Monday, 23 December 2013

Swann Song

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

Holy Herrick...

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

The Modernist Bob Simpson

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

New Adventures in Cricket Advertising

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... 


One thing that I really love about Alastair Cook is his that he's either unwilling or incapable of doing the patented "stern" expression expected of modern sportspeople for these ridiculous 'rivalry' photo shoots. I'm not sure it's his intention, but it always makes his opposing number look like a poseur. 

This on the other hand is brilliant. He was either going for a "Downton Abbey publicity still" aesthetic or someone asked him to act as though the ball was some kind of delicious apple. 

On the topic of that shoot, it was for the now infamous "Ashes 2013" computer game that was so horrendously ballsed up by the developers that they're refusing to release it. If you take a look at some of the YouTube reviews from those lucky/unlucky souls who scored an advanced copy, you'll see why. I'll have a bit more on that topic later in the week.

Alright, now into Cricket Australia's efforts. If you stare at this one for long enough you will realise that yes, it is actually an advertisement for cricket. It's just that in sticking with the current CA marketing style guide, there is no actual cricket going on. A packed house, some fireworks and not a cricketer in sight. Not sure if that represents "BIG VALUE" to me but then I'm a bit of a traditionalist and like me some cricket. 

So you might be thinking that I was a bit harsh on the Big Bash one and that none of this means anything. Well, you're only a little bit right. This is the way that Cricket Australia are choosing to present the game to the new "consumers" they're after; "Summer's Biggest Dress Up (not sure why that bit needed a different typeface) Party". 

Again, just don't mention the cricket, okay? At least this one features the figures of two cricketers, not that you can really make out who they are. A guy dressed up as a Lego man (no, I haven't ruled out the fact that it's actually David Warner) has been given more prominence than the players. That doesn't say everything, but it says something. When there are as many Oompa Loompa's as Australian cricketers in your marketing strategy, you're probably not confident enough in your product. 

Don't even get me started on the fact that it's called "The Carlton Mid Series" now. I mean, at least promote a full strength beer. We'll need all the alcohol we can get our hands on to get through the whole Big Bash schedule. Anyway, I won't post the 30 second, Bomfunk MC's-soundtracked TV commercial that forms part of this campaign because the sight of Richie Benaud being reduced to the status of Vaudeville act will make you throw up all over your copy of Willow Patterns. 

This time, it's in our backyard, which is the only place that Mitch Starc and James Pattinson will be playing this summer. Can we even rule out the possibility that one of the warring players in this series will actually set the stumps on fire like we see here? Also, I'm pretty sure that's one of the pitches from England's home series that they're standing on.

They may throw their social media team under the bus, make them own their racially problematic tweets by changing the name of the Twitter account and think that no-one will notice, but I'll be damned if CA haven't hit one out of the park here. The official wine partner of Cricket Australia? There's probably a fair bit of lucre flowing into the CA coffers as a result of this deal but I guess the main positive is that James Sutherland can just decant a couple of litres of it before he settles down to read some Gideon Haigh. Bottoms up.

"Our club doesn't have a committee, but we do encourage meetings," but if you're Ricky Ponting, there's no need to put a suit on because we won't be needing to talk to you for very long. "What do you think of the performance of your boss who is sitting right next to you, Ricky? Ha, yeah, that's what everyone's said. He is doing a great job, isn't he? See ya mate."

Okay enough of the cheap shots. It's not fit to buckle the pads of CAs efforts, but I thought this Eureka Skydeck advertisement deserved inclusion for services to (a) bad cricket puns, and (b) completely tenuous links to cricket. I have actually been to the Eureka skydeck and was as impressed as you can be by that type of thing, but I think I definitely would have caused a few red flags to go up in the security control room if I'd tried to head up the lift with my full cricket kit on.

This is an Australian ad for SS TON cricket bats that appears on the back of December's 'Inside Cricket' mag. The thing I like about it is that they've managed to cram in nearly every person who has played a game of cricket in the last year, but not one of them is an Aussie. I mean, even an Irish bloke is getting a gig ahead of our guys. 

Flicking across now to the Novemeber issue of The Cricketer, Jimmy Anderson continues his admirable efforts to stock this blog with imcriminating and completely dodgy advertising work. I think he's the only professional athlete who is still promoting those "power band" bracelets that every single scientist in the world has called bullshit on. Here he's taking care of skin, which is a good idea when you're stuck out in the field all day being heckled by bogans.

Jimmy was on the cover of the November Cricketer so I guess we can't rule out some sort of contra deal for the ad above to appear, but I did have to include this shot out the front of the iconic Salford Lads Club for all you fans of The Smiths. 

I remember Peter Hook once getting stuck into Morrissey for the fact that the latter apparently just got out of a car and acted on a photographer's orders for that famous shot, whereas Hook and his Joy Division/New Order bandmates actually used to drink there (remember when you read stuff like that and thought it mattered?). 

Any updates on whether Peter Hook is questioning Jimmy Anderson's street cred? The last time I saw Hook was from the front row of The Palais in St Kilda as he did an unintentionally hilarious impersonation of Ian Curtis...

This ad for England's "Official Formalwear Supplier" (don't worry, I think the good people at Nena + Pasadena remain KP's "unofficial" leisurewear supplier) reminded me of a time I was in England and, laid low on the couch for an entire day for some reason, watched breathless rolling news coverage in which the biggest point of discussion was the England Football team's new suits by (insert Italian fashion designer whose name I cannot recall). I thought the AFL media was myopic until then...

Speaking of leisurewear... if a reader of this blog sends me a photo of themselves wearing something from Freddie's new casual collection, I will send you my duplicate copy of Arthur Morris's "Operation Ashes". You can't say I don't show you any love...

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Cricket's Unsung Hero

It was a real pleasure to interview Rob Moody, aka "robelinda2" about the tremendous service he provides for cricket lovers with his YouTube uploads. I feel like this piece over at Cricinfo was the least I could do given the hours and hours of enjoyment his work has provided me. 

As I soon discovered via Twitter, the love out there for Rob is intense though hardly surprising. He'd get a motorcade around the MCG at the Boxing Day Test if it were up to me. Aside from anything else he's just a lovely bloke with an indefatigable love of the game. 

I also have some reflections on the new Adelaide Oval over at The Guardian. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to cricket grounds, but I'm well aware of the realities of the situation. 

Other than that, the Guardian OBO is keeping me too busy for lengthy reflections, but Mitch is bowling alright, isn't he?

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Here is something I prepared earlier over at Cricinfo on the rise of soccer and what Cricket Australia thinks about it. 

Though I take issue with the way CA calculate and present their participation numbers, I found the man charged with increasing them, Andrew Ingleton, to be honest and articulate in his observations and sincere in his intentions. 

Someone immediately commented on the piece and added how refreshing it was for a CA staffer to acknowledge that it's normal and healthy for kids to be involved in multiple sports and I tend to agree. After all, I played every sport I could as a kid and a general love of sports did nothing but enhance my enjoyment of cricket. 

As long-term cricket fans, I think we sometimes err on the side of paranoia when pondering what the future holds for the game. I've observed over the years that American baseball fans suffer from a similar neuroses that their kids and grandkids won't love the game the same way as they do. They won't, of course. They'll love it in different ways for it will be a different game. 

It's just that it gets harder and harder for us to change with it.