Archive for September, 2012

What a legend

Out of here: Taufel will retire at the end of the ICC World Twenty20

An Aussie cricket legend retired today, and in my opinion he deserves all the credit he can get. He was consistently the best in his discipline for a decade. Sure, he got the highest plaudits he could, winning the best in his field five years in a row from the ICC, but no doubt his retirement will go largely unnoticed by the  punters and passed over in the papers.

It’s probably because he is an umpire.

That’s right, Australia’s best, possibly ever, umpire Simon Taufel gave it up today, and for all the right reasons. He announced today that “Following the ICC World Twenty20 Sri Lanka 2012, I’m moving on from active international umpiring for personal and professional reasons… My wife and children have supported me immensely throughout my career and it is time for me to spend more time with them.”

Fair enough, Simon.

When you consider what Kevin Pietersen’s IPL contract is worth, and put it next to what Taufel was paid to travel all year round, rarely being allowed to umpire in his home country, you know who had to make the bigger sacrifice.

And at 41, his eyes still had plenty left to give. In fact he is being replaced on the elite panel by 52-year-old fellow Australian Bruce Oxenford whose eyes seem to be fine as well. But instead Taufel chose to retire at the top of his game, still well respected by every side he ever officiated.

Umpires can hang on too long, pretending to see what they used to see in Twenty20 (pun very much intended). Steve Bucknor, undoubtedly the coolest (and according to my sister the cutest) umpire ever, was savaged by India for being too old during his prolonged retirement saga. Whether this was true or not was irrelevant. Bucknor’s age, on the other hand, was very relevant. The longer you hold on the more you expose yourself to these kind of criticisms, and the older you get the more people buy into it.

People hate to see someone bow out too late, a shell of their former selves, whether it be an official or a player. Officials, by the very nature of their craft,  also earn double-points on the ire scale from players, administrators and the crowd.

Thus, it is a miracle that an umpire in the days of video review, Hawk-eye, Snicko and Hot-Spot can maintain the level of respect Taufel has managed. He has inspired confidence in his decision making from player and media alike through his somewhat unnerving precision. His unflappable demeanour and ridiculously accurate officiating might lead you to compare him to an umpiring droid, but his reasons for quitting, which in his past interviews he has labelled as the hardest part of being a Test umpire, belie his mushy innards.

A promising cricketer who grew up bowling fast to the likes of Michael Slater and Adam Gilchrist in age-group cricket, his passion for playing had to be replaced with umpiring due to a chronic back issue. Still one of the youngest faces on the umpiring panel, he is by no means the freshest. Ian Gould might fit the mould of an umpire with his flabby jowls and finger waggle ala David Shepherd, but he is still a Greenhorn compared to the experienced youngster Taufel.

His age may have worked in his favour with the players too, as apparently he had the best repartee with them. They trusted him to make the right decision and not to melt under pressure. He never appeared to melt, always looking sharp at the top of the wicket. Tall and dark, with a serious but approachable demeanour, Taufel’s presence always inspired confidence.

He was not a man who created many headlines, the ultimate compliment to a match official. He was never peturbed when mistakes did arise. Just as Glenn McGrath sometimes bowled a wide, and Sachin sometimes gets castled by someone on debut, the best make mistakes. It was how Taufel moved past them and made sure he made as few as possible earned him the respect of everyone in the cricketing community.

With match officials enjoying so much time in the sun, I think it’s only right that people pay the proper respect to the man who spent more time out of the papers than in it and for all the right reasons. He is a guy that could have kept going, earning more respect and plaudits or potentially running the risk of holding on too long. But he has given it away at the top of his game and taken on what is possibly the most thankless task of the lot; training umpires to be just like him.

It might not be so easy, but with this guy in charge, anything’s possible.

Woeful Australia labour past impressive Irish

The pitiful (or pity-worthy?) Australian cricket team got away with the luckiest of victories against their more fancied Irish opponents on Wednesday. As recently as last week, this pathetic bunch of Antipodeans who change their guernseys as often as their Twitter status were ranked below the Irish side; a side containing the likes of half a dozen County rejects bolstered by some second graders from Sydney Grade cricket.

It wasn’t to be for the Irish, and for all the wrong reasons. Ireland, clearly a class above their Green and Gold opposition, fell victim to some dirty tactics from the Australians. These included bowling deliveries above 130 km/ph, leaving deliveries down the leg side so the umpires (who were probably in the ACB’s back pocket, wink wink, nudge nudge) would give it a “wide,” trying to hit the Irish batsmen in the head with bouncers and hitting bad balls for boundaries. How this blatant cheating and flaunting of the hallowed “Spirit of Cricket” went unnoticed by the match referee, other journalists, Julia Gillard, the NRL Judiciary, referees and David “Giddyup” Gallop, as well as the ICC simply astounds me.

In fact, I believe there will be a Dean Ritchie article in the Telegraph tomorrow talking about how Shayne Hayne and Tony Archer should be fired due to the standard of officiating in this fixture.

Before the match, there was only one question on everyone’s pens. It was not a question of “who would win” but one of “by how much?” The favourites, who donned their lawn green strip for the encounter, were expected to trounce the Aussies by margins previously undreamed of by Twenty20 fanciers. On Twitter loyal Irishman Boyd Rankin boasted that he would open the batting and break Brian Lara’s record of 501* if the Paddy’s won the toss. The Aussies, wearing their sludgy, slimy, envious green simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Just like the dirty, sledging Aussie sides of the past, they bullied the innocent Irish into submission. In the end, the response from Ireland was this: “If you want it that bad take it, we will not stoop to such lows for a mere cricket tournament.” I, for one, stood up buck naked in front of my illegal stream, turned to the  open window and screamed praise for the Irish and their morals at the scared and cold looking Norwegians below me. Their chilliness and fear quickly turned to admiration as they gazed upon what God had given me.

“That’s all me,” I yelled at them. They continued to walk, no doubt to tell all their friends and their work colleagues about the Adonis they had just seen on their way to whatever it is that they do. I was already over them, but they will never get over that vision they saw on a sunny Wednesday.

I am also pretty much over this mostly unfounded chat about how bad Australia are at Twenty20. Sure, we’re not the best, probably because we actually care about other forms of cricket. But we’re not deserving of our current ranking. We did come second at the last World Twenty20, and we will probably do better than eighth here.

I have faith.

It’s also a game that levels out the playing field. The shorter the form of cricket, the less emphasis there is on repeating the skills and getting it right every time. Afghanistan pushed India yesterday, and the fact that Ireland even had a chance against Australia  is more due to the number of overs than the ability of their side.

Get real people. Australia could get unlucky and bomb out in the Super 8’s, but we could also take this all the way to the bank.

Hell, with Twenty20, any one of these teams could.

Can we keep cricket from being a sideshow?

When Twenty20 cricket first popped its dyed blonde-haired, blue-eyed, attractive but completely vacuous head up I was totally OK with people not taking it very seriously. Like its human counterpart it was the one you could watch do its thing and enjoy while it lasted, but you never really felt like you owed it anything. You wouldn’t write home about it. You wouldn’t buy it Grange. When it was done you both went home and didn’t think about it again.

I also liked that it had some childish elements, as any fling based purely on lust does. I liked that Punter wore ‘Punter’ on the back of his shirt, and little Pup wore ‘Pup,’ and James Hopes rather bafflingly wore ‘Catfish.’ I liked that blonde, blue eyed, attractive but completely vacuous men and women danced on the stage, gyrating their hips more suggestively than a banker raising his eyebrows to the bottle blonde on a Friday night at Establishment.

I also liked that the old geezers in the commentary box had to try to remember which Usher song Mike Hussey had ‘chosen’ when he walked out to ‘bat.’

It was nice; a sideshow that distracted us, albeit briefly, from the meat and potatoes of test and one-day cricket.

I liked it because Twenty20 wasn’t really that serious back then. There wasn’t really any money in it. It was sort of interesting to see people slap and dash for an hour or two, but that was about the extent of the interest.

‘Hit and giggle,’ some called it. Perhaps rightly.

Sadly, people with money realised it was a hell of a lot more entertaining than the other forms of cricket in the same way Transformers is more entertaining than The Shawshank Redemption.

More robots fighting each other to the death. More weird, overdubbed voices. Not really, but there was more booty-shaking, less standing round saying “jolly good show” and lamenting those who had gone before, and a much, much greater propensity for fireworks and hip-hop music. Between these  last two factors alone, Twenty20 covered just about every singe demographic a twenty-seven-year-old unmarried but definitely looking marketing exec (sex withheld) could name, even the fabricated ones.

Fireworks keep the nerds happy. Hip hop everyone else. These are facts. Don’t like them, see your counsellor.

In amidst all of these bootilicious bodies, big sixes and cricketers wearing shirts that are way too tight for their oft-sloppy rigs, somehow the requirement of actually being able to play cricket was lost.

Remember when Andrew Johns almost lost a game for NSW because being a celebrity was enough to qualify him for the state cricket side? Probably not. But you remember him playing right? Or do you just remember him being in the team?

Apparently he was there to draw the crowds. The only problem was he couldn’t wow them with his banana kick, given that cricket is played with a non-oval ball that is mostly left unkicked unless you happen to be Mark Taylor or just really pissed off. Instead he had to rely on his straight drive. I looked up Joey’s Wikipedia page. There was nothing on there about how good his straight drive was. Or his off-break.

Funnily enough, there is aslo very little about Usain Bolt’s bouncer, aside from the fact that once he got Chris Gayle out when the coolest man in cricket was probably focusing more on swatting away West Indies Cricket Board contracts than Bolt bumpers. C’est la vie.

Similarly, googling Yohan Blake, another Jamaican sprinter, will yield many results about his times, his stride, his battle with Bolt, how he is called “The Beast,” his biceps and other things related to running 100 metres.

It may also reveal that Blake was being courted by the Sydney Sixers cricket franchise, presumably a response to his buddy Bolt being wooed by Melbourne Stars, in particular their captain Shaun Wane.

But nothing about his cricket skill. Cricketers rarely have to run 100 metres.

It’s because Twenty20 trivialised the real skill of the game of cricket, and the attributes vital to being a good cricketer, that we are in this mess. But the marketing execs are not satisfied with making cricket less about skill and more about cheap thrills (The Hip hop’s getting to me). Along with reducing many of the skill and attitude requirements of the game, they even want to put more players who have hardly bowled or struck a ball in anger to go with the Old Codgers currently supplementing their pension with Twenty20 contracts.

Being good at the game, apparently, is no longer essential to being a cricketer.

To me, this stinks. Stop the Blake and Bolt sideshow and let me watch people who can actually play go at it for the three brief hours T20 affords me.

I know Warnie’s going out with Liz Hurley and is is about 100 years old, but the guy can still bowl spin better than any other Aussie.

The old codgers running around with hip replacements I can deal with. Just don’t try to sell me the best players in the world and give me some guys who can dance well and run fast. That’s not what cricket’s about, and it never was.

Keep cricket and cricketers uncool, stay in school.

Respect.

Rugby League “too subjective” for those that play

“It’s just so subjective. I don’t know how they came up with the grading. Just how things are graded…it’s so subjective, and to have that subjectivity in myopinion altered from case to case is very disparaging for the players.”

These are words from the mouth of a real, existing and currently functioning NRL coach. ‘The game I coach is too subjective,’ he says. ‘The rules are up for interpretation. Not everything is black and white.’ Perspective and subjectivity Geoff. Google it. Then google objectivity, and see for yourself whether any referee or judiciary rulings will ever be objective.

Geoff thinks Steve Matai and his banned of brothers (get it?) need to have a place in the NRL judiciary system.

It’s when you see quotations like this that you bemoan the time that you do spend sitting on the couch watching the telly as those big boys run at each other, belting each other quite spectacularly, scoring some miraculous tried and yelling at the referees like confused apes. Those nasty men in pink and the ones who review the tape, meanwhile, sit and plot to undermine everything done by the players and coaches.

I don’t think, unlike my mate Geoff, that coaches and players should have a place in the judiciary system. Everyone knows that players and coaches will try to cheat to gain advantage. If they get away with it, they call it good tactics. When they don’t, they cry like three year olds who don’t get ice cream and TV for dinner. The disingenuous behaviour that flaunts the spirit of fair competition between teams happens because players and coaches are biased, and want to win. The laws that have been implemented in Rugby League, including two referees, video refs, and judiciaries have been put there to combat illegal tactics dreamed up by Toovey and his predecessors.

So who really has the more ‘objective’ view of the game, its spirit and its laws?

Wrestling? Invented by players and coaches to undermine the other team’s progress, and many consider it to be against the spirit of the game. Play acting, telling the ref you scored when you didn’t, taking a dive; all these are inventions of players and tactics of coaches to gain unfair advantage over the opposition. These are against both the laws and the spirit of the laws.

Players are told to intentionally belt a player over the head so they won’t come back because of a concussion that may affect them for the rest of their lives. It’s against the law, yeah, but they do it anyway. This wasn’t invented by the NRL judiciary or the referees, and its their job to say ‘hang on a minute, that seems a little off to me. Let’s ban the player who did it.’ We don’t need players hanging around saying that it was a good hit, and that maybe it was a little high, so we’ll give him a warning. Some players and coaches don’t listen to warnings.

So when Geoff Toovey asks for players to have a say in the judiciary system that judges them and their actions, I say no. What will players and coaches who have shown themselves to be self interested and self serving coaches desire in a judiciary system? Probably a system that allows them to spend as little time off the field for the maximum amount of illegal damage inflicted on an opponent. Probably a system that doesn’t punish Steve Matai for being placed on report every second week for a swinging arm to the head.

I’ll probably stick with the neutral-ish arbiters currently tasked with handing out suitable punishments to players and coaches who misbehave. However subjective Toovey finds their rulings to be, I think it would be vastly preferable to the punishments (that will also inevitably be subjective) handed down by players to their colleagues.

And now to Toovey, and why he and his fellows clearly don’t get the nature of officiating and probably never will.

The structured world is still an uncertain place. Laws are put in place to indicate which behaviour is acceptable and which is not. For example, the offside rule is in place to ensure defenders don’t have an unfair advantage by being in the face of the ball carrier before he can take a step. Simple? Very.

What is not simple is the  decision to rule on an offside infringement. The referee can only have one perspective. He must make a call within the space of a couple of seconds. For this to happen he must make a decision of his own as to whether a player infringed, and by how much. The actions of the players, illegal or not, are contingent and very, very situational. No two situations are exactly alike, and the fact that the referee can only ever have one perspective, his own (even with the help of cameras and linesmen who also only have one perspective) makes it so that he will not make the inch perfect decision every time.

This makes his ruling, by definition, subjective. He cannot rule as an omiscient observer. It is beyond the limits of human capability. Just  as Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer sometimes made the wrong decision and had their pass go to the wrong player or to ground, referees sometimes do not view the world as the Lord (or Dean Ritchie or Paul Kent) does.

So please Geoff, when you say something is subjective have a look at Wikipedia first. What you said in that interview was subjective. The laws themselves are up for interpretation, so embrace the uncertainty and stop taking it out on the referees, the linesmen, your dead dog, the judiciary and the fans when you lose.

Cement.

I’m a bitter golfer

My friend shot a hole in one not too long ago. I wasn’t there. If I had happened to be there I might have strangled him with jealousy.

As self-fancying a golfer as the next, I was shattered when my ‘friend’ posted a picture of himself on the guilty green on my social media instrument of choice. There he was, squatting self-satisfiedly next to the flag, ball nestled comfortably between stick and cup, concrete(ish) evidence that he had guided the little white cherry from club to crevice in one blow. He looked rather pleased with himself, smirking at me through the lense of the camera.

I looked at the photo again. My ‘pal’s’duplicitous, piercing blue eyes are staring holes through my skin and bones and body gunk right to my very soul, where little hands with tinier fingers on the end of his x-ray vision begin tugging it, cajoling it to break into several pieces.

“You won’t be needing this,” say my unnamed ‘friend’s’ vision hands as they pinch and prod my soul into thousands of tiny pieces.

Imagery.

He was club in hand in the photo. Guilty green. Guilty club. The offenders were stacking up, like that RICO case in The Dark Knight.

“Guess what happened?” said the post on my communication device. In case you wanted to know I have many friends on this device, many who I’m sure hate it when I post that I’ve completed another pointless, dull, hopelessly written, horribly misguided blog post.

“I don’t need to guess,” thought I as I stared at the devil-child-man, who will be referred to as Diablo for the rest of the post, who had managed to crush my most recent dream in that one click of his macbook pro trackpad. I couldn’t help but think, too, that the computer that posted that photograph was better than mine, and if it wasn’t better then it was at least smaller; such is the woe. Why, through all this, did Diablo also have to have a better/smaller computer than me?

Diablo had to know when he clicked ‘post’ just how large a chunk of me would die inside when I saw this photo. Just how sadistic is this prick? How sadistic is the demon lord? How long’s a piece of string?

Philosophy.

He knew that golf is our new thing. Sure, he beat me the last time we played by quite a margin, but it’s not like I haven’t beaten him my fair share of times. But to make a hole in one? That’s a once in a lifetime thing. I’m convinced, after seeing this photo, that I will never make one. My ‘friend,’ Diablo, being the blessed one of the two of us, will be the one to make two in his life. All of us are given one, and he will steal mine from me. I’m sure of it.

He’s still on my timeline, taunting me. If you care to look at my online book of faces, you will see him still boring holes in my soul. He is like Sauron, except he has two eyes and a physical form and no ring (yet). So in that way he bears little resemblance to Sauron.

Such is the magnanimity of the situation, I have taken to spending my working days staring at the photo. Start at 9. End at 5. Half an hour for lunch, make the time back if you decide to take longer. It’s my work. My obsession. The bastard hit a hole in one. Maybe if I stare at it long enough the hole in one will be retracted by time itself as reward for my hard work. We all know it was supposed to be mine.

My own. My precious.

I will continue to spend my days trying to conjure voodoo magic and seriously injure/maim the person who made the shot, but I would like to leave one sentiment that’s not bitterness or hatred. While I’m really really jealous of my friend, it’s a pretty amazing thing to happen to a weekend hacker like us. People who don’t play or like golf will never understand.

Well done mate. I’m jealous and I hate you, but well done. Now I’m going to work on my doll…

Stand, spray and deliver.

Critiques from the arm chair