Tag Archives: Cricket

, ,

True grit: A tale of two Aussie teams in Cape Town (and how we get the teams we deserve)

If you haven’t heard about the Aussie team’s capitulation in Cape Town over the weekend, then you might be hiding under a rock. Though they lost, they lost with grit and with character, and their coach was able to praise them for having a go… in previous years they’d have simply folded under the pressure and the opposition would’ve mounted a cricket score against them. They had no backbone. No go-forward. No character.

And character counts.

Character counts for everything.

In previous years the team’s reputation relied on a couple of superstars who it seemed believed they transcended the game — they thought, it seemed, that they could behave with impunity, that they could get away with anything on and off the field, so long as their performances occasionally justified the massive dollars thrown their way… but those superstars have been shunted in the name of ‘cultural change’ — an attempt to play the game ‘hard but fair,’ and a coach firmly committed to a famous Aussie ‘no dickhead policy’, and the nurturing and development of backbone, grit, and character. Because character counts.

By now it’s clear I’m not talking about that other Aussie team who capitulated in Cape Town.

There were two sporting contests pitting the best of Australia against the best of South Africa in Cape Town over the weekend. One involved a ‘national disgrace’ and displayed the cost of a winner-takes-all approach to sport, that in many ways is emblematic of an Australian ideology, the other displayed the counter-culture that perhaps should regain the ascendency in the Australian psyche.

While the Aussie Cricket team got down and dirty, using ‘grit’ to take the shine off both the ball and our reputation, the Queensland Reds, a rugby team who until this year were the epitome of flakiness won praise for going toe-to-toe with a vastly superior (and more experienced) Stormers, even though they lost 25-19.

The two teams, and their culture, are interesting pictures of what sport can be, and what it represents, and in some ways they’re a picture of a contest to define the Australian soul; our psyche… and it’s on us, the populace, to help define what we’re on about as a nation, and what sporting teams (and cultures) truly represent us.

We get the sporting superstars we deserve; because we get what we celebrate… and what we celebrate, in a cyclical way, comes back to shape who we are.

And this is a vicious cycle. It can literally, if we aren’t careful, be a cycle of vice.

For a long time the Queensland Reds were terrible representatives. Not only were they terrible on the field, they were led by enfant terribles Quade Cooper, and Karmichael Hunt. Cooper, whose early off field misdemeanours included charges for breaking and entering while on sleeping pills, and Hunt, a ‘three-code superstar’ whose on-field talent saw many prepared to turn a blind eye to his off field proclivity for party drugs and partying. But not this year. Not in this team culture. Not under this coach.

Enter Brad Thorn.

The new Reds coach, who has surprised many with both his approach to team culture — and these two superstars — and with how he has, in a short time, started stamping something of himself into this outfit. Now, disclosure, I’ve had the privilege of being part of a church with Brad, and having him stamp some of that character into me (not on the sports field, but there was a time when he took it on himself to train me and give me some vision for masculinity that came at a particularly formative time — which involved long runs, hard chats, and spewing up after gym sessions), but I have no particular insight outside knowing his character and reading his comments, into how he is approaching his job as coach. I’m totally unsurprised that it turns out the man can coach, and I’m not surprised by his response to his team’s gritty loss over the weekend (it was a performance unironically described as gritty in a match review that happened pretty much next door to the controversial cricket test at the same time).

Here’s what Brad said about the performance:

“I’ve seen games when 18-0 down easily blow out but these guys just kept on competing… They’ve had a round-the-world trip this week, a lot that wasn’t rosy out there and with all the challenges to get within that range of winning is a great effort.”

Can you imagine an Aussie cricket coach or captain describing a loss in those terms? Not in recent years. I can’t remember the last time an Aussie cricket team displayed non-literal grit.

What Brad champions is character over talent. It’s why Cooper and (probably) Hunt won’t feature prominently in his team, his his description of his hard-but-fair ethos:

“I’m big on caring about, the team caring about each other, caring about the cause they’re trying to achieve and they’re striving for and big on caring about who you’re representing, be it the family or the fans and stuff like that.”

And elsewhere:

“I take defence personally. It’s a reflection of character … what you want to do for the mate beside you… Physicality is something I’ve always enjoyed. It’s a contact sport we’re playing and that’s got to come with a competitive mind-set.”

Defence (and so character) was the reason Brad gave for Cooper dropping to club rugby. Because character is everything. It’s bigger than winning — but it’s pretty clear that for Brad winning flows from character (and he is, from first hand experience, remarkably competitive, even at chess, table tennis, and Golden Eye on the Nintendo 64). It’s no surprise to read story after story about how Brad leads by example — how he’s still putting up gym numbers that inspire his charges, and leading the weights session after a win to keep his team humble.

The Australian cricket team — needs a culture change — especially if they play an important role in modelling the Australian character back to Australians and so reinforcing it, modelling it, developing it… and character change is possible through leadership, modelling, and the will. They need someone like Brad to stamp themselves — their character — on this team.

But the jump to condemn the Aussie team, and to demand their heads — and Smith’s weird apology, which felt like an apology for being caught — reveal some things about a deep issue in the Aussie psyche. It’s not just the national team that needs a culture change — and maybe a sweep through with the broom, from the top of the administration through to the players on the field… or at least a thorough recalibration of our metrics and our culture. It’s all of us.

Character is everything. It’s not a bonus. And character is forged, it is stamped, it is hard won. This, from my favourite piece of summer reading:

The word “character” comes from a Greek word that means “stamp.” Character, in the original view, is something that is stamped upon you by experience, and your history of responding to various kinds of experience, not the welling up of an innate quality. Character is a kind of jig that is built up through habit, becoming a reliable pattern of responses to a variety of situations. There are limits, of course. Character is “tested,” and may fail. In some circumstances, a person’s behavior may be “out of character.” But still, there is something we call character. Habit seems to work from the outside in; from behavior to personality. — Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

Character is stamped upon you by repeated actions — but it is also revealed in our actions.

The character flaws revealed in the ball tampering episode reflect poorly on Australia because they hold a mirror up to an Australian culture that makes winning more important than character. We allow all sorts of on field practices (and all sorts of people on field) because winning is so important to us; it’s our ‘virtue’ — we drop players for a dip in performance and replace them with people of questionable character, we let sledging slide, we adopt a win at all costs attitude when it comes to our metrics, and we are so slow to forgive poor performance from our ‘representative’ athletes while being quick to forgive character flaws.

This is what we get — it’s not just reflective of poor team culture within the sport (as fast bowler turned commentator Brett Geeves suggests, and Fairfax columnist Malcolm Knox argues), but poor national culture.

I’m struggling to muster the same sort of outrage, or desire for retribution against Steve Smith and his cohort that so much of the Australian public is presently voicing on Facebook (and talkback radio). Am I disappointed? Sure. Do I think they should be punished? Absolutely. But is this a large scale national disgrace that has brought shame on our collective, corporate, Aussie identity? Perhaps. But it’s not entirely on those 11 men in the middle (or 12, because Peter Handscomb was involved in the cover-up, or 13 if you include coach Darren Lehman who must surely have been aware, and who radioed Handscomb to involve him in the cover up…), there’s an ever expanding circle of culpability…

The actions of a team reveal the character forged in a team by its repeated practices, and those practices are shaped by what the team prizes, and what the team prizes is shaped by those they represent. Now, there’s certainly a sense that these players only represent themselves, but I’m not so sure. I think they prize what we prize, and maybe Smith’s apology for being caught is on the money.

It is bizarre to me how quickly we’ve jumped to judge, jury, and would-be executioner on social media — calling for the heads of those involved — without questioning our own culpability, and our own buy-in to the idea that results are more important than character; that winning is everything. How many of us, away from high definition cameras capturing our every move, are creating competitive advantages by cutting corners or breaking rules? How many of us look to examples or champions based on the results they produce not the lives they live and the character they display? How many of us put results above grit in our own metrics? How many of us celebrate a team because of its results rather than its ethos? How many of us want to split, for example, the moral lives of our politicians from the results they deliver for us (hint, see Joyce and Trump)?

Our cricket team, like our nation, prizes winning above virtue; performance above character… it has put the cart before the horse, and until we re-align our priorities as a nation, and they re-align their priorities as a team, we’ll get what we saw in Cape Town over the weekend. The solution wasn’t far away, you just had to look in the stadium next door at a bloke who takes his marching orders from someone who defined character and grit differently. Brad Thorn, the coach, who gets his game plan from Jesus, the king. Here’s an interview (with my old man) where Brad shares how his values come from somebody who redefines the win, who was big on character, and who models exemplary true grit by shouldering a cross and marching towards a victory built from character.

, ,

It’s not just cricket: Trying to make sense of the tragedy of death

Like the rest of Australia – and perhaps like anybody who follows sports around the world — I’ve been struggling to put words to why the death of cricketer Phillip Hughes has hit me for six. And then some.

Death is part of life as we know it. Everyone dies. This fundamental truth faces all of us — I will die, you will die, the people we love will die.

Why then does death feel the way it does? Unnatural. Broken. Empty.

Why do we feel the way we do about death? Sad. Powerless. Afraid.

And if we’re all just a finite number of heart beats away from death — why has this death in particular rocked us to the degree it has?

I suspect part of the answer is in the tragic elements of the story, the countless what ifs, and the absence of someone or something to blame. We’ve been conditioned by whodunnits and our ability to diagnose and dissect every event to want something or someone to point the finger at when things go wrong. We want a clear link between cause and effect. We just don’t have that here. People are searching anywhere and everywhere (apparently it’s Mitchell Johnson’s fault and it’s Michael Clarke’s fault and it’s all of our faults – and that’s just one article). We’re sure that we can’t blame Sean Abbott, the bowler.

Rightly sure — and perhaps the most touching thing in the washup of this awful mess has been the way people have rallied behind Abbott. His was a routine delivery. The Cricinfo ball by ball coverage of Hughes’ last innings shows just how routine the short ball was — and how untroubled Hughes had been up until ball number 161.

Abbott to Phil Hughes

No run, another short one, ducks, he’s in no hurry

Abbott to Phil Hughes

No run, low bouncer, still ducks

The thing that strikes me in tragic accidents like this is how many opportunities there were in the moments leading up to the event for things to go differently.

For the accident not just to be avoided — like the millions of other bouncers that have sailed past batsmen all over the world, and throughout the history of the game – but for it to not have the possibility of happening at all.

I’ve found myself trying to play the what if game, unravelling the various causes from this fatal effect. Not apportioning blame where none exists, but reliving those past moments that plot out some sort of alternative future?

And there are so many in the game of cricket. So many potential causes — causes that are almost always clearly linked to their effects. Our understanding of cricket has been totally atomised, in part, as a result of the technology we use as part of our lens for viewing the game, partly because every aspect of the game of cricket is understood scientifically, or geometrically. Cricket is not a game of inches, but millimetres.

So — as I have when confronted with any tragic accident like this — I’ve spent the last few days falling down desperate rabbit-holes of what-ifs, as though that will help unlock some hidden meaning in this event that will make it all make sense.

What if Hughes had chosen to play this ball the same way he’d played every other short ball in the innings? What if someone had paused to tie a shoe lace, and even that small interval prompted a different series of choices for the actors in this tragedy? What if the bowler had changed his mind and bowled a fuller delivery?

What if a heckler in the crowd had — or hadn’t — distracted a player at any point in proceedings, delaying play for just a moment, sharpening or distracting the concentration of the players to impact their actions by just one degree?

What if there’d been a misfield and they’d stolen a quick single at the end of the over before, so that Tom Cooper, Hughes’ batting partner, had been on strike?

“No run, blocks to off to end the over. SA 2/134 (Hughes 61, Cooper 5)”

What if, on the previous delivery, the batsmen had run a single, rather than taking two? What if the fielder had scurried to the ball quicker?

Two runs, on leg and swung away fine

What if. What if. What if.

It doesn’t help. The asking. It is not cathartic. The questions splinter out into other questions. Questions that can’t possibly be answered. Questions that make for interesting, but unhelpful, speculation. Questions that involve trying to rewrite events of the past to change the future.

But this approach is no more, or less, rational than the other ways of processing this sort of tragedy.

I think one of the more shocking things about the last few days is not so much how improbable everything seems, but how unfair it is — a young man, in his prime, about to regain his place in the Australian team after yo-yoing in and out of the team. A prodigy about to deliver on his potential. Struck down.

It’s not just unfair, it’s a reminder of how beyond the control of everyone involved this cause-effect nexus actually is. We are powerless. One of Australia’s best batsmen was felled by the sort of ball he had faced thousands of times. A handful of Australia’s most qualified surgeons were powerless to change the outcome for Hughes. Millions of Australians joined in prayer hoping to have some input into securing a different outcome.

That’s what we want when it comes to causality, isn’t it? The ability to nudge or cajole the objects we’re presented in our circumstances, tweaking whatever causal knobs we can, to secure our desired future. It’s no good playing the ‘what if’ game, because it deals only with knobs unturned, paths untaken, the past. It feeds this belief that we are in control.

And this, I think, is part of why this sort of death hits us so hard.

We are not in control.

I think that maybe we think we’re ok with death. People seem to be able to process death, to grieve, to move on. Not our own. Of course. But others. Maybe we can be philosophical about death. Maybe we can cope with its existence as a universal reality. Maybe we can see it as part of life. So long as it seems to be something we can face up to, or control, or fight against. Hughes was robbed of all of this. And this is a reminder that we might well be robbed of all this too.

And, personally, that’s where I think I’m struggling, and where others I speak to seem to be heading, even if we can’t all quite put our finger on what’s going on here, or precisely account for why this one death, out of so many other deaths that happened on November 27, has captured the global imagination.

How on earth are we meant to understand and respond to the fragility of human life? To the idea that at any given moment, death is millimetres away, and worse, that these millimetres may not be in our control, but in the hands of another? A driver not paying attention on the road next to us. A builder or engineer being negligent at some point in some process, at some point in the past.

I think. If I’m honest.  The real struggle for me when I play the what if game, and when I play it in circumstances where I’ve prayed, and where there have been outpourings from thousands upon thousands of others who all indicate they’re also praying, is wondering where God’s hand is in all of this?

Here is Australian cricketing legend Adam Gilchrist on Twitter:

Dear Lord, if ever the need for footprints in the sand, it’s now #PhilHughes #courage #strength

— Adam Gilchrist (@gilly381) November 25, 2014

Why didn’t God intervene to sever cause from effect?

Why?

Not just for Phil Hughes, why not for others?

Why death? Why chaos? Why pain?

If I’m really honest, events like this just throw the spotlight back on these existential questions that face all humans. All of us who are bound by cause and effect.

And for those of us, Christians, who believe in the sovereignty of God over cause and effect, this is a startling reminder that death, whatever manner it uses to find us is an inevitable outcome for people. And that life in all its forms — as we experience it, and as God promises it — comes from God. God is ultimately in control. Of cause and effect. Of life. Of death. Every being has their being only as a result of God…

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”— Revelation 4:11

This is the answer to Adam Gilchrist’s question — it’s the same answer the Footprint poem he cites gives – sort of. God is in every life, giving life. He carries every person every step of the way, from birth, to death.

Life is a precious gift. But it is, apart from the life Jesus offers through his resurrection, a temporary gift.

God gives. God takes away. We experience this taking away — the hand of God — death — through cause and effect.

We might wish for him to break cause away from effect in certain circumstances and times in our lives, but suspending the natural order, if the natural order has its being in God, as Revelation 4 suggests, then we’re calling on God to break himself at that point.

A big ask.

God did break in to the monotony of cause and effect. In Jesus. Where he broke in to the world, and was broken. Crucified. The death he planned before he made the world. This death that was the product of an amazingly intricate chain of causes and effects, such that words written in the Old Testament Book of Psalms played their way out in vivid colour a thousand years later at the crucifixion. This death broke death. If Jesus was raised from the dead. And I believe he was. Everything we understand about cause and effect changes at that point. Until this point the effect of crucifixion was death, the effect of life was death, the effect of death was finality. The resurrection breaks that. God didn’t just leave random footprints on some sand to tell us that he was with us — he entered the picture, walked the earth, left his fingerprints everywhere, had nails driven through his hands, spilled his blood, and died, to show us he was with us. And to invite us to walk with him. To life.

If we’re looking for footprints in events like the tragic circumstances of this week, without first seeing the indelible footprint God left on the earth at the Cross of Jesus, we’re going to struggle to see God in these, or any, events.

This quote from one of Jesus’ followers, Peter, grapples with the fleeting nature of human life — the reality of our mortality— suggesting Jesus death, chosen before the creation of the world, breaks the cause and effect connection between life and death. Because Jesus beats death our lives don’t necessarily end in death.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  For,

“All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
     but the word of the Lord endures forever.” — 1 Peter 1:18-21, 23-25

This is what I turn to when I’m asking questions about death. Questions about where God is in the events at the end of every human life. Questions about why God doesn’t just do something. He’s there. He has.

I don’t want this to be preachy. I don’t want it to be cheapening the harrowing events of this week. I’m not really seeking to persuade anyone of anything. I’m thinking out loud. Life, more than ever, seems so fragile. So fleeting. Like vapour. And this is where I’ve found comfort. This is how I’ve dug my way out of the rabbit warren of ‘what if’ questions in my head. This is what I’ve clung to in the face of the reminder that I’m not in control of my life, or the lives of those I love, but God is, and he is good.

Death is unnatural. Death sucks. Death is the ultimate reminder that we aren’t God. That we are creatures. That we are dependant on another for our existence. Death is the ultimate reminder that we were made for life, and that we can be recreated, by the living creator.

 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. — Revelation 21:6

My Cricket Clearance List

This is, in order, who I’d get rid of from the Australian cricket scene if I could.

1. Ricky Ponting. Can’t bat (anymore). Can’t captain.
2. Bill Lawry. The most annoying commentator in the world.
3. Mark Taylor. Only just beaten by Bill Lawry. These two have ruined my summer almost more than Ponting.
4. The selectors. Seriously. Get some new material.
5. Mitchell Johnson. Bowls well sometimes. Doesn’t know what he’s bowling the rest of the time.
6. Michael Clarke. Doesn’t seem to be able to see the ball most of the time.
7. Phillip Hughes. Needs some time to get his head right.
8. Peter Siddle. Hard worker, gets wickets eventually, but seems to lull opposition batsmen into form with his boringness and stupid goatee.
9. Ben Hilfenhaus. How long can we carry this guy? Has done so little that I almost forgot that he was in the team.

It’s a steel…

Watching Australia play the West Indies is one of the only cricketing experiences that isn’t better in a comfortable couch with a big screen.

It’s better live. And it’s better live for one reason, and one reason alone. Steel drums.

But now you can watch the cricket from the comfort of your lounge with your own set of finger drums to keep things dialed to “chillaxed mon”…

Feeling the burn

The Ashes are, without a doubt, the single most important piece of post colonial national pride. There is no other contest so closely fought between Australia and England. It’s important. People who don’t understand sport can’t see the influence that cricket has on the national psyche. But our sporting dominance over the Poms is important because they’re better at other stuff – like comedy – than us.

Now that we’re going to lose the Ashes again, in all probability, from a seemingly unlosable position, I’m going to go on the record (again) with my statement that Ricky Ponting is the worst captain of Australia in my lifetime.

I can’t speak for previous generations – but he’s not a patch on Waugh, Border, or Taylor (listed in order of captaincy nouse from least to greatest). He is a great batsmen – but if he can’t get his players to keep their heads, and their wickets, when the pressure is on, then he absolutely should not be leading the team.

He’s also terrible at managing his players, setting attacking fields, using his bowlers, and all the other rudimentary elements of captaincy. Unfortunately, like the Liberal Party, there doesn’t seem to be an obviously palatable replacement.

Something’s afoot(er)

You may have noticed a lack of posts today. I have an excuse – scroll to the bottom of the page and check out the new, improved, footer.

I’ll be playing with it a little more as time allows (and I’m still trying to get archived pages to actually work).

I’m watching the cricket tonight. It’s the first night of cricket that I haven’t had something on the next day. It’s nice. Robyn’s asleep on the couch, the fish tank is bubbling away… so much serenity.

,

Why I didn’t blog much over the weekend

  1. I organised the Willows Presbyterian Church Calvin 500 Conference.
  2. I spoke at said conference about Calvin v Servetus
  3. I organised the dinner part of said conference (and made coffee) where Mike Raiter talked about the New Calvinism.
  4. I attended the Townsville 400 V8 Supercar Event
  5. When I wasn’t doing those things I was cleaning out my big fish tank after a mishap with the filtration killed three of my pet fish and endangered the life of a pet turtle.
  6. I was telling the national director of MTS why I like MTS but don’t think it’s for me.
  7. Or I was watching The Ashes and Robyn was using the laptop.

The Rocky Hauritz Show

I love cricket. And I love the Ashes. I was surprised that it started so early last night, I thought it would all begin an hour later and I’d have to go to bed before lunch. But I managed to see a little bit of Hauritz bowling and couldn’t have been less impressed.

This article would be defamation if truth wasn’t a defence:

“And that is why when Nathan Hauritz bowls his right-arm spinners Australia is effectively one man down. Hauritz may as well pull a hamstring and sit the match out in the sheds. Such is the modern disregard for balls that spin into a right-hand batman, that only when pitches spit and scream can Hauritz rise above mediocrity.”

, ,

Important news

Threadless has extended the $5 sale until the end of March.

Three posts ago I hit 1,000 posts. I’ll do some sort of best of those 1,000 posts to celebrate in the next day or so. To me, every one of them is like a wicket for Glenn McGrath – I remember them all. Maybe.

Speaking of Cricket. Australia has an all rounder. A bowling all rounder. Mitchell Johnson. He’s from Townsville you know.

Here’s Roebuck’s view on Johnson’s all round credentials:

“Several of the batsman had fallen foul of Harris’s Disease, the name nowadays given to batsmen who suddenly play boneheaded shots against apparently innocuous spinners. Hereabouts the main topic on spectators’ tongues concerned the tourists’ ability to take the match into a fifth day.

The next hour was startling as the Australian’s launched a two-pronged attack. Johnson’s innings is etched in the memory. After a quite start, he hurried to 50 in 51 balls whereupon he raised the tempo sufficiently to reach three figures in 86 balls. He did not swipe. He did not depend on luck. Instead he produced a stream of swashbuckling strokes all around the wicket, executed with a free and full swing of the bat.

Some of his strokes stirred the cricketing soul. Johnson took the ball on the rise and dispatched it through extra-cover or he stayed still and smote lifters into the 10th row at deep mid-wicket. Without exception his pulls and hooks went forward of square. Some of them dashed past mid-on. Moving in for the kill, the South Africans tossed the ball to Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn. Even Jacques Kallis had a crack and he, too, was swiftly swamped.”

Roebuck v Swanson – for real

The other day I ran a little comparison of the writing styles of Peter Roebuck and Will Swanton. The Herald has gone one better. They’ve got them head to head in a debate on the referral system.

“Batsmen growling about referrals ought to be taken as seriously as bankers complaining about bankruptcy. Now, suddenly, the poor dears fear they might occasionally be given out leg before wicket. Not the least attraction of referrals is that it will reduce the blight of pad play, a negative tactic introduced by Poms incapable of reading Sonny Ramadhin. For decades pads have been used as a second line of defence. Gentlemen, the game is up. Now these blokes will have to use their bats.” – Roebuck

Day three had howlers everywhere. By the players, mostly. South African captain Graeme Smith and wicketkeeper Mark Boucher did not have the faintest clue what they were doing. Boucher kept crossing his arms in front of his face – let’s go to the video – but he kept getting it wrong. He ended up looking like an A-grade, card-carrying twit. Rules that make great players look like A-grade, card-carrying twits should be avoided. The players are the game, not the ICC. – Swanton

Gimmicks Pay

I”ve mentioned my feelings on Hawkeye in tennis umpiring – now technology is encroaching on cricket – for good or for not-so-good who can tell… in the meantime the failure of the system in South Africa has been a nice little earner for Channel Nine.

“On the controversial video umpire front, the Herald understands the South African Broadcasting Corporation will agree to pay a seven-figure sum to purchase the hot spot and snickometer technology – as used in Australia by Channel 9 – for the remaining two Tests.”

Roebuck v Swanton

The SMH’s two best cricket columnists go head to head today with accounts from the first test in South Africa. I’ve always been a fan of Roebuck – but I think Swanton is gaining the ascendancy as the Herald’s best cricket scribe. 

Sportswriting remains the one place in the English language where a penchant for wordplay, particularly for cliche, simile, metaphor and analogy delivered without apology – is not a curse but a blessing. 

Here are some examples from today:
Swanton:

“The overnight total was sneakily strong on a ground where you could bowl an apple and get swing and seam.”

“Michael Clarke came in, full of pep. Then again, Clarke could be stabbed in a dark Johannesburg alley and remain full of pep.”

Roebuck

“Despite encountering the daunting combination of Dale Steyn in full flight, a shaky score on the board and the sort of light featured in the more disreputable discos, North looked confident as he took guard. “

“From the outset the new man’s work on the leg-side was efficient. Anything heading towards his pads was neatly tucked with a bat as straight as a Roman road.”

“Given the chance to drive through the covers, he does so with an unexpected flash. Bending, he pushes his hands at the ball and dispatches with a bat as loose as a drunkard’s tie. It’s the only shot he does not control and the ball hurries away, sometimes off the meat, sometimes off the grizzle.”

On cricket

There have been a whole lot of posts around the internet about the predicament facing the Australian Cricket Team. Australia’s pre-eminent cultural institution. I have, until now, resisted throwing in my two cents. 

Much has been made over the departure of past heroes. The Gilchrists, Warnes, McGraths and now Haydens of this world are irreplacable. What makes me sad is that Australia has arguably the strongest domestic competition worldwide with imports kept to a minimum (they’re pretty much non existant – unlike county cricket in England) and young players being developed through government funded programs.

We really should be doing better at bringing young players into the national fold. Michael Hussey should have been in the national team years before the selectors got the balls to pick him. Same goes for Phil Jacques. Brad Hodge must surely feel like the unluckiest man in Australian cricket. Simon Katich has done what few have managed to do and resurrected his career from selector induced oblivion. 

Australia is blooding players too late. Debutants are often aged over 30 (eg 36 going on 37 year old spinner Bryce McGain) and longevity isn’t a possibility. Longevity and tenure has also been a problem. Half of these players retiring now are players I’ve watched my entire cricket watching life. The selectors need to be a little bold and courageous. Tenure needs to be an attitude of the past. Domestic players need to feel like they’ve got a real chance of breaking into the test team on the basis of performance. Underperforming veterans should be axed. We can’t afford to be sentimental about selections – any more than we are when voting for politicians. If there’s a better option there they need to be in the team.  

Michael Clarke’s decision to forego the big bucks in India to have some rest and focus on his international career is laudable. It’s a pattern that needs to be established on a wider level. Australian cricket will not survive at a test and 50 overs level if IPL dollars are the holy grail for up and coming cricketers.

Ricky Ponting is a terrible captain, but a terrific batsmen. This presents a terrible problem. How do you remove the captaincy mantle without slapping him in the face and having some effect on his batting.

That’s the batting side of things covered – our bowlers are in dire straits. They can not take a wicket. The lower echelons seem incapable of doing any better. We’ve seen about 6 no name players make inauspicious debuts this season. Who’d ever heard of Bollinger, Siddle or Hilfenhaus before they got a crack? And don’t get me started on spinners. How can there be such a scarcity of bowlers in the ranks? The quest for the perfect one day all rounder because of England’s ashes triumph on the back of Andy Flintoff has filtered down to the state level. Other than those players who made their test debuts this year can anyone name a bowler at state level? Didn’t think so.  How is Nathan Bracken, rated the world’s best one day player because of his economy rate, not suitable for a test berth? 

I also blame 20/20 cricket for the downfall.  But that’s another post for another time. End of rant.

,

Hit for headline writers

There’s a set formula for writing hackneyed cricket headlines that goes as follows:

“{Subject} hits {players name} for {six} or {actual figure based on the story}.”

You can alternate that with a passive voice format for variety. But very rarely should you ever leave that trusty formula completely. Unless you want to be interesting and engaging.

Case in point: CA hits Symonds for $4000

Ok, so I may be exaggerating- the SMH to its credit doesn’t have a whole lot of those. At the moment. But it’s such cliched headline writing.

Bird’s eye view

We’ve been watching a lot of tennis lately. Tennis is one of those games that you watch and find yourself thinking “it doesn’t look that hard” which progresses to “we should do that for a job.” The answer to those statements is “it is” and “we shouldn’t”. 

I did have tennis lessons as a child. I spent more time running punishment laps of the tennis court than holding a racquet – and subsequently don’t know my forehand from my forehead. Robyn is much more proficient when it comes to the skills involved but I’ve got the edge on brute strength and am prone to hitting the ball as hard as I can male, so we’re pretty evenly matched when we play. The Australian Open inspires a renewed vigour for the game every year – last year we bought racquets so maybe this year we’ll buy some sweat bands or something.

But I digress. I wanted to mention Hawkeye – which is an interesting case of technology driven by television companies being integrated into sport. Traditionally television companies interactions with sport have been to the detriment of tradition – eg World Series Cricket, Super League and 20/20 cricket.

Progress is not always good. Especially when it comes to eliminating human error in judicial administration of the rules of the game.

Cricket coverage lead the way in terms of calling umpire’s decisions into question – snicko, cricket’s hawkeye for LBWs, and hotspot – not to mention ultra slow motion repetitions of run out decisions.

The bane of Rugby League watching in recent years has been the time taken for video referee decisions.  

The desire for accuracy is in my mind an imperative based not on ensuring the players get a fair go – but insuring that the punters do. I mean punters in the literal “gambling” sense – not just fans. The amount of money riding on every game of professional sport could fund the bailout of a small financial institution so it’s increasingly important to get things right.

Robyn is all for Hawkeye in tennis – she says it encourages players to boldly aim for the lines – knowing they can make a challenge if a call doesn’t go the right way. I’m not sold, and neither it seems are the players. Particularly after hawkeye was thawrted by a bit of shade today.

Two final comments on this long post – firstly – did you know Hawkeye was invented by a man named Hawkins? I always thought the name was based on hawk’s legendary optic capacity and the fact that you’re getting a “birds eye view”. 

Secondly, I think Birdseye’s decision to sponsor Hawkeye was a brilliant piece of product endorsement. 

Here endeth the lesson.