How did Nathan Hauritz ever get into the Australian team?

YESTERDAY, for the first time in his first-class cricket career, Nathan Hauritz, an alleged off-spinner from New South Wales who is in the Australian team, took five wickets in an innings.

I use the word alleged because I was used to be able to turn the ball more when I was a kid than Hauritz can.

Which begs the question: is Australia, a leading cricket nation, so short of spinning talent? Was he the best candidate among the myriad spinners in the country?

Or does the fact that he is from New South Wales count more than any ability?

The five wickets he took yesterday were mostly flukes. The only wicket in which he had some kind of role was that of the Pakistan skipper Mohammad Yousuf, the only real Test-class player in the current Pakistan team.

Yousuf played forward and spooned a catch to Simon Katich at silly point. The ball bounced on him unexpectedly. But even in this case there was a mitigating factor – the end of the innings was nigh and Yousuf was well aware that with eight wickets down, and 172 runs to get, Pakistan had no hope in hell of winning.

There were nearly two full sessions of play left so a draw was out of the question as well. Hence, Yousuf was unlikely to have been concentrating as much as he normally does.

A good off-spinner normally gets the ball to spin from outside the off-stump into off and middle; Hauritz bowled Faisal Iqbal on day four with a ball that turned a good deal. But the extent to which this was a fluke was apparent thereafter for Hauritz never managed to repeat this kind of delivery in the innings.

And Hauritz got this wicket when he had not even bowled 10 overs. He bowled 24 in all. Iqbal fell at 116 and Pakistan scored a total of 250. He had plenty of time to do a repeat.

This raises questions about Hauritz’s accuracy; he saw where the ball pitched when he got that degree of turn and could never land a ball in the same patch again.

For many years, Australia never needed to think about a spin bowler as Shane Warne was around. When Warne wasn’t fit (or was suspended), Stuart MacGill was there and he could turn the ball even on glass.

Warne retired in 2007 and MacGill followed soon thereafter, necessitating a search by the selectors.

There are plenty of good spinners in the country and the selectors picked an able man, Jason Krezja, and sent him to India last year. Bear in mind, that even Warne has not fared well in that country – his wickets have cost him more than 50 runs apiece and many Indian batsmen have hammered the hell out of him.

Krezja’s first effort was a return of 8 for 215; he attacked the batsmen, copped a bit of stick from the Indians (who are, without doubt, the world’s best players of spin) but still got wickets.

He was promptly dropped. The innocuous Hauritz was brought in. The only factor in his favour was that he is from NSW which dominates Australian cricket.

Hauritz rarely gets the ball to turn. He rarely gives the ball any air. He is, in many ways, incompetent at his trade. And yet he plays Test after Test, though he has never put in a match-winning performance.

Even the five-wicket haul against Pakistan was not a match-winning performance. It was pure chance. What he deserved was probably two wickets.

The match-winning deliveries came from Mitchell Johnson; two gems just outside the off-stump which brought him two wickets in successive balls, though one of them was a bump catch claimed (and given) by Brad Haddin. (With this, the Australian wicketkeeper added one more to his list of dubious appeals).

One more point to note is that ever since the Pakistan offie Saqlain Mushtaq developed a ball which could spin the other way (and named it “doosra” which in Urdu means “the second one”), every off-spinner of any standing has managed to bowl a similar ball.

Hauritz is still unable to bowl this ball – which would be the leg-spinner’s regulation delivery. And he is 28.

And remember this was his 11th Test. He has played against India, England, Pakistan, the West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand. He has bowled in India, England and Australia.

And yet no five-wicket haul. Krezja was dropped after taking 13 wickets in two Tests. Hauritz, with 41 in 11 Tests, including those five, is now the Australian spin bowler. It’s highly unlikely that Australia will play two spinners as long as Ricky Ponting is captain.

But the myth has been created, the myth that Hauritz is a “match-winner”. This will make it even more difficult for anyone else to get a look in. He has managed 10 Tests without looking like a decent bowler until luck smiled on him.

And I’m willing to bet that it will be at least 20 more Tests before people realise that he is a mug. Bear in mind that this is a country which has produced the likes of Ashley Mallett, John Gleeson, Richie Benaud, Warne, MacGill, Tim May, Terry Jenner and the occasionals like Bob Holland, to name just a few.

Warne has just identified a youngster named Steven Smith whom he rates as capable. And that’s praise from the very best in the trade. Smith is from NSW too but Warne’s blessing means that he has some talent.

It’s a sad state of affairs. Much like the case of Haddin. It’s the NSW factor. Something like the Bermuda Triangle.

Cricket is no longer a team game

THERE was a time when cricket was a team game, when individual performances were all geared towards the collective good of the team. That era has long gone. But despite that, it’s only occasionally that the degree to which selfishness has come to dominate the game is on naked display.

The fourth day’s play in the first Australia-Pakistan Test provided one of the most crass displays of narcissism that I have ever seen in the game – and I’ve been following it for 42 years.

Much has been made of Shane Watson, an ordinary cricketer, who manages to look good because he comes up against mediocre bowling most of the time. Pakistan, a team which is as moody as the weather in Melbourne, has plenty of talent in its ranks but the players blow hot and cold, the latter most of the time.

Watson has played 14 Tests and is yet to make a hundred. He has come within four runs of the target and missed out. So far he has been unable to handle the pressure that comes from being in the 90s. Hence whenever he approaches the three-figure mark, there is some interest among the commentators to see if he will finally make it.

At the end of the third day, Watson was not out on 64. Australia was nicely positioned, 307 ahead with two days to go, and should have been looking for quick runs on the morning of the fourth day to give themselves enough and more time to ensure a win by bowling Pakistan out.

The 400-run target is normally some kind of a psychological point and most teams aim for this before effecting a declaration.

Australia is a bit more wary than most in this regard as both South Africa (414 in 2008-09) and the West Indies (418 in 2003) have chased down 400-plus scores to defeat them. Hence, it was reasonable to expect that Australia would look for about 450 just to be on the safe side – even if Pakistan had been dismissed for 258 in their first innings.

But they had not contended with Watson.

The entire morning session was wasted by the Queenslander. He added 34 runs to his overnight score in two hours. The others added another 47. Eighty-one runs were scored in 120 minutes on a good wicket – just the kind of thing which will attract more people to watch the game.

Watson spent nearly an hour going from 90 to 98. At lunch he was 98 not out. All the confidence he displayed on the third day – when a good many others, all more talented than him, got out – seemed to have disappeared. Which tells me one thing – he isn’t good enough to handle the pressure at this level.

The fact that the team needed a big lead – and Ricky Ponting would, no doubt, have given Watson an indication of when a declaration would come – was irrelevant. Watson scored at the rate of a snail, displaying a degree of nervousness that would have been worthy of someone making his debut in Test cricket.

The team’s needs were unimportant. His obsession with getting a century consumed him and everything else was secondary.

This is a man who has been playing international cricket for the last seven years. He has tried every trick in the game to try and project himself as being worthy of gracing the international stage. To me he looks like another Matthew Hayden, a pretender, who finds that the times suit him.

There are plenty of better openers in Australia: Phillip Hughes, Phil Jacques and Chris Rogers, to name just three. Perhaps Watson should announce his retirement soon so that more team-minded players can enter the ranks and serve Australia’s needs.

Why do people celebrate a meaningless, pagan festival?

A FEW days back I went by the local shopping centre to drop my daughter off there. This centre was rebuilt and reopened a few months ago. It now has an enormous amount of parking space. Yet on this day, every single space was taken.

There’s one reason for this: Christmas.

In the run-up to Christmas, people seem to go crazy. They run to every possible shopping outlet and buy all sorts of junk, supposedly as gifts for others. Old people, middle-aged people, young people and children, they all come out and indulge in this orgy of buying.

And it all has to be done before Christmas.

On Christmas Day itself, people eat enough to make themselves sick. The holiday is used as a way for people to get together – this can be a nice thing if you have friends and family in the place you live. But to use it as an excuse for over-consumption just doesn’t wash.

Four years ago, I began to question the meaning of all that was being done at Christmas time. I’ve known for a long time that Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ and everything to do with paganism. But I just went along – the children wanted gifts, everybody else wanted to indulge themselves and I joined in without too much of a murmur.

The family had a chat and decided that we would do without all the falsehood and unnecessary stress and strain – not to mention the waste of money. It was difficult for everyone to adjust the first year. The second year it got easier and this year nobody even talked about Christmas. It is just another day and that’s the way it should be.

The children want gifts at the end of the year so they get something but it is done well before December 25. I work every Christmas Day to emphasise the fact that it is an ordinary day – fortunately, I work in an industry where some people have to work every day of the year.

The churches would do well to abandon celebrations on this day for the only individual who is cited in the Bible as celebrating a birthday was Herod, a pagan if ever there was one. And for those who continue to believe that this day, December 25, has anything to do with the birth of Jesus, it is time to realise that nowhere in the Bible is one asked to celebrate the birthday of the book’s central figure.

As with many other things, people just go along with celebrating Christmas and do not stop to question. It is high time that this meaningless ritual was given the push. Let’s have a shopping festival instead – for that is exactly what Christmas is all about.

Shane Watson knows no shame

HIS captain is embarrassed. Senior cricket writers have poured scorn on him. Past cricketers have called his actions juvenile. Yet Shane Watson, the Australian all-rounder, is out there trying to defend his behaviour on the fourth day of the third Test against the West Indies.

Watson dismissed the West Indies captain, Chris Gayle, and then charged down the wicket to the departing Gayle and jumped up and down in front of him, snarling in a manner that the best wolfhound would find difficult to emulate.

And he justifies this behaviour by saying that Gayle had riled him up on the field, and “given as good as he got.” He even says he’s not embarrassed by the monkey act he performed in front of Gayle.

Which leaves one wondering whether he is really in the here and now, whether he knows that he can’t act like a two-year-old on the field – which is his workplace – and whether he thinks that he is not subject to society’s expected standards of behaviour.

Cricket Australia is partly to blame because it has not seen fit to levy any penalty on Watson after the ICC referee Chris Broad fined him a totally inadequate 15 percent of his match fee.

Broad has form in this regard – it would have been interesting to see what he would have fined a West Indies player who did a Watson. In the same game, Sulieman Benn was involved in an incident with Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson for which he earned a two-match suspension; the Australians were fined 25 and 15 percent of their match fees respectively.

You know that the chief of Cricket Australia is holding a post he is clearly not fit to hold when he says that the players should be given credit for good behaviour in several recent series.

I’m not sure why anyone should be given credit for doing the basics of their job but that seems to be part of the culture in the country. Cricketers are paid extremely high wages – Australian cricketers are about the highest paid in the world – in order to do a job. With that job comes an expected standard of behaviour; the ICC has a code of conduct and the Australian authority has one too.

When people do a job for which they have been paid, and paid mighty well too, why do they need to be praised? They have signed up to do something and merely kept to it. If a man signs up to work from 9am to 5pm, should he then expect praise because he arrives punctually for work every day?

Umpires can kill a damn good game

THE final Test in the Australia-West Indies series looked like going down to the wire. But it was stopped a couple of metres short by incompetent umpiring.

The West Indies had one wicket left and needed 51 runs on the final morning; they looked like getting real close until Kemar Roach was given out by umpire Billy Bowden of New Zealand, caught behind.

Roach challenged the decision and the replays showed plenty of air between the edge of his bat and the ball as it passed on the way to keeper Brad Haddin. The technology known as Hot Spot, another tool being used by the TV match officials, also showed that the ball had not made contact with Roach’s bat.

Yet Asad Rauf, the TV umpire, informed Bowden that the decision was up to him. As Bowden was not going to overrule himself, he raised his finger again and the match was over. The West Indies had made 14 runs off 21 balls on the final morning when Bowden intervened.

This incident raises the question: when an umpiring decision goes to referral, what is the third umpire trying to do – find proof that the decision is wrong or find proof that the umpire is right? Shortly before Bowden’s intervention, Rauf ruled that a catch claimed in the outfield by Doug Bollinger was not valid as the ball had hit the ground before Bollinger had got it in his grasp.

Rauf, it may be recalled, had given Shivnarine Chanderpaul out on referral in the second Test when an appeal for a catch behind was turned down by umpire Mark Benson. Ricky Ponting opted for a referral and Rauf overruled his colleague’s decision, even though the replays were inconclusive.

Bowden is a showman who always seems to be trying to get the camera to focus on him. He has an expansive way of signalling a boundary, a peculiar way of signalling a six and generally acts the goat on the field. The way he gave Roach out raises questions about his competence when it comes to actual umpiring – he will probably win an Oscar for his gestures.

And as to Rauf, one wonders how he alone can see something which nobody else can spot. Roach clearly had not touched the ball based on the TV camera evidence. Does Rauf think Bowden has some kind of third eye like a Hindu deity? Rauf saw evidence in the Chanderpaul incident too, when even the umpire on the field could not see a thing.

The referral system is a good thing. But if it turns out to be a case of taking potluck, then it will be of no use.

Technology can aid a good umpire to make good decisions. But in the hands of an incompetent, even the best technology is of little use. That is the only conclusion one can draw. As the old Indian saying goes, it is dangerous to put a matchbox in the hands of a monkey.

To understand the term ‘the ugly Australian’ you need to watch cricket

THE ugly Australian. That’s a term which is pretty common in the cricketing world, simply because one sees a great deal of evidence on the field. Yesterday, there was one more instance of the kind of boorish behaviour that serves to make every decent citizen of this country wince in shame.

Australia does not know how to lose gracefully in sport. Generally, if an Australian team loses, it is because they played badly, not because the opposition played better. And when this explanation is being trotted out, there will be also be a string of excuses offered, reasons as to why Australia could not win.

In cricket, Australia has got pretty used to winning, by fair means or foul. Since they dethroned the West Indies in 1995, Australia has been the leading team in both Test and one-day cricket, even though their record has not been anything like the West Indies during the 15 years that the Caribbean team was the top Test team.

Recently, Australia was toppled from its spot atop the Test cricket ladder and is now ranked third. This is, in part, due to changes in the team, changes brought about by retirements, injuries (there are lots of injuries due to the incessant cricket that is played worldwide) and politics.

But the behaviour of the Australian team is still appalling. One instance – and there were plenty of others, mind you – from the fourth day’s play in the third Test against the West Indies will suffice to illustrate this.

Chris Gayle, the captain of the West Indies, is a laidback person. He doesn’t lose his temper, keeps silent most of the time he is on the field, but can be a dangerously destructive batsman once he gets going.

When the West Indies began the improbable task of trying to score 359 in their second innings to defeat Australia, Gayle’s wicket was a vital one. More so, since he had made a rapid 102 in the first innings. In the previous Test he had shown an entirely unknown facet of his batsmanship by carrying his bat for 165, a long, slow and patient innings which helped the team to draw the game.

For a while, it looked as though Gayle and makeshift opener Travis Dowlin would put on a sizeable opening stand, until the latter fell to an injudicious stroke. This brought in Ramnaresh Sarwan, the other seasoned player in the side. Sarwan made a hundred when the West Indies chased down 418 in 2003 to defeat Australia; this, incidentally, is the highest fourth innings winning score in Test cricket.

Hence, both the wickets of both Gayle and Sarwan were vital for Australia to feel confident about winning. One more factor has been haunting Australia: the last time they played a Test in Perth, it was against South Africa – and the Proteas chased down 414 to beat the home team.

For a while after Dowlin was dismissed it looked as though Gayle was settling down to play a long, patient innings, similar to the one he played in Adelaide. But Shane Watson, one of the players whose abilities are highly over-rated, finally got an inside edge and keeper Brad Haddin grasped the catch.

Watson then ran to Gayle and began to jump up and down in front of him like a monkey. He was screaming out loud as well but Gayle refsued to be drawn into any kind of retaliation. He turned and departed for the pavilion. Watson was calmed down by his teammates.

It was ugly to see a grown man behave in this manner. It would have been surprising to a first-time watcher of the game – but to someone who has been watching for decades, it was just one more indication of the fact that the moniker “ugly Australian” is indeed an apt one.

Both umpires then spoke to Watson and he has been reported for this incident. It remains to be seen whether he will get off lightly as his teammates have or whether he will be hit with an appropriate penalty.

There was a constant stream of chatter on the field, right from the time the West Indies’ second innings began. The Australians have no need to talk, most of them are good cricketers and if they play to their skill-level, they can win. But they seem to think that they have to keep abusing people on the field.

This often has the opposite effect; opposition players get sufficiently worked up to play well above their abilities and things go wrong for Australia.

This habit of sledging is an indication of an inferiority complex: secretly, the Australians are always scared of losing. They have grave doubts about their own abilities and hence resort to verbal abuse to try and wear down the opposition.

This is one more reason why Test cricket is slowly dying, this display of boorish behaviour on the field.

Why is Chris Broad still a match referee?

ON A day when the fifth fastest century in Test cricket was scored, there was a sharp reminder of how the white man still rules what is essentially a colonial game.

The West Indies captain, Chris Gayle, put the Australian attack to the sword in the second half of the second day of the third Test to make 102, with a display of clean hitting that hasn’t been seen since Adam Gilchrist made a 57-ball Test hundred against England in 2006-07 at the same ground.

But it was the ugly clash between players that was the standout incident of the day – more so, considering the type of justice that was meted out.

West Indies off-spinner Sulieman Benn, a feisty character, was bowling when Australian wicket-keeper Brad Haddin angrily remonstrated with him for running into Mitchell Johnson while trying to field on his follow-through.

Haddin had no business getting involved in what was an accidental clash between Benn and Johnson.

But he did, and thereafter things hotted up. Benn fielded the next ball as Haddin stroked it down the pitch and made as if to throw down the wickets at his (Haddin’s) end. Haddin pulled away from the wicket and extended a hand to Benn, inviting him to throw the ball. There was no need to do that unless he wanted to aggravate the situation further.

When the over was bowled, Benn began to make some comments to Haddin who was coming up to mid-pitch to have the normal chat with Johnson that batsmen have between overs.

Johnson brushed Benn’s hand as he came up and this led to Benn pushing him away. Yes, Johnson made the first contact.

It was only at this point that umpire Billy Bowden got involved and asked the players to stay apart.

But, strangely, when match referee Chris Broad adjudicated, Benn was charged with a level two offence and Haddin and Johnson with level one offences.

Broad penalised Benn one Test or two one-day games. Haddin was asked to forfeit 25 percent of his match fee and Johnson will lose 10 percent.

Apparently, those who contest the charge get stiffer penalties; Benn contested the charge while the two Australians did not.

Haddin was the agent provocateur; if he had minded his own business, nothing would have happened. Johnson is old enough to look after himself and has been in the team much longer than Haddin; if he was a junior player and at the start of his career, one can understand Haddin’s involvement.

Yet Benn earned a heavier penalty than the two Australians.

Broad has form in this regard – last year when Australia was in India, Gautam Gambhir and Shane Watson collided on the pitch and Gambhir copped the heavier penalty, a one-match ban. Watson forfeited 10 percent of his match fee.

In the same series, India’s Zaheer Khan was fined for a verbal exchange with Matthew Hayden; the latter was widely known as one of the most foul-mouthed players in his time.

A third incident in the same series: Australian captain Ricky Ponting earned not even a rebuke for continuing to appeal long after the umpire had ruled Virender Sehwag not out on a lbw appeal. But he did not earn even a rebuke from Broad.

It’s interesting to recall that when Broad, a former England opener, was given out in the Sydney bicentennial Test in 1988, he knocked all three stumps out of the ground with his bat in anger and was fined £500, the maximum possible fine at the time

It looks as though the ICC takes every chance it gets to penalise the countries that line up behind India when it comes to voting. India is the powerhouse in the cricketing world and the white members of the ICC just hate this – they long for the days when they were making the decisions. This is their one way of getting back at the coloured nations – appoint a match referee who can get a bit of their own back.

Melbourne’s climate: erratic and nice

YESTERDAY it was 39 degrees Celsius and fans and air-conditioners were in overdrive. That equates to 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Today the mercury is sitting at 25 Celsius, a drop of 14 which is not remarkable when you consider that this is Melbourne.

This kind of swing can happen in a single day; there have been summer days when it has been 40 Celsius during some part of the day and half that by evening. By bedtime, it can even time to pull out a blanket.

A famous saying about this city is that you can experience all four seasons in the space of a single day – and it’s not an exaggeration.

Summer brings its share of hot days – the highest I’ve seen in the last 12 years is 42 Celsius which works out to 108 Fahrenheit – but the mean works out 20 Celsius for the highs and 10 for the lows. Overall it is more than bearable. I love it.

Some people find the wild swings unmanageable, especially when it gets cold. Many retired people move to warmer climes as the cold has its attendant health issues. Arthritis is common.

Melbourne’s weather is particularly welcome for anyone who comes here from the Persian Gulf. There the temperatures stay constant for days on end; there are just two seasons the hot and the cool.

Seven months of the year in the Gulf are bearable only when one lives in air-conditioned dwellings. There are two distinct types of heat – some months the mercury rises to as much as 44 degrees and the humidity stays relatively low. And by low I mean something around the 60 percent mark.

August and September sees lower temperatures but the humidity more than makes up for, residing in the 90s all the time. And there is no change, it goes on day after day after day.

It’s a peculiar kind of heat and one has to experience it to understand what it feels like. The heat in Asian countries is an entirely different kind of beast. Sri Lanka, India, Singapore, Thailand are all different from the Gulf region, though the heat is always unpleasant.

But no region is as bad as the Gulf region. And yet people work outdoors even in those climes.

The entire Gulf region was built on the back of cheap labour from the Indian subcontinent and much of it was done in the summer.

Fast bowlers have lost their skills

WHY are today’s fast bowlers unable to attack a batsman’s body? Why are they unable to bowl a decent yorker? Why do they just keep bowling up-and-down stuff when the wicket is one of the bounciest in the world?

These are some of the questions that came to mind as I watched part of the first day’s play in the third and final Test between Australia and the West Indies at the WACA ground in Perth. The pitch there is one of the fastest in the world and the West Indies have found it a happy hunting ground in the past.

But this time, they do not have the bowlers to take advantage of the bounce that the pitch offers. Only one, the youngster Kemar Roach, was able to use the pitch to some extent. He gave the Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, a good working over and forced him to retire hurt after getting one ball to rise and hit Ponting on his left elbow.

Like all great batsmen, Ponting – and despite the fact that he is in the twilight of his career, the Australian captain is still a class act – has his moments of vulnerability at the start of an innings. Last January, he was given a good working over by the Indian teenager Ishant Sharma and lost the duel. This time, it remains to be seen what he will do when he resumes his innings sometime later in the game.

The rest of the West Indies pacemen were innocuous. They tried to maintain a good line but never threatened. Ravi Rampaul may be a decent tailend batsman but he is no class as a bowler.

The third paceman, Antiguan Gavin Tonge, from the same island that produced the feared Anderson Montomery Everton Roberts, looked to be bowling well within himself and needs to free up his action a bit to generate enough pace. He looks cramped when he bowls though he has the height and physique to be a good fast bowler.

But height and muscle are only half the story. The late Malcolm Marshall was a small-made man but find me a batsman who felt unafraid when the Barbadian with the whippy action was marking out his run-up. The willowy and graceful Michael Holding could hardly be called muscular but batsman called him “Whispering Death.”

Fast bowlers no longer seem to be able to bowl the famous “throat ball” that Colin Croft made his specialty. They seem to be unaware of the “Sandshow crusher” which was a favourite of the great Pakistani fast bowler Waqar Younus who would often knock over all three wickets with one.

When a fast bowler can home in on a batsman’s body and get the ball to bounce awkwardly, it is only a matter of time before the ball is fended off to a close-catcher. And the West Indies were masters of the art of doing exactly this.

On the Australian side, Mitchell Johnson occasionally does get the ball to do unpleasant things but he is erratic and can bowl 20 overs all over the place before he gets one over on target. As a result, batsmen do not have difficulty negotiating his bowling.

Doug Bollinger is good with the old ball though one has to see whether he can use the Perth strip to good effect. The third Australian paceman, Clint McKay, is an unknown quantity.

It is interesting to note that during the West Indies heyday, the 80s, their bowlers were the match-winners more often than the batsmen. The bowlers conceded only around 24 runs per opposition wicket, a figure that went up to something around 26 in the 90s. By 1995, Australia had dethroned them.

In the 2000s, the West Indies bowlers have been getting wickets at the cost of about 50 runs apiece. Their batting figures have stayed relatively stable over these three decades.

Which goes to show that during the good times, the bowlers were the ones who pulled the irons out of the fire. They do not have bowlers of that class anymore – occasionally, someone shines as Jerome Tayor did when they beat England by an innings in Jamaica earlier this year.

But for the most part, the West Indies bowlers cannot take the 20 wickets required to win a Test. And that, one fears, will be the case for some time to come.

An encounter with Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier

MANY people who claim to be part of the so-called free and open source software community paint themselves publicly as open-minded and reasonable people.

As with most things, the reality is often different.

I’ve met more than my fair share of people who consider themselves part of this community as I’ve been writing about these genres of software for nigh on 10 years. There are lots of excellent open-minded and reasonable folk in these circles, but some of those who pose as leaders are often the most biased.

Until January 2009, I had never met Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier. I had occasionally read something which he had written as he has worked in a number of online publications as a technology writer and editor. I always thought of him as a competent and intelligent writer.

In 2008, he took up the job of community manager for OpenSUSE, a GNU/Linux distribution that has been sponsored by Novell, a company that signed a patent deal with Microsoft in November 2006, a deal that was considered a sellout by most of the FOSS community.

Exactly how a journalist can cross over to the world of PR is beyond me. Of course, when one is already doing PR and passing it off as journalism, it is not difficult at all.

In January 2009, at Australia’s national Linux conference, which was held in Hobart, the capital of the island of Tasmania, Brockmeier gave a talk on how, in his opinion, FOSS projects should be publicised.

I was present and wrote it up. I did not agree with many of his recommendations and said so without mincing words.

The conference, an annual affair held in a different city each year, provides wireless internet coverage but it is often patchy as the number of conference rooms is normally spread over an entire university campus. As a result, those who need net access – in my case I can’t work without it – often have to work in certain areas.

But in Hobart, the wireless coverage was super; hence, when I had a backlog of stories to file, I would sit in some lecture theatre or the other and do my work.

I was sitting in one such lecture and writing an article on the day when my piece about Brockmeier’s talk appeared. I suddenly noticed the man himself sitting a few seats away and glaring in my direction. This did not bother me as many people glare at me. I finished my work and got up and left.

Brockmeier came charging behind me. He hailed me and said “You’re XXX aren’t you?” He was perspiring freely and appeared to be very agitated.

When I answered in the affirmative, he asked me which journalism school I had attended. I told him that I had never been to journalism school but had learnt the trade at the stone (that’s what we called the page-making table in the days of lead-type). I also told him that I had been educated in India, while he had been educated in the US and asked him if that really made a difference.

He was taken aback by my frankness and caught on the back-foot; it looked like he was not used to people answering back. He then said that since I disagreed with him about how FOSS projects should be publicised, I should tell him the right way to publicise such projects.

I told him that I had never heard such a silly thing in my life and that I was not going to tell him a thing – it was for him to find out. He then accused me of being innacurate in my report as some things I had reported were not in the PowerPoint presentation which he had used. He said he had been watching me in the theatre from which I had just emerged and noticed that I had not taken a single note.

This again was silly and childish as he had spoken extempore a great deal while his presentation was taking place. I asked him to go back and have a look at a video of his talk before opening his mouth. I also told him that I was not writing anything about the talk that had been going on in the theatre and hence there was no need for me to take notes.

The bluster seemed to go out of him. It was as though a balloon had been deflated. I told him I had no time to waste and started walking away. He walked alongside me, muttering something about nobody liking me because I criticised people in my articles. This, of course, showed that his knowledge of journalism was a big zero and that PR was the right field for him.

Journalists are asked to write about things without fear or favour. In practice, this does not work 100 percent of the time – but if you stick to the rules of the profession even 75 percent of the time, you end up making an awful number of enemies. There are three classes of enemies – those who are pissed that you wrote about them, those who are pissed because you did not write about them, and those who are pissed because you described them as being the co-founder of a company when in reality they are one of four co-founders and came in after the other three.

Journalism is a terribly lonely profession, hence not many people go down this route. I’m talking of the real route. Instead, there is a kind of half-arsed compromise and puff pieces are written to make people happy. Most of it is spin of the most extreme kind.