Phil Hughes, weak in technique.! (c) SMH 2011

There have been an alarming number of Test and Sheffield Shield batting collapses of late. From Australia’s calamitous 47, to India’s frequent capitulations, New Zealand’s recent dramatic middle-order loss of 5 for 0, and Queensland almost surrendering the Sheffield Shield final – batting performances in the longer versions seem to have dropped off dramatically.

Perhaps we can blame the wickets. Groundsmen have seemingly been less inclined to roll out flat, docile pitches. James Sutherland’s pleas last summer for better Shield pitches have fallen on deaf ears. Or maybe the new breed of bowling coach has stolen a march on his batting counterparts. Certainly Craig McDermott seems to have found the right ingredient for Australia’s young band of quicks.

Or are batting techniques in a downward spiral? Perhaps the T20 catch-cry, “Clear the front foot and swing as hard as possible”, is playing havoc with the techniques of young batsmen.

During the recent Sheffield Shield series a number of fringe test players were doing their best to be noticed.  Yet the struggles with technique of most were noticeable. For years as Australia ruled the cricket world, we were blessed with champions who churned out thousands of first-class runs before being selected – Mike Hussey passed 10,000 before his ascendency, and before that, Matthew Hayden must have despaired of ever getting a decent go at Test level.

Now as the guard changes, opportunities arrive for the new generation sooner than they did in the past – David Warner was around the 1000-run first-class mark when he got his baggy green. It has underlined the indifferent seasons the likes of Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Callum Ferguson have had.

The cricket public expects these young batsmen to have everything mentally and technically figured out when they are chosen, and that they should be the finished article, with complete understanding of their own games. Some, like Steve Smith, seem to be sorting things out, but others appear to have a fair way to go.

A good barometer of where flaw in a batsman technique lie is medium pacer / all-rounder Andrew McDonald.  Watching him as he went to work on each of these young batsmen with his exceptionally intelligent medium-pacers  was telling.  Without the gift of pace, “Ronnie” has had to learn the skill of bowling inside and out, and his mastery on a helpful pitch is comparable to any I’ve seen.

Perhaps a new type of batting coach is needed – a coach who has played T20 and is skilled in converting players back into the techniques of the first-class game rather than the other way round

I’d reckon quite a few young hopefuls on Shield wickets this summer found batting against his crafty medium pace far tougher technically than fending off Brett Lee at the WACA ground. In the last round of Shield fixtures, Victoria overcame a disappointing New South Wales, with Ronnie bagging amazing match figures of 6 for 50 from 34 overs. In the process he passed the bats of Hughes and Khawaja with alarming regularity.

Hughes’ shortcomings have been widely critiqued; less so Khawaja’s. I first noticed his difficulty against the away-swinging ball in county cricket last year. In overcast conditions against a Tiflex ball that seemed to go around corners, Khawaja’s open blade and front-on position had the slips cordon licking their lips – and sure enough, he obliged twice. In that game against Victoria he was twice out caught behind – a notable penchant that oppositions are sure to be pencilling into their black books.

It was commented on how far around Khawaja was turning his back foot during shots. The textbook says the back foot should be pointing towards point, not the bowler. That’s causing his back hip and shoulder to swivel around, so that he is “squaring up”. Often he seemed to be missing Ronnie’s deliveries by six inches. It would seem to be a problem that can be solved, but the question is, does he know he is doing it? And if so, does he know how to fix it?

Swivelling into a front-on position is a left-hander’s curse. Hughes also suffers from it, as Chris Martin managed to expose. The difficulty is that these two exceptionally gifted players are trying to fix things under the glare of an impatient media and public, and are feeling the pressure of expectation. The question for each is: when and how to fix it?

I’ve never believed in the notion of not working on technique because a match is pending. Should we take note of the fact that the top golf pros always have swing coaches on hand? To be the best you can be, you have to keep adjusting until most avenues are exhausted and discarded – even if that means doing it on match eve. Many will argue otherwise, and they will have valid points, but to get closer to the end of the road, experimentation needs to be continual. Sometimes it will be one step forward and two steps back, but that is the nature of the beast of batting.

Marsh is a southpaw with problems different from those of his NSW counterparts. His stem from his trigger movements – he doesn’t have any. That’s not to say that kind of technique hasn’t been extremely effective for others. Hayden stood still and moved just once in his strokeplay – forward to full balls and back to shorter ones; but Hayden is a monster of a man who used his height to sublime and brutish effectiveness – often employing it to lean into wide balls as his foot went straight down the wicket.

Early in his innings, especially, Marsh often moves across very late, presenting his pad as a target and causing his swing to not come down in a straight line. When in form it all works like clockwork and he is imperious. When lacking form, it looks robotic and static.

Ferguson is another who could perhaps think about operating more in straight lines. He is a very clean hitter of the ball, but with a backswing heading towards gully it’s almost impossible to be consistently meeting the ball with the full face of the bat. His line of swing is nice and straight when he drives half volleys, but when he has to defend he sometimes chops down on balls as his bat heads in the direction of midwicket.

Ronnie picked up on it and sent one straight through a gap between bat and pad. He then nicked Ferguson out in the return fixture. It is a curious technical dilemma, which might explain why Ferguson’s one-day record is so good and his four-day one disappointing. In the shorter formats there is less defending and therefore his problem is less exposed. He is perhaps very much aware of it, but the skill is to fix it.

While no doubt all four are admirers of Simon Katich’s toughness and resilience, I sometimes wonder if they have considered the merits of the somewhat ungainly Katich method of moving across and standing in the so-called corridor of uncertainty. Ugly as he might look to many, Katich is perfectly upright and balanced, his head is over the line of the ball, he knows exactly where his stumps are, and he plays in straight lines. Once he’s settled, the bowlers are forced to bowl something other than line and length in the corridor, and Katich has been able to cash in, particularly when they try to hit his exposed leg stump.

Smith played McDonald best of all at the SCG. He was much more selective of the wide ones he loves to thrash through the covers, and there were fewer hoicks over cow corner, yet he didn’t lose his ability to despatch bad balls to the fence.

All the five batsmen mentioned are naturally talented players and have been singled out by the national selectors. All have good records in T20 but have some difficulty adapting to the different demands of each form of the game.

Just about any top-class batsman will be able to reel off the mentors who have had the most influence on him. Whether it is fathers or coaches or team-mates or even opposition players, these people are vital in spotting problems and helping fix them. But the demands of T20 have added a new dimension to batting techniques. Teams everywhere are splashing out on full-time bowling coaches, but seem less inclined to recruit batting coaches.

Perhaps a new type of batting coach is needed – a coach who has played T20 and is skilled in converting players back into the techniques of the first-class game rather than the other way round. When that happens, the batting collapses that are causing such consternation in cricket circles may become a thing of the past


Is this the best we can do?

Well, here we go.  The Indian team is winging their way back home whilst Sri Lanka and Australia are about to do battle.

Looking at the team line up for Australia I am a little concerned.  Both Warner and Wade have struggled to make an impact as an opening pair and Lee, despite his vast experience, is still under an injury cloud.

I’m also not sure that our batting line-up is what it should be.  You have 2 very inexperienced openers that have – more often than not – fallen on their swords rather than troubling the scorers.  All our experience seems concentrated around the middle order.

I’ve always built teams around the new + experienced philosophy.  In other words my line-up would look as follows.

David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke *, Michael Hussey, Peter Forrest, David Hussey, Matthew Wade +, Clint McKay (40 wickets @ ~20.00 means this chap can bowl), Xavier Doherty (he’s at 9 only because I really would love to Hogg in this slot), James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus

I think is a far more robust and balanced line-up, especially if we can past this ageism still present in the selection panel and bring back Hogg.


Cricketer Yuvraj Singh posts his latest picture on Twitter.

I know I take the odd cheap shot at the Indian team, their players and, from time to time, their administrators.

However, I’d like to think that I am also mature and man enough to give credit where credit is due.

I say this as a favourite Indian player of mine, Yuvraj Singh has, for the last year been fighting a very rare form of cancer called mediastinal seminoma.  It is very aggressive but also very treatable so the prognosis for Yuvraj is good.

Yet there is no such thing as a good or easy cancer to suffer from and the treatment regime Singh is going through is a tough one, involving chemotherapy and anti-cancer medication.

The most recent reports are that Yuvraj may be back on his feet and able to train in May.  I for one am looking forward to him being back in the side.

Good luck to you mate, this Aussie is rooting for you!


Cricket Fans or Cricket Tragics?

What is the difference between a Cricket Fan and a Cricket Tragic?  I could take the easy and less politically correct way out and say that a Cricket Fan is Indian and a Cricket Tragic is Australian but that is being unfair to Indians and probably a little too complimentary of Australians.

I think a more politically correct definition would be that a Cricket Fan lives in the now, they support their side through thick and thin, are somewhat blind to their transgressions, think that the media is without flaw and believes their side is without fault.

A Cricket Tragic on the other hand is a little more pragmatic.  They understand that their side is only human and are just as free with their criticism of their side as they are with their praise.  They do not see their side in isolation but can place it in a far broader, more historic context.  They see the popular media as a source of, not the source of information and prefer to conduct their own research rather than rely on someone else’s.

This might be the most controversial statements I have ever made and I am already preparing to duck the inevitable diatribes that may follow but then again what is a blog without a little tête à tête?

Controversy aside why am I attempting making such a definition?   Well, recently I wrote about Those Ugly Australians.   This article grew from an incident where an Indian friend of mine (called K to protect the innocent) had made some comments about the Indian cricket team.  These comments, whilst from the heart, attracted some heated debate, especially from one particular gentleman whom I shall call M.

M is a Cricket Fan in the truest sense of the definition.  It was apparent that as far as he was concerned his side could do no wrong and he had a list of grievances’ both real and imagined as long as his arm.  Regardless of what was said, regardless of what evidence was given M would not budge.  The Indian team, in his eyes, was without reproach and the rest of the cricketing world was out to get them (and him) in one vast conspiracy of Machiavellian proportions.

So what was it exactly that set M off? What raised his ire so?  Well it started rather innocently with only a slight hint of controversy when K stated that “Indian cricket fans are not just sore losers but sore winners as well. *sigh*”.    I’m not one hundred per cent sure why she said this.  The game she was referring to was the 4th match of the Commonwealth Bank Series, Australia versus India played at the Adelaide Oval.  India had won the match thanks to some expansive stroke play by MS Dhoni and some undisciplined bowling during the death by the Australian’s.

I will admit the Indian’s deserved to win this one and I cannot recall the actions of the Indians or their supporters being anything overly out of the ordinary.  Yet I am sure K saw something that elicited such a comment or else she would not have made it.

Initially the comments from her friends were fairly harmless.  Even M started off with a joke claiming that K and her sister must have been Australian’s in a previous life.  However, this was just the calm before the storm and it did not take long for M the Cricket Fan to unleash his first salvo.  It came from left field….or long on in cricket speak and it was a ripper.

“wasn’t your ex-captain ricky ponting a sore winner too when he smashed a TV in the dressing room after his dismissal against Zimbabwe in the group stage of the 2011 WC? :D”

I remember this incident and can I remember the print and electronic media tripping over themselves in their efforts to vilify Ricky.  I can also remember the Times of India being at the forefront of this media hysteria.  At first a television had been smashed in a fit of childish rage, then there were reports of medics and ambulances rushing to the scene to tend to the scores of grievously wounded bystanders that had been “splashed by flying glass”.  The Hindustan Times went as far as publishing comments made by a “reliable source” that it took 3 Australian’s players and staff to restrain Ponting as he continued his rampage through the dressing rooms.

I am sure that M the Cricket Fan saw this as vindication of his previously held belief that Australian cricket players were barely one step above animals in the evolutionary ladder and most likely joined the braying ranks of those calling for his dismissal, his resignation or even his execution.

However, the Cricket Tragic has discovered something less sensationalist.  Having been run out on 28 Ponting returned to the dressing less than a happy man.  CCTV footage that was released long after the furore had died down revealed that he pulled his out protective cup, or box, sat down and threw it at his kit back.  He must have put his back into it as the box hit a bat protruding from his kit bag and ricocheted into the corner of a flat panel TV.  The footage is fairly grainy but the TV was on before Ponting threw his box and remained on and seemingly functional after it was hit.  Later, objective investigation revealed that a few pixels in the bottom, left hand corner had failed and the management of the Australian touring side immediately offered to replace it.

I am sure that both the Cricket Fan and the Cricket Tragic will agree that Ponting’s actions did not exactly cover him in glory.  Yet it seems that whilst the Cricket Fan immediately jumped on the sack, dump, execute Ponting bandwagon the Cricket Tragic made sure that he saw all sides of the incident before making a decision.  Ponting was angry, Ponting was disappointed, and Ponting agreed that in hindsight he should have stayed calmed.  But Ponting is only human and I challenge anyone to say they would act differently in the same circumstances because I cannot.

The response to M’s first comment was a little lukewarm which must be why he followed it up with this one.

and as a matter of fact, isn’t the whole aussie team a bunch of sore winners for the amount they sledge even when they’re on the verge of winning any match? Hmm losts of ponder about before you point the finger at your fellow Indians K :P”

The Cricket Tragic’s initial response would be “Ouch!”  But if you read M’s statement carefully you can see he is already transitioning from simply making to point to having a rant.  Yes the Australian side sledges, even the term sledge is reported to have been coined by journalist Tom Graveney after the Ashes Tour of 1974/75 where Rod Marsh and Ian Chappell – amongst others – took turns in rolling out insults more profane and rude than the previous.

Despite being credited with taking sledging into the modern age it is both unfair and naïve to assume that only Australia indulge in it.  Sledging has become commonplace both in domestic and international cricket, so much so that the BBC County Cricket broadcasts are now preceded by a warning that warns viewers that “this broadcast may contain profane or distasteful language”.

A Cricket Fan is blind to the behaviour of his team but seems focused on every distasteful act, every rude word, every inappropriate gesture committed by the opposing side.  A Cricket Tragic does not condone this behaviour but is resigned that it is a reflection of our modern society.  Don’t believe me.  Catch public transport when there are a score of school children on board and listen to their language.  Often it is enough to make a sailor blush.

By now K’s friends had begun to sense that the tone of this conversation was beginning to change for the worse and one even went attempted to counter M’s comments with some logic by stating that,

So people should only sledge if they’re losing? :/”

M replied that,

^ no I never implied that, my point was the aussies love to sledge regardless of whether they’re winning or losing.  They’re the only side in the world that thinks they can’t be hit for a four or a six when they’re on the field, and when that happens too often the sledging starts :)”

Well M seems to have firmly moved into rant mode.  He is of the firm belief that the Australian side is the only side that believes they cannot or should not have their bowlers hit for four or six.  How strange.  Does this mean that the Indian, English, South African, Sri Lankan, New Zealand, Pakistani, West Indian and Bangladeshi sides all believe that their bowlers should be fit for four or six?

During his captaincy Steve Waugh coined the phrase ‘mental disintegration’.  At its core mental disintegration was about the application of pressure, pressure that was created through aggressive and controlled bowling, tight field settings and even sledging;  pressure that would eventually force an opposition player into making a mistake. The idea was the give the opposing player nowhere to hide, to sow the seeds of doubt, to distract them from the task at hand until they eventually disintegrated under the mental pressure.

Nor are the Australian’s habitual sledgers as there are some players they know do not sledge.  Sir Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Kevin Pieterson, Andy Flower, Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan all come to mind.  They feed off it, it motivates them.  You sledge them once they hit you for four, you sledge them again they hit you for six, you sledge them again they take the game away from you.

All this seemed irrelevant to M.  Before anyone had the opportunity to rebuff his comment he fired another broadside,

and don’t even get me started on what a sore loser ponting makes (let alone him being a sore winner as I stated above) the look on his face on all the TV cameras when he’s captaining a losing side pretty much says it all, his face turns as small as a mash potato :P”

At this point in time the Cricket Tragic is checking to see whether the Cricket Fan is foaming at the mouth.  It seems to M that Ponting is the second coming of the Antichrist, a destroyer of innocent televisions, a habitual sledger, a bad winner and an even worse loser and possessing a face that has the ability to turn as small as a mash potato!

His resemblance to a vegetable aside the Cricket Tragic would ask the question ‘How do you want Ricky Ponting to look?’  Do you want the blank, apathetic look that summed up MS Dhoni’s captaincy during the 4 – 0 whitewash at the hands of the Australian’s?  Do you want him to smile and laugh as his side slides to a defeat? Or do you want a player who shows emotion?  He wears his heart on his sleeve and makes his frustrations plain to see?  The Cricket Tragic prefers the later as at least he knows his Captain is emotionally involved in the game.

By now K had returned to her thread and was obviously dismayed at what she saw.  She made a valiant effort to defend Ponting from this ravening Cricket Fan by pointing out Ricky’s outstanding captaincy record when compared to other captains and with particular reference to Indian captains.  Yet M continued unabated.

Another one of K’s friends mentioned that M may be a little oversensitive and this really raised his hackles.

nope, not being oversensitive, it’s a gentleman’s game, sledging has no place in it whatever has to be said can be said of the field”

M by saying that cricket is a gentleman’s game you have, for a start, offended every female player to have played the game.  It seems you have also conveniently forgotten Ishant Sharma and Virat Kholi recently making rude gestures to members of the paying public.  Are these the gentleman you speak of?  Have you also forgotten Surav Ganguly attending the toss in training garments when there is a gentleman’s agreement in place that both captains are to attend the toss wearing their team blazer?

Was Harbhajan Singh calling Andrew Symonds a “monkey” the actions of a gentleman?  Was the vilification of Steve Bucknor at the 2nd Test in Sydney the behaviour of a group of gentleman? (FYI out of the 13 decisions which were subsequently identified as being umpire failures Steve Bucknor was only responsible for 4 but he was such a soft target for your group of gentleman wasn’t he?)  The Cricket Tragic does not hesitate to reinforce their statements with genuine facts.

Now surprisingly things calmed down, efforts at mediation were made, troubled waters were partially calmed but M still had to have the final word and his statement marked his passage from an albeit still vaguely rational rant to the ridiculous.

in all fairness, ponting may have all the captaincy records you claim, but he was the captain at the time when Australian cricket dominated for a few years!  If any other player had to be captain of such a dominating side, he would have probably got the same records too, may be more, he just had a good side and he was captain at the right time, regardless of what the numbers say, im not impressed”

Hmmmm.  For all the English or Philosophy teachers out there looking for a classic example of a circular argument I would like to refer you to the above.  I have to congratulate M here as there is no way into his statement.  He is almost worthy of a new definition, that of the Cricket Fundamentalist.  His statement is almost the same as someone of a religious bent saying “God works in mysterious ways”.  There is no coming back to that.

But I will give it a try.

To summarise M states that Ponting’s captaincy record is a reflection of the potency of the side he captained and not his skills as a captain or a leader.  Technically he has a point.  The Australian side from ~ 2000 to 2008 was very, very strong and featured once in a generation players such as Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and even Ricky Ponting just to name a few.

However, irrespective of their individual talents a team is always a sum greater than its parts and that little extra, that X-factor is traditionally attributed to the leader.  Without leadership you simply have 11 players on the field all playing to their own agenda, you have discord where you should have harmony.

Agreed there were always doubts about Ponting as a captain and I am not surprised considering that he stood in direct comparison to his two predecessors, namely Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh who were arguably two of the best players to have captained the Australian side.  Yet such is his character that he did no shy away from the challenge, he did not shy away from the inevitable comparisons to Steve Waugh.  Instead he took the reins and did his best.  Something that cannot be said for that game of musical chairs that is the Indian captaincy.

This is however, just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to M statement.  Through his attack of Ricky Pontings captaincy and his open ended statements he has just managed to slander and call into question the records of almost every successful captain in the history of cricket.

Applied more broadly, his statement that,

If any other player had to be captain of such a dominating side, he would have probably got the same records too, may be more, he just had a good side and he was captain at the right time, regardless of what the numbers say”

Means that Sir Donald Bradman was just plain lucky to have such a group of talented individuals in his 1948 ‘Invincibles’ side and that it had nothing to do with the Don’s own captaincy skills.  We can also call into question the competency of Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd and the West Indian sides of the 70’s and 80’s that vanquished all before them through a combination of lethal bowling and a batting line-up that saw the ball with the eyes like a dead fish.  Oh, then there is Andrew Strauss, just a South African import called out to toss the coin for the English side.  Obviously he had absolutely nothing to do with their success either.

Then there is Steve Waugh, or Lindsey Hassett, or Mike Brearley, or Michael Vaughan or even MS Dhoni.  In a stroke M has consigned the contributions of these legends of the game to the historical dustbin as he believes it was not their talents as a captain that made their teams successful, instead he claims that they were just darned lucky to have good players underneath them.

In this instance the Cricket Tragic was inclined to give up.  He had confronted the Cricket Fan, Fanatic, Fundamentalist, with logic, objective arguments, sound, documented facts and even some empathy and understanding but to no avail.  M continued, blind to reasoning, blind to fact, a fountain of rage venting against every real and perceived transgression that had ever been committed against his side.

The Cricket Tragic was, at this point, ready to admit defeat and seek more of his kind where he could engage in passionate, educated and objective cricket discussion but M could not leave well enough alone and fired off one more volley before disappearing into the electronic ether.

two egoistic aussie supporters feeling very proud of themselves, congrats, well done”

The Cricket Tragic would have read this, shrugged and moved on.  However, this Cricket Tragic is weak, the Cricket Fan is still strong within him and often at odds with the Cricket Tragic.  Just this once the Cricket Tragic will remain silent and allow the Cricket Fan to have the final say.

Screw you M what would you know you one eyed clown!

Does the controversy ever stop?

Yes another captain arguing with the umpire. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The match is still in progress but I can almost hear the Hindustan Times and the Times of India working themselves up into yet another righteous frenzy. How dare those umpires not give David Hussey out! This is yet another example of that world wide conspiracy against the Indian Cricket Team.

I know this won’t make difference to those rabid fans with their arm long lists of real and perceived transgressions but I am going to give it a try never-the-less.

David Hussey was on 17 when MS Dhoni appealed under the recently changed laws for obstructing the field, after the batsman held out his hand to prevent a throw from hitting him or, perhaps, going on to strike the stumps. After a lengthy television consultation the appeal was rejected, much to the consternation of the visitors.

The relevant law presently states: “For the avoidance of doubt, if an umpire feels that a batsman, in running between the wickets, has significantly changed his direction without probable cause and thereby obstructed a fielder’s attempt to effect a run out, the batsman should, on appeal, be given out, obstructing the field. it shall not be relevant whether a run out would have occurred or not.”

Replays clearly show that Hussey did not deviate from this path in attempt to block the ball.

Yes, he did hold his hand up, an instinctive gesture to stop the ball from hitting him and that behaviour is allowed under a clause of rule 37 which states “Notwithstanding 1(a) above, a batsman will not be out under this Law if he handles the ball to avoid injury.”

P.S. What I found rather strange is that an Australian and a South African, i.e. Greg Chappell and Tony Grieg both thought he should be given out, whilst it was two Indians, i.e. Ravi Shastri and Sanjay Manjrekar who thought his actions were OK. Will wonders never cease!

Matthew Wade: A fighter by nature.

Images courtesy of the Brisbane Times

AS A 16-year-old, Matthew Wade’s biggest care in the world was whether he’d choose football or cricket. Then he was told he had cancer.

It was diagnosed almost by accident. Wade was belted in the groin during a game of state football and then, while he was away for a school camp, he realised something wasn’t right.

”I went in and got it checked and the doctor basically said if I hadn’t been hit in the testicle, maybe I would never have known the tumour was there, so I was pretty lucky I got hit in the nuts and got it checked,” Wade told The Saturday Age. ”It was just a surreal sort of thing. It didn’t hit home until I sat there and they told me basically that I was going to go through chemotherapy and lose my hair and all that sort of stuff. As a young bloke at 16, I think that’s when it hit home that this was pretty serious. Before that I didn’t really know, I just thought I’d have an operation and it would be taken care of. Then, sitting down and talking about it, I realised how serious it was and I was pretty lucky to get through it.”

No one who has played with or against Australia’s new one-day wicketkeeper doubts that he is tough – the role demands it and teammates say he is driven by a fierce self-belief.

He needed those qualities to get through two cycles of cancer treatment, which knocked him around in ways he hadn’t expected. The experience also changed his outlook at a time when Wade – a tough in-and-under midfielder whose father, Scott Wade, played 12 games for Hawthorn in the 1980s – was nearing AFL draft age.

”For a couple of years I really just sat back and enjoyed the little things. I wasn’t as driven for a period,” Wade said. He began a plumbing apprenticeship and kept playing both sports – VFL for Tasmania and first-grade cricket in Hobart – without thinking he would reach the top level in either. ”When I got diagnosed with testicular cancer, that was at a pretty crucial time for my footy. I kept playing, but it wasn’t probably as intense as what it could have been. I floated through that period and started the apprenticeship because I thought professional sport was out of the question.

”I still tried to train between cycles [of chemo], but it was too hard to do it at the intensity I wanted so I let it take a back seat. I remember batting out here [on Bellerive Oval] two or three months later in an under-19s game. I wanted to keep playing, I just never thought I would play at the highest level. I just thought I’d play first-grade cricket and footy, do my apprenticeship, and that would be me.”

The cricket-footy dilemma resolved itself without Wade having to make a decision. His grade and national under-19 efforts earned him a rookie contract with Tasmania, and his ambition returned. ”I realised if I was going to do something, I was going to do it properly.”

For Wade, who was behind Tim Paine in the queue for the gloves in Tasmania’s Sheffield Shield team, that meant making a plan. He could have stayed and forged a career as a specialist batsman, but instead looked around the country and backed himself to overtake Adam Crosthwaite in Victoria for the 2007-08 season. He was 19 and it felt like a big move.

”It’s the biggest decision I’ve ever made to date, to make the move to Victoria, and I thank my parents, I suppose, for pushing me out the door a little bit. I spoke to my old man, who played a few games for Hawthorn … he went over for a brief time and had a crack at it, then came back probably earlier than what he wanted to. He said: ‘Home’s always here. You can always get on a plane and come back if you want to’. Thankfully I made the decision to move over, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Still, Wade had to fight. Teammates remind him occasionally of the impulsive reverse sweep that cost him his wicket in Perth towards the end of his first season with Victoria. The shot also cost him a spot in the shield final, which the Bushrangers lost to NSW. He began to make amends the following season. A maiden first-class century in Hobart was followed by a vital contribution in a winning final, at the Junction Oval, and it felt like a turning point.

But the innings that convinced teammates of his strength came a year later in the title defence at the MCG. Coming in at 5-60, they recall Wade telling Queensland swing bowler Chris Swan, who had pointed to the scoreboard, that it would tell a different story on day five. It did; Wade rescued the Bushrangers with a defiant 96 and Victoria won by 457 runs. ”That said a lot about his character,” a teammate said. ”He doesn’t back down to anyone.”

During Wade’s lifetime, Australia has had three regular wicketkeepers. At the time of his move to Victoria, Adam Gilchrist was embarking on what turned out to be his last summer, and Brad Haddin was ready to inherit the gloves after a long wait. On one level, Wade was just trying to get a first-class game, and he found out quickly that he needed to bring his glovework up to scratch. On another level, he was looking further ahead.

”My decision was bigger picture. I had the opportunity to stay in Tasmania and try to pursue a career as a batter in the middle order somewhere, but I decided, at my age and the way things were going in Australian cricket, I had to look at the big picture. I’m not going to sit here and say I made the decision based on playing for Australia, but I didn’t want to look back and wish I’d had a crack.”

This week, national selector John Inverarity confirmed that in one-day cricket, Wade had replaced Haddin as Australia’s first-choice gloveman and that the intention was to take both on the Test tour of the Caribbean. There, two of the feistiest men in Australian cricket can fight for the gloves. ”I don’t want to get too far ahead,” Wade said. ”I’m concentrating on this [one-day] series, game to game, but if I got the chance to go to the West Indies, hopefully the selectors take me and Brad, it would be awesome. Hopefully I can play a few one-day games over there, a few Twenty20s, then just get a feel for what goes into a big tour like that.”

Cricket Humour

I made myself take a vow that I would try to keep this blog as high brow as possible but today I will give myself permission to move to the other end of the spectrum.

Q. What do Dhoni and Michael Jackson have in common?
A. They both wear gloves for no apparent reason.

Q. What’s the Indian version of LBW?
A. Lost, Beaten, Walloped.

Q. What is Sehwag’s favourite movie?
A. Gone in 60 seconds.

On winning the toss,Clarke to Dhoni: “Mate, you can bat.”
Dhoni: “You think so? Thanks for the encouragement!”

Q: Where do Indian Batsman perform their best?
A: In Advertisements!

Q: What is the most proficient form of footwork displayed by Indian batsmen?
A: The walk back to the pavilion.

Q: How should the Indian coach reshuffle the Indian batting order?
A: Move Extras up the order.

Ricky Ponting to Librarian: “Do you have any book on Indian batsmen?”
Librarian: “No, they’re all out!”

Q: What did the spectator miss when he went to the toilet?
A: The entire Indian innings!

I am sure I’ll regret these comments the next time Australian tours India but for now I will keep gloating.


The other day a work colleague asked me why I was so passionate about cricket.  Surprisingly I struggled to give him a coherent answer.

As a German born my parents and I immigrated to Australia when I was seven and I bought my German passion for soccer with me.  Even at such a tender young age I could have given you a full and detailed breakdown on the inner most workings of the Bayern München soccer team but I would have struggled to tell you who Kim Hughes was, let alone what he did.

As a little nipper growing up in the leafy suburb of East Fremantle it was swimming at a beach, building cubby houses, riding my bike and giving Mum and Dad grey hairs that occupied most of my time.  Even at a primary school seemingly full of aspiring Allan Border’s and Dean Jones’ I was more interested in playing British Bulldog and I distinctively remember the first time I actually dared to pick up a cricket bat I held it back to front.  Finally, not having a television may have also been a contributing factor towards my proclivity to run amuck in the great outdoors rather than plonking myself down in front of the idiot box.

At the age of nine we moved 180 kilometres south, to Australind, a small satellite suburb of Bunbury.  It was here that we finally got a television but with only two channels available it wasn’t something that grabbed my attention.  So on the bike and off to the beach it was for me.

However, as many of you know, summers in Australia can get just a tad warm and my pocket money was struggling to cover the amount of inner tubes I was blowing on my bike due to the tarmac being so hot it melted.  So inside I went, turned on the television and the rest is history.

Now after five paragraphs you are probably wondering when I plan to get to the point.  Well, this year I turn 39.  So I thought I would celebrate the 30th anniversary of my cricket addiction with my personal list of 10 matches that I have attended or watched that I would very much love to see again.

There is no rhyme of reason to this list.  Some of you may think that one or more were stultifying boring, other may just say “Meh” but to me they all represent everything that is great, and noble, and interesting, and unpredictable, and controversial about the this game we call cricket.

With all that out of the way I’d like to take you back to New Years Day 1996.  Visiting Australia at the time was Sri Lanka and theWest Indies and the tri nation Benson & Hedges (remember cigarette advertising!!!!) World Series was in full swing.  At the time I was living with a group of friends in a share house just outside of Perth.  Nursing post New Year’s Eve hangovers of varying grades of severity we weren’t capable of doing much more than sitting in front of the television feeling somewhat sorry for ourselves.

On that particular day we were due match five from the Sydney Cricket Ground with Australia and theWest Indiesproviding the entertainment.  Despite the pounding headache I was looking forward to this one as two of my all time favourites, Curtly Ambrose and Michael Bevan, would be going head to head.

Even 16 years later Michael Bevan remains one of the enigma’s of Australian cricket.  Arguably one of the greatest limited over players to have put on the coloured pyjamas his career still has a massive “what if” hanging over it.  Some say he failed to reach his full potential due a perceived weakness against short pitched bowling.  Others say he was simply ahead of his time.

I say he was the thinker in an Australia side full of doers; he was in to risk minimisation when other players freed the arms and took a chance.  He spoke in audaciously run two’s and blindly quick singles when others tried to talk in four’s and sizes.  He was the Ivan Lendl of cricket; the walking calculator, the stereotypical Iceman.

Getting back to the match the West Indies won the toss and decided to put some runs on the board.  From the outset you got the impression that this was going to be a walk in the park for Australia, especially once theWest Indies hit 5/54 with Paul Rieffel being the chief destroyer.  Even 2 hours of rain which reduced the game to 43 overs each didn’t bring any relief and apart from a 93 not out from Carl Hooper the rest of the West Indian side struggled to get to double figures and their inning petered to a close with them being all out for 172.

My friends and I thought that the Aussie’s would reach this score at a canter and were contemplating heading down to the beach for a swim.  Yet we along with the Australian cricket team had not counted on Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose!

Curtly, Curtly, Curtly.  I think he was the last of the great West Indian fast bowlers.  He came into the game at a time when not every West Indian over six foot immediately signed up with the NBA.  Instead he picked up a cricket ball went down to the nets and began to learn the skills necessary to knock batsmen unconscious.

Curtly was (and still is) around 6’7” and it has been calculated that at the point of release he was letting the ball go from a height of about 9’.  Even pitching on a good length a ball released from that height has a good chance of taking your helmet (or your head) off.  I had the opportunity to meet him a few months later when the West Indies travelled to WA to playSri Lanka and even had I stood on a table I think he still would have looked down at me.

Bowling back of a length deliveries with the balls jagging both ways off the seam he was mesmerising; whilst our top order was stunned like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.  If the West Indians felt bad at 5/54 I doubt they felt as bad as we did after Curtly and Ottis Gibson with the assistance of two run outs had us at 6/38.

Then out strode Michael Gwyl Bevan.  At 6/38 with 135 still to get and only the tail to bat with you had the feeling that even the mighty Bevan was going to struggle to get us home.  But then again they didn’t call him The Finisher for nothing.

With overs to spare the first item on Michael’s agenda was to steady the ship, a task he was ably assisted in by Ian Healy.  Then, with the Australian wicketkeeper on 16 andAustraliaon 74, Harper managed to get one past the bat and we were now 7 down.

Replacing Healy was Paul Ronald Rieffel.  Now Pistol Pete always fancied himself as a bit of an all-rounder and was out to prove a point.  Slowly, slowly he and Bevan ticked off the runs to have Australia at 157 before he spooned a delivery off part-timer Simmons into the hands of Hooper.

Our last realistic hope, Shane Warne, came and went, run out for 3 and with Australia now at 9/167 and Glenn McGrath striding somewhat sheepishly to the crease we were prepared to call time on this match and resume drinking.  Yet the beers remained unopened as McGrath surprised us all by holding up his side of the bargain, namely not getting out to Carl Hooper and before you knew it Australia needed 5 off 3.

Now I was sitting on the couch, to my left was one housemate Matthew, on my right was John, a leftover from the night before.  Stretch was climbing in through the lounge room window as the door was locked and we did not want to get up to open it and risk missing something.  On the floor lay Kate, not a genuine cricket fan, but still as enthralled as we were and standing behind the couch was Dana.

Back to the SCG McGrath briefly became the hero of the nation when he managed to get some smidgeon of his bat on the ball and with more luck than talent guide it deep enough into the covers for Bevan to regain the strike.  4 runs required, 2 balls remaining.

Bevan moved away from the crease, took off his helmet and gloves, did some stretches, took some deep breaths, said a few prayers and then took strike.  Hooper promptly speared in a fuller, quicker delivery that tailed in towards middle stump and Bevan could do no more than bunt it back to the bowler.  4 runs required, 1 ball remaining.

Matthew was repeatedly muttering the F-word under his breath, Stretch was frozen, half in, half out the window and I was sucking on a cigarette, not realising it had gone out at least half an hour earlier.

Hooper came in again, this one looked to have some width to it and it pitched on a slightly more conventional length.  You could see Bevan’s eyes widen slightly and to my dying day I will swear he said “You’ll do!”  Bevan backed away from his middle stump, giving himself room, his bat swinging down for a cross bat shot that wasn’t the most conventional stroke Bevan had ever played but my God it was beautiful.

West Indian captain Courtney Walsh had both a long off and a long on in place but neither of them had a hope in hell in catching this one as it neatly bisected them both and clattered into the boundary barrier.  FOUR!

Matthew jumped up, pumping his firsts in the air and screaming “You f**king beauty” before losing some skin off his knuckles as the ceiling fan was right above his head and going at full power.  I doubt he even felt it.  Stretch fell to the floor before getting up and looking for someone to high five.  Dana crossed himself and looked towards the heavens whilst I almost stood on poor Kate who was probably glad it was all over as Friends was on in 10 minutes.

Bevan you bloody beauty, you hero, you legend, Bevan for Prime Minister.  To celebrate we dragged half a carton of beer out of the fridge and it vanished almost immediately as Bevan stood in the centre of the SCG, arms outstretched a look of triumph (and probably a fair bit of relief as well) on his face.

The West Indies could do no more than shake their heads and his hand.  When they had reduced us to 6/38 many rightfully thought it was all over bar the shouting.  Yet they had not counted on The Master of the Run Chase, The Master Manipulator, The Finisher, The Iceman Michael Gwyl Bevan.


That man Dhoni

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is arguably one of the hardest players in cricket to read; almost an Indian version of Stephen Roger Waugh.  Many have questioned his commitment to the longer versions of the game whilst others have wondered whether he will be the right man to lead India through their inevitable rebuilding period come the retirements of Tendulkar, Laxman, Dravid and Kahn.  I too have added my voice to his detractors from time to time.

Well it may be time for his legion of detractors (me included) to have another look and here is why.

Following a rare tie at the conclusion of the India v Sri Lanka ODI at the Adelaide Oval it soon came to light that the umpires had called time on a Lasith Malinga over after only five balls had been delivered.  It had been a rewarding over for the Indian’s thus far, with nine runs scored before the umpires lost count.

Now no one denies that the Indian cricketing media and their readers love a controversy and based on the column inches that had already begun to appear in print and on the Internet this was one controversy that could gain traction very quickly if given the right circumstances.

The very same media must have been looking towards their captain with eager eyes, waiting for him to erupt in a blaze of righteous fury and indignation.  Instead he did something that stunned many and increased his standing as a captain and as an individual amongst many, many more.

He said, quiet simply, that it doesn’t matter.  Well actually he said:

“Well because it’s done and dusted,” he said. “That’s what is important. We can create a big fuss out of it but what’s the point?

 In a further effort to defuse tensions he went on to say:

If I am not wrong, two umpires in the middle and the match referee and the scorer [are there], and it has still happened. Better off accepting it because we humans are bound to make mistakes.”

Both in the press room and around the world you could have heard a pin drop.  Here was the perfect opportunity to reinforce that erroneous stereotype that Australian’s are out to get the Indian cricket team at every opportunity.  Here was a chance to finally call us out as the cheats we apparently are.  Instead Dhoni said it was a mistake and humans make mistakes.

Irrespective of how the “missing ball” saga will be remembered in the annals of cricket history, one thing that will be recognised is that Dhoni is an honourable, mature and pragmatic individual and I think he may have found himself another fan.

Those Ugly Australians

Following Australia’s recent ODI defeat at the hands of India at the Adelaide Oval a good friend of mine posted on Facebook that “Indian cricket fans are not just sore losers but sore winners as well *sigh*”.  This comment did surprise me a little, namely because this particular friend is herself Indian.

Her criticism of her own national side did not go down well with some of her other friends, also Indians, and it did not take long for the old Ugly Australian debate to rear its head once more.

Now sledging itself is as old as the game of cricket.  A simple Google search on WG Grace and sledging will give any cricket fan hours of amusement.  Yet the term Ugly Australians is a little more modern, having been coined by Tom Graveney after the Ashes Tour of 1974/75 where Rod Marsh and Ian Chappell – amongst others – took turns in rolling out insults more profane and rude than the previous.

Can we therefore say that Marsh and Chappell can be credited with introducing this more modern, less witty, more profane form of sledging to the game of cricket?  Possibly Yes.  Can we say that this type of sledging has remained wholly and solely with the Australian cricket team?  Most definitely no!  A case in point is that BBC County Cricket broadcasts are now preceded by a warning that warns viewers that “this broadcast may contain profane or distasteful language”.

There are those who have now accepted that sledging in commonplace in modern cricket but still continue to hone in on the behaviour of the Australian cricket team, claiming that that they deliberately take it to another level. My response would be to ask how this statement has been quantified.  What terms of reference have been used to determine that the Australian cricket team sledges more than any other side?  It is sad indictment on the state of cricket commentary that almost every article dealing with sledging in cricket always focuses on the Australian cricket team despite the fact that there are, at a minimum, seven other cricket sides equally adept at its practice.

For example I recently had the privilege to receive some recorded local coverage of the SA v AUS Test series.  Thanks to censors less vigorous than in Australia and some very clear stump microphone coverage ever fruity oath could be heard in all its glory and I can say without hesitation that both Australia and South Africa were neck and neck all the way.

Faced with the potential extinction of the term some individuals within the cricketing community have begun to use it to describe more than just sledging.  It was become a catch all phrase to highlight every real and perceived transgression made by the Australian cricket side. Whether it is over-appealing, individual or team arrogance, excessive celebration, racial vilification or even the behaviour of the Australian public this has all now been placed underneath the banner of Ugly Australians.

Why have the Australian’s become the focal point of all that is negative in the game of cricket?  That is a question that is difficult to answer.  If the behaviour of the Australian cricket side is so offensive to some, so detrimental to the state of cricket why has the ICC not stepped in and taken punitive action?  The ICC Code of Conduct Commission is comprised of individuals whose objectivity is without reproach and I doubt they would allow an individual or team which consistently brings the game into disrepute to continue unpunished.

Cricket like every other game evolves and reflects the society of the day.  There are those who will mourn the ‘innocence” of the amateur years when the likes of Bradman, Hobbs and Weekes plied their trade.  These were the golden days of cricket but they are sadly gone.

The Australian sides from the turn of century onwards have been a reflection of our modern society.  Professional athletes who now earn a handsome living from the game they play.  Yet with those rewards come expectations, expectations to win, expectations to perform day in, day out, expectations that come from their fans and followers.

The Australian side plays a hard, uncompromising style of cricket.  It is not always pretty, it is not always neat and sometimes it is not even within that nebulous and constantly shifting term “the spirit of the game”.  Yet this is what we expect of them and as a result this is what they deliver.

Under the mature and unselfish captaincy of Michael Clarke the Australian side is slowly shaking off the reputation of the Ugly Australians but there will always be some who are ready to apply that tag at the slightest transgression.  Yet ultimately, if a team is a reflection of the society it represents then we only have ourselves to blame for their behaviour.