Until she was upstaged by comeback super-mom Kim Clijsters, Melanie Oudin was THE story of the US Tennis Open.
Joined September 2007
Until she was upstaged by comeback super-mom Kim Clijsters, Melanie Oudin was THE story of the US Tennis Open.
Let’s be honest: the England side that recently won the Ashes is a very modest one. Dispute this? Well ask yourself this question: who from the 2009 English side would make the 2005 English side? Matt Prior for Geraint Jones,
What happened? This is how I began my article the other day on last weekend’s Bledisloe Cup loss by Australia. Since the Ashes, another of the most iconic prizes in Australian sport, were lost at about the same time – a day before if one marks it by the pivotal session, a day after if […]
What happened? Even as hard-bitten a critic as Knives Out found reason to wager some of his hard-earned on Australia winning the 2009 Tri-Nations. Yet here we are, with three losses out of three, and having to swallow an unpalatable Bledisloe Cup loss in Sydney.
It was Chris Whitaker who gave us one of the better quotes of recent times. When asked in February 2006 who the new Wallaby coach would be, he quipped: “I suppose Steven Bradbury. He’s the only one left standing and you’d have to assume he’ll get it.”
What to write for a readership that knows so much about rugby? That has been an overwhelming thought while trawling the articles and comments on The Roar this week.
“Oh Lucky Man”, the penultimate episode of the current season of “Underbelly”, screened in New Zealand this week. What has this to do with sport? Believe it or not, there is a topical connection.
When Bob Dwyer was asked what he thought of the five-eighth of the 2005 Australian Schoolboys rugby team, he quipped “that backup five-eighth looks pretty good.” Dwyer was talking about Quade Cooper. The player he was asked about was Kurtley Beale.
For weeks now, the refrain from the pundits has been, “This is the most even Super 14 competition ever, the coming weekend’s matches are crucial.” Last Friday, in a moment of clarity, I realised that last weekend’s matches really could have settled everything.
First Matt Giteau, now Drew Mitchell. Both are leaving leaving the Western Force at the end of this season. According to Mitchell his recently announced move to New South Wales is not about money. Rather, it’s about being nearer his family in Queensland and it’s about the opportunity to win a Super 14 title.
So the ACT Brumbies have won six and lost four this season, while the Blues have won five and lost five. That means the Brumbies are sitting one win ahead of the Blues on the Super 14 ladder, right? Actually, the Blues are essentially one win worth of points ahead. Huh? Welcome to the weird […]
Big Jake Oram sharing the field with a dog. That was the photo accompanying my local rag’s report on the opening match of the IPL, Chennai Super Kings losing to Mumbai Indians.
There has been much gnashing of teeth this week about the poor losing form of the Waratahs. At the same time, last weekend’s New Zealand papers ran a story that Dan Carter may return from his Perpignan sabbatical as an Auckland rather than a Canterbury player.
A few weeks ago, Bruce Sheekey nominated Australian cricket’s best ever team. He selected Keith Miller at 6 so that he could have a 2/2 split of fast and spin bowlers.
So South Africa has become the first team to defeat Australia in three successive bilateral ODI series’. Pity the poor West Indies. Their many Tri-Series successes in Australia seemingly do not count in this context.
We need to initiate a populist movement to oust the dullards that are our national cricket selectors. We knew that Trevor Hohns was good as chair of selectors, but we did not realize just how good until the disastrous tenure of his replacement, Andrew Hilditch.
Before the Sydney test, there was much debate as to which captain was the bigger loss to his side, Mortlock or McCaw. After Sydney, it looked like the answer was McCaw. After Auckland, it is certain that the answer is McCaw.
One of the factors that drove the Bollyline furore was a feeling that the Australian cricket side should be representative of Australian society. I stand by my conviction that this is poppycock. But rather than return to this debate, I think we would all prefer just to let the Indians go home (and congratulations to […]
The alternative, subcontinental Chappell-Hadlee trophy Another day, another Australasian player announces he is off to India to play twenty20 cricket and reap the rupees: last week it was Lou Vincent, this week comes the news that Jason Gillespie will be joining the procession.
Of current Wallabies it was Chris Latham who was most widely quoted in the media offering support for the appointment of Robbie Deans as Wallaby coach. This happened both before the appointment and at the time of it. So far so good: it is not at all surprising for the media to be interested in […]
I haven’t made a comment at this site for 7.5 years.
I would like to remind Ronan (and readers) that during his two seasons of averaging 17, Stoinis was deeply affected by his father dying of cancer (that is why, between these seasons, he moved from Vic back to WA). A player should not be picked during a form trough due to such issues. But when the personal situation has improved, I believe it is reasonable to ignore the form during the trough. Doing this, one sees in Stoinis a player who has averaged north of 40 for 4 successive Shield seasons, who has looked the part in limited-overs cricket for Australia, who is brimming with confidence, and who has a propensity to “make things happen”, as Shane Warne tiresomely (but correctly) reminds us from his comm-box pulpit. So I believe the selection is fair enough. It is not the fault of Stoinis that the Australian selectors have gone about selecting him in a mixed-up way that has unfairly caused confusion in other players brought in in the meantime – really Stoinis should have been brought in for the MCG test against India rather than Mitch Marsh.
Incidentally, my point above is probably relevant for Usman Khawaja, whose family problems this summer are well documented. There might be a case for giving him a break, but then not holding his poor form this summer against him once his family situation has settled down.
Stoinis does not deserve a Test debut
A man robbed a bank, got home with the money, decided he had done wrong, and so he went and handed the money back to the bank. Would the man be regarded as a role model for “sportsmanship”? Of course not. He would be punished for committing a crime, with a reduced sentence for handing the money back.
This is basically what has happened with the Bell/Dhoni incident, so it is nothing short of a perversion of justice – and extreme human stupidity – that Dhoni somehow or other comes out of this smelling of roses. How is it that someone can be regarded as a good sport simply because they realise they have committed a heinous act of unsportsmanship?
The Indians seem to have a knack for this sort of thing. Another one is that Symonds somehow emerged a villain because he had been racially abused by Harbhajan, who was painted as a hero. Even if in the exceedingly unlikely event that there was no racial abuse at the SCG (who honestly believes that?), it is on-the-record fact that Harbhajan racially abused Symonds in two ODIs in the preceding series in India.
Incidentally, I think Dhoni is a fabulous captain, a very good cricketer, and a decent person. But this episode has to be seen in the proper context.
Bell's end: Standing in Dhoni's shoes
Sheek, as a fellow oldie I’m sure that Genia’s try also made you think of Matt Burke’s magnificent 70 m solo run against the All Blacks at Ballymore in 1996. That try was made by the line that Ben Tune ran in support, which kept the defence hanging off Burke; similarly Cooper in support of Genia on Saturday night. This was two rugby geniuses working in instinctive harmony.
Reds victory could be gold for the Wallabies
“a probable wake-up call for the All Black coaches to devise ways of beating this brilliant and winning way of playing modern rugby.”
A disastrous start for the All Black selectors, who seemingly have not taken on board some of the major lessons from the S15 final:
1. The need for specialist backup at 7. Matt Todd or Luke Braid could perform the Liam Gill role for NZ, but at this stage Henry has declined to name such a player. (On the basis of Saturday night one could actually argue that Todd and Braid should have been chosen ahead of McCaw, but let’s see how the champion fares as he gets more footy under his belt.)
2. At this stage Sivivatu, New Zealand’s most dangerous broken-field runner, is not in the top 30. The final surely emphasized how important creative, broken-field running is going to be this year. Simply having magnificent finishers on the wing is of no use if, because of committed, organized defence, there is nothing to finish. In this context Zac Guildford seems a wasted selection to me. He is a terrific all-round footballer, but he is not big, he is not particularly fast, and he creates nothing. Maybe wing is not his optimum position?
3. Henry has said that in a squad of 30, there is room for only one specialist loose-head prop. So at this stage Crockett has missed out, and will only be deputizing for Woodcock while he’s injured. Meanwhile, props in South Africa and Australia rejoice at getting such a lucky break …
Reds victory could be gold for the Wallabies
So let me guess: you went to the 1998 World Cup in France, then treated yourself to some down time in Greece.
1998 was Stuart O’Grady’s first TdF. So let’s do a “where are they now?” O’Grady is still riding the Tour, having not missed one since his debut, a remarkable feat of endurance (I don’t know what the record is for most Tours in a row, but O’Grady’s 14 cannot be too far off it). Ullrich, arguably the most talented road-racing cyclist of all time, is a big, fat, bitter and twisted refugee in Switzerland. And Pantani is in a coffin. Who would have foreseen all this? It’s remarkable how paths diverge.
Handicapped Cavendish wins his first stage of the 2011 Tour
Jim Kayes reported on TV3 news two nights ago that Corey Jane is being used to film an All Blacks promotional video today, which strongly suggests he’s in. Kayes also said that Sivivatu is out (I can’t remember his “evidence”, but he had some). The word around the traps for a long time has been that Henry doesn’t rate Maitland. Ranger probably doesn’t have the all-round attributes to Henry’s satisfaction. I have a suspicion that Guildford is too small for Henry’s taste. Probably the same applies to Ben Smith, but his ability to play every position in the backline outside of 10 may make him attractive as a “super utility” (a bit like Toeava).
By a process of elimination that leaves Muliaina, Jane, Gear, Toeava, with possibly Dagg to come back for the World Cup. I am hesitant to write off Rokocoko, as Henry is loyal to players who have never let him down, and this often overrides form at lower levels when he makes his selections. (But I agree that Joe has no case for selection on the basis of his lack of form for the Blues this year.)
I am not saying these would be my picks. Probably it’s a stupid game to try to guess how Henry is thinking, but if one wants to predict what players will be selected, this is what one has to do.
What to expect in the All Black announcement
There’s a guy called Paul Cully who has been writing excellent form assessments at the (Australian) rugbyheaven site. He is an astute analyst and the poor guy seems to have watched every single Super 15 match. At the end of the round-robin he nominated his 30-man squads for all of the SANZAR countries. His back-3 selections for New Zealand were Muliaina, Sivivatu, Dagg and Toeava (the latter 2 obviously subject to fitness). Note that he only selected 4, because he’s convinced – I think correctly – that teams will go for a 17/13 split, which leaves only 10 places for positions 10-15 once 3 HBs have been chosen.
Anyway, the above 4 are all wonderful players. But what struck me as curious is that at the same time as leaving out Guildford, Cully did choose him in his “team of the tournament”. How could Guildford be in the top 22 across 3 countries but not the top 30 for one?
This got me thinking about other back-3 players Cully couldn’t find room for in his NZ squad of 30: Jane, Ranger, Gear, Rokocoko, Ben Smith, Maitland. So that’s at least 11 wonderful back-3 players, about all of whom you could make a strong, almost undeniable case for inclusion, and all of whom would be stars in almost any other country. One has to admire this depth of talent. But only 5 at most can be selected for the World Cup.
What to expect in the All Black announcement
Hey AS, I thought you were a monogamous football man. What’s going on here? You don’t want to become a dilettante comme moi!
Handicapped Cavendish wins his first stage of the 2011 Tour
A few weeks ago there were rumors – ironically, coming out of rugby league ranks – that SBW and Nonu would be the midfield combination at the Blues next year, thus granting Spiro his wish of the two playing together.
While Nonu is now confirmed for the Blues and it is accepted that earthquakes are going to drive SBW from Christchurch, the strong word right now is that SBW will follow Wayne Smith to the Chiefs next year. That would pair him up with Richard Kahui, which would also be a terrifically potent combo (if Kahui can avoid injury).
Sonny Bill Williams vs Ma'a Nonu: Analysis
“it was enterprising scrumhalf Charl McLeod that impressed me. I would’ve said he’s one to watch for the future, if he wasn’t 27 already.”
Exactly my thought. Good option taking, and every pass went straight into the breadbasket. Better than any NZ half, but not even able to make the Bok’s preliminary RWC squad of 49 (although that may change now that Ricky J has opted for French money above Bok benchwarming). Reminded me that it’s only a few years ago that the three best 9s in SH rugby were all South African (du Preez, Pienaar, Januarie). Genia has now smashed that monopoly, but the standard of NZ 9s remains lamentably weak compared to the rest of their rugby. I mean, just look at the performance of Andy Ellis last Saturday night, and he’s the form NZ HB …
Even though I have lived in Chch for 15 years and enjoy the excellence of Canterbury and Crusaders rugby, I still don’t have a lot of emotion tied up in these teams. So it is not out of subjectivity that I say that never for one moment during this match did I doubt that the Crusaders would win. However I was heard to mutter at about the 30-minute mark “Maybe my prediction of a 30-point win is looking dodgy”. But even that came right in the end …
What made the difference, and what impressed me about the Crusaders, is that they changed their game plan with regard to use of SBW. For the first 25 minutes of the game, they used him to take the ball up, looking for him to create offloads. This tactic had worked a treat in the round-robin matches against the Sharks and the Stormers, when his offloads created carnage. For this match the Sharks had done their homework, and SBW made no impact to start off with, due to clever gang-tackling that prevented offloads and brought him straight to ground. But then suddenly he changed from being a banger to being a more wide-out runner, and the Sharks were cut to shreds. And once the Crusaders have momentum, they are never going to be stopped.
Ability to change tactics mid-match is not something for which NZ teams are noted, so I was impressed by this change. The other change of committing more troops to the breakdown was a more obvious one to make, and anyway was an instruction from the coaching staff at half-time.
As for NSW, John Ulugia shows that no matter how good a hooker is at everything else, there’s no point in playing one with unreliable lineout throwing. It means that sustained pressure on the opposition is impossible. (And please don’t plead the conditions as a defence: they didn’t seem to stop Mealamu from getting his throws straight.)
And is not Josh Holmes a sad sight? To think that he had something really special as a kid, but now there’s no sign of any special gifts. I mean, to get back to where I started, compare the performances of Holmes and Charl McLeod on the weekend …
These Super Kiwis aren't done just yet
Thanks, LAS, for this injury data. However some of it is obsolete:
* SBW, Maitland and Fotuali’i are all playing for the Crusaders this weekend, meaning they are down to just 3 injuries (their press release with the team even says this). Further, I would argue that one of these, Adam Whitelock, is completely inconsequential, i.e., they have only 2 injured players.
* Here is what Wayne Smith wrote of Qld’s injury situation one week ago:
“four other casualties — flanker Beau Robinson and key backs Digby Ioane, Anthony Faingaa and Mike Harris — have resumed training and, with Queensland not playing their semi until July 1 or 2, should come back into the selection reckoning. Fullback Ben Lucas, who watched training this week with his leg in a brace, also is hopeful of recovering in time.”
On the other hand, your Qld list makes no mention of Luke Morahan and James Slipper. I gather that Slipper almost certainly is out, which will be a huge loss.
Which brings me to the real point about injuries: it’s not so much the number of injuries as whether there is the depth to cover them. Who even noticed the absence of Kepu and Barnes last Saturday night for NSW? But now that that their quality backups, Baxter and Halangahu respectively, are injured, NSW is in deep poo. Similarly at hooker, where the top 2 are also out. On the other hand, Mowen is no loss because there is cover so that the NSW back-row is just as good (in fact Spiro has been arguing all week that Dennis, Waugh, Mumm is NSW’s best BR of the season).
With the crippling injury tolls in the key positions of 2, 3 and 10, the bottom line is that NSW will lose tonight. But they can still do Australian rugby a big favor by smashing the Blues into a diminished state for next weekend. The 4-8 of Douglas, Timani (especially!), Mumm, Waugh and Dennis is capable of wreaking a huge physical toll on the Blues. If they can do this, they will set things up for the Reds very nicely. There is a delicious irony in Qld’s title chances being interlinked with the way NSW plays.
It's time for the NSW Waratahs to stand-up
1. “the 27-year-old should make it safely through to the round of 16 and a meeting with world number one Caroline Wozniacki.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_French_Open_%E2%80%93_Women%27s_Singles confirms that in fact Stosur and Wozniacki are seeded to meet in the quarter-finals. (There would be something very wrong with the draw if the 1st and 8th seeds were drawn to meet in the round of 16).
2. “my tip is Maria Sharapova”
This has also been my “secret” tip since I heard of Sharapova’s win in Rome last weekend, the absence of Venus and Serena, and the lack of match play of Clijsters. Women’s tennis is in a flaky, desultory state. Schiavone is my no. 2 tip, then probably Kim.
Too much French Missing for Australians at the Open
There is actually a very simple statistical test of Spiro’s psychological theory that the high suicide rate is linked to “the finality of a dismissal”. If this is correct, then the suicide rate should be much higher for batsman than for bowlers. If a bowler bowls a meat pie, he only has to wait one minute to get a shot at redemption and put the bad ball behind him. Not so for a batsman.
Spiro also mentions the impact of a dropped catch. True. But at least with a dropped catch you are kept busy out in the field. It’s having to sit in the sheds for hours, possibly days, after a dismissal that does the damage if you are a batsman. The worst thing you can do if you have depression is be forced to think about something depressing without relief.
Some responses to comments above:
* “I wonder if there has been any studies done comparing the different types of cricket (i.e. Tests, ODIs and T20). Perhaps the rate of suicide for drops for the shorter forms of the game”.
This question assumes that most of the suicides are amongst first-class cricketers. Is this true? I suspect most of the suicides are of players who do not play a lot of different lengths of the game. And even with first-class cricketers, one has to remember that T20Is are a very recent phenomenon and ODIs relatively recent.
* “The old museum at the basin framed that infamous hole in the wall made by Crowe.”
I have heard Martin Crowe interviewed about his dismissal on 299. If he is to be believed, what really annoyed him is that he got out to such a bad ball: it was well down the leg side, and somehow he managed to get a trickle through to the keeper.
* “The next morning, he would have a mate throwing balls to him – practicing the shot he got out on.”
This also describes Sachin Tendulkar, no less: he is well known for spending hours in the nets practicing against a delivery that just got him out.
Cricket can sometimes be a killer of a game
Postscript: the website is http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/records/bowling/most_wickets_career.html?id=6096;type=tournament
By chance there is a cluster with all of the leading state spinners in succession: Beer, O’Keefe, Doherty, Hauritz, Holland (noting that 4 of these 5 are left-arm orthodox). So it’s very easy to compare their overall performances this season.
And please don’t anyone mention Jason Krejza!
Vinay was right about Sheffield Shield, minnows
I look forward to Mick telling all 1.98 m of Adam Maher to his face that he is only a “trundler”. As a Newcastle boy – they breed them tough up there – I’m sure Maher is not one to take a backward step.
And I suggest that FOS looks at the line below Michael Beer in the “most wickets” list for the current SS season. There he will find SNJ O’Keefe, 19 wickets at 17.57. Not bad! So for two years in a row he has been easily the best performed spinner in domestic cricket, and his recent “head-to-head” with Beer in the NSW-WA SS match – same style spin on same pitch at the same time – was won hands-down by O’Keefe.
O’Keefe’s problem is that he only got to play 4 SS matches this season. For a couple he was injured, but for a large number he had to sit on the sidelines so that Hauritz could play. The truth is that these two are Australia’s best two spinners and should be the ones chosen to tour Sri Lanka later this year.
Vinay was right about Sheffield Shield, minnows
Spiro, we’ve been jousting each other for years on Giteau and Sharpe. So here’s the quid pro quo: I’ll agree that you and Rod Kafer are right about Giteau not being a 10 if you’ll agree that you have been wrong in your opinion that Sharpe is a dud second-rower.
Actually I think the issue with Giteau is a bit more complex than you present. Fact is that he was a really excellent 10 at the Force, where in 2009 he was basically the S14 Player of the Year across all three countries. One hesitates to put this down to the coaching of John Mitchell, so I can’t really explain. But fact is that it’s really only since he returned to the Brumbies that his play at 10 has degenerated.
I also think that only injury or catastrophic form loss will sway Deans from changing the dazzling Wallaby backline that finished the 2010 season, viz. Beale, Mitchell, AAC, Barnes, O’Connor (wing), Cooper, Genia. Why should he tinker with such a potent unit? This formation still allows O’Connor to take the occasional turn at 10.
Aside from all this, what has been wrong with Cooper’s form this season? Most people have been impressed by his maturity, especially in the win over the Brumbies.
The force is with James O'Connor, not the Brumbies
Once upon a time I was a man of more leisure and could write articles for The Roar. One day, in my “voice of reason” way, I found myself in an inane rugby argument with an infuriarting bundle of goods call Hammer. And suddenly this guy calls Vinay Verma pops up and writes “I christen you Tongs”. Thus did Vinay enter my life.
Around about the same time, Brett achieved the near impossible and somehow managed to offend Vinay with a comment. So I stepped in and assured the newcomer that insofar as I knew Brett, he certainly was not a person who ever intended to cause offence. There were apologies all round, and another friendship was born.
What struck me about these first forays of Vinay into Roar-land was how impeccably polite, almost obsequious, his postings were. I remember thinking he wouldn’t last long. Not for the first time in my life, I was wrong (although it must be said that Vinay’s comment-making style rapidly became more rough and ready!).
And so now I’m looking back over some of the emails we exchanged over the last two years. I will share two very recent gems.
One was prompted by Vinay’s Inside Cricket article on Sehwag. I expressed my admiration for Viru, and said I was pretty amazed that Vinay had interviewed him in the flesh. The following reply came back: “Make the SCG Test in 2012 and we can have a meal with Viru!” Having read Brett’s description of lunching with Ian Botham and Michael Holding, it is likely that Vinay’s offer was not as outrageous as I thought it was.
The second was from a World Cup preview Vinay wrote for All Sports. He slipped in the line “[Bernard] will, like Ponting, be stepping down from his role after this World Cup”. My line of work is all about noticing hidden stories like this. So I emailed Vinay that I like to think I follow Australian cricket news very closely, but I was not aware of any announcement of Ponting standing down from the Australian one-day captaincy. Immediately I received the reply “Not official, but I have it on good authority …” So when it happens, just remember that you heard it first from Vinay.
And now I find another recent email from Vinay that contained an Adelaide Advertiser article and simply read: “And we give thanks for our daily bread!”.
Indeed, we do give the happiest of thanks for Vinay.
Vale Vinay Verma: a titan among cricket writers
1. “It’s interesting because by moving away his 200m and 400m freestyle pet events, Thorpe avoids a direct clash with Michael Phelps … Hopefully Thorpe is tempted back to his pet events, for a head-to-head clash with Phelps would add an extra dimension to his comeback and set the stage for the most eagerly anticipated contest of the London Games.”
Thorpe would be silly to take on Phelps head-to-head in these events, because with certainty he will lose. Park Tae-Hwan would also with certainty beat Thorpe over these distances.
2. “The Aussie men failed to win any gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics – a far cry from the success enjoyed between 1996 and 2004.”
I tire of this myth. Aussie men’s swimming between 1996 and 2004 consisted of three great swimmers: Perkins, Hackett and Thorpe. Noone else won an individual Olympic gold. There was a bit more success in World Championships, with Klim shining bright in 1998 in Perth, and Huegill and Welsh having golden moments over non-Olympic distances in 2001 and 2003. But that’s it in terms of individual success. There were a packet of relay golds, especially at WCs, but also at Olympics. All these involved Thorpe and to a lesser extent Hackett inputting crucial swims (who will ever forget Thorpe in the 4×100 free at Sydney).
The truth is that even in this golden era we never had a deep team in men’s swimming, but the sheer genius of Thorpe and to a lesser extent Hackett and Perkins obscured this. Our men’s team never came near matching the team performance of the USA, whereas our women did, something that also obscured the inadequacies in the ranks of our men. The women had far greater depth, and a greater number of individual champions.
Incidentally, most of the best female swimmers have come from Queensland (O’Neill, Trickett, Jones, Schipper, etc.). Even Petria Thomas was from Murwillumbah, which is pseudo-Qld. So one should almost better refer to it as Qld rather than Australian women’s swimming.
Why this imbalance between the sexes in swimming? It’s pretty simple really: girls don’t get recruited by AFL …
I wish Thorpey all the very best but my expectations for him are very modest, for he will find it incredibly tough.
Ian Thorpe's return will rescue Australian swimming
Thanks Alan, I’ve always appreciated your work. Have a look at the last article I wrote for The Roar, http://www.theroar.com.au/2009/09/19/youve-got-to-be-tall-to-be-a-tennis-champion/. The stats are undeniable: so far guys as big as Raonic simply do not evolve into tennis greats. Scud was a prime example of this (many people last night would have been thinking of that Saturday night exactly 15 years ago when an Australian teenager announced himself to the world by defeating the undisputed no. 1 of men’s tennis). Krajicek is another. Maybe this will change as people become taller and it is learned how to stop tall tennis players suffering so many injuries. But until then we have to live with what history tells us.
Rising Raonic serves up a treat at the Open
This is an interesting article, John. I like the statistic that England only lost one second-innings wicket across 4 tests. Unlike you, I am not sure if one can totally discard the Perth test as an “outlier”. Statisticians devote a lot of time to devising ways to tell if a wayward point may be ignored – it’s not easy. The thing that strikes me about Perth is that Australia won because its core of decent players – Watson, M Hussey, Haddin, Johnson and Harris – played bloody well, not because England were hopeless. If there was an interesting aspect to England’s play in that match it was that: (a) an otherwise meticulously prepared squad had not prepared for the possibility of Johnson bowling so well, because they didn’t believe it possible; and (b) finding themselves on the back foot, England had no plan B and duly crumpled in the fourth innings of the match. This is frequently a characteristic of “method” teams who are overly reliant on pre-laid plans, for example the South African teams of 1995-2008. As soon as the game does not go according to the anticipated script, they flounder. For over a decade we beat South Africa like England have just beaten us (remember the crushing Australian wins in Jo’burg in 1997 and 2002?). It wasn’t because we were really that much better than South Africa, but simply because they didn’t know how to cope with a team that took them out of their comfort zone. Great teams with great players have no such problem, because great players love unexpected situations: they instinctively recognize that it gives them a chance to showcase their genius, and so they embrace the challenge. One only needs to think of some of the deeds of players like Gilchrist, Warne, Viv Richards and so on to see this.
Which brings me to your comparison of the 1984 West Indies side and the current English side. For a start it is invalid because the West Indies were a side, like the great Australian side of 2000-7, that was never out of a game: they had players who could win from anywhere, and loved the chance to do so. England showed in Perth that they are far from this. But the other thing is that the 1984 WI side played like this over a long stretch of time. This English side has only just begun. All summer I have been saying that we need to wait until England hosts India later this year to get a better indication of just how good the current England side is. And even if England do well in that series, it will still take quite a few more years of winning before they can be considered in the same breath as the WI of yore.
England just as good as the 1984 West Indies
Clarke may not be perfect but he is the best we have. The younger players relate to him. The fact that middle-aged, white Australian men don’t like him is more a reflection of the age-old problem of generational clash than of Clarke being inadequate. On his rare returns to Sheffield Shield he shows form that stamps him as Australia’s premier batsman. He has an excellent record as Australian T20 captain and as a stand-in ODI captain. Yes, he’s batted well below par in Australia’s last few test series, but for the few years before that he was our best and most consistent batsman, usually scoring centuries early in a series when they are more important. I like to look at whether a player can make others bat better. In Ricky Ponting’s earlier days he was at the other end almost every time Boof batted well for Australia. Have a look at Marcus North’s (rare) successes and you will see that almost always Clarke was with him for a lot of the time. I just wish people would get off Clarke’s case and see that he is the product of a new generation. I don’t use Facebook and I don’t read gossip mags and I don’t twitter, but it really doesn’t matter at all to me that Michael Clarke does these things. I only look at his record on the cricket field – over his entire career, not just the last few matches – and I ask myself if there are any other alternatives. Haddin is good, but he’s only half the cricketer that Gilchrist was (this should be seen as a compliment, not a put-down). Well if Gilchrist was regarded as too busy to be captain, then this is even more so for Haddin. Thus the only alternative to Clarke that I see is Cameron White. I take him very seriously as a captain, but I don’t think we are yet so desperate that we have to try a Mike Brierley-style appointment. So let’s just get behind Clarke and stop all this pettiness. Save the daggers and doomsdaying for when he fails.
Selectors fail again by making Clarke captain
I am just back from a year living in Germany. It was interesting to observe how the performances of Mesut Özil for the national football team electrified the whole country. Australians should remember him because he absolutely tore the Socceroos to shreds in the opening game of the World Cup. Although born and raised in Germany, Özil was considered Turkish … until his stellar performances for Germany at the World Cup, at which point the whole country embraced him. There are very large migrant communities of largely untapped footballing potential in Germany. Catalyzed by Özil, all this will now change over the coming decades. Traditional German football virtues will now be combined with multiculturual skill and artistry, and I predict Germany will emerge as the undisputed powerhouse of European football.
The relevance of this is that Khawaja has the potential to play the role of Özil in Australian cricket. As with Germany and football, we have large immigrant communities who adore cricket and are steeped in it, but for whatever reason these communities have not yet contributed to the national team, which has essentially remained a waspish clique. Khawaja’s selection is the second last step in smashing this glass ceiling. The last one will be that he actually succeeds for Australia. If he does, one may envisage a multicultural Australian cricket team emerging in the coming decades. And it will be a powerhouse team, because the thought of traditional Australian cricket virtues being combined with the subtle artistry of subcontinental cricket is one that should have the rest of the cricketing world running scared.
I mean, one only has to look at how the addition of a bit of Southern African rigour and ambition has completely transformed the English cricket team to see how potent cross-pollination can be.
It should not be forgotten that Khawaja the cricketer is a product of John Howard’s Australia, even if Little Johnny is no longer PM. Howard is not the bigot he is made out to be and he would have been an excellent ICC President.
OK, let’s see how many of Kersi’s buttons I have pushed here! Happy New Year to you, Kersi!
Ambidextrous Usman will walk in Ricky's shoes at the SCG
Many years ago when I was a young fella I met a similarly aged Pom in the youth hostel at Padua. We started talking cricket. He made a comment something like “What, do kids at normal schools actually play cricket in Australia? In England it’s a game that everyone has a bit of an interest in, but no-one actually plays it, except for rich kids at private schools”.
In a nutshell this is what Peter Roebuck’s excellent book “In It to Win It” is about. I would recommend it as compulsory reading for the Viscount. In England the “unique selling point” of cricket is indeed “sheer elitism”, but in Australia the “USP” of the sport is its egalitarianism. This is why – and I am not being jingoistic here – the broad future of England-Australia battles is for Australia to triumph.
Of course there will be perturbations of this order, as there are at present, with England holding the Ashes and likely to retain them this summer. Put this down to two things: (1) The southern African influx into English cricket (in which category I also include the excellent coaching of Andy Flower), and (2) Cricket Australia taking its eye off the ball and allowing AFL a period of recruiting dominance.
Luke Hodge is emblematic of the latter: a champion schoolboy cricketer who instead opted to become a champion AFL player (All-Australian captain in 2010). He is exactly the age of Midfielder’s sons and their friends, who have little interest in cricket. Ten years earlier the Waughs, Ponting and Warne all opted for cricket over the other sports they were excellent at. These are exactly the athletes missing from the current Australian side, making it weaker than usual.
There is evidence that Cricket Australia has turned this around. Amidst much hullabaloo, Mitchell Marsh has opted for cricket over AFL, at which he also excels. There was a similar example in Victoria recently (the name escapes me). The number of young and enormously promising fast bowlers in Australia at the moment is frightening (Hazlewood, McDermott, Starc, Pattinson, George, etc.). A big factor in this turnaround has undoubtedly been the money washing into the game from T20, so let us not be too dismissive of the IPL.
I just wanted to make these comments because I feel it is important to set the record straight on the nature of cricket in Australia. Whatever it is that attracts Australians to the sport, it is certainly not elitism, old worldliness and and eccentricity.
How Test cricket can be improved: Part II
Thanks to everyone for the unexpected interest. It’s all just opinions, even the guy who said he’s sick and tired of us talking cricket!
Sorry for joining this late, but as Vinay implied at the very beginning, I am busy doing other things at the moment. To be precise, I have been giving some seminars at various places in France, and now am having a few days of sun in Nice. For one of the first of the first-world countries, internet access is surprisingly scratchy in France.
I just wanted to say that I wrote my “essay” for Vinay a few weeks ago, before a ball was bowled in the current India-Australia contests. Fortunately the tests in Mohali and Bangalore did not make any of my thoughts look stupid, in fact the Mohali test only added weight to some of them, as follows:
* The last day saw Australia have to do without the services of Doug Bollinger because of injury, but at the same time the injured VVS could still contribute for India. Both these turned out to be vital. Further, how much more interesting would the last day have been had VVS not been able to have the services of a runner (as per the suggestion of Steve Waugh).
* The Mohali test was rather like an Adelaide Oval test, in that for the first 3 days it looked like being a rather dull batting draw, but then suddenly it sprang to life on day 4 and delivered a day 5 that will be remembered for a long, long time. I think this emphasizes the point that a good test, like Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”, can take a long time to get going, and so one should not rush to judgment on a match.
How Test cricket can be improved: Part I
Malcolm Knox has rightly dubbed 2009/10 as ‘The Summer of Our Kidding Ourselves.’ I first saw this quote in June, and even then I thought it accurate. Subsequent events in England and India have confirmed this.
And so to the win over Pakistan at Lord’s a few months ago. After it, cricinfo reported Ricky Ponting as saying
“It’s not about rebuilding now for us, I feel that we’re through that and once we get all our guys back to full fitness we’re going to put a really formidable side on the park”
I beg your pardon? For one thing this was a very strange thing to say in the wake of a victory that had been achieved by part-time bowlers, viz. Shane Watson’s 5 wickets in the first innings of that match and Marcus North’s 6 in the second.
But taking a longer view, any right-thinking person would immediately have wondered: “How many of the present Australian test side will still be in it in 5 years?” The only three I would feel any confidence about are Watson, Clarke and Johnson. Therefore the only conclusion is that the rebuilding has barely begun, something that subsequent events have confirmed.
Personally I have no idea who will be playing test cricket for Australia in 5 years. But here’s a list of plausible young candidates that is notable for its length, even though it is not exhaustive: Phil Hughes, Nic Maddinson, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Marsh, Callum Ferguson, Matthew Wade, Steve Smith, Steve O’Keefe, Ben Cutting, Trent Copeland, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Peter George, James Pattinson [please add more].
As I said, the rebuilding has barely begun.
Australian team at its weakest in decades