Sunday, December 19, 2010

Conclusions from the WACA

From the outset I must make clear that this will probably be a long and involved entry. I have spent the past four days attending the Perth Ashes Test utterly absorbed in cricket. I've been considering much and will share the most pertinent of these thoughts. To make the process of reading more digestible the material is categorised under headings. Please approach and disregard it as you see fit.


Frankly no. Australia's stunning win at the WACA has not proven wise the more controversial decisions made by Hilditch and his board. The recall of Johnson did arguably win the match for Australia but after their lacklustre travails in the field at Adelaide such a step seemed inevitable.


The dual shifts made to the batting were failures. I have an awful lot of time for Phillip Hughes and after his sacking in the northern Ashes I was railing about, crying blue murder. I question the timing of this recall though. It might have been a good move six months ago when, with North clearly unfit for his job, long-sightedness would have moved Watson down the order despite his success opening. This would have granted Hughes the opportunity to solidify himself in the position, aided by his mentor Katich, in preperation for this most pivotal of series. Hughes looked underwhelming and scratchy, and soon departed the crease in his two outings. Steven Smith was equally unimpressive. Though he managed to stay in the middle for a surprising amount of time in both innings and made a valued 36 runs in the second, he was far from convincing. There were some fine shots played for those runs but there was more evidence of rashness and immaturity including three very close shaves early on. Both of his dismissals were soft.

Hughes has a struggle ahead to grasp his spot and deliver on his early promise, however unjustly it was first seized from him. I have greater fear for Steve Smith. There is no doubt of his talent but I wish he was left alone a bit longer to develop before heaping this pressure upon him. I fear he may be discarded to the growing pile of rejected players never given their proper chance. Bring him in against Bangladesh with the chance to flex himself, don't dump him in the middle of a ferocious Ashes series. There is merit to the Australian selectors embracing youth to rebuild the team but this is a rotten moment to pick. In the circumstances it would have been more prudent to have selected an experienced, in-form player of more dour mould such as Phil Jaques or Michael Klinger. However, having established matters thus, the batting order should not be tampered with for the duration of the series. I only hope that the youngsters can remain with their careers intact.

Siddle had little impact with the ball, (though his brief cameos with the bat were full of staunch bravery), and was little used. I think him a fine player but the lack of variation and depth to his bowling indicates that he is not of test pedigree. One would imagine that he will be dropped in Melbourne to bring a spinner to the side. Given that Hauritz took 5 wickets and made an invaluable 75 runs in the test last year, as well as his convincing performances with ball and two centuries in the Sheffield Shield since his dropping, it would be criminal to ignore the man again. Still the manner in which the selectors have acted seems to indicate Hauritz will continue to be cooly shunned. If the board remains true to their audacious move last week then Michael Beer could debut. Undoubtedly the drama will be played out in the coming week.


Describing England's performance four years ago Simon Barnes wrote in The Times,
"It was cricket as it might have been written by Kafka: a hideous punishment, as unjust as it was incomprehensible... It was like playing cricket against the Gestapo: cricket as a form of atrocity in which resistance is useless... in which pain and hatred become distorted into a loving and grateful submission to the torturer."
Watching Australia slump to 5 for 69 on the first day at the WACA I felt a similar sense of anguish and horrified disbelief. It was as in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure where the hapless hero discovers his infant children have hung themselves; or the bleak misery of King Lear, a world without meaning or purpose, where child is pitted against parent, which Keats called an obscene struggle,
"Betwixt damnation and impassion'd clay".
Notwithstanding Adelaide and the slump over these past several years, to witness Australia humbled in such forceful manner was a spectacle of apocalyptic schism, it was to have all my expectations and beliefs of existence toppled upon one another. Despite their deliverance from the jaws of despair to romp home with unlikely emphatic victory, this miserable display of incompetence should remain with those responsible in preparation for Boxing Day.

There is one gentleman above others whom I would like to single out as worthy of blame and censure, Australia's batting coach Justin Langer. I didn't particularly like Langer as a player and his shenanigans since retirement have only confirmed my apprehensions. For example I find it incredibly petty in the man that he returns to Scarborough Cricket Club every finals season to ensure the team's success. In doing so he shirks the weekly grind of club cricket but is able to enjoy the role of saviour, ignoring the pertinent fact that placing a professional in an amatuer competition is a mockery of the spirit of the game.


Langer seems to live his life in a spirit of self-reverential glory, the phoney spiritualism that was a brief fad in the early 90s, and servile obeisance to anyone in a position of power. He retired from the Australian team before being shoved, and latched on to the accolades heaped upon Warne and McGrath though these players were in a class above him. He then proceeded to linger about the Australian dressing rooms, clinging to the past, until being made batting coach and "mentor". What the latter role entails I shudder to think but it almost certainly includes prattling off nonsense of the variety found in his inspirational book, Seeing the Sunrise. I invite the reader to examine Langer's website to see what a hideous display of sham and indulgence the man is. There you will find sage wisdom such as Justin's current thought of the day,

"Every Day is A New Life to a Wise Man"
Another proof of his prattish nature lies in his having been tipped to run for the Australian Liberal Party in the coming years. Langer lives next door to the Western Australian Liberal President, Barry Court, and undoubtedly the pair connive together in their opulence and make evil schemes for the detriment of the nation. This is not to say that cricketers should not go into politics. The sporting hero of the left-wing, Adam Gilchrist, has also been tipped to run for federal politics but for the at least nominally more benevolent Labor Party. We wish him good luck in all his ventures.


Langer is not the first retiree to find it difficult to leave the footholds of his former glory, and his new age mysticism is no more offensive than that of any other middle-aged, middle-class female with ample time on her hands. Really he is a harmless enough plant and it is sanguinary of me to slander him so. The man has engendered a bitter loathing in me though ever since he nearly sabotaged last summer's cricket season with his endless occupation of the ABC commentary box. Over two exciting series he had a intimate viewpoint from which he could have shared unique and revealing facts with listeners. Instead Langer bored the nation with insipid nonsense about practicing Zen Do Kai at dawn on the beach and endless stories about his own achievements. He showed no interest in the action before him rather being wholly concerned with himself. I do not imagine that I was alone in sending a vehement letter to the ABC on the subject and haply he has not returned this Ashes.


One would think then that without media distractions he could concentrate on doing his job but Australia's batting was a sham. In fairness Mitchell Johnson when speaking of his aureate innings mentioned having a throw down with Justin Langer prior to trotting out so perhaps my attack has been completely without foundation. I still don't trust him though.


There are discordant murmurs and grumbling throughout our nation. While buoyed by victory, the population seems disenchanted with Ponting as well as the greater cricket administration. From my observations though the most vehement criticism is being levelled at Michael Clarke. I have heard jibes on buses, taunts on the ground, and read questioning in the papers. The immediate source of disatisfaction stems from his recent indifferent form with a current series average of 23. This certainly is inconvenient at the present time, but while the past six months have been disappointing please recall Clarke's previous stellar form averaging 65 from the 2009 until the end of the 2010 summer season. His batting is not to be doubted and the pertinent question is more will he ever prove himself worthy of being considered among the great batsmen.

The public's distaste for the heir apparent is really rather the result of Clarke's personal character which has been on unfortunate open exposition these past years. This has led to wide-spread debate about his capability for captaincy. Ignore the tabloid drivel about his relationship with Lara Bingle, that aspect of his personal life has nothing to do with us. Clarke has lost the golden hue of his younger years. He speaks more or less like a bogan, he acts in the manner of a slight prima donna or self-aware celebrity, and seems very boring as a person. I have doubts as to whether he is a particularly nice fellow. Yesterday morning I watched him shirk off some young autograph seekers while his team mates patiently penned all manner of accessories (not to mention Justin Langer who took the task up with a relish). To me this is always the sign of a poor character.


Clarke uses a Twitter account to make statements to the public. The reasons behind some celebrities doing this is beyond me as they divulge their private lives to all and sundry. Shane Warne and Liz Hurley made easy the work of tabloid journalists by venting over the network these past few days. Clarke's Twitter is a very dull affair and here are some extracts from it,
Watching the brake up.. Very funny show... Jennifer Aniston is hot..
Hot radox bath, candles on and a few of my fav tunes... Great recovery for the old body.. Thinking home made hamburgers for dinner..

Enjoy everyday of your life.. This is not a practice run..

It goes on in more or less the same vein with drab personal tripe, platitudes about cricket, and messages to his friends. Stand this in comparison with Graeme Swann's Twitter who more or less uses it for the correct reasons: to give information and be funny,
I commented on the amount of roadworks in Perth today to our taxi driver. His cryptic response? "it's cos they all smoke marijuana". Huh?!
The life that Vinny Chase lives in Entourage is remarkably similar to mine. In yesterdays episode he had a haircut. Last week, so did I. Wow

Monty and ajmal got very excited at the airport when some dude called Kano made an appearance. Turns out he's what the kids call a "rapper"

I googled
him, but turns out "rap" isn't my cup of tea. So I put shed seven on and pressed genius on my iPod instead.

For those interested, the genius playlist threw up charlatans,stone roses, inspiral carpets, soup dragons, mansun, oasis, longpigs, dodgy...

...and even a bit of Cast! So what's it all about, do you really wanna know? Sadly my young teammates are oblivious to any of these bands
All of you who enjoyed that playlist should make a pilgrimage to south nightclub in manc. Clint Boon is dj no less. Amazing indie disco

What is truly exciting about Clarke is his tactical acumen. It meant nothing in the course of the match but was a most thrilling sight yesterday when, with Ponting from the field, Clarke set a field to Finn consisting of the full complement of slips, including leg slip, with only a silly mid-on in front of the batsman. In his appearances in the role Clarke has revealed himself to be a dynamic, imaginative, and aggressive tactician in the mould of Mark Taylor. I truly look forward to the appointment of Michael Clarke. Whether it will come following the World Cup, or whether Ponting will linger, we shall have to await with patience.

CricInfo were kind enough to let me write a Fan Following report for the third day of the WACA Test which can be found here. I am awfully thrilled to have something published on the website and very grateful to them for the opportunity. Hopefully I can write more for them in the future. Gosh I feel chuffed.


In closure, Australia still have a way to go before they can think to win this series. England were appalling in the WACA Test. To lose the game after having Australia at 5 for 69, and then again after being none for 78, is disgraceful. They are the better team though. Who would have thought that Ian Bell was actually good? On the last southern Ashes tour Bell was the most spineless and useless player in the dreadful squad and now here he is looking wondrous. Despite squandering the game and pathetically collapsing in the final innings, England's professionalism was on display immediately following the match with the reserve bowlers again out on the pitch. After four days of seeing any number of cricketing celebrities, (including an unconfirmed sighting of Barry Richards), I did not spot Andy Flower apart from his arrival at the ground on the first day. I can only imagine then that he sits ensconsed behind screens and paperwork in some burrow masterminding what could be the greatest achievement of his career. It would be difficult to trump his courageous stand with Henry Olonga on the death of democracy in Zimbabwe though.

Boxing Day is going to be an utter treat. I hope dear readers that you are as riveted as I am for this is surely the most splendid of pleasures. Oh and on a final note I must share with you my favourite comment overheard at the test between two drear old wind bags sat in the members-
"That Watson is a lazy looking bugger isn't he?"
"Yeah. I bet you he has a collection of surf boards at home."