Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Stories of Test Cricket

Test cricket, at the heart of the game, is about narratives. We who love this form of the game tend to romanticise it, and this leads to incredible stories and epic tales. The plot of a test twists and turns, much like a good book, and at the end of a good test match, the story is resolved in a satisfying manner. Context is important too, a test match can be a continuation of a theme or a turning point.

Over the last few weeks, there have been multiple test matches which fans will be talking about for years. Classic matches where the advantage swung back and forth, where dreams were realised and shattered, where commentators didn’t have to grasp at superlatives to hype up the games. The significance of a period of test cricket like this, even a brief one, is important. It is times like this that will bring fans back home to the purist’s game.

Those with an understanding of test cricket know that the result is not always the most important outcome of a match. It is how the teams got to the result that matters. Take for example a draw between South Africa and Australia. Nothing to write home about there. But what if you consider that South Africa had to bat an entire day, with only six wickets in hand, just to save a match? The name Faf du Plessis was not widely known before this match, in fact, it was his debut test match. Now, he has not only a name, but a legend. South Africa owe the fact that they remain number 1 in the world to him. Every good story needs a hero, even one with an unlikely name like Faf.

 A triumph against the odds is a template that many great stories are based on. That could easily be applied to England’s recent win in India. Make no mistake, England have been terrible in the subcontinent over the past few years. After being predictably thrashed in the first test, hopes were not high for the second. It took redemptive performances from two players who have been ridiculed and mocked throughout their careers, KP and Monty Panesar, for England to score an upset in Mumbai. Now the series is 1-1, and with two matches to go there is everything to play for. This tale still has a few plot twists coming.

Sometimes characters off the field will appear in stories about test cricket. Martin Crowe made his return recently, not with the bat but with the pen. He wrote a fierce call to arms to the New Zealand team, in the wake of arguably their worst day of cricket in recent years. His intervention, like a ghostly Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, seemed to provide the impetus for the Kiwis to start believing in themselves. Like England, New Zealand are rubbish on the subcontinent. Who though will ever be able to forget Taylor and Williamson grinding out the first day, followed by Southee and Boult tearing into the aging Sri Lankan batting order? It was a triumph of youth over experience, and about as unlikely as David defeating Goliath. Kiwi fans, so often starved of good news, are already comparing this win with not only Hobart last year, but other memorable test wins across history.

Sometimes the story is one we’ve heard before. Bangladesh are adept at turning good positions into defeats, and they managed this in spectacular style against the West Indies. After doing absolutely everything to get the upper hand in Dhaka, they somehow managed to let it slip away. Another debutant, Sohag Gazi, bowled the match of his life to set up a chance to win a rare test victory. As is so often the case with Bangladesh, the batsmen were the villains of this tale. The target was 245, tough, but considering how hard they had to work to get there, heartbreaking not to reach. Let’s hope this story doesn’t keep repeating itself.

Finally, every tale ends with an epilogue. We are currently witnessing the end of one of the great test players, Ricky Ponting. How fitting that his career, which has had so many challenges, should end against the best team in the world. Ponting has done everything, in cricketing terms he has lived a very full life. From fighting personal demons in his youth, to regaining the Ashes in the later years of his career, he has been the archetypal Aussie battler. He is also the last survivor from the great Australian team who conquered all before them, the last man who played with Warne, McGrath and the Waughs still standing. His retirement brings to an end the epic saga of the greatest test team to ever tour the world.

The nature of test cricket lends itself perfectly to narratives like this. How else can we understand a game that takes a week to complete? After matches like what we have recently seen, it is clear test cricket doesn’t need to be revived. It already is alive and well. Here’s to many more great tales, yet to be told. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Obscure Cricket Series Review

One of the most fascinating and crucial series happening this year will also likely be one of the most overlooked. Currently, India A is 1-0 up over the West Indies A side, in a battle that could go a long way to shaping the test sides of both nations for many years. As you may have noticed, neither the West Indies, nor India, have particularly strong test sides at present. There are spots up for grabs, particularly if you are a hungry young batsman. There will be three unofficial tests played over the A series, and so far a few batsmen have put their noses in front.

The case of India’s test team is particularly pressing. Their next test series may be against lowly New Zealand in August, however, there is at least one spot that needs to be filled immediately. Actually, to call it a spot doesn’t quite do it justice. Somebody is going to have to step into the giant shoes of Rahul Dravid. Somehow, after being the only batsman to do anything of note in the dismal tour to England, he decided that it was him who had to retire. Laxman and Tendulkar though must be feeling the breath of Father Time on the backs of their necks, which means that the entire middle order is up for grabs to any Indian batsman willing to put in the work.

Who then are the contenders? So far on the A tour there have been two batsmen who have made their presence known. Firstly Rohit Sharma, who was shamefully overlooked for the entire Australian test series, bashed 94 in the first innings of the first match. That will go a long way towards nicking Laxman’s spot, as it was scored from number 5. He will need to keep the pressure on though, or else he might continue to be ignored. The other fellow in contention is Cheteshwar Pujara. He is the skipper of the A team, and more importantly, was the sole reason India A managed to win the first game. In the first innings he scored a creditable 50, but in the second he made 96 not out to drag his team over the line. India A won by 2 wickets, and the next highest score was 27. That shows the sort of mental toughness that the Indian batting lineup will lack in the post-Dravid world.

There are a few other contenders too, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, even Subraminiam Badrinath could make a return. Raina has experience in Tests, however after 15 matches only averages 29.58. Rahane had a stunning IPL, often playing very technically good cricket. He is however yet to make his test debut, and has somewhat underachieved in his international outings. Badrinath is a sad case, a good player who will probably be considered on the wrong side of 30. While he might have a first class average of 60 over 104 matches, every outing in Indian blue, or white, has ended in disaster. He has probably lost his only chance after failing against South Africa in 2010. There is also the small possibility that Yuvraj Singh may return one day, provided his health improves.  

So what path should India take? For my money, a huge cleanout needs to happen, and soon. Dravid is gone, Laxman has been awful in recent times and Tendulkar is just not the batsman he once was. If I were selecting the team to play against the Black Caps, I would have Pujara at 3, Kohli at 4, Sharma at 5 and Raina at 6. Out of those four batsmen, there also has to be a future captain emerging, as Dhoni cannot hang on forever if results don’t improve. Very few captains survive two whitewashes in a row.

The West Indies is also a very interesting case, partly because in almost every recent test, the batting has been disastrous. In this instance it is a case of no young players nailing down a spot, while the old guard (and by that I mean Chanderpaul) continue to grind out the runs. Marlon Samuels has been a revelation on his return, however he is known for inconsistency, so it may not last. Overall though, the next generation of Barath, Powell, Edwards, Braithwaite and Darren Bravo have failed to stamp their mark on the batting order. All play in the top 4, and while it may be great having Chanderpaul and Samuels scoring heavily from 5 and 6, it is somewhat pointless if they come in at 60-4.

In the first unofficial test, most of the runs for West Indies A came from the lower order, and not enough runs in general were scored. 19 year old Braithwaite may be just ahead of the pack, after he scored a torturously slow 50 in the first match. Moreover, he batted the entire first day of the second match to go to 66 overnight, off a titanic 292 balls. Such feats of endurance will endear him to the selectors, and he may well find himself partnering a certain IPL superstar at the top of the West Indies order in their next series. However, the only reason he is playing for the A team is because he got dropped from the Test team after averaging 21 from 9 games.

Each nation may have a problem the opposite of the other, with the Indian old guard failing to fire, and the West Indian seniors being the only ones firing. However, the roots of both problems are the same. Not enough runs are being scored by the batsmen for either side, and it is costing the team one Test after another. The losing streaks for both sides are starting to look very bad, especially for the former no.1, India. Batsmen who perform well in the A series should be given a shot at higher honours, because lets face it, they can’t do any worse than the current lot. Therefore, you should keep an eye on this series. It may tell you all you need to know about the future of each nation’s Test sides. 

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Pay Perry Properly

One of the finest athletes in the world currently is Australian dual international Ellyse Perry. She has represented her country at both the cricket and football world cups, and is a mere 21 years old. She is roughly comparable to Kiwi Sophie Devine*, a dual cricket/hockey international, only better.

Perry has recently quit her football club in Canberra because they were demanding she commit to football full time. However, in a telling remark from leading Australian footballer Melissa Barbieri, women's football coaches "want their players to be more professional, without the professional means." Essentially the point is that a woman cannot get a decent paycheck for being a star athlete, even in sports as popular as cricket or football. Equal pay? A top female cricketer or footballer would be lucky to earn 10% of a male counterpart.

This is a golden opportunity for women's cricket to secure the services of one of the brightest prospects in the game. Imagine a cricketer who had a one day bowling average of 21.97 after 47 games, with a batting average of 19.47. Such a player would command huge sums in the IPL, as well as a lucrative central contract with their national board, as well as huge endorsement deals, provided they had a penis. Alas, the player with these stats is Elysse Perry, so even though she is clearly an incredibly talented athlete, neither code is willing to offer her the sort of money required to secure her services full time.

* A quick aside about Devine, I had the misfortune of facing her a few times in matches. She bowled faster than anyone I had ever faced when I was 12, and let me tell you, when you are pissing yourself at the thought of being hit by a thunderbolt like that, you forget you are facing a girl pretty fast. She was well known around junior and high school cricket as being a destroyer of batsmen, especially the macho types. It was quite funny in hindsight remembering square jawed jocks swaggering out to the wicket and slinking back soon after, if they were lucky with only a bruised ego.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

SBW - Not worth it eh

So Sonny Bill Williams has been made an offer by the NZRU. No doubt, it is an incredibly generous offer, packed with endorsement deals, opportunities to box and lasting only one year. Frankly, I don't see why they bother.

The NZRU is not doing well financially. This is abundantly clear, given the number of provincial sides in debt, as well as reports which suggest their cash reserves will not last many more years. Since the professional era began, player salaries have been inflated further and further, and it is starting to cost the national game dearly. I am not a critic of professionalism, players deserve to be paid for what is essentially a full time job.

However, are we forgetting something crucial about the All Blacks in the rush to sign a star like Sonny Bill? The black jersey is bigger than any one player, even bigger than any one successful, Cup winning team. There is history in the jersey. There is mana in the jersey. It is an insult to that jersey to have selfish players wearing it. What will that jersey lose if it becomes just another well marketed brand?

Furthermore, is SBW even worth the hype? He is blessed with the most gifted agent of his generation, the ruthless Khoder Nasser. Is it possible that the vast majority of the positive media coverage of SBW comes straight from the press releases of this gifted hype builder? Looking at the facts, he barely started a game in the World Cup. He is not a part of the Smith-Nonu partnership, the undisputed kings of the midfield. We have quicker wingers than SBW. Hell, he isn't even the best midfielder at the Chiefs, that would be Kahui. For that matter, this weekend was the first time he has scored all season. There is a veritable production line of talented backs coming through the ranks, wouldn't they be equally worthy of investment as players?

Lastly, Sonny Bill Williams has not given the All Black jersey the respect it deserves. To be an All Black, you should make that goal your life. Williams clearly does not think this way. To him, the All Blacks are just another team to flit through on his way to bigger paydays. Remember the Bulldogs? He skipped out on them with time left on his contract. That is exactly what will happen with the All Blacks. In my view, the NZRU should pre-empt this and offer him a bog standard contract, with no frills that wouldn't be offered to say, Cory Jane or Colin Slade. If he takes that contract, then I would eat my words willingly, because it would be a sign that he takes the All Blacks seriously enough to consider turning down vast amounts of money just for the Black jersey. My guess though is that he would spurn the offer on the advice of his manager and chase the dollars somewhere else.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The tail wags

Australia have just shown yet again why they are such a formidable test side, after completely reversing their situation on Day 4 in Bridgetown. The West Indies were in control at one stage, with Australia 7 wickets down and behind by 199. However the tail of Harris, Hilfenhaus and Lyon combined to drag the Aussies back into the match. When the 7th wicket went down, Australia were on 250. 156 runs and two wickets later they were in a strong enough position to declare. What happened?

The answer is the grit shown by the bowlers, who cannot be expected to survive and score runs but did anyway. Australia has a bit of a knack for doing this, and many explanations for why revolve around the Australian reputation for being fighters. In this current test, all of their bowlers average over 10. The value of these runs is hard to overstate. While they are not the most significant contributions to the scoreboard, their contribution to team morale (and the sapping of the opposition's morale) is unquestionable. For a bowler it must be agonising to get through the middle order of Ponting, Clarke and Hussey, be in a position to secure a huge lead and then have it slip away thanks to bowlers scoring annoying runs. We can't know for certain of course, but I would be willing to bet that the West Indies collapse in their second innings had a lot to do with the bowlers being confident after making runs, and the batsmen being dispirited after being kept in the field for an extra 45 overs.

A team with a reputation for lower order runs is very hard to put away. New Zealand no longer enjoys this reputation. When Vettori used to bat at 8 there was always the strong possibility of an extra 100 runs being made in the last 4 partnerships, now that we have the likes of Southee and Bracewell propping up the lower order there is no such fear. Southee can smash the ball a long way, but he is yet to play a single mature innings. Bracewell can stick around for a while, but struggles to keep the score ticking over. They are each a negative stereotype of tail end batting, the slogger and the prodder. With regular lower order contributions, perhaps New Zealand would start to win tests more often.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

It's not OK

A wonderful petition has been started by an Australian league fan, calling on the NRL to ban any player found guilty of domestic violence for a season. You can sign it here. There are excellent reasons for this petition to be signed, not least because rugby league as a sport has a long history of off-field assualts, rapes and violence. There are of course players who conduct themselves well off the field, however those who commit violent offences should absolutely be singled out and punished.

Let us face facts, professional rugby league players are massive, aggressive young men. Their job is to attempt to run a ball through a line of 13 other massive aggressive young men, using pretty much any means necessary. There must be systems in place to show them that that sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable off the field, against anyone. Of course, there are those that argue that sports like league and rugby are breeding grounds for monsters, but I don't subscribe to that view. In general, rugby league players do not assault or rape. Those that do should not be welcome back on the field.

I would suggest that this petition be widened to include all sports, not just the NRL. Why ban sportspeople for smoking a joint when they don't get banned for a real crime?

Monday, 2 April 2012

Gambling with his reputation

The Prime Minister has asserted that an increase in gambling problems will not be one of the consequences of the deal with SkyCity casino. This is despite the fact that the Problem Gambling Foundation has estimated that every 10 new pokie machines contribute to 8 new gambling addictions. Between John Key and the Problem Gambling Foundation, which party is more likely to have researched this issue in depth and have full possession of all the facts? My money is on the Foundation. (no pun intended)

The SkyCity deal will allow the casino to install up to 500 new pokie machines, so we have to assume that this deal will directly contribute to hundreds of gambling addictions. Is this a price that John Key really wants to attach himself to?

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The enthusiasm of youth

I actually thought this was satire when I saw it, this magazine is just trying so very very hard. Who the hell are these pod-people on the cover? 

On a more substantive note though, why is it that those who are trying to claim the mantle of Conservative are so keen to re-hash long dormant culture war arguments? Look at the two articles in the bottom right corner of the page. One is about abortion, and 'protecting the unborn' and the other is about abstinence. Clearly the two are linked, abstinence-only sex education leads to higher levels of teen pregnancy, however in this case it is safe to assume that particular link will not be made.

What this all boils down to is control, just as it often has with those who call themselves Conservative. Control over teenager's genitals. Control over the uterus. Which is odd, given that Conservatives often proclaim to believe in liberty, and freedom to choose to do what you want to do, such as the freedom to carry guns. This freedom is the supposed basis of every single conservative political argument, except when it comes to your penis or vagina. Then the state should have the right to tell you what you can and can't do. 

Monday, 26 March 2012

Prediction scores:

At the start of the South Africa tour I made some predictions about results, and now I intend to score them.

T20: Prediction: NZ 2-1 Result: SA 2-1
Score: 3/10
Well, you have to get the overall result right to get points, and I was a few balls away from that had we won the third match.
ODI: Prediction: SA 2-1 Result: SA 3-0
Score: 7/10
This one was a bit of a blowout, the Black Caps did not play at all well and really let themselves down. They let me down too by not winning a single match in their best format.
Tests: Prediction: SA 2-0 Result: SA 1-0
Score: 8/10
I'm giving myself an extra point here because I predicted one match would be affected by rain, causing a draw, and South Africa would win the rest. As it happens, two matches were rain-affected, and South Africa completely dominated the rest.

Overall: 18/30
Not bad, quite happy with that score. Not very happy with the series result though, all 3 formats lost. South Africa are an extremely good side, but New Zealand are not as bad as these numbers would suggest. To only win one game out of 9 is not remotely good enough, even against the best. Ah well. There's always next summer.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Good news in Afghanistan

No, this has nothing to do with the occupation, but to do with the Afghanistan cricket team. In short, they have just effectively won a tournament for teams who aren't test-playing nations. Their early qualification in the T20 World Cup Qualifying Tournament is huge, out of the 14 best teams who don't play test cricket, they are the first to secure one of two berths in the World Cup.

To do this, they had to beat the Netherlands, a team that has made multiple appearances at World Cups in the past, Namibia, a team who went through their group unbeaten and have also played at World Cups, Canada, who are 2nd only to the West Indies in the Americas, and 5 other sides. 8 wins from 8 games. A flash in the pan team would have not been able to do this so clinically and consistently. They also qualified ahead of Ireland, seen as by far the most likely candidate to be the next team to gain test status.

What makes this effort all the more remarkable, is that in organisational terms Afghanistan cricket is a level below many other teams at this qualifying event. Non-test playing nations are segregated into associate members of the ICC and below that affiliate members. Afghanistan is in the 2nd category. They barely ever get to play against top teams. In February Afghanistan played Pakistan in a one off match, and it was the first time an affiliate team had played a full member in an ODI. It is almost like Afghan cricket developed in isolation and evolved on it's own.

The ICC has a big decision to make. Is it now time to elevate Afghanistan a level to associate status? I would wholeheartedly say yes. They have proven themselves to be the best of the rest, and success should be recognised by the ICC. Cricket in Afghanistan is perfectly placed to be a growth sport, geographically the nation is surrounded by cricket in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, as well as having a population which seems to come together over cricket. Famously, even the Taliban were cheering on Afghanistan when they played Pakistan. The ICC should act quickly to consolidate these gains and bring Afghanistan further into the fold of cricket playing nations.

The effect of this could go beyond the sport itself. It is undeniable that matches between India and Pakistan are powerful forces for good in the region. When the teams played in the World Cup the leaders of each country attended and met, something that would be unthinkable without a good pretext. Cricket can provide an opportunity for enemies to meet as friends. Perhaps this is just what Afghanistan needs.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

It was years ago, let it go

So the verdict on the Urewera 4 is in, and it is... inconclusive. Some charges have stuck, with each defendant being found guilty of half of the firearms charges against them. However, there were also some not guilty verdicts, mixed in with a big dunno on the major charge, Participation in an Organised Criminal Group. The Crown is considering a retrial. Is this really necessary?

Firstly, the Crown has scored a few token symbolic victories by getting guilty verdicts on some charges. This means they will have sent the desired message to other potential militant groups that they will follow up any and all activity and seek to punish them. The charges are hardly hefty, but they will be enough to secure a sentence of some sort.

Secondly, a vast amount of money has already been spent on these trials, and as this inconclusive verdict shows, there is no guarantee that a retrial would yield any better results. The trial by media has so far been intense, there is no way you could find 12 more potential jurors who hadn't already heard a lot about the case, and probably formed opinions already. The Crown should really look to cut their losses and get out of this one before they really start wasting serious amounts of money. (Well, more serious than the existing waste of money at least)

Lastly, doesn't this whole affair smack of bullying a little? The Crown obviously enjoys a massive advantage in terms of legal, financial and media resources, and yet they still can't decisively prove that the defendants were part of an organised criminal group. The only real power left to the Crown is to continue ruining the lives of the defendants, through endless court demands. A retrial could take years to set in motion, so far it has been almost 5 years just to get to this point. What more could the Crown possibly gain by more court proceedings?

At the end of the day the excuses put forward by the defendants as to why they were running around the bush with guns are just as compelling, if not more compelling, than the idea that they were planning on overthrowing the government. The idea that a band of about 20 poorly trained activists with very little popular support could take on the NZ Army and Police Force and a sizeable proportion of the adult population who would be against them is preposterous. The idea that anyone would be so delusional to think something like that could succeed is equally crazy. On the other hand, the idea that they were learning bushcraft (in which guns can be very useful) and skills to try and land security contract work is not really that odd. People upskill all the time, and the skills the defendants appeared to be trying to learn are in high demand around the world.

Therefore I think it would be a colossal waste of time and money for any retrial to go ahead. The Crown has everything to lose and nothing really to gain, plus it is quite simply a bad look the longer this goes on. These people are no threat to the country. It's time to let them get on with their lives.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Please continue to turn your stove off

Here we have a remarkable piece of anti-environmentalism dog whistle from Stuff, who are suggesting that actions such as "checking lights, stoves and taps were turned off, so they could reduce their global footprint." is evidence of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The implication of this article, based on the premise that psychiatric hospitals are starting to see cases of OCD based on fear of climate change, is that people who worry about such trivialities as their carbon footprint are mentally unwell.

Now this is not to denigrate sufferers of OCD. I've seen that condition and it seems like it is very difficult to live with. However, this article is a complete mockery of both sufferers of OCD and efforts to curb climate change. Consider this opening line:

Climate change is making people mad.

This is a fallacy. People are not being driven insane by climate change. They are taking precautions to limit their carbon footprint, and some people with obsessive compulsive tendencies are ritualising that behaviour to a degree deemed unhealthy. For the record, people should be doing the things set out in the article as crazy behaviour, such as checking that you don't use excess energy or water, or an excess amount of any resources for that matter. Why? Because Climate Change is a real, documented phenomena. Already temperatures are rising, and will continue to rise. The effects will be less terrible if people start to adjust their actions so they have less of a carbon footprint.

Is it any wonder that this story appeared on a Fairfax site? After all, the positions taken by Fairfax have never been friendly to environmental interests, and this is not set to change now that mining tycoon Gina Rinehart owns 15% of the company. This particular story would have an insidious effect. By connecting the actions needed to reduce human impacts on the planet with mental illness, it will seed the idea in reader's minds that efforts to fight climate change are crazy. It is not crazy to try and mitigate the effects of climate change, so like the title says, please continue to turn off your stove after you use it.  

Friday, 16 March 2012


The mountain has been scaled. Sachin Tendulkar has finally scored his 100th international 100. Nobody in the history of cricket has ever done this, and there is a strong chance nobody will ever do it again. It took Mr Tendulkar more than two decades to finish the job, will another player ever have a career that lasts long enough?

First, the context for the century to end all centuries. It was a fairly meaningless ODI encounter in a schedule packed full of meaningless matches. The opposition was lowly Bangladesh. India still lost. This was potentially one of the most futile and pointless centuries scored by a truly great batsman.

And yet, this one is special. Or so it would seem, judging from the fawning coverage on cricinfo. For me, the important centuries were those scored in World Cups, or his fabulous 241* in a test in Sydney. Sometimes Tendulkar had the ability to make batting seem childishly simple. My point is this: This particular century was not one of the greats. Compared to the rest of his innings, it was barely one of the goods. However, let us not forget that over the years Sachin Tendulkar has been a sublime batsman, and there are far more worthy innings to remember him by.

Perhaps it is not so bad that this happened in Bangladesh. The nation is desperately poor, has a young population and is by all accounts crazy about cricket. It will mean a lot to them that a milestone innings such as this was scored in their tournament, on their turf. It seems romantic, but maybe there will be a Bangladeshi kid who was in the crowd at Mirpur and become inspired to try and emulate Sachin. Cricket is nothing without the stories we tell about it, and there will be stories about this innings. Let us hope that there is someone in the Mirpur crowd who will one day say "I was there", as he (or she) brings up their own 100th century.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A Capital Idea

I'm very glad Shearer has decided to stick with the Capital Gains Tax, it was a great idea during the election campaign and remains a great idea now. It shows a commitment to getting more revenue from those earning enough to be in a position to get capital gains, something that has been sadly lacking from politics in recent years. Make no mistake, a CGT is a tax on the wealthy, just as GST is more heavily a tax on the poor. With economic inequality rising in New Zealand, something has to be done to try and stem that trend and turn it around, and a CGT is a good place to start.

Does it matter that this is yet another example of Labour stealing policy from the Greens? In my mind, not really. Simply put, the policies of the Greens will result in a more fair and equitable society, but Labour, being a party which values being in government above all else, is in a better position to implement them. I have high hopes that in 2014 we will get a coalition with the ideology of the Greens and the cold political effectiveness of Labour. (Disclaimer, yes I know how ineffective Labour were in 2011, but look at the previous few elections, they were ruthless and icy.)

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Southee finally dropped

I'm in no way suggesting he is a bad bowler. Tim Southee is without a doubt one of the finest fast bowling prospects in world cricket. However, in tests, he has really lost his edge. A bowling average above 40 is just dreadful. Until he can sort out his issues with form, he shouldn't be playing the premier format of the game. I have no doubt he will be back, and probably a better bowler. Dropping him though could be the best thing possible for his career, because it shows him he cannot expect to be picked on reputation alone.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

SA tour turning into a disaster

I must admit, I was looking forward to the South Africa tour for about a year. The chance to see the Black Caps take on one of the great pace bowling attacks of our era was incredibly tempting. What a shame the BCs are in the middle of ruining their once promising summer.

First there was the final over T20 loss, where they went from cruising to victory to collapsing in a panicky heap. That was understandable, you can't win every close match, and criticism of Ryder's role in that defeat was unfair. It was a shame, but a 2-1 loss in a T20 series isn't the end of the world.

Next there was the loss of the ODI series, after a meek capitulation against Morne Morkel. That was worse, as it seemed to signal a return to the bad old days of brittle batting. Still, games get lost, it happens, there's always the next one etc. Turns out though the Black Caps weren't finished being disappointing.

Now we have a situation where the most promising batsman in recent memory has ruled himself out of contention by going drinking and breaking team protocol in the process. Yes, the sorry saga of Ryder's alcoholism continues. The man needs help, that much is clear, but until he gets it he should be out of the team. Worse, one of his team-mates decided to drink with him. If that isn't enabling behaviour then I don't know what is. Bracewell deserves his ban, not just because he also broke team protocol, but that he decided to go drinking with someone suffering from a drinking problem. That is plainly stupid and irresponsible.

Can the team turn it around? I'm not too sure they will. They are about to face the ultimate challenge to their morale as a unit, a test series against a team with a solid and stubborn batting lineup, and an aggressive and dangerous pace bowling attack. The worry has to be that all of the good work over the summer, such as the Hobart win and the clean sweep against Zimbabwe, is about to be undone. The whole team needs to rediscover their fight and will to compete, or this tour will finish as a joke.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Predictions for South Africa series

The Zimbabwe cricket team has left after an underwhelming tour, and their replacements, the South Africans, have played their warmup match against Canterbury. This tour will hopefully be the best seen in New Zealand for some time, with the likes of Dale Steyn, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers going up against the Black Caps. For those fans on elder statesman watch, this might well also be the last chance to see Jacques Kallis in action, though action may be the wrong word if he grinds out a grim century. 

So, how will the results fall? I think I know, and have some predictions. 

T20s: NZ to win 2-1. The Kiwis are almost top dogs in T20 cricket, being 2nd on the ICC rankings.  They should edge these games out I think, South Africa have never been as good at the shorter formats as they should be. (chokers, apparently) Provided that New Zealand create the right pitches for their team, i.e extremely slow and taking a bit of turn, the arsenal of Kiwi spinners should be able to strangle South Africa. Look for starring roles from Nathan McCullum and Williamson.

ODIs: SA to win 2-1. Yes, we beat them at the World Cup, but let's face it, the longer a match goes, the better chance South Africa have. Amla in particular will be a huge wicket to take, if he can bat 30 overs at the top then a huge platform will be set, plus Steyn will be in the team for these games. I think New Zealand will let themselves down in these games as well, I predict there will be at least one abysmal batting collapse.

Tests: SA to win 2-0. There is a lot of self belief in the Black Cap test team at the moment, and they are about to get a serious reality check. South Africa are a fantastic test side, their quick bowlers have a lot of stamina and their batsmen put a high price on their wickets. They will simply overwhelm the Black Caps, especially I reckon the younger ones, such as Williamson and Bracewell, will crumble under the pressure. Why only 2-0 then? It will be autumn in New Zealand, you have to allow for one game to get rained off.

Anyone else care to make a prediction?

Friday, 3 February 2012

Selections based on merit

I'm not really a big fan of T20 cricket. I think there is something ridiculous about a shortened version of a sport which is meant to be played like chess on legs. Perhaps that opinion means that this suggestion for the Black Caps selectors is somewhat flippant, but here it is anyway.

The team who run out to play Zimbabwe in the 2 T20 matches should be entirely based on performance in the HRV Cup. Reputations should be ignored, as should player development and planning for future matches. The HRV Cup was the first time in many years that every top level cricketer in the country played domestic matches, so as such it is possible to look at the competition as a ten match trial series. Like it or not, Black Caps do not normally turn out for their province. I personally wish they did regularly in the 4 day competition, but I don't hold the purse strings at NZC, so there you go.

There has to be some reward for strong performance against your peers. The Zimbabwe series would be the perfect time to give players who played well a chance to push for selection in more important series, such as the upcoming matches against South Africa. Similarly, it would send a message to the rest of the players in the country that consistency and results are the only things that will give you a chance at higher honours. The new selectors are supposedly abandoning selector intuition as a criterion, but it is fair to say that some recent selections, Tom Latham, Sam Wells, Andrew Ellis, are very much a case of intuition over statistics.

With that all in mind, this would be my team for the T20s against Zimbabwe:
Martin Guptill   (504 runs at 72.0 average, strike rate 151)
Rob Nicol   (292 runs at 36.5, strike rate 144) + (13 wickets at 19.5 average)
Brendon McCullum   (c/wk) (372 runs at 46.5, strike rate 144.7)
James Franklin   (270 runs at 38, strike rate 135)
Dean Brownlie   (199 runs at 22, strike rate 164)
Hamish Marshall   (222 runs at 37, strike rate 147)
Doug Bracewell    (181 runs at 154 strike rate) (9 wickets at 7.7 economy rate)
Michael Bates (14 wickets at 20.8 average)
Ronnie Hira   (14 wickets at 5.85 economy rate)
Andy McKay (12 wickets at 7.6 economy rate)
Adam Milne   (11 wickets at 16.9 average)

So that would mean that out of the current Black Caps T20 squad, I would be dropping Jacob Oram, Nathan McCullum, Kane Williamson, Tim Southee and Colin de Grandhomme. If you look at their performance just in the HRV Cup, they didn't do enough to merit selection. There are some big reputations in that group, and some of them would inevitably come back for the bigger series. However, in the short term, there is merit in selecting the players who have performed in the most recent, and most open trial.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Go by Bike Day - Wellington

I don't know if this is an event held around the country, but for some reason Go by Bike Day seemed oddly perfect for Wellington. For starters, given the geography of the city, with the CBD being at sea level, it is reasonably easy for people as far away as Johnsonville or Miramar to roll out of bed and roll down the hill. This was great for me as I don't normally cycle much. Secondly there is a lot of support for cyclists in Wellington. The roads may have been built for cars, but drivers here recognise that cyclists have a right to be there too.

Go by Bike Day starts early, with those distributing the free breakfast turning up before sunrise to get set up. It was windy on the day, and I was very worried about the free-trade bananas stand losing their inflatable props. A lot of the volunteers on the stalls had to be very quick on their feet to catch their flying leaflets. The sails above the courtyard provided a small bit of protection from the light rain, but it was better than nothing.

Now, I'm not normally the type to allow myself to feel enthusiastic about anything in the early morning, but this event was genuinely fun. Sometimes these things can be extremely painful, but Go by Bike Day was nothing of the sort. The announcers were great, as they seemed to be nothing more than outgoing enthusiasts about cycling. I find that when radio DJs are given the job of entertaining a crowd they tend to just talk complete bollocks, but whoever was holding the mic at this really knew what they were doing.

Russell Norman came down to chat to people for a while, and I was very pleased to hear that he practices what he preaches, and actually cycled in. There was a bit of a scandal about David Cameron cycling to work, only to have his limo drive behind him holding his briefcase, so it's good to know that the Green co-leader isn't a hypocrite like Cameron.

I think I'll head down again next year, and am now seriously thinking about investing in a bike. I don't have one at the moment, can anyone recommend something that is both cheap and good for city use? I was amazed at how good I felt after the light exercise of cycling for 20 minutes, and let's not forget that every cyclist on the road is another car not on the road. Thanks a lot to those who organised Go by Bike Day, you did a great job and I hope you consider holding it again next year.

"Peace For Our Time"

These were the words uttered by one of the doomed men of recent history. Neville Chamberlain is considered notable for one thing, that as Prime Minister of Britain he adopted a weak stance against Hitler in a policy known as appeasement. It was a dismal failure. By the time Chamberlain was removed from office, Hitler was master of much of Europe. The dominant historical narrative has since recorded Chamberlain as the cowardly chap who kept the seat warm before Churchill rose to give the Nazis a damn good thrashing.

Well, hindsight is 20/20. In 1938 when Chamberlain made that statement, the start of World War Two was still a year away. Hitler leading a resurgent Germany would have been considered a somewhat disturbing prospect, but very few people were predicting anything remotely like what was to come. More to the point, the life experience of Chamberlain himself gave him an excellent reason to avoid a war with Germany. He had already seen one first hand, and by all accounts WW1 was the most horrific event in living memory. 

Chamberlain's pursuit of peace was a brave and principled stance, given the geo-political situation of the time. Britain was still a mighty colossus compared to Germany, who were still recovering from the catastrophic events of World War 1. Britain also would have been able to call in a large coalition of willing allies. However, imagine the credibility such a move would have given to German ultra-nationalists, who would have justifiably become the best politicians to defend the nation against invasion. Given that Hitler was not yet the Hitler we know and loathe, it would have been reasonable to assume in 1938 that an attack on Germany would have caused the rise to power of a far worse regime. 

I for one am sick of the narrative promoted by the likes of the History Channel, which presents the conflict as an essentially simple struggle of good Allies vs evil Hitler. The problem with this analysis is that it acts as a justification for pre-emptive war. Imagine how many lives could have been saved if Chamberlain had stood up to Hitler. No death camps, no brutal occupations, no Blitz on London. If only it were that easy.

Whenever I read opinion pieces about the brewing conflict between the West and Iran, someone will inevitably Godwin up the comments and cast Ahmadinejad in the role of Hitler. This is clearly a pile of crap. There are no Iranian jackboots on foreign soil. Iranian military spending is about 1% of American military expenditure. (as well as being a lower percentage of GDP) Even on the nuclear question, Iran is many years away from developing a single bomb, let alone the capability to attack Israel. And yet, it seems more and more like that there will be a pre-emptive strike on Iran. I cannot imagine a more reckless and stupid course of action.

Soon the leaders of the Western world will face a choice. They might well take the truly cowardly option, to send the children of their nation into yet another war. A strike on Iran will only inflame Muslim anger further, driving up jihad recruitment and further weakening the moral authority of the 'enlightened' west. In the short term, the leaders will enjoy strong poll ratings and be seen as warrior kings. In the long term, they will do irrevocable damage to a region which has frankly suffered enough already. Why should the Muslim world sit idly by as yet another country is bombed back to the stone age? 

I hope Obama et al rise to the occasion and adopt the approach taken by Chamberlain. What the world needs is peace for our time. It was only through decades of uninterrupted peace that Europe was able to recover from the madness of the World Wars, and it is only through sustained peace that the Muslim world will be able to halt the influence of fundamentalist radicals. A truly brave set of leaders would ignore the polls and do what is right. Peace is not an easy thing to achieve, but we will never enjoy the benefits of it unless we stop pretending that somehow another war will make it happen.