I doubt it was the author's intent, but for me this served to satisfy my innate need for trite endings and resolution in a short story, without actually reverting to either.

It could be said that the stories themselves are cliches - but against that, I would counter that that's precisely the point. It's the stark realities of those cliches that gets us reflecting and questioning, and any writer that can make us do that is onto something.

Several of the stories could easily be transformed into a novel in their own right. An exploration of the relationship and parallels between the Indian and American worker (I forget which short this was in) certainly would provide plenty of fodder. I'm looking forward to seeing what Sankaran comes out with to follow-up, given that it's often the second and third works that tell us where a writer is really going to go.

Next on my reading list: Iain Aitch's "A Fete Worse than Death" in which he reputedly sees Bill Bryson, and raises him some.


Apart from my collection of cryptic crosswords, I had some time whilst waiting in the queue at the Test match to read a couple of books that I recently acquired.

The first of these was Alice Munro's collection of short stories - Runaway. Fans of Munro swear by her work, and she came to me highly recommended. I've never worked out what I think of short stories. The ones that come with resolution, all neatly wrapped up, tend to be cliched, almost formulaic. The ones that are creative and well-written, tend to leave me unsatisfied. I suppose different styles work at different times.

Runaway definitely fell into the latter category for me. Much like the fast bowler who beats the outside edge half a dozen times, but never actually picks up a wicket, this collection of stories repeatedly introduced me to intriguing characters, but left me wondering what exactly happened to them. I suppose that's the inherent strength of the work. Munro certainly is a master of her craft.

I won't say no if another Munro crosses my path, but if truth be told, I won't be seeking them out either. There's plenty of reading material out there, and this just isn't at the top of my list.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

England vs Australia: T3 summary

All in all, a superb test match. I was seated for the last 3 days near a gentleman who has been watching Test matches for 50 years around the world, right back from when Len Hutton was given out obstructing the field (he showed me his own scorebook with that and other games in it). In his opinion, this was the finest Test match ever played.

It's difficult to come to conclusions like that. A lot of people confuse an exciting finish for a great Test match. Just look at Adelaide a fortnight ago for example. To my mind, what set this Perth Test apart from others I have seen was the all round quality that was on display. Put that together with a fabulous crowd, and a pitch that had something in it for everyone, and perfect weather, and I don't know that I'll ever see a better Test in my lifetime.

We had consistent top class pace bowling from start to finish by Stuart Clark, and some shows of real quality from McGrath, Harmison and Hoggard at various times. Monty Panesar provided an object lesson in finger spin, and Shane Warne went on to one-up him with one of his best spells in years. Michael Hussey played a classic test match knock in the first innings, Michael Clarke made a century that oozed class, and Adam Gilchrist was just one ball short of the fastest century in history. Add to that the simply sensational fielding of Andy Symonds, and some tremendous work by Hussey and Clarke as well, and Ponting's run-out of Jones on the final day, and there's really not a lot left to say. And remember, all of this was in the context of Australia wanting to reclaim the Ashes, and England trying desperately to keep a grip on them.

I loved every minute of it, and I was privileged to be there, and proud to say that I didn't miss a second of the action.

England vs Australia T3D5

And so onto the final day's play. I debated long and hard whether to wake up early once more and stand in the queue with the other die hards? Actually, I call them die-hards, but it's absolutely shocking to see the number of members who queue up from early in the morning, snag a great seat behind the bowler's arm on the second level, and then either spend the entire day sleeping, reading a book, or knitting. A few of them even leave halfway through the second session. The only explanation I can come up with is that these are very old people, and they have nothing better to do at 5am.

Back to the story though - I'd been reaching the ground at about 5:15am each morning, and my position in the queue had improved from about 1000th on the first day, to 500th on the fourth. I had a feeling that the fifth day queue would be a lot shorter, but when it came to the crunch, I wasn't willing to risk it. Great cricket has to be watched from a great seat - if you're not on the second level behind the bowler's arm, you may as well go home and watch it on TV.

The other challenge was the threat of rain. I'm staying 20 minutes north of the ground, and we had a couple of light showers the previous night, but when I got up at 4:15am, the roads didn't look too wet, so I figured that it made sense to head on down.

I got there at about 5:30 in the end, and I was about 100th in the queue. No chance of getting a poor seat from there, although you always have to take into account the loyalty members. Those who have been members of the WACA for 40 continuous years, those who have a life membership, and anybody with a disability, are able to enter via a priority queue. Unsurprisingly, most of the people in that queue want the prime seats. It's not so much of a problem with the main queue - there's an alarming number of people who would prefer to sit in the sun, at ground level, at a 45 degree angle, and my life has been all the better for it this week.

There was a little bit of spitting from the light grey clouds above as we waited in the queue. As always, the conversation was fascinating. Today I met a gentleman who retired a couple of years ago, but was tempted back to work by an offer of A$3500 per week. The job? "Toolbox Guardian." For the un-initiated (which included myself, of course), that's the person who sits by a big container of tools, with a book in one hand and beer in the other, and logs the workers checking tools in and out during the day. Why does he get paid so much? That's the economic boom that Western Australia is undergoing right now, on the back of phenomenal demand from China, and to a lesser extent India. You can earn $150K for driving the trucks that transport iron ore from the bottom of a mining pit to the top. Needless to say, enrollment in Universities is dropping.

Right, back to the cricket now, I promise. Once in the ground, it was apparent that the groundsman was concerned about the weather. The covers were out, and we watched as first the hessian, and then the full cover, was pulled over the wicket. And then removed. And then replaced, this time with a third layer in between. And then removed again. The games went on for nearly an hour, before they finally accepted that the blue and white stuff in the skies above was not a threat.

Flintoff's little slog-fest apart, the day's play was dominated by that man Warne. His presence was felt as early as 10am, when Ian Healy was spotted talking to an unidentified individual near the sightscreen in front of the Lillee-Marsh stand. Healy did a quick little imitation of a Warne delivery, followed by a squealed "oooooh" and then an about turn and a couple of jumps with arms aloft, mimicing Warne's incessant appealing. Healy appeared to find it rather amusing, as did those in the crowd who noticed.

The Barmy Army had picked up on this as well, and throughout the morning, everytime Flintoff and Pietersen pushed Warne into the covers or mid-wicket off the full face of the bat, all thousand of them went up in mock appeal. It didn't stop there either. There were several renditions of the least printable of all the Warney songs - the one ending with "and he also loves his wife!", Billy Cooper launched into the theme from Dad's Army when Glenn McGrath came on to bowl, and most impressively of all, as soon as the England total reached 279, the Army launched into "Oh, we're half way there, oh oh, livin' on a prayer!" My first test match with the Barmy Army in attendance, and I was truly impressed. They bring a colour to the game that you typically only see at grounds in India and the Caribbean.

The man of the match award went to Hussey, but I'm not sure that the choice was an easy one. Warne's bowling in both innings was quality, and his contribution to the victory should not be underestimated. I suppose in the end the consideration would have been that Australia would have eventually won without Warne, but Hussey's knock in the first innings was as crucial as it gets. The other contender would have had to be Geraint Jones. With a pair batting at number 7, a missed stumping off Michael Clarke that cost over 100 runs, and something like 5 dropped catches, no single person can have done more to hand the Ashes back to Australia. Salim Malik and Wasim Akram would have been taken to court for such a performance.

Also mentioned in the dispatches would have been Adam Gilchrist. Not just for his unbelievable century, which was a privilege to have watched, but for one of the most informed sledges I have heard in my cricketing career. When Sajjid Mahmood came into bat at #9 in the second innings, Gilly knew that he had only bowled 17 overs, and commented audibly, but ostensibly to Hayden at first slip, that he must be playing as a batsman since he only bowled 17 overs. Now it'd be one thing to have said 15, or 20 - anything that implied a low over count, but the fact that they knew the precise number of overs Mahmood had bowled in the match simply blew me away.

One final point to note - when Flintoff was dismissed and Jones came to the wicket, there were 12 Australians, 2 South Africans and a Pakistani on the field. No wonder England had a hard time winning the game :-)

Monday, December 18, 2006

England vs Australia T3D4: The Tease

Okay, so I admit it. Against my own better judgement, I dared to hope for a while. For half a day, England toyed with those of us who were supporting them. And then they reverted to type. We gave up hope, only to be brought right back to the brink, this time Pietersen being Cook's ally. Of course, the moment we dared to hope once more, we were let down with a resounding crash. You know the feeling - the guy or girl you've been eyeing flashes you a flirtatious smile. You hesitate, before concluding that it can be only you she is looking at. You settle your nerves, rehearse your best line, and just as you are all set to go, Brad Pitt steps forward from right behind you and steals your thunder. Suddenly, you know that it was never meant to be.

The cricket itself continued the trend of the game - intensity and quality were to be found from various corners. Cook and Bell had a great morning session. Bell, known to Warne as the Shermantor (from the movie American Pie), came out with positive intent against his tormentor, and delighted the crowd by coming down the track several times. He was far from dominant however - Warne bowled superbly, and the contest teetered and wobbled in every direction.

Cook had a lot more trouble with the leggie, and in fact was not especially fluent in general. However, even more so than Bell, he appeared absolutely determined to knuckle down and bat until the match was over. He might have been dismissed just before lunch, when he pulled carelessly and McGrath completely misjudged at deep square leg, allowing the ball to drop over his head, but inside the boundary rope. It doesn't get more embarrassing than that, and coupled with his drop in the first innings which resulted in a humiliating change of position with Michael Clarke, it capped a poor match in the outfield for McGrath.

The highlight of the bowling was Stuart Clark's spell of 6 overs for 9 runs. Clark is often referred to as a McGrath clone, but I'm starting to think that's a little unfair. He gets sharper bounce than McGrath does, and moves the ball more. He's more the next generation than an exact replica, and I see no reason that he won't lead the Australian attack (as he already is) for the next three or four years.

The lunch break, as usual, was devoted to the inflation of a huge blow-up can of Milo, which always takes about 20 minutes to raise, for a 5 minute showing as the young kids wind down their kanga cricket knockabout. It's actually been quite entertaining to watch, as have the interviews with the young cricketer of the day, who is invariably a five year old whose vocabulary is limited to the word "Yes!" I also used this time to learn that Billy Birmingham has some recordings that pre-date the Twelfth Man, so that's something I'll be hunting for over the next few days.

The post lunch session was dominated by Shane Warne. His bowling was nothing short of superb and his display made you realise that bowling is not just about the ball you deliver. Warne has raised it to a psychological art form, appealing to make a batsman see demons that aren't there in the pitch, staring, muttering, delaying the game, and using every ploy available to exert pressure on Bell and Cook. And it worked in the end - late in the session, Bell tamely patted one to short cover, and you knew from the Aussies' celebration that they now had one hand firmly on the little urn. Warney even bowled a rare googly at Alistair Cook during this period, surprising everyone, including Adam Gilchrist, who could only deflect it to an equally stunned Hayden at first slip.

Paul Collingwood once again looked out of his depth, as he has done intermittently during his Test career. I haven't got a lock on him, but my best guess is that he's the quintessential utility player, only he has sufficient determination and grit to occasionally punch above his weight class. He'll be found wanting at times - here he was brutally exposed yet again by Stuart Clark - but he may have a few more Adelaides, though I'd expect more 50s than 200s.

Pietersen and Cook looked good together after tea, but just when it looked like England might make the game last well into the fifth day, the skies started clouding over. As the darkness set in, the floodlights came on, and Cook nicked one through to Gilchrist, probably not for the last time in this series.

Hoggard had been waiting nervously in the dressing room, and walked out looking like he didn't really want to be out there. Fortunately for him, McGrath didn't want him there either, and a rare yorker had him back in the hutch faster than Geoffrey Boycott could say back in the hutch. The dream over finished with two leg cutters that had Flintoff completely flummoxed, and the day ended with the series all but over.

England have just one big hope for tomorrow - that the dark clouds of tonight turn into a massive thundershower. It would be nice to think that Flintoff and Pietersen can hang around for a couple of sessions, but quite frankly, I don't remotely believe that they can. I expect a finish in the morning session tomorrow, although I will be putting a few extra dollars in the parking meter just in case. The bottom line is that Shane Warne is just bowling far too well, on a pitch that is offering him (and the pacemen) turn and bounce.

A couple of other observations on the day's play:
  • The crowd, even in the members section, can be really annoying. What ever happened to not moving around or getting out of your seat while an over is in progress? Why can't the event staff control this behaviour?
  • What is it with short mid ons and mid offs standing next to the non-striker alongside the pitch? Do they serve any purpose at all? Has anyone ever seen a catch taken there? Actually, I think I have, once, but I simply don't understand it. Batsmen at this level should be too good to be distracted by such a presence.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

England vs Australia T3D3: A Santa Barbara Yankee in Gilly's Court

Wow. What an innings. You've read all about it by now, and all I can see is that Gilly was magnificent, as was the crowd as they enjoyed a spectacular and brutal assault by one of their favourite sons. I think it's appropriate that Viv's record is intact, but I have to admit, I badly wanted to be able to say "I was there". I was.

Australia were crusing when Gilly came in, probably planning to declare at lunch on Day 4, and then bowl England out by lunch on Day 5. 20 overs and 162 runs later, the declaration arrived. Not one person saw that blitzkrieg coming, especially when Gilchrist was fortunate not to see an edge fly straight to the fielder before he got off the mark.

It's late, so brief highlights of my day:
  • In the queue at 5am, I heard a strong American accent. I was stunned. And that was just the beginning. The American in question was upset because he had overslept, and would not be the first person in the ground today. He's from Santa Barbara. He's been attending Tests at the WACA for a few years. He thinks ODI's and 20/20 are a joke, and Test cricket is the real thing. He must sit behind the bowler's arm. He can't understand how he enjoyed baseball as a youngster in America, when cricket is where it's at. I'm not making any of this up.
  • I don't know why Flintoff started the proceedings with Kevin Pietersen. On the radio, they suggested it was to get an early wicket so that the regular bowlers could come on. I won't even dignify that suggestion with a comment.
  • Hussey's century was the worst knock I've ever seen him play. Just goes to show what a batsman he is. He was patchy, he was lucky to escape when Monty had him caught close in, he was smacked on the helmet by Harmison, and he top edged a few hook shots.
  • One of those was spilled by, you guesst it, Geraint Jones, who called for what was clearly Pietersen's catch, and then made a complete hash of it. This was in addition to missing a regulation stumping when Michael Clarke had just a few runs to his name.
  • When Flintoff took the new ball at 3 for 300, he used it with just one slip. I simply don't understand captains who refuse to attack even for a few overs with a new ball. What can you be scared of at 3 for 300? Conceding a boundary? Sure enough, Strauss dropped Hussey on 78, diving across from 2nd slip to the vacant first slip. Pathetic
  • Monty was the man again. he should have had Clarke early on - the stumping missed by Jones, and it was eventually he who found Hussey's edge, and then followed that up with Symonds wicket.
  • Collingwood is credited with catching Symonds, but what the scoreboard doesn't show is that Jones dropped that catch first. What must Chris Read (and James Foster) be thinking?
  • Why did England bother to play Sajid Mahmood when the captain has no confidence in him? It's a vicious cycle for a bowler - you know your captain doesn't rate you, so when you finally get the ball (once the game is all but gone), you don't run in with the confidence you would otherwise have. You therefore bowl poorly, and the cycle intensifies.
  • Michael Clarke is here to stay. He batted superbly, and as always played Panesar with aplomb for the most part. He's seized his chance, and I'll go out on a limb and say that when Ponting retires, Clarke may well be the one to take the reins. He's pure class, and with Ponting, Hussey and him around for the next few years, the Australian middle order is in good hands.
  • You've got to hand it to Matty Hayden - every time the critics get on his case, he answers them. Not his most fluent knock, but he stood up to be counted.
  • The value of having a 20 minute bowling session before the close was highlighted today. The Aussie bowlers had had a wonderful day's rest, and could bowl with freedom. Little wonder that Brett Lee could therefore send down 95mph outswingers. Strauss got his third bad decision in a row, but as a batsman, you will pay the price for padding up without offering a shot.
And so to day 4. I don't see how England can do it. If Cook and Bell can put on 300 and take it to 350-1 at the close, then there might be a contest. If not, then I see England getting out for between 200-300 depending on just how intent Australia are on delivering a humiliation.

England vs Australia T3D2: Monty and Harmy Take Two

Well, who would have thought that after taking 9 wickets between them on the first day, it would be Monty Panesar and Steve Harmison who provided England their best partnership with the bat as well!

My overnight prediction appeared to be bang on target until these two somehow contrived to add 40 in 10 overs for the tenth wicket. I say contrived, but they deserve credit for some great cricketing shots, most notably Monty's cracking straight drive for four.

Unfortunately for England supporters, although the day had it's twists, the end result was that Australia cemented their position of control, and set themselves up for a terrifyingly big day tomorrow. Hayden and Ponting had a couple of close shaves each, but with both unbeaten on 57 at the close, you wouldn't bet against Australia racking up a lead of 500 tomorrow, and possibly even batting into day 4. England's struggle now is that only Monty Panesar looks likely to take a wicket, and he can't do it single handedly in his first Ashes Test!

I managed to snag a great seat again this morning, having shown up a little earlier to get in the queue. My neighbour for the day was a fascinating gentleman who was a 60 year WACA veteran, with awesome stories to tell in great detail about cricket and cricketers on and off the pitch. The two highlights of his viewing career appeared to be Barry Richards scoring 300 in a day, and Sunny GasGiver (his words, not mine) getting out twice in the same session one morning.

The other non-cricketing highlight of the day would have been seeing Tony Greig get sledged in the toilet by a patron, after the commentator had kindly helped out another man who was having some toilet paper problems. Got to say, Tony appeared to take it very well.

The cricket itself wasn't quite the perfect day of Test cricket of the previous day, perhaps because England didn't have a Mike Hussey to impress me. Sure, Kevin Pietersen doggedly made his way to 70, but it didn't have the same stamp of class over it at all.

What did come out was that my contention that England really need to play 6+1+4 was proven out once again. In fact, the ABC Grandstand commentators suggested the same thing at the end of the day - perhaps they've been reading the blog in the spare time!

Andrew Strauss certainly got a poor decision, but none of the batsmen looked interested in sticking around or gritting it out as Hussey had done, and the Australian bowling juggernaut was relentless, with every ball pitched in the right spot and causing problems. Even Andy Symonds got in on the act, taking two cheap wickets, including that of the quite pathetic Geraint Jones.

While I'm mentioning Symonds, I have to call out his stupendous performance in the field. His batting is not temperamentally up to scratch, but the man has got to be saving 20-30 runs per innings in the field, and given his ability as a bowling option, it may well be worth giving him a bit of a run in the side.

The atmosphere in the ground was much improved today. The Aussies in the crowd tend to get going when their men are steaming in, and the Barmy Army used the Panesar-Harmison partnership as an opportunity to get their own in.

England did much the same, taking some of that momentum and sending Justin Langer back to the pavilion as a contributor to the Primary Club, but they simply couldn't carry on from there. Frankly, I lay some of that blame at the feet (and hands) of an iffy keeper. The pressure is clearly writ over Jones' face, and if Fletcher likes him as much as he apparently does, he needs to get him out of there as soon as possible.

Panesar looks the only bowler worth a wicket. He had Hayden missed by Jones (and Collingwood off the same delivery), and had Ponting edging inches short of first slip. If England are to salvage anything from this game, they need to make the half chances count, and someone other than Panesar needs to step up and create opportunities. Frankly, I don't see who it could be, and I think Australia have every chance of establishing a 500 run lead and batting till lunch on day 4.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

England vs Australia T3D1: Monty and Harmy

Now that's what I call Test Cricket. This was exactly what it should be all about. And it started with the pitch - which offered a touch of pace and bounce for the bowlers, along with some non-extravagant turn. A capacity crowd, on a near-perfect day weather wise, enjoyed some class batsmanship, quality spin bowling, and even some good seam bowling under blue skies and a light breeze.

Contrary to popular belief, I think Australia actually ended the day on top. My rationale is simple - England don't have a lot of batting at all, given that the tail really starts with Flintoff in his current form. The wickets of Cook and Bell have set them back a long way, and I suspect it will take something special for them to get near Australia's score, given the way the Aussies have bowled thus far.

I was at the ground at 5:20am, thinking that I'd be near the front of the member's queue to get in. No such luck. The crowds had started coming in at 4am as it turned out, and I was probably about a thousand people back, and that's not counting the priority queue for loyal (40 consecutive years) members and others.

Once I got into the ground at 7:45am, I was lucky enough to find a single seat in a perfect position, right behind the bowlers arm on the second level of the Lillee-Marsh stand, just in front of the press box and below the TV/Radio box.

The day started with the singing of the national anthems, the most interesting part of which was the 'special appearance' of Graham Mackenzie and Geoff Boycott, who bowled and faced the first Test match delivery at the WACA 36 years ago. The outfield looked fantastic, and the binoculars revealed that the pitch was apparently a hard one, but clearly with some moisture in it to help the bowlers.

Australia won the toss and batted, and Langer and Hayden, both having quiet series' thus far, looked as if they were going to take control, despite a typically impressive opening spell from Hoggard. Harmison was as wayward as ever to begin with, but the complexion of the game changed completely when Hoggard had Hayden caught behind, and then out of the blue, Harmison trapped Ricky Ponting bang in front.

You could see the realisation suddenly dawn on England that they truly were in this contest. Harmison was a man transformed - not near his best, but the radar switched on, then length shortened up, and he reverted to type, doing his Curtly Ambrose impressions.

The story of the day, of course, was Monty Panesar. He showed himself to be a top quality spinner, and the only batsmen to play him confidently, Symonds little assault notwithstanding, were Clarke, and to a lesser extent, Hussey. Panesar's 5 wickets were well deserved, his dismissal of Symonds being particularly impressive given that he had been hit for two massive sixes in the previous over. The entire crowd enjoyed his boyish enthusiasm - in an age of automaton cricketers, it is lovely to see someone who genuinely relishes every moment out there on the field.

Other bits of interest during the day:
  • Flintoff looked lost at times, unsure how or where to place his field. It was interesting to note that Geraint Jones often made decisions with regard to field placing, adding credence to the strong rumour that Jones is an advisor to the team selection committee on tour! One wag in the members politely enquired, to the amusement of all around him, whether he should call Michael Vaughan to get an opinion on what to do next.
  • The over-rate was terrible, even with the spinner on. It'll be interesting to see what fines, if any, are imposed.
  • Apparently daylight saving time, recently introduced in Western Australia, is a terrible thing, because it causes curtains and carpets to fade. Okay, that's not cricket related, but I overheard someone complaining about this, and thought it was worth a mention :-)
  • Geraint Jones' keeping was shoddy, at best. He dropped a couple of catches, fumbled a few non-catches, and nearly dropped Symonds before holding on at the second attempt. It is beyond comprehension how he manages to retain his place ahead of Chris Read, particularly given that his batting is a disaster these days as well.
  • Australia's dismissal of Cook was brilliantly engineered - Ponting and McGrath had a long discussion, moved Justin Langer to a very carefully positioned second gully, and he dutifully took the catch which went straight to him 2 balls later. That spoke volumes about just how good a bowler Glenn McGrath really is.
  • And he's not even Australia's best bowler. Stewart Clark quite simply blew me away with his over to Collingwood, in which he beat and found the outside edge about 10 times in six deliveries, or so it seemed.
  • How good is Mike Hussey? I posted about Dravid and Ponting the other day. Hussey is making a damn good case to be added to that list.

At the end of the day, as I said, Australia are on top, having taken two key wickets, and I think England will struggle to make 200 tomorrow, if Australia bowl as well as they did tonight.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Legends 20/20 - England vs Australia

Just some quick notes/observations:
  • I was stunned to see 18 thousand people crammed into the WACA for this game.
  • Even more amazed to hear a kid over the PA system announce that the only two players he had heard of were Kim Hughes and Rodney Hogg. Not Lillee, Botham, Marsh, Alderman, Merv Hughes, Gatting or any of the others
  • For the most part, the cricket was decidedly mediocre, with a couple of notable exceptions
  • Lillee getting Gatting caught behind for a duck with a little outswinger was brilliant
  • Bruce Reid illustrated just what a great bowler he was - and if he'd had this physique when he played, he'd have got 400 Test wickets and been an all-time great.
  • Dean Jones is still a great fielder - every one of his throws from 70 yards was right over the bails... very few players currently playing could manage that

Some notes for the future:

  • The pitch being prepared for the Test (which was covered for protection today) looked, from a great distance, to be a good 2005/2006 style WACA batting track.
  • Tomorrow night, I've finagled my way into a dinner with Merv Hughes - what more could someone ask for in life?
  • That late night is going to be followed by a 4:30am start to get near the front of the member's queue and snag a good seat with a view of pitch #4 from behind the right-arm-over bowlers arm.

Monday, December 11, 2006

England vs Western Australia: Day Two

This one will be brief, since I'm still stuck with dial-up Internet access, and frankly, there wasn't an awful lot worth saying about the second day of this practice match.

Most of the entertainment was provided by the radio commentators, including Kim Hughes and Terry Alderman. When Strauss was finally dismissed, Geraint Jones walked in, a right-hander, only to be identified on the radio as Ed Joyce. When Joyce, a left-hander, walked in to face the hat-trick delivery, he was identified as Chris Read, who of course, is a right-hander. Superb preparation that.

Read did his cause no harm with a positive half-century, quite a contrast to Jones' golden duck. Not clear to me, however, that it was enough - sending Jones out at number 3 seemed to suggest that he was inked in for the 3rd Test.

The crowd were disappointed that Michael Vaughan didn't come out to bat, but this really wasn't surprising, given that he was never going to play in the Test. I suspect he only got a run out because England wanted to rest a few key players.

On the Australian side, it is really a question of whether Adam Voges or Andrew Symonds will replace the now-retired Damien Martyn. The conventional wisdom seems to be that Symonds will get the nod. However, a very reliably placed source indicates that Voges is a serious chance to make his debut on Thursday. His elevation to the Test squad ahead of his own compatriots Rogers and North owes much to his right-handedness. His chances of making the final XI rest on whether the selectors take the like-for-like approach the full distance.

More than I intended to say already - I'm off to the Legends 20-20 game tomorrow, hoping to see the legend that is Merv Hughes in the flesh one last time!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

England vs Western Australia: Day One

I woke this morning to the news that Damien Martyn had announced his retirement with immediate effect. His time had probably come, but you had to think he would have retained his place for the remainder of this series. One can only wonder what went on behind the scenes.

In any case, it was off bright and early to the WACA to see England take on the Retrovision Warriors, also known as Western Australia, in a 2-day, non-first-class fixture. I had a few goals in mind for the day:

1. To cast my discerning eye over the batting of Adam Voges, whom I know next to nothing about.

2. To watch Monty Panesar and Chris Read demonstrate why they should be playing in the Test next week.

3. To see the allegedly flat Perth track first hand

4. To pick my seats for the Test, and figure out what the competition for them from other WACA members would be like.

The day started well enough, despite an unintended detour as a result of a bad navigational decision on the way to the Members entrance. Gates were due to open at 10am, and I was there with well over a minute to spare. Surprisingly, there were only about 200 members (and/or guests) waiting to be admitted into the ground.

I made my way to the top of the Lillee-Marsh stand, and picked a spot two seats to the left of middle stump - about as good a view of a game of cricket as one can get. It soon emerged that WA had won the toss and elected to bat, which suited my objectives perfectly.

As I listened to a gentleman behind me agonize over whether to take his MCC tie out of his pocket and put it on, I realized that my presence in the stand was a statistical anomaly in more ways than one. I was both lowering the average age from about 60 to somewhere nearer 59.8 (I can only do so much as one out of 200), and I was darkening the average skin tone a few shades. To be fair, I did get some help from some youngsters later in the afternoon with the former, but the only thing redressing the balance on the pigmentation front was the sun.

England's bowling attack suggested that a bowl-off was on the cards. With Hoggard and Flintoff rested, it was a battle between Giles and Panesar, and another between Mahmood, Harmison and Anderson. If you ask me, there were clear winners and losers in both cases, but as we all know, the England management may not see it the same way.

Jimmy Anderson started off very nicely, swinging the ball into left-hander Chris Rogers, and then turning him inside out with one that went the other way. Harmison at the other end was not getting the ball to deviate at all, and appeared to be bowling everywhere but straight. It was no surprise when Anderson eventually got Dave Bandy to edge one behind to Chris Read, and it was perhaps even less of a surprise in the next over when Harmison found Rogers' edge, only for Ashley Giles to spill an absolute sitter at 2nd slip. The members certainly had a good little titter at that one - at least, those who were able to draw their gaze away from their knitting did.

The remainder of the morning session was quite dull. Anderson had bowled impressively, but Harmison was poor, and Mahmood, struggling with his length, was only slightly better. At least, I thought it was Sajid Mahmood bowling from one end, but the know-it-all to my left didn't agree - he was quite insistent that it was in fact Michael Vaughan on the comeback trail. Perhaps there should be a qualification examination for cricket association membership.

The entertainment level picked up after the lunch break, thanks largely to the steward at the player's gate, whose attempt to underarm the ball back to the fielder at third-man nearly knocked out a napping spectator some 15 rows back. I shouldn't laugh though - many years ago I was umpiring at square leg, wearing a good old-fashioned umpire's coat, when the spare ball in my pocket was required. I attempted to underarm it to the bowler, and instead sent it over my head to the boundary behind me. It can happen to the best and worst of us.

The rest of the day hammered home a few hard truths. Steve Harmison finished with 1-99, and was deliberately taken off after just 3 overs with the new ball to avoid conceding a century. Sajjid Mahmood came back to bowl an excellent second spell, and picked up two wickets, one of them courtesy a tremendous low diving catch by Chris Read. I suspect Mahmood may pick up an England cap to go with it next week, should England want to field four pacemen.

Monty Panesar proved himself to be a class above Ashley Giles, not just with the ball, but in the field. Giles ended the day with a dropped catch; Panesar with a dramatic direct hit run out after swooping down from mid-wicket. Both were also a little bruised after they collided with each other in the field on one occasion - you can speculate ad nauseum as to which was trying to take the other out of contention.

But what of my objectives for the day?

1. Adam Voges looked like a solid, compact batsman, who like all WA players, enjoys the short stuff. He was outshone on the day though, by Luke Pomersbach (aka Luke Pommiesbasher), whose unbeaten 90-odd included one breathtaking pull for six off Anderson.

2a. Monty Panesar surely bowled himself into the Test match, unless he gets banned for dissent after snatching his sweater from the umpire when an edge to slip was turned down. He only got one wicket, but created numerous chances, and on another day would have had 3 or 4. Flintoff, Hoggard and Anderson will certainly play, and I think it will be Panesar and one of Mahmood or Giles for the final bowling spots.

2b. Chris Read continues to look a class above Geraint Jones, but you have to wonder if his missed stumping off Panesar will cost him a return to the side.

3. This is not quite a flat-track, but it's not the Perth of the 1980s and even 1990s either.

4. It transpires that the keenest members will be queuing up at 5:30am on the Test match days in order to secure their preferred seats. The gates open at 7:30am, and the Test starts at 11:30am. If you have any suggestions as to what I can do for those 6 hours, please let me know.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

He's baaack!

I suppose with a new selection committee at the helm, we should have expected nothing short of a complete U-turn in policy. And sure enough, Sourav Ganguly is back in the Indian middle order.

Make no mistake about it - he is going to play in each and every Test match on this tour. India won't go in with less than six batsmen, and as Gambhir is the spare opener, the lineup is going to read: Sehwag, Jaffer, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly. Yes, Ganguly, the man whose least favourite opponent is.... South Africa. He averages 27 against them for heaven's sake. And this is a pick to "lend solidity to the middle order?"

This is, it goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway), a complete disaster for Indian cricket. After all the pain we had to go through to try and take a step forward, the long term planning has been jettisoned. A big step backwards that will serve no-one's interests, even if Ganguly in one series eclipses Mohammad Yousuf's new calendar year scoring record. Australia bringing back Michael Bevan would be a more positive move than this one.

Looks like the Vengsarkar selection committee is going to take us back to the good old days, and I guess that given that Kiran More has quite amusingly endorsed the choice, none of us should complain.

On the plus side, the appointment of VVS Laxman as vice-captain is probably an astute one. With Rahul Dravid an uncertain participant in the series at this juncture, Laxman is probably the right person to lead the side. He has long been highly regarded as far as his cricketing acumen is concerned, and it is rumoured that John Wright always felt that VVS was a FIC (With apologies to FEC Atherton). Either way, if India is to have a chance in this series, it is going to be down to Dravid and Laxman to deliver. Let the games begin.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ponting or Dravid?

Several months ago, I wrote a post entitled "The unbearable greatness of Ponting."

With his magnificent performance in the first Ashes Test this week, I find myself reflecting on that opinion once more. And I've come to the conclusion that I stand by it. History simply will not be able to ignore the fact that in
14 innings in India, Ponting has scored 172 runs at an average of 12.28.

I assure you that a batsman with a similar record to Ponting - brilliant success everywhere, and an average of 12 from 14 innings in Australia, would always be labelled as one notch below greatness. I suppose it's a
truism of the sport that success against spin is just not considered relevant.

Before I get slammed again, let me state that Ricky Ponting is nothing short of awesome as a batsman, and the blot on his record is highly unfortunate. It is sad that he won't tour India again until 2010. But none of that changes the facts.

Let's take another approach. The Big Four are unquestionably Lara, Tendulkar, Ponting and Dravid. Let's see which countries their averages dip below the 50-mark, which is typically the greatness threshold.

Tendulkar: averages just 40 in NZ, Pak, RSA and Zim, with 47 in the West Indies. That's Michael Atherton
greatness, not Bradmanesque. No major weak spot, but far too many good-but-not-great ones.

Lara: averages just 33 in India, 36 in NZ, 42 in Aus and 48 in England. A bigger spread than Tendulkar, but then he's also won a lot more off his own blade.

Ponting: averages a whopping 12 in India, and 40 in England (we'll discount his single innings 31 in Zimbabwe). Of the four, he's the only one with a major blot on his record.

Dravid: his weak spot is an average of 42 in South Africa, and 47 in Sri Lanka.

Two things stand out here.

Firstly, while we've all been talking about Tendulkar and Lara, it's Ponting and Dravid who have been batting out there in the middle.

Secondly, while Ponting obviously has a better conversion rate on his 50s (turning them into 100s), and is the more destructive batsman, it's not remotely clear that Rahul Dravid should be left out of any discussion of who is the leading batsman on the planet currently.

And that's ignoring the fact that Ponting usually comes into bat after Hayden and Langer have started pulverising the opposition, versus Dravid coming into bat after Opener-Of-The-Week has been dismissed in the first over.

In truth, I'd be hard pushed to say either is greater than the other, even though on a personal level I'd take Dravid any day of the week. What I can unequivocally state however, is that a man who averages 12 after 14 innings in one country cannot be equated with Bradman. That's just nonsense.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Marvellous Summer Down Under

I would write something about India's performances in South Africa, but I consider myself fortunate in having not watched the games, and therefore I shan't bother. There really weren't any surprises there. The wickets have pace and bounce, and only Rahul Dravid coped. Simple, and expected. The sooner Indian fans stop expecting the unreasonable, the happier their lives will become.

In the meantime, what of England? I am particularly concerned by their capitulation as I'm going to be spending 5 days (I hope) in the member's enclosure at the WACA in a couple of weeks, and I'd like to see a true contest. Unfortunately, it appears as if England caved in before they even started. The team selection was defensive, and betrayed a remarkable lack of confidence on the part of the Ashes holders.

I'm a big fan of playing your two best openers, your four best middle order batsmen, your four best bowlers, and your best keeper. If one of those provides all-round capabilities, then all the better. If it were up to me, I'd be going in with: Strauss, Cook, Bell, Collingwood, Pietersen, Owais Shah, Flintoff, Read, Hoggard, Harmison, Panesar.

Three medium pacers, your best spinner, and the occasional bowling of Pieterson, Collingwood and Bell to supplement. Bring in a youngster with some spunk to add to the batting depth (Shah), and pick a keeper who can inspire with the gloves, and do the job standing up to Panesar. Back yourself, and play aggressive cricket.

Instead, we're going to see: Strauss, Cook, Bell, Collingwood, Pietersen, Flintoff, Jones, Giles, Hoggard, Anderson, Harmison - with maybe Panesar in for Harmison/Anderson if Duncan Fletcher wakes up facing due East. Five batsmen, an all-rounder whose bowling is his strong suit, two players who are in the side for their batting, but pretend to keep and bowl respectively, and three bowlers, two of whom were a disaster last time out.

I'm off to Australia this weekend. Look out for reports on the 3rd Test, the England vs. Western Australia 2-day game, and most exciting of all, the Legends 20/20 International. Dean Jones, Kim Hughes, Big Merv, Bruce Reid, Terry Alderman and Dennis Lillee, taking on Gatting, Stewart, Robin Smith, Devon Malcolm and Ian Botham.

Of course, none of that is ultimately important. Overshadowing all of this is the news that Billy Birmingham has finally released a new CD!! "Boned" promises to follow in the footsteps of his prior work. If you haven't heard The Twelfth Man, you need to get out more, and when you do, start by getting a hold of his CDs. You're looking for:

Wired World of Sports, The 12th Man Again!, Still the 12th Man, Wired World of Sports 2, Bill Lawry... This Is Your Life, The Final Dig, and now, Boned! I've actually never heard the Bruce 2000 Olympic album, but I'm sure it's just as good.

Who could avoid laughing at Sunil Have-A-Cigar going for a slash outside off stump; or Rubbish Binny being left out... only for nobody to collect him; or Max Walker's attempts to be re-instated to the commentary team; or Bill Lawry completely losing it; or the ProtectoCam, CrackCam and Scrotometer... the list is endless.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Black Swan Green

I may have lived in Hong Kong at the time, but my adolesence and schooling was as quintessentially English as they come. It's perhaps for that reason that Black Swan Green struck several poignant chords with me. Memories (the vast majority of them very fond ones) of P.E. lessons and playground games of British Bulldogs came flooding back. I can almost feel the cuts, scrapes and bruises when AB sent me sliding across the concrete and into a partially barbed fence - all part of the game, of course!

The tale of typical adolescent angst, set in a truly nondescript English village, is constructed as a series of entertaining vignettes, each independent, yet threaded together to span a calendar year in which a teenager has his life turned upside down and inside out from every angle, and yet manages to somehow use it all to come of age, as such.

Much like The Essence of the Thing, at the end of the book, I wasn't entirely sure what it was about, given that there wasn't much that you couldn't see coming after the first chapter. And yet once again, I was hooked, read it cover to cover, and was entertained throughout.

Many critics panned it as being too conventional a tome, and consequently overly ambitious for David Mitchell - ostensibly paradoxical, but then I haven't had the pleasure of reading his prior work. As far as I'm concerned, it did more than enough to hint at, without fully revealing, an exceptional literary talent, and the reputedly more complex and more cerebral Cloud Atlas has found a place on my wish list as a result.

P.S. - for those who are wondering, I'm not turning this into a book-blog per se. Lots of work-related travel of late has left me with little time for spending online reading and blogging about the usual stuff.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Incompetence or intransigence?

Have you ever been in a store and tried to give the cashier $10.25 for something that cost $9.25 so as to avoid getting coins in change, only to be met by a look of complete bewilderment?

The following transpired on a flight from Dallas to San Francisco recently:

The Characters
  • Me (ME), a cash-poor flier stuck in seat 24A on an Airbus A320 (last row corner, no recline)
  • Flight Attendant (FA), a middle-aged lady obliged to keep us safe, and serve us if safety permits
  • John Doe (JD), a cash-rich infrequent flier in seat 24C

I rarely drink on a flight, and as a former very frequent flier, I have amassed quite a collection of drink coupons. Each coupon is good for one alcoholic beverage - normally sold for $5 in cash. Some flights have snack boxes available, also for $5 in cash, and there are no coupons that specifically pertain to snack boxes.

The Conversation

FA: Would you like to purchase a snack box today?

ME: Yes please. Is there any chance I could use this drink coupon that I have, which is worth the same amount, to buy the snack box?

FA: Sorry, those can only be used for beverages. I need cash for the snack box.

ME: Fair enough. The gentlemen in 23C in front of me just gave you $5 cash for a beverage. Could I buy him his drink with my coupon, and then use his cash for my snack box?

FA: No, I need cash for the snack box, I can't accept the coupon.

JD: (chuckles to self)

ME: Ah. umm, the problem is I don't have any cash. It seems logical that I could effectively swap my coupon for somebody's cash.

FA: Sure, if you can find someone who is willing to do that, then I'm okay with it.

ME: Aha. Okay.

JD: I'll have a beer and my $5 can buy your snack box

Perfect - I'll have the green snack box if you have one please.

FA: Well, I need cash for the snack box, not the coupon.

Aah. I see. How about if I give him my coupon, and he gives me his $5, then he pays you with the coupon for his drink, and I pay you with the cash for my snack box.

FA: That's great. Which snack box did you say you wanted again?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Drugs in cricket

By now, everyone's read about and expressed an opinion on cricket's latest scandal - Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif failing a drugs test. That Shoaib would partake of a banned substance probably does not come as a surprise to many, but I suspect even the most hardened cynic would be shocked at what goes on in the cricketing world.

The stories I could tell probably would not be believed, and yet I am quite certain that what I have witnessed barely scratches the surface. After all, it's not as if I routinely move around in such exalted social circles! Still, my own experiences have been sufficient to ensure that little does surprise me. In fact, I am amazed that much more has not been exposed in the media, although I am glad for it in so far as I am more interested in cricketer's on-field exploits than there off-field ones.

Still, for those who are curious, some of the things I have either seen with my own eyes, or heard about from one or more of the parties involved include:

  • recreational drug use (okay, that one's not going to surprise anyone)
  • discussion of how to start with creatine (not considered doping, although it's banned in many countries), and go on from there
  • cricketers on the phone to their wives whilst in bed with someone else (no, this is not one of the ones where I was standing in the room)
  • notes being passed between the dressing room and groupies with arrangements of where and when to meet
  • requests to officials/management to arrange 'dates' with specifical types of women
  • exchange of 'love letters' over many years with multiple women (by married cricketers, of course)
The funny thing is, none of this really sounds that unusual, although what you read here is not neccessarily the worst of it. Most readers are probably thinking - "well, of course, that's the sort of thing Shane Warne does all the time." Thing is, it's often the ones who you are convinced are innocent, simple gentlemen who are the worst of the lot.

More than enough said.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More revisionist history

So CricInfo announced, or re-announced, it's new blog section the other day. And in it's announcement, yet another example of the ongoing revisionist history that is being put forth.

Sambit Bal, who wasn't involved with CI back then, states that CricInfo did it's first ball by ball commentary in 1996. Elsewhere, I've seen certain individuals claiming to have been founders of CricInfo, also in 1996. Neither claim is remotely true.

You really would think that CricInfo never existed between 1992/93 and 1996. It's bad enough that many of those who contributed significantly to the creation of the brand have been erased from the history books. But to suggest that CricInfo's history is built on anything less than the phenomenal efforts of a few genuine founders (in early '93) and many diligent volunteers, is disingenuous at best, and ridiculous at worst. For the organization itself to do this is just plain sad. Governments have tried it and failed, so hopefully in the long run, the truth will out.

Perhaps it's time to put together and publish the real history of CI. The story of Frozen Poms, Raggamuffins and others is truly an entertaining one.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Essence of the Thing

A funny one, this. I read it, and enjoyed it, and yet I have absolutely no idea what the essence of the thing is. In fact, the books essence is almost that there is a Seinfeld-esque nothingness about it. An interesting literary style, to be sure. The dialogue, which dominates the narrative, is occasionally witty, often snappy, and always compelling, in so far as it provides for a surprisingly vivid portrayal of character. The plot itself managed to be strangely irrelevant, and yet, as a friend with nothing better to do just pointed out, the notion of individuals failing to accept or embrace the freedom they have been granted is eerily topical. Witness Iraq.

All in all, a good read. I might just have to give her follow-up, "A Stairway to Paradise" a go.

Friday, September 22, 2006

India fail again

No surprise really. I only watched part of the game, so I can't really comment too much, but there's a couple of things worth mentioning:

  1. India should push for 5-ball overs in all international cricket. I'm sure I'm not the only Indian fan who tenses up when our bowlers have to deliver that dreaded sixth delivery, and I'm certainly not alone in sighing exasperatedly when it is duly dispatched to the boundary.
  2. Sachin Tendulkar - give up! For those who have known me or read my blog for a while, you will know that one of my biggest pet peeves is SRT's ability to never hit the stumps with a shy, and yet look completely stunned when he misses, as if to say "this has never happened to me before, there must have been a seismic shift at the planetary core that impacted the earth's rotation momentarily"

Monday, September 18, 2006

It's not over yet

Wow. A 1-0 loss to Arsenal, and the doom and gloom merchants are out in full force. It's astonishing to read that Ronaldo is a wasted talent, and that the five wins to open the season were a fluke.

First things first, we weren't good enough on the day. Arsenal played well, though not as 'delightfully' as the media would have you believe, and we were a shambles. Our best passes were often directly to a player in yellow.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been pilloried in the press, to nobody's surprise, for his role in the Arsenal goal, but most seem to have forgotten that he was probably our best player on the day, and the only one who really tested Lehmann. And who didn't enjoy the Arsenal goalie getting smacked upside the face by a pile driver?

Rooney may as well not have been on the pitch, and I'm not sure that Louis Saha did much on the day either. Perhaps the only player to really enhance his reputation in my eyes was Darren Fletcher, who managed to produce a series of top quality passes in the first half an hour. Just maybe there's more to him than I previously thought.

So we lost a game. There's not much I hate more than losing to Arsenal, but we're still in second place, ahead of Chelsea, and with a long way to go. We're right in the race, and we're certainly good enough to beat the poorer teams, so we will never quite be out of it. Perhaps the pessimists should just wait a little before they start the bleating.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Keepers of Truth

Someone left this book behind at my place for me to read a couple of months ago. Last week, I finally got around to it. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, it said, so I went into it with the expectation that it would be a halfway decent read.

It wasn't, at least, not in my estimation. Granted, the fact that it's a bit of a depressing and somewhat allegorical tale doesn't help matters, but the idea that "the times, they are a-changin'" is hardly a novel one. Nothing particularly bad about the book - quite simply it just failed to capture my imagination or engross me on any level. Didn't work as a whodunit, and didn't quite work as a cautionary tale of cultural demise either.

Next on my list is "The Essence of the Thing" by Madeleine St John and the epic "Out of My Comfort Zone" by one Stephen Rodger Waugh. Something tells me I'll have better luck with both of those.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Cricket on your mobile and IM

Now this is seriously cool. Live commentary on your mobile phone/device, and also on Yahoo Messenger! You can get it at

I've got the IM version installed, and I have it running on my Motorola V551 and my Blackberry as well. Free, no adverts, and I can now follow games without the pain of trying to watch streaming video at work, or dealing with the frustrations of not-quite-auto-refreshing scorecards. It's especially neat for the games that I have a less than completely vested interest in!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tabloid Journalism

An intriguing headline showed up on CricInfo this morning. "India captain slams 'foul-mouthed' England" it says, with a sub-heading of "Claims England skipper was 'scared'"

I have no doubt that countless readers were stunned to think that Rahul Dravid had spoken out against Andrew Flintoff (or is that Andrew Strauss, or Michael Vaughan, or....).

Imagine their surprise then, when after clicking through with fervent anticipation, adrenaline coarsing through their veins, they discovered that the story in fact was nothing more than a tame claim of sledging made by the Indian Women's Cricket Captain, Mithali Raj.

The Sun, The Daily Mirror, and papers of that ilk would have been proud of such chicanery. I truly wonder how many extra impressions, and therefore advertising dollars, CI was able to rustle up.

Not impressive at all.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tevez to West Ham?!

I went to bed last night thinking that perhaps a secret deal was in the works for the Argentian duo of Tevez and Mascherano, both of whom have impressed in recent times, even prior to the World Cup. While ultimately I would like to see home grown players (Rossi, Jones etc) vying for the vacant berths in midfield and up front, you can never argue with the signing of genuine world-class players, even though they don't always succeed as one might expect.

The one dampener to my optimism was the rumour that Arsenal were in the mix, and the London factor would be key. Turns out I was half right, but who in their right mind would have possibly expected West Ham to triumphantly announce to signing of two of Argentina's best players this morning?

Something smells rather fishy about the whole deal. It has been stressed that the pair have signed "permanent" contracts, but there is no mention as to the duration of that permanance (yes, oxymoronic I know). The fees have not been disclosed either, which is not uncommon, but only serves to the mystery. There has and will be no comment from the players, we are told, and news of their unveiling as Hammers is still awaited.

Where does this leave United? Well, we're top of the table, with 9 points and 10 goals from 3 games. If we keep our lads fit, then we have the squad to go the distance, and who knows, there are still a few hours to go before the transfer deadline. Perhaps Alan Pardew will find himself in the same position that Sam Allardyce did with Didi Hamman, and sell the pair off in a few hours, pocketing a cool million in the process.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Ramps beats Bradman!

Can't believe I missed this one -- it turns out Ramps also broke a Bradman record with his last knock, and he is now the fastest man to 2000 runs in a single season, achieving the mark in 20 innings, which is one fewer than The Don required. Hurrah!

Thanks to CricketArchive yet again for figuring this one out.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

353 not out - a new world record

At least, I think it's a new world record. And my blog is going to be the first place that broke the news :-)

In a league game in Northern California today, a batsman by the name of Shabbir Mohammad plundered 353 not out in a team scored of 630. Oh, and it was a 45 over game. He hit 25 sixes and 40 fours - that's 310 runs in boundaries.

As far as I can possibly tell, this is the highest ever score in any limited overs game of cricket, anywhere in the world, ever. It is also apparently either the fourth or fifth triple century on record. Unbelievably, 7 years ago, a triple century was also recorded - this one was 304* - in Northern California. What's more, it was on the very same ground (pictured above).

Some highlights/details:

  • Batsman: Shabbir Mohammad of United Cricket Club
  • 353 runs scored in 156 deliveries
  • 100 reached in 46 deliveries
  • 200 reached in 94 deliveries
  • At 10 overs, scoreboard read 130-0
  • At 20 overs, 259-1
  • At 30 overs, 378-3
  • At 40 overs, 529-5
  • At 45 overs, 630-5
  • The opposition, Bay Area Cricket Club, mustered 181 all out in reply
  • United's opening bowler, Ashok Kumar, took a hat-trick

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Equality and Identity (poor Pluto)

Photo from

Our solar system is in complete disarray. Indeed, with Pluto being unceremoniously excommunicated from the planetary alliance, our troubles do in fact stretch further and wider than a couple of strips of land in the Middle East. If we're not careful, the Milky Way may be banished to a parallel universe. Given all this domestic and intergalactic strife, I was stunned to hear an hour of talk radio this morning ostensibly devoted to that most pressing of issues - the organization of the tribes on the coming season of Survivor.

And then a caller touched upon one of my numerous pet peeves. You see, apparently this year, the tribes will be separated by race (or skin colour, call it what you will). Someone called in to the show to express their disgust at this notion, and proceeded to explain how this was distressing in a time when we were supposed to have learned to be colour-blind. Okay, so he didn't put it quite like that - he said that we should look at all people the same way, and not even notice their colour.

Therein lies the crux of the problem. We simply don't seem to understand what the notion of egalitarianism is supposed to be. We think that to be equal means to be the same. Instead of celebrating, embracing and accepting all people, brown, white or black, we instead march relentlessly down a path that leads us to a planet filled with people who are all a sort of beigey-grey colour.

It's not just around racial equality that this happens either - the same applies to gender equality, age equality, and probably intellectual capacity too.

If we achieve our implicit goals, the human race will be entirely comprised of 35 year old, grey-skinned, esperanto speaking hermaphrodites who are all 5 foot 11, weigh 175 pounds and have IQ's of 100. We will all reproduce with ourselves, and our offspring will all be identical as well. But hey, at least we'll all be equal, right? Unless we're from Pluto of course, in which case we no longer count.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Good old Honkers!

It's been a while, and today as I was catching up on the latest happenings in my cricketing hometown of Hong Kong, I realised just how long it's been.

I'm sure all sorts of records were broken on Thursday when Hong Kong racked up 442-3 and then bowled the mighty Myanmar out for 20 in reply. No surprise to see Hussain Butt scoring a 42-ball century - he's been piling on the runs for fun in the league for the last couple of years.

What struck me at a personal level though, is that there's only one guy left in that squad whom I played alongside - Alex "Jonty" French. For that matter, I only played alongside him at U-19 level, and he was barely out of nappies at the time! I didn't think I was that old, but now I'm starting to wonder, although Rahul Sharma certainly has many years on me!

It's wonderful to see that the cricketing infrastructure and administration in Hong Kong has continued to move forward. In my day, we had a senior squad, and just about had a U-19 squad working together. Today, the 11 year olds are playing internationals, and the women's squad will be facing Pakistan for a place in their World Cup! That's progress.

In the meantime, there is a battle raging over the attempted selection of a national U-15 side in the USA. I thought the political wrangling and cronyism around the senior and U-19 squad was disturbing, but USACA has reached new lows this time around. I'll probably write about it in more detail later, but it just goes to show that some things never change, and that the ICC are, if anything, too lenient in their stance on the American cricket body.

Darrell Hair

Back in 2000, I wrote an article on Rediff which briefly discussed umpires and their on-field approach to the game. Needless to say, the example of Darrell Hair was central to my thesis (such as there was one). Here is a link to the original article.

Clearly, nothing has changed.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Unheralded records

I could, of course, write someting about Darrell Hair, ball tampering, the ICC and the like. Easy targets though, and there's nobody who won't be saying something about all the fun at the Oval today.

I could have also used the words Gerrard, flagrant dive, hypocrite, and cheat in the same sentence, but that's not worth the effort either.

Instead, I think I'll make mention of two remarkable cricketing records achieved in the last fortnight, one of which I hinted at previously, and one of which has gone by completely unnoticed. Kudos to the great folk at CricketArchive who have the only complete online database of all First Class and List A cricket. Sadly, CricInfo doesn't even come close in terms of comprehensiveness, despite the vision that some of us once had for it. Once CricketArchive get their front end top-notch, we could have a fascinating battle for Internet dominance on our hands.

The first record involves a bloke by the name of Mark Ramprakash. I may have mentioned him once or twice before. It turns out that his feat of scoring in excess of 150 in five consecutive first class matches breaks a record (four) that was held for 65 years by Vijay Merchant. Several batsman have done it three matches in a row - though while the names of Bradman (thrice), Ponsford (twice), Lara, Boycott and Dravid will surprise nobody, those of Steve Tikolo and Azmat Rana (brother of the more, err, celebrated Shakoor) certainly floored me.

No less an achievement, however, was that of Cameron White, the Aussie all-rounder captaining Somerset against Derbyshire a couple of weeks back. Chasing 579 to win, he came in at 75-3, and was still at the crease some 85 overs later when the last wicket fell, standing tall on an unbeaten 260. Somerset may have lost by 80 runs, but White claimed the record for the highest ever individual fourth innings score. Anywhere. Ever.

Interesting to me of course, was the fact that one GS Blewett is on both the lists! Long live the great cover-drivers. Patsy Hendren and CB Fry are the only others on both lists. Clearly, these men could bat a bit.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Ramps goes marching on

I was a little disappointed when he was dismissed for a paltry 196 the other day, but I suspect that his achievement of scoring in excess of 150 in five successive matches will be hard to beat, so there is some consolation.

David Green of the Telegraph has written a nice little article celebrating his current run of form, and of course, bemoaning the fact that it never quite translated onto the highest stage.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Brick Lane

For the last three years I've read and heard about how Monica Ali could be the next big thing, and now that her second work, Alentejo Blue, is finally out in print, I figured it was about time to go ahead and read the much-hyped Brick Lane. Last night, I did just that. It managed to leave me overwhelmingly underwhelmed, and yet I sacrificed much-needed sleep to finish it, so it can't really have been too bad.

A review I once read described her prose as being "unflamboyant," and that turned out to be a euphemism for mundane. Perhaps the hype raised my expectations too far, for this was not The Da Vinci Code, but neither is Ali a wordsmith par excellence.

The fundamental premise of the novel, an exploration of fate and free will, if somewhat unoriginal, is still an interesting one. Anyone who identifies with a diasporic community, and the challenges faced by generations of immigrants, will find plenty to relate to in Brick Lane, in both obvious and more subtle ways. A daughter wearing tight jeans - well we've seen that one before; but the husband framing his cycling proficiency certificate was at least a new spin on an old story.

Most of the formal reviews of Brick Lane have been very generous, almost sycophantically so in some cases. To be fair, there are some aspects of the novel that few would disagree were handled well. For example, the way that Ali pointedly avoids any exploration of the local geography, as if to illustrate the tight confines within which many immigrant families operate such that they are able to imagine that they are back home where they feel they truly belong. Also, the use of religion, in a non-judgemental fashion, as a guiding force for the majority of characters, albeit in differing guises.

Ironically, the construct that truly kept me turning the pages was the one that has been most criticised by both 'expert' reviewers and the general public - the letters from the protagonists sister, Hasina, back in Dhaka. They were intelligently used as a means for chronological advancement of the plot, but for my money their content was integral to both the story, and my enjoyment of it.

They managed to provide a sort of tragi-comic relief, while simultaneously allowing us to connect the two worlds, and further our understanding of the events leading up to and including the (not entirely) climactic moments. The way in which Ali used broken and twisted language really helped build on everything from character to culture and social structure, and those nuances were furthered by Hasina's philosophically astute and sophisticated observations of her world. Those thoughts were shrouded in a veil of simplicity and naivete, but much like the forthright statements of a five year old who does not neccessarily appreciate the inherent complexities of what he is considering, they succinctly and comprehensively depict an entire scenario.

Overall, a decent read, but neither well enough written nor constructed to genuinely move or impact me. Of course, the last book I read that really achieved that was The Kite Runner, so the bar is set pretty high.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Inzamam the Wookie

That's not my headline, it's stolen from the Daily Telegraph, in which Simon Briggs has penned what is ostensibly a mildly amusing article about Inzamam's comic dismissal yesterday.

The dismissal itself was quite something to behold. I've just watched it again frame by frame, and it only gets funnier. Only Inzi could possibly have got himself out in such a farcical manner.

But here's the thing. At what point does there cease to be any value in extracting humour, juvenile or otherwise, from Inzi's largesse. See - I've just done it again with a particularly bad pun. Yet when something gets this predictable, the joy is really taken out of it. I'm starting to think that, just as Sidhu-isms are now recognized as inanities, comments like
"Never has a Test batsman more resembled an elephant climbing over a garden fence."
are really getting old, even if the Inzamam-Chewbacca analogy was at least a new spin on the man's girth.

My point is simply that Inzamam has proven himself over the years to be the eternal fount of entertainment. Let his acts speak for themselves - we don't need every journalist working overtime to come up with half a dozen new euphemisms for "fat man"

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ramps 301*

Wow. What can I say? The last Surrey player to score a triple century was John Edrich in the 60's, but he was playing for England at the time. The last player to do it for Surrey was none other than Jack Hobbs, way back in 1926.

Now if only his 292 against Gloucestershire earlier in the season had been a triple as well. I was joking about taking him to Australia, but damn it all, the truth is there still isn't a better batsman in the country, and I have little doubt that he would actually perform if taken.

You can see the highlights on Surrey TV. Enjoy some top notch driving straight down the ground, and on both sides of the wicket, off both front and back foot.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

On the Ramp-age

As I write this, my man Ramps is resting peacefully on 174* in the latest instalment of his drive to take Surrey back into the first division of the County Championship.

It's been a tremendous season for one of the finest batsmen England has ever produced, and I'm starting to wonder if he can't go on and beat his own personal best from back in 1995. That year he scored something like 2250 runs, with 10 centuries. The performance stands out in memory because the only other person to top 9 centuries in a county season that I can recall in the last couple of decades was the South African Jimmy Cook. Cook had that stupendous season in 1991, the year in which Ramps made his Test debut, scoring nearly 3000 runs with 11 centuries. Brian Lara had 9 centuries in 1994, one of them the trifling 501*, and Rob Key hit 9 two seasons ago, and that's about it.

As things currently stand, Ramps has 1624 runs and 7 centuries, at an average of over 100. With games against Worcs, Gloucs, Essex, Glamorgan and Derby to come, he's probably got about 7 or 8 innings remaining this year. I wonder - if he reaches 12 centuries and 3000 runs, will he be headed over to Australia this winter?

I've got my Ashes seats secured, and there's nothing I'd like to see more than Ramps taking on Lee and Warne in Perth. He averages 40+ against the Aussies, and he once took the wicket of Justin Langer, at the WACA, so why not?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sachin vs. Sanjay

So Sachin Tendulkar and Sanjay Manjrekar are having a little tiff. In and of itself, nothing surprising there. It's neither the first nor the last time that an active sportsman will fall out with a former team mate who has
moved into the cushy critics' armchair. The spat is also probably not quite what it's being made out to be.

But for me, there's something a little different about this one. I've seen them together, off the field, and it's hard to imagine two cricketers being closer friends. Manjrekar, for all intents and purposes, appeared to play the elder brother role, but absent any overbearing didacticism. Watching them take throw-downs from each other on a tiled bathroom floor, and hearing of and observing the things they used to do together, one would
never have imagined a public feud of any sort, however minor.

I was going to say that it just goes to show, but I'm not entirely certain what it is that is illustrated. When the best of friendships can go sour, as I'm sure most of us have felt at some points in our lives, it does make you think about all the openly frosty dressing room relationships that exist. Little wonder that on occasion, some teams have real trouble performing as a cohesive unit.

Ultimately, I guess it's all part of growing up. When I first encountered the pair, Sachin looked a little more like this picture below, and grandmothers all over England were going ga-ga over him.