Monday, 23 December 2013
So Graeme Swann is gone from both these Ashes and the game, with only the timing of his decision much of a surprise to anyone who knows much at all about cricket and the toll that it takes on international players. Not that it's stopped the accusatory fingers from wagging, of course. "Selfish" said most of them, disregarding all of the personal sacrifices that go along with the healthy pay cheques. George Dobell was probably closest to the mark, in my mind anyway, when he said, "if he knew his form had dipped, if he knew he was no longer quite capable of reaching the standards he once did, if he knew the light had gone out, he is right to go."
Mine is a very distant view obviously, but I don't think there is any doubt that Swann lacked the overwhelming competitive urge to continue on such a grueling tour. In that sense his decision was straightforward. He's done the yeoman's work on other tours of this kind without much complaint. The series is lost and he has the opportunity to return home for Christmas and be with his family, something he hinted at rather artlessly earlier in the week. It's a decision that no-one other than his teammates are entitled to feel let-down by. He doesn't owe the game anything at this point.
I will concede the knockers one point though; it could be argued that like Jonathan Trott (though for completely different reasons), Swann maybe shouldn't have toured in the first place. It's pretty hard to extinguish that flame though. He's an England cricketer and touring is merely what England cricketers do. Any doubts he had before England departed clearly weren't enough to bring those wheels of perpetual motion to a halt. After all, what is an English cricketer if not playing cricket for England?
Otherwise, not many accounts so far have taken into consideration the impact of his elbow injury, which has been a constant source of frustration and set-backs and whose true impact on his bowling is probably known by few. In the wake of England's home series win it had been suggested the injury would keep him out of this series anyway. Would there have been this same sense of abandonment if he'd pulled up stumps in November?
Swann is clearly worn out and I found one comment, his expression of pride at having represented England "for the best part of a decade," quite telling. In actual fact his stint was only six years (at Test level anyway), but rather than an inflation of his own importance, I think it says a lot about the grind of modern professional cricket and the intensity of the England program in Swann's time at the top. It probably felt like fifteen, in actual fact.
If for nothing else, Swann should be applauded for thriving at the top level of the game in one of its toughest and least-forgiving disciplines, off-spin bowling. Not many have done so for such sustained periods of excellence and with a smile on their face. For most of us, Swann's life as a cricketer is defined primarily by what he did in the international game over the last six years. What that discounts is the years of toil, heartbreak and personal crises that come with bowling spin.
Most of us outside of England didn't see much of the decade of County cricket that preceded his Test call-up. He started out with a more exuberant, bouncy, almost camp bowling action. Over time that became leaner and more focused, enabling him to attack, defend and have even the best of the world's batsmen thinking twice.
Very few off-spin bowlers make it to international level and even fewer still make a decent fist of it. They're slogged out of the attack in club games, slogged out of nets at training and have to develop the skills of control and variation in the face of constant assault from disdainful batsmen. That Swann could be thought of as weak for retiring now pays a disservice to the courage it takes to even pursue his craft in the first place. That his success came so late is also instructive and a small lesson to selectors and fans. Patience is a virtue and spinners who can hold their nerve are worth their weight in LBWs.
It's fair to say that not every Australian "got" Swann. His dry and very British sense of humour rubbed some up the wrong way; the upturned collar and the wraparound shades as he bowled hinted at the kind of arrogance they would, ironically, applaud in one of their own; the delight he took in ribbing Aussies, which was part of his appeal. The word "character" is thrown around lightly these days, but it sums him up pretty well.
No Australian should ever forgive Swann for that fist pump when he caught Ashton Agar for 98 at Trent Bridge though. That really was awful.
Thursday, 19 December 2013
Back at the turn of the century, if you told me I was going to be posting nude photos of a one-time teammate at Frankston-Peninsula CC on my blog, firstly I would have had to ask you what a blog was and secondly... actually there is no secondly. I'm too busy trying not to laugh at Wayne Ludbey's photo of Victorian Bushrangers and Melbourne Renegades paceman Jayde Herrick from this News Ltd piece.
Herrick's ink is mostly based on his favourite childhood cartoons, which is a delightful yin to his fast-bowling yang. Peter Pan, Batman, He-Man, Inspector Gadget and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feature prominently and an entire leg is devoted to the Pirates of the Caribbean films. He really should have been a Collingwood footballer.
On a related topic, every day I lean further towards plunging everything I have ever earned into stocks for laser tattoo removal technology.
You're only young once I suppose.
Monday, 9 December 2013
Having promised myself I'd get to bed early and have a decent sleep tonight, I made the mistake of picking up the November 1970 copy of Australian Cricket that was sitting on top of a pile on my desk. It threw me into a strange, slightly disturbing time warp.
In an otherwise unremarkable issue this full-page photo of 34-year old retired cricketer turned finance manager Bob Simpson standing in front of Harry Seidler's 'Australia Square' building stuck out like the proverbial... well... Harry Seidler building. A student and acolyte of a murderer's row of Modernist masters including Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto and Oscar Niemeyer, Seidler moved to Australia in his 20s and along with Robin Boyd et al, immediately set about transforming the way the county looked.
As something of a modernism trainspotter, I have a keen eye for Seidler designs though to be honest, probably prefer his early International Style houses (Rose Seidler House, his first Australian design and built for his mother, is both a psychologist's and design nerd's wet dream) than his later commercial work, which probably suffers from the sheer volume of dodgy knock-offs with which it co-existed.
Looking at Australia's most sadistic fielding drill sargeant standing in front of this building, I couldn't help but be reminded of the time I chased a girl to Paris and ended up in a spirited argument with her out the front of the similarly-proportioned, Seidler-designed Australian Embassy building. Is this just sounding bizarre and a very tenuous reason for a blog post? I really should go to bed.
Anyway, by the point I chased the girl to Paris I was already in London, so "chase" is probably too strong a word and makes me sound like the unbearably wet male lead in some twee Audrey Tautou film. In actual fact my romantic mission was typically shambolic and once I was in Paris I realised I hadn't booked a hotel. That was a bit of a deal-breaker if you were looking to impress this girl, so in a severely misguided attempt to redress the situation I checked in at the $400 per night Marriott, right by the Eiffel Tower and hence Seidler's Embassy building.
With hindsight I realise this probably wasn't a great move on a student budget but I thought it was a tactical masterstroke at the time. I remember precisely three things about that trip; (1) The argument out the front of the Harry Seidler building (I can't remember what it was about though, I was probably too busy looking at the building); (2) like every other time I have been to Paris, we went down to the Eiffel Tower and decided that the queue to go up it was way too long; (3) the girl was on a study tour with another girl who would not leave us alone, rendering my $400 per night outlay an utter farce.
I just realised that there is no real ending to this story. The relationship with the girl went hot and cold for a while and then fizzed out. She did come and watch me play cricket once though. I bowled like an absolute drain and she missed the only wicket I took. The writing was on the wall.
Sunday, 8 December 2013
So the Australian summer is well under way now but I haven't had a good scan of the mags for a while, so thought it was an opportune time to take a look at what the marketing people are coming up with. The answer, as always, is not all that inspiring...