Sunday, December 24, 2006

Changing of the Guard

First it was Damien Martyn - then it was Shane Warne, and now it's Glenn McGrath's turn to announce his retirement.

It can surely only be a matter of time before Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden join the exodus, followed closely by Adam Gilchrist- so by the time of the next Ashes series in 2009, we'll be looking at a vastly different Australian team to that we've grown familiar with over the last couple of years, although any side that can boast a middle order of Ponting - Hussey - Clarke is hardly going to be a pushover.

As Michael Clarke himself admitted recently, without Warne and McGrath, Australia are going to be spending a heck of a lot longer in the field, and will be involved in a lot more drawn games than they have over the past ten years or so.

Stuart Clarke looks a pretty good replacement for McGrath, and there is a queue a mile long of batsmen ready to fill the gaps at in the batting line up.

How the Aussies manage to cope with Warne will be the big question over the next few years. There have been a series of predictable comments in the Australian press about how the success will continue without interuption, but I think they underestimate the sheer psychological advantage they gained, simply by Warne taking off his sweater and turning his arm over. I'm sure there are loads of ex-test batsmen who still wake up at 2am sweating, with visions of Warne running through their head.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Random Thoughts from Down Under


Bigmouth Strikes Again - What the hell does Saj think he's doing coming out with this sort of garbage HALF WAY through an Ashes Tour? Especially the pathetic section about not having spoken to Flintoff about being underbowled, and then quickly adding that 'Freddie and I definately get on'. Well, you might think that Saj, but don't expect a Christams Card from Mr & Mrs Flintoff this year.

New Kid on the Block - With Saj self-destructing, and Duncan Fletcher reporting that Jimmy Anderson was effectively fouling himself at the start of the Brisbane Test, does anyone else think that it's time for the Stuart Broad era to start - and quickly.

The Lunatics have Taken over the Asylum- Can we please be told the name of the lame-brained pillock(s) at the ECB who though the following were good ideas: -

1) Offering Troy Cooley a one-year contract when he, quite reasonably, wanted a two year deal.

2) Thought that a meaningless one-day game and a couple of two-day matches would be suitable warm up for a team just arriving from the sub-continent. That deal effectively cost us the First Test.

My guess for 1) was that it was some petty little bean counter, clueless about cricket, looking to please his boss by saving a few thousand on the balance sheet.

As for 2) it's time the ECB started to realise that size of the travelling support means that England tours are a huge windfall for the local cricketing authorities. (The last West Indies tour apparently was the only thing that stopped the Carribean authorities from going bankrupt. If you're in that sort of strong position, you should be able to dictate terms rather than 'assume the position' when tour intineries are being discussed.

Actually, our authorities have a history of this sort of thing. Do you realise that, on the 1970/71 tour, the England management (under the guise of the 'blood and pus brigade' - aka 'The MCC') agreed to the addition of an extra test match at the end of the six match series because one had been rained out earlier? At the time, we were one-nil up in the series, so could conceivably have lost the Ashes because some chinless nonentity though he'd score some diplomatic points.

Aussie Rules - One thing that has struck me since arriving in Australia ten days ago, is just how committed the entire nation is to the success of their cricket team. In England, cricket is still, effectively, a minority sport. Even after the Ashes success there was still a huge swathe of the population who, whilst they were aware that a famous victory had been achieved, really didn't give much of a toss and were only too willing to turn their backs once the new football season started.

In Australian, it's a vastly different story, EVERYONE cares passionately about the Test Team - and everyone had an opinion about the ongoing series that they were only too willing to share with a visiting Pom. The guy at the drive-in off licence (what a wonderful concept!!) who told me why KP should be batting at 4 - the woman in the queue at the bank with some very trenchant views about Brett Lee's bowling action, and the two people in the newsagents who were distraught at the news of Shane Warne's retirement and were happy to concede that Monty could well be the 'next big thing' in international cricket.

The Australia team were well-prepared, totally committed to regaining the Ashes and hugely motivated- but that really only reflects the state of the entire nation.

Farewell and Thanks - Finally, cricketing genius's don't come around that often, and those that can parlay that genius so that it transcends sport are indeed a rare breed - so I can safely say that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to watch Shane Warne, live and on TV, over the past fourteen years. He's tortured England so often that we've lost count, but once you get over the pain of defeat you really just have to admire such a gifted performer.

From his first appearance (Who the heck is the fat blonde guy who reckons he's going to bowl leg-breaks for heavens sake) through to his single handed efforts in 2005, to the final swansong this past month.

The greatest bowler ever, and probably the most important cricketer in history for his impact on the game. I doubt we'll see his like again. There'll be a lot of us who suddenly get dust in our eyes at the MCG next week as he takes his final bow in front of his home crowd.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Ticket to Ride

Tomorrow I'm off to Australia - not due back until the New Year.

Posting will obviously be light for the next four weeks, but I hope to publish the occasional pearl of wisdom if friends and relatives are prepared to let me belt the living daylights out of their keyboards.

Keep the faith.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mystery Solved

In a previous post I mentioned that TRSM has it's own 'Deep Throat' - a shadowy figure based in Earls Court who is passing us material from the world of ex Australian skipper, Steve Waugh. I thought long and hard about the codename for the source - 'Debbie Does Dallas' seemed a bit unwieldy, so I plumped for 5X.

The latest communication from 5X arrived in the post this morning. Inside the usual grimy envelope (that smelled strongly of champagne) was a cassette tape with a handwritten note - 'Listen to this you pommy b****** - it explains everything'. How could I refuse an invitation like that?!

It soon becomes clear that it was a recording from a bugging device that appears to have been planted in Steve Waugh's Adelaide hotel room. There are some telephone conversations, obviously one-ended, between Waugh and various people, including James Baker (Waugh giving his consent for the release of the Iraq Study Group Report) and Tony Blair (Waugh suggesting the renewal of Trident is a stupid idea, and then getting exasperated at Blair's refusal to back-down. I have some sympathy with Steve on that one)

Just when I started thinking that this was all very interesting, but not exactly earth shattering or worth posting on a cricket blog, there was a long period of silence, interupted by the sound of someone apparently moving furniture around the room, and then the light being turned off. After more silence,


(Knock on the door)

SW - 'Come in'

(Door opens, someone walks in, then bumps into furniture followed by audible swearing - an oddly recognisable South African accent)

Visitor - 'Any chance of some more light in here?'

SW - 'I can see perfectly.'

(Another bump, more swearing and then quiet)

SW - 'Sit down'

Visitor - 'What do you want?'

SW - 'Sit down Mr Fletcher'

(Amazed, I leant forward and turned the volume up...)

DF - 'I'd rather stand'

SW - 'So be it.'

DF - 'What do you want?'

SW - 'Your lads took a bit of a beating at Brisbane'.

DF - 'Agreed, but we're ready now - it's going to be a different story from now on - Monty Panesar & Saj Mahmood are ready - we're firing on all cylinders from now on.'

SW - 'It was your team selection I wanted to discuss actually'.

DF- 'What about it?'

SW- 'I want you to pick Ashley Giles again for the Second Test.'

DF - (Shouting) 'WHAT?? Are you completely mad? That's an insane suggestion. I'll get lynched. Flintoff will kill me.'

SW - 'Well, that's your problem - I want Giles in.'

DF -' No - can't do it -anyway, why the hell should I listen to you?'

SW - 'I think maybe you need a little persausion...'

(Sound of an envelope being opened, and some photographs being laid out on a desk)

SW - 'Maybe these will help you make your mind up.'

(Sound of lamp being clicked on, split second of silence, and then an audible gasp)

DF - (In a low voice) - 'My God, that's sick. Where did you get them?'

SW - 'I have my sources Mr Fletcher'.

DF - (Desparate) 'it's not me it's.... it's not.....'

SW - 'It may not be you Mr Fletcher, but it's a remarkable likeness - don't you agree?'

DF - 'I've got nothing to say - I'm going to the police, this is blackmail - it's a fit up - that's not me... 've never done....that.....'

SW - 'Don't waste your time with the police - The local chief is a friend of mine.'

DF - 'Oh God - they're sick.... you're sick....'

SW - 'Imagine what the press will say about these Mr Fletcher - and the Vice Squad - and I suggest the RSPCA might have a few strong words too.'

(Long period of silence...)

SW - 'Now, about your team selection.'

DF - (After a deep sigh) 'How about just Jones and Anderson?'

SW - 'A nice offer, and of course, very welcome, but not good enough - either Giles is in, or these....'pictures' (element of distaste in his voice) get circulated to some friends of mine in the media.'

DF - (Resigned voice) 'Ok - Giles is in.'

SW - 'Thank you.'


That explains it then. There had to be a rational explanation - otherwise you'd have to assume that Duncan Fletcher has lost his senses.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sound and Vision

Whilst we at TRSM Towers are still avoiding all possible mention of the A*****e Test (sociologists call it 'denial') we thought it best to stick to peripheral cricketing issues for the time being - until we reach the level of 'acceptance' and are ready to 'forget it and move on'.

So, how about another of our regular looks at the goings on in the Sky TV booth.

Generally, Sky are having a 'good war'. The absence of Bob Willis and Paul Allott has meant that the other guys in the box can relax in the knowledge that a push to mid-wicket for an easy single is not going to be met with hysterial, screaming-pitch hyperbole - more appropriate for the sight of Martians landing on the wicket than a passage of play in a Test Match.

Mike Atherton is continuing in his, so far successful, quest to make the rest of the team look totally incompetent. He manages to raise the performance of everyone he gets paired with - even David Lloyd for heavens sake! This skill makes Athers the Colin Montgomerie in the Sky TV team. Stretching the golfing analogy, Lloyd would normally be the novice hacker who cards a 92, but in the reflected aura of Atherton actually manages to string coherent sentences together - often in English, which is a real bonus.

If you don't believe the power of Atherton, listen to the contrast in Ian Botham's performance in the next Test between his spells with 'Mikey' and his time with Atherton. Alongside Holding, Botham sounds like a pissed up teenager trying far too hard to ingratiate himself with the local 'cool dude' - and failing miserably - whereas with Atherton he sounds like exactly what he is - a good analyst, and the best English all-rounder ever.

Of the rest of the team, Nasser is good value, although he overdoes the 'Angry Ex-Skipper' act a bit - but am I the only one who feels that Gower's languid, semi-hungover 'Champagne Charlie' act is starting to wear a bit thin.

Bottom line is that the team needs a refresh - but you just know that the Sky heavy-handed response will be to send for more ex-skippers (Alec Stewart, Michael Vaughan and, by next summer - a wheelchair bound Freddie Flintoff) without stopping to consider cricket commentary as a skilled trade rather than an extension of a sporting career.

The classic sports arrangement consists of a commentator who actually describes what's going on out in the middle, alongside a 'colour' man who, well, adds the colour to the picture the commentator has described - effectively providing deeper analysis of what's going on.

Every other sport seems to recognise this - football commentary is left to the professional commentators (Motson, Davies, Tyler) with ex-pros like the exemplary Andy Gray, just providing the 'colour' - the same with Rugby Union where Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes have developed a level of understanding that rugby hasn't witnessed since Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett were strutting their stuff.

Sky Cricket's problem is that they have too many 'colour' guys and not enough commentators - in fact, they haven't actually got any at all. You need balance to ensure that the commentary flows with the game - but instead, with Sky, we get a series of ex players who feel that they have to continually justify their presence with elaborate analysis of every thought, word and deed of the players in the middle - plus a whole lot more beyond that, without realising that all we actually need is some sort of insight into what is actually happening, and why. No one is doing orthodox commentary, because no one has been asked/told to - so the Sky product is fundamentally flawed.

The Sky TV booth seems to be the place where ex-England captains end up when they're playing days are over. Luckily, this generalisation doesn't include Graham Gooch (too bland vocally, and too tied up with his toupe ads) or Mike Gatting (too money-grabbing, even for Murdoch owned Sky, which is saying something)

You probably need ex-players to provide the best 'colour' insight, but there's no hard and fast rule which says that ex-players make the best 'commentators'. After all, the acknowledged master of the art was John Arlott, who never played cricket professionally (he was far too clever for that...) whilst his Australian counterpart was Alan McGilvray, who was actually a pretty good cricketer, but never came close to playing for his country. Incidently, there's a whole generation of us who grew up in the 70's assuming that all Australians sounded like McGilvray, and who therefore got a nasty, and rather pleasant shock, when Kylie Minogue appeared on our TV screens!

Sky did seem to recognise the need for 'civilians' in their cricket coverage from the outset, but sadly the person they chose to carry the flag for non-professional cricketers everywhere was Charles 'Bouffant' Colville - which was a bit like asking Arthur Mullard to be the representative face of the English National Opera. Colville was treated with amused contempt by the ex-players in the booth to begin with, but after a while it descended to badly concealed loathing, to the extent that you started to suspect that Botham and Co were setting light to his trousers whilst he was on air and doing unmentionable things in his coffee.

Since that debacle, it's been professional cricketers all the way.

To be fair, Sky have taken some steps to improve the quality of their coverage. Leaving Willis and Allott at home was a definite 'addition by subtraction' move. This demotion hasn't stopped Willis popping up in almost every English paper of the past week or so - taking every opportunity to continue his frankly worrying one-man campaign against the very existance of Geraint Jones. The level of his vitriol for the Kent keeper goes beyond simple 'vendetta' into the realms of the irrational, where you start thinking that Jones must have done something outrageous to RGDW in the past - stolen his signed copy of 'Highway 61 Revisited' perhaps, or suggested that the Zim peaked with 'Blood on the Tracks'.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Looking Back in Anger

(One quick rant - then I need to start packing for the trip Down Under...!!)

This can very much be filed in the 'wise after the event' category, but here's a question - what was the thought process that prompted us to declare at 550-6?

Think it through. We'd dominated their attack on a flat, lifeless pitch for almost two days. With a bowling line-up ourselves that could best be described as 'questionable' - did we really think that it would be a breeze to bowl Australia out even once - let alone twice?

It's OK coming out with the 'you've got to back your bowlers to do the job' mantra, but surely you have to have some sense of realism and acceptance of what your bowling attack is capable of. After all, we're talking here about one game in a Five Test series, and with some upcoming venues that will provide far more bowler friendler tracks than Adelaide.

Presumably the answer to the question of being able to bowl the Australians out twice is 'no' - so therefore we assumed that at some stage we'd have to bat again. It then becomes obvious that we'd most likely have to bat again on a wearing pitch on the final day against the best leg spin bowler in history - and that the only way we were possibly going to lose the test was that if that happened.

So it came to pass and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now consider the alternative scenario. We bat on, potentially into the third day - Warne goes for over 200, McGrath ends up in a retirement home, the Aussies are ground into the dust. We could have ended up with around 630 plus. Even at 300 runs a day (a big ask on a track that slow) that would have not put us back out again until lunchtime on Day Five.

From the end of Day one, it was blindingly obvious that Adelaide 2006 was a draw wicket. Why didn't we simply accept that, take the opportunity to demoralise the Australians, give out bowlers a big workout, and look forward to the next Test?

Instead, there was one possible way we could lose the game from 550-6, and we did.

Crawling form the Wreckage

The good thing about having your own website is that you can vent and let off steam in a more rational way than simply swearing a lot and kicking the cat - or whichever sentinent being happens to be closest to hand.

In no particular order, and without any coherent structure therefore, here is a stream of conciousness response to the monumental fuck up that was Day 5 in Adelaide,

Firstly, hats off to Shane Warne. After all the premature obituaries, he now must surely have a free licence to play for Australia as long as he wants - even if it ends up in 2044 with a 75 year old dribbly, incontinent, 38 stone Warnie being wheeled out to the middle to bowl his overs. Sure as hell our batsmen will still curl up and die in the fourth innings faced with that level of menace.

Secondly, if you think you're wound up and angry with the inept showing today, imagine how Paul Collingwood feels right now.

I don't honestly know how we come back from a sucker punch defeat like that. In some respects a good shoeing is preferable to a self inflicted disaster like todays lame-brained exhibition. Some US jounalists talk of a 'levels of losing' scale, with an expected debacle ranking as 1.0, losing in the last minute of a cup final when you were two up with five minutes to go at 6.2 and a real shocker like Buster Douglas/Mike Tyson ranking a 9.9. I'd put this at around 17.4 on that criteria.

Leaving aside the 'headless chicken' routine with the bat - the bowling looked ill-thought out and, frankly, embarrassing. As soon as Ponting and Hussey were set, we should have effectively reduced the number of overs available by a third by making sure that two balls an over were either bouncers out of reach, and fired down the leg-side - it's not rocket science. Harmison looked quite impressive yet only bowled four overs, whilst Hoggard's muscles was obviously tighter than a cows arse when there's flies around and was over-bowled.

We now need to go into the Perth Test with a side that has the best possible chance of WINNING it. It's time to forget all the 'clever clever' fannying around about avoiding defeat, and only having to draw the series. This means that we need bowlers who can take wickets. Forget all the bullshit about playing Giles because he adds a bit extra to the batting. It's been patently clear over the first two tests that he is no longer a test match bowler. That means Giles out and Panesar in. Giles has been out of cricket for eleven months - and it shows. Panesar has been bowling with great effectiveness all year. Youd' have thought it would be a 'no brainer' of a decision, but sadly the selectors just seemed to have demonstrated that 'no brainer' can have two connotations.

It's equally clear that Jimmy Anderson is currently out of his depth. We've got someone champing at the bit in the changing room - someone with bags of attitude and a heck of a lot of raw skill (and some batting prowess too...) Iif Duncan Fletcher suggests that Anderson's 40 minute rearguard with the bat today might justify his place, then the England team should strap Fletcher to his chair in his hotel room (think the 'bring out the gimp' scene in Pulp Fiction) and write out their own teamsheet with Saj Mahmood's name on it. In fact, even if Fletcher does plump for Saj, why not strap him to his chair and bring out the gimp anyway - it'll certainly help work off some of the frustration...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

End of an Era?

I wouldn't tempt fate by suggesting it myself - not half way through a crucial test match for heaven's sake - but I'm happy to let others state their point of view - especially when it coincides with mine. For example...

The Melbourne Age suggest the Warne era might be at an end.