Saturday, December 20, 2008

Aus vs RSA Day 4: Rain, rain go away

The wicket is still as docile as ever, but this evening we were treated to a wonderful spell of fast bowling from Brett Lee in particular. There still is no greater sight in cricket than a fast bowler in full flow, and once he dismissed Amla (who walked, it should be noted), he bowled some beauties to de Villiers and Kallis. Full credit to to Mitchell Johnson, who was excellent bowling into the wind, took the likely match-winning wicket of Graeme Smith, and knocked Kallis onto his backside.

South Africa ended the day mathematically in the game yet again, but the reality is that everytime they've worked their way back to parity, Australia managed to wrest the initiative once again. More crucially, de Villiers and Kallis represent the last hope for the Proteas. Duminy is making a debut, and the tail effectively begins with him. It won't wag like the Aussie tail has, twice, that's for sure.

I'm expecting South Africa to fold around 100 short, but praying that they will actually run the Aussies close and give me a 5th successive great day of Test cricket. Either way, I doubt I'll have a 15 hour day at the WACA on Day 5. When was the last time a day's play in a Test ended at 8:03pm under lights?

My day's highlight, apart from Kallis being knocked on his rear end - Aleem Dar asking AB de Villiers "how many balls has he (Johnson) bowled in this over?" I wonder if he'll be consulting the non-striker on the next lbw decision as well. Oh, and yet another brilliant catch by de Villiers. The man is a legend.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Aus vs RSA Day 3: The Wessels Vessel

I'm shattered, and in need of sleep, so this will be brief. The radio comms were trying to figure out what to call a potential trophy for this series (there currently isn't one). My offering -- "The Wessels Vessel," in honour of Kepler Wessels, who played for both teams.

Another surprisingly topsy turvy day of cricket saw South Africa get bowled out much as I expected, and Australia seemingly take a stranglehold, before the Springboks flirted with the idea of being competitive, much to my surprise. Paul Harris and Jacques Kallis bowled beautifully to strangle Australia, and claw their side right back into the contest, but unfortunately, there was insufficient support from Steyn, Morkel and Ntini (those would be the 3 supposed strike bowlers). A target of under 300 might have been gettable, but it looks like they'll be chasing 400 now, and I just can't see it happening. Then again, this team did bat for over two days in England in the last innings, so perhaps I shouldn't abandon hope on their behalf. Then again, again, that was England. This is Australia.

Hats off, ultimately, to Mitchell Johnson, for single handedly wresting the initiative and delivering the Test match to his side. He'd have had a 9-fer too, had Brett Lee called for the catch which Haddin eventually didn't quite reach. On a wicket that continues to be completely devoid of significant life, to take 8-61 is simply phenomenal. Especially if you're a bloke who doesn't even swing the ball.

Hats off, also, to AB de Villiers. When I grow up, AB, I want to be you. Three breathtaking catches, and you also play golf off a single handicap despite playing only one round per month, and allegedly could outslash Slash on the guitar. Not bad, for a man who by his 7th Test match had scored a 50, a 100, taken two wickets, taken outfield catches, and taken catches as a keeper. Beat that, Sobers!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Aus vs RSA Day Two: Where are all the flat track bullies?

Make no mistake about it, this track is as flat as the proverbial pancake. South Africa's 243-8 may not suggest it, but that is frankly nothing more than a reflection of the Proteas' weak batting line up, which was hampered further by the absence of Prince in this Test.

Kallis and Smith scored a few, but the former was nothing more than his obdurate self, and the latter thoroughly unconvincing. Amla and de Villiers were the ones who looked class on the day, Amla in particular looking like he could grow into a real world-beater. The pair timed the ball beautifully and looked completely untroubled at the crease.

It took a beautiful delivery by Krezja, drifting away, dipping late, then turning in sharply, to lure Amla into a drive that was beaten on the inside on the way through to the stumps, and as for de Villiers, his loose drive at Johnson paved the way for a truly South African collapse.

The collapse owed much to Johnson's brilliant day at work. Like Morkel on the first day, he bowled intelligently, varying his pace and length, and looked likely from the start. He richly deserved his 7-fer, even if he was aided and abetted by Aleem Dar, who had yet another poor day as he first dubiously triggered Duminy, and then appeared to miss a back-foot no-ball when Johnson went round the wicket to Harris and had him caught at backward square.

When i got to the WACA at 4:30am this morning, I predicted 400 for Australia, and 250 all out for South Africa in response. Australia fell slightly short, but South Africa are right on track to live up to my expectations, and unfortunately what that means is that this game is somewhat over as a contest. The interest now lies in whether Johnson can turn 7 into 9, and possibly beat Murali's 9-51 and record the 5th best figures of all time; and then in how many Australian batsmen can record second innings hundreds on a dead wicket, as I can't see them all messing up a second time around. Fortunately, I'll be there to see it all.

One more thing about Johnson - he was clearly the fastest bowler on display in this Test match. I don't know if the speed gun backed that up, but it was pretty obvious watching it live. Siddle was not far behind, followed by Lee, and I'd have to say that all three Australians were faster than the South African pace trio, which does not reflect well on the much-hyped Steyn.

It's also interesting to look at just how few of the dismissals in the match were a result of good deliveries. Taking them one by one:

  • Hayden - got a good ball that bounced a bit and seamed away from him, but played a poor shot
  • Katich - triggered by Aleem Dar
  • Ponting - a good catch, but a very poor short pushing hard at the ball first up
  • Hussey - a good ball that angled across him, and a great catch by de Villiers
  • Clarke - the second worst shot of the game
  • Symonds - the equal third worst shot of the game
  • Haddin - the equal third worst shot of the game, again to a nothing delivery
  • Lee - soft half-hearted prod with hard hands
  • Johnson - possibly triggered by Aleem Dar
  • Siddle - had a go at one too many in the end, and edged through - credit to Ntini probably merited here
  • McKenzie - perhaps the worst shot ever, leave alone off this game -- I only know one other person who plays shots like that pull to mid on, and he plays club cricket in Northern California.
  • Smith - a big inside edge, no footwork, but no surprises there, he wasn't batting all that well
  • Amla - got undone by an absolute beaut by Krezja
  • Kallis - chased it a little outside off and edged through to the keeper
  • de Villiers - got a decent ball, but could have let it go
  • Duminy - okay, a bum decision, but he got in a right tangle over a short ball on a flat track, and that's worrying
  • Morkel - so much for being an all rounder, but to be fair, Johnson bowled a smart slower off-cutter and he closed the face early - credit to the bowler here
  • Harris - a possible back-foot no-ball, but tamely turned straight into the hands of backward square leg.
Unbelievable really. All this on a track that as I keep saying, is pretty much dead. There's nothing to help the bowlers here, which shows you just how well Johnson bowled to take 7! Over the years, we keep seeing certain batsmen labelled Flat Track Bullies. Well, what would South Africa give to have one of those right now, I wonder?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Aus vs RSA Day 1: Keep your mouth shut!

341-9 on a docile pitch after electing to bat would appear to be a sub par score. On the other hand, having been 15-3 at one stage, Australia might consider it a great recovery. On a third hand, having been 164-3 and in total control, they might have been looking at 500. On a fourth hand, having then been 166-5 with an out of form Symonds fresh at the crease, 341-9 looks good again. But on a fifth hand, having climbed to 259-5 in commanding fashion, it represents a collapse. And on the sixth and final hand, having been 303-8, with an expected 6 or 7 overs remaining, perhaps it is a good score after all.

That set of hands really tells the story of the day's play. You'll hear people say that it ebbed and flowed, with each side gaining the advantage at different times. However if truth be told, the only advantage that was gained was the first one, in the first 45 minutes of play. Each subsequent one was spectacularly lost by one team, not gained by the other.

Australia started well by winning the toss, and Steyn and Ntini were bowling the wrong lengths and lines, though at least the latter was attempting to pitch the ball somewhere near the batsman. Hayden looked in complete command, playing some cracking straight drives on both sides, before Ntini changed the angle, went round the wicket, and inexplicably lured the opener into a soft prod outside off, presenting Smith with the easiest of catches at first slip.

By this point, it was already clear that the pitch was something of a featherbed. Good carry, decent bounce, but essentially a perfect batting track. Justin Langer was drooling in the commentary box above my head. In strode Ricky Ponting, and not being a fan, I was concerned that he was on his way to a massive hundred. I needn't have worried. First ball, he pushed hard, and perhaps a touch late, at a ball outside off stump, and the edge flew low to de Villiers, who took what I thought at the time was a really good catch.

Hussey survived the hat-trick, but then became the first, and perhaps only, Australian batsman to fall victim to quality cricket. Steyn angled one across him, on a perfect line and length, and Hussey had to play at it. He duly edged, the ball landing a few feet short of de Villiers at third slip, thanks to Hussey's softening of the hands. Or at least, that's what everyone in the ground thought was happening, only for de Villiers to quite brilliantly dive forward from third slip and take a truly stupendous catch. The last player I saw taking catches like that was Carl Hooper. I don't know how much airtime the replay got on TV (it got a fair few on the big screen at the WACA), but I hope it got the credit it deserved. It doesn't look as spectacular as many so-called classic catches, but it really was one of the best catches you will ever see.

Unfortunately, that was one of the few pieces of good bowling from South Africa on the day. Steyn was too short, even being wided 3 times in the process, Ntini never looked threatening, Kallis was disastrous, and only Morkel of the pacemen looked to have the ability to make something happen on a dead track, varying his pace, line and length intelligently at times.

Clarke and Katich batted nervously at first, presumably because of the situation, but soon realised how friendly the pitch was, and once they were set, it looked like there was nothing that could get them out. The only threat posed was by one Paul Harris delivery that accidentally turned and bounced, much to the bemusement of everyone, I'm sure.

Speaking of Harris, he fast became a cult hero of the WACA crowd. He had a mild case of the yips with his bowling run up, stopping several times in mid-run. Not something you see often from a spinner. The real comedy moment, which earned him eternal adulation from the fans, was when he ran in and stopped for the third time. Only this time, he looked to be a in a bit of a panic, pointing feverishly in his mouth and almost appearing to choke. Indeed, it transpired that while running in with his mouth wide open, he had swallowed a fly. No spiders around to catch the fly, and I suspect he kept his mouth well shut thereafter.

There was also a comedy moment from Kallis, his entire bowling spell apart, when he warmed up to bowl for the first time and sent his practice delivery, aimed at mid-off, about 20 feet behind him in the direction of mid-wicket instead.

The Katich-Clarke partnership was only broken by the efforts of Aleem Dar. Apparently Hawkeye suggests that he may have been correct, but my birds-eye viewpoint says that he was a little too eager to give Katich lbw when nailed by a low full toss from Morkel, who was bowling round the wicket and angling it down leg. In fact, he was so eager, that he raised his finger completely in conjunction with the bowler's half-hearted appeal. It was a shocker, no matter what Hawkeye says - you could see that the South Africans were surprised as well.

A combination of smart captaincy and batsman stupidity then accounted for Clarke. Smith brought in the long-off, to try and tempt Clarke to hit Harris over the top instead of milking singles. He tried it the very next ball. It didn't work.

Symonds and Haddin then came together and consolidated by upping the tempo considerably - with some early edges and later lusty blows. However, the Smith-Harris combination then trapped Symonds. Smith had Harris move to bowling over the wicket, outside leg stump. Symonds hit the first one through mid-wicket for four, and then tried to repeat next delivery, only to top edge high to mid-on.

Haddin was then a victim of the new ball, a Mark Boucher adjustment to the field, and yet another ridiculous shot. Slashing with rooted feet at a wide loosener off the second delivery of the second new ball, when Boucher has specifically had the man at point pushed deep is a bad idea, and Duminy was grateful to get on the scoresheet on debut.

Steyn then bounced Lee out (Ian O'Brien can tell you how that worked out), and then Morkel applied the coup-de-grace with another Aleem Dar assisted lbw off the final delivery of the evening, leaving the match perfectly poised.

A sub-par score on a flat track means that there is probably enough in the South African batting to post a competitive total, and take this game into at least a 4th day, which will make the expense of this years membership well worthwhile :-)

And for the interested, a chronology of my day:

  • 0215hrs -- alarm goes off. pack lunch, load car up with chair and cushions
  • 0245hrs -- head out to the WACA on empty roads, trying really hard to keep to the speed limit
  • 0305hrs -- arrive at the WACA. #4 in the queue this year, behind ex CI-er Dave, and my American buddy Rick from Sonoma, whom I met in the Members queue at the WACA 2 years ago for the Ashes Test. Two Americans (if you count me) as part of the first four people in line to watch an Australia South Africa Test match at the WACA... what are the odds?
  • 0400hrs -- curse myself for waking up so early - there's less interest in this Test than there was in the India Test last year, nad I could clearly have slept in an extra hour and still been at the front.
  • 0430hrs -- feel a little better as the crowd starts to trickle in
  • 0600hrs -- a new innovation, a coffee, tea and hot chocolate van - congratulations to the WACA for figuring this one out at long last.
  • 0800hrs -- round one of gates opening, and we can move up to the turnstiles
  • 0830hrs -- loyalty (40 years) and high attendee members are let in first, they have a separate queue. This is the moment to enjoy watching 90 year olds with walking sticks outrun Usain Bolt. It's pheneomenal stuff. The poor security guards are nearly trampled in the process, as always.
  • 0845hrs -- got my seat, just about. There's about 10 seats which I consider worthwhile, and I managed to snag the 8th one. Couldn't have asked for a better place from which to watch the Test match.
  • 1000hrs -- sitting there and wondering why all the South Africans are congratulating Duminy. Looks like he's playing - but can't tell who's injured.
  • 1130hrs -- feels like bedtime, but at last the cricket is starting!
I shall be sleeping in tonight. I think getting there for 4:30am on Day 2 should do the trick.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Australia vs South Africa: My Preview

Here we are again. Less than 48 hours remain before the start of the Australia-South Africa Test series. Highly anticipated by many, including myself, for some of the most compelling Test cricket I have seen, especially as a neutral, has been in Tests involving these two teams. A packed MCG for Warne's 300th Test wicket, and a spectacular spell from Allan Donald to the Waugh brothers remain firmly etched in memory. With any luck, a fast bouncy track this week will ensure that Steyn, Morkel, Lee and Johnson create a few new highlights.

I expect Australia to win, with runs for Ponting in particular, simply because they have, in my book, a far superior batting lineup. Steyn and Morkel look to have world class potential, but neither can claim to be the finished article yet, and if they're not careful, the WACA will be a curse rather than a blessing. More than one visiting paceman has lost the plot and pitched the ball far too short over here, and you can expect that the Australians will not make that mistake.

It appears that the game is not sold out - surprising, considering Perth's large South African population. Unfortunately, that's unlikely to make a difference for those of us queueing up for a seat in the Member's enclosure. A 2am drive down to the WACA looks to be the order of the day, though with any luck, I can sleep in until 4am after the first day.

A comfy chair, a seat cushion, a good book, some cryptic crosswords, my Sansa mp3 player ($20 - beat that, iPod!!) and plenty of food and drink will get me through to gates opening at 9:30 and the 11:30 start of play. 9 and a half hours of waiting, followed by 6 hours of cricket. And as always, the funniest part will be watching those who queued up in order to do their knitting, and then leave at tea-time in order to beat the traffic. Unbelievable, but it happens every year.

After my brush with WACA authority this weekend - I was booted out of the Member's for not wearing a collared shirt, or as someone else suggested, for not being old enough or white enough - I shall be suitably attired. Instead of my smart long-sleeved shirt and trousers, which were deemed unacceptable, I will wear scruffy shorts and a collared T-shirt, and sure enough, they'll wave me right on in. Quite incredible.

The White Tiger

Lightweight. That was my instinctive reaction to this Booker Prize winner. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the book, and in fact, I read it in two short sittings, putting it down only to watch the warm up game at the WACA.

However, no major flaws does not a prize-winner make, in my estimation. The tale is appropriately poignant, and that's where it seems to fall down. It's almost as if the entire story is crafted in order to pointedly engage a particular audience, and that manufactured feel is what stopped me from liking it a lot more.

The narrative is solid, and the prose engaging but not spectacular, and anyone who enjoys fueling a stereotype (which may well be accurate, in this case) will appreciate it.

If you are drawn to tales of an exotic yet down to earth reality in which caste, creed and basic human instinct are fundamental, then this is for you. Even more so if that is your carefully cultivated image of the India that you only ever get to see the periphery of, the one that you are sheltered from in your five-star hotel and luxury lifestyle. And that, no doubt, is why Adiga now has the Booker Prize.

Read it. Enjoy it. It's a good book. Insightful, even, if you're not already overexposed. Just don't be fooled into expecting great literature.

Friday, December 12, 2008

South Africa vs Western Australian XI

I made my way down to the WACA this morning to watch the South Africans' warm up game against what was essentially the Western Australian 2nd XI. Being a 2-day game, it was really never going to be more than a glorified net session, meaning that there's little one can really glean from the performances or anything else, but there was still enough of interest for the couple of hundred souls who were there. Of course, that said, most of them spent the day reading books or getting on with their knitting, but I've moaned about that before so I won't start now.

The pitch itself was a disappointment. Pitch number 8 was used for this game, apparently relaid 6 months ago. The relaid pitches at the WACA have been a throwback to its heyday, when pace and bounce ruled the roost. Not this one. Lonwabo Tsotsobe did get struck, but that owed more to his relative ineptitude with the bat than anything in the surface. The rest of the day, the ball carried through no more than waist high, and the spectators were in about as much danger as the batsmen.

The Test match however, is to be played on pitch number 6, and that could make for some fun stuff. That's the pitch on which Shaun Tait had the Kiwis hopping about last year, and if it plays anything like that, then watching Morkel, Steyn, Lee and Johnson ought to be an absolute blast.

Pitch issues aside, the South Africans may also be a little concerned about their batting. Bluntly put, they don't seem to have an awful lot of it, despite coming here with, on paper, their strongest line up in years. De Villiers put together a composed century, but McKenzie's half century wasn't altogether convincing, and with Smith, Prince and Boucher failing, and Kallis once again being called selfish by the press in an attempt to create some interest in the proceedings, only Amla looks in possession of both class and form. However, he too looked less than complete when playing the short ball, and a quick bouncy pitch may be quite a test. Throw in his having not yet been dismissed on tour, and his odds of failing in the Test seem pretty good.

Also of interest today were the field placings employed by the WA side in the initial overs. Smith, a belligerent lefty, and McKenzie, a relatively stoic right-hander, were facing Davis, bowling left arm inswing (to the righty), and Porter, a right-armer shaping the ball away. That covers about every permutation in the book. And yet Simmons, the WA captain, employed an absolutely identical field for both bowlers to both batsmen. Three slips, a gully, a square point (presumably because of the lack of pace in the pitch and the bowlers), a mid-off, a mid-on, a square leg and a deep fine leg. Either he expected his bowlers to bowl to that field, which they most certainly did not do, or what we all get taught about adjusting our fields for the bowler and batsman is not all that it's cracked out to be.

Field placing aside, Ricky Ponting could learn a thing or two from Simmons. He managed 32 overs in the first hour, despite using 7 medium pacers and just two overs of spin in that time, and he followed it up with 33 overs in the second hour. In fact, stumps were drawn after 90 overs, a full ten minutes ahead of schedule. Has that ever happened before?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hot Spot - the perils of technology

If you're a cricket fan, you're now well used to Hawkeye, the Snickometer and perhaps even the Protecto-Cam (ok, that one only exists in Billy Birmingham's world). Most recently, you've probably encountered Hot Spot.

Launched a couple of years ago by Channel Nine (who else?), Hot Spot uses infra-red imaging technology, detecting the heat emitted when, for example, the ball strikes the edge of the bat. Viewers are shown a negative image which clearly highlights the "hot spots," amongst which are any points of impact between the ball and other surfaces.

Hot Spot technology has also detected a few other distinct heat signatures that viewers have hitherto not been made privy too. If you thought technology was putting the Umpire's decision making under intense scrutiny, you're right, but the scrutiny doesn't end there.

Hot Spot, it transpires, can also detect flatulence. That's right. The Channel Nine technicians "see" Umpires and Players breaking wind. One can only wonder if they've actually been keeping score, as it were. You'd have to imagine baked-beans-on-toast Warney would be somewhere at the top end of the rankings.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ronaldo's handball

There's not an awful lot to say about Ronaldo winning the Ballon D'Or today, but after reading all the articles about his quite incredible sending off in the derby game this weekend, I have to sneak a word in edgewise.

It's worth stepping back to the first yellow card he received. The tackle, even in the eyes of the commentators on my TV feed, did not warrant a card, and it was quite a surprise when Howard Webb flashed the yellow. That said, when Ronaldo responded by saracastically applauding, I fully expected him to be sent off there and then, and was quite relieved when it didn't happen.

He does cop a lot on the field, and is often not protected by the referees, but to be fair, City did not set out to nobble him, unlike some other teams, and in this case, although he received a poor yellow, he risked it all by reacting.

Still, the game went on, and then came the comical incident pictured above. There's no question that he used his hands, and nobody, least of all Ronaldo, is disputing that. What he claims is that he heard a shout, and a whistle, and so he used his hands and was intending to stop the game. For this, he has been roundly pilloried, but let's pause to think rationally for a moment. Forget about your hatred for all things Ronaldo (for those of you who are not United fans) for a minute.

Consider for a second that we have here one of, if not the, most accomplished headers of a ball in a penalty box. Remember his header against Roma last year, or even his header against Chelsea in the Champions League final. Not a man who is queasy in the air. Now look at the picture above. He has risen higher than all and sundry, and has a clear opportunity to head the ball goalwards. It's what he does best. Now whatever you may think of him, it is ridiculous to suggest, as most observers have done, that he did this for no reason. It's pretty obvious that under normal circumstances, Ronaldo would have got head to ball, and aimed for goal. Once again, that's what he does. Something prompted him to do otherwise. I'm inclined to believe that he did think he heard a whistle.

Unfortunately, there was no whistle. I can't and don't blame the referee for producing a second yellow card. It's the rest of us - the media and the fans - who need to retain some perspective here and think about what we're saying when we analyze the situation. Sure, there's nothing more fun than pulling the big guy down. But in this particular instance, all it does is make those of you doing it look very foolish indeed. At least, it would, if anyone else were thinking rationally.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Worst Bond movie ever?

Debatable, to be sure, but the fact that it's even a consideration is a major let-down.

Granted, it was a better than average action movie - but the problem is, that's all it was. Car chase, followed by foot chase, followed by boat chase, followed by plane chase. I can only assume that the train chase was left on the editing room floor.

So what was wrong with the movie?

  1. Worst. Bond Theme Song. Ever. Simple as that. There have been some good, and some great, Bond theme songs in the past - just think of View to a Kill, Live and Let Die, Goldfinger, Nobody Does it Better. There have been a couple of misses too, especially in the Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan eras, but ultimately, even the oft-maligned All Time High (from Octopussy) was streets ahead of the abysmal Another Way To Die
  2. Speaking of Bond Themes, where was the signature theme in the movie? I heard a few distant cousins along the way, but Bond without his theme? Give me a break
  3. Gadgets? Hello? If Q could be succeeded by R, he presumably was also preceded by P. So where's P?
  4. Dry wit? Bond is an English Spy. Not an American Assassin. Sarcastic British humour is a quintessential part of his character. Only the perfunctory and somewhat lame "He was a dead end" line came close.
  5. Let's face it. Bond is a "sexist, mysoginist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War." If you need to re-imagine him, make up a new character. Start a 008 franchise if you must.
At the end of the day, if James Bond is not deliviring cutting one-liners, bedding women, and saving the world in the nick of time with the aid of a cool gadget or two, then he doesn't really exist. A castrated Bond is worthless. I'll go watch one of the Matt Damon Bourne movies if I just want an action thriller.

Here's hoping the next effort gets the franchise back on track. It's not a co-incidence that there were a grand total of 13 people in the cinema last night.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

We've only just begun

Everyone's saying it, and I couldn't agree more - this is truly a historic day, not just for America, but for the world. I had tears in my eyes when the election was called last night. Credit where it's due too - John McCain's concession speech was graceful and dignified. Barack Obama's acceptance speech was absolutely sensational, and I was even more grateful that he gave us a harsh dose of reality when he pointed out that all we've done is give change an opportunity.

And therein lies my one concern in all of this.

Certainly, we've just witnessed something even an optimist like myself wasn't sure would happen anytime soon. A statement has been made about what this country can and should stand for, and the gauntlet has been thrown down to the rest of the world. There can be little doubt that the United States already, less than 24 hours after the election was called, projects a softer and more open face to the world. One that we can all love and learn to love. There is hope, for us, and for everyone out there.

But Barack Obama is not God. That's where I'm starting to feel like a few people have got it wrong. Not because Obama has ever suggested or implied that he is, but because people, as we tend to do, have taken things to extremes. I'm already hearing about how all our problems will be solved by Valentine's Day next year.

They won't. Obama keeps re-iterating that even one term is unlikely to fix everything. He's spot on. The question is, do the people realise that? My worst fear is that we see a backlash that brings out the worst in our country when people start to realise that instant gratification and reality are mutually exclusive for the most part.

We've set ourselves up for something truly great, but the key is to now trust in our judgement, back ourselves to the hilt, and give our leader, and ourselves, the time and space that is fundamental to bringing about change.

To borrow from my inner Dileep Premchandran, let me draw on a football analogy. Sir Alex Ferguson was brought into Manchester United to bring about change. He was hailed when he was appointed, but when he didn't deliver instant results, even some of his most ardent supporters begain to turn on him. Fortunately, the masses could not vote him out, the board understood and bought into the long term vision, and the results are there to see. The fans now hail his greatness, to a man.

Obama's Board of Directors includes you, me (once I get the paperwork completed) and every other (voting-age) citizen of this great country. Let's not make the mistake of abandoning the long term vision we've voted for. Let the foundations be built, and from that platform, the future will arise. Don't blow it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

How do people get here?

I discovered today that Devendra Prabhudesai is now a BCCI media relations officer. He is of course better known for his biography of Rahul Dravid, which I once scathingly reviewed, amongst other things. Anyway, that reminded me that I had this blog, so I went to check out if anyone else was looking at it. Apparently, one or two people are -- and without further ado, here are some of the search terms you're typing into Google and Yahoo! to get here (the most popular by far is "park park wherever you may be")

  • theirry henry arrogant (he sure is)
  • goooooooooooooooooal (with that many o's precisely)
  • shakespeare cockroach (umm, if you say so)
  • scrotometer (where do I get one of those?)
  • "laura gunderson" and "window shop"" (huh?)
  • how i watch india tour to bangladesh cricket match channel name please (google doesn't like rude queries)
  • shane warne blow up dolls (yeah!)
  • t2d2 (wtf?)
  • (sorry buddy!)
  • don't want to go to south africa (umm, well don't then!)
  • 4fc395a8b00ca00e0d9d4430d8b766d466d53dfd1e6f482a40f65a07c758b205 (if anyone can tell me how the search algo got this person to my blog I'd be much obliged)
  • a profile that tells you what phone cristiano ronaldo has got (stalker alert!)
  • bob woolmer might be related to dawood (hadn't heard that theory before)
  • can india cricket team win world cup of 2011 after disappointment performance of 2007 world cup (in a word, no)
  • did thierry really cheat on his wife? (no idea)
  • tell me everything i ever want to know about the cricketer chris roger in australia (he didn't quite make the cut)
  • how close is the friendship between harbhajan singh and shahid afridi (ooh, that could be a good rumour)
  • if someone gave you a cricket phone can you get turned on (whatever floats your boat!!)
  • manchester united's brilliant counter-attacking game is the best in the world (how can I disagree)
  • out of my comfort john (yes, i think that was the original title for Steve Waugh's autobiography)
  • sofa disposal outlet in manchester (umm, why the heck did you click on my blog?)
  • why the umpire has not given any batsman out yet? (yes, Google really knows everything)
  • why usa suspended the icc (sorry mate, it was the other way around)
  • we all live cricket and some of us play and enjoy cricket and some of us appear for umpire tests (err, okay)
  • are we all from pluto? (you might be)
  • why goalkeepers are called onion bags? (aah, Tommy Smyth, you have a fan!)
All I can say is are these for real?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bad shot, or bad shot selection?

A nice little article in the Times by Simon Barnes today - he talks about the difference between flawed thinking and flawed action, in a sporting context, and I think articulates it pretty well. He rightly points out as well how fine a line it is, and how success and failure impact our armchair assessments. All in all a great little read, and something that anyone who has played sport to a significant level can certainly comprehend and relate to.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fabricated quotes?

Anyone who's ever spoken to a journalist knows that what appears in the press the following morning may or may not resemble what you actually said. It can get even worse when some sort of translation is involved. Looks like CricInfo is getting in on the game with it's quotes.

Top of the quotes on the site today is the following:

Neil McKenzie, at the non-striker's end, reacts as Jacques Kallis trudges off before the umpire's verdict in the first Test against India in Chennai

Not a particularly exciting quote, until you realise that, according to CricInfo's own commentary and scorecard, Neil McKenzie had been sitting in the pavilion for the best part of 15 overs when this happened. He may have been anywhere on the ground, but wherever he was, it certainly was not at the non-strikers end.

So the question is - can CI not tell the difference between Hashim Amla and Neil McKenzie? (ouch!) Or should we really not trust any of the quotes that are trotted out for our entertainment?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Geography 101 for Cricket Journalists

Clearly, Geography 101, as well as Logic 101, need to be included in mandatory training for journalists.

Take this brilliant excerpt from Myles Hodgson of the Press Association, as he attempts to explain why relatively few English players are likely to sign up with the IPL.

"Unlike the other Test-playing nations, England is in the Northern Hemisphere so they have less breaks than most international teams simply because they play in their summer and then go abroad to play in another summer."
Ponder that for a minute, if you will. And then ask yourself a couple of questions.

Firstly, when did India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Caribbean countries shift south of the equator? Or is it, in Hodgson's view, only South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia and New Zealand that, along with England, rank consideration as "real" Test-playing nations? I won't even go where some people might take this one!

Secondly, if England play at home in the summer, and go abroad to play in the southern summer; and all the other teams are in the southern hemisphere; then who exactly are England playing against, if you take Hodgson's premise that no other team has to play both home and abroad in opposite summers?

Unbelievable - how does this tripe get past an editor?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mr Cricket - an example for everyone

I've written about how poor Viv Richard's autobiography was. I've pilloried Prabhudesai on Dravid, enough to receive a long and impassioned defense of his work from the author (material for another post someday). Steve Waugh's epic was sadly, decidedly within his comfort zone. Generally, sporting biographies and autobiographies turn out to be as banal as can be.

With that in mind, I wasn't impressed when my wife spent a few dollars on Mike Hussey's book - and yet here I sit today, complimenting her on her astute choice.

For once, we have a book by a cricketer that actually talks about what it means and what it takes, to be the cricketer that he is. It is open, honest and insightful, and apart from a few graphics to illustrate how good a cricketer Hussey actually is, everything in it is information I cannot glean from elsewhere. I actually feel like I learned something from the book, not just about Hussey and his struggle to the top, but about myself as well.

Sure, he doesn't have the literary skills of a Dumas or a Mitchell, but boy does he deliver some meaningful content. I would countenance any young player looking to make his way in the game to read this. Hussey's methods may not be for everyone, but there's little doubt that this book can be a tremendous guide to anyone.

Friday, February 15, 2008

How good is David Mitchell?!

I observed back when I read Black Swan Green that David Mitchell appeared to be a prodigiously talented writer. Now that I've read Cloud Atlas I can safely say that my original assessment was a massive understatement and I did Mitchell a great disservice. I don't even know where to begin to describe the masterful tapestry that he has woven, so I won't.

It shall have to suffice to say that he has got to be one of, if not the, most innately talented authors I have ever come across. His mastery of each of the half-dozen completely different voices that he adopts is quite incredible, and the only reason it took me more than one night to read the book was the fact that I had to get up early each morning to drive down to the WACA for the small matter of a Test match.

One contrarian caveat that I must throw in here for clarification. The book itself I found to be excellent, but I'm not sure it's really an all-time-great novel in my own estimation. It's up there near the top of modern literature to be sure, but I'm not sure I'd even rate it above one of my other recent reads, The Time Traveler's Wife.

Perhaps it wasn't wise to read For One More Day right after Cloud Atlas, but in any case, I'm simply glad that I didn't actually spend money on this book. There's nothing egregiously bad about it, but it didn't particularly have anything going for it either. Repetitive and thus predictable, it smacks of a short story masquerading as a novel. An author can pull that off, if he has the sort of literary skills that Mitchell possesses. I suspect even Mitch Albom fans would struggle to say this was a really great piece of work.

The Inheritance of Loss was an interesting read, mostly in that I really struggled to figure out where the author was coming from. Astonishingly, there wasn't a single positive character in the book. Every one of them was in some way a pathetic caricature, and I use that word to emphasise the lack of depth that often existed. Oddly, I found myself wanting to skip chunks of text, and yet continue reading - perhaps an indication that Ms Desai's writing didn't resonate with me, but that the story that might have been told, did? Again, nothing terrible about the book, but not one I'd particularly recommend, and I am stunned that it won the Booker prize! An almost very good book that didn't quite make it.

Jasper Fforde, take a bow. I've been wanting to try Fforde out for a long time, and I finally took the plunge. The Eyre Affair is outrageous stuff, and pure entertainment, but in a quality, rather than cheap way. Light, yet sumptuous, and oestensibly trite, yet captivatingly brilliant. No question I'll be reading his entire collection now, and if you are into your literature, but also enjoy suspending disbelief, then I have little doubt that you will love the neither utopian nor dystopian world that Fforde has created.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Four brilliant days at the WACA

What a wonderful Test match. It ebbed and flowed for three great days, and the fourth day provided tremendous entertainment, although with Australia never quite getting back on top despite threatening, it may not qualify as one of the all time great Test matches.

However, it did qualify, in my book, as one of India's greatest ever victories, and it certainly was a historic performance. Perhaps the only Indian victory greater than this one, given the context, the pitch, the expectations and the quality of the opposition, was the Laxman-Dravid Calcutta encounter.

I think the best way to summarise my experience is to go through player by player with my thoughts, seeing as anyone who's reading this already knows what happened.

  • Billy Bowden - He had a pretty good Test actually, keeping the theatrics to a minimum, and getting it mostly right. His one clanger may have been the Symonds lbw on the final day, and there was a close one he didn't give against Dravid in the first knock, but that was about it. However, his inability to count to six was quite ridiculous at times, most notably when he made his partner go back to his post, only to be overruled by the third umpire. Also poor was his remonstrating with bowlers not to appeal too much - perhaps he got a little carried away by the spirit situation.
  • Asad Rauf - he had a shocker in my book. He seemed to be struggling with the conditions, and he got increasingly trigger happy as the Test went on. He sent Dhoni, Tendulkar, Rogers and Hussey all packing with iffy lbw's, and nailed Dravid in the second innings with a poor caught behind decision. Fortunately though, all these were marginal calls, rather than egregiously terrible ones as we saw in Sydney. What he did prove though, was that umpires need warm-up games too. The ball bounces more in Sydney than it does in Rawalpindi or Multan, Mr Rauf.

  • Wasim Jaffer - Continued to show that he possesses quite unflappable temperament, but also little ability to resist the flirtatious drive. He was enthusiastic in the field though, and the opening partnership is likely to remain for Adelaide.
  • Virender Sehwag - Batted like a man who had no form and little class to fall back on, which was sad to see. However, quite simply his attitude and approach - taking the game to the Aussies - made a notable difference at the top of the order, and he'll be back in the side for a while now I think. He was also heavily involved in the field, always having something to say to the captain and bowlers, and by all accounts his contributions were vital.
  • Rahul Dravid - Much happier at number three, and played some great cricket, despite not being at his most fluent. No surprise that he wound up top-scoring in India's best away win ever, is it? Dropped one on day 4 that he didn't see, but otherwise was superb in the slips, and was clearly Kumble's right hand man - the captain was invariably seen going to Dravid for advice. He made me cry when he got out though. That's the third 90-odd I've seen him get live!
  • Sachin Tendulkar - I take back anything I've ever said in question of this man. He can bloody well bat. Getting very slow in the field unfortunately, but do we care? The crowd in the members all wanted to see him score runs, and they got their wish, though not the century both they and he craved, thanks to Asad Rauf.
  • Saurav Ganguly - What a disaster in the field, and in this Test in general. Everyone around me in the crowd wanted to know why on earth he was in the side, and I couldn't provide an answer. His lethargy was mind-numbing, and his efforts in the field often laughable (not that I could do better or anything). I hope the rumour of sickness was in fact true, and we will see better from him in Adelaide. I'm not a fan, but even then I expected a lot more!
  • VVS Laxman - Sometimes it's hard to imagine how he hasn't scored 10 thousand runs and 40 centuries. This was one of those Tests. He just manages to look divine.
  • MS Dhoni - Samson in disguise? The long highlighted hair is gone, and so is the go-for-it batsman. In his place though, we have someone who is looking increasingly competent, both in front of and behind the stumps. I've been calling for Parthiv Patel to come back into the side, but I think I might have to rethink that one.
  • Anil Kumble - What can you say about the man? Looks like he was made skipper about ten years too late, and I don't see how he's ever going to stop bowling. His batting was a disappointment though - his team needed him twice, and he failed them both times. Getting to be a liability in the field too.
  • Irfan Pathan - He bowled beautifully, moved the ball nicely, was a livewire in the field, and batted with considerable aplomb, to the surprise and consternation of many in the crowd. Welcome back - it's going to be hard to drop him now, and RP Singh will be the one looking to see when Zaheer is back.
  • RP Singh - I like his attitude, and what's not to like about a bloke who can swing it at 140kmh? His batting in the second dig was a bit of a revelation, but he may be the most vulnerable of the three pacemen from this Test, despite being the most senior!
  • Ishant Sharma - what do you say about a chap who gets Ricky Ponting twice, does him for pace and bounce half a dozen times, and bowls one of the best extended spells I have ever seen, live or on television. The crowd really took to him, and the general consensus was that if he put some meat on those bones, there's some truly world class potential there - stuff that would put a Srinath to shame.
  • Harbhajan Singh - talk about an enthusiastic twelfth man. He was everywhere, all the time -- except when Andrew Symonds was batting, in which case the 12th man duties were undertaken by others.
  • Yuvraj Singh - the poor attitude that we have read about was quite apparent in the fielding sessions, and it was no great disappointment when he limped off injured on the third morning.
  • VRV Singh & Pankaj Singh - let's just say that they won't be coming on as substitute fielders anytime soon.
  • Dinesh Karthik - like Harbhajan, he was everywhere, and displayed the sort of attitude that suggests that he's a real positive asset in the dressing room.
  • Chris Rogers - back to the drawing board for him, but he knows that he's the next cab off the ranks at least. He was sensational in the field, but one hopes the flashy bmw he drove to the ground in is not an indication of a feeling that he has already found success.
  • Phil Jacques - coming back down to earth after a high-flying start to his Test career. This is where the rubber meets the road, and it'll be interesting if he's able to adapt and stop going after everything. Fortunately for him, there's not a lot of good swing bowling in world cricket, so he won't often be tested this much. Supposedly poor in the field, but Australia's worst is better than India's best I think!
  • Ricky Ponting - reality bites for Ponting. He's really been outdone by India, though I expect a double-ton at Adelaide to compensate. He was roughed up by a 19 year old, and it was interesting that there were a lot of people in the members who felt that his time as captain may be up as soon as the end of this season. One thing worth pointing out - he was a consummate sportsman through the entire match, no two ways about it.
  • Michael Hussey - showed everyone how to bat at the WACA on the fourth day... it's all about knowing how to leave the ball. I wonder though, if he should be batting at five, with Clarke at number four.
  • Michael Clarke - drove into the WACA in an old Ford, with Lara Bingle accompanying him. Perhaps it hasn't all gone to his head after all. Classy batting in the second knock, but as happened after the 6-9 in Mumbai, his bowling is becoming overrated.
  • Andrew Symonds - what an all round cricketer this man is. He's not a great at anything, but he can swing the ball at 125kmh, bowl good offies, hit a ball as hard and cleanly as anyone, and he is stupendous in the field - for the second year running I lost count of the number of certain boundaries he turned into dot balls.
  • Adam Gilchrist - this fairytale is coming to an end. He's still better than most, but certainly not at his best. I imagine we've got another year at most, if that, so enjoy it while it lasts.
  • Brett Lee - Dale Steyn is awesome, but Brett Lee must be the best fast bowler in the world right now bar none. Simply wonderful to watch - the sort of cricketer I will pay good money to see.
  • Mitchell Johnson - as the radio commentators pointed out, tried to bowl fast instead of reverting to type and swinging it. Normally it's the touring bowlers that struggle with that at the WACA!
  • Stuart Clark - As I said last year, nobody's missing Glenn McGrath - he just had a haircut and a name change, simple as that.
  • Shaun Tait - My God, what a disappointment after all the 170kmh hype. A real dud, but I know he can bowl better - we've all seen it. His last over on day 2, when Ponting was trying to squeeze an extra over was hilarious, particularly the stuttering stop-start run that ended in the delivery being abandoned right as the clock ticked over. He'll need a good ODI series to ensure he doesn't drop out of the mix.
  • Brad Hogg - got the biggest cheer of the game.... everytime he ran out on the field. Australia missed him, for his batting more than anything.
So on to Adelaide now. I'll be hoping for an Indian win, but I'm not expecting it.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

More thoughts on Bollyline (ugh)

  • Who'd want to be Asad Rauf or Billy Bowden. Woe betide them should they even miss a marginal no-ball call that turns out to be of no consequence, leave alone give one team or the other a free wicket. Ironically, it will be a no-win situation that India have put themselves into. If the umpires err against India, it will "prove" that replacing Bucknor was silly. If they err against Australia, it will be a perfect opportunity for the Aussies to score points by making a big show of not being bothered by it.
  • Anil Kumble was the first captain to accept Ricky Ponting's deal regarding captains/fielders calling catches. It's probably a safe bet that he will also be the last.
  • Were Brad Hogg and Harbhajan Singh ever going to play in Perth anyway? I suppose Harbhajan might have, if only to bowl two overs (one in each innings to dismiss Ponting). But surely Tait is coming in for Hogg to blast India out?
  • Conventional wisdom has it that Sehwag will come in for Yuvraj if he scores more than about 20 in Canberra this week. However, you have to wonder at this point if it won't be Jaffer who makes way. Perhaps Sehwag and Karthik in for Yuvraj and Jaffer, or maybe Pathan takes one of those spots, plays as an opener and an extra bowling option allowing Harbhajan to play as well. I'm not a fan of 5 bowlers in general, but India have to be aggressive tactically to square the series. Personally though, I'd dump Harbhajan, play Pathan to deepen the batting, and work on the presumption that batting depth will give India a chance on the bouncy track more than extra bowlers.
  • Hopefully, we'll get a real scorcher of a Test next week. I'm going to enjoy my birds eye view, almost as much as I'm going to enjoy the opportunity to meet a certain Liverpool supporter!
  • Finally, while many people are suggesting banning sledging, I'd like to suggest the polar opposite. Let's make cricket a full contact sport. See if Harbhajan still wants to take on Symonds, or if anyone would ever challenge Inzamam (were he to return to the game).

Monday, January 07, 2008

A controversial victory

OK, so absolutely nobody will get the pathetic pun, if you can even call it that. For your consideration, I propose the conspiracy theory of the day, postulated by a man who once was a fan of a fan of Rodney Hogg's, though I'm not sure that's relevant.

Last we heard, a major Bollywood epic, entitled "Victory" was filming at the SCG. They couldn't have scripted better material if they had tried. The rest I leave to your imagination.

In all seriousness though, the controversy is quite ridiculous, as is the "Bolly-line" moniker that I have seen applied to it. I see it pretty simply. Ponting needs some runs, and if Harbhajan plays, he won't be getting them. Here comes RT Ponting, 401* at Perth - and I'll be there to witness it. Wait, I said I was going to be serious:

  1. If Harbhajan used the term "monkey," he's an idiot, because he was fully aware of what happened in the recent ODI series, and would have known full well that it is considered an offensive term. Let's be brutally honest - India can be a very hostile place if you're dark-skinned, so this is not the time for being holier-than-thou and some introspection is in order.
  2. That said, people are called a lot lot worse on a cricket field. As, I think, Greg Baum, observed, the Australians have figured out how to keep it within the letter, if not the spirit, and other teams need to get a little more sophisticated.
  3. Michael Clarke cheated in my book. He joins the sad list of cricketers who have, most likely knowingly, claimed bump catches. My list started with Mark Waugh, 17 years ago, and includes players from several countries and of several skin pigments.
  4. Not walking when you edge to first slip? These guys need to come to California, where a batsman can walk after being caught at second slip, and then come back after the umpire shouts after him "hey, I'm not giving you out!"
  5. At the end of the day, despite the atrocious umpiring which in this instance ended up favouring Australia overall, India should have drawn the Test match. You simply cannot complain about the result when you wind up losing three wickets to someone who never bowls in the penultimate over of the match.

Cricket or Liverpool?

I think I've finally had my fill of Dileep Premachandran's editorials. It's bad enough that the man is a Liverpool supporter, but it's become borderline pathetic the way in which all his cricketing columns have to somehow attempt to make a point about the greatness of Liverpool, and if he can squeeze it in, a, usually baseless, dig at United.

His latest piece, on the monkey-bastard "Bolly-line" controversy, is no exception. In it he manages to point out how Liverpool were cheated of the European Cup in 1965, how a referee had a stinker at a Liverpool game recently, and how he thinks that Cristiano Ronaldo is a villain. Why, if he really wanted to make a point about cheating, perhaps he'd do better to use Steven Gerrard as an example.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Revealed at last - why Indian batsmen don't run singles!

You may not have realised this, but it's because they are... Brahmins! No, that's not my theory - but it's the one described in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today.

Not a lot that I can say, other than to remain in vein and point out that the Brahmins have scored most of the runs for India in this series. It also stands to reason, I am forced to conclude, that there must be a super secret by-invitation-only subset of Brahmins, who run even less than their 'ordinary' counterparts. No doubt Sourav Ganguly is a member of this sect :-)

Good thing there's some entertaining journalism doing the rounds to take our minds off what is on the way to becoming a bore-draw.