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Guidelines Derived from Watching the Australian Cricket Team get Pummelled in Tasmania by South Africa in 2016

Should have put this out earlier; it’s already dated. On the other hand, I think some of it has turned out more or less correct. Some.


Based on listening closely to what has been coming out of the Australian ‘camp’ during their recent run of failures, I have arrived at four rules for selecting and running an Australian cricket team.

Rule 1: Choose players who at least look like they care. It’s not enough to pull a sad face or look angry when something goes wrong. Maybe if they pretend hard enough it will become true!

Rule 2: Forget supposed talent and look at results. Talent is as talent does not as it looks like it ought to be capable of. Australian selectors have a history of being seduced by players who look the part but perform marginally, and not playing those who are ‘unfashionable’ despite being better performing. How did Mark Waugh get to play over 100 tests?

Rule 3: ‘Stick with my natural game’ is code for ‘I don’t want to have to think very hard’ or possibly ‘I don’t really give a shit’. They are professionals who need to adapt to the conditions and match situation. If they cannot do that they are not good enough to be out there. Judge players on how they perform when things are tough, not when they are easy.

Rule 4: Any system with Greg Chappell (currently Cricket Australia’s National Talent Manager, whatever that means) involved fails. (This is not so much based on recent results as on watching the trail of destruction Chappell leaves whenever he is tasked with ‘managing’ anything. The words ‘piss-up’ and ‘brewery’ come to mind.)

 

Cricket, what’s that, an insect?

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10 for 66 and All That by Arthur Mailey: A review

10 for 66 and All That by Arthur Mailey

Allen & Unwin, 2008

181 pages

 

Arthur Mailey was born in Sydney in 1888.  A cricketer, he played 21 tests for Australia, taking 99 wickets at a touch under 34 runs each.  His high average reflects an attacking attitude both on his part and that of the batsmen he went up against.  He was a journalist and cartoonist as well, and a known story-teller.

Front cover of <i>10 for 66 and all that</i>

Front cover of 10 for 66 and all that

This is his autobiography.  Some of it is true. It’s title references the humour classic 1066 and All That, and also his own effort in taking all ten wickets in a tour game in England in 1921, a rare feat.

Mailey tackles a range of subjects in a book that is more episodoic than linear — almost a series of essays.  He sees leg spinners as a breed apart and needing appropriate leeway from their captains.  He delivers judgements on the greats of his time, from Bradman to his idol, Trumper, to the ‘Men at the Other End’ — Ponsford, Hobbs, Sutcliffe and so on.  He tells stories of overseas travel and making his way out of the poorer parts of Sydney.  He looks to the future (the book first came out in 1958) and notes that ‘It is being said that cricket is far too slow for young Australians’.

The book is congenial.  Mailey is an entertaining speaker.  He has opinions and lets them flow.  The drawings are nice additions.  Is this a ‘must have’ book for cricket fans?  I don’t know, but it is a very enjoyable way to pass a few hours.

Oh, and it has Mailey’s famous reverie on bowling to his childhood hero, Victor Trumper.  ‘Opposing My Hero’ ends with Mailey dismissing Trumper, and watching the figure walk back to the pavilion.  ‘There was no triumph in me as I watched the receding figure.  I felt like a boy who had killed a dove.’

It is as heartfelt a sentiment as a sportsman’s book has ever contained, and inspired a very early, and rather nice, song by Aussie band The Lucksmiths.

The book is a simple pleasure, and there’s not a ghost of a ghostwriter.

Postmodernist novels about cricket #1 Chinaman — a review

Chinaman

by Shehan Karunatilaka

(Vintage, 2012, 397p)

The novel aims high.  It dissects Sri Lankan society, it dissects fame, and professional sport, and the mind of its author/protagonist.  At its centre is the search by narrator W. G. Karunasena for the mysterious spin bowling genius Pradeep Mathew.  The picaresque search lets  Karunatilaka expound on everything from the art of spin bowling to the political history of Sri Lanka and the boorish behaviour of Australians.  The protagonist is retired sports journalist, and the book is predominantly his story of how the book came to be written.  Whether the involuted structure is more than a conceit, I am not sure.  Whether it adds to the great deal to what the book has to say, I am not sure.

What I can say for sure is that this book is massively entertaining.  I remember the era of cricket it is talking about, and there is no doubt there were some ‘a ha!’ moments while I read it that a non-cricketophile would not pick up.  And about a third of the way in the energy and novelty does flag for a little while — but I assure you both pick up again.

Oh, and it’s damned funny.  “There I am, asleep under the bo tree, about to be woken up by the rain.  Two millennia ago a man, just like me, abandoned his wife, son and responsibilities to go sit under a bo tree.  Unlike me, that man wasn’t drunk after a cricket match.  And so he ended up becoming the Buddha.”

You don’t need to be a cricket fan to enjoy this novel.  You don’t need to be fascinated by the subcontinent.  You just need to be able to appreciate insight, rounded characters, a riveting story and the tales of a drunkard and a liar.

Inexplicable Fascinations #1

We all have things that make us feel better but make no sense.  I am a huge fan of test cricket.  Any game that can go for 5 days and be a draw has to reflect life more fully than a neat little package of entertainment that is over in two hours and always delivers a result.  Test cricket is to most sports what a novel is to a short story.

As a result, I recently got myself a copy of Jack Hobbs: Profile of ‘The Master’ by John Arlott (Penguin, 1982, 144p).

I knew little of Hobbs besides his amazing career statistics when I picked up this book.  His total of 199 (or 197, depending on the authority) first class hundreds is as remarkable a statistic as Bradman’s test average of 99.94.  His career that stretched from 1905 to 1935 and linked W.G.Grace with Bradman. He scored a test century at the age of forty-six and first class hundreds at fifty-one.  It all seems impossible.

The book is labelled a profile, yet it borders on the panegyric.  Clearly Hobbs was one of the handful of greatest cricketers ever — one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Century — and Arlott uses clear and elegant prose to paint him as generous, humble, professional, essentially without human flaw.  It is a case where a few minor detractions here and there would have leant the  book just enough sense of balance that the appreciations would have held more weight. Perhaps, though, that is a shadow cast by a ‘modern’ cynicism.

Tellingly, the more important the game the higher Hobbs’s scores. It perhaps says something about the competitiveness of many of the teams in county cricket at the time that Hobbs was said to allow himself to be dismissed once he made his hundred (it also makes you wonder what his average would have been had he had the run gathering ruthlessness of Bradman or a modern great like Tendulkar or Kallis).  It says more about Hobbs that his test average was rather higher than his first class average, and that the tougher the conditions the higher he stood above his contemporaries.

I read the book virtually at a sitting.  Hobbs’s self-made journey from poverty to affluence, from obscurity to the pinnacle of sporting fame — the first English professional to be knighted — and the remarkably level-headed manner with which he dealt with his fame, is a genuine ‘feel-good’ story.  It puts flesh on the statistical bones of a remarkable — no, astounding — career, and left me thinking that here was the epitome of batsmen.

He began his career perhaps too keen to try every stroke in his repertoire, something still common in young batsmen, an this phase of his career peaked as World War I approached — he probably lost his best five years to the war.  After the war, as age and injuries took their toll, he remodelled his game and the runs came even more regularly.  He himself felt his pre-war batsmanship superior (his post-war runs were ‘all made off the back foot’, he would modestly abjure), but he scored 98 (98!) hundreds after he turned forty, several of them in tests.  He was the best of his time; was he the best of all time?  That is not worth arguing over.  The greatest?  Well, that is a matter of definitions. Best relates to ability, greatness to achievements.  The best batsman ever may be someone none of us have ever heard of.  In my time, amongst Australian batsmen, I would say Ricky Ponting was better but Border greater.  And for entertainment I’d rather watch Brian Lara than any other contemporary player, except maybe Ganguly at his peak.

This book opens up the world of the golden age of cricket, before the war of 1914.  It is a glimpse of another era, and of one of its central figures.  As I said, Hobbs comes across as almost too perfect; yet at the same time the book made me feel such a respect for the man and what he did that I don’t want to find out anything negative.

Perhaps the subtitle should have been ‘A celebration of ‘The Master”.  Regardless, it comes recommended.  Particularly if you are a cricket tragic. Some of the current generation of professional sports-people might benefit from it also.  David Warner, I’m looking at you.