Posts Tagged ‘Michael Slater’

Wallabies fail to thrill; Cricketers pick up the scraps

In sport, there are ways to do things and ways not to do things.

In the two biggest international games this weekend, we’ve seen one Australian team play with a bit of self belief and impose themselves on a side that is fancied as the best in the world. The Wallabies also played.

By my count, the sessions won in the Test match being played at the Gabba would be five for the Saffas and the Aussies four. The three sessions played today, however, were won more emphatically than any of the three that belonged to the Proteas on day one, as well as the session before lunch on day three.

1/376 in today’s play, a throwback to scoring rates of ten years ago when the Aussies were in their pomp. Hayden and Langer would thrash boundaries at will to the delight of the crowd, and if they gave way the stands could look forward to Punter, Gilly and whoever was in form at the time.

Granted, today was a longer day, having to make up for the first entire day lost at the Gabba since 1990, but it was still good scoring.

I could only imagine my Dad watching Ed Cowan ton up earlier in the day. He would have called all and sundry to let them know what he good player he was. I know he certainly told me what’s where and who’s what about Ed Cowan on Skype yesterday, all with a wry grin on his face; a grin that comes from the success of a player one has picked for greatness. Love you Dad.

I managed to catch the final session, and saw Hussey and Clarke playing attractively and aggressively. Huss compiled his 86* swiftly, though not without its foibles. He looked to be sorted out by Morne Morkel on multiple occasions.

More intemperate batsmen would have lashed out in frustration, edging the big quick to slip or some such rashness. But the Huss forgot the delivery as soon as he missed, and often followed it up by dispatching Morkel to the boundary. Slats was more than correct to point out the difficulty of refocusing after four straight plays-and-misses, to then follow them up with an elegant cover drive for four biscuits.

Clarke played some sumptuous, breakfast delaying shots. I had to wait until 9am, cricket’s end in Norway, to begin grilling my Kneipp. By then I’d watched Clarke play one of the best cover drives I’ve seen, and possibly the best straight drive, again off Morkel. He offered the full face, didn’t play it with any big effort, saw it onto the juicy section of the bat and watched it flow to the boundary.

Kneipp: A delicious way to start the day

The side-on angle of this shot was the most telling thing about it. The frame of his body was textbook. His arms and shoulders and torso formed a perfect square that didn’t alter in shape as he raised his left elbow in the playing of the shot. His front foot was forward, more than just a forward press, which allowed him perfect balance in stroking the cherry to the fence.

A thing of beauty, people.

Which is perhaps a pertinent segue to the thing that was not of beauty: the Wallabies on Saturday night Norway time.

I’ve previously written of the proverbial merde that has been heaped in, around, and on the Wallabies in the past. It’s gotten to the point where I feel like a father of a forty-year-old uni-dropout working at Subway. I’m just disappointed, that’s all.

That is very, very unfair of course, considering the terrible amount of injuries sustained within the squad. Given a fully fit Wallabies side I think the contest would have been much closer than the abysmally one-sided 33-6 event I watched over two bottles of homebrew.

I think all of this writing off of Quade Cooper will be short lived. Sure, what he said was dumb, but I think he is a player who, when in form, can lead a side to great things, just as he did with the Reds.

The forgotten man in all of this is James Horwill, who was one of the biggest inspirations of the Reds’ win in 2011. He led a forward pack that dominated the best packs in Super Rugby. They didn’t do that because they were the best eight, but because they played like filthy animals.

Beau Robinson looked like a world beating seven, outplaying Schalk Burger in their clash with the Stormers and matching the great Richie; Scott Higginbothan had his breakout season and Ben Daley got through more work than a contractor with a blank cheque.

When Kevvy gets back one would expect him to rev up the boys in a different way to the myriad of captains we’ve had in his absence. For this reason I think Horwill, and not Genia or Pocock, is the best captain in a fully fit Wallabies side.

Whatever happens in the next few games, we must at least admit that the Wallabies are just not there yet as a team. The lack of attacking flair is a problem, whatever people say about scoring tries. We must remember that Robbie Deans saying tries aren’t everything was take dramatically out of context by the Rugby scribes, but in an Australian market who love runs, wickets, goals, tries and everything else, it was probably not the ideal thing to say at the time.

The Reds in 2011 weren’t all about scoring tries, but they were damn good to watch. It’s the best rugby I’ve seen played by an Australian side in five years. Let’s hope we can channel some of it in the games to come.

And if we can’t, flick over to the cricket, because some of the shotmaking today was quite special.

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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.

Stand, spray and deliver.

Critiques from the arm chair